She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(67) by Lorraine Heath
Alicia smiled at her. “Ready?”
Alicia stepped into the church and the music changed, announcing the bride’s arrival.
“Be happy for me, Papa,” she pleaded.
“What is happiness, daughter? You will not want for anything, he promised me that. He said I was to have your dowry set aside. That it was yours to do with as you pleased. He has no need of it. It is a rare man who will take a woman to wife without a dowry.”
“Yes, it is,” she rasped.
“He has more spine than Fitzwilliam. I’ll give him that.”
“Thank you, Papa.”
He nodded. “As I said earlier, let’s get this done, shall we?”
Before she could even think of a response, he was leading her into the church. She was vaguely aware of the vast number of people standing as she strolled down the aisle. Hundreds crowded onto pews.
At the altar stood the man she was going to marry, facing her completely, because he had no choice if he wanted to watch her approach. His place put his scarred side toward her, toward everyone.
He, who strived so hard to keep his scars hidden, was revealing them now with the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. He had to have known that they would have a grand audience. Had to have known that he would be denied shadows.
They could have traveled to Pembrook and been married there in a small church in a quiet ceremony. But as she neared and could see him more clearly, she realized that they weren’t being married here because it was convenient, because all the plans had already been made.
No. This was his gift to her. The wedding she’d been dreaming of for months. The gown she had selected, the ceremony she had envisioned. It was more. It was a public acknowledgment that regardless of how tattered her reputation, he would stand proudly beside her.
As she moved her hand from her father’s arm to Sebastian’s, she smiled brightly, fought back the tears. Perhaps theirs would not be a marriage filled with great love, but she realized that they would have moments such as this one when she was ever grateful that he was at her side.
It seemed appropriate that it should be raining when they arrived at Pembrook, Mary thought. Gray skies unleashed a cold drizzle that threatened to turn the late afternoon into night. Mud worked up by the hooves and wheels slapped against the coach in an erratic rhythm, as it traveled along the drive toward the looming castle.
The wedding ceremony had provided a moment of unrealistic happiness and expectation. But as soon as the wedding breakfast had ended and they climbed into the coach, all pretense that theirs was to be a happily ever after vanished. Sitting across from her, Sebastian had become moody and sullen. They barely spoke. When they stopped at an inn for the night, they slept in separate rooms. Three inns, three nights of not knowing her husband’s touch.
Where was the fire he’d unleashed in the garden? Where was the tenderness he’d bestowed upon her in his bed when he was recovering from his wound? Had it all been pretense? Had he lost interest in the hunt?
“How do you know your uncle is not here now?” she asked.
“We have someone watching him in London, so we know where he is.”
“But what if he slips away?”
“I know a few soldiers who didn’t remain in the army. I hired them to keep watch, to ensure Uncle didn’t strive to take up residence while I was in London. I should have hired more servants to set matters to rights. I fear there is a great deal of work to be done.”
Two coaches carrying servants followed. Many were from the London residence. Some had been newly hired. Her father had given permission for Colleen to come with Mary. She was grateful to have a familiar servant within the ranks.
“It will give me something with which to occupy my time,” she said.
“I don’t wish it changed overmuch.”
A reminder that it was his, not hers. She was an intruder.
“I don’t wish to feel as though I’m a guest,” she told him.
“I would prefer that you discuss with me any plans you might have before implementing them.”
“Of course, Your Grace. We can discuss them now if it pleases you. I thought to have the floors scrubbed, the draperies taken outside, the dust beaten from them, the windows washed, the furniture polished—”
“You’re angry,” he interrupted.
“No.” Hurt, more like, but she was not going to be a whiny wife and admit such a thing. “I want it to be our home. I don’t want to feel at Pembrook the way you felt in London—as though you didn’t quite belong.”
“You belong here, Mary. You’re my wife.”
She released a small laugh. “Am I, Sebastian? It’s funny, but when we exchanged vows, I thought I would feel like a wife afterward, but I feel no different. Our relationship feels no different. Nothing has changed.”
“Something has. We’re no longer in London.”
She forced a smile. He seemed to have missed the entire point of what she was saying. “No, we’re not.”
They were silent for several moments before he said, “I don’t want you to feel like a guest here, Mary, but until you know what is of importance, don’t do anything drastic.”
“What of your uncle’s things? He’s bound to have left some behind.”
“I intend to burn them.”
The harshness in his voice unsettled her. It was ever-present when he spoke of his uncle, and it bothered her to know he still had so much hatred simmering inside him. While a part of her understood—he’d suffered immensely because of his uncle’s machinations—another part of her worried that the bitterness would steal from their lives whatever happiness they might have been able to find.
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