She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(40) by Lorraine Heath
“Don’t be silly. I enjoyed it. I hope to have a chance to dance with you again.”
Never. Never again. But he merely nodded and strode away, leaving her to tend to her torn gown.
Fortunately there was no line to the seamstress and the woman was quick of fingers. It wasn’t long before Mary was back in the ballroom. She spied her quarry standing with a group of gentlemen. She plastered a smile on her face and glided over with all the grace and poise she could muster.
“Gentlemen, forgive my intrusion,” she said, smiling even more brightly, batting her eyelashes as though a cinder had flown into her eyes. “My lord Fitzwilliam, may I have a word?”
“Shortly. As soon as I’m finished—”
“This is important. I fear it can’t wait.”
“A man is a fool,” Lord Chesney said, “to spend his time prattling with men when he can be in the company of a beautiful woman.”
“You’re quite right, of course,” Fitzwilliam said, before offering Mary his arm.
She waited until they were in an alcove, hidden from prying eyes, before she let her anger seethe to the surface. “You did it on purpose.”
“What’s that, sweeting?”
His pretended innocence only served to anger her further. “Bumped into Keswick.”
“What an absurd notion. He crossed into my path. Yet as a gentleman of the first order, I took the blame in order to spare him the humiliation.”
“You spared him nothing.”
“Do not take that tone with me. You are to be my wife.”
“That does not make me your property.”
“According to the law it does.” He slammed his eyes closed, took a breath, then opened them. “Good God, what are we doing here, Mary? We had a bit of a snuffle on the dance floor. Hardly worth scathing words and anger. Barging into him would have also served to embarrass you. I’d have not done it.” He touched her cheek. “You are too precious to me.”
This was the closest he’d come to declaring he might have strong feelings for her. That he cared, she had no doubt. But he’d never given voice to the strength of his affections. It was her understanding that few men did. For them, actions spoke louder and Fitzwilliam had never given her any cause to doubt his fondness for her.
Yes, in all likelihood the incident was Sebastian’s fault. His gaze had been riveted on her with such intensity that she’d scarcely been able to breathe. For a few moments it had seemed as though they were the only two in the ballroom, in the entire world. She’d become lost in the wonder of him. His strength, his masculinity were so apparent that he made other men seem lacking.
In retrospect, the sudden end to their dance had come at a most fortuitous moment, before she’d made an utter fool of herself and asked him to escort her onto the terrace so they might have a moment of privacy. She wasn’t certain what she intended to happen during it, but it could not have boded well.
“My apologies for the accusations,” she said contritely.
“None needed. Now let’s return to the festivities before our absence is noted. I’d not have your reputation tarnished before we are wed.”
“Nor afterward either, I should think.” She gave him a teasing smile, which he returned with one that held the promise of passion.
“I must confess that I am very much looking forward to having you alone,” he said with a seductive whisper.
She couldn’t mistake his meaning. She’d hardly given any thought to the intimacies of marriage. She felt her skin grow warm with a flush. She was certain she would find pleasure in his bed. But she suddenly found herself wondering if it would be enough.
He did not belong here, Sebastian reflected. He would never belong here. In the glittering ballrooms where ladies and gents flirted, waltzed, laughed without care. Their easy banter sliced deep for nothing in his life had been easy. He was only twenty-six and yet he felt to be a man twice his age.
After the debacle on the dance floor, he found Lady Alicia and explained that regretfully he would have to forego their dance. She merely blushed, stammered her understanding, and hurried away. She’d no doubt witnessed the ungainliness he’d exhibited with her cousin and was relieved to be spared a similar fate. Then he conversed with a few lords about trivial matters: weather, agriculture, bills before Parliament. He made his way to the card room and discovered that Rafe was nowhere to be seen. He’d obviously taken his leave. He was no more comfortable in these surroundings than Sebastian. He did wish his brother had sought him out to see if he might be of a mind to depart with him.
Not that he would have. It would have been cowardly to leave so soon after arriving. But taking a turn about the garden—that spoke only of a man who required a bit of fresh air. Based on the scent assailing his nostrils the garden was awash in roses. Based on the quiet murmurings that reached him, the garden was dotted with secretive trysts. He wondered if one of them involved Tristan. He’d lost sight of his brother in the ballroom. He did hope he wasn’t doing something reckless that would find him with a wife in hand before Season’s end.
It irritated the devil out of him that he didn’t know his brothers well, wasn’t certain of the kind of men they were. They were loyal to him, but that had been ingrained in them from birth by their father. Sebastian was the heir and they owed their fealty to him. But other than that, he knew them hardly at all. He despised his uncle for stealing that knowledge from him as well. He and his brothers were joined by blood, but beyond that, they shared few of the same experiences. None of them seemed wont to speak of the years they were apart, which lent a well of loneliness to their being together.
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