A Wallflower to Seduce the Duke – Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

“I can help you become desirable in the eyes of men..”

 

Emily has had absolutely no success in finding a suitor. With all the pressure from her stepmother, she must make a match soon, or risk remaining a spinster forever. So, she does the unthinkable: ask her brother’s best friend, a known rake, to teach her how to make men desire her.

The infidelities of his father have made Daniel lose all faith in love and marriage. He has sworn to himself that when the time comes, his marriage will be one of convenience only. But all the wisdom he has acquired in his years as a rake can finally be used for good when a shy wallflower asks him for lessons in flirtation to secure a good match. 

 

As Emily and Daniel’s lessons take place, though, he realizes he forgot to teach her the most important one: “never fall in love with a rake, especially if he falls for you too..”.

Chapter One

“Upon my word, I have never met a more unmarriageable female in my entire life!”

Emily Montgomery flinched under her stepmother’s scathing tirade, her gaze naturally falling back to the carpeted floor. In her second season, she was met with disappointment yet again in her efforts of finding a suitor.

She glanced bitterly at her reflection on the polished mirror, staring dully at the brown eyes that stared back at her. Her flaming red hair, which her stepmother had often declared brazen and wild, was pulled back severely from her face so that whatever feminine charms she had left were practically obliterated.

“It might help if Emily would dress better,” her father, the Marquess of Rutbridge, gently suggested although his brown eyes suggested he was somewhat worried about his eldest daughter, too.

At his mild, almost placating tone, his wife turned her scornful gaze to him. “Have you any idea how much these gowns cost?” Horatia Montgomery demanded. “This is already Emily’s second season, and if we spend any more on her, there will be none left to spend on Amy’s coming out!”

From her place on the other side of the room, Amy shot her stepsister a gloating look, her blue eyes boring into Emily’s with piercing clarity. Amy smiled a little before turning back to her book, happy to let the entire scene play out before her without her interference.

“Emily is still young,” the Marquess insisted. “I am certain there will be a suitor soon.”

“Well, there had better be!” the Marchioness snapped. “She has embarrassed us long enough. How will Amy ever be able to hold her head up if her stepsister continues to be a dismal failure?” She swiveled towards Emily, who instinctively shifted her gaze to the carpet at her feet. “Tonight, we go to the Hawthorne ball. Make sure you do better than you did the last time!”

With that parting remark, Horatia Montgomery swept out of the room in a huff, the scent of expensive perfume trailing behind her. Her daughter, Amy, shot her older sister one last triumphant look before quietly following after her mother.

Emily cast one glance at her father, who looked just as defeated as she was.

“I…should go and prepare for the ball,” she mumbled.

“Your mother means well, child,” he sighed. “It is just that…she has a rather strong opinion on things.”

Lady Horatia Montgomery had a rather strong opinion on many things, and most of them involved her husband’s children from his first marriage. She could hardly control Benedict, Emily’s older brother, and ever since the title of Earl was passed onto him, he had become even more of a thorn in his stepmother’s side.

Emily, however, was a different matter altogether, and Horatia exercised as much control as she could over this one daughter, who would not even speak up for herself.

Emily nodded quietly before scurrying out of the salon and back to her rooms. As soon as she closed the door, she sagged against it and sighed in relief, closing her eyes as she thought of the last ball she had attended two nights past.

Unlike the other young ladies of her limited acquaintance, she was unversed in the art of snagging and holding the attention of any man. She spent most of her time in the shadows, watching as her friends were led to the dance floor one by one.

Except her—she was a wallflower through and through.

A timid knock snapped her out of her thoughts, and she opened the door to find her maid, Jenny Harris, looking at her with wide eyes. At a score and five years, she was Emily’s closest friend and confidante. As with most in her station, Emily considered her more worldly although Jenny’s suggestions had more often landed Emily in hot water than brought her any real success.

Jenny led her mistress firmly to the vanity and declared quite loyally, “Methinks you should pay her no heed, Milady. Ye can snag any young man ye wish if ye but put the slightest effort into it!”

Emily sighed and smiled tremulously at the maid from the reflection in the mirror. “You do not need to appease me, Jenny. I am well aware of my limitations.”

“Well, if Her Ladyship only put more effort into yer gowns, there’d be less trouble, that’s what!” the maid scoffed. “I’ve never seen such hideous gowns in me entire life, and I’ve seen some truly ugly ones, I have.”

Emily pursed her lips to keep from laughing. On that account, she could agree—the dresses that her stepmother had bought for her truly were hideous. On any other young lady, they might have been passable, but with her brilliant red hair, those pallid pastels only made her look wan and sickly—hardly the traits a man would want in a wife.

