One evening, for example, the discussion at dinner had centered on news of an aerial steam carriage that had been designed by a Somerset bobbin maker named John Stringfellow. It didn’t work, of couse, but the idea was fascinating. During the debate about whether or not man might ever be able to fly in a mechanical invention, the Hathaways had brought up Greek mythology, physics, Chinese kites, the animal kingdom, French philosophy, and the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. Trying to follow the discussion had very nearly been dizzying.
Privately Catherine had worried about whether such conversational pyrotechnics would put off potential suitors for Poppy and Beatrix. And in the case of Poppy, it had indeed turned out to be problematic. At least until she had met Harry.
However, when Catherine had tried to delicately raise the issue with Cam Rohan early on in her employment, he had been very decided in his reply.
“No, Miss Marks, don’t try to change Poppy or Beatrix,” Cam had told her. “It wouldn’t work, and it would only make them unhappy. Just help them learn how to behave in society, and how to talk about nothing, as the gadjos do.”
“In other words,” Catherine had said wryly, “you want them to have the appearance of propriety, but you don’t wish for them to actually become proper?”
Cam had been delighted by her understanding. “Exactly.”
Catherine understood now how right Cam had been. None of the Hathaways would ever be like the denizens of London society, nor would she want them to be.
She went to the library to procure some books for her studies with Beatrix. As she entered the room, however, she stopped with a gasp as she saw Leo leaning over the long library table, writing something on a set of spread-out drawings.
Leo turned his head to glance at her, his eyes piercing. She went hot and cold. Her skull throbbed in the places where she had pinned her hair too tightly.
“Good morning,” she said breathlessly, falling back a step. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“You’re not intruding.”
“I came to fetch some books, if … if I may.”
Leo gave her a single nod and returned his attention to the drawings.
Acutely self-conscious, Catherine went to the bookshelves and hunted for the titles she had wanted. It was so quiet that she thought the pounding of her heart must have been audible. Needing desperately to break the pressing silence, she asked, “Are you designing something for the estate? A tenant house?”
“Addition for the stables.”
Catherine gazed sightlessly along the rows of books. Were they going to pretend that the events of the previous night had never happened? She certainly hoped so.
But then she heard Leo say, “If you want an apology, you’re not going to get one.”
Catherine turned to face him. “I beg your pardon?”
Leo was still contemplating the set of elevations. “When you visit a man in his bed at night, don’t expect tea and conversation.”
“I wasn’t visiting you in your bed,” she said defensively. “That is, you were in your bed, but it was not my desire to find you there.” Aware that she was making no sense at all, she resisted the urge to smack herself on the head.
“At two o’clock in the morning,” Leo informed her, “I can nearly always be found on a mattress, engaged in either of two activities. One is sleeping. I don’t believe I need to elaborate on the other.”
“I only wanted to see if you were feverish,” she said, turning crimson. “If you needed anything.”
“Apparently I did.”
Catherine had never felt so extraordinarily uncomfortable. All her skin had become too tight for her body. “Are you going to tell anyone?” she brought herself to ask.
One of his brows arched mockingly. “You fear I’m going to tattle about our nighttime rendezvous? No, Marks, I have nothing to gain from that. And much to my regret, we didn’t do nearly enough to warrant decent gossip.”
Blushing, Catherine went to a pile of sketches and scraps at the corner of the table. She straightened them into a neat stack. “Did I hurt you?” she managed to ask, recalling how she had inadvertently pushed on his wounded shoulder. “Does it ache this morning?”
Leo hesitated before replying. “No, it eventually eased after you left. But the devil knows it wouldn’t take much to start up again.”
Catherine was overcome with remorse. “I’m so sorry. Should we put a poultice on it?”
“A poultice?” he repeated blankly. “On my … oh. We’re talking about my shoulder?”
She blinked in confusion. “Of course we’re talking about your shoulder. What else would we be discussing?”
“Cat…” Leo looked away from her. To her surprise, there was a tremor of laughter in his voice. “When a man is aroused and left unsatisfied, he usually aches for a while afterward.”
He gave her a speaking glance.
“You mean…” A wild blush raced over her as she finally understood. “Well, I don’t care if you ache there, I was only concerned about your wound!”
“It’s much better,” Leo assured her, his eyes bright with amusement. “As for the other ache—”
“That has nothing to do with me,” she said hastily.
“I beg to differ.”
Catherine’s dignity had been mowed down to nothing. Clearly there was no option but retreat. “I’m leaving now.”