Friday, May 6, 2011
No man can resist Jemma's sensuous allure . . . Except her own husband!
Wedding bells celebrating the arranged marriage between the lovely Duchess of Beaumont and her staid, imperturbable duke had scarcely fallen silent when a shocking discovery sent Jemma running from the ducal mansion. For the next nine years she cavorted abroad, creating one delicious scandal after another (if one is to believe the rumors).
Elijah, Duke of Beaumont, did believe those rumors.
But the handsome duke needs an heir, so he summons his seductive wife home. Jemma laughs at Elijah's cool eyes and icy heart—but to her secret shock, she doesn't share his feelings. In fact, she wants the impossible: her husband's heart at her feet.
But what manner of seduction will make a man fall desperately in love . . . with his own wife?
I loved this book, the best by Eloisa James I've read to date. I was told the Desperate Duchesses series gets better as it goes along and I agree. Upon the advice of various reviews I'd read, I skipped the first two books altogether and started with the third in the series. It caused a bit of head scratching here and there, but not too much.
This Duchess of Mine is the fifth in the series and Jemma's story, which I've been dying to get to. In the last book, the side story is dominated by Jemma, to the point where her story with her estranged, but now no longer estranged husband was more interesting than the main story! (This is a common occurrence in Ms. James' novels, I've noticed). Set during Georgian times in the 1780's, Jemma is the Duchess of Beaumont who has lived apart from her husband for the first nine years of their marriage. After witnessing him with his mistress, the newly married Jemma hastens to Paris - for nine years! Elijah, her duke, let her remain there. Guilt ridden, he felt he deserved what he got, and he didn't think she'd ever forgive him. (A poor excuse if I ever heard one!) Instead she became the most beautiful Englishwoman in Paris. Although she had an affair or two, nothing compared to her duke who she secretly pined for. Jemma is a multi-faceted heroine. She's quick witted and extremely intelligent - she's also a master chess player. The game of chess is a dominant occurrence throughout this entire series. In the previous books, she came across as sort of a know-it-all, but here we really get to know Jemma and I wound up loving her!
Elijah, the Duke of Beaumont has a secret. He is dying and needs an heir before he succumbs to the heart disease that is slowly killing him. The duke calls his duchess back from Paris informing her that he wants an heir - he wants to make an heir. Jemma has loved him all along, but due to their lack of communication and the fact they've barely seen each other in the last several years, they have to basically start over again with their marriage. Even though she is eager to make an heir too, she insists they get to know each other first - she wants him to woo her - and she wants to woo him! She doesn't know about his illness, so she's in no hurry to make a baby. They have all the time in the world! Instead, she wants him to be able to choose her (some crazy advice she got from a male friend) and sics her biggest rival from Paris on him, hoping that if someone else pays attention to him and flirts with him (he's known for his staid and Puritan-like ways and is not your typical Georgian dandy) he'll be flattered by all the attention and will appreciate by being able to choose Jemma over another. It really didn't make sense to me and it was highly convoluted, but it served it's purpose - it prevented them from sleeping together immediately and created some diverting moments at Vauxhall. Not much time goes by, their marriage is heating up and just when it seems they are finally going to do the deed - he has one of his frightening fainting spells (otherwise he seems fine) and Jemma finds him. Knowing how his father died of the same heart failure, she is no idiot and instantly realizes what's wrong with him. He comes clean with her and they must come to terms with it. He may very well die at any moment - how can they fix this problem?! Jemma refuses to just let him die and will not give up on finding a cure.
The rest of book revolves around how they deal with this dilemma, searching for a doctor they have heard about that has been experimenting with a drug that can regulate the heart - a derivative of the poisonous flower, foxglove. Meanwhile, they are becoming closer and learning more and more about each other. Discovering new places, likes and dislikes - and falling in love. It makes their plight all the more bittersweet - for time is a wasting. They fear the next time he faints it could kill him. Elijah does have one remedy that seems to work! Physical exertion helps keep his heart pumping regularly. Physical exertion, as in the sexual kind, particularly. In addition they've taken to playing chess together again, both are equally matched. One particular chess game is masterfully described - in bed - blindfolded. I must admit, it was a novel approach to the game and very well done! Even if you don't play chess, you'll appreciate the setting! ;)
One of the things I loved about this book was all the detail that went into it, particularly the clothing. Georgian fashion was one of opulence, large panniers, everything powdered, wigs, beauty marks, jewels, silks and satins - it was sensuous and rich. Jemma fit right in and I enjoyed reading about everything she wore and how she chose what she'd wear, it was fascinating to imagine and evocative of the era.
Elijah on the other hand, eschewed the glitter of the era which is reflective of his personality. Upon the death of his father, who died in the most scandalous fashion in a brothel, Elijah felt he needed to make up for his father's notorious reputation. His clothes remain dark and conservative, his hair is plain and unpowdered as befits a serious member of the House of Lords, which Elijah considers himself to be. He is in stark contrast to the Duke of Villiers who is his oldest friend and, at one time, a major rival for Jemma. Villiers and Jemma are both fanatics when it comes to chess and their ongoing chess match threatened to ruin her marriage once and for all. Besides chess, Villiers other obsession is his attire - he is a clotheshorse. Villiers is known for his excessive attention to his clothing. Everything must be perfection, although he manages to keep his masculinity about him. No one can accuse of him of being "light in the instep." He's the father of five bastard children, which makes up the side story in this novel and is the natural lead in to the next. I really like Villiers, he's a very interesting man and all of his scenes have a sparkle in them, I can't wait to read his story - which is the next in the series.
So are you wondering what happens to Elijah and if they find a cure? I can assure you this book ends happily, but it does have it's poignant moments. I really enjoyed it and it was a worthwhile read - a beautiful cover too! Enjoy it - I know I did!