Rathmore had given her a pat on the shoulder. “Because you are just the Moorish to keep him in check. He’s a rake, Adrianna, through and through. Don’t allow his charming smile to win you over and don’t let him anywhere near your sisters. Juliet and Bianca are so trusting. Please watch over them tonight.”
Adrianna leveled Crestwood with another glare. She was ready, and Rathmore was correct on both counts. This man was the worst sort of rogue, she could see it in his every gesture, and Adrianna was the woman for the job when it came to protecting her family. “Well my lord, are you going to answer my question?”
He sat straighter, his grin growing brittle as more of his teeth showed. He was a wolf—a handsome wolf, but a predator nonetheless. “Pardon, what was your question? I’ve forgotten.”
“What sort of land deal are you and your friends venturing into that cannot wait?” She sat straighter, a triumphant smile curling her lips. This was a topic she actually had some knowledge on, making it a perfect one to highlight his deceitful nature. Her sisters would surely see what a snake he was by the time she was done. She’d bet her dowry he was lying.
Adrianna might have just told her sisters outright that the man was no good but she’d seen firsthand that it wouldn’t work. Juliet wouldn’t believe her and, in all likelihood, her elder sister would just spend that much more time with the man, trying to prove Adrianna wrong. Or worse yet, come up with some plan to highlight his goodness. She was constantly creating these plans to help people that often went disastrously wrong.
Crestwood’s mouth turned down further, but he didn’t respond as her father interceded. “Adrianna, that’s not something our guest need answer.”
Drat, she tapped her fan against her knee. She’d nearly had Crestwood trapped. Any parcel of land large enough for three lords to consider buying together had a very limited pool of buyers. Which meant there was likely no competition for the sale. So why the rush?
“I’m simply making conversation, Papa. Shouldn’t I be interested in the topic our guest had mentioned for discussion?”
Her father frowned and muttered something about an interrogation, but she ignored the word.
Instead, she turned back to Crestwood and put on her best smile, trying to relax her brow in the hopes of looking kind rather than accusatory. “Isn’t that right, Lord Crestwood? You mentioned the deal. Wouldn’t you say it was polite to ask questions?”
He gave her a long look, turning his head, first one way and then the other. “Polite isn’t quite the word that came to mind.”
She gave a delicate sniff, pretending not to understand his meaning. Two could play this game. “I find real estate quite fascinating. It’s a bit of a hobby for me and I’ve studied several large purchases. For example, did you know that the Louisiana Purchase was over two million kilometers?”
“Fascinating,” he replied, sitting back in his chair. His eyes rolled up to the ceiling and his tone implied he’d found it anything but. As his arms relaxed at his side, she narrowed her gaze. He was stepping directly into her trap.
Adrianna leaned forward. “Now that is a tract of land fit for three lords of your stature.”
“Quite,” he answered, crossing one knee over the other as his gaze drifted to her sister Bianca. He looked like a cat about to steal the milk. His square jaw hardened as his dark eyes glittered with nefarious interest. His arms flexed as he wrapped his large hands about his knee. For just a moment, she watched his long, tapered fingers lace together. Oh, he was handsome. That was for certain. It was part of what made him so dangerous.
Not to her, of course. No matter how masculine he looked, he didn’t fool her. Despite having grown up in this tiny hamlet, she considered herself smart enough to do battle with the likes of a rake. It was her best asset and the one that would keep her sisters safe as they all hunted for husbands. Bianca was a lovely woman with a heart of gold, but she’d never defend herself against a man like this. Which was why Adrianna needed to frighten him away right this minute before one of her sisters succumbed to his good looks and charm.
“Now in Haversham, there are only three parcels that could possibly suffice for such a transaction that you’d be interested in making. I’m truly curious. Which one are you considering?”
His knee dropped back down, his foot landing on the floor with a resounding thump as his gaze fixed on her, the muscles in his face hardening. “Which one?”
“Yes.” She placed her most innocent smile on her face, leaning forward. She didn’t want to miss a flick of his eyebrow as she outmaneuvered him. “Which tract of land are you referring to?” It was difficult, but she kept from crowing her victory. She had him. Haversham was part of her family’s holdings. Not her father’s, of course, but his older brother’s, The Earl of Seabridge.
He slowly sat up in his chair, as a hand came to the back of his neck, giving the skin a careful rub. “Well,” he started, and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “The one closest to Haversham proper, of course.” Then he turned to her father, his look brightening. “And if this deal works the way I hope it does, perhaps we can discuss the shipment of our newest goods. It would be a natural pairing.”
Her father brightened considerably, bobbing his head up and down. “Now you’re talking.” Her father gave her a pat on the knee. “Adrianna is excessively intelligent. And here I was thinking she didn’t have a point to her questions but look where she led us. Well done, my sweet girl.”
Adrianna snapped her mouth closed, her hands clenching in her skirts. She noted that Crestwood still hadn’t named a specific plot or the type of product he’d need shipped. But her father was always eager to make a new deal and Crestwood must have realized that. Now her father wouldn’t allow her to interrupt for certain. She’d have to find another way to expose him for the rake he was.
Irritation bristled along her skin. He was good, she’d give him that, but this fight wasn’t over. Far from it. The night had just begun.
That little minx. Crestwood clenched his jaw, assessing the beautiful siren that sat across from him giving him a most innocent smile. She looked near angelic but under that façade was a razor sharp saber that she was positioning over his head.
He leaned forward, giving her a slow perusal once again. If he were honest, the gleam of intelligence and challenge in her eyes was damn arousing. Annoying but also terribly…arresting.
And the confident notch to her chin was nearly as interesting as the way her shoulders set back and her chest thrust forward. She made the most of her tiny bosom, he’d give her that. He’d been looking for an easy conquest, but perhaps a challenge would be even more fun.
“Mr. Moorish.” The butler stood in the door. “Dinner is served.”
Everyone stood and Mr. Moorish gestured for him to go first but he gave the man what he hoped was a polite smile. “In your home, I must insist you lead the way.”
With a nod of his head, Mr. Moorish started after the butler, his daughters falling in line behind him, Adrianna was the last of the women to leave the room. Luke happily followed, his eyes free to roam all over her backside, which he found to be delightfully perfect. Her narrow shoulders gave way to a graceful back, her evening gown skimming down its gentle lines. Her waist was so tiny, he was fairly certain he could place his hands about it but her hips flared out with the most tantalizing arc, her ass round and firm and made for sin. His body clenched as he watched her walk.