Lifting his head, Leo looked into her flushed face. He was so mesmerized by the drowsy green-gray of her eyes that it was a struggle to remember what he’d meant to ask her.
“The question,” he reminded himself aloud, and shook his head to clear it. “Here it is. A farmer has twelve sheep. All but seven die. How many are left?”
“Five,” she said promptly.
“Seven.” A grin spread across his face as he watched her puzzle it out.
Catherine scowled. “That was a trick. Ask me another one.”
“That wasn’t the bargain,” he said.
“Another one,” she insisted.
A husky laugh escaped him. “God, you’re stubborn. All right.” He reached for her and lowered his head, and she stiffened.
“What are you doing?”
“One kiss, one question,” he reminded her.
Catherine looked martyred. But she yielded to him, her head tilting back as he pulled her against him once more. This time he was not so tentative. His kiss was firm and urgent, his tongue sinking into the sweet, warm interior of her mouth. Her arms lifted around his neck, her fingers groping delicately in his hair.
Leo went dizzy with desire and pleasure. He couldn’t pull her body close enough, he needed parts of her he couldn’t reach. His hands shook with the need to find the sweet pale skin beneath the heavy fabric of her bodice. He kept trying to feel more of her, kiss her more deeply, and instinctively she tried to help him, sucking on his tongue with a little sound of pleasure. The hair on the back of his neck lifted as a chill of delight climbed up his spine to the base of his skull.
He broke the kiss, gasping.
“Ask me a question,” she reminded him thickly.
Leo could barely remember his own name. All he wanted to concentrate on was the way she fit against him. But somehow he obliged her. “Some months have thirty-one days, some have thirty. How many months have twenty-eight days?”
A perplexed furrow appeared between her fine brows. “One.”
“All of them,” came his gentle reply. He tried to look sympathetic as he saw her incredulous outrage.
“Ask me another one,” Catherine said, furious and determined.
Leo shook his head, breathless with laughter. “I can’t think of any more. My brain is deprived of blood. Accept it, Marks, you lost the—”
She grabbed the lapels of his coat and dragged him back to her, and Leo’s mouth fastened on hers before he knew what he was doing. The amusement vanished. Staggering forward with her in his arms, he put out one hand to brace himself against the glass forcing house. And he possessed her lips with rough, wholehearted ardor, reveling at the feel of her body arching against his. He was dying of lust, his flesh heavy and aching with the need to take her. He kissed her without restraint, sucking, almost gnawing, stroking the inside of her mouth in ways almost too delicious to bear.
Before he lost all semblance of self-control, Leo tore his lips from hers and held her tightly against his chest.
Another question, he thought dimly, and forced what was left of his mind to come up with something.
His voice was hoarse, as if he’d just tried to breathe in fire. “How many animals of each species did Moses take into the ark?”
Her answer was muffled in his coat. “Two.”
“None,” Leo managed to say. “It was Noah, not Moses.”
But he no longer found the game amusing, and Catherine no longer seemed to care about winning. They stood together, gripped tight and close. Their bodies cast a single shadow that stretched along a garden path.
“We’ll call it a draw,” Leo muttered.
Catherine shook her head. “No, you were right,” she said faintly. “I can’t think at all.”
They waited a little longer, while she leaned into the wild rhythm of his heart. They were both in a daze, mutually occupied with a question that couldn’t be asked. An answer that couldn’t be given.
Letting out an unsteady sigh, Leo eased her away. He winced as the fabric of his trousers chafed his aroused flesh. Thank God the cut of his coat was long enough to conceal the problem. Extracting her spectacles from his pocket, he replaced them carefully on her nose.
He offered his arm in wordless invitation—a truce—and Catherine took it.
“What does ‘bugger’ mean?” she asked unevenly, as he led her out of the kitchen garden.
“If I told you,” he said, “it would lead to improper thoughts. And I know how you hate those.”
Leo spent much of the next day at a stream on the west side of the estate, determining the best site for a waterwheel and marking the area. The wheel would be approximately sixteen feet in diameter, equipped with a row of buckets that would empty into a trough from which the water would course along a series of wooden flumes. Leo estimated that the system would irrigate approximately one hundred and fifty acres, or ten generously sized tenant farms.
After laying out plots with the tenants and laborers, hammering wooden stakes into the ground, and wading through a cold, muddy stream, Leo rode back to Ramsay House. It was late afternoon, the sun a condensed yellow, the meadows still and breezeless. Leo was tired, sweat-soaked, and annoyed from battling gadflies. Wryly he thought that all the romantic poets who waxed rhapsodic about being out in nature had certainly never been involved in an irrigation project.
His boots were so caked with mud that he went to the kitchen entrance, left them by the door, and went inside in his stocking feet. The cook and a maid were busy slicing apples and rolling dough, while Win and Beatrix sat at the worktable, polishing silver.