When the Duke Returns(6)

By: Eloisa James





“Cosway fell asleep after meeting you for the first time? Meetinghis wife for the first time?”



Isidore nodded. “I believe the truth of it is that I am not what he expected, Jemma, and certainly not what he wanted. When he arrived, the night before, he seemed taken aback by my gown. I was wearing my silver gown. Do you remember that costume?”



“No one could forget the twist of cloth pretending to be a bodice. I’ve seen larger diamonds.”



“It seemed to me that from the view of convenience, not to mention desire, that the gown was the perfect welcome to a missing husband,” Isidore said with a deep sigh. “When I wore it in Paris, the Comte de Salmont said—well, never mind what he said. My husband just asked if my taste was always this unorthodox. I did not take that to be a compliment. He then retired to bed. By himself, one hardly need add.”



“Few men could resist you in that gown,” Jemma said, a frown pleating her forehead.



“The following morning,” Isidore said with a sniff, “he ordered everything packed up and I barely said goodbye to Harriet before he bundled me into the carriage. Whereupon he went to sleep rather than talk to me. I’ve married a monster!”



“If he is indeed a monster, then you needn’t stay married to him,” Jemma said practically.



“How can I not? He’s planning a wedding celebration in the chapel at Revels House. Which means that I have the prospect of seeing my mother-in-law, a pleasure that I have carefully avoided for years.”



“He is?”



“Oh, Jemma, I forgot to tell you this part! While he was in Africa, he went to the wedding of a princess. It lasted four days. Or perhaps fourteen, with constant feasts and entertainments. I have a terrible suspicion that he’s planning something like that for us.”



“He really doesn’t seem very English, does he?”



“That’s not the most unusual aspect of it,” Isidore said, putting down her handkerchief. “I gather the wedding culminated in an orgy, though given Cosway’s lack of interest in acts of intimacy—at least with me—I would surmise that he does not plan to mimic this particular aspect of the royal wedding.”



“What?”



“An orgy. Not to mention the fact that the participants drank warm blood from a sacrificed cow as part of a fertility ritual.”



Jemma’s mouth fell open. Then she said, “Cosway is holding the wedding celebration at his estate, at Revels House?”



“I expect the Archbishop of Canterbury would look askance at warm blood, don’t you think?”



“And his mother will be there?”



Isidore nodded again.



“Warm blood,” Jemma said. She covered her mouth but a giggle escaped. “Can you just see him passing a cup ofthat to his mother?”



“The dowager is one of the most upright, English—”



“She could be the queen!” Jemma said. “The queen! She’s that rigid. I know this is really crass, darling, and obviously you’re going to have to annul the marriage on grounds of pure insanity, but may I have an invitation to the wedding,please ?”



“It helps to laugh about it,” Isidore said with a sniff.



Jemma got up and perched on the arm of Isidore’s chair. “Marriage is a great destroyer of logic, but I do think it’s a benefit to begin with a sane husband.”



“You should have seen the way he was dressed. No wig, no hair powder. No cravat! He had a lovely coat, but it was open down the front, with no waistcoat.”



“I can’t wait to see him,” Jemma said. “I’ve always thought it unkind to pay a visit to Bedlam just to laugh at the patients, but if a madman is walking among us…Truly, at this point you should probably visit a solicitor, Isidore. Beaumont’s offices are in the Inns of Court so he’s surrounded by men of that profession. He can point out a good one.”



Isidore sniffed again. “I wish my mother were alive.”



“I could lend you my mother-in-law, if you like,” Jemma offered, giving her a hug.



“Is she the one who populated your house with pictures of Judith holding Holofernes’s head?”



“Exactly! She obviously had a fractious relationship with my father-in-law and came up with creative ways to express herself. She might be just what you need to give the wedding celebration an extra little something.”



Isidore leaned her head against Jemma’s arm. “I didn’t realize how desperately hopeful I was until Cosway walked in the door.”

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