Courtesan's Kiss
by Mary Blayney, historical (2010)
Bantam, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59313-6


Talk about false advertising. There is no, and I repeat, there is no courtesan in Courtesan's Kiss. The heroine Mia Castellano believes that she can live independently and free from the Ton's rules by being a courtesan, but nowhere in this story does she take up that noble profession and start charging people pounds for a pounding. The closest to Mia being a courtesan is when the hero Lord David Pennistan compares her seductive allure to a courtesan's. Therefore, I hope you don't buy this book expecting a courtesan heroine to strut on the stage.

This book is mostly told from Mia's point of view, and therefore, I have to warn you: Mia is not perfect by any means. She has her moments of utter stupidity, selfishness, and childishness. These traits of hers are also tampered by occasional moments of selflessness and caring, but readers who prefer heroines with a more saint-like temperament may find this one a rocky read.

Mia is sent from London in shame to her guardian's house in Derbyshire. You see, she was engaged to one Lord William until she decided to "test" his love for her by flirting with another man. She was caught kissing that man by both her fiancé and Lord David. The engagement was ended, needless to say, and Mia found herself ostracized by the Ton. You'd know what kind of person Mia is when I tell you that her reaction to the whole drama is bewilderment. It was a just a kiss, she says dismissively in the same breath that she denounces men for being faithless pigs tempted by loose women once they are away from the woman they supposedly love.

Lord David is the brother of her guardian's husband. He is not pleased to be escorting Mia because he'd rather be somewhere else, concluding a business deal. His brother, the Duke of Meryon, controls the purse strings of the family, however, and even David knows that he needs his brother on his side if he wants to make leeway in trade and carve out his own independence from his brother. He can't wait to be rid of Mia, especially when he's attracted to her. What is supposed to be a short escort mission, however, turns into a road trip of sorts, with the two of them eventually quarantined in the family bachelor pad.

Lord David is a younger son who will not inherit and therefore he intends to establish himself in trade and incorporate modern technology like the steam engine into his various ventures. However, he is frustrated by how his business dealings tend to fall through and his family doesn't take him seriously. He's an interesting character, but unfortunately, his interactions with Mia are disappointingly boring. You know the drill, I'm sure - he plays hot and cold, pushes her away by saying hurtful things, and such. As a romance hero, he is pretty dull, and him not getting much point of view in this story doesn't help in making him any less bland.

Mia is definitely the more interesting character here. She's not easily pigeonholed into the saint or sinner label - she comes off instead as a pretty realistic depiction of a smart but sheltered young lady of privilege. Mia cares for the people she is close to, but she sees no reason to become a democratic heroine and treat all household help as her equal. She has some self-awareness when she's messed up now and then, and she also holds her own pretty well against Lord David. She is not without her insecurities, but I like that she never let these insecurities turn her into a martyr or make her believe that she is not worthy of love. Mia's belief that being a courtesan will make her life change for the better stems from naïveté rather than stupidity, since she bases her assumptions on observations of those ladies from afar. Throughout everything, she exhibits an infectious and irresistible joie de vivre that has me adoring her despite her occasional display of cringe-inducing foolish behavior.

This story is a very readable one, and, of course, it helps that I like the heroine. Despite my general indifference to the hero, I like how he and Mia have to address some pertinent issues between them before they can have a happily ever after. The romance feels more believable as a result.

Courtesan's Kiss - seriously, what is with that title? - is not the most exciting romance around, but I enjoy it nonetheless. The heroine may not be everyone's cup of tea, however, so be careful.

Rating: 85


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