Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(43) by Lorraine Heath
“Are you in love?” Sarah asked.
Anne snapped her gaze over to her friend. “Pardon?”
“You’re staring at the bowl rather oddly, as though you care deeply about oranges. If you want one, simply take it.”
Anne did. It was as succulent and sweet as she expected.
“So continue with your story,” Sarah commanded. “What was it like to wear trousers? And why would you? Were you a stowaway or something equally atrocious?”
Anne smiled. “I paid for my passage, but after going to Scutari I became melancholy. The captain thought it would brighten my outlook to gaze out on the world. But I couldn’t very well shimmy up a pole in skirts.”
“You actually climbed a mast?”
She released a short burst of laughter. “Yes.” And I climbed a ship captain. But that memory was for her and her alone.
“Better keep it to yourself. Gentlemen prefer their ladies less adventuresome.”
“Oh, I fully intend to tell no one. But I wanted to share it with you, although I realize now that I haven’t the words to paint a true portrait of the experience.” She popped another orange segment into her mouth. “Sarah, are you happy being the wife of a lord?”
“Absolutely. Fayrehaven treats me very nicely. I’m fortunate in that regard. I daresay that by the end of the Season you’ll be on your way to becoming a wife as well.”
“You can’t dally, Anne. Your prospects next year will be fewer than they are now. A new batch of eligible ladies will be stepping onto the marriage block.”
“You make it all sound so frightfully appealing.”
“It’s marvelous. Truly. With a husband comes children.” Sarah had given birth to a son fifteen months after her wedding. “It’s a tragedy that you’ve been denied so much for so long, which is the reason that I’m ecstatic to have you in London this Season. We shall find you a husband with all due haste. If not Chetwyn then someone else who appeals.”
An image of Tristan flittered briefly across her mind. She was giving herself leave to think of him until she attended her first ball. Then she would have to pack up the remembrances, store them in a corner of her heart, and never visit them again. Except perhaps when she was old and withered and looking back on the life she’d led. She would write her memoirs, and include the scandalous journey and the dashing sea captain with whom she’d felt the first stirrings of happiness after being dead inside for so long.
“Have you ever known any lady who didn’t marry into the nobility?” she asked Sarah.
“The former Duchess of Lovingdon. She married that Dodger fellow, but then he’s obscenely wealthy so sins are easily forgiven.”
She was fairly certain that Tristan was wealthy, yet she couldn’t imagine him remaining patient with Society’s rules. He’d always be chomping at the bit to return to the sea.
“What if Walter hadn’t asked for your hand in marriage?” Sarah asked. “Who would you have wanted to marry then?”
“I never gave it any thought. From the moment I met Walter . . . we were so alike with so many common interests.” She and Tristan didn’t meld nearly as well. Well, except when they were physically melded together. They fit perfectly then.
“Are you blushing?” Sarah asked.
Anne touched her cheeks. Was she? The man had the ability to warm her from the inside out even when he was nowhere in the vicinity. “No, it’s just an unseasonably warm day.”
“I think you’re not being quite honest, that there is someone other than Walter who caught your fancy. Whisper his name and if he’s still unmarried—”
“There’s no one,” Anne said sharply, trying not to remember how many times she’d whispered Tristan’s name during the throes of passion.
“There will be. Have no worries. As soon as you attend the first ball of the Season, I shall do all in my power to assist you.”
Anne thought she’d prepared herself for the whirlwind that awaited her. She’d anticipated her first Season with an air of giddiness and anticipation. Now she merely wanted this Season to all be over.
It had been ages since Anne had been to a ball and her arrival was causing quite the stir. She did wish that she hadn’t waited so long to return to Society. An awkwardness hovered about as people approached her. Should they mention Walter? Should they not? Should they offer condolences? Should they carry on as though nothing were amiss?
Gentlemen didn’t seem to know if they should ask her for a dance. How did one treat a lady who had the baggage of a widow, but wasn’t a widow?
The only one who seemed at all comfortable with her was Chetwyn, as he expertly glided her over the dance floor.
“My brother would be pleased to see you smiling again,” he said.
It was strange, but she saw little of Walter in him. His blond hair seemed more easily tamed. Not a single freckle dared to mar his skin, where Walter had always been cursed with an abundance that had only served to make him more endearing. Chetwyn’s smile was more stately and sedate. Walter’s had always been filled with fun and mischief. But what really surprised her was that she could think of Walter now without hurting, or feeling guilty, or longing for what could never be. She had been correct that she needed her sojourn. She was ready now to face whatever the future held.
“I’m frightfully behind on the gossip I fear,” she said, smiling warmly, striving to carry the conversation away from the past and their shared loss.
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