Taming a Christmas Wallflower – Tammy Andresen

LADY AMELİA CHASE stood exactly where she always stood at these sort of events… against the wall. Her mother, Countess Witherford, gave her an exasperated look of disapproval. Even from this distance, she could see her mother’s sigh of frustration. And she could hear what her mother was likely saying. “Amelia is pretty enough, almost a beauty. Why does she hide herself away?” She tried not to roll her eyes as she turned to her greatest companion, Lady Ethel Stark, daughter of the Marquess of Langley. Thank the stars they had both been invited to this Christmastide house party in the northern reaches of the country. She didn’t know what she would do without her friend and ally. “You know she is telling Lady Wallum about my potential and lack of effort in regards to husband hunting.” Her mother was very close friends with the hostess of the house party they were currently attending. “You do have potential. You’re beautiful and smart.” Lady Ethel gave her a look of jealous longing. “Not that I am not grateful that you stand over here with me, but if I looked like you, I’d be dancing right now.” She gave her friend’s hand a sympathetic squeeze.

Though also very attractive, Ethel had suffered a fever as a child and now walked with a limp. It made dancing difficult at best. “You wouldn’t abandon me, Ethel, I know you wouldn’t.” Ethel gave her friend a wink. “Thank you for your faith in me. You know I love you dearly, but for one night, I’d like to dance until my slippers wore out.” She sighed as she watched the couples gracefully circling around the floor. “You should go out there, just once, for me.” Amelia swallowed the lump in her throat. “To dance requires a male partner to ask, I believe.

” Though it wasn’t entirely true that she hadn’t been asked. She just didn’t know how to respond when she was. She’d say nothing at all or she’d begin spouting useless information from whatever book she was currently reading. Her father said she was shy but her mother thought her a fool. “She could have any man she wanted if she would simply nod and smile.” But that was where Amelia had to protest. Did she want to have a man court her who only wanted her to nod and smile? Just yesterday, she had gone to the library with Ethel and picked up a book about seabird migration. It had been fascinating and before she knew it, she was lost. She’d started when the library door had swung open behind her. Hope had bloomed in her chest that it was the handsome Mr.

Maddox. He’d been there the day prior to take out a book. Unfortunately, she’d glanced up to see Lord Rangely approaching just as she finished reading. He was a bit round in the belly as well as the face and she’d seen him well into his cups at several functions. She gave him a perfunctory nod, hoping he was just there for a book. “Good day, Lady Amelia. Lady Ethel.” He nodded towards her friend then smiled at her as he gave a bow, his neck folding into several rolls as he bent. “Good day,” she smiled again, forcing her cheeks up. At least is was going reasonably well.

She had both managed smiling and the most basic of pleasantries. “May I ask what you are reading?” He stepped forward in encouragement and she nodded. Apparently he had come to talk to her. Her mother would be happy, at least. Swallowing her doubts about speaking aloud, she said, “Oh… yes… of course. It’s… it’s fascinating really.” His smile was still on his face, though a little stiff. She took that as a sign she could continue. “Did you know that seagulls can travel for up to two hundred furlongs in order to drink fresh water?” “How… how interesting.” But his smile slipped from his face.

He took a half step back and she could feel his withdrawal, the rejection. Why couldn’t he have just come for a book? “Yes, it is quite interesting,” she whispered, her eyes casting down, her face flaming with embarrassment. “If you will excuse me, I’ve forgotten a previous engagement.” He was backing towards the door. “Please excuse the interruption.” She distinctly heard him mutter, “A wallflower and a bluestocking.” As if she needed further humiliation. That was why she never bothered to speak. As the door closed behind him, Ethel came over. “I thought it was fascinating.

” Her eyes sparkled. Amelia rolled her own. She couldn’t care a whit what Lord Rangely thought, but she tired of feeling inferior. “You’d think he might have feigned interest for longer than a sentence. For the sake of my dowry, at the very least.” “I saw him the solarium with Lady Elswith.” Ethel leaned over conspiratorially. “The view under his clothes is no better.” Amelia gasped around her giggle, covering her mouth with her hand before she withdrew it to whisper, “What did you see?” “Unfortunately, his rather large backside. Thankfully his top half was still covered.

