The Wallflower’s Scandalous Blooming (Preview)


Chapter One

“Is that as tight as it can go?”

Emma Preston’s eyes fluttered closed as her mother’s cold voice filled her ears. She had never been one for hiding her emotions. She never could find her way around learning how to do so. As her lady’s maid and friend, Louisa, would so often tease her, she wore all of her heart on her sleeve.

Whatever she felt put itself on display all over her face, in her countenance. All anyone who cared to know had to do was take a good look at her. They’d see quite easily just how she truly felt. She was aware that this was one of her many problems.

It was how her mother, the Viscountess Rushmore, could always tell when Emma was displeased about things that she would rather have her preening over. Of course, this would in turn cause the viscountess to be terribly upset and Emma would only end up being scolded.

That same heart on her sleeve was the reason why society derived joy in ridiculing her. They knew that it always affected her so. And because it did, they were only too happy to keep at it.

If only she could learn to hide those emotions, to master the art of being impassive like Lady Northwich, who always left people guessing just what she was thinking or feeling. Emma believed her life would be significantly better if she could master her emotions in this way.

Alas, as much as that was one of her many problems, she certainly couldn’t dispute that it was perhaps the least of them.

In fact, in that moment, there were more pressing matters to attend to. Particularly the fact that she could not breathe. She feared that if the modiste tightened her corset any further, she would certainly collapse.

How am I expected to spend the entire night in this thing?

A heavy sigh slipped her lips and as her insides protested in pain, she instantly regretted the deed. It was a sad thing that her discomfort would only grow worse, as the question hadn’t been directed at her, but at Miss Barnes, the modiste.

As though her thoughts had been heard, her fears were made into reality. Miss Barnes pulled tighter and for a split moment, her world spun. It took all of her willpower to keep from swooning.

Her heart sighed in relief as she began to feel better. Fitting days were often dreaded, as she would once again be reminded of her failure to meet the Ton’s standards of beauty. Of course, her mother never failed to do every possible thing just to ensure that Emma looked as socially acceptable as possible.

Emma couldn’t imagine making the viscountess more upset than she already clearly was by doing something she would only describe as throwing a tantrum.

God forbid I end up on the floor. Mother would never let me hear the end of it!

Emma was beyond grateful when she heard the modiste say, “I’m afraid that is as tight as it can go, my lady. She barely has room to breathe as it is.”

Her mother scoffed in frustration, throwing the scandal sheet in her hand aside.

For a moment, silence reigned and Emma simply watched her from the mirror, aware that her mother was trying to calm herself by getting her anger under control. If there was anything she knew about her dearest mother, it was the fact that Lady Rushmore hated a scene. The only thing she hated more than that was causing one.

Emma watched her with envious eyes as she took slow, calming breaths. They were breaths Emma would give anything for.

Just then, her mother’s eyes fluttered open, piercing Emma with her gaze. She held them captive, daring her to look away.

Emma didn’t even think to try.

“You could not possibly have gained a few more pounds, could you?” her mother exclaimed. “I thought I made it clear that you were to do the exact opposite. My goodness! All that dieting the entire summer and nothing to show for it!” There was a pause as she eyed her. “You have not been stealing pastries behind my back, have you? You’d better not lie to me.”

Emma began to pick at her fingers, as she often did when she was nervous. In truth, there had been a few times when Eunice, the cook, had been gracious enough to slip her a few plates of biscuits and pies. However, she did not think that was the reason for the pounds she hadn’t succeeded in losing.

There had also been many days, weeks even, that she’d all but starved herself, surviving only on fruits and vegetables.

What had she to show for it?

Very little.

She had since made her peace with the fact that she would never become as petite and pretty as the other ladies. No matter what she did, the number of walks and rides she took, all in a bid to drop some pounds, she would always be short, fat, unflattering Emma.

She would never be like the other ladies of the Ton. So slender and frail, lovely to look at. As some gentlemen would favorably say, “A sight for sore eyes.”

