Callous, coldhearted harpy. And this after she had promised to be responsible for him. She had persuaded him to take the laudanum, and then she had deserted him.
Well, Leo didn’t want her now. If she decided to appear after all, he would send her away. He would laugh scornfully and tell her that no company at all was better than having her there. He would’
His heart gave a leap as he saw her at the doorway, dressed in a dark blue gown, her light golden hair caught up and pinned in its usual stern confinement.
She held a book in one hand and a glass of pale liquid in the other. “How are you this morning?”
“Bored out of my wits,” Leo said with a scowl. “Why did you take so long to see me?”
“I thought you were still asleep.” Entering the room, Catherine left the door wide open. The long, furry form of Dodger the ferret came loping in after her. After standing tall to view his surroundings, Dodger scurried beneath the dresser. Catherine watched the ferret suspiciously. “Probably one of his new hiding places,” she said, and sighed. She brought Leo a glass of cloudy liquid, and gave it to him. “Drink this, please.”
“What is it?”
“Willowbark, for your fever. I stirred in some lemon and sugar to improve the flavor.”
Leo drank the bitter brew, watching as Catherine moved about the room. She opened a second window to admit more of the outside breeze. Taking his breakfast tray out to the hallway, she gave it to a passing housemaid. When she returned to Leo, she laid her fingers on his forehead to test his temperature.
Leo caught her wrist, staying the motion. He stared at her in dawning recognition. “It was you,” he said. “You came to me last night.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You changed the cloth on my forehead. More than once.”
Catherine’s fingers curled lightly around his. Her voice was very soft. “As if I would enter a man’s bedroom in the middle of the night.”
But they both knew she had. The weight of melancholy lifted considerably, especially as Leo saw the concern in her eyes.
“How are your hands?” he asked, turning her scraped fingers to inspect them.
“Healing nicely, thank you.” She paused. “I am told you require companionship?”
“Yes,” he said promptly. “I’ll make do with you.”
Her lips curved. “Very well.”
Leo wanted to pull her against him and inhale her scent. She smelled light and clean, like tea and talcum and lavender.
“Shall I read to you?” she asked. “I brought a novel. Do you like Balzac?”
The day was improving rapidly. “Who doesn’t?”
Catherine occupied the chair by the bedside. “He meanders a bit too much for my taste. I prefer novels with more plot.”
“But with Balzac,” Leo said, “you have to give yourself over fully. You have to wallow and roll in the language…” Pausing, he looked more closely at her small oval face. She was pale, and there were shadows beneath her eyes, no doubt as a result of having visited him so many times in the night. “You look tired,” he said bluntly. “On my account. Forgive me.”
“Oh, not at all, it wasn’t you. I had nightmares.”
Her expression turned guarded. Forbidden territory. And yet Leo couldn’t help pressing. “Are the nightmares about your past? About whatever situation it was that Rutledge found you in?”
Drawing in a sharp breath, Catherine stood, looking stunned and slightly ill. “Perhaps I should go.”
“No,” Leo said quickly, making a staying gesture with his hand. “Don’t leave. I need company—I’m still suffering the aftereffects of the laudanum that you convinced me to take.” Seeing her continuing hesitation, he added, “And I have a fever.”
“A mild one.”
“Hang it, Marks, you’re a companion,” he said with a scowl. “Do your job, will you?”
She looked indignant for a moment, and then a laugh burst out despite her efforts to hold it in. “I’m Beatrix’s companion,” she said. “Not yours.”
“Today you’re mine. Sit and start reading.”
To Leo’s surprise, the masterful approach actually worked. Catherine resumed her seat and opened the book to the first page. She used the tip of a forefinger to push her spectacles into place—a meticulous little gesture that he adored. “Un Homme d’Affaires,” she read. “A Man of Business. Chapter one.”
Catherine glanced at him expectantly.
Leo chose his words with care. “Is there any part of your past that you would be willing to discuss?”
“For what purpose?”
“I’m curious about you.”
“I don’t like to talk about myself.”
“You see, that’s proof of how interesting you are. There’s nothing more tedious than people who like to talk about themselves. I’m a perfect example.”
She looked down at the book as if she were trying very hard to concentrate on the page. But after just a few seconds, she looked up with a grin that seemed to dissolve his spine. “You are many things, my lord. But tedious is not one of them.”
As Leo gazed at her, he felt the same inexplicable flourish of warmth, of happiness, that he’d experienced yesterday, before their mishap at the ruins.