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3.8 17
by Nicola Cornick

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Her wicked ways were the talk of the ton

Teresa, Dowager Marchioness of Darent, is rumored to have exhausted her four deceased husbands with her insatiable needs. So it's no surprise that every rake in the ton wants to bed her. If they only knew…through clever marriages to men who would ask nothing of her physical self, Tessa has


Her wicked ways were the talk of the ton

Teresa, Dowager Marchioness of Darent, is rumored to have exhausted her four deceased husbands with her insatiable needs. So it's no surprise that every rake in the ton wants to bed her. If they only knew…through clever marriages to men who would ask nothing of her physical self, Tessa has remained rather innocent in the ways of the bedroom. But now she's on the verge of losing everything and wants to take care of the stepson she's grown to adore.

Enter Captain Owen Purchase. The handsome American adventurer has come into the title of Viscount Rothbury. And the rumors surrounding his injuries at sea suggest that he could fit Tessa's requirements. But little does Tessa realize that the gossipmongers are wrong. She just might lose her heart, and her desires, to the most unlikely of men….

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The fifth scandalous heroine in Cornick’s popular historical series is thrice-widowed Tess Derant, a woman with a checkered past and a secret that can land her in jail. Reluctantly, she begins to seek husband number four. Prospects look dim until the lady literally falls into the lap of handsome American expat Owen Purchase, viscount Rothbury. The man possesses important qualities that meet Tess’s needs: once they’re married, no one can legally force him to reveal her secret identity, and a sensitive battle injury may have left him unable to consummate their union. The lovely blonde boldly proposes a marriage of convenience that Owen is hard-pressed to refuse, given both her wealth and her beauty. Cornick ably maneuvers the engaging characters through an intricate plot with her trademark lively narrative style. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"RITA® Award–nominated Cornick deftly steeps her latest intriguingly complex Regency historical in a beguiling blend of danger and desire."

-Booklist on Unmasked

"A rising star of the Regency arena."

-Publishers Weekly

"Nicola Cornick creates a glittering, sensual world

of historical romance that I never want to leave."

-Anna Campbell, author of Untouched

"A wonderfully original, sinfully amusing and sexy Regency historical by the always entertaining Cornick."

-Booklist on The Confessions of a Duchess

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London, October 1816

Covent Garden: "Artful ways beguile the implicit rake."—Taken from Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies.

It was the night her luck finally ran out.

Tess Darent knew that the net was closing and that someone was coming to hunt her down. Tonight she could feel him very close behind her. Tonight, she knew instinctively, was the night she was going to get caught.

"Hurry!" Mrs. Tong, owner of the Temple of Venus bawdy house held out the borrowed gown to her with shaking hands and Tess grabbed it and slipped it over her head, feeling the sensuous slide of lavender silk against her skin. It was not a bad fit. She was surprised that Mrs. Tong had anything so tasteful in the wardrobe. Fortunate, because she would not be seen dead in any of the harlot's gowns Mrs. Tong's girls habitually wore. Even if she was currently hiding from the law, Tess had standards to maintain.

The bawd's face was pale beneath her paint and powder, her eyes terrified. Out in the corridor the sounds of pursuit were getting louder—voices snapping orders, the tramp of booted feet, the crash as Mrs. Tong's pieces of erotic statuary were knocked to the marble floor.

"Redcoats!" the bawd said. "Searching the house. If they find you here—"

"They won't," Tess snapped. She spun around, lifting the heavy fall of her red-gold hair so that Mrs. Tong could lace the gown. She could feel the bawd's fingers trembling on the fastenings. Mrs. Tong's fear was feeding her own. The panic filled her chest, stealing her breath. Her pursuer was so close now. He was nipping at her heels.

"Even if they do find me here," she added over her shoulder, marvelling at the calm of her own voice, "what of it? My reputation is so bad no one will think it odd to find me in a whorehouse."

"But the papers?" Mrs. Tong's voice quavered.

