Nicholas Eastwood is finally about to get everything he ever wanted. As a reward for his service to the Crown, he has been offered the title of marquess. All he has to do is stay scandal-free until the papers are signed. There’s just one problem: His ex-lover, presumed dead, is remarkably alive.
Adelaide Bursnell is determined to right her wrongs. She will be a dutiful daughter and loving sister. Most importantly, she must marry before her scandal catches up to her. Nicholas was once her ruin, but now he is determined to be her salvation. If he can find her a suitable husband, their shared past can stay buried.
But old temptations prove impossible to resist and scandal can never stay secret for long...
Each book in the Wicked Secrets series is STANDALONE:
* Twice As Wicked
* Lady Gone Wicked
* Wicked With the Scoundrel
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Hampshire, England, 1817
Nicholas Eastwood was a man who knew how to earn what he wanted. This, in his estimation, was what separated the wheat from the chaff, gold from the ore, and second sons from firstborns.
And he had earned this.
His fingers tightened on the letter. Outside the coaching inn, the night wind howled as it whipped across the Hampshire hillside. It sounded like trumpeters heralding a hero's welcome after a hard-won battle.
Or a dying cat.
It did not matter.
All that mattered was the letter he now held in his hand. He read it again.
My dear sir,
A year has passed since our fateful meeting, but rest assured it has not been forgotten. I owe you my life, and my thanks. I want to repay my debt, but how does one put a value on a life? Gratitude is not enough.
My well-intentioned prying into your affairs leads me to believe you are not in want of funds. If I am in error, tell me, for my fortune is at your disposal.
Very few things in this world are beyond price. Life, as aforementioned. Love, which I give you as freely as a father gives a son. And a title of the peerage. I hope the latter would satisfy my debt quite nicely. It has come to my attention that our Prince Regent has been rather generous with granting marquessates of late, particularly to those who fought during our battle with Napoleon. You have served the Crown well, my friend, and I would be honored to request the Prince Regent name you the Marquess of Rain.
Send word when you return to London.
Arthur Pendleton, Duke of Montrose
And not just any title. He would be a marquess, only one rank lower than a duke. More important, he would be two ranks higher than his twin brother, Nathaniel Eastwood, Viscount Abingdon. His own father, the Earl of Wintham, would have to bow to him. The man who had banished him from the family estate at the tender age of twelve would have to go in second.
Yes, a marquessate would suit Nick very well, indeed.
And he deserved it, that was the important thing. The title hadn't been bestowed upon him when he was still a squalling infant by virtue of being born twelve minutes before his brother. He had risked life and limb as an agent for the Crown, first during the wars with France, and then in India. He had earned that title with blood and sweat and snake bites.
By God, how he hated India.
But he was home now, in the idyllic Hampshire town of his childhood. His lodgings were only two miles from Haverly, the Wintham estate. What had begun as a spy hunt mere weeks ago had ended in a bruising fistfight with Nate. The fight had been a long time coming — more than fifteen years — but it was done now, and the sooner Nick returned to London and claimed his new title, the better.
There was just one small matter to attend to, one loose end that he could not leave dangling. It was not a matter of morals so much as practicality. Loose ends had a way of becoming weblike as they unraveled. He would not like to find himself entangled.
She was alive, despite all arguments to the contrary. He had seen her with his own eyes, standing at a distance the morning he fought his brother. The shock of it had been enough to give Nate the upper hand. Which had been a new experience for Nick. He'd never lost before. It had been quite unsettling.
And now he must see about the girl. She couldn't continue to wander Hampshire like a ghost of sins past.
But first he would read the duke's letter just one more time.
A knock on the door distracted him. He frowned. The clock had just struck ten, an unusual hour for visitors. Who else could it be but his infernal brother? He wrenched open the door.
It was not Nate.
Instead, there was his loose end, looking very much untied, given the pistol she pointed at him.
"Adelaide," he said with far more calm than he felt. He reached for the pistol.
There was a bang and a moment of searing pain.
She did not finish her sentence.
But then, he supposed, she did not have to. The bullet made her point quite nicely.
Adelaide Bursnell knew she was not a good girl. A good girl would not have been seduced by a man she hardly knew. A good girl would not have surrendered her virtue without a wedding ring. A good girl would not have faked her own death rather than return to her family in shame and humiliation. A good girl most certainly would not shoot her former lover, no matter how much he deserved a bullet to the flesh.
And yet, if the red liquid spilling from Nick's arm was any indication, she had done just that. She stared hard at the crimson seeping through the white linen of his sleeve, willing it to go back where it belonged. When it did not, she did the only thing she could do when confronted with such ugliness of her own making.
