Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Blurb: Tarquin, the powerful Duke of Sconce, knows perfectly well that the decorous and fashionably slender Georgiana Lytton will make him a proper duchess. So why can’t he stop thinking about her twin sister, the curvy, headstrong, and altogether unconventional Olivia? Not only is Olivia betrothed to another man, but their improper, albeit intoxicating, flirtation makes her unsuitability all the more clear.
Determined to make a perfect match, he methodically cuts Olivia from his thoughts, allowing logic and duty to triumph over passion…Until, in his darkest hour, Tarquin begins to question whether perfection has anything to do with love.
To win Olivia’s hand he would have to give up all the beliefs he holds most dear, and surrender heart, body and soul…
Unless it’s already too late.
Why do you need to read this book?
Honestly, when I read the blurb for this book, I didn’t think that I could enjoy a book which has a hero named Tarquin, but the name suits the character. It kind of grows on you. This book simply has a beautiful, kleenex worthy story line. Just great!
In Which We Are Introduced to a Future Duchess
41 Clarges Street, Mayfair
The residence of Mr. Lytton, Esq.
Most betrothals spring from one of two fierce emotions: love or greed. But Olivia Lytton’s was fueled neither by an exchange of assets between like-minded aristocrats, nor by a potent mixture of desire, propinquity, and Cupid’s arrows.
In fact, the bride-to-be was liable, in moments of despair, to attribute her engagement to a curse. “Perhaps our parents forgot to ask a powerful fairy to my christening,” she told her sister Georgiana on their way home from a ball given by the Earl of Summers, at which Olivia had spent generous swaths of time with her betrothed. “The curse, it hardly needs to be said, was Rupert’s hand in marriage. I would rather sleep for a hundred years.”
“Sleeping has its attractions,” her sister agreed, descending from their parents’ carriage before the house. Typically, Georgiana did not pair the positive comment with its opposite: Sleep had attractions… but Rupert had few.
Olivia actually had to swallow hard, and sit in the dark carriage by herself a moment, before she was able to pull herself together and follow her sister. She had always known that she would be Duchess of Canterwick someday, so it made no sense to feel so keenly miserable. But there it was. An evening spent with her future husband made her feel half cracked.
It didn’t help that most of London, her mother included, considered her the luckiest of young women. Her mother would be horrified—though unsurprised—by her lame jest linking the dukedom with a curse. To Olivia’s parents, it was manifestly clear that their daughter’s ascension of the social ranks was a piece of singular good fortune. In short, a blessing.
Although, putting aside notions of good or evil, Olivia’s betrothal was really the result of a boyhood promise.
“Thank God,” Mr. Lytton had said, oh, five thousand times since Olivia was born, “If I hadn’t gone to Eton…”
It was a story that Olivia and her twin sister Georgiana had loved when they were little. They would perch on their papa’s knees and listen to the thrilling tale of how he—plain, unremarkable (albeit connected to an earl on one side, as well as a bishop and a marquess on the other) Mr. Lytton—had gone to Eton and become best friends with the Duke of Canterwick, who had inherited his grand title at the tender age of five. The next part of the story kept changing, but whether it was because their father had fought off a bully in the schoolyard, or had written the duke’s essays for him, or something altogether more consequential…it didn’t matter. At age fourteen, the boys had sworn a blood oath that Mr. Lytton’s eldest daughter would become a duchess by marrying the Duke of Canterwick’s eldest son.
Mr. Lytton showed giddy enthusiasm in doing his part to ensure this eventuality, producing not one, but two daughters, within a year of marriage. The Duke of Canterwick, for his part, produced only one son, and that after a few years of marriage, but obviously one son was sufficient for the task at hand. Most importantly, His Grace kept his word, and regularly reassured Mr. Lytton about the destined betrothal.
Consequently, the proud parents of the duchess-to-be did everything in their power to prepare their firstborn daughter (the elder by a good seven minutes) for the title that was to be bestowed upon her, sparing no expense in shaping the future Duchess of Canterwick. Olivia was tutored from the moment she left the cradle. By ten years of age, she was expert in the finer points of etiquette, the management of country estates (including double-entry accounting), playing the harpsichord and the spinet, greeting people in various languages including Latin (useful for visiting bishops, if no one else), and even in French cooking, though her knowledge of the last was intellectual rather than practical. Duchesses never actually touched food, except to eat it.
She also had a thorough knowledge of her mother’s favorite tome, The Mirror of Compliments: A Complete Academy for the Attaining unto the Art of Being a Lady, which was written by no less a personage than Her Grace, the Duchess of Sconce.
