She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(62) by Lorraine Heath
“Always,” he rasped so low that he wasn’t even certain if she heard him.
“I’ll see to your comforts. Then I must return home.”
Don’t go, hovered on the tip of his tongue but he bit it back. He would not show weakness, could not rely on anyone. That he already had far too much angered him. He needed to regain his strength and return to Pembrook.
In London he was doing little more than ruining Mary’s reputation. He needed to distance himself from her. Maybe then he would stop hurting her.
“My father is most displeased with the gossip that is making the rounds. It seems things have moved from a kiss to your spending the night in Keswick’s residence.” Lord Fitzwilliam uttered the words as though unable to truly countenance them.
As soon as Mary had ensured that Lord Tristan would be aroused from slumber to watch over his brother, the valet was on his way to Sebastian’s bedchamber, and a servant was preparing a tray for him, she asked for a carriage. After returning home, she fell into a sound sleep in her bed that lasted into the afternoon. She’d barely finished bathing when she was informed that Lord Fitzwilliam had come to call. In her father’s library. Where he had proposed.
He stood implacably before her just as he had when he’d heard the gossip about the kiss. The gossip that had since reached his ears was much worse. So worse in fact that her father stood near the decanter table pouring amber liquid into a glass and downing it with such ferocious speed that she wondered why he even bothered with the glass.
“You were not to speak to Keswick—”
“I didn’t. The entire time I was there, I spoke not a single word.” Not precisely a lie. She had whispered, cajoled, soothed, reassured. And not once had she spoken only a solitary word. She’d always spoken at least two. She knew she was splitting hairs but she didn’t like being chastised.
“You were in his residence for three nights.”
She looked to her father. He merely shook his head. So he’d not told. Then how had Fitzwilliam learned—
“Someone saw you going in,” he said as though she’d asked the question aloud. “Someone saw you leave.”
“So Lord David has posted spies.” She didn’t want to contemplate that perhaps it was Fitzwilliam with the spies. “Keswick was ill. He couldn’t take advantage of the situation. And even if he could have, he wouldn’t have.”
“No, he leaves taking advantage of you to moments in the garden.”
“It was one moment and he didn’t take advantage.”
“So you welcomed his attentions.”
Sighing, she studied her clasped hands. They were bare of jewels. She suspected they would never be adorned with a wedding band. “We’ve been over this. I see no reason to rehash.”
“I fear I must withdraw my offer of marriage.”
Her chest tightened and she squeezed her eyes shut. She’d known this could be a possible outcome to her actions. She swallowed hard, opened her eyes, and with all the fortitude she could muster, she met Fitzwilliam’s gaze. “Of course, my lord. I had expected no less.”
For a moment he looked uncomfortable, regretful even.
“I regret any pain or humiliation that my actions have caused you,” she said. “I believe you to be a good man and that marriage to you would have been satisfying. But it is not in my nature to ignore someone in need, regardless of personal consequences. A quality which I believe would make me an exemplary wife, but a very challenging one.”
As he studied his polished shoes, she almost thought she detected a smile on his face. “My father insists that I end this arrangement before any more damage can be done to my family’s good name. While he cannot keep from me upon his death all that is entailed, he can keep funds from me until he dies. I have no source of income other than his generosity.”
“My lord, if I may,” her father said, stepping forward. “I could see my way clear to increase her dowry.”
“Would it bring in five thousand a year?”
Her father bowed his head and she ached for him. “No, my lord. A thousand, perhaps two at best.”
“Then regretfully it will not suffice. Besides, my father no longer believes Mary will make an exceptional marchioness. My family does not tolerate scandal. I do not wish to fall out of his favor.”
“I can hardly blame you for that,” she said.
“I wish you the best.” With a perfunctory nod, he strode from the room.
She thought she should have felt bereft but all she felt was exhausted beyond belief.
“I should not have allowed you to stay,” her father said.
“It doesn’t matter. Someone was already watching. I need to let Sebastian know—”
“A letter. That’s all. But he needs to know there may be a spy in their midst.”
“Send your letter, then pack your things. We leave in two days.”
“And then?” she asked.
“I’ve not yet decided.”
“I don’t wish to return to the nunnery.”
“I don’t wish to send you back.” He poured brandy into his glass and downed it. “Mary, I know you considered the nunnery a punishment, but I didn’t know how else to protect you. You were such an impulsive child and headstrong. I was afraid you’d confront Lord David.”
She hadn’t half-thought about it. “So you believed me?”