Claiming the Courtesan - Anna Campbell My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

I’m not a huge fan of courtesan/mistress novels but I’ve read a few and liked most of them, credit goes to the respective authors of those books. When I started this book, reading all the reviews, both positive and negative, I didn’t know what to think but I was so curious, I thought I have to see what’s going on. And, I’m glad that I did. Claiming the Courtesan is my first Anna Campbell book and have to say, she is very capable of creating complex and interesting characters, with very realistic and again, complex plot/situations. I had to keep an open mind to understand both Soraya aka Verity and Justin since both of them are flawed. Life made them what they are. I also had, at least, to try to understand their rather complicated relationship to form my own opinion about this book.

Story wise, the book had nothing very complex to offer since it can be phrased as followed: an angry, obsessed duke kidnapped his runaway mistress, took her to his hunting lodge in Scotland to break her and to show her who’s the boss! The half of the story took place on their journey to Scotland and the other half, how they worked out their messy relationship and found something meaningful while doing it. Although this is what happened on the surface, the depth of the story is anything but. I’ll try to point out things I liked, disliked or tried keeping an open mind about and tell you why I felt that way. Justin, the Duke of Kylemore is rather young than our regular HR heroes. He’s only 27 but been a duke since he was 7 yrs old. His childhood was rather traumatic and sad, which is revealed later in the story. Justin is called as the ‘Cold Kylemore’ for his strong grip on his emotions, his appearance and so on. And, he is ruthless; when he wants something, he obtains it, even if it takes him years to do that. Here is where comes London’s most notorious courtesan, Soraya. When Justin met her eyes 6 yrs ago, he knew she’s his and he’d somehow have her. Did I mention, madness runs into Justin’s family? Guess I didn’t but when I started reading about his crazy obsession about Soraya, I was like WTF man? Sure she’s beautiful but why’s this obsession? Is it only her beauty? This sounds so damned shallow and I say that because as I get to learn about their liaison, I was more and more aware that Justin and Soraya never knew each-other, except physically. And, the more I read about their past relationship, the more cold and weird I felt. But, I know why I felt that way. Their relationship as the protector and the mistress was the typical business exchange; cold and calculating, loads of money and sex involved. Nothing more, nothing less. I’d rather not read the leads of a novel having such a relationship, no matter the background of the characters. I was even mad at Justin for falling for a woman who sells her body for a living. I never condone prostitution and though I try to understand the situation the said character was in, nothing makes the fact less disturbing to me.

When the story starts, Justin and Soraya had already been lovers for a year. Justin is rather smug about the fact that the ‘Incomparable Soraya’ is now his, after 5 years of relentless pursuing. For a long time in the book, I felt that it’s the ‘Incomparable Soraya’ is what Justin’s so crazy about, a myth created by the society and not the woman whom he’d known carnally, in every possible way. I didn’t know if I’d have any respect or liking for Justin unless some reasons is given to amend that. Anyway, they just had sex and he’s dressing and from his musings about his mistress, you can already guess about his unhealthy obsession for her. Soraya is as beautiful as she is complainant and just as unabashed in bed; the perfect mistress! But, it’s after he leaves that the woman underneath is revealed; a woman so different than the notorious courtesan that I had trouble believing that it’s the same woman. Verity, her real name and Soraya seems like two very different beings, just poles apart. This also went on for the better part of the book, which annoyed me a little but she had to come to terms with her two personalities and accept them as what they are; just herself.

Verity has been planning for a respectable life for a long time. She knew her profession couldn’t go on forever, it’s already been 13 years and she’s now 28. But, it’s not only her own future she’s worried about but her younger brother Ben and sister Maria’s as well. Verity has had a rather difficult childhood; parents were peasants and died very close within each-other, leaving her and her siblings literally out on their own. She worked as a servant girl in the house of some Sir of her village. Her beauty has always been a curse to her rather than blessing and I began understanding why she had to become what she is today. Being poor with such beauty and no one to help/protect her (in an honorable way), this was her only option. And, when I understood her troubles, I thought she was rather a worthy heroine in the end.

Back to the story again, Justin’s relationship with his mother is shown next, after he leaves the villa he’d bought for his mistress. Justin’s mother is a self-centered, vile slut with all the hypocritical arrogance of a Duchess. She’s cold and ruthless, rather reminded me of Justin after his abduction of Verity. But, the ‘Justin’ underneath is so vulnerable; I knew the facade he assumes to move in the society isn’t the real man at all. Here, his mother asks him to marry and he refuses, which gives him an idea; to propose his mistress. She’d be his forever and it’d piss his mother to hell. He goes back and sorta commands Verity that they’ll marry.

