She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(50) by Lorraine Heath
“Ladies, my apologies for not being able to welcome you properly earlier,” he said.
“Our apologies for barging in on your privacy,” her aunt replied.
“I believe I was the only one who actually barged,” Mary pointed out, and she could have sworn that a corner of Sebastian’s mouth twitched. She wondered what it would entail to make him smile fully once more.
“Yes, well, I see no point in splitting hairs,” Aunt Sophie said. “We are gratified that you seem to have escaped death’s clutches.”
“As am I.”
Sebastian took a chair far from Mary, while Tristan selected one nearer. His gaze seemed to challenge his brother, and she wondered what that was about. As lads they’d always seemed to know each other’s thoughts, but she suspected that the years apart may have changed their relationship somewhat. She despised their uncle for all the tragedy he’d visited upon them, for everything he’d stolen—so much that could not be easily identified.
“So what exactly happened last night?” Mary asked. “Where were you attacked?”
“In the garden. After—” He slid his gaze to her aunt before returning it to Mary. “—we parted. I was heading for the mews, intending to walk home. I heard a sound, turned, and became acquainted with someone’s knife.”
Both her aunt and cousin gasped in horror. Mary, however, noted that he told the tale with no emotion, as though it had happened to someone else. She wanted to know if he’d been angry or frightened or if he’d thought he might die. Where would his last thoughts travel? To regrets, to his youth when he was happy, to men he’d fought beside, to women he’d known? To her? She considered that her last thought might be of him. How unfair to Fitzwilliam.
“Fortunately, Tristan found me,” he continued. “We thought to leave without anyone being the wiser but it seems rumors are running rampant nonetheless.”
“You hold your uncle responsible?” Mary asked.
“We’re not yet ready to cast accusations.”
She was impressed with his restraint. Who else except his uncle would wish him harm?
“Lady Mary,” Tristan began, “did you happen across anyone in the garden last night?”
It was too late to save her now so she might as well acknowledge the truth. “His Grace.”
Tristan gave her a wolfish grin that she suspected would win over many a lady. “Besides my brother.”
“Not really. No. I heard whisperings in the shadows and couples were strolling about of course, but from a distance, I couldn’t identify them. And my thoughts were occupied elsewhere.”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Tension tightened her shoulders with the implications of his words. He turned his attention to Alicia, and Mary thought her cousin might be on the verge of swooning. She seemed to be having difficulty drawing in a breath. “Did either of you ladies take a stroll in the garden?”
“Absolutely not,” her aunt said. “I speak for both of us. We did not leave the ballroom.”
“Yes, I can imagine Lady Alicia was far too busy dancing.”
“Not so busy as you might think.” Blushing, she lowered her gaze to the tepid tea in her cup.
Mary shifted her attention to Sebastian to determine what he might think of this little exchange, and nearly dropped her own teacup when she saw how intently he was studying her. She considered setting the cup aside but her hands had begun to tremble and she didn’t want to have a rattling saucer give away how disconcerted she was by his study of her. She wondered if he was upset that she’d unintentionally let the cat out of the bag about him kissing her. He’d obviously regretted pressing his lips to hers or he’d have not stormed off. If she’d not taken the coward’s route and scurried back to the ballroom, she might have seen who attacked him.
“I don’t suppose we’ll ever discover who attacked Keswick,” Tristan said.
“Unless he returned to the ballroom bloody. I did manage to land a blow.”
“I can’t imagine that it was a lord who attacked you,” Aunt Sophie said. “Lords do not attack other lords. It was no doubt some ruffian. Although what he was doing there is beyond me. Perhaps he meant to rob you.”
But Mary heard the doubt in his voice. He suspected his uncle of foul play. Not that she blamed him, because she did as well.
“We’re much relieved to see you were not too terribly hurt,” her aunt said, setting her teacup aside and rising. “We should be leaving now.”
“I would like a moment with Mary,” Sebastian said.
Her aunt sat. “Of course.”
“I’m in no condition to take advantage.”
“Aunt, my reputation is no doubt in tatters by now anyway. What harm can come of letting us have a few moments of privacy? The door may remain open. You can stand in the entryway and peer in.”
“If Fitzwilliam were to discover—”
“I’m not going to tell him.” Besides, once he heard about the kiss, it would all be over anyway.
“Very well.” She rose again. “Alicia, with me.”
Both ladies began to walk out. Tristan shoved himself out of the chair.
“I’ll keep the ladies out of mischief.”
Mary smiled at that. She suspected it had been a good many years since her aunt had caused any mischief and Alicia was too mindful of her reputation to do anything untoward. Pity Mary could not claim the same. After everyone disappeared through the doorway, she said, “You’ve grown paler.”
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