(Originally published as a Berkley lead title. ISBN: 0-425-16447-0)
Winner: Romance Communications Reviewers' Award
Nominated: Romance Communications Readers' Award
Romantic Times "Top Pick"
A powerful Regency historical romance, set in the year of Waterloo
A professional courtesan, trained in the erotic arts
A brilliant spy, sated with sensation and sworn to celibacy
Layers of intrigue and adventure, with the fate of Europe at stake
"Wow! An absolutely glorious book!
ILLUSION has everything I look for. A story and characters of great
depth and complexity, with wonderful sensuality and a powerful wisdom
that threads its way all through the very heart of the romance. I read
passages over and over again. I felt stunned! I wanted to read sentences
aloud to friends. Mesmerizing!"
- Mary Balogh
"Wonderful. Very sexy, high energy plot, complex mysterious hero. Trust me on this. If you like Regency historicals that are sexy, complex, and darkly dramatic, you'll like this one." - Jo Beverley
"One of the best novels of the decade ... a passionate encounter of the best kind. High adventure on every level ... redefines the definition of hero. Not since Dorothy Dunnett set the infamously fascinating Lymond on the road to Edinburgh has an author come close to creating a hero so tortured, so cogent and forceful as Rivaulx. His complexity of personality and depth of character unite the plot and deliver the decade's most spellbinding novel." - Romance Communications
"A wonderful tale of romantic espionage ... incredibly exciting ... the dynamic, ultra-hunk Nigel is one of the best protagonists of the year. A classy historical romance that will leave readers salivating for more." - Five Stars - Harriet Klausner
"A bold and exciting story ... thick with hidden intrigues and dangers, and the suspense is a killer!"- 4½ Stars - Affaire de Coeur
"A simply splendid romantic adventure in which nothing is as it seems ... (her) highly complex hero is absolutely mesmerizing. A man of powerful character, he stands at the center of an intricate, brilliantly developed plot. Pure reading magic." 4½ Stars - Rave Review - "Top Pick" - Romantic Times
"A masterpiece of romance, intrigue, and spiritual healing ... This is a book that I will not forget soon."
"A breath of fresh air. ILLUSION assumes intelligence and it made all the difference to me ... you held my attention on many levels. Thank you again. I look forward to reading FLOWERS UNDER ICE."
"A fabulous book! Nigel is something else. The passion contained in this man is incredibly sexy."
"A terrific book! Very different ... and very intelligent. So many layers of secrets, illusions, intrigues. I absolutely loved it. You may have to make room for another RITA for this one, it was that good."
"One word says it all: INCREDIBLE. Everything, positively incredible! A fantastic book. Characters, mystery, suspense, passion, style (especially style). Absolutely everything a story should have, and done with such elegant, intelligent prose. Thank you for such a stellar piece of fiction."
"So rich and layered: characters, plot and how things were expressed. I usually plow right through allusions but ILLUSION made me think about the context of the quotes, how they played against each other (Song of Songs versus Kama Sutra and so on), and how they carried forward to hint of other things. Yummy. Thanks for writing it!"
With stunning courage, Miss Frances Woodard returned home to Regency England in the troubled Spring of 1815. An Englishwoman trained in a maharaja's harem in the erotic secrets of the Kama Sutra, skilled practitioner of an ancient philosophy of love, how else can she survive except as a professional courtesan?
No man in Regency London can resist her silken allure, except one ...
The darkly handsome Nigel, Marquess of Rivaulx, ruthless spy and code breaker. Damaged by years of intrigue in Russia and France, he craves only innocence. Yet, to uncover a traitor, he must win Frances for one wanton night of passion. Shielded by his cynical wit and wicked sense of humor, Nigel believes he is the man to defy her, but is he? Her trained sensuality shatters all his preconceptions, and deadly treachery awaits, threatening both life and sanity.
A headlong plunge into treason and danger!
As Nigel drags Frances into his dangerous world of conspiracy and adventure, where murderous unknown enemies plot England's downfall and Nigel's destruction, the war of nations is mirrored by their war of wit and desire. Soon these two brave souls are swept into a swirl of intrigue and fiery excitement, where courage, honor, and compassion may not be enough to prevent the heart's devastation. Yet nothing is as it seems. Intricate layers of deception and illusion must be uncovered before treachery and passion can lead to love.
Passionate actions cannot be defined and are as irregular as dreams - The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana
In Chapter Two, the silk-robed Frances, who has just learned that the infamous Marquess of Rivaulx will host an orgy in her home at Farnhurst that night, finds a stranger in the library. She veils her face, walks into the room, and confronts him:
"I assume you are another minion of this almighty Lord Rivaulx?"
"I know him quite well, certainly." The man turned from the window. "A gentleman of uncertain fancy and odd inclinations." He seemed a little derisive.
"What kind of inclinations?" Frances asked immediately.
