The Taming of the Duke
The Taming of
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!
» Cristobel's songs come from a wonderful collection of seductive verse: Bawdy Verse: A Pleasant Collection, edited by E. J. Burford and published by Penguin in 1982. The songs in his collection date from around 1400-1786; I judged some too wild for our delicate contemporary ears ("The Merrie Ballad of Nashe His Dildo" is a good example).
» Once upon a time, Griselda had a dog named Milo, a small brown dog who eats and eats. I too have a dog named Milo. Milo is a long-haired Chihuahua. Did you know that some small breeds experience unusual growth? Milo is about triple your normal Chihuahua, and what he loves best in the world is food. Although he does have a hearty affection for us. Here's a picture of Milo swimming in Elba, Italy.
» Gillian Pythian-Adams first appeared in Much Ado About You, as the fiancée of Lord Maitland. Maitland was stolen away by Imogen, but Gillian gathered so many fans in her brief appearance in that book that I had to bring her back.
» Griselda's opinions about French plays come to my book by way of Oscar Wilde who is, hands down, one of the funniest chroniclers of desultory conversation among the aristocracy that I have ever read.
» On page 101, Rafe says that he received a remarkably tedious letter from an old school friend Yates, who is obsessed with a performance of Lovers' Vow. This is a tribute to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, where a character named Yates is obsessed with Lovers' Vows.
» In the 1800s, alcoholism wasn't seen as a medical issue, an illness, but as a moral failing. I was lucky enough to have several friends who are alcoholics, and talked to me frankly about the process of drying out. For a sense of the historical attitude toward drink, I found Jack London's John Barleycorn to offer a brilliant picture of an alcoholic. The name comes from an ancient English folksong about the drinks that come from distilling barley: beer and whiskey.
» 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 .
» The play that Gillian chooses to direct is George Etheridge's Man of Mode, a hilarious Restoration play. I once edited it for a scholarly edition, so I'm very fond of it. I hope you get a sense of how firmly Etheridge's rake Dorimant is a model for all the Regency Rakes we create nowadays.
» And finally, some small snippets in this novel came from reading issues of La Belle Assemblee dated 1810. That worthy journal contained a column detailing "Remarkable Occurrences." The cask of wine that gave way under the weight of those standing on top of it, and the dreadful accident in the town of Biggleswade, recounted by Loretta, are two such occurrences.
" What may at first seem to be an unlikely match evolves into the perfect pair... James continues to provide her readers with smart, passionate, uplifting romances that make her a must-read."
- The Oakland Press, Dolly Moiseeff (posted April 16, 2006)
" Deception, hidden identity, and secrets combine in an entertaining romp, the third in James's Essex sisters series (Kiss Me, Annabel); readers will be waiting for her next one."
- Library Journal (posted April 15, 2006)
"James is utterly brilliant! Her plots are unique and thought-provoking, her characters intelligent, her dialogue witty and her stories emotional and tinged with just enough humor. You'll truly relish this deliciously naughty, exquisitely written novel."
- Romantic Times BOOKClub, (posted April 2006)
"The Taming of the Duke is imbued with first-rate characterization, flowing dialogue, and an entertaining story that more than satisfies on its own, and I highly recommend it."
- Romance Reviews Today, Sandra Brill (posted March 2006)
"A convoluted plot and plenty of secondary characters keep the plot moving at a nice clip while the dialogue and descriptions of life at Holbrook Court will certainly have you smiling and involved with these characters. Filled with fun Regency frolics, sassy characters, and a winning plot, The Taming of the Duke is classic Eloisa James at her finest."
- Romance Junkies (posted March 2006)
"James's delightful third installment in her successful Four Sisters Regency series revolves around Imogen Maitland, the mischievous sister of Kiss Me, Annabel's titular heroine...James's intelligent, believable dialogue rises above the often trite language found in historical romances, giving the characters depth and substance. 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 (posted February 27, 2006)
Interested in knowing how many children the Essex sisters had? Eloisa has a beautiful Essex Family Tree for you to see
In the month before Taming of the Duke was published, Eloisa ran a contest on this website asking 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. Eloisa (who is used to grading student papers) blithely thought it would be easy to pick a winner. Well...not so! Not only were there hundreds of entries (each of which Eloisa read with great pleasure), but the pure amount of heart and emotion and pleasure that was poured into the question made it impossible to choose a "winner." Every single entry was a winning one. Gabriel was a shape-shifter: readers depicted him as a robber, a solicitor, a soldier, a morphine addict, a boxer, and a journalist. In some entries, he took after his name (the angel of vengeance) and in quite a few entries, he resembled Rafe - because he really was Rafe and no Gabe truly existed!
Overall, the entries were amazingly passionate, interesting and fun to read. Eloisa was tremendously honored at the time, imagination and affection invested in her characters. In the end, she created a pastiche of creative entries: the people who dove farthest into their own imaginations and created Gabriel from scratch, giving him scenes, dialogue and remarkable motivations.
So...with the authors' permission . . . HEEEEERE'S GABRIEL!
was able to tell
us exactly why
showed up in Rafe's
from New York
was more interested
in the effect
on Rafe of Gabriel's
saw Gabriel as
a spur to Rafe's
"Don't scowl so, Rafe. You look as if you are suffering from a toothache."
"No, my dear," Rafe replied. "I'm suffering from an entirely different kind of ache."
agreed with Eleanor,
but seems to have
seen Gabe as being
a little bit more
involved in Imogen's
life than Eleanor
...Then she blinked as she looked into cold gray eyes. "Who are you?" Gabe sat up in bed and smiled with such a roguish grin, Imogen took a step back and stared. Looking at him from head to toe trimmed hair, hard muscles, flat abdomen, and long limbs, he reminded her of her dream Rafe... Imogen felt a tremor run through her spine as he proclaimed, "I am Gabriel Spenser, the Duke of Holbrook!"
From Chapter One, In which the Curiosities of Courtship are Reviewed
"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.