The Wallflower’s Wicked Wager – Eva Devon

Miss Helena Highbury dearly loved to dance. Much to her misfortune, she was rarely asked. Over the many years she’d spent enduring the London Season, Helena had grown accustomed to the fact that gentlemen generally stayed on the other side of the ballroom. Just as they were doing on this particular evening at Lady Wembly’s extravagant annual crush. Usually, young ladies lit up with joy at the idea of coming to balls. They gossiped over it. They tittered over it. They wrote letters about it to each other. They spent time waving their fans in eager anticipation. Bright discussions over the possibilities of suitor, gowns, and what dances should be danced were taken up. Oh! And then there was the lamentation over how absolutely pained their feet would be upon the next morning. But this, alas, was not the case for Helena. Oh no. The only reason her feet might ache upon the next morning after one of the famous balls in London was from standing still for hours on end. Though it pained her, Helena knew firsthand how dreadfully difficult standing in one place for hours upon hours was.

It was true that she did occasionally promenade up and down the side of the long ballrooms. It was a fact that she did retrieve lemonade from the punch table. And of course, she would take a turn out onto the terrace to gain a bit of fresh air or look at the stars, if the weather permitted. Still, it did not change the fact that Helena Highbury had spent the last four Seasons gazing upon the doings of the ton while pinned to a single spot of the floor that was generally reserved for young ladies known to be wallflowers. At this particular moment, she stood next to her dearest aunt wishing that she could simply hide away in one of the smaller rooms. It was a trifle early, but often she and her out-of-favor friends would hie off to a corner for a merciful hour and discuss the night. Even better, she dearly wished she could take the coach home to the barely begun manuscript awaiting her. But such a thing was not to be. Though all facts pointed to the unlikelihood of a suitable marriage, her aunt was still ever hopeful. Helena couldn’t blame her aunt.

It wasn’t as if they were in the financial position for her to comfortably choose a single life as some young ladies could. Goodness, some young ladies could choose the life of spinster and really think nothing of it, for they had the independence of wealth. Alas, Helena was not such a young lady. While her long-deceased mother and father had come from good families, there were no titles or great wealth to be seen. In fact, her parents had left her no income at all, and she was fortunate to Over the many years she’d spent enduring the London Season, Helena had grown accustomed to the fact that gentlemen generally stayed on the other side of the ballroom. Just as they were doing on They gossiped over it. They tittered over it. They wrote letters about it to each other. They spent time waving their fans in eager anticipation. Bright discussions over the possibilities of suitor, gowns, and what dances should be danced were taken up.

Oh! And then there was the lamentation The only reason her feet might ache upon the next morning after one of the famous balls in London Though it pained her, Helena knew firsthand how dreadfully difficult standing in one place for hours upon hours was. It was true that she did occasionally promenade up and down the side of the long ballrooms. It was a fact that she did retrieve lemonade from the punch table. And of course, she would take a turn out onto the terrace to gain a bit of fresh air or look at the stars, if the weather Still, it did not change the fact that Helena Highbury had spent the last four Seasons gazing upon the doings of the ton while pinned to a single spot of the floor that was generally reserved for young At this particular moment, she stood next to her dearest aunt wishing that she could simply hide away in one of the smaller rooms. It was a trifle early, but often she and her out-of-favor friends Even better, she dearly wished she could take the coach home to the barely begun manuscript Though all facts pointed to the unlikelihood of a suitable marriage, her aunt was still ever hopeful. It wasn’t as if they were in the financial position for her to comfortably choose a single life as Goodness, some young ladies could choose the life of spinster and really think nothing of it, for While her long-deceased mother and father had come from good families, there were no titles or great wealth to be seen. In fact, her parents had left her no income at all, and she was fortunate to have the support of her aunt and uncle. Her uncle, a very kind sort of fellow, was a fifth son. It was a most difficult position. Her aunt had little to no money of her own.

