When the Duke Returns(4)

By: Eloisa James





She thought she had all the power. She didn’t.



She had to take command.Cleopatra , she thought desperately. Cleopatra would not allow herself to be transported like a piece of luggage.



“I myself do not plan to leave for several days,” she said, smiling at him even though her heart was thundering in her chest.



It wasn’t just that Cosway wore no cravat. He wore a gorgeous jacket of pale blue, but it was open straight down the front. Long cuffs fell over his hands, the wrist button undone. He looked as if he were ready for bed. The very thought stoked her nerves.



He took her hand in his, and raised it to his lips again. Isidore watched his lips touch her glove and felt herself shiver.



“Ah, but sweetheart,” he said, “I am all eagerness for our wedding.”



For a moment, Isidore just thrilled to the sound of thatsweetheart, to the way his eyes warmed her, to the secret shiver she felt in her legs.



But then she realized what he had said. “We are wed,” she pointed out, withdrawing her hand from his. He looked amused, so she added: “You may have ignored the fact for years, but I assure you that it is true.”



That’s where it all went wrong.



It started there…and it ended with Isidore alone in a bedchamber that night.



Not to mention, Isidore, still a virgin, on her way to London the next day.



He might as well have labeled her, the way they did trunks:



Isidore, property of the duke.





Chapter One




Gore House, Kensington

London Seat of the Duke of Beaumont

February 21, 1784



“He’s a virgin.”



“What!”



“He’s a virgin and—”



“Your husband is a virgin?”



“And he won’t bed me.”



Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont, sank into a chair with a look of almost comical dismay on her face. “Darling, if there ever were grounds for annulment, these are they. Or this is it,” she added with some confusion. “Is he some sort of monk?”



Isidore shook her head. “Not that I’m able to see. He says he will bed me eventually—just not until we’re married.”



“But you are married!”



“Exactly. I may call myself Lady Del’Fino, but the truth of the matter is that in the eyes of the law, I’m Duchess of Cosway.” Isidore dropped into a chair opposite her friend. “We’ve been married for eleven years, last I counted. And it’s hardly my fault that my husband is still a virgin. If he hadn’t been chasing all over Africa looking for the source of the Blue Nile, we could be utterly bored with each other, like other well-bred English couples.”



Jemma blinked at her. “It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”



“I spent the last seven years fending off lechers in every court in Europe, waiting for him to return home, and what does he do? Decide we’re not truly married.”



“So why didn’t he fall directly into your bed, virgin or no?”



Isidore glanced at herself in Jemma’s glass. Men had lusted for her ever since she turned sixteen, and the particulars hadn’t changed: black hair, pale skin, generous bosom. In short, something short of Venus, but delectable enough to send most men into a lustful frenzy.



“One has to assume that Cosway is fascinated by the exotic,” Jemma continued, “and you have such a deliciously un-English look about you. Your eyes are a gorgeous shape, not like the little raisins most of us have.”



“I don’t think of myself as exotic,” Isidore said, “and more to the point, he seems to want someone more skilled in a domestic capacity. Not more than ten minutes after we met—for the first time!—he inquired whether I had been doing any weaving lately. Weaving? Was I supposed to whip out a spindle and sew a fine seam?”



“Even I know that one doesn’t sew with a spindle, which implies that Cosway has a gross disappointment in store if he’s counting on your domestic skills,” Jemma said, laughing. “Perhaps he’s the type that babbles when faced by a desirable woman. It’s a surprisingly common affliction.”



“Believe me, I was watching him closely, and he gave no sign of being overcome by lust.”



“Even Beaumont, who hardly notes anything outside the House of Lords, told me after my masquerade that you had the most beautiful mouth of any woman in England.”



“Beaumont said that?” Isidore said, feeling a little thrill of pleasure. “That’s nice. Though I have to say, Jemma, I shouldn’t like my husband to praise other women to my face.”

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