"Hidden." Tess patted the lavender reticule that matched the gown. "Never fear, Mrs. T. No one will suspect you of being anything worse than an avaricious old madam."

"There's gratitude." Mrs. Tong sounded irritable. "Sometimes I wonder why I help you."

"You do it because you owe me," Tess said. Some months before she had helped Mrs. Tong's son when he had been arrested at a political rally. Now she was calling in the debt.

"I'm no friend to the radical cause," Mrs. Tong grumbled. She pulled the laces of the gown tight in a small gesture of revenge.

"The gown's too big," Tess wheezed, as the breath was pummelled out of her.

"Which is why you need the laces tight." The madam gave them another sharp tug. She threw Tess a matching cloak of lavender-blue edged with peacock feathers and tiptoed across to the door, opening it a crack, finger to her lips.

Tess raised a brow. Mrs. Tong shook her head, closed the door softly and turned the key. "No chance," she said. "They are all over the house like the pox. You'll have to hide."

"They'll find me." Fear clawed at Tess again. For all her defiant words she knew that it would be disastrous if she were to be caught now in possession of the papers. She would be thrown in prison. Everything she had worked for would be lost. The cold sweat trickled down her spine, prickling her skin.

"Buy me some time, Mrs. Tong," she said. "They are a company of soldiers and this is a bawdy house. Distract them."

She grabbed the jacket of the mannish suit she had been wearing on her arrival, extracted the little silver pistol from the pocket, forced it into the reticule along with the papers and pulled the drawstring tight. She tried on the exquisite pair of lavender slippers that matched the gown and winced. They were made for smaller feet than hers. She would have blisters by the time she reached home.

"There's no way of distracting their captain," Mrs. Tong said. "He don't care for women."

"Send him one of your boys then."

"He doesn't like boys either. War wound, they say. No lead in his pencil. Precious little pencil either, if it comes to that."

"Poor man," Tess said. "That's quite a sacrifice to make for your country. Still, if sex fails, money usually talks. Make him an offer he cannot afford to refuse."

She could hear the voices of the soldiers coming ever closer along the landing and the doors slamming back as they searched the rooms with about as much finesse as a herd of cows in a china shop. Mrs. Tong's girls were screaming. Aristocratic male voices were raised in plaintive protest. A lot of people, Tess thought, were going to have their most private vices exposed tonight. The redcoats' raid on Mrs. Tong's brothel would be all over the scandal sheets by the morning. It would be the talk of the ton.

"Time to make a swift exit," she said. She moved across to the window. "How far is the drop to the street, Mrs. T?"

Mrs. Tong stared. "You'll never be able to make this climb."

"Why not?" Tess said. "There is a balcony, is there not? I don't want to risk them searching me." She grabbed the sheets from the bed and started to fashion a makeshift rope.

"That's my best linen!" Mrs. Tong said. "You'll ruin it!"

"Stick it on my bill," Tess said. "Have I forgotten anything?"

Mrs. Tong shook her head. There was a gleam of appreciation in her eyes. "You're a cool one, and no mistake, madam," she said. "How about we go into business together?"

Tess shook her head. Only the direst emergency had driven her to take refuge in a brothel in the first place. "Forget it, Mrs. T. Selling sex is not my thing. I don't even want it when it is offered for free." She waved. "Thank you for your help."

She pulled back the curtains and slipped the catch on the long window. There was a decorative little stone balcony outside with a carved balustrade. Tess knotted the sheet around one of the stone uprights and pulled it hard. The sheet held, though whether it would do so under her not-inconsiderable weight was quite another thing. But she had no option other than to take the risk. Lavender slippers and reticule in one hand, she climbed over the balcony, gripped the sheet in her other hand and slid down the chute to the ground, the wide skirts of the gown filling out like a bell around her.

