When the Duke Returns(5)

By: Eloisa James

Jemma shrugged. “According to your own assessment, as a well-bred English couple, we are merely adhering to type. I don’t think you should panic, Isidore. I expect Cosway is madly attracted to you and he’s just conveying his deep respect by holding a ceremony in front of a bishop.”

“He’s deranged,” Isidore said flatly. “It must have been all that sun in Africa. We married by proxy, but it was still a marriage. I was only twelve years old, but I remember it perfectly well.”

“Well,” Jemma said, rallying, “maybe the duke wants a romantic ceremony now that he’s returned.”

“And maybe he’s utterly mad and bizarre,” Isidore said, putting her fear into words. “What sort of man stays a virgin until he’s near to thirty? That’s almost disgusting. How am I supposed to introduce him to the bedroom, Jemma? Men do this sort of thing on their own. Honestly, if he’s never used his equipment—well, who’s to say that it will function at all?”

Silence answered her.

Isidore could feel her eyes growing hot. “I just want to have my husband go to bed with me so that I can be a proper duchess, use my title, and have a child. Is that too much to ask?”

Jemma reached over and took one of her hands. “No. I’m sorry, darling.”

Tears started sliding down Isidore’s cheeks. “I was never unfaithful to Cosway. The Comte de Salmont told me—in rhymed couplets—that I was more delicious than a 1764 cognac, and given his cellars, that was a true compliment. I finally returned to Italy because Salmont was so extravagant in his pursuit, but I didn’t sleep with him, even when he threatened to kill himself.” She sniffed, and Jemma handed her a handkerchief.

“I kept to my part of the bargain, although any woman in her right mind would expect her husband to show himself when she came of age.”

“Childhood marriages are a huge mistake,” Jemma said. “I shall never allow Beaumont to arrange one for a child of ours. People should be adults when they marry.”

“I’m not fussy. Truly I’m not. I may have flirted with men as handsome as Salmont, but I like men of other types too. Even short ones. I’ve told myself for years that no matter how Cosway looked when he finally staggered out of the jungle, I would do my marital part charitably if not enthusiastically. But—”

“Is he unacceptable?” Jemma asked with some curiosity.

“Oh, oh—no,” Isidore said. “That’s not the point. His looks are irrelevant. He’s manifestly odd. Odd!”

“I have another idea. Perhaps Cosway is just too intelligent to have interested himself in carnal matters.”

Isidore gave her a watery smile. “Show me the man who’s too intelligent to use his tool, and I’ll show you a dunce.” The words came out more harshly than she intended.

“The most obvious explanation is that he’s following some sort of religious law. Did he say anything about going to church? Likely he’s a Puritan. Aren’t they terrifyingly severe when it comes to base appetites?”

“I spent almost no time alone with him,” Isidore said, “and if he has converted to a puritanical sect, he neglected to inform me. He arrived at the house party, scooped me up as if I were a parcel he’d left behind, announced that we were to be remarried, and dropped me in London.”

“What do you mean, dropped you in London?” Jemma said, frowning. “Dropped you where?”

“At Nerot’s Hotel,” Isidore said dispiritedly. “We stayed there last night. I hardly need say that we didn’t share a room. He told me—without asking my opinion—that I should wait in the hotel until he returned from his estate.”

Jemma cleared her throat. “Obviously Cosway is notau courant as regards English customs. What did you reply?”

“Not as much or as sharply as you might expect. He assumed that I would unthinkingly obey him, and though I can hardly believe it, I did. Now all I can think of are the cutting things that I should have said.”

“You’ve discovered one of the primary activities of married life, and so quickly too,” Jemma said. “I’ve lost weeks formulating the witty remarks that I should have said to Beaumont.”

“I did manage to tell him that I would stay with you rather than remain in the hotel.”

“Why didn’t you discuss this hotel business on the way to London from the house party?”

It was humiliating to admit the truth of it. “He barely entered the carriage before he fell asleep.”

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