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

Page 34

She didn’t have to look back to know that he’d followed. She could feel his skulking presence behind her like one feels a ghost or a predator, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.
Reaching the tree, she circled around the base, ducking branches and staring up into the newly forming foliage. “Mittens?” she called, then made a kissing noise.
Lord Craven had stopped several feet from the tree, staring at her as she moved. She gave a small shiver. The man’s gaze was disconcerting. Why must he stare? And why did one side of his upper lip curl as though he’d smelled something foul.
She attempted to ignore him as she finished a full circle. “Mittens?”
In response she heard a faint, but distinct meow.
She gasped, poking her head between two low branches. “Mittens?”
“Bloody hell.”
Bianca heard a deep voice rumble behind her. Surely that was Lord Craven, she’d just never heard him utter actual words. She turned back to look at him, peeking through the branches of the tree. “I can assure you that Mittens is just an ordinary cat. She isn’t sent from the hell fires at all and there is nothing bloody about her.” What had made her just say that? Color stained her cheeks as she assessed his reaction. She made a habit of speaking before she’d really thought the words through, something over which she received endless teasing.
He straightened to stand taller, his muscles growing more defined as he tensed. She reached for the branches as though they’d anchor her from his disapproval. He didn’t say a word, however. His brow just dropped lower over his eyes. Briefly, she wondered what color they were. He always had them narrowed into slits so it was difficult to tell.
But he didn’t berate her, verbally anyhow, and instead, just continued to watch. With a shrug, she turned her attention back to the tree and tried to pretend the cat was the only body currently plaguing her state of wellbeing. “Mittens,” she called. “Come down, sweetheart.”
“No cat has ever come when called. They are like women in that regard,” he said as he moved closer.
She huffed a breath. Was that an insult? She didn’t look at him. His face wouldn’t provide answers anyhow. “You find it objectionable that women and cats wish to be in charge of their own destiny?”
He stopped again, making that dreadful noise. “No. I didn’t say that. I simply meant you’re wasting your breath calling her. She won’t come.”
Bianca frowned. He was right in that regard. Mittens likely wouldn’t come and if the kittens had followed her up, they wouldn’t be able to come down and she, being a good mother, wouldn’t leave them. “Fiddlesticks,” she mumbled and then let out a sigh. There was only one thing to do.
“Fiddlesticks?” He ducked under the branches, coming to join her at the trunk of the tree. Only one large branch separated them and she shifted away, still looking up into the canopy. She couldn’t see the cat, only hear the meows.
Thank goodness, she could pretend to look for Mittens rather than face the disdain she could hear dripping from his voice. “You don’t like the word fiddlesticks?” she asked, testing the strength of the lowest branch.
“It’s a silly word,” he replied. “From a…” He paused, but she winced.
“From a silly girl?” she filled in, her chest aching. She’d often been called exactly that. If only she could be confident and sharp like her sister, Adrianna, or refined like Ophelia.
He said nothing and she sighed as she looked up into the tree. She couldn’t do a darn thing about a man who thought her foolish. But she could do something about Mittens. And so, lifting her skirt, she grabbed onto a tree branch and started to climb.
Chris’s head snapped back. What the bloody hell was she bloody doing? He did not curse out loud, however. Because he’d already used profanity in her presence once and she’d promptly made fun of him.
Why did he care about what one silly girl thought? Well, that had been her phrase, actually. Regardless, he was Lord Christian Craven, a baron, who would someday inherit his father’s title of viscount. Why was he remaining silent because one little country miss disapproved?
To be fair, he was often silent. But in the case of Miss Bianca Moorish he’d been quiet for several other reasons as well. To begin, she was uncommonly beautiful. The sort of pretty that made every muscle in his body clench. And she had this innocence. Like her smile lit heaven instead of the small village square of Seabridge Gate.
Light blue eyes that sparkled in the sun and dark hair that curled just enough to dance in the breeze. Her face had a lovely heart shape and her lips, full and sweet as though they’d been kissed by summer strawberries.
Women like that didn’t fancy men like him. They preferred Dane Dashwood with his striking blue eyes and his windswept hair.
He grimaced as she placed a foot on one of the lower branches. First because he caught a generous glimpse of her slender ankle and shapely calf but mostly because he couldn’t believe she was actually going to climb. “Miss Moorish,” he bit out, ducking under the branch that separated them.
Bianca waved, not looking at him. She’d hardly looked at him the entire morning they’d been searching for that damnable cat. Which was infuriating, considering he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her.
He watched her slender hand wrap around a branch. “Y-you’ll dirty your glove.” Damn. Had he stuttered? He hadn’t done that in at least a decade. His fists clenched and he crossed his arms to hide them, his chin dropping so that he looked at the ground. Then, he squeezed his eyes shut. Had she noticed?
She stopped, dropping her foot again. “You’re right.”
She pulled the gloves from her hands, first deftly undoing the row of tiny buttons. It was like watching the intricate inner workings of a clock the way her fingers undid those little pearls with such ease. Then, she pulled the cloth off, exposing her long, tapered, creamy fingers. He gulped. They were as beautiful as the rest of her.
“Don’t tell my family I did this,” she said, looking up into the branches again.