She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(46) by Lorraine Heath
They’d kissed once before when she was all of twelve and he was fourteen. But the forbidden touching of their lips then had not hinted at the heat that could erupt between them now. She didn’t know whether to be terrified or fascinated.
He was not the boy she’d loved as a child. He was a dark, brooding man, with fury boiling below the surface. Who knew when it might erupt and what casualties it would leave in its wake? Already it had left her behind. He’d stormed from the garden without even a backward glance. If he’d only looked back . . . she might have followed. She might have clambered into his coach and gone somewhere far away, where they could be alone—to truly talk, to explore their feelings, to stop being so blasted polite around each other.
“Do you think Keswick would have pressed his suit if he’d arrived in London earlier in the Season, before you were spoken for?” Alicia asked.
Mary twisted around. “Why would you—”
“Please stand still, m’lady,” the seamstress said, as she worked to mark the hem.
“Yes, quite, I’m sorry,” Mary muttered before facing forward again and meeting her cousin’s gaze in the mirror. “Why would you think that?”
“I simply noticed that Keswick seems to watch you with what appears to be longing.”
“You’re mistaken. He looks upon me as no more than a friend.”
Why the deuce was her cousin pursuing this? Had she happened upon them in the garden for God’s sake? “I’m quite content with my selection in husbands.”
“Oh, my dear girl, tell me that’s not so,” her aunt said, her voice indicating her distress.
“Would you rather I not be content?”
“Content will hardly bring a fire to your bed.”
Sebastian, however, based on his kiss would bring a fire to the bed that would ignite it and send it into flames. She didn’t want to consider how his kiss had left her burning for more, how she had tossed and turned in her bed all night, tangled in covers until she thought she would suffocate, needing surcease. Whenever she closed her eyes, she imagined him prowling toward her, crawling onto her bed, covering her—
She swallowed hard. “I’m sure Fitzwilliam will do nicely in that regard.”
Her aunt moved to stand in front of her, blocking her view of the mirror. She was a small woman, but could be quite formidable when she set her mind to it. “My dear, are you having second thoughts regarding this marriage?”
Second. Third. Fourth. Ever since Sebastian had kissed her, doubts had plagued her. She no longer knew her own mind. She, who never questioned her actions, was now questioning a good many things. Why had he kissed her? What had he hoped to accomplish? Was it simply for sport? To satisfy curiosity? He wanted to forget. Exactly what did he wish to forget? The long years he was away? The war? Her? Had he taken her in his arms because she was convenient? Would any woman have sufficed for his purposes? That thought brought with it a devastating disappointment. Perhaps she should confront him. Or would it be better to ignore him?
“Mary?” her aunt prodded.
She’d almost forgotten the question. Was she having doubts? “No, of course not.”
Fitzwilliam did not burn with passion. Rather his moods more closely resembled the constant ticking of a clock. No surprises. Nothing unexpected. Just the reassuring constancy that each tick would be followed by another. A month ago, she’d found it reassuring. Now she found it boring. How unfair to him. He’d not changed since he asked for her hand. She knew exactly what she was getting when she accepted his proposal. But she had changed. Somehow, within only a couple of weeks, she’d become someone completely different, wanted something completely different. Too late, too late. Besides perhaps it was only a passing fancy, and in another two weeks she would once again yearn for what she’d longed for a month ago. You’d damned well better long for it.
“It really doesn’t matter, Mama,” Alicia said. “The betrothal has been announced. It can’t be broken. Lord Fitzwilliam would sue for damages, and Uncle would not be pleased about that at all. It would be scandalous.”
“Better scandal now than to marry a man you doubt and have years of regret,” her aunt announced, her gaze boring into Mary until it made her uncomfortable.
“I don’t doubt Fitzwilliam,” Mary assured her. But she doubted herself. Why had she not stepped away from the kiss instead of into it? She couldn’t deny that for years she’d thought of Sebastian, had dreamed of him, had fantasized about him as a young girl might, but the reality of him as a man was far removed from her imaginings.
Her aunt harrumphed.
“I don’t!” Mary insisted. “And Alicia is right. All has been arranged for the wedding. I’m sure all ladies wonder as the time draws near if they travel the right path.”
“I certainly didn’t,” her aunt said.
“Because you and Papa eloped,” Alicia said. “To Gretna Green. There was hardly time for any misgivings. It was so romantic. I would so dearly love to be swept away.” She sighed dreamily.
Mary wondered when she herself had given up on the notion of being romanced, of being swept away. Was she settling for Fitzwilliam? She didn’t think so. Yes, he was the only one to have asked but that didn’t signify that she’d have not selected him if a hundred gentlemen had asked. He’d captured her attention from the start. She enjoyed his company. He was charming, elegant. Not brash. His temper was even. He did not easily take offense. Marriage to him would be calm and placid. No upheavals, no tempers flaring, no anger.
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