The Pursuit of Pleasureby Elizabeth Essex
Never Say "Never" To Passion. . .
Lizzie Paxton's dream in life is to be a widowif only she could skip the wedding and the husband. When her childhood friend Captain James Marlowe proposes a marriage in name only, she accepts, knowing she'll have the independence she craves once he sets sail. Though James is the only man Lizzie trusts, she doesn't/b>
Never Say "Never" To Passion. . .
Lizzie Paxton's dream in life is to be a widowif only she could skip the wedding and the husband. When her childhood friend Captain James Marlowe proposes a marriage in name only, she accepts, knowing she'll have the independence she craves once he sets sail. Though James is the only man Lizzie trusts, she doesn't trust the scintillating desire he evokes in her.
James knows he shouldn't get involved with anyone, especially with his uncertain future. But he just can't help himself when he overhears Lizzie's declaration. Though he's promised her a marriage of convenience, he wastes no time in seducing her and taking her over the precipice of desire. Yet not even his beautiful wife can deter him from his cause.
But when Lizzie discovers her husband has deceived her, James must choose between devotion to duty and loyalty to the woman he cannot live without. . .
"Intrigue, sensuality and romance collide." Jenna Petersen
"Elizabeth Essex's The Pursuit Of Pleasure is elegant, evocative, and absolutely dangerous to a good night's sleep." Courtney MilanWhen not re-reading Jane Austen, sipping tea or mucking about her garden, Elizabeth Essex can be found at her computer, making up stories about people who live far more interesting lives than she.
It wasn't always so. Elizabeth graduated from Hollins College with a BA in Classical Studies and Art History and then earned her MA from Texas A&M University in Nautical Archaeology, also known as the archaeology of shipwrecks. While Elizabeth loved the adventurous life of a working archaeologist, after writing and reading all those dry, dusty reports on ship construction, she would daydream about how lovely it would have been if only someone had fallen in love on just one of those ships. And so now she writes stories about just that.
Elizabeth lives in Texas with her family.
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The Pursuit of Pleasure
By ELIZABETH ESSEX
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Elizabeth Essex
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDartmouth, England May 1794
"I do say I'll never marry, but I have always wanted to be a widow."
The young woman's voice, with its droll, self-aware tone, wafted down the length of the assembly room's dimly lit balcony, floated into the darkness beyond, and entwined with the smoke dancing off the hot end of Jameson Marlowe's cigar.
Marlowe clamped down on the cheroot to keep from laughing out loud into the warm night. He didn't need to look around the other side of the column to know who was speaking. He'd spent years away, and still, he knew. She came to his mind as swift and unbidden as a gunshot.
Lizzie. No one else could manage to be so ridiculously charming.
"A widow? You must be joking." Another girl, her voice as young but much less world-weary, sounded scandalized. Her breathy little voice rose higher with each word.
"I'm not. If I were a widow I'd have everything I need. Independence. Social standing. Financial stability." Lizzie blew out a long sigh full of wistfulness. "It would be perfect. A marriage without the man."
"You can't mean it!"
The owner of the breathy little voice didn't know her friend very well, it seemed. Lizzie always meant it. Always. He could picture her impudent, challenging smile as she tossed her opinions off like grenades.
Marlowe grinned, leaned his head back against the column, and took another deep drag from the cigar, his mind whirling like a steel clockwork, ticking away, crystallizing his plans. He had waited a long time for this moment. He would make this work.
Defiant little Lizzie Paxton.
Yes, she would do very well. In fact, she was perfect.
He ground out the cigar with the toe of his boot and stepped out from behind the column. "She always means it, don't you, Lizzie?"
At the sound of his voice, two young women, dressed in fashionable white muslin chemise dresses, turned their heads towards him. But only one of them smiled. Ever so slightly. Lizzie.
A sharp pang lanced through him at the sight of her, like the ache of a long-healed bruise. Despite the years he'd spent away, despite the fact she'd grown up, Marlowe still recognized the girl he'd known inside the beautiful young woman leaning negligently against the balcony railing. The same ginger-tinted hair. The same boneless, feline physicality. The same slightly feral smile. The smile that always led to mischief.
Lizzie slowly straightened from where she lounged against the railing. The pale dress, belted with a sash of bright green satin that matched her eyes, accentuated the liquid grace of her body. On anyone else, it would have looked demure. On Lizzie, it looked like a challenge.
One he was definitely going to accept.
"Is that you, Marlowe?" Her tone was all jaded indifference, but her voice poured over him like whisky, full of warmth and bite. Oh yes, with her, he'd need to keep his wits about him.
"It is indeed, Lizzie."
Her sparkling gaze flicked over him. "Back from the wars, are you?"
"Yes," he acknowledged with a sketch of a bow, "from service in His Majesty's Royal Navy."
