Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage (Secret Brides Series #3)by Valerie Bowman, Justine Eyre (Narrated by)
A duchess awaiting trial for her vile husband's murder is the most delicious gossip the ton has heard in years. But for Kate Townsende, the woman in question, it could be a matter of life and death. And when a shrewd and handsome nobleman offers to publish her side of the story while arranging for a barrister to take her case, she's tempted by much more than the chance to defend herself. James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, tells himself he's only interested in a bestselling pamphlet, but Kate's stubborn determination is captivating. Could the accused widow be telling the truth? At first, James isn't sure of anything besides his growing desire for her-but before long he's willing to risk much more than his reputation to make the infamous beauty his wife.
“Bowman woos Regency romance fans with this final novel in her Secret Brides trilogy (after Secrets of a Wedding Night and Secrets of a Runaway Bride). Lady Katherine Townsende, Duchess of Markingham, has been imprisoned in the Tower of London for the murder of her husband. James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, visits Kate with a proposition: he wants her to write a pamphlet telling her side of the story, convinced that the publication would be beneficial to both of them. In return, she asks for release into James's custody, as law allows her to be supervised by a nobleman. James, known as "Lord Perfect" for his meticulous ways, is surprised by her beauty and intelligence, and he's not prepared for the disruption she brings to his orderly household. The attraction between the two is well crafted and plays out in unusual fashion: James's structured life has left him little time for rakish behavior, leaving Kate to do the seducing. The murder trial adds weight and tension to this refreshing page-turner.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“From the gripping opening line to the highly satisfying climax, Bowman keeps readers in her grasp with her unique storytelling and unconventional plotting. Readers will be captivated by how her smart and sensual story unfolds.” Romantic Times (4 1/2 stars!)
“This engaging and sweetly romantic [series] is just too delightful to miss.” New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas
Read an Excerpt
Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage
By Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Valerie Bowman
All rights reserved.
The Tower of London, December 1816
The large metal door to her cell scraped open and Kate closed her eyes. She stepped forward, summoned from one cold dank cell into another. She had a visitor. Her first since she'd been taken to the gaol.
She opened her eyes. The harsh winter light filtered through the only window in the antechamber. The yeoman warder wore a blank expression on his face. He and the other guards always gave her the benefit of respect due her title. Whether they liked it or not.
The guard stepped aside, revealing the room's other occupant. Interesting. Her visitor was a man. She narrowed her eyes on him. Who was he and what did he want with her? He stood with his straight back to her. He was tall, that much she could discern. Tall and cloaked in shadows.
The smell of mold and decay, rife in the Tower, made her stomach clench. The unforgiving winter wind whipped through the stonework, raising gooseflesh across her arms. She shivered and clutched her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.
"Ye 'ave ten minutes an' not a moment more," the gaoler announced before wrenching open the door and clanging it shut behind him as he left. The loud scrape and subsequent clank sealed Kate and the stranger in the small room together. She took a step back. A small rickety table rested between them. She was glad for that bit of separation at least. Whoever the man was, his clothing marked him a gentleman. He had better behave like one.
The tall man turned to greet her. He doffed his hat, but she still couldn't make out his face. He wore a dark gray wool overcoat of considerable expense. A stray beam of sunlight floated through the dirty air, let in by the one small window nestled in the stone wall across from them.
He executed a perfect bow. "Your grace?"
Kate cringed. Oh, how she detested that title. "Bowing to a prisoner?" she asked in a voice containing a bit of irony. "Aren't you a gentleman?"
He smiled and a set of perfectly white teeth flashed in the darkness. "You're still a duchess, your grace."
She pushed the hood from her head and took a tentative step forward. The stranger's eyes flared for a moment and he sucked in his breath.
Kate's stomach clenched. No doubt she looked a fright. She hadn't bathed in days and could only imagine her own smell. Her hair, normally piled properly atop her head, was a mass of tangled red curls around her shoulders. She might be grimy and in trouble, but she wasn't broken. And she refused to let the stranger see that his reaction affected her. She pushed up her chin and eyed him warily.
He stepped forward then, into the light, and Kate narrowed her eyes on his face, rapidly assessing every detail. She didn't know him. But whoever he was, the man was handsome. Devastatingly so. Perhaps in his early thirties, he had dark brown cropped hair, a perfectly straight nose, a square jaw. But his eyes were what truly captivated. Hazel in color, nearly green, assessing, knowing, intelligent eyes. They stole her breath. Her gaze moved lower to where the faintest hint of a smile rested upon expertly molded male lips.
"Do you know who I am?" His voice splintered the quiet cold like a hammer hitting ice.
She regarded him with a steady stare. "Are you a barrister? Come for my defense?"
The man furrowed his brow. "You haven't yet been given access to a barrister?"
