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Deadly Vows

Deadly Vows

4.2 41
by Brenda Joyce

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On the morning of her wedding to Calder Hart, amateur sleuth Francesca Cahill is lured away to a private viewing of a portrait that could destroy her entire family: the nude Hart commissioned of her. Her desperate quest to recover the scandalous portrait leads her into a dangerous trap with no way to escape—until it's too late. And when Francesca finally


On the morning of her wedding to Calder Hart, amateur sleuth Francesca Cahill is lured away to a private viewing of a portrait that could destroy her entire family: the nude Hart commissioned of her. Her desperate quest to recover the scandalous portrait leads her into a dangerous trap with no way to escape—until it's too late. And when Francesca finally arrives at the church, it's vacant. She has unintentionally jilted Hart at the altar.

When Hart tells her their estrangement is for the best, Francesca is devastated. With a blackmailer intent on destroying her reputation, Francesca turns to Rick Bragg, the city's powerful police commissioner. Together they scour the sordid streets of lower Manhattan, following a deliberately laid trail of clues in a race against the clock. And once it becomes clear that Bragg's marriage is failing, Francesca must war with her feelings for him, battle Hart's jealousy and escape a killer—all as she fights to win Hart back. But sometimes, passion just cannot be denied….

Product Details

Gale Cengage Learning
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

New York City Saturday, June 28, 1902 10:00 a.m.

It was her wedding day.

Francesca Cahill was nearly in disbelief. Three weeks ago, her fiancé had been in prison, under arrest for the murder of the woman who had briefly been his mistress. Three weeks ago, her father had been dead set against Calder Hart in every possible way, and especially against Calder's engagement to his daughter. Three weeks ago, New York society had been thrilled over the apparent downfall of one of its most wealthy and powerful denizens.

Francesca stared at her flushed reflection in the mirror. Hart was notorious, and his reputation had been established long before his mistress was found murdered. He openly flaunted the accepted conventions and mores of the day. His behavior was self-indulgent and often scandalous, his propensity for divorcees and married women was well-known and his art collection was so avant-garde it was shocking to most. He delighted in saying and doing as he damn well pleased; he was so wealthy, he could get away with it.

But that had been three weeks ago, and Hart hadn't fallen. Instead, the city's elites would attend their wedding this afternoon. Soon, they would lift their flutes to toast Hart and herself….

The hypocrisy hardly surprised her. After all, she had been whispered about her entire life. While her older sister, Connie, was properly married to Lord Neil Montrose, Francesca was an eccentric, a highly educated and outspoken bluestocking, an actively radical reformer—and recently, a professional sleuth. In fact, she had helped the police investigate eight shocking crimes since the beginning of the year, and her efforts had been so significant that the police commissioner had admitted that the crimes would not have been solved without her. The press had even begun to cover her activities on a daily basis. She had become one of the city's leading, if infamous, celebrities.

Francesca hardly cared about fame. What she did care about—and had since she was a small child—was helping those far less fortunate than she was. Reform remained as important to her as breathing. Since discovering her innate abilities as a sleuth, she had dedicated herself to helping the innocent victims of dastardly crimes.

Francesca had to pinch herself. She was deeply in love; no woman could resist Hart's dark allure and neither could she. He was the most difficult, unpredictable man she knew. She would gladly help him battle the ghosts of his past—she couldn't wait to marry Hart—but she was also afraid.

Despite his reputation, Calder Hart was wealthy, and that meant he was a catch. Society's reigning matrons had tried their very best to interest Calder in their perfectly groomed, perfectly mannered debutante daughters. He had scoffed openly at their efforts. Then she had begun to investigate the murder of Paul Randall—Hart's biological father. From the moment their paths had crossed, his complicated, dangerously dark nature—coupled with his seductive charisma—had been impossible to resist. He had become a powerful ally, a protector and defender, and even a friend. And while he had never tried to seduce her, very swiftly their friendship had become charged with desire.

Somehow, Calder Hart had come to the conclusion that he wished to marry her, the most eccentric and independent of women. How could she not be afraid that he would eventually change his mind about her?

