She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(68) by Lorraine Heath
“Perhaps coming here is not the best thing,” she said softly, cautiously.
He tore his gaze from the window and she felt it land on her with a weightiness that demanded an answer even though he asked no question.
“So many bad memories are associated with Pembrook. You have other estates. Perhaps it would be better if we moved to one of those.”
“Pembrook is the ducal estate. It has always been so. I am the duke.”
“I’m not questioning your title, rather what will haunt us here.”
“We will face it. Together.”
She wondered how that would even be possible when they sat on opposite sides of the carriage, had during the entire journey. They were husband and wife now. They could sit beside each other. Yet they didn’t. Even when she fell asleep it was the plush interior that provided a pillow for her head rather than her husband’s shoulder. She’d not expected him to be so distant, so uncaring.
He didn’t reach across to hold her hand or to even squeeze it in reassurance. For all the comfort he provided, she could be arriving here alone. It was too soon to have regrets, to consider that she’d made a huge error in judgment.
He’d told her that Pembrook was all that mattered. Yet somehow she had imagined that she did as well—if only a bit. Why else would he have been concerned about her reputation? Because he was a gentleman, because he took responsibility for his actions. His action, however, had only been to kiss her. She was the one who had prattled on about it.
He turned to look out the window, facing Pembrook as he seldom faced her—fully. She was not going to be jealous of stone and mortar. The moat had long since been filled in with dirt. The outer walls had been torn down. The looming castle keep with its turrets stood magnificently against the darkening skies. A flash of lightning silhouetted the tower that rose up behind it, made it seem more ominous, a building where murders were commonplace.
The ugly past, so much sorrow dwelled here. How could she possibly make it a joyous home? How could they find happiness when the memories of betrayal would always batter them?
Yet as she watched her husband, she saw peace settle into his features. Pride. Ownership. Satisfaction. He had usurped his uncle, reclaimed what was his, what had been in his family for generations.
He whispered, “Pembrook.”
And she refused to acknowledge how dearly she wanted him to whisper her name.
The coach rattled to a jarring halt.
“It is all that has ever mattered,” he said with conviction. “Welcome home, Duchess.”
Mary watched as two men rushed out from the shadows, and her first terrifying thought was that Lord David had sent them to kill her husband. Then she remembered he’d mentioned hiring a couple of men to watch over things.
A footman opened the coach door, and Sebastian stepped out into the rain. She could hear it beating on his hat and greatcoat, but he ignored it. More important things were on his mind.
“Saunders,” he greeted the first man to reach him. “How goes it here?”
“Everything is as quiet as men before battle.”
“Good. See my duchess to the residence.” He turned to her, where she hovered in the vehicle. Leaning in, he pressed something into her gloved hand. A key she realized. “I’ll join you there in a moment.”
Then he was gone, but she could hear him barking out orders. Someone produced an umbrella. The man he’d called Saunders handed her down and held the umbrella over her head as they made a mad dash through the rain to the portico. Her hem was soaked and the air chilled her by the time she arrived, but she turned and watched all the activity in the drive. A dozen servants brought from London scurried about. Most of the trunks were hers. They contained a trousseau that she had lovingly put together expecting a trip to Italy. She’d kept a couple of her favorite ball gowns—surely they would entertain here—and given the rest to Alicia.
The darkening skies had very nearly turned the late afternoon into night.
“Shall I unlock the door?” Saunders asked.
She shook her head. “I’ll wait for my husband.”
Neither as tall as nor as broad of shoulder as Sebastian, Saunders still had a soldier’s bearing. She heard herself asking, “Did you serve with my husband in the Crimea?”
“Yes, ma’am. Didn’t know he was a duke, though, until he sought me out and hired me to watch over things here. He just seemed regular. Never let on he was a lord.”
She watched as Sebastian ordered servants about. How could anyone look at his commanding presence and not realize he was of the nobility? It was carved into every inch of him, in the way he presented himself, the way he addressed those around him. She pressed her lips together but in the end, she couldn’t hold back what she wanted to say. She peered up at the man standing guard over her. “In London rumors surfaced that he was a coward in battle.”
Saunders appeared horrified. “Never. Not even with three bullets in him. It was the cannon fire that brought him down. He’d have kept fighting otherwise.”
“I never believed the rumors,” she assured him. “The battle was an awful thing.”
“We knew right quick that someone had mucked it up, but we followed our orders. Cowards we were not, but fools we might have been.” He gave a brisk nod. “I should see what else I’m needed for.”
“Saunders, I’m glad you’re here to watch over him and the estate.”
“Wouldn’t be here to do either if not for him.” Not waiting for her to respond, he trotted down the steps. She suspected their conversation had made him uncomfortable, but it had given her a bit of insight into her husband. She’d never thought for one moment that he was a coward, but neither had she considered that men were alive because of his actions. She’d never given much consideration to the specifics of war, only the general horror of it. Was it any wonder that Sebastian found parlor games to be silly nonsense?
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