The man of her dreams . . . belongs to another woman.
Destitute and without friends, Violet Carlton is forced to seek employment at the House of Pleasure in London. She steels herself for her first customer and is shocked when the man rescues her instead of ravishing her. A grateful Violet cannot help but admire the handsome Viscount Trevor. But she must curb her desire for the dashing nobleman she can never have because he is already betrothed to another . . .
Tristan had gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun before he became a faithful married man. But when he recognizes the woman in his bed, he becomes determined to save her instead. Now, his heart wars with his head as he falls for the vulnerable courtesan. Unable to break his betrothal without a scandal, Tris resolves to find Violet proper employment or a husband of her own. Still, his arms ache for Violet, urging him to abandon propriety and sacrifice everything to be with the woman he loves. . .
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Only A Mistress Will Do
House of Pleasure Series
By Jenna Jaxon
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Jenna Jaxon
All rights reserved.
London, November 1761
Shivering in the brisk wind cutting straight through her thin gown, Violet Carlton trudged across the small dirt-packed backyard, littered with tufts of dead grass and scattered brown and red leaves. Teeth clenched to stop their chattering, she mounted the short three steps of the back stoop, straightened her shoulders, and rapped three times on the dull gray door of the silvery clapboard house. Beyond the weathered board fence of the house next door a dog barked, but no one stirred. No prying eyes to witness her shame.
The door opened a crack, and a lad of about twelve stuck his head out. "What you doin' 'ere this time o' day?"
"I would like to speak with Madame Vestry, please." Perhaps she should have waited until later in the morning. Such an establishment would obviously keep late hours. But the ache in her belly had forced her here as soon as the sun had risen.
"She's still sleep. Come back later today." He started to push the door closed but Violet rammed her boot between it and the jamb. The boy kept shoving, squeezing her foot until she winced in pain, but she gritted her teeth, put her shoulder to the door and pushed back. If she didn't do this now, she wouldn't have the courage, or the strength, to come back.
"I need to see her now." She raised her voice, and threw her weight against the rough boards. Despite her small stature, she was stronger. He staggered back and she fell into a narrow back foyer with a row of coat hooks and the devastating yeasty smell of baking bread. Her mouth watered and her stomach rumbled. She hadn't eaten for days.
Blond hair straggling from under a mobcap, a girl, maybe fourteen, rushed into the room. "What the hell's going on in here Willie?" She wiped her hands on her apron, streaked with flour and grease. Warily, her gaze shifted from Willie to Violet. "Who are you?"
"I've come to see Madame Vestry." Violet focused on the girl's narrowed eyes. "I need to talk to her, please." Her heart gave a sickening lurch.
In one practiced glance, the girl took in her appearance, from what used to be her second-best hat to the rumpled and stained deep-purple dress to her scuffed black boots, and sniffed. "I see you do."
The appraisal stung, but was probably fair. She'd come down fast in the months since her grandmother's death. Her possessions long gone, her wardrobe — reduced to two dresses and a well-worn cloak — had been sold, leaving her with only the dress she stood up in. These clothes wouldn't fetch a shilling in a secondhand shop now.
The servant girl nodded to Willie. "Close the door before we freeze to death, jingle-brains. Come on." She led Violet out of the foyer. "I'll ask if Madame will see you. But she won't be happy being woke up this early, you can bet your dippers on that."
The last thing she wanted was to antagonize her future employer. Still, she couldn't risk waiting until later.
Taking a firm grip on herself, she followed the girl down a shadowy hallway until she motioned her into an equally dim reception room. "Wait here." The girl turned on her heel and left.
Violet let out the breath she'd been holding. She hadn't fainted yet, though her empty stomach had tied itself in knots. The pain meant she was alive and by God she intended to stay that way. She strode farther into the room and perched on the red cushioned sofa. Let the woman arrive swiftly to get this over with.
Sitting rigidly, she stared at her hands clenched in her lap, then shook herself. She had better be stronger than this. Determined, she sat straighter. A classical-style painting in a large gilt frame across from her caught her interest. A naked woman lay on a chaise, her legs spread. Oh, good Lord. Her womanly parts were exposed and a swan lay with its beak pressed between her thighs.
