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

Page 29

“What?” Why did that feel like a betrayal on her family’s part?
“Please.” He drew in a deep breath. “I think it’s time I told you the whole truth.”
That made her body freeze even as her blood rushed in her veins. What had he been hiding from her all along? And why? The answers he might give frightened her to the core. “Whole truth?”
He moved closer, gently taking her hand in his. “I told you about Miranda, remember?”
She swallowed down a bitter lump. “The one whom you felt a great affection for, but she decided to take another path besides marrying you? Yes. I remember. And may I just say, I have a great deal of sympathy. Empathy really. Of what it means to care for someone and have them just toss you aside.”
He paused, a shudder running down his body. “I am not tossing you aside.”
She stepped closer, her hands balling into fists. Anger made her tremble. “You touched me when you had no intention of marrying me.”
He scrubbed his face. “I touched you because…” He let out a heavy sigh. “I couldn’t help myself. And I would be honored to marry you. The only reason I am not is for your own safety.”
That made her shaking stop. “My safety?” Was this some sort of elaborate lie to make her less angry? She couldn’t help herself. She needed to hear his explanation. “I think you’d better explain.”
He gave a curt nod. “Can we sit?”
Adrianna looked about. There were no chairs in the hall and she wouldn’t enter a room with him now. She’d made the mistake of being alone with him far too much already. Finally, she crossed the hall, then sat on the sill of a window overlooking the village. The sky was grey and soon they wouldn’t be able to see Seabridge Gate at all. He came over and sat on the ledge too, his knee brushing hers. Even now, his touch sent tendrils of excitement racing through her and she moved her leg to make sure it didn’t happen again.
She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and saw her father peek out into the hall. Adrianna gave him a tiny nod. They were being watched.
Luke cleared his throat. “Right.” He scrubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “I might as well spit it out. You see, I can’t marry you because I can’t give you the life you deserve.”
That made no sense. “I beg your pardon?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been a terrible earl. I don’t participate in society. I haven’t married, I haven’t created an heir. I do take care of the people. Well, except for one, though I’ve tried. My brother made me promise to care for Miranda. I allowed her to stay in the estate, of course. Keep her allowance as it was before. But she swears that I should marry her and—” He stopped. Why did this sound more ridiculous out loud?
Adrianna stared at his ashen face. She might have thought he was joking except he’d gone pale. “You can’t think…”
He shook his head. “I’d never touch her. I’d rather die. But if I marry you, I’ll fail Michael and the promise I made him.” He shuddered. His brother had no idea that he’d been involved with Miranda. Couldn’t know what he asked.
Her heart had risen into her throat and her hands trembled as they reached for his. “Oh Luke. You don’t actually believe that.”
“I do.” He shook his head. “And Miranda believes it too. She wrote me a letter, you know. I received it today.”
Real fear trickled down her spine. This was not about him being a rake or even about her abilities. This was about a man who was deeply hurting from his past. That was one of the tendrils that had drawn them together to begin with and it made her drop her guard. If there was one thing she believed in more than being strong, it was helping people. Hadn’t she taken him on to keep her sisters safe? The thing was, he needed her help most of all. “Don’t listen to her. That woman is a viper. I’ve told you before but I’ll say it again.”
He made a cold grunt of disbelief. “She knows me better than anyone. And she knows I’m useless. That everything I touch crumbles to dust and ash. That—”
She couldn’t listen anymore. Her heart was breaking. “Stop. I insist you stop.”
He looked up at her, confusion and grief making his features drawn and craggy. She lifted her hands and pressed her palms to either side of his cheeks. “That’s enough of that.”
“No buts.” Then she leaned over and placed a soft kiss on his mouth. The time to hold back was over. She was strong. Something inside her clicked and he needed that strength now. “She knows you well enough to twist you into knots.”
Those words made his throat stick. They rang with such truth. “You honestly believe that?”
“Listen to me. We are being watched. Intermittently, of course. But you’re going to excuse yourself. Say you’re not feeling well. And I am going to go to bed. I’m heartbroken. And then in half-hour’s time, you’re going to climb up the trellis next to my window and we are going to continue this conversation in private.”
Chapter Fourteen
Luke stared up at the trellis, a slight grimace marking his face. Up above Adrianna stared down at him from the balcony. A cool breeze blew off the ocean, ruffling his hair. “You want me to climb this?”
“I’ve done it hundreds of times,” she called back. “It’s quite safe.”