“You must think of tomorrow’s cricket match as a stage,” Kitty said. “It’s a chance to perform for the rest of the town and, more important, a chance to impress all the ladies.”
Leo scoffed. “I’m not interested in impressing all the ladies. Only one. And I’m not certain she cares about cricket.”
Kitty scooped the ball off the ground, grabbed his wrist, and dropped the ball in his palm. His skin tingled where her fingers had touched him. “You must change your way of thinking. It is human nature to want what everyone else wants. A true rake knows this and uses it to his advantage. He charms everyone.”
“How am I supposed to flirt while I’m launching a ball at a wicket?”
“You don’t have to flirt.” She took a step back, tilted her head, and frowned. “You merely need to look athletic. Display your prowess.”
“Nathan’s already promised me free drinks if we win, so it goes without saying that I’ll be giving my best effort.”
“I should hope so,” Kitty said. “Winning is much more attractive than losing. But you need to do more than play well. You must look good while doing it.”
Leo grunted, not bothering to hide his skepticism. “Serious cricket players don’t give a fig how they look.”
She closed her eyes briefly, as if praying for patience. “You’d think I’d asked you to wear a powdered wig, when all I’m suggesting is that you take advantage of the opportunity to showcase your…er, assets.”
Leo felt his jaw drop.
“Have I shocked you?” she asked dryly. “If so, that is another thing we shall have to work on. Rogues are not easily shocked.”
“Fine. Tell me what to do.”
“Let’s set the scene.” She walked back to the rowboat and made herself comfortable on the overturned hull. “Pretend that I am sitting in the main tent along with all the eligible young ladies in Bellehaven. That rock near the water is the area where the cricket match is being played.”
“You mean the pitch,” he said.
She waved a dismissive hand. “Call it what you will. You’ve just come from the pub with Nathan and all the other strapping young men representing our fair town, and you’re about to begin the game.”
Leo nodded despite the fact that he still failed to see the point of this rehearsal.
“Now,” Kitty continued, “show me how you’ll walk onto the beach.”
“You mean before the match starts?”
“First impressions are critical,” she said loftily.
Feeling more than a little awkward, he gripped the bat handle in one hand, the ball in the other, and strode toward the rock. When he reached it, he turned and shot her a questioning glance. “How was that?”
“A bit stiff,” she said, as if she should be congratulated for her tact. “Do you suppose we could try it again? This time, let your arms sway. But not as though you’re marching. Attempt to saunter.”
“Saunter,” he repeated, trying to remember precisely what that entailed.
“Very well.” He dutifully stalked back to his starting point and inhaled deeply. It had probably been a mistake for him to agree to this plan. Not only was it damned embarrassing, but there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to turn him into a rake.
The only silver lining he could glean from their agreement was that he was able to spend time with her. He supposed that was enough to offset the humiliation.
He paused and recalled her directions. Then, he walked across the beach again, more slowly this time.
“That was better,” she said brightly. “You looked very…in command.”
“Good.” He released a breath, relieved to have the lesson behind him.
“But we’re not finished yet,” she said, hopping off the rowboat. “Let me have your jacket.”
He swallowed. “What for?”
“You aren’t going to wear it when you’re playing, are you?”
“Of course not.”
She snapped her fingers. “Then hand it over.”
He dropped the bat, shrugged off his jacket, and gave it to her.
She tossed it onto the rowboat and stood toe to toe with him, casting a critical eye over his clothes.
“Is something wrong with my waistcoat?” Surely, she didn’t expect him to wear his best one.
“No,” she assured him, pointing to one of his arms. “Let me see your sleeve.”
He held it up, wondering if there was a stain or a tear in his shirt. But Kitty didn’t stop to examine it. Instead, she deftly loosened his cuff and began rolling the sleeve up his forearm. When she reached his elbow, she tugged at the fabric covering his upper arm until she was apparently satisfied with the way it laid.
“Not bad,” she said. “Allow me to fix the other one.”
He swallowed and obeyed, savoring her closeness. A few pale blond tendrils around her face waved wildly in the stiff ocean breeze, and the citrusy scent of her hair tickled his nose. Her graceful fingers occasionally brushed his skin, heating his blood without even trying.
