Duchess By Night
Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, is desperate to flee the sadness of being a widow. Whether presiding over the Shire Court of the Duchy of Berrow, or dressed as a prim Mother Goose at an extravagant masquerade ball thrown by one of her wicked friends, Harriet’s in a rut. And she’s beginning to long for something altogether different.
It’s time for a complete change of pace – she will throw off her widow’s weeds and escape…to the famously dissolute house party held at Lord Strange’s country estate? But no duchess can appear at one of Strange’s parties without risking her reputation forever. So when the Duke of Villiers offers to accompany Harriet, she jumps at the chance – even if it means disguising herself as a young man.
“James delights with seduction, surprise and humor on every page.”
~ Publishers Weekly
2009 RITA Finalist for the Historical Romance category
Number 15 on the New York Times Bestseller List
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 third book in the Desperate Duchess series. Although it stands alone, there are a number of characters here appeared first in Desperate Duchesses, such as the Duke and Duchess of Beaumont (Jemma and Elijah).
- The Duchess series has a formal structure: each new book opens at the same party that closed the previous book. So An Affair Before Christmas opened with Duchess of Beaumont’s post-duel party, which closed Desperate Duchesses. Duchess by Night opens at the Duchess of Beaumont’s Twelfth Night party, which closed Affair Before Christmas (some Affair characters dance by, identified only through costume). Duchess by Night ends with one of Lord Strange’s dissolute house parties…no prizes for guessing the first scene in When the Duke Returns (the fourth book in the series).
- In each of the Duchess books, I leave one small question unanswered. In Desperate Duchesses, who is Teddy’s mother? In An Affair Before Christmas, why did Lord Strange sell only the queen in his chess set? And in Duchess by Night, Lord Strange decides to sell the rest of the set: who will buy it? You will learn more about the chess set – and Teddy’s mother – in the final book in the series when all will be answered (I admit it: I probably admire J.K. Rowling a bit too much).
- People are always praising writers for their creativity and imagination. I’m not one to turn down praise, but the fact is that many episodes in my novels have a basis in truth. When I was writing Duchess by Night, my daughter was bitten by a tick and contacted Lyme’s disease. It’s hardly as serious as rat bite fever, but I happened to be reading Robert Sullivan’s wonderful book, Rats. Before I knew it, Eugenia had rat bite fever, and I was putting all my fears for my daughter on the page.
- Lord Strange’s new secretary, Miss DesJardins, first appeared in Desperate Duchesses, where she was responsible for the ornate, yet naked, centerpiece designated for Jemma’s party (and vetoed by Elijah). Once she’s installed at Fonthill, she comes up with the Tahitian Feast of Venus with its naked, shivering nymphs. Don’t worry! I have plans for Miss DesJardins and her unusual skills; she will appear again.
- The hummingbird collection that Jem thinks of buying is real; I discovered it in a wonderful book by Judith Pascoe called The Hummingbird Cabinet: A Rare and Curious History of Romantic Collectors. If you’re interested in curiosities and their cabinets, this is a great place to start.
- Juliette pointed out that Monsieur Bonnier de la Mosson (whose collection of curiosities is mentioned on page 175) is a Mosson, not a Moson.
- Piper realized that on page 30, Villiers is talking about Harriet’s courage in wearing a nightgown and carrying a goose, and yet (very goosishly) he refers to her by Isidore’s title, Lady Cosway. He should have said “Lady Berrow,” of course.
- This one was caught by the copyeditor for the English edition: on page 32, Strange owns the Drury Lane theatre. Later on it morphs to the Hyde Park. Of course, he could own two, but it’s unlikely.
- Here’s a fascinating one! Isobel noticed that between page 233-242, Harriet and Jem never take their breeches off! In my own defense, I have to say that I can’t mention every bit of clothing discarded…but it is true that breeches are particularly important. If you’re interested, it happened on page 221, when Jem arranged a little bed for them to lie on.
- DiR found another misplaced name on page 163. Lord Strange is talking to Villiers, and addresses his friend by his own name (Strange).
