“He is an obedient son,” Poppy said, mopping at her tears, then giving up and simply wadding the handkerchief against her flooding eyes.
“Yes, well . . . from now on, I advise you to look for a man with his own means of support.”
Poppy shook her head, her face still buried in the handkerchief. “There’s no one for me.”
She felt her sister’s arms go around her. “There is. There is, I promise you. He’s waiting. He’ll find you. And someday Michael Bayning will be nothing but a distant memory.”
Poppy began to cry in earnest, wracking sobs that caused her ribs to ache. “God,” she managed to gasp. “This hurts, Amelia. And it feels as if it will never end.”
Carefully Amelia guided Poppy’s head to her shoulder and kissed her wet cheek. “I know,” she said. “I lived through it once. I remember what it was like. You’ll cry, and then you’ll be angry, and then despairing, and then angry again. But I know of a cure for heartbreak.”
“What is it?” Poppy asked, letting out a shuddery sigh.
“Time . . . prayer . . . and most of all a family that loves you. You will always be loved, Poppy.”
Poppy managed a wavering smile. “Thank God for sisters,” she said, and wept against Amelia’s shoulder.
Much later that night, there came a determined knock at the door of Harry Rutledge’s private apartment. Jake Valentine paused in the act of laying out fresh clothes and polished black shoes for the morning. He went to answer the door and was confronted by a vaguely familiar–looking woman. She was small and slight, with light brown hair and blue gray eyes, and a pair of round spectacles perched on her nose. He considered her for a moment, trying to place her.
“May I help you?”
“I wish to see Mr. Rutledge.”
“I’m afraid he’s not at home.”
Her mouth twisted at the well-worn phrase, used by servants when the master didn’t wish to be disturbed. She spoke to him with scalding contempt. “Do you mean ‘not at home’ in the sense that he doesn’t want to see me, or ‘not at home’ in the sense that he’s actually gone?”
“Either way,” Jake said implacably, “you won’t see him tonight. But the truth is, he really isn’t here. Is there a message I may convey to him?”
“Yes. Tell him that I hope he rots in hell for what he did to Poppy Hathaway. And then tell him that if he goes near her, I’ll murder him.”
Jake responded with a complete lack of alarm due to the fact that death threats against Harry were a more or less common occurrence. “And you are?”
“Just give him the message,” she said curtly. “He’ll know who it’s from.”
Two days after Michael Bayning had visited the hotel, the Hathaways’ brother Leo, Lord Ramsay, came to call. Like other men-about-town, Leo leased a small Mayfair terrace during the season, and at the end of June retreated to his estate in the country. Although Leo could easily have chosen to live with the family at the Rutledge, he preferred privacy.
No one could deny that Leo was a handsome man, tall and broad shouldered, with dark brown hair and striking eyes. Unlike his sisters, his eyes were a light shade of blue, glacier colored with dark rims. Haunting. World-weary. He comported himself as a rake and did a thorough job of it, appearing never to care about anyone or anything. There were moments, however, when the mask was lifted just long enough to reveal a man of extraordinary feeling, and it was in those rare moments that Catherine was most apprehensive around him.
When they were in London, Leo was usually too busy to spend time with his family, for which Catherine was grateful. From the moment they had met, she had felt an intrinsic dislike for him, and he for her, flint and iron striking to create sparks of hatred. At times they competed to see who could say the most hurtful things to the other, each of them testing, prodding, trying to find places of vulnerability. They couldn’t seem to help it, the constant urge to cut each other down to size.
Catherine answered the door of the family suite, and a jolt of reaction went through her as she was confronted by Leo’s lanky, big-framed form. He was fashionably dressed in a dark coat with wide lapels, loose trousers with no creases, and a boldly patterned waistcoat with silver buttons.
He surveyed her with wintry eyes, an arrogant smile tilting the corners of his lips. “Good afternoon, Marks.”
Catherine was stone-faced, her voice edged with scorn. “Lord Ramsay. I’m surprised you could tear yourself away from your amusements long enough to visit your sister.”
Leo gave her a look of bemused mockery. “What have I done to earn a scolding? You know, Marks, if you ever learned to hold your tongue, your chances of attracting a man would rise exponentially.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why would I want to attract a man? I have yet to see anything they’re good for.”
“If for nothing else,” Leo said, “you need us to help produce more women.” He paused. “How is my sister?”
Leo’s mouth turned grim. “Let me in, Marks. I want to see her.”
Catherine took a grudging step aside.
Leo went into the receiving room and found Poppy sitting alone with a book. He gave her an assessing glance. His normally bright-eyed sister was pale and drawn. She seemed unutterably weary, temporarily aged by grief.
Fury welled inside him. There were few people that mattered to him in the world, but Poppy was one of them.