"With Wicked Little Secrets' intriguing plot, quirky characters, witty escapades and heartfelt dialogue, Ives has created a read that's as thought-provoking as it is romantic."RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars
Vivienne Taylor strives to be the embodiment of her wealthy fiancé's rigid ideal of a virtuous lady. But being good isn't easy when a blackmailer threatens to destroy her reputationand the only person who can help is the deliciously wicked Lord Dashiell.
Vivacious Vivienne has finally won her family's approval by getting engaged to the wealthy and upright John Vandergrift. But when threatened by a vicious blackmail scheme, it is to her childhood friend that Vivienne turns; the deliciously wicked Viscount Dashiell.
Lord Dashiell promised himself long ago that his friendship with Vivienne would be the one relationship with a woman that he wouldn't ruin. He agrees to help her just to keep the little hothead safe, but soon finds that Vivienne has grown up to be very, very dangerous to all of Dash's best intentions.
Wicked Little Secrets Series:
Wicked Little Secrets (Book 1)
Wicked, My Love (Book 2)
How to Impress a Marquess (Book 3)
Praise for Rakes and Radishes:
"Once in a while, I read a book that's so emotive that I find myself thinking about it long after I have put it down and Rakes and Radishes, with its theme of love and forgiveness, is such a book."The Romance Reviews, Best Book of 2010 Nominee
"I thoroughly enjoyed this story."Night Owl Reviews, 4 ½ stars, Review Top Pick!
About the Author
Susanna Ives started writing when she left her job as a multimedia training developer to stay home with her family. Now she keeps busy driving her children to various classes, writing books, and maintaining websites. She often follows her husband on business trips around Europe and blogs about the misadventures of touring with children. She lives in Atlanta.
Read an Excerpt
No. 15 Wickerly Square, London Tuesday, March 11, 1845
Vivienne Taylor repressed a mischievous smile as she gazed at the female members of the Wesley Congregational. The way the ladies sat in three neat rows, with their earnest faces poking out from their morning caps, resembled a gardening bed of black and white lacy flowers. They gathered for the weekly Bible lessons held in the parlor of Gertrude Bertis's home on Wickerly Square.
Aunt Gertrude banged her cane on the floor, signaling the beginning of the lessons and scaring Garth, her pug dog, who had been snoozing at her feet. "Sisters, today we shall have a special reading in celebration." Her mouth hiked slightly around the edges... the closest she came to smiling. For though she had a plump, flushed face-the kind made for grins and laughter-she kept her mouth and brow in tense, severe lines, making her appear decades older than her forty-one years. She wore her hair in a snug bun, but a few rebellious strands of silver and brown escaped and curled about her face. Her corset was laced tight, constraining her expansive, round form into rigid feminine contours. Yet when she gazed at her niece, a tender glow melted all the hardness in her eyes.
"My little Vivvie is engaged." Aunt Gertrude reached over and patted the top of Vivienne's hand. A wave of warmth flowed through Vivienne's body.
The ladies cooed "How lovely," and "Won't you be a beautiful bride?"-not the sort of disapproving words Vivienne had heard most of her twenty-two years, words such as "Proper young ladies do not bring up the marriage customs of the ancient Spartans at dinner parties," and "Proper young ladies do not ask the circulating library for books by the Marquis de Sade," and the one that embarrassed her father the most, "Proper young ladies are not asked to leave the ladies' seminary."
Vivienne had done something right, even if for the first time in her life, as her sisters Hannah and Fiona had claimed. Just when her family was a few pounds from debtor's prison, Vivienne managed to catch John Vandergrift, the son of the manager for South Birmingham Railroad. With a flourish of his pen, the elder Mr. Vandergrift could fill her father's machinery factory with orders.
"Vivvie has come up from Birmingham to be near her fiancé," her aunt continued. "I met him just yesterday, such a fine, considerate young man. I know Mr. Bertis would have approved." She turned her head and gazed up at the portrait of the honorable Judge Jeremiah Bertis, posed in his court robes and wavy wig. He held his jutting, Romanesque nose high, as his heavy-lidded, dark eyes looked disapprovingly on everything below him.
"Mr. Vandergrift is wonderful, isn't he?" Vivienne gushed. "I have to continually pinch myself. I can't believe that he proposed."
"Well, it's little wonder," said Mrs. Lacey in her honey-sweet voice. She resembled an elf with her small stature, frizzy white hair, and bright smile. "You're ravishing with those green eyes and black curls. And your breasts are so ample. You know how gentlemen just love breasts."
"Breasts!" Aunt Gertrude cried. "Mrs. Lacey, pray restrain yourself!" She squeezed the bulbous head of her cane as she fumbled about the medicine bottles on the side table, finding a blue square one that Vivienne recognized to be Dr. Philpot's Wonderful Nerve Tonic for Ailing and Suffering Ladies. Soothing Menses, Hysteria, and Other Female Complaints. She popped the cork, took a discreet swig, and then sniffed, dabbing the edge of her mouth. "A lady's virtue is far more desirous than her physical beauty. There is many a lady suffering in the flames of hell for her vanity." She let her words fall as heavily as the sentences her husband handed down to the poor women brought before the London courts. "Now, for your own benefit and Vivienne's, you shall read from Proverbs, Chapter 31, verses 1031."
"I just need to get my spectacles." Mrs. Lacey reached for her reticule, still smiling despite the warning of her soul's incineration in hell. She rooted through her personal effects, handing her neighbor various embroidered linens, perfume bottles, and a dried, crumpled flower to hold. "Isn't that the prettiest little chrysanthemum? I hope that gentleman didn't mind when I plucked it from his coat. Ah, here are my spectacles. Now, what was I supposed to read?"
"Proverbs, Chapter 31, verse 10. Proverbs is after Psalms." Vivienne rose, took the lady's Bible, turned it upright, and flipped to the correct page. "It was written by King Solomon. He was forever writing proverbs and songs, you know. He had over five hundred wives."
"Good heavens," Mrs. Lacey exclaimed, taking the Bible. "How many times a day do you think he-"
Aunt Gertrude cleared her throat. "The verse, if you will."
