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Desperate Duchesses (Desperate Duchesses Series #1)
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Desperate Duchesses (Desperate Duchesses Series #1)

3.9 69
by Eloisa James

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Welcome to a world of reckless sensuality and glittering sophistication . . . of dangerously handsome gentlemen and young ladies longing to gain a title . . . of games played for high stakes, including—on occasion—a lady's virtue.

A marquess's sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded


Welcome to a world of reckless sensuality and glittering sophistication . . . of dangerously handsome gentlemen and young ladies longing to gain a title . . . of games played for high stakes, including—on occasion—a lady's virtue.

A marquess's sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded ballroom: a duke, a game player of consummate skill, a notorious rakehell who shows no interest in marriage—until he lays eyes on Roberta.

Yet the Earl of Gryffyn knows too well that the price required to gain a coronet is often too high. Damon Reeve, the earl, is determined to protect the exquisite Roberta from chasing after the wrong destiny.

Can Damon entice her into a high-stakes game of his own, even if his heart is likely to be lost in the venture?

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Library Journal

Despairing that she will never make a suitable match as long as she remains in the country with her poet father, the "Mad Marquess," Lady Roberta St. Giles flees to London seeking the aid of a distant cousin, the Duchess of Beaumont, in bringing her into society and to the attention of the man of her dreams. Delighted with the challenge, the free-spirited Jemma takes Roberta in and, with flamboyant style, launches her beautifully-although not with the romantic results that Roberta had intended. Cryptic poetry, brilliant chess games, and scintillating repartee add zing to this complex tale of misplaced affections, sparring spouses, and dissatisfied nobles. Slightly bawdy, totally unconventional, and thoroughly delightful, James's (Pleasure for Pleasure) Georgian romp is the sparkling debut of a new series that promises to be remarkable. Noted for her smart, witty, Shakespeare-laced historicals, James lives in the New York City area.

—Kristin Ramsdell

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Desperate Duchesses Series , #1
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Desperate Duchesses

By Eloisa James


Copyright © 2007 Eloisa James
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-078193-4

Chapter One

April 10, 1783 Beaumont House, Kensington

"In Paris, a married lady must have a lover or she is an unknown. And she may be pardoned two." The door to the drawing room swung open, but the young woman sitting with her back to the door took no notice.

"Two?" an exquisitely dressed young man remarked. "I gather that Frenchmen are a happy race of men. They seemed so petulant to me when I was last there. It must be the embarrassment of riches, like having three custards after supper."

"Three lovers are considered rather too many," the woman replied. "Although I have known some who considered three to be a privilege rather than an abundance." Her low laugh was a type that tickled a man's breastbone and even lower. It said volumes about her personal abilities to manage one-or three-Frenchmen with aplomb.

Her husband closed the door behind him and stepped into the room.

The young man glanced up and came to his feet, bowing without extraordinary haste. "Your Grace."

"Lord Corbin," the Duke of Beaumont replied, bowing. Corbin was just to Jemma's taste: elegant, assured and far more intelligent than he admitted. In fact, he would make a good man in parliament, not that Corbin would lower himself to something approaching work.

His brother-in-law, the Earl of Gryffyn, rose and made him a casual bow.

"Your servant, Gryffyn," the duke said, making a leg.

"Do join us, Beaumont," his wife said, looking up at him with an expression of the utmost friendliness. "It's a pleasure to see you. Is the House of Lords not meeting today?" That was part and parcel with the war they had waged for the last eight years: conversation embroidered with delicate barbs, rarely with coarse emotion.

"It is in session, but I thought to spend some time with you. After all, you have barely returned from Paris." The duke bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile.

"I miss it already," Jemma said, with a lavish sigh. "It's marvelous that you're here, darling," she said, leaning forward a bit and tapping him on the hand with her fan. "I'm just waiting for Harriet, the Duchess of Berrow, to arrive. And then we shall make a decision about the centerpiece for tomorrow's fête."

"Fowle tells me that we are holding a ball." The duke-who thought of himself as Elijah, though he would be very affronted were any person to address him so-kept his voice even. Those years of parliamentary debate were going to prove useful, now that Jemma had returned to London. 'Twas the reason he'd stayed home for the day, if truth be told. He had to strike a bargain with his wife that would curb her activities to an acceptable level. And he wouldn't get there by losing his temper; he remembered their newlywed battles well enough.

"Dear me, don't tell me that I forgot to inform you! I know it's a bit mad, but the plans gave me something to do on the voyage here."

She looked genuinely repentant, and indeed, for all Elijah knew, she was. The game of marriage they played required strictly friendly manners in public. Not that they were ever in private.

"He just did tell you that," her brother put in. "You'd better watch out, Sis. You're not used to sharing a household."

