He took one look at the painting and all the air in the room disappeared. . .
The Earl of Huntington (Hunt) is a silent partner in a successful gambling hell run by his two brothers. A well-respected member of the ton, he moves about in Society as an unknown agent for the Crown on its most sensitive matters.
Lady Diana is a long-time friend of Hunt's with the ability to embroil herself in difficult matters that require his assistance. Once again she needs his help, but this situation could be a major scandal if discovered. Against his better judgment, Hunt agrees to her scheme, but this time the circumstances cause him to view the woman he’d always considered just a friend in a different way.
The passion and desire that sparks between them must be squelched since she would never do as his Countess.
Scandal follows her every move...
A glass of warm champagne dangling between his fingers, Sebastian, the Earl of Huntington, known as Hunt to family and friends, inwardly groaned as he studied Lady Diana Pemberton, daughter of the Marquess of Rockingham, as she single-mindedly made her way across the Billingsley ballroom, headed in his direction.
Dressed, as always, in the height of fashion in a rose-colored gown, trimmed with deep rose and green flowers, Lady Diana wore a frock that was low enough in the neckline to entice but not cause too many raised eyebrows among the self-appointed guardians of ton virtue. Her curly golden blonde hair had been swept away from her heart-shaped face to cascade down her back in a riot of bouncing curls. Leave it to Diana to eschew the dignified topknots and chignons the other young ladies sported.READ MORE
As attractive as she was with that sweet face and mass of hair, her remarkable appeal lay in her wide-set crystal blue eyes framed by unusually dark lashes for a blonde. One had only to study those eyes to know every thought in Diana’s head. There was no subterfuge or coyness about the woman.
Although slender was the current fashion, Lady Diana’s full bosom and child-bearing hips made the other young ladies appear spindly in comparison. The gentle sway of said hips as she moved across the room hid the true woman beneath the façade of demureness.
Lady Diana was anything but demure.
He studied her covertly. As usual when he spotted her, his heart gave a thump, and his male part rose from its slumber. Yes, she was anything but demure and she was trouble, but for some reason his body was not in sync with his brain. She also captivated him with her high spirits and wicked sense of humor that sometimes bordered on the improper. Another way she was unique and quite different from other young ladies.
She wended her way through the throng with dogged determination, barely acknowledging the young men who attempted to gain her notice. Her steely resolve did not bode well for him. He’d known Diana for years and, over time, he’d had the unfortunate task of rescuing her from one disaster after another. He had gotten into more predicaments than a room full of toddlers due to the young lady headed in his direction.
He tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to convince himself that it was merely memories of mishaps avoided, and disasters averted, that caused his muscles to tense and his heartbeat to quicken. His usual response to Lady Trouble. He continued to dismiss any other reason, despite the twitching below his waist.
“Ah, it appears we’re about to have company.” Lord Denning took a sip of champagne and nodded at Diana, now only about ten feet distant.
Both men straightened as she stopped in front of them.
“Lord Huntington, Lord Denning, may I wish you a good evening?” She gave a slight curtsey. Two pairs of male eyes assessed her neckline where it dipped as she did. Two generous creamy globes spilled over the top of her gown, moving more of Hunt’s blood supply south. Also causing him to glare at Denning. “Close your mouth, man.”
Diana rose and smirked, bringing a flush to Hunt’s face at being caught ogling. The minx had done it again, put him on the defensive. One of her mischievous talents.
He bowed to her curtsey. “Good evening, Lady Diana. How was your visit with your family in Italy?”
After Diana had been caught in another tangle that could have resulted in a scandal, her father had hurried her off to some distant cousin in Italy where the girl had remained for a bit more than a year.
“It was quite pleasant, actually. I enjoyed my time there but am happy to be home.”
She apparently did not wish to embellish that comment with stories, so he switched topics. That made things safer for him anyway. The less he knew about her adventures, the happier he was. “Are you enjoying your return to Society?”
She flashed him a brilliant smile, knocking the breath from his lungs. “As always. New ballroom, new gown, new hostess. However could I not enjoy it?”
He went on full alert at the look in her eyes. The vexing woman always tied him into knots, and this exchange was no different. How the devil was one supposed to respond to that cryptic statement? Instead of coming up with a smart, clever retort, which his befuddled brain was presently incapable of—most likely due to a lack of blood—he murmured, “Indeed,” wincing inside at her raised brows and Denning’s cough.
“If you will excuse me, Lady Diana, I fear I must leave you both to your scintillating conversation as the orchestra is beginning the next set, and my partner awaits me.” Denning made a quick bow, leaving Hunt to deal with the woman as he scurried off to the sound of instruments beginning a waltz.
“Coward,” Hunt mumbled as the traitorous Denning took his leave.
Dancers gathered on the floor in the space allotted for dancing. Diana placed her hand on his forearm. “Dance with me, Hunt?”
He stared down at her, hating how she made him feel. Those blue eyes looked as innocent as she was not. Oh, he was certain that she was innocent in the right way of how a young lady must preserve her virtue for marriage, but aside from that, she was a problem looking for a place to set up housekeeping.
He felt as though he wanted to run as far from her as he could but only after he’d crushed her tempting body to his to show her that he was the one in charge; not her. He would not label her as manipulative, she was basically too sweet for that, but she did have a way of getting him to do things he preferred not to.