Heaven help him if she decided to examine the fit of his trousers next. If she did, she was definitely going to see the effect she had on him.
Fortunately, she directed her attention to his neckcloth. “May I?” she asked, pointing at it.
He nodded. “You don’t like the knot?”
“It’s not a matter of what I like,” she said, oddly adamant. More smoothly she added, “but it should be looser. Even a bit lopsided, as if it were hastily tied.”
As she reached up to adjust the knot, it was impossible not to imagine that he was living out the wild fantasy that Kitty Beckett was stripping off his clothes. He’d imagined it hundreds of times, and he was still unprepared for the jolt of desire that hit him. When she slipped a finger between the neckcloth and his throat, he flinched.
Her gaze snapped to his. “Forgive me. Am I choking you?”
“No,” he assured her. “I’m…er, ticklish.”
She smiled as if that made perfect sense, then continued to fiddle with the knot. He relished every second, committing the moment to memory. The thick lashes framing her eyes. The cupid’s bow of her lips. The expanse of skin above her neckline, and the lush swells of her breasts. He’d never known someone with her kind of beauty. The kind that made it difficult to breathe.
“There.” She patted his chest and took one step back to examine her handiwork. The knot hung two inches below his collar, and one of the ends fluttered in the brisk breeze. “That’s a definite improvement. Now you look pleasantly disheveled.”
She gave a firm nod. “The goal is to make it appear as though you haven’t given a thought to your appearance.”
“That’s why you need me,” she said with a triumphant smile. “If I may, I’d like to make one other suggestion.”
“Go on.” He braced himself for anything from rolling in the sand to dancing a jig. Knew he’d do whatever she asked.
“Refrain from shaving tomorrow morning. It will make women wonder if you’ve come directly from your bed.”
“Why would we want them to wonder that?” he said arching a brow. He had an idea, of course, but he wanted to know what she’d say.
Her cheeks pinkened but she looked directly into his eyes. “Rakes spend an inordinate amount of time in bed.”
He arched a brow. “Doing what?”
She narrowed her eyes, signaling that she knew exactly what he was about. “I suppose that they are doing what they do best, Leo. Pleasing women. Alas, I cannot teach you everything. Right now we are simply attempting to master the basics.”
Copyright © 2024 by Anna Bennett
Rogues To Lovers #3
The swoony, frothy finale to the Rogues to Lovers series from award-winning author Anna Bennett.
She’s about to face her biggest challenge yet…
Since she was a girl, Miss Kitty Beckett has been adept at finding trouble: sneaking brandy, running away, and getting under the skin of the boy who, like her, was an apprentice to an architect. Now Kitty’s a talented heiress who can take a dry building plan and breathe life into it with her pencils and paints. Also? She can spot a rake at a hundred yards—and she won’t be tricked or charmed into marriage. Certainly not by a man who might interfere with her dreams. When Bellehaven Bay announces its first ever architectural design contest, she vows to win—with a little help from her childhood rival.
Turning her buttoned-up nemesis into a certified rake.
Leo Lockland, a hardworking architect with a gift for numbers, has returned home after a few years in London, and he has secrets. The biggest? He’s been in love with Kitty since they were both apprentices. She refuses to give her heart to any man, but Leo’s determined to beat the odds—even if it means learning how to be a rake. Fortunately, Kitty’s willing to tutor him in the nuances of fashion, flirtation, and seduction in exchange for his help with the contest. But the whole plan would fall apart if she knew how he felt, so he’ll have to be very convincing.
Let the lessons begin…
Leo proves to be a surprisingly quick study in the ballroom, on the beach, and in the bedchamber. Before long, he’s softening Kitty’s hard edges with his wicked words and kissing his way past all her defenses. Perhaps she’s a bit too skilled at teaching, because her lessons are threatening to backfire, putting her closely guarded heart in grave danger…
Romance Historical [St. Martin's Paperbacks, On Sale: January 23, 2024, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250793959 / eISBN: 9781250793966]
Anna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided that books with balls, dukes, and gowns were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead. Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Other weaknesses include reality TV, cute shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
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