She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(37) by Lorraine Heath
“Are they as much strangers as the rest of us?” she asked quietly.
“In some ways yes.” And then, as though uncomfortable with his admittance, he said solemnly, “You wore the necklace.”
She touched the delicate oval jewel. She had purposely chosen this gown to accentuate the stone, knowing that it also brought out the green of her eyes. “Yes, it’s so lovely. I must apologize for not thanking you and your brothers for the kindness earlier.”
His laughter was low, dark, did not arrive with an accompanying smile. “We would not be here to present gifts if not for your courage.”
“I suspect you would have found a way to thwart your uncle’s plans.”
“We shall never know. Thanks to you.”
He was discarding his own cleverness in favor of hers. But she’d acted without any thought or plans. Still, she supposed she couldn’t argue with the results. Here they were.
At the familiar refined voice she spun around and smiled, silently chastising herself for the speculation she saw in Fitzwilliam’s eyes. She’d spent far too long speaking alone with Sebastian. It was hardly appropriate behavior for a woman who was betrothed. Hardly appropriate for any unmarried woman. She had no wish for him to doubt her loyalties. “Fitzwilliam.”
“I’ve come to claim my dance.”
“I’m sorry. I was distracted. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t keep up with them.” He didn’t smile at her teasing tone. She supposed she couldn’t blame him. She turned slightly and gave Sebastian a pointed look. Surely he realized that he needed to acknowledge Fitzwilliam.
“Fitzwilliam,” he finally said.
“Your Grace. I daresay, I was enjoying my time in the card room until your brother relieved me of my blunt for the evening. He seems to have quite the luck with cards.”
“Every man has something at which he excels.”
The tension radiating between the two was thick enough to slice with a knife. Surely Sebastian couldn’t resent every man who had never been dispossessed of his fortune and place in Society. And Fitzwilliam. Was he jealous? She didn’t know whether to be flattered or irritated.
“He more than excels,” Fitzwilliam said.
“If you’re accusing him of something spit it out with straight words.”
The tension ratcheted up several notches. She placed her hand on Fitzwilliam’s arm to remind him she was there. His muscles were as hard as stone. He didn’t like Sebastian. That much was obvious. But he was smart enough to remember the swiftness with which Sebastian had moved that first night when he’d taken offense at his uncle’s words.
“Merely a compliment,” Fitzwilliam said and she felt his muscles relaxing.
“I shall pass it on to my brother.”
“By all means, please do. Now if you’ll be so good as to excuse us, my favorite part of the evening is upon me.”
Sebastian turned to her. “It was good to see you again, Lady Mary.”
“My pleasure, Your Grace. I hope you will reconsider dancing. The ladies always outnumber the gentlemen. I do believe you’ll find yourself never lacking for a partner.”
Before Sebastian could respond, Fitzwilliam was leading her away. “Were you trying to entice him into a dance?”
She heard the displeasure in his voice. She supposed she couldn’t blame him, even though betrothed ladies—indeed married ones—danced with many partners. “I was trying to entice him away from keeping the potted plants company. He’s not comfortable here.”
“I do not see that it is your concern. It’s as though you’ve adopted a stray. First securing him an invitation to your aunt’s dinner and then to this affair.”
“Lady Hermione extended the invitation for tonight.”
“You deny that you had anything at all to do with his presence? That your meeting in the park was merely coincidence and not an attempt to lure him here?”
He’d heard? Of course he had. There was not an action taken in all of London that was not commented on—repeatedly. “I was there as a favor to Lady Hermione.”
“She wanted him here?”
“She wanted Lord Tristan here. But I knew he would only come if Keswick came.”
“You also no doubt have more sway over the duke than over his brother.”
“We were childhood friends. You know that. You also know that it is imperative he be seen at these functions in order to be accepted.”
“I still fail to see why you should care.”
“Because of our friendship. I would share the same concerns for any friend. Lady or gent.”
Taking her in his arms, holding her gaze, he swept her over the dance floor. “Never forget that you belong to me.”
Her eyes widened at that. “You’ve never been quite so possessive.”
“My apologies. I have a bit of a jealous streak, especially where you are concerned. I fear it does not flatter me.”
“And a competitive one. I suspect you didn’t fancy losing your money in the game room.”
“My only consolation is that I was not the only one. These brothers are hardly typical lords.”
“But then they’ve hardly had a typical upbringing or experiences.”
“Your heart is too soft, Mary. Take care or you might find it bruised.”
His warning came just a tad too late, because her heart was already aching for Sebastian and wondering how she could make him more comfortable with his surroundings. Life had thrown many an obstacle his way. It seemed it was not yet done.
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