Catherine stared sightlessly in the darkness, kicked the bed linens away from her legs, and tried to find a more comfortable position in which to sleep. Her side. Her stomach. Nothing felt right.
After a few minutes, the baby’s crying stopped. No doubt he was being soothed by his attentive mother.
But Catherine was left awake. Lonely, aching. The worst kind of awake.
She tried to occupy herself with old Celtic sheep-counting words, still used by rural farmers in place of modern numbers … yan, tan, tethera, pethera … One could hear the echo of centuries in the ancient syllables. Sethera, methera, hovera, covera …
Her mind summoned an image of singular blue eyes, striated light and dark, like strips of sky and ocean. Leo had watched her while she had read to him, and while she had done the mending. And underneath their banter, and his relaxed façade, she had known that he wanted her. Yan, tan, tethera …
Perhaps Leo was awake at this very moment. His fever had dissipated earlier in the evening, but it might have rekindled. He might need water. A cool cloth.
Catherine left the bed and snatched up her dressing robe before she could think twice. Finding her spectacles on the dressing table, she placed them precisely on her nose.
Her bare feet crossed the wood floors of the hallway as she went on her charitable mission.
The door to his room was partially open. She slipped in without a sound, like a thief, tiptoeing to the bed just as she had the previous night. The darkness of the room was penetrated by a few runnels of light from the open window, as if the shadows were a sieve. She could hear the soft and steady flow of Leo’s breathing.
Making her way to his side, Catherine reached out tentatively, her heartbeat thickening as she laid her fingers on his forehead. No fever. Only smooth, healthy warmth.
Leo’s breathing fractured as he awakened. “Cat?” His voice was sleep-thickened. “What are you doing?”
She shouldn’t have gone to him. Any excuse she gave would sound false and ridiculous, because there was no rational reason to have bothered him.
Awkwardly she mumbled, “I … I came to see if…” Her voice died away.
She began to draw back but he caught her wrist with remarkable dexterity, considering that it was night and he was barely awake. They both went still as she was caught poised over him, her wrist imprisoned in his grip.
Leo exerted tension on her arm, forcing her to lean farther over him, farther, until her balance was compromised and she fell on him in a slow topple. Terrified of hurting him, she scrabbled to brace her hands on the mattress, and he used every movement to lever her more fully onto his body. She started as she encountered bare flesh tightly knit with muscle, his chest covered with a soft, crisp fleece.
“My lord,” she whispered, “I didn’t—”
His long hand curved around the back of her head, and he brought her mouth down to his.
It wasn’t a kiss, it was a possession. He took her fully, the heat of his tongue thrusting inside her, draining her of volition and thought. The masculine incense of his skin filled her nostrils. Erotic. Delicious. Too many sensations to take in at once … the hot silk of his mouth, the assured grip of his hands, the hard masculine contours of his body.
The world revolved slowly as Leo turned with her in his arms, half pinning her to the bed. His kisses were rough and sweet, kisses involving lips and teeth and tongue. Gasping, she reached around his neck and bandaged shoulder. He moved over her, big and dark, kissing her as if he wanted to devour her.
The folds of her dressing gown listed open, the hem of her nightgown rising to her knees. Leo’s mouth broke from hers to begin a luscious search of her throat, following tender nerve paths down to the place where her neck and shoulder met. His fingers worked at the front of her nightgown, unmooring tiny buttons, spreading the thin fabric.
His head lowered, his lips slowly ascending the trembling slope of her breast until he reached the tip. Taking her into his mouth, he warmed the cool bud with lambent strokes of his tongue. Ragged moans rose in her throat, mingling with the gusts of his breath. Leo settled more heavily between her thighs, giving her his weight until she felt the hard length of him press her intimately. He sought her other breast, closing his mouth over the peak and tugging wetly, creating waves of involuting pleasure.
With every movement, more sensation was uncovered, the soft edges of arousal wearing away to exquisite rawness. Leo took her mouth with long, drugging kisses, while lower down he had begun a subtle rhythm, nudging and sliding, using himself to arouse her. She twisted beneath him, desperately trying to follow that teasing hardness. Their bodies pressed together like the pages of a closed book, and it felt so right, so wildly pleasurable, that it frightened her.
“No,” she gasped, pushing at him. “Wait. Please—”
One of her hands pressed heedlessly against his injured shoulder, and Leo rolled off her with a curse.
“My lord?” She scrambled from the bed and stood there, shaking in every limb. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you? What can I—”
“Now, Marks.” His voice was low and guttural. “Or else come back to bed, and let me finish.”
After a wretched night, Catherine fumbled for her spectacles and realized she had lost them sometime during her visit to Leo’s room. Groaning, she sat at her dressing table and buried her face in her hands.
A stupid impulse, she thought dully. A moment of madness. She should never have given in to it.