In fact, Olivia’s mother had read The Mirror of Compliments so many times that it had taken over her conversation, rather like ivy smothering a tree. “Gentility,” she had said that morning over marmalade and toast, “is bestowed on us by our ancestors, but soon blanched, when not revived by virtue.” Olivia had nodded. She herself was a firm believer in the benefits of blanching gentility, but long experience had taught her that expressing such an opinion would merely give her mother a headache.
“A duchess,” Mrs. Lytton had announced on the way to Summers ball, “loathes nothing so much as entering parley with an immodest suitor.” Olivia knew better than to inquire about how one “parleyed” with an immodest suitor. The ton understood that she was betrothed to the Duke of Canterwick’s heir, and therefore suitors, immodest or otherwise, rarely bothered to approach.
Generally speaking, she tabled that sort of advice for the future, when she hoped to indulge in any number of immodest parleys.
“Did you see Lord Webbe dancing with Mrs. Shottery?” Olivia asked her sister as they walked into her bedchamber. “It’s quite affecting to watch them stare into each other’s eyes. I must say, the ton seems to take their wedding vows about as seriously as do the French, and everyone says that inclusion of marital fidelity in French wedding vows turned them a splendid work of fiction.”
“Olivia!” Georgiana groaned. “You mustn’t! And you wouldn’t—would you?”
“Are you asking whether I will ever be unfaithful to my fiancé once he’s my husband—if that day ever arrives?”
“I suppose not,” Olivia said, though secretly she sometimes wondered if she might just snap one day and break every social rule by running off to Rome with a footman. “The only part of the evening I really enjoyed was when Lord Bladder told me a limerick about an adulterous abbot.”
“Don’t you dare repeat it!” her sister ordered. Georgiana had never shown the faintest wish to rebel against the rules of propriety. She loved and lived by them.
“There once was an adulterous abbot,” Olivia teased, “as randy—“
Georgiana slapped her hands over her ears. “I can’t believe he told you such a thing! Father would be furious, if he knew.”
“Lord Bladder was in his cups,” Olivia said. “Besides, he’s ninety-six and he doesn’t care about decorum any longer. Just a laugh, now and then.”
“It doesn’t even make sense. An adulterous abbot? How can an abbot be adulterous? They don’t even marry.”
“Just let me know if you want to hear the whole verse,” Olivia said. “It ends with talk of nuns, so I believe the word was being used loosely.”
That limerick—and Olivia’s appreciation of it—pointed directly to the problem with Miss Lytton’s duchess-ification—or, as the girls labeled it, “duchification.” There was something very unducal about Olivia, no matter how proper her bearing, her voice, and her manners might be. She certainly could play the duchess, but the real Olivia was, dismayingly, never far from the surface.
“You are missing that indefinable air of consequence that your sister conveys without effort,” her father often opined, with an air of despondent resignation. “In short, Daughter, your sense of humor tends toward vulgar.”
“Your demeanor should ever augment your honor,” her mother would chime in, quoting the Duchess of Sconce.
And Olivia would shrug.
“If only,” Mrs. Lytton had said despairingly to her husband time and again, “if only Georgiana had been born first.” For Olivia was not the only participant in the Lytton training program. Olivia and Georgiana had marched in lockstep through lessons on comportment and deportment, because their parents, aware of the misfortunes that might threaten their eldest daughter—a fever, a runaway carriage, a fall from a tower—had prudently duchified their second-born as well.
Sadly, it was manifest to everyone that Georgiana had achieved the quality of a duchess while Olivia… Olivia was Olivia. She certainly could behave with exquisite grace—but among her intimates, she was sarcastic, far too witty to be ladylike, and not in the least gracious. “She looks at me in such a way if I merely mention The Mirror of Compliments,” Mrs. Lytton would complain. “I’m only trying to help, I’m sure.”
“That girl will be a duchess someday,” Mr. Lytton would say heavily. “She’ll be grateful to us then.”
“But if only…” Mrs. Lytton would say, wistfully. “Dearest Georgiana is just…well, she would be a perfect duchess, wouldn’t she?”
In fact, Olivia’s sister had mastered early the delicate art of combining a pleasing air of consequence with an irreproachably modest demeanor. Over the years Georgiana had built up a formidable array of duchess-like traits: ways of walking, talking, and carrying herself. Even more importantly, she had a duchess’s touch: she knew instinctively how to behave in any situation.
“Dignity, virtue, affability, and bearing,” Mrs. Lytton recited over and over, turning it into a nursery rhyme.
Georgiana would glance at the glass, checking her dignified bearing and affable expression.