He leaned carelessly with one shoulder against the bookcase. How beautifully he moved—with a lithe grace that belied his tall, powerful frame—like a Bengal tiger! She knew without question that he had been the rider of the silver-gold horse.
"He likes mathematics," the man said with mock gravity, "among other things."
"Then since you know him so well, perhaps you would tell me why Lord Donnington has agreed to let this marquess have use of Farnhurst."
His face was entirely shadowed by the glare of light behind him, but Frances could feel his intensity. "Rivaulx won a game of hazard. As a result he may host a party here."
"How very charming." She felt suddenly vulnerable, as if he could read her uneasiness. "A wager. I assume this marquess takes pleasure in such profligate diversions?"
"Of course." His voice filled with lazy humor. "He is commonly thought to be a lost soul—a man of depraved habits and iniquitous inclinations, a friend to dissipation and licentiousness, who won't scruple to ruin innocent maidens and set a bad example to youth."
"Why does the wicked marquess choose Farnhurst for a party?"
As if reluctant to answer, he pulled a volume from the case and began leafing through it. "Donnington has a very complete library," he said absently. "Has he read any of it?"
Frances stared at him, disconcerted for a moment by the change of subject. "I don't know. I suppose so. But surely the marquess has a library of his own?"
"Indeed. And finer, no doubt, than this one. But then Lord Rivaulx, for all his other faults, likes to read."
His fingers rested for a moment on the spines of the books, drawing her attention to his hands, strong and supple. The third finger of his left hand was graced with a heavy ring bearing a deeply engraved crest—the griffin rampant which had adorned the carriages. She felt a rush of indignation. So the marquess would play games!
Frances allowed some bite to hone her voice. "A man of both words and numbers, but also a rake? What a paragon of versatility! I pray you will enlighten me further and answer my question: why does he come here tonight?"
He smiled. Even in the shadow she could see that it was a smile of immense charm.
"Because of you, of course." He dropped the words like a challenge. "Miss Frances Woodard. Lord Donnington claims you have a perfume about you, of cinnamon and oleander, of sultry nights under a foreign moon whispering of the arts that drive men wild with longing. You are beautiful, are you not?"
Frances folded her hands. Oh, dear God, it had happened! The inevitable future had arrived too soon. But it didn't matter, of course. Surely she was resigned to her fate? There was no escape. And if she must play out her life as a courtesan, she would do it with every ounce of courage she possessed.
"Lord Donnington may say anything he likes. He is my protector. He gives me a home here."
She was glad of the veil. The fine gauze would not entirely hide her face; he would be able to get a hint of her coloring and her carefully arched brows, but it must make it impossible for him to read her expression. It gave her a moment to collect her thoughts and control her feelings.
But instead he was watching her hands.
Memory almost submerged her. She could hear the unrelenting battering of the monsoon on the roofs and courtyards, the deluge flooding the fountains and drowning the little gold fish. Yet her hands had learned to move like the wind on grass, or like the soft folding of a bird's wing at sunset, and the nails which she had bitten as a girl were now as smooth and round as burnished almonds.
Frances pulled herself back to the present and looked down at her fingers, lying relaxed and curved in eloquent, unconscious invitation in her lap. With his casualness and his careless, arrogant humor, did this man think he was immune to the effects of that hard-won training?
He replaced the book and turned to face her. The whole mood changed. She had learned to sense danger, and the atmosphere screamed with it.
"Do you have a room of your own with a lock?" he said with sudden intensity.
Frances found her breath coming too fast. Carefully she slowed it. "Why?"
He moved restlessly across the room. Frances saw his face clearly for the first time as the light fell over his features. Ah, how unfair! Lord Rivaulx was beautiful: dark, fine-boned, beautiful! With perfect clarity she recognized her response and with the control she had labored so hard to learn she tried to suppress it. But how strange that the face of a man could be so enticing! She wanted to smooth her hands over his eyelids and the olive skin of his cheekbones, and let her palms feast on the sensation. Confusion knifed through her.
He had come up to her and was standing so close that if she reached out she could touch him. "Retreat into it tonight and lock the door."
"I am not afraid," Frances said.
"No?" His voice held nothing but light humor, but deep undercurrents ran well guarded beneath it. "Nevertheless, do not be out of your room at midnight."
"What happens at midnight?" she scoffed. "Does the marquess turn into a werewolf, or devour the guests like a Rajasthan lion?"
"Not at all." He took her hand and turned it palm up in his long fingers. They were the smooth hands of a gentleman, but the touch was firm, full of competence. It sent a shock through her blood, like a tidal wave. "The wager allows Lord Rivaulx to take any item here at Farnhurst that pleases him—otherwise Lord Donnington loses twenty thousand pounds. As the clock strikes twelve, to the amusement of the company and the chagrin of your protector, the wicked marquess will choose his prize." He was tracing small circles on her palm. She caught her breath as his thumb slid sensuously up to her wrist, so that her hand was encompassed, trapped by his insolent strength. "It is commonly expected, Miss Woodard, that he will choose you."