She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(32) by Lorraine Heath
“Not without consequences.”
“So you’ve considered it?”
“No.” Blast his brother for even putting the notion in his head.
“I think he selected her for her dowry. Her father was quite generous with it. Fitzwilliam’s family’s coffers are not quite as flush as they lead people to believe.”
“How do you know this?”
Tristan grinned. “Not all ladies are indeed ladies. And as much as I like Rafe’s girls, I don’t fancy paying for my pleasures. We are a curiosity. As such many bedchamber doors—or in my case often windows—are opened to us.”
“We’re striving to regain our place and your actions could very well undo it.”
“I’m insulted, Sebastian. I’m very careful, and I would never take advantage of an innocent. But I swear to you, Brother, there are a good many uninnocent wenches who long to embrace the danger I can provide. You could have some fun yourself.”
“We have enough scandal associated with our name. I see no reason to sully it further.”
“And I see no reason not to take advantage of our notoriety. But we’ve wandered off topic. You had an interest in Fitzwilliam.”
“Not in the man, per se, but in his . . .” How could he explain? “Is he good for Mary? Her aunt assures me he is of good stock, but is that enough?”
“Perhaps that is a question you should ask her when you see her.”
Perhaps he would.
As Mary trotted her horse along Rotten Row, she knew she would have been wise to have come to the park in the landau so her aunt and cousin could accompany her, but she and Sebastian had often ridden together as children. She thought that familiarity should serve her well now. She’d not seen him since the night of the dinner party, and while she didn’t owe him any consideration, she did feel a sense of obligation toward him. Not pity. He would detest that emotion. She’d seen that well enough after her tears had surfaced at the ball when he made his appearance. Charity, perhaps. Although even that he would no doubt disdain.
The lords of Pembrook were the topic of conversation at every dinner, and last night’s ball as well. The older ladies plotted how to keep them away from their daughters. The daughters gathered in dark corners and whispered about occasional sightings. Someone had seen Lord Tristan striding into a tailor’s on Regent Street. Someone else reported seeing him at the haberdashery. Lord Rafe seemed to be as much of a recluse as the duke for no one spied him. They understood Keswick’s hesitancy to be seen, but still they discussed how best to lure the lords from their lair. It was Rafe and Tristan that they seemed most intent upon capturing.
Often Mary was sought out for advice. As though she knew the intimate details about the brothers. But they were not the lads she’d known, and she could provide very little in the way of assurances that they would soon be making the rounds. While she doubted they would ever admit it, she suspected they weren’t quite comfortable with their return to Society. They had never traversed the maze of etiquette or—more importantly—the elusive rituals not taught to children. One’s reputation was improved or tarnished based upon to whom one was seen speaking. How one danced, how one laughed, how one dressed—all were studied and commented on. Did a lady stand beside a frond, behind it, or in front of it? Did one look as though she desperately wished to dance or did she act as though she could hardly be bothered? Trivial behaviors that could mean so much. Her own experiences had taught her that it could all be quite intimidating, and she suspected that even men as world-weary as the lords of Pembrook would find it so.
Still when Lady Hermione had cornered her at last night’s ball and asked once more for the favor of Mary encouraging the brothers to attend her ball, she decided no harm would come of asking.
She spotted Sebastian in the distance, his black horse loping along. From here, although she couldn’t see his scars, it was easy enough to identify him. He sat a horse magnificently and rode with confidence. Even if she’d not known who he was, she’d have identified him as a lord. His erect carriage spoke of self-assurance, a man who knew his place, one not to be trifled with. Even as a lad, he’d ridden with the same grace. She found comfort in knowing not everything had changed.
Unerringly he guided his horse toward her, as though he’d spied her the moment he entered the park, had known exactly where she was to be found. She brought her own horse to a halt as he drew his near. Reins in hand, he did little more than touch his fingers to the brim of his hat, and she assumed he felt more at ease with his face remaining in shadow. Just as he had during each encounter, he ensured that his handsome side was directed toward her.
“Your Grace.” She longed to see his mouth twitch with humor or to hear his laughter echoing over the green of the park.
“You indicated an urgency to our meeting.”
Blushing, she tilted her head down slightly and peered up at him, giving him an impish smile. “I may have overstated matters, but I feared if I merely requested you join me that you would find an excuse not to.”
He narrowed his eye, tightened his jaw, and she thought if she had no history with him that she might have been intimidated. “So your missive was a ruse?”
“It was for your own good. You can’t possibly think that attending my aunt’s dinner party was enough to earn your place in Society. You need to be seen about. Shall we walk?”
“I prefer to ride.”
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