The Wallflower’s Wild Wedding – Eva Devon

It is a recognizable and widely accepted fact that a lady in society must not speak her opinions on any matter or possess talents that exceed a bit of light drawing or flower arranging. Miss Eloise Edgington just barely kept her opinions to herself and, quite horrifyingly to her mother, had a rare talent for singing that would leave the greatest opera singers of Europe languishing in envy. Of course, practically no one knew this fact. Having a voice lovely enough for musicales was highly desired. Having a voice which could ring out the most passionate notes of Mozart with the skill of one in a thousand ladies? Shocking. Eloise all but trembled with agitation as she listened to the young lady sing in the packed salon. Fans waved. Gentlemen shifted with boredom on their polished dancing shoes. Winces were concealed as they all beared the heat of the crush in their multi-hued silks. It was maddening. The poor young thing could not hit a note properly. It was, of course, the point of young ladies’ lives to entertain in a salon after supper, to show the company that they had an acceptable accomplishment. All of the years that Eloise had been in the Season, she had seen it done in some way, whether it be the harp, the harpsichord, the flute, or, on occasion, with the voice. Young ladies were meant to get up and entertain after dinner. Passably.

Years ago, when she had been but a fresh flower upon the Season, she had waited and waited and waited for her opportunity to do so, eager to perform. Her mother had never allowed it and, at last, forbidden it. Not once had she revealed her abilities. Not once had she had a captive audience. She still longed for it, a deep painful ache to share her ability with the world, but she was not permitted to. For propriety. She wished it was not true, but it was, and it was most distressing listening to Miss Adelaide Ashbury sing so terribly. It was not poor Miss Ashbury’s fault that she could not sing. It was quite common for young ladies to be forced to stand up and sing with barely acceptable dignity. After all, young ladies were really not meant to be expert at anything.

They were meant to be excellent at being ladies, and that was enough. Of course, they had to have their accomplishments: languages, dancing, reading, embroidery, and conversation. Conversation, of course, being rather limited to lace, ribbons, horses, dancing, and the weather. Anything beyond that was not necessary, and one was not meant to excel or be unique. Excelling was not considered a good thing when in search of a husband. After all, a young lady was meant for one thing. Breeding. However, Eloise did excel at singing. She loved it with every fiber of her being, and she had been gifted with a voice that was able to sing the most complex verses of Mozart. If she had her way, she’d spend her every waking hour with her voice instructor, who still reminisced about his days in Naples at the Royal Opera there.

Her mother had threatened to fire Signor Bertoli on more than one occasion. She had promised her mother that she would never attempt to sing in public if she would not fire him, and her mother had agreed, for she did know how happy it made her daughter. Eloise did not know what she would have done if she’d been forced to bid adieu to the man who had taught her so much about her own voice and its abilities. The fact that she was forced to sing alone day after day made it most difficult listening now to young Miss Ashbury sing in a key that was barely consistent. Or only consistent with the yapping of dogs at the moon. She could bear it no longer. Eloise fisted her ivory-gloved hands, turned on her peach silk slipper, and rushed out of the crammed ballroom of people. As she rushed out into the quiet, dim hall, she did not begrudge Miss Ashbury anything but her opportunity to perform, for she loved the idea of performing—of sharing her skill, her ability—with all her heart. With a heavy heart, she took to the hall alone. She wondered if she might be able to find some succor.

Whatever could she do to find a bit of joy in all this? There was none. Her heart sank further. She was never going to be allowed to reach her dreams. Tears. Dratted tears stung her eyes! It was most pitying, but there it was. She thought of her closest friends. Friends who had always been there for her, and always would be, and wondered if they had found a quiet nook as they so often did at such events. She thought of them and their recent resolve. All of them had made a decision recently, a hard decision about their lives. She had not forgotten the vows they had made to each other.

That they wouldn’t live in the shadows any longer. But how was she to step into the light? The answer eclipsed her at present. The simple truth was that Eloise was a wallflower. She had no particular distinctions or fortune, just as her friends did not. Well, that was a lie. They each had a distinction, something that they loved, that society did not give them permission to pursue. Eloise sighed, winding her hands together as she walked further down the hall, determined to find her friends if they were hidden about. She began peeking carefully into the rooms of the hall, looking for a spot where a few young ladies might find respite. All of her friends, herself included, were not sought out by society, and all of them preferred their own company rather than lingering glumly before the wallpaper, knowing that no one would be entertained by them or take interest in them. Eloise pursued her path down the hall until at last she found the conservatory.

If she could not find her friends, at least a walk through the orangery might give her a bit of hope. The dark night shone through the glass, and only a few torch lights illuminated the waxy green leaves of the oranges. She bit back a sigh before she heard a few giggles. Giggles were not common amongst her friends, but she knew their voices almost immediately. “Poor Miss Ashbury,” one of them said woefully. “It is not fair that her mother makes her do it. A cat might be better at it.” “Don’t be unkind,” Eloise rushed, stepping out of the shadows. “At least she gets to stand up and entertain.” She spotted her three friends tucked amidst the plants, and the three of them turned towards her, their faces sympathetic at her proclamation.