Her face heated and she had to look somewhere else, anywhere else but at that painting. The fireplace on her right held two candlesticks, shaped like naked women. Wax had dripped onto the figures, drops hanging from the nipples. Was there nowhere in the room without a lewd image? Violet gripped the end of the sofa. The plush red carpet seemed safe to study. The smooth, polished wood under her fingers had been carved in an oval with folds in the middle. She traced the pattern absently, still unable to get the image of the painting out of her mind. The swan's long neck lying at the apex of the woman's open legs. Her forefinger stroked the wooden oval, so similar to the —
"Dear God!" She snatched her hand away and rubbed it against her gown.
"Miss Carlton?" A small, dark-haired woman in an exotic scarlet silk robe seemed to fill the room.
Violet jumped to her feet, her heart thudding wildly.
"My maid said you wished to see me?" Madame Vestry's dark eyes took in every detail of Violet's appearance. She raised an eyebrow.
On the tip of her tongue to retort of course, she did not wish to see the owner of a brothel, she instead swallowed back her anger. She could ill afford to provoke Madame Vestry. "Yes, ma'am. My brother told me if things went very badly for me I should ..." Words stuck in her throat like a fish bone.
"Come to my establishment?"
Face flushing, Violet nodded. "Yes."
"Who is your brother, Miss Carlton?" A narrowing of the woman's eyes echoed the suspicion in her voice.
"James Carlton, ma'am."
Vestry's head rose slightly and she relaxed. "Ah, yes, Jamie. You are his sister? Then I am sorry for your loss, Miss Carlton."
"Thank you, Madame Vestry." Thankfully, her voice held steady, the months since her brother's death easing the grief to the point she did not weep instantly at the thought. Her current plight was enough to do that.
"And you have now come to that desperate point where you seek employment with me?" The business-like tone, neither condoning nor condemning, stiffened Violet's resolve.
"Yes, ma'am. As of today, I have nowhere else to go, no one to turn to." A sickening churn of her stomach that had nothing to do with hunger sent tension through her. "Nothing else of value."
"You are how old, Miss Carlton?"
"Nineteen, ma'am. Almost twenty."
"Let me see you walk, please." With a crisp snap, Vestry pulled the curtains open and nodded to the path between the sofa and fireplace.
Violet straightened her skirts as best she could. Suddenly stiff and self-conscious, she concentrated on putting one foot before the other until she came face to face with another obscene painting. She clenched her hands and averted her eyes.
Feeling more and more like a horse or a cow at Smithfield market, she did as she was told, hopefully with a bit more grace.
In reward, Vestry gave her a slight nod. "You speak and move as befit your station, Miss Carlton. With a little training, I suspect you will be quite popular with our patrons. I should be able to command a high price for your virginity."
Violet's feet tangled in the plush carpet.
The scant approval vanished as Vestry glared at her. "I assume you are intact?"
Oh, the shame. How could this woman suggest she had already lain with a man? Bitterness flooded her mouth and her chest ached with mortification. Finally, she managed a curt nod.
"Lie down on the sofa please."
"I am not fool enough to take your word, Miss Carlton." Vestry smiled mirthlessly. "A brief inspection will allow me to assure your buyer he is indeed purchasing a virgin."
Her cheeks heated at the humiliation this woman suggested. The cold inevitability of her situation rolled over her, engulfing her as though she was drowning beneath a relentless sea. Madame Vestry demanded almost nothing compared to the real horror awaiting her at the hands of her buyer. Still, she had chosen to live. She could no longer afford the luxury of respectability.
Vestry stood immobile, a flicker in her eyes the only hint of interest.
Steeling herself, without word or plea, Violet lay down on the disgusting sofa, raised her knees and turned her head toward the garish red satin cushion. Cool air rushed past her thighs. Hot tears slipped down her cheeks. She hadn't wanted to cry. The time for weakness had passed.
"You may sit up now."
Indignant, Violet sat up and raised her chin. "Are you satisfied as to my honesty now?"
"I always was, Miss Carlton." Madame Vestry stared into Violet's eyes, her gaze seeming to penetrate to her soul.
"Then why —"
"I needed to test your mettle."
Rising, Violet scowled. Simply coming to this place should have shown her determination.