And if the colors were not washed out, Lady Rutbridge picked out the most outdated styles that made Emily the laughingstock of many gatherings amongst the Ton. There was one particular gown that Emily could recall that had a rather high neckline that practically declared her a spinster!

“I’ve seen the gown she’d chosen for the ball tonight,” Jenny scowled. “Ugliest thing I’d ever seen, that one. Good thing I’m a bit handy with needle and thread!”

Emily’s brown eyes widened at her maid’s words. “You—what did you do with it, Jenny?”

“Fixed it, I did!”

With a flourish, Jenny presented her a gown of silk in soft, warm brown with a shimmering, gauzy overdress in pale gold. Emily’s eyes were drawn to the low-cut square neckline edged with a playful ruffle of lace and the empire-waisted bodice adorned with a discreet sprinkling of pale gold beads.

The maid truly outdid herself with this one—it was far more beautiful than any other gown Emily had worn before. Still, it was nothing like the fancy gowns that the other young ladies of her age paraded around in the ballrooms of London.

Emily shook her head. “Oh no! No, no, no! I cannot possibly wear this one!”

“What’s wrong with it?” the maid demanded, placing her hand on her hip. “It’s the latest fashion, that it is, Milady! Young men will be linin’ up to ask ye to dance, I swear it!”

“It is beautiful,” Emily admitted. “Much too beautiful for me.”

“Well, in my opinion, ye need to believe in yerself a bit more, Milady. Now, put yer dress on, and lemme do yer hair.”

“Lady Rutbridge will not be pleased,” the young lady warned her maid. “The last time you fixed my gown, she declared it was an abomination no respectable lady should ever wear in public.”

“Ye need to stop believin’ in Her Ladyship’s words, Milady,” Jenny told her in a matter-of-fact tone. “Have ye ever seen the gowns yer sister parades in? And she hasn’t even made her bow yet!”

Emily smiled begrudgingly as she allowed the maid to dress her. Indeed, the soft brown and gold color enhanced her coloring, and the cut and style were more in line with the latest trends. Compared to her other gowns, this one bared her chest a little bit more, but she had seen far more daring necklines amongst the young ladies of the Ton, and she had never heard them being admonished for it.

“I suppose I can try this one,” she mumbled shyly. She ran her fingers lightly over the flutter of lace on the square-cut neckline, flushing when she realized that it allowed a little more of her bosom to peek through. Compared to Amy, she possessed a more voluptuous figure, and the lower neckline emphasized her womanly assets a little more than her other gowns did.

Emily, however, was not quite sure that hacking off her neckline and showing off her decolletage would be enough to find her a suitable enough match. It was a start, though, and at this point, she was willing to try anything, save for courting scandal.

“That’s the spirit!” Jenny crowed, her eyes twinkling as she led Emily back to her place before the mirror. “By tomorrow, His Lordship will be fieldin’ proposals left and right. Just ye wait!”

***

As she had expected, Lady Rutbridge was none too pleased with the state of Emily’s gown, and Horatia made it known to Emily that she looked perfectly horrid in it. However, there was no time left to waste, and so, she had no choice but to usher her stepdaughter into the carriage, and they were off to the Hawthorne ball.

However, contrary to Jenny’s predictions, the dress hardly managed to transform Emily’s luck. Aside from that one brief moment when she walked in and garnered a few wide-eyed gazes in surprise, there was still a dismal lack of young men approaching her to ask her to dance.

Fortune favors the brave, she told herself, summoning up what little courage she had left to approach the Viscount of Caney.

“Good evening, My Lord,” she greeted him, her tongue stumbling over the words as her courage was drained to the last dregs.

Lord Caney looked visibly taken aback at having been approached by the wallflower of not just one but nearly two seasons.

“Good evening, My Lady,” he greeted stiffly.

His disinterested tone caused her already abysmal self-confidence to plummet even further, and as Emily struggled to find her voice to inquire about some inane topic like the weather, Lord Caney hastily but politely excused himself from her presence and then promptly asked Miss Cameron to dance.

I had barely even uttered a word! Emily thought dismally to herself, watching them walk to the dance floor, laughing cheerfully as they did. Why does it seem far easier in those romance novels? The hero always seemed to fall in love with the heroine for whom she is without her even having to say a word. Why is it so different for me?

Under the brilliant lights of the chandelier, Emily found herself withdrawing back to the shadowed corners, watching the rest of the ball play out before her with a sad sigh. She watched as one by one, the young ladies were led out into the dance floor for a lively quadrille.

All of them, except for her.

At that point, she dared not even look around the room for fear of meeting the disappointed gaze of the Marchioness of Rutbridge. Her stepmother had already warned her several times, but it would seem that Emily herself was destined for failure.

In her romance novels, it never mattered if the heroine was shy or outspoken, plain or beautiful, mysterious or straightforward—the hero would always see through her and fall in love with her.

