HQN Books (NA)
Prequel in the Brides of Fortune Series
Over the wild hills and valleys of North Yorkshire the notorious gang of highwaywomen the Glory Girls ride, to right the injustices of society. But when Major Nick Falconer is sent from London to unmask Glory he finds instead the very proper widow Marina Osborne.
Nick never expected that Mari would be so intoxicatingly beautiful or so disturbingly luscious. Determined to have her—body, soul and secrets—at any cost, Nick sets out to seduce her with a passion that inflames them both.
But Mari holds much deeper, darker truths than Nick could ever imagine. Despite her fierce resistance, she can't stop her body from yearning for his touch. Can she hide her sinister past from him much longer? Or will trusting the one man she so desperately wants lead her straight to the hangman's noose?
Excerpted from Chapter Three
"I know it was you in the fountain," he said softly, whilst her trapped mind ran back and forth over the possibilities. "You may protest if you wish but I believe I would recognise you anywhere."
A shiver ran along Mari's nerves and she drew the silver shawl more tightly about her shoulders. Oh yes, he recognised her from the gardens but did he know her from the tavern as well? It felt as though they were already deeply involved in a game of hunter and hunted and any admission she made could be so very dangerous.
Challenge him. See how far he will go, what he will give away...
She had always been a gambler. She had had to be in order to survive. Sometimes to throw down the gauntlet was the only way.
She gave a little shrug. "Very well. I concede that I was the woman you saw in the fountain. I thought I was unobserved. It was... careless of me."
He flashed her another smile, a disturbingly attractive one. Her toes curled instinctively within her slippers and her heart did another giddy little skip as though she was a schoolroom miss developing a tendre rather than a mature woman of five and twenty.
"I like it that you do not pretend," he said. His voice was intimately low. "Ninety nine women out of one hundred would have claimed not to understand me."
If only he knew. Sometimes she forgot where the pretence began - and where it ended.
She gave him a very straight look. "Of course they would, and who could blame them? A reputation dies all too easily, as you must know, Major Falconer."
"So why are you different? Why did you admit it?"
Mari met his quizzical dark gaze and felt a little breathless. "I am not different. I do not wish you to be the ruin of my reputation, Major Falconer. But equally, I know that you saw me, so what can I say?" She spread her hands in a gesture of surrender. "I was bathing. You saw me. It would avail me little to pretend otherwise. So I must rely on your behaviour as a gentleman and hope you will not speak out."
It was not the whole story, of course. It would be impossible to tell him the truth, that sometimes the role of the respectable widow grated on her and she felt an impossible desire to be free. She could not tell him that it was this impulse that had led her to strip off her clothes and revel in the fresh coldness of the fountain. That was too intimate a thing to confide to a virtual stranger, a dangerous stranger who already saw far more than she wished.
When he remained silent, watching her face, she raised her brows. "Was that all?"
She saw his lips twitch into a smile at her attempted dismissal of him.
"No, it was not all." He reached forward. His fingers brushed against her neck very lightly and lingered, warm against her skin. "You had better hide that curl if you do not wish anyone else to guess your secret. Your hair is still wet. You must have rushed home and dressed in a great hurry."
Mari's hand flew to her neck where the wayward curl of hair nestled against her throat. It felt feathery, soft and damp, drying from the warmth of her body. She pushed it beneath the edge of her turban, her fingers suddenly clumsy. She could feel the colour suffuse her face as Nick continued to watch her.
There was a heat in the pit of Mari's stomach as she thought of what else he might remember about her. Her whole body felt as though it was on fire.
End of Excerpt. Like It? Order It!
"The characters are charismatic and complex... the writing is just wonderful, rich and lush... The emotion is deep and heart-felt. And the romance between Nick and Mari is the kind you wish you could get in every romance novel you read."
— The Good, The Bad and the Unread
"The stakes are so high, the emotions run so deep, the conflict is so real and heart-wrenching. I read this non-stop and couldn't put it down."
— Best-selling romance author Anna Campbell
"RITA Award-nominated Cornick deftly steeps her latest intriguingly complex Regency historical in a beguiling blend of danger and desire."
"Unmasked is a compelling, provocative Regency historical that explores the idea of freedom--and the lack of it, and what it does to the human heart. This absorbing novel has a totally sympathetic heroine, a dashing hero, adventure and mystery, lots of sexual chemistry and sensuality, and intriguing secondary characters this reviewer hopes to meet up with in a future sequel. Unmasked is highly recommended! "
"A Wickedly seductive Regency romance!"
— MurderOne Bookshops
"A stunning romance and mystery novel."
— Marjolein Reviews
"A book with a unique premise and whose heroine and her journey are the star of the show."
— All About Romance
"A haunting story... The characters are well-drawn and the plot - which intertwines three storylines - is intricately detailed and surprising."
"Sensual, dangerous and charming, Nicola Cornick's Regency romances are darkly compelling."
—Rendezvous the Romance Bookstore
"Nicola Cornick does it again with her latest spectacular novel Unmasked! A spellbinding historical romance spiced with plenty of intrigue, adventure, chivalry and passion, Unmasked is sheer reading perfection for historical romance readers everywhere!"
— Julie Bonello, Single Titles.com
Two ideas came together for me to inspire the writing of Unmasked. The first was the concept of liberty. I wanted to explore the influence that the experience of slavery might have on an individual and the effect that that loss of freedom might have on the mind and the heart.
Mari, the heroine of Unmasked, was born a Russian serf. In that sense she was a slave, part of a tradition of slavery that covers many different forms of human exploitation across many cultures and throughout history. The origins of serfdom in Russia date back to the eleventh century. One of the definitions was that a Russian landowner had unlimited ownership over their serfs and could buy and sell them at will. Slaves could be freed through a process called manumission, but the system of serfdom was not abolished until 1861. Writing Mari's journey from slavery to freedom was for me one of the most compelling elements of the book.
The second idea that lies behind Unmasked is that of the Glory Girls, the gang of female highwaymen who roam the Yorkshire countryside righting the wrongs of society, taking from the rich to give back to the poor and seeking to redress some of the imbalances of power and privilege.
Throughout myth, folklore and fiction, from Robin Hood to Dick Turpin, the outlaw and highwayman have been romantic figures. Highwaywomen too were not an unknown phenomenon. The first one recorded, in the seventeenth century, was called Moll Cutpurse and she was apparently as adept with her fists as she was with a quarterstaff! Another famous highwaywoman was Lady Katherine Ferrers "The Wicked Lady" whose story was made into a film starring Margaret Lockwood and James Mason.
These ladies of the road would wear exactly the same clothes as men – tricorne hats, cloaks, masks, riding boots and breeches since they usually rode astride. I absolutely loved the idea of the Glory Girls and the way that they challenged a society that was unjust and unfair. It is no surprise that my heroine, Mari, the victim of exploitation herself, should become a crusader for justice.