The Taming of the Duke
Imogen, Lady Maitland, has decided to dance on the wild side. After all, she’s in the delicious position of being able to take a lover. A discreet male who knows just when to leave in the morning.
But Lady Maitland is still under the watchful eye of her former guardian, the wildly untamed Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook. He believes she is still in need of a “watchdog.” She laughs at the idea that someone so insufferably lazy and devoted to drink can demand that she behave with propriety.
It’s Rafe’s long-lost brother, a man who looks precisely like the duke but with none of his degenerate edge, who interests Imogen. To Imogen, he’s the shadow duke…the man who really should hold the title.
But when Imogen agrees to accompany Gabe to a masquerade… whose masked eyes watch her with that intense look of desire? Who exactly is she dancing with? The duke or the shadow duke?
“James’s considerable talents for clever prose and tight, breezy plotting are on full display, promising a perennial delight in each coming adventure of the Essex sisters.”
~ Publishers Weekly
Romantic Times BOOKClub nominated The Taming of the Duke for “Historical Romance of the Year”!
#18 on USA Today bestseller list.
#17 on the New York Times extended list.
#10 on Publishers Weekly bestseller list.
RITA (romance’s top prize) Finalist for Best Short Historical of 2006.
Eloisa made up these gorgeous collectible cards for readers to celebrate the Essex Sisters. With Tess and Annabel on one side and Imogen and Josie on the other, this 5x7 can be yours. And this isn't the only gorgeous card to be had!
Warning! In describing relations between characters, I may wreck a book for you by making it clear who someone marries, or the outcome of a book. Please do not read about The Inside Take if you're wary of knowing who is paired with whom!
Josie distorts Shakespeare on page 113, as Annabel points out. She's quoting from Twelfth Night. As a Shakespeare professor, I often teach those lines in context, but I actually first encountered them in the delicious novel by Georgette Heyer, Venetia. If you haven't read Venetia, run to the nearest store! It's her sexiest, to my mind.
A short piece where Eloisa acknowledges a Mansfield Park influence, penned while Eloisa was writing The Taming of the Duke, before she even had a title for the book!
Interested in knowing how many children the Essex sisters had? Eloisa has a beautiful Essex Family Tree for you to see.
For the release of The Taming of the Duke, Eloisa asked readers, who had first met Rafe in Much Ado About You, what they thought Rafe's illegitimate half-brother would be like and why he was in Taming. The responses were amazingly passionate, interesting and fun to read. Eloisa was tremendously honored at the time, imagination and affection invested in her characters. Click through for four of her favorite submissions.
Dawa pointed out that when Imogen and Rafe are at Christobel's performance, before Christobel actually performs, the innkeeper tells a patron to put his sword away. As Dawa noted, swords were not common Regency accoutrements. Dawa thought perhaps the whole question of the sword was a euphemism for the patron's manly parts…I wish I'd thought of that! As it is, it's just a mistake. I must have been having a medieval moment.
“Deception, hidden identity, and secrets combine in an entertaining romp…”
~ Library Journal
“…I highly recommend it.”
~ Romance Reviews Today
Enjoy an Excerpt
From Chapter One
In which the Curiosities of Courtship are Reviewed
Ardmore Castle, Scotland
"I wish I were a queen," Miss Josephine Essex said to two of her elder sisters. "I would simply command an appropriate man to marry me by special license."
"What if he refused?" Imogen, sometimes known as Lady Maitland, asked.
"I'd remove his head from his body," Josie said with dignity.
"Given that men make slim use of their heads," Annabel, the Countess of Ardmore said, "you don't have to threaten decapitation; simply allow the fellow to believe that he made up his own mind about marriage." She was tucked in Imogen's bed and appeared little more than a tousle of curls peeking from under the bedcovers.
"That is precisely the kind of advice I need." Josie snapped open a small book and poised her quill. "I am making a study of the skills required to succeed in the marriage market and since you two are both married, you are my primary sources of information."
