A shiver ran through her, as if she could read his thoughts. Leo stared down at her intently. His voice softened. “Are you afraid of me, Marks? You, who bludgeon and cut me down to size at every opportunity?”
“Of course not, you arrogant ass. I only wish you would behave like a man of your station.”
“You mean like a peer?” He raised his eyebrows mockingly. “This is how peers behave. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed by now.”
“Oh, I’ve noticed. A man fortunate enough to inherit a title should have the decency to try and live up to it. Being a peer is an obligation—a responsibility—but instead you seem to regard it as a license to engage in the most self-indulgent and disgusting behavior imaginable. Moreover—”
“Marks,” Leo interrupted in a velvety tone, “that was a perfectly wonderful attempt at distracting me. But it’s not going to work. You’re not getting away from me until you tell me what I want to know.”
She swallowed hard and tried to look everywhere but at him, which wasn’t easy when he was standing right in front of her. “The reason I was talking privately with Mr. Rutledge … the scene you witnessed…”
“It was because … Harry Rutledge is my brother. Half brother.”
Leo stared at her downbent head, trying to absorb the information. The sense of being duped, betrayed, ignited a bonfire of rage. Holy hell. Marks and Harry Rutledge were siblings?
“There could be no good reason,” Leo said, “for such information to have been kept secret.”
“The situation is complicated.”
“Why have neither of you said anything before now?”
“You don’t need to know.”
“You should have told me before he married Poppy. You were obligated.”
“Loyalty, damn you. What else do you know that might affect my family? What other secrets are you hiding?”
“It’s none of your business,” Catherine shot back, now twisting in his grip. “Let me go!”
“Not until I find out what you’re plotting. Is Catherine Marks even your real name? Who the hell are you?” He swore as she began to struggle in earnest. “Hold still, you little she-devil. I just want to’ouch!” This last as she turned and jabbed a sharp elbow in his side.
The maneuver gained Marks the freedom she sought, but her spectacles went flying to the ground. “My spectacles!” With an aggravated sigh, she dropped to her hands and knees and began feeling for them.
Leo’s fury was instantly smothered by guilt. From the looks of it, she was practically blind without the spectacles. And the sight of her crawling on the ground made him feel like a brute. A jackass. Lowering to his knees, he began to hunt for them as well.
“Did you see the direction they went in?” he asked.
“If I did,” she said, fuming, “I wouldn’t need spectacles, would I?”
A short silence. “I’ll help you find them.”
“How kind of you,” she said acidly.
For the next few minutes the two of them traversed the garden on their hands and knees, searching among the daffodils. They both chewed on the gristly silence as if it were a mutton chop.
“So you actually need spectacles,” Leo finally said.
“Of course I do,” Marks said crossly. “Why would I wear spectacles if I didn’t need them?”
“I thought they might be part of your disguise.”
“Yes, Marks, disguise. A noun describing a means of concealing someone’s identity. Often used by clowns and spies. And now apparently governesses. Good God, can anything be ordinary for my family?”
Marks glared and blinked in his direction, her gaze not quite focused. For a moment, she looked like an anxious child whose favorite blanket had been set out of reach. And that caused an odd, painful twinge in Leo’s heart.
“I’ll find your spectacles,” he said brusquely. “You have my word. If you like, you can go into the house while I keep searching.”
“No, thank you. If I tried to find the house on my own, I’d probably end up in the barn.”
Seeing a metallic glimmer in the grass, Leo reached out and closed his hand around the spectacles. “Here they are.” He crawled to Marks and faced her in an upright kneeling position. After polishing the spectacle lenses with the edge of his sleeve, he said, “Hold still.”
“Give them to me.”
“Let me do it, hardhead. Arguing comes to you as naturally as breathing, doesn’t it?”
“No, it doesn’t,” she said immediately, and colored as he gave a husky laugh.
“It’s no fun to bait you when you make it so easy, Marks.” He placed the spectacles on her face with great care, running his fingers along the sides of the frame, viewing the fit with an assessing glance. Gently he touched the tips of the earpieces. “They’re not fitted well.” He ran an exploring fingertip over the upper rim of one ear. She was remarkably pretty in the sunlight, her gray eyes containing glimmers of blue and green. Like opals. “Such small ears,” Leo continued, letting his hands linger at the sides of her fine-boned face. “No wonder your spectacles fall off so readily. There’s hardly anything to hang them on.”
Marks stared at him in bewilderment.
How fragile she was, he thought. Her will was so fierce, her temperament so prickly, that he tended to forget she was only half his size. He would have expected her to slap his hands away by now—she hated being touched, especially by him. But she didn’t move at all. He let his thumb brush the side of her throat, and felt the tiny undulation of her swallow. There was something unreal about the moment, something dreamlike. He didn’t want it to end.