Cyprian Sloane, earl's son, came to the rescue of Morgana Hart, baron's daughter, in the park one day, when she was trying to keep her maid Lucy from being taken away by a scoundrel. In a very fun, meet-cute scene, both Morgana and Sloane make quite an impression on the other and are surprised, but not displeased, to meet again later that night when they are part of the same opera party.
Sloane is the black sheep of the family, estranged from his father and older brother. He was the product of his mother's extra-marital affair and the earl named him "Cyprian" – a name commonly used to describe a whore – as a punishment. His mother eventually ran away with her lover, leaving her son to endure a difficult childhood at the mercies of an angry man. Sloane gained a bad reputation due to his war activities, which had him mingling with some unsavory smuggler types. In the two years since the end of the war, he has become financially independent and is working on repairing his reputation. A key step in his plan is the wooing of the very proper Lady Hannah, who happens to be Morgana's cousin.
Morgana is a forthright, independent woman who has an abhorrence of prostitution. As a child in Portugal with her diplomat father, she had befriended a young Portuguese girl who, due to circumstances, descended into a life of prostitution. Morgana never forgot her friend's despair and it has profoundly affected her. When she learns that Lucy, who calls herself a "bad girl' and feels she is not cut out to be a maid, really does want to leave and join a brothel, Morgana comes up with a desperate plan. She convinces Lucy to stay and study to be a courtesan instead, figuring that at least Lucy would have some control over her life and could choose her partners, rather than having them forced upon her by a Madam. But Lucy brings three friends from a brothel, all eager to learn to be courtesans and so under one man's protection, rather than having to service many men a night, and Morgana finds herself setting up a school for courtesans.
Morgana, as you might imagine skirts trouble at every turn which often involves Sloane's help in bailing her out and providing damage control, especially when he moves into the house next door and learns just what is going on in the adjoining building. He also finds himself dragging his heels in making an offer for Lady Hannah, finding himself quite drawn to Morgana and her odd household. But he knows it would be hard to repair his reputation if he were often in the company of a woman who is continually courting scandal.
I liked both Sloane and Morgana. His desire for acceptance and wish to flaunt that acceptance in his father's face is very understandable. But he is fighting against his own nature in doing so, for he has an edge to him, a love of danger and excitement that is at odds with his desire to be a pattern card of propriety. Morgana was fun as well, and her interactions with Sloane were the best part of the book, for they had a great rapport and connection.
What I had a difficult time with was the School for Courtesans plotline, which was the main premise in the book. First of all, I didn't buy that Lucy would really want to join a brothel, or that a gently reared miss, even one as unusual as Morgana, would be so lost to the acceptable standards of conduct in Regency London as to flout convention in this manner, that she would think this was an acceptable course of action.
If you can get past that premise, there is much to enjoy here. The dialog between Sloane and Morgana is sly and fun, and their relationship has some nice tension and heat.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, April 29, 2006