No matter how Catherine resisted, she had soon found herself being sold to Guy, Lord Latimer. He had been as alien to her as all men were, with his sour breath and scratchy face and crawling hands. Trying to kiss her, forcing his hands into the openings of her clothes, tearing at her like a gamekeeper plucking a dead grouse. He had been amused by her struggles, grunting in her ear about what he was going to do to her, and she had loathed him, loathed all men.
“I won’t hurt you … if you don’t fight me…” Latimer had said, grabbing her hands, forcing them down to his groin. “You’ll like it. Your little quim knows what’s what, I’ll show you…”
“No, don’t touch me, don’t—”
She woke up sobbing, straining pitifully against a hard chest. “No—”
“Cat. It’s me. Hush, it’s me.” A warm hand moved over her back.
She went still, her wet cheek pressed to a soft mat of hair. The sound of his voice was deep and familiar. “My lord?”
“Yes. It was just a nightmare. It’s over. Let me hold you.”
Her head was pounding. She felt shaky and ill, and ice-cold with shame. Leo cuddled her against his chest. As he felt the way she trembled, he smoothed her hair repeatedly. “What were you dreaming of?”
She shook her head with a shuddery sound.
“It had to do with Latimer, didn’t it?”
After a long hesitation, she cleared her throat and replied, “Partly.”
He caressed her shrinking back in soothing circles, and his lips moved to her damp cheeks. “You’re afraid he’ll come after you?”
She shook her head. “Something worse.”
Very gently he asked, “Can’t you tell me?”
Pulling away from him, Catherine curled into a ball, facing the opposite direction. “It’s nothing. I’m sorry for waking you.”
Leo fit himself against her spoon fashion. She quivered at the sensation of warmth applied all along her back, long hairy legs tucked up beneath hers, a muscular arm thrown across her. All the textures and scents and pulses of him were wrapped around her, his breath falling on her neck. What an extraordinary creature a man was.
It was wrong to take such pleasure in this. Everything Althea had said about her was probably true. She had a whore’s nature, a craving for masculine attention … she was indeed her mother’s daughter. She had repressed and ignored that side of herself for years. But now it was being shown to her, as surely as a reflection in a looking glass. “I don’t want to be like her,” she whispered without thinking.
His hand settled on her hip. “Your brother gave me the strong impression that you were definitely not like her.” He paused. “In what way are you afraid of being similar?”
Catherine was silent, her breath wavering as she tried not to choke on a new surge of tears. He was undoing her with this newfound tenderness. She would have much preferred the old mocking Leo. It seemed she had no defenses against this one.
He pressed a kiss into the hollow behind her ear. “My dear girl,” he whispered, “don’t tell me you feel guilty for having enjoyed sexual relations?”
It unnerved her further that he had reached an accurate conclusion so quickly. “Perhaps a little,” she said, her voice catching.
“Good God, I’m in bed with a puritan.” Leo uncoiled her stiff body and spread her out beneath him, ignoring her protest. “Why is it wrong for a woman to enjoy it?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong for other women.”
“Just you, then?” His voice was gently sardonic. “Why?”
“Because I’m the fourth generation of a family of prostitutes. And my aunt said I had a natural proclivity for it.”
“Everyone does, love. It’s how the world is populated.”
“No, not for that. For prostitution.”
He snorted derisively. “There is no such thing as a natural proclivity for selling oneself. Prostitution is forced on women by a society that allows them damned few options to support themselves. And as for you … I’ve never met a woman less equipped for it.” He played with the tangled runners of her hair. “I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic. It’s no sin to enjoy a man’s touch, nor does that have anything to do with prostitution. Anything your aunt told you was pure manipulation—for obvious reasons.” His mouth lowered to her neck, pressing kisses along the taut surface. “We can’t have you feeling guilty,” he said. “Especially when it’s so misguided.”
She sniffled. “Morality isn’t misguided.”
“Ah. There’s the problem. You have morality, guilt, and pleasure all mixed together.” His hand went to her breast, cupping tenderly. The sensation shot to the pit of her stomach. “There’s nothing moral about denying pleasure, and nothing wrong about wanting it.” She felt him smile against her skin. “What you need is to indulge in several long nights of uncivilized lust with me. It would drive all the guilt out of you. And if that didn’t work, at least I would be happy.” His hand swept down her body, his thumb brushing the top edge of intimate curls. Her belly tightened beneath his palm. His fingers trailed deeper.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Helping you with your problem. No, don’t thank me, it’s no trouble at all.” His smiling mouth brushed against hers, and he moved over her in the darkness. “What word do you use for this, love?”