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Marriage Most Scandalous
     

Marriage Most Scandalous

3.9 73
by Johanna Lindsey
 

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#1 New York Times bestselling author Johanna Lindsay presents a powerfully romantic Regency-era tale that is breathtaking in scope and wondrously passionate.

When Sebastian Townshend, son of the eighth Earl of Edgewood, was banished from his family due to the tragic results of a duel, he vowed never to return to England. Now living on the continent

Overview

#1 New York Times bestselling author Johanna Lindsay presents a powerfully romantic Regency-era tale that is breathtaking in scope and wondrously passionate.

When Sebastian Townshend, son of the eighth Earl of Edgewood, was banished from his family due to the tragic results of a duel, he vowed never to return to England. Now living on the continent, Sebastian has forged a new identity as a deadly mercenary, The Raven. But his former neighbor, Lady Margaret Landor, has different plans for him. Back in England, Sebastian's father has had several accidents and Margaret suspects foul play and deception that reach as far back as the infamous duel. Convinced that only Sebastian can set the situation to rights, Margaret arranges a scandalous bargain with him that includes Sebastian's returning home as her husband. As the newlyweds uncover a deadly scheme, a fierce passion blossoms between them, which neither anticipated — and neither can resist.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Deliciously sexy." — Booklist
Library Journal
A deadly soldier of fortune meets a damsel with a mission in another historical bodice ripper by the popular author. Simultaneous Atria hardcover. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416505464
Publisher:
Pocket Books
Publication date:
04/18/2006
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 4.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

1808, England

They met at dawn. It was a narrow opening in the trees, just off the forest path, but a well-known spot nonetheless. An old rock there, partially hidden in the brush, nearly two feet round, was reputed to mark the site of some ancient battle. It was now known as The Dueling Rock.

At least seven duels were verified to have taken place there over the years, many more were mere rumors. There were other places in the south of England, of course, for men to settle their differences, but none quite so renowned as The Dueling Rock. Men even came from as far away as London to satisfy their honor at this site in Kent.

Sebastian Townshend and his best friend Giles had explored the area as children, fascinated, as boys will be, by tales of honor and bloodshed. They were neighbors and had grown up together as their estates bordered each other. The Dueling Rock was located in the forest north of their homes.

It was the natural place for Giles to name for them to meet, just after Sebastian had said to him, "My God, you married a whore?"

Giles had socked him, and rightly so. Sebastian shouldn't have been so blunt. His only excuse was that he'd been in shock. But then he'd just found out he'd unwittingly slept with Giles's new wife.

How the devil was he to have known? The woman shouldn't have been at that soirée in London — alone. She shouldn't have given the impression that she was available, introducing herself by only her first name, Juliette. But she had done more than that. She'd flirted outrageously with him and hinted they should meet to get better acquainted. Sebastian had been delighted. She was lovely, a new face, a sophisticated woman who knew what she wanted and obviously went after it. He was pleased to oblige her. Not once, by her actions, did he guess that she was married.

That quick marriage had been a rash move on Giles's part. So unlike him. He had a fiancée at the time, a lovely English heiress, Eleanor Landor. So he'd been hesitant to break the news to his father, was keeping his new bride in London until he could figure out a way to explain her. She shouldn't have been at that soirée, alone, without her husband.

Giles had come to Sebastian's home to make his accusation. His new wife, in her apparent guilt over the matter, had tearfully confessed everything to him. She'd put the blame entirely on Sebastian, even swore that he'd seduced her, when that hadn't been the case at all. And Giles, in his fury, wouldn't listen to Sebastian's account of it.

"The Dueling Rock, at dawn," Giles said before he stormed out of the house.

The accusations had been delivered in the entry hall of Edgewood, the Townshend ancestral home, the moment Sebastian came downstairs. Unfortunately, Sebastian's father, Douglas, had been drawn from his study by the shouts and had heard most of it. He wasn't angry. His disappointment in his oldest son and heir was apparent, though, and that cut Sebastian deep. He couldn't recall a single time in his life that he'd ever given his father a reason to be ashamed of him — until now.

