This Duchess of Mine Page 21

“I won’t sleep with you. I won’t go to bed with you merely to have an heir. Your cousin can inherit for all I care.”

“Will you sleep with me for another reason altogether?”

What was she supposed to say? When you want me more than you want to save the world? That would never happen. The intrinsic fabric of Elijah’s soul, the whole construction of his life, meant that he could not give her what she wanted. Some part of her heart grieved, and another part craved him even so. His kisses. That affection she had interpreted as love.

When he opened his eyes, his voice sounded hoarse and guttural. “You are mine, Jemma. Do you understand that?”

Then, suddenly, she understood. In fact, she couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t seen it all from the beginning: the way Elijah insisted on playing chess with her only after she and Villiers started a match. The way he refused to sleep with her—until after she finished the match with Villiers.

All along she had been in a relationship in which Villiers and her husband were the opposite poles, and she had been too stupid to realize it.

“I’m yours,” she said, hearing the heavy sadness in her own voice.

“You sound…”

“But you are not mine, Elijah.”

And she left the room before he could say more.

Chapter Eight

March 28

Jemma had barely arrived downstairs the next morning before her husband appeared. He looked better for having slept past dawn, she thought, watching him descend the stairs. A man of such physical beauty never looked truly haggard; his bones carried it. And Elijah had been given great gifts: a nobleman’s chin and a statesman’s eyes. A beautiful, mobile mouth.

She had decided to woo—with the understanding that her husband’s emotions were bound in a rivalry with Villiers that she could never challenge. She would woo with no expectation of winning, but simply because every moment that she kept Elijah from Lords was healing for his heart. Even if she secretly thought that those same moments would break her heart in two.

“Where are we going?” he asked immediately.

Elijah, she thought, had spent far too much of his life expecting that every day would be life-changing.

“We are going to the Covent Garden flower markets. It’s a humble errand, such as duchesses sometimes do, when they feel like being useful. Which,” she added candidly, “isn’t terribly often.”

He handed her into the carriage, and being Elijah, didn’t look in the least bored.

A mere half hour later they were wandering among stalls of flowers, hawkers shouting on all sides.

“Violets,” Jemma said, halting next to a great tub of the small flowers.

“Ah, those purple ones,” Elijah said, staring down at them. “I’ve seen them.”

“Don’t you know what violets are?”

He shrugged. “Not particularly. Why should I?”

“Botanical studies? General knowledge?”

“No.” He didn’t seem to mind the gap in his knowledge either.

She plucked a bunch of velvety small flowers and held them to his nose. “These are violets.”

“Quite acceptable,” he said. “Shall we take the lot?”

“The whole bucket?” She laughed. “No. They’re delicate. These will last only a day or so. This kind of pleasure comes best in small bunches, a bit by the bed, for example. To take so many would be extravagance. You, Duke, have accused me of extravagance on occasion, but in truth I am quite economical.”

“I don’t remember accusing you of extravagance,” he protested.

“I believe it was in Paris. You were not happy with the cost of my crystal forest, remember?”

“Hundreds of pounds a tree,” he said, remembering. “But then…the king loved it.”

“And the crystals were promptly sold back to the merchant from whom we bought them. At a discount, naturally. But violets die, and cannot be resold.”

She took a few violets from the bunch and tucked them into his coat. “There. Now you don’t look as severe.”

Elijah glanced down at his black velvet. “Do I look too severe?” he inquired.

“You look like a statesman. But the violets give you a more debonair air.”

“Would you prefer that I take to wearing coats like Villiers’s?”

He sounded so dubious that she burst out laughing. “Villiers would never give you the address of his embroiderers, Elijah, so you are quite safe.”

He caught her gloved hand and brought it to his lips. “You called me Elijah.”

Jemma could feel herself growing a trifle pink. “I often do.”

“We’re in public.”

“We’re—We’re married,” she said, hearing the slightly breathless quality of her voice and cursing herself.

“I don’t believe my mother even knew my father’s given name,” he said, putting her hand down.

Jemma handed the rest of the violets to a footman. “These and another bunch, please, James.” Then she tucked her hand through Elijah’s arm. “I’m quite sure she did. Likely she simply chose not to use it in your hearing. Do you suppose that your mother might pay us a visit? Or—” She hesitated. “—ought I to have paid her one? I suppose I have been a sadly neglectful daughter-in-law.”

“If my mother wished to see you, she would have sent you a command, informing you of her decision,” Elijah said. “What are all these white ones?”

“Apple blossoms!” Jemma crowed. “Oh, I love these. It means spring is truly here. And those are white cherries. I think we should have a huge amount in the drawing room, don’t you? These are boxwood.”

Elijah sniffed the boxwood and actually took a step back. “I think something died.”

“Boxwood doesn’t smell as beautiful as it looks,” Jemma agreed. She nodded to James. “We’ll have a largish amount of the white cherry, thank you.” She drew Elijah on, out of earshot of the footman. “Do tell me, Elijah, should I pay your mother a visit?”

“We could do so together,” he replied, with a notable lack of enthusiasm. “It’s like visiting the king, you know. We’d have to petition a visit. She hasn’t summoned me in some two years.” He thought about it.

“Perhaps longer.”

Jemma stopped. “She might be ill!”

“Oh, no. She writes me once a week. Strategy is her métier. She has given me remarkably good advice on a number of topics over the years. Though she tends to be far too inclined to insult,” he added. “She is always counseling me to ferocity.”

The fact that his mother’s primary decorating idea had been to strew the house with lurid depictions of Judith holding Holofernes’s bloody head meant the dowager duchess’s forceful tendencies were no surprise to Jemma. She bent to look at a pail of bluebells.

The old man selling the bluebells looked like a tattered and rather furry owl, all eyes and beak. “Grew ’em on the dung heap,” he said to her. “I’s always has the first and best bluebells in London. It’s the dung that does it. Ha’penny a bunch, if you please.”

Elijah looked down at the bluebells with the first real interest he’d shown in the market. “Why do you suppose that is?” he asked the man. “Could it be that the dung generates heat?”

Prev Next