Wallflower Gone Wild (Bad Boys & Wallflowers #2)(8) by Maya Rodale

Yet once he properly met Lady Olivia Archer, Phinn’s worst fears—another disastrous match to a wildly unpredictable wife—were confirmed.

After a disastrous meeting at the Archer home, he returned to the home of his friend, Lord Rogan, with whom he was staying whilst in London.

They’d attended Oxford together and struck up a genuine if unlikely friendship when it was discovered that their different personalities served each other well. Rogan’s sociability kept Phinn from becoming a complete recluse, devoted only to his studies. Phinn had ensured that Rogan didn’t fail out of school and he was the one person Rogan could rely on when, say, he required bailing out from the local magistrate, which had happened regularly.

Phinn collapsed into a chair in Rogan’s study.

“Well that was not what I had expected,” he said, pushing his fingers through his hair, as he did when he was frustrated. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly help dispel rumors about his mad behavior. But then again, he’d never given a damn about what society thought.

“What did you expect from tea with your blushing, virginal bride and her doting parents?” Rogan inquired.

“Doting is one way of describing Lady Archer,” Phinn remarked dryly. She was a tall, fair, and stern woman. Everything about her was perfectly done.

“Do the words ‘overbearing harridan’ get more to the point?” Rogan asked with a cheeky grin.

Phinn ignored his friend. He couldn’t agree to such coarse terms for a woman who might be his future mother-in-law. But he couldn’t deny them either. Lady Archer’s constant admonishments about her daughter’s behavior were notable. Then again, her daughter’s behavior had been deplorable.

There had been no sign of the graceful, elegant girl he happened to fall for at first glimpse. He still looked for her, under all the rogue, scowls, lip paint, and rude behavior. Where had she gone?

“And if by blushing you mean she had an inordinate amount of paint upon her cheeks?” Phinn asked. He knew all there was to know about physics, but nothing on the matter of women’s fashion. “And what of the black stuff around her eyes and the red stain upon her lips? Is that the fashion in London these days?”

“Among a certain kind, perhaps,” Rogan replied with a wink and an emphasis on certain kind that left no doubt to his meaning.

“But not demure, saintly, innocent ladies,” Phinn clarified.

“Not women nicknamed Prissy Missy, no,” Rogan confirmed.

“She wore excesses of it,” Phinn said with a frown. “Excesses.”

“I should have liked to see that,” Rogan said, chuckling.

“She looked comical,” Phinn admitted. It was so badly done, it had to be deliberate, though he didn’t like what that suggested about her feelings toward him. He was surprised to discover how much he cared. “I wanted very badly to laugh at the reaction of her parents. I thought they were going to have an apoplexy right there in the foyer. But I feared the wrath of Lady Archer.”

“Lady Archer is a terrifying creature. London gents learned long ago to avoid her at all costs. Ask Middleton about it sometime,” Rogan said. “Perhaps your lovely fiancée did it in a misguided effort to impress you.”

“One might be inclined to think that, were it not for the rest of her manners,” Phinn mused. “But then again, my expertise is on machinery, not the minutia of tea time etiquette. I am not sure if she despises me, is simply odd, or if I am giving the matter too much consideration.”

“Knowing you, I’d say you’re giving the matter too much consideration,” Rogan said. “Then again, I think most thinking is too much. Say, did you take my advice and tell her about how large your estate was?”

“Yes. And I don’t think she cared in the slightest,” Phinn said, remembering how she paled when he mentioned the vast lands attached to his country house. “In fact, the more I told her about it, the more horrified she seemed.”

“You probably should have told her the size of your bank account or the size of your—”

“Really?” Phinn asked, leveling his friend with a stare.

“I digress,” Rogan amended.

“This bride business is exactly as I expected,” Phinn said, frowning. “And precisely what I had hoped to avoid.”

“Suffocating, claustrophobic, depressing,” Rogan supplied.

“Confusing. Confounding. Governed by unknown forces that adhere to no logic and following laws I am not aware of,” Phinn corrected. Couldn’t it be simple: man meets woman, marry, develop affection?

