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New Chapter One

~ In which Simeon Jermyn, Duke of Cosway, converses with his wife, Isidore, about a number of matters, marital, intimate, and otherwise ~ The Duke of Cosway's carriage In route in London February 20, 1784 It was bound to be a shock. From the first, Isidore had faced the evening with a combination of trepidation, irritation, and lust. Her husband - whom she had never met had returned from exploring the equatorial Africa. One had to assume (she had assumed!) that he would be enthusiastic upon meeting her. After all, men usually were. They generally showed every possible sign of willingness to bed her, which implied that her husband would be happy to do the deed. And everyone said that marital relations were shocking at first. Yet after years of waiting, Isidore had quite looked forward to being shocked. She had politely preserved her rather aged (to her mind) virginity, waiting for the laggard duke to make his way back to Britain. In preparation for his arrival, she had sheathed herself in a dress so tight that it was practically sewn to her body (except in the bodice area, where it was gratifyingly absent), and awaited his...approval wasn't the right word. She had expected lavish gratitude. Or lavish lust. Or just plain abandoned joy. She had imagined and re-imagined that first evening together, hoping (for instance) that the duke still had all his teeth. In her favorite daydream, her husband would tenderly lead her to the heights of joy, whispering endearments in French while his so-practiced hands expertly drove her to irresistible bliss. That was before Cosway briskly escorted her upstairs and dropped her at the door of her chamber with no more interest than if she were an aging dowager without any teeth of her own. And now here they were in a carriage the next morning... "You're what?" she repeated, staring at her husband. He has all his teeth, she thought numbly. They were white and as beautiful the rest of him. In truth, the duke was rather shockingly handsome: large-boned and muscular and obviously bursting with energy. "Did you say..." "Yes," Cosway said, as casually as if he were discussing the weather. "I've never slept with a woman before." Isidore swallowed. "Is that why we - why last night -"

"As I told you, I would prefer to wait for our marriage." "And as I said at the time, we are already married." She hadn't even bothered to put on a particularly provocative travelling costume this morning. She knew the signs of male attraction: the way a man's eyes lingered, the certain languid purposefulness that entered his stride, the way his voice deepened. Her own husband had shown nary a sign of desire the previous night. And he didn't seem any more inclined in that direction in the cold morning light. She cleared her throat. "So you think we ought to marry again? Is that even legal?" "I can't see why not. After all, we were married by proxy. Surely you of all people would like me to express those vows in person and in my own voice." "What I want," Isidore said, trying to choose her words carefully. "What I want is to simply consummate the marriage that I already have." "In that case, I shall urge the bishop to all due expediency." Was that amusement in his eyes? Could it be that he was daring to laugh at her? A shot of pure rage straightened Isidore's backbone. "That will give me time to acquire a book on the subject of marital intimacy," she said, giving him a cool smile. "Unless our second wedding night is to be as fruitless as our first." "I have no fear of that," he said, but his grin just made her angrier. He leaned forward and took her hand. "You keep pulling your gloves on and off. Do you dislike wearing them?" Isidore stared down at her utterly delicious fringed gloves. They were soft as butter, and made in Rome. Of course she didn't dislike wearing them. Her eyes slid to his hands. He wore no gloves. And just like last night, he wore no waistcoat, and no cravat. "In England," she said flatly, "ladies wear gloves at all times while outside their homes. And often inside the home as well." She paused for one telling second. "Gentlemen are also properly accoutred. Is that how one dresses in Africa?" "At times I wore little more than a clout around my waist," he said, stretching out his legs. They were very long and (one couldn't help noticing) very muscular. "A clout?" Isidore asked. "Do you mean a dish clout?" He considered. "A bit bigger. A dish clout would leave my arse open to the bare sky. It's a tremendously comfortable way of dressing. Allows easy access to all the important parts, if you follow me. There are no water closets in Abyssinia."

