His gaze held hers. “You know it now.”
Let me be your big brother, Harry had told Catherine at their last meeting in Hampshire, making it clear that he wanted to attempt the kind of familial relationship they had never been capable of before. With no small amount of unease, Catherine reflected that she was about to test his claim far sooner than either of them could have expected. And they were still practically strangers.
But Harry had altered greatly during the short time of his marriage to Poppy. He was far kinder and warmer now, and certainly willing to think of Catherine as something more than an inconvenient half sister who didn’t belong anywhere.
Upon arriving at the Rutledge Hotel, Leo and Catherine were shown immediately to the sumptuous private apartments that Harry and Poppy shared.
Of all the Hathaways, Poppy was the one Catherine had always felt the most comfortable with. Poppy was a warm and talkative young woman who loved order and routine. Hers was an essentially sunny and accepting nature, providing a necessary balance to Harry’s driven intensity.
“Catherine,” she exclaimed, embracing her, then standing back to view her with concern. “Why are you here? Is something wrong? Is everyone well?”
“Your family is quite well,” Catherine said hastily. “But there was … a situation. I had to leave.” Her throat became very tight.
Poppy looked at Leo with a frown. “Did you do something?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Because if there is trouble of any kind, you’re usually involved.”
“True. But this time I’m not the problem, I’m the solution.”
Harry approached them, his green eyes narrowed. “If you’re the solution, Ramsay, I’m terrified to hear the problem.” He gave Cat an alert glance, and astonished her by bringing her against him in a protective embrace. “What is it, Cat?” he asked near her ear. “What’s happened?”
“Oh, Harry,” she faltered, “Lord Latimer came to the ball at Ramsay House.”
He understood everything from that one sentence. “I’ll take care of it,” he said without hesitation. “I’ll take care of you.”
Catherine closed her eyes and let out a slow sigh. “Harry, I don’t know what to do.”
“You were right to come to me. We’ll manage it together.” Harry raised his head and glanced at Leo. “Presumably Cat has told you about Latimer.”
Leo looked grim. “Believe me, had I known anything about the situation before, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near her.”
Harry kept Catherine in the crook of his arm as he turned to face Leo fully. “Why was the bastard invited to Ramsay House in the first place?”
“His family was invited as a courtesy befitting their social position in Hampshire. He came in their stead. After he tried to force himself on Marks, I booted him from the premises. He won’t be returning.”
Harry’s eyes gleamed dangerously. “I’ll put a word in the right ear. By tomorrow evening he’ll wish he were dead.”
Catherine felt a nervous pang in her stomach. Harry was a man of extensive influence. As well as his hotel dealings, he had access to a great quantity of highly confidential and valuable information. What Harry kept in his head could probably have been used to start wars, fell kingdoms, destroy families, and dismantle the British financial system.
“No, Harry,” Poppy said. “If you’re planning to have Lord Latimer butchered or maimed, you’re going to have to think of something else.”
“I like Harry’s plan,” Leo said.
“It’s not up for debate,” Poppy informed him. “Come, let’s sit and discuss reasonable alternatives.” She looked at Catherine. “You must be famished after traveling so far. I’ll ring for tea and sandwiches.”
“None for me, thank you,” Catherine said. “I’m not—”
“Yes, she wants sandwiches,” Leo interrupted. “She had only bread and tea for breakfast.”
“I’m not hungry,” Catherine protested. He answered her annoyed glance with an implacable one.
It was a new experience, having someone care about the mundane details of her welfare, having him notice what she’d eaten for breakfast. She examined the feeling, tested it, and found it strangely alluring, even as she resisted the idea of being told what to do. The small interaction was similar to a thousand instances she had seen between Cam and Amelia, or Merripen and Win, the way they occasionally fussed over each other. Cared for each other.
After tea was sent for, Poppy returned to the private parlor. Sitting beside Catherine on the velvet-covered settee, Poppy said, “Tell us what happened, dear. Did Lord Latimer approach you early in the evening?”
“No, the ball had been under way for some time…”
Catherine relayed the events of the evening in a matter-of-fact manner, her hands clenched in her lap. “The problem is,” she said, “that no matter how we try to keep Lord Latimer quiet about the past, he will make it public. A scandal is coming, and nothing will stop it. The best way to throw water on the flames is for me to disappear again.”
“A new name, a new identity?” Harry asked, and shook his head. “You can’t run forever, Cat. We’ll stand and confront it this time—together’as we should have done years ago.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, turning various options over in his mind. “I’ll start by acknowledging you publicly as my sister.”