How to Catch an Elusive Earl (Romancing the Rake 2)

Page 3

The man gestured for him to step inside. “Are Lord Craven and Lord Dashlane joining you?”
He gave a momentary grimace before replacing the look with a firm smile. Yesterday, his friends, Craven and Dashlane, had met the eldest Moorish daughter, Miss Ophelia Moorish. He couldn’t be entirely certain, but he suspected that she might have infected them with a dose of morality. She’d been incredibly beautiful but also so kind that a man might get ideas about the sort of life he should be living. “No, they’ve other business to attend in the village.”
Not him, of course. Luke had been firmly and completely expunged of any wholesome hope several years ago. A woman who seemed to be the very pinnacle of goodness and light had so thoroughly broken his heart that he’d vowed never taking such a risk again.
Which was why he planned for more than a secure passage on one of Moorish’s ships, he also intended to steal a kiss or two from one of the other four Moorish daughters. He pulled his lips down to keep from giving a salacious grin. If he were going to be stuck in such a place, he may as well leave a little mark upon it. It was the duty of all rakes to do so.
“Very good, then. Right this way, my lord.” The butler turned and started up the stairs, Luke following.
Reaching the second floor, they made their way down the hall where the butler stopped in the doorway. “May I present his lordship, the Earl of Crestwood.”
Luke held back his grunt of disdain. He was as fond of the title as he was of wholesome pursuits. None of them were meant to be his.
The Honorable Thomas Moorish rose along with four young women, each a delight in her own way. He swept his gaze down the line of them, attempting to decide which might be his favorite. Moorish gave him a welcoming smile. “Good evening, my lord. So nice to see you again.”
“And you,” he gave a nod, his gaze drifting to the man’s daughters again.
“Right,” Moorish pointed to the first of the ladies in the line. “My daughter, Miss Juliet. I believe the two of you met yesterday.”
They had. She was a darling little auburn-haired confection with curves like Ophelia’s but a more trusting nature. She’d do nicely for his purposes.
“And this is Cordelia.” Lord Moorish pointed to a serious-looking but very pretty woman that Luke dismissed on the spot. She’d never fall for a rake’s charm. Even now, as she stared back at him, her eyes sparkled with intelligence.
“My daughter, Bianca.” Mr. Moorish pointed to the third woman in the line.
Bianca giggled and waved. He returned a smile. She was a contender for certain. He stood straighter wondering which delightful miss he’d like to taste.
Lord Moorish pointed to the last girl down the line. “And this is Adrianna.”
Luke glanced at the last woman, dismissing her from the first. She was slender for starters, more so than any of her sisters, and he liked some good curves to hold onto. While her features might have been the most perfectly symmetrical and beautiful he’d ever seen, there was a hardness about her eyes that told him she’d not be interested in what he had in mind. “A pleasure, ladies.”
“We’re very much looking forward to dining with you, my lord, but first let us discuss the schedule tomorrow.” Mr. Moorish gestured toward a chair for Luke to sit. “We’ve a boat that will be stopping to pick up additional goods in Haversham that leaves at noon. If you’re still interested in heading north, you’re more than welcome to board it.”
Luke slapped his thigh, his first objective already met. “Thank you, most kind of you.”
Lord Moorish held up his hand. “Please understand this isn’t a passenger ship. We keep a tight schedule and if you’re not on that boat by eleven forty-five, it sails without you.”
Luke gave a single nod. “I understand. Perfectly. Eleven forty-five.” Silently, he cheered. That left plenty of time for drinking tonight and dragging himself from bed in the morning to board that boat.
“You must have very important business in Haversham that you’re working so hard to get there.” Juliet straightened her skirts about her knees, her slender hands, drawing his attention to the lovely silk of her gown.
He hated the rumble of guilt that reverberated through his chest as he tried to think of an appropriate answer. Why should he feel guilty lying to these women? He didn’t. Nor would he allow guilt at the idea of stealing a little peck. A kiss was almost no harm, it wasn’t like he intended to leave one with child. She might even like such a romantic adventure. And the experience. “Indeed. Important land deal,” he muttered trying to give as little detail as possible.
“Really,” Adrianna asked, leaning forward. “A land deal? Are Lord Dashlane and Lord Craven also participating in this deal? Is that why you’re traveling together?”
He looked at the last Moorish sister, attempting to quell his irritation. Her bright blue eyes stared back at him, one eyebrow slightly cocked and her chin notched at a jaunty angle that dared him to continue to lie. What a min
x. His blood surged in his veins. Dare accepted.
Adrianna Moorish stared at the cad currently lounging in her sitting room as though he were a dear member of the family and not some snake outsider come to pillage their fruits.
She drew in a breath, puffing out her small chest. Not on her watch. She might be the youngest Moorish but she was also the strongest. She’d developed a razor-sharp tongue over the years, likely because it had been her only defense in her youth against the onslaught of four older sisters who were all bigger and stronger. They’d teased her mercilessly too. Until she’d learned to outwit them. She was still the smallest, of course, but in all likelihood, she was now the most feared.
Not that she’d ever truly hurt her sisters, she’d protect them with every tool she had, just as they would her. But this man had come for nefarious purposes and she was going to cut him down until he skulked away in tears. All right. She couldn’t actually picture the earl crying, but he’d skulk. There would be definite skulking. There was no doubt about that.
Just as she’d make certain he didn’t go near any of her sisters. She’d been given this task and she had every intention of completing the job. Her future brother-in-law, the Duke of Rathmore, had pulled her aside earlier in the day and warned her that Crestwood was the worst sort of gentleman. He’d told her not to allow any of her sisters near the man and certainly not to allow them to be alone with him.
Adrianna had scrunched her brow, staring at Rathmore. “Why are you telling me all of this?”