She straightened her shoulders. "I've been ... waiting."
The stranger's captivating eyes regarded her calmly. "From what I understand, you've been in gaol for weeks. I find it difficult to believe a lady of your station has not yet met with a barrister."
She lifted her chin. "Be that as it may, I have not."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, your grace, but no, I am no barrister."
"Not a barrister? Then who are you and why have you come to visit me? Please don't tell me it's merely to see the spectacle of a duchess accused of murder."
His gaze remained pinned to her face, his eyes still assessing, wary. "I am here to assist you, your grace."
"Assist me?" she scoffed, stepping forward to get a closer look at the man. "I rather doubt that. Assist yourself perhaps. Tell me, how much did you bribe the gaoler to let you see the infamous duchess who shot her husband?"
The stranger arched a brow. "Did you? Murder your husband?"
She clenched her jaw. "Did you come here to insult me with your questions? Or do you mean to coax a confession from me?" She squeezed her fists against the fabric of her shawl, twisting it so tightly her fingers ached.
He shook his head. "My apologies, your grace. It was not my intention to offend. I assure you, I'm not a common gossipmonger come to witness your degradation. I intend to assist you. And yes, in return, there is something I want."
Kate raised both brows. She respected the man's honesty, but whether she intended to continue this conversation depended entirely upon what exactly the handsome stranger desired. "So, tell me, then. What is it you want?"
He swept another bow. "I've come to make you an offer. One that can benefit us both."
Pulling her shawl over her shoulders more tightly, Kate crossed her arms over her chest. "Forgive me if I am a bit doubtful, sir. I've seen enough deception in my twenty-eight years to be highly skeptical of the promises of men."
His head quirked to the side and he regarded her with an inquisitive look. Her statement had obviously surprised him. "I understand, your grace. And I fully intend to explain. But first, I must ask for your discretion. If we are to help each other, I cannot reveal my identity unless you promise to keep what I am about to tell you entirely secret."
She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes on him. "Secret? Are you a spy?"
His brow rose, and tension seemed to radiate through his body. "Would you aid me if I were?"
She pointed toward the door. "Get out," she said through clenched teeth.
Her nails dug so hard into her shawl she was certain she would rip the fabric. "I may be accused of a murder I did not commit, but being called a traitor to my homeland is not an insult I will bear. If you are seeking my aid in that manner, you most certainly have come to the wrong person. I am not, and never will be, that desperate." She turned toward the door to call for the gaoler.
The stranger quickly held up a hand. "I assure you, your grace. I am no spy."
Kate snapped her mouth closed and turned back to him, still eyeing him warily. "Then what exactly do you want from me?"
He nodded slowly. "Your promise, first?"
She watched him, assessing him from the top of his handsome head to the tips of his precisely polished — and obviously expensive — top boots. Apparently, this man was willing or desperate enough to trust an accused murderess, too. Interesting. She had absolutely no reason to trust him, however. Every reason not to, actually. But conversing with a good-looking chap about whatever daft idea he had was preferable to counting the cracks in the walls of her cell or writing letters to ... no one. "Very well, you have my promise. Now tell me, who are you and why are you here?"
The stranger clicked his heels together and bowed again. "James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, at your service."
She couldn't help the tiny gasp that escaped her lips. The man was a peer. Why on earth would a peer pay her a visit? "Why are you here, my lord?"
Brushing back his coat, he pulled papers from an inside pocket and tossed them on the wooden table.
Her eyes still trained on him, Kate stepped forward and picked up the papers. It was a pamphlet. She scanned the first page and shuffled through it quickly, but the pages were blank.
She gestured to the papers with her chin. "What is this?"
His mouth quirked again. Distracting, that. "You might say I have a bit of a hobby on the side. I own a printing press."
Her gaze snapped to his face and she stepped back, clutching the pamphlet, genuinely surprised. And a little bit intrigued. "A viscount in trade?"
He grinned. "That's the secret." His grin faded and he strode forward. Bracing his hands apart, he leaned across the table. "I offer women in scandalous situations a unique opportunity. This, your grace, is a chance to tell your side of the story."
"What do you mean ... exactly?"
His eyes blazed at her. His jaw tightened. "Write a pamphlet for me. It will be a top seller, I assure you."
She shook her head. "A pamphlet? Telling my story? I don't understand. What do I stand to gain from it?"
His eyes, dark green now, captured hers. "What do you want?"
Kate spun around, pacing across the small room. A chance to tell her story? A frisson of hope skittered down her spine. Yes. An opportunity to inform the entire city what a hideous husband George had been. To tell the truth. It was tempting. She must handle this carefully, however. There was something else she wanted.
She turned back toward the viscount. "Out of curiosity, if I agree to do it, what exactly will the pamphlet be named, my lord?"