How could she not remember the time when Lord Wendwick had told her that her looks would only make such eyes sorer?

It had been during her first Season, and she’d been only nineteen. Her heart had broken into pieces for she’d truly fancied him, believing him to be a kind gentleman. Alas, he couldn’t stand the sight of her.

He’d ended up getting married to Lady Jane; tall, slender, beautiful Lady Jane who walked with the grace of a gazelle and pride of a lioness. She’d since birthed him an heir. As the heavens would have it, she’d managed to maintain her perfect figure after childbirth.

Emma truly believed that if there was indeed a God, then he must have a bone to pick with her. It was the only explanation as to why he’d been so impartial to her.

Just then, her mother’s voice thundered in her ears, startling her. That was when she realized how far off in her thoughts she’d wandered.

“Did you hear me at all? Or are you going to make me wait all day for an answer?”

“No, Mother,” Emma said hastily. “Forgive me. I was simply… lost in my thoughts. I did have a few biscuits every now and then. Other than that, I abided strictly to the diet. I swear it. You must believe that I’m telling the truth. Please.”

Those identical jade green eyes stared back at her, fierce with disdain. There had been a time when it’d have broken Emma to see that look. Then, she had decided one day to accept her relationship with her mother for what it was so it wouldn’t have the power to hurt her anymore. She’d been right to do so, it appeared.

Her own mother, the one person in the world who was meant to love her without restraint or conditions, also could not stand the sight of her. Why? Because she loved society too much and cared all too gravely about their acceptance. As long as Emma failed to fit into that society’s standard of beauty, her mother would never be able to love her.

This was a hard truth with which Emma had had to make peace.

Then, there were those two Seasons in which she’d failed, disgracefully. They’d given her mother all the more reason to hold her in contempt.

Now she was in her third Season, yet she had no hopes for prospects.

The Emma who used to be hopeful that she would meet a gentleman who would sweep her off her feet, not minding the fact that she was big around the edges, perhaps even loving her all the more for it—that Emma was long gone.

To dream of such was exactly what it was, a dream. A foolhardy one at that, as it was certain to never come true.

Who in their right mind would choose her over all those other beautiful ladies? Especially as she wasn’t getting any younger and there were new debutantes every Season. She was destined to live a spinster’s life. It was only a matter of time before her parents realized and accepted that as well.

As her mother recovered from her momentary burst of anger, she turned to the modiste. “Make it a size smaller. Thankfully, the first ball of the Season is still a fortnight away. I shall make certain she has only one meal a day.” Holding Emma’s gaze once again, she added, “It will be a meal of lettuce and cabbage, of that you can be certain. I suggest you begin to prepare your mind to fast. And heaven forbid you think to make Eunice sneak you pastries. If I ever find out, I assure you, she shall be in need of a new place of employment.”

Emma’s eyes widened. It was clear that her mother knew just how to make her comply. Of course, she would never be able to live with herself if Eunice lost her position on her account. Ever so cleverly, her mother had made certain that Emma would obey her every command.

She dropped her head in a sigh. “Yes, Mother.”

The viscountess was obviously satisfied by this, for she looked away then and picked up her scandal sheets once more.

“Carry on,” she said. “There are about five more dresses to try, I believe.”

Risking another sigh, Emma turned so she would face the mirror once more. It was in its reflection that she sighted Lady Clarissa and her two best friends, Lady Jane and Lady Anne, snickering as they pointed at her and spoke in whispers. It was hard not to miss Lady Clarissa’s stunning red tresses. Emma sighed, thinking of her own dull blonde hair.

Emma didn’t have to be clairvoyant to know that they were laughing at her, as always. After all, those three had formed a habit of making her life more difficult than it already was with their constant ridicule.

Pay them no heed, Emma. They’re simply unkind souls, the voice inside her head whispered.

“It’s easier said than done,” she whispered in response.

If only she could never again be affected by their words and actions simply because she made the decision not to, her life would be so much better. Alas, beggars weren’t in the streets riding horses for the sole reason that those horses weren’t wishes.

