She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(8) by Lorraine Heath
“I don’t know who you are—”
Sebastian was down the stairs so quickly that his uncle barely had time to take two steps back before Sebastian’s hand was wrapped firmly around his throat. He heard gasps, a muffled cry, a few clearing throats, and harrumphs, but no one came forward to challenge him. He could only imagine the pending threat that his misshapen face conveyed to anyone who might consider interfering. It would not be tolerated. Not by him, and not by his brothers. He suspected they were silently issuing warnings with their stances. By God, but it seemed each of them had learned to convey menace without bothering with the nuisance of words. A talent that came in handy when confronting one’s enemies—and there could be no doubt that Lord David Easton was enemy to one and all.
When Sebastian was a lad, he’d thought his uncle to be a towering man, fearsome and invincible, but now Sebastian loomed over him. And he’d not lived a life of ease. His muscles were firm, his body hardened by the challenges of war. He could take a man down with a sword, rifle, or pistol. He could destroy a man with his bare hands if need be. The temptation to do so with this bit of excrement was almost overwhelming.
“You know damned well who I am,” Sebastian said evenly, although his voice was seething with a fury that threatened to bubble past the surface. He’d known it would be difficult to hold his emotions in check, to act a gentleman rather than a barbarian, but he was rapidly reaching the end of his tether. He should have had a life of few worries, attending schools, being educated in the ways of a future duke.
Instead he’d had hardship, blood, and horror. His brothers had experienced much of the same. He’d been born to protect them, to care for them, and all he’d managed was to lead them through the gates into hell. He’d let them down. His father would have been sorely disappointed in him, but no more so than he was in himself.
“We can go before the Court of Chancery if you wish, but one way or another I will hold the titles that my father passed down to me. You can skulk away quietly or you can fight me on it. But let me warn you that I was a captain in Her Majesty’s army. When I have an objective, nothing will sway me from reaching it. Tristan has sailed the seas. You’re nothing to him. While Rafe . . . well, let’s just say that he knows a dark side to London that terrifies even me.”
His uncle dug his fingers into Sebastian’s wrist and gagged. His eyes bugged.
“You have one day to pack up your things and leave. We were given much less time to run from Pembrook with our lives. Take one item that does not belong to you, and Tristan will deal with you the way he saw thieves dealt with in the Far East. He’ll slice off your hands.”
“And be glad to do it,” Tristan announced laconically, as though the task would involve little more effort than swatting a fly.
His uncle’s eyes rolled upward. Another gag. A huff. A gurgle.
Sebastian knew he should release his hold, but he seemed incapable of letting go. This man had been responsible for the last twelve years of misery. In their absence he’d lived the life of luxury that they should have. From them, he’d stolen. In all likelihood he’d killed. He didn’t deserve to draw in breath. He didn’t deserve—
On his shoulder, Sebastian felt a touch as light as a butterfly’s passing, but it communicated an urgency, caught his attention as shouts and orders would not have.
“You’re killing him,” Mary said quietly. “After all you’ve endured, surely you don’t want to find yourself led to the gallows now.”
No, but suddenly what he was doing didn’t bring enough satisfaction with it. He’d dreamed of this moment, anticipated it, and yet it was sadly lacking. His uncle was not a worthy adversary. He was little more than pond scum. Sebastian flung back his uncle, watched his arms windmill madly before he landed with a hard thud on the floor, sprawled out like an overturned tortoise. “Sunrise, day after tomorrow, I expect you to be gone, Uncle. Then I never want to set eyes on you again. The same holds true for my brothers. Our compassion has reached the limits of its tether. Challenge us on this and you shall see hell unleashed.”
Glancing around, he saw expressions of horror, confusion, disbelief. And the pity again—when his gaze fell on Mary. The pity made him feel like a vile beast, because he was no longer certain that it was his marred features she took pity on. He feared it was his actions, his words. He’d hardly behaved as a gentleman. He should have called his uncle out, he supposed, no matter how it might have been frowned upon. Although judging by the reaction of the guests, his attempt at retribution was being met with equal disfavor. Not that he gave a bloody damn.
His uncle deserved to rot in the nearest cesspool.
Sebastian did little more than give a brisk nod toward Mary before marching up the steps. He strode from the residence hoping he had made it perfectly clear that the Duke of Keswick was at long last home.
Unfortunately the harder task still lay before him: convincing himself.
What followed was total and complete madness.
As soon as the brothers disappeared through the doorway a crescendo of objections, protestations, speculations, and assurances rose to a deafening knell. It was all a person could do to think, much less converse.
Mary stood clutching the banister, because it was the only way to prevent herself from barreling up the stairs after them. What a disaster that would be. Her reputation would no doubt be questioned, possibly destroyed. A lady didn’t go gallivanting after a retreating gentleman, especially one who had behaved as anything but a gentleman, and yet she had so many questions. Where had they been all these years? What had delayed their return until now? What had happened to them while they were away?
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