She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(90) by Lorraine Heath
She looked limp and appeared to be struggling to keep her eyes open. “Don’t give into his demands,” she slurred. “Don’t let him have Pembrook. He doesn’t deserve it.”
“Shut up, girl,” his uncle warned, shoving the barrel in deeper, forcing her head even further back.
“What did you do to her?” he asked.
“Bit of ether to subdue her.”
He needed to stall for a bit of time so she could regain her wits in case his plan didn’t work and she needed to make a run for it. “Interesting scar on your cheek, Uncle.”
His face twitched and Sebastian thought he wanted to rub it but in order to do that he’d have to release his hold on Mary. “Damned signet ring,” he muttered.
“You were the one who attacked me at the Weatherlys’. Do you intend to murder us all?” he asked.
“Accidents. I cannot control accidents. Or a distraught soldier wanting to kill a coward. Or ruffians who have a score to settle with someone from the darker parts of London.”
“You hired the men who attacked Rafe?”
“Of course I did. Fools. Not as skilled as they advertised.”
You underestimated Rafe, he thought, and wondered exactly how Rafe had acquired his talents.
“Do you not think suspicions will be aroused when we all meet untimely ends?” he asked.
“Suspicion is not proof of evil deeds done. If it were, half the men I know would be sitting in Newgate.”
If they were his acquaintances, they probably should be.
“But your death will be the most dramatic,” his uncle said. “Your wife went completely mad, shot you, and in her grief over killing you, threw herself from the tower.”
“You do have an imagination. The makings of a macabre novel. But you don’t have to kill Mary. You only need to kill me.”
“And leave her as a witness to tell the world what I did?”
“She was a witness before and she kept it all to herself.”
It was difficult to tell in the dim light but he thought his uncle paled. Lightning flashed, eerily illuminating him.
“What did she witness?”
“She overheard you tell someone to kill the lads in the tower.”
He laughed, a mad sort of sound that echoed between the stone walls. “She’s the one who knocked out the guard, unlocked the door. I should have known. I thought it was the stable boy. He even confessed before he died in the dungeon.”
Sebastian’s stomach roiled. “You tortured him?”
“The guard said it was someone small. The lad was small.”
“And no one noticed that you killed him?”
“He was a stable boy. I told the servants that my nephews must have inspired him because he ran off. Why would they think I lied?”
“And the man who was to kill us?”
“I sent him to find you. He failed. Hanged himself.”
“I suppose you helped him along.”
He smiled cunningly. “I did. Big fellow. Hurt my back hauling him around. It’s still bothersome.”
“And did you help Father along as well?”
He chuckled darkly. “Do you want a confession?”
“I want to die knowing the truth.”
“The truth. I loved her. You should have been my son.”
Her? His son? Sebastian thought of his mother’s portraits still hanging in the manor. Mary had thought it odd. “You loved my mother.”
“I loved her with all my heart. Your father was duke by then. Keswick wanted to approve her before I asked for her hand in marriage. So she and her family came here for a country party in the fall. Your father strode into the room and conquered her with little more than a smile. They were married by Christmas. He only took her because I wanted her.”
Sebastian had been only four when she died. Yet he knew without doubt that his father loved her. With all his heart. He always spoke of her with reverence and adoration.
“I left. For years I lost myself in wine and women. Then I came to my senses. I knew if I ever wanted to find love again, I needed to be a duke. So I killed your father easily enough. But then you and your brothers ran off. And I had to wait to make a bid for the title so suspicions would be few. Then I met Lucretia. She wanted a duke. She wanted me! But then you came back. I can only have her if I have the title.”
“I understand the power of love, Uncle. What it will make men do. Take me, but let Mary and my brothers live.”
“Sebastian, no,” she pleaded.
“Mary,” he ground out, glaring at her, wishing he had time to tell her everything. All that he felt, all that he realized too late. “You will do as I say. As I desire.”
“Your brothers will seek revenge,” Lord David said derisively.
“No. Neither of them cares about the titles or the estates. They’ve made lives for themselves apart from all this. I’ve written them a letter. It’s on my desk. Mary will take it to them. It instructs Tristan to set sail with Mary and Rafe. They’ll get word back to England that the ship sank, and that they’re dead.”
His uncle laughed. “You truly believe they’ll do this, give all this up?”
“Neither of them wants it. They never have. It’s always been only me. I am all that stands between you and the title.”
“Sebastian, no!” Mary shouted.
His uncle shook her, and Sebastian held his breath. If the pistol went off, all this would be for nothing. All the pain he’d endured, all the suffering . . . for nothing.
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