She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(17) by Lorraine Heath
He was not facing her directly, knew she had a limited view of him, but she studied him with an intensity that made him think she could see all of him, clear through to the center of his darkened soul. “Were you wounded in battle?”
He gave one brisk nod. To his horror, she rose and walked toward him. He should have stepped away, but the challenge in her eyes held him immobile.
“You don’t have to hide from me,” she said, her voice a whisper on the waning breeze. She placed one of her delicate hands on his shoulder, and ever so slowly as though he were a skittish stallion, she glided her fingers up until they rested against his jaw. He could feel the pressure but not the softness of her skin. He wanted to shove his fingers into her hair, tear it down, watch it unravel over her shoulders. The need to wrap his arm around her waist, draw her up against him, press her close until her every curve had made an indentation against his body, and blanket his mouth over hers astounded him. He wanted to get lost in the sensuality of a kiss. He wanted the heat of her flesh to brand him. Even as he had these tumultuous thoughts, he was repulsed by the savagery of his desire. Dear God, this was Mary. She deserved more than uncontrollable lust from him, but he’d not been with a woman since before he was wounded. He longed for the gentle touch, the silky skin moving sensuously over his. He longed to be held, and to hold, to skim his fingers—
Then he saw the tears welling in her eyes. They achieved what his own thoughts couldn’t, dampening his desire with unerring swiftness.
“Do not weep,” he ordered through clenched teeth.
“It must have hurt terribly.”
Unbearably. If not for his need to reclaim Pembrook, he’d have succumbed to the allure of death. But he’d not admit that, not reveal that weakness, not even to her. “Others were worse off.”
“It’s gone.” Left on a godforsaken battlefield. Although he had not memory of it or the specific pain that might have been associated with it. The agony had encompassed all of him. It had been months before he’d been able to identify where specific points of pain originated.
Blinking, she glanced away. “Does it hurt now?”
“Sometimes it aches, but it is a minor inconvenience.”
She released a small laugh, filled with sadness and perhaps a touch of admiration. “Spoken like a true soldier.”
“It is what I am. A soldier. I don’t yet know how to be a duke.”
She returned to the bench, sitting where she hadn’t before, giving him the luxury of joining her. Once he was seated, she said, “I believe you will make an excellent duke.”
Better than his uncle at least. “You shall make an excellent viscountess.”
She glanced at her fingers, steepled them, wove them together. “I shall certainly try. Although I’m not certain you know me well enough to make a claim about my suitability.”
He realized she was still upset that he’d not visited before now, that he’d left her to discover along with everyone else that he and his brothers had returned. He regretted it, the impulsiveness of it, his inability to trust her now when she had saved him before. He regretted that he’d hurt her, but at the time it seemed the wisest course of action. He couldn’t risk losing Pembrook or his titles. Reclaiming them had filled his life with purpose. “Have you changed so much?” he asked.
She twisted around to face him. “Have you?”
Far more than he cared to admit, far more than he wished her to know. In spite of all he’d achieved, he suddenly felt unworthy. Not that she sat in judgment of him, but perhaps she should.
“Regrettably, I have. But then I suppose the years take their toll on everyone. I’d certainly not expected to find you grown up.”
“What had you expected?”
He wanted to laugh like a maniac at how naïve he’d been. “I’m not sure. To step back into the way things were, I suppose. Even knowing it was gone.”
“Have you been to Pembrook?”
He saw the sorrow in her eyes, as though she wished she had the power to spare him what he had seen. “Yes. It was like walking through a house of ghosts. Father never closed it up, never draped cloths over the furniture, the statues, the paintings. It was always kept ready. Now it is covered in dust and the hills are barren of sheep.”
She placed her hand over his bare fist, pressing into his thigh. “Before I came to London I rode to the highest hill on your father’s land, where I could see Pembrook. It seemed so dark and foreboding. I couldn’t bring myself to go any nearer. Not until you returned. Now here you are and I am the one who will not be in Yorkshire.”
He couldn’t imagine it. A heaviness settled in his gut. All these years, his thoughts had centered around Pembrook, yet it had never occurred to him that he would not hear her laughter echoing over the dales or catch glimpses of the sun reflecting off her hair.
He could think of nothing to say except that Fitzwilliam was a fortunate man, and he’d already told her that. What the deuce was wrong with him? Why was he suddenly without words, without thought?
“I’ve strayed from my purpose in coming here.” The words sounded as though they came from a great distance, were not spoken by him.
“I thought you came to visit,” she said softly.
“No, I . . . I came to thank you for your assistance all those years ago.” He removed a small wrapped package from his jacket pocket and extended it toward her.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online