His jaw relaxed and his eyes lost some of their intensity. He stood up again to his full height and regarded her down the length of his nose. "Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage."CHAPTER 2
"Medford, how can you be so flippant about all of this?" Lily Morgan, the Marchioness of Colton, asked, plunking her hands on her hips and tapping her foot on the wide Aubusson rug that adorned the floor of James's drawing room.
They had just adjourned to the blue salon in James's town house. A fire crackled in the hearth next to them and the smell of burning logs permeated the cozy room. James signaled to his butler, Locke, to pour the tea. Then he settled in for a visit with two of his very closest friends, Marchioness Lily and her sister Annie, the Countess of Ashbourne.
"Who's flippant?" he asked, giving them both a grin.
"You are and you know it," Annie replied, taking a seat and busily setting about plopping an extra lump of sugar into her teacup. She stirred the drink with a tiny silver spoon. "I, for one, think the poor duchess has been sorely mistreated. I've heard no evidence to make me believe she's guilty."
"I agree." Lily nodded. Hands still on her hips, she paced the floor, refusing to take a seat. "Besides, I had the misfortune to meet her husband on more than one occasion and the man was a complete scoundrel. He made overtures to me time and time again. Can you imagine?" She turned back to Medford. "But asking her to write a pamphlet is entirely flippant of you."
"I disagree," James replied. "I think it will be a welcome opportunity for her. Not to mention I've asked her to name her terms."
"And what did she ask for?" Lily wanted to know.
James shrugged. "Nothing yet. I'm returning to the Tower today to get her answer ... and her terms."
Lily shook her head. "Hmm. Shrouded in mystery Lady Katherine Townsende has been."
Annie set down her cup. "I read that she was the daughter of a landowner in Kent. Apparently, she caught the Duke of Markingham's eye when she was eighteen. They married, and she's been kept tucked away in the countryside all these years." She cleared her throat. "Ahem, until her husband's untimely death, that is."
Lily tapped her cheek with her fingertip. "Yes, well, now she's a complete scandal. The entire ton is convinced she's a murderess."
Medford grinned. "Yes, but she's a murderess with a story to tell. And that makes all the difference."
"I didn't say she was a murderess, I said everyone thinks she's a murderess. I intend to reserve my judgment until I've heard more facts about the case. What did you think of her?" Lily asked, with an arched brow.
James's mind retraced to his meeting with the duchess the day before. She'd stepped into the room. So slight. A dark cloak with a hood covered her head. Her face had been in shadow, but James hadn't mistaken her momentary uncertainty, nor her pride. She'd held her shoulders erect, her head high. There had been a bit of anger, too. He sensed it when he'd narrowed his eyes on her delicate form. He didn't blame her for being angry, his was not a social call after all. She was thin, perhaps too thin. Of medium height, she did not seem capable of murdering a grown man, let alone Markingham. The duke had been tall, and strong. A large man, her husband.
When the duchess had stepped into the shaft of winter sunlight and pushed the hood from her head, James had sucked in his breath. The Duchess of Markingham was absolutely stunning. In his thirty-three years he'd never seen her equal. She had alabaster skin, a straight thin nose, and a riotous mass of golden-red hair that tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. She'd glanced up, her cornflower-blue eyes shooting sparks at him from beneath the velvety blackness of her impossibly long eyelashes. The smudge of dirt on one of her high cheekbones only served to highlight the ethereal beauty of her face.
James had glanced away. He'd heard the duchess was a beauty, but he hadn't been prepared. She was more than beautiful. She was a goddess come to life.
He glanced back at Lily. "She seemed ... like a lady in a great deal of trouble."
"Is she as beautiful as everyone says?" Annie asked with a sigh, a dreamy smile on her face.
Leave it to Annie to ask such a direct question. James tugged at his cravat. "She is ... beautiful. Yes, I might call her that."
Lily watched him carefully. "But what did you think about her? How did she seem?"
"To be honest." He tugged at his cuff. "She surprised me. I'd half expected a termagant the likes of which I'd never encountered before. Instead, I wasn't quite sure what to make of the woman."
Lily stopped pacing. Her gaze scanned his face. "Why?"
James bit the inside of his cheek, considering the question for a moment. "I suppose it was because she didn't seem fearful."
"What do you mean?" Annie asked, leaning closer.
James shrugged and settled back in his seat. "She was poised. Calm. She carried herself like ... like a duchess."
Lily rubbed one finger across her chin. "Is it possible that she wasn't afraid? She's soon to be on trial for her life."
"I cannot imagine." Annie shuddered. "They say she was there, with her husband's body, when they found him. He was lying on the floor of his bedchamber, shot with his own pistol in the chest."
"It's absolutely ghastly," Lily agreed. "Not a wonder the rumors have been rampant. And if she didn't kill him, it certainly doesn't look good for her defense."
