My American Duchess(9)

By: Eloisa James

In other words, his brother had given away the ring that was traditionally worn by the Duchess of Trent, the ring that family lore dictated should grace the finger of his own bride. Perhaps Trent should have locked it away, but it had never occurred to him that Cedric would take it.

In another man, theft of a diamond ring might reflect avarice. That wasn’t the case with Cedric; he was jealous of Trent’s title, but he wasn’t greedy. Cedric’s eyes had been bright with glee. He intended, very deliberately and simply, to provoke.

Equally clearly, Cedric had made his announcement at a ball in the hopes that Trent would lose his temper before an audience that included most of fashionable London. The scandal resulting from a lady’s betrothal ring being wrenched off her finger would be discussed for years.

Trent would be damned before he gave his brother the satisfaction of a public dispute, even though the ring belonged to his descendants, not to Cedric’s. The very idea of reclaiming the diamond from his future sister-in-law, who was the innocent in this whole business, was extremely distasteful.

Without a word, he had turned on his heel and taken himself out onto the balcony. He had been staring into the dark garden when he had felt a touch on his arm, turned—and met her.

Now, back in the ballroom, he stood at the edge of the whirl of music and color and thought about what had just happened.

He didn’t even like Americans.

They were overly bold, in his experience—and she was no different. She had looked him in the eye as if she were a member of the royal family: direct and unwavering, without a hint of respect for his title.

Yet she was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen, with riotous curls the precise color and sheen of a ripe chestnut, and a mouth like a lush rose, without the aid of sticky paints. Her figure was luxurious and trim at the same time, and she was tall enough that he could kiss her without getting a painful crick in his neck.

But what had made him lose his equilibrium were her eyes. He was pretty certain they were misty gray, but it had been hard to tell on the shadowy balcony. What he did know was that they sparkled with laughter and intelligence. And they changed with her every emotion, her every thought clear.

Her openness was a welcome change from his family’s furtiveness. His father, like any man who drinks to excess, had harbored secrets on secrets. What his mother had thought of that, no one knew. Trent had no memory of her expressing any opinion or emotion other than a generalized, withering discontent.

Everything the American thought and felt, by contrast, was written in her eyes and—as far as he could tell—fell straight from her lips. She would never be guarded with her thoughts: more likely, whomever she married would spend a good deal of time laughing as she informed him, all too bluntly, exactly what she thought.

Trent had never contemplated laughing with a wife. To the extent that he’d thought about his duchess, he’d imagined a reserved woman, who would make no scenes of any kind. She wouldn’t cling to him, create fusses, or make incessant demands, particularly of the emotional sort.

But he was used to making rapid decisions when presented with new evidence.

He would marry this lady because he liked everything about her, from her husky giggle to those facts she loved so much.

She wouldn’t be a properly respectful wife, or even be an obedient one. But she would never be sly, either. She would be a very different duchess than his mother had been—which would be all to the good.

He had had no idea that he’d been waiting for a particular woman, but it turned out he had been waiting for an American with glossy curls who would look him straight in the eye and not give a damn that he was a duke.

Cedric’s bride could keep the diamond ring. Trent would buy his American a new ring. She was from a new country, after all.

He would buy her a ring worth twice the purloined diamond. They would start a new tradition, and his ring would grace the hands of future Duchesses of Trent.

Now he merely had to discover her name, arrange a proper introduction, and inform her chaperone that he intended to pay her a morning call. The request would speak for itself: anyone who overheard it would suspect that she was to be the next duchess. The gossip would be all over London by morning.

Trent only discovered he was smiling when he met the puzzled eyes of a man he’d been to school with.

“Excellent champagne, isn’t it?” Lord Royston said, raising his glass.


“You haven’t any.”

“I will,” Trent said. “If you’ll excuse me, Royston, I must find our hostess.”

“You should get some champagne before it runs out. Last I saw, Lady Portmeadow was lurking near the refreshments table, no doubt to ensure that no one takes too much.”

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