Wallflower Gone Wild (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #2)(6) by Maya Rodale

“That’s your complexion,” Mary said. “Lovely and fair, like porcelain.”

Indeed, everything about her was pale and fair and angelic and forgettable. She wasn’t colorful or wild or desirable.

“But perhaps I could use a spot of color on my lips,” Olivia said. “And perhaps some kohl for my eyes. Do you have any?”

“This is an unusual request, Lady Olivia,” Mary said uneasily. She glanced toward the bedchamber door. “I fear your mother . . .”

Proper Ladies did not wear lip paint or otherwise adorn their face. Only a certain kind of woman did that, and men in search of docile, biddable wives were not interested in Those Women.

“I’ll take care of my mother if you fetch me some lip paint. Please, Mary. My future happiness depends on it.”

When Olivia descended the marble steps to greet her parents and the Mad Baron in the foyer, she was perfectly poised and the very picture of a Perfect Lady. From the neck down.

Thanks to a heavy-handed application of lip paint and rouge, she looked like a trollop. A drunk trollop. A drunk trollop who had applied makeup while standing on one foot on a ship at sea during a storm. Her lips—and a bit beyond—were a fierce shade of crimson. Her cheeks were pink, perhaps even fuchsia. As if she were her father in one of his rages, or as if she were burning up with embarrassment. Her eyes had been lined with enough kohl for her to be mistaken for a raccoon.

Olivia felt absolutely ridiculous, but completely resolved in her rebellion.

She thought she looked tremendously unappealing.

Now if only the Mad Baron would think so as well.

Her mother shrieked before clamping her gloved hand over her mouth and muffling her sobs with one of her handkerchiefs. Her father, clearly mortified, reddened considerably. His jaw clenched and his eyes bulged under the strain of withholding an enormous bellow of rage.

Olivia never made her parents angry. In fact, this was the first time she was the subject of anything other than praise. She felt her stomach twist. It took every ounce of her determination not to run upstairs, scrub her face, and return with her sincerest apologies. Any such instinct vanished when she set eyes on the loathsome man himself.

The Mad Baron—who was indeed a corpulent elderly man with a dark scowl of disapproval—loudly cleared his throat of phlegm. Olivia did not conceal her shudder of revulsion. The thought of sharing a bed with this man strengthened her resolve immeasurably.

She would not marry the loathsome man who looked so dismissively at her. She would not have him touch her. Honestly, she should have drenched a bottle of perfume on herself as well.

The other man—his solicitor, presumably—stepped forward and provided more of a heart-stopping shock.

She recognized his captivating green eyes and his mouth, which she had almost kissed.

The scar she had noted in the candlelight was far more foreboding in the daylight.

The handsome stranger merely lifted one brow. Olivia thought his lips might have quirked up at the corners—dear God, he was laughing at her! Dear God, this was more mortifying than she had expected.

Perhaps the solicitor was amenable to bribery—and if so, she’d just need to fetch her pin money in exchange for him burning the marriage documents. Then she hoped never to see him or the Mad Baron again.

“Olivia! Go upstairs immediately,” her mother hissed.

“Whatever for?” she inquired, as if she had no idea, honestly.

“What impertinence!” her mother gasped. Olivia felt an odd thrill. She’d never been impertinent in her life.

“Never mind that, wife. Let’s get on with the introductions and this bloody tea party,” Lord Archer said with a furious look at his daughter. His cheeks reddened to the color of a soldier’s red jacket. Olivia hadn’t seen that shade since she had unwittingly used his smuggled French brandy during a tea party with her dolls. “Lord Radcliffe, may I present my daughter Lady Olivia,” Lord Archer ground out. “I have no idea what has gotten into her. Or on her face.”

But it wasn’t the corpulent old man with the beady eyes who stepped forward. For a second Olivia felt relief. That is, before the truth of it dawned upon her.

Lord Radcliffe—the man she’d presumed to be the solicitor, the man who was her handsome stranger—fixed his gaze on her raccoon eyes and bowed slightly. A tremor of fear rocketed up her spine.

She had nearly kissed a murderer! Thank God she hadn’t.

