This Duchess of Mine

Book 5 in the Desperate Duchesses series

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?

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The Inside Take

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!

  • This is the fifth book in the Desperate Duchess series. So, although it stands alone, some characters, such as the Duke of Villiers, appeared first in earlier books. Villiers’s story, A Duke of My Own, will be next in the series, publishing in August, 2009.
  • Every book in the Desperate Duchess series opens with the party that closed the previous book. Here’s the party circuit, so far: Desperate Duchesses closed with Jemma’s party to celebrate her brother’s dueling victory; Affair Before Christmas opened at that same party and ended with Jemma’s Twelfth Night masquerade; Duchess by Night opened with the masquerade and ended at Lord Strange’s endless house party; When the Duke Returns began at that house party and ended on the King’s yacht, the PeregrineThis Duchess of Mine opens on the yacht, and ends on at a benefit ball given by Jemma. And the opening of A Duke of My Own? As my son would say, that’s a no-brainer.
  • In the first four novels of the Desperate Duchess series, I left one tiny question unanswered. To catch each question, check the Inside Take for the various books. In books five and six, I am answering all of them. The mystery solved here? The question of that very odd chess set, the one that first appeared when Jemma bought the White Queen in Affair Before Christmas, and cropped up again in Duchess by Night… While I won’t tell you for sure if the chess set had magical properties, I think that it’s demise casts an interesting light on the curse it supposedly carries.
  • I wish I could tell you that the hulks were my invention or, for that matter, that little boys weren’t being employed as mudlarks. Alas, both abominations existed. Elijah’s house for glassblowers came from my imagination – but again, the terrible physical effects of glassblowing did not.
  • This Duchess of Mine opens with Elijah’s terrific race through the streets of a rioting London to reach Jemma. I made up the barricades in Bramble Street, but I was inspired by the marvelous scenes in Terry Pratchett’s NightWatch. The summer I wrote this novel I read through all of Pratchett’s novels, one after another, in total delight. I highly recommend them! If you haven’t tried them, start with Men at Arms; there’s a wonderful little romance between a werewolf and a cop.
  • 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.
  • And so, finally, Jemma and Elijah play their final chess game. You probably won’t be thinking too much about chess while you read that particular scene. But as I saw it, it had to be a real game. So Professor Lenny Cassuto came to my rescue, as he has in earlier books in the series. If you’d like to follow the chess game he created for Jemma and Elijah, here you go!

    I’m using chess nomenclature here, so P-K4 means that White, which always moves first, takes a pawn to King’s Four. Elijah plays White in this particular game.

    1. P-K4 P-K4

    2. P-Q4 PxP (first capture)

    3. QxP (second capture) N-QB3 (attacking the queen)

    4. Q-QR4 (moving the queen out of the way) N-B3 (moving out the other knight)

    5. N-KB3 (white develops his knight) B-B4 (she answers by developing her bishop; she's now ready to castle)

    6. B-QN5 (moving out the bishop to attack her knight) P-QR3 (attacking that bishop and asking whether he wants to exchange it for the knight)

    7. B-Q3 (he retreats his bishop) 0-0 (castles)

    8. N-B3 (developing his other knight) P-Q4 (offering a pawn in exchange for an attack on his king)

    9. PxP (he accepts; third capture) R-K1ch (she checks his king and forces it to move)

    10. K-B1 N-QN5 (advancing her queen's knight to attack his bishop)

    11. B--KN5 (attacking her knight in front of her king) B-N5 (and she counterattacks his king's knight)

    12. R-Q1 (indirectly defending his extra pawn) P-N4 (attacking his queen, driving it back. She has a strong attack here.)

    13. Q-N3 (retreating) P-R3 ("putting the question to the bishop," as on black's 6th: will he exchange it for a knight or retreat?)

    14. BxN (fourth capture) QxB (fifth capture)

    15. P-QR3 (attacking her far-advanced knight to try to drive her pieces back) NxB (exchanging it for his other bishop rather than retreat)

    16. RxN (completing the exchange)

    And there the game breaks off. In Dr. Cassuto’s analysis: Black (Jemma) is considerably ahead in this position.

    1. She has good bishops, and is threatening to break up White's kingside pawns;

    2. White can't castle, and his rooks aren't connected. His pieces are tangled up, and his queen is out of play.

    3. Black is ready to attack. White has an extra pawn, it's true, but his position is not enviable, and no good player would be happy with it.

    The moves to get to this place have been plausible--not best play, it's true, but plausible, especially for blindfold play.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Chapter One



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…

Would what?

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?

Unlikely.

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?

Surely not.

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 available in the following formats:

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ISBN: 978-0061626821
May 26, 2009