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Temptations of a Wallflower (The Wicked Quills of London #3)

By:Eva Leigh

Temptations of a Wallflower (The Wicked Quills of London #3)
Author: Eva Leigh

Chapter 1

In late summer, London sweltered. Worse-the city grew exceedingly dull as the hot months dragged on. All my usual lovers had gone to the country, leaving behind boors with an appalling lack of knowledge of female anatomy. I decided that I would take my leave of London and seek pleasure somewhere in the green of the country. Thus resolved, with thoughts of lusty rustics in my mind, I had my trunks packed and set off in my carriage for a pastoral escape. Too intent on finding relief, I paid no heed to warnings of highwaymen who prowled the roads. Perhaps I should have given those warnings more regard . . .

The Highwayman's Seduction

London, 1816

Too much time had passed since Jeremy Cleland had last been in London. A few months in the country made quite a difference in a man's life. As Jeremy rode in his father's carriage to the family's Mayfair mansion, he felt every inch the humble vicar that he'd become.

Streets seemed dizzyingly congested, sounds ricocheted like bullets from close-set buildings, and the pervasive smell of soot and smoke cloaked the avenues.

He didn't precisely mind all the sensory commotion. After all, he'd spent his youth traveling back and forth between London and various country estates. That included the Hertfordshire mansion that served as the seat of his father, the Earl of Hutton. Yet being the earl's third son had its advantages-and many burdens. Granted, the earldom had been gifted to Jeremy's father due to service to the Crown as the nation's moral paragon, but the impact of the title remained the same.

The carriage turned onto Berkeley Square, and it was such a marked contrast from Jeremy's little rural parish of Rosemead that he gave a strained laugh. What would Mr. Kinross, the church sexton, think of the soaring marble and stone mansions that housed dozens of servants but only one family? Likely Mr. Kinross would shake his head and spit tobacco onto the ground, muttering about citified gentry. Bad enough that the sexton already looked at Jeremy with suspicion. If the old man knew precisely what kind of wealth gleamed in the vicar's background, he'd never listen to a word Jeremy said, let alone attend his sermons.

Jeremy was getting closer now to Hutton House. As the distance shortened, concern churned in his gut. What had prompted his father to summon him from Devonshire? Father's letter had been opaque, revealing nothing. And, if Jeremy wanted to be perfectly honest-which vicars were supposed to be, anyway-he wasn't precisely looking forward to seeing the earl again. Not the warmest or most effusive of men, his father. He took his title and responsibilities very seriously, which meant that his offspring were largely means to an end. But they were also extensions of the earl-his representatives to the world at large.

Jeremy didn't envy his brother John the obligation of being heir. Jeremy also didn't have the terrifying uncertainty of being second son, like his other brother, Mark. That left Jeremy the burden of embodying the earl's morals, and his father was a greater taskmaster than the Church.

In his early years, Jeremy hadn't known precisely what he wanted to do with his life-only that it involved helping people. So many charitable organizations needed figureheads and organizers that he had been certain he would take his place there. But his father had had other plans. The earl had made it clear that if Jeremy didn't go into the Church, his allowance would be reduced to nothing. With that threat, Jeremy hadn't possessed much choice but to do his father's bidding and become a vicar.

There was a positive side to it-he did get to help people, only without the freedom he'd dreamed of as a boy.

Upholding a scrupulously moral appearance remained his foremost obligation, serving as an example for not only everyone in his parish but also to the world at large.

Yet, to his highly provincial parishioners, trips to London weren't precisely considered virtuous.

Still, he couldn't deny his father, though he had no idea what the earl wanted. Now he rode in a phenomenally expensive carriage, pulling up outside an extraordinarily old, costly home in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the world. Doubt assailed him. What did his father want with him now?

Long ago, Jeremy's closest companion had been his wild cousin Marwood. Yet the earl hadn't approved of the association and had forbidden Jeremy from seeing Marwood except at family gatherings. As always, the threat of disinheritance had been given. Too young to make his way in the world, Jeremy had done as his father had demanded. He hadn't liked it, but what choice had there been?

Beaten-in habits died hard. Years later, Jeremy still rushed to his father's bidding. His income from his living was modest-he could ill afford to refuse the earl, especially on a financial level.

When the vehicle stopped and a footman opened the door for him, Jeremy stepped down and smoothed the front of his clerical jacket. Compared to the liveried servants, he looked severe and dour.

Jeremy mounted the stairs and had barely raised his hand to the door before it opened and Jeffries, the butler, silently escorted him in.

Soaring marble archways comprised the foyer, designed to intimidate the visitor. Even though Jeremy had grown up in this very home, even he felt a little small and gauche as he gazed up at the crystal chandelier.

"My favorite son!" a female voice called out from the top of the winding staircase.

Any sensation of not belonging dissolved immediately when Jeremy beheld his mother descending the stairs, her arms open.

When she stood before him, he kissed his mother on her cheek. "You say that to all three of us," he murmured.

"Yes, but I mean it with you," she answered with a smile.

"And you say that, to