A Lady's Guide to Skirting Scandal

A short story


By Kelly Bowen

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ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $0.99 $0.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 4, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

2018 RITA award-winning author!

A delightful romp to be read in one sitting – for fans of Sarah MacLean, Julia Quinn, and Tessa Dare.

Lady Viola Hextall is bored – of the sea, her chaperones, and the woeful lack of available dukes on the ocean voyage from London to New York. Scrambling for any diversion short of jumping overboard, Viola strikes up a conversation with the ship’s rough-hewn, blue-eyed surgeon – and discovers an immediate cure for what ails her…

To Nathaniel Shaw, Viola has the bearing of a lady and the spirit of an adventurer – an unlikely combination that he finds utterly irresistible. So he’s hoping to convince Viola to leave the stifling ballrooms of London high society behind because there is a big, wide world just waiting for them to explore – together.


Chapter 1

Viola Hextall had spent a great deal of time considering what monikers to bestow upon her two captors.

Mostly out of boredom, but there was a healthy measure of ire and resentment involved. She felt the latter two sentiments in spades, and the feelings only grew stronger the farther away they sailed from England’s shores. Destined for some godforsaken place called New York.

Who in their right mind would want to go to a place called New York anyway, when the old York was perfectly fine? A little provincial, perhaps, what with the medieval wall that ran around it and the buildings that were so old that they leaned into each other over the streets, but the old York was not so very far from London. And London was where Viola should be right now, preparing for the next season. She should be selecting gowns that best suited her figure, fabrics that best complemented her complexion, and wealthy, titled gentlemen who might best suit her requirements for a potential husband.

Instead she found herself on a prison disguised as a ship, under the intolerable supervision of two gaolers disguised as chaperones. Or at least that was what her brother, the Earl of Boden, had called them when he hired them. When he had completely overreacted this past summer and declared that Viola needed some “life experience” outside of London.

A grand tour, he’d had the nerve to call it, when he had secured her passage and personally seen her onto this ship. As if she were heading toward the finest cities in Europe and not some backwater colony hacked out of the wilderness. As if she were heading off on a glamorous journey with her friends instead of being dragged into exile by hired wardens.

So, out of umbrage, she’d renamed them.

The oldest of the two wardens she’d christened Bart, for the woman’s resemblance to a particularly substantial mastiff Viola’s family had owned when she was a child. The flattened face, drooping jowls, boxlike head, and small, squinty eyes were as characteristic of the buxom woman as they had been of the canine. Granted, the woman didn’t drool like old Bart had, but she certainly barked. Loudly, and whenever she felt Viola had committed some sort of offense that was contrary to the proper behavior befitting a young lady. Even the captain of the bloody ship seemed a little afraid of Bart, and the sailors with whom Viola might have found a temporary diversion—really, what offense could there be in a little harmless flirting?—positively wilted when subjected to the older woman’s sharp tongue.

The second chaperone wasn’t much better, though she was half the size of Bart and not nearly as loud. Narrow and as rigid as a wheel spoke, Viola had dubbed her the Post. Her mouth had never once broken from its severe line—honestly, Viola couldn’t say with any confidence if the woman even had teeth—and a deep crease of grievance was permanently carved upon her brow. Viola was reasonably sure that, if an ocean wind ever succeeded in lifting the Post’s stiff skirts above her ankles, the lucky bystanders would be treated to an astonishing view of an actual post lashed tightly to her bony spine. At least the Post didn’t bark.

She just glared.

There were long stretches during each day when Viola fantasized about tying Bart and the Post together and stashing them in the holds. The Post might even fit into a barrel, though Bart would have to be wrapped and baled with twine. Or, if the holds were not sufficient, Viola imagined hoisting each one aloft, leaving them dangling from the pulleys and ropes that crisscrossed the space above her head, so that their skirts could flutter in the wind like flags. Unrealistic and uncharitable, she knew, but who could blame her? Goodness knew there was little else on the ship to divert her thoughts.

With, of course, the exception of Mr. Shaw.

Viola wasn’t quite sure what to make of Mr. Nathaniel Shaw, though he had certainly piqued her interest, that was certain. The man had been hired by the earl as the ship’s surgeon for the duration of the voyage, in exchange for his passage to New York. He was sinfully handsome, or at least he could be, if he paid any attention to his appearance. Wide shoulders, a thick chest, a square jaw. Reddish-brown hair worn shaggy, as if he simply didn’t care about style. Which was baffling. Really, what sort of educated man didn’t care about style? And he rarely shaved, letting the stubble grow thick on his face for days before he remembered the basics of personal grooming. It went to show what happened when a man was left to his own devices without a valet to take care of such things.