Why can life not imitate art? Emily deplored in her heart. Why is it so easy for others?

For the life of her, she could not understand what it took to hold the attention of these young men.

When she had mustered the courage to ask him, her father had looked blankly at her before reassuring her that she would soon find a nice young nobleman who would be worthy of her. Her older brother, Benedict, although he was far more experienced in the affairs between men and women, had merely laughed at her.

Of course, I could not ask Lady Rutbridge or Amy. They would sooner laugh at me than be of any help, Emily inwardly grimaced.

That left Jenny as her only source of precious information, but it would seem that the young men of the Ton were of a different breed altogether, for none of the maid’s suggestions ever worked.

 If only I could talk to one of them, I might be able to hold their attention for a minute or two…A minute or two—that is all I need, she thought to herself.

She was running out of options, and she needed to find a suitable match fast. Lady Rutbridge was already losing patience with Emily’s failure over the two seasons, and Horatia was just about ready to declare Emily a veritable spinster, so she could move on to Amy’s coming out.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my beautiful younger sister and her endless stream of beaux.”

Emily had been so deep in her thoughts that when her brother’s teasing voice pierced into her ears, she jumped a little, flushing bright red when she saw Benedict. With him was his best friend, the new Duke of Gilleton, Daniel Bolt.

“We were wondering if we would ever catch a moment with you, my dear sister,” Benedict teased her in that horrid way all older brothers were wont to do to their sisters. “Poor Lord Caney never stood a chance. Indeed, it would seem that your ploy to sabotage yourself on purpose worked brilliantly.”

On any other occasion, she might have been able to tolerate his teasing, but tonight, she found herself unable to withstand any more of his jokes.

“If you are here to make fun of me,” Emily sighed, “then I am afraid, I am not quite up to it.”

At her words, her brother sobered up, and his handsome features creased into a frown. “Emily, is something amiss?” he asked her.

“Nothing,” she replied listlessly. “I just…I am feeling out of sorts at the moment.”

There was a pause between them as her gaze drifted longingly back to the dance floor. The quadrille had ended, and the musicians were striking up another tune.

“Perhaps a bit of refreshment is in order,” the Duke of Gilleton suggested in a smooth baritone.

“Quite, quite,” Benedict agreed. “Why don’t you join us, Emily?”

“I would rather stay here.”

Her brother shared a quick glance with his friend before the Duke nodded imperceptibly, “You go on ahead, Hardy. I shall keep Emily company.”

“Keep an eye on my sister, Gilleton,” Benedict warned him.

“Of course,” Daniel replied easily, his deep blue eyes drifting to the troubled young lady beside him. With Emily Montgomery’s failure for two successive seasons, it was hardly a challenging task.

 

In fact, it would be far more challenging to turn this quiet wallflower into a vivid blossom that could entice the foppish bees of this ballroom.

Chapter Two

Daniel Bolt, the fourteenth Duke of Gilleton, glanced at the despondent girl beside him. Although he had been friends with her brother for years, he hardly paid any attention to Emily Rutbridge, filing her away in his mind as his friend’s painfully shy younger sister—in other words, she was off-limits to his rakish appetites.

Tonight, he and Benedict had watched her futile attempts to engage a young lord in conversation, and as he had expected, it was a complete and utter failure mostly because he knew that the young men in this room were not after conversation of any sort.

At least not that kind that she was hoping for.

“What is wrong with me?” she sighed, her brown eyes longingly watching couples flit in and out of the dance floor, their voices chattering cheerfully in the crowded ballroom. “How is it that in an entire ballroom, nobody wants to even be with me?”

His blue gaze dropped down from the coils of flaming red hair, to her delicately rounded face, the lips pressed into the beginnings of a pout, down to her lush breasts that peeked invitingly from beyond the lacy edge of her gown. Immediately, he retracted his gaze with a frown.

Emily Montgomery, he decided, was possessed of all the charms that were required in the art of seduction—it was only that she had absolutely no idea how to use them.

I suppose the blame can be laid on her family’s door for failing to educate her sufficiently, he thought to himself in derision. He had a vague idea of how the Montgomery family was, based on his years of friendship with Benedict Montgomery—a father who cluelessly doted on both of his daughters, a stepmother who was mainly focused on one daughter, a vain half-sister, a mostly clueless older brother, and Emily Rutbridge, the neglected little girl in the midst of all this.

It was hardly a wonder that she was socially awkward. Combined with a failure to expose her to her own peers, Emily was practically left on her own to flounder in a sea of people she had scarcely associated with before her first season.

