The Girl with the Sweetest Secret

The Girl with the Sweetest Secret

by Betina Krahn

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author Betina Krahn’s warmhearted and witty new romance is filled with sparkling surprises . . .
 
When Frances Bumgarten encounters a handsome stranger in her kitchen in the middle of the night, her first impulse is to wallop the scoundrel on the head with a bread paddle. And when Frankie discovers he is “The Fox,” a disarmingly arrogant purveyor of gossip among England’s aristocracy, she’s tempted to take a second swing . . .
 
Never mind that Reynard Boulton, nephew of the Viscount Tannehill, is returning her inebriated uncle safely home. This chiseled intruder has sparked an infuriating physical sensation unlike anything the feisty Nevada silver heiress has experienced. In fact, the noblemen of London are so dull, Frankie’s sworn off marriage entirely. She will, however, help her younger sister win her own love match—even if it means secretly enlisting Reynard’s enquiring mind . . .
 
But secrets, as Reynard knows too well, can be costly. For Frankie is yet unaware that a villainous duke is scheming to claim her—and ruin him. Soon they’re racing to uncover the truth—and fueling a passion that won’t stay hidden . . .
 
Praise for A Good Day to Marry a Duke
 
“The very essence of romance . . . endlessly entertaining.”
—Booklist (Starred Review)
 
“Readers will gallop through the lighthearted love story.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Full of wit, deceit, manipulation, and a thoroughly entertaining mix of American and English cultural references, this amusing romance has set the bar high for the sequels.”  
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781420143492
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Series: Sin & Sensibility Series , #2
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 598,003
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Betina Krahn is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 30 historical and contemporary romances. Her works have won numerous industry awards, including the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award for Love and Laughter. Visit her on the web at www.betinakrahn.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"Never seen a man hold liquor like he can," Beulah MacNeal, legendary proprietress of the Chancery, said with a dark chuckle.

Reynard Boulton, heir to the Viscount Tannehill, stood on the mezzanine overlooking the gaming floor of Mrs. MacNeal's infamous gambling establishment in southwest London. The air was a haze of spirits and smoke, and crackled with the noise of a risky but lucrative pleasure trade. Below, a familiar barrel-chested figure in evening clothes was propped against a gaming table with only a couple of chips in front of him.

"He's a regular marvel of nature," Reynard said, wincing at the way Redmond Strait reached for a glass of whiskey on a passing tray and missed, dropping his arm heavily. "Stewed to the gills. Again." He frowned and turned to the massive but elegantly clothed woman seated on a grand settee behind him. "How much has he lost?"

"A bundle," Beulah said, opening her fan and appraising the action on the floor below. "Near two thousand."

Reynard gave a soft whistle from between his teeth.

"Third time this week." She accepted a glass of champagne from a tray presented by a uniformed servant, and sipped daintily. It was odd, Reynard thought, how a woman of such monumental proportions could seem so dainty at times. "He's lost similar amounts each time."

"Damn. And you sent for me because?" Reynard narrowed his eyes.

"He's a friend."

"Of yours?"

"Don't be difficult, Fox. I know you know him and his family. I know you'd not want to see him come to harm. He needs to go home."

"And you called me to be his cabbie." A barb lurked in that statement, but Beulah smiled, too familiar with the vagaries of his moods to be offended. Reynard frowned, not pleased at being read so accurately.

"Take him home," Beulah said flatly, studying her now empty glass. "And see he doesn't return for a while." Her broad but still lovely face was as determined as he'd ever seen it. "I've been hearing rumors."

Every nerve in Reynard's body came alert. News. Gossip. Rumors. Information was Reynard Boulton's stock and trade. Surely he hadn't missed a juicy bit. The possibility was downright unsettling.

"What kind of rumors?"

"About his losses." Beulah's all-seeing gaze bored into him. "And the family in trouble because of it. Despite what some may think of me, it is not my desire to see men wreck their fortunes and families at my tables."

Reynard turned to stare at jug-bit Redmond Strait. The hard-drinking old prospector from the American West was fast becoming either a colorful legend or a cautionary tale in London's jealously guarded upper crust. Either could spell disaster for Red's family of abominably perfect and pulchritudinous females — who were most likely ignorant of the threat his nightly entertainments posed to —

Good God. He blanched, caught in a squeeze between a long-ignored conscience and mortal dread. He had made a promise.