“My dear, I do not think Miss Ashbury likes it at all,” said Helena, her lips pursing with sympathy. “I agree with you,” declared Pippa, her head cocked to the side, causing the light of the torches to catch in her fiery locks. “The poor thing. She cannot like it one bit. One must wonder what Miss Ashbury genuinely likes. Clearly, singing folk tales is not it.” “Och,” ventured Lucy, her mischievous eyes dancing as they so often did. “It’s really rather unfair. Young ladies are given so few opportunities to express themselves.” Helena frowned.

“It’s even worse when someone like our dear friend here is not allowed to show her skills. For goodness sake, she would put Miss Ashbury to positive shame. We all know what a voice she has.” Eloise’s throat tightened, something she usually tried to resist. But her own sorrow was too profound to deny. “But I shall never be allowed to use it.” “Well, not if we put our plan into place,” Pippa pointed out firmly. “I don’t know if I can dare do it,” protested Eloise, hating that she felt herself the coward of the group. They all seemed so determined and yet she was hesitating. After all, it was a very public thing indeed, her endeavor.

“Of course, you can,” Pippa said with a nod. She was the most determined of the group in their mutual determination to pursue their potential destinies. “You’re no milk toast, Eloise. You never have been, and you never shall be.” Eloise swung her gaze from friend to friend. “Do you think so?” Helena gave her a sympathetic smile. “Oh my darling, you are absolutely capable of doing it, and you must try. Please don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by the thought of it.” “I am intimidated,” Eloise confessed. How could she not be? She had barely stepped outside of the West of London, let alone gone and tried to find the back entrance of a theater.

“There’s no way for me to become a singer. Don’t you know? One cannot simply go down to Drury Lane or the Royal Opera, knock on the door, and say, ‘Please give me admittance and a place on stage.’” “Can one not?” asked Lucy, blinking. She frowned as she contemplated a sphere so far from her own. “I suppose they cannot.” “They cannot,” Eloise assured. “I’m sure I should be laughed into the street if I even spoke to a stage person. I am so ignorant of that life.” She groaned. “Whatever should I do? The three of you have everything planned out.

You know exactly what’s to be done.” “Well,” Pippa ventured, “if I know what has to be done, which is to go and pursue the Earl of Roxley’s collection, and Helena knows what’s to be done, and Lucy knows what’s to be done, surely you can know what’s to be done as well, Eloise. You certainly have the voice for your dream, and you must not doubt yourself a moment longer. We shan’t allow it.” Her three friends gave firm nods and stared back at her with expectant gazes. “That’s right,” Helena declared. “We shan’t allow you to doubt yourself any longer.” Lucy drew in a deep breath, and said, her burr deep with feeling, “We have all made the decision that we are going to pursue our dreams. You agreed to it too. Now we must simply find a way.

No excuses shall be allowed.” Eloise swallowed. “I suppose there’s one way.” “What way is that?” Pippa said enthusiastically, clapping her hands together. Eloise paused, then declared with all due drama, “The Earl of Hollybrook.” Her friends looked back at her wide-eyed again, only now they were aghast. “The Earl of Hollybrook,” they all said as one. Eloise waved her hands about, trying to explain the madness of her declaration. “He is a great patron of the opera. He would be able to put me upon the stage with but a word.

” “But he is a rake of rakes,” Helena proclaimed, her cheeks growing quite pink in horror. “He is a cad,” observed Pippa, her brow furrowing. “Och, his reputation is profound,” Lucy intoned seriously before she broke into a delighted grin. “How delicious.” “You must do it,” Lucy said, gushing. “The moment he hears you sing, he shall insist upon you finding your rightful place in his opera.” “But whatever shall I do?” Eloise lamented, trying to think of how to overcome this obstacle without being completely alone with the bounder. “If I’m caught in his presence, I shall be ruined.” “Do you care so very much about being ruined?” Pippa asked honestly. “For we all know the risks that we are taking in pursuing our dreams.

” “No, I don’t,” Eloise replied factually, though such a thought would not have occurred to her but six months previously. “But I don’t know him at all. How can I trust him? What if he is a—” “I have heard nothing nefarious about him, except for the fact that he seems to like the ladies,” Helena said. “He has been involved in no duels, no fights, no scandals of any significant kind.” Helena cleared her throat, for she did do a good deal of reading and research for the characters in her stories. “He simply likes to go from bed to bed enjoying the company of women.” Eloise blinked. She adored her friend and her friend’s writings, but she was shocked. “I cannot believe you just said that, Helena.” Helena shrugged defiantly.

