A secret worth keeping?
A duchess awaiting trial for her vile husband's murder is
the most delicious gossip the ton has heard in years. But
for Kate Townsende, the woman in question, it could be a
matter of life and death. And when a shrewd and handsome
nobleman offers to publish her side of the story while
arranging for a barrister to take her case, she's tempted by
much more than the chance to defend herself...
James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, tells himself he's only
interested in a bestselling pamphlet, but Kate's stubborn
determination is captivating. Could the accused widow be
telling the truth? At first, James isn't sure of anything
besides his growing desire for her...but before long he's
willing to risk much more than his reputation to make the
infamous beauty his wife.
The Tower of London, December 1816
The large metal door to her cell scraped open and Kate
closed her eyes. She stepped forward, summoned from one cold
dank room into another. She had a visitor. Her first since
she’d been taken to the gaol.
She opened her eyes. The harsh winter light filtered through
the only window in the antechamber. The yeoman warder wore a
blank expression on his face. He and the other guards always
gave her the benefit of respect due her title. Whether they
liked it or not.
The guard stepped aside, revealing the room’s other
occupant. Interesting. Her visitor was a man. She narrowed
her eyes on him. Who was he and what did he want with her?
He stood with his straight back to her. He was tall, that
much she could discern. Tall and cloaked in shadows.
The smell of mold and decay, rife in the Tower, made her
stomach clench. The unforgiving winter wind whipped through
the stonework, raising gooseflesh across her arms. She
shivered and clutched her shawl more tightly around her
“Ye ‘ave ten minutes an’ not a moment more,” the gaoler
announced before wrenching open the door and clanging it
shut behind him as he left. The loud scrape and subsequent
clank sealed Kate and the stranger in the small room
together. She took a step back. A small rickety table rested
between them. She was glad for that bit of separation at
least. Whoever the man was, his clothing marked him a
gentleman. He had better behave like one.
The tall man turned to greet her. He doffed his hat, but she
still couldn’t make out his face. He wore a dark gray wool
overcoat of considerable expense. A stray beam of sunlight
floated through the dirty air, let in by the one small
window nestled in the stone wall across from them.
He executed a perfect bow. “Your grace?”
Kate cringed. Oh, how she detested that title. “Bowing to a
prisoner?” she asked in a voice containing a bit of irony.
“Aren’t you a gentleman?”
He smiled and a set of perfectly white teeth flashed in the
darkness. “You’re still a duchess, your grace.”
She pushed the hood from her head and took a tentative step
forward. The stranger’s eyes flared for a moment and he
sucked in his breath.
Kate’s stomach clenched. No doubt she looked a fright. She
hadn’t bathed in days and could only imagine her own smell.
Her hair, normally piled properly atop her head, was a mass
of tangled red curls around her shoulders. She might be
grimy and in trouble, but she wasn’t broken. And she refused
to let the stranger see that his reaction affected her. She
pushed up her chin and eyed him warily.
He stepped forward then, into the light, and Kate narrowed
her eyes on his face, rapidly assessing every detail. She
didn’t know him. But whoever he was, the man was handsome.
Devastatingly so. Perhaps in his early thirties, he had dark
brown cropped hair, a perfectly straight nose, a square jaw.
But his eyes were what truly captivated. Hazel in color,
nearly green, assessing, knowing, intelligent eyes. They
stole her breath. Her gaze moved lower to where the faintest
hint of a smile rested upon expertly molded male lips.
“Do you know who I am?” His voice splintered the quiet cold
like a hammer hitting ice.
She regarded him with a steady stare. “Are you a barrister?
Come for my defense?”
The man furrowed his brow. “You haven’t yet been given
access to a barrister?”
She straightened her shoulders. “I’ve been . . .waiting.”
The stranger’s captivating eyes regarded her calmly. “From
what I understand, you’ve been in gaol for weeks. I find it
difficult to believe a lady of your station has not yet met
with a barrister.”
She lifted her chin. “Be that as it may, I have not.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, your grace, but no, I am no
“Not a barrister? Then who are you and why have you come to
visit me? Please don’t tell me it’s just to see the
spectacle of a duchess accused of murder.”
His gaze remained pinned to her face, his eyes still
assessing, wary. “I am here to assist you, your grace.”
“Assist me?” she scoffed, stepping forward to get a closer
look at the man. “I rather doubt that. Assist yourself
perhaps. Tell me, how much did you bribe the gaoler to let
you see the infamous duchess who shot her husband?”
