The Ugly Duchessby Eloisa James
“Eloisa James is extraordinary.”
“Nothing gets me to the bookstore faster than a new novel by Eloisa James.”
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James gives the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Ugly Duckling” a wonderful, witty, and delightfully passionate/b>
“Eloisa James is extraordinary.”
“Nothing gets me to the bookstore faster than a new novel by Eloisa James.”
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James gives the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of “The Ugly Duckling” a wonderful, witty, and delightfully passionate twist. The Ugly Duchess is another fairytale inspired romance from the unparalleled storyteller whose writing, author Teresa Medieros raves, “is truly scrumptious.” A sexy and fun historical romance, James’s winning tale of a glorious reawakening does not feature ducks and swans—rather it’s a charming story of a young woman unaware of her own beauty, suddenly duty-bound to wed the dashing gentleman who has always been her platonic best friend…until now.
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The Ugly Duchess
By Eloisa James
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Eloisa James
All rights reserved.
March 18, 1809 45 Berkeley Square
The London residence of the Duke of Ashbrook
"You'll have to marry her. I don't care if you think of her as a sister: from now on, she's the Golden Fleece to you."
James Ryburn, Earl of Islay, and heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, opened his mouth to say something, but a mixture of fury and disbelief choked the words.
His father turned and walked toward the far wall of the library, acting as if he'd said nothing particularly out of the ordinary. "We need her fortune to repair the Staffordshire estate and pay a few debts, or we're going to lose it all, this town house included."
"What have you done?" James spat the words. A terrible feeling of dread was spreading through his limbs.
Ashbrook pivoted. "Don't you dare speak to me in that tone!"
James took a deep breath before answering. One of his resolutions was to master his temper before turning twenty - and that birthday was a mere three weeks away. "Excuse me, Father," he managed. "Exactly how did the estate come to be in such precarious straits? If you don't mind my asking."
"I do mind your asking." The duke stared back at his only son, his long, aquiline nose quivering with anger. James came by his temper naturally: he had inherited it directly from his irascible, reckless father.
"In that case, I will bid you good day," James said, keeping his tone even.
"Not unless you're going downstairs to make eyes at that girl. I turned down an offer for her hand this week from Briscott, who's such a simpleton that I didn't feel I need tell her mother. But you know damn well her father left the decision over who marries the girl to her mother."
"I have no knowledge of the contents of Mr. Saxby's will," James stated. "And I fail to see why that particular provision should cause you such annoyance."
"Because we need her damned fortune," Ashbrook raged, walking to the fireplace and giving the unlit logs a kick. "You must convince Theodora that you're in love with her, or her mother will never agree to the match. Just last week, Mrs. Saxby inquired about a few of my investments in a manner that I did not appreciate.
Doesn't know a woman's place."
"I will do nothing of the sort."
"You will do exactly as I instruct you."
"You're instructing me to woo a young lady whom
I've been raised to treat as a sister."
"Hogwash! You may have rubbed noses a few times as children, but that shouldn't stop you from sleeping with her."
For the first time the duke looked a trifle sympathetic.
"Theodora is no beauty. But all women are the same in the—"
"Do not say that," James snapped. "I am already appalled; I do not wish to be disgusted as well."
His father's eyes narrowed and a rusty color rose in his cheeks, a certain sign of danger. Sure enough, Ashbrook's voice emerged as a bellow. "I don't care if the chit is as ugly as sin, you'll take her. And you'll make her fall in love with you. Otherwise, you will have no country house to inherit. None!"
"What have you done?" James repeated through clenched teeth.
"Lost it," his father shouted back, his eyes bulging a little. "Lost it, and that's all you need to know!"
"I will not do it." James stood up.
A china ornament flew past his shoulder and crashed against the wall. James barely flinched. By now he was inured to these violent fits of temper; he had grown up ducking everything from books to marble statues.
"You will, or I'll bloody well disinherit you and name Pinkler-Ryburn my heir!"
James's hand dropped and he turned, on the verge of losing his temper. While he'd never had the impulse to throw objects at the wall - or at his family - his ability to fire cutting remarks was equally destructive. He took another deep breath. "While I would hesitate to instruct you on the legal system, Father, I can assure you that it is impossible to disinherit a legitimate son." "I'll tell the House of Lords that you're no child of mine," the duke bellowed. Veins bulged on his forehead and his cheeks had ripened from red to purple.
"I'll tell 'em that your mother was a light-heeled wench and that I've discovered you're nothing but a bastard." At the insult to his mother, James's fragile control snapped altogether. "You may be a craven, dim-witted gamester, but you will not tar my mother with sorry excuses designed to cover up your own idiocy!" "How dare you!" screamed the duke. His whole face had assumed the color of a cockscomb.
"I say only what every person in this kingdom knows," James said, the words exploding from his mouth. "You're an idiot. I have a good idea what happened to the estate; I just wanted to see whether you had the balls to admit it. And you don't. No surprise there. You mortgaged every piece of non-entailed land attached to the estate, at least those you didn't sell outright - and pissed all the money away on the Exchange. You invested in one ridiculous scheme after another. The canal you built that wasn't even a league from another canal? What in God's name were you thinking?"
"I didn't know that until it was too late! My associates deceived me. A duke doesn't go out and inspect the place where a canal is supposed to be built. He has to trust others, and I've always had the devil's own luck." "I would have at least visited the proposed canal before I sank thousands of pounds into a waterway with no hope of traffic."
"You impudent jack-boy! How dare you!" The duke's hand tightened around a silver candlestick standing on the mantelpiece.
"Throw that, and I'll leave you in this room to wallow in your own fear. You want me to marry a girl who thinks I'm her brother in order to get her fortune ... so that you – you - can lose it? Do you know what they call you behind your back, Father? Surely you've heard it. The Dam' Fool Duke!"
