This Duchess of Mine
Wedding bells celebrating the arranged marriage between the lovely Duchess of Beaumont and her staid, imperturbable duke had scarcely fallen silent when a shocking discovery sent Jemma running from the ducal mansion. For the next nine years she cavorted abroad, creating one delicious scandal after another (if one is to believe the rumors).
Elijah, Duke of Beaumont, did believe those rumors.
But the handsome duke needs an heir, so he summons his seductive wife home. Jemma laughs at Elijah’s cool eyes and icy heart—but to her secret shock, she doesn’t share his feelings. In fact, she wants the impossible: her husband’s heart at her feet.
But what manner of seduction will make a man fall desperately in love…with his own wife?
“James is clever and witty and writes with style and grace; she also touches readers on many levels, making them believe in the power of love to overcome any obstacle and make the world a better place.”
~ Romantic Times BOOKClub (4 1/2 Stars)
#12 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list.
#15 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Warning! In describing relations between characters, I may wreck a book for you by making it clear who someone marries, or the outcome of a book. Please do not read about The Inside Take if you're wary of knowing who is paired with whom!
Chess lies at the heart of the plot of this novel. Not only does it detail the last chess game in Jemma and Elijah’s match (blindfolded and in bed!), but I thought of the tangled affections of Jemma, Elijah, and Villiers as a chess game, as he himself points out. Jemma and Elijah are the White royalty; Villiers is the Black King who sacrifies himself, taking the Black Queen off the board.
In collaboration with a very talented illustrator, Eloisa created paper dolls complete with extravagant hairpieces and two Georgian fashion dresses to go along with her Desperate Duchesses, the Original Six heroines. With the template drawn only in outline so readers could DIY, Eloisa then issued a challenge: make one and send it in, and she'd have a drawing to pick the ones that fit the heroines the best.
To see all the winning dolls and more, as well as to download the template, click over to Eloisa's Design-A-Duchess Paper Doll feature.
This is the dress Eloisa selected for Jemma. Click through to see it bigger in all its wonderful detail.
Enjoy an Excerpt
London Seat of the Duke of Beaumont
March 26, 1784
No one dressed to please a husband. At least, not in the Duchess of Beaumont’s circle of acquaintances. One dressed – to be frank – to dazzle and amaze one’s female friends. Or, if one were so inclined, to invite a seduction…to engage in an affaire.
Husbands were just there, like coals in Newcastle and pigs in the sty.
Which made it all the harder for Jemma, the duchess in question, to decide what to wear to seduce her spouse. After all, Elijah had been her husband for years. True, they had lived apart for some time but now they’d agreed, in an alarmingly businesslike fashion, that after he returned from a fortnight spent at the Prime Minister’s house, they would…
Have a baby. Produce an heir, or at least do the motions that would produce one in nine months.
Go to bed together.
They had come to that decision a year ago. When she first returned from Paris, she was too angry to contemplate marital intimacies, but then somehow the fury drained away. Still they kept to separate bedchambers. The humiliating truth was that Elijah didn’t seem terribly interested.
First he said he wouldn’t bed her until she finished her chess match with the Duke of Villiers, since everyone believed that the chess match was naught more than a cover for an affaire. Then, when she threw in the chess match, giving the win to Villiers, Elijah announced that he was going into the country with Pitt’s wing of the government and wouldn’t be available for a few weeks.
She couldn’t imagine another man claiming that he was too busy to bed her. Too busy to seduce the Duchess of Beaumont?
Jemma didn’t think she was being overly vain, just realistic. It had been her experience that men were driven by lust above duty. And she had been assured by male attention from age sixteen that she was precisely what a lustful man would like to find in his bed.
She had blue eyes, hair of a deep golden color, a very elegant nose (Jemma particularly liked her nose) and crimson lips. True, the crimson color resulted from lavish applications of lip rouge, but if one were lucky enough not to have a thin hard mouth, one might as well draw attention to it.
And at twenty-eight, she still had the allure of youth, together a sheen of sophistication and wit that no sixteen-year-old could command.
She even had all her teeth, to reduce the subject to the level of cattle.
The problem, it seemed to her, was that to Elijah she was a wife, not Jemma.
There was nothing sensual about the word wife. Jemma gave a little shudder. Wivesnagged and complained. Wiveswore little caps on their fading hair and suffered from broadening hips due to child-bearing.
It was mortifying to be a wife. Even worse, a wife whose husband was reluctant to take her to bed.
It was definitely a new, and rather disconcerting, sensation, to feel that she was more interested in bedding a man than the opposite. She was used to men trying to seduce her. For the years she lived at Versailles, gentlemen considered her ripe for the plucking, given that her husband lived in England. They swiveled before her to display a powerful thigh, flaunt an embroidered coat or an enameled snuff box, drop roses, plums and poems at her doorstep.
She smiled, enticed, laughed, dismissed. She dressed to amuse herself, and to dazzle the court. She dressed for power and admiration. She certainly didn’t dress to enchant men: she took that for granted.
But the whole process of making her toilette felt different tonight.
