Nicola Cornick
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Harlequin Books
Release Date
November 2011
Book 5 of Scandalous Women of the Ton
Historical Romance

Tess Darent's world is unravelling. Danger threatens her stepchildren and she is about to be unmasked as a radical political cartoonist and thrown into gaol. The only thing that can save her is a respectable marriage. But when it comes to tying the knot Tess requires a very special husband – one who has neither the desire nor the ability to consummate their marriage.

Owen Purchase, Viscount Rothbury cannot resist Tess when she asks for the protection of his name. But he has no intention of making a marriage in name only. Will the handsome sea captain be able to persuade the notorious widow to give her heart as well as her reputation into his safekeeping?

Book Review by CarolAnn
Dec 05, 2011   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
250 people found the following review helpful
DESIRED is the fifth book in Nicola Cornick's excellent Scandalous Women of the Ton series and it is definitely my favourite so far. Bringing together two secondary characters from previous books, Tess, the Dowager Lady Darent and Owen Purchase, former sea captain, now Viscount Rothbury, Ms Cornick has created a deeply emotional love story which captured my interest from the very first page.

Tess Darent has a reputation for being mercenary, amoral and extravagant which suits her purposes perfectly. No one would ever suspect her of being Jupiter, the witty and dangerous caricaturist and leader of a movement pressing for political reform. However, the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, fearing revolution, is determined to track down the leaders of the reform group and see them hang. Following a meeting of the group, Tess finds herself closely pursued and, whilst escaping, falls literally into the hands of Owen Purchase, Viscount Rothbury, Sidmouth's man. A friend of her brothers-in-law, Alex and Garrick, Rothbury recognises her but Tess manages to talk her way out of the situation but Rothbury is suspicious.

Tess receives a visit from the odious Lord Corwen who is determined to marry her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, Lady Sybil Darent. When Tess refuses to consider such a betrothal, Corwen blackmails her by threatening to besmirch Lady Sybil's reputation and to foreclose on a private loan he advanced to her late husband, forcing her stepson to sell off all unentailed parts of the estate. Tess is determined to protect her stepchildren and resolves to marry a man with sufficient power and authority to thwart Corwen's plans.

Haunted by terrible memories of her second marriage to Lord Brokeby, Tess seeks a marriage in name only and Lord Rothbury would seem to be the perfect choice because she mistakenly believes him to be impotent! He is also powerful enough to protect her and her stepchildren from Corwen and marrying him will remove the threat Lord Sidmouth poses.

Plucking up the courage, Tess approaches Owen with her proposal of marriage and trusts him enough to tell him of Corwen's threats. Having secretly desired Tess for some time, Owen agrees to the marriage but his instinct tells him that Tess is not all she seems and he is determined to discover the real woman behind the facade. Can Tess overcome the fears that haunt her and find true happiness with Owen? Will Owen be able to protect her from Sidmouth?

I was really fascinated by the different facets of Tess's character. On the one hand, her involvement with the reform movement shows an independent and courageous woman, one with a deep loyalty to those she cares about such as her step-children. On the other hand, the traumatic events of her second marriage have left her vulnerable and insecure with a deep-seated fear of intimacy. My heart really went out to her because she yearns for something she believes she can never have:

She wanted to be cherished, she ached to be loved in every sense, but the chasm of fear that was Brokeby's legacy to her seemed to yawn at her feet, taunting her that she would never be whole again.

The scene in the artist's studio where Tess finally comes to terms with her past is so heart-rending that I could feel the pain and anguish Tess was experiencing. For me her actions represent a symbolic purging of all those terrible memories and I think Ms Cornick perfectly captures Tess's feelings of joy in this single line:

Her heart expanded with all the love she had thought never to find. Tess gave herself up to it and stepped into the light.

Owen is just the perfect man for Tess. He sees beyond the painted smile and the tempting body and glimpses the real woman beneath – complex, loyal and loving - and I love the way he treats her with such patience and tenderness. He is not without flaws, having once disgraced his family and ever since he has tried to atone for this one transgression which makes him all the more lovable. He is also a man of honor and when he discovers that Lord Sidmouth's methods are less than honourable, he resigns his position.

Ms Cornick does an excellent job of building the chemistry between Tess and Owen. I love the initial banter between them such as this excerpt from the scene where Owen catches Tess escaping from the brothel:

"Thank you," she (Tess) said, forcing the tiny slippers onto her feet where they pinched like malicious crabs. "Just like Prince Charming."

"I missed the bit of the fairy tale where Cinderella visited the brothel," Rothbury said.

When Owen takes Tess on the various outings (from a visit to the British Museum to eating mutton pie and drinking warm ale in the Fountain Tavern), it is easy to believe that this time spent together would build the sense of intimacy and trust between them. I have to congratulate Ms Cornick on a really beautiful love scene which is a perfect blend of the sensual:

His fingers moved gently, persuasively, touching the very core of her. Tess arched again, cried out in shock and astonishment, cascades of sensation shimmering through her body. He touched her again and, again, such subtle strokes and Tess thought she would come apart.

and the emotional:

It was not as she remembered it. It was nothing like she had ever experienced. This was smooth and tight and hot and delicious. It was gloriously intimate and so honest that she felt her heart contract with astonishment.

Ms Cornick evokes a real sense of the period by using real-life events as the background to the story. There is plenty of action but it never overshadows the love story but rather adds to the tension between Tess and Owen. Several of the characters from the previous books make an appearance, including Joanna, Alex, Garrick and villain Tom Bradshaw. I must admit that I never thought that I would have any sympathy for Tom Bradshaw but he obviously loves Emma and is desperate to atone for his past sins.

DESIRED is a powerful and sensual love story with a hero you are sure to fall in love with and a heroine who will tug at your heartstrings. I am now eagerly awaiting the issue of the final book in this series next year.
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