TBR Day. Desired / Nicola Cornick. 2011
Desired is Nicola Cornick's 5th book in her 6-book series "Scandalous Women of the Ton." I have enjoyed all of the entries in the series, including this one, for their unusual heroines, settings, or situations. Desired is the story of Tess, Lady Darant, a thrice-widowed woman with a huge fortune and a reputation of licentious and careless behavior. If she is received anywhere respectable it is more likely because of her sisters Joanna (book 1) and Merryn (book 3). Owen Purchase, Viscount Rothbury, is a former American who inherited the title and somewhat run-down estates from a distant cousin. He is a good friend of her sisters' husbands.
We learn at the book's opening that Tess is really not the woman painted by her reputation. She was horribly abused by her second husband and she hides her pain behind a carefully constructed facade. She has no desire to marry again and spends her time secretly aiding radical causes and drawing political cartoons. Owen is working for the government trying to find the source behind the cartoons and it doesn't take him long to figure out that it's Tess. Meanwhile Tess is confronted by a blackmailer who wants to use Tess's reputation against her so he can marry her 16-year old stepdaughter. She realizes that she needs a respectable marriage to protect her stepdaughter from the blackmailer. Afraid of any kind of physical intimacy, she needs a husband who won't expect to sleep with her. She had heard a comment indicating that Owen had suffered an injury rendering him impotent, so she goes to him and proposes marriage.
Of course, Owen had suffered no such injury, but he's not aware of Tess's thinking. He is intrigued by her, attracted to her, and could certainly use her fortune to restore the estates he's inherited. He can also protect her from the government's investigation and makes her promise to stop drawing the cartoons. He agrees to marry her and they begin to spend some time getting to know one another. Owen sees there's more to Tess than he expected, but he also sees that she's afraid of intimacy and it doesn't take long to figure out why. As Tess begins to trust Owen with her secrets and her past, she is also able to begin to trust him physically.
While this wasn't my favorite entry in the series (I especially liked #1 and #4), I thought this was a solid, well-done story. It was emotional in spots and I liked the way Owen and Tess gradually get to know and trust one another. Nothing was instant, nor was it drawn out too long. Cornick is good at dropping in lots of period details and describing parts of London that don't appear in a typical Regency. I liked it and am looking forward to reading the 6th and final book of the series, Forbidden, which features a ladies maid as heroine!