And so they did the best that they could on their wits and their looks. Her aunt and uncle were quite handsome, intelligent people and were often invited to parties they would not have been if they had been a little less touched by the brush of beauty. Helena had not managed to achieve the looks of her aunt or mother. Luckily, she had inherited their wit! Thank goodness, for if she had not, she felt that life would have been a disaster indeed. London would have chewed her up and spat her out. At least young ladies would speak to her—the other young ladies who were not asked to be dance, that was. She had made several friends while being a wallflower, and she was certain that her wit had made it possible, for she was ever trying to bring up their spirits. Still, this evening, her spirits were the ones that were downcast. She was growing quite tired of this—this ridiculous play that was performed again and again, night after night in London Town. For months and months, her aunt vainly hoped for some man to come across the ballroom, sweep Helena into his arms, carry her across the floor, and, if not fall in love with her, at least be willing to sally forth on an adventure that would result in matrimony.

This was not going to occur. Ever. At least not to someone that Helena would agree to marry. Oh, there had been a few gentlemen who had made murmurs in the past, but none of them were acceptable, at least not in her eyes. She knew it was a very difficult thing to be what some would see as choosy, for a young lady did need to have a husband if she did not have an income. How else would she pay for her life? A spinster would end up in some harsh garret of a room alone, with holes in her gloves and not enough pennies to pay for toast, let alone tea. It was a very precarious thing to be a young woman of society, for she had no skills to make her way in the world, nor was she allowed to, or at least that’s what everyone told her. In the eyes of society, she had no ability to make an income of her own. Except she had a secret. Helena was rather certain that she did indeed have such an ability, but no one would listen to her.

And her choice of future employment was. scandalous. No one, not anyone of any good family, would accept that she could do it for money. As a hobby? No one would mind. But for funds to sustain her? The horror of it was going to be too much for her aunt and uncle to bear. When her dear aunt had discovered her not-so-secret secret talent, she had patted her on the hand, told her what a lovely thing it was, and then encouraged her to trot it out for the amusement of her family. Or on certain evenings when the entertainment was very slim. Well, she would not be fobbed off any longer. Helena was convinced that the power of her pen could bring her pecuniary relief. And that’s what she was going to pursue.

She was going to write for her bread because, quite frankly, she was very tired of staring out at Her aunt had little to no money of her own. And so they did the best that they could on their wits and their looks. Her aunt and uncle were quite handsome, intelligent people and were often invited to Luckily, she had inherited their wit! Thank goodness, for if she had not, she felt that life would At least young ladies would speak to her—the other young ladies who were not asked to be She had made several friends while being a wallflower, and she was certain that her wit had Still, this evening, her spirits were the ones that were downcast. She was growing quite tired of this—this ridiculous play that was performed again and again, night after night in London Town. For months and months, her aunt vainly hoped for some man to come across the ballroom, sweep Helena into his arms, carry her across the floor, and, if not fall in love with her, at least be willing to sally Oh, there had been a few gentlemen who had made murmurs in the past, but none of them were She knew it was a very difficult thing to be what some would see as choosy, for a young lady did A spinster would end up in some harsh garret of a room alone, with holes in her gloves and not It was a very precarious thing to be a young woman of society, for she had no skills to make her Helena was rather certain that she did indeed have such an ability, but no one would listen to her. No one, not anyone of any good family, would accept that she could do it for money. As a hobby? No one would mind. But for funds to sustain her? The horror of it was going to be too much for her When her dear aunt had discovered her not-so-secret secret talent, she had patted her on the hand, told her what a lovely thing it was, and then encouraged her to trot it out for the amusement of her Helena was convinced that the power of her pen could bring her pecuniary relief. And that’s what She was going to write for her bread because, quite frankly, she was very tired of staring out at the gilded diamonds of society and knowing that she would never match. Not ever.

Even now, as she watched the couples dance about the floor, the golden light of the candles shining over their sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and golden trimmings, she knew that she would never be one of them. It used to keep her up at night, that horror, that fear that she couldn’t ever fit in. But now she realized that she’d never been meant for it, and it had been the most relieving of things to realize her true lot in life. She was that glorious thing that only befell a lucky few—a writer. Yes, she was the sort of person who, when standing for several hours in a ballroom, could imagine entire lives and circumstances. In fact, she’d had more adventures in the ballrooms of the ton than most young men who had gone abroad. It was a marvelous thing, her imagination. She had characters in her head that no one would ever meet. Within the realms of the stories that unfolded to her, she had had discussions and performed actions that most could only imagine. And a year ago, she had decided to take those things out of her head and put them down upon paper.

