She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(34) by Lorraine Heath
“Still watching out for us, Mary?”
“Someone must or you could make quite a mess of it. Your uncle had twelve years to develop friendships and trust among those who matter. It is not enough to exile him from your home. Some are less than impressed with your claim.”
“I have no need to impress anyone. The law is on my side.”
“But Society is not.” She hated the harshness of her words, wished she’d been able to find a softer way to deliver them. “I assume you and your brothers, at some point, will want to marry. Will want children. If Society does not accept you, it matters not that you hold a title. Your family will suffer the scandal and gossip.”
“I am quite busy putting other matters to rights.”
“Yes, as you said earlier but you cannot use that excuse to ignore this aspect of your title. It will serve you greatly to be well-thought of.”
She detected a subtle stiffening in his posture. “Are you implying that I’m presently not?”
“No one knows you, Sebastian. They speculate. They gossip. They arrive at their own conclusions. And I must reluctantly confess that most are not flattering. Unfortunately I’ve not been in London long enough to acquire enough currency so that my words in support of you carry much weight.”
If at all possible he became tenser. “And what of your betrothed? Do his words carry weight?”
“Not as much as they will when he inherits his father’s title.”
He hesitated then said, “Fitzwilliam. Is he a good man, then?”
She scowled teasingly at him. “You think I am such a silly ninny as to select a bad man?”
She detected a bit of light in the blue of his eye, almost as though he’d stumbled upon something humorous and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. “I suppose it was a rather pointless question. I always did enjoy bantering with you.”
She had enjoyed doing so many things with him. “I feared you’d forget all about me.”
“With hair as red as yours? How could anyone forget about you?”
She was surprised by the disappointment his words brought. She wanted it to be more than her hair that was memorable. She wanted him to remember every aspect of her, but more importantly she wanted him to remember how well they had gotten along, how strong their bond had been, how they had once laughed, how they’d dared to share a forbidden kiss. She wanted him to admit that he’d missed her as much as she had him. And she realized her thoughts had turned onto a dangerous path. When had she become such a self-centered chit who wanted to be the focus of his world when she could no longer be in the center of his world? “I fear I’ve lingered here too long. Please consider the Weatherly ball. I’ll save you a dance.”
She wasn’t certain why she’d said the last. He’d given no indication that such an offer would sway him, and now she was rather embarrassed that she’d made it. Besides she was betrothed and it was completely inappropriate for her to casually toss out any sort of flirtatious banter. Before he could catch sight of the blush warming her cheeks, she urged her horse into a trot.
She hadn’t issued the invitation for her personal gain. She’d done it because everything she’d told him was true: he needed to secure his place among the peerage in a more civilized manner. Still a small part of her couldn’t help but hope that he would accept her offer for a dance.
It was a mistake to come to the damned ball, Sebastian realized almost immediately. No steward announced the arrivals, and yet a silence permeated the crowd when he and his brothers stepped through the open doorway into the gilded ballroom. Mothers scurried to their daughters; fathers took steps forward as though to form some sort of protective wall around them.
The host and hostess, Lord and Lady Weatherly, approached cautiously. Slightly behind them, a blond-haired beauty glowed with anticipation, her gaze directed at Tristan. Sebastian despised himself for considering that at one time he would have garnered as much attention. More in fact. Besides astonishingly good looks, he possessed a title. He would have been the sought-after brother rather than the one who wished he were on the sea instead of here. But he had come to understand that Mary had spoken true: their entrance back into Society required they make yet another appearance. Even Rafe, for all his protests to the contrary, had recognized the importance of their being here.
They were dressed to the nines, in matching black swallow-tailed coats, white shirts, and black cravats. The only thing that varied was their waistcoat: his, gray; Tristan’s a royal blue, and Rafe’s a hunter green. His valet had trimmed his hair, but it was still longer than was fashionable. It seemed his brothers had also taken measures to tidy up a bit more, but not completely. They were part of this Society and yet each felt a need to not be totally absorbed by it. They’d been too long on their own.
“Your Grace,” Lord Weatherly said stiffly. “My lords. Welcome to Camden house.”
“We were honored to receive the invitation,” Sebastian assured him.
Lady Weatherly snapped her head around to the blond, whom he assumed had to be her daughter. The girl blushed, then curtsied. “It was our pleasure to send it. Forgive my boldness, Lord Tristan, but I did keep a spot on my dance card reserved for you in anticipation of your attending.”
“I quite prefer my women bold,” Tristan said, a devastatingly wicked smile accompanying his words. Lord Weatherly tightened his jaw, his lady gasped.
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