A Courtesan’s Guide to Getting Your Man
by Celeste Bradley & Susan Donovan
(St. Martins, $7.99, NC-17) ISBN 978-0373-53256-7
Hot, sizzling and downright sexy are apt descriptions for the scenes in this book, as you might guess from the title. There is sex in every position, every way and even some bondage. However, there is so much more to the story that after the first 100 pages, with the most explicit scenes, the story is actually quite good. However, for this reader, it took way too long to get there. I had almost given up on the tale when it caught my interest and kept me intrigued for the last 150 pages.

This book is set in modern times and looks back, through the pages of a courtesan’s diary, at life in Regency England. At times, Ophelia Harrington is the most intriguing character, but she is so stubborn that it was hard to sympathize with her. And at times, the modern day heroine, Piper Chase-Pierpont is the best, but she too is not entirely likable at times. The heroes are easier to pinpoint, although one walks around with a mask most of the time while the other is often so laidback it was hard to know his thinking. I will attempt to set the stage without giving too much away.

Modern day – Piper is a museum curator who is on the verge of getting fired due to budget restraints. She is the epitome of the staid librarian, ever since she was humiliated when she was in college by a grad student. Her task is to set up a display of a rich patron’s ancestor who is known for her abolitionist work during and after the Civil War. Ophelia Harrington however has a past that Piper discovers in a hidden compartment of an old truck. Ophelia was a courtesan in England before marrying and coming to America. And she not only was a courtesan, she was a good one. Her other claim to fame was being accused of murdering her last lover.

Piper is amazed and aroused by Ophelia’s three book diary revelations where she hides nothing. Ophelia was introduced to the world of seduction when she was being forced by her parents to marry Lord Malcolm Ashford, a man who was full of himself and claimed that he couldn’t wait to display her as his wife. She was taught the arts of being a kept woman by a man who wore a mask and who she knew only as “Sir.” He taught her things to do following the seven sins. She learned her trade well. She was known as Blackbird and had a good friend, the Swan.

Piper realizes that she cannot offer a display of Ophelia’s life without including this unknown side. And she is certain that by offering that side of life, her career will be over. At about the same time, Mick Malloy re-enters her life. Mick was a grad student Piper was instantly attracted to. It seemed he returned her interest and one night, Piper tried to seduce him, after a few drinks to bolster her courage. In her mind, Mick took one look at her naked and fled. Mick, however, left because he could not take advantage of her inebriated state. But Piper refused to see or talk to him after that night and never heard his side of the story.

Now years later, Mick has returned after a successful career to consult with the museum. He quickly makes his interest known to Piper and she is determined for their story to end up differently. She decides two things – first to set up two exhibits – one without the courtesan side and one with that story in full view. Her goal is to hide the more controversial exhibit until the opening night, making it impossible for the museum board to squelch her idea. And her second decision is to seduce Mick using the courtesan’s instructions.

The first half of the book set up the story. It flipped back and forth between eras, and as a reader, I struggled with feeling anything for either character. It was only after a traumatic event changed Ophelia into a feeling, thinking woman again that I started to like her. And it was only after Piper realized that she loved Mick that I started to like her. What followed was intrigue and an entertaining story on both ends of the time warp.

A Courtesan’s Guide to Getting Your Man will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The sexual explicitness and nature will put off some, but more importantly the very slow start to the book will cause some readers to quit reading before the story gets interesting. For those who stick with it, Bradley and Donovan deliver a tale that provides two love stories worth reading. Ophelia’s story is of a woman and a man who are ahead of their times while Piper and Mick’s center are a couple who must first learn their own strengths before they can learn to rely on each other.

--Shirley Lyons

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