Authors: Kathleen Kimmel
A Lady's Guide to Ruin
A Gentleman's Guide to Scandal
A Debutante's Guide to Rebellion
A Debutante's Guide to Rebellion
INTERMIX BOOKS, NEW YORK
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A DEBUTANTE'S GUIDE TO REBELLION
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2016 by Kathleen Marshall.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-451-48792-6
InterMix eBook edition / April 2016
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Mildred Weller, called Eddie by those who knew her well (a very short list), had not a single good quality to recommend her. She knew this because she had been told as much on many occasions, by the foremost authority in her life: her mother.
“It's a pity you shall never be beautiful,” her mother was sighing even now. “At least you have your figure, or I don't know what would become of you.”
Eddie sat straight-backed in front of a mirror while her mother's maid combed out her loose, spritely curls. Her own maid adored them, loved to coax them out. Lady Copeland knew better. Mildred had been a disappointment to her mother all her life, but tomorrow she was going to make up for it. Tomorrow she would succeed where she had failed so many times before. She bit the tip of her tongue, reminding herself. Silent, still. Let the maid's skill and the dressmaker's talents take the stage. As long as you don't distract from them, someone may be taken in.
She could do this. For once, she could make her mother proud.
“As tight as you can manage,” Lady Copeland instructed her maid. Eddie's mother dominated the reflected image. At forty years old, she was still a beauty who turned heads. Unfashionably short, she'd had special shoes constructed to bring herself to an acceptable altitude. Her straight hair had been similarly browbeaten into curls with the same scented pomade and curling papers with which her maid, Judith, was now attacking Eddie's hair. Lady Copeland's hair was a brittle golden yellow, achieved through sun-bleaching and arcane powders that smelled foul and made the eyes and nose sting. But there was nothing artificial in the swell of her breasts, except perhaps the degree to which she called attention to them with a perfectly cut bodice, her collar limned with the finest wisps of lace, as if she'd trapped the morning fog and had it woven into substance.
Having determined that none of her good qualities had been passed on to her only living daughter, she had declared that they would have to take the first offer that came along, and that Mildred ought to be grateful for it.
Eddie did not see how she could argue. Her mother was right, after all. She was not beautiful; her mouth was strangely small, her eyes too close together, her complexion prone to blotchiness. She could not sing; many tutors had been hired to turn her rasping, off-key holler into the dulcet tones of a nightingale, and they had all failed. She could not dance; she had a tendency to get light-headed and fall over, or else get tangled up in her own skirtsâwhich had the same ultimate effect. Her watercolors were muddy blobs, her sewing utilitarian at best, and when her mother had suggested she might at least attract a pious man by studying the Bible, she had developed a distressing tendency to ask awkward theological questions.
When she had pointed out to her mother that many men were interested in a lively interrogation of the holy book, her mother had rightfully reminded her that they did not wish to have their wives intruding on the conversation when they did.
Which left her, again, with only her overly large bosom to rely upon. She had once suggested to her mother that such a bosom was unfashionable, and her mother had laughed.
Not to men,
And you aren't looking for a
, are you?
“Tomorrow will be a triumph,” Lady Copeland declared. “Lord Averdale is certain to make his interest official by the end of the evening, provided your father stays conscious and you don't do anything rash.”
“Rash, Mother?” Eddie asked dully. It was wise to always get specifics from her mother. Otherwise she would end up doing something rash without realizing it had been so until her mother started lecturing.
Don't speak too much. Only smile and return compliments, and appear to be enthralled with the subject of conversation, whatever it is. Don't drink more than a few sips. Don't eat. There is nothing more unattractive than a woman eating. Except strawberries. You may eat strawberries, provided they are small and you take only a single bite. No one wants to look at the half-bitten remains of a fleshy fruit. Don't dance. Don't speak to any one person for too long. Don't retreat into a corner like you usually do.”
,” Eddie whispered to herself as the maid tugged hard on a section of her hair.
“What's that?” Lady Copeland asked.
