She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(27) by Lorraine Heath
“There are some empty chairs on the other side of the room,” she said quietly.
“I’m at ease here.”
“If this is you at ease, I would hardly care to see you when you are not.”
It brought her pleasure to catch the slightest twitch of his mouth. “I see the years didn’t diminish your feistiness.”
It had somewhat but with him she could be herself as she couldn’t with others. She was no longer Lady Mary, but simply Mary. If she didn’t behave quite properly he was more likely than others to forgive her.
“I’m a bit more circumspect with others,” she confessed. With Fitzwilliam especially, she realized, and was suddenly struck with the thought that it should not be so.
She wondered if Sebastian would be offended if she pointed out that he was keeping himself apart from everyone else. Years ago, she’d never given any thought at all to anything she said to him. Whether he laughed, scolded, or argued—she’d always felt free to speak her mind. She’d felt the tension at the table and knew that Sebastian did take offense at words spoken.
“You didn’t tell me you were sent to a nunnery,” he said, his voice low enough that only she could hear him.
Her smile withered. “Bless Aunt Sophie. I assume she’s the one who told you as it’s not common knowledge around here.”
“She thought I knew, that you would have told me. Why didn’t you?”
“What could you do about it except perhaps feel guilty?”
“We’re the reason you were sent.”
He hadn’t posed a question. His words held conviction. She shouldn’t have been surprised that he managed to decipher why her life had taken such an unpleasant turn. He’d always had a talent for figuring out puzzles. Still she did not want him to bear the burden for her foolishness. “Not really, no. It was my fault. You cautioned me to tell no one. When have I ever heeded someone else’s counsel?”
Her question enticed him into twitching his lips. Before he could interrogate her, she continued. “I went to Father, believing he could put matters to right, would confront Lord David on your behalf. Instead, I discovered he believes the answers to life’s difficulties rest at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.”
She saw understanding and sadness in his pale blue gaze. And regret.
“I’m sorry, Mary. Was your time with the nuns difficult?”
“As getting blood from a turnip. Does that make you feel better?”
“No, it makes me want to pummel your father into the ground.”
“Which is why I saw no reason in telling you. It’s in the past. Aunt Sophie declared I would have a Season and took me through my paces. Hired tutors to teach me etiquette and dancing, so here I am.”
She tilted her head so she could see him clearly, wished she hadn’t. He watched her with an intensity that was unsettling.
“Then I owe your aunt a debt of gratitude,” he said. “It’s easier facing London, knowing you are here.”
She could have sworn a blush crept up beneath his bronzed skin before he looked away. “Even if I convinced my aunt to lure you out of hiding?” she teased.
“I’m glad you came,” she said. Before he could respond, she wandered away. She wondered why issuing a compliment embarrassed him. She didn’t want to contemplate how harsh his life might have been that a kind gesture—a sensitive one—was cause for embarrassment. But more she walked away before she was sorely tempted to invite him to take a turn about the garden with her, so they could truly talk, could once again become comfortable with each other. Although she was fairly certain that would only lead to disaster.
Stopping beside her aunt, she squeezed her hand. “Thank you for inviting them.”
“It is not as though the dinner party was not already planned, although I daresay your father will not be pleased when he discovers that I included them.”
Mary knew that Ladies Hermione and Victoria would not be pleased that they’d not been invited, but she suspected their enthusiasm for the lords would overwhelm them.
“He informed me this afternoon,” her aunt continued, “that I am to keep a close watch over you and ensure that you do not speak with them overmuch.”
“He fears Fitzwilliam will not tolerate my renewing an old friendship.”
“He is no doubt correct on that score.”
Their conversation was interrupted as the final chords resounded and Alicia stood. Polite applause quickly followed.
Alicia curtsied. “Thank you so much. Now if the young people will join me in the parlor for some games.”
Charades no doubt. Mary absolutely abhorred the game. She’d avoid it if she could. Unfortunately, Fitzwilliam adored it. He returned from the terrace, smelling pleasantly of tobacco and offered her his arm.
“One moment,” she said to him, and walked over to where Sebastian and his brothers remained standing. She smiled at them. “The invitation to the parlor was meant for you as well. You are, after all, young people.”
“Funny, I don’t feel young,” Rafe said.
She understood his emotion. He was two years her junior, but she didn’t feel young either. “But you are. Come along. It’ll be fun.”
“We should probably thank your aunt for her hospitality and take our leave,” Sebastian said.
“Not yet. My cousin will be so disappointed.” She would be disappointed. And Mary wasn’t certain why she herself so desperately wished them to stay. “Just a while longer.”
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