She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(38) by Lorraine Heath
Sebastian reluctantly admitted that he wished Mary weren’t smiling quite so brightly as Fitzwilliam expertly twirled her over the dance floor. What a selfish bastard he was. Her relationship with Fitzwilliam was not a threat to their long-standing friendship.
“Lovely, isn’t she?”
Sebastian heard the soft voice on his left, and damned the woman for coming up on his blind side. How long had she been standing there observing him? It was difficult to hold back his irritation when he swung his head around to get a good view of whomever the deuce she was. Then regretted his irritation. “Lady Ivers.” He took her gloved hand, bowed over it, and kissed the tips of her fingers.
The countess blushed. “Why do you waste your charms on an old woman such as me? Why are you not out on the dance floor?”
“You are not so old.”
“Balderdash.” She turned her attention back to the crowded ballroom. While he wanted to do the same, if he did he would lose sight of her. “You avoided my question.”
“I have not danced in a good many years.”
“It is not something one forgets. They make an interesting couple, do they not? My niece and Fitzwilliam?”
He thought hers was a telling choice of words. “Do you not approve?”
“I do not disapprove. Yet I watched the two of you during dinner the other night. There is something between you.”
“Friendship,” he said much too quickly.
“It makes for a good foundation for a marriage.”
“She is betrothed.”
“Indeed she is, and her father likes him. But I am not so sure that he is not looking beyond seeing that she is secure. His nephew will inherit, you know, when Winslow is gone. He is not quite confident in his nephew’s strength of character or generosity. Winslow worries that he is not much longer for this world. His brother was only thirty-eight when he passed. His father forty. I hate to say it, but resilient hearts do not run in that family. Still, my sister saw something in him to love. I told Winslow he need not marry Mary off in haste. She will always have a place in my home, but I think he wants to see her settled. Fitzwilliam is of good stock. She will be happy. I’m certain of it. If she is not, her husband will have to deal with me.”
Damned if he didn’t like the woman. “Mary is fortunate to have you as her champion.”
“I am fortunate to have her as my niece.” She patted his arm. “Don’t let the lionesses dissuade you from enjoying this affair. The one thing I am completely confident about is that a gentleman who has worn the uniform is always an accomplished dancer.”
Not when his sight was restricted.
“Give it a go, Your Grace.”
For a moment there, he feared she was hinting that he should ask her for a dance, but with another pat on his arm, she strolled away. He could quite imagine that in her day she had turned many a head. Just as Mary did.
He looked back toward the dance floor and gritted his teeth. She was in Tristan’s arms, moving gracefully in rhythm with the music. Tristan was cutting quite the swath through the ladies. He knew it shouldn’t grate that his brother was dancing with Mary. Tristan knew her more than he knew any of the others. It was expected. But still he didn’t like the way Tristan watched her through hooded eyes. But then Tristan caught his gaze and issued a silent challenge: Cut in. I dare you.
Lady Ivers was correct. Soldiers were known to cut quite a figure when they danced. Sebastian had always considered it a silly bit of nonsense. A soldier’s place was on the battlefield, but he was expected to reflect his glory in the ballrooms. He’d danced with his fair share of the ladies. Had even enjoyed it, but holding Mary in his arms would no doubt be an experience that rivaled all others. Would waltzing be so difficult if he did no grand sweeping? He could claim a small bit of the dance floor.
Her aunt had tossed down the gauntlet. Crafty old biddy. He caught sight of her watching him, daring him even. One dance. Surely he could survive that.
After all, he’d survived the carnage of war.
After her dance with Tristan, Mary retired to a corner and spoke with Lady Alicia. And spoke with her, and spoke with her, and spoke with her. It seemed she’d found her place and intended to remain there. While Sebastian knew awkwardness would no doubt arrive with him, he squared his shoulders and marched forward as though an enemy awaited. He supposed sooner or later he would be forced to speak with Lady Alicia. Might as well make it quick.
Before he’d reached Mary, she turned and smiled at him, and he suspected Lady Alicia had said something to make her aware of his coming over.
“Your Grace,” Mary said.
“Lady Mary.” He bowed slightly. “Lady Alicia.”
“Your Grace,” she replied with a slight tremble in her voice, and he realized a faint blush crept up her face. “My sincerest apologies for the debacle of the other night. I assure you—”
“Leave it go, Alicia,” Mary murmured. “Keswick has already forgotten about it, I’m sure.”
“I don’t see how he could.”
“It is forgotten,” he assured her.
“I was such a ninny.”
“It is. Forgotten,” he said as firmly as he could.
“I truly meant no harm.”
Dear God, was he going to have to ask the chit to dance in order to convince her that the lies he spoke were truth? “No harm was done.”
“Still, it was unconscionable—”
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