Her Wicked Marquess (Sinful Wallflowers #2) - Stacy Reid Page 0,1

curl through her. “You know, the one about the best revenge is to be unlike the person who performed the injury? But I assure you, nothing I can do will make me endure that odious Sophie for another day!” Maryann gasped. “And speak of the devil’s wife, here she comes.”

Her brother shifted closer as they peered through the windows into the ballroom, where the radiant blond head of the voluptuously curved darling of the season stepped into view. Her silver-threaded pristine white gown floated around her like gossamer. She held court with her coterie (the members of the mean ladies’ club) like a queen, and not the termagant who had been insolently tyrannizing other debutantes of the season.

With her actions, so many young ladies had fled balls in tears with a cloud of shame and scandal hovering over their heads, which Lady Sophie maliciously kept alive. Of course, no one saw the depth of cruelty beneath the pleasant veneer of good-natured countenance she presented.

Only her victims were fully aware…

“Look how sweet and innocent she appears,” Maryann whispered, nudging Crispin in his side. “Did you know she was the instigator of the scandal which prompted Hyacinth’s mother to rush her off to Cornwall? How ghastly can it be to spend the season, or the rest of her life, buried there because of an overindulged wretch?”

A rough choking sound came from her brother, which he quickly stifled.

Maryann lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Lady Sophie had been piqued that Mr. Humboldt dared to turn his attention from her to Hyacinth, so Sophie arranged for her to be locked in the conservatory with a footman!”

An elusive sensation whispered through her, and Maryann frowned.

“No one believed Hyacinth’s protests that she had been innocently led astray by a note. But I analyzed the note she got, and it matched perfectly with Lady Sophie’s handwriting. And I should know what that looks like, since I found the pretty poems she wrote to you! And what is most terrible about it is that Sophie has no interest in the man. She is the daughter of a duke with a dowry of fifty thousand pounds and an estate in Wiltshire. Poor Mr. Humboldt stood no chance with her, and he rightly fell in love with Hyacinth, who is so good-natured.”

A lump formed in Maryann’s throat as she watched Miss Louisa Nelson, a young lady the same women frequently whispered about and called the “dowdy wallflower,” enter the ballroom. She wore a slightly fussy rose-colored evening gown, which unfortunately did not really flatter her florid complexion and short stature. Her sweet, rounded face appeared excited as she scanned the room. Louisa then made her way over to the refreshment table.

Dread crawled through Maryann at the vicious spite that settled on Lady Sophie’s face. She waited until Louisa was close enough, then Sophie stuck out her delicate foot and tripped her.

“Oh no!” Maryann pressed a hand to her mouth when Louisa crashed to the floor in a very indecorous sprawl. Her pink dress was rumpled and one of the flounces was torn at the hem.

The orchestra’s violins faltered, the dancers performing the minuet stopped, and the silence in the ballroom was awful and resounding. No one hurried to help the young lady who might be hurt, and to Maryann’s disgust, Sophie and her cronies merely tittered.

That seemed to encourage those eager for her admiration and approval to lift their fans to their mouths and cast poor Miss Louisa disparaging glances. She tried to stand, but in her mortified haste somehow slipped once more. Thankfully, a young man whom Maryann did not recognize hurried to help her up. Louisa covered her face and rushed from the ballroom.

Maryann’s temper sparked. “Do you now understand why I must act in the manner I am about to? Lady Sophie is full of spite!”

Maryann was acquainted with the underbelly of cruelty that existed in the glittering world of the ton. How easily with words and deeds they could ruin someone’s reputation or remind society of a scandal that had long been buried. Maryann had watched Sophie turn her spite on many—even herself for the last two seasons—and had done nothing. No more, she thought darkly.

“We must be patient,” she whispered, grabbing his arm and tugging him farther into the shadows. “Lady Sophie will make her way to this window, and then we must act.”

They waited in silence, and she cast him a few worried glances. “You are uncommonly quiet tonight; is your throat still bothering you?” she

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