She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(86) by Lorraine Heath
His wife’s order came from the other side of the screen. He rolled his eye upward, toward the ceiling, toward the frolicking shadows. Damnation. “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough to know you don’t sing when you bathe. Now don’t move. I’m almost finished, and then I shall keep my promise to wash you.”
“What are you doing?”
“It’s a secret.”
“I don’t like secrets.”
“Neither do I, but that doesn’t stop you from keeping them from me.”
“I don’t keep secrets from you.”
“How often do you awaken from nightmares?”
He gritted his teeth.
“Every night?” she asked quietly.
“Often enough. Tell me what you’re doing or I shall climb out and ravish you.”
“I want you to ravish me, but not just yet.”
“What are you doing?” he asked again, with a bit more force behind the words.
“As I hate needlework, I recently took up the hobby of silhouetting. I rather enjoy it and all I need is a shadow.”
He thought of how he’d watched her shadow movements and realized now that her insistence on his using the screen had nothing to do with keeping him warm. “You’re creating a silhouette of me?”
“Yes. I want to show you what I see when I look at you.”
“I know what you see.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“I insist that you stop.” He came up out of the water.
“I don’t ask for much, Sebastian. Allow me to have this.”
She didn’t ask for anything, damn her. At least nothing of consequence. He dropped back into the water with such force that some of it splashed over the side. He glared at the fire, because he needed to show something his displeasure.
“Face forward as you were doing before you knew I was here.”
With great reluctance, he did as she asked.
“It will be hideous, all disfigured. I don’t know why you would want it.”
“Will we never have a portrait done?”
He had considered that. For posterity, it was important that a portrait of the eighth duke and his duchess hang in the portrait gallery. “I shall have Tristan pose with you for the portrait.”
“But he is neither the duke nor my husband.”
“He is what I would have looked like.”
“How vain you are.”
“I’m not vain. I simply see no need to subject future generations to this visage.”
“I shan’t pose with him.”
“Then we shall have separate portraits done.”
“We shall see.”
Those words were a challenge if he ever heard one. But on this matter he would not relent. He sank further into the water and tried not to think of her staring at him, of her gaze traveling over his shadow. He had a strong urge to return to the tower and bang away.
He heard a whisper of movement, and she came around the screen. She held up her efforts: his profile in silhouette. It was all in black. There were no scars revealed. No ridges, no mountains or valleys where his flesh had been torn asunder and healed as best it could. No eye present, no eye missing. It gave the appearance that he was whole.
“This is what I see when I look at you,” she said quietly. “A noble bearing. Your father’s nose, I think. Your mother’s chin. Strong lines. I see handsome features. I know you suffered, but I see resilience. I see the man I married. The man I’m glad to call husband. Tear down the tower. Tear down the whole damned castle.” She knelt beside the tub and cupped his jaw, her fingers against his scars. “Just please stop hiding from me.” She trailed her fingers down to his chest, pressed her palm against the spot where his heart pounded. “Tonight, in the tower, I caught a glimpse of what you’ve secreted away.”
“You saw a madman.”
“I saw a man who loves his brothers dearly, who had to make difficult decisions for all their sakes, a man tormented with guilt. When you look at yourself in the mirror all you see are the scars. When I look at you, I see this.” She shook the paper. “I see a man I could very well come to love.”
God help him, he didn’t deserve her. He’d never deserve her. He thrust his hand into her hair, held her in place, leaned over, and planted a kiss on those lips that could say things that unmanned him. Where did she find her faith in him, when he had so little in himself? She accepted his faults, looked beneath the scars to the man he wanted to be. For her.
With her assistance, he quickly scrubbed away the remaining dirt and grime. He didn’t bother to dry off. Simply stepped out of the bath and lifted her into his arms. With his foot, he knocked over the screen so the warmth from the fire could travel farther into the room. He carried her to his bed and realized that he’d never taken her here. He’d kept her from this room, considered it his place of solace. But she belonged here. She belonged in every room.
Setting her feet on the floor, he whipped her nightdress over her head before tumbling her onto the sheets. They were clean he realized, smelled of fresh air and sunshine. While he’d bathed she must have had a servant change them. A lamp burned on the bedside table. He wanted to douse it. Instead he left its light glowing—for her. He preferred the shadows, but she was meant for sunshine.
He would give her this. No more drawn curtains, no more extinguished flames.
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