She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(6) by Lorraine Heath
She realized Rafe was the one wielding the weapon. While he was tall, he had not achieved his brothers’ height. On the far side stood Tristan. She never had any trouble distinguishing him from his twin, because his cocky smile—in evidence now—was slightly crooked, always tipped up a bit more on the right.
Sebastian’s always went up higher on the left. Or at least it used to. Presently he was not smiling. Based on the hideous scars marring that side of his face, she wasn’t certain he could smile. A black patch covered his eye. Dear God in heaven, whatever had happened to him?
Mary took a step forward, only to have Fitzwilliam place a restraining hand on her arm. “Easy there, dear girl,” he whispered. “You don’t know what dangers await.”
She suspected a good many. The lords of Pembrook had arisen from the dead.
And she could not help but believe that tonight’s boring ball was about to become the most memorable of the Season.
“I do believe we’ve managed to gain their attention,” Tristan said with the confidence of a man who not only commanded men, but the sea.
In spite of all he’d suffered, it was also quite apparent he’d not lost his sense of humor. Sebastian couldn’t say the same for himself. But then he’d lost a good deal more at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimea. His good looks. His eye. And portions of himself that were not so easily identifiable.
The physicians said he should have died from his wounds. But he was a man possessed by the need for retribution. So he’d refused to allow his heart to stop beating. Clutching the threadbare handkerchief that contained the soil he’d scooped up before leaving, filling his nostrils with its rich fragrance, he endured the pain and the agony. He survived, because to do less was unthinkable.
He was the Duke of Keswick. The rightful heir to Pembrook and five other estates, as well as three other titles. And by God, he was here to claim what was due him.
His uncle—everyone who had abandoned three lads—was on the verge of discovering that they had each become a man to be reckoned with. Even Sebastian had been astonished to discover the men his brothers had become. They rivaled him in determination and purpose. No spoiled gentlemen were they. In no way were they typical of second and third sons who gladly welcomed an allowance and sought only pleasure. He could not have been prouder or more at ease to have them at his side, watching his back, prepared to battle at his front.
He gave his gaze freedom to roam over the crowd, searching for his vile uncle. Sebastian’s father had introduced him to numerous lords when they hosted country parties, but he’d been more interested in running off to play Waterloo with their sons. Now these sons were grown and certainly a good many of them were here, but identifying them was not an easy task when he’d not seen them in years.
“See here, now,” an older gentleman admonished, stepping forward. “You do not come into a man’s home, disrupting an affair, and waving a pistol about.”
Two more could have been waved about. He and his brothers were all armed, but only Rafe had drawn his pistol when the steward—a man they did not know—had refused to announce Sebastian as he’d asked because they had no invitation. It seemed Rafe had developed a knack for impatience over the years.
“It is my home,” Sebastian proclaimed, “and I shall come into it any way I damned well please.”
The gentleman appeared taken aback, and Sebastian regretted the harsh tone, but he couldn’t apologize without coming across as weak, and his most challenging moments still awaited him. Where the deuce was his uncle? The coward had no doubt slipped out through a back door, was at this very moment possibly scurrying away like the vermin he was.
A young woman, short of stature but with determination in the mulish set of her mouth, climbed the steps, halting halfway up. Her gown was a violet satin. A choker of pearls wound about her throat. Diamond and pearl combs adorned her blond hair. Her figure was ample, and he suspected she feasted on far too much chocolate. He saw doubt flicker in her eyes before she jerked up her chin. “I am Lady Lucretia Easton, wife to Lord David, soon to be the Duchess of Keswick—”
“No, madam, I regret to inform you that you are not destined to be a duchess. And if my uncle married you under those pretenses, may he go to the devil.”
Her mouth fell open, her eyes widened, and she blinked repeatedly. He was surprised no one came to her rescue. Perhaps they were equally stunned, or more likely they simply wished to see how things would play out. He suspected he was providing far more entertainment than one might find on Drury Lane, and that was unfortunate, but his success hinged on making his case before witnesses.
She finally pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes as though she thought by doing so that she could cause him to wilt. But wilting had never appealed to him. “I don’t know who you are, sir, but—”
“I am the Duke of Keswick.”
“That’s not possible.”
“I assure you, madam, it is.”
“You speak falsehoods.” She caught the eye of a footman and clapped her hands twice. “Remove this pretender and his rapscallion friends immediately.”
“He speaks true! He is the Duke of Keswick!” a feminine voice rang out, and suddenly a tall slender woman was wending her way through the massive crowd. She reached the stairs and tripped lightly up the steps, her pink satin slippers peering out from beneath her pale pink ball gown. She stopped a short distance from him and grabbed the railing as though she needed to support herself, because she was in danger of swooning now that she was near enough to get a good look at what remained of him.
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