Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives

An Ideal Duchess

In the tradition of Edith Wharton and Henry James–part one of a romantic duology featuring an indomitable American heiress torn between her quest for romance and her equal desire for independence, and the autocratic English duke she loves, who harbors a dark secret. Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs!

The Buccaneers–fresh, untutored, and easy-going–conquered 1870s English society, but in Edwardian England, American heiresses were supposed to be cool and level-headed about their pursuit of titles. Amanda Vandewater embodied this new wave of American invaders when she meets and marries the 9th Duke of Malvern, though she soon discovers she desires more than a coronet and strawberry leaves: she desires his heart. But the duke’s heart isn’t his to give, trapped as he is by old promises and a haunting past that binds him to the very traditions that stole his independence.

Set against the backdrop of the rise of aviation, the suffragette movement, and the turbulent years leading up to WWI, An Ideal Duchess is the tale of an idealistic American heiress who must fight for her position–and for love–in the face of the strict adherence to duty over desire, of reputation over understanding, and of clinging to the past over embracing the present. The only question is if Amanda is strong enough to withstand the pressure.

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She rearranged the fall of beaded lace bertha cascading down the neckline and over her three-quarter length sleeves, but to no avail: she was shockingly bare from the tops of her shoulders to the tops of her bosom.

“It’s rather low, isn’t it?” she stared at Moreau in the mirror as the lady’s maid began to dress her hair at the dressing table.

“The high neck is for the debutante, the jeune fille á marier; the low neck is for the married woman of experience,” Moreau muttered between the pins in her mouth.

“Yes, but…” Amanda touched the neckline once more. “Are you sure this isn’t too low for dinner in the country?”

“You should be proud of such a figure, Your Grace,” Moreau twisted her hair into a high chignon and stabbed the last hairpin into her head.”I shall certainly enjoy dressing a young woman of fashion.”

Amanda peered at herself in mirror and conceded that she did appear quite fetching in her new frock, much more grown up than in the whites and pastels of a debutante. The connecting door opened behind her, and her heart skipped a beat before she turned in her chair to see Bron step into her bedroom, as quietly and softly as when he came to her every night. He himself appeared quite fetching, almost dazzling, in white tie and black tailcoat, and his normally rumpled hair tamed with brilliantine.

She smiled at him, her initial nervousness fading when he met her eyes, and then smiled happily at Mademoiselle Moreau, who laid her pink evening slippers on the carpet beside her feet. Amanda bent to adjust the fit after sliding them onto her feet and then straightened to find Bron staring at her. She was immediately reminded of her low décolleté. His eyes remained fixed on her bosom and she flushed, her skin prickling this time from the intensity of his gaze rather than the low temperature of the bedroom.

His mouth flattened as a dull red color crept up his neck to stain his cheeks, and he shifted his attention to her face, eyes shadowed by his lashes. She cursed Moreau’s presence and the lateness of the hour, wanting out of these confining clothes and back in his arms, to be as they were on their honeymoon.

“And now, the tiara.” Mademoiselle Moreau’s announcement shattered the silence, and Bron looked away, expression impassive and cool, as though he hadn’t appeared on the verge of ravishing her with just a look.
Amanda looked away uncertainly, her nervousness returning beneath Bron’s swift withdrawal and her new tiara crisis. “I don’t have one.”

“But you must,” the lady’s maid’s mouth turned downward. “It is de rigueur for the evening.”

Amanda started at a thought and turned to her jewelry box on the dressing table. She withdrew the diamond necklace given to her as a wedding present by one of the Vanderbilts, and draped it carefully over the crown of her hair, tucking the clasps into the pinned waves.

“There,” she smiled at Moreau. “A tiara.”

Her ingenuity appeared to stun the lady’s maid into silence, and she turned to Bron. “How do I look?”
“It’s too late to change,” he checked the fob watch attached to a tab on his creased trousers. “We ought to go down before our guests arrive.”

Amanda turned back to her dressing table to pull on her white, elbow-length kidskin gloves before he could see her flinch, and then rose from her chair. Mademoiselle Moreau hastened to open the door, and Amanda took the arm Bron offered her as they stepped from the room and into the hallway. A housemaid exited one of the bedrooms and gave them a startled look before bobbing a curtsey. Amanda smiled at the girl, who hesitantly smiled back and scurried down the hall in the opposite direction.

“She shouldn’t be up here at this hour,” Bron muttered.

“Why not? Perhaps someone summoned her with the bell.”

“A second housemaid—she should be at her supper while the lower housemaids tend to the bedrooms.”

“Second…lower…I certainly cannot tell them apart.” Amanda laughed slightly. “I offended your Uncle Charles’ pride by mistaking him for the butler.”

“You can’t go around making a habit of such mistakes,” Bron said flatly. “It will disrupt the household.”

“It was a jest, Bron,” she recoiled, dropping her hand from his arm. “Lord Charles laughed afterwards, so apparently he wasn’t too offended.”

Amanda gathered her trailing hemline as they descended the staircase to the Saloon, annoyed by his uncharacteristic lack of humor. He had changed since their arrival at Bledington, all traces of the playful Bron obliterated by, it seemed, his position as Duke of Malvern. This too had been abstract while they were in America, but this past week she had witnessed just what precisely a duke was to the English: an absolute ruler, the provider of employment for hundreds of people, a direct descendant of the feudal lordships embroidered in the tapestries adorning many of Bledington’s countless rooms. She should have discerned this when the villagers and farmers swarmed their carriage at Bledington’s train depot and actually pulled them the entire way!

