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Books to enjoy in May! Let your reading blosson!

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RESCUE: COWBOY STYLE by REBECCA ZANETTI


Excerpt of The Courtesan by Julia Justiss

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HQN
December 2005
Featuring: Lady Belle; Jack Carrington
384 pages
ISBN: 0373770820
Paperback
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Romance Historical

Also by Julia Justiss:

The Railway Countess, July 2021
Hardcover / e-Book
The Cowboy, May 2021
e-Book
The Rancher, April 2021
e-Book
The Blue Stocking Duchess, March 2021
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
The Enticing of Miss Standish, August 2020
Paperback / e-Book
The Tempting of the Governess, March 2020
Paperback / e-Book
The Awakening of Miss Henley, October 2019
Paperback / e-Book
The Earl's Inconvenient Wife, February 2019
Paperback / e-Book
A Most Unsuitable Match, October 2018
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Forbidden Pleasures, June 2018
Paperback
A Texas Christmas Past, November 2017
e-Book
Secret Lessons with the Rake, September 2017
e-Book
Convenient Proposal to the Lady, March 2017
Paperback / e-Book
Stolen Encounters with the Duchess, September 2016
Paperback / e-Book
Historical Duo, August 2016
Paperback
Scandal with the Rancher, May 2016
e-Book
Forbidden Nights With The Viscount, April 2016
Paperback / e-Book
The Rake to Reveal Her, May 2015
Paperback / e-Book
The Rake to Rescue Her, March 2015
Paperback / e-Book
The Rake to Redeem Her, March 2013
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
The Rake to Ruin Her, February 2013
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
Regency Secrets, March 2011
Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
Society's Most Disreputable Gentleman, February 2011
Paperback / e-Book
The Smuggler And The Society Bride, August 2010
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
From Waif To Gentleman's Wife, October 2009
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
One Candlelit Christmas, November 2008
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
A Most Unconventional Match, July 2008
Paperback / e-Book
Rogue's Lady, November 2007
Paperback / e-Book
The Untamed Heiress, November 2006
Paperback / e-Book
The Courtesan, December 2005
Paperback
Christmas Keepsakes:, October 2005
Paperback
Dishonourable Desires, July 2005
Paperback (reprint)
Forbidden Stranger, June 2003
Paperback (reprint)
The Wedding Gamble, November 2002
Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
My Lady's Pleasure, June 2002
Paperback / e-Book
The Proper Wife, April 2002
Paperback / e-Book (reprint)
My Lady's Trust, January 2002
Paperback / e-Book
A Scandalous Proposal, October 2000
Paperback / e-Book

Excerpt of The Courtesan by Julia Justiss

"C'MON, JACK! You used to be game for any lark!"

Jack Carrington, captain in the 1st Foot Guards, peered over a stack of half-unpacked linen at the young dandy accosting him from his doorway. "I'm happy to see you, too, Aubrey, and while I appreciate the flattering enthusiasm for my company which led you to hunt me down before breakfast, I'm not interested in going anywhere. I didn't reach London until late last night, and as you can see, I've yet to settle into my rooms. Can this excursion not wait?"

Receiving the rebuff with no noticeable dimming of his enthusiasm, Aubrey Ludlowe crossed the room and, pushing aside Jack's portmanteau, poured himself some ale from the flagon on the desk. "Can't wait. Besides, why unpack? Leave it for your man."

"I sent my batman to rejoin his family as soon as we landed and haven't yet had time to find a replacement."

Aubrey waved his hand. "Let your new man attend to it after you hire him. The lesson begins shortly, and if we do not arrive soon, all the best seats will be taken."

Surprised, Jack swallowed his ale in a gulp. "You want to drag me away at barely past dawn to watch a lesson?

Since when did you develop such enthusiasm for education? Not while we were at Oxford, to be sure!"

Aubrey set his mug down with a thump, his expression affronted. "Tisn't a matter of some rubbishy book- learning! Nay, "tis more important than that. Indeed, "tis the most important thing going on now in London, what with the Season not yet begun. Every gentleman of note will be present. Stands to reason there must be a decision soon, and good friend that I am, I don't wish you to miss having a chance."

Jack stared at Aubrey. "A lesson is the most important event now taking place in London?" he asked, trying to sift the most intelligible bits from his friend's speech. A sudden thought occurred and he leaned forward to sniff the air. "Are you sheets-to-the-wind, Aubrey?"

