THE COURTESAN by Julia Justiss

PUBLISHING INFO: HQN (Harlequin), 2005
GENRE: Historical Romance
SETTING: England


After years of dangerous fighting on the Peninsula, Captain Jack Carrington has returned home to take up family duties and find himself a wife. But his life is thrown into turmoil when he views a fencing lesson unlike any other. The talented student is no student at all, but a beautiful young woman, and the most infamous courtesan in all of London -- Lady Belle.

Who is the mysterious Belle? A jaded cyprian seeking her next protector? A kind friend helping those in need? Or a mistress of sensual delights that tempt a man to madness? Eager to uncover the true woman behind the facade, Jack wagers he can win a kiss from Belle if he bests her at fencing. And though Belle is a woman he can neither afford to keep nor dare to marry, he's willing to risk it all to win her to his bed.

It was mentioned on a romance forum/message board that the heroine was raped in this. That caught my attention because I had no idea that authors were still putting rape in novels. I didn't know it was 'allowed', for lack of a better word. So I got the book, started reading it sometime in 2006 and quickly got bored with it. I traded the book without having gotten very far in it and later regretted it. Three years later I got it again and just now reread it. Here's what goes on in it.

SPOILER SUMMARY: The story takes place in England in the 1800s. Belle, 22ish, blonde, blue eyed, is a courtesan (prostitute to noblemen) and her lover died less than a month before. The hero, Jack, see's her fencing with someone and discovers that she's a woman, not a man like he assumed. He's intrigued by her and later ends up in a fencing match with her. Belle accidently stabs him with the foil and it pierces his lung. He's in bad shape and is taken to Belle's home to recover. Here's where the story gets very, very boring. Jack is there for quite awhile recovering and that's about it. Nothing goes on between him and Belle. They're attracted to one another but Belle is determined to never be a man's 'whore', as she calls it, again.

While Jack is recovering there, Belle finds this young teenager named Jane working in a brothel. She kidnaps her, basically, and brings her to stay/work at her home. Once while traveling, their carriage is attacked and they think it's someone that the brothel owner has sent to get Jane back. They're right but they aren't harmed and Jane isn't mentioned much after that.

Near the end of Jack's recovery, completely out of the blue, Belle tried to seduce Jack but he was having none of it. He could tell Belle wasn't really interested in seducing him but was interested in him, in getting to know him better. I guess she thought the only way to express that was to offer him sex. Sometime after that, Jack told her he wanted to marry her. She told him it wouldn't be acceptable for him to marry an ex-prostitute and refused him. When Jack was almost well, he agreed to stay another week. During that week, they had sex for the first time. He then left her home when he was healed from the stab wound. They went their seperate ways and their lives got back to normal.

Here's where I feel the author didn't know where to go with the story so she just threw a piece of nonsense into the mix. Jack met his younger sister's friend, Kitty. He thought Kitty looked a whole lot like Belle. Kitty told him the story of how her older sister Constance (Belle) and mother died almost seven years ago, when she was about thirteen. They were buried at the inn where they'd all been staying and Kitty went to live with a relative. That sounded similar to the story Belle had told him about how she became a prostitute. She told him her mother died and was buried and her younger sister was planning to live with a relative. Belle, while at the inn, had met some much older, married man who offered to let him stay with him and his wife. I guess Belle knew she was going to have a sexual relationship with him. She didn't want her sister to know so she didn't tell her that. Belle later finds out that the man she was to live with told her sister that she had died right after the mother and was buried beside her out on the inn's property. He even paid to have a tombstone put there. Jack then travelled to the inn to check out Kitty's story and was told that no, the sister, Constance, didn't really die. That's when Jack knew Belle and Constance were the same person.

After that discovery, Belle was at home and Lord Rupert, a man who has lusted after her, paid her an unwelcome visit. He punched her in the head or face and knocked her unconscious. While passed out, he raped her and tied her to the bed. She woke up, they arugued, he told her all her servants were in another building on the property. He left her alone in the bedroom and out of the clear blue sky came her young male employee right down the chimney to rescue her! He pulled out a knife and cut her wrists loose. Right then, Jack appeared. He'd been going there to check on her. He hadn't seen her since he went back home after he'd recovered. Rupert came into the room and he and Belle started fencing, I kid you not. Of course, she beat him. Jack made Rupert promise to leave the country and never return.

While out somewhere at some party, Jack reunited Belle with her sister Kitty. Later, Belle finally agreed to marry him. That's how the story ended.

MY THOUGHTS: I must say this was one of the slowest and most boring books that I've ever read. Words can't really describe how let down I feel. The first two thirds or so was just Jack recovering from his wound at Belle's. To me, that just wasn't believable. There was no reason at all for Jack to have been taken to Belle's when he could have gone to a friend, or family members, home to recover. Why would you stay at a known prostitute's home? And adding Jane to the story was pointless simply because it did noting for it. Jane wasn't mentioned much after she came to live with Belle. And the stuff with Kitty thinking her sister dead, well, it just wasn't needed. I do think the rape was thrown in just for shock value and the strange thing was, it wasn't shocking at all.

She could have had the rape take place midway though the story and the rest could have been Jack helping Belle 'recover' and them falling in love with each other.

I won't be trying this author again. Overall, I was terribly disappointed with the story. It could have been such a great love story; man falling for ex fallen woman and all that pretty stuff. This wasn't a bodice ripper though it did have one bodice ripper-like scene near the the end, with the rape.

The authors complete booklist can be found here.

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