Calder had been involved with the most beautiful women in the world. She was hardly the kind of sultry seductress he was renowned to associate with. She was romantic, naive and somewhat inexperienced still. Mostly, she was far too clever, far too outspoken and opinionated, and far too ambitious for her gender. Women were not supposed to have high intellect, professional aspirations and vociferous opinions. Nor were they supposed to covet independence, as she did.

Donning a blue skirt and shirtwaist, Francesca turned away from the mirror, shoving all fear aside. The past two weeks had been a frenzy of activity, frantically preparing for a society wedding. Her mother, Julia Van Wyck Cahill—who was not a relation to the crooked former city mayor—would not have it any other way. Julia had railroaded her husband into agreeing to the marriage—Francesca had witnessed moments of the powerful persuasion—and she and Connie had immediately set about the task of organizing the wedding. The ceremony would take place at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and then they would go downtown to the Waldorf Astoria hotel for the reception. Francesca had been shown guest lists, floral arrangements, color schemes, seating plans, dress designs and fabrics. She had simply agreed to whatever her mother and sister thought best. There had been a whirlwind of evening engagements, too, which she had reluctantly attended. Hart had gone to Chicago to take care of as many of his affairs as possible, as he had no wish to attend to business while they were on their honeymoon in Paris, and had only returned a few days ago.

Francesca was pinning up her hair when a knock sounded on her door. She was expecting her sister, who intended to spend the day with her and later help her dress, but it was one of the housemaids. "Who is it, Bette?"

"It is the police commissioner, miss. He says he is sorry to bother you, but he was hoping for a word." The pretty French maid smiled at her.

She was not expecting callers on her wedding day, not even Bragg. Her heart leaped. What had happened?

She hesitated. She had worked closely with Rick Bragg these past months. They had become a formidable team, indeed. He was her dear friend. In fact, before she met Hart—before she had learned that Rick was married, although separated—she had had very strong romantic feelings for him. He had been the first man she had ever kissed.

And he was Calder Hart's half brother.

She refused to think about that ancient romantic attachment now.

Instead, she thought about the fact that a holiday weekend loomed. Many in high society were already gone for the summer, but the city was hardly deserted. While Coney Island and its beaches were a popular destination for merchants and their families, most of New York City would remain occupied over the Fourth. The city's slums were teeming and crime never took a holiday.

Bragg must need her help on another investigation, she thought. But she could hardly help him now!

Francesca stuck another pin into her hair and hurried down the wide, winding carpeted staircase of the Cahill mansion. Bragg was standing in a smaller salon off the large marble-floored reception hall, staring out a window. Bright June sunlight poured into the salon. Outside, beautifully manicured lawns surrounded the house. Francesca could glimpse several hansoms and a small gig on Fifth Avenue, while a few ladies with their parasols strolled on the sidewalk. Across the avenue, dotted with black iron gas lamps, Central Park was clearly visible, the trees behind its dark stone outer walls shady, lush and green. It was a beautiful summer day—the perfect day for a wedding.

For one moment, she had the chance to watch Rick before he saw her, and warmth stole through her. She would always care deeply about him. He was tall, golden and very striking in appearance, but it was so much more than that. He was even more committed to reform than she was; he had spent the past decade in Washington, D.C., as a lawyer, representing the indigent, the mentally incompetent and the poor. He had turned down a partnership in a prestigious law firm to do so. In January, he had been appointed by New York City's new reform mayor, Seth Low, to clean up the police department, which was notoriously corrupt. A recent study estimated that the police took in four million dollars every year from gambling, prostitution and other vices—all from illegal payoffs. Even small merchants like grocers and shoemakers gave their local roundsman a dollar or two a week for protection.

In the six months since Bragg's appointment, he had done his best to break the stranglehold of graft and corruption in the department, mostly by reassigning, demoting and promoting the force's officers. But he was caught between the warring forces of politics and progressiv-ism. Mayor Low had begun to back away from Bragg's reform policies, afraid of losing the next election. The city's progressive elites and clergy had begun to howl for even greater efforts from Bragg. The German Reform Movement, allied with Tammany Hall, kept pushing back. Bragg remained on a terrible seesaw. But he was determined to clean up his police force. Consequently, he'd made far more enemies than friends in a very short time.