"I'm a widow," Imogen said. "I know nothing of the marriage market." She was sorting silk stockings and didn't even look up from the dressing table.
"One should be able to dance," Annabel noted. "You really must practice harder, Josie. You were stomping on Mayne's toes the other night."
"I need better advice than that," Josie said to her. "You are the only one of us to have actually gone on the season, and you married into a title. You do remember that I'm to have a season next year, don't you?"
Annabel opened one eye. "Only because you mention it every other minute. Lord, but I'm sleepy!"
"I've heard that marriage rots the brain," her younger sister told her cheerfully.
"In that case, I wonder that you're so interested in it."
Josie ignored that unhelpful comment. "There's more to gaining a husband than not tripping over his feet while waltzing. I want to understand the challenges beforehand. I can't rely on beauty, the way the two of you did."
"That's ridiculous. You are lovely," Annabel said.
"I was in London for the better part of April," Imogen said, "and I saw plenty of young ladies in your situation, Josie. It seemed to me that the primary requirement for a debutante is a smirk. An innocent simper," she clarified.
"Smirk," Josie noted in her book.
"And listen to everything your suitor says as if God himself is speaking. Of course, sometimes it's difficult to stay awake."
"Men can be very boring," Annabel agreed. "They have such a penchant for discussing themselves. You have to learn to endure, which is not one of your best qualities, Josie."
"To this point, you have shown no ability to suffer fools gladly," Imogen said. "Fools have the deepest pockets. It's a proven fact that lack of brains and a large estate go hand-in-hand."
Josie had been writing busily in her book but she looked up at this. "So I smirk at the fool as he talks about himself? Essentially, toe-curling boredom buys a spouse?"
"I think Imogen is overemphasizing the smirk," Annabel put in. "There are moments in courtship that can be rather interesting. In my view, for example, a prospective groom might prefer engaging in a mildly scandalous activity to a mutual smirk."
"Annabel has a point. I suppose you might occasionally engage in an imprudent act,," Imogen said, "but only you found yourself in the company of a truly engaging young man."
"That's a bit steep coming from you," Josie said. "You devoted yourself to outrageous efforts from the very moment you saw Draven Maitland. Remember how he kissed you, after you arranged to fall out of a tree at his feet?"
Imogen's hands stilled for a moment. "Of course I do. It was spring and the apple tree was in bloom."
"And then you fell off a horse, and finally you fell into marriage. Your example seems to go against the model of the innocent simper," Josie said. "I intend to be practical about this business, and I have no particular disinclination to creating a scandal, if that is the most efficacious route to marriage."
"My foolishness is nothing to emulate," Imogen said, returning to her task and folding two pale blue stockings together. "You would do better to find a husband by a more conventional means."
Josie made a note in her book. "Employ an innocent look, no matter how imprudent one's private conduct may be. It sounds like that gentleman thief who is always getting described in the Times. One moment he appears as a fine gentleman and then with a twist of a dishclout, he's transformed into a beggar."
"In fact, the reverse of Imogen's style," Annabel pointed out, a hint of mischief in her tone. "Since Imogen specializes in appearing debauched, no matter how innocent her private activities may be. According to Griselda, all of London now believes you are carrying on an illicit amour with Mayne, whereas in truth the man has achieved slightly more intimacy than a footman."
"Every woman should have an occupation," Imogen said. "Mine is to provide interest to the old biddies." She tossed a few stockings over her shoulder. They gently drifted to the bed and fell on Annabel's legs.
"Well, as to that," Josie said thoughtfully, "You seem to be slightly behind the times, Annabel."
"She's more than behind the times. She's utterly out of style," Imogen said. "Last night she was flirting with her husband at supper. That kind of behavior is beyond unfashionable; it's practically indecent. No one is supposed to pay attention to their spouse in public. Or," she added, "in private either."
Annabel grinned and said nothing.