Douglas Townshend, eighth earl of Edgewood, had settled into marriage at an early age and was now only forty-three. Tall, with black hair and amber eyes, he was a handsome man who frustrated the local matchmakers because he had refused to remarry after his wife died.

He'd bequeathed his handsome visage and impressive height to his two sons, Sebastian and Denton. A year apart in age, with Sebastian being the older at twenty-two, the brothers should have got along splendidly, but that wasn't the case. Sebastian was much closer to his friend Giles Wemyss than he'd ever been to Denton. Not that he didn't love his brother. But Denton had a jealous nature that he'd long since given up trying to conceal. It had grown over the years, until now he was a bitter young man driven to excesses in drink due to his resentment that he'd never wear a title other than lord, simply because he was a second son. Unlike Sebastian, Denton had often gained their father's disapproval.

Douglas sighed now. "I will assume you didn't know this woman was Giles's wife."

"Good God, no one knew he'd married while he and Denton were touring France. Denton didn't know, or he was sworn to secrecy, because he said nothing about it when I went to London to welcome them home. And Giles didn't tell me, hasn't even told his family yet. He's obviously kept her secretly in London since he returned to England, probably to give him time to break off with his fiancée before she hears of it. I didn't know the woman was married, Father, to anyone, least of all to my best friend."

"But you did make love to her?"

Sebastian flushed, wished to hell he could deny it, but couldn't. "Yes."

"Then go after him, explain your part in this, make amends however you must. But you will not meet him in the morning. I forbid it. He's not some passing acquaintance. You two have been inseparable since you were children, just as Cecil and I have been. And he's Cecil's only son."

Sebastian had every intention of doing just that, and not just because he loved Giles like a brother. His father said it aptly just before he left to find Giles.

"I know you, Sebastian. You wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you harmed him."

Unfortunately, the harm had already been done. There was nothing that could undo it or explain it away. Sebastian realized that clearly as the day wore on and he agonized over how to make amends to his friend. His explanations did nothing but enrage Giles more. He was in no state of mind to listen. Whether he believed Sebastian or not, it still came down to the simple fact that however unintentionally, Sebastian had slept with his wife.

Dawn barely lightened the sky the following morning. The rain had started several hours earlier and continued, with no sign of letting up. Sebastian's second, Theodore Pulley, was hopeful the duel would be canceled because of it. He was only an impartial acquaintance, but he was behaving as if he'd melt if the rain didn't stop soon. Actually, it was the accompanying thunder that made him so jumpy.

Sebastian said nothing in response to the man's nervous chatter. He was numb. Over the long, sleepless hours of the night, he'd decided what he had to do, the only thing he could do to redeem himself. It wouldn't be the first time a man had gone to a duel with the intention of dying.

Giles was late. Theodore was suggesting they leave when Giles and his second arrived. Sebastian didn't recognize the fourth man, who was acting as Giles's second.

"Couldn't find the bloody path in the rain," Giles explained.

Theodore still wanted to get out of the rain sooner rather than later and put the suggestion to the late comers. "Ought to cancel this, don't you think? Wait for a clear morning?"

"At this time of year?" the other second countered with a slight indistinguishable accent. "When is there ever a clear morning?"

"We duel now or I murder him," was Giles's clipped response.

So much for hoping a night's sleep might have dredged up some forgiveness, or at least the realization that Sebastian hadn't wronged him intentionally. But Giles appeared to be just as angry as he had been the day before.

Theodore coughed and said, "Quite right. We'll keep it sporting, then."

Giles's pistols were brought to Sebastian for inspection. He waved the man away. His own pistols were taken to Giles for the same. His friend seemed interested only in making sure the chambers were loaded. Sebastian was aware that Giles knew he didn't want to kill him.

