When they attended a private musical evening at a mansion on Upper Brook Street, Leo stole Catherine away as the hostess led a group of guests on a tour of the house. Following Leo to a private corner behind an arrangement of tall potted ferns, Catherine went eagerly into his arms. Instead of kissing her, however, he pulled her into the warm strength of his body … and held her. Simply held her, keeping her warm and close, letting his hands course slowly over her back. He whispered something secretive amid the pinned-up swirls of her hair, the words too soft for her to hear.
What Catherine enjoyed above all was walking with Leo through the Rutledge gardens, where sunlight stuttered through trees and hedges, and the breezes carried the crisp hint of approaching autumn. They had long conversations, sometimes touching on sensitive subjects. Careful questions, difficult answers. And yet it seemed they were both struggling toward the same goal, a kind of connection that neither of them had ever known before.
Sometimes Leo drew back and looked at her for wordless moments as one might stare at a work of art in a museum, trying to discover its truth. It was compelling, the interest he showed in her. Seductive. And he was a wonderful conversationalist, telling her stories about his childhood misadventures, about what it had been like to grow up in the Hathaway family, about the time he had spent in Paris and Provence. Catherine listened carefully to the details, gathering them like quilting scraps, piecing them together to form a better understanding of one of the more complex men she had ever met.
Leo was an unsentimental rogue who was capable of great sensitivity and compassion. He was an articulate man who could use words either to soothe like a balm of honey, or dissect like a surgeon’s knife. When it suited him, Leo played the part of a jaded aristocrat, adeptly concealing the quicksilver workings of his brain. But sometimes in unguarded moments, Catherine caught glimpses of the gallant boy he had once been, before experience had weathered and hardened him.
“In some ways he’s very much like our father was,” Poppy told her in private. “Father loved conversation. He was a serious man, an intellectual, but he possessed a streak of whimsy.” She grinned, remembering. “My mother always said she might have married a more handsome man, or a wealthier one, but never one who talked as he did. And she knew herself to be the kind of woman who would never have been happy with a dullard.”
Catherine could well understand that. “Did Lord Ramsay favor your mother in any regard?”
“Oh, yes. She had an artistic eye, and she encouraged Leo in his architectural pursuits.” Poppy paused. “I don’t think she would have been pleased to learn that Leo would inherit a title—she didn’t have a high opinion of the aristocracy. And she certainly wouldn’t have approved of Leo’s behavior in the past few years, although she would be very glad that he had decided to mend his ways.”
“Where did his wicked wit come from?” Catherine asked. “Your mother or your father?”
“That,” Poppy said wryly, “is entirely Leo’s own.”
Nearly every day, Leo brought Catherine a small gift: a book, a box of sweets, a collar made of Brussels bobbin lace in a delicate pattern of openwork flowers. “This is the loveliest lacework I’ve ever seen,” she told him regretfully, setting the exquisite gift on a nearby table with great care. “But my lord, I’m afraid—”
“I know,” Leo said. “A gentleman shouldn’t give personal items to a lady he’s courting.” He lowered his voice, mindful of being overheard by Poppy and the housekeeper, who were talking by the threshold of the Rutledge apartments. “But I can’t take it back—no other woman could do it justice. And Marks, you have no idea of the self-restraint I exercised. I wanted to buy you a pair of embroidered stockings with little flowers that run all the way up the insides of your—”
“My lord,” Catherine whispered, a light blush covering her face. “You forget yourself.”
“I haven’t forgotten a thing, actually. Not one detail of your beautiful body. Soon I may start sketching you na**d again. Every time I put a pencil to paper, the temptation nearly overwhelms me.”
She tried to look severe. “You promised not to do that again.”
“But my pencil has a will of its own,” he said gravely.
Catherine’s color deepened, even as a smile tugged at her lips. “You’re incorrigible.”
His lashes lowered fractionally. “Kiss me, and I’ll behave.”
She made an exasperated little sound. “Now you want to kiss me, when Poppy and the housekeeper are standing only a few yards away?”
“They won’t notice. They’re involved in a riveting conversation about hotel toweling.” Leo’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Kiss me. One little kiss. Right here.” He pointed to his cheek.
Perhaps it was the fact that Leo looked rather boyish as he teased her, his blue eyes alight with mischief. But as Catherine looked at him, she was nearly overwhelmed with a strange new feeling, a warm giddiness that invaded every part of her body. She leaned forward, and instead of kissing his cheek, she put her mouth directly on his.
Leo drew in a surprised breath, letting her take the lead. And, giving in to temptation, she lingered longer than she had intended, her mouth softly teasing, her tongue shyly touching his lips. He responded with a low sound, his arms going around her. She sensed the rising heat in him, the carefully banked urges threatening to flare out of control.