Mrs. Lacey held the Bible to the tip of her nose and squinted behind her spectacles. "‘Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above boobies.'"
"It does not say ‘boobies'!" her aunt barked. "‘Her price is far above rubies.' Rubies!"
"I just love rubies," Mrs. Lacey exclaimed. "I am always telling Mr. Lacey that-"
Aunt Gertrude banged her cane. "Please refrain from any personal digression."
Thirty minutes later, Mrs. Lacey had progressed exactly six verses. Garth, now asleep again, made little snorts at his owner's feet. Vivienne tried not to fidget. She forced herself to sit up straight even though her back ached from the hard chair. Could the future wife of John Vandergrift excuse herself to the privy and escape? Would that be the action of a Biblically virtuous wife? As Vivienne contemplated the moral dilemma, she noticed, through the window, the wild, untamed gray hair and spry body of her aunt's neighbor, the Earl of Baswiche. He stood in her aunt's tiny box garden, wearing only a beige banyan that reached to the calves of his bare legs. His eyes sparkled with a devious light.
"Pardon me," Vivienne interrupted, "but Lord Baswiche is in the garden."
"What?" Her aunt whipped her head around to the window.
The earl's mouth cracked into a wide grin. "Hello, ladies!"
He spread his arms and his banyan opened. Between his slightly bowed legs, his male parts dangled like meat strung in a butcher's window.
Vivienne put her hand to her mouth to hide her giggles.
Mrs. Lacey gasped. "What a big-"
"Get out of my garden, you dirty sinner!" Aunt Gertrude shot up, almost stumbling over Garth, as she yanked the curtains over the window. "Miss Banks!" she shouted for the housekeeper. "Go next door and tell that wicked Lord Dashiell that his grandfather is in my garden again."
Lord Dashiell was home! Vivienne's blood surged with excitement.
"My poor nerves." Her aunt beat her palm against her bosom. "I feel an attack coming on." She grabbed Dr. Philpot's and gulped down the contents. "Where is Banks? Banks!" she cried, violently shaking the bottle, trying to get out one last drop.
"She is down in the kitchen getting the cakes ready," Vivienne said. "I'll tell Lord Dashiell." She started for the door.
Aunt Gertrude's eyes widened. "Don't you dare go to that house of ill repute next door-a shameful Babylon. What would your father think of me for allowing you to be corrupted? Now let us sit down." She eased back in her chair, and her nostrils flared with her rapid breath. She gripped her cane, running her fingers up and down the shaft. "Mrs. Lacey, read the next verse," she said in a controlled calm. "You were saying, ‘She girdeth her loins with strength.'"
"I'll just tell his butler," Vivienne assured her. "I won't be a minute. How could I possibly get corrupted in that short a time?" She scooted off before she could be stopped. She hadn't seen Lord Dashiell since he left for Rome over a year ago and, who knew, he might be heading to Russia the next day. Typically, he stayed in London long enough to land into a scandal and then he was off again.
Outside, she scanned Wickerly Square, adjusting her eyes to the light. Built a few decades after the Great Fire, the houses were not nearly as fashionable as those in Cavendish and Grosvenor Square to the west. Dull stacks of gray stone with dark windows edged the square-the homes of middling families. Dashiell's domicile stood at the corner and towered over its neighbors, giving the square a lopsided appearance, as if his were the manor house and all the other homes mere tenant outbuildings. In the center of the square, protected by a block iron fence, was a grass-covered park. In each corner grew spreading oak trees with low branches, perfect for a young girl to climb.
One afternoon, a little over ten years before, she had been daydreaming in the tree growing nearest Lord Dashiell's home when she first spied on the famed scoundrel. She had been sent outside after inventing a fantastic game she called "Keep Out of the Ocean," which required shoving all the parlor furniture together and pretending it was a cluster of islands in the South Seas. Then she leaped from chair to table to harpsichord without falling into the ocean and being devoured by hungry sharks while singing at the top of her lungs. Her uncle had thundered out of his library, his face creased with rage. "Bad seed!" he boomed. He never called her by her name or my little Vivvie like her aunt, just bad seed. "Why are you intent on destroying my home? Do you know what happens to little girls who don't respect other people's property?"
"You put them in the gaol?" she ventured.
"Precisely," he answered. "And wipe that insolence from your face when you speak to me. Mark my words, you are rotten in the soul and will come to ruin."
So she had been sent to the square with a copy of Institutes of the Laws of England to learn the legal process by which wicked little girls came to ruin. She had scampered up the tree and set the book on a high branch in hopes a bird might drop on it. There, hidden in the thick foliage, she felt safe. With the exception of Aunt Gertrude, every adult in her life just scolded her. Now that his wife had died, her father was forever losing his patience with Vivienne, who was as excitable as her sisters were calm. Every few months, she drove the poor man to such distractions that he would claim that he couldn't do anything else with her and would send her to Uncle Jeremiah's so she could "learn how to behave herself."
The way she saw the situation, she would just continue to let down her father and uncle, and there was only one sensible solution to the problem: to stow away on a boat to Egypt and raid tombs. She was thinking of the specifics of her plan, which included dressing like a boy, eating hard tack, perhaps even bugs, when she heard a rich, resonant male voice say, "What a fine climbing tree you have."
She had gazed down through the leaves at Lord Dashiell and gasped. He could have stepped straight out of her imagination, filled as it was with blood-thirsty pirates, fierce Mongols, and courageous Templar knights. He was about twenty-one years old then. His dark hair flowed loose over his collar in disheveled curls, and his bronze skin was so tanned that he could have been Marco Polo himself. With his high cheekbones, strong chin, and blue shadows under his eyes, he appeared quite Gothic, like the heroes in those books her older sister was always reading. Though the ironic twist to his full lips and sparkle in his chocolate-colored eyes belied any dark, stormy thoughts of the Gothic variety.
"I'm Dashiell," he had said, in a kindly voice meant for children, as he pointed to his home. "I just moved there. Our home in Berkeley Square burned down."
