This Duchess of Mine Page 3


“Are we so stuffy in England?” she asked.

“So cold,” Corbin said. “In both senses of the word. My darling duchess, you will cause the women to thrill with rage and cause the men to thrill with something else. But meanwhile you will freeze.”

“Freeze?” Jemma stared down at the chemise gown.

“There is nothing more unattractive than flesh dimpled with cold,” Corbin said flatly. “And the king’s fête takes place on his yacht. On the river. Unless you wish to spend the evening inside longing for a fireplace and a woolen shawl, you should wear the green gown. Which, by the way, is gorgeous.”

“But—”

“And not so desperate,” he continued.

Jemma whipped around. “I am never desperate!”

Corbin met her eyes in the glass. “Then why the desperation?” he asked gently.

“I am not desperate. I am…”

“Interested?” Corbin’s eyebrow rose, and his smile was so amused that she couldn’t help smiling back.

“In my husband,” she told him impulsively.

She surprised him. He dropped into his chair with something less than his usual insouciance. “Your husband? Your husband?”

“No one else’s,” she said, adding, “I have never meddled with a married man.” It was a frail claim to virtue, but all she had.

“I thought you had decided on Villiers,” Corbin said.

“No.” She didn’t say that it was a near miss.

“Your husband. I don’t even have the faintest idea what to advise you. I am shocked. Husbands are so—so—”

“Uninteresting.”

“Of course, Beaumont is all that is admirable.”

Jemma sighed. “I know.” She picked up the chemise gown and held it against her body, looking in the glass.

“Essential to the future of the country, from what I hear.”

“Tedious.”

“I didn’t say that! He holds deep moral beliefs, of course.”

“He’s my opposite,” Jemma said dismally. She threw the chemise dress back on the bed.

“How clever of you to recognize it,” Corbin said.

“Life is so much more interesting when people understand how angels and devils differ. I hear His Grace is most sincere in the House. You can—” He hesitated.

“—I believe you can trust everything he says.” He sounded horrified.

“I know, I know,” Jemma said, sighing again. “He’s a veritable Puritan.”

“We need good people,” Corbin said firmly. “It’s just a pity that they’re so—so—”

“Good.”

“I expect I feel so only because I myself am quite errant. I have never considered taking a seat in Parliament. Everyone—but everyone—wears those snail wigs. The ones with small crustaceans ranked around the ears like soldiers on parade.”

“I can easily imagine you in Parliament,” Jemma said, moving behind her friend so she could meet his eyes in the mirror over her dressing table. “You’re certainly more clever than most of them. I’d much prefer to see you running the country.”

He laughed at that. “I hope we are not friends due to some hopeless misconception about my character, Duchess.”

“We are friends because you are funny,” Jemma said. “And because you tell me the truth if my stockings are at odds with my slippers. And because you gossip cruelly about everyone and pretend to me that you will never do so behind my back.”

“It’s not a pretense. I can have room for only one woman in my heart at a moment,” he said, “and you are she.”

Jemma bent and kissed his cheek. “We are admirably suited.” She sat back down next to him.

“Except you are so serious this evening,” Corbin pointed out. “So passionate.”

“Are we allowed to be serious only about stockings?” she asked.

He thought about that longer than she thought necessary. “I am quite serious about scandal,” he offered.

“But never about passion itself?”

He wrinkled his nose but his eyes were sympathetic. “Thank God, infatuation has never forced me into seriousness. A beautiful woman should never be serious, Duchess.”

“Why not?”

“It implies that there is something you cannot have. And we who are not as beautiful prefer to believe that you have everything you wish for in life. That is the essence of beauty, after all.”

“I feel myself growing plainer every moment,” Jemma said. “Perhaps it is the curse of age.”

“Age and passion!” Corbin looked faintly nauseated.

“I shall have to ask your maid for a drink of brandy if you continue in this vein.”

“So I should not wear the chemise gown,” Jemma said.

“Absolutely not. In fact, given what you have just told me, the green silk may be a trifle too revealing in the bosom.”

“For a husband?”

“For your husband,” Corbin said. “The duke is…” He paused delicately. “Well, were Beaumont a woman, his skirts would be long and his neckline high.”

Jemma thought about that and shook her head. “I can’t transform into a Puritan wife in order to please Elijah. He’ll have to take me as I am.”

Corbin paused. “If you don’t mind the question, exactly what sort of taking do you have in mind?”

“We need an heir,” Jemma said.

“Of course. But that need not, in itself, involve passion on your part, and surely no anxiety. Though you might wish to put a bottle of brandy on the night table and take a surreptitious swig now and then.”

“I want more than that.”

“Thus the quest for passion?” Corbin asked.

“I’m a fool.”

“You’re not the first, but you set yourself such a difficult task, Duchess.”

“You’d better call me Jemma,” she said, rather grimly. “You’re the only one who knows.”

“I won’t advertise it and you shouldn’t either. So what you need is lessons in making a husband feel passion for his wife.”

It seemed impossible, put so bluntly. “I’ll wear the green dress.”

“Seductive clothing will never work, not—”

“Not for Beaumont.” She picked up a rosy ribbon and started wrapping it around one finger.

“If you wear the chemise dress, you’ll likely just make him angry. Or embarrassed. After all, such flamboyant clothing is designed to make a man hunger for what he cannot have, and what he cannot imagine. But a husband…”

“Precisely.”

“You’ll have to surprise him,” Corbin said. “Show him a side of you that he’s never seen.”

“I don’t have any sides,” Jemma said despairingly. “I play chess; he knows that. We play together occasionally.”

Corbin groaned. “Like an old married couple?”

“In the library,” she confirmed. “While discussing the news of the day.” But there was a look in Corbin’s eye, a smile. “What?” she asked.

“You have something that he’s never seen.”

Prev Next