She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(20) by Lorraine Heath
Flo, a buxom blond with legs that went on forever. “Excellent choice.”
With a scowl, Rafe returned his attention to his ledgers. He was damned protective of his girls, but then he seemed to be damned protective of everything.
Tristan wandered into the room. On his previous visits here, he’d been more focused on his brother than the things that surrounded him. Now he couldn’t help but believe that they were somewhat telling. In a corner stood an immense globe on a wooden pedestal. He went over to it and gave it a spin, caught glimpses of every sea he’d ever sailed.
From one side of the corner spread a wall of shelves lined with books dotted with an assortment of globes that revealed continents, islands, and oceans. Various sizes, shaded differently. He wondered if his brother had collected them as a means to follow his brothers’ travels, even though he knew not where they were. Or did the globes serve more as a testament that he’d been left behind? Tristan scoffed at his analytical mind that wanted to examine and understand all things. Perhaps his brother simply fancied globes.
“Don’t you find it odd?” he asked, looking over his shoulder.
“What?” Rafe didn’t even bother to glance up.
“That he goes to visit with Mary and returns in need of a woman.”
With a deep put-upon sigh, Rafe tossed his ink pen aside, leaned back in his chair, and gave his brother a withering glare. “You are obviously under the mistaken impression that I both have time for and relish your intrusion.”
Tristan was not to be put off. He strode over to the chair in front of the desk and sank into it with practiced ease. He took some pleasure in the tightening of his brother’s jaw. It was almost like when they were lads and he’d irritate him on purpose just to get him riled, hoping their father would scold Rafe, but it was always Tristan who was at the receiving end of the sharp tongue or the birch switch. “There was once a woman who I wanted to bed with a fierceness that nearly unmanned me, but she was the daughter of the tribal chief on the island where we weighed anchor. I could not have her but I nearly drowned in feminine bodies while I was there.”
“So you’re explaining to me that you’re a cad with neither morals nor conscience?”
“Considering the type of establishment you run, I would not be so quick to cast aspersions upon my character.” He quickly held up his hand as he saw the temper flare in Rafe’s eyes. “Forgive me. I am not judging you. My point was that if he lusted after Mary, he might return here to slake that lust.”
“Why should I make this my concern?”
“Did you fail to notice that he is hardly a handsome fellow these days? To face the situation squarely, we must admit that it will be a challenge for him to secure a wife.”
“So you wish to play matchmaker?”
A chill went through Tristan. Was that where he was going with this? Matrimonial bonds were exactly that. Bonds. Chains. Captivity. Did he wish that on his brother?
“I wouldn’t go that far. But it would be satisfying to see matters between them return to what they once were. He and Mary were always spending time together, traipsing through the forests. She has grown into a beauty, while he—”
“Is a beast?”
Sebastian’s voice barked behind him. It was a testament to Tristan’s stalwart disposition that he did not so much as flinch, that he gave no indication he was startled. Instead he merely glowered at Rafe. “Thank you, Brother, for the warning.”
A corner of Rafe’s mouth quirked up, a glimmer of mischief touched his eyes for the span of a heartbeat, and in that time Tristan saw a shadow of the boy his brother had once been. “I told you that you were under the mistaken impression that I had time for this nonsense.”
Tristan threw an arm back over the chair and twisted around to meet Sebastian’s unnerving stare. It was somehow worse that he could deliver such a powerful message with only one frosty eye. “How was Mary?”
If at all possible Sebastian’s glare became even more menacing. “I am going to Easton House to watch Uncle as he packs to leave. I thought I would see if you both wished to come with me.”
“I have more pressing matters that require my attention,” Rafe said.
“More pressing than reclaiming what is ours?” Tristan asked, studying his brother as though he didn’t know him. He supposed he really didn’t.
“I did my part by accompanying you both to the damned ball. I don’t need to see the packing.”
“Rafe is right,” Sebastian said. “He was with us when it counted most. What I intend to do now is little more than relish the outcome.”
Tristan rose to his feet. “Then by all means, let’s go relish.”
With mischief in their eyes and secretive smiles, Ladies Hermione and Victoria arrived at precisely half past two. While Mary attended balls, parties, and soirees, she had never had an official coming out. She had simply begun to appear at events, tagging along after her aunt and cousin. She was tolerated with mild curiosity. Her betrothal to Fitzwilliam had raised her stature somewhat, but with no brother to inherit her father’s title, she was hardly sought after for gossip or connections. But whatever her lack in standing, the ladies sitting in her drawing room could hardly be bothered with it. They were on the hunt for much larger game.
“So they are friends of yours . . . these lords from last night?” Lady Hermione asked pointedly. Both she and Victoria were sitting on the edge of their chairs, as though Mary’s answer would determine their futures.
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