She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(42) by Lorraine Heath
“Mary,” he whispered like a soft benediction and hoped to God that she didn’t connect the two sentences and think it was she he wished to forget. Never her. She was the only thing worth remembering. No, he wanted to forget his disfiguring scars, his sightless left side, the stares he garnered, and the doubts and guilt that plagued him. But never her.
He tilted up her face and covered her mouth with his. He wasn’t gentle. He wanted to replace horrendous memories with something worth remembering. He was not only starving, but greedy. He would hate himself in the morning. Hell, he’d hate himself as soon as his mouth left hers because the blackguard he’d become was taking advantage of her charitable nature.
She didn’t protest, but her tongue was hesitant against his. He suspected she’d never had her mouth ravished to such a degree. The thought had him gentling the plunder, had him relishing the taste and feel of her. She’d sipped champagne and the rich flavor of it teased him now just as her orchid scent filled his nostrils.
She skimmed her hands up his arms, entangled her fingers in his hair, pressed herself closer, and became as bold as he. He almost smiled. She’d always matched his adventurous spirit with one that rivaled his. He wondered now if it was the competitor in her nature that had her stepping forward instead of back. Or was there more?
Had she wondered, as he had, what it might be like between them?
God, but she was delicious. He locked his other arm around her, assisted her in her quest to get nearer, pressing her close. His palm cradled her chin, the side of her throat, and he could feel the hard, rapid pounding of her heart. He became lost in the wonder of her. He’d wanted this when he sat on the bench with her that long-ago afternoon, when he’d given her the necklace. He’d wanted to know her flavor. Now he knew he would never forget it, even though he would never taste it again.
This was a forbidden moment between them. She was betrothed. She deserved better than he could provide. He could give her all the comforts of life, but he lacked the ability to comfort her heart and soul. He recognized this shortcoming in himself. He wasn’t particularly proud of it, but he didn’t delude himself into thinking that he would ever be able to give a woman more than a contented marriage. And Mary deserved far better than that.
She deserved love and adoration. She deserved a whole man who could not only take her to unheralded heights of pleasure but could lift her up from depths of despair. Life was not always pleasant. She needed a true partner who would give his all to her.
His all belonged to Pembrook.
Her soft moan echoed between them, and it fired his blood. A tempest raged through him. He could take her deeper into the shadows, lay her on the grass, ease up the hem of her gown—
He growled with the desperation that gnawed at him to do just that. This was Mary. Mary who had saved them. He owed her everything.
Breaking off the kiss, breathing heavily, he gazed down on her upturned face. From somewhere, light chased away the shadow and he could see her heavy-lidded gaze, her slightly parted lips. Her confusion.
“Forgive me, Mary. I . . .” What words could he give her? What possible explanation for his actions would suffice?
“You won’t dance with me in the garden, yet you’ll kiss me?”
“I’ve obviously become a barbarian. I have no excuse. And if we’re seen, you’ll have no reputation.”
Before she could respond, he spun on his heel and stormed back toward the garden path, but rather than turn toward the manor, he picked up his pace and headed even farther into the darker confines provided by roses and trellises. He had to leave now. He would exit through a back gate, leave his carriage for Tristan. He could walk back to his residence. It would do him good, cool his ardor.
He heard a sound. Dried leaves crushed beneath the weight of a foot.
He knew better than to turn to his left, to lose his advantage by a momentary blindness when meeting a foe, but he’d thought it was Mary chasing after him as she had when they were children. Only as he felt the knife slicing into his side did he recognize the true cost of his folly. Before he could even see the enemy he launched a powerful swing with his right arm. He took satisfaction in the sound of cracking bone, the grunt, the seething curse. He expected his attacker to attack again, but instead his pounding feet echoed and faded away.
Sebastian’s knees hit the ground with a jarring thud that caused everything to shake. The world spun crazily around him and then turned black.
Who would have ever thought that Tristan would find women who flung themselves at him so utterly boring? He’d had a life of challenges, had longed for the life of ease that came from being born the son of a duke, but now that he held it, he wondered why he’d ever wanted it.
He intrigued the ladies. They all desired introductions and a dance. But they didn’t fascinate him in the least. They were all the same. Smiling, batting their lashes, peering from behind their ivory fans. He knew what their questions would be before they were asked. He knew what they would say before they spoke. Everything was practiced, rehearsed. Even the woman who had swooned in his arms had been performing. A grand performance to be sure, but a bit of acting nonetheless.
It was a mistake to have come here. He intended to find Sebastian and inform him that he was taking his leave. He’d seen his brother escape through the double doors that led into the garden, but had yet to see him return. Perhaps he’d arranged a tryst. If so, regrettably it would be interrupted.
He scoffed. Why should he care if he spoiled his brother’s pleasures? He should simply leave, but something nagged at him. He needed to find Sebastian before he departed this affair. It was a sense he had. With Sebastian, he’d always known when something wasn’t quite right. Perhaps because they had shared the womb. It bothered him that he’d never felt the same connection with Rafe. With Rafe, there was no mooring, nothing that anchored them. Tristan had known when Sebastian had been gravely wounded. Although he’d been at sea, he’d still known. A coldness as frigid as death had settled into him. He’d never prayed for himself, but he’d prayed for his brother that day.
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