A Portrait of Love (The Academy of Love #3) - Minerva Spencer

Chapter One

London

1803

Honoria ran down the stairs as if winged death were snapping at her heels.

It was ten minutes past noon; he would be here, already. She would have missed ten entire minutes of his company.

Of staring at him.

Of worshipping him.

She skidded to a halt outside her father’s studio and checked her reflection in the shiny brass urn that sat on a plinth across from the door. The belly of the vase stretched her eyes and made them look long and narrow while shrinking her overlarge mouth into a prim, bow-shaped moue. Honey wished she looked like this imaginary girl instead of the pale, gangly, and big-mouthed reality that stared back at her every day in her dressing room mirror.

She wrinkled her stubby nose at her distorted brass reflection and hissed, sticking out her tongue and giggling at the evil image she’d just created. All she lacked to be truly horrifying were fangs.

He’s in there, an unamused part of her mind pointed out.

Honey pinched her cheeks to give them a bit of color and pushed her waist-length far-too-curly hair back over her shoulders. Her father would not let her wear it up until her next birthday, when she would be sixteen. For an artist Daniel Keyes could sometimes be a stickler for propriety and—

“Hello.”

Honey jumped and yelped, no doubt resembling a huge, startled mouse in her hideous brown painting smock.

Correction, a huge mouse with a red face.

She didn’t want to turn around but she could hardly stand there all day staring at the door. She swallowed noisily, as if her throat had rusted shut and then slowly, ever so slowly, turned on one heel.

Eyes the color of hydrangeas stared down at her, their corners crinkling.

Lord Simon Fairchild.

Even his name was beautiful.

But nothing compared to his face and person. Not only was he beautiful, but he was also taller than her. At over six feet Simon Fairchild didn’t exactly tower over her five feet eleven inch frame, but it was near enough. And it made Honey feel—for the first time in her fifteen and three-quarter years—almost petite.

He was golden and broad-shouldered and graceful and he looked like a hero out of a Norse epic, all chiseled angles and fair perfection. His sculpted lips curved into a smile that released butterflies into her body.

“My lord,” she croaked, dropping the world’s clumsiest curtsey.

He grinned and took her hand, bowing low over it. “Good afternoon, Miss Honoria.” His voice was warm honey and it pooled low in her belly, the sensation … disturbing.

She blurted out the first words that leapt to mind, “You remembered my name.”

And then she wanted to hide.

His lips twitched and Honey only just stopped herself from smacking her palm to her forehead or crawling behind the big moth-eaten tapestry which covered much of the opposite wall.

Of course, he remembered her name, she’d only met him yesterday.

He clasped his hands behind his back, his broad shoulders almost blocking the light from the cathedral window at the end of the hall. He was dressed for riding, which meant he would change into his portrait clothing once he entered her father’s studio.

Thinking of Simon Fairchild changing his clothing gave her a swirly, hot feeling in her belly and made her palms sweat. And she seemed to be salivating more than necessary, as if her mouth were anticipating a delicacy.

Say something, you fool! Ask him something. Keep him here. Don’t let him get—

“Are my sittings keeping you and your father in the city this summer, Miss Honoria?”

“No, we stay here most of the time.”

He raised his eyebrows and nodded encouragingly.

“We rarely go into the country,” she added lamely, unable to come up with anything better.

But then inspiration struck. “Will you be going to the country, Lord Saybrook?”

“I no longer hold that honor, Miss Keyes,” he reminded her gently.

Her face heated yet again. “Oh, yes of course. The duke now has a son. You must be very—”

She bit her lip; he must be very what? Would a man be happy that he was no longer a duke’s heir?

Lord Simon flashed his lovely white teeth. “I’m very happy and relieved.”

“You do not wish to be a duke?”

“No, I do not. Not only would it mean my brother’s death, but the position entails altogether too much responsibility in my view. Besides, I have other plans.”

“Other plans?”

“Yes, I wish to live at my country estate and breed horses.”

Honey could not imagine the elegant man-god across from her rusticating and living the life of a mere country squire. She leaned against

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