Wallflower Gone Wild (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #2)(5) by Maya Rodale

“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.

“And then he’ll break the betrothal!” Emma exclaimed. “Oh, this shall be fun!”

“What shall Olivia do that will shock the ton and repel the Mad Baron?” Prudence wondered.

The girls fell silent. Brows furrowed thoughtfully. Heartfelt sighs were heaved.

“Well if I’m not going to be a perfect lady, then I’m going to have a second pastry,” Olivia said, helping herself to one. And then another. She thought about telling her friends about the stranger, but it was all too sad now. Besides, she didn’t want to interrupt their scheming.

Then their furrowed brows and frowns turned into wicked grins as outrageous acts of impropriety occurred to them.

“You must wear different gowns, for one thing,” Emma said, and they all glanced at Olivia’s plain and modest day dress of ivory and blue striped muslin. “Something that says Woman of Mystery rather than Virginal Spinster.”

“You could appear drunk at a ball,” Prudence suggested. “That would horrify all the dowagers and marriage-minded mamas. And the stuffier gentlemen, including the Mad Baron.”

“And then you ought to smoke a cheroot on the terrace in the company of rogues,” Emma added. “The gentlemen will be terribly awkward from the shock of a lady intruding upon their boring conversation about horses and whatnot.”

“And when I’m at a ball, drunk and stinking of smoke, I’ll speak my mind instead of always saying the polite thing,” Olivia said, thinking of all the times she bit her tongue.

“No more polite conversations on the weather!” Emma said. “I think we should all join Olivia on her quest.”

“You ought to stroll into White’s,” Prudence started. “And then sit down, put your feet on the table—and do let your ankles show—and then order a brandy.”

Olivia wrinkled her nose. “Do I have to drink it?”

“Yes,” Prudence said. “In one swallow and then slam the glass down on the tabletop for emphasis.”

“Then I shall demand they bring me the betting book and I shall cross out our names as London’s Least Likely,” Olivia said, grinning. Her stomach turned somersaults at the thought. She would never, of course. But what if she dared?

“You must have an unchaperoned encounter with a gentleman, preferably a scandalous one,” Emma added.

“But then you must be seen by a gossiping busybody,” Prudence said. “Otherwise it doesn’t count.”

“After all, if you are alone with a rogue and no one saw it, did it really happen?” Emma punctuated this philosophical question with a lift of her brow.

“A deep, philosophical question from a duchess,” Prudence remarked.

“In general, you must spend as much time as possible in the company of rogues and women with scandalous reputations,” Prudence added matter-of-factly. As if gentlemen hadn’t been known to launch themselves into hedges to avoid Olivia. That would have to change immediately.

“Perhaps you’ll even fall in love with one,” Emma said.

“And he’ll whisk you off to Gretna Green before the Mad Baron knows what hit him,” Prudence concluded.

“You know all the rules, Olivia,” Emma said. “You just have to break them, one by one, as you encounter them.”

Chapter 3

A violently rouged woman is one of the most disgusting objects to the eye.

—THE MIRROR OF GRACES, A REGENCY CONDUCT BOOK GIVEN TO OLIVIA ON THE OCCASION OF HER TWELFTH BIRTHDAY

Archer House

The following day

Olivia sat before the mirror whilst her maid, Mary, forced her pale blond hair to curl. Lord Radcliffe was coming to tea and Lady Archer had given strict orders that Olivia was to appear at her very best, which meant she’d endure the hot iron and have her hair tangled up in an arrangement with strings of pearls and hair ribbons. She’d don one of her prim white day dresses and conduct herself with the utmost delicacy and care to avoid dirtying the gown. Young ladies must always be impeccably turned out and above reproach.

There was no other option.

Or was there?

Break the rules, one by one, as you encounter them.

Having spent her whole life dutifully obeying every order, it was a strange and curious thought to consider deliberately doing the opposite. Oh, she had entertained thoughts of, say, putting Lady Katherine in her place with a cutting remark, or playing bawdy songs on the pianoforte at a musicale, or forsaking conduct books in favor of the romantic novels Emma was always reading (and Olivia discretely borrowed because ladies did not read such rubbish). She’d like to lift her skirts and run through Hyde Park instead of strolling. Wear lip paint and diaphanous gowns. Flirt with a rake and perhaps be the subject of a rumor.

Olivia always thought one day . . . one day she’d get to do all of these things when she left her parents’ house and married the sort of dashing man who unlocked this side of her and encouraged high-spirited behavior.

She had nurtured her vision of this perfect happily-ever-after. Her husband would be handsome, charming, and always know what to say. He’d look at her with a gaze that sparkled lovingly and would always try to steal a kiss. They’d live in a large house with a pack of noisy children and she would never yell at them if they got jam on their skirts or broke a vase. In beautiful dresses and on the arm of this perfect husband, everyone would forget they’d ever called her Prissy Missy and that Mr. Middleton had jumped into a hedge to avoid her.

But if she married the Mad Baron, who selected for her because she was Prissy Missy London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal, then she’d be condemning herself to a short life of the utmost propriety. The very thought made her want to jump into a hedge to avoid him.

It was a dreadful fate, one sorely lacking in kisses, waltzes, and adventures of all kinds. She’d never fall in love. Or be deeply loved and passionately desired. Instead, she’d manage servants and embroider in solitude until her fingers bled.

“You’re awfully quiet today, Lady Olivia,” said Mary, while she took care not to burn her with the iron. “Are you nervous about meeting your intended?”

“Wouldn’t you be? Especially given his reputation as a murderer?” Olivia replied. But she was more nervous about what she was going to do.

Something scandalous.

Something unladylike.

The sooner she made it clear she was not the woman he expected, the sooner she could . . . return to being a wallflower. Or do something outrageous to land a loving husband, as Emma had done.

“I suppose,” Mary agreed. “But it could just be gossip. He’s here already, you know. He came with his solicitor. They’re both meeting with your father right now.”

There was only one reason a solicitor would be here: to draw up marriage contracts. It was absurd that they’d progress with such alacrity when she’d never even met the man! They must think her so docile, obliging, and desperate to be wed that she’d agree to any proposal. It seemed she would have to show they were gravely mistaken. She was finished being the Dutiful Daughter.

“Have you seen him?” Olivia asked.

“I have,” Mary said, not quite meeting Olivia’s eye in the mirror.

“And?”

“His solicitor is more handsome,” Mary ventured. And that said it all, really.

“I suppose he is wretched. Tell me, is he old and fat with beady eyes and a malevolent air?” If she learned anything from novels, it was that villains always possessed beady eyes and a malevolent air.

“Time to tighten your corset and put your gown on,” Mary said brightly, thus confirming that the Mad Baron was the most repulsive, loathsome man in Christendom and that she must do whatever it took to get out of this match.

If only she had kissed that stranger!

“Mary, I think I seem a bit pale,” Olivia said as an idea occurred to her.

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