Shelves: reviewed , romance-historical , meh-just-ok A girls guide to saving her train-wrecked marriage. This story had a bad start from many points of view. First of all we knew that Jemma and Elijahs situation was bad from the start. He cheated on her, she caught them, he told her that he loved his mistress and she left him. Nine years of failed marriage are difficult to overcome.
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Or, if one were so inclined, to invite a seduction…to engage in an affaire. Husbands were just there, like coals 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. Have a baby. Produce an heir, or at least do the motions that would produce one in nine months.
Go to bed together. They had come to that decision a year ago. When she 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. Too busy to seduce the Duchess of Beaumont? 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 Jemma 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 a sheen of sophistication and wit that no sixteen-year-old could command.
She even had all her teeth, to reduce the subject to the level of cattle. The problem, it seemed to her, was that to Elijah she was a wife, not Jemma. 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 opposite.
She was used to men trying to seduce her. For 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, drop 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.
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. No wife had that. Brigitte, her femme de chambre, popped into the chamber with a fistful of cards. Delacroix and Lord Piddleton. A woman with three maids, each with such decided opinions, can hardly bemoan her lack of guidance!
Perhaps you plan a special toilette for this evening. Shall I inform the gentlemen that you decline their counsel? Servants talked…servants knew. She 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 chess board before her, waiting for Elijah to return from the House of Lords.
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 several weeks; that meant nothing to her. A fashionable wife would never even note the absence or presence of something as insignificant as a husband.
If only Villiers were here. 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? Brigitte darted about, pulling a lock of hair over her shoulder so that 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 in the 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 the favor of being asked 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.
The last time they slept together she had been a gauche and, comparatively speaking, flat-chested twenty-year-old. Villiers was everything Corbin and Delacroix were not. He was a chess master, for one thing. His mind was as nimble as hers, and his machinations were not trivial and — And he wanted her.
The French blood Villiers received from his mother was definitely enough… put together with an English manliness and strength. Generally, a lady allowed two, three, even four gentlemen into the dressing room to help her choose patches and lace. To invite only Corbin would invite a scandal, but who could really believe that she was instigating an affaire with Corbin? He was her favorite partner for the minuet, her comfortable gossip of an evening.
A brilliant dancer, an exquisite dresser, a notable wit. And she had a shrewd feeling that he had as little interest in her as she had in him. What if affairs of state kept him from affairs of the heart? Surely not. End of Excerpt Would you like to order your own copy?
This Duchess of Mine
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