She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(25) by Lorraine Heath
“I’d have not asked for her hand in marriage if I’d thought otherwise.”
Right then. So we’re not going to get along famously. He was actually glad. He hadn’t wanted to like the man, and he wasn’t certain why. It went without saying that he wanted Mary to be happy. He just wasn’t certain this was the man with whom he wanted her to be happy. He couldn’t explain his strange thoughts.
“Your Grace,” Lady Ivers began, “you will discover that I am most unconventional and known for being a bit eccentric. I have dispensed with formal seating this evening. If you will be so kind as to escort me into dinner when the time comes . . .”
Her pointed stare indicated that no was not an option as a response.
“I would be honored.”
“Splendid. Lord Rafe, my daughter shall be on your arm and, Lord Tristan, if you will be so kind as to escort Lady Mary. You don’t mind do you, Fitzwilliam?”
The viscount opened his mouth.
“Good. I thought not. Come along then, Fitzwilliam. I want to ensure that you are acquainted with the lady you’ll escort into dinner. Gentlemen, I shall see you shortly.”
She bustled off. Fitzwilliam bent down and whispered something to Mary. She nodded, said something in a low voice. The intimacy of their belonging together struck Sebastian like a blow to the chest. Which was ludicrous. He had no claim on her. He’d rarely thought of her over the years. Pembrook was always uppermost in his mind. As Fitzwilliam strode away, she turned back to them. “I do hope you’re not put off by my aunt’s manipulations. She can be quite . . . enthusiastic.”
“I would better describe her as a tempest at sea,” Tristan said.
Lady Alicia smiled. “I hope to have at least half her energy when I’m her age.”
“I haven’t half her energy now,” Mary said. “We are truly pleased that you accepted Aunt Sophie’s invitation. We thought this small affair might be a less overwhelming introduction back into Society. If you’ll come along, Lady Alicia and I will introduce you around.”
It was a ten-minute maze of nodding, bowing, and taking gloved hands. It was only as the bell was rung for dinner that it occurred to Sebastian that he should have been paying more attention to the young ladies to whom he was introduced, to determine if one might make a suitable wife. Then he realized that if he’d already forgotten their names that they probably weren’t for him. Shouldn’t he at least be attracted to them enough to want to remember their names?
Thank goodness he was rescued by his formidable hostess and escorted her into dinner. He had been dreading the seating but with her at the foot of the table and he to her right, only she, the wall, Tristan, and Mary—both of whom sat across from him—had to endure his scars. Lady Alicia was to his right. In spite of the number of people in attendance, Lady Ivers had managed to arrange the seating so dinner was more intimate. After he quickly downed two glasses of wine, he also found it more relaxed.
Fitzwilliam was on the other side of Mary, so while he’d not accompanied her into dinner, he was no doubt somewhat mollified to find himself sitting beside his betrothed. The poor chit he’d escorted into dinner was ignored as the viscount sought to engage Mary in conversation. Once he had her attention, Tristan began cleverly luring her back to him. Sebastian suspected she’d have a stiff neck before the night was done.
However, he couldn’t deny he appreciated the view he had of her. From beneath her lashes, she met his gaze and damned if it wasn’t as though she’d reached across the table and touched him. He lifted his wineglass in a silent salute, which she returned with a soft smile. His gaze followed the slope of her throat to her bared décolletage. Her skin was a creamy white that drew the eye, but then everything about her commanded attention.
She turned away as Fitzwilliam diverted her once again. He wondered if the viscount was an exceptional conversationalist or if he was as boring as his clothing. Black and white. Not a single thread of color.
“Amazing, isn’t she?” Lady Ivers said so quietly that no one else heard, and the heat burned his cheeks at being caught staring at Mary. “One can hardly countenance that she had no formal preparation for her own Season. But then what do nuns know of etiquette outside of the church?”
All Sebastian’s personal discomforts in this situation vanished, and he studied the countess as though she’d just spoken in a foreign language. “Nuns?”
“Quite.” She blinked, offered a slight smile, then appeared flummoxed. “Oh, my word.” Her voice went even lower. “Did I let the cat out of the bag? I would have thought she told you, but then I suppose in reflection that it is not something about which one boasts—even to an old friend. But yes, her father sent her to a nunnery when she was little more than twelve. In spite of my earnest objections. She was already ensconced behind those walls by the time I found out. One of those orders that doesn’t allow visitors. I wanted to bring her to our home, but my husband insisted it was not my concern. The nerve. My sister’s daughter not my concern. I can tell you it was some months before he again found his bed warm.”
If Sebastian weren’t still shocked and seething by this revelation he might have smiled at her acerbic tone.
“Can you imagine a girl of her spirit being confined to such a restrained world?” she asked.
Asking why the Earl of Winslow would do such a thing to his only daughter was on the tip of his tongue but he feared he knew. Surely not, but he couldn’t quiet his suspicions. The man was fortunate that Sebastian hadn’t known of this when he’d visited. He could hardly imagine a crueler fate for the girl who had once raced wildly over the moors with him.
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