His friend chuckled, seemingly much less offended to be accused of being drunk at seven in the morning than at the suggestion he'd taken up scholarship. "Nay, though I don't mind a little nip first thing, to revive the spirits. A sirloin wouldn't come amiss either, but we haven't time." Aubrey snatched the folded shirt from Jack's hands and tossed it on the bed. "Wear regimentals, since you're half dressed in them already, but we leave now. The fencing master closes the doors promptly at seven-thirty."

"You're haranguing me to go to a fencing lesson?" A sudden vision filled Jack's head β€” smoke, screams, the rattle of musketry and clang of blades, himself with saber slashing. Shaking it off, he said grimly, "No, thank you, Aubrey. My fencing skills are quite proficient enough. Pray God, I shall never need to hone them again."

His friend sobered. "Amen to that. Heard Waterloo was a dreadful slaughter. But I'm proposing a different sort of contest β€” and one you definitely will want to see. Trust me, old fellow! Have I ever led you awry?"

Recalling a long line of dubious exploits stretching from childhood to university, Jack smiled. "Frequently."

Grinning back, Aubrey protested, "Well, not this time. If you decide I was wrong, you may afterward exact whatever retribution you like, but I'm sure you will be thoroughly grateful I insisted you come along. "Tis nearly a...a life- altering experience! Or," he added with a heavy sigh, "so it has proved for many of us. But no more β€” you must see for yourself. You'll thank me, I promise you!"

"Oh, very well," Jack capitulated, his curiosity by now thoroughly piqued. Abandoning the shirts, he shrugged on his uniform jacket. "In compensation for making me leave my kit in such disorder, you may buy me breakfast."

"Immediately after the match," Aubrey promised.

"Only hurry! I've a hackney waiting."

With the speed of long practice, Jack looped the fasteners as he followed Aubrey into the hall.

"Why are you staying here at Albany anyway?" Aubrey asked as he hustled Jack down the stairs. "Dorrie's making her come-out, isn't she? Why not move into the family manse?"

"Mama and Dorothy won't be coming to London for another month. You know old Quisford won't stir from Carrington Grove until the family leaves, nor would he trust an underling to properly open the house here. When I mentioned I intended to put up at Grillon's until they arrive, a fellow officer whose regiment hasn't yet been ordered home from Paris offered me the use of his rooms atAlbany."

"You'll stay in London until the family comes?" Aubrey asked as they boarded the waiting hackney.

"I'll remain just long enough to sell out, purchase new garments and consult our solicitors. Then I'm off to breathe country air and let Mama and Dorrie fuss over me."

"If they can spare you the time," Aubrey replied, signaling the driver to start. "When Mama fired off my sister, "twas such a frenzy of preparations you'd think they were mustering an army. You'll return with them for the Season, of course?"

"Yes, after I get the spring planting sorted out with Ericson. I promised Dorrie I'd escort her to parties, introduce her to any army chums who happen to be in town and see that only eligible gentlemen are encouraged to call. Which leaves you out," he added with a grin.

"As if she'd look at me anyway, when we've known each other since we were in leading strings," Aubrey retorted. "Besides, I've no desire yet to become a tenant- for-life."

"Since as Dorrie's equerry I shall be obliged to go about in society, I plan to keep my eyes open. Perhaps I'll discover a little charmer who persuades me to settle down."

When Aubrey chortled in disbelief, Jack continued, "No, I'm serious. There's something about finding oneself intact, after riding through a hail of musketry and artillery shot, that makes one contemplate one's own mortality. Perhaps it's time I do my duty to marry."

Aubrey stared at him. "I believe you mean it. Thank heaven I'm a younger son! No duties of procreation for me β€” not of the legitimate variety anyway," he amended.

"So what illegitimate activity are we pursuing this morning? Must be of some great moment, to get you up at such an hour. Or have you merely not been to bed yet?"

"Got a few hours' sleep," Aubrey replied. "Man needs his wits about him for this endeavor."

"Which is precisely...what?" Jack pressed.

"You'll see for yourself soon enough." And with that, Jack had to be content. During the rest of the drive, Aubrey refused to be coaxed, tricked or bullied into revealing anything further. Mystified and a bit annoyed, Jack was more than happy when his friend had the carriage stop at a modest town house in Soho Square.