"Respectable women often believe they can eschew respectability to save their lives, only to find, in the end, starvation far pleasanter than immorality," Vestry continued matter-of-factly. "You, however, I believe will do, Cassandra. Come with me." Motioning her to follow, she headed out of the room.
"Cassandra?" Violet hurried to keep up.
"All of my girls have false names, false identities." At the end of the hallway, they headed up a flight of stairs. "The life they lead in the House of Pleasure is just as fraudulent. Cassandra is the mask you will wear to protect a vestige of your self-respect." When they reached the landing, Madame twitched her silky robe out of the way and turned to her. "Think of it as a role, very like one an actress might take upon the stage. It is not who you are, unless you allow it be." The vehemence of the last sentence rang in the cramped stairwell.
Violet stumbled back a step. "Why Cassandra?" It was a classical reference she couldn't quite place.
A peculiar smile curled Madame Vestry's red lips. "She was a prophet and a spoil of war. A woman men used but dismissed because they could not understand her prophecies, although they came true with a vengeance." A fire glowed in her cunning eyes as she scrutinized Violet's body.
More than her earlier examination, Vestry's calculating perusal made Violet uncomfortable.
"What prophecy will you reveal to your customers, I wonder, Miss Carlton? A promise of pleasure or one of pain?" The light extinguished as quickly as it had come. "This way." She started down a corridor to the right. "You will have a room of your own on the second floor. Depending on circumstances, you will entertain your clients either there or in one of the ground-floor rooms."
Violet followed, each step hardening her heart.
"I will see to your training during the next week." Passion drained from her voice. The businesswoman had returned.
A shiver shot down Violet's spine.
"I will also inform certain special clients I have an item of interest for them."
No going back now. She had become a whore. Tears threatened, but she beat them back.
"You can only sell your virtue once and I will make sure you receive the highest price, my dear. Half of those proceeds are yours."
Violet wavered between fainting and nausea, then steadied. Perhaps thinking of the encounter as a business deal might make the situation tolerable.
Madame Vestry showed her into a small, clean room boasting no lewd artwork, only a wide oak bed, a chest on chest, an armchair and table. "This room is yours as long as you work for me, though should you receive a better offer, I'd advise you take it."
"A better offer?" Who on earth would want her after this?
"Many of my girls have gone on to become exclusive mistresses to the noblemen who take a fancy to them. Such arrangements are often quite lucrative. With judicious saving one might have enough to start their life over after four or five years." A mischievous smile flitted across Madame Vestry's face. "One of the girls who passed through here briefly — very briefly, mind you — ended up marrying a marquess. That smacks more of fairytale than reality. Still the tale is true."
The animation drained from her face as the brusque woman of business returned. "I will leave you to settle in, although I'll expect you ready for your first lesson this afternoon. We serve late luncheon at four and supper after midnight. The house opens for clients at dusk." She looked Violet up and down once more, lingering on her face. "You might want to stay in your room tonight. Just ignore anything you may hear. You'll get used to the noise rather quickly." Abruptly, she shut the door.
Violet dropped into the chair as her legs finally gave out, praying to God she could get through this nightmare, if only one moment at a time.CHAPTER 2
"What pleasure may I give you this evening, my lord?" No matter how many times Violet had practiced it in the past five days, she still doubted she would be able to ask the question when the time came. She sat before the fire in the green room downstairs in the House of Pleasure, staring into the dying embers, repeating the words of her first lesson. A question all Vestry's girls were supposed to ask their clients before complying with their demands for the night.
Swift footsteps clacked on the wooden floor outside the door.
Violet clutched her arms, disregarding the pain as her nails dug through the thin fabric of her purple dress. The steps continued past and she sagged in the dark green velvet armchair. Five days of training, in which she had learned acts she never imagined went on between men and women, had shredded her nerves. Still, she'd made her choice. She'd have to see it through. Her employer had already housed, clothed and fed her. She wouldn't take losing such a valuable commission lightly.
"What pleasure may I give you this evening, my lord?" Violet forced the words out over and over. Wild laughter in the hallway, faint strains of a pianoforte, and the lewd grunts from the room next door twisted her stomach, yet she kept repeating the phrase. The raucous sounds of the brothel had become more familiar during the week, but still set her on edge.
Footsteps approached once more, slowed, stopped.