"It was truly ill-mannered of me," she said, leaping to her feet, which made her silk petticoats swirl around her narrow ankles. She was dressed in a pale blue gown à la française, embroidered all over with forget-me-nots. Her bodice caressed every curve of her breasts and narrow waist before the skirts billowed over her panniers.

By all rights, the way her side hoops concealed the swell of her hips should be distasteful to a man, and yet Elijah had to admit that they played an irresistible part in a man's imagination, leading the eye from the curve of a breast to the narrow waist, and then driving him perforce to imagine slender limbs and-and the rest of it.

Jemma held out her hand; Elijah paused for a moment and then took it. She smiled at him, as a mother might smile at a little boy reluctant to wash his face. "I am so glad that you are able to join us this morning, Beaumont. While I trust that these gentlemen have impeccable opinions"-she cast a glimmering smile at Corbin-"one's husband's opinion must, of course, prevail. I do declare that it's been so long since I felt as if I had a husband that it is quite a novelty! I shall probably bore you to tears asking you to approve my ribbons."

In the old days, the first days of their marriage, Elijah would have bristled. But he was seasoned by years of dedicated jousting in Parliament where the stakes were more important than ribbons and trifles. "I am quite certain that Corbin can do my duty with your ribbons." He said it with just the right amount of disinterest and courtesy in his voice.

From the corner of his eye, Elijah noticed that Corbin didn't even blink at the idea he had just been invited by a duke to do his husbandly duty. Perhaps the man could keep Jemma occupied enough that she wouldn't cause too many scandals before parliament went into recess. He turned sharply toward the door, annoyed to discover that his wife's beauty seemed more potent in his own house than it had been in Paris during his rare visits.

Partly it was because Jemma had not powdered her hair. She knew quite well that the shimmer of weathered gold was far more enticing than powder, and contrasted better with her blue eyes. It was only-he told himself-because she was his wife that he felt this prickling irritation at her beauty. Or perhaps the irritation was caused by her self-possession. When they first married, she wasn't so flawless. Now everything about her was polished to perfection, from the color of her lip to the witty edge of her comments.


Excerpted from Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James Copyright © 2007 by Eloisa James . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Eloisa James is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author and professor of English literature, who lives with her family in New York, but can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. She is the mother of two and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com.