"Oh, I've heard of you," she said. "My uncle told my aunt that you're a heathen, whoremonger, and adventurer, and that we're not supposed to talk to you." But looking at this striking species of heathen, her uncle's orders flew from her head. "What's a whoremonger?"
He blinked and his smile tightened from easy to nervous and he started to edge away. "Er, maybe you should ask your uncle."
"Why do adults always answer my questions by saying I should ask another adult?"
He stopped, tossed his head back, and laughed-a welcoming, musical sound. She turned on the branch until she was hanging by her knees and gazing at him from upside down. "I wish I could be an adventurer. I would go to Egypt."
"Well, I just got back from Egypt."
"Really!" She spun down from the tree and landed with a soft thud on her feet. "Did you dig for a Pharaoh's lost treasure? Have you ever found a mummy?"
He knelt down, putting himself at her level. "I have, but most everything of value had already been stolen. It's extremely difficult to find a fresh grave." He dug into his pocket and drew out what looked to be a pale rock. "I did find this in the Valley of the Kings." He turned the curious rock over. It was sanded flat and carved with tiny pictures.
She squealed. "Is that a real hieroglyph?"
"Made over three thousand years ago. Perhaps during the reign of Ramesses the Great."
"Do you know what it says?" she asked.
"Two pots and a goat, I think."
She scrunched her eyebrows. "No, that can't be right. These things were supposed to be about Pharaohs, Isis, and cobras."
"I'm sorry if I procure boring relics." He would have her believe that he was terribly offended, but the quiver on his lips gave him away. "You might as well take it, as no one will want dull hieroglyphs." He took her by the wrist and dropped the stone into her palm. Then he winked.
Her young heart swelled with love. For the first time in her lonely life, she had met a kindred spirit. Except he got to live out all the adventures she could only dream about.
For the next few weeks, she told her uncle that she still wasn't sure what happened to wayward girls who didn't mend their wild ways, and that she should continue reading his law book to find out. Then she would secretly wait in the tree in hopes that Dashiell would come out with another ancient treasure or another fabulous tale of his journeys. Only later did she realize that she was getting the child's versions of these stories-missing all the exotic details that titillated society such as concubines, mysterious lovers, and duels.
A month after she met her hero, she came outside to find his carriage being loaded down with trunks and him dressed in somber gray wool. Traveling clothes.
"Good-bye, my secret little sister," he told her. "I'm heading to Cypress. I've gotten into too much trouble again."
Tears burst from her eyes. "You can't leave me." Her father had written and said she shouldn't come home for another month. And although she loved her aunt with all her heart, she couldn't bear any more of Uncle Bertis's constant scolding and calling her a bad seed.
Dashiell knelt, withdrew a handkerchief from his coat, and wiped her eyes. "Ah, my little Vivienne, don't cry. All I do is make women cry."
"Take me with you. I'll run away. I can help you dig, and we can explore wonderful places together."
"You know that's impossible," he said gently.
"No, it isn't!" she screamed and stamped her foot.
He sighed and raised her fingers to his lips. For a moment she thought he might kiss them, and she felt a strange, almost scary, quickening of her heart. Instead, he gently nipped at her pinky finger.
"W-what are you doing?"
He flashed a mischievous grin. "Performing the sacred ritual of the cannibalistic Bazulo tribe in Africa."
She wanted to be angry with him, but giggled in spite of herself. "There is no Bazulo tribe in Africa."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Well then," he chuckled. His features grew grave and he placed his hand over his heart. "When you make the sacred Bazulo vow, you swear that you will always keep the other in your heart and be there should that friend ever need you. So even if I am hundreds of miles away, I promise that I shall always come back to my secret little sister."
Since that time, Dashiell had popped in and out of her life, exciting her imagination and then leaving again. They would never again be as close as they had been that summer. Although her family might attest otherwise, Vivienne had grown up. And Dashiell continued to be, well, Dashiell. The Bazulo vow was forgotten; it was just something silly he made up to comfort a distraught child. She knew she could never run off with him, being a heathen, whoremonger, and adventurer, and perhaps that was why he still filled her imagination like a bad-behaving, handsome Dionysus-an untouchable Greek god. Of course, her aunt never learned about her niece's secret kinship with the notorious rake, else she might have an apoplexy, and if her father found out, he would truly disown her once and for all.
She knocked on Dashiell's white front door, quite an unassuming entrance for the so-called Babylon. Rivers, the earl's reed-thin, graying butler, answered and looked down at her with weary eyes, like an old man who had seen too much. Behind him was a museum of antiquity and curiosities. Japanese warrior masks, Viking helmets, and various armor from around the globe ran up the stairwell. In the hall stood an upright wooden Egyptian coffin painted with an image of the poor bloke once entombed within it.
"You lying, cruel-hearted scoundrel!" a woman screamed out from an opened door on the first-floor balcony. "You can go back to hell and crawl up the Devil's arse where you belong!"
Vivienne's veins pulsed with excitement. Oh no, what has Dashiell done now?
The butler didn't react, his face as blank as ever, as if this were just another ordinary day in the Earl of Baswiche's household.
"Good morning, Mr. Rivers." She smiled, pretending not to hear the violent stream of curses ringing out in the high ceiling. "It's been several months since I've last seen you, but I must say, you look to be in good health."
"Thank you, Miss," he answered in a deep monotone. "I'm afraid Lord Dashiell is engaged at the moment."
"Why the hell did I come back for this?" Dashiell muttered between gritted teeth. He had been in England only a few weeks and already he was embroiled in an ugly romantic entanglement-one that might have flustered a more proper gentleman. However, after having survived being kidnapped, ransomed, robbed, drugged, and held at the point of knives, guns, and other weaponry in stinking bum holes around the globe, two cracked women on the verge of killing him or each other was just an annoyance.
"I think we all need to calm down." He held up the palm of one hand and gripped his falling trousers with the other.