"Oh. Well, good for you." She turned back out to the night, but he caught the flash of a smile brewing along her lips.
Ah, perhaps she wasn't as indifferent as she wanted him to think. Nor was her companion, who sent her an urgent look. And an unpleasant little jab in the ribs.
"Oh, all right. Celia, may I present Mr. Jameson Raphael Marlowe?" Lizzie flourished a fine-boned wrist in his direction. "Miss Celia Burke."
"Captain Marlowe, at your service, ma'am." He bowed over Miss Burke's perfumed hand and graced it with a kiss. The young woman's cheeks colored prettily.
"Come to make moon eyes at the ravishing Celia, have you? You'll have to get in line, even at a backwater assembly such as this." Lizzie's brilliant eyes teased even though she pursed her lips to keep from smiling. He remembered that look, but it was much more effective now that she was all grown up.
"No. Although Miss Burke is indeed ravishing." He straightened and turned to face his childhood friend-and the reason his childhood had ended. "It's you I want to see, Lizzie. I've got a proposition for you."
This time her mouth smiled along with her eyes, the apricot lips widening until he could see the shine of her teeth. He remembered them as being particularly sharp.
In contrast, poor Celia Burke gasped at his audacity. Her blue eyes practically popped out of her head. It must be rare for her to witness a gentleman giving Lizzie as good as he got.
"Oh, off you go, Celia." Lizzie gave her friend a gentle nudge towards the door. "I'm safe as houses with dear old Jamie," she drawled.
She made him sound like a senile old uncle. He'd take pleasure in disabusing her of that notion.
"She'll send my mother out," Lizzie surmised as Miss Burke left reluctantly, with a wide-eyed last look over her shoulder at her friend. "We'll have to leg it."
She turned and, without waiting, led the way back into the building and down the narrow, creaking servants' corridor. It was somehow perfectly natural Lizzie should know the hidden ways and back rooms of the local assembly hall as well as she knew her own home. She was just that kind of girl, always had been. The sort of lazily inquisitive child who acted as if she had a perfect right and a perfect reason to be where she oughtn't.
"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation." He wanted to steer their chat to his purpose, but the back of her neck was white and long. He'd never noticed that long slide of skin before, so pale against the vivid color of her locks. He'd gone away before she'd been old enough to put up her hair. And nowadays the fashion seemed to be for masses of loose ringlets covering the neck. Trust Lizzie to still sail against the tide.
"Yes, you could." Her breezy voice broke into his thoughts.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Help it. You could have helped it, as any polite gentlemen should, but you obviously chose not to." She didn't even bother to look back at him as she spoke and walked on, but he heard the teasing in her voice. Such intriguing confidence. He could use it to his purpose. She had always been up for a lark.
He caught her elbow and steered her into an unused parlor. She let him guide her easily, without resisting the intimacy or the presumption of the brief contact of his hand against the soft, vulnerable skin of her inner arm, but once through the door she just seemed to dissolve out of his grasp. His empty fingers prickled from the sudden loss. He let her move away and closed the door.
No lamp or candle branch illuminated the room, only the moonlight streaming through the tall casement windows. Lizzie looked like a pale ghost, weightless and hovering in the strange light. He took a step nearer. He needed her to be real, not an illusion. Over the years she'd become a distant but recurring dream, a combination of memory and boyish lust, haunting his sleep.
He had thought of her, or at least the idea of her, almost constantly over the years. She had always been there, in his mind, swimming just below the surface. And he had come tonight in search of her. To banish his ghosts.
She took a sliding step back to lean nonchalantly against the arm of a chair, her pose one of sinuous, bored indifference.
"So what are you doing in Dartmouth? Aren't you meant to be messing about with your boats?"
"Ships," he corrected automatically and then smiled at his foolishness for trying to tell Lizzie anything. "The big ones are ships."
"And they let you have one of the big ones? Aren't you a bit young for that?" She tucked her chin down to subdue her smile and looked up at him from under her gingery brows. Very mischievous. She was warming to him.
If it was worldliness she wanted, he could readily supply it. He mirrored her smile.
"Hard to imagine, isn't it, Lizzie?" He opened his arms wide, presenting himself for her inspection.
Only she didn't inspect him. Her eyes slid away to inventory the scant furniture in the darkened room. "No one else calls me that anymore."
"Lizzie? Well, I do. I can't imagine you as anything else. And I like it. I like saying it. Lizzie." The name hummed through his mouth like a honeybee sprinkled with nectar. Like a kiss. He moved closer so he could see the emerald color of her eyes, dimmed by the half light, but still brilliant against the white of her skin. He leaned a fraction too close and whispered, "Lizzie. It always sounds somehow ... naughty."
She turned quickly. Wariness flickered across her mobile face, as if she were suddenly unsure of both herself and him, before it was just as quickly masked.
