As a young girl, Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington told the annoying future Duke of Pindar that she would marry any man in the world before him-so years later she is horrified to realize that she has nowhere else to turn.
Evander Septimus Brody has his own reasons for agreeing to Mia’s audacious proposal, but there’s one thing he won’t give his inconvenient wife: himself.
Instead, he offers Mia a devil’s bargain… he will spend four nights a year with her. Four nights, and nothing more. And those only when she begs for them.
Which Mia will never do.
Now Vander faces the most crucial challenge of his life: he must seduce his own wife in order to win her heart-and no matter what it takes, this is the one battle he can’t afford to lose.
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A love poem,” he shouted, clearly delighted. “Don’t tell me that you’ve taken up with an opera dancer with a literary bent. The headmaster will have your guts for garters.”
“Give me that,” Vander snarled.
But Oakenrott apparently evaded capture. “Blazing hell, this is utter rubbish!” He broke into an escalating, barking laugh. Another thump followed. “Oh, for God’s sake, back off and let me read it. It’s too late to keep your little secret now. You’d think you were ashamed.”
Mia pulled a sofa pillow over her face with a silent groan. She wanted to die, to fall into a crack in the floor
“I am mad with love,” Oakenrott recited, in a squeaky falsetto. “You know, I could see this on the stage. Have you been hanging about the back door of Drury Lane?”
“She’s definitely cracked,” Thorn said. “Who could fancy a smelly, sweaty bloke like you?”
“You’re just jealous,” Vander retorted. “She’d have to be barmy to look in your direction. Or Rotter’s.”
“So who’s the madwoman?” Oakenrott said, paper rustling as he turned it over. “Emilia Carrington? You mean the daughter of your mother’s—”
“Don’t,” Vander warned, his voice suddenly dangerous.
There was a telling moment of silence. “Right. I’ll just go back to this literary masterpiece. No one understands my plight,” he read, his voice squealing even higher. “I like this part about the moonbeam kissing the sea. Obviously, you have the moonbeam, and she’s the sea.” He went into another barking cascade of guffaws. A sob rose up Mia’s chest, pressing so hard that pain shot through her breastbone
“You’re such an ass,” Thorn said. “How old is that girl, anyway?”
“The same as me,” Vander replied. “Fifteen.”
“In my dreams, you married me,” Oakenrott said, reading from the beginning of the next stanza. A tear slid down Mia’s neck. “Your beauty makes me drunk.”
Oakenrott hooted. Vander groaned.
She heard a hearty slap and then Thorn, “Look at it this way, at least you’ve managed to charm a girl who knows a thing or two about brandy.”
“Not as much as you do, after last night!” Vander retorted.
Likely they were all drunken sots. Mia’s governess had told her that boys pretending to be men drank far too much.
Oakenrott was relentless; he just wouldn’t shut up. “My room is full of moonlight, and your eyes are like pearls. Do you suppose you’re being invited to take your pearly eyes into her moonlit room?”
“I’d have to grope my way,” Vander said, and Mia could hear the laughter in his voice. “Nobody could see through pearly eyes.”
Mia’s lips involuntarily shaped a curse word that she would never dare say aloud.
Oakenrott whistled. “Pearls? You know what kind of pearls she’s really talking about, right? Pearl drops! Pearly potions, like we used to call it back in first form. No—wasn’t it pearly passion potions? Something like that. Anyway, this is the first poem I’ve ever read that talked about love custard!”
Suddenly all three boys were laughing hysterically.
A New York Times bestselling author, Eloisa James is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but who can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. (Her husband is an honest to goodness Italian knight!) Eloisa’s website offers short stories, extra chapters, and even a guide to shopping in Florence. Visit her at .
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