Regency London’s most celebrated courtesan, The Blackbird, was a woman before her time—uninhibited, financially independent, and free to live by her own rules. Schooled in the sensual arts by the one man she loved the most, she recorded every wicked detail in her diaries…
When Boston museum curator Piper Chase-Pierpont unearths The Blackbird’s steamy memoirs, she’s aroused and challenged by what she finds. Could the courtesan’s diaries be used as a modern girl’s guide to finding love and empowerment? One curious curator—and one very lucky man—are about to find out…
This was one hot romance.
I loved it.
I could barely put it down. Sneaking home at lunchtime to grab twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. Snatching a few minutes before leaving for work in the morning ... staying up late with the itty bitty light while hubby sleeps - I was completely enamored by this book! I didn't expect to have this kind of reaction - but I was totally into it! It's the successful collaboration of two well known authors, each known for their own particular genre. One contemporary, one Regency. It was like a Reeses candy bar ... peanut butter and chocolate! A perfect combination - and oh so yummy! The two authors came together to write a modern day/historical romance combining their two fields of expertise. It's the the story of how a mousy young museum curator from Boston turns herself into a luscious vixen who succeeds in capturing her dream man by using the diaries of a young and courageous Regency courtesan as her inspiration. I was swept away by both story lines. For once, the modern storyline and the historical one were equally as good and kept my attention until the very end!
Maybe it was all the sex...
Still, I'm used to sex, but this was a lot - even for me. I wouldn't call it over the top, but it is graphic, some parts are erotica-like. Naughty, daring, pushing the boundaries. Who knows? Whatever it was, it worked!
I found the book inspiring in some ways. If Piper could transform herself from a nerdy, bespectacled, blue-lipped curator to a sexy, jaw dropping bomb shell - so could I! Well... almost. The inner vixen in me shouted aloud - "Hey, lay off the pizza already and get yourself off your lazy butt and hop on over to the gym!" And I did! This book got me motivated! I want to be a sexy vixen and make men's jaws drop too! ;)
Enough about me, let's talk about the book which begins with the contemporary side of the story and then flips back and forth to Ophelia's Regency London storyline.
Piper is a curator for a small museum in Boston, working on her next big exhibit about the life of Boston's famous woman abolitionist, Ophelia Harrington. Her job may or may not be on the line, due to budget cuts and the fact that her last exhibit was a total flop. With all the pressure about her job and the fact she spends a lot of her time holed up doing research, Piper hasn't exactly been keeping herself up. Coming off her thirtieth birthday, she's due for a change. She's been so preoccupied with work that she's let herself go. Underneath her dowdy exterior she has the voluptuous body of a Venus. Unfortunately, you'd never know it. On one particularly bad hair, no make-up, bag lady-dress day (and don't forget the blue pen run amok episode), Mick Malone, Mr. OMG-the-man-I-threw-myself-at-and-was rejected-by walks into her life again. The man she never got over. The man she fantasizes about. And, he's just as gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome as ever. And an Irish brogue no less! It's been ten years since they've seen each other. Will he recognize her? Does he even remember her?
Amazingly enough - yes! He does! It turns out Mick's been harboring feelings for Piper ever since that night she tried to seduce him in a drunken state back in her dorm room years ago. Having no choice, he had to turn her down. He couldn't take advantage of a woman as far gone as Piper was that night. He respected her too much. Plus, he was her teacher's aide and due to leave the country in less than two weeks. He wasn't about to start up something with her only to leave shortly thereafter! If things could have been different he would have taken her up on her offer - and more. He liked her. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Now here he is after all this time, a globe trotting museum celebrity with his own Indiana Jones-type reality TV show in the making. Guess who's the new guy working at her museum for the next six months?
Poor Piper, could life get any worse? By meeting Mick again after so many years - and the humiliation of having him see her looking like such a wreck? Well, it's a wake up call. Coincidentally, she's just been reading all of Ophelia Harrington's steamy pornographic diaries and Piper is absolutely buzzing with sex, sex, sex on her mind. With the help of her friend Brenna, Piper undergoes a complete makeover transformation - a la her favorite courtesan, The Blackbird, aka revered and respected, Boston abolitionist, Ophelia Harrington.
