A Duke of Her Own

By: Eloisa James

“Is this sourness the effect of marriage?” Eleanor said, staring at her sister. “You wed barely a fortnight ago. If this is the consequence of wedded bliss, I might do best to avoid it.”

“Marriage gives me time to think.” Anne smirked. “In bed.”

“I feel truly sorry for you if your bedtime activities involve consideration of my wardrobe, not to mention Rackfort’s lackluster hairdressing,” Eleanor said tartly.

Anne broke into laughter. “I just don’t understand why you dress like a prissy dowd when underneath you are quite the opposite.”

“I am not—” Eleanor flashed, and caught herself. “And I don’t understand why you are wasting time fussing over me when you have the very handsome Mr. Jeremy Bouchon claiming your attention.”

“In fact, Jeremy and I discussed you. In a slow moment, as it were.”

“You didn’t!”

“We both agree that men don’t look past your dowdy clothing. Jeremy says he never even considered the possibility of courting you. He thought you an eccentric, too pious and haughty even to take notice of him. You, Eleanor! He thought that of you. How ridiculous!”

Eleanor managed to bite back her opinion of her brother-in-law. “We’re in the middle of a ball,” she pointed out. “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sharing Jeremy’s charming commentary later, in private?”

“No woman here has eyes like yours, Eleanor,” her sister said, ignoring her comment entirely. “That dark blue is most unusual. I wish I had it. And they turn up at the corners. Don’t you remember all those absurd poems Gideon wrote comparing your eyes to stormy seas and buttercups?”

“Not buttercups,” Eleanor said. “Bluebells, though I don’t see how this is relevant.”

“Your mouth is just as lovely as it was years ago. Back before the buttercup king himself left for greener pastures.”

“I don’t like to talk about Gideon.”

“I’ve obeyed you for three, almost four, years, but I’m tired of it,” Anne replied, raising her voice again. “I’m a married woman now and you can’t tell me what to do. Granted, you fell in love—”

“Please,” Eleanor implored. “Keep your voice down, Anne!”

“You fell in love with a man who turned out to be a bad hat,” her sister said, albeit a bit more quietly. “But what I don’t understand is why Gideon’s rejection has resulted in your becoming a squabby old maid. Do you really intend to wither into your grave mourning that man? Will you have no children, no marriage, no household of your own, nothing, all because Gideon left you?”

Eleanor felt as if the air actually burned her lungs. “I shall probably—”

“Just when are you planning to marry? At age twenty-five, or thirty? Who will marry you when you’re that old, Eleanor? You may be beautiful, but if you don’t make an effort, no one will notice. In my experience, men are not terribly perceptive.” She leaned forward, peering. “You aren’t wearing even a touch of face paint, are you?”

“No,” Eleanor said. “None.” Of course she wanted children. And a husband. It was just that she wanted Gideon’s children. She was a fool. Seven times a fool. Gideon was not hers, and that meant his children wouldn’t be either. How on earth had the years passed so quickly?

“I am not finished,” her sister added. “There’s not a bit of your bosom to be seen, and your skirts are so long they’re practically dragging in the mud. But it’s your attitude that really matters. You look like a prude, and you jest and poke at men. They don’t like it, Eleanor. They flee in the other direction, and why shouldn’t they?”

“No reason.” Eleanor resorted to praying that Anne would run out of words, though she saw no sign of it.

“Everyone thinks you’re a snob,” her sister said flatly. “All of London knows that you swore not to marry anyone below the rank of a duke—and they don’t think well of you for it. At least the men don’t. In one fell swoop you made almost every eligible man in London think you are a condescending prig.”

“I merely intended—”

“But now there’s a duke on the market,” Anne said, overriding her. “The Duke of Villiers, no less. Rich as Croesus and apparently just as snobbish as you are, since everyone says he’s intent on marrying a duke’s daughter. That’s you, Eleanor. You. I’m married, Elizabeth is still in the nursery, and there isn’t another eligible lady of our rank in London.”

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