"Prepare yourselves, gentlemen."

They stood back-to-back, shouldn't have spoken, but Sebastian's remorse was torn from him with the simple words, "I'm sorry."

Giles said nothing, giving no indication that he'd heard him. Instructions were given, the count begun. The rain hadn't let up, nor had the thunder, which boomed every few minutes, but the sun had risen enough to spread a gray gloom through the trees. It was enough light to see by, enough light to kill by.

They paced off the required steps, each man holding his chosen pistol in his hand, pointed at the ground. The count was continued, then the call to turn, take aim . . .

Sebastian stood with his gun pointed toward the sky, intending to fire the obligatory shot anywhere but at Giles. But Giles fired the very second it was called to do so, nicking Sebastian under his arm just as he was pulling his own trigger. Giles was a good shot; he should have done better than this at such close range. The wound he delivered was minor, but it brought Sebastian's arm down in an involuntary reaction. His bullet fired, the sound echoing through the trees along with another crack of thunder. It should have been wildly off the mark, but instead it landed at the dead center of Giles's chest.

Sebastian watched as his friend dropped to the ground. The look of surprise on Giles's face as he crumbled would forever haunt Sebastian. Shock kept him rooted to the spot while Giles's second bent down to examine him, then looked toward Sebastian and shook his head.

"I will inform his father," he said. "I assume you will inform yours."

Beside him, Theodore said, "You weren't going to fire at him, were you? What changed your mind?" He paused, seeing the blood under Sebastian's arm. "Ah, so that's why. What bloody rotten luck, eh? Or rather phenomenal luck, depending how you look at it."

Sebastian didn't answer, hadn't really heard him. It was impossible to describe what he felt in that moment of realization that he'd killed his best friend. Grief, horror, rage — it was all there choking him. And guilt, so strong it took root in his heart and would never let go. And he still had to tell his father that he'd defied him, that his plan to exonerate himself with his own death had backfired.

Sebastian should have died there at The Dueling Rock that cold, gloomy morning. As far as he was concerned, he did. Copyright ©2006 by Johanna Lindsey

Chapter 1

Like many towns and villages throughout Austria, Felburg had its share of Baroque architecture in its churches and its plaza, its fountains and charming squares. Where Vienna overwhelmed, Felburg offered peace and quiet, which was why Sebastian Townshend decided to spend the night there as he passed through the Alpine hills.

The job he had just finished had been frustrating, taking him from France to Italy, back to France, then to Hungary, and finally to Vienna. His mission had been to retrieve stolen books, very rare books that a wife had absconded with. His current employer didn't want his wife back, just the books. Sebastian had them in his possession now. The wife hadn't been cooperative, though. He'd had to steal them from her.

It had been a distasteful task but not as abhorrent as some of the jobs he'd taken over the years since he'd left home. For quite a few years he hadn't discriminated. He simply had little reason to care about anything. Disowned by his father, all ties to his family broken, and carrying a bitterness deep inside himself that he refused to acknowledge, Sebastian wasn't a man to trifle with. You had to have a reason to live in order to value life. He didn't particularly value his.

He used to. Wealth, title, good friends, and family had all been his. His life had seemed almost charmed. He had a tall, strapping body, exceptional good looks, and enjoyed splendid health. He'd had it all. But that was before he'd killed his best friend in a duel and had been told by his father never to darken England's shores again.

He hadn't gone back, had sworn he never would. England, once his home, held only painful memories for him. He'd been adrift now for eleven of his thirty-three years and saw no end to it.

Europe could be called his home if he had to name a place, but there was no place in particular that he favored. He'd been to every country on the Continent and a few beyond, spoke all of the major languages and a few of the less well-known ones, three acquired by necessity, six in all. He could afford a nice property to settle on. He'd left home penniless, but the jobs he took were lucrative, and with nothing to spend his money on, he was quite rich. But the idea of "home" reminded him too much of his real one, so he'd avoided establishing one. And he was rarely in one place for long. He lived in inns and hotels, and frequently when he was on a job, on a pallet on the ground.

