Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James
|COMMENT on this post for a chance to win a print copy of Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James.|
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James’s historical regencies have been published to great acclaim. A reviewer from USA Today wrote of Eloisa’s very first book that she “found herself devouring the book like a dieter with a Hershey bar”; later People Magazine raved that “romance writing does not get much better than this.” Her novels have repeatedly received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, and regularly appear on the best-seller lists. Her most recent book was Desperate Duchesses, published by Avon/Harper Collins in June.
After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Director of Creative Writing in the English Department at Fordham University in New York City. She's also the mother of two children and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight.
Visit her on the web at www.eloisajames.com.
(By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY)
How did you start writing romances?
From the beginning, all of my stories dealt with relationships and marriages. The summer after I graduated from Harvard in 1985, I wrote my (still unpublished) first novel. In 1999, I sold my first one, Potent Pleasures. It was so much fun! And I paid off my graduate school bills.
How do family and colleagues feel about the novels?
Dad really likes them. I didn't tell Fordham (where she teaches) until I got tenure in 2002. In the classroom, I'm a Shakespeare scholar.
What is the biggest misconception about romances?
That they are porn for women.
But aren't your novels frisky?
There are sexual parts to my books because I'm very interested in marriage and sex. Marital problems and marital joy tend to be played out in the bedroom.
Is your husband really an Italian nobleman?
He's a Dante scholar and a cavaliere — knight. My readers love that.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
A marquess's sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded ballroom: a duke, a chess player of consummate skill, a notorious rake who shows no interest in marriage -- until he lays eyes on Roberta.
Yet the Earl of Gryffyn knows too well that the price required to gain a coronet is often too high. Damon Reeve, the earl, is determined to protect the exquisite Roberta from chasing after the wrong destiny.
Can Damon entice her into a high-stakes game of his own, even if his heart is likely to be lost in the venture?.
April 10, 1783
Beaumont House, Kensington
"In Paris, a married lady must have a lover or she is an unknown. And she may be pardoned two." The door to the drawing room swung open, but the young woman sitting with her back to the door took no notice.
"Two?" an exquisitely dressed young man remarked. "I gathered that Frenchmen are a happy race of men. They seemed so petulant to me when I was last there. It must be the embarrassment of riches, like having three custards after supper."
"Three lovers are considered rather too many," the woman replied. "Although I have known some who considered three to be a privilege rather than an abundance." Her low laugh was a type that tickled a man's breastbone and even lower. It said volumes about her personal abilities to manage one – or three -- Frenchmen with aplomb.
Her husband closed the door behind him and stepped into the room.
The young man glanced up and came to his feet, bowing without extraordinary haste. "Your Grace."
" Lord Corbin," the Duke of Beaumont replied, bowing. Corbin was just Jemma's taste: elegant, assured, and far more intelligent than he admitted. In fact, he would make a good man in parliament, not that Corbin would lower himself to something approaching work.
His brother-in-law, the Earl of Gryffyn, rose and made him a casual bow.
“Your servant, Gryffyn,” the duke said, making a leg.
"Do join us, Beaumont," his wife said, looking up at him with an expression of the utmost friendliness. "It's a pleasure to see you. Is the House of Lords not meeting today?" That was part and parcel with the war they had waged for the last eight years: conversation embroidered with delicate barbs, rarely with coarse emotion.
"It is in session, but I thought to spend some time with you. After all, you have barely returned from Paris." The duke bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile.
"I miss it already," Jemma said, with a lavish sigh. "It's marvelous that you're here, darling," she said, leaning forward a bit and tapping him on the hand with her fan. "I'm just waiting for Harriet, the Duchess of Berrow, to arrive. And then we shall make a decision about the centerpiece for tomorrow's fête."
"Fowle tells me that we are holding a ball." The duke – who thought of himself as Elijah, though he would be very affronted were any person to address him so – kept his voice even. Those years of parliamentary debate were going to prove useful, now that Jemma had returned to London. 'Twas the reason he'd stayed home for the day, if truth be told. He had to strike a bargain with his wife that would curb her activities to an acceptable level. And he wouldn't get there by losing his temper; he remembered their newlywed battles well enough.
"Dear me, don’t tell me that I forgot to inform you! I know it's a bit mad, but the plans gave me something to do on the voyage here."
She looked genuinely repentant, and indeed, for all Elijah knew, she was. The game of marriage they played required strictly friendly manners in public. Not that they were ever in private.
"He just did tell you that," her brother put in. "You'd better watch out, Sis. You're not used to sharing a household."
