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

Page 25

After finishing the bridge repairs, he walked back toward the village. The sun warmed his skin and he smiled, wondering what tonight might bring. Last night, when he’d held Adrianna in his arms, he’d begun to wonder why he’d want another woman in them at all.
He stopped at the inn, then had a quick bite to eat before returning to the cottage. He’d like to bathe, and properly dress for dinner. Mr. Moorish was right. Life was better here. Why did Adrianna need to venture to London at all? All day he’d been pestered by the notion that perhaps he should simply marry her himself, build a life here, keep her safe. Hell, he could take care of her for the rest of her life. He pictured having a daughter who looked exactly like Adrianna. The image near stole the breath from his lungs.
He’d just climbed out of the bath when a knock sounded at the door. Wrapping a cloth around his middle, he opened the door to find Craven on the other side.
“There you are,” Craven said. “I haven’t seen you all day.”
Luke grimaced. “I’ve been busy.” He looked down at his crumpled, dirty shirt and his sweaty cravat.
Craven raised a brow. “You certainly have. The question is…what have you been busy doing?”
Luke narrowed his gaze. “If you must know, today I helped repair a bridge.”
Craven spluttered, a bit of spit falling from his mouth onto a parcel of letters. “Are you ill? You? Fixing something?”
Luke looked down at the now-wet parchment. He didn’t answer, not wanting to admit that Craven was absolutely right. He’d done so little in his life that meant anything. When he thought about what Mr. Moorish could have been versus what he’d become…he straightened. He could change his life. Become a man of worth. “Are those for me? You’ve just soaked them.”
Craven handed him the bundle. “You’re welcome.” Then he walked away again.
Luke gingerly carried the bundle into his room and tossed it on a small table next to the fire. It was his correspondence that had been forwarded from London by his solicitor. The man had the personality of a limp rag but he was good at his job, Luke had to give him that. He turned to dress when he noticed the note at the very top of the pile. In neat, perfectly symmetrical handwriting was his formal address.
His gut clenched. He’d know that lettering anywhere. Miranda’s penmanship hadn’t changed in all the years he’d known her.
Luke reached over and grabbed the envelope, slicing open the letter, his heart pounding in his chest. What did she want this time? He’d allowed her to stay in their family home, kept her allowance the same. Guilt stabbed behind his sternum. He’d done his best to keep his word to his brother these past five years.
He skimmed the note, his stomach churning as Miranda’s words washed over him. She asked him to reconsider their possible union. In the passage, she detailed how, as the earl, he needed an heir.
Luke, understand that I know you better than most. I know that responsibility is not your strong suit, but I am uniquely aware of what being a countess means.
He ran his fingers through his hair, her words slicing into him.
I can provide you with a child and then you’ll be free to continue your life undisturbed. I can oversee so many of the duties for you and you can continue to live as you have, free of the burdens that so clearly weigh on you.
His gut rumbled. Hadn’t he held up under that weight? He supposed his avoidance of society could be seen as a failure. And his brother. That was his biggest failure of them all.
Your brother wanted me to be the countess. To have the heir to the Crestwood estate. Honor him in death the way you never did in life and make his final wishes come true.
His fingers shook as he lay down the note. Did he owe this to his brother? Mayhap he did. But he’d never in his life touch Miranda again. That, however, didn’t make her words any less true. Did his lifestyle make him a terrible earl? Had he failed his brother’s memory in his attempt to take over the title?
And what would happen to Adrianna when she became a countess? Would Miranda shred her to pieces? Would the rest of society? Would he hurt her far worse for making her his wife than if he left her now?
Adrianna spent the afternoon selecting tablecloths, arranging flowers, and organizing seating charts. Cordelia and Juliette had gone into town to hire musicians for dancing in the latter part of the evening.
Bianca sat next to her, polishing the silver. Adrianna stared at her sister. She’d been wiping the same fork for the last ten minutes. “It’s got quite the shine, you know. Might be time to move on.”
Bianca’s eyes widened as she set the fork down and moved onto another. “This evening has me so distracted. Sorry.”
Adrianna gave her sister a small wink. “Don’t trouble yourself. I’m just teasing. But do tell, who has you discombobulated?”
Bianca sighed looking down at her fork. “Lord Crave
She swallowed down a yelp as her hands came to her chest. “Him?” Adrianna blinked as she studied her sister. She’d thought for certain that Bianca would have said Lord Dashlane.
Bianca began to rub the polish into the fork. “It’s not like that. He’s so dark and craggy and he stares at me and I don’t know why. I’m not sure how I feel about an entire evening with him.”
“Ah,” Adrianna said as she set her own spoon down. “He doesn’t strike me as cruel so my guess is, he fancies you. But proceed with caution.”