The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess

by Eloisa James

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“Eloisa James is extraordinary.”
—Lisa Kleypas

“Nothing gets me to the bookstore faster than a new novel by Eloisa James.”
—Julia Quinn

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062021731
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/28/2012
Series: Fairy Tales , #4
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 145,630
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 5.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About 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

Read an Excerpt

The Ugly Duchess

By Eloisa James

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2012 Eloisa James
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-202173-1



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."

"I cannot."

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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Ugly Duchess 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 208 reviews.
princessgabby More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with Theo and James! Theo is a warm hearted practical soul who realizes she is never going to fit the set “standard” of English beauty; she just wants to be liked for her own good qualities and wishes her peers would get to know her before dismissing her for lack of looks. James is Theo’s best friend and one of the only people besides her mother, that doesn’t see her as ugly. In fact, it bothers him greatly when people refer to her in that way. Unfortunately, James is also a confused young man trying to grow out of his father’s shadow; he has watched his father make a mess of their fortunes and generally fail James in every possible way. When James realizes that his father has betrayed his Theo as well, his first instinct is to protect Theo but, unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to betray his own father in the process. Meanwhile, his feelings for Theo are changing as the instinct to protect her grows; he suddenly realizes that he’s thinking of her as more than a friend. Suddenly, both Theo and James are in a mess not of their own making; and in steps his father, to break things even further. Theo feels betrayed and in a fit of heartbreak orders James out of her life; James in a fit of guilt does as she asks and goes. When James left Theo, I was crying for them both! The story develops a wonderful twist at that point; everything hinges on whether or not James can learn to grow up and fight for what he wants, Theo. I loved this book, the characters were well developed and engaging and the story was just wonderfully romantic. I highly recommend The Ugly Duchess!
SuperBookish More than 1 year ago
Great romantic book with great story line. Kept me entertained
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Eloisa James and I have been looking forward to The Ugly Duchess release. But compared to most of her books (I've read them all) I found this one disappointing. I think it was partly the way the book was structured and partly that the characters, especially the heroine, Theo, were hard to empathize with over the course of the entire book. I loved both characters when they were first introduced, but after a whirlwind faux courtship ended by the trite convention of being caught in a compromising position, their marriage lasts a mere two days before Theo throws her husband James out and the characters are separated for 7 years. James' conversion to a pirate was a bit of a stretch for me, even in a fairy tale. Both characters undergo personality changes during their seven year separation, but the description of their experiences during those years and the way they are changed by them was quite truncated. Theo turns into a cold and rigid character, interesting but not endearing. I really didn't understand what the changes to James' personality were. He returns home in the nick of time to prevent his being declared dead and he and Theo are together another couple of days before the story ends (except for the epiloge, of course). The naritive includes less than a week's worth of days over a period of 7 years that the lead characters are together, but experience huge shifts in their feelings and relationship. Didn't work for me. This is not a book I will read and reread as I have several of her others, but no book written by Eloisa James is without its pleasures and much superior to most romances,, so my rating of "good" is relative.
vanessasgram More than 1 year ago
In almost every Historical Romance--they get married, and that's the end but in this book, it's only the begining of a great book and a wonderful read. I hardly ever give full 5 stars but this one deserves a special place! This is one of those books that I could not put down and against Doctor's orders (mac. degeneration) I read the whole book in two days! The characters grab you and you really feel their feelings and want them to find the key they need for happiness together. There are some elements in this book that make it special and unique and I don't want to spoil it for anyone---all I can say is after the last page---I wanted to know when Eloisa James' next book will be out!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started out pretty good and then went downhill. Why do romamce writers think that killing numerous amounts of people and being disfigured is romantic....NOT! Why is being married to an older gentleman better than being maried to a young virile man. This book got 2 stars only because of the first part of the book. $7.00 is a lot to pay for a book that does not deliver. A Duke who is a pirate.....REALLY???