She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(41) by Lorraine Heath
But he had Pembrook to sustain him. Based on tonight’s fiasco, he had decided he would return there. To hell with London. Tristan seemed more at home here. He could see after the London residence and keep an eye on matters. Watch for any nefarious plans their uncle might be plotting. As for the wife—he wasn’t in the mood to hunt for one. He would hire a matchmaker perhaps or—
He paused at the soft voice. He was far into the garden now, should no doubt continue on. But he turned ever so slightly and watched as Mary strolled gracefully toward him. She was limned by the glow from the gaslights that lined the pebbled path. Even shadows could not disguise her beauty.
“You’re not enjoying the ball,” she said quietly, and he heard her disappointment, which only served to make him feel like an ogre who had let her down.
“Do gentlemen usually?”
“I’m sure some of them don’t, but they’re generally better skilled at hiding it. Alicia informed me that you recanted on your invitation to dance with her.”
“I thought it best under the circumstances to spare her the embarrassment of having a torn gown.”
“Mine was fixed easily enough.”
“Still, it should not have happened at all.”
Silence eased in around them and brought with it a comfortableness that had often accompanied the pair in their youth.
“Do you enjoy the balls?” He didn’t know why he asked. Perhaps because he knew as little of her as he knew of his brothers, and it seemed a shame after all they’d shared as children.
“More than I should, I suppose. I love the glitz and glamor of them. I enjoy seeing the ladies in their ball gowns, draped in jewels, and exuding excitement as they anticipate the night. The gentlemen are always so dashingly handsome in their swallow-tailed jackets. The music fills me.” She laughed. “I could go on.”
In the distance, he could hear the faint strains of the music that filled her. Her father had denied her this because of him. “By all means do.”
He meant it. She could discuss the manner in which grass grew and he thought he would be fascinated. He’d not been with a woman—truly been with a woman—since shortly before the battle in which he’d nearly died. He preferred women who gave of their bodies willingly, not for gain. Mary would be such a woman, and her willingness would be gilded with enthusiasm that came from deep within her. She’d never been one for half measures. While he’d amassed years of not knowing the details of her life, he was fairly confident he still knew the particulars of her character. She was strong, bold, and had a penchant for caring deeply for those who needed it. She would fight to save a wounded sparrow with the same determination she’d fought to save three abandoned lads.
“I would only bore you,” she told him. “Besides, that was not my purpose in seeking you out.”
He wasn’t certain why his gut clenched or why he was so sure he was not going to like what followed, but still he heard himself ask, “And what would that be?”
“I wanted to apologize for what happened earlier on the dance floor.”
“You’re clearly not to blame. You nearly lost a toe in the process.” He caught a flash of her smile in the flickering gas lamps. He wished he had the ability to keep her smiling. But it was neither his responsibility nor his place. “Fitzwilliam, blast him, was correct. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I knew I had to be ever vigilant.” But I’d become lost in you, and for a moment had felt close to being whole.
Not that he could tell her that. Not that he should even admit it to himself. Yet he had. Her sweet fragrance, the green of her eyes, the delicate touch of her hand folding over his.
“I would ask you to forgive my boldness, that it is a friendship forged as children that prompts me now, but I was hoping we might finish our dance. Here in the garden. Where we’re less likely to bump into anything other than roses.”
“Thorns can hurt, Mary.”
“I’m willing to risk it.”
Terribly bad idea, sweetheart. To hold you in my arms again, to have your clothes occasionally brushing against mine, to have your scent so much nearer.
His thoughts traveled along paths they shouldn’t traverse. She was betrothed. She belonged to another.
“No.” He bit out the word.
“That’s your pride answering, Your Grace.”
“Leave it be, Mary.”
She moved a step nearer, and it took everything within him not to take a step back. She brought with her the sweet fragrance of orchids. And a glimmer of tears. And a stubbornness in the set of her jaw that he’d never been able to defeat. She’d always possessed the power to conquer him, to make him ignore his better judgment.
Reaching out she touched his shoulder. He could feel the gentleness, the slight trembling of her fingers. “Please, dance with me.”
“I don’t want a damned dance.” The harshness in his voice would have sent any other young miss scurrying back to the safety of the ballroom. But not Mary. He’d never been able to intimidate or frighten her. She was the most courageous creature he knew.
“What do you want?” she asked with equal parts tenderness and challenge.
How often had he done things only to prove something to her? Let her see now the sort of man he was. What the years had transformed him into.
“To forget.” He thrust a hand into her hair, cradled his palm against her cheek, moved her farther into the shadows.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online