She’d had two short stories published. Something only her very dearest friends knew about. So, this night, as she stood as she had night after night after night for four years, she did not feel complete dismay as she knew her poor aunt did. In truth, her aunt’s dismay was so great that she kept sighing and waving her fan with such fervor that her curls about her face trembled like rapidly falling leaves descending from trees in autumn. Helena bore no such nerves, for she knew that she could take care of herself. Soon she was going to find some way to do it. She was about to turn to her aunt and beg that she not be forced to come to these events any longer, for though they did provide a great deal of time for her to plot her novels, she didn’t particularly like standing in uncomfortable dresses and shoes on the edges of overheated ballrooms with so many of London’s finest pressed up against each other. But just as she turned to her aunt, Baron Garfield turned the corner of the dance floor and began weaving his way towards them, his silvery hair shining with pomade. Helena tensed, her whole body coiling with horror and the need to flee. For she knew he would be the only man at the ball this evening who would ask her to dance.

She turned to her aunt and rushed, “I must go to the cloak room.” Her aunt reached out with her ivory-gloved hand and seized Helena’s wrist. “You must not, my dear! You are about to be asked to dance.” Her dear aunt looked far too pleased and slightly full of desperation. It was all Helena could do not let out a bellow of frustration. This was a terrible affair! Her aunt, it seemed, had reached the point at which any man would do as long as he wasn’t a horrible roue or rake. And Garfield, though quite old, was neither a roue nor a rake. He was nearing a rather crusty eighty years of age, however. Some young ladies might argue that this would be perfectly acceptable, that they could marry him and then simply wait until he died and then be an independent widow. Helena was not quite such a lady.

Even now, as she watched the couples dance about the floor, the golden light of the candles shining over their sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and golden trimmings, she knew that she would never But now she realized that she’d never been meant for it, and it had been the most relieving of Yes, she was the sort of person who, when standing for several hours in a ballroom, could In fact, she’d had more adventures in the ballrooms of the ton than most young men who had gone She had characters in her head that no one would ever meet. Within the realms of the stories that And a year ago, she had decided to take those things out of her head and put them down upon So, this night, as she stood as she had night after night after night for four years, she did not feel In truth, her aunt’s dismay was so great that she kept sighing and waving her fan with such fervor She was about to turn to her aunt and beg that she not be forced to come to these events any longer, for though they did provide a great deal of time for her to plot her novels, she didn’t particularly like standing in uncomfortable dresses and shoes on the edges of overheated ballrooms But just as she turned to her aunt, Baron Garfield turned the corner of the dance floor and began Helena tensed, her whole body coiling with horror and the need to flee. For she knew he would Her aunt reached out with her ivory-gloved hand and seized Helena’s wrist. “You must not, my Her aunt, it seemed, had reached the point at which any man would do as long as he wasn’t a horrible roue or rake. And Garfield, though quite old, was neither a roue nor a rake. He was nearing a Some young ladies might argue that this would be perfectly acceptable, that they could marry him And a good part of that was because she had the good sense to realize that Garfield’s father had lived until a ripe ninety-five years of age. Frankly, Helena wasn’t willing to invest in being the darling of an old man who could potentially live for at least another decade or more. “Aunt,” Helena protested firmly but quietly, “I cannot stand here another moment. I am fit to bursting.” Her Aunt waved her sapphire-painted fan faster in surprise at Helena’s rather shocking statement.