He rarely spoke to her. Other than a bland greeting or an equally mild inquiry regarding her daily health, he simply smiled, nodded his head, and went on with whatever he was doing. Which, when he wasn’t seeing to minor injuries and afflictions suffered by the crew, was usually reading. Again, baffling. Men usually went out of their way to talk to her.

And, unlike the remainder of the crew, Mr. Shaw didn’t seem to be at all intimidated by her grim custodians. In fact, he spoke to them often, as he did the ship’s captain and a number of sailors who seemed to seek him out for his opinion on a variety of subjects, or just casual conversation. He was never anything but amiable. She’d yet to hear him raise his voice to anyone. She’d yet to hear him voice displeasure at anything or refuse a request, even when he’d been asked to help out with things on board that were certainly not within his duties as a surgeon. He was utterly inscrutable.

She’d thought to secretly give him her own nickname, but thus far, she’d been unable to come up with a label that defined him.

She’d overheard her brother talking about him before he’d forced her onto this ghastly ship of his. Mr. Shaw had been a surgeon for the army, and now that Britain’s military responsibilities were diminished, Mr. Shaw thought to make his way to the Americas to seek his fortune. Simply leave everything behind in England and set off to a place he knew nothing about. Just like that. He had only a single trunk, for goodness’ sake. How could one seek a fortune with a single trunk of possessions to his name?

Baffling, baffling, baffling.

Viola watched him now from under the brim of her bonnet, which was tied down firmly with a ribbon knotted under her chin. The wind was up today, screaming through the rigging and snapping at the sails, and she could feel the ship surging beneath her feet. She’d spent the first couple of weeks stumbling around like a drunken jester, but she’d long since gotten used to the roll and pitch. And unlike Bart and the Post, she’d never spent any time crouched over a basin, casting up her accounts. Mr. Shaw had seemed similarly unaffected. In fact, it seemed that nothing affected Mr. Shaw.

Viola cocked her head, tapping her fingers absently against her skirts. Hmph. They’d been at sea for almost a month now. Perhaps she might test that theory a little further.

It was certainly better than staring out at nothing but sea and sky. And today it was so bright that one couldn’t even tell where they separated on the horizon. It was like being in a giant blue bubble of nothingness.

Surreptitiously, she glanced around, but there was no sign of Bart or the Post. She made her way across the sun-drenched deck to where Mr. Shaw was sitting against a port-side railing, his back to the sea and the wind. He was reading, his hands holding the pages neatly against his lap, though he looked up as her shadow fell across his book.

He immediately got to his feet. “Good day, Lady Viola,” he said politely. As usual.

“Good day, Mr. Shaw.” Viola looked around again, but Bart and the Post were still absent.

“Were you looking for Miss Yates and Miss Woodward?” he asked.

“Who?” Viola blinked, momentarily confused. “Oh, no. No, most certainly not.”

“I believe they went below to rest,” Mr. Shaw supplied anyway. “They both said that they find the sun most punishing, though I suspect it is the pitch of the ship today that has left them feeling poorly.”

Viola tipped her head up to the sun, letting the rays warm her face. But only for a second. It wouldn’t do to freckle. Even if it did feel decadent and glorious.

“Yes, well, the sun can be detrimental to one’s health, I suppose,” she said.

“I suppose.” A small smile played at the corners of Mr. Shaw’s lips as he glanced up at the sky and its offending orb. With rich copper tones glinting from his wind-mussed hair, and his eyes lit in a beautiful shade of blue, Mr. Shaw looked the picture of health under all that sunlight. He certainly made no effort to remove himself from its rays. Instead he simply stood, letting his eyes drop and regarding Viola once again in a contemplative silence.

Viola stood awkwardly, staring up at him. It annoyed her that he made her feel awkward. Viola Hextall was not awkward. Ever.

“Do you require something from me, my lady? Are you feeling poorly as well?” Mr. Shaw finally asked.

No, she wasn’t feeling poorly. She was feeling bored. And not a little devilish.

Her eyes dropped to the book in his hand. “What are you reading?” she asked.

A single brow rose. “Nothing that would interest you, I’m sure, my lady.”

