She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(39) by Lorraine Heath
“Alicia—” Mary began, a plea in her voice.
“—to make you feel uncomfortable in our home and I—”
“Perhaps you will honor me with a dance later,” he forced out.
Her eyes widened but at least her mouth remained closed. Thank God. She blinked, looked at Mary, looked back at him. “Yes, certainly.” She began to scour her dance card.
Mary caught his eye and smiled softly, apparently pleased with the way he’d handled the awkward situation. He thought her smile alone was worth the agony he would endure as he dreaded the upcoming turn about the floor with her cousin, especially as it was not her cousin with whom he wished to dance. He held Mary’s gaze and thought there were no more expressive eyes in all of Great Britain. She drew him in, made him think all things were possible. That he could indeed traverse the maze of a dance floor—if she were in his arms. Suddenly he wanted her there with a fierceness that he’d only experienced in battle, when he’d charged the enemy, when defeat was not even a consideration. He considered how it would be to have her so near, to hold her briefly, knowing he could not hold her forever. He would find a piece of heaven in his hell, and he would suffer for it later when it was gone, but for those few moments—
“A quadrille?” Lady Alicia chirped, interrupting his wayward thoughts. “Would a quadrille suit?”
“Lovely.” She wrote on her dance card with endearing concentration, then peered up at him. “Shall I write it on your card?”
Gentlemen generally carried a card in their jackets to keep up with their dance partners. He hadn’t expected to dance so he hadn’t bothered with one. “I’ll remember.”
“I shall look forward to it with great anticipation.”
“As will I.” When had he become such an accomplished liar? He turned to Mary. “I was hoping you would honor me with a dance as well.”
“I would be delighted, and as it so happens I am currently free.”
He held out his arm, and she placed her hand on it. As they walked onto the dance floor, he constantly scanned the twirling couples. His confidence began to grow. He simply needed to remain aware of who was about and where they moved.
Then she was in his arms and his surroundings became the last thing on his mind. He wasn’t certain he’d realized exactly how small her waist was until his hand settled in against it. Because of her height, he could easily gaze into her eyes. They sparkled now and her lips tilted up in pleasure. He saw very little evidence of the hoyden she’d once been. She was reserved, polite, a lady any gentleman would be proud to have as his wife.
“You were very kind to her,” she said softly.
“Should I have been a beast?”
“I don’t think you’re capable of that.”
“Do you ever feel as though we don’t truly know each other?”
“Quite often, and yet there are times when I feel as though there is nothing about you that I don’t know. I wasn’t certain you’d ask me to dance.”
“Your aunt insisted.”
Her smile broadened. “You don’t have to always be completely honest with your answers. Now my heart is crushed.”
“It was never my intent to hurt you, Mary.”
Her eyes glimmered. “I was teasing. You mustn’t always be so serious, Sebastian.”
“I fear I know nothing else.”
“You might try smiling at least.”
“I did. Once. After I was wounded. It’s a hideous sight. I smashed the mirror that revealed it to me. You want me to be civilized. I’m not certain I’m capable of it.”
Her own smile withered, and she squeezed his hand that held hers. “Our dance is a start. Simply enjoy it.”
Her smile returned. She was right. He wanted this moment. He should savor it. Without conversation to distract him, he found himself becoming lost in her.
That damned freckle on the upper swell of her left breast kept drawing his attention. If he’d just ask her how she came to have it, he’d no doubt lose all interest in it. But how did one word such an inquiry? I daresay I was noticing your breast . . .
In truth he was noticing everything about her. No lady in this room compared with her—
He rammed into someone, stumbled, stepped on Mary’s hem, heard material rip, followed by her gasp.
“Watch where you’re go—” A voice he recognized began, then stopped.
He spun around and found himself staring at Fitzwilliam.
“Apologies, Your Grace,” he said. “It is I who should have been watching.”
The implication was clear. Sebastian was lacking. At that moment he wanted to plant his fist in the man’s face. If he hadn’t felt Mary’s hand come to rest on his arm, he might have done something he’d later regret.
Glancing down, he saw her clutching the fabric at her waist. “I need to see to getting this taken care of. Would you be so kind as to escort me off the floor?”
Kind? Nothing about him was kind. Still he did as she asked.
“It looks beyond repair,” he told her.
“It’s not nearly as bad as it appears. They’ll have a seamstress in the retiring room who’ll put things to rights quick enough. Ladies are always stepping on their hems.”
“I knew dancing would be a dreadful notion. I’m sorry I subjected you to it.”
They were away from the dancers now, near the doorway that would take her to the stairs.
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