She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(29) by Lorraine Heath
“Come back inside. We’ll find a quiet corner, sit, and talk.”
He laughed darkly. “And how do you think your betrothed will welcome that notion?”
Not well, not well at all, and her father would be even more furious. “You’re my friend. You will always be my friend. I wanted you to feel as though you belonged here.”
“I don’t. Not yet. But I will in time.” He touched her cheek, and she felt the sweep of his thumb over the spot where she knew a freckle resided. His fingers were rough, callused. She wondered when he’d removed his gloves, was ashamed to admit that she was glad he had. They’d held hands as children and thought nothing of it. “Thank you for tonight, Mary. Thank your aunt as well.”
Before she could say anything, he was walking toward a carriage that was barreling up the drive. As it slowed, he climbed inside with a grace she’d seldom seen in other men. Of course most of them had the good sense to wait until the vehicle came to a halt. She took a step forward, not certain what she planned to do. A hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“Give him leave to go,” Fitzwilliam said.
She rubbed her brow. “It was such a ridiculous game.”
“Not as ridiculous as the one his brother wished to play. I swear to you, Mary, that when I take my place in the House of Lords, I shall see to it that a law is passed that will allow only charades to be played in parlors.”
She couldn’t help it. She laughed lightly and leaned against him. He wound his arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss to her temple. “You can’t protect them anymore, dear girl. They need to make it on their own now.”
As he guided her back into the house, she knew he was right. Still it was so very hard to stand by and watch while they floundered.
Mary was sitting up in bed, brushing her hair, when the clock chimes rang through the hallway announcing the arrival of midnight. A servant would soon be about to quiet them until late morning. Mary wasn’t certain why her aunt insisted that they be allowed to clang until the end of day. Her father insisted on silence much sooner.
A knock sounded on the door. “Yes?”
Alicia peered in. “Are you terribly angry with me?”
“Not too terribly.” She shook her head at her cousin’s crestfallen expression. “No, not at all, really. It wasn’t your fault.”
Alicia darted across the bedchamber, jumped into bed with her, and snuggled beneath the covers. “I’m so glad you agreed to stay the night. And I’m so sorry about the silly game. It never occurred to me that Keswick would be holding the card. It was a rather stupid thing to say. I wanted to be clever, like Lord Tristan.”
“I don’t know if he’s so much clever as he is wicked.”
Alicia grinned, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “He is, isn’t he? He wanted us to play a game with a blindfold. We would have to caress someone’s face and guess who it was, but Fitzwilliam said we’d had enough of games. Then he went in search of you, but I think he must have found Mother first because she came in and said it was time for refreshments.”
Alicia sounded so terribly disappointed. “Then Lord Tristan took his leave. The evening wasn’t nearly as much fun after that.” She grabbed a pillow and held it to her chest as though it were a lover. “I thought the dinner at least went splendidly well. The Pembrook lords are not quite so frightening when they aren’t brandishing pistols about. Although Lord Rafe confessed to me during dinner that he had one on his person. And a knife.”
Mary was not surprised. They left Pembrook in fear of their lives. How difficult it would be now to trust anyone.
“Were you and Keswick making eyes at each other during dinner?” Alicia asked.
Mary’s heart galloped. She had little enough reputation as it was, with everyone speculating as to why her father had never given her a proper Season. She certainly didn’t want Fitzwilliam to doubt her. “What? No. Why would you think that?”
“You kept looking in his direction.”
“He sat across from me.”
“So did I yet you hardly looked at me at all.”
Mary plucked at the bristles on her brush. “I just wanted to make certain that he was comfortable with all that was happening around him.”
“I don’t think Lord Fitzwilliam likes Keswick.”
“I daresay you’re right on that count. But it’s only because he doesn’t know him. Once they get to know each other better I think they’ll become chums.”
“I’m not so certain. I think he noticed you watching Keswick as well.”
“I gave him no reason to doubt my affections.” Although she couldn’t deny that he’d been far more relaxed and pleasant after the brothers had all taken their leave.
“I’m quite fascinated by them. They appear to be gentlemen and yet one is left with the distinct impression that they are not. I daresay they look to be quite skilled at ruining a lady’s reputation.”
Ah, yes, quite skilled. Mary thought they could do it with little more than a look.
Sebastian sat beside the fire in his library, savoring the flavor of whiskey on his tongue, and attempting to push back the memory of Mary’s soft skin beneath his fingers. He’d been a fool to touch her.
The door opened, but he didn’t look away from the fire at the echo of Tristan’s resounding footsteps. As soon as Sebastian had arrived home, he sent his carriage back to Lady Ivers’s residence so Tristan would have transportation.
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