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ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED
by Anne Barton

Genre: Regency Period, England, Historical Romance

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“I know about the portrait, Miss Honeycote.”

The hairs on Daphne’s arms stood on end, and her knees wobbled.

Dear God. No.

The earl stared at her, measuring her reaction. Her heart thudded in her chest. What was it that she’d planned to do if ever she were discovered? She screwed her face into a perplexed expression. “Portrait?”

“Shall I describe it in detail?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Needing distance — and a moment to think — she turned and began to walk away. He followed.

“There’s a painting of you, wearing a white gown. I use wearing in the loosest sense of the word. It would be more accurate to say the gown — which is little more than a night rail — is falling off your pretty little shoulders.”

Good heavens.

Daphne sucked in a breath and whirled to face the earl. “You are mistaken, my lord. I have never had my portrait painted. If there’s a resemblance, I assure you it’s only a coincidence.”

He gave a wry grin. “I don’t think so.”

“What are you implying?”

“That I’m not the only one who lies to suit my needs.”

Heat crept up her neck. “You are wrong. My sister and I do not come from a family of means. Before she married the duke, we couldn’t afford sugar cubes for our tea. The idea that we could have hired an artist to paint my portrait is ludicrous.”

“I’m not suggesting that you hired the artist. I’m suggesting that the artist hired you.”

Daphne swallowed hard. The future she’d let herself envision — marriage to a kind, respectable man — was vanishing like morning mist on the lake. The paintings weren’t supposed to be displayed in public — Thomas had promised. How foolish she was. And now she, and the people she loved, would pay a great price. Mama and Anabelle, who knew nothing of the portraits, would be shamed. Olivia’s and Rose’s reputations would be tainted by their association with her. She’d ruined everything.

“I think you should leave, my lord.”

“Easy,” he said. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“I have no secrets.”

“Miss Honeycote,” he said smoothly, “we all have secrets. They’re practically a form a currency.”