She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(66) by Lorraine Heath
She’d misjudged Fitzwilliam. What if she was wrong about Sebastian? They’d been friends once. Could they be more?
If not, would friendship be enough for her? For them both?
“I fear we know so little about each other anymore. What if we don’t suit?”
“I should think the kiss in the garden indicated that we will be well suited to each other.”
“That was only the physical. I need more. I need your heart.”
His jaw clenched. “I can’t promise you that.”
She released a sad laugh. “At least you’re honest. But what if one day you do meet a woman who steals your heart?”
“Do you honestly think a woman will look at what I’ve become and love me?”
She had to believe that, had to believe there was something in him worth loving. “Yes.”
He laughed harshly. “You’re blinder than I.” He cupped her chin. “What choice do you truly have? Your reputation is in tatters. What sort of life will you have when you return to your father’s estate? And when he dies, who will watch over you?”
“I can watch over myself. I could become a governess or a nurse. I could take my dowry and invest it. Find a small cottage.” Live out my life in loneliness, with no children, no love.
“I owe you,” he said quietly, “more than I can ever repay. I will be as good a husband to you as my father was to my mother. I will never stray. I will never beat you. I will give you a generous allowance.”
They’d been friends once. She knew his childish heart had belonged to her. She refused to believe that she couldn’t possess his adult heart as well. She took a deep breath, released it, and hoped she would not live to regret the words. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Once again he slipped his hand into his pocket, only this time he withdrew it to reveal the dangling emerald.
With a soft smile, she took it from him. “I hated sending it back to you, you know.”
“Then why did you?”
“Because Fitzwilliam asked.” Demanded. But he didn’t need to know that. “Would you have returned it if I’d said no to your proposal?”
Licking her lips, she watched as his gaze dropped to her mouth. She wondered if he would kiss her.
Instead he said, “Well, I suppose I should see to getting a license.”
“Yes, I suppose you should.”
As Mary waited in a private room at St. George’s, she wondered if she should be this calm. She almost felt nothing at all.
“I wish your mother were here to see you,” Aunt Sophie said as she adjusted the veil one more time. She alternated between fiddling with the veil and the train, as though each time Mary moved didn’t undo what had just been done. She wanted to tell her aunt to just leave everything alone until the last moment. Instead Mary tolerated her fluttering, drew reassurance from it.
Alicia came in through the door, her cheeks flushed, her eyes bright. “The church is packed to the rafters.”
Mary had been a pariah, a woman shamed, a woman scorned. Now it appeared she was a romanticized figure. “Of course. Scandalous Lady Mary and the barbaric Duke of Keswick.”
“This wedding shall polish your reputation, m’dear,” her aunt predicted. “And his as well.”
Not that their reputations would matter after today. They’d be holed away at Pembrook. A far cry from the parties and balls of London. She would miss them, but not the gossip. No, she could do without that for the remainder of her life.
A knock sounded on the door. Alicia opened it.
“It’s time,” her father announced in a tone Mary imagined a guard used when telling a condemned man the moment had arrived to pay for one’s sins and head to the gallows.
Her aunt gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, adjusted her veil once more, and headed out the door after Alicia. She would take her place in a pew while Alicia would serve as Mary’s maid of honor. She had no bridesmaids, even though Lady Hermione had offered to stand with her—to be closer to Lord Tristan no doubt. Mary had politely declined. Her cousin would serve her well enough.
Her father stood in the doorway, looking no more comfortable than he had any other time when Sebastian had called. She knew he was here not for her but for image. People would notice if he wasn’t there, and who knew what speculation would follow.
She wanted him to say something. Tell her she was pretty or that he wished her happiness or that the Duke of Keswick was a good choice as a husband.
“Let’s get this done,” he said.
So much for wishes.
She squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and tried not to be disappointed that all of this was a result of poor judgment. If only she’d held her silence on what she’d heard at Pembrook, she’d have not been sent to the nunnery; she would have had a Season when she was of a more marriageable age. If only she hadn’t followed Sebastian into the garden. If only she hadn’t traipsed into his residence.
It should have been a day filled with joy and instead, it was simply an attempt to undo harm. Sebastian didn’t love her. Perhaps he never would. Pembrook held his heart. She would always be second fiddle. But that didn’t mean she was doomed to unhappiness. She wouldn’t settle for anything less than contentment.
She placed her hand on her father’s arm and allowed him to lead her into the vestry. She could hear music playing, could see Alicia. She didn’t understand why Alicia had not been spoken for this Season. Perhaps next year without her troublesome cousin at her side, she’d have more luck. She deserved happiness.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online