She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(89) by Lorraine Heath
He didn’t want her to leave, dammit. He shouldn’t have challenged her. She was no doubt packing her things now. Perhaps she would only go as far as her father’s estate. Then he could ride over to visit with her from time to time. He could share his progress.
He downed more brandy. What did she care of his progress? Had she not made that clear enough?
Were you not listening? he chastised.
He’d been too angry to give credence to her words. How could he make her understand?
He withdrew the pouch from a pocket in his trousers. From the moment he’d poured soil into it and closed it off with Mary’s ribbon, it was never far from him. The ribbon curled around his finger. He unfurled it, drew comfort from its tenacity as it wound once more around him. It had faded with time, become worn and frayed, but still it remained steadfast. Like its owner.
He brought the bundle to his nose, inhaled the rich scent of—
It was not the fragrance of rich soil that filled his nostrils, that brought solace. It was a fainter fragrance. A hint of orchid, but more the essence of Mary, trapped in the ribbon that still clung unyieldingly to his fingers.
All these years, she’d been with him. During his darkest moments. During his worst despair. During the long days and nights when death hovered.
Always he had clung to this. A handkerchief given to him by his father. Soil gathered by his own hand. And a ribbon given to him by Mary. Without hesitation. Without question.
He’d fought, battled, schemed. He’d always thought it was Pembrook to which he so desperately wished to return. Pembrook. He’d thought it everything. Only now did he realize—
The crash of breaking glass shattered his thoughts. Glancing over, he saw a stone resting on the carpet. Around it was tied a ribbon. Mary’s ribbon. The one she wore when she was of a mind not to take the time to pin up her hair.
His gut clenched with foreboding. He rose with such force that the chair tumbled backward. He snatched up the rock. Paper was wedged between the stone and ribbon. The knotted ribbon would not give way to his clumsy fingers.
Fingers he realized that were trembling.
He rushed to the desk, grabbed the letter opener, and used it to slice free the ribbon. The paper fluttered down. He grabbed it, unfolded it, and stared at the familiar penmanship.
Admire the work you’ve done on the tower. Shall make it so much easier for your wife to fling herself off of it.
Tell no one or she will fall to her death.
Come alone or she will fall to her death.
Bring no weapon or she will fall to her death.
You have ten minutes to join me here or she will fall to her death.
Your beloved uncle
Sebastian took little time to prepare. He grabbed his greatcoat and slipped it on as he charged through the door into the courtyard.
He looked up at the tower. He’d managed to knock down a portion of the wall, but not all of it. Through the opening he’d created—an opening large enough for a person to stand in—he saw Mary at its edge, her skirt billowing in the wind. Lightning flashed, and he saw her more clearly. Saw that she was not there by choice, that a man held her.
Dread slammed into Sebastian. He’d hoped to see something different, even knowing that he wouldn’t. Was that not the purpose of hope? To give a person a reason to carry on, even when all was lost?
How she would chastise him if she thought for a moment that he had given up. All his life—even when he’d thought her absent—she’d been there urging him on. And now he was in danger of losing her.
Unmercifully the rain pelted the stone, slashed sideways, drenched her, no doubt soaked the stone floor, making it slick. How easy it would be for her to slip out.
To fall an incredible distance and to land in a crumpled heap. Broken. Dead. Gone from his life when she’d only just truly returned to it. They had been strangers, cautiously waltzing around each other, until the night he’d begun destroying the tower. Something had happened that night. Something had shifted within him. She, with so little force, had knocked down the walls to his heart.
He’d just failed to let her know it. That was the reason she’d lashed out at him tonight. Because she didn’t know what he felt.
He would not survive losing her. He knew that now. He could give up Pembrook. He could give up his titles. But he couldn’t give up her. Never her.
He bounded across the green to the looming tower, through its door, and up the stairs. At fourteen, he’d been terrified of what might happen when he reached the top but he’d carried on because he was the duke.
He was more terrified now, but he raced up them because of what might happen to Mary if he didn’t.
At the top, the door was ajar in dark invitation, awaiting him. It seemed only appropriate that what had begun here, should end here. In that room, he’d learned there were more things to fear than the dark. At this moment, the terror of what he might lose sent shudders through him. But he couldn’t let his vulnerabilities show. For Mary’s sake, he had to be stronger and more courageous than he’d ever been in his entire life. Considering the challenges he’d faced, that was saying a lot.
Taking a deep shuddering breath, he marched into the room. He should have accomplished more here. Should have hired men to help him tear it down, brick by brick. Just as Mary had suggested. She was so wise, so thoughtful. He relied on her counsel, yet had seemed to ignore it of late. Whatever had possessed him to discount her?
The lantern set on the table provided enough light for him to see that his uncle held Mary close, the end of a pistol’s barrel tucked up against her chin, causing her head to tilt back at an awkward angle. He knew the direction the ball would travel through her, knew she would be dead before it finished its journey.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online