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Desired Mass Market Paperback – November 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"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

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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.


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373775903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373775903
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,600,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick writes witty and passionate historical romances for Harlequin HQN books and MIRA UK.

Nicola's writing is inspired by her love of history and was fostered by a wonderful history teacher and by her grandmother, whose collection of historical romantic fiction fed Nicola's addiction from an early age. She studied in London and Oxford and works as a guide and historian in a 17th century house as well as acting as a historical adviser for TV and radio. Publisher's Weekly have described her as a rising star and her books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award and for the Romance Writers of America RITA Awards.

Nicola lives near Oxford with her husband and dog. When she isn't writing she enjoys long walks in the countryside, singing in a choir and volunteering as a puppy walker for Guide Dogs.

Readers can find out more about Nicola and her books from her website: She can also be found on Facebook: and Twitter @NicolaCornick

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LAS Reviewer on November 18, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. P. VINE VOICE on November 15, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This was my first Nicola Cornick romance, and I'll admit that after reading the summary of Desired I was somewhat apprehensive. The heroine, Tess, is not my favorite type for historical romances, but I have been trying to read outside of my romance "comfort zone." I'm happy to say that with this book, my taking a chance most definitely paid off. While I had some problems with the book overall, the writing was very good and the main characters drew me in right from the beginning.

Owen and Tess were wonderfully written; I found them interesting, likable, and well-developed. There is an immediate spark between them and their exchanges are so much fun to read. They are antagonistic towards one another, but not to the point you sometimes find in romances when the leading characters cross over into being immature, annoying, and petty.

One of the things I loved most about Owen and Tess's relationship was that they were both so mature and honest. Yes, they start off with secrets between them that are only revealed as the story goes on, but when it comes to most of their emotions or thoughts, they do not resort to the romance-standard of pouting or giving the cold shoulder, which always results in only more hurt feelings and misunderstandings. So often they take a chance and trust one another, and I greatly appreciated the resulting lack of angst.

Tess is considered a scandalous woman who has been married (and widowed) three times. She has a horrible reputation: she is known to have a large sexual appetite and is seen as a featherbrain, a purely ornamental and self-centered woman.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Beckymmoe on November 19, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
(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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bookworm2bookworm on February 8, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the fifth book in Nicola Cornick's Scandalous Women of the Ton series in which she gives two characters from her previous books their HEA.

Teresa, Dowager Marchioness of Darent is a woman on a mission, or two. She is a widow trice over; has a wicked reputation that could put even Rouges to blush and run for the hills; and scandal may as well be her middle name, yet the real woman is somewhat a mystery and a very complex character that not even her family is privy to her most deepest thoughts or feelings.

She is a passionate supporter and contributor to the cause that seeks reforms within the government; she's a guardian to her two stepchildren, but rarely sees them; she's also in a need of a fourth husband and not just any man will do. She needs a man who will accept an arrangement of her own specifications.

Owen Purchase, Viscount Rothbury, has a few missions of his own and getting married is not one of them. His number one priority is to find Jupiter, a pseudonym for the cartoonist whose drawings are offensive to the government and seem to be inciting unrest among people.

As he closes in on the person of interest, he gets blindsided with an offer that he just might regret accepting.

This is only a second book by this author that I've read so far, and while I couldn't connect to the hero and heroine in the first book, this author's prose drew me to reading the second. May I say that while `never judge book by its cover' applies to many novels I've read, in this case `never judge an author by only reading one of her books' totally applies in this case.

What amazing and complex both of these characters were! It was fascinating following the train of thought of both of them.
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