She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(19) by Lorraine Heath
Before she could respond, before he could fully recognize the emotions that might have played over her face, he spun on his heel and slammed into the maid whom he hadn’t seen. Standing on his blind side, dammit. “Out of my way, woman!”
He stormed from the garden as though the very hounds of hell were nipping at his heels. How could so simple a request have unmanned him to such a degree?
He was the Duke of Keswick for God’s sake. But at that moment he wished he was back on a battlefield. It was so much easier to fight an enemy that was not himself.
What the deuce had just happened?
Mary rose to her feet, stared after Sebastian’s stiff retreating back, and plopped back down in confusion. Had she offended him in some manner? His reaction was the strangest thing. He had been staring at her with such intensity that she’d barely been able to draw in a breath. For the briefest of moments, she thought he was on the verge of leaning in to kiss her. For the briefest of moments, she had wanted him to.
What a disaster that would have been! Dear, kind Fitzwilliam had been forgotten. Only Sebastian had filled her senses. The size of him, the breadth of his shoulders, the expanse of his chest. The fragrance beneath the cloves that was the true essence of him. He’d always smelled like the heady soil of Pembrook: earthy and rich. For a moment it was almost as though they were there, as though the pain and separation of the intervening years had never happened.
But they had, and he took great care not to subject her to his scars. Did he really think her so shallow?
The thought filled her with disappointment, caused an ache to settle in her chest. He knew as little of her as she knew of him. Once again she found herself wondering why her request to place the lovely gift about her throat upset him so.
“Would you like me to assist you in putting it on, m’lady?” Colleen asked.
She smiled at her maid. “No, I believe I shall save it to wear at the next ball.”
“The pink gown with the green velvet trim?”
“It will look lovely.”
“I quite agree. You may go inside. I believe I shall sit here for a while and enjoy the gardens while I may.”
“The residence will not be the same without you here.”
“I shall try to visit. Often. Go on now.”
Feeling like an ungrateful wench, Mary watched her go before turning her attention to the assortment of flowers that were blooming in riotous colors. She should find the energy to gather some for her room, but all she seemed capable of doing was thinking about Sebastian. She grazed her finger over the small emerald. She had once felt so comfortable with him. She could have told him anything. She could have bared her soul to him with no regrets. But the man who had visited with her in the garden now—she did not know him. She didn’t know the journeys he had traveled, what challenges may have shaped him. She possessed a romanticized bent that would see them sitting before a roaring fire, sharing every aspect of the past twelve years. But it was only fantasy.
Their time apart had truly separated them. Now they seemed to be little more than strangers fumbling into an acquaintanceship. They traversed separate paths, the distance between them ever widening. It saddened her to consider they might never truly converge.
During one horrendous night they’d shared experiences that had created an unbreakable bond between them. They would forever be connected. But a connection did not ensure a snug fit. At that moment, she wasn’t even certain that she liked the man he had become. He was irascible and harsh. She had yet to see a smile, and the laughter he released was more bark than joy. She had always expected the lad he’d been to return unscathed. She feared that nothing of the boy she’d known had returned at all, because she still missed him, still longed to see him again.
Lord Tristan Easton liked the way his name now rolled off the tongue. Although Captain Easton was equally as gratifying. He’d been down to the docks to check on his ship and crew and all seemed well there. He hired a couple of extra thugs to keep watch. He did wish that Sebastian hadn’t blurted out that he’d been to sea. He doubted that the Swine—the name with which he’d christened his uncle the first time a cat-o-nine had cut into his back—would have the wherewithal or intelligence to consider that Tristan had a ship and to come looking for it, but he wasn’t above being prepared.
Now he strode into Rafe’s office and quirked up a corner of his mouth at the sight of his brother at his desk, looming over a mountain of ledgers. Rafe had been such a sniveling puppy as a boy—he favored their mother to such a degree that their father had spoiled him as he hadn’t his heir or his spare—that Tristan had never garnered much respect for him. But he couldn’t deny that somewhere along the way Rafe had acquired an impressive backbone.
He finally looked up, and it irritated Tristan to have his brother’s impatient glare land on him. It was strange because in their youth he was the one who never had the patience to deal with the younger boy.
“Has Sebastian returned from visiting Mary?” Tristan asked.
His brother had also become a man of few words. Even when he was into his cups, he didn’t talk. He was successful, Tristan would give him that, but he was an awfully gloomy sort. But then to various degrees, he supposed they all were.
“Do you know where I might find him? I stopped by his room. He wasn’t there.”
“He wanted a woman. I sent him to Flo.”
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