When she was still some distance from the ground she ran out of her impromptu rope and swung gently backwards and forwards in the autumn breeze. She could see Mrs. Tong peering over the balcony above her, still grumbling about the damage to her sheets. Below, there was a drop of at least four feet to the darkened street. For a moment Tess hung there, trying to decide whether to shin back up the rope or risk the jump to the ground. The sheet creaked and slipped a notch. The laces of the gown groaned as well, cutting into Tess's back as the seams strained.

Then, abruptly, the reticule and slippers were plucked from her hand and a moment later she was seized about the waist and placed gently on her feet.

"Splendid as the view was," a lazy masculine voice murmured in her ear, "I thought you might appreciate some help." caught.

Panic fluttered in her throat. So she had been right all along. There was no escape.

Stay calm. Give nothing away.

She tried to steady her breath. Something in the man's touch unsettled her, but deeper than that, deeper and more disturbing still, was the sense of recognition. He had come for her and she could not escape. She knew it and it made her tremble.

She did not even know who he was. She could not see his face.

The gas lamps in the square were out and although the shutters had been pulled back again and faint golden light spilled from the brothel windows it was not sufficient to pierce the autumn darkness. Tess had a confused impression of height and breadth—she was a tall woman but this man was taller, a shade over six feet, perhaps. There was something of resilience and strength about him, of hard chiselled edges and cool calculation. It was in his stillness and the way he was watching her. The impressions confused her; she did not know how she could tell so much whilst knowing so little about him. But her awareness of him was shockingly sharp, intensified in some way by the intimate dark. He still held her, not by the waist but lower, his grip firm and strong on her hips. His touch sent an odd shiver rippling through her. He drew her into the pool of light thrown by the window and released her with meticulous courtesy, standing back, sketching a bow.

The laces of the perfidious gown chose that precise moment to snap. It slid from Tess's shoulders and crumpled artistically about her waist before sighing down to the ground like a swooning maiden. As she was left shivering in her bodice and drawers, her companion laughed.

"What a perfect gown," he said.

"It's a little premature," Tess said coldly. "We have only just met."

She knew him now, recognising him with another ripple of disquiet. It was his voice that gave him away, so low and mellow. It was very different from the clipped British accents she was accustomed to hearing every day. Only one man had that languid drawl, as dark and smooth as treacle. Only one man in the ton was an American by birth; a man who was as dangerous and exotic and seductive as he sounded.


Viscount Rothbury was the man sent to capture her.

Tess knew him a little. He was an old friend of Alex, Lord Grant, her sister Joanna's husband, and of Garrick, Duke of Farne, her other brother-in-law. Until earlier in the year, Rothbury had been plain Owen Purchase, an American sea captain, who had most unexpectedly come into a title. Now that he was a viscount the ton fawned upon him but he seemed as indifferent to society's favour as he had been to their previous disregard. He had visited Alex and Joanna in Bedford Square on several occasions, but Tess had always kept out of his way. She met many handsome men on a daily basis. Almost all of them evoked no emotion in her whatsoever. Occasionally she would feel a faint interest in a man who was witty and intelligent, but the sensation was gone almost as soon as she had felt it. She had long ago assumed that any natural desires she might once have felt had been crushed out of her by the vile experiences of her second marriage. She had assumed she would never feel a physical attraction towards any man. She had grown not to expect it and she did not want it.

Rothbury challenged those assumptions and she did not like it.

It was not merely his physique—tall, broad shouldered, durable, strong. Tess supposed that he was handsome—no, she was obliged to admit that he was handsome—in a rugged manner that was far too physical for her comfort. She preferred men who were no physical threat, men who had spent their morning in company with their barber and their tailor rather than in riding or in swordplay; men who were brushed, pomaded and as au fait with fashion as she was. Rothbury had fought for the British against the French at Trafalgar and later for the Americans against the British at North Point. He had been a sailor, an explorer and an adventurer. Tess preferred men who had never travelled farther than their country estates.

And then there was his manner, incisiveness cloaked in those deceptively silken tones. She was not fooled for a moment. Rothbury pretended to be indolent when he was in fact one of the most intelligent and perceptive men of her acquaintance.

