The dark eyes flashed with malice. “You’re claiming to be reformed? You think to disown your past?”
“Not at all. But I have hopes for a better future.” He paused deliberately. “Ramsay curse notwithstanding.”
“You’re making a mistake.” Vanessa’s pretty features hardened. “I knew you were no gentleman, but I didn’t take you for a fool. You should leave now. It seems you’ll be of no use to me.”
Leo rose obligingly. He paused before taking his leave, giving her an astute glance. “I can’t help but ask, Miss Darvin … why don’t you simply marry the baby’s father?”
It turned out to be a very good guess.
Vanessa’s eyes flared before she managed to school her expression. “He is too far beneath me,” she said in a tight little voice. “I’m rather more discriminating than your sisters, my lord.”
“A pity,” Leo murmured. “They seem to be very happy in their lack of discrimination.” He bowed politely. “Farewell, Miss Darvin. I wish you luck in your search for a husband who’s not beneath you.”
“I don’t need luck, my lord. I will marry, and soon. And I’ve no doubt my future husband and I will be happy indeed when we come to take possession of Ramsay House.”
Returning to the hotel from a morning dressmaker’s appointment with Poppy, Catherine shivered in pleasure as they entered the Rutledge apartments. It was raining steadily, in fat chilling drops that heralded the approach of autumn. Despite the precautions of cloaks and umbrellas, she and Poppy had not escaped entirely from the damp. They both went to the parlor hearth, standing before the snapping fire.
“Harry ought to be coming back from Bow Street soon,” Poppy said, pushing back a wet tendril of hair that had stuck to her cheek. He had gone for a meeting with a special constable and a Bow Street magistrate to discuss Lord Latimer. So far Harry had been maddeningly closemouthed as to the specifics of the situation, promising that after he’d gone to the magistrate’s office, he would explain in detail. “And so should my brother, after seeing Miss Darvin.”
Catherine removed her spectacles and used a fold of her sleeve to clear the steam from the lenses. She heard a welcoming sound from Dodger, a sort of ferrety chuckling noise, and he came loping toward her out of seemingly nowhere. Replacing her spectacles, she bent to pick him up, and he wriggled into her arms. “You odious rat,” she murmured, cradling his long, sleek body.
“He loves you, Catherine,” Poppy said, shaking her head and smiling.
“Nevertheless, I’m returning him to Beatrix at the first opportunity.” But she furtively lowered her cheek and let Dodger kiss her.
There was a knock at the door, followed by the bustle of someone entering, a masculine murmur, a maid taking his coat and hat. Leo entered the parlor, bringing in the scents of damp wool and rain. His hair was wet at the ends, curling slightly against his neck.
“Leo,” Poppy exclaimed with a laugh, “how wet you are! Didn’t you take an umbrella?”
“Umbrellas are of little use when it’s raining sideways,” he informed her.
“I’ll fetch a towel.” Poppy darted out of the room.
Left alone with Leo, Catherine met his gaze. His smile faded, and he stared at her with alarming intensity. Why did he look at her that way? It seemed as if something had been cut loose in him, his eyes demon-blue and dangerous.
“How was your conversation with Miss Darvin?” she asked, tensing as he approached her.
She frowned at the brief reply, taking refuge in a show of exasperation. “What did she ask of you?”
“She proposed a marriage of convenience.”
Catherine blinked. It was what she had expected, and yet to hear it caused a stab of jealousy.
Leo stopped beside her, the firelight flickering over his features. Tiny droplets of rain glittered like jewels on his sun-browned face. She wanted to touch that light mist, put her mouth on it, taste his skin.
“What was your response?” she forced herself to ask.
“I was flattered, of course,” he said smoothly. “One always appreciates being wanted.”
He knew she was jealous. He was toying with her. Catherine struggled to keep her temper from igniting.
“Perhaps you should accept her,” she said coolly.
His gaze didn’t move from hers. “Perhaps I did.”
Catherine drew in a sharp breath.
“Here you are,” Poppy said cheerfully, oblivious to the tension between them as she entered the room with a neat stack of toweling. She brought a cloth to Leo, who took it and blotted his face.
Catherine sat on the settee, letting Dodger coil in her lap.
“What did Miss Darvin want?” she heard Poppy ask.
Leo’s voice was muffled in the towel. “She proposed to me.”
“Good heavens,” Poppy said. “She clearly hasn’t any idea of what it’s like to tolerate you on a daily basis.”
“In her situation,” he returned, “a woman can’t afford to be particular.”
“What situation is that?” Catherine asked tersely.
Leo handed the towel back to Poppy. “She’s expecting a child. And she doesn’t care to marry the father. That’s not to go any further than this room, of course.”
The two women were silent. Catherine wrestled with a curious mixture of feelings … sympathy, hostility, jealousy, fear. With this bit of news, the advantages of a match between Leo and Miss Darvin were abundantly clear.