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

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His mouth pressed into a hard line but he stepped back, holding out his elbow. “Should we keep searching the beach?”
“I don’t think so.” She slid her hand into the crook, digging her fingers into hard muscles. “I checked our hideout in the rocks. It’s the one place Mittens might go on the beach. She wasn’t there.”
“Hideout?” he asked. “How interesting.”
She grinned then. “It is actually. Sheltered by the wind, hidden from view. Ophelia and His Grace had a picnic there last night. It’s why they didn’t attend dinner.”
“Picnic?” His brows went up. “Alone?”
Adrianna gave him a sparkling grin. “Papa thought she was in bed with a headache. But the Duke of Rathmore wished to propose and give Ophelia her romantic fantasy while he did so.” Adrianna let out a soft sigh.
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “Rathmore is good. I’ll give him that. How far is the spot from here?”
“Not more than five minutes, but you’ll never make your boat if we go there.”
He grimaced. “To the path then.” And then they began walking toward the steep path that wound up the rockface to their home and the village.
Silence settled between them as they began picking their way up the path of the rocky cliff. She’d done the climb a thousand or more times in her life, but she had to confess, this particular time, she liked the hand that came to her waist often as she went.
Finally reaching the top, she looked back down at the beach where they’d just stood. “Thank you for that kiss,” she said, still staring below. She was surprised at her own sincerity but she’d meant the words. Adrianna had dreamed of that kiss all night and the reality had been so much better. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.” And that was the honest truth. It had been beautiful. Absolutely perfect.
“You’re welcome.” He brushed her cheek with his hand again. “It’s the part I’ve always been good at. I’m glad I gave you the experience you hoped for.”
Something in his words held an unexpected sadness and she looked at him then, noting the dark blue of his now-crinkled eyes. “The part you’ve always—” But she stopped. Cocking her head, she heard the soft meow of what sounded like a kitten. “Did you hear that?”
He looked to the side, training his ear toward the sound as another meow called from the rocks. “Is that a cat?”
“Drat,” she muttered, stepping closer to the rock face. “It must be in one of those clusters of rocks.” And she pointed to a group that was about a third of the way down the cliff. The rock cluster had a narrow ledge to access it. She’d safely traversed the path a number of times and knew all the footings, but it had been a long time since she’d attempted the task. It wasn’t the safest. “The wind is carrying the sound up to us.”
He shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’ll never get the cats there.”
But she started back down toward the ledge, jumping over rocks as she nimbly traversed the path. “I’ve been to that cluster more times than I care to admit. You go. Get on your boat, my lord. I’ll be fine.”
“First of all, my name is Luke.” He crossed his arms as she stopped to look up at him again.
“Luke?” She held her skirts in her hands, lifted them so that she might see her feet as she moved.
“Lucas,” he gritted out, starting to follow her as she continued down the path. “But my older brother came up with the nickname, Luke, and I always preferred it.”
Adrianna stopped, pivoting toward him. “Older brother? But you hold the title?”
His jaw hardened. “For the past two years.”
Her skirts dropped into place and suddenly she wasn’t moving down the path any longer but toward him. Without a word, she reached out her hand and he slipped her fingers into his. His long fingers were large and strong, but he clearly needed comfort now. “I’m so sorry, Luke. How terrible to have lost your brother.”
Chapter Seven
Luke stared at Adrianna’s beautiful face, from her large blue eyes, to her perfect little nose, to those delightfully pouty lips, all her features etched in sympathy. Other than the solicitor, not one person had uttered those words to him.
In defense of his friends, he hadn’t spoken of it to anyone. The only other person he’d discussed Marcus’s death with was his former lover and his brother’s wife, Miranda. Worst conversation of his life. “Thank you,” he bit out, turning away from her as he let go of her hand and moved around her to reach the outcropping of rocks. The meowing grew louder and he was more certain that was where the cats were.
“How did it happen?” she asked, falling in step behind him. “Watch your step there, those rocks are loose.”
“Disease of the lung,” he answered, not looking at Adrianna. She’d surely see the pain still tightening his features.
“Obviously your father is gone. Mother?” she asked, easily keeping up with him on the narrow ledge that led to the outcropping. The woman was part mountain goat.
“Also deceased,” he answered tightly. “The only family I have is one sister-in-law who I—” He didn’t finish. Was he actually considering telling her about Miranda?