As a young girl, Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington told the annoying future Duke of Pindar that she would marry any man in the world before him-so years later she is horrified to realize that she has nowhere else to turn.Evander Septimus Brody has his own reasons for agreeing to Mia’s audacious proposal, but there’s one thing he won’t give his inconvenient wife: himself.Instead, he offers Mia a devil’s bargain… he will spend four nights a year with her. Four nights, and nothing more. And those only when she begs for them.Which Mia will never do.Now Vander faces the most crucial challenge of his life: he must seduce his own wife in order to win her heart-and no matter what it takes, this is the one battle he can’t afford to lose.
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Thirteen years later
~ from the offices of Brandy, Bucknell & Bendal, Publishers ~
August 27, 1800
Dear Miss Carrington,
I am writing to inquire about the prospect of receiving your new novel. As you know, we had hoped to receive the manuscript some six months ago. We are all most sympathetic as regards the tragic death of your father and brother a year ago. But I would be remiss not to tell you that letters begging for Miss Lucibella Delicosa’s next novel are piling up in our offices. Your title, An Angel’s Form and a Devil’s Heart, has proved so enticing that subscriptions already exceed sales of your last two novels added together.
With deep respect, and anticipating a favorable reply,
William Bucknell, Esq.
Brandy, Bucknell & Bendal, Publishers
P.S. I am including Miss Julia Quiplet’s latest novel. I believe you said that you had not yet read her work, and we are persuaded that you will find it pleasurable.
September 4, 1800
The Duke of Pindar’s country estate.
Mia hated to admit it, but she was trembling like one of her own heroines. She generally put her poor ladies in Mortal Danger, standing at the brink of icy waters, for example, pursued by a lustful landlord, knees knocking pitiably and delicate hands shaking.
Her readers expected Mortal Danger. In capital letters.
She’d happily choose a plunge over a waterfall to the humiliation that lay ahead of her.
Her own less-than-delicate hands were trembling, so she curled them into fists, watching as her groom announced her name. Vander’s butler—or, to be exact, the Duke of Pindar’s butler—glanced down at her, patently surprised that a young lady had arrived without a chaperone.
Did intense humiliation count as Mortal Danger?
No, because if it were possible to die of humiliation, she would surely be dead by now. After all, she had survived the mortifying poetry incident in Villiers’s library all those years ago, then she’d failed on the marriage market, only to go through an even worse humiliation: being jilted at the altar a month ago.
The truth was that as an author she was always kind to her characters. Mortal Danger never included jiltings. What’s more, thanks to her heroines’ thin, wispy bodies, they always floated safely downstream, too light to sink. Another author she knew had caused a character to be pecked to death by pigeons. Pigeons?
Not in a Lucibella novel!
Her readers knew that there would be no bloodthirsty birds, no one left at the altar…
She had never forced any of her heroines to propose marriage, let alone to a duke.
Gentlemen fell at her heroines’ feet, not the other way around. It was a strict requirement of the genre. Lord knows, Lucibella Delicosa disappointed her readers at her own peril: a torrent of indignant letters would pour through her publisher’s door if she were to shame one of her heroines the way Mia was about to be shamed.
But at least, Mia reminded herself, she was not, in reality, falling at Vander’s feet.
She was in charge.
A New York Times bestselling author, Eloisa James is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but who can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. (Her husband is an honest to goodness Italian knight!) Eloisa’s website offers short stories, extra chapters, and even a guide to shopping in Florence.
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