My American Duchess

By: Eloisa James


My books are like small children; they take a whole village to get them to a literate state. I want to offer my deep gratitude to my village: my editor, Carrie Feron; my agent, Kim Witherspoon; my partner-in-crime, Linda Francis Lee; my website designers, Wax Creative; and my personal team: Kim Castillo, Anne Connell, Franzeca Drouin, and Sharlene Martin Moore. In addition, people in many departments of HarperCollins, from Art to Marketing to PR, have done a wonderful job of getting this book into readers’ hands: my heartfelt thanks goes to each of you.

Chapter One

April 6, 1803

Lady Portmeadow’s ball in honor of the East End Charity Hospital

15 Golden Square

At 9 pm sharp, Lord Cedric Allardyce gracefully fell to his knees, signaling his intent to request Miss Merry Pelford’s hand in marriage.

Merry stared down at his buttery curls, scarcely believing this was actually happening to her. She had to force back a nervous giggle when Cedric complimented her finger for its slenderness before slipping on a diamond ring.

It felt as if she were on a stage, playing a role meant for a delicate, feminine Englishwoman. That actress hadn’t shown up, and storklike Merry Pelford had taken her place.

But at 9:02, after Cedric’s lyrical proposal drew to a close, she forced back a nervous qualm and agreed to become his bride.

Back in the ballroom, Merry’s guardian, her aunt Bess, didn’t seem to realize that Cedric and Merry were mismatched. “The two of you are exquisitely suited, like night and day,” she said, eyeing Cedric’s yellow hair. “No, midnight and the dawn. That’s not bad; I’ll have to write it down.”

“My aunt is a poet,” Merry told Cedric.

Before Bess could prove her credentials by tossing out a line or two, her uncle Thaddeus—who was bluntly unsympathetic to rhymes of any kind—dragged Cedric off to the card room. Merry instantly pulled off her glove and revealed her diamond ring.

“Cedric is friends with the Prince of Wales,” she whispered.

Bess raised an eyebrow. “It’s always helpful to be acquainted with those in power, though I can’t say I view the man as a desirable acquaintance on his own merits.”

Merry’s aunt had grown up in that cradle of American high society known as Beacon Hill; her father was a Cabot and her mother a Saltonstall. Her staunch belief that she represented the pinnacle of society had remained unshaken in the presence of the most haughty noblemen.

“Cedric believes that His Highness has been portrayed unfairly,” Merry said stoutly. She was marrying an Englishman, and that meant she had to adopt English ideas.

“The only prince I’ve met to this date is that Russian who courted your cousin Kate,” Bess said. “There’s nothing worse than a man who bows too much. He popped up and down like a jack-in-the-box; it gave me a headache just to look at him.”

“Prince Evgeny,” Merry said, nodding. “He was always wearing white gloves.”

“White gloves on a man have their time and place. But what with the gloves and the bowing, he was like a rabbit, one of those that flashes its tail before it runs off.”

Aunt Bess certainly had a lively gift for metaphor.

“What a lovely evening,” she continued. “The only thing better would be if your father was with us, but I’m certain that he and your sainted mother are watching over you. Likely he was the one who put the idea for this visit to England in my mind!”

Merry nodded, though she was less certain about her father’s approval. Mr. Pelford had been a patriot to his core, and had been elected to represent Massachusetts in the Constitutional Congress, after all.

He had made his own way in the world, taking the profits from a successful patent for a weaving machine and speculating in real estate, then standing for the House of Representatives. In fact, if he hadn’t succumbed to a heart ailment, Merry thought her father could have ended up President of the United States.

Her aunt’s thoughts must have followed hers, because she added, “Though now I think on it, your father might have disliked the idea. More likely, ’twas your mother. I know she loved the land of her birth.”

Merry brushed a kiss on her aunt’s rosy cheek. “My father wouldn’t have a single complaint. You and Uncle Thaddeus have been the best possible guardians.”

“Such a sweet child you were, from the very day you came to us,” Bess said, her eyes turning misty. “You make up for the lack of my own children tenfold. I can scarcely believe that my niece will be an English lady.”

Merry couldn’t quite imagine it herself.

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