Catherine felt herself turn ashen. People would be ravenously curious when they learned that the mysterious Harry Rutledge had a long-lost sister. She was fairly certain she wouldn’t be able to bear the scrutiny and the questions.
“People would recognize me as the Hathaways’ governess,” she said in a suffocated voice. “They would ask why the sister of a wealthy hotelier would have accepted such a position.”
“They’ll make of it what they will,” Harry said.
“It won’t reflect well on you.”
Leo spoke dryly. “With your brother’s associations, Marks, he’s accustomed to unflattering rumors.”
The familiar way he had addressed her caused Harry’s eyes to narrow. “I find it interesting,” he said to Catherine, “that you came to London with Ramsay as your traveling companion. When was it decided that the two of you would depart together? And what hour did you leave last night, to reach London by noon?”
All the color that had left Catherine’s face earlier now came rushing back at a surplus. “I … he…” She glanced at Leo, who had adopted an expression of innocent interest, as if he too wanted to hear her explanation. “I left by myself yesterday morning,” she managed to say, dragging her gaze back to Harry.
Harry leaned forward, a scowl gathering on his face. “Yesterday morning? Where did you spend the night?”
She lifted her chin and tried to sound matter-of-fact. “A coaching inn.”
“Do you have any idea how dangerous those places are for a woman alone? Have you taken leave of your senses? When I think of what could have happened to you—”
“She wasn’t alone,” Leo said.
Harry stared at him incredulously.
It was one of those silences that was far more eloquent than words. One could almost see Harry’s brain working like the elaborate mechanisms he liked to construct in his spare time. One could also see the moment at which he reached an accurate and highly unwelcome conclusion.
Harry spoke to Leo in a tone that chilled Catherine to the bone. “Even you wouldn’t take advantage of a frightened and vulnerable woman who had just suffered an upheaval.”
“You’ve never given a damn about her,” Leo replied. “Why should you start now?”
Harry rose to his feet, his fists clenched.
“Oh, dear,” Poppy murmured. “Harry—”
“Did you share a room with her?” Harry demanded of Leo. “A bed?”
“That’s none of your bloody business, is it?”
“It is when it’s my sister and you were supposed to be protecting her, not molesting her!”
“Harry,” Catherine broke in, “he didn’t—”
“I’m rarely disposed to listen to a lecture on morality,” Leo said to Harry, “when it’s given by someone who knows even less about it than I do.”
“Poppy,” Harry said, his gaze fastened on Leo as if he were contemplating murder. “You and Cat need to leave the room.”
“Why must I leave when I’m the subject of discussion?” Catherine demanded. “I’m not a child.”
“Come, Catherine,” Poppy said quietly, heading to the door. “Let them bluster and brawl in their manly fashion. You and I will go somewhere to discuss your future sensibly.”
This struck Catherine as an excellent idea. She followed Poppy from the room, while Harry and Leo continued to glare at each other.
“I’m going to marry her,” Leo said.
Harry’s face went blank. “You despise each other.”
“We’ve come to an understanding.”
“Has she accepted you?”
“Not yet. She wants to discuss it with you first.”
“Thank God. Because I’ll tell her that it’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”
Leo arched a brow. “You doubt I could protect her?”
“I doubt you could keep from murdering each other! I doubt she could ever be happy in such volatile circumstances. I doubt … no, I won’t bother listing all my concerns, it would take too bloody long.” Harry’s eyes were ice-cold. “The answer is no, Ramsay. I’ll do what is necessary to take care of Cat. You can return to Hampshire.”
“I’m afraid it won’t be that easy to get rid of me,” Leo said. “Perhaps you didn’t notice that I haven’t asked for your permission. There is no choice. Certain things have happened that can’t be undone. Do you understand?”
He saw from Harry’s expression that only a few fragile constraints stood between him and certain death.
“You seduced her deliberately,” Harry managed to say.
“Would you be happier if I claimed it was an accident?”
“The only thing that would make me happy is to weight you with rocks and toss you into the Thames.”
“I understand. I even sympathize. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face a man who’s compromised your sister, how difficult it would be to keep from murdering him on the spot. Oh, but wait…” Leo tapped a forefinger thoughtfully on his chin. “I can imagine. Because I went through it two bloody months ago.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “That wasn’t the same. Your sister was still a virgin when I married her.”
Leo gave him an unrepentant glance. “When I compromise a woman, I do it properly.”