She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(51) by Lorraine Heath
“I’m not quite up to receiving guests.”
“I’m sorry for the imposition, but when I heard that someone tried to kill you . . . I just needed to see for myself how badly you were injured.”
“You saw a good deal more than that.”
“Yes, I’m sorry about that as well.” Only she wasn’t, not really. Now that she knew the true extent of his injuries they would haunt her. She should have insisted that he seek out her father for his aid that long-ago night. Sebastian had been a boy and the path he’d chosen for himself and his brothers had not been easy. “I appreciate your chastising me in privacy.”
Groaning, he rubbed his jaw. “It was not my intent to chastise you at all. I merely . . . how did your aunt hear about the kiss and why is all of London going to know about it as well?”
She’d rather be chastised about her behavior in the bedchamber than reveal what a silly nitwit she’d been. She plucked at a thread on her skirt, realized that the way her luck was going, she would no doubt unravel all the threads with a mere tug and her dress would fall off. It simply appeared to be a day where if something could go wrong it would.
“Mary?” he prodded gently.
She took comfort in that gentleness, in that hint of the boy he’d been, the friendship they’d shared. “When Lady Hermione came into the dressmaker’s with the news that everyone was talking about what happened in the garden, I was vain enough to believe they were talking about me.”
“You’re hardly vain.”
“You’re kind. But I blurted that it was only a kiss between us and it meant nothing. So now they know we kissed and they are not ones to hold such juicy gossip.”
“And mere rumors of a kiss without a single witness are enough to ruin your reputation?”
How could she forget that he’d not been in Society for years, that he didn’t know how swiftly the gossipmongers worked, and how precious a lady’s reputation was? When they were children, he’d thought nothing of lifting her skirt to see how badly she was scraped when she took a tumble. The adult world was so very different. She might be as uninformed as he if her aunt hadn’t schooled her.
“In all likelihood. Fitzwilliam will not be pleased when he hears.”
Sebastian furrowed his brow. “So you didn’t mention it to Fitzwilliam afterward?”
“Absolutely not.” She shook her head. “Or I wouldn’t have. I didn’t see him afterward.”
He grew incredibly still, so still that she wasn’t certain he continued to breathe. “Is something wrong?”
“Tristan crossed paths with him in the garden.”
“Oh dear Lord, do you think he saw us?” It would explain his not returning to the ballroom, not seeking her out for the last dance. She’d been so obsessed with what had occurred between her and Sebastian that she’d given little thought to the fact that she’d not seen Fitzwilliam again. In truth, she’d been relieved because she feared he’d take one look at her and know what had transpired. In spite of Tristan’s assurances that she didn’t look as though she’d been kissed, she’d certainly felt as though she had been well and thoroughly seduced.
“If he had, would he have not said?”
“Of course. He would have confronted you—us. His pride would not have allowed him to overlook such a transgression without seeking some sort of satisfaction. Not a duel, of course, but a round in the boxing ring perhaps. So he did not bear witness to our inappropriate behavior. Of that I’m sure. Still, I must tell him. I can’t let him hear it from the gossips.”
“He won’t be pleased.”
“No, he won’t.” Neither would her father.
“Mary, I’m sorry for whatever trouble I’ve brought you.”
“It’s my fault. I should have never followed you into the garden.” She rose. “Please don’t get up.”
He ignored her, grimacing as he struggled to his feet. It took everything within her not to rush over and assist him.
“I do hope you will rest,” she told him, “and ensure your wound does not become infected.”
“I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with wounds. I assure you, I will be well in no time at all. Mary, I owe you—my brothers owe you—and yet it seems we have brought you little more than trouble. I regret any embarrassment you might suffer because of my bad judgment in the garden.”
Bad judgment. What did she expect him to say? That the kiss devastated him? That it left him yearning for another? That it made him realize she was no longer a child? Could a kiss possess that much power?
“I shall be fine,” she lied. “After all, it was only a kiss.”
Only a kiss. She had used the phrase before when referring to what had passed between them and added the little caveat that it meant nothing. Nothing.
As his carriage rolled through the London streets, Sebastian wondered what he had expected. That she would confess to being devastated by it, yearned for another? That the kiss he’d delivered in the garden was far more powerful than the bold brush of his lips over hers that he’d delivered at the abbey ruins all those many years ago?
“You’re brooding,” Tristan said.
He looked up at his brother sprawled on the bench across from him. “I’ve been brooding for twelve years.”
“No, this is different. I suspect it has something to do with the words that passed between you and Mary before she took her leave.”
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