"Mad lady need to calm down," spat his lovely French ballerina, pointing an ornate medieval executioner's sword at the other woman's creamy throat. Her lithe dancer's body was clad in Dashiell's coat, which she had snatched off the floor when Mrs. Lily Harmon rushed into his chamber-an angry flurry of gold silk and red hair-and interrupted their lovemaking.
Dashiell wasn't concerned with Lily's threatened throat, but the bust of his precious gray-eyed goddess Athena that Lily held over her head. "Lily, take several deep breaths and think about what you are doing. Three thousand years ago, some craftsman put his soul into creating that Athena. The soil of Greece has preserved her all this time. Her history is far greater than this tiny misunderstanding."
"How philosophical of you," Lily said, a wicked grin spreading over her mouth, and she dropped Athena, letting the goddess of wisdom shatter on the floor.
Dashiell emitted a gut-wrenching groan akin to the cry of a wounded wolf. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Oh, I'll tell you what is wrong with me!" Lily screamed. "I waited for you all night. And the whole time, you were with... with... that dancing whore!"
"You ugly dog woman!" The ballerina threw the sword. The blade made a limp arc in the air, missing Mrs. Harmon entirely and slamming into the Roman frieze of Minerva that Dashiell had dug up in Bath. Crumbling stone showered the floor.
"Everyone just stop!" Dashiell thundered, holding up his hands, causing his trousers to fall. "Dammit!" He quickly snatched them up again.
"You assured me your husband was in Manchester with his mistress," he told Mrs. Harmon, fumbling with the buttons on his trousers. "So I showed up at your house last night like you asked. And do you know who greeted me? Your ten-year-old son."
"No, he wouldn't." Fear and uncertainty began to shade Mrs. Harmon's eyes.
"He thought I was Sir Harry and then asked if you were going to leave his papa and run away with me."
And it was at that moment-having to reassure a weeping son that his papa and mama would love him no matter what might happen-that what Lily had promised him would only be a "fun" flirtation turned sour. He had fled her house, running down Drury Lane, feeling as if his skin was on fire. He dove into a theater and disappeared into the crowd on the ground floor. As the ballerinas whirled on the stage in flowing white skirts, he got lost in remembrances of his parents' famed dalliances, and then his own sordid affairs with women. From there, he continued to emotionally spiral downward, which explained the beautiful French ballerina in his bed.
"You're lying." Mrs. Harmon shook her head, her curls flapping about her cheeks. "My son knows nothing about you. About anyone."
"I think you would be shocked to learn what a child knows about his parents' infidelities." Dashiell took a deep breath, bracing himself for the impending violence. "You said it would be an uncomplicated affair. No emotions involved. But I think you were wrong, and we shouldn't continue this... whatever this is."
She was silent for a beat, the shock setting in. Then hurt and rage contorted her face. "You hateful duddering rake!" She snatched up a vase and scurried out the door.
"Bloody hell!" He chased after her. "That's a canopic jar with Pharaoh Cheops's liver in it. I paid twenty camels for that!"
Lily gave a bark of hysterical laughter and tossed the relic over the banister as she rushed down the stairs. Shattering pottery rang in the air.
"Noooo!" screamed a new female voice.
Dear God, not another one! Priesthood in some remote monastery in the Swiss Alps seemed very appealing at the moment. He jolted to a halt on the top stair.
Vivienne Taylor stood by the door, cradling a clay tablet in her arms like a jealous mama. Her shiny black hair had grown longer since last he had seen her and curled in tame spirals by her cheeks. Her high cheekbones were flushed a beautiful pink and her eyes glittered like pale emeralds in firelight. His heart felt like it dove out of his skin. He kept forgetting she wasn't a roly-poly, mischievous, innocent girl any more, but this ravishing, mischievous, innocent lady.
"Not this one," Vivienne told Mrs. Harmon, clutching the tablet to her breasts. "It's Persian and very, very old. Why don't you throw something else, like that frie-" She stopped mid-word. He saw her eyes light on his naked torso and a dark erotic wave of heat rushed over his skin.
Dammit, she's your little sister. Get a hold of yourself.
He snatched a black and white spotted Zulu shield from the stairwell and covered himself. "I... I didn't know you were coming." He tried to sound casual.
Meanwhile, Lily had seized a porcelain clock from the Chinese writing desk and hurled it at his temple. He raised his shield, and the timepiece bounced off cowhide and smashed on the railing, raining tiny metal parts onto the floor.
"I hope one day someone breaks your heart into as many pieces," the lady spat.
"No one will be able to break my heart if you kill me first," he pointed out. "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Taylor, but would you mind returning at another time? I'm being murdered at the present."
"Let her stay," he heard his little French dancer say. "Be good lesson for her." She stood at the top of the balcony, his coat barely covering her female regions.
He peeked at Vivienne. What must she be thinking?
Vivienne's bright gaze darted from him, to the ballerina, to Lily, and she burst out in laughter.
"Do you find watching someone have their heart broken amusing?" Lily cried, approaching Vivienne with a rather deadly swagger in her hips, ready to unleash her fury.
"Lily, leave her alone." Dashiell leaped over the stairwell, and his foot landed on a shard of broken glass. "Damnation!" He grabbed his toe and yelped in pain, but no one paid him any attention.
"You are quite an exquisite creature," Lily purred, running her finger down Vivienne's cheek. "I wager you think that your beautiful face will hold some sway on this scoundrel. But let me save you some grief, my love. This rogue cares more about that precious Persian clay tablet in your arms than his own mother. Soon he will destroy your heart and bring tears to your pretty little eyes, just as he did all the countless ladies before you."
Vivienne regarded Lily for a moment. Then she tilted her head and said, "I'm so sorry, but I don't think Lord Dashiell can break my heart. For I am engaged."
"Engaged?" Dashiell echoed sharply.
A lovely, joyous smile graced her lips that made her dimples come out of hiding. His heart dropped like a dead bird from a branch.
"Yes," she gushed.
He had never seen her gush. He didn't like it. He wanted little Vivienne back-the one who idolized him.
"I know, you feel sorry for the poor gentleman, don't you?" she said.
