When the Duke Returns

Book 4 in the Desperate Duchesses, the Original Six series

The Duchess of Cosway yearns for a man she has never met . . . her husband.

Married by proxy as a child, Lady Isidore has spent years fending off lecherous suitors while longing for her husband, Simeon Jermyn, the Duke of Cosway, to return.

But when the prodigal duke finally returns, ready to take on his obligations, he finds the woman they call his wife too ravishing, too headstrong, too sensual to be a proper duchess. But Isidore will not give up her claim to the handsome duke without a fight.

Read an Excerpt

Book Extras

The Inside TakeMea CulpaSeries Reading Order

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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 fourth book in the Desperate Duchess series. So, although it stands alone, a number of characters appeared first in earlier books, such as the Duke of Villiers, and the Duke and Duchess of Beaumont (Jemma and Elijah). Jemma’s story, This Duchess of Mine, will be next in the series, publishing in June, 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; An 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 Peregrine. No prizes for guessing the opening location of the fifth book, This Duchess of Mine!
  • In each of the Desperate Duchess series, I leave one tiny question unanswered. To catch each question, check the Inside Take for the various books. For When the Duke Returns, the question involves Simeon’s fortune, told in India: “He told me that it was up to me to make sure that my fortune didn’t turn out as he prophesied.” What grim news do you think that Simeon managed to avoid? For the answer, wait for the sixth book in this series, A Duke of Her Own.
  • Signora Angelico, Isidore’s Italian lingerie maker, is based on my husband’s delightful aunt, who has built a stellar career creating hand-made nightgowns for (literally) royalty all over the world, especially the Arab countries. Her studio, like that of Signora Angelico, is a treasure box of ribbons and lace. If you’d like to see a picture of the negligée that Simeon and Signora Angelico design for Isidore’s wedding night, you’ll need to find that particular Easter Egg.
  • I got the idea of the Dead Watch from reading an article about a modern business that specializes in difficult cleaning jobs, of just this sort. Unlike the Dead Watch, their modern offspring are both entirely respectable and limit themselves to violent death, rather than septic tanks.
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Mea Culpa

  • Isidore wanders into the garden, where a blackthorn tree “was scattering seeds everywhere, like a child feeding birds in a dizzying circle.” Philip wrote me from England with the following observation: “Blackthorn may be a tree with seeds in North America, but in the U.K. it is a bush, commonly found in hedgerows. It does have seeds, but they are in the centre of small blue/purple plum-like fruit that tend to stay on the bush into winter. The fruit are bitter and known as Sloes.” Ouch! I still like my metaphor, though.
  • Ann pointed out that in chapter 37, Villiers declares himself the 2nd cousin twice removed to the Marquise de Perthuis. He also states that they were “thrown [played] together as children”. The term “twice removed” when referring to cousins means that they are two generations apart. So it’s unlikely (though not impossible, the way generations migrate apart) that they were children together.
  • Time is always a problem for me. And not only in the way of T.S.Eliot’s Prufrock either (“I shall grow old…I shall grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”) but because I lose track of my own characters, and their particular time-lines. There are a couple of errors in When the Duke Returns. Kit pointed out that on page 137 in An Affair Before Christmas Jemma tells Poppy Elijah and his mistress had been together for three years at the time Elijah married Jemma. But then on page 106 in When the Duke Returns, Elijah says that he ended his relationship with Sarah when Jemma found them together – and that the relationship had been six years in the making. Sigh.
  • And there are, alas, a few small typos. Girlie Grace pointed out that on page 227, Elijah says “I’m been” rather than “I’ve been.” Cayks discovered that on page 220, Isobel says that since she’ll be looking for a spouse she won’t “have to time to” (an extra “to”), and FanLit found Simeon being extra-gymnastic on page 204, when he put his hands on Isobel’s bottom and managed to “pull him against her.” There’s a glaring repetition on page 307, when Jemma says “Not to strange, after all. After all, we are all…” That’s so like me. I say “after all” far too often, and obviously I gifted Jemma with the same terrible trait.
  • Deb noted that on the bottom of page 227, Elijah stops making sense (not normal for him!), when he’s says, “I’m been.” It should be “I’ve been,” of course.
  • Candice realized from a sneak peek before the book was even out that on page 350 Isidore tells the tedious Turquoise Coated man that she must retire to the “lady’s salon.” Of course, she should make her way to the “ladies’ salon,” which is, in fact, where she finds herself on page 352.
  • Annelies found another mistake in the samesneak peek (yes, I am rethinking the advisability of excerpts!): On page 348, Isidore points out that a swim would be disastrous: "If I fell overboard, I would sink like a stone. These stones are quite small but put together, they're quite heavy." Jemma very sensibly suggests that she “sit in a throne to receive the admiring hoards." Well, as Annelies pointed out, those hordes of suitors aren't "hoards" unless Isidore is storing them in the folds of her dress – which means she really would sink!

“James is brilliant!”

~ Romantic Times BOOKClub (4 1/2 Stars)


“Appealing secondary characters from earlier installments of the Desperate Duchess series add another layer of poignancy to this most excellent romance.”

