A Wild Pursuit
It is whispered behind the fans of London’s dowagers and in the corners of fashionable ballrooms that scandal follows willfully wild Lady Beatrix Lennox wherever she goes. Three years before, the debutante created a sensation by being found in a distinctly compromising position. Now, the ton has branded her as unmarriageable, her family has called her a vixen, and Beatrix sees no reason not to go after what–and who–she wishes.
And she wants Stephen Fairfax-Lacy, the handsome Earl of Spade. Beatrix, with her brazen suggestions and irresistibly sensuous allure, couldn’t be more different from the earl’s ideal future bride. Yet Beatrix brings out a wildness in the earl he has tried to deny far too long. Still, he’s not about to play love’s game by Lady Beatrix’s rules. She may be used to being on top in affairs of the heart, but that will soon change.
“James gives readers plenty of reasons to laugh. “
~ Publishers Weekly
#22 on the New York Times bestseller list.
#7 on the Waldenbooks bestseller list.
Granted a Perfect Ten by Romance Reviews Today.
#1 on the Barnes & Noble Historical Romance bestseller list.
Stephen Fairfax-Lacy has won The Historical Romance Club’s VALIANT HERO OF THE YEAR AWARD for 2004.
Eloisa made up these gorgeous collectible cards for readers to celebrate the Duchess series. With Gina and Henrietta on one side and Beatrix and Helene 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!
Sebastian's mother originally began as a truly tough, nasty character (I wrote Sebastian's visit with his mother, now Chapter Six, first). But I'm not much good at writing truly villainous types – and how did Sebastian become so great if his mother was a true horror? – so before I noticed it, she wiggled her way into the book and I grew fond of her.
On page 158, I write about the poet Stephen Barnfield, and in my historical note I refer to him (correctly) as Richard Barnfield. I don’t know who Stephen is…
“You’ll succumb to James’ incredible story telling, her deeply passionate characters and their love stories.”
~ Romantic Times BOOKClub (4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick)
“…you’ll enjoy the fast-moving tale woven by Eloisa James…”
~ The State
Enjoy an Excerpt
Lady Esme Rawlings has made a decision. Stephen Fairfax-Lacy (last seen in Duchess) would make a far better husband than her gardener... even if that gardener is really Marquess Bonnington. Here they are at lunch; Esme’s new resolve is somewhat surprising to everyone at the table, including Lady Beatrix Lennox (Bea), who has some interest in Fairfax-Lacy herself.
Stephen had no sooner seated himself than Lady Rawlings leaned towards him with a very marked kind of attention. There was a sleepy smile in her eyes that would make any man under the age of seventy think of bed -- ney, dream of bed. Yet it wasn't until Lady Beatrix Lennox was ushered into a seat across from him that Stephen began enjoying himself. As Lady Beatrix sat down, Esme -- as she'd asked him to call her -- was showing him the intricate figures on the back of her fan. And he glimpsed something in Bea's face. Just enough to make him draw closer to Esme and bend his head over her fan.
He was, after all, an old hat at campaigning.
"Romeo and Juliet, are they?" he asked Esme, peering at the little figures painted with exquisite detail on the folds of her fan.
"Exactly. You see --" one of Esme's curls brushed his cheek. "There's Romeo below the balcony, looking up at Juliet. Bea, would you like to see it? The workmanship is quite elegant."
"Humph," Lady Bonnington said, "Least said of that reprobate, the better. So what's on the fan you are regarding so closely, Lady Beatrix?"
Bea blinked down at the fan. "Romeo and Juliet," she murmured. There was something odd happening here. She glanced across the table while pretending to examine the fan. Esme's impending child was hidden beneath the tablecloth, which meant that she looked like any other gloriously beautiful woman in London -- except there were very few women who could match Esme. And to all appearances Esme had decided to seduce Stephen Fairfax-Lacy. Her Stephen. In fact, Esme presumably had must have decided to follow her aunt's advice and marry, not seduce, Stephen. Of course she wasn't thinking of seduction, given her delicate condition.
The realization gave Bea a most peculiar sinking feeling. Esme's hair was caught up in a loose topknot; fat silky curls caressed her shoulders and cheeks. She wore a gown of French violet silk, cut very low in the bosom, and very short in the sleeves. But more importantly, she was burning with a kind of incandescent sensual beauty.
"Romeo and Juliet, did you say?" Lady Bonnington barked.
"The balcony scene," Bea explained, pulling herself together and handing over the fan. She didn't want to woo Stephen. Therefore, it hardly mattered if Esme decided to do so. "I've always thought it was an absurd scene."
"How so?" Stephen asked, one dark eyebrow raised.
Bea blinked, trying to see what was it about the man that drove all the women in his vicinity to hanker after him. He was handsome, but she'd seen better. Somewhere. He was waiting for a reply so she shrugged. "Romeo stands below, wailing up at Juliet like a pining adolescent."
"That seems a bit harsh. He is in love."
"He only met the woman twenty minutes earlier. But you're right, he thinks he's in love. The funny part, to my mind, is when Juliet suddenly says: do you plan to marry me, and if so, where?"
Esme grinned. "How extraordinary. I read the play long ago, but I never realized that Juliet proposed to him."
"If that thy bent of love be honourable," Bea quoted, "thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow. Juliet bluntly asks him to marry her, although he hasn't said a word on the subject previously."
Esme's eyes flicked to Stephen with a meaningful laughter that made Bea's stomach twist. She was so beautiful! It was almost too much to bear. Bea could paint her cheeks the color of the rainbow, but she could never reproduce that flair of raw sensuality that Esme just tossed in Stephen's direction.