"No. It's just... just..." He swallowed. He always knew he would lose his little sister to another. She deserved to fall in love with someone who would be faithful and bring her a lifetime of happiness. The kind of man Dashiell could never be. But instead of congratulating her, he stood swaying on his bloody feet, clutching his Zulu shield to his heart, bereft, while Lily laughed at him from deep in her throat.
"Best wishes for you and the lucky gentleman," he finally managed.
"Thank you." She swept forward and handed him his treasured Persian tablet. "I came to tell you that your grandfather is in my aunt's garden and insists on disturbing our Bible lessons on being a virtuous wife. Did you know such a wife is expected to rise before dawn, go out to the merchant ships to buy foods from afar, purchase fields, and plant crops? And if that isn't enough, she must also sew tapestries, spin linen, flax, and wool, and then sell them. I think that is a bit excessive. You would wonder what her virtuous husband is doing, wouldn't you?"
The room fell silent as the other ladies stared at Vivienne, baffled. But Dashiell, who always found her odd observations endearing, struggled to keep a straight face.
"Anyway, I should go. My Aunt Gertrude thinks I'll get corrupted here." Vivienne performed an abrupt bob of a curtsy and turned to leave. At the door jamb, she glanced over her shoulder, a devilish spark rallied in her eyes. "Oh, I should mention that your grandfather has no clothes on."
"What?" Dashiell yelled. The precious clay tablet slipped from his grasp. He dropped the shield and caught the relic at the same moment the shield slammed his already injured toe. His howling curse was concealed by the raucous laughter ringing through the hall.
The earl sauntered upon the scene, his robe loose, his percy hanging free.
"You should have seen old Trudie." He cackled. "I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head. You can tell she ain't seen a man in a long time."
Dashiell slicked his hand down his face and wondered if the morning could get any worse.
Vivienne quickly closed the door, but not before hearing another colorful snatch of Dashiell's profanity. She put her palm over her mouth, trying to stem the flow of laughter that gurgled up. Her nerves still crackled from the sight of Dashiell's bare chest, stripped all the way down his torso. He put to shame all those illustrations of naked men she had found in the medical journals at the library.
"Miss Taylor! What in God's name are you doing coming out of Lord Dashiell's home?"
Vivienne's laughter disappeared with a gasp. John Vandergrift waited by her aunt's front step, holding a package that was tied with large looping pink ribbons. Under his neat mustache, his mouth dropped open in shock and his chiseled features pinched in disapproval. In contrast to Dashiell's tousled appearance-even when completely clothed-John was fastidious in his dress and manner. His sage coat molded to his well-formed shoulders without a single wrinkle. His reddish-blond hair curled neatly below the brim of his high hat. "Come away this instant before anyone sees you!" he hissed.
"Oh God," Vivienne muttered. She had made another stupid mistake, and after she promised her father she wouldn't.
Just three weeks before, two men in coats with the seams straining around their bulging muscles had arrived at their door in Birmingham. Their blank reptilian eyes had raked over the house and then Vivienne and her sisters, twin smirks cutting the corners of their lips.
"Nice place 'ere, wouldn't be thinking this bloke don't have a tanner," one of them had said and then jerked his head toward Vivienne. "Tell you wat, if he don't pay, we kin share this pretty 'un. But he can have them ugly girls with 'im in debtor's prison."
Papa had no choice but to welcome the filthy scoundrels into his library. Outside the door, Vivienne could hear the crash of chairs being toppled over and ugly threats from the men about how they were going to hurt him. After they left, she found him slumped over his desk, his bruised face buried in his hands.
"When you go to the Vandergrifts' party... you remember to give his son some pretty smiles," he had said in a weak voice.
Vivienne went to the party. Her lips hurt from smiling for so long, but a week later, a miracle occurred on the magnitude of burning bushes and parting seas. John proposed. That night, her father made her kneel before him. He clutched her hands in his and the perspiration on his red forehead glistened in the lamplight.
"Vivienne, promise me you'll make him a perfect wife, that you won't cause any more trouble."
She kissed his fingers. "I promise, Papa."
"And for God's sake, don't tell him about our financial troubles. Understand? I just need enough work to make a payment. Then we can get on our feet."
She searched her father's face, crinkled with lines of worry. "H-have I made you proud, Papa?"
His lips twitched. "Yes," he conceded for the first time in her life.
Well, he certainly wouldn't be proud of her at this moment. She rushed down the walk to John. "I can explain. You see, Lord Dashiell's grandfather was in Aunt Gertrude's garden. He had no clo-I mean, he was acting most peculiar. I hurried over and spoke to their butler regarding the matter. Lord Dashiell had guests, so I really didn't converse with him, except to exchange a few words like ‘Hello,' ‘How are you,' ‘What a fascinating mummy tomb.' The usual things." She gave a hollow, false laugh, trying to make a joke of the moment.
John didn't laugh. His eyes were like hot blue flames. "Did he touch you?" He spoke in the same stern tone her father used when he wasn't pleased with something she had done... which until recently covered all her activities aside from breathing, eating, and sleeping.
"Of course not," she said feebly, even as she remembered touching Dashiell's fingers when she gave him back the Persian tablet and how the feel of his skin sent a current of hot electricity through her body.
"Vivienne, you're going to be the wife of a consequential man. Your behavior reflects on me. You can't just pop harem-scarem into bachelors' homes... and certainly not Lord Dashiell's. What were you thinking?"
She couldn't say she was dying to see her old friend whom she had been secretly meeting for the last ten years.
"I-I made a mistake," she said, and latched onto his free arm. "That is all."
He studied her face. "You are a most beautiful creature. Tell me my father isn't right, that I haven't acted rashly by asking for your hand."
Oh, Lord! If John jilted her, well, she wouldn't be able to go home. She couldn't tell her father that she had ruined him. "I said I made a mistake!" she cried. "I-I love you!"
A smile broke across his handsome face. "Say those last words again."
She let out a long breath. "I love you."
He peeked at either side of the street, checking to make sure the square was empty, and then brushed her cheek with his lips, a pleasant tickling sensation that caused her to giggle.
