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    “The copyhold clause, of course,” he heard Beatrix say. “The Hathaways will keep Ramsay House now.”

    “I can’t believe you would even think about that at a time like this,” Leo said.

    “Why not?” Merripen asked, his dark eyes twinkling. “Personally speaking, I find it a relief to know that we’ll all be able to stay at Ramsay House.”

    “You’re all concerned about a bloody house, when I’ve just endured eight hours of sheer hell.”

    “I’m sorry, Leo,” Beatrix said, trying to sound contrite. “I wasn’t thinking about what you’d just been through.”

    Leo kissed his son and handed him carefully to Win. “I’m going to see Marks now. It’s probably been difficult for her, too.”

    “Give her our congratulations,” Cam said, a tremor of laughter in his voice.

    Taking the stairs two at a time, Leo went to the bedroom where Catherine rested. She looked very small beneath the covers, her face exhausted and pale. A weary grin curved her lips as she saw him.

    He went to her and pressed his mouth to hers. “What can I do for you, love?”

    “Nothing at all. The doctor gave me some laudanum for the pain. He’s coming back in just a moment.”

    Continuing to lean over her, Leo smoothed her hair. “Damn you for not letting me stay,” he whispered against her cheek.

    He felt her smile.

    “You were frightening the doctor,” she said.

    “I merely asked if he knew what he was doing.”

    “Forcefully,” she pointed out.

    Leo turned to rummage through the articles on the bedside table. “That was only because he’d pulled out a case of instruments that looked more suited to a medieval inquisition than childbirth.” He found a little pot of salve and applied a dab of the unguent to Catherine’s dry lips.

    “Sit with me,” she said against his fingertips.

    “I don’t want to hurt you.”

    “You won’t.” She patted the mattress invitingly.

    Leo sat beside her with extreme caution, trying not to jostle her. “I’m not at all surprised that you produced two children at once,” he said, taking her hand and kissing her fingers. “You’re terrifyingly efficient, as usual.”

    “What do they look like?” she asked. “I didn’t see them after they were washed.”

    “Bowlegged, with large heads.”

    Catherine chuckled and winced. “Please, please don’t make me laugh.”

    “They’re beautiful, actually. My dearest love…” Leo pressed a kiss into her palm. “I never fully realized what a woman went through during childbirth. You are the bravest, strongest person who’s ever lived. A warrior.”

    “Not really.”

    “Oh, yes. Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Saladin … all milksops, compared to you.” Leo paused, a grin spreading across his face. “It was well done of you to make certain one of the babies was a boy. The family is rejoicing, of course.”

    “Because we can keep Ramsay House?”

    “Partly. But I suspect what they’re truly ecstatic about is that now I’ll have to contend with twins.” He paused. “You know they’ll be hellions.”

    “I should hope so. They wouldn’t be ours otherwise.” Catherine snuggled closer, and he settled her carefully against his shoulder. “Guess what happens at midnight?” she whispered.

    “Two hungry infants will wake up screaming simultaneously?”

    “Besides that.”

    “I have no idea.”

    “The Ramsay curse will be broken.”

    “You shouldn’t have told me. Now I’ll be terrified for the next…”—Leo paused to glance at the mantel clock—“seven hours and twenty-eight minutes.”

    “Stay with me. I’ll keep you safe.” She yawned and let her head drop more heavily against him.

    Leo smiled and stroked her hair. “We’ll both be fine, Marks. We’ve just begun our journey … and there’s so much we have yet to do.” He spoke more softly as he heard her breathing turn even and steady. “Rest against my heart. Let me watch over your dreams. And know that tomorrow morning, and every morning after that, you’ll awaken next to someone who loves you.”

    “Dodger?” she mumbled against his chest, and he grinned.

    “No, your confounded ferret will have to stay in his basket. I was referring to myself.”

    “Yes, I know.” Catherine slid her hand up to his cheek. “Only you,” she said. “Always you.”

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