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THE COURTESAN DUCHESS
Wicked Deceptions #1
BY JOANNA SHUPE
Can a bold-faced lie lead to everlasting love? One by one, the impetuous heroines in the Wicked Deceptions series intend to find out, each in her unique way…
How to seduce an estranged husband—and banish debt!—in four wickedly improper, shockingly pleasurable steps…
- Learn the most intimate secrets of London’s leading courtesan.
- Pretend to be a courtesan yourself, using the name Juliet Leighton.
- Travel to Venice and locate said husband.
- Seduce husband, conceive an heir, and voila, your future is secure!
For Julia, the Duchess of Colton, such a ruse promises to be foolproof. After all, her husband has not bothered to lay eyes on her in eight years, since their hasty wedding day when she was only sixteen. But what begins as a tempestuous flirtation escalates into full-blown passion—and the feeling is mutual!
Could the man the Courtesan Duchess married actually turn out to be the love of her life?
THE COURTESAN DUCHESS
Wicked Deceptions #1
BY JOANNA SHUPE
Venice, November 1816
“Two years! You saw him two years ago and never told me?” Now inside their gondola, Julia stripped off her gloves and threw them on the seat inside the felze. The blinds were drawn, and the single interior lamp cast a warm yellow glow about the cabin. She was too angry to sit but had little choice in the confined space. “How could you keep that from me, Simon?”
The boat pushed off from the dock as he dropped next to her. “There was no reason to tell you. I came to Venice and tried to convince him to return with me. I told him of you. Sang your praises, really, but I failed to win him over. I worried it would hurt your feelings to learn of it.”
While Julia thought on that, he continued. “The only reason I brought it up tonight was for you to be perfectly aware of what you face with Colton.”
“What did he mean, calling me his father’s pawn? Pawn for what, exactly?”
Simon sighed. “To him, you’re the woman his father married him off to, without considering his wishes on the subject. Like I’ve said, he was the forgotten son ’til his brother died. And when he became the heir, Colton’s father was desperate to get his only living son to fall in line, to become responsible. In Colt’s eyes, you’re merely another attempt by his father to bring the wayward son to heel.” Simon stretched his long legs. “But you know how well that turned out. Didn’t he leave for Paris directly after reciting his vows?”
Yes, and that had stung. And while she could imagine how manipulated Colton must have felt, Julia
needed to stay focused on her plan—a plan Simon was not entirely privy to. “Well, he’s interested in Mrs.
Leighton. After I lure him in, I can spend time with him not as a wife, but as a woman. Then I shall be able to satisfy my curiosity regarding my husband,” she lied.
“God save men from intelligent women,” Simon muttered with a yawn. “I am not so sure this relationship with Pearl Kelly has been beneficial, Julia. You never used to be so . . . bold.”
“I had no choice. I’m tired of waiting and wondering if Nick will return. I’m tired of the pity and the scorn, all the rumors. The innocent wife of the Depraved Duke—it would be laughable if only it were someone else. We’ve talked about this, Simon. I should have the ability to at least meet the man I am married to. To see if we suit.”
“Oh, it’s Nick, is it?”
The gondola stopped, and Simon rose to offer his hand. They stepped out onto the boat dock and continued toward the stairs of their rented palazzo. “He insisted,” she said. “I told you he was interested.”
“Of course he’s interested. He’d be a fool not to be—and Colton is no fool. As I’ve said, I am in full approval of this plan. Colton has ignored his responsibilities for far too long.”
They had procured a few local servants upon their arrival, and no one suspected the renters were not who they claimed. As far as the servants were concerned, the trio included a wealthy English lord traveling with his mistress and her companion. Julia, Simon, and her aunt, Theodora, took great pains to maintain the illusion, unless absolutely certain they were alone.
Once inside, Simon removed her cloak and handed it to the footman. Aunt Theo appeared in the parlor doorway. “Would either of you care for a sherry?” Judging by the messy riot of curls on Theo’s head, Julia guessed her aunt was already on her second or third drink.
“Yes, I believe I shall. Darling?” She gave Simon a seductive smile for the benefit of the servant hovering nearby.
“Lead on, my love,” he said easily, gesturing to the doorway.
“And how was your evening?” Theo asked as she settled her rounded, lush frame on the divan. Her aunt was fond of sherry and cake and hardly a day went by when she didn’t indulge in at least one.
“Productive,” Julia answered, closing the door behind her. “Simon, bring me a glass of whatever you’re having. Sherry makes me gag.” She dropped into a chair opposite her aunt.
Simon pressed a glass into her hand and Julia took a sip. Claret, she realized, and took another grateful swallow. “Oh, Aunt Theo,” Julia breathed. “You would not have believed this party. Shocking would be a paltry description. What freedom these women have! A world away from Almack’s, to be sure.”
“Such freedom does not last long when your looks fade or your benefactor tires of you. And the health risks!” Theo waggled her finger at Julia. “Do not envy them. It’s a hard life, full of uncertainty and scorn.”
“But they do wield a certain amount of power. Pearl has had liaisons with two dukes, one earl, a viscount, and a Bavarian prince. Two lifetime annuities have been settled on her, and she’s only thirty-one.”
“Julia, don’t be naïve,” Simon said. “Not every woman could possibly be Pearl Kelly.”
“Have you met her?” Julia asked him.
“Yes, once at Vauxhall Gardens. A group of us went for supper one night, and she accompanied Lord Oxley. She is intelligent and witty,” he admitted. “Not only can she carry on a conversation, she listens. And Pearl makes a man feel as if everything he says is important—which in Oxley’s case would’ve been nothing short of a miracle. But she’s deuced expensive.”
“Worth every banknote and gem she receives, I’d wager, if half of what she told me is true.”
“I almost pity that poor husband of yours,” Simon drawled.
Julia frowned. Colton deserved no pity. The man was a reprobate. And he’d left her at the mercy of his cheating, lecherous relative.
She started to argue but Simon held up a hand. “I said ‘almost.’ No one knows of your unhappiness these last few years better than I. Colt deserves retribution for what he’s done—and more. However, it does seem as if you’re well on your way to achieving your goal.”
“Oh, saints be praised!” Theo slapped her thigh. “How long, then, do you believe we must stay in
“Not long. If I were to wager, not long at all,” Julia answered with a sly smile.
“Well, I’m off.” Simon rose and drained his glass. “I know of a few more parties I should like to visit this evening—without Mrs. Leighton’s watchful eye, of course.”
Julia held up her hand. “Say no more. We wish you luck, don’t we, Aunt Theo?”
Glorious crackpot that she was, Theo nodded, her brown curls rocking back and forth. “Indeed. Here’s to wine, women, and song, my lord.”
Simon gave them an elaborate bow and left.
“Do you think this scheme will work?” Theo asked once they were alone.
“It must. Templeton’s last visit continues to give me nightmares.” After informing her—again—of the further reduction of her monthly stipend, the grotesque excuse for a man had suggested what services Julia could provide to make up the difference. And by services, he hadn’t meant mending his clothes.
The thought of intimacies with Templeton—with his small black eyes, sweaty brow, and demeaning attitude—almost made her physically sick. Damn Colton for putting me in this situation. “Oh, how I wish my father was still alive.”
“My brother would’ve dragged your duke home by his whirlygigs by now, that’s for sure.”
Julia chuckled. “Perhaps. Templeton wouldn’t be a problem, in any case. I know my father believed marriage to a duke to be an unparalleled match for his only daughter, but I’d like to think he would have reconsidered if he’d known how much trouble it would bring me.”
“The trouble is your duke ignoring his responsibilities at home. Leaving you to fend for yourself for eight years. With naught a word from him!” Theo sniffed in disdain. “And to wash his hands of the estate business. Does he believe all estate managers to be honest men? You know very well that Templeton is paying off Colton’s man to follow his orders.”
“Colton does not care. He told me himself he never plans to come back to England. So we had to do something. As you well know, the last of our jewelry went to pay Pearl and fund Mrs. Leighton’s wardrobe. We barely have enough to carry us through until spring.”
“I still say we could’ve asked Winchester for help. Or perhaps your Lord Wyndham.”
Julia bristled. “You know we cannot ask for another man to support us indefinitely. And he is not my lord anything. I told you I merely flirted with Wyndham in hopes of forcing Colton back to London. But either my husband didn’t hear the rumors or didn’t care about being cuckolded because it failed to work.”
“So if Colton does not care about being cuckolded . . .”
“I still couldn’t do it. Colton would know the child was not his, and I cannot risk him telling anyone. If it were found out, my child would be an outcast. No, Colton must father my child. And when I find myself with child, we shall return to London and I’ll write to my husband, explaining what I’ve done.”
They both fell silent, contemplating the duke’s reaction to such a letter, while the mantel clock ticked loud and steady throughout the room.
“Will Colton acknowledge the child, I wonder?” her aunt asked, and sipped her sherry.
Julia frowned. “Why would he not? Every man wants an heir.”
“Well, what will happen if you deliver a girl?”
“Then I shall love her fiercely—from debtor’s prison.”
Award-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.
Links to Joanna’s website, blog, books, etc.
Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2015/03/the-courtesan-duchess-wicked-deceptions.html
Goodreads Series Link: https://www.goodreads.com/series/130734-wicked-deceptions