"I brought you something, my pet." He handed her the package.
In their few weeks together, she had learned that he didn't hesitate to lay down large sums at tailors, carriage makers, or wine merchants. "Only buy the finest," he had told her with a sparkle in his eyes, as if his words were a compliment to her. Vivienne's belly squirmed in the knowledge that she had to conceal from him for her family's sake-she wasn't the finest; in fact, she was a desperate bargain.
"You are too good to me," she said. She pulled the pink ribbon loose and the paper unfolded around a beautiful leather volume. The Ethereal Graces of the Delicate Sex: Being a handbook on the proper conduct of young ladies upon entering society and consequentially marriage, by Mrs. Beatrice Smith-Figgle.
"Oh no..." she muttered, before she could stop herself.
John's brows creased.
"I mean, oh yes!" she cried. "Oh yes! What a lovely gift!"
"I thought of you when I saw it." He took the book from her hands and opened it. There were small pieces of paper with his handwriting in the creases. "I've even marked the sections to which you should pay special attention."
She swallowed the sour taste in her throat. "Thank you. I shall endeavor to memorize every word." In truth, she already knew it by heart. Her former headmistress had made her stand before the class and recite long passages from the book after she had sewed hieroglyphs into her sampler and turned in her French assignment in the misshapen Greek that she had tried to teach herself.
"Now, let's go inside. Maybe your aunt will give us a moment alone."
"I should warn you that Aunt Gertrude is conducting her Bible lesson." She gave him a gentle nudge in his ribs. "Those ladies are going to fawn all over you."
A teasing smile played on his lips. "I have no objection to ladies fawning over me."
She gave a soft laugh as she wrapped a proprietary hand around his elbow and led him to her aunt's door. In the corner of her eye, she saw the red-headed woman rush out from Dashiell's house, clutching a yellow and black Greek vase. Blood rushed to her face. She yanked John inside and slammed the door just as the lady threw the ancient vase on the pavement and screamed, "You lying blackguard!"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loads of wicked secrets, not many little! I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Vivienne’s family is in trouble. Her father is in danger of being sent to the poor house. Their only hope is for her to make a good match in wealthy prig John. But John is as disappointed in her as her father is. She has her work cut out for her. Vivienne discovers her beloved aunt is being blackmailed. She needs to help her aunt before she starts her new life. Vivienne’s neighbor and childhood friend Viscount Dashiell can help. But this rake can’t do it without getting a bit tangled with Vivienne—the only female he refuses to hurt. Dash could be the solution to all her problems if only he’d take the chance. I enjoyed the heroine and hero in this novel. There was emotional growth on both their parts, albeit sometimes slow growth. They had believable history and affection that had me rooting for them. There were also loads of wicked secrets in this novel, and I wouldn’t call them little. Though I had some inkling what they were, I didn’t guess the majority of them. It’s hard to put one over on me, so that’s great! And in terms of writing, this is well written. Since this is a traditionally published book, and I wasn't absolutely wowed, I give it 4*.
The title “Wicked Little Secrets,” I was intrigued. However, after reading a few chapters, I was bored. I skimmed to the predictable ending to the story. Not a follower.
This one really didn't do it for me. It went too far with an overly independent woman, crazy aunt, roguish hero, and jerky "right choice" man. Everything needed to be reigned in a bit because all three characters were over the top, and together it was just way too much. Vivienne wants to be an explorer - awesome. I love an adventurous heroine. But she so snubs the way things should be that she would have been ruined and her prim and proper fiance would have jilted her long ago - I'm not sure he would have proposed to begin with. From wandering London along, to being caught coming out of a well-known rake's house unaccompanied - it just would never have been accepted. Even the scenery was working against the story for me. The secret panels and the things that are found inside them were just way too over the top. I was engaged just enough to want to see how this could possibly end well. There's a good twist at one point that was a great aspect, but overall I was disappointed, especially after having enjoyed the second book in the series so much.
5 out of 5 for this reader folks! Another brand spanking new author to enjoy in the historical romance genre. Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives totally did it for me. What I was pleasantly surprised about however was not the historical romance setting, the rake, the sass … it was THE HUMOUR! I laughed out loud so many times at the banter, thoughts and quips exchanged and the shenanigans that our leading couple manage to get pull off! LOVED THAT! :) We are introduced to our leading lady Vivienne attending a bible study lecture by her wacky potion addicted, light hearted aunt. Vivienne learns that the man she met as a child and absolutely admires (he calls her his little sister with great affection) had once again returned to town. Elated to say hello knowing he has a bad reputation and is currently the top rake in the ton, Vivienne manages to welcome him home. Lord Dashiell, serious rake, carefree spirit that oozes sarcasm at any and all moments is completely taken back when he notices his “lil sister” is no longer lil. She has curves, is beautiful, cheeky and unfortunantely engaged to an pompous jerk (we’ll call him jerkface) who wants to cage the wild beauty he is growing to love. Through many excursions, Vivienne and Dashiell spend much time together, sneeking about town trying to solve one mystery after another. Vivienne learns that her father is in serious debt and can be inprisoned if she does not marry jerkface so she is in constant battle with herself to act like the proper fiance or the adventurous sassy woman she truely is. She is also told (not asked) by jerkface to keep her distance with Lord Dashiell. So much more to this story that involve quite a few amazing secondary characters, but I am not spoiling one word for you. LOL So you already know this book is full of humour, but the relationship between Vivienne and Dashiell is so wonderful. If any couple were meant for one another, it’s them! They both have a knack of getting into trouble and stealing kisses (among other sins). Add a mystery that they are both eager to solve in that mix, and you get Wicked Little Secrets! LOL A great lighthearted read. If you enjoy this genre and are looking for a holiday read, I do recommend this book. HAPPY READING! :)
