Desert Isle Keeper
From Courtesan to Convenient Wife
Marguerite Kaye’s research glimmers in a well-told, engrossing and tender story from her Matches Made in Scandal series, about a courtesan who’s never (really) been kissed seeking to leave behind a past she had no say over, and a man running from a (possibly) falsified betrothal. In From Courtesan to Convenient Wife, Ms. Kaye has crafted a lovely romance between two individuals who are not precisely your typical romantic pairing.
When The Procurer approaches Lady Sophia Acton’s abode, she has a specific mission in mind for the scandalous young lady. The Procurer’s life’s work basically involves providing a second chance to women who have been wronged in some way; she offers temporary business contracts to the highly skilled yet friendless, and sets them to solving problems posed to her by her – usually very well-to-do – clients. Since Lady Sophia recently suffered a spectacular social fall from grace that’s left her nearly impoverished, she doesn’t have many options left to her when the Procurer arrives on her doorstep.
The Procurer’s mission for her is simple: she must be willing to pose as the wife of the handsome and much-pursued wine merchant Jean-Luc Bauduin. She will not be required to sleep with the client, but she must furnish her own complete loyalty to the man and act the part of his beloved in public and in front of his servants – and after her task is completed she will have enough money to restart her life in permanent comfort and see a full restoration of her own honor as the beloved wife of a respected man. How can she resist? Sophia has been hiding from the world ever since a disaster with her previous ‘employer’ resulted in his blackening her name, and anything is better than living an obscure life trickling down the social ladder and bitterly missing her lost family.
Jean-Luc has no idea that his new wife has a scandalous past as a courtesan. At this point all he wants is to be convincingly enough married to avoid the marriage suit of another. Comtesse Juliette de Cressy has descended upon him with the claim that they were affianced as children and at the same time declares that Jean-Luc is the lost fourth son of the Duc de Montendre, spirited away from the aristocracy during the Terror to live among ordinary vintners. Jean-Luc has no memory of this and, having lied about the existence of a previous wife, must now live his fiction with Sophia at his side. While the ersatz husband and wife set out together to prove that Juliette’s marriage contract is a falsehood, they must battle Juliette’s impassioned insistence that she’s in the right, the ever-expanding shadow of their pasts and a powerful undercurrent of attraction running between them. Is the Procurer right, and are Jean-Luc and Sophia truly destined for one another? Or will the weight of the past tear their fragile bond apart?
Sophia is a tender, incredibly sympathetic heroine, a lover of sunshine and art and culture and as snappy as a whip, with a certain trembling courage and a sad queasy sense of self-shame after a rough past. I like her, make no bones about it – but on the other hand she is that special breed of woman exclusive to romance novels; an unwilling mistress who’s never been truly kissed nor enjoyed an orgasm. My eternal question about courtesan romances is simple: what’s wrong with a heroine who frankly enjoyed her work and now wants to settle down? It’s not controversial to say that you can be a ‘good girl’ and a woman who’s done sex work at the same time, but here the author ends up going to uncomfortable lengths to make Sophia bashful so the audience can code her as everything but a virgin in name. Though I really did like her, she honestly would’ve read better as a seduced-and-abandoned spinster than a courtesan.
Jean-Luc is honorable, well-rounded and caring. I was amused by his food biases, natural for a gourmand (but you are WRONG about tea, sir!) and he genuinely cares for and is kind toward Sophia even when he realizes her life is complicated as his is. I liked him too.
Here’s the novel’s largest boon: Sophia and Jean-Luc are frankly adorable and funny together. There’s an entire scene early in the book that sets the pace of their relationship, in which they have a laughter-filled dinner while gently mocking the conventions of the situation they’re stuck in and it really endears the couple to the reader. Things grow from there at a delicious pace, and aside from the non-kissed-courtesan plot device it’s easy to want to wish them well.
Kaye’s eye for detail is as sharp as her ability to translate history into engaging fiction, and her character’s voices are unique, crisp and intriguing. The book focuses almost entirely on Sophia and Jean-Luc, but we do have some nice supporting characters. Juliette is interesting in her own right, as is her love interest, Jean-Luc’s timid lawyer Maxime, neither of whom become the villains of the piece. Instead the greatest conflict stems from the twin pasts Jean-Luc and Sophia must battle to attain a happy future.
From Courtesan to Convenient Wife is an emotionally urgent and tender romance that ultimately causes the reader to enjoy it in spite of its minor flaws.