She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(56) by Lorraine Heath
Lady Hermione drew herself up. “No need to get nasty here.”
“If you will please excuse me, I must pay a call on Lord Fitzwilliam. He will be terribly upset by these rumors.” What if he challenged Sebastian to a duel? Sebastian with his military training would make short work of him. No, with his hindered vision it was very likely that he could no longer properly sight a target. Fitzwilliam could come to incredible harm.
“Fitzwilliam didn’t seem terribly upset when he spoke to Father about them,” Lady Victoria said.
“Why would he discuss them with your father?”
“He said the gentlemen needed to ensure that Keswick was not allowed near any of the women. He said his cowardly behavior on the battlefield apparently extended to his treatment of ladies. They want him out of London.”
It made no sense. No sense at all. Why would Fitzwilliam speak ill of Sebastian? With questions tumbling through her mind, she began marching toward the house.
“What are you going to do?” Lady Hermione called out.
But she didn’t answer them. She just left them to stare after her.
She thought of speaking with her father but he would only advise her to leave the matter be. That was not an option. So she changed into her calling dress and had a carriage readied. As it rumbled through the streets, rain began to fall. It matched her mood. Whatever was wrong with people? Why had they not celebrated the lords’ return? Why did they view them as questionable? Why did they believe rumors that Sebastian was a coward on the battlefield? Why did they believe that he would force himself on her?
Did they think she would be cowed by such behavior that she wouldn’t report it? She’d have scratched, kicked, and fought. She’d have never succumbed willingly to something she didn’t want.
The carriage came to a halt. The door opened and the footman, holding an umbrella, handed her down. But even his long legs had a time of it keeping up with hers as she hurried to the massive doors at Fitzwilliam’s residence. She didn’t care that rain droplets rolled down her face when she stepped into the foyer.
“Where’s your master?” she demanded as the butler appeared.
“I shall announce your arrival.”
“Just tell me where he is. Do it or relieving you of your duties will be my first act after becoming mistress of this household.”
“The library, m’lady.”
She marched down the hallway with her hands fisted and her shoes beating out a steady cadence that resembled that of militia drummer. She was ready to do battle if need be, but she hoped, dear God, but she did hope that she would discover she was wrong in her suspicions.
With a bow, a footman opened the door at her approach. She charged into the room and staggered to a stop. Fitzwilliam was lounging in a chair by the fire, snifter in hand, swirling the amber liquid within it, apparently lost in thought. He seemed so vulnerable for a moment there, and she imagined they would have many nights of sitting together before a fire. They would read together, and talk quietly, and hopefully laugh about some silly nonsense.
Glancing over, he furrowed his brow and slowly came to his feet as though she’d awoken him or perhaps he simply couldn’t believe the sight of the hoyden standing before him, dripping on his parquet floor. “Lady Mary, whatever’s wrong? What are you doing here?”
Bravely, she took several steps forward along with a deep breath. “Did you start the rumors that Keswick had forced his person on me in the garden?”
Irritation chased away the furrows, but he steadfastly held her gaze. “No.”
One word delivered like the shot from a pistol. She’d offended him, and as much as she’d regretted it, she’d had to ask. That knowledge bothered her, sent a fissure of unease through her, but she wasn’t certain why. She’d have to examine it later.
“It must have been his uncle then, striving to discredit him, to make his entry back into Society that much more difficult. I’m certain he spawned this ludicrous story of Keswick’s cowardice on the battlefield.”
“Why is this a concern to you?”
“Because he’s my friend.”
He set aside his snifter and approached. “So anxious were you to question me that you couldn’t even arrive with an umbrella?”
She watched a raindrop fall from her hat to the floor. “I was upset, not thinking.”
“You do not believe him capable of moral shortcomings and yet you question mine?”
Not only offended, but hurt him as well. “I’m sorry. I know you’re a good man.”
“Apparently you don’t.”
“I do. I’d have not accepted your offer of marriage if I doubted the sort of man you are. I thought perhaps you’d done it in a misguided well-meaning attempt to protect my honor.”
“I assure you that I’m not in the habit of being misguided in any of my actions.”
“Of course you’re not. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive my impertinence.”
“I wish I could say that I would forgive you anything, but I must confess to growing wearisome of constantly finding Keswick in our lives. He will not be there once we are married, I should hope. I’ll have your word on that.”
What was he saying? That she would never see him again?
“I don’t suppose you would do what you could to help quash these rumors that he took unfair advantage of me,” she said quietly.
He turned away. “If I did that, it would be to imply that you kissed him willingly. Do you understand how that would make me appear? Cuckolded before we’re even wed. I believe silence is the better part of valor here. The rumors will die out of their own accord if tinder is not constantly thrown on them.”
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