Lady Elswith is likely looking for a new benefactor in the form of a new husband. Everyone is saying so.” “So why come in here to speak with me?” “His mother doesn’t approve. I overheard them discussing it last night during dinner. I would imagine you were suggested as a more appropriate choice.” “Well, obviously I didn’t pass muster with the son.” She made a face, wrinkling her nose. “Not that it matters. I wouldn’t want to have to see his backside ever.” Ethel giggled.

“I wished it had been someone else’s backside, I’d witnessed. It might be interesting to see The Honourable Michael Wayne’s or his friend, Mr. Maddox’s for example. That might have been rather interesting.” Amelia caught her breath. Indeed, it would. As if her memory of their conversation the day before caused the two men to materialize, she saw Mr. Wayne and Mr. Maddox stop to pay their regards to the hostess. Both had estates within the county and come to the Wallum’s estate two days prior to partake in the festivities.

She stepped a little further into the room to get a better look. Mr. Wayne had the refined looks of an aristocrat. She was sure he was very handsome, though it was not him she focused on. Amelia rarely had her nose out of book, but she had to admit, she found it difficult to continue reading whenever Mr. Maddox was near. Will, she’d heard Mr. Wayne call him. His dark hair, strong jaw and penetrating eyes captured her imagination in ways she’d never dreamed. His broad shoulders and tapered waist left her breathless and, for once in her life, wishing she was less shy and more interesting in the way that attracted men.

But it was not to be. Both men were highly sought after at this party and many others due to their handsome looks and easy charm. Mr. Maddox, while not titled, was wealthy beyond compare. They were the type of men that Amelia and Ethel only watched from afar. Finishing their discussion with Marchioness Wallum and her mother, Countess Witherford, both men glanced up to look directly at Amelia and Ethel. Amelia clutched Ethel’s hand, her breath catching in her throat. “Merciful God, what has my mother done now?” Amelia whispered in terror. “I would try to guess but I am completely mesmerized by Mr. Wayne’s blue eyes.

” “Blue?” Amelia looked at her friend, momentarily distracted from her terror. “Are they really?” “How could you not have noticed? It is a shade penetrating and deep, like the ocean when the sun glistens off its surface.” “Are you spouting poetry now?” Amelia gave her friend a grin. Ethel waved her hand. “I merely admired their color–” “What color is that, Lady Ethel?” Mr. Wayne interrupted, a mischievous grin playing about his lips. “Blue,” Ethel replied rather louder than necessary. Amelia winced in sympathy for her friend. She often felt awkward during these types of conversations. But then her eyes met those of Mr.

Maddox and all thought of Ethel flew from her head. The sight of him so close near stole her breath. “What is blue?” His grin broadened. Ethel, for the first time in her life, seemed to suffer from what always plagued Amelia. She was struck speechless. Since she understood the affliction so well, there was naught to do but help her friend. Summoning her courage, she said the first words that came to mind. “The upper side of many fish.” Ethel looked at her in complete bewilderment. Amelia’s cheeks colored.

Why did she spout facts whenever she opened her mouth? The men would surely disappear now that she’d spoken. “I was reading a book about sea fowl just yesterday. It’s a fish’s natural protection against predators.” Mr. Wayne winked. “And I hear I thought you were discussing the color of my eyes.” Amelia’s blush deepened to the roots of her hair. He must have overheard them. She was sure by the way Ethel clutched her arm that her friend was blushing too. “Why… why would we do that?” Ethel managed to stutter out.

“I’ve no idea, but ladies keep commenting on it.” A grin tugged at the corners of his lips. Amelia struggled not to laugh, because he had indeed caught them discussing that very topic. Some of her terror eased. They hadn’t run away. Mr. Maddox cleared his throat. “It’s both true and vexing. His eyes are a topic of conversation more often than not. It’s as though I’ve become invisible to the eye.