“You have been watching them for two years, and you still do not have the faintest idea, do you?” he teased her, his blue eyes glinting. He was hardly a charitable soul, but he could not resist the longing and frustration in those brown eyes of hers. He offered her his arm with a smile. “Shall we take a walk, then?”

“In this crush?” she asked him timidly.

“Yes,” he replied, brooking no argument. “Perhaps I can enlighten you a little on how to go about these things.”

She looked at him before her gaze dropped to the arm he had just offered to her. Gingerly, she wrapped her gloved fingers in the crook of his arm, and he patted her hand with a smile before they started to walk around the edges of the ballroom.

“What do you mean I have been watching them and still do not have the faintest idea?” she asked him again, frustration creeping into the edge of her tone.

“You will see,” he replied mysteriously. A burst of feminine laughter drew their attention to the right where Miss Charlton chatted gaily with Lord Severin. Almost immediately, he saw his companion’s eyes cloud up with misery, most probably as she recalled her failed attempts to engage the Viscount in conversation earlier.

That should do quite well as an example, Daniel smiled to himself.

“Look at them,” he pointed out softly. “Do you notice anything about them?”

“Aside from the fact that he seems totally enamored with her and the inane subject of their conversation?”

Daniel wanted to burst in laughter at her piqued tone. She was right about that—the Ton were masters of inane conversation, mainly because they were adept at other nonverbal cues.

“No,” he told her. “Watch how Miss Charlton acts around him. See how she bats her eyelashes up at him, gazing up at him as if he is the most astounding creature in the entire universe.”

Emily followed his gaze, his soft, low, authoritative voice putting her under some sort of trance as he guided her. She saw how Miss Charlton giggled, lightly rapping Lord Severin in the arm with her fan on several occasions, fluttering her eyelashes in an almost exaggerated motion.

This…this was the secret to holding a man’s attention? Emily was absolutely stupefied. “You mean to tell me,” she hissed at the Duke, “that to gain a man’s attention, I have to act like a complete and utter simpleton?”

“To gain a man’s attention, you must make him believe that he is amazing enough that he has you acting like a complete and utter simpleton,” he corrected her. “It is not how you act, my dear Emily, but how you make them feel when you act in such a manner.”

“Oh.”

He patted her hand as they resumed their walk around the ballroom. “Men are rather simple creatures, my dear,” he told her, “and they like women who make them feel good about themselves. Do you not like it when someone flatters you? It is the same thing with men.”

She shook her head and smiled a little at him. “You sound rather…depreciative of your peers.”

“I simply do not have a high opinion on the art of seduction,” he said simply. “It is merely a means to an end.”

“That sounds rather callous.”

“I call it like it is, my dear,” he smiled at her. “Look there—do you see what she is doing?”

Emily frowned as she followed his gaze to where Miss Jane Everly had turned her back, lightly slapping and pinching at her cheeks, before she turned around and walked gloriously back into the throng with her head high, a cheerful smile on her lips.

“Why would she do that to herself?” she asked.

“Men are visual creatures,” the Duke replied blandly. “A nice flush is quite attractive.”

“I blush at the drop of a hat, and nobody has ever commended me for that.”

“Try blushing and combine it with what you had seen Miss Charlton do. It will work wonders, I assure you.”

Along the course of their walk, Emily spotted a great many other things—she saw how Miss Diana Compton dropped her fan, carefully positioning her bosom so that it was in full view of Lord Haversham as she bent down to retrieve the object. His fascinated gaze made Emily shudder a little.

“Is that not too brazen, Your Grace?” she asked him, turning her wide eyes to him. “She—she just—”

“Done discreetly and quickly, it is but a tantalizing peek into what would await him, should he care to drop by her father’s study tomorrow to ask for her hand in marriage.”

“Oh!”

Realization dawned on Emily as she gazed around the ballroom, her innocent eyes seeing the tactics employed before her for the first time. His Grace was right—the subject of conversation was not the key to attracting and holding a man’s attention.

It was the art of flirtation itself!

Done discreetly so as not to invoke the wrath and censure of the dowagers and matrons of society, unmarried men and women treaded the fine line between what was appropriate and barely appropriate.

“Do you see now?”

His smooth baritone cut through the haze of her thoughts, and Emily felt her cheeks warm up as she gazed back up at the Duke, who was looking at her with a small smile. She nodded jerkily.

“Now you know,” he told her, “what it takes to snag a man’s attention, and all that takes for you to lose it is simply another young lady doing it better.”

“But I thought it was inappropriate for a young lady to approach a man,” she frowned, shaking her head delicately.

“Then do it in such a manner that he will think it was his idea to approach you,” he suggested. “Give him an invitation, and he shall come running.”

“Truly?” she teased him, her eyes lighting up for the first time that night. “I can make any man come running to my side with just a few of the tricks you taught me?”

