Excerpt: What a Wallflower Wants
Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton has escaped a highway robbery and is trudging toward the nearest town, alone and dangerously unchaperoned when the oh-so dashing Lord Castleton happens upon her…
She carried on, walking another mile or two or twenty. It felt like twenty. The thick white clouds had begun to darken considerably. A thick rumble of thunder disturbed the birdsong. A storm. Perfect. While the rain might be cooling, she didn’t fancy trudging along when this dirt road turned to mud.
And then the sweetest sound in the world reached her ears. It was the sound of a carriage approaching. The clip of the horse’s hooves was unmistakable.
“Please let this be a lady and her maid,” Prudence prayed, setting down her valise. “Or a kind family. Or an old dowager.”
Prue turned to look and see if her prayers had been answered. An exceeding fine—and fast—carriage rolled toward her, cloud of dust behind it, and pulled by two pure white stallions. Unfortunately, the carriage was driven by a man.
As the carriage came closer, she saw that he was a large man. A young man.
Then the carriage rolled to a gentle stop beside her.
She noticed his boots first: large, shiny black Hessians that reached his knee. His valet must have spent hours polishing them to such a high shine. Her gaze then traveled up, inevitably, to muscular thighs clad in very fitted kerseymere breeches. His waistcoat was a pale blue silk, the color of the sky approximately three hours earlier, before the sun reached its peak in the sky.
His jacket was green, like the pine needles in the forest that had softened her steps as she made her escape. Of course his chest and shoulders were broad.
And when she lifted her gaze higher still, to his face?
To hell with you, God.
This man’s face, with his blue eyes and easy smile, made her think of once upon a time. Once upon a time when she still believed in heroes saved the day. Once upon a time, when she still believed that somewhere, out there, was a man who would love her. Once upon a time, when a young girl’s dreams came true and happily-ever-after was just within reach. That was a long time ago. These days, Prudence knew better. She knew that wolves wore rogue’s clothing and they had a taste for young ladies.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a tip of his hat and a smile that revealed a slight dimple in his left cheek. He was entirely handsome, from his slightly unruly brown hair down to the tips of his shiny black boots. And he was smiling at her in a way that made her feel like fireworks inside: hot, shimmering, sparkling explosions that took her breath away with their beauty.
Prudence managed a tight smile, wanting to be polite but not encouraging.
“Would you like a ride somewhere miss? I’d be happy to oblige,” he offered.
Of course she wanted a ride somewhere. At the moment, she wanted nothing more than to sit on the upholstered carriage bench, under the shade of the carriage top. She wanted to set down her bag and sigh with relief. She wanted to sit beside this impossibly handsome man and gaze up at his blue eyes and think about falling in love rather than being accosted and left for dead, or worse.
She knew about worse.
So even though this handsome man smiled at her kindly and had magically appeared during hour of need to offer her a much-desired ride, Prudence said no.
To be more precise, she said, “No, thank you.”
This was punctuated by another rumble of thunder.
The man, drat him, lifted one brow curiously and looked impossibly handsome whilst doing so.
“It’s a hot day to be out walking,” he remarked.
“I am well aware of that,” she replied dryly and he laughed. To her vast irritation, it was a warm, lovely sound that she might have enjoyed under other circumstances or in another lifetime or if she were another person entirely.
“It’s also likely to rain,” he gesturing toward the thick, dark clouds. There was another rumble of thunder so perfectly timed she wondered if he had a way of commanding the weather.
“How refreshing.” She glanced down the road. A plume of smoke was rising up, far off in the distance. Was that a town just ahead? And could she walk there before the rain started? Maybe. If this man would leave her to trudge along.
“I beg your pardon, I haven’t properly introduced myself. I’m Castleton,” he said with the lordly authority that Prudence recognized from all the haughty peers she knew in London—and strenuously avoided.
She ought to introduce herself. Which name should she give him? Prude Prudence? Or London’s Least Likely To Be Caught In A Compromising Position? Not being a complete ninny, she wasn’t about to give her real name to a strange man encountered on the side of the road.
“I’m Miss Merryweather.”
“Miss Merryweather, I’d be more than happy to drive you into town. It’s just a mile or so ahead.”
Oh, thank God.
“I’d prefer to walk, thank you,” she told him. To prove her point, she started trudging toward town. Her feet throbbed. Her back ached. In her gloves, her hands were positively raw from carrying her bag. But there was no way she was going to put herself at the mercy of a man she didn’t know.
“Would you like company?” he offered, not at all taking the hint that she wasn’t the slightest bit interested.
Correction: she was interested. But she had no intention of indulging in her interest of him and what he offered. Her life had made it plain that men were brutes not to be trusted and God had made it abundantly clear that she was not to have love or marriage. There was no point in her furthering her acquaintance with this man. Nothing good could come of it.
“No, thank you,” she said.
“Are you quite certain you don’t want a ride, Miss Merryweather? I’d feel like the worst sort of gentleman if I left you on your own by the side of a desolate country road with a rainstorm imminent. I’d be much obliged if you let me drive you into town.”
“And I’d be much obliged if you left me to proceed in peace.” She couldn’t stand the temptation much longer and she could. Not. Get. In. That. Carriage.
Not for the first time did she curse The Beast.
If it weren’t for him, she could have climbed into that carriage and let herself fall in love. If it weren’t for him, she’d probably be happily married to a wonderful man with a baby or two. She wouldn’t be here—escaping alone from a highway robbery, aching and scared on the side of the road refusing the offer of a handsome man.
“As you wish. Enjoy your walk. Good day,” Castleton said with another tip of his hat and flash of his smile. Then he flicked the reigns, the stallion picked up a trot and Prudence was left behind in the dust.
Spoiler alert: Prudence and Castleton find each other stranded at an inn together, alone, with secrets…