And yet, she continued to study him surreptitiously, so he held himself still for her perusal. To see if she would finally notice him as a man. He met her eyes and he felt a kick low in his gut. In that moment plans and strategies became unimportant. The only important thing was for Lizzie to see him. It was essential.
But she kept all expression from her face. He was jolted to realize she didn't want him to read her thoughts or mood. She was trying hard to keep him from seeing her.
It was an unexpected change. The Lizzie he had known as a child had been so wholly passionate about life, she had thrown herself body and soul into each and every moment, each action and adventure. She had not been covered with this veneer of poised nonchalance.
And yet it was only a veneer. He was sure of it. And he was equally sure he could make his way past it. He drew in a measured breath and sent her a slow, melting smile to show, in the course of the past few minutes, he'd most definitely noticed she was a woman.
She gave no outward reaction, and it took Marlowe a long moment to recognize her response: she looked careful. It was a quality he'd never seen in her before.
Finally, after what felt like an infinity, she broke the moment. "You didn't answer. Why are you here? After all these years?"
He chose the most convenient truth. "A funeral. Two weeks ago." A bleak, rain-soaked funeral that couldn't be forgotten. The downpour that April day had chilled him to his very marrow. He went cold just thinking about it, unable to shake the horrible feeling sitting like a lump of cold porridge in his belly. It was wrong, all wrong. Frank couldn't be dead. He shouldn't be dead. And yet he was. They'd found his body, pale and lifeless, washed up cold and unseeing upon the banks of the Dart. Drowned.
At least that was what the local authorities said. But Marlowe knew better. Frank was murdered. And he would prove it.
Lizzie's murmur brought him back. "My condolences, for what they're worth." She ran her palm up and down her other forearm as if she were chilled. Lizzie had never been at ease with open emotion. "Anyone I knew?"
"Lieutenant Francis Palmer."
"Frankie Palmer?" For a moment she was truly affected. Her full lips dropped open in an exhalation. "From down Stoke Fleming way? Didn't you two go off to sea together, all those years ago?"
"Yes, ten years ago." Ten long years. A lifetime.
"Oh. I am sorry." Her voice lost its languid bite.
He looked back and met her eyes. Such sincerity had never been one of Lizzie's strong suits. No, that was wrong. She'd always been sincere, or at least truthful-painfully so as he recalled-but she rarely let her true feelings show.
"Thank you, Lizzie. But I didn't lure you into a temptingly darkened room to bore you with dreary news."
"No, you came to proposition me." The mischievous little smile crept back. Lizzie was never the sort to be intimidated for long. She had always loved to be doing things she ought not.
A heated image of her sinuous white body temptingly entwined in another man's arms rose unbidden in his brain. Good God, what other things had Lizzie been doing over the past few years that she ought not? And with whom?
Marlowe quickly jettisoned the irrational spurt of jealousy. Her more recent past hardly mattered. In fact, some experience on her part might better suit his plans.
"Yes, my proposition. I can give you what you want. A marriage without the man."
For the longest moment she went unnaturally still, then she slid off the chair arm and glided closer to him. So close, he almost backed up. So close, her rose petal of a mouth came but a hairsbreadth from his own. Then she lifted her inquisitive nose and took a bold, suspicious whiff of his breath.
"You've been drinking."
"I have," he admitted without a qualm.
"More than enough for the purpose. And you?"
"Clearly not enough. Not that they'd let me." She turned and walked away. Sauntered really. She was very definitely a saunterer, all loose joints and limbs, as if she'd never paid the least attention to deportment. Very provocative, although he doubted she meant to be. An image of a bright, agile otter, frolicking unconcerned in the calm green of the river Dart, twisting and rolling in the sunlit water, came to mind.
"Drink or no, I meant what I said."
"Are you proposing? Marriage? To me?" She laughed as if it were a joke. She didn't believe him.
She eyed him more closely, her gaze narrowing even as one marmalade eyebrow rose in assessment. "Do you have a fatal disease?"
"Are you engaged to fight a duel?"
"Condemned to death?" She straightened with a fluid undulation, her spine lifting her head up in surprise as the thought entered her head, all worldliness temporarily obliterated. "Planning a suicide?"
"No and no." It was so hard not to smile. Such a charming combination of concern and cheek. The cheek won out: she gave him that feral, slightly suspicious smile.
"Then how do you plan to arrange it, the 'without the man' portion of the proceedings? I'll want some sort of guarantee. You can't imagine I'm gullible enough to leave your fate, or my own for that matter, to chance."
A low heat flared within him. By God, she really was considering it.
"And yet, Lizzie, I think you may. I am an officer of His Majesty's Royal Navy and am engaged to captain a convoy of prison ships to the Antipodes. I leave only days from now. The last time I was home, in England, was four and a half years ago and then only for a few months to recoup from a near fatal wound. This trip is slated to take at least eight ... years."
