She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(3) by Lorraine Heath
“Right then. Let’s ride like the wind.”
Mary’s lantern guided them, causing the shadows to ebb and flow with their progress. They couldn’t travel too fast; they didn’t want their horses tumbling. But still there was an urgency that snaked along Sebastian’s skin. They were halfway across their property when he had an undeniable urge to stop.
“Hold up one minute,” he shouted.
Everyone did as he ordered. He was, after all, the duke. He dismounted and moved to where Mary’s lantern shed a bit of light. “Mary, can I have your hair ribbon?”
She handed it over without question. That was so like her. They trusted each other implicitly. Pulling out the handkerchief that his father assured him a gentleman always carried, he knelt down.
“Sebastian, what the hell are you doing?” Tristan asked. “We don’t have time for nonsense. We’ve got to go.”
But he couldn’t leave without taking a bit of home with him. He clawed, scraped, and scooped up a handful of the rich soil over which seven previous dukes, several kings, and queens had galloped their horses. He enfolded it in the linen, secured it with Mary’s ribbon, and stuffed it into his pocket. He remounted and they were off once again.
The next time they brought their horses to a halt, they were outside her father’s stables. Sebastian vaulted off his horse and approached Mary’s.
“Come inside. My father can help you,” Mary insisted.
“It’ll be too dangerous for you and your family.” And probably for us as well.
“I’ll go with you then.”
“No, you can’t go where we’re going.”
“Where are you going?”
“If you don’t know, you can’t say.” And no one can torture it out of you. Reaching up he wrapped his hands around her narrow waist and brought her down to the ground.
She clutched his arms. “Don’t leave me, Sebastian. Take me with you.”
“I’m Keswick now. And I can’t take you with me, but I promise you that I shall return. Ten years, on this night, at the abbey ruins.” Bending down he gave her a kiss, brushing his lips so quickly and lightly over hers that it resembled little more than touching a butterfly’s wings as it took flight. “Thank you, Mary. I’ll never forget what you did for my brothers and me.”
“You must be careful.”
“Always,” he said with a confidence that belied his youth—and his fear. He had no idea what the future would hold.
“Send me word when you’re safe,” she said, and he realized she didn’t understand the true peril that lurked.
“No matter what happens, Mary, never tell anyone what you heard or what you did. It has to remain a secret, for all our sakes.”
He felt like there was more he should say but he wasn’t quite certain what it was. Climbing back into the saddle, he urged his horse into a gallop, his brothers’ horses thundering alongside him, all of them leaving Mary behind.
As they rode into the night, into the darkness, into the unknown, he vowed that he would one day return to Pembrook to claim all that belonged to him. Nothing mattered more than that.
It was a vow that would shape the man he was to become.
If curiosity killed the cat, then Lady Mary Wynne-Jones expected that she’d be dead before the night was done. After all, it was curiosity that had lured her to Lady Lucretia Easton’s ball. Mary knew very little of the woman except that she had married Lord David Easton in the spring. Hence the niggling seed that had sprouted Mary’s curiosity and resulted in her presently occupying a corner in the ballroom with her cousin Alicia and two other young ladies. It was the perfect spot for observing the comings and goings—to see and be seen.
Lord and Lady Wickam!
Mary barely paid attention as the arriving guests were announced. She was far more interested in her host and hostess, in deciphering what they were up to, how they were received by Society. She’d not seen Lord David in years. Shortly after his nephews disappeared, he’d abandoned Pembrook. She supposed he had taken up residence at one of the other estates. Although perhaps he lived in London year-round. This residence had certainly not been neglected. It glittered and sparkled, as though well cared for.
Tonight the many guests glittered and sparkled as well. One would not expect the second son of a duke to garner such interest, but then Lord David had a wretched past that he touted for all it was worth. His older brother’s devastating accident. His three nephews’ unexplained disappearance. Did they run off? Were they abducted for ransom, only to have been killed? Or were they kidnapped for some nefarious purpose? Put on a ship perhaps? Sold into slavery somewhere? No one knew.
They had become the stuff of legends—the lost lords of Pembrook.
“Have you ever known a more dull or tedious ball?” Lady Alicia bemoaned in her usual dramatic fashion as though she’d just declared that the world as they knew it would soon come to a dreadful end.
Mary gave her cousin a wry smile. Her hair was a burnished copper, more tame than Mary’s fiery red. Her eyes, however, were the same green. But then their mothers were sisters, and it seemed no female on that side of the family had escaped green eyes. “I can’t imagine that Lord David is known for being entertaining. After all, how much fun can a man with his misfortunes be?”
Her sarcasm earned a sharp look from her cousin, but was hardly noticed by the other two ladies who had joined them a few moments earlier. They were too busy searching the crowd for masculine prey.
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