But then he thought of that strange pull he felt to Olivia.

He thought things would be easy with her. After all, he’d learned she was known as London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal and that she was on her fourth season and was thus presumably eager to wed. Her father was all but ready to call in the Archbishop when he approached him.

When were things ever simple?

Any other man might have been repelled by Lady Olivia’s behavior. But given that it was so at odds with her reputation as a Prissy Missy, he found himself rather intrigued. Like mathematical problems that didn’t add up, Phinn had a hankering to resolve the discrepancy.

“Regretting all the time spent with your experiments rather than with wagers and women?” Rogan asked.

“Yes,” Phinn conceded. “Somewhat.”

“Perhaps you ought to have spent more time studying the complexities of female behavior instead of all those machines and mad experiments of yours,” Rogan suggested. What remained unspoken: perhaps his first marriage wouldn’t have been such a wreck. “This may be your opportunity. Consider it an experiment.”

“You have a point,” Phinn agreed.

“Excellent,” Rogan said with a grin. “I’ll ring for our hats and coats. We can start at Madame Scarlett’s.”

“A brothel? I’m practically betrothed, Rogan,” Phinn protested. “Also, it is only four o’clock in the afternoon. Also, I’m due to meet with the duke regarding our project.”

“You want to be prepared for your wedding night, do you not?” Rogan asked, still angling to visit the brothel. At four o’clock. In the afternoon.

“I’ve been married before, Rogan,” Phinn said dryly. He wasn’t a novice. Nadia’s passionate temperament wasn’t always a problem—just outside of the bedroom.

“And how did that work out for you?” Rogan asked with a daring lift of his brow, knowing full well the answer. This wasn’t the first time his friend tried to dissuade him from the matrimonial state. A circle of hell, Rogan had once likened it to. With Nadia as his wife, Phinn hadn’t disagreed.

“My marriage was an unmitigated disaster and never-ending nightmare,” Phinn replied. “Everyone knows it.”

“And yet you are trying again,” Rogan said.

“Well they don’t call me the Mad Baron for nothing,” Phinn remarked dryly. Oh, he knew what the gossips used to say of him. But honestly, he couldn’t really be bothered. Out in Yorkshire, there was really no point. Besides, it had been years since Those Events, and he presumed everyone had forgotten about it by now. “What am I going to do, Rogan?”

“About what?” Rogan asked, and Phinn repressed a sigh of exasperation over his friend’s deplorable attention span.

“Lady Olivia. She’s not quite the woman I thought she’d be.”

Phinn had expected her to be sweet and lovely. Given the powerful connection they shared the other night, he didn’t think she’d be so contrary when they met properly. It was puzzling—and puzzles did always intrigue him.

“Look, Phinn, it’s a sad fact that women don’t just throw themselves at men—unless you’re one of those rakes like Ashbrooke, Gerard, or Beaumont. Damn blokes have all the luck,” Rogan grumbled. “So you have to woo her. Make her like you.”

“I’d hoped to avoid wooing,” Phinn said.

“I’m given to understand it’s a necessary step toward matrimony, which you seem to have your heart set on.”

“My heart isn’t set on anything. I just need a wife.”

“Just make her like you,” Rogan said ever so simply. “Here’s what you have to do: You have to impress her. Show her that you’re one hell of a strong, dashing rogue. Women love strong men.” To punctuate his point, Rogan flexed his arms, purportedly to reveal his biceps. But Rogan’s main activities were drinking and reckless living, not, say, laboring under the sun. The demonstration was not impressive, though his point was taken.

“Are you suggesting I demonstrate feats of strength?”

“Show her how strong and virile you are. And muscular. Women are always going on about men with the figures of Greek gods.”

“Are they?” Phinn was not aware that women “went on” about such things. Then again, like any sensible man, when he saw a pack of women deep in discussion, he marched in the opposite direction.

“Do you not see them in the British Museum, pretending to be all interested in Greek and Roman statues? Is there anything duller than old hunks of stone? No. They’re really just ogling all the muscles and trying to discern what is under the fig leaf.”

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