As Emma tried on the third dress that was the same dreary shade of ivory—with the most minimal trimmings, too—she looked herself over in the mirror.

Green orbs stared back at her. Dull blonde tresses framed the sides of her face. Her bosom protruded from her chest as though announcing its presence. Arms that could be mistaken for dough rolls and a waistline that was almost as large as the mirror stood out.

The only thing that was beautiful about her as far as society was concerned was her porcelain skin, naturally crimson lips, and those jade eyes her mother had blessed her with. Her cheeks were deemed too full. Her nose, too big.

For a long time, it had been almost impossible to not see herself through the eyes of others. To not look upon her image with disdain and revulsion.

It had taken some time before she’d realized that she needed to be kind to herself. That there had to be, at the very least, more than one person who would look at her and smile. Who would tell her how lovely she looked even in the dull ivory shade that barely made her noticeable.

Her mother would always say that the less attention she drew to herself, the better. The more frills on her dress, the bigger she appeared. It was the reason why her dresses remained boring. Not that Emma minded. She rather liked being a wallflower.

Nevertheless, she had needed to learn how to love herself despite that. Emma had decided only a summer ago to be that person. The one who would always look at her with love and adoration. She owed herself that much. She deserved that much.

The journey had not been smooth. There were days when it still felt impossible, but she refused to give up. To Emma, it was all that mattered.

An hour and half later, she slipped back into the dress in which she’d come in. It was like being out in the sun after days of being locked in a dark cell.

As they rode back home in their carriage, she was grateful for the silence. It afforded her the chance to nurse in silence the bruising she felt in her ribs and to fill her lungs with as much air as she could.

One thought refused to leave her mind though.

The thought that at least one more time, she should let herself hope.

She could not help wondering, Could I really?


Chapter Two

“Careful, my lord.”

“Thank you, Dunham,” Nathaniel Stapleton said to the footman as he dropped from his carriage. When he felt the solid ground beneath his feet, he took his time to adjust his coat. Then, hat on head, he looked up to behold Fairwood’s manor.

He had spent the entire time from when he received the letter of invitation to that very moment preparing himself to attend this ball. For him, it meant re-entering society after two years of being absent from the Ton.

If it was up to him, he had every intention of staying away from ballrooms for the next decade at the very least. The time away had been wonderfully peaceful. He had had less to worry about where the gossip mill was concerned.

All that had filled his days in the time away was doing right by his father, filling the shoes that his late brother had left behind, and making certain the family estate continued to thrive, not merely stay afloat.

So far, even if he said so himself, he had managed to achieve success in all of those endeavors—except filling his brother’s shoes.

There could only ever be one Benjamin Stapleton. His brother had been one of a kind, and Nathaniel knew better than to pressure himself to measure up. He simply strove to do what he could so that the void would not be so glaring. He wondered if Benjamin would approve of all he’d done so far.

I hope so.

Adjusting his coat once more, he began to walk towards the doors. All around him, other guests arriving, assuring him that he was not as late as he’d thought he would be.

He was thankful for the shroud of darkness and the hat. Although, he was aware that the mystery they afforded him would soon be gone. There would be no hiding the moment he stepped into the ballroom that would no doubt be filled with bright lights, if that chandelier in the Fairwood’s grand hall still remained. He had no doubt that it did.

Nonetheless, he supposed it was bound to happen at some time. He had braced himself for the murmurs, whispers, and those who would be brazen enough to walk up to him and greet him in person.

Now that he was the Marquess of Sandford, sole heir to the Dukedom of Warneford, instead of merely a spare second son, there were many people who wanted to be in his good graces.

People who had never bothered to hide how much they looked down upon him simply because he had been born second. Alas, it was the way of society, was it not? People treated you according to your social status. It was what determined your level of importance and just how much respect you should be accorded.

He scoffed as he finally reached the door.

How could anyone expect him to care for society and its ways? Everything about the current social stratification was ridiculous.

