Wallflower Gone Wild (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #2) by Maya Rodale

Prologue

“Let the great husband hunt begin!”

—LADY PENELOPE, TO HER GRADUATES

Lady Olivia Archer’s first season

London, 1821

In spite of extensive preparation from Lady Penelope’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families, Lady Olivia Archer was a failure on the marriage mart. The season had scarcely begun when it was abundantly clear her education would be useless for attracting suitors.

“I daresay gentlemen don’t care to hear about embroidery,” Olivia remarked to her friends—and fellow wallflowers—Lady Emma Avery and Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton. She had just returned from one of the three dances on her otherwise empty dance card.

“We’re supposed to ask gentlemen about themselves,” Emma remarked. “But what are we to do if they ask us about ourselves?”

“Exactly! ‘A young lady should be seen and not heard,’ ” Olivia said. It was one of The Rules they had dutifully learned. “But it would be rude not to reply.”

“I tried that and it was a disaster,” Prudence said with a shudder. “I spent a half hour listening to Lord Gifford talk about the drainage ditches on his estate.”

Nearby, Lady Katherine Abernathy—their classmate from Lady P’s—burst into laughter, along with the group of young, handsome, eligible bachelors surrounding her. It was safe to say they were not discussing drainage ditches. Or embroidery.

Olivia eyed Lady Katherine with something like jealously before stifling the sort of base emotion in which ladies did not indulge. No, ladies were serene and kind. The rule breakers traveled down a dangerous path of vice, onward to ruin. Proper ladies were rewarded with good husbands and every happiness.

But it looked like Lady Katherine was having an awfully good time.

“Perhaps we should have spent less time learning how to pour tea and more time learning to flirt,” Olivia murmured as she watched Lady Katherine playfully bat her eyelashes at the hordes of young men around her.

By the end of Olivia’s first season, even attempting to learn how to flirt would prove impossible, for men dared not venture into the wallflower corner of the ballroom, which was where Olivia spent most of her evenings.

Lady Olivia’s second season

In ballrooms

Dressed in a modestly cut gown, made of fabric in a not very flattering shade of white, Olivia made the rounds of soirees and balls with her mother constantly by her side, wrangling gentlemen for conversation, since Olivia had spent “far too much time wallowing with her wallflower friends” instead of seeking a husband during her previous season.

“Tell Lord Stanton about your watercolors,” Lady Archer urged.

Olivia obliged and watched the gentleman’s eyes glaze over. Honestly, she couldn’t blame him. Was there a duller subject than a young lady’s watercolors? Nevertheless she told him of painting every afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wickedly, she considered informing him that her favorite subject to paint was the male nude.

Wickedly, the idea actually appealed to her.

But to say such things in polite company was Not Done. So instead Olivia told him about the vexations of trying to paint a kitten with a ball of yarn. The gentleman patiently listened for a moment before excusing himself to refill his glass. Or say hello to someone. Or call for his carriage.

“Tell Lord Babington about your singing,” Lady Archer suggested. “Olivia has a lovely voice.”

Olivia obliged and saw Lord Babington’s gaze wander. Truly, she understood. Was there anything sillier than speaking about one’s singing? But the alternative was to burst into song right here in the ballroom.

Ladies do not burst into song.

But wouldn’t it be funny if she did? Olivia stifled a giggle as she imagined it. Her mother’s sharp elbow in her ribs restored her focus.

No. She would never.

But she thought about it.

“Tell Mr. Parker-Jones about your embroidery, Lady Olivia.”

“I spend my free hours embroidering,” Olivia said with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

“How interesting,” the gentleman murmured, when really it was the very definition of tedium. Meanwhile his attention was obviously drawn to Lady Katherine, who laughed at men’s witty jokes all whilst leaning forward to display her bosom to an advantage.

Olivia had a very small bosom, which was always covered.

Ladies do not flaunt themselves.

“You mustn’t speak so much of yourself, Olivia,” her mother admonished and Olivia restrained an exasperated sigh.

