She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(55) by Lorraine Heath
She sighed. She could very well be bored out of her mind.
She squeezed her eyes shut. She should not be entertaining these thoughts. They’d have never intruded if Sebastian hadn’t returned. Although she certainly couldn’t regret that he had. Because it meant he still lived. And she cared too much for her childhood friend to wish him ill.
She opened her eyes to find the butler hovering, a silver salver in his hand. She took the cards that rested on it. It seemed Ladies Hermione and Victoria were in wont of the latest gossip regarding the lords of Pembrook. How disappointed they would be to discover she could no longer serve as a source for their amusements.
“I shall entertain them here,” she said. “Have someone bring tea and cakes.”
She closed her book, set it on the table, and rose to await their arrival. Two more weeks and she would be receiving guests at Fitzwilliam’s. Well, perhaps a bit longer than that as they would be taking a month in Italy after they were married. She was quite looking forward to it as she’d never left England’s shores.
Spotting the ladies scurrying up the walk, she forced herself to smile. Hermione reached her first, and to Mary’s surprise, placed her hands on her shoulders, drew her near, and touched her cheek lightly against Mary’s. “My dear girl, how horrible for you. I do wish you’d told us everything.”
What the devil was she talking about?
Hermione pulled back, but did not release her hold, her brow furrowed so deeply that Mary feared she might forever wear the frown. “I must confess, regrettably, that Victoria and I did not keep your confidence regarding the kiss—”
“I never expected that you would. Terribly juicy bit of gossip, I’m sure.”
“—but had we known that he had forced you, that you had to fight your way free of him—”
Shock rippled through Mary. “What? No, what are you talking about?”
“That Keswick behaved as a complete blackguard and gave you no choice in the matter.”
“Who told you such nonsense?”
“It’s all over London. He and his brothers are to be refused admittance into any proper residence. And it’s not fair. It’s simply not fair.”
“I couldn’t agree more. It shan’t be tolerated.” Lies! Lies running amuck over London. How had they even started?
“Thank the Lord that you see the truth of the matter. So you will speak out in favor of Lord Tristan so that at least he can be welcomed into homes?”
“Lord Tristan?” Mary felt as though she were trapped in a whirlwind of words that were slamming together in no logical manner.
“Yes. He should not be made to suffer—I should not be made to suffer—because his brother is a savage.”
“But Keswick is not a savage. He did not force me. Where did these awful rumors start?”
Hermione finally released Mary’s shoulders, stepped back, and gave a light tug on her gloves. “Where all rumors start. With the truth.”
“The truth is that we shared a kiss in the garden. A kiss that we both—or at least I—welcomed.”
Lady Hermione arched a fair, delicate brow. “You invited him to take liberties?”
“I did not invite him, and no liberties—” Her words would be misinterpreted, twisted about. “He kissed me. It was no more than that. Lips exploring—” Again she stopped. Anything she could think to say in way of explanation would only worsen matters.
“They say he ripped your bodice in his eagerness. The seamstress admitted to repairing your gown.”
Mary could only stare in stunned disbelief. This madness resembled a parlor game she’d once played where one person whispered to another and around the circle it went until when the whispered words finally made their way to the originator, they barely resembled the original phrase. It had been a fun game at the time. Everyone laughed. She certainly wasn’t laughing now. “Who is they who are spouting these ridiculous claims?”
“Well, everyone, of course.”
“I returned to the ballroom after the kiss.”
“I didn’t see you, but I heard you left rather quickly.”
“Your hair was askew,” Lady Victoria added. “I saw Lord Tristan straighten it. On the terrace.”
She had spent so many years with no one paying any attention to her at all, no one noticing that she had come of age for a Season but failed to appear in London, and suddenly it was as though everyone had their spyglass pointed her way. “This whole matter is ludicrous.”
What must Sebastian be thinking? Had he heard these rumors? Had Fitzwilliam? What a colossal mess!
“Your tea, m’lady.”
She glanced over at the female servant holding a tray that contained the china and small cakes. So civilized, so proper. She could not possibly sit down and sip tea as though nothing were amiss. “Return it to the kitchen.”
The girl curtsied and hurried away as though she recognized a storm brewing within her mistress. Hermione apparently was not so intuitive.
“But I would like to have a bit of tea while we talk further. If you would provide us with the details of that night perhaps we can set matters to right so Lord Tristan may again be welcomed into homes.”
Lord Tristan again? How could Lady Hermione not understand that Lord Tristan was the very least of Mary’s worries at the moment? “He was never welcomed. Not even into yours. Your parents didn’t want him there. How can you be so dense, so focused on only your own wants?”
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