Say No to the Duke (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4) - Eloisa James
Miss Stevenson’s Seminary
“The Young Ladies’ Eton”
Queen Square, London
September 14, 1776
By her fourteenth birthday, Lady Boadicea Wilde had wished for a best friend on weeks of first stars. She had created a wishing stone by dunking it in milk under a midnight moon. When that didn’t work, she had decided that perhaps fairies preferred adult beverages, so she stole into her father’s study and dunked the stone in a decanter of brandy. She had written down her wish and burned the paper in the nursery hearth so it flew up to heaven.
Unfortunately, she’d forgotten to open the flue, so smoke filled the nursery. She had been punished by being confined to bed, where she watched her younger sister Joan and stepsister Viola cuddle on the nursery sofa and whisper secrets to each other.
It was all her father’s fault.
Dukes’ daughters, especially those who lived in huge castles, had no chance to meet prospective friends. They were kept in the country like potted violets, waiting for the moment when they would be paraded in front of the world and promptly married off.
From what Betsy could see, her father was her stepmother’s best friend. Only a girl with eight brothers could sympathize with the revulsion that swept over Betsy at that thought.
Friends with a boy.
Boys smelled and shouted. They thought nothing of tossing water over one’s head, pulling hair, and passing wind deliberately.
How could a boy possibly understand how she felt about life? She longed for a kindred soul, a girl who would sympathize with the unfairness of having to ride sidesaddle, and not being allowed to shoot a bow and arrow from horseback.
A few years ago, when her brothers Alaric and Parth had announced they wanted to visit China, her father’s eyes had lit up, and a whole meal flew by talking of three-masted schooners and mountains of tea. True, the duke had forbidden the voyage until the boys were older, but he’d laughed when he discovered they’d sailed off anyway.
If she ran away to sea? The idea was unthinkable.
If her wishing stone had worked, she’d be living in a place where girls were allowed to wear breeches and travel wherever they wished.
Lying in bed after her fourteenth birthday party—attended by five brothers, since Viola and Joan were recovering from the chickenpox—Betsy realized that if she wanted a girlfriend, she had to take matters into her own hands. She had wished for a friend before blowing out the candle on her birthday cake, but inside, she no longer had faith.
Magic had proved ineffective, if not irrelevant.
Yet there is more than one way to skin a goat, as the family coachman had it. It took three months of coaxing, pleading, and outright tantrums, but finally Betsy, Joan, and Viola were taken to the very best boarding school in England, an establishment run by Miss Stevenson, who had the distinction of being the daughter of a viscount.
As they walked into the imposing building, Betsy struggled to maintain ladylike comportment. She couldn’t stop the giddy smile that curled her lips. When a maid arrived to escort her to the wing for older girls, she hugged her father and stepmother goodbye and danced out the door, leaving them to mop up her stepsister Viola’s tears.
Viola was shy, and afraid to live away from home, but as Betsy heard girls’ laughter from behind a closed door, her heart swelled with pure joy. She was finally—finally!—where she was meant to be.
“You will share a parlor suite with Lady Octavia Taymor and Miss Clementine Clarke,” the maid assigned to escort her said. “Each of you has your own chamber, of course, and your maid will attend you morning and evening. You may become acquainted with Lady Octavia and Miss Clarke over tea.”
Betsy’s heart was beating so quickly that she felt slightly dizzy. Clementine was such a beautiful name, and hadn’t Octavius been a general? Octavia was named after a warrior, just as she was!
The parlor looked like a smaller version of parlors at Lindow Castle, tastefully furnished with a silk rug and rosy velvet curtains. A table before the fireplace was set with a silver tea service.
Betsy’s eyes flew to the two girls who rose and came to meet them. Clementine had yellow ringlets and a pursed mouth like a rosebud; Octavia had low, dark eyebrows and a thin face.
“Your name is so pretty,” Betsy told Clementine, after the maid left.
“I wish I could say the same for yours,” Clementine said, sitting down with a little smile, as if she