"I saw Ardmore kissing you in the breakfast parlor yesterday," Josie remarked. "Your husband has lost his head, which suggests that you should be able to help me. You must have better suggestions than improving my dancing."
"I hardly planned my course of action in a thoughtful manner," Annabel pointed out. "I was desperately unhappy with this marriage, remember? The only reason you two are in Scotland is to save me from my terrible fate."
"A slight miscalculation on our parts," Imogen said. "I could be in London at this very moment, surveying the dubious temptations of men interested only in my estate."
Annabel snorted. Imogen's hair was a glossy black, and smooth as a raven's feather unless she decided to curl it--whereupon it kept a perfect ringlet. Her eyes were wide apart and framed by brows in a flaring arch. Her mouth was just as wide and made for laughing, even though she'd done precious little of that since her husband died the previous year.
"There are more than enough besotted men throughout London to catalogue your features for you," Josie said impatiently. "The really interesting point here is that Annabel doesn't seem to realize that you have been making a concerted effort to woo Mayne into far more intimate activities than are generally enjoyed by footmen."
She ducked as a stocking flew over her head.
"Really, Imogen?" Annabel asked.
"I told you in London that I intended to take a cicisbeo," Imogen said with a snap in her voice.
"But I thought you meant merely a gentleman escort, not a cher ami."
"It has been my distinct impression," Josie said, "that Imogen has demanded that Mayne prove his reputation as a Lothario is not exaggerated."
Imogen's scowl should have silenced Josie on the spot.
"And I regret to report," Josie continued, apparently unruffled by her sister's fiercest glare, "that to all appearances Mayne refused the challenge and kept his virtue intact."
"How surprising," Annabel exclaimed, pushing herself up on the pillows and looking altogether more awake. "I was under the impression that he had no virtue."
"To the contrary," Josie said. "No matter how Imogen batted her eyelashes at him during the trip to Scotland, he kept to his own bedchamber."
"Josie," Annabel said. "You should not speak of bedchambers - no, or even contemplate such behavior. You sound positively hurly-burly. It would be disastrous for your marriage prospects if anyone heard you talking in this fashion."
"Don't be a goose, Annabel," Josie said unrepentantly. "It's not as if I intend to imitate that behavior. I know the difference between what's allowed a widow and an unmarried girl."
The color was rising in Imogen's cheeks under Annabel's interested gaze.
"I suppose the crucial point is not the position for which you considered Mayne," Annabel said to her, "but the position he has agreed to take."
"There's the rub," Josie said. "He managed to get all the way to Scotland with the unblemished virtue of a - a debutante."
Imogen threw a petticoat over her head but Josie just talked right through the frail lace. "There she was, batting her eyelashes, as I said --"
"I never bat my eyelashes!" Imogen put in.
"She batted them," Josie repeated, "and spent a great deal of time trying to convince Mayne that she was besotted with his blue eyes."
Imogen threw a whole heap of corsets on top of her little sister. "Hurly-burly is too good a phrase for you."
Annabel was looking fascinated. "Mayne is very handsome. I can certainly sympathize with the impulse."
"I never said she was truly struck by his eyes," Josie said from under a heap of linens.
"Yes, you did--"
"No." Josie pulled the cloth off her head. "To call a spade a spade, Imogen, you may have tried to turn the earl into your cher ami. But you never, ever looked at him with that fascinated expression with which you used to watch Draven." She turned to Annabel. "So I would deduce that Imogen was not entranced by his eyes. Perhaps by an arm, a leg, or some other...part of his anatomy?"
Annabel frowned at her. "Josie, you wanted advice about the marriage market; I have a serious piece of counsel. Do not indicate that you have the slightest notion what a cher ami is. And never make a joke about parts of the male anatomy that you do not feel comfortable naming."
"I have no reluctance to name--" Josie began readily, but Annabel cut her off.
"That's enough! I don't wish for any anatomy lessons from you."
