She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(91) by Lorraine Heath
“Who’d have thought you’d be so clever?” his uncle asked.
“But you release Mary now.”
His uncle studied him, and he saw the pistol lower a small fraction. “You must think me a fool to believe such a poppycock scheme.”
“I swear it on my father’s grave. And do you know why I will do this?” His hand was in the pocket of his greatcoat, his fingers curled around the handkerchief, the ribbon wound around his finger. He removed the bundle—
“What the hell?” his uncle shouted, pointed the pistol at him—
Mary screamed and shoved at his arm—
Using the only weapon he had, Sebastian slung the linen bundle toward his uncle to distract him as he lunged—
An explosion ripped through the night. Something scalded his arm.
He saw his uncle duck to avoid the soaring object, lose his balance, his feet slipping out from beneath him—
“Mary!” Sebastian yelled.
She was in the path of his flailing uncle, caught in the maelstrom, her arms windmilling—
Sebastian reached out, snaked an arm around her, jerked her into the curve of his body as he flung himself to the side, and crashed into the wall, plummeted to the floor, Mary sprawled over him. He heard his uncle’s high-pitched shriek, saw the look of terror on his face as he disappeared over the ledge.
It seemed as though everything had happened within the space of an eternity, but he knew it could not have been more than a few seconds. There had been no time for thought or planning. Only reaction. Only instinct.
He was shaking badly, as though he’d been dunked in a river of ice. Mary was trembling as well and weeping.
“You fool! You shouldn’t have come here,” she cried.
“I couldn’t leave you to him.”
She lifted herself up and stared down on him. He could see her tear-stained face. “Did you really think he’d believe that hogwash about a letter to your brothers?”
He threaded his fingers through her hair. “I spoke true, Mary. I was going to explain to him why . . . show him the soil that I had carried with me for so long.” He swallowed hard. She deserved to know what he only just realized, sitting in his library, when he knew he had a true chance of losing her. “The bundle of Pembrook soil that I took with me, held secure with your ribbon . . . during the worst times, whenever I doubted what I endured would be worth it, I would take it out, hold it to my nose, and smell home. Always, always the richness of Pembrook filled my nostrils. But I only just realized that it wasn’t the dirt that spurred me on. It was your scent, trapped in the ribbon, the ribbon that always curled around my finger. You were always with me, Mary.”
More tears welled in her eyes, but they were not the tears of anger or fear. But tears of wonder.
“I kissed you that night in the garden, knowing what it might cost you, but fearing more what I would lose if I didn’t. Forgive me, Mary, for the selfish bastard I am. I didn’t recognize why I couldn’t let you go. I only knew that I couldn’t.”
“Do you know now?” she rasped.
He nodded. “It was never the soil, it was never Pembrook.”
“What I so desperately wanted to return to. It was you. It was always you. I love you, Mary. With all my heart. I’ll tear down the castle. I’ll build you a proper manor. We’ll move to one of the other estates. I don’t care. Just don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. My life is nothing without you.”
She wept all the harder, burying her face against his throat. He felt her tears scalding his skin.
“I’ll never leave you,” she rasped. “I’ve loved you for so long. The boy you were. The man you are. We’ve lost so much time. I don’t want to lose any more.”
He threaded his fingers into her hair, lifted her slightly so he could gaze into her eyes.
“No more moments lost, Mary. Not between us.”
It was a beautiful day. Sebastian couldn’t remember a day when the sun had been so warm. The breeze toyed with the leaves in the trees. The sky had never been a brighter blue. It was as though all of nature celebrated the demise of Lord David Easton.
Tristan and Rafe had arrived the evening before. They agreed with his decision not to lay their uncle to rest in the family crypt. Instead he was to be buried in a churchyard in a nearby village. It was a peaceful, quiet place, too good for him. But Sebastian was weary of dealing with guilt. He could show mercy in this one regard.
He had informed Lady Lucretia of his uncle’s passing. She sent a lock of hair to be buried with him, but indicated no other desire to mourn him.
His brothers stood with him at the graveside. Although ladies generally didn’t attend funerals, Mary was there to hold his hand and lend him strength.
The vicar’s words were short and concise. “May God have mercy on his soul.”
The plain wooden coffin was lowered into the ground. As two custodians began to shovel dirt into the grave, Sebastian and the others turned and began walking toward the waiting carriage.
“What of his wife?” Tristan asked.
“I’ve made arrangements for her,” Sebastian said. “A monthly stipend. She shouldn’t be punished for youthful bad judgment.”
As they neared the open carriage, Sebastian said, “I need a moment with Rafe alone.”
He knew he could possibly find a time alone with him back at Pembrook. But he wanted neutral ground. And calm filled his soul here.
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