Author Susanna Ives brings readers a rollicking Victorian romance, with a dash of mystery in her latest book, Wicked Little Secrets. Ives has a knack for humor and her characters are well drawn and easy to relate too. Blackmail is the order of the day in this novel and Ives sets the scene with attention to the smallest of details. Historical romance fans will find more than just romance in this book, as the mystery is both entertaining and engaging. Ives has a writing voice that was made for the genre and Wicked Little Secrets will likely be an instant hit. What I liked: The humor is exceptional in this book. Ives knows how to use humor without overwhelming the story with it. Her humor is subtle, but hilarious. When those moments of comic relief are needed, Ives steps up. She is able to put her characters into humorous situations without seeming over the top or unrealistic. Lord Dashiell's grandfather is among the most comical in the book and gets himself into quite a few messes. I found myself smiling a lot, giggling on occasion and laughing out loud more than once. The main characters were very well written as well. Vivienne Taylor was a lot of fun to read about. She was a bit wild and undisciplined. Used to being trodden down by her family, never in the right place at the right time... until now. She has finally gotten a marriage proposal from a businessman that will keep her family from financial ruin. But she isn't in love with him. I thought Ives did a great job of showing Vivienne's insecurities. Her need for her families approval, her disregard for her own safety, and even her feelings of unworthiness. She was a great heroine. Lord Dashiell was a consummate rake. Money, bad reputation, the devil may care attitude. He certainly wasn't the kind of man that Vivienne's parents wanted for their daughter or their situation. What I liked most about him was his total acceptance of Vivienne. She didn't have to change one thing for him to care about her, in fact he didn't want her to change a thing. He thought she was perfect. I also enjoyed his relationship with is grandfather and his no nonsense ways. He didn't care a whit about what anyone else thought. That was refreshing in this type of character. What I didn't Like: Not too much really. I did have to shake my head at Vivienne's heedlessness. She kind of went at things in a more haphazard way than I would have liked. She had a disregard for how her actions were affecting the other people in her life. Also Lord Dashiell was way to hesitant to suit my tastes. Readers obviously could tell that he and Vivienne were made for each other, but it sure took him a lot of time to figure that out on his own. But neither of these points is a deal breaker. This is still an exceptional historical romance. Bottom Line: I loved this one. The humor was on point. The characters were engaging. The blackmail plot added a mysteriousness to the book and overall it was just a very good read. I liked the fact that it was set in the less popular Victorian era as well. This one has a lot going for it.
WICKED LITTLE SECRETS by Suzanna Ives is an exciting Victorian Historical Romance. Fast paced. A story of love,family secrets and forgiveness. Follow Viscount, Lord Dashiell and the feisty Vivienne Taylor on a journey of family secrets, forgiveness, a scandalous past, danger,healing, and a one very vengeful woman. A must read for anyone who enjoys danger,mystery, and fast paced action. Oh yeah, who doesn't love a hero who tries so hard to not admit his feelings and a heroine who is determined to save her precious family. The past can come back to haunt you and destroy the things you hold most precious. I absolutely adored Hadian's grandfather, a feisty old man, who has loved from afar for years, and very rambunctious to say the least. In one scene he stands naked, yes, naked for all to see, his neighbors front yard, Vivienne's aunt's, bible study group. How scandalous! Loved this story! What a fun,romantic and thrilling read! Well done!! Received for an honest review from the publisher and Net Galley. RATING: 4.5 HEAT RATING: MILD REVIEWED BY: AprilR, Courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
Vivienne Taylor is engaged to be married. She is sure that by marrying John Vandergrift that she will finally win the approval of her family and save them from ruin. Her father's business will not survive if she doesn't marry John and he will be thrown in debtors prison. Vivienne's long time friend, Viscount Dashiell, has finally come home. Unfortunately, her intended doesn't want her to have anything to do with the Viscount because he is has a horrible reputation. She promises that she will not have anything to do with him. Vivienne tries to keep her promise of keeping her distance from Dashiell, but when she believes that her beloved aunt is being blackmailed she turns to her friend for help. Dashiell, of course, agrees to help Vivienne. He would do anything for her. Vivienne has has a place in his heart since she was a little child. Now that she has grown up, he can't get her out of his mind. He has to keep reminding himself that she in engaged and that he is no good for her. While investigating the supposed blackmail, they learn that there is much more going on. Between all the secrets that they uncover, can Vivienne and Dashiell discover the truth and find true love? I really LOVED this book. Vivienne is not the typical Victorian woman, but tries so hard to please the man she is engaged to. Lucky for us, she does not succeed. Vivienne and Dashiell's antics were hilarious! I loved the chemistry between the two. They had the bond of friendship forged from so many years of knowing each other and that showed up in how they related to each other and how they just "clicked". One of the best parts of the book was the conversations held between Dashiell and his grandfather. I was actually laughing out loud during those scenes. I will definitely be checking out this author's other book, Rakes and Radishes. I hope that it is as good as this one. I can't wait to see what this author come up with next!
