The premise here is that Penny, the titular wallflower who resigned herself to being a spinster ten years before, has a ton of animals in her care, and her family is threatening to move her back to her ancestral home if she doesn’t: a) Get rid of most of the animals, b) Get a new wardrobe, and c) Show that she is attempting to get out into society again and stop hermitting up. At the same time, the infamous Gabriel Duke, who made his vast fortune out of ruining noble families, moves into the house across the street, planning to remodel it and sell it for a mint. Penny is a key part of that, because he knows people will pay more to live near a Lady. When that Lady tells him she’s got a month left in the neighborhood, he offers to help. Nay, he just starts helping her, and she accepts, mostly because she knows she needs it, but also because he is extremely good looking.
I’m really not sure where the wager comes in in the title. There isn’t one. It’s just alliterative.
I appreciated several things about this book. One, there is no instalove. Just two people severely in lust with one another, who act on it. The feelings grow later. As previously mentioned, Gabriel does not believe he is broken and doesn’t deserve love. Thank god. His deal is that he’s just never seen the value in love or relationships, because he was born to a prostitute who sold him to the workhouse when he was just a kid. He has extreme distaste for the aristocracy, and takes great pleasure in profiting from their mistakes. There is a little bit of learning to accept love in there, but it’s not his main deal, and if it’s in there, it’s all sub-conscious.
Penny has her own trauma as well, but her response to it is to both care for others constantly, especially those overlooked by society (hence the animals), and to enthusiastically take back her life and disregard the social norms that tell her that her only worth is in her virtue.
There’s also a great running bit about a parrot who used to live in a brothel.
This isn’t my favorite Tessa Dare, but it was very solid, and I had a fun time listening to it (Mary Jane Wells continues to be a fun narrator).