Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(68) by Lorraine Heath
“At your core, I suspect you are. Did you all fish with your father?”
“We did. God, I haven’t thought of that in years. Father was a large man—or at least he seemed so when I was small. His presence diminished everything around him. He was bold, strong, invincible. As grand as Pembrook. But at the pond, I would stand beside him and . . .”
She watched his throat work as he swallowed. “And what?” she prodded.
“Suppose you teach me to play croquet.”
She’d rather pursue what had brought the melancholy to his eyes. She hoped it was tender memories, knew that even the fondest of reminiscences could bring a hint of sadness for the moments remembered, and those lost. He had lost so much. She was rather certain he’d share no more with her. Besides, it was best to move back into the fray of the party before her brothers decided they needed to interfere.
“It’s quite easy. I suspect you’ll be rather good at it. Come along.”
She retrieved two balls, told him to select a mallet.
“I’ll share yours.”
She gave him a pointed look. “You need one with a longer handle.”
“I’ll make do.”
“But you’ll have to hunch—”
“I’ll be fine, Princess.”
“You are quite the stubborn man.” Grateful others were farther along in the game, she trooped over to the first stake, well aware of his long strides keeping pace. “The object, of course, is to run the course, passing the ball through the wickets until we reach the other stake. Like so.” She positioned herself, concentrated on placing her mallet in alignment with the ball so that a smart tap—
She felt his arms come around her, his hands close over hers.
“What are you doing?” She hated that she squeaked, sounded breathless, was frozen.
“Learning to play croquet.”
“You could by watching my movements.”
“And such lovely moments they are, but where’s the fun in merely watching? Much better to learn by experiencing. You see, this way, I know precisely how to hold the mallet, how much my body should tremble—”
“Tristan!” Her voice was low and sharp.
“You are trembling, Princess.”
“In anger. You’re making a spectacle of us.”
“You didn’t seem to mind my being behind you last night.”
Oh, dear Lord, she hadn’t. She’d been on her knees, he on his, when he entered her. “We didn’t have an audience.”
“I want you, Anne. Where can we go for a few moments alone?”
“You’re going to ruin my reputation. Then who shall have me?”
“I’m not doing anything improper.”
“You’re doing everything improper.”
“I thought the whole point with these games was to offer an opportunity for flirtation.”
“But not an opportunity to hold, to—” To be acutely aware of your warmth, to inhale your earthy orangy scent, to imagine those hands that are now tightened around mine luxuriously caressing my body. “You go too far.”
“I could go farther and well you know it. Why did you invite me here if not to flirt?”
“My Lord Tristan!” Lady Hermione called out.
“Dear God,” he grumbled, “that girl is as tenacious as a barnacle.”
He released her, stepped back, and while Anne knew she should be grateful—had she not been advocating for just such a move?—she was sorry that he was no longer holding her. As she spun around to greet Lady Hermione, she noticed that Jameson was much nearer and she had no doubt that he’d been charging over to rescue her. That would not have gone well at all.
“Had I known you were going to be here, I’d have not delayed my arrival,” Lady Hermione gushed, her cheeks flushed, her smile so wide that it filled half her face.
Oh, what a nasty thought. Normally, Anne was not one to think unkindly of others. She wasn’t jealous. Absolutely not. She understood that Tristan was a temporary fixture in her life. One did not become attached to things that had no permanence.
“Lady Anne was just teaching me to play croquet,” Tristan said.
“Oh, is that what she was doing?” Lady Hermione gave her a once-over. “I wasn’t quite sure.”
“You look lovely today, Lady Hermione,” Anne said, wanting to get the attention off of herself.
“Why thank you. It’s a new gown. The color of Lord Tristan’s eyes.” She batted her pale lashes up at him.
“Yes, I have eyes of my own so I can quite see that,” Anne said. Oh, she was in an ungracious mood. She couldn’t very well claim Tristan, could she? That would bring about an entire host of complications.
Lady Hermione apparently was not to be deterred from her quest. “Oh, I say, Lord Tristan, I would so love a turn about the garden. Will you accompany me?”
“Lady Anne and I are engaged in a game of croquet.”
“But surely it will keep. With English weather, you never know about the sun. It could rain at any moment.”
The argument made no sense for if it rained, how would they play croquet? Besides, there wasn’t a dark cloud in the sky. It was a lovely day. If it rained, Anne would eat her hat.
“Please, just a quick turn.”
Anne could tell that he was debating between telling her to take a jump into shark-infested waters and offering kindness. When he turned to her, she wasn’t surprised to see the regret in his eyes because kindness had won out. “Not to worry,” she offered, before he could say anything. “Jameson is lurking nearby. I’m of a mind to entice him into playing me and then beating him soundly.”
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