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

Page 28

All of the sisters rose from their seats. Adrianna stood too, her graceful body riveting his gaze to her.
He sucked in a breath, watching the candlelight shimmer off the purple silk of her gown. By God he wanted to touch her.
Distantly, Luke realized introductions were being made but he hardly heard them and as he crossed the room, he pressed his hands to his stomach to keep from reaching out to her. He was supposed to stay away from her. After reading Miranda’s letter, he knew he should say goodbye but that was the last thing he wanted to do right now. Damn it. As usual, he had no self-control.
She gave him a tentative smile as he came to stand in front of her. He clenched his jacket to refrain from touching her right away. “You look ravishing,” he said.
Color rose in her cheeks as she looked down at the floor. “So do you.”
“Shall we take a turn about the room?” He held out his elbow, and she slipped her hand into his arm.
Neither spoke as they began walking around the perimeter of the music room. Cordelia moved to the pianoforte, striking up a merry tune. The music afforded them some measure of privacy. “How did you find working on the bridge today?” she asked, moving along next to him.
“I liked it just fine,” he answered, a frown pulling at the corners of his mouth. He’d liked it far better than that. It had felt wonderful to be useful, out in the open air.
She nodded. “And your
discussion with my father?” Her hand tightened on his arm.
His frown deepened. “Your father is both wise and interesting.”
“And what did the two of you discuss?”
Her voice had dropped so low that he hardly heard her. But he did hear the underlying hope in her question. He stopped, turning toward her. “We discussed the man I want to be.”
Her gaze had been trained on the floor but at those words, she looked up at him, her blue eyes wide. “And?”
“And what?” But he realized this conversation’s direction and he shifted from one foot to the other. She’d wished his private discussion with her father meant she’d receive an offer of marriage. Bloody bullocks. This was worse than he’d ever imagined.
Her eyes widened as her lips parted. Adrianna’s chest filled with air as the color drained from her face. Suddenly her mouth snapped back closed again. “I’ve been such a fool, haven’t I?”
She started to turn to leave but he held her hand, not letting her go. “No. You haven’t.”
Her lip trembled. “I’m supposed to be the savvy one. The one who is capable of protecting my sisters.”
“You are.” He tried to bring her closer, but she stepped back, her hand pulling out from under his. “Adrianna, you are glorious and strong and so beautiful. If you’ve one flaw it’s that you’ve lived a sheltered life.” He knew that made her ill-equipped to enter his life, but he also loved that about her. “Though I hardly think that’s a flaw at all. Still, if you’re to protect your sisters, you are even more prepared now than you were before.”
Her hand flew to her mouth, covering a gasp, then she dropped it to her chest, making a fist. “Is that what you were doing? Preparing me for how a rake might act? Teaching me how they seduce?”
“No.” He reached for her, but she jerked away. “I only wanted to show you how to find your own husband and guide your sisters into—”
“Enough,” she grated out. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“I…” She started to turn away, but he reached for her arm. “Please understand. I care for you. I—” He shouldn’t tell her he loved her now, it would only muddy the waters, but the words vibrated on his lips.
She turned back to him, her own gaze tight and filled with pain. “You what?” Then she closed her eyes. “You’re right. You have taught me a great deal. The next time I meet a rake, I won’t allow him to pull me into a web of desire.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I never want to see you again.”
Then she spun from his grasp and fled the room.
Adrianna’s heart shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Belatedly, she realized she’d fallen in love and the only explanation for the way her heart seemed to be breaking. Of course it had been love. She’d listened to his past, his problems, and shared hers. His touch had excited her but even deeper, his company had engaged her mind, her heart, her soul even as his touch excited her body.
And he didn’t want her in return. Who had she been trying to fool, sparring with a rake? She stopped in the hall, tears threatening to spill over.
“Adrianna,” he called behind her, and for a wild moment, she spun about, lifting her skirts, ready to flee.
But then she stopped. “Does my father know you followed me?”
He grimaced. “I promised him that we’d stay in plain sight in the hall.”