“It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Lady Olivia.” It was the Mad Baron himself, bending over her outstretched hand. He wasn’t what she had expected, but he terrified her all the same. His gaze fixed on her was unnerving, as if he were memorizing her to think of later.

The scar, she noted, stretched from his temple to his sharply slanting cheekbone, just below his eye. Was it the work of his late wife, acting violently in self-defense? Olivia assumed so.

His mouth was full. Sensual. It was the kind of mouth she might have imagined kissing if it weren’t curved into a faintly bemused smile. He thought her ridiculous. Good.

Olivia merely stared at him in horror. The kohl made her eyes twitch. Her lips tasted like bitter paint. She ought to say, It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lord, but the words stuck in her throat.

Her wits struggled to function, save for one thought: she should have added more paint. Or fled already. Her knees weakened as she took note of his towering height and broad shoulders. He could overpower her in an instant if he so chose.

Her every instinct told her to run. But instead Olivia fixated upon what seemed to be her only course of action: behave so abominably that a man who sought her out for her biddable, ladylike qualities, would run screaming back to whatever shire he’d come from.

“Olivia.” Her mother nudged her in the ribs. She was supposed to reply to the Mad Baron.

Olivia had spent an inordinate number of hours perfecting a curtsy that highlighted the grace of her movements and conveyed her regal bearing yet deferential temperament. Today she gave a short perfunctory bob, the sort a servant might give when asked to forgo their afternoon off and empty chamber pots instead.

“Terribly sorry, my lord,” her mother begged his pardon. He merely nodded. She anxiously clutched at one of her embroidered handkerchiefs. “Olivia does excel at the curtsy. Olivia, do try again. Endeavor not to embarrass us. “

Seething inwardly, Olivia sank into the lowest most obsequious bow imaginable, exaggerating each movement from the extra deep bend in her knees to the pompously raised pinky fingers holding her gown aloft.

“Very nice,” Lord Radcliffe remarked, glancing from mother to daughter. Olivia refused to acknowledge his gaze. She just couldn’t.

She was introduced to the solicitor next, a Mr. Morris, who left with the finalized marriage contracts in his hands after bidding them good day. His parting words: “They only need to be signed.”

“Tea. Let’s do have some tea,” her mother said, bustling ahead and urging everyone to take their seats on the settees near the fireplace. “Olivia, why don’t you pour?”

“Of course, Mother,” Olivia said with an exaggerated sweetness, because that was expected of her. “I should be delighted to pour the tea for our esteemed guest.”

No one knew the etiquette of serving tea better than Olivia (practiced daily at three o’clock), which was how she was now so deftly able to violate every small point of etiquette. She gripped the handle with her fist and clasped the spout as well. She did not inquire if the Mad Baron preferred one lump of sugar or two, or if he took milk, or enjoyed it plain and bitter.

The only thing preventing Lady Archer from exploding into a furious tirade was the rule that Ladies Do Not Explode in Furious Tirades, especially when they had company.

But when Olivia overpoured the tea so that it spilled into the saucer, it was purely an accident due to the unnerving way Lord Radcliffe fixed his green eyes upon her.

She became all too aware of the ridiculous paint on her face and her outrageously poor manners. She remembered the heat she’d felt from his gaze the other night. The powerful connection she’d felt with him was still lodged in her memory. Worst of all, she still viscerally recalled the hope she felt when their gazes locked.

And now she was embarrassed and terrified.

In handing a cup of tea to the Mad Baron, she saw the mean-looking scars on his hands and almost dropped the cup.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” she replied.

They had officially spoken almost five words to each other. Next, the wedding night.

Olivia reached out for one of the ginger biscuits on the tray. Her mother said a lady only ever ate one, to be polite, and no more, lest she be thought to have insatiable appetites.

“How are you finding London, Lord Radcliffe?” Lord Archer inquired.

“It’s incredibly busy and intriguing, isn’t it?” he replied, with a smile that Olivia might have conceded made him handsome if she were so inclined, which she obviously was not. “I’m enjoying the taste of city life, though I do prefer my home in Yorkshire. I have a large, rambling estate with much privacy.”

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