After the tragic death of her young husband, Lauren Applegate had remained with her father-in law, the good Squire Harris, who was inconsolable after his only son's death. But now the squire has landed himself in a world of ruin, by losing his estate in a card game to the Earl of Sutton. All seems lost, until Lauren comes up with a brilliant (harebrained) scheme. She overhears some maids discussing the fact that the earl is currently between mistresses. Throwing caution to the winds, Lauren calls on Marcus, Earl of Sutton, and announces that she would like to take on the "job", in exchange for "the usual payment"-a new wardrobe, possibly a few jewels, and.oh yes, a country estate, perhaps. Nothing fancy, or near London; it can be a small place.perhaps in Yorkshire?
Marcus had been having a deadly dull afternoon, until an unexpected caller arrived on his doorstep. The shapeless lump of black mourning garb topped by an ugly bonnet turned out to be one of the loveliest women he'd seen in a while-what there was visible of her, at any rate. When she calmly announced her wish to apply for the post of "courtesan", and solemnly assured him that she had experience, he didn't know whether to burst out laughing, or demand a sample. He was also outraged by the idea that the old squire might have sent the luscious "Mrs. Smith" as an offering. Little could he imagine that this afternoon diversion might lead to a lifelong relationship.
Nicole Byrd may not be breaking new ground with the premise for her latest book, but she does a tried and true theme very well. I found Lauren a sympathetic character-although she had been widowed at an early age, she came from a strong family background, and still had solid, loving relationships with her sister's family and with her father-in-law. She was kind-hearted without being a simpering goody two shoes, and she was honest with herself about her frustrated physical desires. I liked Marcus' initial reaction to the scenario, and his obvious caring for his pesky younger brother, while his frustration mounted at all the obstacles to his desire for time alone with the beautiful Lauren/ "Mrs. Smith". The one character who grated on me a bit was the Countess d'Ellaye-her responses and actions were entertaining, but the written accent Ms. Byrd used for all of the countess's speech got old quickly, made me have to work to understand her, and pulled me out of the story from time to time. That may not be an issue for others, though. I did enjoy the intrigue and suspense of the secondary storyline, involving a recently recovered shipwreck (one of the Earl's vessels) that may have involved foul play, and Lauren's determination to help Marcus by solving the mystery surrounding it.
Although the story concept is not a new one, Nicole Byrd delivers a witty, engaging, and steamy Regency romance, with an intriguing side of mystery and a little mayhem thrown in for good measure. Fans of the genre should be well satisfied with this solidly entertaining book.
Selfless widow Lauren Applegate is determined to retrieve the deed to her father-in- law's estate-even if it means offering herself as a courtesan to the Earl of Sutton, who seized the land. But as time goes on, both just may find love where they least expect it.