Olivia would sing back to her mother: “Debility, vanity, absurdity, and…brainlessness!”
By eighteen years of age, Georgiana looked, sounded, and even smelled(thanks to French perfume, smuggled from enemy territory at great expense) like a duchess. Mostly Olivia didn’t bother.
The Lyttons were happy, in a measured sort of way. By any sensible standard they had produced a real duchess, even if that particular daughter was not betrothed to a duke’s heir. As their girls were growing up, they told themselves that Georgiana would make a lovely wife to any man of rank. Alas, in time they stopped saying anything about their second daughter’s hypothetical husband.
The sad truth is that a duchified girl is not what most young men desire. While Georgiana’s virtues were celebrated far and wide throughout the ton—especially amongst the dowager set—her hand was rarely sought for a dance, let alone for marriage.
Mr. and Mrs. Lytton interpreted the problem differently. To their mind, their beloved second daughter was likely to dwindle into the shadow of a duchess, without becoming even a wife, merely because she had no dowry.
The Lyttons had spent all their disposable income on tutors, not to mention saving for Olivia’s dowry. That left their younger daughter without more than a pittance to launch her on the marriage market.
“We have sacrificed everything for that girl,” Mrs. Lytton often said. “I can’t understand why Olivia is not more grateful. She’s the luckiest girl in England.”
Olivia did not view herself as lucky at all.
“The only reason I can countenance marrying Rupert,” she said to Georgiana, “is that I will be able to dower you.” She stripped off her gloves, biting the tips to pull them from her fingers. “To be honest, the mere thought of the wedding makes me feel slightly mad. I could bear the rank—though it isn’t my cup of tea, to say the least—if he weren’t such a little, beardy-weirdy bottle-headed chub.”
“You’re using slang,” Georgiana said. “And—“
“Absolutely not,” Olivia said, throwing her gloves onto her bed. “I made it up myself, and you know as well as I do that the Mirror for Bumpkins says that slang is—and I quote—grossness of speech used by the lowest degenerates in our nation. Much though I would like to attain the qualifications of a degenerate, I have no hope of achieving that particular title in this life.”
“You shouldn’t,” Georgiana said, arranging herself on the settee before Olivia’s fireplace. Olivia had been given the grandest bedchamber in the house, larger than either their mother’s or father’s chambers, so the twins hid from their parents in Olivia’s room.
But the reprimand didn’t have her usual fire. Olivia frowned at her sister. “Was it a particularly rotten night, Georgie? I kept getting swept away by my dim-witted fiancé, and after supper I lost track of you.”
“I would have been easy to find,” Georgiana replied. “I sat among the dowagers most of the night.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Olivia said, sitting down next to her sister and giving her a fierce hug. “Just wait until I’m a duchess. I’ll dower you so magnificently that every gentleman in the country will be on bended knee at the very thought of you. ‘Golden Georgiana,’ they’ll call you.”
Georgiana didn’t even smile, so Olivia forged ahead. “I like sitting with the dowagers. They have all the stories one would really like to hear, like that one about Lord Mettersnatch paying seven guineas to be flogged.”
Her sister’s brows drew together.
“I know, I know!” Olivia exclaimed, before Georgiana could speak. “Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar. All the same, I loved the part about the nursemaid costume. Truly, you should be glad you weren’t me. Canterwick stalked up and down the ballroom all night, dragging Rupert and me behind him. Everyone groveled, tittered behind my back, and went off to inform the rest of the room how uncommonly unlucky the FF is to be marrying me.”
Between themselves, Olivia and Georgiana generally referred to Rupert Forrest G. Blakemore—Marquess of Montsurrey, future Duke of Canterwick—as “the FF,” which stood for foolish fiancé. On occasion he was also “the HH” (half-wit husband), “the BB” (brainless betrothed) and—because the girls were fluent in both Italian and French—“the MM” (mindless marito or mindless mari, depending on the language of the moment).
“The only thing lacking to make this evening absolutely and irredeemably hellish,” Olivia continued, “was a wardrobe malfunction. If someone had stepped on my hem and ripped it, baring my arse to the world, I might have been more humiliated. I certainly would have been less bored.”
“In my opinion, our gowns qualify as wardrobe malfunctions without the addition of rips,” Georgiana said, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling.
She looked miserable. Olivia felt a pang of alarm. Georgiana so rarely allowed a real emotion to disrupt her façade of serenity that a drooping mouth was akin to hysteria in another woman. “We should look on the bright side,” she said, striving for a rousing tone. “The FF danced with both of us. Thank goodness he’s finally old enough to attend a ball.”