Her awareness of him was as sharp as a whetted blade. It disturbed her.

He was still watching her. Assessing. Unsmiling. Evidently he had recognised her too, for he gave her another immaculate bow.

"Good evening, Lady Darent," he said. "What an original way to exit a brothel."

"Lord Rothbury," Tess said coolly. "Thank you—I never follow the crowd."

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Mrs. Tong gesturing wildly at her. The bawd seemed to be trying to indicate that this—this—was the man responsible for the raid on the brothel, the man she had been talking about as lacking the wherewithal to sow any oats, wild or otherwise. Rothbury had certainly kept that quiet from his friends, Tess thought, but then no doubt he would. She sensed he was a proud man and it was unlikely he would wish to speak of his incapacity, or for it to become common knowledge. It was not the sort of piece of information one simply dropped into polite conversation.

She tried not to stare at his pantaloons. She had far more pressing matters on her mind other than whether Rothbury was capable of continuing his family line. Such as the fact that she was in a state of deshabillee and Rothbury was still holding her shoes in the one hand and her reticule in the other, with the incriminating papers only a rustle away. She was within an inch of being unmasked as well as undressed.

"You might wish to put your gown back on," Rothbury said. "It's optional—" an ironic smile tilted his lips "—but both of us might be more comfortable."

His narrowed gaze had started at her bare toes and was now travelling upwards with unhurried thoroughness, considering the nimbus of red-and-gold hair that fanned about her bare shoulders and finally coming to rest on her face. His green eyes, as cool as a shower of ice, met her blue ones and there was an expression in them that made the breath catch in her chest.

Meet the Author

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.