- Kasey discovered that I am really writing paranormal: on page 10, Harriet’s goose metamorphoses into a duck.
- Martha found a typo: on page 281, Povy is misspelled as "Povey." And FanLit found another: Lord Strange was serving LAMP chops at dinner on page 66 (probably a brilliant dish – ahem).
- Then we have a host of tiny errors, all discovered by the truly terrifying reader, DLS, to whom I am eternally grateful. On page 118, Villiers’s wish to bed a woman was at AN lifetime low, rather than A. (As I compose this list, I’m writing Villiers’s own novel – thank goodness, the condition didn’t last long.) On page 208, Jemma says “It believe” rather than “I believe”; on page 225, Harriet is not too coherent, rather than incoherent. On page 229 Jem asks Harriet, in an intimate moment, if she sees HOW. Very rude. Of course she knows how; the question should be if she sees NOW (which she definitely does). On page 350, Harriet says that she “meet with” a judge; it should be “met with.” And, finally, on page 353, Jem says that he “can’t hardly” describe something, which makes no sense – he should say that “can hardly describe” it.
- On page 267, Isidore refers to Tacitus as a Greek tactician. Eugenia wrote to me with immense tact to ask if that was Isidore’s mistake. Nope –mine, and an embarrassing one too. Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a famous senator and historian of the Roman empire.
“The third of the Desperate Duchesses stories is a light-hearted, sophisticated yet deeply emotional romp.”
~ Romantic Times BOOKClub (4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick)
Enjoy an Excerpt
From Chapter One
In which Cinderella Dresses for the Ball
And her Fairy Godmother brings a Goose instead of a Pumpkin
January 6th (Twelfth Night), 1784
A Costume Ball
The Country Seat of the Duke of Beaumont
Nursery tales are full of fascinating widows, although they aren't always the nicest characters. Cinderella's stepmother likely put on a dazzling gown for the prince's ball, even if her daughters did inherit her big feet and sharp tongue.
Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, realized soon after her husband died that there are glamorous widows, and then there are widows who live in shoes with too many children, like poor Loveday Billing. There are widows who dance all night with younger men, and then there are dowdy widows who are offered only pinched smiles.
Harriet had no illusions about what kind of widow she was. She was the kind who lived in a shoe, and never mind the fact that she had no children and her estate was much larger than a shoe.
Her husband had been dead for two years and no younger – or older – men were lining up to ask her to dance. Most of her acquaintances still got a tragic sheen in their eyes and promptly moved away after greeting her, as if sadness was catching.
Apparently, if one's husband committed suicide, one automatically became the unappealing type of widow.
Partly it was her fault. Here she was at the Duchess of Beaumont's impromptu costume ball – but was she dressing as a glamorous character? Or even an evil one?
"Who are you?" her friend Jemma (the aforesaid Duchess of Beaumont) asked.
"A nursery rhyme character. Can you guess which one?" Harriet was wearing a motherly nightgown of plain cotton that her maid had recruited from the housekeeper. Underneath she had three petticoats, as well as four woolen stockings in her bodice. Just to show off a bit, she arched her back.
"A nursery rhyme character with big breasts,” Jemma said. “Very big breasts. Very very –"
"Motherly breasts," Harriet prompted.
"Actually you don’t look motherly as much as wildly curvaceous. The problem will be if one of our houseguests lures you into a corner and attempts a cheerful grope. Wasn't there some nursery rhyme about lighting the way to bed?"
"I'm not on my way to bed," Harriet said, somewhat deflated. “And no one ever tries to grope me. What character are you?"
Jemma's gown was made of a clear pale pink that looked wonderful with the dark gold color of her unpowdered hair. There were small silk poppies sewn all over her skirts, and poppies tucked in her hair. She managed to look elegant and yet untamed, all at once.
"Titania, Queen of the Fairies."
"I'm Mother Goose. Which fairly sums up the difference between us."
End of Excerpt
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Duchess By Night is available in the following formats:
Duchess By Night is Book 3 in the Desperate Duchesses series.
The full series reading order is as follows: