A Duke of Her Own

By: Eloisa James



“Villiers!”

He turned to find Louise, Lady Nevill, waving at him. She was standing with his former fiancée, Roberta, now the Countess of Gryffyn. That betrothal had been a profound mistake, but, thank God, one from which he’d escaped. And now that Roberta was happily married, they exchanged civil conversation on occasion.

“Villiers,” Roberta cried, holding out her hand. “I am so happy to see you looking so well. You were still terribly thin last time we met.”

Lady Nevill gave him a lazy smile, accompanied by an appreciative survey from head to foot. “Roberta, darling,” she drawled, “the man certainly isn’t looking thin. Though I wouldn’t call him precisely padded either.” Her gaze lingered for just a second at his crotch.

Louise was wearing what he thought must be the only low-cut toga in existence. Her lush breasts threatened to spill free at any moment. “Roberta and I are amusing ourselves by comparing men to types of food,” she announced.

“Louise says that Albertus Vesey resembles a stick of asparagus,” Roberta said with a gurgle of laughter.

Villiers raised an eyebrow. “Given his girth, I would suggest a melon.”

“Believe me,” Louise said, “you should be thinking about asparagus. That rather exotic white kind.” Her eyes twinkled wickedly. “Pale, slim…overcooked. Limp.”

“Hush, Louise,” Roberta said. “You’ll make Villiers blush. Now what kind of food would the duke be?” They both looked him over.

“Neither of you has sufficient knowledge to assess my vegetable,” he told them.

“Then you describe it for us,” Louise suggested with a twinkle.

Roberta laughed and changed the subject. But it made him think just how long it had been since any woman—at least an available woman—had greeted him with Eleanor’s profound lack of interest. In truth, it had been years since he encountered indifference.

He did not have pretentions when it came to his appearance. His face was ugly, to put it bluntly. But his title was beautiful, and the shine of his gold even more attractive, and the combination had delivered to him woman after woman.

“Your Grace,” Lady Nevill said, tapping him on the arm with her fan. The lazy, sweet tone of her voice put her in the interested category, though in this case it was not for his gold or his title. Louise was married, after all, although her husband was incapacitated. “I have been told that you are looking for a wife.”

“I never cease to be amazed at the triviality of conversation amongst the ton,” Villiers said, by way of reply.

“I’m grateful for the early warning; it gives me time to rehearse my condolences once you find an appropriate lady,” his former fiancée said with a smirk.

“Well, I would admit to being surprised,” Louise put in. “After Roberta threw you over, I thought you would never succumb to the parson’s mousetrap.”

“Villiers is a man,” Roberta said to her friend. “By definition he is in need of someone to look after him.” She turned back to him. “I heard a rumor that you are considering no one below a duke’s daughter. Should I be complimented, since I was apparently eligible last year, even given my lowly birth?”

“I just had a conversation with Lady Eleanor, the Duke of Montague’s daughter,” he admitted, ignoring her question. “And I’m traveling to Kent later this week.”

“Lady Eleanor would be an admirable choice. But Lady Lisette…” Louise’s tone cooled. Apparently, she didn’t care for Gilner’s daughter.

“And I intend to retrieve two of my six children and bring them back to be reared under my own roof.” He knew he shouldn’t enjoy Louise’s dropped jaw quite as much as he did. But there it was: he had learned to enjoy the petty pleasures of astonishing the ton.

“Good for you!” Roberta said, without turning an eyelash. Since she was raising her husband’s illegitimate son, he would expect no less. “It seems you are combining business with…business while in Kent. While I am all in favor of your rearing your own children, Villiers, I’m not quite as sanguine about your method of courting. You are as deliberate as Damon when he surveys mares he thinks to buy. Did you choose me with equally rigorous logic?”

“You were an impulse. And a lovely one.”

She liked that. “I haven’t met Lady Lisette. Of course, I’ve heard—” She broke off.

Louise shook open her fan so it hid her mouth. “One has to imagine that the rumors regarding Lady Lisette’s witlessness are exaggerated. After all, so many people in London fall under that description.”

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