"It was truly ill-mannered of me," she said, leaping to her feet, which made her silk petticoats swirl around her narrow ankles. She was dressed in a pale blue gown à la Française, embroidered all over with forget-me-nots. Her bodice caressed every curve of her breasts and narrow waist before the skirts billowed over her panniers.
By all rights, the way her side hoops concealed the swell of her hips should be distasteful to a man, and yet Elijah had to admit that they played an irresistible part in a man's imagination, leading the eye from the curve of a breast to the narrow waist, and then driving him perforce to imagine slender limbs and – and the rest of it.
Jemma held out her hand; Elijah paused for a moment and then took it. She smiled at him, as a mother might smile at a little boy reluctant to wash his face. "I am so glad that you are able to join us this morning, Beaumont. While I trust that these gentlemen have impeccable opinions –" she cast a glimmering smile at Corbin – "one's husband's opinion must, of course, carry sway. I do declare that it's been so long since I felt as if I had a husband that it is quite a novelty! I shall probably bore you to tears asking you to approve my ribbons."
In the old days, the first days of their marriage, Elijah would have bristled. But he was seasoned by years of dedicated jousting in Parliament where the stakes were more important than ribbons and trifles. "I am quite certain that Corbin can do my duty with your ribbons." He said it with just the right amount of disinterest and courtesy in his voice.
From the corner of his eye, Elijah noticed that Corbin didn't even blink at the idea he had just been invited by a duke to do his husbandly duty. Perhaps the man could keep Jemma occupied enough that she wouldn't cause too many scandals before parliament went into recess. He turned sharply toward the door, annoyed to discover that his wife's beauty seemed more potent in his own house than it had been in Paris during his rare visits.
Partly it was because Jemma had not powdered her hair. She knew quite well that the shimmer of weathered gold was far more enticing than powder, and contrasted better with her blue eyes. It was only – he told himself – because she was his wife that he felt this prickling irritation at her beauty. Or perhaps the irritation was caused by her self-possession. When they first married, she wasn't so flawless. Now everything about her was polished to perfection, from the color of her lip to the witty edge of her comments.
Those blue eyes of hers widened just slightly, and she cast him another of her glimmering smiles. "We really are two hearts that beat as one, Beaumont," she said.
"In that case," her brother said, "It is truly odd that you have spent so much time apart. Not to break up this touching example at marital felicity – so rare in our depraved age and, I think we'll all agree, an inspiration to us all – but can you just show us the damned centerpiece now, Jemma? I've got an appointment on Bond Street, and your friend the duchess doesn't seem to be making an appearance."
"It's just in the next room, if Caro has everything prepared. She wasn't quite ready when you arrived."
Elijah caught himself before asking who Caro was.
Jemma was still speaking. "I trust her with everything. She has the most elegant eye of any female I've ever known. Except, perhaps, Her Majesty, Queen Marie Antoinette."
Elijah shot his wife a look that showed exactly what he felt about those who boasted of intimacy with French royalty. "Shall we examine this centerpiece, sirs?" he said, turning to Corbin and Gryffyn. "The duchess is considered quite a leader of fashion in Paris. I myself shall never forget her masquerade ball of '79."
"Were you there?" Jemma asked wonderingly. "I vow, I had quite forgotten. She tapped him on the arm with her fan. "Now it comes back to me. All the men were dressed as satyrs 'twas most ravishingly amusing but you wore black and white, for all the world like a parliamentary penguin."
He dropped her hand, so that he could bow again. "Alas, I do not show to best advantage with a satyr's tail." And neither did the asses of Frenchmen, though he didn't say it aloud.
She sighed. "Both members of my family declined to join the fun. So English so pompous so "
"So clothed," Gryffyn said. "There were some knees in evidence that night that should never have seen the light of day. I still have trouble forgetting Le Comte dAuvergnes bony knobs."
Jemma peeked through the doors to the ballroom beyond. Then she laughed and flung them open. "How wonderful it all looks, Caro! You are brilliant, absolutely brilliant, as always!"
Corbin was briskly following in Jemma's train, so Elijah grabbed his brother-in-law's elbow. "Who the hell is Caro?"
"Pestilently intelligent woman," Gryffyn said. "Jemma's secretary. She's been around for four or five years. You haven't encountered her?"
And, at Elijah's shrug, "She prepares Jemma's most extravagant escapades. Accomplices in scandal, that's the way to describe them. Prepare to be dazzled by her incomparable abilities, not that you'll appreciate them. I don't suppose that you're secretly hoping that Jemma will transform into a political wife, are you?"
