She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(57) by Lorraine Heath
He was correct, of course. If the rumors garnered no reaction, people would soon lose interest in them. But what damage to Sebastian’s reputation might be done in the meantime?
Fitzwilliam faced her. “I can’t help but admire your loyalty to the man. I simply wished it extended to me.”
She suddenly felt as though she didn’t deserve this man. “It does. I’ll be such a devoted wife you’ll never have cause to doubt me.”
“I’m counting on that. So shall we put this behind us?”
Not quite yet. “Lady Hermione told me that she overheard you encouraging her father to convince others not to allow Keswick into proper homes.”
“He asked for my opinion and I gave it to him. They’ve caused nothing but trouble since they arrived. I told him they will not be welcomed in mine. What he chooses to do is his business.”
“It’s so unfair.”
“Perhaps in time when they’ve learned to behave with a bit more decorum, when they realize the value of conformity, people will be more at ease with them.”
They would never conform. Of that she was certain. Perhaps she’d been hasty in trying to lure them into Society. Fitzwilliam was correct: they needed to make their own way in their own time.
Reaching out, he touched her damp hair. “You were very naughty to come here without a chaperone.”
She wondered if he might take advantage, might in fact use the opportunity to kiss her. She couldn’t imagine that Sebastian would let such a moment pass if he found himself alone in the presence of a woman he intended to marry. She didn’t like thinking of him as being barbaric. He was simply blatantly sensual, even if he didn’t see himself as such.
Fitzwilliam skimmed his knuckles along her cheek, gave her a look of fondness. “We have a dinner tonight at Lord and Lady Moreland’s. Allow me to escort you to your carriage so that you may return home and begin preparing for it. I shall bring my carriage around at half past seven.”
The moment shouldn’t have ended with her being disappointed that he’d not sought to take advantage. Her reputation was on perilous enough ground as it was. She had no need to have him further doubt her ability to act as a lady.
He extended his arm and she slipped hers through the crook of his elbow. She walked so close that her skirt brushed against his trousers but the nearness didn’t seem at all scandalous. Shouldn’t she want to lean into him, press her entire side against his?
Why was she questioning so much of late? He was good for her. They were well suited.
A footman with an umbrella followed them out to the carriage and Fitzwilliam handed her up. “I shall see you soon. Remember your promise to me. No Keswick. Men’s reputations are hardly as important as ladies’. It’s the reason so many of us excel at being rakes: no one really cares what we do. This nasty business about the kiss will die soon, especially after we are wed.”
She nodded. “Again, I’m sorry that I thought you sought to do him harm.”
He tucked her beneath her chin as though she were a child. “I would not be marrying you if you were any different.”
Slamming the door closed, he instructed the driver to return her home. The carriage bolted up the drive. Glancing back out the window, she saw Fitzwilliam still standing there, watching her. He worried over her.
But who worried over Sebastian? If he heard the rumors, if he thought she were responsible for spreading them—
She could barely tolerate the possibility.
As soon as the carriage turned onto the street and she was certain she was no longer visible to Fitzwilliam, she leaned her head out of the window and ignored the rain pelting her. “Chambers, take me to Easton House.”
Settling back against the bench, she removed a handkerchief from her reticule and dabbed at her face. She knew that Fitzwilliam wouldn’t approve. She simply had to ensure that he never found out.
She could do that easily enough with discretion. She stuck her head back out the window. “Chambers, use the mews not the front entrance.”
If he answered, she didn’t hear it because thunder rumbled. She slipped back inside and hoped it had not been a sign of disapproval from on high. No one would look for her at the servants’ entrance. She would meet quickly with Sebastian, explain that she was not responsible for the ugly rumors and if they all just ignored them they would fade away. She needed no more than five minutes. Then she would return home.
Simple enough. While she was there she would explain in person about the return of the necklace and how they must avoid each other. Surely he understood her betrothed’s jealousy for he would no doubt feel the same toward the woman he intended to marry. He’d not tolerate her seeking solitary moments with another man. Nor should he.
Then an awful thought occurred to her. What if he wouldn’t see her? What if her letter and the awful rumors circulating had torn asunder the last threads of their fragile friendship? By the time the carriage drew to a halt, she’d worked herself up into a worrisome lather. If he weren’t angry with her, if he understood, he’d have at least sent her a missive indicating such.
Instead, she’d had only silence from him since having her own message delivered. The footman opened the door and handed her down. Just as he had at Fitzwilliam’s so he had a devil of a time keeping pace with her as she raced up the path. It suddenly seemed imperative that she see Sebastian, that she make things right between them. Yes, her loyalty was to Fitzwilliam but she couldn’t ignore Sebastian.
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