“No, you mean to say ‘uxoricide.—”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, uxor is the Latin word for ‘wife.—”
“Then what’s ‘sororicide’?”
“Killing one’s sister.”
“Oh, well, if I had to marry Miss Darvin, I’d probably end up doing that too.” Leo grinned down at her. “The point is, I could never have this kind of conversation with her.”
He was probably right. Catherine had lived with the Hathaways long enough to fall into their style of banter, slipping into the verbal detours that could start one talking about the increasing problem of the Thames River pollution, and end up debating the question of whether or not the Earl of Sandwich had actually invented sandwiches. Catherine restrained a miserable laugh as she realized that although she might have had a slight civilizing influence on the Hathaways, their influence on her had been much greater.
Leo’s head lowered, and he kissed the side of her neck with a slow deliberation that made her squirm. Clearly he had lost interest in the subject of Miss Darvin. “Give in, Cat. Say you’ll marry me.”
“What if I couldn’t give you a son?”
“There are never guarantees.” Leo lifted his head and grinned. “But think of how much fun we’ll have trying.”
“I don’t want to be responsible for the Hathaways losing Ramsay House.”
A new seriousness infused his expression. “No one would hold you responsible for that. It’s a house. No more and no less. There isn’t a structure on earth that could last forever. But a family goes on.”
The front of her bodice had gone loose. She realized that he had been unbuttoning her as they had been talking. She moved to stop him, but he had already managed to spread the front of her bodice open, revealing her corset and chemise.
“Therefore the only thing you’ll be responsible for,” Leo said huskily, “is going to bed with me as often as I wish, and participating in all my heir-inducing efforts.” As Catherine turned her face away, gasping, he bent to whisper in her ear. “I’m going to pleasure you. Fill you. Seduce you from head to toe. And you’re going to love it.”
“You are the most arrogant and absurd—oh, please don’t do that.” He was investigating her ear with the tip of his tongue, a silky-wet tickle. Paying no attention to her protests, he kissed and licked his way along the taut arch of her neck. “Don’t,” she moaned, but he took her panting mouth with his, and let his tongue play there as well, and the sensation and taste and smell of him made her feel drunk. Her arms groped around his neck, and she surrendered with a weak moan.
After her mouth had been teased, searched, and thoroughly ravished, Leo lifted his head and stared into her dazed eyes. “Do you want to hear the best part of my plan?” he asked thickly. “In order to make an honest woman of you, I’ll have to debauch you first.”
Catherine was dismayed to hear herself giggle in witless amusement. “No doubt you’re good at that.”
“Gifted,” he assured her. “The trick is for me to find out what you like best, and then let you have only a little of it. I’ll torment you until you’re absolutely miserable.”
“That doesn’t sound at all pleasant.”
“You think not? Then you’ll be surprised when you beg me to do it again.”
Catherine couldn’t hold back another helpless giggle.
Then they were both motionless, flushed, staring at each other intently.
She heard herself whisper, “I’m afraid.”
“I know, darling,” Leo said gently. “But you’ll have to trust me.”
“Because you can.”
Their gazes held. Catherine was paralyzed. What he asked was impossible. To give herself over entirely to a man, to anyone, was anathema to her very nature. Therefore, it should have been easy to refuse him.
Except that when she tried to form the word “no,” she couldn’t produce a sound.
Leo began to undress her, pulling the gown away in rustling armfuls. And Catherine let him. She actually helped him, loosening laces with shaking hands, lifting her hips, tugging her arms free. He unhooked her corset deftly, betraying easy familiarity with women’s unmentionables. He was in no hurry, however. He was slow and deliberate as he removed the protective layers one by one.
Finally Catherine was covered in nothing more than a blush, her pale skin scored with temporary marks left by the edges of the corset and the seams of her clothes. Leo’s hand descended to her midriff, fingertips moving sensitively along the faint lines like a traveler mapping unexplored territory. His expression was absorbed, tender, as his palm skimmed over her stomach … lower … softly grazing the fluff of intimate hair.
“Blond everywhere,” he whispered.
“Is that … does that please you?” she asked bashfully, gasping as his hand ascended to her breast.
There was a hint of a smile in his voice. “Cat, everything about you is so lovely, I can hardly breathe.” His fingers caressed the cool rise of her breast, toying with the tip until it was taut and rose-colored. He bent and took it in his mouth.
Her heart missed a beat as she heard a noise from downstairs, a clatter that sounded like dishes being dropped in the tavern, the pitch of a raised voice. It was unimaginable that other people were going about the perfectly ordinary business of their day while she was na**d in bed with Leo.