She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(84) by Lorraine Heath
Rushing across her room, she grabbed her wrap from the foot of the bed as she passed it, drew it around her shoulders, and hurried through the door that took her directly into Sebastian’s bedchamber. A solitary lamp burned and revealed his empty disheveled bed. It looked as though he’d done battle there.
After grabbing the lamp, she scampered out of the room and down the stairs. As she raced past the clock in the entry hallway, it began to strike midnight. She’d never realized how haunting the sound was as it echoed through the hallways. With one hand, she clutched her wrap more tightly about her as though it could protect her from what she would find.
She was not frightened for herself, but for Sebastian. She could only pray that he had the strength to destroy the demons he faced. Holding the lamp as steady as possible, she skittered across the courtyard, ignoring the painful pricking of her feet. She had been a silly chit not to have slipped on her shoes, but then only one thought consumed her: doing whatever she could to ease his pain.
The heavy wooden door leading into the tower creaked and moaned. After all these years, it still managed to send a chill of dread through her, just as it had that long-ago night when she had clutched a key so tightly in her hand that she’d broken skin. Going up the narrow winding stairs, her hand on the wall, she could feel the vibrations that came after each thunderclap.
At the top, standing ajar, was the door into which she’d once inserted a key into a lock. She had set the lads free. Or that had been her intent, but she feared that Sebastian was still trapped within those walls. She edged cautiously toward the opening and peered inside.
It was as sparsely furnished now as it had been then. A small table. Two tiny stools. And there was her husband, sledgehammer in hand, wielding it with a powerful force, slamming it into the wall. He was shirtless, his skin glistening with the sweat of his labors.
His damp hair flapped against his neck and face with his efforts. She could only see the side of his face, but it was view enough to see that it was contorted with his rage. Everything within her urged her to retreat, to leave him to his madness.
But she could no more leave him within the prison of his rage than she could have left him confined within these walls all those years ago. He had been her childhood friend, and perhaps had she been nearer to being a woman, he would have been more then.
He was more now.
She hated the way the intervening years had changed them all. Had made him angry and bitter. He frightened her now. The girl she had been had not hesitated to risk everything in order to take what she knew was the right action. Now she wavered, and in doing so, she left him in torment.
Swallowing hard, shoving her own fears aside, knowing he could lash out at her, she took a step forward. “Sebastian?”
He brought the hammer back, then forward with enough force that stone flew again—only this time he broke through the wall. A small hole, but a hole nonetheless. Dragging in great draughts of air, he stared at his accomplishment, the hammer immobile at his side. He lifted it back up—
He swung around. His skin glistened with the sweat of his labors. She could see tiny gashes where flying rock had struck him. But it was the torment in his face that terrified her. So much pain, as though a thousand daggers were being driven into his heart. A heart she desperately wanted to reach. But he held her at bay. The only time she felt a ray of hope that love could exist between them was when they were in bed together. There her imagination would take flight. She imagined so much: joy, laughter, smiles aplenty. She imagined greeting the day with gladness instead of loneliness.
“Return to your bed, Mary.”
“Let me help you.”
His laughter echoed around them. A bitter laughter that slammed into her as though he’d used the sledgehammer. “No one can help me.”
Turning away from her, he arced the hammer in a powerful swing and struck the edge of the opening he’d created. Two stones catapulted into the night. Another swing. Another brick. Again and again he swung. Little by little the opening grew larger. His efforts dampened the waist of his trousers, dampened his hair. His skin grew so slick that she wondered how he could still hold the massive tool.
Backing up, she sat on the tiny stool, felt it wobble beneath her weight. She set the lamp on the table. Tears stung her eyes. He was in agony, fighting demons, and she didn’t know how to help him. She only knew that she couldn’t leave. But there was danger in approaching him. He was like a madman and if he struck her with that hammer, she had no doubt that she would die. Here in this sparse and lonely tower where three boys had waited for death.
Over the years, she had tried not to think about what it must have been like for them. It was too painful to bear. How frightened they must have been. How alone they must have felt. How betrayed. She pressed a hand to her mouth to stop herself from crying out to him, from distracting him. What damage he might do to himself if he didn’t remain focused on his task.
The opening grew. His swings slowed, became less powerful. He stopped, dropped the hammer to the floor, bent his head back, and released a guttural howl that echoed around them and tore through her heart.
He fell to his knees.
She rushed over and dropped down beside him. His hands were curled in his lap, but she could see that his palms were ravaged and bloody. “Oh, Sebastian. My dear, dear Sebastian.”
She tore a strip of muslin from her nightdress and began to wrap it around one of his hands.
“It started here,” he said, breathing heavily. “I thought if I could tear it down, the nightmares might stop.”
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