They followed several other gentlemen up the stairs to the main floor where Aubrey, after tossing coins into a box beside the door, led him into what appeared to be a converted ballroom. The area by the door was thronged with groups of chatting gentlemen; beyond them was arranged an assortment of chairs, all occupied.

"Blast, I knew we'd tarried too long," Aubrey grumbled.

"Now we shall have to stand."

After scanning the crowd, Aubrey elbowed a path to a space against the left wall. "This will have to do. Ah, they're beginning. Is that not magnificent?"

In the sudden hush, Jack heard the clang of steel on steel. Turning his attention to the floor, he noted facing them an older man clad in breeches and shirtsleeves. His opponent, posing en garde with his back to them, appeared to be a mere stripling, but before Jack could glean any further impression, the young man went on the attack.

Although the older gentleman, clearly the instructor, was taller and heavier, the young student seemed nearly his match. The flashing blades struck sparks as the boy thrust and counterthrust, offsetting the master's advantage in size and experience with superior agility and audacious, risky changes of direction that allowed him to steadily drive the man back.

His distaste for combat forgotten, Jack's attention riveted on the interplay of blade with blade. When, after checking an advance intended to throw him off balance, the boy countered with a thrust so swift and unexpected Jack barely saw the weapon move, he joined the gallery in a roar of approval as the master's sword went flying.

"Brilliant!" he said to Aubrey while the student trotted to retrieve the errant foil. "How long has he..."

As the boy untied his mask and turned to face them, the rest of Jack's sentence went unuttered. Walking toward them, the master's sword in hand, was not a young lad, but a girl.

A woman, rather, Jack amended, noting with appreciation the curves suggested beneath the loose-fitting linen shirt and breeches. Though with those rounded hips, that delicious curve of bottom, how could he have believed for a moment the student was a boy?

And her face β€” Jack literally caught his breath as his gaze rose to what must rank as one of the Almighty's supremest acts of creation. Its shape a perfect oval, the skin luminescent as a China pearl, her countenance was animated by large eyes of deep gentian blue set under arched brows. Though the full, petal-pink lips were unsmiling, the newly minted gold hair pulled severely back and tucked into a knotted queue, she was without question the most beautiful woman he'd ever beheld.

Aubrey's low chuckle pulled him from his rapt contemplation. "Did I not tell you?"

Realizing from the amusement on his friend's face that his mouth must be hanging open, Jack shut it with a snap. "Who is she?"

"Lady Belle β€” or at least, that's what the ton calls her, after her long-time protector, Lord Bellingham."

"An actress?"

"No, a courtesan β€” and since Bellingham's death a month ago, the most sought-after woman in London. Every unattached gentleman in the city has been pressing her to consider his offer, though Lord Rupert β€”" Aubrey gestured to a tall, thin man in black, his expression as somber as his garb " β€” has the blunt to outbid all comers. Rumor says he once offered Bellingham two thousand guineas to relinquish his claims to Belle β€” and doubled the offer to the lady privately, though she never left Bellingham, so it might be all a hum. Thought you might want to enter the running."

"At a starting bid of four thousand guineas?" Jack laughed. "I haven't that sort of blunt! She's ravishing indeed, but β€” alas," he said, surprised to feel a genuine pang of regret, "I could never afford her."

"If 'tis true that she's turned down Rupert on several occasions, she might be angling for more than just money. You're a well-favored gent, war hero and all. Might have a chance with her. And if successful, you would upon occasion allow your best friend to worship at her feet."

Something in Aubrey's tone made Jack transfer his gaze from Belle back to his friend. "You have a tendre there?"

Aubrey sighed. "She'd never look twice at me β€” an un- distinguished younger son of modest appearance and fortune. But wait β€” the most amusing part is beginning. Once Wroxham discovered she was taking lessons β€” wearing breeches β€” the news raced through the ton and a crowd began gathering to watch. Hoping to discourage it, I suppose, she told Armaldi to charge admission, but that only seemed to bolster attendance."

"If she makes enough from that, she'll not need a new protector."

"Oh, she don't keep it β€” gives it to Armaldi, to reimburse him for his trouble in having such a crowd foisted upon him, she told Montclare. But Ansley β€” the young cub who's been dangling after her since last Season β€” protested that her admirers deserved a boon for their devotion. He induced her to agree that after the lesson, she'll meet one challenger. Anyone who manages to best her wins a kiss."

Excerpt from The Courtesan by Julia Justiss
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