"If Imogen wishes to forgo a life of celibacy, am I supposed to pretend her efforts don't exist?" Josie said plaintively. "It's not as if people ignored the fact that Mayne took up with the sister of a woman he jilted. His reputation was ruined the first time he danced with Imogen, given his behavior toward Tess."
"Nonsense," Imogen said, finally breaking into the conversation. "Mayne hasn't had a reputation in years. I had nothing to do with it. Any reputation he had left was shattered by his ill-mannered act of jilting Tess in the first place."
"I suppose your disrespectful tone reflects pique," Josie said. "It must be highly annoying to be refused by a man who has so generously spread his attentions around the ton."
"Mayne is an idler, and I have no wish to engage in any sort of intimacies with him."
"Excellent," Josie said heartily. "I shall follow your lead and thoroughly dislike all gentlemen who don't instantly succumb to my charms. Of course, given my girth, I just ruled out most of the available gentlemen in London."
"You are an extremely annoying person," Imogen said. "That alone may keep you unmarried."
"Could we return to that particular challenge for a moment?" Josie asked. "I am serious: I need to know how to attain a proposal of marriage, preferably within a few weeks of the season opening."
Annabel shook her head. "None of us have married in a conventional fashion, Josie. Tess married Felton only after Mayne jilted her. I married Ewan because I had to after that scandal broke."
"I chose my husband in the normal way," Imogen said, "and Lord knows that didn't work out very well."
"It would have, if Draven had lived," Annabel pointed out. "You can hardly blame his death on your elopement."
"It's very annoying," Josie muttered. "How am I to do this? How am I to find a husband?"
"I'll be there," Imogen said consolingly. "And Griselda has already agreed to be your chaperone. You know that she knows all the ins and outs of the ton."
"She told me that her father arranged her marriage," Josie said, looking uncharacteristically helpless. "We don't have a father."
"We have Rafe," Annabel said.
Imogen shrugged. "When he's sober."
"You're just cross because he didn't like it when you took up with Mayne," Josie said.
"Rafe doesn't seem to understand that my marriage freed him from the need to act as my guardian."
"But you were only married a few weeks," Annabel said gently. "I can see why Rafe still feels responsible for your welfare."
"I have agreed to return to his house, haven't I? I had planned to set up my own establishment but instead I'll be living with Rafe and trundling around with Griselda as my chaperone. I'm a widow. Why do I need a chaperone?"
"You seem to have left me out of that delectable picture," Josie said. "So, on that note, Annabel, would you consider allowing me to stay with you for the winter? Apparently, dancing is the only practical skill I need to polish before next spring, and I'm sure there must be a tutor somewhere in Scotland. It's so lovely to be back in the highlands; I loathe the thought of returning to the south."
"This country is damp, cold, and winter's coming," Imogen pointed out.
"I would love to have you stay with me, Josie," Annabel said.
"Will you be quite all right if I don't join the two of you?" Imogen asked. "And I doubt very much that Griselda would like to winter in the highlands."
Annabel had snuggled back down in the covers. "Of course I will be. I'm married." There was a little smile in her eyes.
"I thought you might be nervous about the babe," Imogen said.
Josie gaped, and Annabel sat upright again. "How did you know?"
Imogen laughed. "For goodness' sake, Annabel, you generally retire to bed for two days when your flux appears. We've been here since the end of May, and now it's August. You've spent no time whatsoever groaning about the unfairness of a female's condition. In fact, you look utterly pleased to be female."
"Oh, I am," Annabel said, the smile in her eyes growing.
"A baby!" Josie said. "When will it be born?"
"Not for ages yet," Annabel said. "Likely in January or February."
"I needn't return to England for the season until the end of March!"
"Your company would make me very happy," Annabel said, grinning at her little sister.
"Are you certain that you wouldn't like me to stay as well?" Imogen asked, feeling a tremendous reluctance to do so. It wasn't that she was bitter.
