She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(54) by Lorraine Heath
“A gift from three men? I can only imagine how that might be spun by the gossips. Even more reason to return it.”
Pleasing a gentleman was such a sticky web. He bid her and her father good-bye, then strode from the room, leaving her to wonder if she would indeed be happy married to him.
“You need this marriage, Mary,” her father said pointedly. “I need it. To know you are secure. If I fail you, I have failed in everything.”
“You’ve failed in nothing, Father.”
“I failed to produce an heir to watch over you when I am gone.”
She supposed the fault there rested as much with her mother as with him.
“You say that as though you are planning to leave me at any moment,” she told him.
“Life is precarious, Daughter. I would have thought the Pembrook lads would have taught you that.”
“Had you heard that someone tried to kill Sebastian?”
He nodded. “Terrible thing that. They say it was a soldier who believed him to be a coward.”
“Do you believe that?”
Slowly, he shook his head. “But you would be wise to keep your thoughts to yourself. Do not seek to help the Pembrook lords further. It can only lead to your downfall. Your loyalty now is to Fitzwilliam. It must be to him.”
“Yes, Father.” He didn’t realize what he asked of her. What Fitzwilliam asked. To abandon her friends. She knew the brothers would not find fault with her. Had Sebastian not encouraged her to keep out of harm’s way? Still it did not stop her from feeling like a traitor as she walked from the room.
My dearest Sebastian,
It is with a large measure of regret that I must return this lovely gift that you and your brothers bestowed upon me. I must also regretfully request that should our paths cross, you not speak to me. My betrothed believes that if I act in a manner above reproach that we may weather this storm of gossip that has made the Season most difficult for us all. Please know that I will always hold all of you in my heart.
Lying in bed, Sebastian picked up the necklace that had slithered out when he’d unfolded the missive that his butler had brought to him earlier. He wondered why she’d had to return it. Who had made her? Was it because of the gossip about town: that they’d shared an illicit kiss in the garden?
Although it certainly hadn’t felt illicit. It had felt bloody marvelous.
Unlike his side that was burning hotter than hell.
The fever had arrived sometime the night before. He should have expected it, he supposed. He hadn’t stayed in bed as the physician had advised. Not until today when he’d had no energy to get up. He should call on Mary to ensure all was well with her. He should visit Fitzwilliam and explain that he was no threat. He wanted only what was best for Mary.
Yes. Get up. Set matters to right, he ordered himself. That’s what he needed to do.
Instead, he succumbed to the lure of cool oblivion.
The afternoon after the day that Mary had returned the necklace to Sebastian, she sat in the garden pretending to read. From time to time she even turned a page, just in case her father was watching her from his library window. She had not expected, but she had rather hoped, that Sebastian would return the necklace to her so she might have a chance to explain—
Only she wasn’t supposed to speak to him, so how would she—
But if he came here, etiquette required she be a polite hostess—
Only her father could send him away before she saw him—
And if he told Fitzwilliam—
She damned well wanted to pull out her hair.
The girl who had ridden over to Pembrook would not have allowed others to dictate her actions. When had that changed? Was it part of being a lady? Or a coward?
Did she so desperately desire marriage that she would not be true to herself? Or was it Fitzwilliam she so desperately desired?
And if she desired him, why was it that whenever they were together, she never once wondered what it might be like to have him press his lips against hers? Why could she not forget what it had felt like to have Sebastian’s on hers? Why the devil did she want him to kiss her again? Only softer this time, not quite so brutish—although it had certainly been exciting. Still, why did she think softer would bring back the boy he’d been?
That lad was long lost.
She doubted they would ever be friends as they’d once been. A friend did not look at one as though he was contemplating devouring her. But then he always looked as though he had no patience for anything. He wanted what he wanted and he wanted it now. She supposed she couldn’t blame him. He’d had twelve years of waiting. But his impatience would likely result in a harsh life for his wife. Always trying to anticipate his moods, his needs could very well drive her to madness.
Fitzwilliam was much easier to decipher. He was proper. His moods controlled. Even when he’d been angry with her, his words had lacked heat. He’d merely scolded, then insisted on proper behavior. Her embarrassment had come because she should have never engaged in any improper behavior that would require his correcting her. He had every right to be upset with her.
She disappointed herself.
She was not a child, free to run hither and yon, and do as she pleased. She had responsibilities now. Was required to act in a certain manner, to complement her husband and his station in life. Fitzwilliam was a viscount, one day to be a marquess. She understood why he didn’t want her speaking with men alone. That he had overlooked her previous lacks in judgment boded well for a future marriage of equanimity. He would not bully. He would not be unkind. They would not have upheavals or storms or adventures.
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