“If you argue in terms of semantics, however,” Leo countered with maddening calmness, “there is an answer.”
“Naturally,” Harry said dryly. “A Hathaway can always find a way to argue. Enlighten us—what is the answer?”
Leo replied with his gaze fixed on Catherine’s tense face. “The unstoppable force takes the path of least resistance and goes right around the object … leaving it far behind.”
He was challenging her, Catherine realized. Arrogant, manipulative cad, using poor Vanessa Darvin’s plight to provoke her and implying what might happen if Catherine didn’t give in to him. Go right around the object … leave it far behind … Indeed!
She jumped to her feet, glaring at him. “Why don’t you go on and marry her, then?” Snatching up her reticule, and Dodger’s limp body, she stormed out of the apartments.
Leo was instantly at her heels.
“Ramsay—” Harry began.
“Not now, Rutledge,” Leo muttered, striding after Catherine. The door was closed with a force that caused it to tremble in its frame.
In the ensuing stillness, Harry looked at Poppy in bewilderment. “I’m not usually slow-witted,” he said. “But what the devil were they bickering about?”
“Miss Darvin, I think.” Going to him, Poppy sat in his lap and linked her arms around his neck. “She’s with child and wants to marry Leo.”
“Oh.” Harry leaned his head against the back of the chair. His mouth twisted. “I see. He’s using it to try and push Catherine into making a decision.”
“You don’t approve,” Poppy said rather than asked, stroking a damp lock of hair off his forehead.
Harry gave her a wry glance. “It’s exactly what I would do in his position. Of course I don’t approve.”
“Stop following me!”
“I want to talk to you.” Leo kept pace with Catherine as she hurried along the hallway, his ground-eating strides accounting for every two of her short ones.
“I have no interest in anything you have to say.”
“You’re jealous.” He sounded more than a little pleased by the fact.
“Of you and Miss Darvin?” She forced a scornful laugh. “I pity the both of you. I can’t conceive of a more ill-destined match.”
“You can’t deny that she’s a very attractive woman.”
“Except for her neck,” Catherine couldn’t resist saying.
“What the devil is the matter with her neck?”
“It’s abnormally long.”
Leo tried, unsuccessfully, to smother a laugh. “I can overlook that. Because if I marry her, I’ll get to keep Ramsay House, and we’ll have a baby already on the way. Convenient, isn’t it? Moreover, Miss Darvin promised that I could philander to my heart’s content, and she would look the other way.”
“What about fidelity?” Catherine asked in outrage.
“Fidelity is so passé. It’s laziness, really, not bothering to go out and seduce new people.”
“You told me that you would have no difficulty with fidelity!”
“Yes, but that was when we were talking about our marriage. Marriage with Miss Darvin will be another thing entirely.”
Leo stopped with her as they reached the door of her suite. While Catherine held the sleeping ferret, Leo reached inside her reticule and extracted the key. Catherine didn’t spare him a glance as he opened the door for her.
“May I come in?” he asked.
Leo pushed his way in regardless, and closed the door behind them.
“Pray don’t let me keep you,” Catherine said grimly, going to set Dodger in his little basket. “I’m sure you have much to do. Starting with changing the name on the special license.”
“No, the license is only good for you. If I marry Miss Darvin, I’d have to pay for a new one.”
“I hope it’s expensive,” she said vehemently.
“It is.” Leo approached her from behind and put his arms around her, hauling her back securely against him. “And there’s another problem.”
“What is it?” she asked, struggling in his grasp.
His mouth touched the edge of her ear. “I want you,” he whispered. “Only you. Always you.”
Catherine went still. Her eyes closed against a sudden wet sting. “Did you accept her proposal?”
Leo nuzzled tenderly into the hollow beneath her ear. “Of course not, pea-goose.”
She couldn’t prevent a little sob of angry relief. “Then why did you imply that you had?”
“Because you need to be pushed. Otherwise you’ll drag this affair out until I’m too decrepit to be of any use to you.” Steering Catherine toward the bed, he scooped her up and tossed her to the mattress. Her spectacles went flying to the side.
“What are you doing?” Catherine struggled indignantly, propping herself up on her elbows. She was buried in the masses of her skirts, with their sodden hems and heavy damp flounces. “My dress is wet.”
“I’ll help you remove it.” His solicitous tone was belied by the wicked gleam in his eyes.
She floundered amid the layers and flounces, while Leo unhooked and unfastened her with astonishing efficiency. One would have thought he had more than two arms, as he turned her this way and that, his hands reaching everywhere. Ignoring her protests, he pulled the heavy skirt, with its stiffened muslin lining, away from the detachable bodice, and tossed it to the floor. Her shoes were removed and dropped over the side of the bed. Flipping Catherine to her stomach, he began on the fastenings of the heavily ruched bodice.