She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(43) by Lorraine Heath
Even knowing what he would inherit if his brother died, he’d never wished for his death. Which made it more difficult for him to reconcile his uncle’s motives. Brothers should place blood above possessions, above titles, above land.
He walked onto the terrace and was heading for the steps that led into the garden when he saw Mary hastily dashing up them.
She stumbled to a stop, jerked her gaze to the garden, the ballroom, and finally settled it back on him. “My lord.”
“Is something amiss?”
“Everything is fine. Thank you.”
A woman who had not mastered the art of lying. What a welcome diversion. Taking her arm, he led her toward a more secluded, shadowy area. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Sebastian?”
Nodding, she glanced down. “Our paths crossed in the garden.”
He slipped his finger beneath her chin, tilted up her head, and stroked his thumb over her lower lip. “Based on your swollen lips, I would say he kissed you.”
She began rubbing her hand over her mouth. “Oh, dear God, you can tell?”
He hitched up a corner of his mouth. “No. It was a guess. Your lips aren’t swollen.”
She slapped at him. “You cad!”
If not for the seriousness of the matter, he’d have dropped his head back and roared out his laughter. “But he did kiss you.”
Nodding, she averted her gaze. “Please keep this between us.”
“Did you kiss him back?” he prodded.
“I did not dissuade him.” She returned her gaze to his, such earnestness in her expression. “I should tell Fitzwilliam.”
“Good God, don’t even entertain such a foolish notion. If it was no more than a kiss���”
“It wasn’t. One moment we were talking and the next . . . we weren’t.”
He wanted to shout Hallelujah! His brother wasn’t perfect. Instead, he said, “Do you know where he went? Afterward?”
“Further into the garden. I started to follow, but I thought it would be best if I didn’t. He seemed angry.”
Frustrated, more like, if a kiss was all he claimed. “I’m sure he did. But not with you, sweet lady. I don’t imagine he liked losing control.”
“He changed, Tristan.”
“We all did, love.”
She smiled. “You didn’t.”
If only that were true. He was simply better at masking it. Reaching out he tucked some stray strands of hair back behind her pearl combs. “Go on inside before you’re missed. I’ll find Sebastian, and then we shall probably take our leave, quietly and without fanfare.”
“Is it truly not obvious that I was kissed?” she asked, and he could see the worry in her eyes. Those in Society focused on such trivial matters. He’d have been the same had his life not taken such a drastic turn. Would he have liked that man any better than he liked the one he was now?
“No one will know,” he assured her.
“I never thought of you as the kind twin.”
“Because I’m not. Now off with you. You don’t want to be seen with me in the shadows.” Then because she seemed reluctant to leave, he leapt over the railing with the ease of a man who had climbed sail rigging during the height of a tempest at sea and lived to tell the tale of it. Glancing back, he saw that she’d moved on. He breathed a bit easier. He didn’t want to be the one responsible for ruining her good name. They owed her, should ensure that she was happy. He wondered if she would be so with Fitzwilliam. He seemed rather like a stick-in-the-mud. But then Tristan was discovering that most of the men he’d met tonight were boring beyond measure. They lived sheltered lives lacking in adventure.
The same certainly couldn’t be said of him and his brothers. He knew Rafe had gone on his merry way. Sebastian may have as well.
He passed one couple and another strolling back toward the house—a guilty air about them. In the shadows off the path, he heard a giggle and a soft reprimand for quiet. Ah, the dangers. He imagined hearts were racing at the thought of being caught. He couldn’t imagine that had not fate intervened the most exciting part of his life might have been enticing a lady into an illicit kiss.
The dangers he had faced made all this subterfuge in the garden seem trivial, and certainly held no appeal.
He slowed his step when he noticed a gentleman on the path hesitate before continuing toward him. “Fitzwilliam.”
He wondered what he was doing out here alone, wondered if he’d happened across Sebastian and Mary earlier. Surely not, for if he had he’d have confronted them.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen my brother out here,” Tristan asked laconically.
“Which one? The one who cheats at cards or the one who airs his dirty laundry in public?”
“Take care with your accusations, my lord,” Tristan said with a voice that mimicked the calm before a storm.
“Are you threatening me?”
“For a moment there I feared you weren’t a perceptive fellow. So relieved you proved me wrong.”
“You and your brothers do not belong here. You are barbarians.”
“On the contrary, my lord. I asked a simple question. You are the one who responded by disparaging the character of my brothers.”
“I haven’t seen them. Now if you’ll excuse me?”
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