She paused at the threshold of the drawing room, where the guests would gather for light chatter before Fowler rung the dinner gong, when she spied Viola Townsend seated in a chair browsing through a copy of Country Life. Bron nudged her and she continued inside as Viola rose to her feet with a smile and outstretched arm in Bron’s direction. “Hello Bron,”

He took her hand in a brief squeeze before dropping it to sit down on the couch facing Viola’s abandoned chair.

Her deep violet eyes shifted beyond him to fix on Amanda’s face. “Hello Your Grace.”

“Hello Viola,” she smiled tightly. “You may call me by my given name.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly. The Dowager Duchess impressed the correct forms of address into my head to the point where I feel uncomfortable with such informality.”

Amanda lifted a brow at her husband.

“Vi and I have been together since we were children,” Bron said with a shrug. “Old habits are rather difficult to break.”

“I prefer to believe that one can break an old habit if you just set your mind to it,” Amanda moved to sit beside Bron on the couch and adjusted the drape of her chiffon skirt.

She smiled at Viola, who slowly lowered herself into her chair with a pinched expression on her face.

“I’m rather surprised by your choice in tiara, Your Grace. I read about the contents of your trousseau and the list of wedding presents in all of the American newspapers.”

“The reports were exaggerated, I’m afraid. If I received half the gifts the newspapers assigned to me, I would have depleted the resources of diamonds of every jeweler in New York.”

“My grandmother’s tiara is in a vault at Barclay’s,” Bron shifted on the couch beside her. “I meant to send it to be cleaned when I fetched your engagement ring.”

“You’ve given me enough, Bron,” Amanda flushed self-consciously.

“Have I?” his eyes darkened when he looked at her.

“I think I hear voices in the Saloon,” Viola rose from her chair and opened the door.

Amanda could not press Bron for an explanation of his cryptic remark for Fowler led the first of their dinner guests into the drawing room, and she was swept up into more introductions (or re-introductions) that made her head spin. The Dowager Duchess appeared soon after, and took Amanda around to meet other members of the family. She looked for Bron when her mother-in-law left her with the elderly Lady Saxby, who held an ear trumpet to her ear and forced Amanda to speak directly into it. She frowned unhappily when she finally saw him standing off to the side, his head bent to listen to whatever Viola was murmuring into his ear.

“It’s a pity you cannot hunt this season,” Lady Saxby said loudly.

Amanda forced her attention to the woman. “What? Why not?”

“You are breeding, aren’t you?” Lady Saxby poked Amanda in the midsection with a gnarled finger. “Healthy gel like yourself. A pity if the new duke couldn’t get an heir on you after all of the fuss over that boy’s dreadful death and the estate.”

She was too surprised by the old woman’s loud frankness to respond, and was whisked into another conversation before Lady Saxby’s words could penetrate, this time with Lord Charles and two other middle-aged gentlemen whose names she couldn’t catch.

“I’m surprised old Charlie here doesn’t hate you, m’dear,” the more portly of the two unnamed gentlemen chortled. “Rodborough Court plucked from his grasp like Little Jack Horner’s plum.”

“Oh shut up, Neville,” Lord Charles looked uncomfortable. “Don’t pay this old fool any mind, Your Grace.”

Amanda felt dazed by the insinuations and blunt discussion of her as though she were a prize sow as the dinner gong vibrated from the Saloon. The guests jostled into a line for dinner, two by two, male to female, from the highest rank to the lowest. She managed to bump into Bron as he moved to take the Princess of Pless into dinner.

“I don’t see Anthony here.” she suddenly realized.

“He was invited, but I assume his business in London has held him up.” Bron frowned at her. “Shouldn’t you find your dinner partner?”

Her dinner partner materialized, a kind-faced, slightly balding gentleman who introduced himself as Lord Grey. He thankfully did not launch into a distressing conversation, instead keeping his conversation to light topics, and she felt herself relax as she took his arm and fell into the line headed by Bron and helmed at the rear by the Dowager Duchess. It was only as she was seated to her mother-in-law’s left that she remembered she was supposed to be hostess at Bledington.

Amanda stared blankly up and down the table, pausing briefly on Bron, who sat at the end of the long dinner table, and realized, to her dismay, that these circumstances were unquestioned as right by the guests and the servants who began serving the first course.

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Behind the Story

This was originally one book, where I flashed back to the breakdown of the Duke and Duchess’s marriage in between their “present day” of WWI, but the breakdown of the marriage turned into a book in its own right. This book was a definite struggle to write, and I think this shows in difficulties that plague my protagonists–difficulties exacerbated by their differing temperaments, culture, and outlook on life, as well as Edwardian society. Based on reviews, this was a polarizing book, but I had to be true to the characters and their time. The sequel, A Duchess’s Heart, which follows the rocky road to Bron and Amanda’s reunion during the war is coming soon.

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This actually required very little research–likely because I was pouring every bit of Edwardian knowledge into this book! 😉 But I did weave in a lot of real life events and real people, and I hope I did them both justice.

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“A swirling tale of lover’s woe…has the reader pleading for the love that burns between Bron and Amanda to overcome all odds…it’s a no-brainer that the second installment should be bought ASAP.” — Sandy Ponton, InD’Tale Magazine (September 2013)

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