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

By:Eva Leigh

ussed this subject at length and prepared a strategy for recruiting Jeremy to their cause.

"I still cannot fathom why I must be the one to lead this investigation," Jeremy pressed.

His father's expression turned grim. "There are whispers in court and in Parliament. My star as England's moral leader is fading. Especially with Prince George and his dissolute circle setting the tone for our times. The obliteration of the Lady of Dubious Quality would see my star shine again."

"Then oughtn't you be the one to discover her identity?" Jeremy wondered aloud.

The earl's look soured further. "I'm too old for such work. It takes a younger man. A man of my family. That can only mean you."

"As the heir," Allam continued, "John cannot involve himself in the task. He has responsibilities of his own. Same with Mark."

"But you," his father went on, gesturing toward Jeremy, "my son, a vicar, you are the perfect man to take on this task."

Jeremy pondered this rationale. "This . . . Lady of Dubious Quality," he said slowly. "Is there a specific rationale for exposing her?"

"Once her identity is revealed," his father explained as though talking to a dim child, "the scandal will be so tremendous that she will be forced to stop writing her lewd books, and we'll put an end to her once and for all."

He continued, "Think of your cousin Marwood. And his friend Lord Ashford. Both of them married down."

Allam grimaced and looked away.

"How did the Lady of Dubious Quality cause that?" Jeremy asked.

"She may have influenced their decisions to wed beneath them. I've heard from others that she often writes of the classes . . . intermixing. There is nothing good to be gained by such seditious ideology."

"Chasing after a writer of, ah, prurient literature would take me away from my parish and my duties to my parishioners," Jeremy pointed out.

"You're a bright lad," Allam noted. "It shouldn't take you more than a few weeks to learn who our mystery scribbler is. Make some inquiries. Talk to her publisher. Booksellers. It should hardly be enough time for your parishioners to notice."

"There's that curate of yours, Mr. Wolbert," his father said. "He can take care of things while you're away."

Mr. Wolbert was a good man, if a trifle young and inexperienced. Shouldering the Sunday services and managing the rest of the responsibilities that came with the job might do him good.

"If there's any reluctance on your part," Lord Hutton continued, "consider this: I'll increase your allowance if you uncover the Lady's secret." He took a step forward, his hands spread. "You'd like that, wouldn't you, Jeremy? Doing whatever it is that you want. Perhaps the Church isn't your cup of tea. Perhaps you'd like to venture into other areas, or even live the life of a country gentleman." His father's tone became more coaxing. "All those possibilities could be yours."

His mind whirling, Jeremy crossed his arms and stared off into the distance. The life of a leisured gentleman held no appeal, yet if Jeremy had more money in his pocket, he wouldn't be dependent on his income as a vicar. He'd have the freedom denied him from an early age, freedom to go where he wanted, do what he pleased. There were innumerable charities and benevolent organizations with which he could work without being limited by his Church-ascribed role.

Certainly none of Jeremy's letters home had indicated how dissatisfied he'd become of late with life as a vicar. Oh, he managed his duties fine. Did them well, even. He fielded the usual number of complaints from parish busybodies who were perpetually disgruntled. Mr. Engle was never satisfied with the lilacs that grew in front of the church and wanted them pulled up to make way for sturdy juniper. Jeremy often had to mediate between neighbors Mrs. Litchfield and Mrs. May over disputes about whose goat belonged to whom.

Overall, he'd been made to feel welcome and had been readily taken into the community. He'd been to numerous dinners at his parishioners' houses, and he was frequently positioned next to their marriageable daughters at these meals. Mr. and Mrs. Allen, in particular, seemed eager to pair him with their girl Adeline.

The last visit from the archdeacon had gone very well, too. No professional concerns marred his experience.

His father couldn't know, but in truth, Jeremy was busy but bored numb. He found himself staring off into space instead of deep in prayer at church. He'd set off to pay visits, and then discover himself sitting beside his favorite swimming pond instead.

Guiding people toward realizing their best selves fulfilled him, but that comprised a minor component of his work. Most of the time, he felt constrained, hemmed in. That tight vise would grip him when he had to listen to Mr. Edgar complain about his gout, or when a young couple dithered over the name for their new baby.

Everyone-especially his father-expected him to behave a certain way, to be a particular type of man. Was he that man? He didn't know, especially as of late.

He searched for something, but he didn't know what it was.

Would money solve the problem? What his father offered was appealing, but that wasn't what pricked Jeremy's interest now. Learning more about the Lady, however . . . that was an exciting, tantalizing prospect. He'd read all her books-now he could discover more about her and the dark, seductive world she embodied. And perhaps, when it was all over, he could at last have the liberty so long refused him. He could travel, see the world, help those both here in England and abroad.

The fire popped, and he realized that he'd fallen silent for several minutes. Glancing up, he saw his father and uncle staring intently at him, awaiting his response.

"I'll do it," he said. He had a strong suspicion that the "Lady" was, in fact, a man. It would be a simple matter to track him down.

"Excellent," his