Title: Once a Courtesan
Series: Once Wicked #2
Author: Liana LeFey
Format: eBook, 338pgs
Published: Mar. 27, 2017 by Entangled: Select Historical
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 2 out of 5 Wine Glasses
Constable Will Danbury has infiltrated a school to investigate an alleged crime. What he finds is a deeper, darker mystery—and a potent attraction to the alluring headmistress, Jacqueline Trouvère. But a constable can't get romantically involved with a suspect; even one he thinks is innocent, without committing career suicide.
As headmistress of a school devoted to saving the innocent daughters of London's soiled doves, Jacqueline’s life is complicated. Will tempts her in ways she never thought to experience, but she believes no respectable gentleman could love a former courtesan.
Despite their best efforts to fight it, a romance blossoms. When danger jeopardizes the school, however, his deceptions and her omissions come to light, threatening to destroy their love. They must look beyond the past to save both their future together and the lives of those they’ve sworn to protect.
Going undercover is nothing new to Will, but finding himself attracted to the headmistress of the school he is investigating for nefarious deeds is.
Jacqueline's students aren't the only ones who've changed their names looking to break free from their former lives.
The new math teacher has her wondering if he really is who he says and with danger lurking around the corner threatening her and her girls, her trust can't be misplaced.
"I am not worthless," she whispered to the dark.
Second in the Once Wicked series, this story focuses on Jacqueline, the headmistress of a school that secretly takes in girls saved from brothels and helps create new lives for them. The hero from book one makes appearances, as he is the benefactor of the school, but you could start the series here. As the purpose of the school deals with sex and child exploitation, along with Jacqueline's abusive past, this story had more of a solemn tone. There are no abusive scenes done in the present time but Jacqueline bears scars and there are one or two flashback scenes to how she got them. The vast majority of the story deals with how the school will give these rescued girls a new life and the danger from a villain, not the actual abuse.
I have to say, the beginning of this and first half was very slow going. I would almost categorize this as fiction with some mystery instead of romance. The author calmly and steadily integrated us into Jacqueline's mission of running the school and Will's job of infiltrating the school and investigating it, but separately. Our main couple had met and deemed each other attractive but they didn't really intertwine until almost halfway through. The author chose to focus on happenings that I wasn't interested in having relayed, at least not at the expense of the romance. Jacqueline thinks herself unworthy because of her past abuse and Will has a woman in mind for his fiancée, with these feelings and how wary of each other they were, I needed more conversations and interactions between the two. There are a few scenes where I could see some trust and growth but when Will declares his love for Jacqueline, it felt out of the blue for me.
The last 40% of the story picked up and things moved very quickly in regards to the mystery and danger from the villain. Unfortunately, we never get a point of view or see the villain until the very end, we are told who the villain is and given some insights from Jacqueline as she knows who it is, but I never felt they were very flushed out. The villain coming after Jacqueline and a character called "Archangel" and how it was all connected never quite felt seamless, the plot made sense but still felt a bit jumbled together. However, there was an array of secondary characters and I thought the author did a credible job incorporating them all into their places in the story.
All in all, I felt the author stretched out and spent too much time on characters' inner musings while not connecting our hero and heroine sooner; a lot of the story was not what I came here for. The writing itself was solid but the effort to be a slow burn romance was missing the burn for me.
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