The Duke Is Mine Page 1

Author: Eloisa James

Series: Fairy Tales #3

Genres: Romance , Historical

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Prologue


Once upon a time, not so very long ago . . .


(or, to be exact, March 1812)


. . . there was a girl who was destined to be a princess. Though to be absolutely precise, there was no prince in the offing. But she was betrothed to a duke’s heir, and from the point of view of minor gentry, a coronet was as good as a crown.


This story begins with that girl, and continues through a stormy night, and a series of tests, and if there’s no pea in the tale, all I can say is that if you read on, you will encounter a surprise in that bed: a key, a flea—or perhaps a marquess, for that matter.


In fairy tales, the ability to perceive an obtrusion as tiny as a pea under the mattress is enough to prove that a strange girl who arrives on a stormy night is indeed a princess. In the real world, of course, it’s a bit more complicated. In order to prepare for the rank of duchess, Miss Olivia Mayfield Lytton had learned something from virtually every branch of human knowledge. She was prepared to dine with a king, or a fool, or Socrates himself, conversing on subjects as far-flung as Italian comic opera and the new spinning machines.


But, just as a single dried pea was all that was needed to determine the authenticity of the princess, one crucial fact determined Olivia’s eligibility for the rank of duchess: she was betrothed to the heir to the Canterwick dukedom.


Less important were the facts that when this tale begins Olivia was twenty-three and still unmarried, that her father had no title, and that she had never been given a compliment such as a diamond of the first water. Quite the opposite, in fact.


None of that mattered.


One


In Which We Are Introduced to a Future Duchess


41 Clarges Street, Mayfair


London


The residence of Mr. Lytton, Esq.


Most betrothals spring from one of two fierce emotions: greed or love. But Olivia Lytton’s was fueled neither by an exchange of assets between like-minded aristocrats, nor by a potent mixture of desire, propinquity, and Cupid’s arrows.


In fact, the bride-to-be was liable, in moments of despair, to attribute her engagement to a curse. “Perhaps our parents forgot to ask a powerful fairy to my christening,” she told her sister Georgiana on their way home from a ball given by the Earl of Micklethwait, at which Olivia had spent generous swaths of time with her betrothed. “The curse, it hardly needs to be said, is Rupert’s hand in marriage. I would rather sleep for a hundred years.”


“Sleeping has its attractions,” her sister agreed, descending from their parents’ carriage before the house. Georgiana did not pair the positive comment with its opposite: sleep had attractions . . . but Rupert had few.


Olivia actually had to swallow hard, and sit in the dark carriage by herself a moment, before she was able to pull herself together and follow her sister. She had always known that she would be Duchess of Canterwick someday, so it made no sense to feel so keenly miserable. But there it was. An evening spent with her future husband made her feel half cracked.


It didn’t help that most of London, her mother included, considered her the luckiest of young women. Her mother would be horrified—though unsurprised—by Olivia’s lame jest linking the dukedom with a curse. To her parents, it was manifestly clear that their daughter’s ascension of the social ranks was a piece of singular good fortune. In short, a blessing.


“Thank God,” Mr. Lytton had said, oh, five thousand times since Olivia was born. “If I hadn’t gone to Eton . . .”


It was a story that Olivia and her twin sister Georgiana had loved when they were little. They would perch on their papa’s knees and listen to the thrilling tale of how he—plain, unremarkable (albeit connected to an earl on one side, as well as a bishop and a marquess on the other) Mr. Lytton—had gone to Eton and become best friends with the Duke of Canterwick, who had inherited his grand title at the tender age of five. At some point, the boys had sworn a blood oath that Mr. Lytton’s eldest daughter would become a duchess by marrying the Duke of Canterwick’s eldest son.


Mr. Lytton showed giddy enthusiasm in doing his part to ensure this eventuality, producing not one but two daughters within a year of marriage. The Duke of Canterwick, for his part, produced only one son, and that after a few years of marriage, but obviously one son was sufficient for the task at hand. Most importantly, His Grace kept his word, and regularly reassured Mr. Lytton about the destined betrothal.


Consequently, the proud parents of the duchess-to-be did everything in their power to prepare their firstborn daughter (the elder by a good seven minutes) for the title that was to be bestowed upon her, sparing no expense in shaping the future Duchess of Canterwick. Olivia was tutored from the moment she left the cradle. By ten years of age, she was expert in the finer points of etiquette, the management of country estates (including double-entry accounting), playing the harpsichord and the spinet, greeting people in various languages, including Latin (useful for visiting bishops, if no one else), and even in French cooking, though her knowledge of the last was intellectual rather than practical. Duchesses never actually touched food, except to eat it.


She also had a thorough knowledge of her mother’s favorite tome, The Mirror of Compliments: A Complete Academy for the Attaining unto the Art of Being a Lady, which was written by no less a personage than Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Sconce, and given to the girls on their twelfth birthday.


In fact, Olivia’s mother had read The Mirror of Compliments so many times that it had taken over her conversation, rather like ivy smothering a tree. “ ‘Gentility,’ ” she had said the morning before the Micklethwait ball over marmalade and toast, “ ‘is bestowed on us by our ancestors, but soon blanched, when not revived by virtue.’ ” Olivia had nodded. She herself was a firm believer in the benefits of blanching gentility, but long experience had taught her that expressing such an opinion would merely give her mother a headache.


“ ‘A young lady,’ ” Mrs. Lytton had announced on the way to the Micklethwait ball, “ ‘loathes nothing so much as entering parley with an immodest suitor.’ ” Olivia knew better than to inquire about how one “parleyed” with an immodest suitor. The ton understood that she was betrothed to the Duke of Canterwick’s heir, and therefore suitors, immodest or otherwise, rarely bothered to approach.


Generally speaking, she tabled that sort of advice for the future, when she hoped to indulge in any number of immodest parleys.


“Did you see Lord Webbe dancing with Mrs. Shottery?” Olivia asked her sister as they walked into her bedchamber. “It’s quite affecting to watch them stare into each other’s eyes. I must say, the ton seems to take their wedding vows about as seriously as do the French, and everyone says that inclusion of marital fidelity into French wedding vows turned them a splendid work of fiction.”


“Olivia!” Georgiana groaned. “You mustn’t! And you wouldn’t—would you?”


“Are you asking whether I will ever be unfaithful to my fiancé once he’s my husband—if that day ever arrives?”


Georgiana nodded.


“I suppose not,” Olivia said, though secretly she sometimes wondered if she might just snap one day and break every social rule by running off to Rome with a footman. “The only part of the evening I really enjoyed was when Lord Pomtinius told me a limerick about an adulterous abbot.”

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