Despite his ability to run his estates profitably and speak in Parliament with aplomb and grace, his and Diana’s lifelong relationship of push and pull rarely left him in charge when it came to Lady Diana. And now she wanted something from him. Of that he was certain. She always chewed her lower lip when she was ready to dump another problem in his lap.
He hated that he knew her so well, because that likely meant she knew him that well, also.
The privacy of a dance would provide her with an opportunity to embroil him in another of her scrapes. There was no doubt in his mind. Why he felt the need to constantly rescue her baffled him. They were no longer children, but she continued to turn to him, knowing with certainty that he would never let her down.
He’d had a peaceful year while Diana was in Italy, visiting her family and cooling her heels. Her banishment from the ton had given him many restful nights and a sense of order in his life. Thus far, he’d been able to avoid her since her return a couple of weeks ago. Rude, perhaps—he should have called on her—but his sense of self-preservation was strong.
Whether he was reluctant to be dragged into another disaster or merely happy to put his conflicting feelings about the girl on the shelf for a while, he had to admit he missed the chit.
However, seeing her now, with her impish smile and teasing manner that he knew was a prelude to asking for his help once again reminded him why he hadn’t called on her since her return.
He’d been busy himself, since this Season he’d decided it was time to take a wife and set up his nursery. Hence the suffering he’d endured at numerous balls, garden parties, soirees, and dinner parties over the past weeks.
He had promised himself to take a serious look at the current crop of debutantes and see if any of them appealed. Unfortunately, none had gotten past his initial contact of a dance, dinner partner, or introduction from a determined mama.
He’d almost caught an ague from all the eyelash fluttering, and if he had to hear just one more young lady exclaim over how talented she was on the pianoforte, water colors, embroidery, and selecting just the perfect shade of ribbon to match a dress, he would abandon the idea of marriage and name his brother, Driscoll, as his heir.
“Of course, my lady. I would love a dance.” He pulled himself from his ruminations and responded to Diana’s question.
She smirked as he took her arm and led her to the dance floor. “You don’t lie very well, Hunt. The look on your face tells me you would rather chew nails than dance with me.”
Maybe not chew nails, but he would certainly prefer banging his head against the wall a few times.
He took her in his arms and experienced a shiver he’d oftentimes felt when this close to Diana. Like an electric jolt. The softness of her body, the musky, mysterious scent that was only her, and the way her blue eyes sparkled with merriment, as if she knew what sort of an effect she was having on him, all added to his discomfort. He refused to question it, preferred not to think about it, and pushed whatever it could mean to the back of his mind.
The very last thing he needed in his life was an attraction to Diana. Or, God forbid, a lifelong commitment.
“I had hoped you would call on me after I returned from Italy.” She viewed him with mirth as he led them through an intricate turn. No pouting or sulking for Lady Diana. Everything was always straightforward with her. Instead of frowning, she regarded him with laughter. Most likely because she knew why he’d been avoiding her.
Despite the music and various conversations in the room, her familiar, melodious voice carried easily to him, sliding over him like warm honey. He couldn’t help but wonder if that was how her mouth would taste. Then he mentally shook himself. ‘Twas always best to be alert when dealing with Diana, not distracted by her appeal.
Before he could respond with something believable, she chose to discontinue that stream of conversation and said, “Will you call at my townhouse tomorrow afternoon? Say about two o’clock?”
Ah, he knew this was coming. “What have you done now, dear girl?”
She had the nerve to huff at him and raise her chin. “I have no idea what you mean.”
If he wasn’t so terrified at what her newest entanglement meant for him, he would have laughed at her righteous indignation. Surely, her memory was not that addled.
Her guileless look was greeted by his own aristocratic raised brows. “Given your history, my lady, my question is, unfortunately, appropriate.”
She sighed as he pulled her close into another turn to avoid Lord and Lady Hanson. Once past the couple, he was reluctant to release her. She stared at him, but the slight pink tint to her cheeks told him she was aware of how their closeness had felt. “Will you come or not?”
There was no point in dithering since Diana with a request was like a dog with a bone. She never gave up. “Of course. I will be honored to call upon you and be of service.”
Liar. I would rather shave my face with a blunt, rusty razor.
She grinned, which immediately raised alarm bells. Perhaps it was the year’s absence, but in the short time they’d spoken, this newly-returned-to-Town Diana had evoked more conflict within him than all the years he’d known her. And that was certainly a frightening thought.
“Thank you.” She smiled and dipped her head.
They finished the rest of the dance in typical useless chatter. Once he escorted her to her chaperone, he bowed. “Have a pleasant evening, my lady.”
She tapped him lightly on the arm with her fan. “Have a pleasant evening as well, my lord. I look forward to your visit.” She sashayed away as if she knew his eyes followed every move her delectable hips made.
Which they did.
Bloody hell. What was he getting himself into this time?COLLAPSE
Ddeim, Amazon wrote:
I love the witty banter and sexual tensions between Hunt and Diana.
Lori Dykes, Amazon wrote:
A Scandalous Portrait is a phenomenal historical romance...
Once upon a time, there were three brothers. Sebastian (Hunt), Driscoll and Dante Rose, who owned a gaming hell, called the Rose Room, catering to the elite of London. Each had their own unique talent and this is Hunt's story. Did I mention Hunt is tall and handsome? Yes and lovable?