She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(10) by Lorraine Heath
Slowing her step as she passed by, Lady Hermione touched Mary’s arm briefly. “Do you know if they have wives?”
Mary knew precisely to whom she referred. The question bothered her when she knew it shouldn’t. She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“But you do know them.”
She wasn’t sure. She knew the boys they’d been, but the men who had been here tonight—
“I know they are who they say they were: the lords of Pembrook.”
Lady Hermione’s eyes sparkled. “Handsome devils. Well, except for the duke, of course. What do you suppose happened there?”
Mary shook her head. “I really—”
“Hermione!” her father called out. “Come along.”
Lady Hermione gave Mary’s arm a quick squeeze. “We shall have tea tomorrow. We simply must talk. The remainder of the Season has the potential to be most interesting.”
Before Mary could respond, the lady was dashing up the stairs. They’d never had tea together before. Based upon the way other ladies were scowling at her, she wondered if she was suddenly seen as notorious, wondered what people were speculating. She refrained from explaining that they’d been neighbors, that she’d helped them escape.
“He locked them in the tower!” she wanted to shout.
Instead, she simply endured the pointed glances and nodded politely as two more invitations to tea were surreptitiously given to her. Suddenly, thank the Lord, her cousin was grabbing her arm and propelling her up the stairs, her aunt and Fitzwilliam following.
“We have so much to talk about,” Lady Alicia said.
“I know no more than you at this point,” Mary said as they reached the top of the stairs.
With the crush of bodies, they didn’t get another chance to speak until they were all safely housed within Fitzwilliam’s carriage.
“Well, I daresay,” her aunt Sophie began, “that was a rather interesting turn of events. Although I’m not certain I approve of the handling of the matter. Such a public display of family feuding is ill-mannered. The situation warranted discretion and much more decorum.”
“Come, Mama,” Alicia said. “You can’t deny that it was fascinating to watch and quite dramatic. The lords have such presence. They will be the talk of the town tomorrow.”
“They’re the talk of it tonight,” Aunt Sophie muttered.
“They had a purpose in their method, Lady Sophie,” Fitzwilliam said. “To humiliate Lord David—”
“He deserved humiliation, my lord,” Mary blurted before she could stop herself. “And I suspect they handled the matter as they did so they would have many witnesses to their claim. I daresay he’s fortunate that they didn’t involve Scotland Yard.”
“He is ruined,” her aunt lamented. “As is his poor wife. After only three months of marriage.”
“Yes, I do feel for her,” Mary said. “How horrible it must be to discover the man you married is not the man you thought he was.”
“And in his disgrace, he has disgraced her. Not certain I would forgive him for that,” her aunt continued.
“He shouldn’t be forgiven at all by anyone,” Mary assured her.
Her aunt gasped. “I’ve never known you to be so unkind.”
“He sought to have them killed.”
“Truly?” Lady Alicia said with unwarranted excitement in her voice, as though she had simply arrived at an unexpected twist in a novel.
“How would you know that?” Fitzwilliam asked.
“I overheard him give the order.”
“To whom did he give it?”
“I didn’t see. I was passing the room and overheard the words. I was all of twelve and frightened out of my wits. I dared not tarry. I immediately went in search of Sebastian.”
“Oh my word!” Alicia cried. “You never told me about that. I can’t believe you’d withhold such a delicious secret from me.”
“I promised Sebastian I wouldn’t tell anyone.” She’d broken the promise once. It had cost her dearly.
“You were a child,” Fitzwilliam said. “You must have misunderstood.”
“No, I’m certain, I didn’t.”
“Mary, darling, it’s preposterous to think that Lord David would resort to murder in order to claim a title. He would have to kill three lads.”
Mary tried not to be hurt by his words. He was the man she was going to marry. Surely he of all people should believe her. “Richard III killed two.”
“No one has proof of that. Besides that was four centuries ago. I’d like to think we’re a bit more civilized. And he wanted a kingdom not a dukedom.”
“It is one of the most powerful dukedoms in Great Britain.”
“It was. But since the seventh duke passed away, it’s lost a good deal of its influence. It can only be as powerful as the man at the helm, and there’s been no one there.”
“That will change now. With Sebastian back.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. He seemed rather barbaric to me.”
She couldn’t deny the words, so she simply gazed out the window. All grew unbearably quiet as though everyone needed to absorb the events of the evening.
She welcomed the silence in order to embrace the joy that spiraled through her. They were back. At long last.
Sitting in the library, Mary watched as her father stared into the fire, an empty glass in his hand. He’d downed the whiskey in one long gulp after she’d told him what had transpired at the ball. He’d always been a bit of a hermit, preferring the company of his liquor to that of people. He didn’t attend the social events. Sometimes he went to his clubs. He’d only come to London to keep a close watch over her. He finally looked at her. “You are not to interfere in their business. You are betrothed to a respectable lord, whose family lineage is impeccable. You leave these Pembrook lords and their uncle to sort out their own squabbles now. I want you nowhere near them.”
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