There was no one to blame but herself.
What remarkable ammunition she had given to Leo. He would torture her with this. He would take every opportunity to humiliate her. She knew him well enough not to doubt it.
Catherine’s ill humor was not helped by the appearance of Dodger, who emerged from the slipper box by her bed. The ferret pushed the lid open with his head, clucked in cheerful greeting, and tugged her slipper out of the box. Heaven knew where he intended to take it.
“Stop that, Dodger,” she said wearily, laying her head on her arms as she watched him.
Everything was blurry. She needed her spectacles. And it was awfully difficult to go looking for something when you couldn’t see more than two feet in front of your face. Moreover, if one of the housemaids found the spectacles in Leo’s room, or God help her, in his bed, everyone would find out.
Abandoning the slipper, Dodger trotted to her and stood tall, bracing his long, slender body against her knee. He was shivering, which Beatrix had told her was normal for ferrets. A ferret’s temperature lowered when he was sleeping, and shivering was his way of warming himself upon awakening. Catherine reached down to stroke him. When he tried to climb into her lap, however, she nudged him away. “I don’t feel well,” she told the ferret woefully, although there was nothing wrong with her physically.
Chattering in annoyance at her rejection, Dodger turned and streaked out of the room.
Catherine continued to lie with her head on the table, feeling too dreary and ashamed to move.
She had slept late. She could hear the sounds of footsteps and muffled conversation coming from the lower floors. Had Leo gone down to breakfast?
She couldn’t possibly face him.
Her mind returned to those blistering minutes of the previous night. A fresh swell of desire rolled through her as she thought of the way he had kissed her, the feel of his mouth on the intimate places of her body.
She heard the ferret come back into the room again, chuckling and hopping as he did whenever he was especially pleased about something. “Go away, Dodger,” she said dully.
But he persisted, coming to her side and standing tall again, his body a long cylinder. Glancing at him, Catherine saw that something was clamped carefully in his front teeth. She blinked. Slowly she reached down and took the object from him.
Amazing, how much better a small gesture of kindness could make one feel.
“Thank you,” she whispered, tears coming to her eyes as she stroked his tiny head. “I do love you, you disgusting weasel.”
Climbing onto her lap, Dodger flipped upside down and sighed.
Catherine dressed with painstaking care, putting extra pins in her hair, tying the sash of her gray dress a bit tighter than usual, even double-knotting the laces of her sensible ankle boots. As if she could contain herself so thoroughly that nothing could stray loose. Not even her thoughts.
Entering the breakfast room, she saw Amelia at the table. She was feeding toast to baby Rye, who was gumming it and drooling copiously.
“Good morning,” Catherine murmured, going to pour a cup of tea at the samovar. “Poor little Rye … I heard him cry in the night. The new tooth hasn’t come yet?”
“Not yet,” Amelia said ruefully. “I’m sorry he disturbed your sleep, Catherine.”
“Oh, he didn’t bother me. I was already awake. It was a restless night.”
“It must have been for Lord Ramsay as well,” Amelia remarked.
Catherine glanced at her quickly, but thankfully there seemed to be no arch meaning in the comment. She tried to keep her expression neutral. “Oh? I hope he is well this morning.”
“He seems well enough, but he’s unusually quiet. Preoccupied.” Amelia made a face. “I suppose it didn’t improve his disposition when I told him that we are planning to hold the ball in one month’s time.”
Stirring sugar into her tea with great care, Catherine asked, “Will you tell people that the event is for the purpose of finding a bride for Lord Ramsay?”
Amelia grinned. “No, even I am not that indelicate. However, it will be obvious that a great many eligible young women have been invited. And of course, my brother is a prime matrimonial target.”
“I’m sure I don’t know why,” Catherine muttered, trying to sound offhand, when inside she was filled with despair.
She realized she would not be able to stay with the Hathaway family if or when Leo married. She literally wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of him with another woman. Especially if she made him happy.
“Oh, it’s simple,” Amelia said impishly. “Lord Ramsay is a peer with a full head of hair and all his teeth, and he is still in his procreating years. And if he weren’t my brother, I suppose I would consider him not bad-looking.”
“He’s very handsome,” Catherine protested without thinking, and flushed as Amelia gave her an astute glance.
She applied herself to drinking her tea, nibbled at a breakfast roll, and left in search of Beatrix. It was time for their morning studies.
Catherine and Beatrix had settled on a pattern, beginning their lessons with a few minutes on etiquette and social graces, and then spending the rest of the morning on subjects such as history, philosophy, even science. Beatrix had long mastered the “fashionable” subjects that were taught to young ladies merely for the purpose of making them suitable wives and mothers. Now Catherine felt that she and Beatrix had become fellow students.
Although Catherine had never had the privilege of meeting the Hathaway parents, she thought that both of them, particularly Mr. Hathaway, would have been pleased by their children’s accomplishments. The Hathaways were an intellectual family, all of them easily able to discuss a subject or issue on an abstract level. And there was something else they shared—an ability to make imaginative leaps and connections between disparate subjects.