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Wicked Little Secrets

Wicked Little Secrets, December 2013
Wicked Little Secrets #1
by Susanna Ives

Sourcebooks Casablanca
Featuring: Viscount Dashiell; Vivienne Taylor
384 pages
ISBN: 1402283571
EAN: 9781402283574
Kindle: B00ENQEMA6
Paperback / e-Book
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"Historical Romance"

Fresh Fiction Review

Wicked Little Secrets
Susanna Ives

Reviewed by Joanne Bozik
Posted April 7, 2014

Romance Historical

WICKED LITTLE SECRETS is set in 1845 England gave me great enjoyment to read. This historical romance was one book I could not put down. I carried this book where ever I went and every chance I'd get, I'd read it. The characters come to life in this book, but the one that stands out the most is Vivienne Taylor, the heroine.. Vivienne was a bit of a wild child, always getting into trouble for one thing or another. She has never won her family's approval until one night at a ball when she is asked to marry the wealthy John Vandergrift. All is going well until a vicious blackmail scheme against her family hits the fan. Vivienne knows only one person she can get help from, her old time friend Lord Dashiell.

Lord Dashiell has known Vivienne since she was a little girl and he promised himself that he'd never ruin that friendship, but when he takes a look at Vivienne all grown up now, the most beautiful woman he's ever laid his eyes on, things start to change for the both of them. The only problem with Dashiell is his bad reputation of being a Rake of the Ton and in no way is he looking for marriage, but he will never hurt Vivienne, this he swore to many years ago. But when she comes to him for help, they must always meet in secret to try to figure out who's attacking her family. If her betrothed or family find out they've been meeting in secret, they will have more trouble then they bargained for.

The romance between Dashiell and Vivienne start to grow and as the heat between them grows hot enough to burn a forest, it becomes very hard for them to stay away from each other. I loved this hot historical romance and kudos to Susanna Ives. WICKED LITTLE SECRETS is a recommended read for sure! It has almost everything in one book, romance, lust,and a mystery that keeps you sitting on the end of your seat. I would not pass up this read!

Learn more about Wicked Little Secrets

SUMMARY

It's Not Easy Being Good...

Vivacious Vivienne Taylor 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.

When Being Wicked is so Much More Exciting...

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.

Excerpt

Chapter One

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 Congregation. 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 the 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 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 10–31.”

“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 wide 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 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 knows, 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 on 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. “Err, 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?”

“No.”

“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.


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