Leo looked at him alertly. “Have you told Marks?”
“No, she’s never asked. I don’t believe she wants to know.”
“She’s afraid,” Leo said quietly.
“Of what nearly became of her. Of things Althea said to her.”
Leo shook his head. “She told me in confidence.” He smiled faintly at Harry’s obvious annoyance. “You’ve known her for years, Rutledge—what in God’s name did you talk about when you were together? Taxes? The weather?” He stood and picked up his coat. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to arrange for a room.”
Harry frowned. “Here?”
“Yes, where else?”
“What about the terrace you usually lease?”
“Closed away for the summer. But even if it weren’t, I’d still stay here.” Leo smiled slightly. “Consider it yet another chance to experience the joys of a close family.”
“It was a far greater joy when the family stayed in bloody Hampshire,” Harry said as Leo left the apartment.
“Harry was right about something,” Poppy told Catherine as they walked through the gardens at the back of the hotel.
In contrast to the modern preference for the romantic appearance in gardening—unstructured, with beds of blossoms that appeared to have sprung up spontaneously, and paths laid out in meandering curves—the Rutledge gardens were orderly and grand. Disciplined hedges formed walls that guided one through a careful arrangement of fountains, statuary, parterres, and elaborate flower beds.
“It is definitely time,” Poppy continued, “for Harry to introduce you to people as his sister. And for you to be known by your real name. What is it, by the way?”
Poppy considered that. “I’m sure it’s only because I’ve always known you as Miss Marks … but I like Marks better.”
“So do I. Catherine Wigens was a frightened girl in difficult circumstances. I’ve been much happier as Catherine Marks.”
“Happier?” Poppy asked gently. “Or merely less frightened?”
Catherine smiled. “I’ve learned quite a lot about happiness over the past few years. I found peace at school, although I was too quiet and private to make friends there. It wasn’t until I came to work for the Hathaways that I saw the day-to-day interactions of people who love each other. And then in the past year, I’ve finally experienced moments of true joy. The feeling that at least for the moment, everything is as it should be, and there’s nothing else one could ask for.”
Poppy sent her a smiling glance. “Moments such as…?”
They entered the rose garden, filled with a profusion of blossoms, the air heavy with sun-warmed perfume.
“Evenings in the parlor, when the family was together and Win was reading. Going on walks with Beatrix. Or that rainy day in Hampshire when we all had a picnic on the veranda. Or—” She broke off, shaken by the realization of what she had been about to say.
“Or?” Poppy prompted, pausing to examine a large and resplendent rose, inhaling its scent. Her astute gaze darted to Catherine’s face.
It was difficult to express her most personal thoughts, but Catherine forced herself to admit the uncomfortable truth. “After Lord Ramsay hurt his shoulder at the old manor ruins … he was in bed with fever the next day … and I sat with him for hours. We talked while I did the mending, and I read Balzac to him.”
Poppy smiled. “Leo must have loved that. He adores French literature.”
“He told me about the time he spent in France. He said the French have a marvelous way of uncomplicating things.”
“Yes, he needed that very much. When Leo went to France with Win, he was a wreck of a man. You wouldn’t have known him. We didn’t know whom to fear for more, Win with her weak lungs, or Leo, who was bent on destroying himself.”
“But they came back well,” Catherine said.
“Yes, both of them were finally well. But different.”
“Because of France?”
“That, and also the struggles they’d been through. Win told me that one isn’t improved by being at the top of the mountain, one is improved by the climb.”
Catherine smiled as she thought of Win, whose patient fortitude had carried her through years of illness. “That sounds exactly like her,” she said. “Perceptive. And strong.”
“Leo is like that too,” Poppy said. “It’s only that he’s far more irreverent.”
“And cynical,” Catherine said.
“Yes, cynical … but also playful. Perhaps it’s an odd combination of qualities, but there’s my brother.”
Catherine’s smile lingered. There were so many images of Leo in her mind … patiently rescuing a hedgehog that had fallen into a fencepost hole … working on a set of plans for a new tenant house, his face severe with concentration … lying wounded on his bed, his eyes glazed with pain as he murmured, I’m too much for you to manage.
No, she had replied, you’re not.
“Catherine,” Poppy said hesitantly, “the fact that Leo came to London with you … I wonder if … that is, I hope … is there a betrothal in the making?”
“He has offered for me,” Catherine admitted, “but I—”