A Scandalous Portrait (The Rose Room Rogues #1) - Callie Hutton


April, 1891

London, England

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.

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

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