He did buy one property in the north of France, though, only because he found it occasionally useful. The crumbling ruins of an old keep could hardly be called a home. The only thing intact in it had been the dungeon, but even that consisted of bare doorless cells that he'd never bothered to refurbish. He'd bought the ruins mainly to have a place where those looking to hire him could readily find him, or leave word with the caretaker he kept there. And because it suited his fancy to own a ruins, so similar to his life.

He didn't travel alone. Oddly enough, his valet had elected to go into exile with him. An adventurous sort John Richards had turned out to be, he actually enjoyed his new role. He still acted as Sebastian's valet, but he was also his source of information. As soon as they arrived in a new town or city, John would make himself scarce, then return with all pertinent information about the area and the important people who lived there. John could make himself understood in two more languages than Sebastian, though none of them fluently. He had become invaluable for Sebastian's line of work. He'd also become a friend, though neither of them would ever admit it, and John prided himself on adhering to his role of servant, albeit a superior one.

There was one other in their entourage now, a spunky ten-year-old lad who called himself Timothy Charles. He was English, though he'd been orphaned in Paris, which was where they'd met him last year when Timothy had been unsuccessful in picking Sebastian's pocket. John had taken pity on the lad because he reminded him of home and he was homeless in a foreign city. Somehow or other it was decided that they'd keep him, at least until they could find him a good home. They really ought to get around to doing that one of these days.

"Raven I believe you are called?"

Sebastian had been enjoying a glass of Austrian wine in the dining room of the inn where they were spending the night. The well-dressed man who had approached his table looked official. Tall, middle-aged, impeccably dressed. The two men who stood behind him looked like guards, not by their dress, which was plain, and not by their stature, which was on the short side. It was their alertness, the way they kept their eyes not just on Sebastian but also on the entire room.

Sebastian merely raised a black brow and said indifferently to the tall fellow, "I'm called many things. That's one of them."

He had a reputation, unwanted, certainly not intentional, but it had developed nonetheless, no doubt partially at John's instigation, of being a mercenary for hire, capable of accomplishing the impossible. He wasn't sure how he got the name Raven, possibly because there was a certain sinister look to him with his black hair and golden cat's eyes, though he wouldn't be surprised if the name was John's doing as well. And John never failed to let his contacts know that The Raven was in town, which frequently produced jobs that he wouldn't have otherwise heard about.

"You are for hire, yes?"

"Usually — if my fee is met."

The man nodded and assured him, "A man of your caliber would be expensive. This is understood and will not be an issue. My employer is generous and will more than meet your price. Do you accept?"

"Accept what? I don't hire on blindly."

"No, no, of course not. But the job is a very simple one, will require only time and a little effort."

"Then you don't need me. Good day."

The man looked shocked at being dismissed. Sebastian stood up and finished his wine. He didn't like dealing with lackeys, no matter how official or important they were. And he certainly wasn't interested in a simple job that anyone could do. But frequently he encountered rich men who could afford him, who wanted to hire him just so they could brag to their friends that they had employed the notorious Raven.

He started to walk away from the table. The two guards suddenly moved to block his way. He didn't laugh. Humor wasn't part of his character anymore. That deep bitterness that he refused to acknowledge left no room for humor. He was annoyed, though, that he was going to be forced to expend effort just to say no.

Before any violence could erupt, the official said, "I must insist that you reconsider. The duke expects you to be hired. He cannot be disappointed."

Sebastian still didn't laugh, though this time he actually had a small urge to do so. He took a moment to deal with the two fellows who thought to detain him, grasping each of them by their heads, which he smashed together. They crumpled at his feet while he glanced back at the official.

"You had a point to make?"

The man was staring at his guards on the floor. He looked disgusted. Sebastian couldn't blame him. Good guards were hard to come by.