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Desperate Duchesses (Desperate Duchesses Series #1) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 69 reviews.
LisaMR More than 1 year ago
I don't feel that the story was scattered at all. I truly enjoy Eloisa's books because there is rarely some big bad monster of a man hiding in the wings. Her stories seem much more plausible for real life and are simply about people. This was a fun story that took a bit to really get started, but once it did it moved quite swiftly. All the characters were overly fun and well developed. I only cried the smallest amount toward the end but most of the time I was smiking and laughing. The story was well wrapped up at the end. To me there were no dangling characters or wayward thoughts. This certainly is worth the buy and tthe whole series is worth investing in.
alias_dw More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this series to me and this was the first one I read. At first I had a difficult time becoming interested in the plot because the author assumes the reader is accustomed to terms from regency period. I imagine if you have read many historical novels of this period it would easier to dive right into the story. Once I became familiar with the language I found it a fun sexy read. The characters are obviously well suited for each other and the reader is rooting for them to get together. There is a great deal of secondary characters who the author is obviously introducing so that the reader is interested in them. They will clearly be popping up in future installments in the series. I am concerned, yet intrigued, because many of these characters seem to lack character which may make them unsympathetic primary characters in the future.
curlyloulou More than 1 year ago
I actually liked this book. They way she writes took a bit to get used to but by chapter 2 it was all good.
alaskaruth More than 1 year ago
Nice for a long airplane ride-- I don't usually buy romances, but this one was pretty good!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tend to be a very picky reader and tend to hate romance novels that spend too much time with secondary characters, and this one spends so much time with the secondary characters it¿s hard to call them secondary, but I loved this book. I wasn¿t even finished before I went on-line and ordered every one of the author¿s books. The characters are so complex and engrossing, that they pull you in despite their many, many faults. The lead romance could have used a bit more time to develop, but it was beautifully sensual and lovely. And Bravo to the author for having the courage to write something other than regency.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Eloisa's books because she never writes down to a reader. They are witty and smart, and you can re-read them and always find something new. Desperate Duchesses is sexy, complex, and the dialogue made me LOL several times. I can't wait for the next one in this series!
Guest More than 1 year ago
James writes the sort of characters that I love, flawed and funny and sexy. I love how she weaves the characters' stories together and especially the women's relationships, to make a big, satisfying story. In DESPERATE DUCHESEES she's done this again. Damon is a sexy, sexy animal and Roberta is his match in wits as well as wants. Unique amongst romance writers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The characters felt very 'real' for their time period and the historical detail was rich and layered. The book was very fresh and almost more like an ensemble comedy/drama with a lot of witty banter. My favorite characters were Jemma and her estranged husband and I hope we'll be seeing more of them later in the series.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could see where the author was going with this series, but honestly, the only characters that I was interested in were the Duke & Duchess of Beaumont. THEIR story was the one I want to hear about and could have been written in one book instead of being drawn out into several in this 'series'. The 'main' characters where uninteresting and I frequently hit skim-mode through out the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and it was my first one by this author. I found the characters entertaining and I loved the references to chess. James put a new spin on romance novels and I found it quite refreshing. I enjoyed the fact that she left you hanging with some of the plot because it made me feel as though she's going to write a sequel. Which I really hope she does. I found all the characters to be very flawed which made them very human and many of their reactions were surprising which accentuated their uniqueness. A fun read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lady Roberta St. Giles wants a husband and her father isn't helping matters any. Known as the Mad Marquess, her father's unusual poetry and unusual lifestyle has scared away any suitors that may have been interested in the lovely Lady Roberta. It is clear Lady Roberta will have to take matters in her own hands. After spying the beautifully proper Duke of Villiers at a ball, Lady Roberta heads to London on a mission to become the next Duchess of Villiers. With the help from a very distant relative, the Duchess of Beaumont, Lady Roberta captures the eye of not only the Duke of Villiers but of the Duchesses brother, the Earl of Gryffyn. Eloisa James writes such smart and witty romances that I can't help but adore them. And I do adore Desperate Duchesses. I was quite desperate myself for Roberta to pick the man I was crazy in love with and my heart would have been broken if she hadn't. With a story that will just suck you right in, Desperate Duchesses has secondary characters that will leave you begging for the next in this series. I am, well, desperate for more Desperate Duchesses! Annmarie reviewed for Joyfully Reviewed
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read several of her books and looked forward to this one as they have all been very good. Ouch! This one is a struggle to get through. None of the characters make you care about what happens to them and the situations are sometimes confusing. Not this authors best work for sure!
Guest More than 1 year ago
DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY. I think that her editor and publisher were one something to allow this book to be release. There's NO plot development and NO character development. The wording is obscure. I kept having to flip back in order to figure out who was talking. The title is misleading. The duchesses are secondary characters and their relationships are put to the forefront and don't come to completion. The secondary characters are all obsessed with chess, so a lot of the conversations involves A LOT of chess metaphors, which leads to more confusion for the reader. I regret having purchased this book and felt strong enough about it to warn others away from it. Good Luck if you decided to buy it away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Captures the readers attention from the first page! Scarlet P.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ReadMe11 More than 1 year ago
I'm reading this series as a part of a read-along. This was a unique experience, especially since I knew nothing going in. Usually one reads the blurb about the book, but in this case I didn't, and I wasn't sure where the story was going. There were so many characters introduced and a couple of sideline stories going on that I can see where someone might not like it, but for me it was kind of fun. I didn't know which way was up. I hated one of the characters at first, and then came to rooting for her by the end…can't wait for her story. I love this author so I'm not surprised that I enjoyed this title. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Full of comedy, great pace, and intriguing right up till the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read many of Eloisa James' books.  You fall in love with her characters.  you'll love this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not worth your money & I love Eloisa James books. There was so much chess talk & innuendos between secondary characters Jemma & Elijah that the main characters Roberta & Damon that I don't even know what they look like.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it. Howevet i did feel some of the characters where left hanging. But i liked how many interesting characters there were.
AustenStudent More than 1 year ago
The first book in the Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James, this is an odd story. It’s also an unfortunate title for a series, depicting the stereotypical desperation of women throughout the ages to find a man. Of course, at this time, single women faced almost certain poverty* and, indeed, single women today are still more vulnerable. It’s clever how James pokes fun at this though, as a woman, it is uncomfortable in its truth. This series is also set in the Georgian period, a departure from James’ usual Regency period. I also don’t quite get the feel that this is truly a romance. I didn’t read the premise or summary of the story before I read it—I’m just reading Eloisa James’ backlist—so it took me awhile to figure out exactly who the hero and heroine were! It also felt more like a game than a romance. I think romance is a game but chess matches also feature here.  That said, it is well written and the pacing is good, however, I wanted more. There are too many secondary characters to call this an historical romance, with people playing each other and never revealing their true feelings. So it has a little coldness about it, too. It’s more historical fiction than historical romance. I hope the rest of the books in this series are not like this one and focus more on hero and heroine. *”Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.” Jane Austen, letter, March 13, 1817.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not one of her best efforts but not bad overall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly a great plot. Interesting characters and just enough heat. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago