The Courtesan Duchess
Wicked Deceptions # 1
March 31, 2015
Add to Goodreads
View Series on Goodreads
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?
To catch his eye, be both temptress and maiden. An
innocent harlot is what most men desire at the end of
—Miss Pearl Kelly to the Duchess of Colton
Venice, November 1816
The following night, Julia and Simon entered the duke’s box at La Fenice. The interior of the opera house, with its noble yet simple architecture, was luxurious. Rows of private boxes surrounded the gilded interior for the wealthiest of patrons, while the floor provided ample space for those of lesser means.
Colton’s large box was crowded, with at least six men and an equal number of women. The need to search for her husband, however, was rendered unnecessary as he immediately appeared at her side.
“Mrs. Leighton,” the duke greeted as she curtsied. He took in her embroidered white satin dress with its silver bandeau and accompanying emerald green robe. “How stunning you look this evening.”
She could say the same about him. The duke wore a fitted black tailcoat and breeches over a singlebreasted white waistcoat, which emphasized his lean torso. His snowy cravat, folded in a complicated array of knots under his clean-shaven chin, proved a stark contrast to his dark features. When he noticed her staring, he gifted her with a smile both intimate and sly, almost as if the two of them shared a private joke. Her breath came a bit faster despite her resolution to remain unaffected. “Good evening, Your Grace.”
Nick greeted Simon and then introduced the rest of the party. There were two ambassadors—one former and one current—as well as a Russian count, a Venetian painter, and a French actor. While the women were beautiful, one could discern by their dress and demeanor that there were no wives in attendance. Well, if one didn’t count her, she thought.
Nick led them to their seats. Julia used the opportunity to struggle with a swatch of hair that had fallen over her forehead. Fiorella, the young girl she’d hired as a lady’s maid, wasn’t as proficient with hair as Meg back in London. Tonight, Fiorella had lifted Julia’s thick red hair up in a series of artful curls and secured it with a silver band. But one unruly layer would not cooperate, and it drooped down to almost completely cover her right eye. With no hope of righting her coiffure on her own, Julia had little choice but to ignore it.
As they settled, she wasn’t the least bit surprised to find herself seated between Nick and Simon. On Simon’s other side was an empty chair, but it was soon filled with a striking Venetian actress. Nick relaxed in his seat and pressed the outside of his leg against Julia’s knee. She lifted her glasses to peer into the audience and willed her heart to slow.
“Did the flowers meet with your approval, Mrs. Leighton?”
The previous day, Nick had sent her a large bouquet of white roses, artfully arranged in a colorful vase made from Murano glass. It was a stunning display. His card had been concise and clever: To friendship.
Part of her was so angry over the gesture she wanted to shout at him like a fishwife. He couldn’t bother to send his wife of eight years a mere note . . . and yet rushed forward with a token of regard to a woman he’d met not even twenty-four hours earlier. Julia swallowed her outrage and bitterness in order to remember the part she played and the reason for it. Tonight, the goal was to flirt, thereby ensuring the duke’s interest in her charms. “They are exquisite, Your Grace. You are too generous,” she replied, giving him a teasing glance through her lashes.
“I fear you have high standards, Mrs. Leighton. After all, I heard you once sent a necklace back to Wellington because it contained an odd number of diamonds rather than even.”
Julia bit her cheek to keep from laughing. That particular anecdote was one of Aunt Theo’s contributions to Mrs. Leighton’s legend.
“Oh, that story is tiresome. I did no such thing.” Julia raised her glasses again to blithely peer out at the crowd. “I sent it back because it was ugly.”
Nick gave a short, genuine bark of laughter. “Well, I shall endeavor to be more selective in my gifts.”
“Are there to be more gifts, Your Grace?” She meant for the comment to be playful and flirtatious, but her voice betrayed her with a husky and intimate tone.
His lids dipped and he edged closer. “Whatever you wish for, Mrs. Leighton, shall be yours.”
Julia couldn’t prevent the shiver that traveled the length of her body. Thanks to Pearl’s instructions, the sensual promise in his words was not lost on her. While she knew exactly what he wanted from her, she could only be grateful that Nick had no suspicion of what she wanted from him.
The music swelled, sparing her the need to respond.
