She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(35) by Lorraine Heath
“I am Lady Hermione,” their daughter said.
“I look forward to whispering your name later.”
The girl looked to be upon the verge of swooning. Her father looked on the verge of delivering a blow to Tristan’s face. Or at least attempting to. Sebastian doubted he’d make contact before Tristan introduced the man’s skull to the floor.
“My lord—” Weatherly began.
“Only during the dance, of course,” Tristan said, smoothly cutting the man off. “Which is when, my lady?”
“Two dances hence.”
“I shall wait with baited breath.”
With a quick curtsy, she scurried away, her hands fluttering so madly that she had no need of a fan.
“Relax, Weatherly,” Sebastian said. “She’s far too young for my brother, and we have scandal aplenty in our family without creating more.”
“Innocent flirtation, Weatherly,” Tristan said in an additional effort to reassure the man.
“If you wish introductions . . .” the lady began, then halted as her husband’s jaw turned as hard as granite.
Sebastian suspected she’d rather not make them anyway. “I’m certain we shall get along on our own. I’ve already spotted a few familiar faces.” He didn’t know who the devil the people were but he remembered seeing them the night he and his brothers burst into his uncle’s ball. And of course there were those he’d met at Lady Ivers’s dinner. The woman had indeed done him a great service.
He didn’t think Lady Weatherly could have looked more relieved if he’d stated that they were taking their leave. With a bow to their hosts, he strode past them in to the main portion of the salon. He located an unhampered area that gave way to shadow. A perfect spot for watching.
“Well, it seems we are once again garnering attention,” Tristan mused laconically.
“We are hardly known and, therefore, we are a curiosity,” Sebastian said. He scanned the crowd, noticed a man walking toward him. Unlike everyone else in the room, he seemed neither curious nor intrigued, but he wore confidence with the ease that most men wore their jacket. His black hair was perfectly styled. As he neared, his emerald eyes caught Sebastian’s attention. He’d seen them before.
The man stopped before him. “Keswick. My lords.”
Sebastian shook his head. “I’m sorry, man. You look familiar but—”
“Ainsley. Our paths crossed at Eton some years back.”
“I was there for only a year. I can hardly countenance that you remembered me.”
“I must confess that I doubt I’d have known who you were if someone hadn’t pointed you out to me. I understand you fought in the Crimea.”
“I did indeed.”
“My brother returned home last fall to recover from injuries. Bloody awful thing. I’m glad you’re home, man.”
“Thank you, Ainsley.” He wondered if Ainsley had heard everything. Surely he had, but apparently he was not one to speculate or gossip.
“If you gentlemen will excuse me now, I must take my leave.”
“The evening is young,” Rafe said.
“I seldom attend these affairs, but I have made it a policy that when I do, I call it an evening as soon as I’ve enjoyed one dance. Less chance to give the mothers ideas or hope. Gentlemen.” He made his way out of the ballroom without making any further stops.
“Ainsley?” Tristan murmured.
“An extremely wealthy and powerful duke,” Rafe said.
“I suppose you know them all,” Tristan said.
“A good many of them. Some belong to my club. Ainsley doesn’t. His speaking with you should give you a certain amount of cache.”
“And has delayed my searching out the lovely Lady Hermione,” Tristan said. “If you’ll excuse me, I believe it’s almost time for our dance.”
“Do take care with her, Tristan,” Sebastian ordered. “She is a lady and not a doxy.”
“I’m not as uncivilized as you might think. I know we’re being judged by our actions tonight.”
“I meant no insult.”
But Sebastian could see the lie in his eyes. Damnation. As Tristan walked away, Sebastian knew the last thing he needed was to cause a riff between himself and the one person who seemed to truly understand the importance of all they were doing. No, that wasn’t exactly true. Mary seemed to have a sense of it as well.
“I believe I shall seek out the card room,” Rafe said.
“We need to talk.”
Rafe had taken only a partial step when he glanced back at his brother.
“I’d like to know what happened while I was away,” Sebastian said. “Perhaps after this affair, you would stop by Easton House for a bit of whiskey and conversation.” Rafe had not returned to the house since the morning Sebastian had taken up residence.
“No good would come of the tale, and I suspect you’d find my company unpalatable. I shall stay long enough to make a favorable impression by losing a modest sum.”
“You can guarantee your loss?”
“I can guarantee any outcome I desire. But men will look more favorably on us if we’re not taking from their coffers. Once I’ve seen to it, then I shall be on my way.”
Sebastian didn’t object when Rafe strode toward the hallway. Then he spied the real reason he’d come tonight. Mary. He’d wanted to see her once more dressed in a ball gown. He wanted to watch her dance, to see the glow in her eyes as she enjoyed the occasion. As always the shade of her hair drew him. Even with it piled up and held in place with pearl combs, revealing the long slope of her neck. Graceful, like a swan. But then everything about her was graceful. She was no longer the hoyden who had torn over fields with him, who had dared him to climb trees, or goaded him to crawl into a badger’s den. Thank God the badger had not been in residence at the time.
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