Beastby Judith Ivory
An exquisite American heiress, Louise Vandermeer is beautiful, brilliant. . . and bored-which is why she has agreed to a daring adventure: to travel across the ocean to marry an aristocrat abroad. Rumor has it her intended is a hideous cad-a grim prospect that propels her into a passionate, reckless affair with a compelling stranger she never sees in the light of
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An exquisite American heiress, Louise Vandermeer is beautiful, brilliant. . . and bored-which is why she has agreed to a daring adventure: to travel across the ocean to marry an aristocrat abroad. Rumor has it her intended is a hideous cad-a grim prospect that propels her into a passionate, reckless affair with a compelling stranger she never sees in the light of day.
Though scarred by a childhood illness, Charles d'Harcourt has successfully wooed Europe's most sophisticated beauties. For a lark, he contrived to travel incognito on his own fiancee's ship-and seduce the young chit in utter darkness. But the rake's prank backfired. It was he who was smitten-while the hot-tempered Lulu, now his wife, loves only her shipboard lover, unaware it was d'Harcourt all the time! And Charles will never have her heart-unless he can open her eyes to the prince who hides within.
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"You beast! Rotter, scum, swine!"
Charles Harcourt slid his pillow out from under his head, using it to fend off slaps of open palms, a thrashing of naked arms. When the blows didn't stop, he rolled away through the dark, across the bed and out of reach. "I was going to tell you," he said as he swung his bare legs over the edge of the mattress.
"When? As you handed me the wedding invitation?" Pia took up her litany again. "Cow's hide, tripehead . . ."
Over this, the ship's engine a compound steam engine of a steel twin-screw Atlantic liner-droned suddenly louder. Charles had to wait before he could tell her, "You're making too much of this."
"There's a wedding party on board, and it turns out you're the groom? And I'm not supposed to be upset?"
He tried to stand, got partway to his feet, saying, "Upset, yes. Hysterical, no " The engine's reverberation drowned him out. The dark room tipped and lifted, a gyration that sat him suddenly back on the edge of the bed.
Over the past hour, the noise of the ship's engine had ebbed and flowed like this, giving audible rhythm to the liner's lunge and dive over the water. The ship, the Concordia out of New York, and its eleven hundred passengers were riding the high seas of an approaching storm.
"Sweet Mary," exclaimed Pia as the ship righted itself with a majestic roll she complained about the roughness of the ocean, Charles thought. Then some thing hit him across the back of his shoulders the neck pillow that had been under her belly just a moment ago, for he could feel the imprint of its lisle crochet.
"Stop it," he said, twisting his head and shouldersaround.
He tried to find her across the bed, but the room, the bedchamber of his stateroom suite, was lit only by the glow of the ship's running lights peeking in and out of swaying curtains. He perceived her as an effluvium, a little miasma of rose geranium vapor (not his favorite perfume, but rather Roland's, her husband's) drifting along the far edge of the bed. He couldn't detect any more of her than this.
Charles grimaced. Locating his clothes, he thought, would be an easier matter to deal with.
He stood, successfully this time, the vibration of the ship's engine rumbling into his legs. Then a very different sensation: Something cold and wet flopped against the inside of his thigh. A sheath, still half on. His capote anglaise, his English hat. With an annoyed tug, he plucked it of. He hated wearing such devices, but Roland was as promiscuous as a tomcat. Charles was afraid of getting some dread disease. Thus, he put the bonnet up on his carriage, so to speak, whenever out with Pia for a pleasure ride.
Out the side of his eye, he caught a glimpse of movement, a flash of Pia's milk-white skin as she disappeared again up under the shadow of the bed's canopy. A faint clatter alerted him. Charles threw his arms and hands up just in time to deflect a barrage of hard, sharp-edged objects: his cuff links, studs, her jeweled hair combs, his passport, notecase, whatever else she was able to gather off the nightstand. He tried to catch the last, a flash of metal-his own pocket watch as it turned out-which he missed completely. (Even in broad daylight, he had absolutely no depth perception.) When he heard her scraping something more off the bedside table, he launched himself across the bed through the debris toward the cloud of galling perfume, where, in her dark corner, his hand found an ankle. Grabbing her foot, he yanked Pia toward him.
She weighed hardly anything. Pia Montebello was all of five feet tall-though the most voluptuous, curvaceous five feet of woman any man could ever hope to lay hands on. Charles took her into his arms, an easy matter for a man well over six feet and over two hundred solid-muscled pounds.
She squirmed and reverted to her native language, Italian, for what became a scatological catalog of name-calling: "Traditore di merda, merdoso, merdon accio, merda di madonna. . ." Treacherous merda, reeking merda, prodigious merda, merda of the sainted mother. She kicked pillows, churned satin covers as he tried to open her hand; there was another would be projectile clenched in it.
He tried to reason with her. "I was going to tell you," he explained, "in Nice, under better circumstances."
"Pile of stinking, steaming. . ." she continued in Italian.
"I only decided a week ago. And I certainly didn't expect the whole clan to get on the next ship over. They think I went back to France last month."
The problem specifically was this: Tonight at dinner, at a private table not far from Pia, there had been some heavy celebrating by a group murmured to be the Vandermeer portion of "the Harcourt/Vandermeer wedding party." Only after Pia had been making love with Charles for the better part of the evening and into the night did she mention this "amusing coincidence of names," never allowing for a moment that it was no coincidence: that it was the very Harcourt on top of her who had contracted himself, name, titles, properties, and money, just the week before to the Vandermeers in marriage.
Even as Charles had admitted to this fact, Pia had thought he was joking for a full minute: so sure she was of him.
