A Duke of Her Own

By: Eloisa James



This duke…this one was no angel. Villiers was all human, in his flaws, in the deep lines by the side of his mouth, the crinkles at his eyes that didn’t look as if they came from smiling. He talked without shame of his illegitimate children. He was a man. No angel, a man.

And not even a very good man.

“I am fond of Lisette. Perhaps she would be a better duchess than I.” She couldn’t make herself care very much what Villiers decided. Though Anne’s prickly comments were in the back of her mind, poking her, reminding her that she ought to make an effort to marry. Why not marry this duke?

“I would be a very comfortable type of husband,” he said, clearly trying to be persuasive, though he sounded merely repetitive. It was a typically foolish male comment, because no one could look twice at the Duke of Villiers and imagine that living with him would be comfortable.

“I begin to think that you protest too much,” she said, smiling. “I suspect you’re a tyrant in private life.”

“Never having had anyone to tyrannize, I can hardly defend myself. Did you know that your eyes are the exact color of wet violets? You must trail a string of broken hearts, given your provocative declaration as regards marriage.”

Eleanor discovered that she had accidentally crushed the few blossoms she had carried away with her, and dropped them. “Not provocative as much as overly proud. And I have never found that men experienced a great deal of sorrow at the idea of not marrying me.” She had been stupid to think that modest clothing would attract the right man, an honorable man. Perhaps just the right man had been in London, but had rejected her, based on her starchy reputation.

She could flaunt her bosom and chase men up and down shady alleys. Or she could just marry the duke in front of her, since he was there. At hand. Women had married for worse reasons.

“Are yours nice children?” she asked.

He blinked. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Didn’t you say that three of them are now in your nursery?”

“Yes.”

“Surely you have visited them? I would imagine that moving from brothel to ducal town house would be rather shocking.”

“Did your father pay visits to the nursery?”

“Yes, he did. Though more often we were summoned to the drawing room.”

“I haven’t got around to summoning them yet,” Villiers said, an uneasy look in his eye. “My housekeeper found some nannies and I assume everyone is comfortable.”

Eleanor didn’t like the sound of that. She thought it unlikely that the duke’s household had simply absorbed the presence of three bastard children without significant upheaval. Servants tended to be far more conservative than their masters. The ton would surely look askance at the presence of such children under the duke’s roof once they learned of it, which meant that his servants were probably mutinying belowstairs. Not that it was her business. Still…

“I have meant to visit Lisette these past two years,” she said, surprising herself.

He bowed. “Perhaps I might meet you in Sevenoaks.”

Eleanor put her fingers on his outstretched arm. “I shall have to ask my mother, Your Grace. She may not be free to accompany me to Kent.”

He smiled down at her. He knew as well as she did that her mother would throw all her engagements to the wind in order to further a marriage between the Duke of Villiers and her daughter, but he was polite enough not to point it out. “Of course.”

“She will not be happy to learn of your family,” she observed, in a coda to the unspoken question of her mother’s approval of any prospective betrothal.

“Which makes it all the more surprising to discover that you are so calmly accepting of their existence. It seems you resemble neither your father nor your mother, Lady Eleanor.”

“I am certainly temperamentally different from my parents. And you, do you resemble your parents?”

“They are both dead. I hardly knew my father, and had very little to say to my mother.” There was something in his voice that did not welcome further enquiry on that front.

“Where is your country seat?” she asked.

He looked down at her and said, “You really don’t know anything about me, do you?”

“Why should I?”

“There are so few dukes that I know quite a lot about them without even trying. I believe your brother is great friends with young Duke of Astley, for example.”

“Indeed.” She climbed the stairs.

“I haven’t seen Astley in a few years,” Villiers said. “I suppose you know him well.”

“As you say, he is friends with my brother. He spent a great deal of time with us while we were all growing up,” Eleanor said steadily. “Of course now that he’s married, we see him much less frequently. I believe we shall find my mother in the refreshments tent.”

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