She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(5) by Lorraine Heath
“I feel a tad guilty about it. It was supposed to be your Season,” Mary reminded her cousin. Her own father had denied her a Season, left her languishing at the convent. It was only when her aunt—Alicia’s mother—had taken matters in hand and insisted that she “be released from exile” and share the Season with Alicia that Mary had been given her first taste of the glitz and glamour that could be London. She fell in love with it.
Mr. Charles Godwin!
“It’s not yet over. I could still find my true love,” Alicia told her with an air of confidence that indicated she truly hadn’t given up hope.
Mary felt another prickle of guilt because she wasn’t certain she could claim that Fitzwilliam was her true love. Certainly she held a fondness for him. His manners and dress were impeccable. She suspected that if Sebastian had lived, he’d have very much resembled him: respectful, charming, occasionally witty. She also rather liked his parents—the Marquess and Marchioness of Glenchester. They appeared to think well of her. They even approved of her time in the convent—thought it had taught her mercy and grace. What it had taught her was to never trust her father with a secret.
“Any gentleman would be fortunate to have you,” Mary assured Alicia.
“You’re much too generous with your praise. And speaking of fortunate men, there’s yours now.”
Turning her attention in the direction Alicia indicated, Mary watched her betrothed make his way toward her. Viscount Fitzwilliam was a few years her senior, which gave him an air of maturity and sophistication that some of the younger lords lacked. Tall and slender, fair of complexion and quick to smile, he graced her with one of his winning smiles now. Her father heartily approved of the match, even if the estate Fitzwilliam would eventually inherit was in Cornwall, far from her home in Yorkshire.
Lord and Lady Raybourne!
Lord Fitzwilliam stopped before her, his brown-eyed gaze wandering over her, filling with appreciation. “Don’t you look lovely, Lady Mary.”
While she had been here most of the evening, he arrived only a short while ago and she’d noticed one person after another capturing his attention as he made his way around the ballroom. She smiled softly. “Thank you, my lord.”
He turned his head slightly. “And you as well, Lady Alicia.”
“You’re too kind, my lord.”
“Hardly, I merely speak the truth.” He gave his attention back to Mary. “Did you save the requisite dance for me?”
The seventh. He was a suspicious sort, but it only endeared him to her all the more. Seven was his lucky number. He had danced the seventh dance with her during the first ball of the Season when he had become—as he was fond of reminding her—entranced by her beauty and spirit.
“I have indeed.”
“Splendid. If you’ll excuse us, Lady Alicia?”
“Of course, my lord.”
Mary disliked leaving her cousin standing alone, wasn’t certain why gentlemen weren’t flocking to her side. Fitzwilliam placed his hand on the small of Mary’s back and guided her toward the dance floor. “Will you dance with her next?” she asked him.
“Lady Alicia, my cousin.”
“If it would please you.”
“It would immensely.”
“Perhaps it would even make you a bit jealous?” he asked, a teasing glint in his brown eyes.
“It would, but mostly it would make me happy. I don’t understand why more gentlemen aren’t giving her attention.”
“Because she pales when compared with you.”
A blush warmed her cheeks. She felt a bit selfish for hoping the ease with which he gave compliments would continue after they were married. The lilting chords of a waltz wafted through the room as he took her into his arms. His touch was both gentle and kind. It held no promise of passion or adventure, but then she’d left those childish things behind. Many considered her on the shelf, yet here she was with an admirer when she’d never thought to have one after her years of isolation in the nunnery.
It had not helped that she lived her younger days in fear that Lord David would come for her as he’d come for his nephews. She knew his secrets, his sins. She knew she was prone to rash decisions, not always giving proper thought to things, but if she hadn’t trusted her instincts that night—
His Grace, the Duke of Keswick!
The odd, unexpected words startled her.
“Good God!” Fitzwilliam exclaimed, slowing their momentum. “Is that what this affair is about? Has his petition already been granted? Trust Lord David to surprise us all and make quite the show of it.”
She couldn’t stand the thought of what Fitzwilliam was intimating. If Lord David now held the titles, then the brothers had been declared dead. She craned her neck—
Lord Tristan Easton!
Her knees weakened.
Lord Rafe Easton!
Her world narrowed, blackened at the edges, threatened to consume her. With her heart thundering, she spun around to gaze at the stairs that led down to the ballroom. The music was drifting into silence. Couples stopped dancing. Low murmurings began, only to increase in volume as people rudely whispered and pointed. Several ladies gasped. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one swoon into her husband’s arms.
Three towering men with unfashionably long hair as black as midnight stood on the landing. Their well-tailored clothing did little to disguise the savagery in their faces as their icy blue gazes roamed over the crowd, alighting briefly on one person after another before quickly moving on. With an obvious disdain, they implied that all were beneath them. One held a pistol toward the steward—no doubt the very reason that the man had announced the name that his employer soon hoped to possess.
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