“I’m sure she means to offer him something, ” Catherine said sullenly. She couldn’t help remembering how beautiful the dark-haired Miss Darvin was, and what a striking couple she and Leo had made as they had waltzed. “However, I doubt she intends to discuss legalities. It’s something personal. Otherwise she would allow the solicitors to deal with it.”
“Cam and Merripen were terrified by Miss Darvin,” Poppy told Harry with a grin. “Amelia wrote that her ballgown was trimmed with peacock feathers, which the Rom view as an omen of danger.”
“In some Hindu sects,” Harry said, “the peacock’s cries are associated with the rainy season, and therefore, fertility.”
“Danger or fertility?” Poppy asked dryly. “Well, it should be interesting to see which one Miss Darvin will evince.”
“I don’t want to,” Leo said immediately upon being informed of the necessity of calling on Miss Darvin.
“That doesn’t matter, you have no choice,” Poppy said, taking his coat as he entered the apartment.
Seeing Catherine seated in the parlor with Dodger in her lap, Leo came to her. “Good afternoon,” he said, reaching for Catherine’s hand and brushing a kiss on the backs of her fingers. The feel of his lips, so warm and soft against her skin, caused a quick indrawn breath.
“May I?” he asked, glancing at the place on the settee beside her.
“Yes, of course.”
After Poppy was seated in a chair by the hearth, Leo sat beside Catherine.
She smoothed Dodger’s fur repeatedly, but he didn’t move. A sleeping ferret was so limp and impossible to awaken that one might have reasonably assumed he was dead. One could pick him up, even shake him, and he would slumber on undisturbed.
Leo reached over to toy with the ferret’s tiny arms and legs, lifting them gently and letting them drop back into her lap. They both chuckled as Dodger remained unconscious.
Catherine detected an unusual fragrance about Leo, a scent of feed and hay and some pungent animal scent. She sniffed curiously. “You smell a bit like … horses … Did you go for a ride this morning?”
“It’s eau de zoo, ” Leo informed her, his eyes twinkling. “I went for a meeting with the secretary of the zoological society of London, and we toured the newest pavilion.”
“Whatever for?” Catherine asked.
“An old acquaintance of mine, with whom I apprenticed for Rowland Temple, has been commissioned at the Queen’s behest to design a gorilla enclosure at the zoo. They keep them in small cages, which is nothing short of cruelty. When my friend complained to me about the difficulty of designing a sufficiently large and safe enclosure without costing a fortune, I suggested that he dig a moat.”
“A moat?” Poppy echoed.
Leo smiled. “Gorillas won’t cross deep water.”
“How did you know that, my lord?” Catherine asked in amusement. “Beatrix?”
“Naturally.” He looked rueful. “And now after my suggestion, it seems I’ve been recruited as a consultant.”
“At least if your new clients complain,” Catherine told him, “you won’t understand what they’re saying.”
Leo smothered a laugh. “Obviously you haven’t seen what gorillas fling when they’re displeased.” His mouth twisted. “All the same, I’d rather spend my time with primates than pay a call to Miss Darvin and her mother.”
The play that evening was mawkish but highly entertaining. The story was about a handsome Russian peasant who was striving for an education, but on his wedding day to his true love, the poor girl was assaulted by the prince of the domain, and while she swooned, was fatally stung by an asp. Before death overtook her, she reached her home and told her fiancé what had happened, whereupon the handsome peasant swore revenge against the prince. These efforts led him to impersonate another nobleman in the royal court, where he happened to meet a woman who looked exactly like his dead love. As it turned out, the woman was an identical twin of the murdered peasant girl, and to further complicate matters, she was in love with the evil prince’s honorable young son.
Then it was intermission.
Unfortunately Catherine’s and Poppy’s enjoyment of the drama was hampered by low-voiced comments from both Harry and Leo, who insisted on pointing out that in her death throes, the asp-stung woman was clutching the wrong side of her body, and furthermore, a person dying of poison probably wouldn’t cross the state back and forth while uttering poetic declarations of love.
“You have no romance in your soul,” Poppy told Harry at intermission.
“Not in my soul, no,” he replied gravely. “However, I have a great deal of it in other locations.”
She laughed, reaching up to smooth an imaginary crease in his crisp white cravat. “Darling, would you please have someone bring champagne to our box? Catherine and I are thirsty.”
“I’ll send for it,” Leo said, standing and buttoning his coat. “I need to stretch my legs after an hour and a half in that absurdly small chair.” He looked down at Catherine. “Would you care for a promenade?”
She shook her head, feeling much safer in the confines of the theater box than out walking in the crowd. “Thank you, but I am comfortable here.”
As Leo pushed aside the curtains at the back of their box, it was evident that the hallways were exceedingly crowded. A pair of gentlemen and a lady came through the curtains and greeted the Rutledges warmly. Catherine tensed as Harry introduced her to Lord and Lady Despencer and Lady Despencer’s sister, Mrs. Lisle. She anticipated a cool reception from them, perhaps a dismissive remark, but instead they were polite and affable. Perhaps, she thought wryly, she should stop expecting the worst of people.