“Why don’t you give it a try?”

Emily looked up at him and blinked rapidly, feeling like an absolute idiot, drawing a burst of laughter from the Duke.

“I feel like something has entered my eye!” she giggled.

“You look like something has entered your eye.”

They both laughed, and Emily shook her head. “Who would have thought that to be a successful debutante, one merely has to flutter her eyelashes as if she were on the verge of fainting and drop her fan as if her fingers were too weak to be of any use?”

“What in the world are you both talking about?”

Emily turned around to find her older brother looking at her in confusion, a glass of lemonade in each of his hands. She accepted one of them, but when he handed the other to the Duke, he sniffed at it derisively.

“I would rather drink hemlock than that.”

Benedict let out a guffaw of laughter. “Nice to see your tastes have not changed, my friend.” He turned to Emily with a hint of suspicion. “But truly, what have you two been up to?”

“It’s none of your business,” she quipped, before hastily taking a sip of the lemonade. She smiled a little and then fluttered her eyelashes delicately at Daniel, earning her an incensed glare from her brother.

“You,” the Duke smiled at her, “are a natural.”

They both burst out into laughter as Benedict looked on with a mixed expression of confusion and consternation.

“Now, why don’t you try it on Lord Caney one more time,” he instructed her softly. “This time, cover the lower half of your face slightly with your fan and gaze at him from across the ballroom. When he looks at you, flutter your eyelashes at him before sliding your gaze away.”

Emily nodded and proceeded to do as instructed, gazing out from across the ballroom to where the Viscount of Caney was conversing with Lord Marchman, the young heir to a baronetcy.

The moment his gaze met hers, she fluttered her lashes a little and withdrew her gaze coyly as if she had just been caught doing something absolutely forbidden. The natural flush that came up to her cheeks at the thought of doing something she had never done before only served to heighten her appeal.

That little play was so seamlessly put up that the Viscount soon found himself asking to be excused from the conversation as he bounded across the ballroom in long, sure strides.

“Here he comes,” Daniel told her softly. “Congratulations on your first conquest, Emily.”

No sooner had he spoken those words then the Viscount materialized before them, a little breathless, his blue eyes fixed on Emily.

“Your Grace, Lord Hardy,” he greeted the Duke and Benedict a little breathlessly before turning to Emily with a small smile. “May I have this dance, My Lady?”

Emily glanced up at Daniel in astonishment before he nodded imperceptibly at her. With a slow smile, she slid her gaze from him and settled it on the Viscount before sliding her gloved fingers into his hand.

“It would be my pleasure, My Lord,” she drawled softly.

The Viscount looked like he had been thoroughly whacked with a sturdy branch before happily leading Emily out onto the dance floor as the musicians struck up another tune.

“Just what have you done to my sister, Gilleton?” the Earl of Hardy demanded sharply of his friend.

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“You—you have taken a perfectly nice young woman and turned her into that!” Benedict spat. “Now, she’s acting like an absolute ninnyhammer, fluttering her eyelashes about!”

“Well, you should have taught her how she is supposed to act to get a man of sufficient means and prestige to marry her,” the Duke frowned. “Your poor sister has been embarrassing herself the past two seasons because none of you have ever thought to teach her how to act better.”

“I do not want her to act like that!” the Earl snapped back.

“Like what?”

“Like those women we often consort with.”

His words hit Daniel out of nowhere, and Daniel’s blue eyes slid over to the dance floor where Emily was dancing happily with Lord Caney, her brown eyes lighting up as she smiled. The young Viscount, for his part, looked absolutely smitten by her.

The Duke frowned at the sight as if he found it somehow offensive to see her dancing closely with some other man.

Only a few moments ago, she was a veritable innocent in the art of flirtation. With just a few pointers and examples from him, it would seem that Emily Montgomery was a damned natural.

Not even that hideous dress of hers could cover up that fact.

“You have no reason to fear on that part, my friend,” he told Benedict softly. “Your sister is nothing like those women we consort with.”

“Well, you better hope she does not end up being one of them, Gilleton,” his friend warned him.

Daniel frowned at his friend’s words. He had merely helped Emily along in her efforts to find a suitable match.

 

It could not be as dire as Benedict made it out to be, could it?

Chapter Three

“I sincerely apologize for leaving you so hastily earlier,” the Viscount told her after they bowed to each other. “I hope you do not find me overly rude or boorish.”

Emily could not believe her ears. No other man had ever asked her to dance, much more apologized for disregarding her in the middle of a ballroom.

She blinked up at him and smiled a little, “No offense taken, My Lord.”

At her words, the Viscount beamed, and she realized that he actually was rather good-looking with a tall, slender build, black hair, and dark blue eyes. She had never regarded men in such a manner, preferring to shy away in the corners of the ballroom.