Violet's heart pounded, her rapid breathing keeping pace. The huge bed to her right drew her attention for perhaps the hundredth time. Was this the moment? She seized the arms of the velvet chair, fighting to hold herself in place. Her nails sank into the soft fabric as she struggled to slow her breaths.
The handle lowered.
Her head came up, back straight, forced smile plastered on her face as the door opened wide and she caught a glimpse of the man who had bought her for the night. Madame Vestry had informed her this morning that one of her regular customers had responded favorably to her invitation — she'd actually called it an invitation — and for Violet to make herself available in the green room at eight o'clock tonight.
She'd not been told who he was and somehow it mattered little to her that she did not know the name of the man about to ruin her. One of the house rules forbade her to ask. If the gentleman offered his name, that was his business. The other girls had told her if she needed to put a name to the face, to think of customers as "Lord John."
This Lord John entered the small room in a swirl of black fur and sandalwood, the spicy scent tickling Violet's nose, making it twitch.
She tipped her head back and looked up into the swarthy face. Dark hair and piercing blue eyes, a strong jaw, and a long, straight nose. Too tall, though. He was too tall for her. The ridiculousness of the irrational thought broke through her lethargy. She forced herself up out of the chair as he strode toward her.
The smile curling his full lips would have been charming had not the gleam in his eyes betrayed his lustful intent.
"Good evening, Cassandra." His deep baritone voice sent a frisson of dread through her. "Such a lovely name for a lovely temptress."
"What pleasure may I give you this evening, my lord?" The words came out flat, but by God, she'd gotten them out. Now to remain standing and not faint. One small goal at a time. She stared at the wide expanse of blue velvet jacket barely two inches from her face.
He ran the back of his hand along her cheek and goose flesh pimpled her whole body. "I do hope the pleasure will be mutual, my dear."
Violet jerked back from his caress. Her gaze, firmly fixed on the gold buttons of his jacket, now shot to his face, expecting a leer. How could he suggest she might enjoy being debauched?
His dark brows had puckered into a surprised frown, almost reproachful. He lowered his hand.
Dear God. She couldn't refuse him anything. Lord John owned her for the night. Whatever he wanted to do to her, be it lewd touch or soft caress, she had to submit. No matter she wanted to scream, or cry, or pummel his chest. Curse him for being a depraved wretch who reveled in her misfortunes.
Excerpted from Only A Mistress Will Do by Jenna Jaxon. Copyright © 2017 Jenna Jaxon. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great series! Really enjoy Jaxon's writing.
The moment Tristan and Violet met, I could feel their chemistry and attraction, but very soon after they proclaimed to love each other, then these crazy and at times unbelievable obstacles kept popping up. I don't know what happened, but somewhere along the way it lost the sizzle for me. A lot of that has to do with Tristan's interactions with his betrothed(who I actually grew to like.. I wonder if she'll get a book). Sometimes I was ready for the plot to move on, and one of those 'obstacles' would happen, and it would slow things down instead. On the other hand, there was quite a bit going on to keep you reading. The story was entertaining and funny. I am curious about the previous two books in this series. I'd like to get to know those characters as well. Only a Mistress Will Do by Jenna Jaxon was kindly provided to me by the author for review. The opinions are my own.
I have to say that I didn't really care for Violet very much. I like my heroines to be strong female leads and I just didn't get that from Violet. But I didn't like Tristan that much better. I did like the storyline, so had Violet and Tristan been much stronger characters I think I would have like it a whole lot more.
Violet Carlton has nowhere else to turn her dead brother has left her in a desperation. Violet is a virgin so she seeks employment at the House of Pleasure after all her first should bring significant amount of money. Before getting betrothed Tristan, Viscount Trevor, decides to have a bit of fun before he becomes the faithful husband. He gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun and he recognizes the woman in his bed. Instead of ruining her like his body demands he becomes determined to save her instead. Violet is shocked her first customer decides to rescues her instead of ravishing her. Tristan wants her for his mistress and decide to find her proper employment or a husband. Violet and Tristan’s attraction grows into something neither expected, but Tristan can't imagine marrying her off to another man and it would be a disaster to call of his own betrothal. Violet and Tristan has a fiery passionate romance and a captivating story that had me laughing and crying as these two find their HEA. I know you’ll fall in love with. Great book Jenna!!!