"I saw a hilarious parody of the balcony scene once," Esme was saying, her voice a glorious, husky alto.
"Oh?" Stephen bent towards her, his eyes bold and appreciative.
Naturally, Bea thought. Given the pick of the three women in the house, Helene, herself and Esme, what man wouldn't chose Esme?
"This Juliet almost threw herself off the balcony in her eagerness to join Romeo," Esme remarked. Her eyes seemed to be speaking volumes. Bea considered pleading a sick stomach and leaving the table.
Marchioness Bonnington had been examining the painted fan; she put it down with a little rap. "That sounds very unlike Shakespeare."
"Do share it with us," Stephen said.
If he got any closer to her shoulder, he could start chewing on her curls, Bea thought. Just like the goat.
"I only remember a line or two," Esme said, and her crimson lips curled into a private smile for Stephen, so seductively potent that Bea felt it like a blow.
"Romeo stands below the balcony, bellowing at Juliet." Esme continued. "And she says 'Who's there?'"
Stephen had just caught a tantalizing glimpse of Bea's eyes. She looked...pained. Stricken? That was too strong. He deliberately returned Esme's smouldering gaze with one of his own. "And what does Romeo reply?" He pitched his voice to a deep purr.
Esme flashed a smile around the table. "I do hope this won't embarrass any of you."
"I doubt it," Lady Bonnington said sourly. "After the astonishments of the last month, I consider myself as fairly unshockable."
"The scene takes place in the early morning, If you remember. Juliet says: Who, Romeo? O, you're an early cock in truth! Who would have thought you to be so rare a stirrer?" Esme said it with dulcet satisfaction.
There was a moment of silence and then Stephen roared with laughter. "I'll warrant you Romeo clambered up the vine as fast as he was able!"
"She wouldn't allow him to do so," Esme said. Her eyes were sparkling with mischief, and she had a slim hand on Stephen's arm. "The next line was something like this: Nay, by my faith, I'll keep you down, for you knights are very dangerous if once you get above."
Stephen laughed again, and then tilted his head towards Esme and murmured something in her ear. Obviously, it was a comment meant for her alone. Likely something about getting above. Bea chewed very precisely and swallowed her beef. Perhaps Arabella would allow her to return to London on the morrow. It wasn't that she was jealous, because she wasn't. It was just that no man could resist Esme, and certainly not Stephen, who had frankly told her that he hoped to marry. Slope was bending down at Esme's shoulder, interrupting her tete-a-tete with Stephen. Bea looked back at her beef. She liked Esme. She really did.
"My lady," Slope said quietly into Esme's ear. "We have an unexpected guest."
"All right," Esme said, only half listening. She'd forgotten how much fun flirting was. She was actually enjoying herself. She hadn't thought about wretched, wretched Sebastian for at least a half hour. Arabella was right. Stephen Fairfax-Lacy was charming, and he had a ready wit. He was fairly handsome. She had almost -- almost decided to marry him. Of course, first she had to make certain that Helene didn't want him for herself.
Slope, seeing that the guest in question had followed him into the dining room although his mistress hadn't yet noticed, straightened and announced: "Marquess Bonnington."
Esme's head jerked up. There he was.
No gardener ever wore a pearl gray coat of the finest broadcloth, with an elaborately tied cravat of a pale, icy blue. He looked every inch a nobleman, from the top of his elegantly tousled hair to the tips of his shining Hessians.
There were murmurs all down the table. The scandalous marquess had returned from the Continent! Or from the garden, if only they'd known.
She met his eyes and there was a flare of amusement in them that made her smoldering rage burst into flame. No doubt, he thought to simply return to her bedchamber. Without giving a thought for her reputation, for her child's reputation, for her future.
"Ah, Bonnington," his mother said. "There you are." She sounded as if he'd been to a horse race rather than exiled to the Continent. Or living in a garden shed, for that matter.
But he waited, as polite as ever, for his hostess's acknowledgement. Esme's hands clenched into fists. How dare he think he could simply come and go in her house, just as he had walked into her bedchamber at Lady Troubridge's house?
"Lord Bonnington," she said, inclining her head. "How can it be anything other than a pleasure to see you, after so many months." She reached over and put a hand on Stephen Fairfax-Lacy's shoulder. He had broad shoulders. She was almost certain that he would be as good as a lover as Sebastian. He certainly would be less exhausting.
Stephen looked up, and Esme smiled down at him brilliantly. "Marquess Bonnington has joined us just at the very moment I was to make an important announcement. May I introduce my fiancé, Mr. Fairfax-Lacy?"
There was a moment of utter silence in the dining room.
Then Sebastian went into a low bow, the kind with a flourish and a good deal of gloved violence. His eyes were pitch black in the candlelight, but Esme wouldn't have been surprised if they burned straight through her. "I seem to have arrived just in time for a celebration," he said, and the sardonic note in his voice was clear for all to hear.
Esme swallowed and tightened her hand on her new fiancé's shoulder. She had always been impetuous, but this was without a doubt her wildest moment yet.
"What a delightful surprise!" Marchioness Bonnington crowed. Obviously, she saw her son's freedom within reach.
"Yes, indeed," Helene chimed in, giving Esme a darkling look that said, clear as day: I have use for that man, remember?
Even little Bea seemed shaken, although she said nothing.
And to Esme's endless relief, her brand new fiancé also refrained from expressing his surprise.