“Is that how your mother was?”

He stretched, his feet reaching far past hers. “Yes. And thank God for it. My father, bless him, was a brilliant scholar one step removed from lunacy. Someone had to be sensible.” Rising up on one elbow, he studied her. He used the pad of his thumb to smooth the arc of her eyebrow. “Don’t move, love, I’ll get a cloth for you.”

Catherine waited with her knees drawn up, watching as he left the bed and went to the washstand. He took up a cloth, dampened it with water from a jug, and cleaned himself efficiently. Taking up another cloth, he moistened it liberally and brought it to her. She sensed that he intended to perform the service for her, but she reached for the cloth and said bashfully, “I’ll do it.”

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Leo found his discarded clothing, pulled on his linens and trousers, and returned to Catherine bare-chested. “Your spectacles,” he murmured, setting them carefully on her nose. His hands were strong and warm against the humid coolness of her cheeks. Seeing the shiver that went through her, he pulled the quilt up to her shoulders, and half sat on the edge of the mattress.

“Marks,” he said soberly. “What just happened … am I to take that as a ‘yes’ to my proposal?”

She hesitated, and shook her head. And then she gave him a wary but resolute glance, as if to indicate that there was nothing he could do or say to change her mind.

His hand found the shape of her hip, squeezing her through the quilt. “I promise it will get better for you, once you heal and have time to—”

“No, it’s not that. I enjoyed it.” She paused, blushing fiercely. “Very much. But we don’t suit in any way other than in the bedroom. We argue so dreadfully.”

“It won’t be like that now. I’ll be nice. I’ll let you win every argument, even when I’m right.” His lips twitched with amusement. “You’re not convinced, I see. What are you afraid we’ll argue about?”

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Catherine looked down at the quilt, smoothing out a frayed seam. “It is fashionable among the peerage for the husband to take mistresses and the wife to take lovers. I could never accept that.” As he opened his mouth to argue, she continued in a rush. “And you’ve never concealed your aversion to marriage. For you to change your mind so quickly … it’s impossible to believe.”

“I understand.” Leo’s hand covered hers in a vital grip. “You’re right—I’ve been against the idea of marriage ever since I lost Laura. And I’ve invented all kinds of excuses to keep from taking such a risk again. But I can’t deny any longer that you are entirely worth it. I wouldn’t propose to you unless I knew without a doubt that you could satisfy all my needs, and I could satisfy yours.” He slid his fingers beneath her chin and urged her to look at him. “As for fidelity—I’ll have no difficulty with that.” His smile turned wry. “My conscience is burdened enough with past sins—I doubt it could stand any more.”

“You would become bored with me,” she said anxiously.

That brought a slight smile to his lips. “Obviously you have no idea of the prodigious variety of ways a man and woman can entertain each other. I won’t be bored. Neither will you.” He stroked her pink cheek with a gentle finger. His gaze was steady. “If I went to another woman’s bed, it would be a betrayal of two people—my wife and myself. I wouldn’t do that to either of us.” He paused. “Do you believe me?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “I’ve always known you to be truthful. Annoying, but truthful.”

There was a glint of amusement in his eyes. “Then give me your answer.”

“Before I make any decisions, I would like to talk with Harry.”

“Of course.” A smile played on his lips. “He married my sister, now I want to marry his. If he objects, I’ll tell him that it’s a fair trade.”

As he sat leaning over her, his dark brown hair falling over his brow, Cat could hardly believe that Leo Hathaway was trying to convince her to marry him. Although she was certain that he meant what he said, some promises were broken despite people’s best intentions to keep them.

Reading her expression, Leo reached out and pulled her against his warm, hard chest. “I’d tell you not to be afraid,” he murmured, “but that’s not always possible. On the other hand … you’ve already started to trust me, Marks. There’s no point in stopping now.”

Chapter Nineteen

Upon learning that the private dining rooms in the tavern would be occupied for some time, Leo requested a tray to be sent up to their room, as well as a hot bath.

Catherine fell asleep beneath the quilt while waiting. She stirred and blinked as she heard the door opening, chairs being moved, the clinking of plates and flatware, the thump of a large tin washtub.

There was a warm, furry weight next to her. Dodger had crawled beneath the quilt and was snoozing beside her shoulder. As Catherine looked at him, she saw the gleam of his bright eyes and heard a tiny yawn before he resettled.

Recalling that she was wearing only Leo’s discarded shirt, Catherine hid beneath the quilt and peeked over the edge as a pair of chambermaids set out the bath. Would they suspect what had occurred between her and Leo earlier? She braced herself for a sly or accusing glance, perhaps a contemptuous giggle, but it seemed the chambermaids were too busy to care. They were nothing but businesslike as they tipped two steaming pails into the washtub, and returned with another two pails full. One of the girls set out a three-legged stool piled with folded toweling.

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