Curse Ashton Graham's hide. When heading for New York with his pregnant wife, Daisy, he had wrangled a promise from Reynard to look after her family in his absence. Her sisters were babes in the woods, he said. Too pretty for their own good, he said. London was full of snakes, rakes, and scandalmongers, he said. And if anyone could look after them and see that nothing wicked assailed them, it was the Fox himself ... who was on a first- name basis with wicked and had the resources and cunning to intercept and deflect any harm that threatened Daisy's family.

He closed his eyes for a moment, fighting back the memory of Ashton's genuine worry and the liquor they'd consumed the night before Ash and Daisy left for America. He'd been near comatose by the time his old school friend pried that unthinkable vow from him.

What would it hurt? he had told himself when he sobered up. They were so fresh and innocent and their mother and uncle were so doting and protective, what could go wrong?

He glanced down at the gaming floor and frowned at the way Red stumbled and then laughed uproariously at his own misstep — drawing his fellow gamblers into the hilarity. That was what could go wrong.

A frisson of shame went through him at the way he'd abandoned his word on such a self-centered premise. Since that night, he'd done his best to avoid the Bumgarten women and their hard-drinking uncle.

Below, Red managed to capture a passing glass of whiskey and down it. "Whoa, howdy, boys! That there's some fiiine Irish whiskey!" It seemed like the entire patronage joined his raucous laughter.

Reynard grimaced and then nodded to Beulah MacNeal.

"Fine," he said roughly. "I'll pry him loose from your table and carry him home." And he descended the steps to save silver magnate Redmond Strait from his own worst impulses.

* * *

Frances "Frankie" Bumgarten lay awake in her feather-plumped bed, staring up at the delicate canopy overhead. Light from the wheezing coals in the hearth moved sinuously across the silk-lined brocade, and the stylish townhouse was so quiet she could hear the chimes of the clock in the distant entry hall. Minutes that seemed like hours dragged by. For the third time that week, she had awakened in the middle of the night and found it impossible to go back to sleep. The reason was all too clear.

Elizabeth Strait Bumgarten, Frankie's mother, had given her an ultimatum: cooperate and make herself amenable to noble suitors or find herself packed off back to America.

Elizabeth was determined to see her daughters married and settled in matches that provided both status and comfort. As heiresses to a fortune derived from Nevada's silver mines, they deserved nothing less. Their older sister Daisy had married the penniless second son of a duke — a love match, of all things — making Elizabeth all the more determined to see her three remaining daughters married according to her expectations.

The fact that none of them were interested in marrying the boring, self- absorbed, duty-ridden sons of noble houses seemed to escape her.

Frankie turned over and pounded her pillows into a more comfortable shape, wishing that her mother would prove half as malleable.

Minutes later, overheated, she threw the covers off.

The featherbed was too soft, the mattress below it, too hard ...

She would have to find a way to endure and escape unattached through dinners, parties, and balls until the end of the season. She was not about to be railroaded into some half-baked arrangement with one of the matrimonial rejects that haunted tearooms and debutante balls.

Truth be told, she couldn't see any advantage in marriage, for herself or any other woman. It was a lot of fuss and bother, with vows to cleave to, honor, and obey. The man would get her marriage settlement, a housekeeper, bed warmer, and ultimately an heir and a baby tender. While she would get a belly full of duty, then of baby, then of even more duty.

The fact that she knew about the bed-warming, baby-getting part should probably disqualify her as suitable wife material, anyway. Her elder sister Daisy had been quite explicit with her on what to expect regarding marital nightlife, and, it all sounded more than a little off-putting. She hadn't seen or met a single man she would consider sharing bed and board with, much less her most intimate body parts.

That thought propelled her from her bed and set her pacing. It really was too warm in her room. She fanned her nightgown and a moment later headed for the door. There was only one cure for this kind of restlessness.

The great brick kitchen on the sub-street level was cool and mostly dark. She paused to let her eyes adjust rather than turn up the low-burning gas lamp. Cook was not overly fond of Frankie's nighttime journeys into her domain; no sense advertising her presence. She held a hand over the stove and smiled at the lingering warmth. It was just enough. She knew exactly where the little copper café-au-lait pot was shelved and where Cook kept milk in the icebox.

She had the milk warming and was reaching for a crockery cup from the shelf when a thump and a rattle came from the steps and short hall that led up to the alley door.