~ Bookpage


Enjoy an Excerpt

But all the diamonds in the world couldn’t stop the cold fear that gripped Isidore’s heart when she descended the stairs some time later. She was going to meet herhusband. For the first time.

What if he were ugly? Well, he was certain to be weather-beaten, at the very least. Likely there wasn’t good hygiene in Africa, Isidore told herself. Cosway might be missing some teeth. He might be missing an eye! He might be—

But she stopped herself before she began lopping off his limbs. Whatever he was and however he looked, she would finally have a real husband. She could have children. She could be a real duchess, rather than a woman known to some as the Duchess of Cosway, and others as Lady Del’Fino. She’d longed for this event for years.

The thought sustained her as she strolled into Lord Strange’s sitting room. There was an vivid moment of silence, as the gentlemen in the room took stock of Isidore – or perhaps more precisely, Isidore’s tiny bodice -- followed by such a concerted rush in her direction that she actually flinched. No duke was among them. Cosway had yet to arrive.

Men were men, she kept telling herself whenever she felt a pulse of nervousness about her husband. French or English, explorer or juggler, the silver gown brought them all to their knees.

But the sensuality of the gown felt different this time. In the past, she’d ignored men who gaped at her bosom. Now she suddenly realized that a husband’s response involved more than just a lustful gaze. To put it bluntly, Cosway had every right to drag her straight up the stairs.

To bed.


Of course she wanted to sleep with her husband. She was curious, she wanted children, she wanted…she wanted to throw up.

Her friend Harriet took one look at her and pulled her out into of the sitting room – when it happened.

The front door was open and snow was blowing in. The butler was saying something about unseasonably cold weather, and then…

A man laughed, and in that instant, Isidore knew. It was Cosway. She could only see his back: he was enormous, wrapped in a greatcoat with a fur hat. She panicked. “I have to go upstairs!” she whispered, stepping backwards, nearly tripping in her eagerness to flee.

“Too late,” Harriet said, holding her arm.

And it was. The great mountain of a man turned and then, as if there were no one else in the entry, his eyes met hers and he recognized her. He didn’t even glance at her dress, just met her eyes. Isidore gulped.

Black hair tumbled over his collar as he pulled off his hat and handed it to a butler. But he didn’t take his eyes from hers. His skin looked warm, a honey-dark color that no one could call weather-beaten.

Without saying a word he swept into a deep bow. Isidore’s lips parted to say – what? – as she watched him bow and then curtsied, a moment too late. She felt as if she were caught in the acts of the play. He was –

If Cosway was Mark Anthony, Cleopatra would have fallen at his feet, rather than the other way around. He didn’t look like an English duke. He didn’t have powdered hair, or a cravat, or even a waistcoat. He looked untamed.

“My duchess, I presume,” he said, catching her hand and kissing it.

Isidore managed to pull herself together enough to introduce him to Harriet, but her mind was reeling. Somehow in all her imaginings, she’d forgotten to imagine – a man.

Not a nobleman, with delicate fingernails, and powered hair. Not a ruffian, like many of the men attending Lord Strange’s houseparty. But a man who moved easily, like a lion, who seems to swallow all the air in the entry, whose eyes ranged over her face with a sense of ownership… Her heart was beating so quickly that she’d couldn’t hear anything.

He wasn’t one-legged, or toothless. He was probably one of the most beautiful men she’d ever met. She had lost track of the conversation.

“The duchess and I leave in the morning,” he was telling the butler.

In the morning? Isidore was gripped by a sense of fear so great that she couldn’t imagine even walking to the carriage. If she were utterly honest, she had imagined a man who would be slavishly grateful to discover that his wife was so beautiful. But now…

She thought she had all the power. She didn’t.

She had to take command. Cleopatra, she thought desperately. Cleopatra would not allow herself to be transported like a piece of luggage.

“I myself do not plan to leave for several days,” she said, smiling at him even though her heart was thundering in her chest.

It wasn’t just that Cosway wore no cravat. He wore a gorgeous jacket of pale blue, but it was open straight down the front. Long cuffs fell over his hands, the wrist button undone. He looked as if he were ready for bed. The very thought stoked her nerves.

He took her hand in his, and raised it to his lips again. Isidore watched his lips touch her gloves and felt herself shiver.

“Ah, but sweetheart,” he said, “I am all eagerness for our wedding.”

For a moment, Isidore just thrilled to the sound of that sweetheart, to the way his eyes warmed her, to the secret shiver she felt in her legs.

But then she realized what he had said. “We are wed,” she pointed out, withdrawing her hand from his. He looked amused, so she added: “You may have ignored the fact for years, but I assure you that it is true.”

That’s where it all went wrong.

It started there…and it ended with Isidore alone in a bedchamber that night.

Not to mention, Isidore, still a virgin, on her way to London the next day.

He might as well have labeled her, the way they did trunks.

Isidore, property of the duke.

End of Excerpt

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When the Duke Returns is available in the following formats:


ISBN: 978-0061245602
November 25, 2008