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Desired 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Bookshelf_Confessions More than 1 year ago
"Let them whisper-the more they whisper, the farther away they are from the truth". –I really loved this quote from Tessa.:) This is the first book that I’ve read from this author, and I wasn’t disappointed, the story had me at its best.. :D I usually avoided writing long reviews, but this is the shortest I could manage with this book..:) Aside from the very beautiful cover, Desired is a book that covers not only romance, but also politics (reforms) and the roles and rights of women (Spousal abuse) in the society. It’s also a book of emotional wounds, hopes and all of the heart’s desires. I really enjoyed reading Tessa and Owen’s cat-and-mouse interactions. These two characters have been developed well. From the very first page of knowing them, I am already engaged as to what would happen to these two. Their train of thought, was fascinating, and seeing them try to discover and peel each other’s secrets is what I look forward to the most… I loved how Ms. Cornick developed the chemistry, it wasn’t forced at all, the fusion of these two was just plain perfect. Tessa may have look like a featherbrain, but underneath her smiles, and tempting body, lies an intelligent, admirable and caring woman.. she actually leads a reform movement and has an alter ego named Jupiter (a cartoonist), whom the government is pursuing. Owen is very tender, understanding, and a real protector, and he would do everything to heal the emotional wounds Tessa has. I loved the development of the story, especially how the two of them started to trust each other, and how their romance developed from pretense into something their heart’s desired. But at the end though, it seemed to me, that the story was rushed into its end. It’s like the author realizes, she’d written a lot already, so she decided to give it an end. It was just at the end of the story though, I still enjoyed this a lot. Another good thing about this book is there’s the right humor and intensity .I nearly died of laughter when Owen's virility was called into question..lol, and I shed tears when Tessa's true history was known. DESIRED moved me, I laughed and cried all throughout the story, and most importantly I had gained a better understanding of what happened in this regency era, but there’s a lot to learn more with the last book in the series, “Forbidden” coming this Summer 2012. It’s a refreshing, entertaining, fascinating, heart-wrenching romance! A must-read! Warning though, after reading this book, you would have an insatiable urge to buy the other books to learn about the side character’s own stories.
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epicrat More than 1 year ago
Nicola Cornick, you stay away from my nose! Remember how last October I inhaled Notorious because it was as addictive as dark chocolate? Well, I should have known better because Desired totally has this reader hooked on Nicola Cornick! Tessa and Owen had me at “hello” with their cat-and-mouse introduction. Their interactions were spot-on with the right balance between humor and intensity to satisfy this reader. I nearly died of laughter when Owen’s virility was called into question, and I shed buckets of tears when Tessa’s true history came to light. The story itself seems a little too picture-perfect as far as conflict and resolution goes, but the characters made the journey pretty darn enjoyable to worry about the details. I can attest that I immediately went and bought the first 3 books of the series to learn more about the side characters. If that is not an indicator of my Nicola Cornick addiction, I don’t know what is!
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The_Reading_Reviewer More than 1 year ago
Teresa, Dowager Marchioness of Darent has to turn her terrible reputation around to save everything she cares for. Tess is determined to find a biddable man to marry her and has a remarkable knowledge of the institution, as this will be her fourth time down the aisle. Love may have certain advantages but control of the relationship is essential to its long-term success. After much thought and research, Tess has found the perfect man to suit her plans, Captain Owen Purchase, the Viscount Rothbury. This man is titled albeit through odd circumstances and he is a Yankee of all things but these are problems she can overcome because he has the one thing she covets, a sterling reputation. Owen fits the requirements and her proposition of a marriage in name only should be perfect for both of them or so Tess assumes. Owen for reasons he cannot begin to understand is drawn to Tess and his desire for her is rampant and something he is trying unsuccessfully to control. When the prospect of marriage is presented, he devises a plan to repair her reputation while allowing him to entertain all manner of adventure with her delectable body. She may think him incapable of showing her passion but Owen is determined to do just that. There are so many secrets these two harbor, that digging through them might take forever if not for the fact they are both headstrong and want answers now. Tess fears the touch of another man and believes intimacy will only cause more pain. Owen however is going to prove her wrong and trusts her enough to reveal those dark places he also hides from which will draw them closer together to fight the demons outside the door. With rebellion among the masses surrounding them, the ton looking down upon them, and family not rallying support for this union Tess and Owen move on and learn to live as a couple. The problems will not go away and the secrets when revealed may ruin both of them, but when they are in each others arms, nothing seems impossible to overcome. When you look for a romantic read and dream of magical endings Nicola Cornick delivers with every book. This series has moved flawlessly from one amazing story to the next with characters rich with mystery and beaming with the love of life. Each one blends to the next but can be read alone, but why would you limit yourself to just one book when there are so many more to enchant you.
iheartyabooks More than 1 year ago
