When the Duke Returns(3)

By: Eloisa James

“Excellent,” Isidore said, smiling at herself as Lucille dropped a shimmering veil of silver over her head. The bodice fitted as if it were sewn to her body which, in fact, it had been. The fittings had been tedious, but worth every minute. At the waist the silk pulled back in soft billowing folds, revealing an underskirt of blue watered silk. One might not immediately notice the tiny diamonds sewn all over her bodice and skirts, but they made the gown luminescent. It was a gown that turned its wearer into a queen.

Queen Cleopatra, to be exact.

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 aneye ! 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 to 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 a 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 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 looked into 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 she curtsied, a moment too late. She felt as if she were caught in the acts of the play. He was—

If Cosway were Mark Antony, 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—aman .

Not a nobleman, with delicate fingernails, and powdered hair. Not a ruffian, like many of the men attending Lord Strange’s house party. But a man who moved easily, like a lion, who seemed 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 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…

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