Don’t even get me started on all those rules of etiquette, propriety, and whatnot.

Nathaniel was of the opinion that the people who’d sat down to make them must have been going through many life problems. It was the only explanation he could accept.

“Lord Stapleton, Marquess of Sandford,” he said to the butler.

Mr. Laude, who was already smiling, dipped in a bow. “I bid you welcome, my lord. If you would follow me.”

He nodded, urging the butler to lead the way. He followed as soon as Mr. Laude started to walk. The closer they grew to the ballroom, the deeper the sinking feeling in his stomach grew.

I wouldn’t be here if not for Mother.

She was a dear friend of the dowager countess. As she and his father were away on a long trip, Nathaniel was expected to attend the ball on her behalf. She wouldn’t have had it any other way, Nathaniel knew this.

He supposed it helped that Lady Fairwood was one of the few people in society who delighted him. Unlike the many others, she very much enjoyed laughing in the face of what was proper and what was not.

It was for this reason that he admired her very much.

I will bear this night for her sake and for Mother’s.

Finally, they reached the ballroom. Noise from loud chatter filled his ears. He was not surprised to see the grand hall filled with almost all of society in their finest. After all, it was Lady Fairwood’s ball.

“I hope you enjoy your evening, Lord Sandford,” Mr. Laude said as he bowed again.

Nathaniel nodded at him, a small smile on his face. “I doubt I will. Thank you, nonetheless.”

He left the young servant who seemed to have been taken aback by his response and stepped into the ballroom.

The noise flooded his ears at once, drowning out his own thoughts. As he started to move through the crowd, he willed himself to grow accustomed to it all once again.

Two Seasons was indeed a long time to have been away. More than enough time to forget how loud these things could be, having grown accustomed to the silence of solitude.

Thankfully, as he walked deeper into the ballroom, searching for the perfect spot, he realized that they didn’t seem so loud anymore. He could finally hear himself.

It was in that moment that he became aware of the looks he’d expected. They were, of course, accompanied by loud whispers and pointing fingers.

Just as he’d predicted.

It would be no surprise if his name reappeared on all the scandal sheets on the morrow. He could just see what the headline would read.

New heir to the Dukedom of W, Lord S sighted at the Fairwood’s ball.

They would go ahead to list every item of clothing he had worn, what his demeanor had seemed like, the people with whom he shared conversations, and most particularly, the ladies who appeared to have caught his attention.

Of course, there would be speculation surrounding his possible reason for re-entering society. He had no doubt they would end up surmising that he was back to join the marriage mart, as he could already hear them whisperings.

It was to be expected, was it not? Now that he was marquess, everyone would believe the next thing to do would be to take a wife and sire an heir, securing the dukedom in his family for another generation.

He could already see the calculating gazes of the mothers. He’d be blind to miss the inviting looks of the ladies.

Nathaniel scoffed.

It is indeed precisely as I’d thought.

Now that he held a higher social standing, they were all suddenly interested in him.

He wished for the attention as much as he wished to take a wife that Season. It was worthy of note that he had no intention of doing the latter. Nonetheless, there was nothing he could do to stop their interest.

The only thing he had control over was how he chose to react. He easily reached his decision; he would continue to ignore the attention until the end of the Season.

He sighed as he finally found that perfect spot.

Yes, indeed. The best thing he could do was ignore them.

Until then, I shall count the hours until this dreary Season’s end.

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  • Roselyn has peaked our interest with these two characters! I can’t wait to see how they are involved.

  • An intriguing opening, can’t wait to read the whole book and find out the reason/s for their behavior and how will they end up together

  • A very interesting beginning. Can hardly wait to see the two main characters meet and interact. I imagine she will be morose and he resistant. Looking forward to the book.

  • I was disappointed that I couldn’t continue reading. The start of this love story and the characters have me interested and intrigued. I am looking forward to the release date.

    • Thank you for your comment, dear Sylvia. I’m glad you found the beginning of my book intriguing! I hope that the rest of it will keep up with your expectations as well. 😉

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