She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(12) by Lorraine Heath
“Perhaps we should have warned her of our plans,” Tristan continued. “She seemed quite unprepared for it.”
“Which no doubt saved her reputation,” Sebastian surmised. He downed his brandy and refilled his glass, refusing to acknowledge that it was because he’d still seen her as a child, had wanted to protect her, had not even considered how the shock of seeing them might affect her. In his mind, she had always remained as unchanged as Pembrook. Although time had its way with the estate as well, but the changes there were subtle. None of Mary’s changes had been subtle. It seemed inappropriate to consider all the dips and swells that her gown had revealed. The unblemished bare skin of her shoulders that some man would have the great fortune to touch.
How silky she would feel. How warm.
He imagined now what he hadn’t at Easton House: removing the pins from her hair and watching it tumble around her. How far would it reach? Was it as thick as it appeared? Would a man’s fingers become lost in it? As easily as a man might become lost in her?
Her eyes. Even her eyes had changed. Not the shade of course. They were still as green as the fertile land. But they no longer held a mischievousness. If eyes possessed the ability to laugh, hers would have done so when she was a child. Not so tonight. Although, unfortunately, tonight, there was very little to laugh about. But still, her eyes held too much knowledge. Wisdom perhaps. What had she seen in all the years he’d been away?
How was it that he had managed to understand that he had grown to adulthood but had never considered her doing the same? Perhaps because he had stepped into a man’s boots the day his father died. She’d always been someone with whom he’d enjoyed exploring the world. Only now he thought of exploring her.
Damnation, but these thoughts regarding Mary were unsettling, not to be tolerated. Her role in his life was that of friend, not lover.
“Any notion with whom she was dancing when we made our grand entrance?” Tristan asked, breaking into his thoughts, and Sebastian couldn’t help but wonder about the path that his brother’s musings might be traveling. Surely not the same direction as his.
“You noticed her dancing?” he asked. He could well imagine how graceful she would be as she was glided across the floor in another man’s arms.
“How could you not?” Tristan challenged.
“I was occupied with other matters—convincing the steward that he was to announce us with our titles took a bit more cajoling than I’d anticipated.” The steward was not someone who had worked in their father’s household, so he’d not recognized them nor even been aware of their existence apparently.
Tristan suddenly appeared uncomfortable, taking great interest in the brandy that lingered in his glass. “Come to think of it, I believe she was on your blind side at the time. And we’ve strayed from addressing my concerns. We may have hurt her by keeping our presence here a secret from her. Without her—”
“I know what we owe her,” he snapped, not certain why he was so blasted irritated with Tristan’s inquiries, or the fact that she had matured into womanhood with astounding perfection. Perhaps because seeing her was a blatant reminder of years lost that up until now he’d not had to truly face.
“She’s spoken for,” Rafe said casually. When both brothers looked at him, he merely shrugged. “You two are carrying on like a dog with a bone. I see no point in arguing about what we should have done when the moment is passed. Whether you find her a beauty, whether we owe her is moot. She’s betrothed to Viscount Fitzwilliam. The gent with whom she was dancing. I saw the announcement in the Times.”
Rafe had noticed her dancing as well? Perhaps Sebastian was going completely blind.
“She’s a bit on the shelf to be only betrothed,” Tristan said, his words echoing the thoughts Sebastian had been veering toward.
“I can’t imagine our Mary settling for just anyone,” Rafe surmised. “So I suspect it took a bit longer to find a gent worthy of her.”
Our Mary. She didn’t belong to all of them. She belonged only to—
The truth slammed into him. She didn’t belong to any of them.
“Perhaps,” Tristan said. “But still. A viscount? What do you know of him?”
“He’s unimportant. Mary is not our concern,” Sebastian snapped impatiently. He didn’t want to ponder her being with another man. He’d never laid claim to her. Had never even considered it. They’d been children when he was forced to run off. As a woman, she might no longer have anything in common with him. Might be entirely unsuitable to serve as his duchess. Without conscious thought, he ran his hand over his jaw. Stopped. The scars taunted him. It was quite possible no woman would consider serving as his duchess. That path was truly for traveling another day.
“Establishing ourselves,” he told his brothers, “ensuring that our claim to Pembrook is not questioned—that is where our energies must go. Did you not see the doubts in that room? We are far from done.”
“Mary might be useful to us,” Rafe said. “She remained in that world that cast us out.”
“You would use her?” Tristan asked.
“I would use anyone to get what I want.”
The cold words sent an icy shiver through Sebastian. Who was this unrelentingly harsh man whom he called “brother”? On the one hand a bond existed between them that could not be broken. On the other was the truth of the matter: he knew very little about him, yet he could not claim him to be a stranger because he trusted him completely. But still there was so much he didn’t know, wasn’t certain he wanted to know.
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