She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(63) by Lorraine Heath
“I know as a lad he enjoyed pulling wings from flies. But you see I’ve never been good at confrontation. All we had were words that you might or might not have heard.”
“I heard them.”
“If he knew he might have seen you as a threat. The night you went to his ball . . . I didn’t want you to go but Fitzwilliam insisted.”
So he’d capitulated. It hurt to realize how weak he was. She had always loved him, thought him a giant among men. But he was so easily dwarfed.
“Were you going to leave me at the convent forever?”
“I don’t know what I’d planned. I was too far into the drink by then. Didn’t want you to see me. But your aunt, bless her, she took matters in hand. The drink calls to me so much, Mary. I was so pleased when Fitzwilliam showed an interest in you. You would be in Cornwall. Safe. I never thought to marry you off as a way to protect you. But your aunt had the right of it. But with the Pembrook lords back now, they can fight their own battles. Lord David will leave you be.” He refilled his glass and downed the amber liquid. “You were deserving of a better father. I will talk to my nephew, make him understand that he must give you a yearly sum.”
With her father’s lack of forcefulness, she wasn’t certain how well that would go.
“Perhaps when we return to Willow Hall, we can put our heads together and come up with something,” she offered.
Nodding, he turned once more to his brandy. She had never before felt like such a burden. She rose gracefully and glided from the room, leaving him to his demons. She thought she would have made an excellent wife to Henry VIII, facing doom with her head held high.
“One of us has to marry her.”
Settled in chairs in the sitting area within Sebastian’s bedchamber, neither Sebastian nor Rafe blinked at Tristan’s pronouncement. Tristan stood at the fireplace, his arm pressed to the mantel, his thumb rubbing on the marble as though he’d discovered a bit of dirt that simply wouldn’t go away.
Sebastian had yet to leave his bedchamber. He was healing slowly and he exhausted easily. He’d asked Tristan to scout around and determine if Mary’s reputation was safe.
Apparently it wasn’t.
“Suppose we could play a round of cards,” Rafe began. “Loser gets saddled with marriage.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you to cheat,” Tristan said.
“Question is: would I cheat to win or cheat to lose?”
“We are not going to decide this with a game of cards,” Sebastian growled. “Besides, the decision has been made.”
“Oh?” Tristan arched a brow. “And who’s it to be then?”
“You. You’re the one who allowed her in here and then let her stay.”
He’d expected his brother to protest. Instead, he simply gave a curt nod. “Right, then. I’d best go ask for her hand while she’s still in London. Word is that her father is sending her away.”
He’d taken but two steps before Sebastian ground out, “Damn you, Tristan. You know it will be me.”
Sporting a mocking smile, his brother returned to the fireplace. “For a moment there, I thought you’d regained your teasing nature.”
He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed initiating a good jest. “You’re the one with the teasing nature. I was ever the more serious. That was how she told us apart.”
“I suspect it went deeper than that.”
Perhaps, but Sebastian was in no mood to explore what might have been. Instead he looked over at Rafe. “I assume you’re not madly in love with her.”
“Wouldn’t matter if I was. Marriage is not for me.”
He almost asked Rafe to explain, but the younger seemed intent on remaining a mystery. Sebastian shifted his attention to Tristan. “Would you give us a moment?”
“Without my feelings being hurt.”
Tristan was making a point. Sebastian suspected his twin was growing weary of Rafe’s moodiness.
“I’ll have a carriage readied for you,” Tristan continued as he strode from the room.
Now that Sebastian was alone with Rafe, he wasn’t sure what he wanted—needed—to say. “While I was fevered, I dreamed that you hovered over me and commanded me not to leave you.”
Rafe lifted his broad shoulders in a careless shrug. He was only twenty-two but his eyes made him appear older, perhaps even older than Sebastian. “Tristan thought you might die. So I came.”
“I would have taken you with me if I could, but if we remained together we had a better chance of discovery, and I feared that would lead to our deaths.”
“You could have put us all on one ship.”
“And if it sank in a storm, who would have been left to take back from Uncle what he stole? By separating there was a chance that at least one of us would survive to have retribution.”
“Who would have cared? Land. Title. They’re not flesh, they’re not blood.”
“They’re our heritage.”
“So is our blood.” He averted his gaze. “We’ll never agree on this. It’s in the past. It’s pointless to argue over what we cannot change.”
“I won’t ask for forgiveness because I don’t believe I did anything that requires forgiveness. I did what I thought was best at the time. Perhaps with age or experience I would have made different choices.”
Rafe shifted his gaze over, pinned Sebastian with it. “Will you be able to say the same about Mary?”
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