She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(85) by Lorraine Heath
She cradled his cheek. “It must have been so frightening to be here, to be waiting, to not know—”
“I damned well knew. I forbid Tristan and Rafe to eat the food that was brought. I thought it would be poisoned. Rafe whined about how hungry he was, how thirsty, how cold. He was so young, so . . . weak. I knew eventually Uncle would send someone for us. Whoever it was would be kind to us. Would pretend to be our friend. Then he would take us out into the woods and kill us. I knew that’s what would happen. I had a plan to attack him, but then you came.”
She combed her fingers through his damp curls. “You escaped.”
He shook his head. “I left Rafe at a workhouse. I can still hear him crying for me not to leave him. But that was why I had to. Because he wasn’t strong enough. Tristan said not a word to me as we traveled to the docks. He said not a word when I sold him. I sold him, Mary, as though he were a bauble that I no longer favored.”
She wanted him to stop. She didn’t want to hear all this.
“He didn’t say anything as I walked away, and in some ways that was so much harder than leaving Rafe crying for me to return.”
“You had no choice,” she assured him.
“Don’t you think I know that? Every night when I sleep, I hear Rafe’s cries and Tristan’s silence and I am condemned by both. I just want the nightmares to stop. I want peace. I thought once I reclaimed Pembrook that I would have it. But there is no peace to be had. Not as long as Uncle breathes. I should have killed him when we were in London, only it would have made me as rancid as he.”
She wrapped her arms around him, hugged him tightly, rocked him back and forth. “You could never be like your uncle. Tristan and Rafe understand why you had to do what you did. You just need to forgive yourself.”
He shook his head.
“I know it’s hard, but if you don’t, you’re going to become more bitter and angry until you are like him. Then he will have won.” She held his face between her hands, forced him to meet her gaze. “I won’t allow that to happen.”
With his knuckles he touched her cheek. She could smell the coppery scent of blood that coated his palms.
“You’ve always been so strong, Mary.”
“Not really. I just give a good imitation.”
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
He leaned in and kissed her. It was a tentative kiss, a soft kiss. It lacked heat or fire, because he knew as she did that this was not a place for them to come together. This was a place that destroyed lives, and even their coming together would not be powerful enough to tear it down. No, it required the sledgehammer he’d been using, and laborers. He couldn’t do the task alone.
“Take me to bed,” she whispered.
With that he rose to his feet, pulled her up, and escorted her away from his hell.
Sebastian sank into the copper tub filled with hot water. It burned where the stone had cut into him, soothed where it had not. His muscles already ached from his efforts. He suspected they would be stiff and sore in the morning. He couldn’t think of a time when he’d ever worked so hard, had put so much effort into any single task. Ah, but the reward . . .
When he knocked out enough stone so the moonlight could peer in, he’d never felt more victorious. He would tear down the tower. Every inch of it. The area would be converted into a courtyard where the moon and stars could always hold back the shadows. He would be freer then, but not completely. Not until he made his uncle’s life more miserable, not until he found some proof of Lord David’s crimes would he be content. He would find what he was looking for if it killed him.
He shouldn’t linger here but it felt marvelous to simply soak. His baths were usually quick, while Mary seemed to take forever. Perhaps she had the right of it.
In spite of the late hour, she had awakened two footmen and had them heat the water and haul it to his bedchamber. He couldn’t blame her for wanting the filth washed from him before he bedded her. He was covered in a thick layer of sweat and dust. He stank. That she had wrapped herself around him to kiss him astounded him.
She had the footmen place the screen from her room on one side of the tub. He never bothered with a screen, had thought modesty prompted her to use one, but she had insisted it would keep the fire’s warmth contained, would hold the chill from his body. He couldn’t deny that it created a cozy haven.
She had promised to come in to bathe him. He was growing weary of waiting. With his head resting back against the lip of the tub, he watched the shadows play across the ceiling and wondered what was keeping her. He despised that she’d seen the madness engulfing him, but he couldn’t deny that he’d been glad to discover her standing there like an avenging angel. He’d have hammered at that wall all night if not for her bringing some sense back to him. She was always there in his darkest hour.
When his quest for retribution was completed, he would make everything up to her. He would take her on a wedding journey. He would purchase her a book of poetry. He would pluck flowers from the garden. He groaned. He was not a man who enticed a woman with poetry and flowers. She knew that about him. No, he would continue to use his kisses to sway her.
He wanted to kiss her now, to join his body to hers. So where the deuce was she? Maybe she’d fallen asleep. If so, he’d awaken her. Gently, raining kisses all over her. He’d begin with her toes and nibble his way up. But first he had to wash.
He shoved himself up—
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