She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(88) by Lorraine Heath
“I want us to leave Pembrook.”
He stilled, studied her partial outline in the glass of the window where rain pattered. “Take a holiday?”
“Permanently. You have five other estates. We can make a home in one of those.”
“My home is here.”
She broke free of his hold and swung around to face him. “Did you hear what you said? My home. What of our home?”
“This is our home.”
“No, Sebastian. It’s not a home. Our life here is you reading through dusty old ledgers—”
“I’m striving to find proof of what he did.”
“Do you honestly think he was stupid enough to write it down? What do you think you’ll find there?”
“Perhaps someone he paid for very little work. Something that doesn’t add up. The name of a friend. Someplace he might go. I don’t know. But there must be something.”
She shook her head. “When you’re not in your library, you’re in the tower, hammering away at it. I understand why it must go, but hire someone to do it.”
“I must do it. Every stone must feel the weight of my wrath.”
“You’re no different than your uncle.”
Fury shot through him with a vengeance. He took a step toward her. He didn’t know what his face showed, but she flinched before squaring her shoulders.
“I am nothing like him,” he ground out.
“You are obsessed with this fortress.”
“It is my heritage!”
“It encases your heart. Can you not see that?”
He swung away from her. “You know not of what you speak.”
“I know that people have died to hold it.”
He spun back around, seething. “For centuries. You’re asking me to walk away from it.”
“Yes. I can’t live here. I can’t make it warm.”
All of this nonsense because she was cold, because of a few drafts? “We’ll build more fires in the hearths. I’ll purchase you heavier clothing.”
She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, looked at the rain slashing against the window. “It’s not physical warmth I’m speaking of. It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s love. There’s no love here.”
How could she not see it? He loved Pembrook with a fierceness that could not be denied. He owed it. It had kept him alive, had kept him surging forward when he’d wanted to retreat. She’d never know how often he’d considered taking an easier path, but always Pembrook beckoned.
As though she read his mind, she said sadly, “This is your mistress, your love. It takes everything from you and leaves nothing for me.”
He wanted to deny her words. Instead they only served to inflame his anger. He didn’t like that she found him lacking. “Then be gone. Move to one of the other estates that you think will provide you with this warmth you’re seeking. Go live with your aunt. Return to your father. My place is here. Nothing will cause me to abandon it.”
He spun on his heel and slammed the door on his way out. Stupid woman. How could she not understand what this estate meant to him?
It was everything. Without it, he was nothing.
Theirs had not been a love match. Mary knew she had no right to complain now that her marriage was not all that she’d hoped. After she changed into a simple dress, she pressed her hand to her stomach. She was fairly certain she was with child. If she told Sebastian, would he abandon this fruitless quest? Or would it further ignite his obsession?
She draped her cloak over her shoulders and brought up the hood. She was of a mood to ride. She didn’t care that it was near midnight or that the storm was raging or that she would be alone. Because even if Sebastian was with her, she’d still be alone.
He would be thinking of Pembrook while she would be thinking of him.
It seemed improbable that she could love him, but she did. Ironically what caused her to love him were the very things that harped at her and promised an unsatisfactory marriage: his devotion to Pembrook. He was a man capable of enormous love, but only toward things: brick and mortar. Titles and estates. She selfishly wanted the same level of devotion directed at her.
The servants were all abed. No one was to see her slipping out. She had planned to talk sweetly to any guards who might try to halt her, but she saw no one.
She had a momentary spark of guilt, considered telling Sebastian her plans, but his fury, his parting words had lashed at her. Had proven to her that between them there would never be love.
With the rain pelting her, she walked across the grounds toward the stable. She thought she heard a movement. A cat, a mouse. Night creatures seeking shelter from the storm.
But she feared that for her there was no shelter.
Footsteps sounded, rushing toward her. Sebastian—
He grabbed her, hooked his arm around her throat, cutting off air. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream. A cloth covered her nose. She recognized the pungent smell from when the physician had tended Sebastian’s festering wound: ether. The darkness hovered at the edge of her vision.
“Sleep, Duchess,” Lord David murmured. “For a little while at least.”
She fought harder to escape his clutches, but she only managed to fall into oblivion.
Sitting at his desk, Sebastian poured more brandy into the glass, downed it, relished the burn. He glanced over to the chair where Mary usually sat, watching him. When his frustration level grew because of lack of success in finding anything that would prove his uncle’s machinations, he would look at her and find solace, the strength to carry on. He couldn’t imagine her not being there.
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