Dear Ms. Robinson:
I believe this is your debut release although you have another book coming out from Berkley under the name, Margaret Rowe (Tempting Eden). It is a Regency historical set in 1820 featuring a true courtesan but, as the title suggests, by mistake.
Charlotte Fallon has a sister, Deborah Fallon, who is a courtesan. “Since the age of sixteen, she had flaunted her assets and traded one rich man for another.” Deborah has perfected the courtesan game and made herself into a much sought after courtesan. After months of pursuit, Sr Michael Xavier Bayard has won the right to be La Fallon’s protector. Only Deborah is running off with Arthur Bannister, the “prematurely balding third son of an earl” because while Bay offered money, jewelry, and a wonderful house on Jane Street, Arthur has offered marriage.
Charlotte comes up from the country to find her sister, Deborah, in the process of packing up. Deborah wants Charlotte to fulfill the contract made with Bay. Bay’s generous, good in bed (or so his past mistress has said), and it will be no hardship for Charlotte, who shares the same glossy black hair, blue eyes, bountiful body, bee stung lips, or so Deborah claims.
It is Charlotte’s intention to be off before Sir Michael comes home. Instead, he arrives at his Jane Street residence and proceeds to bed his mistress. “She slept as if dead, having the most delightful tipsy dream somewhere past midnight. But when morning cae and she found her nightgown hanging from a fat angel’s head and a naked man with his lips planted firmly around her nipple, she knew her dream was now a nightmare.”
This is one of the problematic areas. Charlotte is not a prostitute but nor is she a virgin. At the beginning of the coupling, it appears from Charlotte’s point of view that this is unwanted and initially fights him off, yet the two proceed to climax. Later in the chapter, clues are given that Charlie not only consented but was a full participant. During the consummation scene, I wasn’t sure. I read it twice and came away with some ambiguity. However, the post consummation exchange displays what I enjoyed so much about this story.
“You should do that more often.” Sir Michael spoke from the doorway, sinfully handsome even when dressed in clothes that had lain on the floor all night.
“Smile. I was beginning to think you didn’t have teeth. Oops, I forgot. You did bite me, didn’t you? In several places.” He rang a long forefinger down the column of his throat.
Oh merciful heavens. She had bitten his tongue in anger, but the other bites, love bites when she’d nipped his delicious salty skin, were done under the influence of an altogether different emotion. She was going to Hell with Satan as her tour guide.
Deborah has run off with a necklace that belonged to Bay’s grandmother and was only “on loan”. Now that she is gone, he wants the jewelry back. Charlie must stay with Michael until the necklace is retrieved and he claims, Charlie must fulfill the terms of Deborah’s agreement with him.
The house where Charlotte lives is on Jane Street. It is a well known area for housing courtesans. It’s an address coveted by women and the men who want to keep them.
He’d won the leasehold on Jane Street in a spectacularly lucky card game a little over two years ago. Lucky for him, at any rate. The Marquess of Angleton had been unhappy, his mistress even more so. Rumor had it she was so furious at Angleton for eviction from ‘Courtesan Court’ that she stabbed him with a fork. The man’s hand had been bandaged for weeks. Puncture wounds were the devil to heal.”
Charlie gets to know the other women on Jane Street, their stories from the titled widow who lives there, to the young woman attached to the crazy Marquess next door. I thought the Jane Street bit was so well done I ended up googling it to read more about the history of Jane Street only to discover that it was probably all imaginery. Damn you and your convincing writing skills.
Charlie is wonderfully conflicted. She was happy living the virtuous life in a small country village but she can’t deny that the rich gowns, the connection with The Janes, and the physical pleasures provided by Bay are delightful. She almost dreads becoming virtuous again Charlie does not want to be a rich man’s plaything even if that rich man is Bay.
Bay’s feelings deepen for Charlie but he has his own committment issues and a VERY good reason for being shy of getting into the marriage game.
It’s trite to say that love conquers all in this book, even though it does. The characters are delightful in this story. Charlie is all wryness and self deprecation. Bay is good natured, funny but not snarky. He’s portrayed as a very typical male. In one part of the book, he contemplates the unfairness the weight society places on a woman’s virtue and marvels at how Deborah is able to put her guilt behind her, the guilt she suffered when she gave up her virginity in hopes of marriage and received scorn instead. Bay recognizes that he has never felt guilt over a coupling, “except perhaps with that Spanish camp follower who raked his back like a frenzied panther. It had taken Frazier weeks of potions and ointments to get the swelling down, all the while mumbling that female fingernails would kill him sooner than a bayonet.”
In another scene, Charlotte mocks Bay’s idle existence. Bay claims that he collects art!
Charlie snorted. “Art that is by its very nature suited to the advancement of your pleasure.”
How did she know he’d gazed at his paintings a time or two, his cock firmly in hand? He felt his color mount.
Charlie and Bay are such normal characters, trying to fight their very natural attraction to each other. In the end, their baser impulses win out.
I mentioned at the outset that there were a couple of parts of the book that seemed odd to me and one was when Bay was assaulted. His reaction to this seemed disproportionately subdued. I understand that Bay was kind of a happy go lucky guy (or at least he tried to live that way) but I thought it was taking his character trait a bit too far at that point.
Having said that, those two issues really take nothing away from the sexy chemistry and the wry humor that permeates the story. I really enjoy those books where the characters take real joy in their pleasure and this is one of them. It’s a steamy historical that I enjoyed re-reading for the sake of the review. B