Or she tried to, anyway. A good girl would have been able to accomplish a ladylike swoon, she had no doubt. But Adelaide was not a good girl, and the best she could do was a facsimile of the real thing. Her eyelids fluttered closed and her body swayed delicately before collapsing in a silken heap on the floor.
His footsteps came close and paused. The cool metal of her pistol slipped from her grip. She held her breath. Maybe he would leave to find help and she could make her escape? But no. She heard a clunk as he set the weapon down somewhere — a table, perhaps. Then his footsteps returned.
Nick nudged her hip with the toe of his boot. She ignored it. He nudged harder. When she still did not respond, he squatted down and shook her roughly by the shoulder. She opened her eyes, and there he was, so close that he filled her vision, blocking out the room and all its contents. All she could see were his ice-blue eyes and scowling lips. Even with the purple bruise on his cheek and the small cut above his left eye, he was beautiful.
Her heart raced. She commanded it to stop that nonsense forthwith.
"Adelaide," he said in that rich, growly voice that did nothing to slow her heart rate. "You can't faint. I'm the one who's bleeding."
"Yes, but I can't do anything about that," she said. She permitted herself a small sense of — well, not victory, exactly, but rightness. Here, at least, she was just as she should be. Ladies were supposed to be decorative, not useful. They could paint watercolors, play the pianoforte, or sing. Matters of blood and guts should be left for the men to handle.
Nick made a sound of resignation. Then in one elegant motion, he scooped her from the floor with his good arm and deposited her on a hard wooden stool — across the room from the pistol, she noted. Apparently he was leaving nothing to chance. He moved away abruptly and she teetered briefly at the sudden loss of support before she gained her balance.
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
"Anything I can use as a bandage."
He wouldn't find anything. The hired rooms were nice enough, but it was still a coaching inn. There was a bed, a writing desk with a chair, and this absurdly tall stool upon which she now sat. Adelaide crossed her legs at the ankle to keep from swinging them like a child. She detested high stools. They made her feel so small. Which she was, but there was no need to rub salt in the wound.
Nick must have come to the same conclusion about the lack of bandages, because he stripped off his torn shirt and ripped it in half with his teeth. He handed the cloth to Adelaide. "I'm a man of many skills, but tying a knot with one hand isn't one of them."
Such a humble man, her Nick.
No, not her Nick.
She took the linen, wrapped the cut, and tied the knot with as much efficiency as she could muster given the exceedingly trying circumstances of him standing too close and smelling too good. He winced. Perhaps she had pulled the knot a little tighter than strictly necessary.
"Your family believes you are dead," he remarked.
"And your family believes you are a murderer," she returned.
"It seems that both our families are veritable fountains of misinformation." He flexed his wounded arm — to see if it still worked, she imagined. The muscles bulged and relaxed. "Shall we enlighten them, do you think?"
"I haven't a choice," she said frankly. Nick was a soldier and a spy and heaven knew what else. He would divine the truth regardless. "A woman in my position has precious few options."
"Adelaide." His voice was gentle. "I did not receive your letter. I would have come, had I known you were with child."
Would he have, truly? She found that hard to believe. He had left like a thief in the night, somehow managing to sneak into her aunt's home to slip a note beneath her pillow. Yet he hadn't woken her. He hadn't said goodbye.
But it was the contents of the note that had broken her heart. There were no words of love, only polite regret. And then the address at which to reach him, should the need arise.
She didn't suppose Nick counted love as a need.
But perhaps he would have come, had he received her letter. As the son of an earl — a fact he had not divulged during their ill-fated affair two summers ago — he knew what was expected of a gentleman. He would have married her out of guilt and a strong sense of duty, if nothing more. And then what? He would not have stayed long enough to be a true husband and father. He would have left them both to do ... whatever it was he did, now that the war with France was over.
Perhaps if he had received her letter, she would not have been sent to that horrible nunnery for her confinement. Perhaps now her arms would not feel so achingly empty without a child to hold. But what did that signify? She could not live in a world of what-ifs.
"What's done is done. It does not matter now," she said. "The babe did not survive his birth."
He glanced sharply at her. "I had heard the same about you. Yet, here you are, with a pistol, no less."
A shiver of trepidation ran down her spine. Why was he looking at her as though awaiting her confession? She would not confess.
When she said nothing, he continued, "You blame me for his death. Is that why you tried to kill me?"
"I did not try to kill you," she said, because she hadn't.