She froze and craned her neck trying to make out the alcove in that hallway. Young Bob the footman always dozed there until everyone — meaning Uncle Red — was in for the night. But the seat was empty. Then came what might have been a muffled groan and the sound of a lock being scraped. Picked? She staggered back against the sideboard. Someone was trying to force the alley door?

Thieves!

She looked around for something, anything with which to defend her home. Spotting an old wooden bread paddle hanging above the fireplace — the one Cook used to threaten any footman sneaking a taste from a serving bowl — she grabbed it and judged it hefty enough to make a dent in a robber's motivation.

The alley door swung open with a muffled bang, and it sounded like someone grunted and then muttered in annoyance. She positioned herself at the side of the steps leading down into the kitchen, paddle raised. The minute the two figures lurched into view, she swung the paddle at the nearest one and a top hat went flying.

"Aghhh!"

It was a glancing blow. She could have done better. But it sent the closest wretch stumbling and the other fellow sinking to his knees, then to the floor. Wait — a top hat?

The head gear rolled across the floor, and a deep voice growled, "Damn it!" She lurched back with a hand clamped to her mouth — she'd only managed to make the one she'd struck mad as a wet hornet. He clapped a hand to the side of his forehead, straightened, and turned on her.

"Jesus, woman, what are you trying to do? Kill someone?"

In a heartbeat, she recognized that patrician voice, that chiseled face, that ... oh, no.

Clutching the bread paddle to her chest, she scrambled back, trying to make sense of the fact that Reynard Boulton, heir to the wealthy and reclusive Viscount Tannehill, was in her house in the middle of the night ... with ...

"Uncle Red!" She recognized the heap on the floor as he pushed up on one arm and shook his head weakly. She ran to him, knelt, and searched for signs of injury. "What's happened? Are you all right?"

The smell hit her the same moment Reynard Boulton's voice did.

"He's bloody fine. Just stewed to the gills."

Red reeked of whiskey. It wasn't exactly an unusual occurrence, but the fact that he was collapsed on the kitchen floor looking pie-eyed and incapacitated was alarming. His head hit the floor and his eyes closed.

"It's me that's in mortal danger," Boulton bit out. "What the devil possessed you to attack someone entering your kitchen with —"

"I thought you were a house-breaker," she replied irritably. He was testing the side of his forehead and glowering down at her. From that angle, he looked tall and intimidating. Light hair, gray eyes, and chiseled features. She didn't remember him being so ... tall or so ... handsome. She did, however, remember his condescending manner toward her and her sisters at Daisy's wedding three years ago. Insufferable nob. She rose, chin up. "Young Bob always locks the door and goes to bed when Uncle Red comes home, so I thought he was home already."

"Well, he wasn't." Boulton looked around the floor for something.

"What are you doing bringing my uncle home?"

"He was incapable of making it to his own door, so a mutual friend asked me to see him home." He drew his gloved hand from his injury, and inspected it, seeming relieved that no blood had been drawn. However, he was growing a nice little goose-egg above his eye. With any luck, he might even develop a shiner. She could only hope.

"Come on, Uncle Red." She stooped beside him, taking hold of his arm and straining to pull him upright. "You can't lie here. Let's get you up to bed."

Red was in no condition to contribute to his own relocation, and after several tugs and changes of grip, she gave an exasperated groan and looked up at Reynard Boulton. He was watching her efforts through narrowed eyes.

Judgmental ass.

Having to ask for his help was nothing short of humiliating.

"If you would be so good as to assist me in getting him to his bed," she said tartly. "My mother will faint dead away if she finds him on the floor of the kitchen in the morning."

It took a moment, but he jerked a nod, muttering something about good deeds going unpunished.

Red was pure dead weight as they pulled him upright, positioned themselves under his arms, and supported him around the waist. Frankie was aware of Boulton's arm against hers around Red, and of the fact that he was bearing the better part of Red's weight. Still, getting her uncle through the center hall and up the stairs took monumental effort.

She directed them along the upper hall to Red's room and managed to open the door. At the side of his bed, they let him go and allowed him to fall, facedown onto the pristine linen. Huffing annoyance, she heaved both of his feet up onto the bedcovers and started to unlace his shoes.

To her surprise, Boulton reached for the other shoe and a moment later set it carefully on the bench at the foot of the bed. Then he transferred his attentions to Red's suit coat, tie, and collar. Soon, she was able to pull the coverlet from beneath her uncle and lay it over him.

