She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(36) by Lorraine Heath
She had tempted him with childish things. He feared she could tempt him with a great deal more now. Things he shouldn’t want from her. Things he didn’t deserve from her. She deserved the elegance of this life. The balls and soirees. Ladies frequently stopped her progress through the ballroom for a brief chat. She was sought-after, adored, loved. He caught the occasional gentleman admiring her. How could they not? Her pale pink gown with its deep emerald trim bared her shoulders and the ample swells of her breasts to a man’s discerning eye, cinched in tightly at her small waist. Her white kid gloves stretched past her elbows. He had a flash of memory that involved ungainly long limbs. She had grown into them, transformed them into elegance and grace.
Three other ladies joined the last group of gossipmongers who held Mary’s attention. He had no doubt that it was the talk of scandal that tripped off their tongues. One pointed her fan toward the crush of dancing couples just as Tristan and Lady Hermione came into view. He couldn’t deny that his brother certainly knew how to take advantage of a dance floor. But it was also evident that he was daring enough to hold the lady a little too near. Although she certainly didn’t seem to object as she gazed up at him, her smile bright enough to illuminate the room should all the candles suddenly be doused.
Careful there, Tristan, he mused. You’ll find yourself with a pistol at your back and a clergyman at your front if you don’t watch yourself.
These were not Rafe’s girls who expected nothing from a gent except a quick tumble. No, these ladies expected—and deserved—everything.
Another fan, pointed in his direction, caught his eye and he focused his attention back on the group of ladies. The holder of the fan quickly opened it and hid her face behind it, as though embarrassed that she’d been caught displaying rude behavior. Or perhaps his solitary gaze simply disarmed her. Much more comfortable to gossip when the object in question wasn’t paying attention. He recognized none of the ladies from the dinner party. Dear Lord but there were an abundance of people to meet.
Mary swung her gaze over and smiled. He wanted to think the upturn of her mouth was pleasure at seeing him, but he thought it more likely that she was responding to some bit of trifle spoken by one of the ladies. She turned away for just a moment, touching a hand here, an arm there, and then was strolling toward him.
He could only pray that she was not coming to claim her dance.
To Mary the scars marring Sebastian’s face were nothing beyond an insignia of courage. But he obviously considered them otherwise because just as he had during their previous encounters, he hid his left side in shadows. Yet he couldn’t hide the true breadth of his shoulders or the strong cut of his jaw. He couldn’t hide his entitlement or his impatience with the entire affair. He was here out of obligation, duty. A need to make a statement.
The Duke of Keswick had reclaimed what had been stolen, but she couldn’t help but feel as though he had not yet acquired it all. His titles, yes. His lands, his estates, his London residence. But there was so much more, something that wasn’t quite so easily defined. She feared that was still being denied him. Hence her suggestion he attend tonight’s affair. But it did him little good to skulk in corners and frighten young maidens.
“I never thought you to be a wallflower,” she said after she came to a stop at his side.
“I’m simply getting a lay of the land.”
“Your intensity is quite intimidating. Young ladies are conflicted as to whether they should ask for an introduction. They fear your bite. I assured them you will only bark.”
“You shouldn’t be so confident of that.”
She heard no teasing in his voice. When he had run for his life, she feared he’d lost his heart and soul along the way. She supposed he had every reason to be bitter, but it hardly made him a candidate for good company. “You might try to cease your scowling. Even the lords are wary.”
“Yet, here you are, facing the ogre.”
“You’re hardly an ogre. A bit reticent, but then under the circumstances, quite understandable. Is there someone to whom you wish an introduction?”
“Tonight I am merely observing.”
“That won’t go over well. Perhaps you’ll feel more at ease once we dance.”
“I have no desire to dance.”
She didn’t want to acknowledge the sting that his rejection wrought, or how much she had been looking forward to an excuse to be near him. As children they had danced enthusiastically at the village fair, but that had entailed little more than holding hands, running around, and kicking up their heels. She wondered if he even remembered. “A pity. I saved a waltz for you.”
“Offer it to Tristan. He seems to have found his calling.”
She glanced toward the dance floor, and saw that he had claimed a dance with her cousin, Lady Alicia. She was glad he realized that he should spread himself around. “My cousin often laments how boring these affairs are. I suspect that will not be the case tonight. You do think he’ll take care with her heart, don’t you? She looks rather enamored.”
“I wish I could offer reassurance, but I’m not completely confident in my brother’s character.”
She turned back to him, only to find his gaze riveted on her, leaving her with the sense that while she had enjoyed the dancers, he had enjoyed her. A strange notion. He made no unwarranted overtures, provided no flirtatious banter, but still his intensity made her thoughts wander along forbidden trails. What if he’d never left? What if twelve years ago fate had not conspired to create divergent paths that had forced them to take such astonishingly different journeys? The paths had converged now, but it was not a gentle meeting of wooded byways. Rather it was as though sun-dappled meadow and stormy rock-hewn mountain had crashed together. A strange analogy to run through her head, but she was left with the opinion that life would never be easy for him. Something else lost.
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