Table of Contents
“CHERYL HOLT DELIVERS WHAT READERS DESIRE.”*
PRAISE FOR HER NOVELS
“Hot, sexy, and wild!”
—Book Cove Reviews
“A scorching novel that titillates as she explores a woman’s deepest fantasies and brings them, red-hot, to the page. But there’s more than just great sex in Holt’s romances.”
“From cover to cover I was spellbound ... Truly outstanding.”
“The action is intense and the love scenes are explicit, which makes [this] a doubly fantastic page-turner.”
Night Owl Romance
“A classic love story with hot, fiery passion ... dripping from every page. There’s nothing better than curling up with a great book and this one totally qualifies.”
“Packed with emotion, sensuality, and surprising twists and turns. Holt has come up with the perfect combination of intrigue, sensual love scenes, and tender emotion, which I haven’t read in a historical romance in a very long time. Just too delicious to pass up. Happy reading!”
Romance Reader at Heart
“This book pulls you in and you won’t be able to put it down.”
The Romance Studio
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
PROMISE OF PLEASURE
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / April 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Cheryl Holt.
Taste of Temptation
by Cheryl Holt copyright © by Cheryl Holt.
All rights reserved.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-40438-6
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To Karen and Cindy for taking a chance on me—
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BARNES MANOR, RURAL ENGLAND, JUNE 1814
“FETCH my blue dress.”
Mary Barnes glared at her half sister, Felicity, and asked, “Which one?”
“The blue one! The blue one!” Felicity snapped. “Which one do you suppose?”
blue dresses,” Mary said. “Could you be a tad more specific?”
Felicity spun toward the mirror and primped her blond ringlets, dimples creasing her rosy cheeks. “Bring me the one that sets off the color of my eyes.”
Felicity’s eyes were a lovely sapphire that any fabric would enhance, but no gown could disguise the fact that she was spoiled and horrid. Mary seemed to be the only person who had noted Felicity’s fickle temperament, but then, Felicity was very rich, so many sins could be overlooked.
With each passing month, as Felicity was courted by various gentlemen who hoped to marry her, she grew more vain and impossible. As a wealthy heiress, she had swains fawning over her, and she could be very choosey. So far, she’d found none of them to be acceptable.
Jordan Winthrop, Viscount Redvers, was the next candidate scheduled to visit, so the stakes were very high. Felicity would probably insult and snub him as she had the others. Mary yearned to inquire as to why Felicity bothered with any of them, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.
Early on, Mary had learned that it was useless to speak with Felicity about any topic of import. The eighteen-year-old girl was so conceited, her sense of entitlement so vast, that normal conversation was a waste of breath.
Mary went to Felicity’s dressing room and retrieved an enticing gown suitable for Felicity’s introduction to Lord Redvers. The material would hug Felicity’s plump figure, which was a shape men were said to enjoy. Not that Mary had had any experience in masculine preferences.
At age twenty-five, she’d had scant male attention. Her own figure was slender and willowy, the exact opposite of Felicity’s, but Mary was also poor and plain, so it was difficult to assess why men never noticed her.
As her stepmother, Victoria, constantly harangued, there were a myriad of reasons for Mary’s lack of suitors, but she valiantly strove to ignore them.
Why feel sorry for herself? With no dowry and no prospects, she couldn’t alter her fate.
She returned to Felicity’s boudoir and draped the gown across the bed. On seeing it, Felicity grumbled, “Oh, for pity’s sake, that’s not the one I wanted.”
“It’s fine, Felicity.”
“The shade is completely wrong for me. Can’t you do anything right?”
Several bitter replies coursed through Mary’s head.
Had any woman in all of history ever suffered so egregiously? Had any woman ever been so unappreciated? Surely even Cinderella’s lot hadn’t been as bad as Mary’s!
She whirled away, planning to stomp off in a huff, when Felicity complained, “Where are you going?”
“I have better things to do than stand here and let you scold me.”
“But what about Viscount Redvers? I’m not ready to greet him.”
“I don’t care. Call for your maid.”
Mary stormed out, so angry she felt as if she might explode. In the past, she had calmly tolerated Felicity’s vitriol and spite. But lately, Mary was changing.
She was questioning her plight, her lowly status.
Her father had been a prosperous merchant, her mother a gentleman’s daughter who’d died when Mary was born. Victoria was his second wife. She’d birthed him two more daughters—Felicity and her older sister, Cassandra—then he’d passed away, leaving Mary alone and unprotected.
Mary had endured unending torment at the hands of her malicious relatives, and she was beginning to rebel. Why had Felicity and Cassandra been given so much and she been given nothing at all?
Mary longed to marry, to have a home and family of her own, but their neighbor, Harold Talbot, was the only suitor who’d evinced any interest in her.
He was forty and still lived with his widowed mother. Supposedly, she’d refused his request to wed Mary, and he kept dangling the idea of a betrothal someday
, after his mother was deceased, but that day never seemed to arrive.
Mary had waited through a decade of his broken promises, and her patience was exhausted. She was anxious for something—anything!—to happen that would improve her condition.
She slowed her pace and continued to the other wing of the house, to the grand suite where Viscount Redvers would reside for the next month.
She’d supervised the servants who’d prepared his rooms, and while she didn’t give two figs about Felicity or her marital schemes, Mary hoped he’d be impressed.
The space was magnificently appointed, fit for a king, and she tiptoed about, smoothing a quilt, rearranging the flowers in a vase, then she entered his dressing room.
It contained an ornate mirror, and she studied her reflection, critically evaluating herself. She hated her looks. As Victoria bluntly reminded her, she was too short, too thin, too dark, too ordinary.
In a world where nearly everyone was blond and blue-eyed, her hair and eyes were brown. Her skin was unblemished, her teeth straight, her cheekbones high, but with her hair pulled back in a tight chignon, and swathed from chin to toe in an unflattering gray dress, she might have been a dowdy nanny or an irritable governess.