She Tempts the Duke Page 1


The Tower, Pembrook Castle, Yorkshire

Winter, 1844

Tonight was the night they would die.

At fourteen, Sebastian Easton, the eighth Duke of Keswick, wished he could be brave about it, could face death with the stoicism and courage his father would have expected and demanded of him, but he was so scared, his mouth so dry, he couldn’t even work up enough spittle to fling as an insult at whoever came for him.

Within the ancient tower, no fireplace provided a homey atmosphere, but even if one had been built into the stone wall, he doubted that his uncle—Lord David Easton—would have graced them with a fire. He’d provided no blankets to ward off the bitter wind that whistled between the bars at the window. They had nothing except the clothes they’d been wearing when they were escorted to the tower for “their own protection,” as soon as all the mourners had left following their father’s internment in the family mausoleum that morning.

He supposed his uncle was hoping they’d catch their death, and thus spare him the bother of killing them. But as Sebastian gazed out the tiny window, he could see no moon, only stars. It was an excellent night for making three troublesome lads disappear.

“I’m hungry,” Rafe muttered. “I don’t see why we can’t eat the mutton stew.”

“Because it could be poisoned,” Tristan retorted, and Sebastian heard the longing in his voice. Each of them was hungry. And although too proud to admit it—terrified.

“But why would Cook poison us? She likes me. She sneaks me extra biscuits.”

“Not Cook, you dolt,” Tristan snapped. “Uncle.”

Their squabbling carried on, but low enough that it no longer disturbed Sebastian as he peered into what had to be the blackest night he’d ever seen. No torches flickered to indicate any guards or servants patrolling. No one was about—so certain was his uncle that they were secure here. The clocks in the manor had no doubt long ago tolled the midnight hour. He and his brothers should be asleep, but he had no intention of going quietly. He had already tested the bars. They weren’t likely to give. Only a sparrow could slip between them. Their options for escape were dwindling. He never thought to be grateful that their mother had died in childbirth, but at least she wouldn’t have to endure the agony of losing her children. Although perhaps Lord David would have done her in as well, to spare her the sorrow.

“But I’m freezing.” Rafe’s voice suddenly rose with frustration as though he needed to make his brothers understand how miserable he truly was, as though they weren’t all suffering the same discomforts. It wasn’t his fault he wasn’t made of sturdier stuff. He was only ten, and as the youngest he’d been coddled.

“If you don’t stop whining, I’ll give you something to truly whine about—a bloody nose,” Tristan threatened.

“Leave him be, Tristan,” Sebastian ordered. He was a mere twenty-two minutes older than his twin, but with those twenty-two minutes had come power, rank, and responsibility. He was worried he’d be unable to live up to all three, that he’d disappoint his father from the grave.

“But his whining grates.”

“You both need to be quiet, so I can think.”

He heard a shuffling, and then Tristan was standing beside him. They had no candles, no lanterns, no lamps. But he didn’t need light to see Tristan clearly in his mind. He looked exactly like Sebastian. Tall for his age, with unruly black hair that constantly fell into his pale blue eyes. Ghost eyes, the gypsies called them. Easton eyes, his father had assured them. Like his own. And their damned uncle’s.

Lord David had brought their father—his head bashed in—back to Pembrook, their ancestral home, after the riding accident. He claimed their father had tumbled off his horse. But he was an exceedingly excellent rider. He’d have never become unseated. Not without someone arranging the unseating, although Sebastian thought it more likely that he’d dismounted to attend to something, and then someone had come up behind him and whacked him. Hard. And he was fairly certain who that someone had been.

“So what’s your grand scheme for getting us out of here?” Tristan asked quietly. “I won’t tell. Even if he puts me on the rack in the dungeon.”

The dungeon housed all manner of torture devices, remnants from when the first Duke of Keswick had served Henry VIII and done some of his more unpleasant bidding. It seemed a penchant for bloodthirstiness ran in the family. He couldn’t shake off the sense that his uncle wanted what his father had possessed—and that meant three more murders.

“Do you even have a plan?” Tristan asked.

“You and I will jump whoever comes through the door next. You go low, cut him off at the knees. I’ll go high.” Take the greater risk for if that someone had a weapon, instinct would have him striking out at what he’d be able to see more clearly: the rabid boy aiming to smack him in the nose.

“Then what?”

“We saddle up our horses and make a dash for it.”

“I’m for staying and dealing with Uncle now. We kill him. Right quick. We’re done.”

“Are you so daft, Tristan, that you can’t figure it out? The fact that we’re here means we have no allies.”

“We must have some. You’re the rightful heir.”

“But who? Who do we trust? No, our best course of action for now is to run, then split up. We’ll return when we’re men. Reclaim what is ours.”