It was chilly in the room. There was no fire and the staff hadn't thought to draw the heavy drapes closed for the night. Moonlight coming through the window allowed her to see Boulton plainly as he stood nearby, his light eyes wandering over her. She suppressed a shiver.

"What were you doing in the kitchen in the dead of night anyway, Miss" — he was distracted momentarily — "which Bumgarten are you?"

"Frances. Frankie to my friends and family. You can call me Miss Bumgarten," she answered, feeling an annoying tightness in her throat. Increasingly self-conscious in her nightgown, probably because she was naked beneath it, she wrapped her arms around her waist. "I couldn't sleep, so I went downstairs to make some warm milk."

She looked up, met his gaze, and nearly dropped to her knees. His gray eyes had warmed to silver, his lips were parted as if he were about to speak, and his features glowed with an arousing kind of heat. Speculation weighted that silver gaze as it roamed her and lingered boldly on the skin bared by the drawstring neck of her nightgown. She felt it like a physical touch. What the devil was happening to her? She felt prickles all over, like she had been plunged into hot water.

"He's not usually like this," she said, pulling from his gaze to glance at her wayward uncle.

"I'm afraid he is. More than you know," Boulton said coolly. "He's what you Americans call 'a drinkin' man.'"

"Well, he's not usually this — what you Brits call —'into his cups.'"

He made a rumbling sound deep in his chest that might have been a laugh.

Her fingertips tingled.

"I suppose I should thank you for bringing him home." She raised her chin and started around him toward the door, but he stepped into her path, facing her, now even closer.

"Yes," he said, his voice oddly lower, softer. "You should."

Then he stood watching her, seeming expectant.

Every nerve in her body vibrated with a delicious sort of tension.

"Very well. Thank you, Mr. Boulton," she said through half-clenched jaws, irritated by her reaction to his presence as much as his ungracious attitude. The sooner he was out of the house, the better. "Let me show you out."

She stalked down the hallway and down the stairs, refusing to look behind her to see if he was following. The minute she reached the kitchen she picked up the bread paddle from the floor and pressed the handle to her as she began to look for his hat. A moment later, he arrived in the doorway and watched as she retrieved his headgear and held it out to him.

"I'm afraid it's damaged," she said as he took in the dented side and broken brim. "I'll see that it is replaced. If you will give me the name of your hatmaker ..."

"No need," he said tersely, holding it up and appraising the dangling piece of brim with an irritable squint.

"I insist."

His mouth twitched as if he were suppressing a stronger reaction.

"Fine. Scott's." He grimaced and grabbed his forehead as if pain had just speared through it again. "In Bond Street."

She felt an alarming urge to soothe that forehead and touch the light hair that fell in a soft wave over it, but managed to keep her arms tucked.

"I suppose I should apologize for your head," she said.

"Yes. You should." He clipped energy from each word as if saving it to deal with the pain.

"I could mix you a headache powder," she said, astonished that those words came out of her mouth. She was trying to kick him out the door, wasn't she? "Cook keeps a supply of medicinals here."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Girl with the Sweetest Secret"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Betina Krahn.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.