I really liked this historical read. After the death of her brother Violet has no one else to turn to and decides to sell the only thing she has left, her body. Tristan goes to the House of Pleasure for one last night of fun before he becomes a married man. When Tristan recognizes Violet, he knows he must rescue her from this fate. I liked both Tristan and Violet they are great characters with a wonderful chemistry. The story is fast paced with plenty of drama. An enjoyable read.
Only a Mistress will Do by Joanna Jaxon House of Pleasure #3 This standalone historical novel set in 1761 deals with marriage, mistresses, societal and family expectations. It is also about where in the scheme of life love has a part – if it has a part at all. In the past women were commodities and as wives might have less affection from her husband than the same man’s mistress. When Violet Carlton reaches the point where she must choose to live or die she chooses to live and to do so she offers herself to brothel madam in exchange for food, clothing and a roof over her head. Tristan, Viscount Trevor, is to be her first and is set to deflower her only to hear something that changes his mind and instead puts her under his protection even though he is nearly affianced to a young woman that will bring him a great deal of property. Breaking and engagement can ruin both parties of the agreement, lead to a duel or…worse. There are other threads to the story that impact the characters in more ways than one but all in all it is a love story. What I liked: *The idea that Tristan wanted to remain true to his marriage if/when he married *The idea that Violet was strong enough to choose life over death even if it meant besmirching her reputation *The adherence to the fact that marriages were not born from love but instead were contracts – business contracts – and even being a mistress was contractual in nature *That eventually love won out What I didn’t like: *Tristan’s wishy-washiness regarding the women in his life *The ease with which a duel could be requested and the ease with which a man’s life could be taken *That Dora, a girl I ended up admiring, was a pawn. But then, most women were. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington – Lyrical Shine for the ARC – This is my honest review. NOTE: I would like to find out who Dora, Manning and a few others end up with if there are more books in the series. 4 Stars
The man of her dreams . . . belongs to another woman. Destitute and without friends, Violet Carlton is forced to seek employment at the House of Pleasure in London. She steels herself for her first customer and is shocked when the man rescues her instead of ravishing her. A grateful Violet cannot help but admire the handsome Viscount Trevor. But she must curb her desire for the dashing nobleman she can never have because he is already betrothed to another . . . Tristan had gone to the House of Pleasure for a last bit of fun before he became a faithful married man. But when he recognizes the woman in his bed, he becomes determined to save her instead. Now, his heart wars with his head as he falls for the vulnerable courtesan. Unable to break his betrothal without a scandal, Tris resolves to find Violet proper employment or a husband of her own. Still, his arms ache for Violet, urging him to abandon propriety and sacrifice everything to be with the woman he loves. . . Review: Lots of things do try to keep this couple apart in this story! I liked that it was not an easy road for these two. I thought it was different in that she is willingly to become his mistress to keep him and he is the one not willing to hurt his intended spouse. I liked both Violet and Tris, both are strong, independent, with high moral character and really just the kind of characters you could see yourself being friends with. They do have an extremely hot chemistry and the scenes where they are together are at times hot, passionate, tender and sweet. Like I said before they had soooo many obstacles on their way to their HEA that I kept waiting for the next shoe to drop at every turn of the page. This is book three in the series and again I had not read the others before reading this one and I was never lost for not reading them in order. This is a new-to-me Author. I liked her style and thought she did a good job portraying the period and writing interesting characters. I would definitely read more written by her. If you are looking for a lot of twists, turns, and sexiness in your historical romance, then I would pick up this book. 4Stars *I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book provided by the publisher.*
'Only a Mistress Will Do' by Jenna Jaxon is book Three in the "House of Pleasure" series. This is the story of Violet and Tristan. I have not yet read the other books yet in this series, so this was a standalone book for me. Violet has hit on hard times since the death of her brother, his friend and her grandmother. Now with nothing left she turns to Madame Vestry house of pleasure for a job. There she trains to be one of the ladies of the night. Madame Vestry puts her to one of her special clients with the information that she is a virgin. The night she is to meet her first customer she finds it is Tristan and she learns that he had known her brother. This moves Tristan to save her and not go forward with their 'night'. Tristan tells her he will find her a decent job or possible a husband....something better than this life at Madame Vestry. But will Tristan be able to let her go? "My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."