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Let me preface this review by stating that I love Eloisa James's books. I own them all and reread them frequently. That being said, I had read so much pre-release hype that I was expecting this to be the best book she has ever written. Unfortunately, it's not. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad book. It's just that so much of the book is spent with the two main characters living their own lives, that it's hard to figure out why two strong individuals would want to get back together. And then when they do reunite, it seems like the first 24 hours were awkward, then they fell back into happily ever after. The beginning of the book is excellent. The middle is very good because it develops the characters' personalities. The ending is disappointing. It feels very rushed, like the editor made drastic cuts to get the book under the page limit. I'm not disappointed I bought it, but I probably won't reread it either.
R1FL More than 1 year ago
I was so excited for this book to come out. I read all of Eloisa James books The Ugly Duchess was Just my cup of tea (or so I thought). What an amazing start, then........ 7 years? Pirate? Scar/tattoo? Such a disappointment, I found myself skipping through most of the middle of the book. It could have been such a fantastic book, well if you take out the middle. I didn't even like the hero anymore. So sad that my dreams of a tug at the heartstring romance only lasted a few chapters.
Janga More than 1 year ago
Ugly Duckling tales have long been popular among romance readers with a fondness for fairy tale motifs, but Eloisa James offers readers a fresh take on the fairy tale with The Ugly Duchess, Book 4 in her Happily Ever After series. An ugly duckling transforms herself into a swan with still tender scars underneath her glorious feathers and, in a reverse move, a handsome, popular swan transforms himself into a scarred ruffian shorn of his feathers. Theo and James are heartbreakingly young and vulnerable when they part. Seven years is a long period of separation, but it's needed to make the changes these two undergo credible. I've enjoyed all of the Happily Ever After books, but this one is my favorite. I especially loved that Theo is responsible for her physical transformation, it comes at the time she chooses, and she uses her own sense of texture, line, and color to effect it. After she has captured Paris, she conquers London. That she does so in a gown of “pearly pink silk taffeta” and a cape that “gleamed under the light, soft and lustrous” and made of “gorgeous swansdown” are perfect touches.
Jadeen More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The story was unusual and exciting. The characters were interesting and I especially loved James, he isn't your typical hero. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eloisa James' books are always a delight for the heart, mind and soul. However, The Ugly Duchess surpasses her already high standard of a GREAT reead. Her characters are so thouroughly written you feel as if you know them, you actually feel FOR them! I sarted it and could not put it down!
The_Reading_Reviewer More than 1 year ago
Theodora Saxby knows what the image in the mirror shows her. Theo does not really care as she has never been about trying to disguise that she is not the most flattering flower in the vase. Theo has substance and a sense of style that no chit on the Ton could ever relate to or try to imitate. What Theo also has is the love of the most sought after bachelor James Ryburn, heir apparent to the Duchy of Ashbrook. What could be more wonderful that have James love her just the way she was. Apparently, James did not love her the way he loved the money she had. After the truth is literally thrown in her face about the sham that was her marriage, Theo kicks James to the curb. James stays away for enough years to gain maturity, world experience, and become even more handsome, if that was even possible Theo thought he was dead, she wondered if he was ever coming back, she built a life all on her own knowing he might never return. Yet the minute she sees him again the past melts away and the future looks filled with love. How can she ever forgive him for the hurt he put upon her and know the awful rumors abound on why he disappeared? When tender moments become nights of passion, and old wounds try to heal the beauty that James sees in his “Daisy” is shown to her repeatedly without hesitation. The past may never be washed away but when you wipe away the hurt, the healing does begin. Eloisa James writes a colorful, imaginative, and wonderfully twisted story that delights on every page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I challenge any reader to find a dumber book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As the title of this comment alludes, I just couldn't like the characters. I honestly struggled to get through the book. I liked the hero in the beginning but as the story progressed, I started to hate him. Spoiler: He married the heroine under pretense (which, for a romance novel, is common practice) but when the truth came out, he took words she said in the heat of the moment to heart and left her for years (I think it was almost 7 years?) to become a pirate while she worried about him even being alive, cheated (even though they were still married), and then comes back expecting her to just accept it because he was her husband. Honestly, at this point I was hoping that the author would involve some serious 'damage control' to make their HEA more understandable but in the years that her husband was gone, the heroine was cleaning up his mess with his father and the excruciatingly cruel gossip, which the hero knew would happen. I was happy to know that she became successful in her business ventures but she stayed in a kind of stasis when he was gone. And she forgave him after a couple of intimate moments with very little actual communication. I felt like the heroine became a doormat in the second half of the book. That being said, Eloise James is a good writer and I think that's what compelled me to complete the story. I normally stop reading when they reach the point this story did so I have to give her credit for that. The plot had a lot of potential, but i think that it lost its way at the midway point.
