The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford— an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honor clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:All is fair in love and war.
“What a lovely evening,” she continued. “The only thing better would be if your father was with us, but I’m certain that he and your sainted mother are watching over you. Likely he was the one who put the idea for this visit to England in my mind!”
Merry nodded, though she was less certain about her father’s approval. Mr. Pelford had been a patriot to his core, and had been elected to represent Massachusetts in the Constitutional Congress, after all.
He had made his own way in the world, taking the profits from a successful patent for a weaving machine and speculating in real estate, then standing for the House of Representatives. In fact, if he hadn’t succumbed to a heart ailment, Merry thought her father could have ended up President of the United States.
Her aunt’s thoughts must have followed hers, because she added, “Though now I think on it, your father might have disliked the idea. More likely, ’twas your mother. I know she loved the land of her birth.”
Merry brushed a kiss on her aunt’s rosy cheek. “My father wouldn’t have a single complaint. You and Uncle Thaddeus have been the best possible guardians.”
“Such a sweet child you were, from the very day you came to us,” Bess said, her eyes turning misty. “You make up for the lack of my own children tenfold. I can scarcely believe that my niece will be an English lady.”
Merry still couldn’t quite imagine it herself.
“Lord Almighty, this room is overheated!” Her aunt started fanning herself so energetically that the feathers on her headdress billowed like a ship’s sails. “I feel as hot as a black pudding.”
“Why don’t we go onto the balcony?” Merry suggested. Its doors stood open in a fruitless attempt to cool the room.
“If it’s stopped raining,” Bess said dubiously. Once in the cool night air, she quickly recovered. “I find your Cedric dazzling,” she exclaimed, snapping her fan shut. “A title is all very well, my dear, but I think it’s better to judge a husband on his own merits—on the plain naked man, if you take my meaning.”
“Aunt Bess!” Merry tugged her from the open doorway. “You must watch your tongue. English gentlewomen aspire to modesty.”
It hardly need be said that Bess didn’t share their aspirations. “That ballroom is full of women pretending that never to have gawked at a man’s wishbone,” she pointed out, “whereas in reality they walk around the room like butchers’ wives at a fish market.”
“English women have very refined manners,” Merry objected.
“So they’d like to think. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, m’dear. Look at the fashions here. I appreciate those silk pantaloons as much as the next woman.”
Merry rolled her eyes. “Aunt Bess!”
“You’re betrothed again, so I can speak my mind,” Bess replied, unperturbed. “Mind you, speaking of pantaloons, your Cedric is certainly a well-timbered fellow.” She gave a throaty chuckle. “That reminds me—I promised to dance this quadrille with your uncle. He’s as clumsy as a June bug, but he does enjoy a nice gallop around the room. Come along, dear.”
“If you don’t mind, Aunt, I’d rather stay here for a few minutes.”
Her aunt gave her a squeeze. “How I love that smile of yours! Your Cedric is a perfect lady’s playfellow. Come your wedding night, the two of you will be as merry as crickets in a fireplace.”
With that, her aunt reentered the ballroom, feathers and fan flapping.
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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