She had found his room at the inn and knocked on the door, pistol in hand. She had only wanted to frighten him, but then he had opened the door. She had forgotten how large he was. And then ... and then ...
How was she to know that the blasted thing would go off from such a little squeeze?
It had been a mistake, and an unfortunate one, at that. Now what was she to do? She could not hope to best Nicholas Eastwood in either physical strength or a battle of wits. The pistol had been her one hope to emerge the victor. She glanced desperately to where it lay useless on the table. She must get it back. She must.
"Hmm," he said, and then he did the last thing she would ever expect.
He stepped away from her, toward the window, and turned his back.
She saw her chance.
Nick had learned a great many things during his years of service to the Crown. Such as always look behind you. And even seemingly inconsequential information is useful to someone. Most important, and quite relevant to his current predicament — never turn your back on a woman who shot you.
He stared out the window and listened. There was a soft thud, then the rapid footfalls of a smallish lady running on her tiptoes. A scrape of metal and wood, more footfalls, and finally the quiet creak of the stool.
He turned around and once again found himself facing the barrel of a pistol.
"Ah," he said, endeavoring to look surprised, because she would expect that. "Have you decided to kill me, after all?"
"I am not here to kill you," she said. "I am here to negotiate."
He crossed his arms, ignoring the sharp stab of protest from his wound, and regarded her carefully. The woman who faced him now was much changed from the girl he had met in Cornwall two years prior. Then she had seemed to him like an angel, an ethereal creature of goodness and joy.
She was an angel still, but the avenging kind who burned cities to the ground and turned people to salt.
It was no more than he deserved. He had played his role to perfection — the dashing, mysterious agent of the Crown. Hers had not been his first seduction, after all. He knew how to instill desire in every look, urgency in every word. Danger lurks behind every shrub. We only have tonight. Let me have this one sweet moment before death comes for me. He had said it all before.
For the first time, that summer, he had actually meant it.
He had not behaved as a gentleman ought, but a gentleman's rules were easily forgotten when one presumed to be dead within a fortnight. He had taken every precaution, of course, even leaving her with the address of a business partner — one could not receive letters if one were dead.
He had not expected a letter from her any more than he had expected to survive his last assignment.
And now she was here to negotiate.
"The pistol is unnecessary, angel. I'll marry you," he said.
The pistol wavered slightly, but did not lower. "Marriage? To you?" She frowned. "That would be very disagreeable. No, thank you."
This time his look of surprise was sincere. "No?"
She shook her head. "You would make a very bad husband, Nick. Surely you know that."
Actually, he had never given the matter much thought, one way or another. "Would I?"
"Then what are you here to negotiate, exactly?" he asked and waited to hear the precise terms of his surrender. Of course he would give her whatever she wanted.
"Money," she said flatly.
"How much?" he asked.
Her gaze slid sideways before returning to meet his eyes. Her chin tilted. "Five thousand pounds."
A large sum, but hardly exorbitant. If used frugally, it would allow her to live comfortably for many years. It would tie up his loose end quite nicely, really. If she had been someone other the daughter of a viscount, and his brother's future sister-in-law, perhaps he could even have said yes.
But this was Adelaide.
"Money is for whores," he said. "Marriage is for ladies." It was ridiculous that he needed to explain this to her.
She dismissed his lecture with a wave of her hand. "It is all the same."
He tried to decipher her meaning. Were ladies whores, or was marriage a monetary transaction? Perhaps she meant both?
"Scandal is a difficult thing to keep hidden, you understand," she continued. "I must find a means of supporting myself, or I must marry — before it catches up to me."
He frowned. Her scandal was his scandal. Scandal went hand in hand with notoriety, and that was something he wished to avoid at all costs. When war ended, enemies still remained. And then, of course, there was the issue of the marquessate. He would prefer the proceedings go smoothly. Until the letters patent were signed by the prince regent, scandal must be avoided.
So marriage, then.
Marriage done correctly, to avoid arousing unpleasant interest or suspicion.
"Then we will marry, because five thousand pounds is quite impossible," he said.
Her eyes closed and her head bowed. He wasn't sure what was worse — the look of despair on her pale face, or that once again the pistol wobbled. Good Lord.
Then her eyes opened, and he saw that she had rallied. "We will go to Gretna Green tonight, then."
"Gretna Green is out of the question," he said. "There must be no hint of haste. I won't have it whispered that I seduced my future sister-in-law under the very noses of our families."
She shook her head with a low laugh. "Oh, Nick. Do you take me for a fool? You will disappear the moment you are free of my pistol."