“He counted the steps aloud,” Georgiana stated. “And he said my dress made me look like a puffy cloud.”
“Surely it could not have surprised you to discover that Rupert lacks a gift for elegant conversation. If anyone looked like a puffy cloud, it was I; you looked like a vestal virgin. Far more dignified than a cloud.”
Georgia just kept silently staring at the ceiling, so Olivia rattled on. “a virginal lady would surely have to be unwilling to qualify as a sacrifice. From what I saw tonight, London is full of virgins desperate to sacrifice themselves, if you think of matrimony as a kind of death, which I do.”
“I don’t,” her sister said, turning her head. Her eyes were full of tears.
“Oh, Georgie!” Olivia gathered her into another hug. “Please don’t cry. I’ll be a duchess in no time, and then I’ll dower you and order such beautiful clothing that you’ll be the wonder of London.”
“This is my fourth season, Olivia. You can’t possibly understand how dreadful it feels, given that you’ve never really been on the market. No gentleman paid me attention tonight, any more than they have in the last three years.”
“It was the dress and the dowry. We all looked like ghosts, but not transparent. You, of course, were a willowy ghost and I was a particularly solid one.”
Olivia and Georgiana had worn matching gowns of frail white silk, caught up under their bosoms with long ribbons trimmed with seed pearls and tasseled at the ends. The same streamers appeared on the sides and the backs of the gowns, rippling in the faintest breeze. On the page, in Madame Wellbrook’s pattern book, the design had looked exquisite.
There was a lesson there…a dismal one.
Just because fluttering ribbons look good on a stick-thin lady portrayed in a pattern book does not mean that they will be when festooned around one’s hips.
“I caught sight of you dancing with that bald man,” Olivia continued. “You looked like a bouncy maypole with all those ribbons trembling around you. Your ringlets were bouncing as well.”
“Lord Galligasken is a vigorous dancer.” Georgiana managed a wobbly smile. “I don’t think I looked like a maypole. More like a little suckling pig, one of those white ones you see in fairs that can stand up on its back legs.”
“Only if it were a very thin pig wearing a silk apron with long ties,” Olivia replied, after giving the idea some consideration. “And a wig with long ringlets. Though no pig would put up with the two hours it took to shape these blasted curls. Besides, if either of us looked like a piglet, Georgie, it was obviously me. That miserable gown flattered your figure, not that you needed it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Georgiana said flatly. She brushed away a tear. “It’s the duchification, Olivia. No man wants to marry a prude who acts as if she’s a ninety-five-year-old dowager. And”—She gave a little sob—“I simply can’t seem to behave any differently. I don’t believe that anyone titters behind your back, unless from jealousy. But I’m like nursery gruel. I—I can see their eyes glaze over when they have to dance with me.”
Privately, Olivia agreed that the duchification program had much to answer for. But she wrapped her arm tighter around her sister and said, “Georgiana, you have a wonderful figure, you’re sweet as honey, and the fact that you know how to set a table for one hundred has nothing to do with it. Marriage is a contract, and contracts are about money. A woman has to have a dowry or no man will even consider marrying her.”
Georgiana sniffed, which served to demonstrate how upset she was, as she normally would never countenance such an unrefined gesture.
“Your waist makes me positively sick with envy,” Olivia added. “I look like a butter churn, whereas you’re so slim that I could balance you on the head of a pin, like an angel.”
Most young ladies on the marriage market—Georgiana included—were indeed ethereally slim. They floated from room to room, diaphanous silk sweeping around their slender bodies.
Olivia was not one of them. It was the sad truth, the canker at the heart of the ducal flower, another source of stress for Mrs. Lytton. As she saw it, Olivia’s over-indulgence in vulgar wit and buttered toast stemmed from the same character defects. Olivia did not disagree.
“May I borrow a handkerchief?” Georgiana asked, sniffing again.
“I’ll find one,” Olivia said, jumping up and beginning to rummage through her wardrobe. “Here, use this.” She tossed a piece of cloth to her sister.
It landed on Georgiana’s shoulder, and she plucked it off with a frown. “A chemise? You want me to blow my nose on a chemise?”
“Why not? There don’t seem to be any handkerchiefs here. I’m not sure where Norah keeps them.”
“Because it takes at least three times the work to launder and iron a chemise as it takes to do the same for a handkerchief,” her sister said, a bit of steel in her voice.
“It’s the chemise or nothing,” Olivia said, coming back to the sofa. “But darling…”
“What?” Georgiana asked, her voice muffled by the chemise.
“You might want to try to be less virtuous, if you see what I mean.”