Desired is a beautiful Historical Romance. Nicola Cornick penned a heart-melting love story that's captivating. Cornick created a fantastic historical world. The storyline will take you into a world of radicals, abuse, healing and so much more. Teresa and Owen's love had me laughing and crying. Teresa (Tess) is a woman who has been abused and damaged, and with three marriages, Tess is the gossip of the town. So marriage number four is not what she¿s looking for. But when she finds herself in a situation where marriage is the only answer¿for a woman in the eighteenth century¿Tess set her sights on Lord Owen Rothury. After hearing about his war injury, Owen was the perfect man for this marriage of convenience. Owen is also an investigator of the home office who¿s looking for the radicals. And Tess is a part of the radical reform. Tess figures she can protect her stepdaughter and herself through this marriage. Tess is a strong women who never gives up her control, especially in this world where men abuse and control women. Owen is man who has made a promise to himself to protect women after he failed to help a woman when he was younger. So it¿s not hard for Owen to be convinced by Tess to marry her in order to protect her stepdaughter. What started out as a marriage of convenience for Owen and Tess will become their heart¿s desire. Desired will capture your heart with Tess and Owen¿s romance, and a storyline that¿s filled with drama, humor, suspense, but most of all, the desire for love. A love that will heal broken hearts. I recommend Desired as a must read.
beckymmoe More than 1 year ago
(4.5 for a slow start, but it finished strong so I'll bump it up to 5) This was the first Nicola Cornick novel I've read, but after this one I'll definitely be looking for more! The beginning was a bit difficult to get into I thought, but once it got going it was difficult to put it down. Both Tess and Owen had quite a bit of baggage going into their marriage, (which readers who have read the other novels in the series may already have known, and new readers will have it all explained to them eventually, so don't worry) and at times it seems they'll never be able to get around it. I loved the development of the relationship between these two--it was really very nicely done and quite sweet. The political/radical storyline, however, didn't ever quite feel totally developed--other than the fact that Tess's first husband embraced the cause, we really don't get a good feel for why she was willing to risk so much for it or even exactly what it was the radicals were hoping to solve and how. Again, perhaps this was covered in earlier novels, maybe not--in the end it really didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, so I'm wiling to overlook it. On the whole, this one kept me up until the wee hours finishing it, and I look forward to more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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mlorio More than 1 year ago
Tess Derant has perfected the image of a feather-brained widow thrice over. Secretly she is active in radical politics and draws political cartoons. This has caught the attention of the government, which is now bent on arresting and hanging the lead troublemakers. An accidental meeting outside a brothel after a political rally puts Tess literally in the arms of American turned viscount Owen Purchase. He is working for the government and quickly realizes Tess' double life. When Tess needs a quick wedding to gain respectability and a protector, she decides to kill two birds with one stone and proposes to Owen. Owen sees marriage to Tess as a way of both keeping an eye on her activities and fulfilling his desire for her. This book is 5th in a series but is a satisfying read on its own.
LASR_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Featherbrained, "shallow as a puddle" are misconceptions that Lady Tess Darent cultivates about herself. Three times a widow, Tess is totally disillusioned about the institution of marriage. Her radical reform work, philanthropy, and her intelligence are secret to all except a few, but her "believed" amoral behavior, her extravagance, and her beauty fascinate and keep the Ton furnished with lots of gossip material. No one knows the fear that haunts her nights and controls so many of her actions. Tess is a strong heroine who does what must be done to take care of those she loves and defenseless women and children who have been wronged at the whims of men. She is a secret crusader sailing under the false colors of a rule-breaking social butterfly that has no concern for her reputation. Owen Purchase, Viscount of Rothbury, a friend of Tess's brothers-in-law, is also a favorite subject for the Ton. American-born, an adventurer, and explorer, Owen inherited a title and all the Rothbury holdings in England. Now he tries to steer his way through English Society while working for the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth. His beloved ship "Sea Witch" sits idle in port. He misses his old way of life on the open seas, but he soon finds intrigue enough as he pursues and is pursued by the inscrutable beauty, Lady Tess Durant. Nicola Cornick weaves a bevy of secondary characters into the story as Owen and Tess come to terms with the horrors and misdeeds of the past in order to meet new threats and challenges that press in and could get them hanged. If you have read other novels by Ms. Cornick, you will get to catch up with some characters you will recognize, like Tess's sisters, Joanna and Merryn and their husbands Alex and Garrick; Garrick half-brother, Tom Bradshaw and his wife Emma; and her brother Justin Brooke. The sub-plots and back story add layers of cruel machination and unconscionable misdeeds as well as some efforts made to atone for past sins. The antagonists range from corrupt politicians to warped and perverted peerage. They raise the stakes in conflicts to help create some pulse-pounding scene as Tess comes closer and closer to being trapped. Of course, the despicable artist Melton sets off one of the major turning points that reveals a new facet of the incredible Tess-lots of excitement. Desired is chock full of delightful and revealing dialogue, subtle humor, and bit-by-bit falling in love scenes that carry the reader along on a tantalizing and sometime scary journey toward a happy-ever-after for the hero and heroine. The unexpected twists and turns keeps one turning pages. A wonderfully entertaining read. Originally posted at the Long and Short of It Romance Reviews
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read!