Piper's transformation is a total success - and boy was it fun reading about how Piper plays Mick like a violin. But, it's not merely an act, they soon develop strong feelings for one another and get closer and closer by the book's end. Meanwhile, there's the sticky issue of what should Piper do about the newly discovered evidence she's unearthed about history's famous abolitionist who was really a daring and provocative courtesan in her youth!
It turns out that Ophelia was being forced into an arranged marriage and wanted no part of it. She saw no way to control her life other than to become a courtesan. At least as a courtesan she would have her own house, money and choose who would sleep in her bed. It was the kind of freedom she craved! So what if she wouldn't be accepted by polite society and she'd be forced to only mingle within the scandalous world of the demimonde. She didn't care!
With the determination of a terrier, she tracks down the most famous courtesan in London at the time, a beautiful woman known as Swan. Swan at first will not help her, but Ophelia convinces her otherwise and Swan agrees to teach her the ways of being a courtesan - in secret. They become close friends and confidantes. The most important part of Ophelia's training is with Sir, the masked man Swan enlists to be Ophelia's lover for a week. Each night he will instruct her on the Seven Delights of the Courtesan. *sigh* Who is Sir? Ophelia thinks he's a male version of a courtesan and loves every minute she has with him. But she schools herself not to fall in love, no matter how easy. He is her teacher and she must learn from him - and learn she does!
Ophelia's training is a big success and Swan interviews many prospects and finds her a protector. For five years Ophelia is with her protector, Robert, until it ends when he leaves the country on a diplomatic mission. She's sad to see him go, despite the fact she turned his marriage proposal down - she doesn't want to be anyone's wife - she cherishes her freedom. Over the course of the next few months, she sees Sir again (masked, as usual), but then, against Sir's warnings, she gets involved with a well known writer with an unsavory reputation. Their affair leads to a series of events that gets her arrested and accused of murder. It's all very exciting and I won't reveal the details, but I was riveted by the storyline and couldn't put the book down! Of course we know Ophelia doesn't hang for murder, because she becomes an abolitionist in Boston twenty years later, but how? What happens?
This story had it all:
Sex: lots of it. Racy, sensual, evocative. Some areas could have made me squirm or feel uncomfortable, yet it was so well written and passionate, there was no awkwardness or purple prose to ruin it. It definitely wasn't your typical formulaic romance either!
A Unique Plot: I've never read such a unique plotline. Courtesan turned abolitionist?
A Masked Lover: Sir was to die for, I loved him. I loved the whole idea that he was Ophelia's trainer. Their seven nights together - their seven sins - delectable! Who can resist a lover who wears a mask all the time? That mystery of not knowing who he is or what he looks like, except well... ahem... from the neck down. The big question of who Sir really was added to his allure. I guessed correctly, I suspected who he was all along, which made it all the more delicious by the end!
A Strong Heroine: Ophelia was her own woman. She wasn't going to take sh*t from anyone. She determined her own destiny. She wanted to be a courtesan instead of being forced into a marriage - and she did it! I do wish we got to witness her first meeting with Robert, her first protector. I would have liked to have seen how that went. I kept thinking he was going to be a dud - I'm glad it worked out for her for five years.
Vivid Descriptions: Talk about inspiration! All the things described that both Ophelia and Piper wore in and out of bed - I want!
Fascination and Tension: Not sexual tension, though the book didn't suffer due to the lack of it. There was tension about what was going to happen next! It kept me reading, I had to find out what happens next!
A Happy Ending: Both the modern and the contemporary story lines had the ending I wanted! For Piper, the opening night gala and Ophelia's exhibit's was all it could be. We know Ophelia somehow moves to America and becomes an abolitionist - but how and with whom, who does she marry? I was tickled pink to find out - a perfect ending!
I truly loved this book, not only was it sexy and entertaining, I learned a little something about what's involved in being a museum curator and organizing and creating an exhibit. No easy task! I'm certainly going to take a second look at museum exhibits from now on. Not only for the subject of the exhibit itself, but the layout, the planning and execution of it as well - very interesting!
Susan Donovan is a new to me author, since my familiarity with contemporary romances is a bit limited, but I'm familiar with Celeste Bradley and have read and enjoyed her historical romances in the past. I hope they write some more books together in the future. This book is a definite keeper - in fact, I think it deserves a permanent spot on my bedside table - for handy reference ;)
This book was sent to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, for early review. Available in stores May 24th, 2011.
This book has been re-released under the title Unbound.