Colliding in this week’s Dish are a (seemingly) air headed widow, an American sea captain turned newly-minted British Lord and a political cartoonist who incites riots against the English Crown. Find out what RT’s Morgan and Whitney think of the historical romance Desired by Nicola Cornick.
Morgan: This could be possibly one of the most interesting first encounters in any romance book. In the first chapter, Tess, Lady Darent, literally falls at Viscount Rothbury’s feet ... as she is climbing out of the window of a notorious brothel ... and then her gown slips off.
Whitney: Quite the predicament.
Morgan: Especially because Owen, Lord Rothbury, is working for the government and has been sent to hunt down the radical caricaturist known as Jupiter.
Whitney: And unbeknownst to everyone, Tess is Jupiter.
Morgan: She has a great disguise, keeping her intelligence on the down low:
“Public opinion held that she was as shallow as a puddle, mercenary, amoral, extravagant. She was an arbiter of fashion who had turned spending money into an art form. She simultaneously outraged and fascinated the ton with her profligate marriages and her decadent behavior, and she was generally considered an utter featherbrain.”
Whitney: Tess' description is certainly is eloquently written, full of interesting tidbits about her character, who wouldn't be intrigued by her. Generally women like this are villains, not heroines.
Morgan: But this is all an act! Tess pretends to be someone she is not so no one will know she is actually a reformer working to help others through illegal activities. Tess is so good at fooling people even Owen, normally such a perceptive man, thinks, “If she was a secret radical then he was the Queen of Sheba. The idea was absurd.” The truth is that she has carefully crafted her reputation as some ton lady without a thought in her head.
Whitney: Tess has secretly been dedicated to helping England's poor ever since she lost her first husband. She’s especially sensitive to the needs of vulnerable women and children, so Tess uses her art skills to create political cartoons that expose the corruption of the English government. She’s taking down the Crown and his cronies, one ink stroke at a time.
Morgan: I love the idea that Tess is a radical at a time when politics was (mostly) a man’s game. However, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to hear more about the actual cartoons. I loved the passages describing her work.
Whitney: Well, even before we learn that Tess is Jupiter, she has decided to stop crafting her dangerous drawings. Government agents — and not just the yummy Owen — are after the cartoonist. So, to ensure her own safety — as well as the anonymity of her compatriots — Tess begins to think that the best course of action is to marry the man who is the head of the hunt for Jupiter, Owen.
Morgan: Marriage is not new for Tess. She has already buried three husbands and when danger knocks on her door, Tess goes looking for hubby number four in The Gazetteer a book that gives the rank, fortune and address of every bachelor and widower in the country along with age.
Whitney: It may sound a bit cold-blooded, but this is the way that things were done back in the day. And it was a big deal to make sure that one’s prospective husband had the “right” relatives and the correct title, etc.
Morgan: Tess has little choice but to be mercenary. After all, the Jupiter situation is not her only problem. She also needs a husband to also help her protect her stepdaughter from a lecherous, old blackmailer who has designs on the fifteen-year-old’s hand in marriage.
Whitney: When it comes to picking a partner for marriage number four, Tess has got one hard and fast rule: the union has to be in name only. Tess wants a husband who is uninterested in getting bedroom action.
Morgan: And because of a slight misunderstanding, Tess thinks that Owen is … let’s say … lacking … certain male attributes.
Whitney: Which makes him a perfect candidate for Tess' next husband. So like a true go-getter, she heads to Owen’s house to propose. Which, I have to say, would not be something that I have the cojones to do. I mean, the guy is a friend of her sister’s, but Tess barely knows him and she’s about to suggest that they become man and wife.
Morgan: Bah, this is something that Tess has done before, she proposed for marriages one and three.
Whitney: And even though proposal number four doesn’t go quite like she thinks it will, at least this time the intended groom doesn’t nod off because of his advanced age and the laudanum he’s taking. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Husband Number Three!)
Morgan: Well, Owen is pretty surprised when Tess blurts out that they should get married, but by this time he is on to her secret life and is suspicious that she’s Jupiter. So, he decides that there are worse fates then being married to a beautiful widow who needs his cooperation.
Whitney: A rich beautiful widow with a penchant for scandal. I have to say one of my favorite moments of the entire story is during this exchange.
“And were we to wed,” she continued, “I would behave with the utmost propriety. I am marrying to try to rescue my reputation, so there would be no point in my sinking it further.”
“I feel I must point out,” Owen said, “that I found you climbing out of a brothel window last night.”
Her pansy eyes lit with mockery. “We were not betrothed last night, Lord Rothbury.”
Morgan: Ah, yes. The frank talk. I loved that they weren’t afraid to say what they want (at least to each other).
Whitney: It is really a perfect match for Owen, who is deathly afraid of being bored. Tess is exactly what he needs.
Morgan: But there is no way Owen could have imaged just how not boring his life would be with Tess.
Whitney: So true, besides the whole breaking the law as Jupiter issue and the blackmailer thing, Tess also has some pretty deep scars from her past.
Morgan: Her awful experience in her second marriage has her freezing up with fear with a simple kiss.
Whitney: Luckily for them both, Owen is a very patient man.
Morgan: And romantic in very subtle, unexpected ways.
Whitney: But we will let the readers discover this for themselves when they pick up their own copy of Nicola Cornick’s newest historical romance, Desired, in stores now.