She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(24) by Lorraine Heath
Heads bobbed. “Then see that it is done.” He turned to Thomas. “You and I shall meet in the library in an hour to discuss the particulars of this household.”
“Very good, Your Grace.”
With his brothers beside him, he began his tour. The familiarity of the surroundings was settling into his bones and beginning to feel welcoming. The one thing he noticed were the occasional empty spaces on the wall. Portraits of his father were not to be seen. He remembered as young lads that he and Tristan had stood for a portrait—one facing one way, one the other. Later they’d all had a portrait done with their parents. Those were also missing.
“Where do you suppose the paintings are?” he asked.
He didn’t need to elaborate.
“In the attic, hopefully,” Tristan said, “although I’d not put it past Uncle to have burned them.”
“I’m quite surprised he lived here,” Rafe said. “I would have thought Father’s ghost would have haunted him.”
“Only a man with the ability to feel guilt can be haunted by his actions,” Sebastian said. He spoke from experience, but he was not going to share that with his brothers.
They reached the library. A footman opened the door for them. For some reason this room was more difficult to face than the others. Perhaps because it had been their father’s domain. Their mother had a smaller library, more of a sitting room, with vibrant colors and books that appealed to her. But this room possessed a darkness, a boldness. Leather books lined mahogany shelves. Hunter green chairs were arranged in intimate sitting areas. Within reach of each was a table of crystal decanters. Their father had entertained here.
Sebastian didn’t want to consider that their uncle may have as well. He strode across the room to the large table near his father’s massive desk. He retrieved three glasses and filled each with whiskey. After each of his brothers took a glass, Sebastian lifted his. “To Father and reclaiming what belonged to him.”
“And what now belongs to you,” Tristan said.
“To all of us,” Sebastian corrected. “It may be entailed, but make no mistake, I consider it ours.”
A resounding clink filled the corner as the brothers touched their glasses together. He didn’t know why he didn’t feel as though he was yet home.
But he downed the whiskey, relished it burning, and swore that he would never again abandon his legacy or his brothers.
He heard a door opening and glanced over as Thomas strode in carrying a silver salver. “A missive was just delivered for you, Your Grace.”
Sebastian took it, dismissed the butler, and set aside his glass to open it. He read the elegant script with a measure of dread.
“What is it?” Tristan asked.
“We’ve been invited to a small dinner party at Lady Ivers’s this evening.”
“Lady Ivers? Isn’t she Mary’s aunt?”
“Then I don’t see how we can decline.”
The carriages they’d seen arriving should have served as a clue. Still, Sebastian was taken aback when he and his brothers were escorted into the parlor to see such a mass of humanity.
“Good God,” Tristan murmured. “There must be at least fifty people here. I would hate to see what she considers a large dinner party.”
Sebastian supposed he should have anticipated that all conversation would cease and all eyes would turn toward the door when the lords of Pembrook entered. Damnation but he thought facing the Cossacks might have been a sight easier.
A woman of average height and build with hair that the passage of time had faded to a faint red bustled over. As she neared her green eyes sparkled, and it was that green that would have given her identity away if Mary hadn’t been following closely on her heels to give credence to his suspicions.
“Your Grace! My lords! I am so pleased you were able to join us this evening.” She held out her hand.
Taking it, Sebastian bowed over it. “Lady Ivers, it is indeed a pleasure to be invited.”
She winked at him. “Do not think I did not catch the exact meaning of your words. Yet I assure you that it shall be a pleasure to attend as well.”
“Your guests don’t seem to be quite as pleased as you with our arrival.”
“On the contrary, they are simply agape that I managed to be the first to lure you gentlemen to such an affair. Allow me the honor of introducing my daughter, Lady Alicia.”
The lady was slightly taller than her mother, considerably more slender. Her hair was a less vibrant red than Mary’s, and he wondered if he would be comparing all women he met to Mary. It was a ridiculous notion. It was only that he knew her so well—
Only he didn’t. Not really. He knew little of what her life had been like while he’d been away.
The girl curtsied. “Your Grace. My lords.”
“She is quite accomplished on the pianoforte and will entertain us following dinner. And of course, you are acquainted with my dear niece Lady Mary,” the countess said.
He thought neither of the other two ladies held a candle to her in beauty, although they came close. “Yes. It is good to see you again, Lady Mary.”
“And you, Your Grace, my lords.”
“Allow me to introduce Viscount Fitzwilliam,” Lady Ivers continued.
Sebastian had a strong need to groan. The night would no doubt be filled with tedious introductions. “You are a fortunate man, my lord, to have won Lady Mary over.”
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