Well, we cannot have any more of that now, she told herself as they whirled around in the ballroom. Unless I resign myself to the life of a spinster, I must find a suitable match, and I must find it this season, or Lady Rutbridge will consign me to a miserable existence!

“I do hope, I am not boring you with such inane conversation,” the Viscount murmured, apparently sensing that her mind was somewhere else.

Frantic to hold his attention for at least the length of the dance, Emily shook her head. “No, My Lord. I happen to find your company rather enjoyable.”

“In that case, you will not turn me away if I dared to call upon you tomorrow?”

He must be teasing me! Emily thought dismally, her eyes flying to his and searching for the hint of mockery she had grown to anticipate from all the other young men of her acquaintance. Surprisingly, she found none of it in the seriousness of his blue eyes.

She flushed under the intensity of his gaze. “As long as Lady Rutbridge will allow it.”

“Ah, but of course,” he smiled. “After all, dragons must be conquered if one wishes to win the heart of a princess.”

“Oh, but I am hardly a princess,” she murmured, feeling her cheeks heat up at the gentleness in his tone.

“Well, what are you then?” he murmured as he spun her around. “An enchantress?”

She smiled up at him, feeling a little more comfortable in his presence. “Nothing of the sort, I assure you.”

“Then, how have you bewitched me with a single look?”

“I hardly think that you are one to be so easily bewitched, My Lord.”

“In that case,” he said, bowing to her as the dance ended, “you greatly underestimate your capabilities, My Lady.”

She bowed to him, still feeling a little dazed as he escorted her back to the company of her brother and the Duke of Gilleton.

“Do not forget,” the Viscount reminded her warmly, “I shall call upon you tomorrow morning.”

Emily merely nodded before the Lord Caney excused himself from them, his gaze lingering longingly on Emily before he left.

“Well, what was that about?” Benedict breathed, directing a glare at his best friend. “What have you done?”

“Oh, do stop it, Benedict,” Emily sighed. “It was merely a dance.”

“Yes, but now he intends to call upon you tomorrow.”

She smiled stiffly at him. “You of all people should know that men are wont to say a lot of things they do not really mean.”

The Duke of Gilleton gave out a bark of laughter which earned him another glare from the hapless Earl.

“Well, she does have a point there, Hardy,” His Grace remarked. “Your sister, for all her shortcomings, appears to be a rather wise young lady.”

“If she is as wise as you claim she is, she should not take you up on any of your advice!”

“What is wrong with my advice?” Daniel replied easily. “I am just helping our dear Emily find a suitable match. I trust that she will be wise enough to pick out the unpleasant ones, and should there be any oversight on her part, I am certain the Marquess will make sure she does not fall into the clutches of just anyone.”

Benedict smirked at his friend. “You seem to have thought this out rather well.”

“As her brother, you should have taught her better,” the Duke reminded him again. “It is good for a young woman to have options available to her.”

“He is right!” Emily piped up, beaming at the Duke. “I will need more of your advice, Your Grace.”

“No, you do not!” her brother interjected. “Gilleton, this is madness—”

“Benedict, I am already on my second season,” she told him in a despondent tone, turning her pleading eyes towards him. “Lady Rutbridge does not intend to spend for a third season. This is my last chance.”

Benedict looked at his younger sister and sighed. Whenever she did that…that thing with her eyes, he could never resist her.

Emily was possessed of soft, expressive brown eyes, and whenever she turned them to him with that expression, it was like a puppy begging for affection.

Their mother had died shortly after Emily was born, and just a little over two years after, their father had remarried. Unfortunately, the woman he married was not as kind to his children as he had hoped. Horatia Montgomery harbored a deep resentment for the children borne from her husband’s previous marriage.

With Benedict, there was little she could do as he was the heir to the Marquisate. Emily, however, was a daughter, and when Amy was born, her position in the household fell even lower.

It did not help matters at all that their youngest sibling was spoiled rotten by their stepmother and seemed to be convinced that Emily was an obstacle she should eliminate at all costs.

“You are my beloved sister,” he sighed in frustration. “Of course, I wish to see you suitably married. I just…I hope you would not settle for just anyone because of Lady Rutbridge.”

Emily beamed at him, her features aglow. “Of course not, Benedict! As His Grace told you, I am still allowed to weigh my options. But before that, I need to have options.”

“Very well,” he muttered, looking at his best friend once more. “Nothing too insane, Gilleton. Emily must maintain a respectable image at all costs!”

With that, he left the both of them to ruminate on their next course of action. Emily was quite set on acquiring the necessary knowledge that would snare her a suitable match, and the Duke of Gilleton was a treasure trove of precisely that valuable information.

“Your brother is right, you know,” he told her softly. “Most men cannot be trusted.”