"Yes, and unfortunately, it stands to reason," Annie said.
James cocked his head to the side. "Why's that?"
"Because just days after his murder, Lady Bettina Swinton, a close friend of the duke's, told everyone that the duchess had recently informed him that she intended to seek a divorce," Annie replied.
James arched a brow. "Is that so?"
"It does look bad for her," Lily said. "The case has caused riots. I read that crowds had gathered around the coach that brought the duchess from her husband's estate in the countryside to the Tower. The traveling party was nearly overrun with the rioters. The king's guard was called in to bring her to the prison unscathed."
James scooped up the newspaper that rested on the table beside him. "It's not every day a duchess is accused of murder."
Annie lifted her teacup to her lips again and shook her head. "I still refuse to rush to judgment. It's completely unfair that that poor young woman is sitting over there in a freezing gaol while the entire ton speculates about whether she shot her husband. I admit I've never met her but it's entirely possible that she is innocent."
Lily turned to face James. "We haven't met her, Annie, but Medford has."
The two sisters eyed him carefully.
"So, Lord Medford, what do you think?" Annie asked. "Based on your acquaintance with the Duchess of Markingham, is she an evil murderess or an unfortunate innocent?"
James folded the paper in half. "As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter either way. The fact is, the ton is vying for details of the story and what better details could one possibly gather than those that came directly from the lady herself? Scandal is my trade. Regardless of her guilt or innocence, I want the duchess to write for me. Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage will be immensely popular."
Lily sighed. "Once again, you're being flippant."
Excerpted from Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage by Valerie Bowman. Copyright © 2013 Valerie Bowman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Valerie Bowman is the award-winning author of the Secret Brides series. She holds a BA in English language and literature from Smith College, and she currently works as a technical writer and editor at a computer software company. Originally from Rantoul, Illinois, Valerie now lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit her at valeriegbowman.com.
Justine Eyre is a classically trained actress who has narrated over three hundred audiobooks. With a prestigious Audie Award and four AudioFile Earphones Awards under her belt, Justine is multilingual and is known for her great facility with accents.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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At last, Medford's stgory. A really good book, I was disappointed in Medford when he held the grudge against Kate for returning to prison. Still the plot was very different and the characters engaging. Another great book by Ms. Bowman
I like the story but it was a little corny in some areas/
Locked in a tower, accused of murdering her cheating husband, Kate Townsende is not hopeful about her future. That is until James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, shows up and offers her a chance to live again, at least for a little while. The catch? She has to write a pamphlet and tell her side of the story and the truth about her marriage. When Kate agrees, James has her released from the tower and brings her to his house so that she can enjoy a taste of freedom and life while she writes the pamphlet and awaits her trial. But what neither she nor James expect is the strong physical and emotional attraction that develops between them. The more James gets to know Kate, the more he believes in her innocence. So he does what he always does; he helps out people in trouble. He hires the best of the best to uncover the truth about the night Kate’s husband died. But will it be enough to save Kate from being sentenced to death? And will James be willing to give up his “perfect” persona to be with the Scandalous Lady Kate? Having read the other two books in this series, I was excited about the release of the newest Valerie Bowman book, and it does not disappoint! I couldn’t put this book down and almost read it in one day! I loved the chemistry and dynamics between Kate and James and all the drama that was surrounding her scandalous arrest and trial. I have always liked James’ character in the previous two novels in this series and was delighted to get to read about “Lord Perfect” finally falling in love, and with quite a scandalous lady at that! I was excited that Lily, Annie, Devon and Jordan were included in this story as well, though their characters’ backgrounds are not needed to understand the plot in this novel. It is a great stand-alone read, however, be warned, if you read this one, you will want to read Secrets of a Runaway Bride and Secrets of a Wedding Night as well! Well Done Ms. Bowman! Can’t wait to read more! Rating: 4.5 Heat Rating: Mild Reviewed by AprilP Courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
This is the third in the Secret Brides series. Kate is imprisoned, accused of murdering her husband--a Duke. She will most likely be hanged if the truth is not unearthed. James, Viscount Medford, known as Lord Perfect to his friends, has a secret side business in the press--not done by a member of the ton. He feels Kate's story will make a sensational pamphlet for printing, and it could help unearth the truth. After gaining Kate temporary freedom while a barrister and runner try to find the real killer and save her from certain death, Kate attempts to write her story, and living what time she has left feeling free. This freedom loosens up James, too. As they come closer to learning all the secrets to each other's past, they turn to each other, but the association endangers their lives. Once the truth is out about her innocence, they must learn to overcome the past, to find a way back to each other, revealing their love before it's too late. The twist in this story is the pamphlet published is not the one written by Kate, but the one by written by James. Loved this story as Valerie has become a favorite new author!
Fabulous and delightful