She wanted all the passion and energy her husband devoted to the House of Lords, to the fate of England. She wanted him to look at her with the same hunger that he showed for a new bill in Parliament. She wanted Elijah at her feet.
She wanted what she probably couldn’t have. No wife had that.
Brigitte, her femme de chambre, popped into the chamber with a fistful of cards. “All your beaux are below requesting to assist you in your toilette,” she said. “Lord Corbin, of course, and Viscount St. Albans. Delacroix and Lord Piddleton.”
Jemma wrinkled her nose. “I don’t believe I shall admit anyone this evening.”
“You shall dress alone, Your Grace?” The look on Brigitte’s face was almost comical.
“I am never alone,” Jemma pointed out. “I have your assistance as well as that of Mariette and Lucinda. A woman with three maids, each with such decided opinions, can hardly bemoan her lack of guidance!”
Brigitte’s eyes narrowed, just for a second. “Indeed, Your Grace. Perhaps you plan a special toilette for this evening. Shall I inform the gentlemen that you decline their counsel?”
But Jemma had already changed her mind, based on that little flash in Brigitte’s eyes. Brigitte knew that the duke went directly to the king’s fête. Servants talked…servants knew.
She suspected that the house knew of her embarrassing, humiliating infatuation with her husband. In the last month or so, she had taken to sitting in the library with a chess board before her, waiting for Elijah to return from the House of Lords. She had started reading all the papers, with particular attention to accounts of the Duke of Beaumont’s speeches. She was…
She was a dunce. She should behave as if there was nothing untoward about the evening. Her husband had been in the country for several weeks; that meant nothing to her. A fashionable wife would never even note the absence or presence of something as insignificant as a husband.
“It’s just that I have a head-ache,” she said, with precisely the right note of lament. “And Corbin and Delacroix can be so trivial. If only Villiers were here.”
Suspicion vanished from her maid’s eyes. “He would soothe your head, Your Grace. And he –“ Brigitte dimpled “—is far from trivial.”
Despite herself, Jemma smiled. “But Villiers would never lower himself to join a woman at her dressing. For one thing, I suspect that it takes him longer to dress than it takes me. I suppose I must needs admit Corbin, at least. How do I appear?”
Jemma was wearing a honey-pale corset, adorned with daring bows of sheer black ribbon. Brigitte darted about, pulling a lock of hair over her shoulder so that it emphasized her white skin, dusting a touch of powder onto her nose.
Her hair, of course, was already built into a formidable pile of curls, though it awaited ornamentation and powder. One of her three French maids, Mariette, was a genius in that area and had spent two hours in the afternoon constructing a style fit for a royal occasion.
Jemma looked at herself again in the glass over her dressing table. To her mind, nothing suited her quite as much as dishabille, to be with her face painted, but her hair unpowdered, her legs showing through the frail lawn of her chemise. If only Elijah visited her at this time in the afternoon…but he never did.
Only strangers – or at best, acquaintances -- thronged below in the drawing room, begging for the favor of being asked to help her place a patch, or choose a gown.
Presumably husbands were uninterested in seeing their wives dress; their secrets were all known and the thrill of the unfamiliar was lost. Though considering that she and Elijah hadn’t seen each other under intimate circumstances for nine years, one might imagine he felt a tinge of curiosity. The last time they slept together she had been a gauche and, comparatively speaking, flat-chested twenty-year-old.
“If Villiers were below, would you admit him?” Brigitte asked, artfully spilling a box of ribbons onto the dressing table as if she were setting the stage for a play. She snatched up Jemma’s silver backed mirror and laid it carefully across the glowing strands of color.
“Villiers is dangerous,” Jemma stated. Villiers was everything Corbin and Delacroix were not. He was a chess master, for one thing. His mind was as nimble as hers, and his machinations were not trivial and –
And he wanted her.
Villiers’s desire wasn’t like the light emotions of the men waiting below. His desire was like a dark undertow, pulling at her with all his charm, all the wicked beauty of his smile, his French mother’s delicious eyes…
Brigitte sighed, and the sigh said it all. “Of course, he’s a Frenchman, and that changes everything.”
“Only on his mother’s side.”
“Assez! Assez! C’est assez.”
Brigitte was right. The French blood Villiers received from his mother was definitely enough… put together with an English manliness and strength. He was truly dangerous to a woman’s peace of mind, not to mention her reputation.
“Only Corbin?” Brigitte asked, picking up the cards left by those waiting below.
Generally, a lady allowed two, three, even four gentlemen into the dressing room to help her choose patches and lace. To invite only Corbin would invite a scandal, but who could really believe that she was instigating an affaire with Corbin? He was her favorite partner for the minuet, her comfortable gossip of an evening. A brilliant dancer, an exquisite dresser, a notable wit. And she had a shrewd feeling that he had as little interest in her as she had in him.
What if Elijah didn’t bother to come tonight, for all they had agreed to meet this evening? What if affairs of state kept him from affairs of the heart?
Besides, one never had an affair of the heart with one’s wife.
End of Excerpt
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This Duchess of Mine is Book 5 in the Desperate Duchesses, the Original Six series.
The full series reading order is as follows: