She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(64) by Lorraine Heath
“No. From her, I do hope to one day earn forgiveness.”
A corner of Rafe’s mouth curled up. “I’m glad to hear that. I was beginning to think you considered yourself without fault.”
“Hardly. I have many and can only pray that Mary will not suffer overmuch because of them.”
And he could only hope that she would accept his offer of marriage. He’d spoken true. He didn’t think he owed Rafe an apology but that was not to say that guilt didn’t gnaw at him on a daily basis. Now he would add Mary’s ruination to his list of regrets. Mary.
A woman whose misfortune it was to serve as his savior.
“If Fitzwilliam truly loved you, he’d have stood up to his father. He’d have found a way to have you,” Alicia said.
She’d arrived an hour earlier to assist Mary with her packing, but all she’d done so far was sit on the bed and watch.
“He never claimed to love me,” Mary told her.
“But he asked for your hand in marriage.”
“I suspect he loved the idea of my dowry. Besides, you’re quite right. He should have stood up to his father. That bothers me more than his lack of love. To think that he would not have been his own man, that he would have been under his father’s thumb”—she shivered thinking how easily her father capitulated on matters—“marrying him would have been a dreadful mistake.”
She didn’t want to contemplate that she felt this way because of Sebastian. He was his own man, made his own decisions, stood his own ground. Of course, his father was dead, but she couldn’t imagine that he would have allowed his father to decide how he would live his life.
“I hate that you’re leaving. The Season is not yet over,” Alicia lamented.
“For me it is,” Mary assured her. “You should have my gowns. They will require a bit of adjustment in the length, but I’ll have no need of them.”
She could see her cousin struggling with being both joyous at the additions to her wardrobe and sad because of what gaining them signified.
“It’s just not fair,” Alicia said.
“I knew what I was doing. I knew it was foolish. I knew it would have repercussions.”
“Then why do it?”
How to explain? Mary stopped folding the nightdress. She should have had the maids packing for her, but she’d needed something to occupy her today lest she go insane with the waiting for tomorrow. Silly girl to spend her time here. She should go to the park and enjoy what she could of London while she was still here. “They’re so alone here, Alicia, when they shouldn’t be. They did nothing wrong, yet everyone looks at them with suspicion and doubt. Their uncle’s word holds more weight than theirs. They are strangers in this world into which they were born. When I saw how ill Sebastian was, how much he suffered . . . I simply couldn’t not be there. For all intents and purposes everyone else had abandoned them and I won’t.”
“That’s what Fitzwilliam should have said to his father. Something along those lines.”
“If he believed in me, then yes, I suppose he should have.”
“Mama is striving to convince Uncle to let you stay with us.”
“She’ll have no luck there.”
“Did you love him?”
“When I was a child, yes.”
Alicia puckered her brow. “I thought you only met Fitzwilliam this Season, at the first ball.”
Mary slammed her eyes closed. Why were her thoughts constantly turning to Sebastian? “Yes, you’re quite right. I was fond of him. I don’t know if I loved him. It seems to me that if I did, I’d be stretched across the bed weeping.” She plopped down on that very bed beside Alicia. She adjusted the feather pillows behind her back. “I should be inconsolable, shouldn’t I?”
“If you loved him, I should think so. May I be honest?”
“Are you implying that in the past you’ve been dishonest with me?”
Alicia gave her an impish grin. “Never on purpose, but this matter, well . . . I never thought Fitzwilliam was quite right for you. He is just so terribly . . . staid. He’s rather like a boiled egg. Anytime you crack it open, you know exactly what you’re getting.”
“A boiled egg. How flattering. And what sort of egg should I marry?”
“I’m not certain you were meant for an egg at all. Christmas pudding, perhaps. You never know what you’ll dish out.”
Mary giggled, then leaned over, and hugged Alicia tightly. “I shall miss you and your wisdom.”
“The boring balls will be frightfully more boring.”
She drew back. “So few are left that it hardly signifies.”
A brisk knock sounded on the door before her aunt waltzed in.
Alicia popped off the bed as though someone had pinched her bottom. “Did you have any luck?”
“I’m afraid not, no.” Aunt Sophie glided up to Mary and took her hands. “Your father wishes to see you in his study. You will want to straighten up a bit as Keswick is there as well.”
“What does he want?”
“I’m afraid he didn’t confide in me.”
To say good-bye perhaps? Had he heard that she was leaving? Or had he come to let her know he was well on the way to recovery and she would have to inform him that she would be returning to Willow Hall?
With Alicia’s assistance, she prepared as quickly as possible to meet with her father and their guest. The pink dress she chose was unadorned with a high collar and long sleeves. Everything was left to the imagination. Rather than put up her hair, she simply pulled it back and tied it in place with a ribbon. She wanted to more closely reflect the girl of the moors rather than the lady of London. She wanted it to be a comfortable parting, so she felt no need to fancy herself up. She wasn’t attempting to impress anyone.
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