She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(11) by Lorraine Heath
“But they are our neighbors.”
“Not here in London, they’re not. And not in Cornwall, they won’t be.”
“But if I told the other lords what I heard—”
“You have no proof Lord David would have killed them. Perhaps they’d misbehaved and a few hours in the tower was to be their punishment.”
“As the nunnery was punishment for me?”
He paled, licked his lips, took another swallow of his liquor. “You must do nothing to endanger your betrothal to Fitzwilliam. You have no brother to look after you when I am gone. I cannot rely on my nephew who is to inherit to be generous with you. He will have five sisters to marry off.”
She had only a passing acquaintance with her father’s family. They did not like the northern climes, and preferred to stay in the south. She did hope her cousin would appreciate what he was to inherit. She knew her father was concerned for her future, was providing her with a substantial dowry. She did not want to consider how it might have influenced Fitzwilliam.
“Surely all his sisters will be married by the time you are again with Mama,” Mary said.
“The eldest girl is only nine. My brother started his family late in life.” Then he died of typhoid. Her father gave her a small smile. “Perhaps you’re right. I worry overmuch, but I do not want you to lose this opportunity to marry well. Now off to bed with you.”
Nearly an hour later, Mary sat on the window seat in her bedchamber and looked out on the night. She considered disobeying her father, getting dressed, going out, and trying to find Sebastian and his brothers. She wondered where they were residing. She wondered why he’d not sought her out to let her know that he was safe. She supposed that he wanted to keep his arrival secret so he could make a grand entrance, but he should have told her. He should not have left her worrying about him.
So many times over the years, she’d thought of running away from the convent. But she had no funds at her disposal. And what skills did she have with which to earn a living?
She may have languished there forever if her aunt hadn’t taken it upon herself to come for Mary and give her a Season.
Then another miracle.
During her first ball she’d met Lord Fitzwilliam and shortly thereafter he’d proposed. At the end of the month, she’d be free of her father and his manipulations. When Fitzwilliam looked at her, he saw someone who was strong, and capable. He saw someone who could provide him with a pleasant home life. He was not the most sought-after lord. In truth, she didn’t think he was sought-after at all. Which made them different sides of the same coin, for no one was banging on her father’s door, asking for her hand. Fitzwilliam had become her knight.
In the quiet recesses of the night, when slumber lulled her, she would sometimes dream of Sebastian. She would sometimes wonder: what if he returned?
And now he had. She had spent a good deal of time envisioning him growing into manhood. But the gentleman on the stairs more closely resembled something from her nightmares, not her dreams.
“We shall no doubt be all the gossip tomorrow,” Tristan lamented, sprawled in a chair in the living area that was part of the private suite of rooms on the top floor of Rafe’s gaming establishment. All three of the brothers had adjourned here after returning from their uncle’s. They were comfortable accommodations and Rafe had the finest of liquors at his disposal.
Sitting in a nearby chair, sipping his brandy, Sebastian stared at the writhing flames. He couldn’t get the image of Mary out of his mind. He’d thought of her from time to time over the years of course, but he’d always envisioned her as she’d been the last time he saw her: a young girl. Braided hair, gangly limbs, and a smile that filled most of her face. Freckles. So damned many freckles that he’d often teased her about them, even as he’d adored the way that they made her look like a little imp.
He thought of the way she’d not hesitated to speak up for him. She had always championed him, and in equal measure, challenged him. She was the reason he had climbed to the top of an ancient oak tree, only to take a tumble and break his arm. She was the reason he had learned to scale the castle walls. She was the reason that he and his brothers were alive to gather here now.
“I wonder why I do not feel more satisfied,” Rafe commented. He was only twenty-two but he’d done very well for himself in a short amount of time. When Sebastian had left him at the workhouse, begging to go with him, he’d feared the sheltered life they’d led would leave his brother vulnerable. Perhaps in the beginning it had. Rafe was quite tight-lipped about how he had come to own a den of vice. Tristan certainly couldn’t accuse him of whining now.
“Because the bastard still breathes,” Tristan said.
Of course Tristan was equally reserved when it came to discussing his life. Along the docks, Sebastian had managed to find a captain willing to pay for a cabin boy. The money had allowed him to purchase his first commission in a regiment. But he couldn’t help but wonder at what cost to Tristan. He’d seen his back. A cat-o-nine had done some nasty work. Tristan had always been more suited to being the one in charge rather than the one doing the work. It was little wonder he’d finally acquired his own ship. Carrying goods had made him a wealthy man. Sebastian didn’t want to consider that perhaps not all of it had been legally obtained.
“Mary grew into quite a beauty while we were away,” Tristan said now, sounding as surprised as Sebastian had been at first. Not so much that she had transformed into a butterfly but that she’d grown up at all. He realized that she was long past an age for marriage: four and twenty. Did she have a husband then? Where the devil had he been? Who the devil was he? Why hadn’t he been at her side?
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