The stranger arched a brow. “Did you? Murder your husband?”
She clenched her jaw. “Did you come here to insult me with
your questions? Or do you mean to coax a confession out of
me?” She squeezed her fists against the fabric of her shawl,
twisting it so tightly her fingers ached.
He shook his head. “My apologies, your grace. It was not my
intention to offend. I assure you, I’m not a common
gossipmonger come to witness your degradation. I intend to
assist you. And yes, in return, there is something I want.”
Kate raised both brows. She respected the man’s honesty, but
whether she intended to continue this conversation depended
entirely upon what exactly the handsome stranger desired.
“So, tell me, then. What is it you want?”
He swept another bow. “I’ve come to make you an offer. One
that can benefit us both.”
Pulling her shawl over her shoulders more tightly, Kate
crossed her arms over her chest. “Forgive me if I am a bit
doubtful, sir. I’ve seen enough deception in my twenty-eight
years to be highly skeptical of the promises of men.”
His head quirked to the side and he regarded her with an
inquisitive look. Her statement had obviously surprised him.
“I understand, your grace. And I fully intend to explain.
But first, I must ask for your discretion. If we are to help
each other, I cannot reveal my identity unless you promise
to keep what I am about to tell you entirely secret.”
She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes on him. “Secret?
Are you a spy?”
His brow rose, and tension seemed to radiate through his
body. “Would you aid me if I were?”
She pointed toward the door. “Get out,” she said through
Her nails dug so hard into her shawl she was certain she
would rip the fabric. “I may be accused of a murder I did
not commit, but being called a traitor to my homeland is not
an insult I will bear. If you are seeking my aid in that
manner, you most certainly have come to the wrong person. I
am not, and never will be, that desperate.” She turned
toward the door to call for the gaoler.
The stranger quickly held up a hand. “I assure you, your
grace. I am no spy.”
Kate snapped her mouth closed and turned back to him, still
eyeing him warily. “Then what exactly do you want from me?”
He nodded slowly. “Your promise, first?”
She watched him, assessing him from the top of his handsome
head to the tips of his precisely polished—and obviously
expensive—top boots. Apparently, this man was willing or
desperate enough to trust an accused murderess, too.
Interesting. She had absolutely no reason to trust him,
however. Every reason not to, actually. But conversing with
a good-looking chap about whatever daft idea he had was
preferable to counting the cracks in the walls of her cell
or writing letters to . . . nobody. “Very well, you have my
promise. Now tell me, who are you and why are you here?”
The stranger clicked his heels together and bowed again.
“James Bancroft, Viscount Medford, at your service.”
She couldn’t help the tiny gasp that escaped her lips. The
man was a peer. Why on earth would a peer pay her a visit?
“Why are you here, my lord?”
Brushing back his coat, he pulled papers from an inside
pocket and tossed them on the wooden table.
Her eyes still trained on him, Kate stepped forward and
picked up the papers. It was a pamphlet. She scanned the
first page, shuffled through it quickly, but the pages were
She gestured to the papers with her chin. “What is this?”
His mouth quirked again. Distracting, that. “You might say I
have a bit of a hobby on the side. I own a printing press.”
Her gaze snapped to his face and she stepped back, clutching
the pamphlet, genuinely surprised. And a little bit
intrigued. “A viscount in trade?”
He grinned. “That’s the secret.” His grin faded and he
strode forward. Bracing his hands apart, he leaned across
the table. “I offer women in scandalous situations a unique
opportunity. This, your grace, is a chance to tell your side
of the story.”
“What do you mean . . . exactly?”
His eyes blazed at her. His jaw tightened. “Write a pamphlet
for me. It will be a top seller, I assure you.”
She shook her head. “A pamphlet? Telling my story? I don’t
understand. What do I stand to gain from it?”
His eyes, dark green now, captured hers. “What do you want?”
Kate spun around, pacing across the small room. A chance to
tell her story? A frisson of hope skittered down her spine.
Yes. An opportunity to inform the entire city what a hideous
husband George had been. To tell the truth. It was tempting.
She must handle this carefully, however. There was something
else she wanted.
She turned back toward the viscount. “Out of curiosity, if I
agree to do it, what exactly will the pamphlet be named, my
His jaw relaxed and his eyes lost some of their intensity.
He stood up again to his full height and regarded her down
the length of his nose. “Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.”
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