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Three Weeks With Lady X(67)

By:Eloisa James

The Duchess of Beaumont was standing beside Villiers, obviously fighting  to suppress her laughter. "Good evening, Lady Eleanor. And Lady Anne,  though I really must call you Mrs. Bouchon now, mustn't I? I have been  looking everywhere for the two of you. May I present to you His Grace,  the Duke of Villiers."

"Your Grace," Eleanor said, sinking into a deep curtsy before the  duchess. Anne gave something of a bob, since she was hampered by her  toga. "And Your Grace." Eleanor curtsied again, this time before the  Duke of Villiers.

Like herself, the duke had eschewed the compulsory toga, presumably with  the same insouciance with which he refused to wear a wig. Instead he  was wearing a coat of heavy, brandy-colored silk. The cut was simple,  but the embroidered vine in coppery silk that danced among his buttons  and around the hem turned simplicity to magnificence.

"Lady Eleanor," Villiers said. He looked at her from head to foot, his  eyes pausing for a moment on the curls next to her ears. A blaze of  humiliation went down her spine, but she raised her chin. If the duke  wanted nobility, she had it. Elegance, no. Blood, yes.

When Eleanor had fixed on the idea of insisting that she marry a duke or  no one, she wasted no time imagining a potential suitor. She had  intended her proclamation to reach the ears of one duke-a married  duke-so he would realize that even though he had been untrue to her, she  would hold true to him. It was a stupid strategy that had hurt no one  but herself, obviously.

The Duke of Villiers was altogether a different order of duke from  Gideon. She had not known, would never have been able to imagine, such a  potent mix of elegance and carelessness. It wasn't the silk embroidery,  or the sword stick, or the careless power about him. She hadn't  imagined the pure raw masculinity of him: the brooding look in his eyes,  the jaded lines around his mouth, the width of his chest.

If Gideon looked like a prince in a fairy tale, Villiers was the tired, cynical villain who would try to usurp the throne.

"I gather that you heard my sister teasing me about my childhood wish to  marry a duke," she said. "I do apologize if you felt your consequence  reduced by comparison to Mr. Hendicker's sow."

"Oh, Villiers never experiences such awkward emotions, do you?" the Duchess of Beaumont said, laughing.

"I was more intrigued by the idea of being stupider than an oyster,"  Villiers said. He had a deep voice, the kind that made Eleanor  instinctively wary. It wasn't the voice of a man who could be led; he  would always lead. "How does one determine the intelligence of such a  silent creature?"

"Oyster is Eleanor's puppy," Anne put in.                       


"In that case, it would depend on Oyster's breed," Villiers said.  "Unless you have a pet poodle, I am fairly sure that I exceed  expectations on both counts."