“My dear, one mustn’t say such things in polite society.” “I know, Aunt,” she agreed, widening her eyes in attempt to appear without guile. “But what would you have me do?” And then, much to her surprise, Garfield, who usually walked as quickly as the proverbial tortoise, popped in front of her and presented her with a precarious bow. “Miss Highbury,” he said in reedy tones. Surely he had once spoken in deep notes, but now that voice had gone upward, piping more like a young boy than a man of maturity. He extended a shaking hand. “It would give me great pleasure to take you out upon the floor.” Now, in general, she would have had no dilemma whatsoever in accepting such a proposal, for she truly did love to dance. But even though Garfield was not an intolerable person, she was not eager to dance with a man who could no longer see more than half a foot in front of him. Sadly, he did have a tendency to run her into other couples, which angered the other couples and often left her feet black and blue, not from Garfield, but from the passing dancers that he shoved her into.

As much as she was willing to put up with a good deal, quite frankly, she did wish to be able to walk for the rest of her life. She feared that he might break her ankle one day by backing her into a veritable leaping lord or lady. It was true that her chosen occupation was one that allowed her to sit. She did do a great deal of thinking, after all, on long walks. No, she wouldn’t risk it again. “My lord,” she said, suddenly raising a hand to her cheek and willing her face to turn the brightest pink. Now, she knew that she couldn’t actually force her cheeks pink, but she pushed her hand into her face and then pulled it away, knowing that it would suddenly brighten. “I am overcome. I find that I can no longer stand the heat of this room. It is a crush far too pressing for me.

I must find a cool moment alone. Aunt, my lord, forgive me.” Before Garfield could make argument or offer his arm to take her to a quiet spot, or her mama could protest that young ladies really shouldn’t leave the ballroom on their own, Helena whipped around on her slippered feet and all but bolted towards the hall. She hoped that she gave the air of one needing to get out of a heated ballroom as quickly as possible lest they faint, which was actually not an unusual occurrence in such a place. Ton balls did have a tendency to be filled to the very brim with the most important, interesting, and beautiful of people, and, of course, everyone who wished to view them. The ventilation was not always what one hoped in the middle of the warm months. Helena rushed out into the hall, determined upon one point. To find her dear friends, who she And a good part of that was because she had the good sense to realize that Garfield’s father had lived until a ripe ninety-five years of age. Frankly, Helena wasn’t willing to invest in being the “Aunt,” Helena protested firmly but quietly, “I cannot stand here another moment. I am fit to Her Aunt waved her sapphire-painted fan faster in surprise at Helena’s rather shocking statement.

“I know, Aunt,” she agreed, widening her eyes in attempt to appear without guile. “But what And then, much to her surprise, Garfield, who usually walked as quickly as the proverbial Surely he had once spoken in deep notes, but now that voice had gone upward, piping more like a Now, in general, she would have had no dilemma whatsoever in accepting such a proposal, for But even though Garfield was not an intolerable person, she was not eager to dance with a man Sadly, he did have a tendency to run her into other couples, which angered the other couples and often left her feet black and blue, not from Garfield, but from the passing dancers that he shoved her As much as she was willing to put up with a good deal, quite frankly, she did wish to be able to walk for the rest of her life. She feared that he might break her ankle one day by backing her into a It was true that her chosen occupation was one that allowed her to sit. She did do a great deal of “My lord,” she said, suddenly raising a hand to her cheek and willing her face to turn the brightest Now, she knew that she couldn’t actually force her cheeks pink, but she pushed her hand into her face and then pulled it away, knowing that it would suddenly brighten. “I am overcome. I find that I can no longer stand the heat of this room. It is a crush far too pressing for me. I must find a cool Before Garfield could make argument or offer his arm to take her to a quiet spot, or her mama could protest that young ladies really shouldn’t leave the ballroom on their own, Helena whipped She hoped that she gave the air of one needing to get out of a heated ballroom as quickly as Ton balls did have a tendency to be filled to the very brim with the most important, interesting, and beautiful of people, and, of course, everyone who wished to view them. The ventilation was not Helena rushed out into the hall, determined upon one point. To find her dear friends, who she knew would be hiding in some room or the other.