“But I’m right.”
Olivia was silent.
“You’re saying that I’m a sanctimonious prig,” Georgiana said, another sob escaping, with a hiccup in tow.
“No! I think you’re the most intelligent woman I know, and your ethical sense is admirable. Truly. It never would have occurred to me to consider the labor behind an ironed handkerchief versus a chemise.”
Georgiana hiccupped again. “A—a duchess needs to know that sort of thing in order to run a large household. Not that I’ll ever have a husband, let alone a household.”
“This reminds me!” Olivia cried. “I heard tonight that the Duke of Sconce is going to take a wife. I suppose he needs an heir. Just imagine, Georgie. You could be daughter-in-law to the most stiff-rumped starch bucket of them all. Do you suppose the duchess reads her Maggoty Mirror aloud at the dining table? She would adore you. In fact, you’re probably the only woman in the kingdom whom she would love.”
“Dowagers always love me,” Georgiana said with another sniff. “That doesn’t mean the duke will give me a second glance. Besides, I thought that Sconce was married.”
“If the duchess approved of bigamy she would have put it in the Mirror; therefore, its absence suggests that he is need of a second wife. By the way, Mother has decided that I should try a lettuce diet that someone told her about.”
“One eats only lettuce between the hours of eight and eight.”
“That’s absurd. If you want to reduce, you should stop buying meat pies when Mama thinks you’re buying ribbons. Though to be honest, Olivia, I think you should eat whatever you want. I want quite desperately to marry, and even so, the idea of marrying Rupert makes me want to eat a meat pie.”
“Four pies,” Olivia corrected. “At least.”
“What’s more, it doesn’t matter how slim you could become by eating lettuce,” Georgiana continued. “The FF has no choice but to marry you. If you grew rabbit ears, he would still have to marry you. Whereas no one can countenance the idea of marrying me, no matter what my waist looks like. I need money to—to bribe them.” Her voice wavered again.
“They’re all port-brained buffoons,” Olivia said, with another squeeze. “They haven’t noticed you, but they will, once Rupert dowers you.”
“He’ll forget to sign the papers,” Georgiana said damply. “He rattled on and on about fighting the French, but when I asked him where the battle was located at the moment, he couldn’t remember. The way he crowed about achieving honor, I expect he’s across the Channel by now.”
“Not quite yet,” Olivia stated.
There was a moment of silence, and then Georgiana sat bolt upright. “Don’t tell me that the FF is finally pledging himself? He’s going to marry you before he leaves for the war?”
“Close.” Olivia would have loved to explain away her immediate and visceral reaction to the word “marry” by a bad shrimp. But a feeling this overwhelming would imply she had eaten an entire ocean of bad shrimp. Instead, there was just one bad fiancé, who would likely resent being compared to a bit of aged seafood.
“He obtained a special license!”
“No, it’s to be a betrothal only, but I understand this is legally binding. Rupert is coming over with his father to sign the papers tomorrow evening.”
“For goodness’ sake,” Georgiana gasped. “You really are going to become a duchess. The FF is about to become the BB!”
“Foolish fiancés are often killed on the battlefield,” Olivia pointed out. “I think the term is ‘cannon fodder.’”
Her sister gave a sudden laugh. “You could at least try to sound sad at the prospect.”
“I would be sad,” Olivia protested. “I think.”
“You’d have reason. Not only would you lose the prospect of being ‘Your Grace’d for the rest of your life, but our parents would hold hands as they jumped off Battersea Bridge to their watery deaths.”
“I can’t even imagine what Mama and Papa would do if the goose that promised golden eggs was turned into pâté de foie gras by the French,” Olivia said, a bit sadly. It seemed that as each year went by, her parents were less and less interested in their eldest daughter as a person, as opposed to a duchess. Though really, had they ever expressed interest in anything but her duchess-designed accomplishments?
“What happens if the FF dies before marrying you?” Georgiana asked. “Legal or not, a betrothal is not a wedding.”
“I gather these papers make the whole situation a good deal more solid,” Olivia said. “I’m certain most of the ton believes that he’ll cry off before we get to the altar, given my general lack of beauty, not to mention the fact that I don’t eat enough lettuce.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You are beautiful,” Georgiana said. “You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen. I can’t think why I got plain brown eyes and you have those green ones.” She peered at her. “Pale green. The color of celery, really.”
“If my hips were like celery, then we’d have something to celebrate.”
“You’re luscious,” her sister insisted. “Like a sweet, juicy peach.”
“I don’t mind being a peach,” Olivia said. “Too bad celery is in fashion.”