Excerpt: Wallflower Gone Wild
…in which Olivia relates the terrible news: her parents wish her to marry The Mad Baron, London’s most notorious man. And in which the Wallflowers concoct a devilish scheme to free Olivia and help her find true love.
The Duchess of Ashbrooke’s sitting room
“It so happens that there are worse fates that remaining unwed for Lady Penelope’s Ball,” Olivia declared. Catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror, she saw that her eyes were bright with anger and her cheeks uncharacteristically flushed.
Emma (once a Wallflower and now a duchess) and Prudence (still London’s Least Likely to Be Caught in a Compromising Position) fell silent, sipped their tea and considered the possibilities of what could possibly be worse than the worst thing in the world.
Meanwhile, Olivia seethed. A portion of her anger was reserved for her parents, of course, for making such an unconscionable match without consulting her. She seethed because the world was unfair to young ladies who had such little say in their fate.
Oh, she didn’t have to marry the Mad Baron. But as soon as word got out, it was highly unlikely that she would attract any competing suitors. Except for the handsome stranger from the other night—from whom she foolishly fled—no one was interested in her.
Olivia burned as she recalled all those years in which she had simply watched and waited and hoped, to no avail. She had followed all the rules and now—this. A fate worse than remaining unwed for Lady Penelope’s Ball. A fate worse than eternal spinsterhood. Once she was wed to this cruel, murderous baron there would be no chance of falling in love. She could kiss happily ever after goodbye.
“Very well, I can’t imagine anything worse,” Emma said, breaking the silence and Olivia’s raging sulk.
Then she told them. The words tumbled out. Enraged, her tongue tripped over the sentences as she described her misfortune. Her voice was decidedly not in the moderate, dulcet tones she’d been cultivating her whole life. She was raw. Scared. Angry.
“The Mad Baron?” Her friends had the expected reaction: a startled cry of shock and fear.
Prudence and Emma shared matching looks of horror, combined with pity and a dash of concern. Olivia took some satisfaction that they shared her distress at the news, but on the whole it felt much, much worse. Her fears were not unfounded. Her anger was not an overreaction. This was not a bad dream from which she would awaken.
It was real and it was awful.
“Is he as horrid as I’m imagining?” Emma asked. “Keep in mind that I have a very active imagination and a taste for gothic novels.”
“I have yet to make his acquaintance,” Olivia answered bitterly. “Which has not stopped my parents from giving him permission to court me and marry me. Thus, I have no idea how horrid he is, but I suspect given his reputation and devious methods of courtship, he is quite horrid indeed.”
“Let us not forget that he killed his first wife,” Prudence unnecessarily pointed out. One could hardly forget that gruesome detail.
“Allegedly, according to my father,” Olivia muttered. “He has not come to town since he ‘allegedly’ murdered his wife. But why would he? No one would receive him, except for my parents.”
Had they such little care for her? Such little faith in her prospects? There was no denying she wasn’t a success on the marriage mart. But courtship from the Mad Baron would be a new, unfathomable low.
From every angle, this situation made Olivia feel utterly worthless. The only person who wanted her did so for all the most heartbreaking reasons: because she was biddable. And docile. And a good little girl. As if she were nothing more than a conduct book personified. As if she weren’t a woman who wanted to be loved.
“At least you won’t be a spinster for Lady Penelope’s Anniversary Ball,” Prudence pointed out. “Which will take place in forty-three days. Not that anyone is counting.”
“But is it a fate worse than death?” Emma mused.
“Your perspective is soothing my nerves immeasurably,” Olivia replied dryly. “My choices are to be the only unwed girl in the history of Lady Penelope’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families or to marry the Mad Baron and then suffer an untimely demise.”
“I’ll probably be unwed as well,” Prudence added, affectionately patting Olivia on the hand. “We can suffer together.”
“Both of you, enough!” Emma cried. “You will be find good husbands in time. I am sure of it.”
“Words to live by. From the starry-eyed, deeply-in-love duchess,” Prudence remarked dryly. She and Olivia shared A Look. Ever since Emma had fallen in love and wed her handsome, charming, and utterly besotted duke, she’d been insufferably optimistic in all things. She’d even begun to play matchmaker, introducing Olivia and Prue to the duke’s eligible friends at every opportunity. Unfortunately it was all the more apparent that they just didn’t quite take. Their reputations as London’s Least Likely preceded them, and none of the rakes, rogues, or bachelors of the ton were inclined to forget it, as much as the Duchess of Ashbrooke might encourage them to.
Honestly, it was embarrassing. It was almost worse than the wallflower corner.
“Lady Penelope’s Ball is but one night of torture, but this marriage will be for the rest of my life,” Olivia said.
“Which probably won’t be long,” Prudence said. “If you do marry the Mad Baron.”
“Prudence!” Emma exclaimed, horrified.
“Well that is some consolation,” Olivia said darkly. It also made her think.
If she didn’t have long to live … what would she do?
She wouldn’t marry the Mad Baron, for one thing. She wouldn’t paint another flower arrangement or stitch another sampler. She’d devote herself to what mattered: a delicious first kiss that made her weak in the knees, waltzes with handsome gentlemen who held her far closer than was proper, somehow finding the love of a reformed rogue, and above all, discovering what she liked and who she was when she wasn’t delicately walking the straight and narrow with the promise of a reward on some far off day. She would find that handsome stranger from the ball the other night and kiss him until she was weak in the knees.
She would live now.
“I have been the perfect lady,” Olivia said slowly, stating the obvious. “We were led to believe that ladylike behavior would be rewarded with good husbands and happily-ever-after. We were gravely misled.”
“You’re right,” Prudence agreed. “All our lives we were told to stand up straighter, smile when we didn’t feel like it, never refuse an invitation to waltz, always be kind and obliging under every circumstance. How well has it worked out for us?”
The three girls fell silent. It hadn’t worked out very well for them at all. Two were practically confirmed spinsters and about to become the matrimonial failures of Lady Penelope’s Finishing School.
But one of them had landed a duke.
“Well, it worked out for Emma,” Olivia said finally. She was truly happy for her friend. Deeply and truly happy. Just weeks ago they’d all had such dismal prospects. But it wasn’t fair that Emma should have the magical experience of falling in love and she should be forcibly betrothed to the Mad and Murderous Baron.
“My luck didn’t change until we very improperly and wickedly and falsely announced my engagement to the duke,” Emma said. “And by ‘we’ I mean you two.”
“You’re welcome,” Prudence said kindly.
“Interesting point from London’s Least Likely to Misbehave,” Olivia said, referring to Emma’s old nickname. “We’ve all been far too good for far too long.”
“So it logically follows that we ought to misbehave,” Prudence stated. “Especially you, Olivia.”
“Do go on,” Olivia murmured. Her heart started thudding because Prue had that mischievous look in her eye that foretold mischief, possibly trouble, potentially disaster.
Prudence explained: “If perfect ladylike behavior has gotten you practically betrothed against your will to a man who desires you for precisely that quality, then it logically follows that unladylike behavior will get you out of it.”
“She has a point,” Emma said with a growing enthusiasm. “Your parents will never let you out of the match, but he might. Especially if the biddable bride he wanted turns out to be a hysterical, troublesome shrew who constantly plagues him with scandals.”
“They will pressure me into accepting,” Olivia said, seeing the potential of Prue’s plan. “But they cannot force him to wed me if he decides we don’t suit.”
It went without saying she would do everything in her power to prove to him that they did not suit. Her life and future happiness depended upon it.
“You must break all those ladylike rules of your mother’s,” Prudence confirmed.
Young ladies do not break the rules.
Olivia smiled mischievously. They do now.