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

By:Eva Leigh

edding had been small, and quickly performed. There hadn't been time for Jeremy to come in from Rosemead for the event.

"Indeed it has. You must come for dinner," Allam enjoined. "Though," he added darkly, "I cannot guarantee the presence of my eldest son."

"I'm sure he's quite busy," Jeremy said diplomatically. "When my parishioners are newly married, the first few months keep them remarkably . . . occupied."

His uncle's look darkened, and he grumbled under his breath.

His father asked, "A drink? Something to eat? It's a long way from Devonshire."

"I promised Mother tea after our . . . meeting."

"Good lad," Lord Hutton said stiffly. He never offered praise without sounding uncomfortable.

"Perhaps we should get to it, Hutton," Allam suggested.

"Yes, of course. Have a seat, please."

"May I stand?" Jeremy asked. "My legs are cramped from the journey." Though being tall made for an advantage when leading services, it had its drawbacks as well, including discomfort from long carriage rides. He now walked to the fire to warm himself.

"As you like." The earl stood as well, though Allam, leaning on his cane, took a seat.

"You came a fair distance," the earl said, "so I shall come right to the point." He held up the book in his hand. "Are you familiar with the . . . I hesitate to call her an author . . . with the person known as the Lady of Dubious Quality?"

"Of course he wouldn't be," Allam interjected before Jeremy could answer that he was, in fact, acquainted with her work. "The lad's a vicar. Why would he read such filth?"

Jeremy said nothing. Not very long ago, when he'd visited Cam to offer some counsel, his cousin had actually given him a copy of The Highwayman's Seduction, the latest erotic offering from the Lady of Dubious Quality. It was the first time Jeremy had ever heard of the woman or her novels-but not the last.

Underneath his bed, in a hidden, locked chest, he now possessed every single one of the Lady's books.

Another secret he would never tell anyone.

"Why indeed?" His father chuckled. "Forgive me, Jeremy. I shouldn't have assumed that you, of all people, would know about wicked, indecent books."

"No need for forgiveness," Jeremy answered. He clasped his hands behind his back and gripped his fingers tightly.

"These . . . scribblings . . ." his father continued. "They are full of the most vile, reprehensible imaginings. Nothing but fornication. They undermine the very foundations of English morality. The same morality that I have been defending so scrupulously for decades." He puffed his chest. "Our virtuous and upstanding King George himself thanked me for my efforts with my earldom."

Jeremy knew full well that his father's title had resulted from the earl's constant campaigning against brothels and courtesans appearing in public. Jeremy had been told so over and over again his whole life.

"I'd no idea a single book had such power," he said.

"The Bible has power, does it not?" Allam asked. "And it is but a single book."

"But it is the book, Uncle. Not a minor footnote in the chronicles of literature."

"Literature?" the earl demanded. "Pah!" He shook the volume in his hand. "This is an abomination, is what it is. And it is hardly a footnote. These books are wildly popular. They cannot keep them in stock at the booksellers'."

"However we may disagree with the content of these works," Jeremy offered, "we must congratulate the author on her success. It takes a considerable amount of courage and determination to thrive in the field of publishing."

"I shall do no such thing," Lord Hutton growled. "There is nothing to be lauded in the peddling of ribald smut."

There would be no arguing with his father. The man had made up his mind, and to change it would be a feat even the Lord would struggle to accomplish.

"In what way does this relate to me, Father?" Jeremy asked. A faint prickling of fear hurried up his spine. Great God, had his housekeeper discovered the chest of forbidden books and reported it to Lord Hutton? Disaster.

"This person, this so-called Lady." His father paced. "She hides behind a pseudonym. Clearly, she is trying to shield herself from scandal. Which must mean that she possesses some rank or position within the community. But she must know that she cannot hide forever. She will not."

He continued, anger tightening his words. "If she insists on corrupting English morals, she must know there is a price to pay."

"That price is . . . ?" Jeremy wondered.

"Her identity," Allam said.

His father went on, "And you, Jeremy, are going to discover who she is."

Chapter 2

The roads were clear, and we traveled on into the night. I had just fallen into a doze when the carriage lurched to a stop, and I heard those unmistakable words:

"Stand and deliver!"

The Highwayman's Seduction

For a moment, Jeremy could only look back and forth between his father and his uncle. Yet both men's stern expressions made it plain that no one spoke in jest.

Finally, Jeremy asked, "Why me?" He spread his hands. "Of all the people to investigate the identity of this author-which I still don't understand the purpose of-I cannot see the reason for having me take on this matter. I'm only a vicar."

"That's precisely why you are the ideal candidate for the job," his uncle answered.

"Other people have tried to learn this woman's identity," his father continued. "To no avail. But as you come from a high moral position, you should be able to get further than anyone else."

Jeremy fought a wince at the words "high moral position." He was no better than any other human. With the same faults and frailties, the same needs and desires. He only worked harder to disguise them. But he could never say that to his father. At all times, he had to be better, more virtuous than an ordinary man.

Still, it was clear his father and uncle had disc