She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(76) by Lorraine Heath
She gazed up at the sky as though she was seeking rain. “Yes, I know.”
“You say that as though you don’t approve.”
She pursed her lips, adjusted the reins.
“Mary?” he prodded.
With a long sigh and obvious reluctance, she said, “It’s only that you seem not to allow much more in your life.”
“Because nothing is more important. It has always served as my lodestar, given purpose to my life.”
“Perhaps now that you’ve secured it you can expand your interests.”
“I still have much work to do. I need to review ledgers, journals, and discover exactly what Uncle has done the past twelve years.”
“Why can you not simply start with now and move forward?”
He shook his head, not certain why he was so bothered that she found fault with his methods. She was his wife. Her place was in his bed, not in his study. “As the daughter of an earl, you should realize that history is all-important. We must understand the past in order to meet with success in the future. Besides, there is a small chance that I will find something that will prove correct my suspicions about his murdering my father, or allow me the opportunity to ruin his life further.”
She was quiet for several moments, and he wondered if he should apologize for his terse tone. If he did, he’d begin a habit that would no doubt leave him apologizing most of the day. He longed for the easy camaraderie they’d possessed as children. Only they were no longer children.
“I read,” she finally said.
“What I did while I was at the nunnery. I read the Bible. I scrubbed floors. I stitched a thousand articles of clothing.” Her laughter this time echoed sadness. “Or it seemed like a thousand anyway. I hate stitching, by the way. I have no intention of ever again threading a single needle.”
“We have the means for you to hire servants to thread needles for you.”
Finally, he had cajoled a smile from her.
“I’d rather hire them to rub my feet. I’m very fond of having my feet rubbed.”
“I shall keep that in mind. Although I much prefer having other things rubbed.”
“Sebastian, don’t be naughty.”
“I just thought you should know. You should also know that you were never an afterthought. I simply never thought of you as growing up.”
“Just because I’ve grown up doesn’t mean I can’t still outride you.” She urged her horse into a gallop.
He watched her go. A time had existed when he knew exactly how much of a lead to give her and how to pace his horse so that she would win. Always he had been able to deny her so little. Why did he feel that he was suddenly denying her far too much?
He spurred his own horse on. They were adjusting to new roles—husband and wife. And years of changing between them. She was no longer the young girl whose braid he’d liked to tug on. He was no longer the boy who had expected to step into his father’s boots with barely a ripple in his life.
He had weathered numerous storms to get here. His brothers had suffered as well. He couldn’t forget the price they’d all paid.
Mary was wrong. He couldn’t begin with the present and move forward. He had to first conquer the past.
He’d let her win. Mary was fairly sure of it as she arrived at the blackened abbey ruins only a few gallops ahead of Sebastian. Time had taken its toll on the abbey. Weeds had reclaimed much of it. Two of the walls were so worn that one could easily step over them. She suspected farmers or villagers had taken off with some of the bricks and stone.
“I should have known you’d come here,” Sebastian said as he brought his horse up beside hers.
“I would like to walk around for a bit.”
After dismounting, he assisted her from her horse and tethered both beasts to a low-lying bush. He offered her his arm, and they strolled slowly around the remains of the medieval structure. They stepped over a low outer wall. Most of the ceiling and roof were gone. It had been a tall structure, as though it had once housed giants. “That first night at the ball, when you made your grand entrance back into Society, you mentioned that Rafe knew the dark side of London. When I was caring for you, it became quite obvious that he doesn’t live at Easton House. What does he do?”
Walking away from her, he skirted the edges of what might have been the sanctuary and stopped at a window that looked out over the hills. All that remained was the frame. Above it was nothing except sky. He sighed deeply. “You mustn’t tell anyone.”
“I’m not going to gossip about my family.”
He glanced back at her, and she could tell he was surprised by her words. She was astonished that he was. “You’re my family now,” she said by way of explanation. “You, Rafe, Tristan.”
“My apologies, Mary. Even if we were not married, I know you’d not gossip about us.” He removed his hat, turned it in his hands as though he needed to concentrate on something besides the words he’d speak. “He owns a den of vice.”
She heard the displeasure in his voice. Not that she blamed him. “You mean like gambling.”
“Among other things.”
“Well, surely now that you’ve reclaimed your title, he’ll give it up.”
“He says not.”
“And you’re not happy about that.”
“Of course I’m not happy about it. But as I left him twelve years ago, he has decided it is a bit late for me to care about what he does with his life now.”
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