“Is Catherine your real name?” he asked. “Will you at least answer that?”
She hesitated, fearful of yielding any part of herself, even that scrap of information. But as his fingertips slid along her neck, the light caress seemed to disarm her. A bloom of color rose from her throat.
“Yes,” she choked out. “It’s Catherine.”
They were still kneeling together, her skirts having billowed and settled everywhere. Folds of flower-printed muslin had been caught under one of Leo’s knees. His body reacted strongly to her nearness, heat sliding beneath his skin and gathering in inconvenient places. Muscles tightened, thickened. He would have to put an end to this, or he was going to do something they would both regret.
“I’ll help you up,” Leo said brusquely, making to rise. “We’ll go inside. I warn you, however, I’m not through with you yet. There’s more I—”
But he broke off, because as Marks had tried to struggle upward, her body had brushed against his. They went still, caught front to front, their breath mingling in uneven surges.
The dreamlike feeling intensified. The two of them were kneeling in a summer garden, the air weighted with the perfume of hot crushed grass and scarlet poppies … and Catherine Marks was in his arms. Her hair shimmered in the sunlight, her skin petal-soft. Her upper lip was nearly as full as the lower, the curves as delicate and smooth as a ripe persimmon. Staring at her mouth, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck lift in reflexive excitement.
Some temptations, Leo decided hazily, should not be resisted. Because they were so persistent that they would only keep returning, time and again. Therefore such temptations absolutely had to be yielded to—it was the only way to be rid of them.
“Damn it,” he said raggedly, “I’ll do it. Even knowing I’ll be annihilated afterward.”
“You’ll do what?” Marks asked, her eyes huge.
And his mouth descended to hers.
At last, every muscle in his body seemed to sigh. At last. The sensation was so pleasurable that for a moment Leo couldn’t even move, just felt her mouth with his mouth. Sinking into the feeling, Leo let it take him. He stopped thinking altogether and did everything and anything he wanted … tugging at her upper lip and then her lower one, sealing their mouths together, touching his tongue to hers, playing with her. One kiss started before another had finished, a chain of erotic strokes and skims and nudges. The delight of it went all through him, echoing in every vein and nerve.
And God help him, he ached for more. He was dying to put his hands inside her clothes, and feel every inch of her body. He wanted to drag his mouth over her in intimate trails, kiss and taste every part of her. Marks responded helplessly, curling her arm around his neck. She moved against him as if sensation were coming from all directions. And it was. They both struggled to press closer, tighter, their bodies pursuing a new and unsteady rhythm. Had they not been separated by so many layers of clothing, it would have been outright lovemaking.
Leo continued to kiss her long after he should have stopped, not only for the sheer pleasure of it, but also because he was reluctant to face what would happen afterward. Their cantankerous relationship could not resume as usual after something like this. It had been set on a new track with an unknown destination, and Leo was certain that neither of them were going to like where it led.
Finding that he couldn’t release her all at once, he did it by degrees, letting his mouth nuzzle the edge of her jaw, following to the vulnerable hollow behind her ear. Her pulse was swift and vibrant against his lips.
“Marks,” he said on a rough breath, “I was afraid of this. Somehow I knew…” Breaking off, he lifted his head and looked down at her.
She squinted through the mist that had accumulated on her lenses. “My spectacles … I’ve lost them again.”
“No, you haven’t. There’s steam on the lenses.”
As the fogged spectacles cleared, Marks shoved at him. She struggled to her feet, frantically swatting away his efforts to help.
They stared at each other. It was hard to say which one of them was more appalled.
But judging from her expression, it was probably Marks.
“This never happened,” she snapped. “If you have the gall ever to mention it, I’ll deny it to my last breath.” She gave her skirts a few agitated whacks to remove the bits of leaves and grass, and shot Leo a fierce warning glance. “I’m going to the house now. And don’t follow me!”
Their paths didn’t intersect again until dinner, a crowded affair that included his sisters Amelia, Win, and Poppy, and their respective husbands Cam Rohan, Kev Merripen, and Harry Rutledge. Catherine Marks sat with Beatrix at the far end of the table.
So far none of Leo’s sisters had chosen conventional men to wed. Rohan and Merripen were both Romany Gypsies, which accounted in part for their ability to fit in easily with the off-kilter Hathaways. And Poppy’s husband, Harry Rutledge, was an eccentric hotelier, a powerful man whose enemies reputedly liked him more than his friends did.
Could it be true that Catherine Marks was Harry’s sister?
Leo glanced from one to the other of them at dinner, searching for similarities. Damned if I can’t see a resemblance, he thought. The high cheekbones, the straight lines of the brows, the slight feline tilt at the outward corners of the eyes.
“I need to speak to you,” Leo said to Amelia as soon as dinner had concluded. “In private.”