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

Page 11

His eyes widened. Had he been that obvious that Juliet would know he’d like to see Adrianna again? He had a boat to catch and only a little more than an hour with which to get to the pier. But then again, it was an opportunity to see the woman who had plagued his thoughts all night. Had he dreamed that she was so fetching? Perhaps if he saw her, he’d realize she was just another country girl and then he could put his life back in the order it had happily existed in before he’d arrived at this place. A little voice whispered that the plan was complete folly, but he pushed it aside.
In the light of day, she’d be an ordinary girl and he could board that boat, free of any emotional entanglement.
Adrianna walked along the beach, breathing in the scent of fresh sea air. She’d been wrong. Searching for Mittens was exactly what she’d needed. The sun shone brightly down, casting her shadow toward the cliffs. She did a tiny spin and watched her shadow mimic the movement and then she laughed.
Exercise and air had given her perspective. First, her father would surely bring them to London for a season soon. Adrianna herself had come of age, meaning that he had four daughters that needed husbands. He wasn’t going to allow them all to become spinsters. And Crestwood would never make good marriage material. She’d successfully frightened him off with her and her sisters’ virtues all intact. She should be
celebrating, not moping.
In addition, she’d gained some potentially vital skills. She rubbed her cheeks. Of course, if she’d practiced kissing a man, that might have been even better, but there was no changing things now. He was boarding a boat and she was searching for a lost cat. And besides, even if Juliet had a point, Crestwood was not the man to learn such a skill. He was too dangerous. She felt it deep inside.
Better to see him gone. She’d sharpened her wit and she was ready to keep her sisters safe for a season in London. Being the youngest, she’d marry last, and in the meantime, she’d be sure all her sisters’ virtues remained intact. Crestwood had been right about one thing. London was a deceptive place that the Moorish girls were not prepared for.
“Hello there,” a deep voice called from just behind her. “Has anyone ever told you that you look lovely on the beach?”
She reached a hand up to place on top of her wide-brimmed straw hat to keep it in place. “You,” she called out, spinning in the sand. “You’re supposed to be on a boat.”
Luke stood behind her, his arms crossed over his chest. “It doesn’t leave for three quarters of an hour yet. I’ll make it, I’m sure, so you needn’t worry yourself on my account. I’m glad to see you too, my little peach.”
The little hairs on the back of her neck prickled at his term of endearment. “I’m not your little anything,” she answered, taking a step back. “And I’ll ask again. What are you doing here?”
He raised a finger. “You can’t ask again what you’ve only asked once.” Then he gave her a devilish smile. “And your sister Juliet requested our help in finding her cat.”
A gasp tore from Adrianna’s lips. “That scheming little witch.” Suddenly the details of lasts night’s conversation and this morning’s behavior clicked into place. Juliet’s cat likely wasn’t lost at all. This was all a ruse to interact with the men again before they left Seabridge Gate forever. Clearly, Juliet needed no help after all.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked.
She cocked a hand on one hip. “Let me ask you something. Was she speaking loudly? Gesturing wildly with her hands?”
His eyes grew a bit wider as his brow lifted. “As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Acting.” Her other hand cut through the air. “She’s an over-actor. Always has been.” When they’d put on plays for their mother and father as children, Juliet had always been the loudest, most effusive of them all.
“So the cat?”
“Likely fine,” Adrianna said. “But Juliet is sure to meet with a terrible accident when I find her.”
He frowned, shifting in the sand. “But why would she fake her cat getting lost?”
Adrianna fiddled with the ribbons under her chin as she glanced down at the beach. “I’m not certain she’s ready for you and your friends to depart our company.”
“Such treachery from a woman who appears so innocent,” he said, his voice hardening. “Not that I should expect any less. Most women will do the same.”
Her head snapped up. She could insult Juliet, but he was not allowed. Besides, she was fairly certain he’d just insulted her too and all womankind for that matter. “That isn’t fair. Lost cats are harmless enough.”
“And if I miss my boat?” he asked, straightening up.
Adrianna gave a small shrug. “My father will see you get passage on another.”
“It will be too late by then.”
“Too late for what?” she asked, looking up into his eyes then, irritation surely making them crinkle. “Your land deal?” Somehow that reminded her all the reasons she didn’t want this man here to begin with. He was a liar, for starters. “And how dare you speak of my sister that way when you were so obviously lying? What moral high ground have you got to stand upon, my lord?”
He stepped closer, closing the distance between them. “Lying? How can you say that?” But she noted his wince. They both understood that she’d just bested him.
“Oh please,” she said as she rolled her eyes. “A deal in an unspecified location sure to bring in an unnamed product from a lot of an undisclosed size. My father is too trusting by half. It’s always been his Achilles heel.”
“And what is yours?” Crestwood’s voice dropped low as their gazes tangled together.