Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(81) by Lorraine Heath
“You’re not going to let me feel guilty about this are you?”
“No. Come upstairs and I’ll distract you.”
Standing, he drew her to her feet and kissed her. She would never tire of his kisses, never tire of—
A knock on the door brought their prelude to lovemaking to an end.
The butler stepped inside and announced, “Your Grace, Lords Blackwood and Jameson would like a word.”
“Ah.” Sebastian exchanged a glance with her. “Would you care to wager that it was Lady Anne Hayworth on the ship with him?”
Smiling softly, she shook her head. It was whom she’d suspected all along.
Under the circumstances, Tristan supposed that he could have come in through the front door. Her brothers wouldn’t be happy to see him, but considering that they had confronted him at Sebastian’s this afternoon and informed him that he would marry their sister, he expected they would begrudgingly allow him to speak with her in the parlor. But quite honestly he felt a need to see her without anyone knowing.
So he was perched on the sill of her window watching her. She sat on a sofa before the fireplace. In spite of the warmer weather, tonight a fire burned in the hearth and he wondered if revealing their little trysts had chilled her. But what struck him the most was the loneliness he sensed coming from her. How often she had spoken of the lonely nights that awaited her if he remained in her life. Until this moment he wasn’t certain that he’d quite comprehended the full extent of what being with him would cost her.
He slipped into the room and walked over to the fireplace. She barely moved a muscle. Simply lifted her gaze from the fire to his eyes as he pressed a shoulder against the mantel.
“Why did you tell them that you were with me?” he asked quietly.
Looking lost, she shook her head. “Because they thought you were a man without honor. She was lying, yet all of London would believe her over you. I suppose my father and brothers paid you a call.”
“Did you tell them to go to the devil?”
He’d wanted to. “No, I told them that I’d marry you if it was what you wanted.”
She released a brittle laugh. “How many ladies receive two proposals in one day? Yours isn’t quite as charming as Chetwyn’s.”
A fissure of something dark and possessive shot through him. “He asked?”
“Yes, just before we discovered the trouble that Lady Hermione was stirring up.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him yes, and then I had to apologize for being less than a lady.”
His hand began to ache and he realized he was gripping the mantel so hard that his knuckles were in danger of pushing through the skin. He loosened his grip. “Did you want to marry him?”
“It’s all moot now. He’d not have me. Besides, he deserves someone who is above reproach.”
“But did you want to marry him?”
“I don’t want to be lonely. I’ve had two years of that. And Chetwyn is kind, generous. He would have been an exemplary husband. Life would have been good I think but—” She offered him a small smile and shifted her gaze to his hand that was once again gripping the mantel. “You can relax; I’m not going to marry you either.”
Strangely her words served only to heighten his tension. “Why not?”
“Do you love me?”
“That’s not the point.” She rose to her feet and joined him by the fire. He could see the sadness in her eyes so much more clearly now. He hated it. “Your life is obviously on the sea. Mine is here. If I’m unmarried then I’m free to make choices.”
“To take a lover without guilt,” he said, each word biting.
“Would you deny me what comfort I might find with another?”
He touched her cheek, but she refused to be quieted.
“Can you promise me that you’ll not take comfort with other women when you’ll spend months from home—”
Home for him was the sea. The majority of the time he would be there.
“—in places with exotic women? Would you not be tempted to stray? What would our marriage vows be but a farce?”
“And when you get with child?”
“If I’m not with you, it won’t be yours, will it? Who knows? In time, perhaps I’ll meet a man who’ll forgive my sins.”
In the meantime she would be alone, sitting on a sofa, staring at the writhing flames of a crackling fire.
He guided his thumb along the corner of her mouth. “It was never my intention to cause you any pain.”
“I know. Still unintended consequences are rather troublesome and must be dealt with.”
“Your family won’t be happy if I don’t marry you.”
She gave him a sad smile. “They won’t be happy if you do. They don’t like you and I find that rather a shame—that they don’t appreciate the man you are.”
A blackguard? He’d torn her reputation asunder. He couldn’t give her what she deserved. A home, husband, children. Permanence. A life without loneliness. But he almost broke out in a sweat at the mere thought of not getting back out on the sea. Perhaps if he’d never known anything different—
“Will they send you away?”
“I shall send myself. I still have the money from Walter. I shall be a lady of independent means.” She cradled his jaw. “I’ll be fine, but you must let me go completely.”
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