“Shot through with silver,” Roberta said, her eyes dreamy again.

Beaumont scrawled his signature with a huge flourish and a footman whisked away his papers. “Please forgive my intolerable rudeness,” he said, taking up his fork. “Do I gather that in between airing the intimacies of my early marriage, we are discussing the equally delightful topic of the Duke of Villiers?”

“Precisely,” Damon said. “And Jemma, you are quite incorrect. Villiers may not flaunt his sword, so to speak, but it’s all the more evident for being sheathed.”

“Are you saying that Villiers has fallen in love?” Beaumont asked, sounding genuinely surprised.

“Never,” Damon said. “The man doesn’t give a damn about women, or propriety, the niceties of life in London, or any of that claptrap. He behaves in an egregious manner and yet he is invited everywhere. It’s one of the mysteries of life. Another such mystery would be how you, my dear Lady Roberta, are possibly going to get him to give a damn about you.”

Jemma shot him a frown and Beaumont’s eyebrow shot up.

Why the hell was he insulting Lady Roberta? Damon couldn’t quite explain it, but the idea of this delicious girl chasing after Villiers made his blood curdle.

“I shall keep your good wishes in mind,” Roberta said, not turning a hair. “I think that the duke and I are suited.”

“Suited!” Damon said. “Not unless you turn into a chess piece on alternate Sundays.”

She didn’t even pause. “I can work on that.”

“It’s going to be an education having you with us,” Jemma said. “Creativity must run in the family. Perhaps your father can write a poem for Damon’s wedding.”

“What wedding?” he enquired.

“The one I’m going to arrange for you. It’s past time you were married. It would have prevented the debacle of Flora’s declaration.”

“I haven’t met a single young woman I could contemplate marrying. Most of the ones currently on the market have brains like the mills of God.” He sighed, faced with two blank female faces.

“The mills of God grind exceedingly slowly,” Beaumont put in. “I gather Lord Gryffyn is issuing an obscure insult to young women’s intelligence.”

“This is the very reason why you have reached the ripe, if not over-ripe, age of twenty-nine without marrying,” Jemma told her brother. “Your jokes are obscure, and your belief in your own intelligence is far too high.”

“It has nothing to do with my intelligence,” he protested.

“What does it have to do with?” Roberta asked with some curiosity. “Are you holding out for a bluestocking?”

Jemma leaped to his rescue. “Damon’s problem is that he’s been the most eligible bachelor on the market for, oh, at least five years now.”

“There was the Duke of Fletcher,” Damon put in gloomily, “but he married Perdita Selby and left me to the wolves.”

“The wolves being matchmaking mamas,” Jemma translated.

“And their daughters. It wasn’t Mrs. Hickman who had the idea of locking me in a privy with her daughter until we were compromised.”

“It might have been Mr. Hickman,” Jemma said.

He shook his head. “Elinor herself. She as good as told me so. After all, when you spend several hours in extremely intimate—and odiferous—circumstances, all sorts of revelations come to light.”

“I can’t tell you how many young women have marked their first year in London by falling violently in love with my brother,” Jemma said.

Roberta blinked at Damon.

“I know,” Jemma said, “hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Somewhat,” Roberta said with a grin.

“Don’t hesitate to insult me,” Damon retorted.

“I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were less than handsome,” Roberta said hastily.

“It’s just as well that you’re immune to his charms. It would be all too awkward if you joined the slavering hordes and were chasing Damon around the house with a knife in one hand and a ring in the other.”

“A knife?”

“There was only one young lady with a cutting implement,” Damon said, “and it was some sort of chisel for working in stone. Young Dulcit Pensington. In her first few months in London, she succumbed to a particularly virulent affection for me, and was determined to carve my head in sandstone.”

“How—” Roberta caught back whatever word she meant. Probably odd, Damon thought. “How enterprising!” she exclaimed.

She obviously had no interest in him. Which was all to the best, just as Jemma had pointed out.

“Dulcit is a very sweet girl,” Jemma said. “Not that I’ve seen her since she was a child, but I’m sure you have blown that chisel story out of all recognition, Damon.”

“Not I,” he said promptly. “For at least two weeks I couldn’t leave my house without a maddened sculptress leaping from behind a bush, chisel in hand.”

“Ignore him,” Jemma said to Roberta. “When a man grows this convinced of his own beauty, there is no hope for him.”

“I am not convinced of my beauty,” Damon protested.

“What you need is a woman who doesn’t even know you’re alive,” his sister told him. “I shall dance a hornpipe on the day you meet her.”

“A fit encomium for marital bliss,” Beaumont said, putting down his knife and fork. “Dancing to a tune one neither likes nor understands, with a partner who thinks you a cadaver.”

As jokes go, that wasn’t a bad one, though of course family loyalty meant that Damon couldn’t laugh. Jemma was glaring again. Damon looked over at Roberta and saw an answering, secret smile in her eyes.

It seemed he could share a secret laugh with his new family member, which was comforting when he thought of sitting through more dinners like this one.

In fact, it was almost enticing.

Chapter 7

From the Duchess of Beaumont to the Duke of Villiers:

Though we haven’t met in years, I should like to invite you to my ball tomorrow. My footman will await your response.

From the Duke of Villiers to the Duchess of Beaumont:

You should speak to your husband more frequently. We don’t consort. No, thanks.

From the Duchess of Beaumont to the Duke of Villiers:

Would you agree that pawn-grabbing, like sin, cannot be diminished by apologies?

To the Duchess of Beaumont:

Are you offering to grab my pawn? I am charmed. No, thank you.

To the Duke of Villiers:

Perhaps I am guilty of a badly timed opening? Capturing a pawn en passant is of course a delicious possibility, but I prefer to create a nest of mating possibilities.

To the Duchess of Beaumont:

An aggressive opening play. Does your king know of this invitation?

To the Duke of Villiers:

I was lucky enough to beat Philidor with an aggressive opening and I am fond of them for that reason. One of my weaknesses, perhaps, is that I underplay the king.

No salutation.

Are you talking about François Philidor?

No salutation.

Of course.

No salutation.

You beat François Philidor in a game of chess?

Tags: Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses Romance
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