She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(58) by Lorraine Heath
The rain slashed at her sideways, each frigid drop as painful as she suspected Sebastian’s icy words to her might be. The puddles splashed, soaking her hems. She reached the back door and pounded on it. A footman opened it, and she burst through as though she’d been invited.
The servants’ eyes widened but no one stopped her progress until the butler caught up to her in the foyer. She was a soggy mess and her hair was falling, but she didn’t care. “Please let His Grace know that Lady Mary Wynne-Jones has come to call.”
“I’m sorry, m’lady, but he is not receiving.”
She thrust up her chin and spoke with the full weight of her father’s rank. “He will receive me.”
He gave a slight bow of acquiescence. “I shall let him know you’re here.”
She expected him to go down a hallway. Instead, he started up the stairs. She wondered if Sebastian were readying himself for the Moreland dinner. It seemed rather early and she’d not considered that he would attend. It would be quite awkward unless he understood everything. Her coming here had been a wise decision on her part, essential in fact, to ensuring that she did not anger Fitzwilliam unduly tonight.
She glanced around, caught sight of a mirror, and moved toward it. As soon as her reflection greeted her, she gasped. She was a fright. Her hat was wilted, her hair drooping from the weight of the wet strands. She looked like a cat that someone had attempted to drown.
Sebastian would no doubt laugh just as he had when they were children and she’d tumbled into the river. He’d rescued her then. How fortunate she’d been that he was near, because she hadn’t a clue how to swim. But he’d taught her. While she’d worn nothing except her undergarments. It hadn’t seemed wrong at all. She’d forgotten about that. Now of course it was unconscionable.
At the sound of heavy footsteps, she gazed upward, surprised to discover that it wasn’t Sebastian making his way down. “Lord Tristan.”
He smiled slightly. “Lady Mary.”
“Forgive the formality. It seems pretentious after everything we shared. I was simply caught unawares by your presence. I’m here to speak with Sebastian.”
“Yes, so Thomas informed me. Unfortunately Sebastian is not up to receiving callers.”
“Callers? Or me?” Without waiting for his reply, she started up the stairs.
He caught up with her easily enough, grabbed her arm, and halted her progress. “Mary, wait.”
“I know he’s upset about the gossip, but I must explain.” Wrenching free, she carried on. This time he didn’t try to stop her, but she was aware of the echo of his footsteps following in the wake of hers.
At the top of the stairs, she took the familiar path that had added to her downfall once before, but this time there were no witnesses other than Tristan, who would certainly hold his tongue. She would have her say and leave. No one would be the wiser. The door was open so she simply swept into the room and stumbled to an ungainly stop.
Sebastian was in the bed, breathing heavily, bathed in dampness as though he had been the one running through the rain instead of her. He was wearing a nightshirt, but it was unbuttoned and soaked, plastered to his skin. She took tentative steps forward until she was near enough to press a hand to his brow. Fevered. Worse than fevered. She’d never felt skin so hot. “He’s burning up.”
“His wound is festering. I’ve sent for the physician.”
She caught scent of the rancid odor now. Then she noticed something clasped in his hand, the gold filigree chain dangling onto the bed. Her necklace. Cautiously she touched his fist.
“I’ve not been able to get him to release it,” Tristan said.
It was silly to think that her returning it had caused the decline. “How could this have happened? He visited with us.”
“I think he got out of bed too soon, exerted himself too much.”
Because of her. Because of suspicions. Because of his uncle.
“You can’t stay, Mary.”
She nodded absently. She knew that.
“I’ll send word once the physician has seen him. Let you know how he fares.”
Once again she nodded, just before sitting on the edge of the bed, reaching into the bowl of water and lifting out the cloth nestled in it. She wrung it out.
“Mary, you can’t stay,” he repeated.
“Yes, I know.” She pressed the cloth to Sebastian’s brow. She had a dinner party to attend. Fitzwilliam was going to arrive at her residence at half past seven. She needed to be ready. She patted the cloth along Sebastian’s neck over the scars. She’d promised Fitzwilliam that she wouldn’t approach Sebastian, that she would never again be alone with him.
Only she wasn’t alone. Tristan was here.
“If I remain wet, I’ll catch my death. Will you please see if a servant has a dress I might borrow and find one willing to assist me as I change?”
“You don’t always have to save us, Mary.”
But this time, she wondered if she might be saving herself as well.
He’d abandoned Pembrook. He’d left Rafe at the workhouse. An orphan. They would put him to work but they’d feed and clothe him. He’d sold Tristan to a ship’s captain. He could excuse his actions then because he’d been a boy. Now he was a man and he would not abandon a fellow soldier on the field of battle. He would never again abandon anyone.
The battle raged. The heat consumed. It shouldn’t have been so hot. The Crimea was cold, ghastly cold and miserable. But in the thick of battle he sweated. He had to get to his fallen comrade. He ducked low. Shells landed, exploded. Cannons boomed. Men cried out. Horses screamed. Blood splurged over him, burned. Something sharp pierced his side—
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