“The intention is to hold the spectacles more firmly onto her face.”

“This is a problem, keeping them on?”

“Without question,” Leo replied. “This is a very active woman. Chasing animals, falling through rooftops, stacking rock—all an average day for her.”

“My lord,” Catherine said in reproof.

Schaeffer smiled as he examined the contorted shapes of her spectacles. “From the condition of these frames, Miss Marks, one could almost believe Lord Ramsay’s claims.” His mustache curved upward. “With your permission, I will instruct the jeweler I work with to build the frames you’ve drawn.”

“Make them in silver,” Leo said. He paused, regarding Catherine with a faint smile. “And have him put a touch of filigree on the earpieces. Nothing vulgar … keep it delicate.”

Catherine shook her head immediately. “Such adornment is expensive and unnecessary.”

“Do it nevertheless,” Leo said to the doctor, his gaze still holding Catherine’s. “Your face deserves adornment. I would hardly put a masterpiece in a ordinary frame, would I?”

She sent him a reproving glance. She neither liked nor trusted such outrageous flattery, nor did she intend to melt at his charm. But Leo gave her an unrepentant grin. And as he sat there and surveyed her with wicked blue eyes, she felt a painfully sweet contraction of her heart, followed by the sensation of being knocked off balance. Such a long distance to fall … and yet she couldn’t seem to back away from the danger.

She could only stay there with her precarious equilibrium, suspended in longing and peril … unable to save herself.

Chapter Twenty-four

It has been confirmed by Mr. Harry Rutledge, the London hotelier, that a woman identified as Miss Catherine Marks is in fact a half sister who has heretofore lived in relative obscurity as a companion to the family of Viscount Ramsay of Hampshire. Upon inquiry as to why the young woman was not previously brought out into society, Mr. Rutledge explained the discretion as appropriate to the circumstances of her birth, as the natural child of Mr. Rutledge’s mother and an unnamed gentleman. Mr. Rutledge proceeded to emphasize the decorous and refined nature of his sister, and his own pride in acknowledging kinship with a woman he describes as “estimable in every regard.”

“How very flattering,” Catherine said lightly, setting down the copy of the Times. She sent Harry a rueful glance across the breakfast table. “And now the questions will begin.”

“I’ll deal with the questions,” Harry said. “All you have to do is behave in the aforementioned decorous and refined manner when Poppy and I take you to the theater.”

“When are we going to the theater?” Poppy asked, popping a last bite of honey-soaked crumpet into her mouth.

“Tomorrow evening, if that pleases you.”

Catherine nodded, trying not to look troubled by the prospect. People would stare, and whisper. Part of her shrank at the idea of being on display. On the other hand, it was a play, which meant the audience’s attention would focus mainly on the activity within the proscenium.

“Shall we invite Leo?” Poppy asked. She and Harry both looked at Catherine.

She hitched her shoulders in an unconcerned shrug, although she suspected it didn’t deceive either of them.

“Would you have any objection?” Harry asked her.

“No, of course not. He is Poppy’s brother, and my former employer.”

“And possibly your fiancé,” Harry murmured.

Catherine looked at him quickly. “I haven’t accepted his proposal.”

“You are considering it, however … aren’t you?”

Her heart gave a few thick beats in her chest. “I’m not sure.”

“Cat, I don’t mean to harass you about this, but how long do you intend to wait before giving Ramsay an answer?”

“Not long.” Cat frowned into her tea. “If there’s any hope of retaining Ramsay House, Lord Ramsay will have to marry someone soon.”

A tap at the door heralded the entrance of Harry’s right-hand man, Jake Valentine. He brought Harry a stack of daily manager’s reports, as well as a handful of letters. One of these was addressed to Poppy, who received it with a warm smile.

“Thank you, Mr. Valentine.”

“Mrs. Rutledge,” he said with an answering smile, bowing before he left. He looked the tiniest bit smitten with Poppy, which Catherine couldn’t blame him for in the least.

Poppy broke the seal and read the letter, her fine brows inching higher and higher as she neared the conclusion. “My goodness, this is odd.”

Harry and Catherine both looked at her questioningly.

“It’s from Lady Fitzwalter, with whom I am acquainted through some charity work. She asks me in this letter, very earnestly, if I will prevail on my brother to call upon Miss Darvin and Countess Ramsay, who are in town. And she provides the address of the house they have let.”

“Not so very odd,” Catherine said pragmatically, although the news caused a stir of anxiety. “After all, a lady may never call on a man for any reason, and therefore it is certainly not unheard-of for one to prevail upon a mutual acquaintance to arrange the meeting.”

“Yes, but why does Miss Darvin wish to speak to Leo?”

“It might be about the copyhold clause,” Harry said, looking interested. “Perhaps she wishes to offer some manner of concession.”