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The Wicked Wallflower
by Maya Rodale
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 978-006-223114-7
Maya Rodale has opened a new series with a good story, a nice romance and some interesting characters sure to please her fans and may gain her some new ones. The wallflowers referred to in the title are three young ladies who all attended Miss Penelope’s Finishing school. They are into their fourth season, with a reunion ball looming at the end. In the history of the school no one has attended the four year reunion without a man. Now Emma Avery, Prudence Payton and Olivia Archer are that position. Only Emma has had a serious beau, Benedict Chase, who has been her champion and companion for three seasons. The question is when will he come up to snuff with a proposal?

The story begins with a night of parties where the girls begin to drink some sherry and end up writing a fictitious letter to the Times announcing Emma’s betrothal to the most eligible man – the Duke of Ashbrooke. Somehow it gets sent to the Times and now Emma is waiting for the axe to fall…now she will never get engaged. But while Blake Auden, the Duke, is as surprised as anyone to see his betrothal in the paper, he also sees it as an opportunity. His reputation is less than stellar and has been hindering his quest for investors in his idea for a machine that will perform mathematical calculations. With a fiancee he gains respectability and he just may gain those investors. So he goes along with Emma’s farce. The trick is to convince everyone that they have had some sort of secret romance. And where better to convince everyone than the Fortune Games of the Ashbrooke family.

It seems that Aunt Agatha, who is a widow four times but childless, and was the aunt who took in an orphaned Blake when he was a young boy, is determined to give her fortune only to those who deserve it. Each year she holds a two week house party where her potential heirs compete for the right to be in her will. And each year, she lives, dashing the hopes of those who have won. It is said her fortune is over ninety thousand pounds, nothing to sneeze at. Blake is determined to win this year to finance his machine. He convinces Emma to attend with him as his fiancee. The hope is that they will win and Emma can use her half to woo her heartthrob into matrimony while Blake uses his half for his machine.

But a funny thing happens – predictably, they fall in love. Neither wants to acknowledge it but it is clear that they have managed to build a foundation of friendship while participating in a bizarre set of games – such as a scavenger hunt with things like beauty, happily ever after and eternity as the requirements. Clearly Aunt Agatha has a sense of humor.

The story is expected at times, funny at times, and exasperating at times. Neither Blake nor Emma does what is expected and this adds some irregularity to the story. I did root for them even as I bemoaned Emma’s insistence that her old beau was worth her love. I wondered whether Blake was going to be smart about things or if he was going to let her slip through his fingers.

The Wicked Wallflower is a good start to the series and I look forward to seeing how Prudence and Olivia meet their men.

--Shirley Lyons

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