Her face cleared of all traces of impudence. Oh yes, even Lizzie could be led.
"Storms, accidents, and disease provide most of the risk. Don't forget we're still at war with France and Spain. And the Americans don't think too highly of us either. One stray cannonball could do the job quite nicely."
"Is that what did it last time?"
"Last time? I've never been dead before."
The ends of her ripe mouth nipped up. The heat in his gut sailed higher.
"You said you had recovered from a near fatal wound."
"Ah, yes. Grapeshot, actually. In my chest. Didn't go deep enough to kill me, though afterward, the fever nearly did."
Her gaze skimmed over his coat, curious and maybe a little hungry. The heat spread lower, kindling into a flame.
"Do you want to see?" He was being rash, he knew, but he'd done this for her once before, taken off his shirt on a dare. And he wanted to remind her. He'd lived off the promise of that day for years.
She gave him a saucy smile. "You mean I don't have to dare you this time?"
Marlowe felt his mouth turn up in a grin as he peeled off his cravat, shucked the coat, unbuttoned his waistcoat all the way, and flipped open the close of his shirt at his throat. He tugged the linen open to reveal the motley spray of bullet scars across his otherwise smooth chest. Daring her to look this time.
Oh, but she looked. Her eyes widened in the dark as she leaned forward, inching her inquisitive gaze closer. So curious-always had been. Like a nearly wild barn cat sniffing at a pot of cream. She couldn't seem to help herself.
Ah, but he would help her. He took her right hand and placed it flat against his skin.
Marlowe sucked in a breath through his teeth. Her cool, nimble fingers danced tentatively across his flesh. Sweet God, such open, agile curiosity. It was unbearably erotic. His nipples contracted, and his eyes threatened to buckle shut. Her touch had propelled him from want straight into compulsion. God help him, less than twenty minutes in her presence, and he was desperate to have her, to bury himself in her heat.
Excerpted from The Pursuit of Pleasure by ELIZABETH ESSEX Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Essex. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I was looking forward to reading this book after reading the mostly positive reviews. Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations. While I liked the characters, I felt the mystery and motives that drove the story were revealed too slowly. I had a hard time concentrating on the story and kept putting my nook down to do other things, which rarely happens. I wonder if her other books were better paced?
This novel is a must read. Its a bit predictable but really good nonetheless. My only qualms with the book was that the first love scene was unnecessarily drawn out, no matter how steamy it was ;)
i loved the book... wishing she had other books out.
Couldn't wait to learn what strong willed Lizzy does with her life when her "desire" becomes a reality. This historical romance has some interesting turns and I enjoyed the writing style of Ms Essex.
In 1794 in Dartmouth, England Lizzie Paxton drolly chatting to another woman says being a widow would be ideal for the freedom granted to a woman however she also insists the first step to achieve this independent status will never happen to her as she will never marry. Her long time friend Captain James Marlowe overhears her feelings about marriage and astutely concludes her need for independence and his goal is to avoid a marriage entanglement fit nicely together. He offers her a marriage of convenience; she accepts. Although he knows he should not, James seduces delectable Lizzie. Soon after that passionate tryst, he leaves. A few days later, she learns her wish is true that she has become a widow. However, the Ton assume Lizzie killed her new husband; placing her spouse in an untenable spot between his loyalty to his beloved wife and his loyalty to his beloved England. The Pursuit of Pleasure is a wonderful late Georgian romance due to the strong likable lead characters. Lizzie is terrific as an intelligent witty individual while James is a dashing hero. Readers will enjoy this engaging historical as patriotic James is trapped in a nasty situation as duty and love war inside his soul. Harriet Klausner
Fabulous writing! I was fortunate to have received an advanced copy to review. I am happy to say, Ms. Essex's first book is fun, intelligent and full of humor. Her scenes are vividly drawn. In fact, they are so rich you will not only see them, but almost smell them. I especially enjoyed her heroine. Smart-mouth, no-holds-barred Lizzie had me wondering just what she would get up to next. The hero is interesting, too. I enjoyed how the author unraveled his mysteries slowly, letting me wonder and guess what he was really all about. The story contains a mystery, which is neatly wound around a sensual, steamy relationship between two very intriguing characters. All in all, this is a well-written first book. I look forward to what this author will bring us in the future.
I liked this book but was at some points aggrevated. Everything happened slowly. She took her time to get to the point. It was good but not excellent.
I dont know why this book took me so long to read. I liked the story but at times it seemmed to just drag on....
This book was irresistible and I couldn¿t put it down. I felt pulled into the story and part of the action. The heroine was an interesting mixture of sassy minx and independent woman in a time when women were to be neither. I loved this book.
I loved this book. It was an awesome love story with plenty of action to prove it. Loved it!!!