Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(12) by Lorraine Heath
“Walter’s brother? Why would you think that?”
Her father took a slow sip of his red wine as though she wasn’t waiting with bated breath for the answer. “Oh, just something I heard at the club.”
“Has it been wagered on?” Her brothers wagered on everything. They’d lost a small fortune because they’d expected her to marry Chetwyn rather than Walter. But she hadn’t loved the marquess. It was Walter who had stolen her heart.
“Might have seen something scribbled in the book at White’s,” Jameson said.
“Don’t look so devastated, sweetheart,” her father said. “It’s as I’ve said, you’ve far exceeded Society’s expectations with this mourning business. It’s not as though you’re a widow.”
“I don’t believe Society should dictate how long I mourn,” she said hotly. This had been a sore point between them. “That is a function of my heart.”
“Yes, well, it’s time for your heart to move on. And Chetwyn would make a jolly good match.”
“It would be almost like marrying Walter,” Edward said. He was her youngest brother, a year older than she, and apparently a numbskull.
“That’s disgusting. He’s nothing at all like Walter.”
“I should say not. He’s alive.”
She tossed her wine on her idiot brother, causing him to yelp, jerk back, and send his chair and himself to the floor. With him still sputtering, “See here now! It’s my favorite waistcoat!” she came to her feet amid the stares of those who remained at the table. “I’m trying to move on, and you all are making it extremely difficult. If you’ll excuse me, I feel a headache coming on.”
She flung her napkin to the table, turned—
“Anne,” her father barked in his not-to-be-ignored voice.
Grinding her back teeth, she faced him with her chin held so high that her neck was beginning to ache.
“We want what is best for you. You’re approaching an age when you’ll no longer be considered marriageable. It is my responsibility to see you with a husband so you are not a burden to your brothers.”
Yes, three and twenty was so terribly old. Perhaps rather than return from the voyage, she’d simply ask Crimson Jack to drop her off on a secluded rock somewhere. That had to be better than enduring such idiocy disguised as caring.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “And see to my duty this Season and secure myself a husband.”
Her father smiled. “That’s my girl.”
“I do love you all,” she added, “and know you have my best interests at heart. However, I’m going to retire now, so please enjoy your evening.”
And please, please, please, go to your clubs as soon as possible so I may make my escape from this madness.
She was late, dammit. Tristan checked his watch again. Three whole bloody minutes late. He fought not to pace the deck, not to give the impression that he cared one whit that his passenger might have changed her mind. He should have borrowed Sebastian’s coach and stopped by her residence to provide assistance if needed.
The fog was rolling in. It distorted sounds, gave everything an ominous feel. The ship’s lanterns were lit, but they would not hold the encroaching gray at bay. He wondered if the weather had turned her back, but she hadn’t struck him as one who was easily intimidated. He wasn’t usually a poor judge of character, so why wasn’t she here?
Because she’d come to her senses and realized that he would take advantage of her. He wouldn’t force her, but by God, he’d certainly work to seduce her. Although he suspected a woman who had been loyal to a man for four years would not succumb easily to his charms. She obviously loved the scapegrace. What sort of man could stay away from her and still hold her heart?
Someone far better than you, mate, more worthy. It didn’t bear thinking about. She’d struck a bargain. That was all that mattered. Or so he’d thought.
Damnation. He should have taken the kiss from her when he was in her bedchamber. He was a merchant, a trader. He knew better than to set sail without payment in hand. Payment first, services second. It had been his motto from the moment he’d begun to barter his skills. Always money first. Then if someone decided to back out on the bargain, he still had his gain.
Now, he had nothing to show—
Not exactly true. He removed her glove from his pocket and stroked it through his fingers before bringing it to his nose. After she turned toward the door, he’d stolen it from where she tossed it. He didn’t know what had possessed him, except that he’d wanted it and he wasn’t accustomed to not taking what he wanted. Her scent of lavender with a hint of citrus wafted around him. He suspected it was a perfume made especially for her. If not, it should be. He couldn’t recall ever smelling it on another woman.
What was this insane obsession with her? Why should he care if she had shown herself to be a coward, if she had decided not to make the journey?
He glanced at his watch again. Five blasted minutes. She wasn’t coming. His men were waiting for his order to set sail. What was he to do now in order not to look like an absolute fool?
He could leave, decide later exactly where they would go. Or he could tell his crew to stand down, while he disembarked, hired a hackney, and confronted the treacherous—
Through the thickening fog came the unmistakable sound of rapid footsteps, determined, a steady cadence echoing over the wooden planks of the docks. A woman’s steps. A slight woman. Seven stones’ worth. Others followed, more distant.
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