They, like herself, had decided that being a wallflower was no longer something to simply accept. Each one of them had finally grown tired of wilting away. A smile tilted her lips as she had a very good idea which room she would discover them in at this particular hour of the ball. All she had to do was find it. Quietly, she snuck from room to room, peeping in, poking her head around corners, careful lest she encounter an amorous couple. It would have shocked her first Season self how often such naughty things occurred at these outings. So many never noticed. But wallflowers. They noticed a good many things. After all, one never paid attention to wallflowers, which allowed them to go about without much censure.

Helena had seen more than an exposed ankle over the last four years in the dimly lit halls of the most important families of the land. At last, she came to a library and there, as she’d known she would, she heard it. Laughter. Not giggles, mind you, but laughter. It was the laughter of her three dear friends. Somehow the three of them, resourceful creatures that they were, had found a copse of chairs before a window at the far corner of the long library. The sound of wine being poured filled the air and she smiled. Together they had found ways to enjoy balls, even when wallflowers were expected to be miserable. Pride filled her at the thought of her lovely, unique friends. She darted over as quietly as she could before proclaiming in her most dramatic, matronly tone, “Young ladies, whatever do you think you’re doing?” A gasp of horror went up from her three friends at being caught.

As one, they all whipped about, searching for the mama who had found them, and then they burst into laughter when they spotted Helena. She joined them in the laughter and flung herself down into a chair opposite Lucy, Eloisa, and Pippa. “We thought you’d never get away from your aunt!” Pippa proclaimed, pushing a lock of fiery hair back from her pert, intelligent face. “I almost didn’t,” Helena groaned, thinking of how very nearly she had cut it. Lucy rolled her green eyes and, in her thick Scottish accent, said, “Your aunt is ever hopeful, is she not?” “She is,” Helena admitted. “And she hopes for Garfield.” “Oh,” Eloisa intoned, her beautiful voice a low pitch even as she bemoaned Helena’s state. “That would be the worst possible marriage.” “I don’t think it’d be the worst,” Helena ventured, smoothing her hands over her beribboned frock, “but it certainly wouldn’t be good.” They all laughed.

Over their Seasons, they had all been subjected to the possibility of a truly awful marriage. What did one do with a wallflower after four years? knew would be hiding in some room or the other. They, like herself, had decided that being a A smile tilted her lips as she had a very good idea which room she would discover them in at this Quietly, she snuck from room to room, peeping in, poking her head around corners, careful lest she encounter an amorous couple. It would have shocked her first Season self how often such naughty After all, one never paid attention to wallflowers, which allowed them to go about without much Helena had seen more than an exposed ankle over the last four years in the dimly lit halls of the Somehow the three of them, resourceful creatures that they were, had found a copse of chairs The sound of wine being poured filled the air and she smiled. Together they had found ways to She darted over as quietly as she could before proclaiming in her most dramatic, matronly tone, As one, they all whipped about, searching for the mama who had found them, and then they burst She joined them in the laughter and flung herself down into a chair opposite Lucy, Eloisa, and “We thought you’d never get away from your aunt!” Pippa proclaimed, pushing a lock of fiery hair Lucy rolled her green eyes and, in her thick Scottish accent, said, “Your aunt is ever hopeful, is “Oh,” Eloisa intoned, her beautiful voice a low pitch even as she bemoaned Helena’s state. “That “I don’t think it’d be the worst,” Helena ventured, smoothing her hands over her beribboned Over their Seasons, they had all been subjected to the possibility of a truly awful marriage. What They were deposited with whoever would take them. Well, that was simply not going to do for her or her friends. She was most determined about that. Helena shifted on the icy-blue brocade seat, then leaned forward.

“I think it is time that we no longer accept this state of affairs.” “Whatever do you mean?” asked Pippa, blinking as she poured a glass of wine for Helena. Helena took the cool crystal glass from her friend and replied, “I do not wish to be paraded about anymore without any reasonable suitors and have to endure this nonsense of being a wallflower. I’m so much more than that.” Pippa cocked her head to the side. “So am I.” “As am I,” Eloisa said, nodding her blonde head enthusiastically. Lucy, petite and feisty, all but bolted up. “Och, I agree!”

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