She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(21) by Lorraine Heath
“Our country estates rest beside each other’s, so we grew up riding our horses over the same hills, exploring the same forests.” Her answer did not seem to impress the ladies. In fact, they seemed rather baffled by it, and she realized they had probably grown up caring for their porcelain dolls. Mary had much preferred the outdoor pursuits, especially when she could entice Sebastian away from his studies. Often Tristan or Rafe would join them, but they would soon grow bored with their adventures while Mary and Sebastian could always find something of interest.
“It was rather naughty of them to run away,” Lady Victoria said, her squeaky voice propelling Mary back to the present.
“Their uncle wished them harm.”
“My papa says we can’t know that for sure.”
Mary stared at her, hardly able to believe that after what they had witnessed last night, anyone would have doubts. But then what had they witnessed? Three younger men treating their uncle shabbily while he proclaimed to have their best interests at heart. Sebastian was correct. Even if she told them what she’d overheard they might not believe her. It could very well do more harm than good, so she held her tongue when she wished dearly to use it with ferocity.
“Their reason for leaving is hardly important,” Lady Hermione said, further confounding Mary. “The point is that they are unlike any gentlemen we’ve ever met. Frightfully fascinating in a rough sort of way. And devilishly handsome with a touch of wickedness about them. While the duke was carrying on with his uncle I managed to capture Lord Tristan’s gaze last night, and I swear he looked at me as though he could envision me without my unmentionables.”
She wanted to say that flirting with young ladies was probably the last thing on any of the gentlemen’s minds as they had stood on the stairs reclaiming their birthright. But these silly girls were so sheltered and innocent that Mary felt ancient sitting here with them. They viewed the lords as little more than the latest in entertainment.
“Have they means?” Lady Victoria asked.
Perhaps a bit more than entertainment. Possibly husbands apparently. “I’m not familiar with their individual fortunes, but Keswick has inherited a dukedom. At one time Pembrook was instrumental in the wool industry. I suspect it will be again.”
“Their clothes were finely tailored, well-fit, and the latest fashion. Shoes were polished. Hair was a bit long but I rather liked it.”
Mary was once again left speechless. These ladies seemed to only care about trivial matters. She supposed it was a result of their sheltered lives. They’d prepared for marriage, and suddenly a trio of fascinating men had stepped onto the marriage block.
Lady Hermione took a sip of her tea as though only out of politeness, then set aside her cup and saucer. “Here is the reason for our visit. We would like to call upon the duke and we were hoping that you could provide us with a proper introduction.”
“I have no intention of providing guided tours to his residence.”
“Of course not, but surely you will visit your old chums, and if we traveled with you . . . well, it could be quite pleasant for everyone.”
“Is your mother aware that you have this plan?”
Lady Hermione was taken aback by the pointed question. “Absolutely not.”
“To be quite honest,” Lady Victoria said, “we were warned to steer clear of them. Papa views them as trouble.”
“Which makes them all the more appealing,” Lady Hermione said. “If you will not escort us to their residence, will you at least encourage them to attend my ball late next week? You would be doing me an incredible favor. It would make my ball talked about almost as much as Lord David’s.”
“I heard his wife returned home to her mother this morning,” Lady Victoria said. “Ghastly state of affairs for her.”
“I would not want to be in her slippers,” Lady Hermione concurred. “But then I never understood her marrying him to begin with.”
“The possibility of title, wealth, and power,” Lady Victoria said. “It is the same reason that some lady will agree to marry the present hideous Duke of Keswick.”
“He’s not hideous,” Mary snapped.
Lady Victoria’s blue eyes widened as though she’d encountered someone who belonged in a mental asylum. “My dear, did you not catch a glimpse of his face?”
“A man is more than his features.”
“True, but one must consider that those features will greet one each morning at the breakfast table. I’m quite sure it would upset my digestion.”
Mary shot to her feet. “I believe you ladies have overstayed your welcome. I shall have the butler see you out.”
Both ladies rose. “But you will provide an introduction,” Lady Hermione said, her voice wavering between a statement and a question.
“After all the unkind words that have been said here regarding the duke, why would you desire an introduction?”
“Not one to the duke, dear girl. Lords Tristan and Rafe Easton.”
Mary shook her head. “I believe they would take as unkindly to your sentiments regarding their brother as I.”
“Do you fancy him for yourself? The duke?”
Mary could only stare at her in disbelief. “I’m betrothed to Lord Fitzwilliam. My regard toward him remains ever constant.” She was determined to dispel any such nonsense regarding her affections for Sebastian. Fitzwilliam deserved, and would have, her loyalty.
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