She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(82) by Lorraine Heath
In spite of the tragic history that surrounded this place, he was at home here. She enjoyed watching him striding over his property. It was her true purpose in being outside when the gardener was perfectly capable of determining which type of flower should be planted in which spot. Sebastian loved Pembrook with all that he was, devoted himself to it. She tried not to resent that he wasn’t as devoted to her. She truly had no cause for complaint.
He came to her every night. Usually he stayed with her until dawn. But some nights he was restless and would return to his bedchamber so as not to disturb her. Her assurances that she was not bothered did not sway him to stay. On those nights she would hear him call out. She wanted desperately to go to him, but she knew he wouldn’t welcome her witnessing his nightmares.
She turned and smiled at the butler. “Thomas.”
“The post has arrived. You and the duke each received a letter. I thought they might be important.”
She took the envelopes he offered. He had already slit them open, but she didn’t question if he’d read them. She knew he wouldn’t dream of encroaching on his lord’s and lady’s privacy. “Thank you.”
He glanced toward the stables. “It is good that His Grace is home.”
“Yes, it is.”
“If I may be of further service regarding the letters, let me know.”
He strode back toward the manor. Mary smiled as she saw the letter addressed to her was from Alicia. She slid the paper from the envelope and began to read.
My dearest cousin,
I hope my letter finds you well and extremely happy in your marriage. I have a bit of news. Lord Fitzwilliam has asked for my hand in marriage. I have said yes.
I know this must come as a surprise to you, but I rather fancied him for some time and thought you the luckiest of girls to have snared him. I cannot tell you how happy I am since he began to court me. He has written me lovely poetry and sends flowers every morning. He has even managed to sneak in several kisses. He is quite talented in that regard.
Forgive me for carrying on so, but I am so happy that I wish to share it. I am terribly sorry for the scandal that forced your parting ways, and you must believe that I took no role in the spreading of the awful gossip. I took no glee from your troubles, but I must confess that I was delighted when he was placed back on the marriage mart. I have prayed every day since that I would be forgiven for taking joy in your calamity.
I hope you will be happy for me, dearest Mary. I have always fancied boiled eggs. I wish you only the best and hope you are very happy with your Christmas pudding.
My love always,
Your cousin Alicia
By the by, Mama sends you her love.
It was the stableman, Johnson, squinting at the distance that had Sebastian turning. Mary was trudging toward him. He despised his limited vision. If she’d been approaching from the other side, he’d have seen her. But now having seen her, he knew something was amiss.
“Finish up here,” he ordered. He was grateful for his long legs that ate up the distance between them. As he neared, she smiled at him but something about it was off.
“Walk with me,” he said.
Mary fell into step beside him.
“Are you pleased with the gardener?” he asked.
“Yes. We shall have an abundance of color come spring. We were discussing possibly building a greenhouse so we could have flowers in residence all year.”
“If it would please you, we shall do it.”
“Do you not even wish to know the cost first?”
“I can fault my uncle with many things, but he was not a spendthrift.”
“Then why kill those in line for the title?”
“Prestige, power. Maybe even love. Men do horrendous acts for all sorts of reasons.”
They walked along in silence for several moments before he dared to ask, “What’s troubling you?”
“Why would you think something is troubling me?”
“Mary, I know your moods.” He put only the smallest bit of impatience and chiding in his tone.
She sighed, continued walking while the tall grass rustled against her skirts. “I received a letter from Alicia. Fitzwilliam asked for her hand in marriage and she agreed.”
“This troubles you?”
She stopped but kept her gaze focused on the hills. He stepped in front of her, forced her to raise her eyes to his.
While his gut churned and he wasn’t certain he wanted to know the answer, he asked, “Are you regretting that you’re not married to him?”
A look of surprise crossed over her features and she released a light laugh. “Oh, no. That thought had never occurred to me. No, it’s Alicia I’m worried for. I feel as though she’s acquired a hand-me-down beau. She deserved to be the first person that someone asked to marry.”
“By that reckoning I suppose you’re a hand-me-down.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Oh, dear Lord, I hadn’t even considered that. Sebastian, do you doubt that I want to be your wife?”
“No. Just because someone else asked first and I said yes, doesn’t mean that when you asked I wanted to say no.”
“Perhaps it’s the same with your cousin. She had a choice—if she didn’t fancy him.”
Which was more than you had, he thought. If Mary hadn’t agreed to marry him, what sort of life would she have had?
She gave a brisk nod. “You’ve made a very keen observation there. It’s quite possible that he has a care for her. She said he sneaks in kisses and that he’s rather good at it.”
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