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The Girl with the Sweetest Secret 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Betina always does a wonderful job of promoting feminine values and creating strong characters that refuse to be beaten down by society's rules. The men are just as wonderful, in their appreciation of strong and independent women. In this book, she explores age old themes of power and abuse, love and support, as well as family bonds and the importantce of of love in the lives of all of her characters.
Historical_Romance_Lover More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Frances and Reynard's story. After meeting Reynard in book one of the series, I was excited to watch him fall in love! When Frances's sister finds herself in love with a musician, she needs to know if the man is good enough for her. She decides to go to Reynard as he is well known for having the latest gossip and the sources to dirt up dirt. Having long ago decided never to marry, she is surprised to find herself falling for Reynard. When Frances approaches Reynard for help, he can't refuse. He promised his best friend to look out for the Bumgarten sisters while they were in town. He had mostly kept his distance from the women and after spending time with Frances, can't seem to help but fall in love. But with his inheritance in question, he can't offer for anyone. But when an evil duke schemes to marry Frances, Reynard has to decide if his love is enough. Can Reynard save Frances from the evil duke and make her his own? I loved watching these two come together. The bantering between them had me laughing out loud. I can't wait to read the last book in the trilogy and see what Krahn has in store for the last Bumgarten sister!
diane92345 More than 1 year ago
The Girl with Sweetest Secret is an American brought over to London by her family to use their money to capture a title. American Frances “Frankie” Bumgarten is surprised by a stranger in her family’s kitchen late at night. After almost braining the stranger with an old bread paddle, Frankie is embarrassed by her lack of a robe or any covering other than a thin nightgown. Frankie recognizes Reynard Boulton, aka the Fox, who is an heir to a Viscount and collects gossip as his trade. He is helping her Uncle Red return home from a long evening of gambling and drinking. The Fox has agreed to watch over Frankie and her sister in her brother-in-law’s absence so he was unable to use the gossip he acquired against Frankie and her family. Later when the Fox and Frankie meet at a dance, they both feel a connection. Unfortunately, Frankie’s mother wants her to marry high in the aristocracy and a Prussian Duke is interested in her. When later, the Fox is almost ensnared in a family’s marriage trap, Frankie saves him from immediate shame. However, the Fox must have a duel with the family’s father. While Frankie, dressed as a boy, is watching, the duel is held. The action just escalates from there. The Girl with Sweetest Secret is an action-packed and enjoyable Victorian historical romance. It is highly recommended for readers of that genre. 4 stars! Thanks to Zebra Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Noire More than 1 year ago
I received an ARC of this book to read through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. The Girl With The Sweetest Secret is the second book Betina Krahn has written about the Bumgarten Sisters. I do think you will want to read both books in order to be able to better understand this book. Two of the sisters fall in love in this book Frances who’s story is the main one in the book and Claire who’s story while secondary is delightful as well. Frances Baumgarten and Reynard Bolton aka The Fox start out as reluctant allies, move to friends, the keepers of each other’s secrets and then lovers. There are lots of secrets and adventure, exciting chases, a nasty villain, and a pair of very satisfying HEAs. Although this is a historical novel I think many of the things the characters experience will resonate with modern readers. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this delightful story and do recommend it. Medium Steam, Publishing Date November 27, 2018 #NetGalley #TheGirlWithTheSweetestSecret #kensingtonbooks #zebraromance
georgia1 More than 1 year ago
An exciting story with compelling characters you cannot help but love and plenty of twist and turns, it is hard to keep up with it all! The second story of the four American Baumgarten sisters and this time with Frankie. She finds the gentlemen in London boring and is not in a hurry to marry, if ever. Of course her mother wants all of her daughters to marry a titled husband if possible. What starts as an unexpected meeting, brings Raynard, aka the Fox into contact with her. He had been given the duty of watching over the girls by his best friend, although he has kept a distance. But being around Frankie they both started feeling attracted to each other. Full of suspense, secrets, romance, betrayal and humor this tale had a little of it all. With lovable characters and the chemistry between Frankie and Raynard strong, I could not put it down until the end. I am looking forward to the next story in this series with the another delightful sister! I read this through NetGallery Lori Dykes
Sunshine1006 More than 1 year ago
First time I have read anything by this author. She is a great writer. I absolutely loved this book. Frances or Frankie's family is from America, making their money from silver mining . She lives with her mother, Elizabeth and her two sisters, Claire and Sarah. The head of the house is Redmond Strait, their mother's brother. It is most important to Elizabeth that her daughters marry a titled gentleman. The family knows Reynard Boulton as he is their brother in law's best friend. He is also, known as Fox, since he is someone who knows many secrets. There is attraction between Fox and Frankie but they annoy each other as well. While at a ball, the Duke of Ottenberg from Prussia notices Frankie and decides he wants to court her. Frankie knows he is not a nice or kind man, but her mother insists that she accept his attention. Fox saved her from him a few times, but Fox has not come into his title at this time and he hasn't enough money or clout to suit Elizabeth. Meanwhile there are other romances happening and a sudden trip to Paris to save a family member. There's a kidnapping, intrigue and steamy love scenes. What an amazing book with different stories woven into Frankie's and Fox's romance. I don't want to give the ending away. Can't wait for the next book. 5+ I received this book from Net Galley and Kensington Books for a honest review and no compensation otherwise. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pages. At that point, it fell apart and I started skimming pages. I am a huge fan of this author; unfortunately, this killed my affection for her writing and I won't be back. Save your money!