Leo disentangled her fingers and meshed his own with them, until their hands were caught together like the clasp of a bracelet. “What did she say, love?”

“That he already knew, and approved, and he would receive a percentage of the money I earned. I didn’t want to believe it.” She let out a broken sigh. “But he had to have known, didn’t he?”

Leo was silent, his thumb softly rubbing into the cup of her palm. The question needed no answer.

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Catherine set her jaw against a quiver of grief, and resumed. “Althea brought gentlemen to meet me one at a time, and she told me to be charming. She said that of all of them, Lord Latimer had made the highest offer.” She made a face against his shirt. “He was the one I liked least of all. He kept winking and telling me there were naughty surprises in store for me.”

Leo uttered a few choice words beneath his breath. At her uncertain pause, he ran his hand along her spine. “Go on.”

“But Althea told me what to expect, because she thought I would fare much better if I knew. And the acts she described, the things I was supposed to…”

His hand went still on her back. “Were you required to put any of it in practice?”

She shook her head. “No, but it all sounded dreadful.”

A note of sympathetic amusement warmed his voice. “Of course it did, to a fifteen-year-old girl.”

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Lifting her head, Catherine looked into his face. He was too handsome for his own good, and for hers as well. Although she wasn’t wearing her spectacles, she could see every breathtaking detail of him … the dark grain of shaved whiskers, the laugh lines at the outer corners of his eyes, little pale whisks against the rosewood color of his skin. And most of all the variegated blue of his eyes, light and dark, sunlight and shadow.

Leo waited patiently, holding her as if there were nothing else in the world he would have preferred doing. “How did you get away?”

“I went to my grandmother’s desk one morning,” Catherine said, “when the household was still asleep. I was trying to find money. I planned to run away and find lodging and a decent position somewhere. There wasn’t a single shilling. But in one of the nooks in the desk, I found a letter, addressed to me. I’d never seen it before.”

“From Rutledge,” Leo said rather than asked.

Catherine nodded. “A brother I’d never known existed. Harry had written that if I were ever in need, I should send word to his address. I dashed off a letter to let him know the trouble I was in, and I gave it to William to deliver—”

“Who is William?”

“A little boy who worked there … he carried things up and down the stairs, cleaned shoes, went on errands, whatever he was told to do. I think he was the child of one of the prostitutes. A very sweet boy. He delivered the note to Harry. I hope Althea never found out. If she did, I fear for what happened to him.” She shook her head and sighed. “The next day I was sent to Lord Latimer’s house. But Harry came just in time.” She paused reflectively. “He frightened me only a little less than Lord Latimer. Harry was extremely angry. At the time I thought it was directed at me, but now I think it was the situation.”

“Guilt often takes the form of anger.”

“But I never blamed Harry for what happened to me. I wasn’t his responsibility.”

Leo’s face hardened. “Apparently you were no one’s responsibility.”

Catherine shrugged uneasily. “Harry didn’t know what to do with me. He asked where I wanted to live, since I couldn’t stay with him, and I asked if he could send me somewhere far from London. We settled on a school in Aberdeen, called Blue Maid’s.”

He nodded. “Some of the peerage send their more unruly daughters or by-blows there.”

“How did you know about it?”

“I’m acquainted with a woman who attended Blue Maid’s. A severe place, she said. Plain food and discipline.”

“I loved it.”

His lips twitched. “You would.”

“I lived there for six years, teaching for the last two.”

“Did Rutledge come to visit?”

“Only once. But we corresponded occasionally. I never went home on holiday, because the hotel wasn’t really a home, and Harry didn’t want to see me.” She grimaced a little. “He wasn’t very nice until he met Poppy.”

“I’m not convinced that he’s nice now,” Leo said. “But as long as he treats my sister well, I’ll have no quarrel with him.”

“Oh, but Harry loves her,” Catherine said earnestly. “Truly he does.”

Leo’s expression softened. “What makes you so certain?”

“I can see it. The way he is with her, the look in his eyes and … why are you smiling like that?”

“Women. You’ll interpret anything as love. You see a man wearing an idiotic expression, and you assume he’s been struck by Cupid’s arrow when in reality he’s digesting a bad turnip.”

She looked at him indignantly. “Are you mocking me?”

Laughing, Leo tightened his arms around her as she tried to struggle from his lap. “I’m merely making an observation about your gender.”

“I suppose you think men are superior.”

“Not at all. Only simpler. A woman is a collection of diverse needs, whereas a man has only one. No, don’t get up. Tell me why you left Blue Maid’s.”

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