Holding her in the quasi-straitjacket of his embrace now, he pried her fist open, finger at a time, releasing her own small but impressive choker of diamonds and black jade-the likes of which he was not allowed to give her.
"You're married," he complained.
"And my being married has done nothing but complicate our lives!"
"So get unmarried."
She made a sniff and tried to push away from him. "I knew you'd say that! You know I can't." She sketched again all the reasons she listed every time this subject came up. "My children . . . the scandal . . . the money . . . Roland's position. I have a family, you know."
"And I would like one." He tossed the necklace somewhere into the sheets and let her wiggle free.
She hopped off the bed, a petite, shapely silhouette against the light through the moving curtains. "You're just being spiteful," she said as she bent and picked up what looked to be her corset.
"I'm being practical. I'm not getting any younger"
"Oh, Charles, you could marry anyone any time in your dotage, if you chose to." She faced him and laid it on thick. "You're charming, clever, extraordinarily well liked." The coup de grace: "And in your sinister, grim way, you know, you're quite the dashing figure.
He made a wry face in the dark, yet this wry face warmed slightly. He hated that he was vulnerable to such flattery: for Charles was both sensitive and vain of his appearance. Though tall and well built, he had a few drawbacks. For instance, he was blind in one eye. This eye bore a scar. He also had a limp that came and went, depending on the whims of arthritis that had settled into an old knee injury.
Pia, however, ruined the advantage her flattery had won her. "And besides, you're as rich as a czar and wear an absurdly impressive title. These don't hurt your appeal, bello."
Charles made a snort and stood up.
He had never associated with any but monied women so as not to be overly prized for his wealth. As to his title, it was nothing more than an appendage to his name, a legal cipher by French code allowed for the sake of distinguishing him from all the other Harcourts-his siblings, cousins, nephews, aunts, and uncles. He said, "Is that your corset? I'll help you put it on, but don't leave, not angry."
Pia paid no attention, concluding, "So you see, you don't need to marry."
He expelled a quick breath. "Nonetheless, I intend to. Grim, hard, blind, whatever, if I can't marry you, then I shall marry the girl whose papa owns this ship."
"This ship?" she repeated. "What are you talking about? Why ever would you want this ship?"
"Not this ship. Ambergris. Vandermeer owns all sorts of ships. He has a whaling fleet large enough that it is always gathering in a certain amount of ambergris."
"Ambergris," her voice said blankly."It is a key and very, very expensive ingredient of certain perfumes."
"A-ah," she said, then made a little click of her tongue, a tsk.
Charles owned controlling interest in a consortium that manufactured luxury goods. Italian leathers, champagne, and his own special interest-per fumes made from flowers grown in his own fields in Provence.
"So that's what this is all about?" Pia asked irritably. "Money and your damn toilette water."
Well, more than just toilette water; and the blending of perfumes meant more to Charles than money. But, yes, Vandermeer had offered to double his whaling fleet, then give over all its collection of ambergris to Charles as part of the marriage agreement, a stupefyingly generous and enormously useful arrangement. If Charles couldn't marry for love, he damn well could marry for something that mattered to him.
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Meet the Author
Judith Ivory's work has won many honors, including the Romance Writers of America's RITA and Top Ten Favorite Books of the Year awards and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award.
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The initial book description is great and i loved the first half of the book... but the rest was her being depressed and annoying. Not worth the time.
Good premise. Annoying characters. Pretentious prose. BLECH
A beautiful woman and a scarred man, vanity and pride; both practicing deceit; both fumbling in the dark. A very young woman feted for her beauty; a man almost twice her age sought after for his suavness, title and wealth. An arranged marriage, an ocean crossing before the wedding. The plot is fun and fast paced. The characters interesting. The whole could use better editing, but still a good read.
I was intrigued by the set-up for this book and I've always been a sucker for the "Beauty & the Beast" theme. Unfortunately I made the purchase before reading the other customer reviews. I now have to agree with almost all of them. There are too many flaws in this book for me to really recommend it. It feels like the author wanted her Hero/Heroine to be flawed personalities so that we route for them to find one another and be happy. Unfortunately from the start there isn't much to like about either one of them. Their character arcs don't really redeem them and by the end of the story one feels like this relationship remains an arranged marriage that may or may not work out. The heroine Louise can be forgiven a bit for her attitude/behavior in the story because she is so young, but again I question what the author really wanted to say by putting such a young woman-child into a relationship with a cad of a leading man. Overall, this was an OK romance. I can say that I read it, but will probably not revisit it a second time as I normally do.
Another story of beauty and the beast. But, how would you feel if you overheard your affiance expressing that you were ugly and lame? Maybe a little vengeful. Now... whose the beast? A well written story, but slow, where two not so nice people relationship develops into a passionate love affair. Excellent reading for a rainy day. I graded the book a four because the narrator of the eaudiobook version was fantastic. Grateful my library had the eaudio and the hard copy so I could enjoy them in unison. Recommend A Secret Love (a Cynster novel) by Stephanie Laurens if you enjoy your hero and heroine having dark rendezvous.
I really enjoyed this book! I loved the way the characters developed throughout the book. I fell in love with Charles on the ship. He played the lover in the darkness perfectly.
'Beast' is an overall good story with strong characters - Charles and Louise - as well as witty dialogues. The idea of falling in love with a - surprise, surprise - not so perfect hero is a refreshing change from many romance novels. However, it did get tedious at times and became downright boring. Good as a library rental but not for your own collection.
It was okay. The plot and storyline went well, but towards the end, it just became dull. I loved the relationship that Louise had with her 'ship-lover' on board though.
I read this book 6 times before I put it down. Extremely well written.