She doubted there was a man alive whom she admired and respected more. Except, of course, for her fiancé.

Bragg turned and smiled, coming forward with long strides to greet her. "Francesca, am I intruding?" He kissed her cheek as she took his hand. "I know this is your wedding day."

Releasing his hand, she smiled into his eyes. He hadn't forgotten. "I hope so, as you are on the guest list. I would be crushed if you were not present."

He studied her, his smile fading.

She realized he looked very tired. "You could never intrude. What is wrong?"

"Thank you for meaning that. You seem very happy, Francesca."

She became wary. Bragg had not hidden the fact that he disapproved of Hart entirely. "I'm a bride. Of course I am happy, although I am also nervous." Suddenly she knew why he was there. "You haven't come to share the details of a new case with me, have you?"

"No, I haven't." He was somber.

Her smile vanished and he caught both her hands. "My feelings about this wedding have not changed," he said with urgency. "I am so worried about you."

She tried to tug her hands free and then gave up, as he wouldn't let her go. "I am marrying Calder this afternoon."

"Three weeks ago, Hart was in jail, at the top of our list of suspects."

She pulled free. "No, he was at the top of your list. I never doubted his innocence."

"He has you mesmerized."

Hart and Bragg were bitter rivals in every possible way. No two brothers could be more different. They had been raised in the poverty of the city's worst tenements—until Rathe Bragg, Rick's father, had taken them both in. Now, Rick sacrificed the pursuit of the finer things in life in order to help others; his life was dedicated to the reform of society and government. As police commissioner, he lived on a very modest income—and did not care. Hart had taken away an entirely different lesson from his childhood. He was a millionaire, and he displayed his wealth with shocking arrogance. While Hart gave lavishly to several charities and the arts, his ambition had been to acquire power and never suffer poverty and powerlessness again. He had amassed a fortune through hard work and superior intelligence, mostly in shipping, insurance and the railroads. An objective observer would label the one brother the epitome of selfless virtue, the other, selfish and self-serving.

Francesca knew it wasn't true. Hart had his noble side, and she knew that firsthand. With her, he had been nothing but selfless and good. She had come to believe that his arrogance was a facade.

None of that mattered now. She hated the animosity between them. Unfortunately, she knew that a great deal of that rivalry was fueled by her past with Rick and her current relationship with Hart. And that was hardly fair, as Rick had been separated from his wife and since had reconciled with Leigh Anne. "I am far more than mesmerized, Rick. I am in love."

"You have no doubts?"

"I cannot wait to become Hart's wife."

"And that is what worries me so much." Dismay was reflected in his unwavering amber gaze.

"A woman of the world—someone as jaded as Hart—could manage him. But you are as romantic as you are intellectual. And in spite of his courtship, you remain so naive. I shudder when I think of how you trust him, and worse, of your expectations!"

He was echoing the sentiment she had overheard in the past few weeks. "I am hardly going to expect the worst of our marriage. I believe my expectations are fairly realistic," she said. A knock sounded on the open salon door, interrupting them. She gave him a dark look, turning away. Did he have to do this now?

One of the doormen entered, holding a small box wrapped in white paper with a pretty blue ribbon. Fran-cesca knew it was a gift from Hart. She glanced at Bragg.

Rick scowled, shoving his hands in the pockets of his tan trousers as she thanked Jonathon. She went to a desk and unwrapped the gift. The traditional jeweler's velvet box a bride might expect was not within, but she hadn't expected tradition—not from Hart. Instead, she withdrew an antique penknife with a two-inch blade and an ivory handle. The card lying below was scrawled with the initials CH.

"My God, he sent you a knife," Bragg said.

"Something old, something new." She laughed. She loved the gift! It was perfect for her. The small knife fit perfectly in the palm of her hand, the better for hiding it when in dire circumstances.

Francesca replaced the knife in the box. This was one of the reasons she loved Hart so. Another man would have sent her jewelry, but not Hart. He understood her so well.

"You are most definitely under his spell."

She nodded. "Yes, I am. And I hope to be under his spell for a long, long time."

