Lady Hawkins’s debut was something she’d rather forget—along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she’s a man…
FACT: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament—and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.
FICTION: Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.
Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock…but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?
A very good thing they were not sharing tea because Maggie surely would have choked. As it was, she could hardly breathe. Did he say . . . find Lemarc?
He awaited her response, those cerulean eyes trained on her, when all she wanted to do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. Oh, what a tangled web we weave . . .
Through sheer perseverance, she hid her shock behind a mask of cool indifference. “You wish to find Lemarc? Whatever for?”
Simon shifted on his feet. “I find these Winejester drawings to be bothersome. For a number of reasons, I should
like to see them stop.”
“And you believe you can convince Lemarc to stop producing them?”
The arrogance in that one word astounded her. Did Simon think Lemarc would bow to an earl’s whims merely because of his station? It was well known that artists were temperamental creatures, herself included. The idea that he could dictate to Lemarc what she could and could not draw was ludicrous—and irritating.
“Why should he cease to draw such a popular character? Winejester is one of the reasons Lemarc has been discussed so often over the last year.”
“I plan to convince him.”
She swallowed a snort. God save her from male vanity. “I do not doubt it, but no one knows the identity of Lemarc. It’s a well-guarded secret. What makes you believe I would be able to help find him?”
He lifted a broad shoulder. “A suspicion, really. Your knowledge of art and techniques may lead to a discovery. I have a number of Lemarc’s paintings at my disposal. Perhaps you could look at them and see if something strikes a chord. A tidbit you’ve heard at a lecture or seen at an exhibit. It’s likely a waste of your time, but I would be grateful for your assistance.”
Waste of time, indeed. No one could unearth Lemarc by merely looking at some bird paintings, especially not that particular series. They had been painted four or five years ago near the shore and contained only birds and water—no people or buildings. If there were distinguishing marks in her paintings, she would’ve been found out long before now.
And truly, helping him was the very last thing she wanted to do. It was bad enough he had attended her party and cornered her there. “I am afraid I cannot.”
“May I ask why?”
She hadn’t expected him to press. What excuse could she give? Because she knew the effort to be a futile one?
Because he deserved whatever inconvenience Lemarc’s cartoons produced a thousand fold? Or because, after all he’d done, he still made her heart race?
Into her silence, he said, “One afternoon, that is all I ask. If you do not see anything relevant, we’ll forget it entirely.”
“If I cannot discover anything, you shall give up searching for Lemarc?”
Simon shook his head. “Absolutely not. I plan to find him by any means at my disposal.”
That set her back. He did seem rather . . . determined. Hmm. Such tenacity did not bode well. Though she believed her secret safe, there was a kernel of panic inside her that he might succeed. Simon had a reputation for doggedly wearing down his opponents until he got his way, of using whatever means necessary to win. The notion of her career as Lemarc being exposed . . . ruined . . .
A sliver of dread slid down her spine.
Of course, staying involved in Simon’s quest meant she could throw him off the scent with misleading information. Keep him guessing. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. “Fine,” she agreed. “I would be pleased to aid in your search. To be fair, there are many more qualified than I to lend assistance. Perhaps you should think about asking another—”
“That is quite unnecessary,” he interrupted smoothly, smiling in triumph. “I think you are more than capable of the task.”
In a strange way, his faith in her was flattering. Little did he know she planned to undermine his efforts, ensuring his failure. In finding her. She had to bite her lip to keep a hysterical bubble of laughter from spilling out. “Very kind of you, my lord. When shall we begin our investigation?”
“As soon as possible, I think. I’ll send a note, if that is acceptable.”
“Yes.” Maggie tried not to think about how impossibly handsome he was. Of course, the light blue jacket and breeches did offset his fair coloring, making the blue of his eyes even brighter. His shoulders—
Curse her feminine biology. Being a woman was decidedly unfair.
Instead, she concentrated on the smug, satisfied smile he now wore. Yes, he’d gotten precisely what he wanted today. Oh, how she longed to wipe that expression off his face. “Does anyone ever say no to the Earl of Winchester?”
“Rarely. I can be very persuasive.”
“So I have heard. You have a reputation in Lords for getting your way. I suspect you could talk a nun into giving up the cloth and throwing in with a band of gypsies if you wanted.”
The edge of his mouth kicked up. “That charming, am I?”
She could’ve bitten her tongue. “More like full of useless wind.”
Publisher and Release Date: Kensington/Zebra, 28 April 2015
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars
Review by Wendy
The Harlot Countess is the second in the Wicked Deceptions series by new author, Joanna Shupe and it features a couple who reunite after ten years following a traumatic and acrimonious parting.
Maggie has suffered a debutante’s worst nightmare – scandal. Through no fault of her own she is shunned by the ton and as a result is rushed off to marry a man 30 years her senior. She is a resilient girl, however, and with resigned acceptance makes the most of a bad lot. Her elderly husband quickly loses interest in her and she, left to her own devices, pursues her love of art and perfects her talent.
Lady Maggie Hawkins reappears on the scene ten years later, by this time a widow and a successful artist, albeit not working under her own name. Using the pseudonym Lemarc, Maggie has begun a campaign to discredit Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. She is using her talents, and gaining some notoriety in the process, by drawing political cartoons of the Earl in his younger days and naming them The Earl of Winejester. Simon had been the only person whose opinion had mattered to her in the days of her disgrace, and given she was secretly in love with him, his public cutting of her had gone deep.
Following an unexpected meeting, Maggie and Simon are drawn together again. He is on a mission to hunt down the mysterious Lemarc and to ask him to stop his campaign as Simon’s political career is suffering as a result.
Simon notices a beautiful landscape painting in her house, and on discovering that Maggie is the artist he hits on the bright idea of requesting her help in his search for Lemarc. This gives him an excuse to keep her close, while Maggie takes a perverse pleasure in agreeing to his request.
I had a few reservations which caused me to lower my final grade from 4 stars to 3, but on the whole The Harlot Countess is a solidly written story with well-defined characters. The writing flows and I can see Joanna Shupe has a future. Her protagonists are interesting and the romance between them is sweet and sensual, if just a little too much on the graphic side for my taste. I did, however, sometimes want to bang their heads together because of the Big – and it is BIG – Misunderstanding that develops between them. Simon makes assumptions about Maggie’s past but magnanimously decides he will ignore it – and she is so desperate to be with him that she just lets him think the worst. I liked the secondary characters too, although I wish I’d read her debut novel The Courtesan Duchess, as I think it’s really necessary to know their background, so involved were they in this story and plot. And speaking of the plot, it was quite confusing and not terribly well thought out at times. I knew who had done what without too much thought, but the one thing I did want to know – which had seemed to be an important plot point – was never disclosed. I was also irritated by the number of Americanisms dotted throughout this story set in Regency England.
On the whole, The Harlot Countess is a promising read from this new author and I would be interested to read the next in the series eventually.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.