Everyone was silent.
Still tucked in the corner of the room, Catherine Marks looked up slowly as she realized that she was the focus of the Hathaways’ collective gaze. Her eyes turned huge behind the spectacles, and a tide of pink rushed over her face. “That is not amusing,” she said sharply.
“It’s the perfect solution,” Leo said, taking perverse satisfaction in annoying her. “We argue all the time. We can’t stand each other. It’s like we’re already married.”
Catherine sprang to her feet, staring at him in outrage. “I would never consent to marry you.”
“Good, because I wasn’t asking. I was only making a point.”
“Do not use me to make a point!” She fled the room, while Leo stared after her.
“You know,” Win said thoughtfully, “we should have a ball.”
“A ball?” Merripen asked blankly.
“Yes, and invite all the eligible young women we can think of. It’s possible one of them will strike Leo’s fancy, and then he could court her.”
“I’m not going to court anyone,” Leo said.
They all ignored him.
“I like that idea,” Amelia said. “A bride-hunting ball.”
“It would be more accurate,” Cam pointed out dryly, “to call it a groom-hunting ball. Since Leo will be the item of prey.”
“It’s just like Cinderella,” Beatrix exclaimed. “Only without the charming prince.”
Deciding to calm the brewing squabble, Cam lifted his hand in a staying gesture. “Easy, all of you. If it happens that we lose Ramsay House—God forbid—we can build another one on the freehold portion of the estate.”
“That would take forever, and the cost would be enormous,” Amelia protested. “And it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve spent too much time restoring this place, and putting our hearts into it.”
“Especially Merripen,” Win added quietly.
Merripen gave her a slight shake of his head. “It’s only a house.”
But they all knew it was more than a structure of brick and mortar … it was their home. Cam and Amelia’s son had been born there. Win and Merripen had been married there. With all its haphazard charm, Ramsay House was a perfect expression of the Hathaway family itself.
And no one understood that better than Leo. As an architect, he knew well that some buildings had an inherent character that was far more than the sum of their parts. Ramsay House had been damaged and restored … it had gone from a neglected shell to a thriving, happy home, all because one family had cared. It was a crime that the Hathaways would be displaced by a pair of women who had invested nothing in it, through what amounted to nothing more than a legal sleight of hand.
Swearing beneath his breath, Leo dragged his hand through his hair. “I want to have a look at the ruins of the old manor home,” he said. “Merripen, what’s the best way to reach it?”
“I’m not certain,” Merripen admitted. “I rarely go out that far.”
“I know,” Beatrix volunteered. “Miss Marks and I have ridden there to sketch the ruins. They’re very picturesque.”
“Would you like to ride there with me?” Leo asked.
“I’d love to,” she said.
Amelia frowned. “Why do you want to visit the ruins, Leo?”
He smiled in a way he knew would annoy her. “Why, to measure for curtains, of course.”
“Thunderbolts,” Beatrix exclaimed, entering the library where Leo had been waiting, “I can’t go with you to the ruins after all. I’ve just checked on Lucky, and she’s about to have her babies. I can’t leave her at such a time.”
Leo smiled quizzically, replacing a book on a shelf. “Who’s Lucky?”
“Oh, I forgot you hadn’t met her. She’s a three-legged cat who used to belong to the cheesemaker in the village. The poor thing got her paw caught in a rat trap, and it had to be amputated. And now that she’s no longer a good mouser, the cheesemaker gave her to me. He never even named her, can you imagine?”
“Given what happened to her, the name ‘Lucky’ is something of a misnomer, isn’t it?”
“I thought it might improve her fortunes.”
“I’m sure it will,” Leo said, amused. Beatrix’s passion for helping vulnerable creatures had always worried and touched the other Hathaways in equal measure. They all recognized that Beatrix was the most unconventional person in the family.
Beatrix was always sought after at London social events. She was a pretty girl, if not classically beautiful, with her blue eyes, dark hair, and tall, slender figure. Gentlemen were attracted by her freshness and charm, unaware that she showed the same patient interest to hedgehogs, field mice, and misbehaving spaniels. And when it came time for active courtship, men reluctantly left Beatrix’s engaging company and turned to more conventional misses. With each successive season, her chances at marriage diminished.
Beatrix didn’t seem to care. At the age of nineteen—nearly twenty—she had yet to fall in love. It was universally agreed among the Hathaways that few men would be able to understand or handle her. She was a force of nature, unhampered by conventional rules.
“Go take care of Lucky,” Leo said gently. “I don’t expect to have any difficulty finding the ruins by myself.”
“Oh, you’re not going alone,” she told him. “I arranged for Miss Marks to accompany you.”