|Up to this point, Jenna Petersen has been a must read for me. She drew me in with her first novel Scandalous and kept me coming back for more with her female spy series. But this entry she employed the need for truly passionate love scene after love scene intermixed with scenes of two people who distrust. Their romance is nothing more than a series of arguments. Lessons From A Courtesan is extremely well-written, yet it paled next to the Petersen norm.
Justin Talbot, the Earl of Baybary is forced to marry a chit he doesn’t know to keep a family secret that he just discovered and is known to a man known for his drunkenness. So Justin agreed to marry the man’s daughter and pay him a monthly sum to keep quiet. He also decided to have this marriage in name only, after the wedding night. The wife, Victoria Reed, knows only that her drunken father had given her to a man she doesn’t know. She is innocent and also a bit idealistic. She had hoped that she could have a marriage despite the start to her future.
The two endured a night of rapture and passion that surprised them both. Justin then left to enjoy his normal life of women and fun. He even went to the continent for a few months. Victoria, who was somewhat devastated, spent a few months feeling sorry for herself and then made a life with some local friends and through running the estate, a task Justin monitored but allowed her to do, since she was doing it so well.
The story opens three years after their marriage to find Victoria in London posing as “Ria,” a mysterious courtesan seeking a protector. She is really here on a poorly thought out mission to find a widowed friend who came to London several months ago to be an actual courtesan. Chloe had been writing regular letters to Victoria and their other friend, Marah and hinted that she might be in danger. Then the letters stopped. So Marah, posing as the maid, and “Ria” are bound and determined to find Chloe by stepping into the world of the demimonde and finding out if she is dead or in trouble.
Since Victoria was not well known prior to her marriage and she had spent all her time in the country, no one knows who she is. No one except Justin, who just happens to be back in London and attending one of the many parties where the lovely Ria is attracting a mass of suitors. So begins the cycle of their romance – Justin lambastes Ria and then proves to her that the kisses they shared on their wedding night (which have haunted him for three years) were as passionate as he remembered. Victoria melts in his arms, as she too has fond memories of that one night. Then they turn to anger to protect their hearts.
Of course, they both have secrets that they try to keep from the other. Sadly, both secrets were revealed late in the story but are easily guessed early on. They also soon realize that they can work together, especially after Justin discovers their true plan. And there is the villain who is out there and puts not only Chloe in danger, but now Ria as well.
The only way that Justin and Victoria communicate is thru their passion and their arguing. This got tedious after a while. There are some side stories with Justin’s brother Caleb and his friend Shaw, but this is little more than set-up for what appears to be their own books.
I never really understood what Victoria saw in Justin, since he is portrayed as a wastrel who just dallies with the ladies, even after he is married. In fact, he is so proud of the fact that all he had were one night stands because he could never find fulfillment after that one night. Like that is something to be congratulated for…and…he was still sleeping around on her for over two years! Victoria meanwhile, played the pity card just a tad too often. She was left abandoned and yet she feels guilty because she never told him her secret. She does mature as the story goes on and that is really her only saving grace.
Having said all that, the story is well written, has good pacing (if you discount the pages of passionate lovemaking as engaging) and there is action just when it is needed. There is just enough innuendo and suspects to keep one guessing as to the true villain’s identity, even though the reader’s first instinct will prove correct in the end.
Jenna Petersen disappoints with Lessons From a Courtesan but I have high hopes that she will rebound with her usual flair the next time around.