“I want to answer another question first,” she told him. “Something you asked me before.”
He smiled and put his forehead against hers. “The one about the farmer and the sheep?”
“No … the one about what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.”
A laugh rustled in his throat. “Tell me your answer, love.”
“The unstoppable force stops. And the immovable object moves.”
“Mmmn. I like that.” His lips brushed hers tenderly.
“My lord, I’d rather not wake up as Catherine Marks ever again. I want to be your wife as soon as possible.”
Catherine nodded. “Although … I will miss you calling me Marks. I’ve gotten rather fond of it.”
“I’ll still call you Marks from time to time. During moments of lurid passion. Let’s try it.” His voice lowered to a seductive whisper. “Kiss me, Marks…”
And she lifted her smiling mouth to his.
One year later
The cry of an infant broke through the silence.
Leo flinched at the sound, lifting his head. Having been banished from the bedroom where Catherine was giving birth, he had waited with the rest of the family in the parlor. Amelia had stayed with Catherine and the doctor, occasionally emerging to give a brief report to Win or Beatrix. Cam and Merripen were maddeningly sanguine about the process, both having seen their own wives safely through childbirth.
The Hathaway family was proving remarkably fertile. In March, Win had given birth to a robust boy, Jason Cole, nicknamed Jàdo. Two months later, Poppy had produced a petite red-haired daughter, Elizabeth Grace, upon whom Harry and the entire Rutledge Hotel staff doted.
Now it was Catherine’s turn. And while childbirth was a perfectly ordinary event for other people, it was the most nerve-racking experience Leo had ever gone through. The sight of his wife in pain was intolerable, and yet there was nothing he could do. It didn’t matter how often he was reassured that the birth was going splendidly … endless hours of labor pains did not seem all that splendid to Leo.
For eight hours Leo had waited in the parlor with his head in his hands, brooding and quiet and inconsolable. He was afraid for Catherine, and he could hardly bear to be separated from her. As he had predicted, he loved Catherine like a madman. And as she had once claimed, she was entirely able to manage him. They were different in so many ways, and yet somehow it made them exactly right for each other.
The result had been a remarkably harmonious marriage. They entertained each other with furious, funny bickering and long, thoughtful conversations. When they were alone, they often spoke in a kind of shorthand that no one else would have been able to interpret. They were a physical pair, passionate and affectionate. Playful. But the real surprise of the marriage was the kindness they showed each other … they, who had once fought so bitterly.
Leo had never expected that the woman who had formerly brought out the worst in him would now bring out the best in him. And he had never dreamed that his love for her would deepen to such proportions that there was no hope of controlling or restraining it. In the face of a love this vast, a man could only surrender.
If anything happened to Catherine … if something went wrong during the childbirth …
Leo stood slowly, his fists clenched, as Amelia entered the parlor with a bundled-up newborn. She paused near the doorway as the family gathered around her with soft exclamations. “A perfect little girl,” she said, beaming. “The doctor said her color is excellent and her lungs are strong.” She brought the baby to Leo.
He was too afraid to move. He didn’t take the baby, only stared at Amelia and asked hoarsely, “How is Marks?”
She understood at once. Her tone gentled as she replied. “Absolutely fine. She’s quite well, dear, and you can go up to see her now. But first say hello to your daughter.”
An unsteady sigh escaped Leo, and he took the baby from her gingerly. He looked down in wonder at the miniature pink face, the rosebud mouth. How light the baby was … it was difficult to believe he was holding an entire human being in his arms.
“There’s a great deal of Hathaway in her,” Amelia said with a smile.
“Well, we’ll do what we can to correct that.” Leo bent to kiss his daughter’s tiny forehead, the wisps of dark hair tickling his lips.
“Have you chosen a name?” Amelia asked.
“French. Very pretty.” For some reason, Amelia laughed quietly before asking, “What would you have named a boy?”
“After Father? How lovely. And I think it suits him.”
“Suits who?” Leo asked, still engrossed in his daughter.
Reaching up to his face, Amelia guided him to look at the doorway, where Win stood with another bundle, displaying it to Merripen, Cam, and Beatrix.
Leo’s eyes widened. “My God. Twins?”
Cam approached him with a broad grin. “He’s a fine-looking boy. You’ve come into fatherhood with a vengeance, phral. ”
“And Leo,” Beatrix added. “You’ve had an heir just in time … with one day to spare!”
“In time for what?” Leo asked dazedly. Handing his daughter back to Amelia, he took his son from Win. Looking down at the infant’s face, he fell in love for the second time in the same day. It was almost too much for his overwhelmed heart to endure.