They were both breathing heavily, but his father was puffing like a bull, the purple stain on his cheeks vivid against his white neck cloth.
The duke's fingers flexed once again around the piece of silver.
"Throw that candlestick and I'll throw you across the room," James said, adding, "Your Grace."
The duke's hand fell to his side and he turned his shoulder away, staring at the far wall. "And what if I lost it?" he muttered, belligerence underscoring his confession. "The fact is that I did lose it. I lost it all. The canal was one thing, but I thought the vineyards were a sure thing. How could I possibly guess that England is a breeding ground for black rot?"
"You imbecile!" James spat and turned on his heel to go.
"The Staffordshire estate's been in our family for six generations. You must save it. Your mother would have been devastated to see the estate sold. And what of her grave ... have you thought of that? The graveyard adjoins the chapel, you know."
James's heart was beating savagely in his throat. It took him a moment to come up with a response that didn't include curling his hands around his father's neck. "That is low, even from you," he said finally. The duke paid no heed to his rejoinder. "Are you going to allow your mother's corpse to be sold?" "I will consider wooing some other heiress," James said finally. "But I will not marry Daisy." Theodora Saxby - known to James alone as Daisy - was his dearest friend, his childhood companion. "She d deserves better than me, better than anyone from this benighted family."
There was silence behind him. A terrible, warped silence that ... James turned. "You didn't. Even you ... couldn't."
"I thought I would be able to replace it in a matter of weeks," his father said, the color leaving his cheeks suddenly so that he looked positively used up.
James's legs felt so weak that he had to lean against the door. "How much of her fortune is gone?"
"Enough." Ashbrook dropped his eyes, at last showing some sign of shame. "If she marries anyone else, I'll ... I'll face trial. I don't know if they can put dukes in the dock. The House of Lords, I suppose. But it won't be pretty."
"Oh, they can put dukes on trial, all right," James said heavily. "You embezzled the dowry of a girl entrusted to your care since the time she was a mere infant. Her mother was married to your dearest friend. Saxby asked you on his deathbed to care for his daughter." "And I did," her father replied, but without his usual bluster. "Brought her up as my own."
"You brought her up as my sister," James said flatly. He forced himself to cross the room and sit down.
"And all the time you were stealing from her."
"Not all the time," his father protested. "Just in the last year. Or so. The majority of her fortune is in funds, and I couldn't touch that. I just ... I just borrowed from ... well, I just borrowed some. I'm deuced unlucky, and that's a fact. I was absolutely sure it wouldn't come to this."
"Unlucky?" James repeated, his voice liquid with disgust.
"Now the girl is getting a proposal or two, I don't have the time to make it up. You've got to take her. It's not just that the estate and this town house will have to go; after the scandal, the name won't be worth anything either. Even if I pay off what I borrowed from her by selling the estate, the whole wouldn't cover my debts."
James didn't reply. The only words going through his head were flatly blasphemous.
"It was easier when your mother was alive," the duke said, after a minute or two. "She helped, you know. She had a level head on her shoulders."
James couldn't bring himself to answer that, either. His mother had died nine years earlier, so in under a decade his father had managed to impoverish an estate stretching from Scotland to Staffordshire to London.
And he had embezzled Daisy's fortune.
"You'll make her love you," his father said encouragingly, dropping into a chair opposite James. "She already adores you; she always has. We've been lucky so far in that poor Theodora is as ugly as a stick. The only men who've asked for her hand have been such obvious fortune hunters that her mother wouldn't even consider them. But that'll change as the season wears on. She's a taking little piece, once you get to know her."
James ground his teeth. "She will never love me in that way. She thinks of me as her brother, as her friend. And she has no resemblance whatsoever to a stick." "Don't be a fool. You've got my profile." A glimmer of vanity underscored his words. "Your mother always said that I was the most handsome man of my generation."
James bit back a remark that would do nothing to help the situation. He was experiencing an overwhelming wave of nausea. "We could tell Daisy what happened. What you did. She'll understand."
His father snorted. "Do you think her mother will understand? My old friend Saxby didn't know what he was getting into when he married that woman. She's a termagant, a positive tartar."
In the seventeen years since Mrs. Saxby and her infant daughter had joined the duke's household, she and Ashbrook had managed to maintain sufficiently cordial relations - primarily because His Grace had never thrown anything in the widow's direction. But James knew instantly that his father was right. If Daisy's mother got even a hint that her daughter's guardian had misappropriated her inheritance, a fleet of solicitors would be battering on the town house door before evening fell. Bile drove James's stomach into his throat at the thought.
His father, on the other hand, was cheering up. He had the sort of mind that flitted from one subject to another; his rages were ferocious but short-lived. "A few posies, maybe a poem, and Theodora will fall into your hand as sweetly as a ripe plum. After all, it's not as if the girl gets much flattery. Tell her she's beautiful, and she'll be at your feet."
"I cannot do that," James stated, not even bothering to imagine himself saying such a thing. It wasn't a matter of not wishing to spout such inanities to Daisy herself; he loathed situations where he found himself fumbling with language and stumbling around the ballroom. The season was three weeks old, but he hadn't attended a single ball.
His father misinterpreted his refusal. "Of course, you'll have to lie about it, but that's the kind of lie a gentleman can't avoid. She may not be the prettiest girl on the market - and certainly not as delectable as that opera dancer I saw you with the other night - but it wouldn't get you anywhere to point out the truth." He actually gave a little chuckle at the thought.
James heard him only dimly; he was concentrating on not throwing up as he tried to think through the dilemma before him.
Excerpted from The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. Copyright © 2012 by Eloisa James. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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