He returned quickly, "In the short time you have known him, he has hurt you so much—I have witnessed your pain firsthand."

She wanted to deny it, but she could not. "Please, Rick, not today. Simply wish me well."

But he barreled on. "You must know that Hart is in the newspapers on a nearly daily basis, Francesca. The city's newsmen continue to exploit the details of his sordid affair with Daisy Jones."

She tensed. "I know that gossip still rages about her murder. And I know what they are saying about him—that, regardless of the killer's confession, some in town have decided to believe Hart guilty. These past two weeks, I have been out and about almost every night, at my mother's insistence. I have heard the ugly whispers—as I was meant to. They even say he will tire of me." She managed a shrug, as if she did not care, but she could not smile.

He was silent for a moment, and she knew that he thought, as those matrons did, that Hart would wander, sooner or later. "I was at the Wannamaker affair," he finally said. "You were not. I heard the horrid gossip myself. They want to hang him, Francesca, and by association, they will hang you, too."

She knew Rick was here, causing conflict, because he cared so much about her. "It is payback for all the years he has defied and mocked society and everyone in it."

"He is despised. When they whisper about him, they will also whisper about you."

Meet the Author

Known primarily for her historical romances, Brenda Joyce is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed de Warenne series, as well as the Deadly series and the Dark series. She has written over 50 novels and novellas and there are more than 14 million copies of her books in print. An avid equestrian, Joyce lives on a ranch in Arizona with her family.