A surge of honesty corrected the thought. Of course she was bitter. Two of her sisters were happily married, and now Annabel was having a child. The memories of her two-week long marriage with Draven were a cold comfort.
"I would love it if you wished to stay," Annabel said, holding out her hand to Imogen. "But I think you should go to London and drive the gentlemen mad by acting like the light widow you so emphatically are not."
"The season is over," Imogen said. "Griselda and I won't go to London. We'll stay with Rafe in the country."
"And Mayne?" Annabel asked.
Imogen shook her head. "A passing fancy," she said. "Luckily he was shrewd enough to see that before I did."
Annabel squeezed her hand.
"Perhaps over the winter you could occupy yourself by making me a list of appropriate parti," Josie suggested. "I don't want to waste my smirks on a man who is lacking in the necessary prerequisites. So many people float through Rafe's house that you are sure to hear all the gossip."
"And those prerequisites are?" Imogen asked, amused.
"I've made a list, garnered from reading every single romantic novels published by Minerva Press." Josie consulted her book.
"An estate is necessary, and a title would be nice. He should be able to read, but not too passionately. Unless he likes novels. And I don't want him to be overly fashionable."
"Don't you have any physical requirements?" Annabel asked.
Josie shrugged. "I would prefer that my husband be taller than I am. Since I am very short, I foresee no difficulty there." She frowned. "Why are you both laughing? There's nothing ludicrous about my ambitions. My list is likely very close to yours, Imogen."
"Your list," Josie said. "Every woman has a list, even if they don't write it down."
"I don't," Imogen said, her lips tight.
"It's been almost a year since Draven died," Josie said, as usual wading in where any hearty soul would hesitate. "You'll have to think of marriage again at some point. You don't want to wither into nothing more than an aunt to Annabel's children."
She caught Imogen's sharp gaze but missed Annabel's. "Well, for goodness' sake, you certainly found it acceptable to contemplate intimacies with Mayne. From what I understand, marriage is merely a regularizing of that sort of relation."
"Josie!" Annabel moaned.
Imogen started laughing again. "Now there's a cold-eyed look at matrimony."
"Your list and mine are likely the same," Josie said. "You simply haven't clarified your demands and I have."
"Tell me again what qualities I am looking for?"
"An estate. A title, if possible. Intelligence, but not to an uncomfortable degree. The same goes with fashion. One would dislike being married to a man who always looked better than oneself."
"I think you should be a tad more specific," Imogen said. "Our own guardian would fit every category you mentioned: Rafe has an estate, a title, sufficient height, no fashion sense whatsoever, and a reasonable amount of intelligence, if slightly pickled."
"You're right," Josie said. "I shall add an age limitation." She sat down, quill poised. "Shall I cut them off at thirty, or twenty-five?"
"My point was more that Rafe is a drunk," Imogen said. "Your list overlooks every important characteristic that one would want in a husband."
"I suppose you are talking about steadiness of character," Josie said. "Rafe actually has that. He's attractive too, very. He's just too old for me."
Imogen suddenly noticed that both Annabel and Josie were watching her. "He's far too old and too drunk for me," she said quickly.
"You are over twenty-one," Josie said with her customary crushing truthfulness. "And you are a widow. I think it is an entirely inappropriate match, as far as age is concerned."
"Rafe may not be perfect for you, darling," Annabel said, taking her hand. "But someone will be."
A little wry smile turned the corner of Imogen's lips. "In truth," she said, "I'm one of those people who fall in love only once, Annabel."
"If we could all plan the moment when we would fall in love as easily as I am making this list," Josie said, "the world would be an altogether more tolerable place. For one thing, I would make certain to fall in love only after a man had sworn undying love."
"Good luck," Imogen said, hearing the disconsolate ring in her own voice.
Annabel squeezed her hand again.
End of Excerpt
The Taming of the Duke is Book 3 in the Essex Sisters series.
The full series reading order is as follows: