When the Duke Returns(7)

By: Eloisa James

“Is it instantly apparent that he’s mad?”

“No. He looks like a muscled explorer, all browned by the sun, and rather wild. He has a big nose, but he looks all man, if you know what I mean.”

Jemma nodded.

“But then he turned out to be so very unmanly. The virginity, for example, is so disconcerting. I’m afraid he might tell everyone at the wedding,” she burst out.

“He wouldn’t!”

“He’s not ashamed. He says it’s the best gift he could have brought me. I’m going to be the laughingstock of all England. Isidore, the Virgin Duchess.”

“Now I think of it, Isidore, if my husband had been a virgin when we married, he wouldn’t have had a mistress.”

“One has to assume not.”

“If that were the case, we would have had a chance at a decent marriage,” Jemma pointed out.

Isidore sighed. “I certainly won’t have to fend off other women. Believe me, once theton gets wind of his odd ideas, there’ll be no competition for his dubious charms.”

Jemma’s arm tightened around her. “I don’t know whether it would be better to initiate annulment proceedings now on the grounds of nonconsummation, or just get the marriage annulled later, on the grounds of mental instability.”

“Cosway is probably going back to Africa in any case,” Isidore said dispiritedly. “He won’t be around for the proceedings.”

“Is there a Red or a Green Nile to trace?”

“Who would know? I thought the Nile was in Egypt somewhere, but he talked of Abyssinia. I can’t say that I had much education in geography.”

“If he’s really going back to Africa,” Jemma said, “then you might want to stay married.”

“Because of the title, you mean?”

“Precisely. Let’s hope he’ll stay around long enough to create an heir, and then he can wander off for a decade or so.”

Isidore got up, walked a few nervous steps before she blurted out her darkest fear. “Ifhe’s capable of making an heir.”

“If he’s not, then you know what you have to do. Your first duty to the title is to produce an heir, and if the duke isn’t capable, then you find a man to do the deed. That’s a fact of life.”

“Speaking of that,” Isidore said, “didn’t you move back to England precisely to give Beaumont an heir?”

“Beaumont doesn’t want to engage in heir-making activities until I finish the chess match I started with the Duke of Villiers. But Villiers is still recovering from brain fever and his doctor won’t allow him to play chess. Which is actually a good thing.”


“Oh, Beaumont and I are getting to know each other,” Jemma said lightly.

“And yet not intimately?”

Jemma started laughing. “You would put up with the warm blood, the orgies, and the unpowdered hair, if only your husband would take you to bed, Isidore. Isn’t that the truth?”

Isidore felt a pulse of humiliation, but after all, Jemma was her dearest friend. “I’m twenty-three,” she said. “Twenty-three! I’m curious! You should see the way Harriet acts with Lord Strange when they think no one is looking. I came across them kissing in a corridor, and the air fairly scorched around them.”

“Poor Isidore,” Jemma said, meaning it. “Though I feel compelled to tell you that the whole bedroom experience is rather overrated, in my opinion.”

“It would have been easier if Cosway expressed the slightest interest in the occasion. At this rate, I’m going to terrify the man if we ever get to a bedchamber.” She took another nervous turn around the chamber.

“I think you should probably prepare for the worst,” Jemma said. “It seems very likely to me that incapability lies at the heart of this situation. It would explain why he’s a virgin, and also why he’s making such a fuss out of the wedding.”

“Why do you think so?”

“Another wedding delays the inevitable. Perhaps he’s thinking that although he may not have functioned in previous attempts—”

“Sharing a cup of warm blood will make it all better?” Isidore couldn’t help it. She started laughing again, a kind of laughter halfway between joy and despair.

“Yes,” Jemma said. “That sounds just like something a man would think up.”

Chapter Two

Revels House

Country Seat of the Duke of Cosway

February 21, 1784

Hot Read

Last Updated


Top Books