"My hope is limited to a wish that she doesnt topple my career," Elijah said. "Do I mean you to say that all of Jemmas secretarys abilities are directed to the creation of scandal?"
"As I said, you won't like it," Gryffyn said. They were at the door. He pulled it farther open and moved to the side. "This is pretty standard for her."
Elijah walked through the door and stopped short.
"Bloody hell," he breathed.
"It's better than those satyrs. No tail," Gryffyn pointed out.
As Elijah stared into the room, he felt his hard-won calm and control slipping from his grasp. The huge mahogany table that generally stood in the dining room had been removed to the middle of the ballroom. Rather than dishes, it held an enormous pink shell, apparently made of clay. Rosebuds were strewn all about, falling in chains to the floor. Numbly he noticed that Jemma was exclaiming over how realistic the flowers appeared. "And the sea shells!" she squealed. "A beautiful touch, Caro!"
But that wasn't it, of course.
What was making his blood thud against the wall of his chest wasn't the hundreds of pounds worth of fabric flowers, nor the shell, nor even the pearls, because there were also strings and strings of pearls. God knows, he had more than enough money for whatever extravagances Jemma came up with. What Elijah treasured more than anything else in the world was his stock of carefully nourished, tenderly used, political power.
He had nurtured it day by day. Built up a solid reputation for energetic, thoughtful argument. While his wife lived in Paris for the last eight years, he built a career without the help that other men got from their wives throwing dinner parties, or hosting salons. He'd come to the top of the House of Lords, to one of the most respected positions in the kingdom, by marshalling his intellect, never taking a bribe. Separating himself from the corrupt policies and wild scandals that plagued Fox and the Prince of Wales's disgraceful cronies.
And now, when he might have only a little time left to further his work --
The centerpiece wasn't wearing a damned scrap of clothing.
And she was painted gold; never mind the pearls that were glued around her body at regular intervals.
His brother-in-law was watching her with a calculated, lustful look in his eye that Elijah despised, though he had to admit that only a dead man would ignore this centerpiece.
"At least she's not wearing a tail," Gryffyn commented.
At that very moment, the naked, gold-painted young lady bent sideways and fiddled with the little stand on which she was leaning. A huge spray of gorgeous peacock feathers burst from behind her beautifully curved rear.
"Spoke too soon," Gryffyn said happily.
"Damn it to hell," Elijah breathed.
"Cryptic poetry, brilliant chess games, and scintillating repartee add zing to this complex tale of misplaced affections, sparring spouses, and dissatisfied nobles. Slightly bawdy, totally unconventional, and thoroughly delightful, James's (Desperate Duchesses) Georgian romp is the sparkling debut of a new series that promises to be remarkable."
-- Library Journal
"As Eloisa James's elegant novels are wont to do, Desperate Duchesses has an ensemble cast. It introduces a storyworld and some of the characters who inhabit it now and in future works. Ms. James does her usual excellent job of conveying the time and place with attention to authentic detail. The interaction of the characters, the sensuality and the emotions they consent to reveal, and the dialogue and the humor all work together to produce a highly literate and entertaining novel. The chess matches play an important part in the plot, not just in themselves, but also as parallels to the games of seduction."
-- Romance Reviews Today
4 1/2 stars: Top Pick!
"Our present-day Desperate Housewives can't compete with these Desperate Duchesses for great drama, humor and troublemaking. James brilliantly recreates the colorful atmosphere of the Georgian era, allowing her utterly delightful – and sometimes quirky – characters to play out their story. Known for her sophisticated, intelligent writing, James does everything brilliantly. Her characters and her wit are on target, and every moment is one to savor."
-- Romantic Times BOOKClub
5 Blue Ribbons:
"The language of Desperate Duchesses is eloquent and takes the reader to another time and place. The cast of characters all have their own unique flair. Another delightful feature of Desperate Duchesses is the attention to detail without being verbose. The reader can easily visualize the locations and outfits. You can always count on Eloisa James for her clever and delightful stories, but she out does herself with her latest novel. Desperate Duchesses is a great example of why Ms. James is one of the best historical romance authors in the world. With the intelligent and witty dialog, this book is easy to recommend to even the most finicky of readers."
-- Zoe Knighton, Romance Junkies
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James
Release Date: May 29, 2007
Genre: Regency Romance
$6.99 from Amazon.com
Purchase Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James HERE!!!