“But I can trust you,” she pointed out to him.

“No, you cannot,” he replied succinctly. “What I am about to teach you will attract men—that much is true. I cannot, however, guarantee that they will all be honorable men or even men that will be a suitable match for you.”

“It certainly cannot be as bad as you say,” she paused and bit her lower lip. “Certainly, there must be someone who is not all that bad.”

The Duke of Gilleton rolled his eyes at her. “Spoken like a true innocent. I am afraid I must inform you that the first part of your education is to remind you precisely that the perfect gentleman does not exist. Men are driven by their baser, more primal needs.”

She appeared shocked by his words, but he continued, “The art of flirtation is but a veil for procreation, my dear Emily. I can help you become desirable in the eyes of men, but I cannot ascertain that they will be good men. You must be clear on what you are getting yourself into.”

“It isn’t like I have any choice,” she said haplessly, her shoulders sagging. This was already her second season. Even by conventional standards, after her third season, she would be considered a failure.

Lady Rutbridge could not wait that long. Even now, her sister and stepmother had already relegated her to spinsterhood in their minds, and they had even started to plan for Amy’s coming out the next year. Should Emily wait that long, her chances of finding a suitable match would plummet even more drastically.

With a resolute and grim look, she straightened her shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“I am determined, Your Grace.”

He looked quite taken aback for a moment before a slow smile spread across hi handsome features. “In that case,” he drawled, “let the lessons commence.”

***

Emily woke up well past the time she usually got up. When she finally managed to blearily open her eyes, she could make out a hazy figure that resembled Jenny, with a distorted look of surprise.

“Well, I must say that Yer Ladyship must have had a busy night at the ball!” the maid grinned. She quickly helped her mistress up to wash her face and perform her morning ablutions before helping her into a day dress in an ugly lemon yellow. Jenny caught the disappointed look of her mistress when she saw the dress and sighed, “I did the best I could with this one, Milady, but Lady Rutbridge has already threatened to cut me wages if I dared to fix yer gowns once more.”

Emily sighed and smiled haplessly at her maid. “Well, we cannot have that. I suppose we shall have to make do with what we have.”

“Well, I think that it’s incredibly unfair on yer part!” the maid sniffed as Emily seated herself before her vanity. Jenny grabbed a brush and began sifting through the glorious mass of red-gold waves that tumbled down her mistress’s back. “With Miss Amy havin’ all those nice dresses and what. She hasn’t even made her bow yet!”

Emily felt all too well the disparity in the treatment of her stepmother towards her and her sister. In their younger years, Amy would compete with her over almost anything, even when Emily had no desire to do so. In the end, Emily simply let her younger sister have her way as she was tired of having to prove herself each and every time.

Last night had been the first time in a long while that she actually felt seen.

With the help of the Duke, she managed to dance with not just one but two more gentlemen after the Viscount, bringing her grand total to three in one night. Why, it was far more than she had ever danced since her coming out last year!

But it still remains to be seen if his methods truly are successful, she thought. Or perhaps, they only work in a setting such as the ball last night?

Emily had absolutely no idea and decided she must ask His Grace about it when they next meet.

How exactly does one maintain a conversation outside of the ballroom? Emily pondered. Will those things His Grace taught me work in a salon as well as they did in a ballroom?

After Jenny had fixed her hair, Emily made her way downstairs to break her fast when she was met with the most unlikely commotion involving her stepmother, stepsister, her father, and a glorious bouquet of flowers.

“What do you mean this is for Emily?” Lady Rutbridge demanded. “Are you absolutely certain this is for her? It is not for Amy?”

“If it is for Amy then that would be highly inappropriate,” the Marquess interjected. “Amy has not made her bow yet and as such, cannot entertain suitors of any sort or even accept such gifts.”

Emily’s eyes swiveled over to her younger sister, who was looking at the flowers with smoldering envy before she smoothed her expression into a careful display of admiration.

“Emily must have an admirer!” Amy exclaimed instead, putting on the flawless act of a younger sister excited for the success of her older sister.

“Do not be ridiculous!” her mother snapped. “With the exception of Benedict and that no-good friend of his, nobody really approached her at the ball except—”

“Lord Caney,” Emily breathed out, drawing all three of them to stare at her. “And Lord Marchman and Mr. Caraway.”

“You…somebody actually asked you to dance last night?” Amy looked at her wallflower of her sister, her eyes wide with incredulity.

At the same time, a fond smile bloomed in her father’s gentle features. “Well, what do you know—my daughter has finally blossomed into a woman and attracted the attention of some gentleman. Ha!” he turned towards the butler, who was struggling to maintain a straight face. “I knew that not all of those fops could be so blind as to overlook my daughter!”