“Well, one must say something if one is going to be a novelist. I can’t put my head in the sand and pretend that people don’t go to bed, now can I? Books are full of it, you know?” “Yes, I suppose they are,” Eloise agreed. “You don’t think that he’s a bad person because he likes to go from bed to bed?” “How could I?” Helena said. “In books, the very finest people do it, so I don’t see how we can condemn him. In the very best novels, men are always going to bed with lots of ladies.” “In poetry too,” mused Pippa. “Now, if we look at history,” Pippa continued, warming to her favorite subject, “there’s not so much confusion nor embarrassment about this bed business. It’s only we wallflowers and debutantes in society who are expected to be shocked. Society seems to make a great deal of ladies’ virginity, but that is all. Once one has crossed over from unmarried innocent to lady of experience, none of the rules seem to matter much.

Besides, I’m sure he won’t ravish you.” “Ravish,” Eloise thought, unable to swallow. She’d barely danced with a man. “No, I doona think so,” agreed Lucy. “There are no reports of him being that kind of fellow with any ladies.” “That’s right,” said Helena. “He is simply someone who likes to be in the company of artists and women of dubious reputation. It doesn’t mean that he’s a bad sort.” Eloise nodded, though her heart was beating far too fast for her own liking. She had never read anything of Hollybrook being unpleasant.

He was simply known to be rather debauched and to enjoy the company of artists. Some people might think that was enough of a bad thing. She did not. It was exactly the sort of life that she required. So there was really only one thing left to do, wasn’t there? She would have to go and meet Hollybrook. But how? She had no access to him. She did not know anyone who knew him. Her sphere was quite limited. Perhaps her father knew of Hollybrook, but they were not important enough to draw his attention. She and her friends were all from genteel, barely acceptable families.

None of them were quite really capable of touching the gods of the ton. Could she do it? Did she dare? She looked at her three friends, knew their determined plans, and refused to fail them. She refused to fail herself, as well. She could do it. She would find a way. Absolutely. There had to be a method of getting Hollybrook alone. She’d do it if it was the very last thing she did, because she was going to become a singer and no one, not even the rake of rakes, would stop her. Chapter 2 Six Months Later A House Party Eloise Edgington refused to wait a moment longer. She had put her dreams on hold for years.

And then, after deciding to pursue them, another interminable few months had passed as she had striven for a moment alone with the Earl of Hollybrook. Ball after ball. Party after party. Fete after fete had passed. But none of them had been quite of enough esteem for the earl to attend. It had been most disheartening. She couldn’t quite face the idea of showing up upon his town house doorstep. All through the months of social gatherings, her dear mama had hoped with a sort of youthful delusion that her daughter might still make a good marriage. She did not know how her mama could dream of such a thing when Eloise was able to see the reality upon the wall. But her mama did continue to hope, and it had been most soul crushing to see her mama’s disappointment grow day by day this last year as she realized that there was not going to be some miraculous success.

There would be no fairy tale for her daughter. No, Eloise was firmly upon the shelf at twenty-six years old, and this last season would be like all the others. It wasn’t even her age which made her a wallflower but rather the clear fact that she had no fortune, was not beautiful, and did not care to converse about the latest round of puppies bred for the hunt. Though her mother still hoped beyond hope, Eloise had decided to no longer live a life of regret and sadness. She, like her dear friends who had all ventured out into the world, would not be put aside. No, they refused to accept the lot that life had given them. For life was full of so many marvelous opportunities that to simply take what had been given them by society was an absolutely ridiculous thing to do. No, they had all taken heart. They had all made a pact, and now she was about to act upon hers. Truly, it did not matter that her insides fluttered like butterflies gone mad.

It did not matter that she could scarcely swallow because her throat was so tight. It did not matter that her heart was hammering away like a rabbit’s foot pounding upon the floor. No, she could do this. She absolutely could. Eloise squared her shoulders. It mattered not that this was a house party, and she could be caught at any moment lingering outside a rake’s door! No, this had to be done. And so, she faced the walnut panel, forced her trembling hand to reach forward, and grabbed the golden handle. With pointed resolve, she twisted it, then shoved the panel open. She slipped into the Earl of Hollybrook’s chamber. The shocking act alone nearly undid her, for she had never dared to enter a gentleman’s bedchamber, but the house party had been a long, ongoing disaster in terms of her attempts to make contact with Lord St.

John Harrington, the Earl of Hollybrook. Such an opportunity was almost certainly not going to repeat itself. So boldness was required. She had tried over and over again to make his acquaintance, to corner him in some place in the rooms below, but he had proved most elusive. It had quickly become clear that the only way to do what she had need of doing was to find him alone in his chamber. She only prayed that he wasn’t too much for her. Who was she fooling? Of course, he was too much for her. He was a rake of rakes. She knew it. Still, she had only one thing that she wanted from him and that one thing was all that would transpire.

And so when she stepped into the dark shadows, the room lit only by the fireplace and a few tapers along the cherry wood tables, she drew in a fortifying breath. Then she frowned. Blast it all. Where the devil was he?

.

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