She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(2) by Lorraine Heath
“What proof will we have that we are who we say we are?”
“How many twin sons with our shade of eyes do you think there are?” And he wore his father’s ring on a chain about his neck. His finger was not yet large enough to provide it with a secure home. But one day . . .
“I don’t agr—” Tristan began.
Sebastian heard a distant scuffing, scraping. It was getting louder, nearer.
“Someone’s coming.” Even in the dark, he unerringly found his brother’s slender shoulder, gave it a squeeze. They wouldn’t have strength on their side. Their best weapons would be surprise and agility. “Don’t hesitate. Be quick and sure. Make it count.”
He heard Tristan swallow, felt his twin’s body move with his forceful nod.
“Rafe, to the far corner,” Sebastian ordered.
“No questions. Do it, Brother,” he demanded harshly. Rafe was too young to be of any great assistance; besides it was Sebastian’s duty to protect him.
He scampered quickly to the door, was aware of Tristan following in his wake. The only furniture to be avoided was the small table and two stools in the center of the room. Someplace was needed for the signing of confessions, he thought wryly.
Holding his breath, he pressed himself flat against the wall, felt the stone biting into him. He heard the key go into the lock, scrape as it turned. The door opened, light spilled in. He rushed forward—
The girl leaped on him, securing her legs around his waist, tightening her arms around his neck. Her tears cooled against his cheek. “You’re alive,” she croaked. “I was so scared I’d be too late!”
Holding her close, he could feel her trembling. A lantern on the floor in the hallway cast a pale glow into the room. She must have brought it and abandoned it there as she dug the key into the door. “Shh, Mary,” he urged tenderly, “keep your voice down. Whatever are you doing here?”
Lady Mary Wynne-Jones, daughter to their neighbor the Earl of Winslow, hiccupped, sniffled, and buried her face harder against his shoulder. “I was looking for you. Heard him . . . heard him say to kill you.”
“Damned blighter,” Tristan growled. “I knew it!”
“Quiet,” Sebastian ordered. As quickly, but gently, as possible, he extricated Mary from her perch. She was all legs and arms, light as a feather. When she was finally standing again, he took hold of her shoulders and stared into her green eyes. Two years younger than Sebastian, she was a wild one and often snuck away from her father’s estate to visit with him. Without a chaperone. They would pretend to be adventurers and would explore various ruins. The nearby broken-down abbey was their favorite haunt. Last week she boldly kissed him there. He knew if his father found out that he kissed her back, he would be in trouble. He wasn’t supposed to kiss a lord’s daughter unless he intended to marry her. His father had told him that often enough.
But Mary wasn’t just a lord’s daughter. She was his best mate. He’d taught her to move about stealthily. At many things, she was as skilled as a boy. He loved that about her. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Or almost anything. He could see now that she was as pale as a ghost, her myriad freckles standing out in stark relief. “Who did he tell?”
“I didn’t see,” she said on a rush. “I dashed up to your room and when you weren’t there, I thought to look here.”
“Is your father with you?”
She shook her head forcefully. “I rode over alone. Knew you’d be sad about your own father dying. I wanted to be with you—like you were with me when my mother went to heaven.” She’d been ten when her mother died of the fever. That night he’d ridden over, climbed the tree outside her bedroom window, and slipped into her bedchamber, into her bed. And held her while she cried and grieved. “I was sneaking about searching for you. That’s when I heard what I did.”
“We’ve got to hurry then. Tristan, stay close to Rafe.”
“I don’t need watching,” Rafe objected.
“Shut your mouth,” Tristan snarled. “It’s not a game. Uncle means to kill us.”
“Because we’re all that stand between him and everything. Now come on.”
Sebastian grabbed Mary’s hand and stepped out of the room. Reaching down, she picked up the lantern and they rushed down the steps. He heard his brothers following behind them. At the bottom, the guard was sprawled on the floor, a large branch abandoned beside him.
“I crept up behind him and smashed him in the head,” Mary said.
“Well done, Mary.”
She beamed, her clover-green eyes sparkling for only a moment before the worry settled back in. They didn’t dare tarry here. Still gripping her hand, he raced outside. Her legs were long enough to keep up with him. She was as graceful as a filly and almost as fast. They had been friends for as long as Sebastian could remember. He’d never seen anyone with hair as vibrant a red as hers. It was braided now and tapping rhythmically against her back as they ran for the stables.
Once there, he and his brothers each saddled a horse. Mary’s horse was tethered nearby. He boosted her onto it, mounted his own.
“I’ll catch up to you, Tristan. I’m seeing Mary safely home first.”
“No. We stay together as long as we can.”
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