To Tempt a Rake - By Cara Elliott Page 0,1

me, Miss Kate-Katharine.”

“Actually, I’ve only insulted you,” she replied. “You are lucky I am wielding only my tongue and not a rapier. Else your voice would be an octave higher.”

A casual flick of his wrist set the fobs on his watch chain to dancing against the silk of his waistcoat. “Trust me, Miss Kate-Katharine. If we were to cross blades, you would not come out on top.”

To Kate’s chagrin, she felt a fresh flush of heat rise to her face.

Marco slid a step closer and flashed a lascivious wink. “I am considered one of the best swordsmen in all of Europe.”

Much as she wished to riposte with a clever retort, she found herself momentarily at a loss for words. For all his braggadocio, he wasn’t exaggerating his skills with sharpened steel. Even if she hadn’t known for a fact that he routinely bested Angelo, the premier fencing master in London, she would have guessed at his physical prowess. In her former life, she had learned to assess a man’s strengths and weaknesses in one glance.

And Marco? His gestures were deceptively lazy, but beneath the pose of an indolent idler, the conte moved with a predatory grace. Like a lean, lithe panther. A sleek wild animal, all whipcord muscle and coiled quickness.

But that was not the only reason he was dangerous….

Recovering her voice, Kate stepped back and slowly drew on her kidskin gloves. “What a pity we cannot put such a claim to the test.” He was not the only one who could employ theatrics.

Marco watched the soft leather slide over her skin. “You could use one of those to slap me across the face and challenge me to a duel.” The hint of laughter in his voice—a rumble redolent of aged brandy and smoky boudoirs—sent a tiny shiver prickling down her spine.

“Tempting,” she said. “But I mustn’t forget that I am a lady.”

“There is no danger that such a fact will ever escape my mind, cara.”

Danger. The word stirred another whispered warning inside her head. Kate averted her eyes, reminding herself that she mustn’t encourage him to look too carefully at her features. The chances were razor-thin, but he just might remember…

“No doubt because you rarely think of anything but sex,” she said tartly, trying to deflect his attention. “Do you never tire of the subject?”

At that, Marco laughed aloud. “On rare occasions, I do think of other things.”

“Now you have shocked me, sir.”

“Not as much as you interest me, Miss Kate-Katharine—”

“Do stop calling me by that ridiculous moniker,” she interrupted.

“Izzz wrong?” he asked, greatly exaggerating his accent. “My cousin Alessandra calls you Kate and your maid calls you Katharine. Knowing the English fondness for double names, I assumed—”

“Please spare me the long-winded explanations.” As she preferred a more informal name to ‘Katharine,’ she was called ‘Kate’ by her close friends. Among whom the Conte of Como did not number. “And please address me properly. To you, I am ‘Miss Woodbridge.’ ”

“Propriety is so boring,” he murmured. “I should think that a lady of your intellectual inquisitiveness would agree.”

Ignoring the remark, Kate stepped away from the display table. “If you will excuse me, I must find the bride and groom and take my leave.”

“Why the rush back to London? Most of the wedding guests are staying until tomorrow.”

“Charlotte has a lecture on medieval metallurgy to prepare for the Mayfair Institute of History and Science.” The elderly scholar was, like herself, a member of the Circle of Scientific Sibyls, a small group of intellectual females who met each week to share their knowledge. And their friendship.

Given that the ton did not approve of serious learning for ladies, the five members had taken to calling themselves by a more informal moniker—the Circle of Sin. Kate felt a small smile twitch at the corners of her mouth. Without the stalwart support of the ‘Sinners’ over the past year, she wasn’t quite sure how she would have navigated the uncharted waters of Polite Society.

“Sounds fascinating,” drawled Marco.

“Yes. It is.” She raised her forefinger and crooked it up and down. “After all, without science, your steel might bend at an inopportune moment.”

He was suddenly blocking her way. “I have heard of the phenomenon, but having never experienced it, I am not sure what could cause such a malfunction. Perhaps you would care to explain it to me?”

She gasped as his coat brushed against her breasts, the heat of him singeing through the silk. “Nemernic.”

The dark laugh sounded again, far too close for comfort. “I speak