Every woman wants to marry him…
But what if he’s already taken?
In this Matches Made in Scandal story Jean-Luc Bauduin, Parisian society’s most eligible bachelor, is determined only to take a wife of his choosing. And until that day comes he’ll ward off his admirers by hiring Lady Sophia Acton to wear his ring! The passion Jean-Luc shares with his convenient bride is enormously satisfying—until he discovers Sophia’s utterly scandalous past!
The four books in Marguerite Kaye’s new series, Matches Made in Scandal, are set in some of the world’s most exciting cities – St. Petersburg, Paris, Venice and London – and are all linked by a mysterious woman known only as The Procurer who specialises in helping young women whom life has dealt a poor hand and offering them a chance to rebuild their lives and make themselves a better future. In From Courtesan to Convenient Wife, The Procurer extends that offer to Lady Sophia Acton, a well-bred young lady whose fall from grace has been spectacular and who is now on the verge of penury.
The Procurer’s client is a successful and extremely wealthy Parisian wine merchant named Jean-Luc Bauduin, who needs to find himself a wife very quickly. Or rather, he needs to find himself a woman to pretend to be his wife for as long as it takes for him to prove to the young lady who insists he is contracted to marry her that he is not the man she thinks he is and therefore, not subject to the contract she says was drawn up by their fathers when they were both children. It’s an unusual situation, but in taking the job, Sophia will earn enough money to be able to leave London, where her reputation is in shreds, and make a new life for herself elsewhere.
When Mademoiselle Juliette de Cressy presented herself as his contracted bride, Jean-Luc was convinced she was some sort of con-artist. Insisting he is the rightful Duc de Montendre, who was hidden away as an infant to preserve him from the ravages of the Revolution, she even showed him a copy of the contract, signed by her recently deceased father, the Comte de Cressy, and the late Duc de Montendre. But Jean-Luc isn’t the son of a duke – he was born in Cognac and is the only child of Monsieur and Madame Bauduin, although unfortunately, he has no documentation or living relatives who can attest to his identity. He soon comes to accept that Juliette isn’t trying to con him – she genuinely believes him to be the Duc de Montendre – and he decides that the only way to get her to realise she is mistaken is to show her that he’s already married, which will also buy him some time to gather the evidence to refute her claim. Which is where Sophia comes in.
Sophia settles into her role as Madame Bauduin quickly, and is even more convincing than Jean-Luc could have hoped for. Part of the deal is that Sophia is under no obligation to tell him anything about herself, and he scrupulously refrains from asking questions he longs to ask; she is clearly not an actress, and equally clearly has been brought up as a lady – which makes her acceptance of his commission even more puzzling. But as the days pass and she fits herself almost seamlessly into his life, Jean-Luc finds it harder and harder to remember that their marriage is a sham and begins to dream of a life spent with Sophia at his side, his wife in truth.
Their romance develops quickly, but the couple has such fabulous chemistry that it’s easy to buy into their growing feelings for one another. They are simply adorable together; their interactions are funny, sweet, tender and sensual by turns, and I loved the way they are so easily able to joke together about the ridiculousness of their situation, even as they are playing the besotted newly-weds for the benefit of those around them.
Sophia is surprised at the strength of her attraction to Jean-Luc, given that her experience with men has given her a deep distrust of them and their motives. Although born into the nobility, her life has not been easy; her father thought girls were worthless and did not provide well for Sophia and her sister, who was chronically ill, even refusing to pay for Felicity to travel to a climate more suitable for her health. Love of her sister set Sophia on a path no well-bred young lady should have been forced to follow and she became the mistress of an unpleasant, manipulative man who, when Sophia ended their arrangement after her sister’s death, made his liaison with Sophia known and dragged her name through the mud.
It doesn’t take long for Sophia to realise that Jean-Luc is decent and honourable, and the more time she spends with him, the stronger her feelings for him become. She knows he cares for her, too, but her intention was always to use the money she would earn from this commission to live alone and independently… but that isn’t such an attractive prospect now that she has fallen deeply in love. Yet she can see no alternative. The truth of her scandalous past is sure to repulse Jean-Luc and she can’t bear the thought of living with the disapprobation and disgust she is sure will develop over time. Jean-Luc sees clearly that Sophia has put others before herself and her own happiness at every opportunity, while she believes herself to be tainted by her actions. Her perception of her unworthiness is the principal source of conflict in the romance; Sophia is effectively imprisoned by her past, and has to learn to, as Jean-Luc says, lay the ghosts to rest and look to the future.
From Courtesan to Convenient Wife is a gorgeously romantic and truly delightful read in which the sexual tension between Jean-Luc and Sophia crackles right from the start. Jean-Luc is a wonderful hero – he’s a refreshing change in a genre full of arrogant dukes and marriage-shy bachelors; he’s handsome and charming (of course!) but he’s also highly intuitive, very sure of himself and his place in the world, and has worked very hard to become the successful and wealthy businessman he now is. He oozes confidence – not arrogance – which makes it all the more affecting when he begins to doubt everything he thought he knew about himself in the face of Juliette’s insistence that he’s not plain Monsieur Bauduin, but the rightful Duc de Montendre. Sophia is the sort of heroine it’s easy to root for; life has dealt her a crappy hand, but it’s not broken her and she refuses to be cowed. She’s quick-witted, intelligent and beautiful and it’s easy to understand why Jean-Luc is so completely bowled over by her.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the Parisian setting, and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the Matches Made in Scandal series.