When the Duke Returns(2)

By: Eloisa James

A chilling thought. What if he decided that she reallywas nothing more than a dried-up apple? She was far beyond the age of a debutante, after all.

The very thought made Isidore’s backbone straighten. She’d played the docile wife for years, preserving her reputation, waiting for her husband’s return. Longing for his return, if she admitted the truth to herself.

And what made Cosway finally come home? Did he suddenly remember that they’d never met? No. It was the news that his wife was visiting a house party more famous for its debauchery than its lemon cakes. She should have thrown away her reputation years ago, and he would have trotted happily out of the jungle like a dog on a leash.

“The silver with diamonds,” she said decisively.

Lucille would have paled, but hermaquillage didn’t allow for such extravagancies of emotion. “Oh, Your Grace,” she said, clasping her hands like a heroine about to be thrown from the parapet, “if you won’t wear the yellow, at least choose a gown that hassome claim to modesty!”

“No,” Isidore said, her mind made up. “Do you know what His Grace’s note says to me, Lucille?”

“Of course not, Your Grace.” Lucille was carefully displacing the pile of glowing silk and satin, looking for Isidore’s most scandalous costume, the one she rarely wore after its first airing resulted in an impromptu duel between two besotted Frenchmen, fought on the cobbles in front of Versailles.

“It says,” Isidore said, snatching up the piece of stationery that had arrived a few hours before: “I discover I have some missing property.And he added a cryptic comment that seemingly announces his imminent arrival:Tonight .”

Lucille looked up, blinking. “What?”

“My husband appears to think I’m a missing trunk. Perhaps he considers it too much work to travel from London to recover me from Lord Strange’s party. Perhaps he expected that I would be waiting on the pier for his boat to come in. Perhaps he thinks I’ve been there for years, tears dripping down my face as I waited for his return!”

Lucille had a hard-headed French turn of mind, so she ignored the edge in Isidore’s voice. She straightened with a gorgeous swath of pale silver silk, glittering with small diamonds. “Will you desire diamonds in your hair as well?” she inquired.

This particular dress fit so closely that Isidore could wear only the smallest corset, designed to plump her breasts and narrow her waist. The gown was sewn by a dressmaker to Queen Marie Antoinette, and it presupposed that its owner would grace the mirrored halls of Versailles—a far cry from the smoky corridors of Strange’s residence. Not to mention the fact that she would be rubbing shoulders with everyone from dukes to jugglers. Still…

“Yes,” she said. “I may lose a few diamonds by the end of the evening. But I want my husband to understand that I am no stray trunk that he can simply throw into his carriage and transport to London.”

Lucille laughed at that, and began to nimbly lace the proper corset. Isidore stared in the mirror, wondering just what the Duke of Cosway expected his wife to look like. She looked nothing like a pale English rose, given her generous curves and dark hair.

It rankled that Cosway had spent years jaunting around foreign lands, while she waited for him to return. Had he even thought of her in the past ten years? Had he ever wondered what had become of the twelve-year-old girl who married him by proxy?

She had a strong feeling that to Cosway she truly was nothing more than a piece of forgotten property. It made her feel slightly crazed: that she had spent so many years wondering what sort of man she’d married, while he wandered around looking for the source of the Nile, never giving her a second thought.

“Lip color,” she said to Lucille. “And I’ll wear the diamond-heeled shoes as well.”

“La Grande Toilette,” Lucille said, and then laughed, a Frenchwoman’s sudden laugh. “The duke won’t know what happened to him!”

“Precisely,” Isidore said with satisfaction. “I had it wrong, Lucille. Eve isn’t the right model. I should be thinking about Cleopatra.”

Lucille was wrestling with Isidore’s panniers and just mumbled something.

“Cleopatra sailed down the Nile in a ship plated in gold,” Isidore said dreamily. “Mark Antony took one look at her and lost his heart in a moment. And it wasn’t because she looked like a modest wife.”

Lucille straightened up. “Modest will not be the word that comes to the duke’s mind when he sees you in this gown.”

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