The official sighed before he faced Sebastian again. "You've certainly made your point, sir. And allow me to apologize. I understated the matter, which on the surface seems simple enough but is far from it. Others have been sent to perform the task, and all have failed. Five years of failures. Have I intrigued you yet?"

"No, but you've gained a few more minutes of my time," Sebastian said and sat down again at the table. With a hand he indicated the man could make use of the other chair there. "Keep it brief, but be precise this time."

The fellow sat down, cleared his throat. "I work for Leopold Baum. This is his town, in case you were not aware of it. As you might guess, men of the duke's stature make enemies rather easily. It's unavoidable. One in particular happened to be his wife."

"She was his enemy when he married her?"

"No, but it didn't take her long to become one."

Sebastian raised a brow. "He's that difficult to get along with?"

"No, no, certainly not," the fellow insisted in defense of his employer. "But she possibly thought so. But to the facts. Five years ago she was kidnapped, at least it seemed so. A ransom was demanded and delivered, but the duchess wasn't returned. It was assumed she was killed. The duke was furious, of course. An extensive search ensued, but there were no clues to follow."

"Let me guess," Sebastian said dryly. "She perpetrated the kidnapping plot to extract some wealth before she went on her merry way?"

The fellow flushed. "So it would seem. Several months after the ransom was paid, she was seen traveling, quite in style, across Europe. Men were sent after her. A few more clues were found, but she never was."

"So what exactly does the duke want? His wife, his money, or both?"

"The money isn't important."

"If that's the case, why wasn't more expended in finding her? It sounds like he didn't really want her back."

"Frankly, sir, I must agree with you," the fellow confided. "I would have devoted more effort myself if she were my wife and I'd yet to produce an heir."

Sebastian sat back, somewhat surprised, though his expression remained inscrutable. He waited for the man to clarify his statement. He did appear slightly nervous now, after saying it.

"That is not to say that a great deal of effort has not already been made in the search. But the duke is a busy man. He has not spent every moment of these last years actively pursuing the matter. Now, however, he has become obsessed with finding her so he can divorce her and remarry."

"Ah, finally to the heart of the matter."

The fellow flushed, and his nod was so slight it was almost imperceptible. His nervousness was understandable now. He was saying things his employer wouldn't like him to reveal.

"When he heard you were in town, his hopes soared. Your reputation of success, no matter how difficult the job, has preceded you. He has every confidence that you will find his wife and bring her home."

"If I take the job."

"But you must!" the fellow began, then amended, "Or does it seem too difficult a task, even for you?"

Sebastian didn't take the bait. "I don't particularly like jobs that deal with women. I also haven't finished my last job, am on my way to France now to do that."

"But that is not a problem," the fellow assured him with some relief. "This job will take you in that direction. A brief detour would be quite permissible."

"That's where the duke's wife was last seen, in France?"

"The trail led there, and beyond. The duke's arm is far-reaching. Putting a great distance between herself and Austria appears to have been her priority during her escape."

"Did she head to the Americas?"

"No — at least we pray not. And a woman of her description took ship to Portsmouth at the time. The last report we had was that she took ship again, but only farther up the coast of England. Another ship was available, to North America, but since she didn't take that one, we concluded she decided to settle in England under an assumed name. There were no further reports. Every other man who was sent there to find her has never returned." And then the fellow whispered, "It's my guess they were afraid to return to the duke with only failure to report."

Having heard enough, Sebastian stood up to leave. "I am afraid I will have to decline after all," he said, a coldness having entered his tone. "England is one place I will never go. Good day."

He expected the man to try and stop him again. He didn't, probably because he realized it wouldn't do any good. Just as well. Jobs that dealt with women had an extra level of difficulty. On every single one he'd taken, the female involved had tried to seduce him.

