She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(26) by Lorraine Heath
“I finally had enough of it. Put my foot down this year I tell you. Told Winslow to his face that if I was bringing my daughter to London for the Season that I was good and well bringing my dear sister’s daughter with me. Her dear mother would have wanted her to have a proper suitor.”
“And is he? A proper suitor. Fitzwilliam.”
She drew herself up as though she were responsible for the arrangement. “Oh, quite. He is the heir to Glenchester.”
He tried to place the name—
“Marquess,” she said as though she could see that he struggled.
“It seems I am far less prepared than Lady Mary for a night such as this.”
“Don’t concern yourself. You’ll get the hang of everything quickly enough. I suspect your father taught you a great deal that you’ve merely locked away.”
He remembered the few times she and her family had visited. “Your husband. He’s not here tonight,” Sebastian said. “Are condolences in order?”
“Oh, my dear, that would be quite premature. Unfortunately, some wretched problem with his tenants called him away to the estate for a few days. Quite honestly he prefers the country.”
“I can relate to his preference.”
She smiled. “I suspect most men do, but they must tolerate what women prefer from time to time. Makes for a more pleasant marriage.”
Her words had him glancing back over to Mary, and wondering what her husband would tolerate from her. Would he give her the freedom she needed? And if he didn’t what recourse did Sebastian have to ensure she was happy? None at all, he supposed.
Her light laughter floated toward him, the sound as pleasing as crystal glasses tapped gently with a silver fork. Tristan had said something to elicit her response. It seemed his brother was quite the flirtatious devil.
He wished when he returned to Pembrook that she would be there. Where the deuce was Fitzwilliam’s estate anyway? He knew so little of the man, knew so little of most of these people. But then they knew nothing of him.
“Did you enjoy your time in the army, Your Grace?” Lady Alicia asked.
He felt Mary’s gaze light on him like a caress, could sense her holding her breath, anticipating his answer, and he wondered if she was as aware of him as he of her. Even when he didn’t hear the words, he heard her voice. The succulent aromas of the feast wafted around him, and yet he was acutely conscious of the scent of orchids—when not a single blossom graced the room. The scent was hers, all hers. Of that he was certain. Lady Alicia and her mother carried the fragrance of roses. “It provided interesting . . . experiences,” he finally answered curtly, far too curtly.
The girl blushed such a violent hue of red that he wished he could take back the tone if not the words. He simply hated being dissected as though he were the latest species of insect discovered.
“Did you serve in the Crimea, Your Grace?” Fitzwilliam asked, emphasizing the address as though it were undeserved, a challenge in his voice that indicated he might doubt Sebastian’s claims.
He had no intention of revealing that he’d lied about his age. One need be only sixteen to serve, but he’d felt a desire to lose himself in military life. He’d forged a letter from a fictitious father and never revealed that he was of the aristocracy. He’d been treated as a common man and that had given him a perspective many of his peers would never experience. He began his career as an ensign, serving as a captain’s assistant. “I did. Balaclava. Tennyson immortalized the battle.”
“The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Lady Alicia said in wonder. “You were there?”
“Nasty business that,” Fitzwilliam said.
“All war is nasty business, my lord.”
Tension radiated between them.
“I believe all our soldiers are to be commended for their duty to our country,” Mary said.
Sebastian lifted his glass. “I shall drink to that.”
“I think we all should,” Tristan said. “Hear! Hear! To our soldiers who keep the devil from our shores.”
Everyone at the table joined in the toast, even Fitzwilliam. Sebastian wasn’t certain why a gauntlet had been thrown down but he was fairly certain one had been.
Pray I don’t pick it up, Fitzwilliam, he thought. Based on the smiles he’d witnessed, Mary fancied the fellow. Considering her feelings and his desire to make amends to her, he would leave the gauntlet where it lay. For now.
In the piano room, as Lady Alicia’s fingers tripped merrily over the keyboard, Mary cast a surreptitious glance over to where Sebastian stood with his brothers. Her aunt had hoped to enfold them into the aristocracy, but they continued to remain apart. She didn’t think they were uncomfortable with their surroundings. They simply didn’t see themselves as belonging within it.
She could understand the feeling. When she’d first come to London, she’d felt as though everyone watched and remarked on her every move. Without a proper introduction into Society, she’d been an object of curiosity. She knew she’d managed to win many over, but some still weren’t quite sure what to make of her.
She glanced around. Fitzwilliam had slipped out, no doubt to puff on a cheroot with one of his friends. She was surprised he left her. He’d been hovering all night as though he expected her to do something inappropriate. Silly man. She’d do nothing to bring embarrassment to her aunt when she had been so kind.
She knew he wouldn’t be pleased with what she was about to do, but she couldn’t leave the brothers so isolated. She skirted around the edge of the room until she was standing beside Sebastian. She caught a whiff of his strong, masculine scent. So much earthier than Fitzwilliam’s, as though a bit of Pembrook flowed through his veins. A silly thought, but she had always associated him with the land, the wildness of nature. Fitzwilliam was the city. Gaslights and piano recitals.
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