Verity, who planned to ran away soon was a bit distraught at his return because Justin always comes to her three days a week ‘with a military precision, takes his pleasure and leave’. He never comes back on the same day. Also, she was scared he’d guess why things are missing from the house. Verity didn’t want to talk to Justin about her departure because initially, it was her brother’s idea to runaway. Then she thought it’s for the best. She knows she has fulfilled the one year contract; everything else he’d given her is her by legal right, as per their contract. When Justin proposed, she very strongly refused. She was also feeling out of the elements since it was ‘Verity’ who faced Justin and not the famous ‘Soraya’. Afterwards, she flees, selling almost everything Justin gave her. When he learns of this, Justin goes in a rage thinking that the ‘two penny whore’ has betrayed the great Duke of Kylemore and she’ll pay for this. For the first part of the book, every time Justin called her a ‘whore, slut, b*itch, demirep’ etc., I was so so mad! It was so hypocritical and unbelievable. Justin sounded like a nightmare to me. I rather felt for Verity since I understood her need to get away and live her own life.

But only after three months, Justin finds her out in remote town, where Verity was living as a respectable young widow. He makes a scene and with two of his brawny, Scottish body-guards, he kidnaps Verity; to teach her a lesson. Hell, I’m such a freak for Scottish/Highlander heroes but I thought, never have I read a more disgusting one! I absolutely hated the way he treated her throughout the journey, reminded her over and over again that she’s Soraya while Verity tried to tell him Soraya no longer exists. And, I’ve already mentioned what I felt about his ‘endearments’ regarding Verity. When they stopped in one of Justin’s holdings, Verity tried to get help from the servants, thinking such autocratic monster can’t possibly treat his servants well. But, she was so wrong. None helped her, moreover it seemed that they fiercely loyal to him and it’s not out of fear. Verity felt helpless and knew her doom is impending.

In between Justin already hinted at her fate; Verity guessed what’s gonna happen. She was even scared that once he’s done with her, he might even kill her. She kept on thinking about their past relationship and was wondering how could this be? She knew the Duke isn’t as cold as others think of him because in bed, he’s madly passionate and insatiable. If she knew that the rumors of madness were true (in the circumstances it seems so), she’d never turned to him. Verity had the inclination that this man is dangerous even when they met for the first time. There are many such musings and more reflections on their relationship and how it’d been between them throughout the book. But, Justin is so much misunderstood since it took time for him to open up. Even as I kept reading his thoughts as a ‘Duke’ and not the man underneath, I knew there’s something wrong with him. He kept on thinking she’d betrayed him by leaving him and I was like, HOW??? She’d been faithful, she’d done the year as per contract, she owned the jewels and stuff. So how did she betray? I thought it’s his Ducal as well as male pride talking nonsense. But, it wasn’t that which was soon revealed in the novel.

So, Justin was set to keep the illusion of the insane duke everyone seems to think of him (because of the rumors plaguing his family) intact and make Verity believe that as well. Then, he did force himself on her. Verity, the more innocent being, didn’t want Soraya back so she vehemently denied. The first (not their first but in the book) love scene was rape; I can’t cover it with beautiful words. Though Verity was experienced and her body was attuned to his because of their past and she suffered no pain in this, Justin still forced himself on her. And she hated it and hated him for doing it. Then, the later 2/3 love scenes were ‘semi-rape’ IMO. I mean, he kinda made her accept him and climax. It’s really complicated and pretty controversial. And, I would never condone rape or any kind of abuse by the hero. Here, I’m trying to explain what I thought went on. Verity wasn’t hurt physically; she was used to Justin’s lovemaking (I say this because I’ve read worse books, where the hero actually raped the virgin heroine, calling her a whore, so ...) and she rather enjoyed it but the crux of the matter is, in a whole, she didn’t want to become his mistress again (anybody’s for that matter), so she kept denying. We already knew from her musing that she’s always liked Justin’s attentions and also the man himself, before all this happened. She was already scared that she might fall for him, plain and simple, so kept the cool detachment as it was convenient. Justin was her first vigorous lover and she was rather taken aback after their first time together; he was so passionate and demanding that she felt like a green girl. But, that’s what was in their past. She doesn’t know what to think of this man now, except to hate him (which is logical) and plan an escape.

But even as he was being an a$$, Justin soon realized it’ll never work. He can keep forcing her orgasms but that’s not what he wants at all. I thought maybe this obsession is just not her beauty, her body or his thinking her as his possession. Maybe, just maybe I’ll see something that’d explain it all. And, thanks to the author, I had enough information on Justin’s life to understand the man underneath. He never actually wanted to hurt Verity, even the name Verity is new to him and he’s still trying to come to terms with this ‘new’ woman he’s now acquainted with. He wants ‘Soraya’ back but ‘Verity’ also intrigues him and as day passed by, his tortured soul understood, he wants Verity as much as Soraya, maybe even more. But, no matter what, it’s difficult for him to keep his hands off her because his need for her is just so. How? Why? ... As I began to learn of his sad childhood, I found my answers. The rumor of madness wasn’t entirely a rumor. Justin’s father was a wastrel with an addiction of opium. And, it ate him up until he went mad and died. Hell, the sonofab*tch had a 12 yrs old mistress, who died after a year, of diseases he gave her. This hunting lodge was where it all happened and Justin’s early childhood, ‘til his father died was spent here. It was hell on earth for such a young soul so he never returned here until now. I can’t even begin to explain about his nasty b*tch of a mother. Justin had to take care of himself when his father had one of his ‘bouts’ of madness. It was only Hamish, his mentor and a servant there, who took care of him. For that, Justin is still in his gratitude. So, in all the world, Justin had been wholly, truly alone. And, somehow, anything with Verity/Soraya (and it’s only her), even just crazy bouts of sex, would give him some peace. He even recalled those days in that villa as the happy days of his life and he wanted it back.

