She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(53) by Lorraine Heath
“I tolerated your speaking with Keswick during Lady Alicia’s recital because I knew he was a friend and you’d not seen him in a good many years. When I heard that you met with him in Hyde Park—alone—I overlooked the transgression.”
“It was hardly a transgression. I merely wished to convey to him the importance of attending a ball. We were in full view the entire time.”
“I’m aware of that. As those who reported seeing you made it clear that you were riding and that nothing untoward occurred. Still, you were there with him. Then at the ball, you spoke with him alone, near the fronds, without chaperone.”
“We had a hundred chaperones in that ballroom.”
He arched a pale brow. “And in the garden? How many were there?”
Feeling as though he had tricked her, trapped her, and willingly sought to humiliate her, she wilted against the seat.
“Yes, it has reached me that you and he had a tryst in the garden.”
“Good God, Mary!” her father exclaimed.
“It was hardly a tryst.”
“You deny kissing him?” Fitzwilliam asked.
“Mary?” her father barked.
She studied the pointed toes of her shoes. She wondered how she might go about kicking herself.
“So there is truth to these rumors,” Fitzwilliam said.
“After the mishap on the dance floor—” She gave him a pointed look. “—I wanted to ensure that he understood that it could happen to anyone, as you reassured me it was not done on purpose.”
Fitzwilliam knelt before her and took her hands. She couldn’t recall him ever being so near, not even when he’d proposed. They’d been sipping tea and he hadn’t even bothered to set his teacup aside. He’d simply taken a sip and then said, “I say, dear girl, I was wondering if you might consider marrying me.”
It wasn’t romantic or passionate, but still it had touched her heart. He was so endearingly reserved. Unfortunately with recent events, she had hurt him. She could see that as she gazed into his brown eyes.
“I suppose if you are guilty of anything, Mary, it is a charitable heart. But Keswick is not yours to worry over.”
“But he is my friend, Fitzwilliam.”
“He was your friend, when you were children. If he was your friend now, do you think he would do all these things that tarnish your reputation and mine?”
“It just happened. The kiss. I’m not even sure what prompted it. One moment we were talking and the next we were kissing. I’m sorry. I never meant to give you cause to doubt me.”
“Hence the reason I shall overlook it. This once. We shall attend the next ball together so that all of London shall see that you are mine. You are mine, are you not?”
Feeling the tears sting her eyes, she nodded. “Yes, without question.” Only she’d been asking so many blasted questions lately.
“Splendid. But you must promise me that you will not speak with him again.”
Startled, she stared at him. “You mean ever? Are you suggesting I give him a cut direct? Ignore him?”
“It is either him or me, Mary. If you write to him and explain the boundaries, then he should be gentleman enough not to put you in a situation where you must choose.”
“I’ve had twelve years of not seeing him, not speaking to him. You can’t deny me—” The pleasure, she’d almost said. Only it wasn’t a pleasure exactly. It was more of a challenge, more of a rightness. They’d shared so much in their youth. To never be able to share anything ever again was maudlin.
“What if I promise to never be alone with him? To only speak with him when you are there? Surely that should suffice.”
He brought her hands to his lips, pressed them there, squeezed his eyes shut. “I can tell that you are going to be a difficult wife.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
He opened his eyes, smiled. “Difficult because when you ask for something I find it very hard to deny you. I will be content if you are never alone with him and if you only speak with him in my presence. Or your father’s.”
Relief swamped her, and she smiled. “Thank you, my lord. I thought you would be done with me if you heard the rumor.”
“Two weeks from our wedding? It will take a good deal more than gossip to keep me from the church. But I should very much like not to hear anymore.”
“Perhaps I should lock her in her room until it is time to head to St. George’s,” her father suggested.
“She’s not a child, Winslow,” Fitzwilliam said. “I trust her word.”
She wanted to hug him near for that bit of trust. She vowed then and there that she would never disappoint him again. She would be an exemplary wife and give him no further cause to doubt her.
Releasing her hands, he stood. “One more thing. The necklace with the green stone you wore the other night—you’re not to wear it again. As a matter of fact I think it would be best if you return it to Keswick.”
She stared at him in muted surprise. “How did you know?”
“I asked your father about it. He asked your maid. I will not have my wife accepting gifts from other gentlemen.”
“I’m not yet your wife.”
“If you wish to be you will return it. Consider the action a token of good faith. I’ve been injured here, Mary. Am I really asking too much?”
Slowly, she shook her head. She’d even told Sebastian that she shouldn’t have accepted the gift. “No. I shall see to its return posthaste. Although you should know it wasn’t a gift from Keswick. It was from all three brothers.”
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