Young ladies do not sigh exasperatedly.

“Gentlemen don’t care to hear about the trials of ladies,” her mother carried on, contradicting all the conversations she’d just foisted upon Olivia and unsuspecting men. “You must ask him about himself. It is every man’s favorite subject.”

Lord Pendleton did not disprove her mother. Believing he had found an interested audience in Olivia, he expounded at length about his hunting dogs, his disgruntled tenants, and the vexations of a countryman in a big city like London.

Because ladies smiled prettily even if they were dying inside, Olivia did just that. But her gaze did stray to her fellow wallflower friends, laughing amongst themselves.

She couldn’t help but notice all the handsome young gentlemen who flirted with the other girls who didn’t have such overbearing mothers. Or a nickname like Prissy Missy because of their exceedingly proper manners and conversation.

Which was funny because deep down she didn’t think of herself as a Prissy Missy. She was a girl who liked to sing and dance, who wished to flirt with rakes and be kissed improperly. Unfortunately, the circumstances were never quite right for her to be that girl. She was too busy being A Lady.

“Is that punch, Olivia? Ladies ought to have lemonade only.” Olivia simply handed the glass to a passing footman. Never mind that a gentleman had offered it to her and her mother would have cautioned that A Lady wouldn’t refuse.

Lady Olivia’s third season

Lord Archer’s library

At the beginning of her third season Olivia’s parents requested her presence in the library for an interview about her marital prospects. Or distinct lack thereof. Truly, she was just as vexed by her single state. She wanted to be married. She wanted romance. She wanted a family of her own. But what could she do? She’d done everything right. She wore modest gowns, perfected ladylike habits and bit her tongue from impolite or forward comments. Still, the good husband and happiness she’d been promised eluded her.

Olivia perched upon a settee. Her parents sat opposite. The room was hardly used; Lord Archer spent most of his time at his club, avoiding his wife and daughter, except for when Grave Matters intruded.

“Olivia, now that you have finished your second season—” her mother began.

“Without making a match,” her father grumbled, needlessly pointing out the painfully obvious. “After the investment we have made in your education.”

“We must do better during your third season. I have made a list of prospects for you,” her mother said, handing Olivia a sheet of paper. “We shall spend particular effort to further our acquaintance with these gentlemen whom your father and I find to be eminently suitable candidates.”

With each name she read, Olivia felt queasier and queasier. If these were the Good Husbands she’d been promised, then she’d been tremendously deceived. If these were the husbands her parents thought her capable of snaring, then she was horrified.

“Lord Eccles?” Olivia questioned, looking up from the paper. “But he is positively ancient! I’m certain he predates the flood!”

“Young lady—” her father warned. One could discern the severity of his mood by the color of his face. At the moment, Olivia likened it to a rosé wine.

“Yes, but you’ll be a viscountess and a well-off widow within a few years,” her mother pointed out.

Olivia thought she might be sick on the carpet. Even though young ladies did not cast up their accounts in the library.

“And Lord Derby does not keep his hands to himself,” Olivia said, shuddering. “Every young lady knows to steer clear of him.”

“He also has six thousand a year and a plot of land adjoining one of our estates,” her father replied as if that were all that mattered. As if her hopes and dreams were insignificant. As if her days and—shudder—nights with this man were beside the point. Not to her they weren’t!

In the end the Horrid List mattered not one whit. While Olivia had at least learned not to talk about watercolors, embroidery, or her musical endeavors with gentlemen, the knowledge had come too late.

Finding herself in conversation with any gentleman—even candidates on the Horrid List—proved to be an impossibility. Her reputation preceded her: men lowered their gazes or turned away as she strolled through the ballroom fighting to keep her head held high and a smile on her face.

She thought about calling for their attention and making a speech: Gentlemen, let me assure you that I have no interest in speaking of hair ribbons either. In fact, I’d be much obliged if one of you young handsome bucks were to kiss me instead.

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