Most of these were revealed later part of the book, when I actually started enjoying it quite a lot. For me, the book had two distinct part; one, the kidnapping and Justin’s abominable behavior towards Verity, the other, after I saw the souls underneath, began learning about them and understanding their situations and then witness how they finally fell for each-other. I remember, it was after the last forced seduction scene, when Justin left Verity and went to his own room, a small room with a narrow cot. Verity hears moans full of distress coming from somewhere and she thought someone was ill. But, she found out its Justin, who’s being haunted with wretched dreams of his childhood. Even though Verity hated him, didn’t want anything to do with him, she stayed with him and hold him through the night, after which Justin could sleep in peace. The first love scene without force invoked such feelings in her that it scared Verity and she escapes to save herself. It was some episode and she almost died when Justin rescues her. She was again, a bit scared that Justin would be angry but learns that he has decided to give her some space. And, this time Verity and Soraya, both took part in Justin's seduction. Then, their relationship vastly improved. Afterwards, like me, Verity was also intrigued, to know what happened to this arrogant, self-assured man, which makes him so vulnerable. She saw the caretaker, Hamish and his family was also very loyal to Justin. Hamish wanted to make things right for him and understood that Justin needed this girl. He never judged Verity for her past. And, he offered information about Justin to her. Verity listens to it, about how his mother almost destroyed the people in this glen for her own purpose and how Justin later saved them. But, he asks her to talk to him about his father. And, that’s what she does next.

Earlier, Justin asked her about how she came to be a courtesan and she talked of her past. We get to know that, for all the talks and notoriety, the ‘Incomparable Soraya’ only had 3 lovers, including Justin. None of them were married and she’d been faithful to every one of them. The first man, an elderly, portly baron rescued her from being raped in the house she was working as a maid. Then, knowing her troubles, he proposed this arrangement. Verity consented because she wanted the security and the money it’d bring for her siblings. Sir Eldred seen through all the promises he made, gave her the polish and the education she needed; this is how Soraya was born. And, she took her next lover only after Sir Eldred died. That guy was in need of ‘education’ himself; she found him kind and provided him with that. It was very brief and that man married his sweetheart and now, very faithful to her. After him, she considered Justin. As they talked, Justin also helped her come to term with the fact that Soraya and Verity are the same being and that he’d take her anyway he can, so she doesn’t have to be ashamed of the ‘Soraya’ in her anymore.

So, when she asks Justin about his father, Justin talks. He tells her everything I’ve already mentioned and was ready for her disgust and scorn, but instead she took him in her arms and held him. I really loved their show of genuine affection, comparing how their relationship had started. And, soon they both realized they’ve fallen in love. There were some hot hot love scenes, which convinced me quite well of Justin’s virility! ;) ahemm ... Anyway, in the end, Verity knew it can’t go on; a duke and a courtesan can never have a future together, so she never tells him of her feeling. Justin was already ashamed of his behavior, felt guilty, which also made him hide his true feeling. And, there were misunderstandings I hated. Justin was sure he could convince her again about marrying and then, he’d profess his love. He was so sure that she’d accept that he started making plans too. When he talked about moving back to Kylemore Castle, Verity took it as the end of their affair. She was already, with a lot of misery, considering leaving him but still, this was unbearable. And, then she made her intentions known. Justin is shocked and then in denial. It went on ‘til the end of the book, which made me a bit frustrated. But, sadly, I could find no fault with Verity’s logic. It was heartbreaking nonetheless to see Justin almost on his knees, the bleakness I felt coming from him since he can’t think about living without her. When they reach Kylemore Castle, Verity meets Justin’s mother, who, in so many words, insults her. Verity knew she can do nothing about it. I absolutely liked the way Justin behaved with that b*tch and removed her from the Castle.

After a sad sad goodbye, Verity and her brother Ben, who was already there, leaves Kylemore Castle. Soon, they were accosted on the way. No, the villain didn’t surprise me and neither did the ending. But, that didn’t matter because, by then, Anna Campbell has already convinced me rather well that two scarred people such as Justin and Verity, can find everlasting love and solace in each-others arms. As a whole, I wasn’t honestly expecting this as I started the book with doubts in my mind but finished it with a sense of happiness. I liked the secondary characters, too. So, I give this book a 4 star without hesitations and look forward to read more of Ms. Campbell’s creations.