The Marquess of Rutbridge looked so pleased with the matter that both Lady Rutbridge and Amy were unable to utter a word as he went over and drew the astounded Emily into a warm hug.

“I always knew you would one day be a success, my dear,” he told her with a healthy dose of fatherly pride in his tone. “But of course, I must scrutinize these young gentlemen before you set your heart on them.”

Emily nodded quietly as her gaze slid back to the bouquet in the footman’s arms. To say that Lord Caney was generous would have been an understatement. She feared that if Morris was not so strong, the entire floral arrangement would have toppled him over.

It worked! Emily smiled to herself in relief. His Grace…his methods actually worked!

“My Lord, the Viscount of Caney also left his card earlier this morning,” the butler, Jamison, informed them, much to the indignation of both Horatia and Amy. “Lord Marchman also expressed a keen interest earlier to pay a call at a more appropriate time.”

The Marquess happily patted Emily’s hand and smiled at her. “It would seem that this house will be busier in the next few weeks.” Turning to his wife, who was still gaping like a landed halibut, he said, “I shall leave the preparations in your capable hands, my dear.”

Emily wanted to laugh at her father’s words. If her stepmother’s hands were any more capable, she would be spending the rest of her life in lonely misery, a spinster to the end of her days.

“Yes, it would seem so,” the Marchioness finally uttered stiffly.

Amy turned to her stepmother with a look of complaint written across her pretty features but was silenced by the quelling look that Horatia Montgomery shot at her.

As the flowers were finally placed in her arms, Emily felt a warm glow settle in her chest.

Her very first flowers from a gentleman! The fluttery feeling was not quite exactly as she had imagined it to be from what she read in her romance novels. She did not exactly have tender feelings for the Viscount, having only interacted with him last night during their brief dance.

The same could be said of Lord Marchman.

She did, however, feel a great amount of relief that her luck seemed to have finally turned around somehow.

However, as she reached out to touch a soft petal, she felt a dread settle into the pit of her stomach as she wondered just how she would manage to captivate a man outside of a ballroom. That was an entirely different territory that His Grace had not covered in their lessons last night.

After the morning meal, she returned to her rooms in a pensive daze. Jenny, however, was elated beyond belief.

“I knew it!” the maid crowed. “That dress is what did it, that’s what. Well, even if Her Ladyship would cut off me entire year’s wages, I’ll fix all them gowns for you, Milady!”

Emily shook her head. “I don’t think it was just the gown, Jenny.”

“Ye think I should lower the necklines a bit more, Milady?”

“No, it’s not that,” the redhead murmured, turning her gaze out to the window. Then, she turned back to Jenny. “How do you talk to a man, really?”

The maid blinked at her before bursting out in gales of laughter. “Why, ye merely open yer mouth and bat yer eyelashes and—”

“Well, aside from all that,” Emily persisted. “What else?”

“Well, what else is there to talk about?” Jenny looked at her mistress in confusion. “I’m not fairly certain what gentlemen like to talk about either, but I s’pose a man likes to hear about himself.”

Emily frowned. “Hear what about himself?”

“How he’s the best there is an’ all that,” the maid answered in a matter-of-fact tone. “They’re rather vain critters, men.”

Yes, His Grace did seem to mention something about making a man feel that he was magnificent enough. Emily sighed inwardly as she rubbed her temples. Did men truly have such fragile egos? Somehow, that did not seem to be the case in my romance novels.

In her romance novels, the heroes were tall, dark, handsome, and of course, ridiculously romantic. In her romance novels, the heroine did not have to resort to underhanded tactics to gain the love of this rare breed of man—he seemed to just naturally love her entirely for who she is.

Emily wanted that kind of love for herself, but as she told the Duke of Gilleton, she was not foolish enough to believe that there was such a man out there. Her priority was to find an advantageous match—one who would suit her, suit her father, and withstand the scrutiny of society.

“I need to talk to him,” she murmured, standing up.

Her maid looked a little confused. “Of course, ye need to talk to His Lordship when he calls, Milady. If ye don’t, then what’ll he think?”

“No, no,” Emily shook her head. “Not Lord Caney. Or Lord Marchman. I need to talk to His Grace, the Duke of Gilleton.”

 

If she were to hold the affections of a man sufficiently enough for him to ask her father for her hand in marriage, she was certain His Grace would know how to go about it.

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8 comments

  1. It seems to be an interesting story. So far I very much have enjoyed reading the beginning and I can’t hardly wait to read the whole book. Thank you for the preview.

  2. A great story line. I enjoyed the Duke n his outlook on things. I can’t wait to finish this story

  3. This is going to be one delicious read. I can’t wait to see the stepmother and half sister have to choke on their attitudes towards Emily. This is going to be a very fun read.

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