With her husband’s leg tucked snugly against hers, any effort to concentrate on Rossini’s heroic opera failed. She used the opportunity to think over her plan.
First, gain Colton’s interest. Next, stage a fallingout with Simon in public. Colton would then pursue her and, a few days later, she would allow him to catch her. All that remained would be to engage in activities as old as time, as often as possible.
Julia was nervous, but not scared. Pearl had given her the basic details of what took place, plus ways to increase a man’s pleasure. She’d also learned, despite her initial embarrassment, about her own pleasure since Pearl maintained that a courtesan as successful as the mythical Mrs. Leighton would ensure both partners enjoyed the experience.
But Julia had been unprepared for what it would feel like to sit next to this compellingly handsome man, her husband, while the heat from his muscled thigh warmed her leg through layers of clothing. His well-proportioned body so near, their shoulders lightly touching, had her insides now throbbing in time with the beat of her heart. She hadn’t expected to be so attracted to him. After all, he had ignored her for so long that she’d built up a sizable amount of resentment toward him. But those feelings were fast receding in the face of his wickedly powerful presence.
Struggling with the idea of actually liking him, Julia wondered if such a thing made her goal easier or more difficult to accomplish.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Templeton must be stopped and producing the Colton heir was the only way to do it.
She decided to tempt him a bit. After all, she needed to seduce the man.
Julia let her opera glasses fall from her fingertips to the carpeted floor between them, where they landed with a thud. “Oh!” she whispered. The duke’s head turned her way, a black eyebrow raised in question.
“Your Grace, I seem to have dropped my opera glasses. Would you be so kind?”
Nick politely inclined his head before he bent over, his fingers searching in the semi-darkness for her glasses. Julia waited a beat and then lifted the hem of her skirt and petticoats up to her shins. Sliding her leg toward him a bit, she was rewarded when his fingertips brushed her stocking-covered ankle.
His shoulders tensed, as if she’d surprised him, and then she felt his hand, ever so slowly, slide up the back of her calf, his touch a white-hot charge through the silk. She couldn’t prevent a gasp from escaping.
When he reached the back of her knee, his fingers lingered there, drawing a delicate pattern on the soft underside. Julia closed her eyes and bit her lip while trying to maintain her composure. Something hot and needy unfurled low in her belly, a feeling she suspected was unbridled arousal for her husband.
He seemed in no hurry to remove his hand and Julia wasn’t sure how much more she could take without moaning in sheer bliss. “Do you see them, Your Grace?” she breathed.
His hand fell away, and a second later he straightened. “Your glasses, Mrs. Leighton.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, and accepted the glasses from his hand.
“Anytime,” he returned, his husky tone making the meaning quite clear.
Her cheeks flooded with heat, and she was grateful for the low light that hid her blush. She attempted to calm herself throughout the remainder of the first act.
Just before the second act began, Nick leaned over again, and his now-familiar scent of citrus and musk teased her nose. “May I escort you home later, Mrs. Leighton?”
“Simon shall escort me home. And as helpful as you’ve been this evening, I’m not currently seeking another bed partner, Your Grace.”
“Oh, no. It’s much too soon to become lovers.” He drew closer to her ear, his warm breath tickling her skin. “When I finally take you, Juliet, when I finally have you naked underneath me, the memory of every other man you’ve been with will be forgotten. You shall think of only me . . . and beg me to make you mine.”
All the air left her chest in a whoosh. A rush of desire swept through her, so strong her knees surely would have given out if she’d been standing. He was the very devil, everything dark and forbidden and wanting in her life.
And she was way out of her depth.
She searched for something witty to say but came up empty.
Until words she’d heard spoke by Pearl months before came to mind. They tumbled out of Julia’s mouth. “I wonder if you truly possess the skill to back up your arrogance.”
His eyes heated to liquid silver. “If you find a private alcove, I’ll happily demonstrate my abilities before the end of the performance. After all, it’s only fair to know what you’re getting.”
The mention of the alcove was like a douse of cold water. How many alcoves and how many women were in his past? No doubt he’d trysted in buildings from Paris to Pisa. Still, she played her part. “An alcove? I hadn’t thought you so unoriginal.”
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.