“I don’t need time.”
“You don’t?” Poppy gasped as she was snatched off the chair and hauled into his lap. His arms went fast around her. “You want a baby, then?” she asked. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“Mind?” Harry pressed his face against her chest, feverishly kissing her exposed skin, her shoulder, her throat. “Poppy, there are no words to describe how much I want it.” His head lifted, the depth of emotion in his eyes making her breath catch. “For most of my life, I thought I’d always be alone. And now to have you . . . and a baby . . .”
“It’s not entirely certain yet,” Poppy said, smiling as he scattered kisses over her face.
“I’ll make certain, then.” Still holding her, Harry stood from the chair and began to carry her back into the bedroom.
“What about the morning schedule?” she protested.
And Harry Rutledge uttered three words he had never said in his life. “Damn the schedule.”
At that moment the door reverberated with a brisk knock. “Mr. Rutledge?” came Jake Valentine’s voice. “I have the managers’ reports—”
“Later, Valentine,” Harry replied, not pausing as he took Poppy to the bedroom. “I’m occupied.”
The assistant’s voice was muffled by the door. “Yes, sir.”
Crimson from head to toe, Poppy said, “Harry, really! Do you know what he must be thinking at this moment?”
Lowering her to the bed, he tugged her dressing robe open. “No, tell me.”
Poppy squirmed in protest, a helpless giggle escaping her as he began to kiss his way down her body. “You are the most wicked man . . .”
“Yes,” Harry murmured in satisfaction.
They both knew she wouldn’t have him any other way.
LATER THAT DAY . . .
Leo’s unexpected return to Hampshire had set Ramsay House into happy turmoil, maids hurrying to ready his usual room, a footman setting another place at the table. The family welcomed him warmly. Merripen poured glasses of excellent wine as they gathered in the parlor for a few minutes of conversation before dinner was served.
“What about the commission for the conservatory?” Amelia asked. “Did you change your mind?”
Leo shook his head. “The project is so small, I sketched something on the spot. They seemed pleased with it. I’ll work out the details here, and send the final plans back to London. But never mind that. I have some news I think you’ll find of interest . . .” He proceeded to regale the family with the story of Harry’s abduction and rescue, and Edward Kinloch’s subsequent arrest. They reacted with expressions of amazement and concern, and praised Leo for his part in the affair.
“How is Poppy?” Amelia asked. “So far this has certainly not been the calm, serene life she was hoping for.”
“Happier than I’ve ever seen her,” Leo replied. “I think Poppy has reconciled herself to the idea that one can’t avoid the storms and calamities of life, but one can at least find the right partner to face them with.”
Cam smiled at that, holding his dark-haired son against his chest. “Well said, phral.”
Leo stood and set aside his wineglass. “I’ll go wash before the meal is served.” Glancing around the room, he affected an expression of mild surprise. “I don’t see Marks. I hope she’ll come down to supper—I have need of a good argument.”
“The last time I saw her,” Beatrix replied, “she was looking all around the house for her garters. Dodger stole every last one of them out of her dresser.”
“Bea,” Win murmured, “it’s better not to mention the word ‘garters’ in mixed company.”
“All right. But I don’t understand why. Everyone knows we wear them—why do we have to pretend it’s a secret?”
As Win tried to explain tactfully, Leo grinned and went upstairs. Instead of heading to his own room, however, he went to the end of the hallway, turned to the right, and tapped on the door. Without waiting for an answer, he pushed his way in.
Catherine Marks whirled to face him, gasping. “How dare you come into my room without . . .” her voice faded as Leo closed the door and approached her. Dampening her lips with the tip of her tongue, she backed away until she had come up against the edge of a small dressing table. Her hair fell in pale silk streamers over her shoulders, her eyes darkening to the blue gray of a turbulent ocean. As she stared at him, a flush rose in her cheeks.
“Why did you come back?” she asked weakly.
“You know why.” Slowly Leo braced his hands on the table, on either side of her. She shrank backward until no further movement was possible. The scent of her skin, mingled with bath soap and fresh garden blossoms, rose to his nostrils. The memory of sensation hovered around them, between them. As Leo saw the shiver that went through her, he felt a rush of unwanted heat, his blood turning to liquid fire.
Struggling for self-discipline, Leo took a deep, steadying breath.
“Cat . . . we have to talk about what happened.”