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

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He looked up, pulling his spectacles further down his nose. “Hello, my dear. Your ears must have been ringing. Lord Crestwood and I were just speaking about you.”
“Lord Crestwood?” She stilled, her hands pressing tighter together. Had he asked for her hand after all? Had all her worry been for nothing?
Her father nodded, his gaze returning to his ledgers. “Indeed. He’s gone off to help with the bridge repair.”
“He’s working for you?” She swallowed a lump. Why did that seem significant? Like he was investing in her home?
Her father waved with all the flourish of a Shakespearean actor. “Helping out. He’s led a very different life before now. Work can set a man right.”
She gasped in a breath. Luke wished to change his path? All his confessions would indicate that he did. But that still didn’t explain his lesson on seduction, unless she’d been right all along and he wanted her to use them on him.
She smiled at her father. “I should do some work today too. I’m sure there is a great deal I can do to help prepare for dinner this evening.”
Her father gave her a glowing smile. “Excellent plan, my dear.”
She stood, feeling much more secure then she had when she woke. Today was going to be an eventful day.
Chapter Twelve
Repairing the bridge turned out to be a tiring, yet fruitful endeavor. The sea air and the hard labor made him feel alive in ways he hadn’t in years. Tired too, but he didn’t mind. He exercised regularly at his boxing club, but working with his hands was different. Honestly, building was different. He could look at an actual accomplishment, measure his progress, and feel good about his success.
He stood stretching his back. The sun was high in the sky, but they’d almost completed fixing the bridge. The toll master had collected seven men who’d torn out any broken sections and replaced them with freshly milled wood. “In a year from now the new boards will weather and blend right in,” the toll master announced, puffing up his chest. “Mr. Moorish might replace this bridge with a stone one at some point. While this is the narrowest spot in the river, it grows a bit wider every year. The stone bridge would be even stronger and last long after we’re gone.” The man stood, looking down the river. “makes a man proud to be part of such an endeavor.”
Luke understoo
d his feelings exactly, but at the moment, his gaze fixed across to the other side of the bridge to the land beyond. “That’s Haversham?”
The other man nodded. “Indeed. Its southern border, anyhow. Not as nice as Seabridge Gate, of course, but it has its charm.”
Luke grinned despite himself. “One of Mr. Moorish’s daughters mentioned land for sale in Haversham.”
The toll master nodded. “Adrianna? Girl has a fascination for real estate. Her favorite is that one right there.” The man pointed toward the rolling hills just on the other side of the bridge. “Says with the water access it will make an excellent spot for growing a wheat crop. She’s dragged Mr. Moorish out multiple times to look at it. Never seen a woman like her. It’s a bit odd, to be honest.”
Luke’s smile broadened. “How do you know all that?” He’d forgotten all about small town life, especially the general gossip.
The toll master shrugged. “They have to cross the bridge to get there, don’t they?” The man cackled. “I hear her talking while they cross. A sound investment. Someone should take advantage. Do you think he taught his daughters about such things?” He gave Luke a wink. “With no son, I guess I can’t blame him.”
“And what does Mr. Moorish say?” Luke turned to look at the man, his muscles tensing.
The toll master gave a wink. “Says he’s in the shipping business, not the farming business, of course.” He spread his hands wide, back toward Seabridge Gate. “Every single family in this village relies on Mr. Moorish and his company. Even the earl himself, begging your pardon—”
Luke was not offended. In fact he loved the picture of the elder brother needing his younger sibling. “No offense taken. Go on.”
“His ships run like clockwork and he’s got a sense about the weather. He makes every man who uses his boats richer. And he’s always finding new men to do business with.”
Luke chuckled. He remembered Mr. Moorish’s excitement when Luke had mentioned a contract. The man loved his business nearly as much as he did his family. A stab of longing made his fists clench. Could Mr. Moorish really have been like himself in his younger days? Did Luke really have a chance at such a life? “That makes a great deal of sense.”
The other man nodded but as one of the other workers called to him, he left Luke’s side. Skipping across the last of the broken boards, Luke crossed the bridge stepping onto Haversham land.
The tall grass of the fields blew softly in the breeze as the smell of the ocean filled the air. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky, painting the whole land with a fresh brush. “The water here,” he called back over his shoulder. “It’s still brackish, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” one of the men called back. “You have to go further up the river before it’s fresh.”
“How far?” he asked, his mind turning on the possibilities.
“Half mile,” another man called back. “Maybe less. The hills keep a lot of fresh water coming this way.”
He assessed the slope of the land. It would be easy to get fresh water to this ground. Scratching the back of his neck, he squinted into the sun. Could he build a life here?