A Hero for Lady Abigail (A Wallflower's Wish #5) - Maggie Dallen
The Earl of Havercrest’s ballroom teemed with a sea of crinoline and lace, the sound of laughter and music echoing off the walls. The first event of the season was well underway and Lady Abigail watched it all with a keen eye and a tight knot in her belly.
“This is your last chance, dear.”
The cool voice beside her made the knot tighten painfully but Abigail's smile broadened and her response came through gritted teeth. “Thank you for the reminder, Mother.”
Her fan opened with a snick as she turned to face an older, but no less beautiful version of herself. She and her mother shared the same chestnut-colored hair, the same high cheekbones, and the same full lips. The face of an angel, her father had always said.
Abigail was certain her father was the first and last member of the ton to liken her to an angel. Unless, of course, the angel in question was Lucifer.
“I can’t imagine why you’re hiding over here like a wallflower,” her mother continued. “You are not getting any younger, you know.”
Still younger than you. Abigail bit back the words before they could escape. She would not take her mother’s bait. Now was hardly the time or the place to enter into another verbal sparring match.
“I overheard Lady Nicholas talking to her husband about you just now.” Her mother tsked in a poor imitation of concern. “It seems all your friends are worried that you’ve missed your chance at marriage and will end up on the shelf.”
Abigail stilled at the mention of her friend—though “friend” was rather a misleading term. Abigail didn’t have friends. She had allies and she had connections. She’d ceased having true friends her first season when it became apparent that “friends” was just another word for competition.
Her mother leaned forward slightly, no doubt trying to catch a glimpse of Abigail’s face behind the fan to see if her barb had hit its mark. But Abigail had learned long ago that a fan was never merely a fan. It was a weapon. One that could be used to play coy, to flirt, to playfully tap a young lord on the shoulder, to hide from lecherous eyes when one of her father’s cronies tried to seek her out for a dance...
Oh yes, a fan was a most useful weapon indeed.
At this particular moment, Abigail wielded it as a shield. She held it in front of her as though she could deflect her mother’s barbs with the thin slip of ivory.
“I hardly think it will come to that.” She kept her voice even, refusing to let her mother see how her taunts rattled her. She’d never give her mother that satisfaction.
“Besides, Lady Nicholas is merely jealous.” She sought out the newly married lady, who was standing with her husband and several of Abigail’s acquaintances on the far side of the room.
“Jealous?” her mother said with a humorless laugh. “Of you?”
“Indeed. The gentleman I choose to marry will be a far cry less rotund than Lord Nicholas, I can assure you,” she said with a sniff. “And he’ll still have his hair.”
“He’s an earl’s son,” her mother reminded her.
“A second son,” she shot back. “I shall do better.”
“Oh my. We’re very sure of ourselves, aren’t we?” Her mother’s laughter sailed right over the fan’s edge and grated against her nerves.
“Of course I’m confident,” she said with a cool smile. “We both know that I’m still considered a diamond of the first water. I can have my pick.”
“Yes, but the pickings are slim, wouldn’t you say?” Her mother looked toward an elderly earl whom her father approved of but whose breath made Abigail’s stomach turn when he stood too close.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mother,” she said in a lighthearted tone meant to annoy. “It is not as though I need many options, just one.”
Just one. One gentleman whom she’d somehow managed to overlook during the past three seasons but who was intelligent, kind, and respectful enough to consider. One man who wasn’t repulsive to look at or whose breath reeked of rotten meat. One who was younger than her father, hopefully. Preferably titled. Oh yes...and wealthy.
She only needed one option. But that one option was starting to seem like a fantastical myth. She might as well be searching this ballroom for a unicorn. That knot in her chest began to swell and grow. She drew in a quick inhale as a panicky sensation threatened to swallow her whole.
“Tick tock, my dear,” her mother sang.
Not surprisingly, her mother was