” “Oh, not invisible at all,” Amelia said before she could stop the words. He gave her a curious smile and the blush bloomed freshly across her face again, her relief a few moments earlier disappearing entirely. She desperately wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole. Why now, of all times had she chosen to speak? He would know she thought him handsome. Embarrassment made her dip her head to look at the floor. “That is most kind of you, Lady Amelia.” He gave her a slight bow. “May I request the honor of a dance?” Still completely tongue-tied, she lifted her chin to meet his gaze as she offered him her card. First excitement then dread made her hand tremble, as she realized he would see that it was empty. But his face never flickered as he wrote his name in for the very next dance.

A waltz. Mr. Wayne held out his hand to Ethel. “May I?” “Oh but I don’t, that is to say, you don’t need to—“ “Lady Ethel, if the dance proves too taxing, I will be happy to sit with you but perhaps we could try?” He gave her a gentle smile. With a nod, she offered her card. Amelia tucked her chin to hide her grin. Her friend would likely remember this dance for the rest of her life. She snuck a glance at Mr. Maddox. He had turned to speak with his friend, his profile making her knees weak.

The Strong line of his jaw and high set cheekbones made her breathless as she looked up into his face. She wasn’t likely to forget her dance anytime soon either. “May we join you to wait for our set?” Mr. Maddox asked. Not knowing what else to say, she simply nodded. Mr. Maddox offered her his arm to lead her to some nearby seats. Mr. Wayne and Ethel followed. “So tell me more about the sea fowl.

” He turned to look at her as he asked. But she’d learned her lesson yesterday with Lord Rangeley. It was one that had been drilled into her many times before. Besides, her tongue was twisted into hopeless knots. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to bore you.” “No bore at all.” He gave the hand at her elbow the tiniest squeeze. She could feel his heat through her glove. He turned to her with a smile, his full lips making her breath catch again. “One of the farmers built a pond to catch run off for his livestock.

The seagulls would fly inland to drink from it.” “Did you speak with Lord Rangeley today?” she asked, her curiosity overriding her fear. “No. I was hunting all day, pheasant for the Christmastide dinner. Why?” “No reason.” She cleared her throat. “I read they will fly up to two hundred furlong.” He gave a low whistle. “That’s quite far.” He didn’t seem the least put off by her litany of facts involving the color of fish or the habits of seagulls.

“The problem for my farmer was that his animals suddenly grew ill.” She gave a tiny gasp. “What caused it?” They had reached some empty seats and he held her gloved hand in his as she took her seat. Sitting next to her, his perfectly arched eyebrows rose. “Any guesses?” She tapped her finger to her chin, mulling it in her mind. Then she gasped. “The droppings.” The words were just out of her mouth when she realized she was discussing bird droppings with the most handsome man she had ever met. A blush rose anew. He gave an appreciative chuckle.

“Very good. Took me forever to figure that out.” His praise washed over her, making her glow with happiness. She didn’t even care that her mother had likely sent him to be nice to her. For just a moment, she felt smart and… attractive. “Well, you helped me out greatly by first telling me about the seagulls. It must have been terribly difficult to figure out when any number of factors could have been at play.” And then she stopped talking. Because he’d made her relax enough to start blabbering on and as soon as she did that, men got up and left. But he didn’t get up or leave.

Nor did he stop smiling. “I appreciate your balm to my intelligence, my lady. Now tell me, have you read any books on ship building?” She gave her head a shake that she hadn’t. She was afraid to speak again. Afraid she would frighten him off. “May I lend you one?” He was leaning in closer, looking into her eyes. His breath fanned across her face and she wished, for a wild second, that she could reach her hand up and touch it to his chest. But that would be indecent. Scandalous even, so she kept them in her lap. Besides, her mother had likely sent them over and he was dancing with her out of pity.

He wouldn’t welcome her touch. “I’d like that.” “Perhaps I could meet you in the library tomorrow so that I may give it to you?” Her breath caught. Plan to see him again? Her heart hammered in her chest. She could only one word. “Yes.”

.

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