Desired by Nicola Cornick

Standard
Grade: B
passion rating: hot


At the start of Desired, Tess Darent, the Dowager Marchioness of Darent, in an attempt to elude raiding redcoats searching for radical reformers, ties a sheet about her waist and slips out the window of The Temple of Venus brothel. As she reaches the end of her tether, holding a borrowed purse and lavender slippers and swaying four feet above the ground, hands snatch her shoes, clasp her waist, and, oh so gently, lower her to the ground. The hands belong to Owen Purchase, the Viscount Rothbury, who has been sent by the Home Secretary to arrest the reformers.

When Tess asks Owen to return her slippers, he sinks to his knees and slides the too small shoes on her feet. “Just like Prince Charming,” she says. He replies, “I missed the bit of the fairy tale where Cinderella visited the brothel.”

The dazzling scene is a grand start to a quite good book.

Owen and Tess have met before — he’s friends with her sisters’ husbands — and both are renowned in the ton. Tess is a scandal. She’s been married and widowed three times (and is just 29), and is infamous for her gambling, extravagant spending, and worst of all, a series of highly erotic naked portraits. Owen, an American who fought first for England against the French and then against the Brits in the American Revolution, came quite expectedly into his title. Once a middle class sea captain, he’s now every matchmaking mother’s dream. And a few days after their encounter at the brothel, Tess too decides Owen is just the man she needs as her new husband.


Tess has several problems marriage to Owen will solve. First, she believes passionately British society must become more equitable and for many years has been a leader of and a generous donor to the illegal reform movement. As part of her work to change her world, Tess draws, under the pen name Jupiter, brilliantly biting satirical cartoons which infuriate the Home Office. Tess believes Owen knows her identity and, were he to marry her, he’d stop hunting her and perhaps even protect her. Second, an exceedingly nasty lord is trying to force Tess to give her permission for him to marry her innocent 15 year-old stepdaughter. This lecherous lout threatens to ruin the young girl’s reputation — by association – by spreading slanderous gossip about Tess. Were Tess to be a staid spouse rather than a wild widow, she feels the talk about her would subside.


Owen, who has only ever loved (and lost) one other woman, has never considered becoming any woman’s fourth husband. Furthermore, when Tess proposes to him, he’s fairly sure she is an illegal reformer and is asking him to marry her so he won’t be able to arrest her. But he finds her imminently desirable, interesting, and — because he is a good man — savable. He says yes to Tess and the two become betrothed.

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