This Duchess of Mine Page 1

Chapter One

Beaumont House

London Seat of the Duke of Beaumont

March 26, 1784

No one dressed to please a husband. At least, not in the Duchess of Beaumont’s circle of acquaintances. One dressed—to be frank—to dazzle and amaze one’s female friends. Or, if one were so inclined, to invite a seduction…to engage in an affaire.

Husbands were just there, like coal in Newcastle and pigs in the sty.

Which made it all the harder for Jemma, the duchess in question, to decide what to wear to seduce her spouse. After all, Elijah had been her husband for years. True, they had lived apart for some time, but now they’d agreed, in an alarmingly businesslike fashion, that after he returned from a fortnight spent at the Prime Minister’s house, they would…

Would what?

Have a baby. Produce an heir, or at least go through the motions that would produce one in nine months.

Go to bed together.

They had come to that decision a year ago. When she had first returned from Paris, she was too angry to contemplate marital intimacies, but then somehow the fury drained away. Still, they kept to separate bedchambers. The humiliating truth was that Elijah didn’t seem terribly interested.

First he said he wouldn’t bed her until she finished her chess match with the Duke of Villiers, since everyone believed that the match was naught more than a cover for an affaire. Then, when she threw in the chess match, giving the win to Villiers, Elijah announced that he was going into the country with Pitt’s wing of the government.

She couldn’t imagine another man claiming that he was too busy to bed her. Too busy to seduce the Duchess of Beaumont?


Jemma didn’t think she was being overly vain, just realistic. It had been her experience that men were driven by lust above duty. And she had been assured by male attention from age sixteen that she was precisely what a lustful man would like to find in his bed.

She had blue eyes, hair of a deep golden color, a very elegant nose (she particularly liked her nose), and crimson lips. True, the crimson color resulted from lavish applications of lip rouge, but if one were lucky enough not to have a thin hard mouth, one might as well draw attention to it.

And at twenty-eight, she still had the allure of youth, together with a sheen of sophistication and wit that no sixteen-year-old could command.

She even had all her teeth, to lower the subject to the level of cattle.

The problem, it seemed to her, was that to Elijah she was a wife, not a woman.

There was nothing sensual about the word wife. Jemma gave a little shudder. Wives nagged and complained. Wives wore little caps on their fading hair and suffered from broadening hips due to child-bearing.

It was mortifying to be a wife. Even worse, a wife whose husband was reluctant to take her to bed.

It was definitely a new, and rather disconcerting, sensation, to feel that she was more interested in bedding a man than the reverse. She was used to men trying to seduce her. During the years she lived at Versailles, gentlemen considered her ripe for the plucking, given that her husband lived in England. They swiveled before her to display a powerful thigh, flaunt an embroidered coat or an enameled snuff box. They dropped roses, plums, and poems at her doorstep.

She smiled, enticed, laughed, dismissed. She dressed to amuse herself, and to dazzle the court. She dressed for power and admiration. She certainly didn’t dress to enchant men: she took that for granted.

But the whole process of making her toilette felt different tonight.

She wanted all the passion and energy her husband devoted to the House of Lords, to the fate of England. She wanted him to look at her with the same hunger that he showed for a new bill in Parliament. She wanted Elijah at her feet.

She wanted what she probably couldn’t have. No wife had that.

Brigitte, her femme de chambre, popped into the room with a fistful of visiting cards. “All your beaux are below requesting to assist you in your toilette,” she said. “Lord Corbin, of course, and Viscount St. Albans. Delacroix and Lord Piddleton.”

Jemma wrinkled her nose. “I don’t believe I shall admit anyone this evening.”

“You shall dress alone, Your Grace?” The look on Brigitte’s face was almost comical.

“I am never alone,” Jemma pointed out. “I have your assistance as well as that of Mariette and Lucinda. A woman with three maids, each with such decided opinions, can hardly bemoan her lack of guidance!”

Brigitte’s eyes narrowed, just for a second. “Indeed, Your Grace. Perhaps you plan a special toilette for the fête this evening. Shall I inform the gentlemen that you decline their counsel?”

But Jemma had already changed her mind, based on that little flash in Brigitte’s eyes. Brigitte knew that the duke would be going directly to the king’s fête. Servants talked…servants knew.

Jemma suspected that the house knew of her embarrassing, humiliating infatuation with her husband. In the last month or so she had taken to sitting in the library with a chessboard before her, waiting for Elijah to return from the House of Lords. She had started reading all the papers, with particular attention to accounts of the Duke of Beaumont’s speeches. She was…

She was a dunce. She should behave as if there was nothing untoward about the evening. Her husband had been in the country for two weeks; that meant nothing to her. A fashionable wife would never even note the absence or presence of something as insignificant as a husband.

“It’s just that I have a headache,” she said, with precisely the right note of lament. “And Corbin and Delacroix can be so trivial. If only Villiers were here.”

Suspicion vanished from her maid’s eyes. “He would soothe your head, Your Grace. And he”—Brigitte dimpled—“is far from trivial.”

Despite herself, Jemma smiled. “But Villiers would never lower himself to join a woman at her dressing. For one thing, I suspect that it takes him longer to dress than it takes me. I suppose I must needs admit Corbin, at least. How do I appear?”

Jemma was wearing a honey-pale corset, adorned with daring bows of sheer black ribbon. Brigitte darted about, pulling a lock of hair over her shoulder so it emphasized her white skin, dusting a touch of powder onto her nose.

Her hair, of course, was already built into a formidable pile of curls, though it awaited ornamentation and powder. One of her three French maids, Mariette, was a genius in that area and had spent two hours earlier that afternoon constructing a style fit for a royal occasion.

Jemma looked at herself again in the glass over her dressing table. To her mind, nothing suited her quite as much as dishabille, to be with her face painted, but her hair unpowdered, her legs showing through the frail lawn of her chemise. If only Elijah visited her at this time in the afternoon…but he never did.

Only strangers—or at best, acquaintances—thronged below in the drawing room, begging for permission to help her place a patch, or choose a gown.

Presumably husbands were uninterested in seeing their wives dress; their secrets were all known and the thrill of the unfamiliar was lost. Though considering that she and Elijah hadn’t seen each other under intimate circumstances for nine years, one might imagine he felt a tinge of curiosity. The last time they had slept together she had been a gauche and, comparatively speaking, flat-chested twenty-year-old.

“If Villiers were below, would you admit him?” Brigitte asked, artfully spilling a box of ribbons onto the dressing table as if she were setting the stage for a play. She snatched up Jemma’s silver-backed mirror and laid it carefully across the glowing strands of color.