It was only by an effort of will that Isidore didn't turn purple. She didn't know whether his cheerfulness or his indelicacy was more infuriating. "One doesn't discuss such matters here," she said flatly. He raised an eyebrow but didn't reply. Isidore took a deep breath. "So you mentioned the bishop...are we on the way to the cathedral now? Because," she added pointedly, "I don't seem to have any idea where we are going." "London," he said, leaning back into the corner of the carriage. "I had to get you out of that hell-hole of a party. My mother's yelps could be heard echoing across the countryside." "It was a delightful gathering," Isidore stated, ignoring the fact that she had loathed most of the guests. "I am always surprised by how tiresome reprobates can be," Cosway replied. "You'd think sin would be so much more interesting to watch." "Lord Strange is not tiresome. He is a fascinating man who -" "I only met your host for a moment or two," Cosway said. "My attention was absorbed by the gentleman urinating in the corner. You did see him, didn't you?" Isidore scowled. "No doubt it was that disgusting turnip, Lord Oke." Her husband raised an eyebrow. "So we can't discuss urination, although lords might well indulge themselves in the parlor?" "I've never seen it happen before this particular house party," Isidore said. "At least in Abyssinia men take discreetly to the bushes," Cosway said, closing his eyes. "You aren't going to sleep, are you?" Isidore asked. He opened one eye. "I was considering it." They say that pride goeth before a fall. But this was ridiculous. "You've never met me," she said, anger bubbling into her voice. "I'm your wife. Don't you wish to talk about our situation? Or just talk?" "We have years to do that," Cosway said, opening his eyes again. "What would you like to know?" "Just what sort of wedding are you planning?" Isidore said. "And will it happen tonight? Not that I'm in a particular hurry," she added.

"Tonight is far too soon. After all, marriage is an important affair. For one thing, I really should visit my mother. I'm sure she'll be delighted to learn that I've rescued you from yon den of iniquity - I was greeted by letters that seemed to imply you'd be dancing with satyrs. Very disappointing to find you cheek and jowl with Lord Oke instead." "For myself as well," Isidore said tartly. "Have a preference for hooves and a charming tail, do you?" "Satyrs are rumored to be very well-dressed," Isidore snapped back. "So if I understand you, you're leaving London and going to your mother's estate." Without bringing me with you, she added silently. "I believe that's a good plan." His eyes drooped again. She stared at him in some disbelief. She had been afraid of all the wrong things: that her husband would be toothless, or lame, or hopelessly unattractive. She never imagined he would have such a firm jaw, or dark eyelashes - or, for that matter, so much disinterest. She never even considered the latter. "Wake up!" she said sharply. "My goodness. Matrimony is indeed all it is reputed to be," he said, opening his eyes again. There was something about the curve of his mouth that made her heart beat faster which was ridiculous because he was utterly infuriating. She'd never met a man like him, in fact. Not to be vain, but generally men hung on her every word. And this man... "Do we go to your townhouse?" she asked. It was ridiculous, but she'd never been there. Never mind she had technically been his duchess for ten years. "Oh, no. I'm not sure there are servants in residence. I sent my man ahead to Nerot's Hotel." "A hotel?" Her eyes widened. "Ladies don't stay in hotels." "For God's sake, Isidore. Ladies don't do this and they don't do that. I saw a number of women in the hotel two nights ago who seemed perfectly respectable. I'm sure you'll be fine for a few days until I return from the country. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll take a nap. I had no sleep due to an orgy involving what appeared to be gymnastic feats in the chamber beside mine." "I'm surprised you guessed what they were doing," Isidore said sweetly. He regarded her under heavy lids. "I'm a virgin. I'm

not a fool." "Did I say you were a fool?" Isidore inquired. "Dear me, please forgive me. I should have known from your use of the word orgy that your experience was more varied than one might assume." He laughed outright at that, and Isidore felt a perverse stab of satisfaction. "One of the best weddings I've ever attended involved an orgy. The bride was a princess and the festivities last for almost fourteen days." "Your mother will be quite surprised if you decide to duplicate it." "A cow was sacrificed," he added. "We all passed around a cup of warm blood. It added a lively touch to the proceedings." "So there was an orgy," Isidore asked, "but you didn't join in?" He eyed her. "I suppose you would have?" "Had I wished to involve myself in an orgy," she informed him kindly, "I would not need to travel to Abyssinia to do so." His eyelids dropped ever lower and suddenly Isidore was absolutely, keenly aware that she didn't understand the man at all. Was that desire in his eyes? Some emotion flashed through them, leaving only a placid amusement. "I've known you such a brief period of time, and already I can see that your presence would be in high demand at neighborhood orgies," he said. There was an odd little silence, charged with - with something. Isidore found herself staring at her husband's mouth. She jerked her head away. "I assure you that I haven't succumbed." "I always thought that my virginity was the best gift I could bring you. I'm grateful that you share my opinion." Isidore couldn't even begin to think how to answer that. "Well," she said. And then tried again: "At any rate, Cosway, I will stay with the Duchess of Beaumont rather than at a hotel." "No, you won't. And my name is Simeon." Forget his mouth. She suddenly noticed what a stubborn chin he had. "Yes, I shall."

"We'll arrive quite late tonight and I'm certain that you wouldn't wish to disturb the duchess," he said, quite reasonably. "If you wish to stay with her tomorrow, when I go to visit my mother, I would have no objections." He would have no objections? She glared at him...only to find that his eyes were closed again and he was, this time, definitely asleep.