Viola wanted to stamp her foot in frustration. This was so unfair. She should be plying her wit and her wiles on worthy gentlemen of the ton in a glittering ballroom. Not foraging for scraps of conversation from a man who clearly had little interest in talking to her at all.

“Try me,” she said stubbornly. Surely whatever he was reading was better than staring at the infinite blue vacuum beyond the rail. If she didn’t talk to someone, she might just go insane.

A second brow rose to join the first. “Very well. I am reading a collection of treatises by Ambroise Paré on the treatment and care of wounds consistent with the battlefield.”


“Why am I reading? Or why am I reading this?”

“Why are you reading that? Aren’t you a surgeon? Don’t you know that kind of thing already?”

Mr. Shaw shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted at her, as if he was trying to determine if she was serious.

Viola crossed her arms and waited.

“I know enough to know that I don’t know as much as I would like,” he said slowly.

“What does that mean?”

Mr. Shaw closed the book. “It means exactly that, my lady.”

Good heavens, this was like pulling teeth. At this point in time in a conversation, men were usually complimenting her on her eyes, or her gown. They were usually gushing effusively over her beauty or her wit, or at the very least, trying to steal a glance at her décolletage. Mr. Shaw hadn’t bothered to do any of those things.

Impulsively, Viola gathered her skirts and sat down on the deck against the rail where he had just been sitting. He had the grace to look startled.

She smothered a rebellious smile. Bart and the Post would be having a fit right now if they saw her like this. Sitting on the deck of a ship, on her rear end with her legs tucked up underneath her like a common village urchin. A smile escaped as she wriggled to make herself more comfortable.

“Please sit,” she urged. “It was not my intention to interrupt your reading.”

“It wasn’t?” he asked dryly. “Because you’ve done a fair job of it.”

Viola opened her mouth to offer a clever quip, except she couldn’t think of anything to say. Instinctively, she knew her usual repertoire of drawing room drollness would not impress this man. In the next instant, she frowned. Why on earth would she feel the need to impress this man anyway?

“I was just hoping for someone to talk to.” She told the truth instead, hating the dejected note she heard in her voice.

Mr. Shaw watched her for a long moment, his expression unreadable. He sighed, glancing around, before lowering himself to the deck beside her, resuming his original position.

“Very well.”

Good heavens, but he didn’t have to make it sound as though she had just asked him to jab a dessertspoon into his eyeball.

She was careful to keep herself from touching him. “Tell me what it says. Your book.” If she was going to finish second to a book, she might as well know what was in it.

“It talks about infection. How it is introduced into a wound and manners in which wounds can be treated to prevent it.”

“I see,” she murmured. Up close, Mr. Shaw was even more handsome than she had given him credit for. The sunlight picked out blue flecks in his eyes that were the same color as the sea beyond them. A faint scattering of freckles crossed the bridge of his nose, and instead of being unsophisticated, they made her want to trace them with her fingertips.

“It was your brother who found this copy for me,” he said, turning the book over in his hands and warming to his subject. “It is quite old, but much of the material in it is just as relevant now as it was then.”

“Indeed.” She watched his mouth, wondering idly if he was a good kisser. Not that she’d had a lot of experience being kissed—she could thank her overbearing, overprotective brother for that—but the two times she’d been kissed, she’d found the experience to be pleasant. A little thrilling even, though that was probably due more to the fact that it had happened in a darkened garden where she was never supposed to be in the first place.

Mr. Shaw was still explaining his literature earnestly. “The loss of life on the battlefield itself can be secondary to the loss of life that occurs once soldiers are removed from the field and treated.”


  • "The publisher's blurb compares the story to the writing of Tessa Dare and Julia Quinn, and for once I found that blurb to be right on target - the story has a light touch, witty banter, and a lot of emotional weight behind the humor. I wish this was a full-length novel but at least the author has several books for me to try!"—SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com

On Sale
Aug 4, 2015
Page Count
40 pages
Forever Yours

Kelly Bowen

About the Author

RITA-award winning author Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba, Canada. She attended the University of Manitoba and earned a Master of Science degree in veterinary physiology and endocrinology. But it was Kelly’s infatuation with history and a weakness for a good love story that led her down the path of historical romance. When she is not writing, she seizes every opportunity to explore ruins and battlefields. Currently, Kelly lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two boys, all of whom are wonderfully patient with the writing process. Except, that is, when they need a goalie for street hockey.

Learn more about this author