Read an Excerpt
Lessons From a Courtesan
By tomorrow morning, she would no longer be a virgin. Victoria Reed...no...Victoria Talbot stared at herself in the mirror. How could she be unchanged when in a span of little more than hours, her whole world had been altered completely?
She had a new name and a new home. She even had a title. Lady Baybary. The Countess of Baybary.
It didn't sound right. It wasn't right.
Victoria covered her face with her hands. Just a month ago, she had been living her normal life. Yes, she had to endure her father's drunken tirades and suspicious ramblings, but she was accustomed to those things.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, her father had come to her with the news that he'd arranged a marriage for her with Justin Talbot, Earl of Baybary and the son of her father's former best friend. A man he now despised and cursed regularly. When she dared inquire how and why he had picked that match, she'd gotten a harsh slap and no further answers.
And now here she was, sitting in the master chamber of her new husband's sprawling country estate, looking at herself in the mirror. And wondering what in the world her father had gotten her into.
Loud voices outside the door intruded upon her troubled reverie. She shot to her feet and took a step forward. Though she couldn't make out the words being said, she recognized the sound of her father's slurred cadence. He was drunk again.His companion was also shockingly familiar. It was her new husband. Though they'd conversed all of a dozen times in the last month, his voice was already one she knew in an instant. Dark and husky, a low rumble thatcame from deep within his chest.
The voices went up in volume. They were arguing. Victoria moved toward the door and leaned closer. She could make out only the angry tone and occasional words like drunk, annulment, wife, and secret, which pierced the barrier occasionally. She winced at each one.
Justin Talbot had been surprisingly quiet on the subject of their marriage, keeping to polite, empty exchanges when they were alone. She had assumed this marriage was some kind of business arrangement, but now she wondered . . . was he being forced into the union as much as she had been?
And if that were the case, how would he treat her? She had been unable to determine her fiancé's true character so far.
Before she could ponder that troubling thought any further, the door she was leaning against opened and Victoria stumbled forward. Strong arms caught her as her forehead came to rest against a broad, warm chest. Well, there was no denying she'd been eavesdropping on Justin and her father now.
Slowly, she looked up and met her new husband's eyes. Dear heavens, he was a handsome devil with his harshly defined features, strong jaw, and sensual lips.If she had to describe him in one word, it would have been dark. Dark hair, dark eyes that hid his emotions handily, and a dark aura that seemed to swirl around him. With just a look, even an innocent could see he was a man of secrets, of vices, of everything his reputation spoke of and more.
She pulled from his hold and staggered back a few steps. He said nothing, simply stared at her . . . waiting.
"I...I heard voices," she stammered, hating the heat that flooded her cheeks. She didn't want to show him that weakness. "I was not trying to pry."
"Weren't you?" he asked, his tone measured. There was no indication if he was amused or angry or affronted. "And what did you hear?"
She shook her head. "Nothing."
He watched her for a long moment, as if judging the truth of that statement. Then he stepped into the chamber and shut the door behind him. He stared at her, his gaze roving over her body with a lazy possessiveness that made her spine stiffen. He was appraising her, as someone would do with a cow or a horse!
Worse, as angry as that thought made her, she wondered how she came up in his estimation. He, a man rumored to be a voracious lover; she, a woman in a white cotton night rail.
"You needn't look at me like I'm going to strangle you in your bed," he said quietly. "I have no intention of harming you. The voices you heard were mine and your father's." His dark gaze grew even darker. "Mr. Reed was simply wishing us well before he departed for the inn."
Now it was her eyes that narrowed, but in disbelief. "What you are describing doesn't sound like something my father would do, Lord Baybary. And you two were clearly not having a warm good-bye. You were arguing."
His gaze, which had been fixed on the bottle of whiskey across the room, flitted to her face, and his expression was one of surprise. Again, Victoria's stomach tightened with anxiety. She had been impertinent. Who knew what punishment that would garner her?
But he didn't roar or strike her. Instead, Justin tilted back his head and let out a chuckle. "I've always appreciated spirit in a woman."
Victoria pursed her lips. "I don't find the situation amusing, my lord. If you were somehow forced into marrying me, I demand the truth."
His laughter faded, and he looked at her again. Again, the gaze was appraising, but this time it wasn't her body he was making an account of. It was something deeper. Her intent, perhaps. Her character. But he gave no outward indication about his conclusions.
"First, you should call me Justin," he said. "We are married, the pretense of titles seems foolish. Secondly, it doesn't really matter how or why we came to this 'union.' We are here now, legally wed. Well, almost legally. One thing remains to be done to make the marriage a binding one."
Victoria stared at him and watched as his gaze slipped pointedly to the big bed along the back wall of the large chamber. His eyebrow arched, and he stood silent as she stared at it. His bed. How many other women had shared it before her?
How many would share it after?
"Yes," she finally said, clearing her throat so her voice wouldn't crack. It still did. "There is that. I, er, my father and my maid told me a little about what I'm to experience tonight. I realize it is my duty, and I assure you I will do my best to bear it."
Justin's eyebrow arched even higher, and he took a step toward her. Slowly he reached out and cupped her chin. Instantly a shot of hot awareness sliced through Victoria, taking her aback and making her jolt a little at the touch.
"You know, you are quite lovely," he said absently, as if he had never noticed it before. His thumb swirled gentle circles against her cheek. "You should forget whatever nonsense you were told, Victoria."Lessons From a Courtesan
. Copyright © by Jenna Petersen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.