krazymama_98 More than 1 year ago
***SPOILERS INCLUDED**** SORRY **** I have to say I was disappointed in this Eloisa James story. I dont ever remember that happening. That he could not talk to her first?? She had every right to be mad and tell him to leave. But he did it. He just left? The next day. He left her with his horrible father? He left her with the financially troubled estate? And then he stayed gone for 7 years!? The part that she is best friends with Cecil who is happily married to a wonderful woman and she is not close friends with the heroine?? What? Makes no sense. Thru all that time, I would have thought she would be lonely, sad, still feel ugly.....none of that was really expressed. She appears to have gone on to a wonderful happy life. Satisfying. Friends. Fun. Success. Then her mother dies and his father dies. She is alone now but for her best friend? A guy? I dont know. Just too much implausible. Too little anger, sadness, despair, longing from her. And he was just gone for way too long. Sadly, it did not work for me. This will not keep me from Eloisas future books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cleaverly written romance with a retelling on an old tale. It was sweet, funny, and allowed for a very detailed story all in all. I enjoyed reading this book as well as some of her others. I am so glad we have these gifted writers to rely on for unique story telling. I will be keeping this one for several repeat readings in the future.
CorcegaBeach More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story line. Easy, light read. I enjoyed the contrast between characters james and theo. While the historical aspects agree with timeline, I thought a rogue duke with a tattoo, actively involved in the peerage, reached deep within a creative imagination. Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for a good romance! It's a cute story.
Stella_L More than 1 year ago
Theo has been raised with James, the Earl of Islay, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, since birth. Unfortunately, her guardian, the Duke of Ashbrook, who was her father's best friend, has absconded with her fortune. The Duchy will be ruined unless drastic measures are taken. It leaves her guardian's son, James, to make amends. However, James sees no resolution to his father's deception except to marry Theo after they are caught in a comprising position. Theo and James are married. The ton and press call Theo the Ugly Duchess. Why? Because her manly features don't match the beauty of James. How could James stand to be married to such a person? Theo believes James marries her for love. But, after Theo finds the real reasons for the marriage, she throw James out and repairs the damage her father-in-law has wrought to her inheritance and the estate. James can't face what he's done and disappears for 7 years. Finally, he shows up before being declared legally dead. But who is there to meet him? Theo of 7 years ago or the Countess of Islay, a beauty of refinement and elegance, who has found her own path through the trials and tribulation left in her husband's wake? Only James and Theo will discover if they can overcome all the obstacles of their past romance. This is one of Eloisa James's best novels in my opinion. There are so many levels in this novel-one could spend days and days comparing this story to the classics. True clear writing with the spin that only Eloisa James can deliver. The characters and the emotions expressed are deep and timeless. Don't wait. If you're a fan of great stories and terrific writing, you need to read this unique story. It's one you will want to read over and over again. James has a way of weaving a story with clear crisp prose that leaves you wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. I do not cry over books, but this one almost brought me to tears. I will remember this one for a long time coming...
RomanceReaderRI More than 1 year ago
Eloisa James continues her spin on classic fairy tales with this delightful romance based upon the Ugly Duckling story. The main characters, Theo and James, are both really likeable and I loved their honest interactions. The story spans over seven years and the reader really gets to see the characters mature and can fully understand and relate to their motivations, especially Theo's insecurities. One of those books that you will read in one sitting because you just can't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Both main characters were strong. I was drawn into it from the beginning.
janeeyre01 More than 1 year ago
I am just going to state it plainly, It is a great book as are all of Eloisa's books. Get out there and pick up this book. Love Daisy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was off to a great start, the middle a bit of a stretch but still good. The ending though is what did in this novel. Everything felt so rushed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read