“Take me,” she whispered as he lay beside her again.

“No,” Leo said gently, turning to pin her to the mattress. “No chance of that tonight. We’ll have to wait until your judgment isn’t clouded. By morning, most of the opium will have worn off. If you still want me then, I’ll be ready and willing.”

“I want you now,” she said, but he held her down and pleasured her with his mouth once more.

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Catherine woke a few hours later, glimpsing the plum-colored sky as it began to lighten with the premonition of dawn. Leo’s long body was tucked comfortably behind hers, one arm beneath her neck, the other draped across her middle. She loved the feel of him, vibrant heat and muscle, his skin like satin in some places, hair-roughened in others. Although she was careful not to move, Leo stirred and murmured.

Slowly she reached for his hand and drew it to her breast. Leo began to fondle her before he was even awake. His lips touched the back of her neck. Feeling him harden against her bottom, she pressed against him. One of his legs intruded between hers, as his hand slid down to the light fleece of curls.

She felt the taut pressure of him, nudging against her entrance, circling into the moisture. He pushed partway inside her and stopped, while her flesh, swollen from the night’s excesses, had difficulty accommodating him.

His soft, amused voice tickled her ear. “Mmmn … you’ll have to try harder, Marks. We both know you can take more than this.”

“Help me,” she gasped.

With a sympathetic murmur, he lifted her top leg and adjusted her position. Her eyes closed as she felt him slide inside her.

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“There,” he whispered. “Is this what you want?”

“Harder … harder…”

“No, love … let me be gentle with you. Just for now.”

He moved inside her with slow, deliberate drives, his caressing hand sliding back between her thighs. He took his time, and she had no choice but to let him. She was suffused with warmth, sensation building as he courted her, stroked her. Pressing love words and kisses against her neck, he sank more deeply inside her. She cried out his name, cresting, and he gently urged her even higher. Her shaking hand went to his hip and gripped the flexing surface.

“Don’t leave me. Please, Leo.”

He understood. As her wet flesh clenched around him once more, delicately wringing and pulling at the hardness, he pumped forcefully, letting himself go. And at last she knew the feel of his release, the way his belly tightened, the trembling of a powerful man rendered helpless in that ultimate moment.

They stayed joined as long as possible, resting together and watching as the dawn seeped through the parted curtains.

“I love you,” she whispered, “so dearly, my lord. My Leo.”

He smiled and kissed her. Rising, he went to drag on his trousers.

While Leo sluiced his face at the washstand, Catherine reached for her spectacles. Her gaze happened to fall on Dodger’s empty basket by the door, and her smile dimmed. “Poor weasel,” she murmured.

Leo returned to her, instantly concerned as he saw her watering eyes. “What is it?”

“Dodger,” she said with a sniffle. “I miss him already.”

Leo sat and drew her up against him. “Would you like to see him?”

“Yes, but I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Before she could answer, she saw an odd movement beneath the door … a furry, skinny body wiggling industriously beneath the ridiculously narrow space. Catherine blinked, afraid to move. “Dodger?”

The ferret came loping toward the bed, chuckling and chirping, his eyes bright as he hurried to her.

“Dodger, you’re alive!”

“Of course he’s alive,” Leo said. “We put him in Poppy’s apartment last night to allow you some rest.” He smiled as the ferret bounded onto the mattress. “Mischievous little beggar. How did you get all the way down here?”

“He came to find me.” Catherine held out her arms, and Dodger climbed up to her and snuggled against her chest. She stroked him over and over, murmuring endearments. “He tried to protect me, you know. He bit William’s hand quite terribly.” She nuzzled her chin against Dodger and crooned, “Good little watch ferret.”

“Well done, Dodger,” Leo said. Leaving the bed for a moment, he went to his discarded coat and rummaged through the pockets. “I suppose that leads to the question … in marrying you, am I going to be gaining a ferret, as well?”

“Do you think Beatrix would let me keep him?”

“There’s no doubt of it.” Leo returned to sit beside her. “She’s always said that he belongs to you.”

“Has she?”

“Well, it’s rather obvious, in light of his fascination for your garters. And one certainly can’t blame him for that.” Leo reached for her hand. “I have something to ask you, Marks.”

She sat up eagerly, letting Dodger drape around her neck.

“I can’t remember if this is the fifth or sixth proposal,” he said.

“It’s only the fourth.”

“I asked you yesterday. Are you counting that one?”

“No, that wasn’t really ‘will you marry me,’ that was more ‘will you come down off the roof.—”

One of Leo’s brows arched. “By all means, let’s be technical.” He slid a ring onto the fourth finger of her left hand. It was the most breathtaking ring she had ever seen, a flawless silver opal with flashes of blue and green fire hidden deep inside. With every movement of her hand, the opal glimmered with unearthly color. It was encircled by a rim of glittering small diamonds. “This reminded me of your eyes,” he said. “Only not nearly as beautiful.” He paused, looking at her intently. “Catherine Marks, love of my life … will you marry me?”

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