Fun, romantic, and absolutely lovely! Wicked Little Secrets was a brilliant historical romance. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was just wonderful. Vivienne was a great heroine. She was very lively and feisty and really fun to read about. She was a bit of a wild child, always scolded for one reason or another. So, when she makes a match that finally has her family proud of her, she hangs on to that familial approval as much as she can. Too bad her feelings for Hadrian won't make it that easy. I thought she was lovely and likable. I had only one problem with her. She was so impulsive. She didn't consider the danger that she was walking into when she just barged into a situation. It made me want to shake some sense into her a few times. But, despite that annoyance, I still really liked her. She was a ton of fun. Hadrian was also wonderful. Despite his very scandalous reputation (which is very well earned) he was a sweetheart. There was never any doubt how much he cared about Vivienne, from when they were friends, to when they realized there was more between them. But, like Vivienne, I wanted to shake some sense into him quite a few times. In his case, it was because he was so hesitant about his relationship with Vivienne. He just couldn't admit his feelings to her. It made me frustrated with him. However, even with my irritation about that, I still adored him. He was sweet, charming, and totally amazing. He was a perfectly flawed hero. The romance was lovely. It was definitely sweet, with how completely infatuated Vivienne and Hadrian are with each other. Even with their reticence, it was always obvious. And, they were such a perfect match. Both lively and fun and ready to scandalize everyone. Not to mention the chemistry between these two. There were sparks flying between them constantly. It was HOT. I thought they were a perfect couple. I really like the secondary romance between Hadrian's grandfather and Vivienne's aunt. For one things, Hadrian's grandfather was hilarious. We first meet him while he's airing out his *clears throat* business (yes, I do mean exactly that implication) in front of a ladies' Bible study group. And, it only gets more hilariously scandalous from there. Meanwhile, Vivienne's aunt is the complete opposite. Rigidly moral and easily scandalized. But, their romance was still perfect. It was so much fun to read how these total opposites ended up together. The plot was fast paced. I was hooked the entire way through. The mystery of who was stealing the art was thrilling. It had ties to scandalous pasts, family secrets, and a vengeful woman. I never suspected the truth of what was really going on. I really enjoyed the story and the ending was perfect. Wicked Little Secrets was a fantastic historical romance. I loved this book! It was fun, romantic, thrilling, and just brilliant. Lovers of romance, this is a book you don't want to miss. *I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Wicked Little Secrets by Susanna Ives Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca Publication Date: December 3, 2013 Rating: 4 stars Source: eARC from NetGalley ***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers*** Summary (from Goodreads): Vivienne Taylor has finally won her family's approval by getting engaged to the wealthy John Vandergrift. Vivienne is determined to uphold Vandergrift's rigid Victorian ideal of womanhood, but when she discovers a vicious blackmail scheme, she turns to her childhood hero, Hadrian, Viscount Dashiell. Soon the two become pawns in a wicked game of art theft and revenge, forcing them to face their fears and acknowledge their most secret and precious dream—a life together. What I Liked: Ahhh, so many things! I just finished this one, and I'm having a hard time focusing on what I liked, specifically. I mean, I very well can't say, I LOVED EVERYTHING JUST GO READ THIS ONE PLEASE! That wouldn't be very helpful, would it? But anyway. I needed a good historical romance read. I've definitely been reading more than I had been at the beginning of the semester, but the books I've been reading haven't been AMAZING, or life-changing, or Earth-shattering. I'm not saying this one was, either, but I really needed a book like this, at this time. I didn't realize that until I finished it. Vivienne's family is in dire need of money - and what better way to rectify that than to marry a rich, respected man? So, Vivienne miraculously gets engaged to John. Everything is looking up. Right? Well, yes, until Dashiell waltzes back into her life, moving back into the house next door, with his grandfather. Things get weird after that. Someone is blackmailing Vivienne's aunt, something is wrong with John, and inappropriate paintings seem to have more meaning than they should... One of things I loved about this book was its complexity. It's not just a love story - in the first part of the book, it's barely that! This book doesn't just go into the depth of the attraction between Dashiell and Vivienne, throw a few situations at them, and then they're married. No. There is an actual plot that has nothing to do with the romance of the novel. I'm talking about the blackmail, of course. The blackmail mystery is what really brings Vivienne and Dashiell together, despite them being in love with each other previously. Both of them know their duties - Vivienne's is to John, and Dashiell's is to stay away from the engaged Vivienne. But with the blackmail plot, the romance is intertwined. Brilliant! So, this novel wasn't just romantic - it was very intelligent and complicated! And not in terms of romance. The romance is so sweet and subtle. I mean, we *know* about the chemistry between Dashiell and Vivienne, but that isn't what consumes the pages. I know, you die-hard historical romance fans are probably thinking, so it's not much of a romance novel? Don't think that! It totally is! But it's not solely about the romance. The romance is a subplot, and is significant, but it's not EVERYTHING. The two plots connect at the end, and it's a nice ending. I love love love Dashiell. Like, he is an awesome historical romance hero. He's not overbearing or uber masculine or whatever, but at the same time, you KNOW he's an alpha male. I do love alpha males, but only when they're not extremely controlling or aggressive, etc. Vivienne is very fiery, and very intelligent. I like that she isn't the typical 19th-century female, who only cares about her appearance and whatnot. She has more depth to her. Occasionally, she does act that way, which makes sense, but annoys me a tiny bit. Ish. Anyway. The romance is amazing, the plot is so cool, and the ending is superb. I really liked this novel! I almost wasn't going to read it, but I saw the word "blackmail" in the summary and I was like, heyyy, something different! Glad I took the chance. What I Did Not Like: As much as I like Vivienne, she is sooooo stupid sometimes. Like, she walks into a brothel on more than one occasion, and comes out feeling like a fool. Well, OBVIOUSLY you'll walk out feeling stupid! What were you trying to accomplish in the first place?! Like, she doesn't always think things through. It bothers me. I mean, way to live up to the stereotype that the fairer sex doesn't have as high brain capability/functioning as men. Sometimes, Vivienne is incredibly intelligent. Other times, she is SO DUMB. End rant. Would I Recommend It: Totally! This is easily one of my favorite historical romance novels. I mean, I have a lot of historical romance novels that I really liked, but I have quite a few that were meh or worse. This is definitely one of ones I would recommend over quite a few others! Rating: 4 stars. What a fun book! Exciting, complex, yet hilarious and enjoyable!
Smart, sexy fun -- if you love characters with wit, charm, and a certain predilection for trouble, then hie thee to the bookstore and grab this novel. Dashiell is a rake of the highest order, but he's got a heart of gold in that fantastic chest of his, and while it beats with a hunter's zeal for all things archaeological, his truest and most unrequited passion is for Vivienne. Clever, desperate and most sweetly conniving, Vivienne tries to crush her own passions in order to be a Victorian good girl -- the only way she can see out of her particular predicament being to land a solid husband -- but her spirit proves uncrushable, especially her own feelings for her rakehell neighbor Dashiell. A ripping good plot -- blackmail! murder! brothels! -- and two irresistible leads make this one well deserving of its place on the Best of 2013 lists.
This was my first of Suzanna's that I read and quite fell in love with her characters. There is a quirkiness to them that often makes me chuckle.
You've got to read this book! So original! Such a talented author! Love Susanna Ives...
Great lines it's hilarious she's a bit of an innocent but I love it