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

Page 35

He drew in a steadying breath, not daring to answer. As a child, he’d stuttered constantly. Of course, his father beat him every time he did, which only seemed to make the stutter worse. So he just stopped talking. Eventually, he’d mastered the damn impediment but not before he’d learned the art of silence. And how to glare. What he’d never quite learned was how to make small talk.
She looked over at him, as though expecting an answer and then looked away again with a small frown.
He clenched a fist and tried again. “Why shouldn’t I tell your family? They don’t approve of tree climbing?” His words came out slowly, which made him sound like an imbecile but at least he hadn’t
stuttered. And why did this woman make him nervous enough to do so? Yes, she was beautiful, but he’d met beautiful women before. And certainly she didn’t approve of him, but so few ladies of quality did, he wasn’t certain why she’d unsettled him so.
“We did grow up in the country. Most of my sisters are quite adept at climbing cliffs, trees, hillsides, and even the occasional trellis.” She wrinkled her nose. “But I’m not particularly good at those pursuits so they often tell me I shouldn’t do them.”
He frowned, looking up into the tree. He should climb up to get the cat instead of her. But he rehearsed the words in his head before saying them and by the time he made to utter them, she’d already started up the branches. He caught sight of her ankle again as she hoisted herself and moved hand over hand into the canopy of the tree. She gathered her skirts, exposing her stockings and those lovely little ankles. “I should climb up instead of you,” he called after her.
She waved, causing the chiffon of her gown to flutter about. “No need. It’s easy climbing.” Then she started making cute little kissing noises. “Mittens.”
He tried to relax the tight knot that had formed in his chest. As a baron he’d spent some time in the company of virtuous ladies. Mostly he just glared and they gave up attempting to speak with him.
It wasn’t that he disliked them, he just preferred the company of women who didn’t need to talk. He did his best work when no words were required. Which was probably why he was dreaming of kissing a trail up that shapely little calf, higher under her skirts.
“Oh. I’ve found the cat,” she called down and then almost immediately. “Drat.”
“Drat?” he repeated, grabbing the branch next to him. “What’s wrong?”
“It isn’t Mittens.” Not two seconds later, a cat came streaking from the tree, landing lightly on the ground and sprinted across the square.
“Drat,” she said again.
“Drat?” he repeated because he didn’t know what else to say.
“Yes. Drat.” He heard her sigh, a high, sweet sound that vibrated across his ear. “I seem to be stuck.”