Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blog Tour: The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe

Today I'm hosting Joanna Shupe's The Harlot Countess. How's that for a controversial title? With the modern dialogue about 'slut-shaming,' I found myself intrigued as to how Shupe would handle it in the historical context.

Released by Zebra on April 28th, The Harlot Countess is the second book int he historical romance series 'Wicked Deceptions.' This is such a small thing, but I *love* that the series title is right there on the cover of this book. Do this! Everyone! Please?  

Be sure to check out other stops on the book tour, hosted by Tasty Book Tours, particularly because you can find other excerpts!

The Book

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?

The Harlot Countess is available now!

Goodreads Series | Goodreads


The long corridor outside the drawing room resembled a maze, with doors every which way. Picking a direction, Maggie searched for a footman. Perhaps he could draw her a detailed map on how to find the terrace.

From the shadow of an alcove, a figure stepped into her path. “Lady Hawkins.”
Simon. She started, pressed a hand to her chest. “You scared the life out of me. What are you doing out here?”
He folded his arms, the fine wool of his coat pulling taut across his broad shoulders. “I could ask you the same question—only I suspect the answer. Where did you have it planned?”
“Simon, I think you had better return to the dining room—”
“The music room? The conservatory?” he continued, steady steps bringing him closer. “I happen to know there are hundreds of little spots all over this house where one—or perhaps two—could hide for an extended period of time.”
She tried to make sense of his words over the thundering of her heart. Was he insinuating . . . ? Oh, for heavens sake. Did he always assume the worst of her? Feet planted, she stopped moving and lifted her chin. “Are you under the impression Im engaging in some sort of a tryst? In the middle of a dinner party?” It was so absurd, she could hardly speak it.
His smirk confirmed it. “Convenient you and Markham both excused yourselves within moments of one another, wouldnt you say? Let me give you a piece of advice for next time: It draws less attention if you sneak away once the gentlemen join the—”
She came forward to hiss, “You hypocritical horses arse. I stepped out for some air. Alone.”
He had the gall to snort. “Yes, Im quite sure Markham would offer up a similar story if we were to ask him.”
Anger rushed through her veins, settling in her chest like a heavy mound of potters clay. Simon loomed over her, snarling down in self-righteous fury, and she discovered hed backed her up against a wall. She knew in that moment he would never believe her denials; hed formed his opinion of her ten years ago and there would be no changing his mind.
Fine, she could play the harlot for him. Maybe then hed leave her alone—though she truly longed to crack him one across his closely shaven jaw.
She exhaled, forced her limbs to relax, and licked her lips. Predictably, his gaze locked on her mouth, so she rolled her bottom lip between her teeth. His chest continued to rise and fall, the harsh exhales filling the room, and his eyes darkened to sapphires. Oh yes, revenge could be sweet. Ever so slowly, she dragged one finger down the length of her bare collarbone. “Did you corner me in hopes of taking his place?” she asked, her voice low and intimate.
Simon shifted closer, the pure male, spicy scent of him filling her nose. She liked the way he smelled, orange and sandalwood with a hint of tobacco. The proximity of his frame distracted her as well. His evening clothes held no padding, and the well-tailored fit hugged him quite perfectly. She could see the outline—
“If I chose to take Markham’s place,” he started, placing his hands against the wall, one on either side of her head, to cage her in. He leaned in and for one terrifying, heart-stopping moment she thought he was going to kiss her, but he shifted just before their lips touched. The tip of his nose slid across her cheek, tiny puffs of breath heating her skin as he nuzzled her. Maggies breasts swelled, and her lids fell with the rush of pleasure that rippled the length of her body.  “If I chose to take his place, it wouldnt be here,” he whispered near her ear. “Id take you to my bed at Barrett House and show you wickedness Markham could not even begin to imagine. But that is not why I cornered you.”
Close. He was much too close. Despite her desire to remain unaffected, her belly fluttered and warmth tingled between her legs. Why on earth had it only ever been this odious man to elicit such feelings? She swallowed. “Then why?”
He flicked her earbob with his tongue, then nipped the lobe with gentle teeth. She inhaled sharply. “What game are you playing at, Maggie?”
“I—” Her traitorous voice caught, so she cleared her throat. “There is no game, Simon.”
Her control began melting away. She longed to do every improper thing in the world to him—and for him to return them in kind. Odd since she hadnt ever enjoyed intimacies with a man. Had hated it, actually. But somehow, this was different.
Why had she started this? Oh yes, shed thought to teach him a lesson, make a fool of him. Have him panting with lust and then leave him begging—only this was turning into something else entirely.
“I like games,” he continued, his lips brushing over her throat in a seductive caress. “But I also like to win. I wonder, are you prepared to pay the price when you lose?”
She shivered. There wasnt enough air in the damn room. “I never lose,” she rasped. “And you have more at stake.”
“Do I?” His nose slid along the sensitive line of her jaw, the skin prickling in his wake. “I think I could take you against this wall. Right now. Right here.” His hips pressed against hers, his erection stiff and unapologetic, and she sucked in a breath. Before she knew it, her hands clutched at his waist to hold him in place.
“But you should know,” he continued, his mouth hovering above her lips, “I only play games when there arent quite so many players. I do not care to be one of many.”

My Review

The Harlot Countess had a lot of expectations to shoulder, for me. Historical romance - a genre I tend to enjoy. Implication of judgement because of promiscuous reputation - something I tend not to enjoy (and that's so charged in today's discourse that I'm impressed by the ballsy decision to run with it!). Second chance romance - also something I tend not to enjoy. But there's also a woman acting in a rather non-traditional manner, which is something I do tend to enjoy in historical romance.

Still with me? So why did I grab this one? Ultimately, it was the potential for Simon to realize his mistake and do the appropriate amount of grovelling. I always hold out hope that one of these books will give me a satisfying apology.

As it turned out, I *loved* this book - and that's not to say that Simon really begged and pleaded for forgiveness. Rather, the book gave me a satisfying explanation for everything that went so horribly wrong in the past, and then provided adequate closure for it in the present... well, the book's present, at least.

I adored Maggie, and I cried for her a few times. She lives through some terrible experiences and still retains a certain generosity and kindness that are admirable. I loved watching her try to navigate through all the twists and turns of being not only Maggie, but also the Harlot Countess *and* the artist, Lemarc and all that those different personas implied. I especially like that she took responsibility for herself, her own behaviour and choices.

I think Simon was a very satisfying hero. He makes some errors in judgement, he's still obviously rather taken with Maggie despite what he believes about her (and what he believes about what he believes about her... if you can follow that?).  That last paragraph in the excerpt above is a fantastic moment in the book when I wanted to smack him silly, but rest assured that there's great balance in this story as well!

What I liked most about The Harlot Countess was that it felt fresh to me. This was a little bit different from the majority of what I've been reading in historical romance of late, and I really appreciated that. It has all the familiar markings of the genre, but the story was strong and, I thought, rather unique.

The Bottom Line:

I absolutely recommend the Harlot Countess to fans of the genre. I didn't feel like I was missing anything having not read the first in the series - but if you're like me and reading the second means you're unlikely to go back to the first? Start with book one, The Courtesan Duchess first. I haven't read it, but I enjoyed *this* book so much, I think it's worth checking out the first book in the Wicked Deceptions series.

5 stars
For fans of historical romance, second chance romances (I know, I can hardly believe it myself!)

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.

Find her on the web:

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