She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(16) by Lorraine Heath
He was a skilled lover. Or at least he had been before he’d awoken to discover that ignoring the call for retreat and further engaging the enemy in order to save a wounded man was a fool’s mission. The soldier had been beyond saving. Sometimes Sebastian wondered if it would have altered his decision had he known how gravely wounded the fellow was. Probably not. In the heat of battle, all men believed themselves invincible. Why else would they charge with such enthusiasm into hell?
He heard the soft footsteps and turned ever so slightly to greet Mary. She smiled at him, and his chest constricted. Yes, it was a mistake to come here. To have the opportunity to memorize every line and curve of her face, to search for the remembered freckles that had faded, to be disappointed that they were not to be found. To inhale the flowery fragrance—orchids, perhaps—that seemed stronger outside than it had in the study. Strange, he would have thought just the opposite.
He had deliberately placed himself so that when she joined him she’d have no alternative except to stand to the right of him. He did not wish to offend her delicate sensibilities by what remained of the left side of his face. Although the girl he’d known probably would have not been sickened by such a ghastly image, she was a lady now. And that made all the difference.
They began walking with the maid following discretely behind. He did not offer Mary his arm. Rather he planted his hands behind his back. Little point in touching what he could never hold.
“How long have you been in London?” Mary finally asked.
“A little more than a fortnight.”
“You did not think that I might wish to know you were alive?”
He heard the sharpness of her tone, the hurt. They had been friends once, and he cursed Tristan for being correct. They should have told her. “We thought it best to keep our presence here a secret until the right moment.”
“I would have held your secret.”
“But contacting you may have put us at risk for discovery. Rafe has been in London for some time, but he used a different surname and ran into no one who might identify him. Considering his age when we left, he was fairly safe from being properly identified.”
“But you and Tristan—twins.”
“Yes, we are a bit more noticeable.” Or at least they once were. He supposed it would take a keen eye indeed to notice their similarities these days, but it was a risk they’d not been willing to take.
Her bow-shaped mouth curled up slightly. “You were certainly noticed last night. I’m not sure I ever realized you had such a flare for the dramatic.”
“I would have thought you of all people would not have been surprised. Was I not Lancelot to your Guinevere? As I recall, I fought the enemy off quite daringly with my wooden sword.”
“That was so long ago that I’d almost forgotten.” Her smile withered. “Why did you not have him arrested for what he did to you?”
“What exactly did he do, Mary? He locked us in a tower. He could argue that we’d misbehaved and were merely being brought to task.”
“I could tell the courts or the house of lords or whoever I needed that I heard your uncle order someone to kill you,” she said.
“You were a child. Years have passed. He could argue that your memory was faulty. It would become a battle of words, Mary. I would not subject you to such unpleasantness.”
“But it is not right, what he did.”
“I’m well aware of that. My brothers and I will deal with him.”
“What have you in mind?”
“Your gardens are lovely.”
“Sebastian!” She stopped walking and he watched the familiar mulish expression cross over her features. “Why will you not reveal your plans?”
“I will not have you put in harm’s way when there is no need.”
“I want revenge as much as you.”
“It is not revenge. It is retribution.” And he doubted anyone could want it as much as he. “To be quite honest I’ve not finished mapping out my plans, and I did not come here to discuss my uncle.” He longed for one conversation that did not revolve around the man.
“What of his wife?” she asked.
“What of her?”
“My heart goes out to her. You might have been a bit kinder to her.”
“Twelve years, Mary. There is no kindness left in me.”
She glanced away and he wondered if she feared what she might see in him if she looked too closely. He had taken to avoiding mirrors whenever possible. It wasn’t so much the scars that bothered him any longer but rather what he saw in his eye. If eyes were truly the window to the soul . . . he did not fancy what he saw within his.
“When confronting your uncle last night, you said that you were a soldier,” she said after several moments of reflection.
“Yes. I did not mean to stay away so long, but there never seemed a good time to sell my commission. Then we declared war on Russia, and to have left then would have shown me to be a coward.”
“I suspect you were anything except a coward. Shall we sit?”
She indicated a wrought iron bench. He would have preferred walking, but he nodded and followed her over. In her youth, she’d been a bundle of mischievousness—which was part of the reason she’d uncovered his uncle’s plot. And now she sat on the side of the bench that would give her the clearest view of his mottled flesh. She was no fool, so it had to be a conscious decision on her part.
“Scoot over,” he said. “I fancy sitting in that spot.”
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