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Unfortunately, the question of their betrothal was not at all settled. Leo knew that Cat was not nearly as convinced of the rightness of their match as he was. Furthermore, Harry Rutledge was going to have an opinion about it, and so far Leo had rarely liked his opinions. It was even possible that Harry might encourage Cat in her idea of traveling the Continent.

A frown tugged at Leo’s brow as he pondered how she had gone through life virtually unprotected until now. How could a woman so deserving of affection have received so little? He wanted to make up for everything she had missed. He wanted to give her whatever she had been deprived of. The trick would be convincing her to let him.

Catherine’s face was peaceful, her lips slightly parted. Curled among the white bed linens, a glimpse of her pink shoulder visible, that golden hair streaming everywhere, she looked like a confection placed amid swirls of whipped cream.

There was a disturbance at the foot of the bed as Dodger hoisted himself up to the corner of the mattress and crept along Catherine’s side. She stirred and yawned, and fumbled to pet him. The ferret curled by her hip and closed his eyes.

Catherine awakened slowly, her body lengthening in a trembling stretch. Her lashes lifted. She looked at Leo in bewilderment, clearly wondering why he should be there with her. It was a stare of disarming innocence, those lovely sea-gray eyes contemplating him while her mind collected itself. Hesitantly she reached a cool hand to his cheek, investigating the bristle that had grown during the night. Her voice was low and wondering. “You’re as scratchy as Beatrix’s hedgehog.”

Leo kissed her palm.

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Catherine nestled against him cautiously. Her breath stirred the hair on his chest as she asked, “Are we going to London today?”

“Yes.”

She was quiet for a moment. “Do you still want to marry me?” she asked abruptly.

He kept her hand in his. “I’m going to insist on it.”

Her face was angled so that he couldn’t see it. “But … I’m not like Laura.”

Leo was somewhat startled by the comment. “No,” he said frankly. Laura had been the product of a loving family, an idyllic life in a small village. She had known nothing like the fear and pain that had shaped Catherine’s childhood. “You resemble Laura no more than I resemble the boy I was then,” he continued. “How is that relevant?”

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“Perhaps you would be better off with someone like her. Someone you—” She stopped herself.

Leo turned and braced himself on an elbow, looking down into myopic blue-gray eyes. “Someone I love?” he finished for her, and watched her frown and chew her lower lip uncertainly. He wanted to gently bite and suck that perfect little mouth as if it were a fresh plum. Instead he traced the edge of her lower lip with a gentle fingertip. “I’ve told you before, I love like a madman,” he said. “Immoderate, jealous, possessive … I’m absolutely intolerable.”

He let the backs of his fingers glide over her chin and along the front of her throat, where he felt the swift tattoo of her heartbeat and the flutter of her swallow. No stranger to the signs of feminine arousal, he slid his palm over the front of her body, skimming the hard bud of her nipple, the curve of her side. “If I loved you, Cat, I would have you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’d never have any peace.”

“I would set limits. And make you heed them.” She drew a sharp breath as he pulled the sheet away from her. “You want a firm hand, that’s all.”

Annoyed by the disturbance, Dodger slid off the bed indignantly and went to hop into Catherine’s carpetbag.

Leo nuzzled the warm curve of her breast and stroked the tip with his tongue. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said, catching her hand, drawing it down to his hard flesh.

“I … I didn’t mean…”

“Yes, I know. But I’m a terribly literal-minded person.” He showed her how to grip and stroke him, guiding her in the ways he liked to be touched. They lay together in the warm bed, both of them breathing fast as she explored him with delicate pale fingers. How many times Leo had fantasized about this moment, the prim and prudish Marks na**d in bed with him. It was glorious.

Her hand tightened on his stiff length, and the delicious pressure nearly sent him over the edge.

“God … no, no, wait…” He pried her hand away with a gasping laugh.

“Did I do something wrong?” Catherine asked anxiously.

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“Not at all, love. But one rather hopes to last more than five minutes, especially before the lady is satisfied.” He reached for her br**sts, kneading gently. “How beautiful you are. Bring yourself higher and let me kiss your breast.” As she hesitated, he closed his thumb and forefinger over her nipple in a playful pinch.

She jerked in surprise.

“Too hard?” Leo asked contritely, his gaze intent on her face. “Then do as I asked, and I’ll soothe it.” He didn’t miss her quick double-blink, or the altered rhythm of her breathing. Reaching out, he drew his hands slowly over the slender curves of her body, learning more about her by the second.

“You are intolerable,” she told him unevenly. But she obeyed the encouraging pressure of his palms, and climbed slowly over him. She was light and supple, her skin like silk, the blond thatch of curls brushing crisply against his stomach.

The peak of her breast was already tightly contracted as Leo took it into his mouth. He played with her, dragging the flat of his tongue across the gathered point, relishing the helpless sounds that climbed in her throat.

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