“The garden strawberry,” Eddie said. “It's a hybrid, cultivated from
. Technically, it's not a botanical berry; it's a spurious fruit.”
Her mother stared at her in the mirror. “Whatever you do, don't go on like
,” she said. “Where on Earth did you hear such things?”
Eddie flushed and looked down at the ranks of curling papers, combs, and brushes on the vanity. “Lord Averdale's nephew is a botanist. He mentioned something about it last week, at the Reardans' ball.” Mildred's voice was barely above a whisper.
She'd been all but clinging to the buffet table in an attempt to avoid the dance floor (a strategy she could not repeat, after the lecture it had earned her) and Mr. Blackwood, the nephew in question, had been unceremoniously spat out from the dance floor, seemingly squeezed out of the press of bodies and propelled to the edge of the room. He'd fetched up short beside her, raked back his unkempt hair, and declared, “
She had been as nonplussed by the outburst as her mother was now. It was only later that she had realized he'd been babbling in order to give the impression they were engaged in mutual conversation, thereby avoiding the raven-haired beauty he'd been dancing with.
“Men don't like when women show intelligence,” Lady Copeland said, patting Eddie's shoulder. “They don't like to chance discovering that the woman might be smarter than they are. Not that it's a risk for you, dearâit would all be sorted out after a few minutes of conversationâbut first impressions matter. If you are to quote something, make it ladies' journals or the most popular poets. Nothing obscure, and for God's sake nothing scientific.”
“He just blurted it out. And then he left as soon asÂ .Â .Â .” As soon as the raven-haired vision had wafted away with an exasperated sigh. Eddie didn't see why anyone would be trying to
such a graceful, beautiful creature. Much less why one would trade such a woman's company for
, even if only for a few seconds.
“There you are,” her mother said, as if she hadn't heard Eddie speak at all. The maid stepped back, pleased. Mildred stared at her reflection. The papers held her hair in rolls against her skull, the ends sticking out haphazardly. She looked mad, and uglier than ever.
“They'll look lovely in the morning,” her mother assured her, and patted her cheek. “Now get to bed. We must try to soothe those horrid shadows under your eyes. And remember: Lord Averdale. You must charm him. It shouldn't be too hard. Every man in London's down on one knee these days. A little thing like defeating Napoleon and suddenly the whole city's gone mad.”
“Yes, Mother,” Eddie said. Her mother looked at her with eyes filled with worry and doubt. Mildred didn't blame her. She was the furthest thing from charming.
She could not afford complacency. She would train every ounce of her will toward the task of preserving the Earl of Averdale's interest. Which meant being silent, and still, and garnering no notice from anyone at all.
Ezekiel Blackwood would never be able to look at a strawberry again without thinking of failure. What on Earth had he been thinking? Spouting the scientific names of fruit did not qualify as conversation, much less the sort women were interested in. It was his cousin Sophie's fault, he told himself. She hadn't given him time to formulate a more effective approach. They'd been dancing, he'd been trying to get a better look at Lady Mildred where she stood by the buffet, and then Sophie had shoved him in that direction with the whispered directive to
For God's sake, just talk to a woman for once in your life.
He had pointed out on several occasions that his conversations with Sophie were entirely successful. The majority of the time they both derived enjoyment from the process; unlike most females, Sophie was happy to converse intelligently about a number of subjects, none of them related to fashion or dancing.
First of all, Z, you should stop calling us “females,”
Sophie had told him when he had informed her of this fact.
And second of all, it is my experience that most women are quite interesting when it is suggested that they ought to be.
It was an intriguing hypothesis. One that he was ill-suited to test, as his only experiment so far had resulted in a slack-jawed stare on the woman's part and a hasty retreat on his. He had surely put the young woman off any future desire to spend time with him, and dwelling on the incident was therefore a very inefficient use of his time. Logically, he should forget about her.
The human mind was not always amenable to logic, however, and his was no exception.
