Title: The Courtesan Duchess (Wicked Deceptions)
Author: Joanna Shupe
I seldom give five stars unless a book is truly exceptional, and this one was.
I liked this book so well I stole time to read it in less than a day. This has been extremely unusual for me lately.
The premise of the story is the hero married the heroine 8 years ago and then fled England for the continent, having never consummated their marriage. The heroine is abandoned by his family and has none of her own to see to her interests. So when the hero’s cousin starts using his influence over her missing husband’s finances to force the heroine into his bed, she decides to find her degenerate husband and get pregnant with his heir so she can take back the finances.
After getting lessons from a prominent courtesan in London, the heroine accomplishes her mission, but falls in love with her husband in the process. He falls in love with the courtesan she is pretending to be, and then flies into a rage when he learns of her deception. The rest of the story is based on their reconciliation and happily-ever-after ending.
- I actually liked the heroine. This has been rare for me as of late. She has a problem, she tries to solve it. I don’t have to be told how bold she is, I see it in her actions. In her desperation to save herself, her aunt and their servants. She is willing to buck society and learn from a courtesan, she hunts down her husband, and she seduces him. Yes, she runs off when she realizes she’s in love with him, especially given her deceit. I found that a little harder to believe, given her dire straits and need for an heir, but okay, I still liked her.
- I liked the hero. Yes, he’s a cad, especially at first, but you can actually sympathize with him when you learn more about him. And you see it for yourself when he cares about his friend (who is actually helping the heroine with the deception). I also felt like his actions and responses were genuine. He didn’t suddenly become a gentleman when he returned to England, and I love, love, love how he handled his cousin who was trying to force his wife into performing sexual favors.
- There were genuine sparks between the characters.
- There was also genuine tenderness between the characters.
- I wanted the characters to get together. I really wanted to see them get their happily-ever-after.
- I liked the supporting cast, too. They each have personalities. Simon, the white knight. Quint, the disheveled gentleman. Fitz the devoted bodyguard. Aunt Theo with her cakes and sherry. And I like that they care about their friends, look out for them.
- The steamy scenes were good. Not just passable, but good. Some of them worth reading twice.
- There was a plot, and it made sense in the context of the story. Yes, I predicted the ending and the whodunit part. But this is a romance, not a mystery. The fact that the author laid foundations so I knew who was behind it and what they were about is so much better than the dues ex machina I see in so many romance novels.
- (Spoiler alert) I never understood why the villain killed the hero’s older brother if her motivation was to be the duchess. She was already married to the heir of the dukedom. Never understood why she hires someone to kill the hero years ago, either.
- I did get a bit tired of some of the contrived reasons the characters couldn’t get together in the last quarter of the story. I literally rolled my eyes when the hero took up rooms in the nearby village because he worried his wife wouldn’t want him near as her due date approached. There was a bit too much of cutting off their nose to spite their face going on. I get that they were angry with each other and that it took time for them to build trust, but I would have rather seen them building this while being true to their feelings and let external issues play more of a role in keeping them apart.
All in all, one of the best romance books I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend giving it a read.