This Duchess of Mine Page 61


She raised her eyes to Jemma. “I waited a year, and then I had her arrested. She was stripped and marched through London for prostitution, left in the stocks for a day, and then sent to Bridewell. She died a few months later.” There was unmistakable satisfaction in her voice.

“Elijah has no interest in such practices,” Jemma said, hurrying into speech before her mother-in-law could say anything else.

“I brought him up to be virtuous,” his mother said.

“But it didn’t take.”

“It didn’t?” Jemma said, dumbfounded. There wasn’t a person in England who wouldn’t say that the Duke of Beaumont was virtuous. And they didn’t even know about the Cacky Street Glassworks.

The dowager duchess looked unblinking at her. “I know why you left for Paris. My son inherited his father’s deviant tendencies. It was good of you to return, and attempt to produce an heir. If I hadn’t already had a son, I would have left the country as well.”

“It’s customary for a man to have a mistress,” Jemma said desperately, hardly able to believe that she was defending Elijah, after all her years of resenting that same mistress. “Your son has no interest in the more…exotic practices that the former duke enjoyed.”

The dowager curled her lip. “I don’t care about a mistress any more than you would have. But he couldn’t keep the woman discreet, as other men do. He brought the woman into public. His own offices.” She straightened her back and said calmly, “Revolting. I gather that my husband also enjoyed being watched on occasion.”

“Elijah wasn’t being watched!” Jemma gasped. “He was only trying to prove that his tastes weren’t as deviant as those of his father. He was very young, Your Grace. By engaging his mistress to meet him in his chambers, he proved to all those who knew that he enjoyed normal intimacies. There was nothing deviant about it.”

The smallest noise made her lift her eyes. Elijah was standing in the open doorway. His face looked terrifyingly calm.

“All I’m asking is that you refrain from marital intimacies,” the dowager said, her voice tired and irritated. “If Algernon Tobier inherits the Beaumont dukedom because the current duke drops on the floor of the House of Lords, it will be unremarkable. But if a second Beaumont dies in bed with a woman, even if that woman is his wife, we will never live down the reputation. The Bawdy Beaumonts will go down in history.”

“I’m afraid that you cannot choose the hour of your son’s passing,” Jemma said, her voice shaking, so shocked that she actually forgot Elijah was listening.

“If Elijah dies in my bed, in a pleasurable moment, that is something I would welcome.”

“You are a fool,” the dowager said heavily. “We duchesses live on, you know. My husband took his dissolute, frivolous self to the grave, but he left me to live through the titters and the veiled comments. He left his son to weather the debacle. He made me a laughingstock, and my son will do the same to you.”

“We needn’t worry about a son since we have no children,” Jemma said. She was so caught by inarticulate anger that she couldn’t continue.

Finally Elijah stepped into the room. He bent down and kissed the hand his mother held out to him. “I suppose you’ve heard our subject,” she said, her voice calm. But her fingers were twisting on the diamonds she wore on her chest.

“I see my responsibilities to the line rather differently than you do, Mother,” he said, seating himself next to Jemma. “My wife and I shall continue to attempt to create an heir.”

“I beg to differ,” his mother said.

But she couldn’t keep her face as fierce and still now that her son was sitting opposite her. Jemma saw that and her anger fled.

“Elijah’s heart is stronger than his father’s was,” Jemma told his mother, speaking to the grief, and not to what the woman was saying. “And we’ve heard of a doctor in Birmingham who is having excellent results with a new medicine he’s developed. We’re—”

Elijah put his hand over hers and she stopped. “I shall be very sorry if I leave you ashamed of me in any way,” he said to his mother.

The dowager’s fingers were clenched over her diamond. “I can’t stay here. I cannot. I shall depart for Aberdeen immediately.”

“You can’t mean that,” Jemma said. “At least spend the night.”

The dowager’s eyes skated to hers. “You will inform me when—”

“I’ll take care of him,” Jemma said gently, standing up and pulling Elijah to his feet as well.

The dowager stood, looking up at her son as if from the bottom of a well. “You were a beautiful baby.”

Elijah held out his hand and she clung to it. “And you have a beautiful smile,” she said. “You have always had a beautiful smile.”

Jemma felt hot tears pressing in her eyes.

Elijah smiled his beautiful smile, as if his mother hadn’t just said he was deviant, and bent to kiss her cheek. “I may well live for years, Mother.”

His mother’s eyes met Jemma’s, and they both knew the truth. His mother closed her eyes for a long moment, her fingers tight on those diamonds.

“I shall stay for luncheon,” she announced, hunching a bit over her cane. “Then I shall begin my journey.”

They talked of nothing over the meal. The dowager was clumsy, her swollen fingers causing her to drop her fork repeatedly and knock a glass of wine to the table. But Jemma, watching, thought that it was a heavy heart that made her so awkward.

That night, Elijah came to her room. She held out her arms, and he came over to her, warm and hard, his hand sliding up beneath her nightdress. “We should talk,” he murmured. But his hands were already setting her aflame.

Jemma realized that in truth, she’d been waiting all day for this. In bed with her, Elijah’s heart beat strong and true. She didn’t have to worry.

“Later,” she said, her hands sliding lower on his body.

“But—”

“I want to taste you,” she said. And then his eyes were like dark flames, like his mother’s, but she pushed that thought away and kissed her way down his chest. Her fear was gone, blissfully gone, because she could feel the blood pounding through his body.

He said something, scrambled and inarticulate, but he arched toward her and she laughed and opened her lips.

He was hers, and he was alive, and that was good enough for the moment.

Chapter Twenty-five

April 3

Jemma kept Elijah in bed most of the next day. In the early afternoon, they found themselves lying on their backs, panting, the sheets twisted around their legs.

“I need a bath,” Jemma said groggily. She felt drained and happy. She had one hand on Elijah’s chest, and his heart was beating strong and true. “It’s as if we repaired a clock,” she said, changing the subject.

He had his arms thrown over his head and was smiling up at the tapestry hanging over the bed. “My heart can beat normally when it remembers to do so.”

“We’ll make love every day,” Jemma ordered.

“Twice a day. Morning and night so that your heart remembers the correct pattern.”

Elijah laughed. “If you tell your friends that plan, every man in the kingdom will be pretending to faint.” He rolled to his side, propping his head on one hand. “I heard what you said to my mother.”

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