Ah, so that was what she thought of him? He would have been offended had he not been accustomed to people thinking the worst of him. And he could admit that her reason, at least, was better than most.
"What do you suggest, then?" he asked.
She cocked her head, considering. "You seem as averse to scandal as I. Perhaps, then, a confession? A written statement, signed and sealed, that I could use should the need arise."
He did not like her tone. But she was wise to demand insurance. His word was not worth much, except when it was, and how was she to know the difference?
"And what, pray tell, would I be confessing to? You cannot publish our affair without condemning yourself, and you have more to lose than I." He stood to lose a marquessate, but she needn't know that. "The ton would punish you far more harshly for our dalliance."
Excerpted from "Lady Gone Wicked"
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth Bright.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Such a great series, desperately awaiting the next ones
Enjoyed every page. Worth the money.
Nick and Adelaide’s story was so satisfying because of all they had to go through to get to their HEA. They had to learn to love and except who they were flaws and all. I loved the depth of character development and storyline. Can’t wait for more books from this author. She is truly a gifted writer.
Miss Adelaide Bursnell is a twin, she fell in love with Nick and had a baby. She was sent to a convent in France by her parents to have her baby. Nicholas Eastwood was a twin also, but he was a spy and soldier for the crown. Adelaide and her baby were thought dead for over two years , Until she went to see her sister, who was visiting her fiancé and his parents. Nick was the father. I believe this is a unique kind of story. How often do you read about a spy and all the things he must do to keep the crown safe. he has given up his days of spying and meets the girl, he ruined and she shot him. protect her and she ,him. There are certainly some very interesting twists. both sets of parents are trying to make it thru Nate( Nick's brother) and Alice's (Adelaide sister) wedding. The author has done a fabulous job of keeping it all together and eventually explaining it all There is humor, maybe a little mayhem, especially when cakes are involved. I think it was a very good book. I received this ARC from Net Galley and voluntarily reviewed it.
Lady Gone Wicked is my first book by Elizabeth Bright, but won't be my last. Ms. Bright has given us a book that is well-written. Her characters are phenomenal. Nick was thrown away by his family at the age of 12. He has earned his way in the world and is now awaiting a title. Adelaide is an unwed mother, sent to a convent when her parents discovered she was pregnant. Adelaide and Nick's story is loaded with drama, secrets and sizzle. I enjoyed reading Lady Gone Wicked and look forward to reading more books from Elizabeth Bright in the future. Lady Gone Wicked is part of the Wicked Secrets Series but can be read as a standalone. This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book that I received from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I made a huge mistake in starting to read this book prior to going to sleep. I intended to only read a chapter or two and ended up finishing it at 4am! Nicholas Eastwood, rejected and abandoned by his family when he was twelve, has a need to be loved but doesn’t believe that true love exists. His experience leads him to believe that love can easily die. Adelaide on the other hand has a heart as big as the ocean but knows the shame of being a ‘fallen’ woman due to believing her seducer loved and cared for her. Whilst a standalone novel this follows on from Twice As Wicked (which I intend to re-read to remind myself of the other twins’ romance) and is best read after that story. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review, and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.
I loved it! It's such an interesting story about two people who love each other, but have no idea how to show it. So, they just end up hurting each other, and themselves, in the process. However, there may be a way for them to be happy even if they can't be together..... Adelaide was betrayed once and now she cannot trust Nick. Although, she is in need of his assistance so she will accept that much from him. It's not that she has forgotten about what happened between them, it's just that there is no other option for her. Her family believes her to be dead, and now she is back and she plans to avoid scandal at any cost. Neither Nick nor herself can afford a scandal or else they'll be ruined beyond redemption or so she thinks.... Nick never expected to find Adelaide the way he did. He still remembers the sweet and kind girl she was. Now that she is here, in front of him, he can't imagine any other solution for their predicament than to marry her. It won't be an ideal marriage of course, but what else can be? He can't let anyone know about what happened between them and he can't let her cause scandal, because he is so close to achieve his goals. But what about happiness? Does it even matter? Maybe they will both find a way to redeem themselves or maybe they are just doomed to live unhappily as a penance for their wickedness....
Be careful what you wish for, because it may come back at bite you in the end. Maybe someone should have warned Nicholas and Adelaide before their scandal began. Both have tragic pasts. Each has so much love to give but doesn't think they deserve to receive it. Victims of circumstance. Can two disillusioned hearts turn heartache into happily ever after? Amidst the scandal, betrayal, pain and darkness, lies a haunting tale of courage, hope and redemption. Unforgettable in every way.