Ezekiel snapped his book shut and turned. He had been standing at the window for thirteen minutes almost exactly, and had read only seventy words. He doubted that this would cheer up his father, though, who was examining him from the doorway with his arms crossed. His father was a man of considerable girth, his weight distributed in a pattern that Ezekiel had frequently observed in men who had once been bulky with muscle but no longer maintained it. Sophie called him
. Ezekiel preferred not to call him anything, since his observations had frequently led to harsh discipline in his youth. There were a number of words and phrases he had ascertained were safe, chief among them
âthough Ezekiel had also learned to modulate his tone carefully, lest his father detect (or imagine he detected) sarcasm.
“Yes, sir,” Ezekiel said, since the truth would have seemed an obvious and willful lie.
“You do enough reading,” his father said. “It's time you learned something useful.”
Ezekiel did not point out that de Saussure's
Recherches Chimiques sur la VÃ©gÃ©tation
undoubtedly contained a great deal of useful knowledge. “What did you have in mind?” he asked instead.
“I've hired you a tutor.”
“I do not need a tutor,” Ezekiel said. “My studiesâ”
“Not for your studies. He's going to teach you to box.” His father gave a pleased nod.
“IÂ .Â .Â . what?” Ezekiel frequently found himself flummoxed by his father. Technically the man was his stepfather, though as he had filled the role for all but three months of Ezekiel's life, there was little functional difference. Certainly it had been sufficient time for Ezekiel to become familiar with his character; yet the man still managed to puzzle him to the point of speechlessness. “I don't want to learn to box.”
“You're too soft,” his father said. “You need to toughen up. Learn to throw a punch, for God's sake.”
“Father, I have been quite deliberate in creating a life that does not require the use of violence,” Ezekiel said. “I find it highly unlikely that I would need to know how to throw a punch.”
“That's half your problem!” his father declared, throwing up his hands in disgust. Ezekiel steeled himself, refusing to flinch from the gesture as he might once have done. “In any case, it's too late to argue. He's already here. I've gotten you the very best. Doesn't usually box anymore, but I wouldn't let him say no.” He looked over his shoulder. “Come in, Mr. Holliway.”
The man who stepped inside was nearly as big in the shoulders as Ezekiel's father, but there was no padding to his musculature. He had a fat, bristling mustache that accentuated the downward pull of his mouth. The man was clearly an expert in scowling, and Ezekiel expected he had become so through extensive practice.
“Here you are. Your student. An hour should suffice for the first lesson. I'll leave you to it.” Ezekiel's father began to back out.
“Here?” Ezekiel asked weakly. “In the library?”
His father waved a hand vaguely. “Clear away the furniture first. Your uncle would have a fit if you broke anything.”
With that, he backed out of the room and shut the door behind him.
“You're going to want to take off your spectacles,” Mr. Holliway said.
Ezekiel stepped toward Mr. Holliway. “I should warn you that this is going to be most unsuccessful,” he said.
“Don't you want to learn to fight?” Holliway asked. “Reedy thing like you, you must've been on the receiving end of a few licks.”
“I prefer to apply creativity and logical thinking to a problem, rather than brute force. For instance, alternating one's route confounds the majority of ambushes from the common school bully.” Ezekiel folded his hands behind his back. “My mother taught me that violence is the resort of a dull mind.”
“I'll try not to take that personally. But haven't you ever
to hit someone? Give them a good wallop? Haven't you ever been angry enough to throw a punch?”
Ezekiel lifted one shoulder. “I do not frequently engage in anger. Frustration, frequently. Usually quickly cured by removing myself from the presence of the frustrating individual.” It was very difficult at times to make himself understood, to the point that he believed many people pretended to be denser than they were to put him off. This had all but been confirmed when Sophie refused to deny it. His conclusion was that his peers found enjoyment in watching him grow increasingly flustered, and his self-removal from conversation was an added benefit.
He was not popular at parties.
“Look. There's only one way I get paid, and that's if I teach you. There's more than one way to do that, and they don't all require your cooperation.”