John found it amusing, hilariously so, claiming that Sebastian was too handsome to be a mercenary. Sebastian disagreed. It was his reputation, the sinister persona of The Raven, and his indifference to the women that created the problem. He believed in putting the job before pleasure. But the women felt differently. Intrigued by him, they saw no reason to wait until the job was finished to become intimately acquainted with him. Which is where the added difficulty came in.

He had an ingrained sense of duty, which was probably why he excelled at his chosen occupation. Anything that deviated from getting the job done was to be avoided. Anything that distracted him was to be avoided as well. And a woman trying to seduce him was a definite distraction. He might not call himself an Englishman anymore, but he was still a man. So it really was just as well that he couldn't accept the duke's job.

Copyright © 2005 by Johanna Lindsey

Meet the Author

Johanna Lindsey is world-renowned for her “mastery of historical romance” (Entertainment Weekly), with more than sixty million copies of her novels sold. She is the author of fifty-two previous national bestselling novels, many of which reached the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Lindsey lives in New Hampshire with her family.

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Marriage Most Scandalous 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading some of the spectacularly bad reviews for this book I expected it to be awful, but was pleasantly surprised. I think it was a decent read, not her best, but ok. I think it was better than some of her other recent novels (A Man to Call My Own), and wasn't nearly as terrible as a lot of people claimed it was. I found the ending neither confusing, nor convoluted, and I find it hard to believe that anyone who paid a modicum of attention to the story would find it overly so either. Also, it was implied that the story is 'far-fetched' and to an extent it's true, but isn't that somewhat of an element of romance novels in general? I know I don't read romance novels because I expect that that's going to happen in real life! It's worth giving a chance anyway, and I feel many of the reviewers were a bit too harsh in reviewing it. It's true, it's not up to the usual standard, but it certainly was better than 1-2 stars.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1808 Sebastian Townshend is stunned to learn that his best friend Giles Weymess married a ¿whore¿ who he just slept with; however, he was unprepared for Giles to challenge him to a duel as the new wife weeping confessed that Sebastian seduced her. At Dueling Rock, Sebastian kills Giles. Feeling guilt and wanting to die, Sebastian flees to the continent where he becomes Raven the mercenary. --- When a series of near deadly accidents occur to Sebastian¿s father Douglas, his ward Lady Margaret Landor wonders if his younger son Denton and his spouse want to inherit early. She knows the only person she feels can keep her beloved guardian safe and uncover the truth is Sebastian. She travels to illicit his help; he refuses to go home unless she pays his mercenary fee that she cannot remit or her body in trade. Offering him a fortune they return to his home to learn the truth even as they fall in love. --- MARRIAGE MOST SCANDALOUS is a fabulous Regency romantic suspense starring a wonderful courageous heroine and her remorseful brooding champion. The exciting story line at times reads like an amateur sleuth tale as the lead couple try to keep his father safe and learn who the malevolence is as much as a save his soul historical. With several Lindsey twists, sub-genre fans will treasure this author¿s latest fine scandal driven tale.--- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like Johanna Lindsay. And this bookwas no exception. There were some editing errors that made it difficut to figure out which character was speaking but over all I still rnjoyed the book. Great chraracters, mystery, passion and love.
LynDenise More than 1 year ago
Loved this book -- Had a hard time putting it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There's definite chemistry between the characters, however there's not much time spent between them for the readers to obsorb. The plot is weak, but I still liked the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this book was ok. I rushed to the book store to get it and it took me a week to read it. I usually read her books in a day or two. It was slow and did not have any real passion. I thought that it was hard to follow in some places. This book will not deter me from buying other books. I still love her books, but this one was not my favorite.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never seemed to connect with the heroine, which made the book very flat for me. Overall, it was a good story with interesting characters, but very slow moving! It was difficult for me to finish.
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Loved it! Unexpected ending!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book.
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This is why I keep reading her books. Keepsme entertained.
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Havent read a book by johanna lindsey that i havent become completely enraptured with.
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