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Deadly Vows (Francesca Cahill Series #9) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
ReadersGroupsLiaison More than 1 year ago
After five years New York Times bestselling author, Brenda Joyce is finally back with the triumphant return to her Deadly historical mystery series with Book #9, DEADLY VOWS (HQN March 1, 2011). It's June 28, 1902 in New York City and the wedding day of amateur sleuth/heiress, Francesca Cahill to ruthless, debonair millionaire, Calder Hart. However, Francesca gets an urgent message that if she goes to an art gallery she will find her stolen portrait. Since the portrait is of her partially nude it could ruin her and her family if it's made public. So Francesca decides to go to the gallery before her wedding to retrieve it thinking she'll have plenty of time to make it to the church for the ceremony. The portrait is there at the gallery but it's nailed to the wall and someone locks Francesca in so she misses her own wedding. When she is finally rescued, Francesca goes to Calder's mansion and he informs her their engagement is off since he no longer believes she loves him. Calder also suspects Francesca has never gotten over her feelings for his saintly Police Commissioner half-brother and bitter rival, Rick Bragg, even though Rick is already married. However, Rick's marriage to his crippled wife, Leigh Anne is at the breaking point since they are basically estranged and she has taken to drink and drugs to numb her unhappiness. Francesca is determined to win Calder back but equally determined to find her stolen portrait since it's gone missing again from the gallery. So she goes to her good friend, Commissioner Rick for help. This of course gives Hart even more reason to doubt Francesca's love for him but he also decides to help her in any way he can to retrieve her portrait since he commissioned it. With a fantastic cast of beloved characters from this series' previous books and an equally terrific cast of suspects, who have caused trouble in the past, Brenda Joyce pens an absolutely thrilling and complex conclusive to her Deadly series in DEADLY VOWS. In fact, readers will be on the edge of their seats not only to discover who stole the portrait but also to see who Francesca ends up marrying! Well done, Ms. Joyce - WELL DONE INDEED!
Stormie More than 1 year ago
This story takes place about three weeks after the previous novel, Deadly Kisses, ends. It's June 1902, twenty-one year old Fran and Calder's wedding day and Francesca receives shocking information. That information leads Francesca on the hunt for the missing portrait. For Francesca it's a race against time to find the person(s) responsible for trying to ruin her. It's very hard to not give spoilers so I'll just say that I was very entertained by all the characters and couldn't wait to find out who was behind the theft. What I liked best about this paticular book is that Francesca is the one smack-dab in the middle of her own mystery. There is another crime to solve within this story too and Francesca and the gang do not disappoint! It was a very satasifying read and was worth the almost five year wait between this and the previous one. I so hope that there are more to come in this series. The books in this series are: 1 Deadly Love 2001-01 2 Deadly Pleasure 2002-03 3 Deadly Affairs 2002-04 4 Deadly Desire 2002-05 5 Deadly Caress 2003-04 6 Deadly Promise 2003-11 7 Deadly Illusions 2005-02 8 Deadly Kisses 2006-02 9 Deadly Vows 2011-03
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1902 in New York, Francesca Cahill and Calder Hart are getting married in a few hours. However, before the ceremony, Francesca sneaks off to a gallery to see a portrait Hart commissioned. She is locked inside, but by the time she escapes from the gallery, everyone including Hart believes she jilted him. Francesca knows someone set this up, but not who or why. Hart refuses to listen to her explanation as he is hurt and humiliated; raging he ends their engagement. Stunned and hurt too, Francesca turns to Hart's half-brother Police Commissioner Rick Bragg for solace at a time when his marriage to Leigh Ann is crumbling. As Francesca ponders who owns her heart, she and Bragg search for who "framed' her and is trying to blackmail her and soon a killer is after her too. Though the roller coaster ride for the heroine's relationships and affection continues to the point it feels sort of inane yet due to Brenda Joyce's talent very entertaining as Cahill and the crew work two mysteries as well as the enigma of her heart. Filled with action, dysfunctional relationships (a common thread) and a sense of being in Manhattan at the start of the previous century (once again a fabulous recurring theme), fans will enjoy Francesca's latest escapades in maybe (nor not) making it to the altar. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i loved the series and read all 9 in a matter of days, but the ending is definitely not wrapping things up and I would love to see a conclusion before I die. 3 of these great books came out in a single year and now at the probable, tail end of the series, we are waiting YEARS between single book installments. If you are a book addict that really gets drawn in overtaken by a series, this will leave you ready to explode with a lack of ending in the series so far. I must say again though that this is an excellent read, but the wait is a killer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was glad to see Fran finally get her man. There wer just too.many loose ends. Does rick find love? Does evan marry maggie? I feel like i only know half the story, with no promise that i will ever learn the rest.
pinch1169 More than 1 year ago
i love this series. the story lines are interesting and the characters are rich. when will ms. joyce be writing any more books in this series?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so excited when I realized that there was another "Deadly" book! The story was wonderful with the perfect conclusion for Francesca.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of the Francesca Cahill series. If you're a lover of Old New York as I am, then this series is for you! Brenda Joyce's description of places and life in New York is accurate as she takes you back in time. The tension between the characters keeps you riveted until the end!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was not happy with this installent. Too many loose ends and wrap up of the book felt extremely rushed. I felt like the characters obsessed over the same issues page after page. Book 3 was my favorite of the entire series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Deadly Series is one of my favorite series. I was so excited when Brenda came out with another after so long of wait... Great book!!!
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RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewer: Jen I am a longtime fan of this series. The 8th book, Deadly Kisses, was originally published back in 2006 (it was re-released this year). The book totally left the reader hanging with the promise of Francesca and Hart's upcoming wedding. But then the publisher put a hold in the series, so fans had to wait five long years for the return of Francesca Cahill. I'm hoping that Deadly Vows isn't the end of the series, however, if it is, I'm glad Brenda Joyce got a chance to resolve the cliff-hanger. This series has so many things going for it. I especially enjoy the historical setting of turn of the century (1901) New York City. Francesca is a strong, independent young lady from an influential family, that stumbles into a mystery that throws the doors open on her sheltered life. As the series continues, Francesca has really grown, as a woman, sleuth and as a person. She doesn't let her position in society jade her and she's open to helping anyone who asks for her assistance. She's had a two love interests over the course of the series, and they both play a prominent part in Deadly Vows. While this book can stand alone, new readers to the series may be lost with the return of many old characters. In fact, I found myself a little confused with the influx of characters and numerous mentions of past cases and wished I'd re-read the series before tackling this one. If you're looking for a solid mystery series, with a healthy dose of romance, check out this series. Here are the books in order: Deadly Love, Deadly Pleasure, Deadly Affairs, Deadly Desire, Deadly Caress, Deadly Promise, Deadly Illusions, Deadly Kisses, Deadly Vows
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