Margaret McPhee

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Unmasking the Duke's Mistress



Mrs Silver gave the women only a few minutes' warning before showing the group of four gentlemen into the room.

Arabella felt the wave of panic go through her. Her stomach revolted and she felt physically sick at the prospect of what she was about to do with one of these men -and for money. For one moment the desire to flee was overwhelming. She wanted so much just to run away. But then she remembered why she had to do this. And the memory resolved every trembling nerve in Arabella's body and lent her the strength that she needed. She stilled, took a deep breath, and raised her eyes to face the men.

They were all young, not much older than her own four-and-twenty years; all used expensive tailors if their tight-fitting dark coats and pantaloons were anything to go by. Ruddy-cheeked and bright-eyed, and most definitely the worse for drink, especially the youngest-looking man of the group. She could smell the wine and brandy from where she stood at the farthest side of the room behind the striped sofa, as if the distance and the barrier of the furniture could save her from what lay ahead.

Her eyes began to move over them and she wondered which man would choose her. And the worry struck her that perhaps none of them would and then what would she do? Much as she loathed being here in this awful position, the thought of returning home empty-handed was even worse.

The men looked eager, salivating almost, so that she could not suppress the shudder that rippled through her. She turned her glance to the two taller gentlemen who were only just entering the room to join their friends...and her stomach sank right down to her toes.

It felt to Arabella as if she had just stepped off the edge of a cliff. The breath froze in her throat and she gripped tight to the back of the sofa, oblivious to the fact that her fingernails were digging into the expensive ivory material.

It cannot be. The thought was loud in her mind.

'It cannot be.' The words were barely a whisper upon her lips.

She stared all the harder, sure that she must be mistaken. But there was no mistake. She would have known the tall dark-haried man anywhere, even though she had not seen him in almost six long years."

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