Once a Courtesan (Once Wicked Book 2)

By: Liana LeFey

This book is dedicated to my real-life hero, my husband of twenty years. He knows how to love, and his love has helped me heal.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Chapter One

London, June 28, 1727

Raquel no longer exists. That woman is gone. I am Jacqueline Trouvère now.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Jacqueline concentrated on breathing evenly and slowing her racing pulse. Sweat cooled, making her nightgown cling unpleasantly to her skin.

No matter how different life was now, no matter how safe her immediate world, terror still lived in her dreams. Every night it stalked her, breathing down her neck, freezing her blood.

“Will I ever be free?” The dark swallowed her shaken whisper.

The dark. The lamp had gone out. She’d forgotten to adjust the wick before falling asleep, and now the only light in the room came from the dying embers in the grate.

Jacqueline swung her feet over the side of the bed. Grabbing the cold lamp from her bedside table, she took off the globe and carried it to the hearth.

Holding a tiny flame to the fresh wick, she watched it flare to life. The lamp once more cast its light like a shield against the night. Shadows fled, and she breathed again.

Adding a fresh scoop of coal to the fire, she poked and fanned it until it burned bright. The clock on the mantel told her only five hours had passed since she’d fallen asleep. Despite her fatigue, however, her rumpled bed held no appeal.

She removed her damp nightgown, drew on a robe, and slid her feet into worn slippers. Trudging to the washstand, she poured a little water into the basin and rinsed her face. The shock of the cold water against her skin stripped away the cobwebs from her mind, bringing her fully into the present.

As she patted her face dry, her stomach let out a mighty growl, completing the awakening process. A wry smile tugged at her mouth. Now she wished she’d done more than nibble at her dinner. Breakfast was still hours away.

It’s that confounded builder’s fault, putting me all in a furor and upsetting my appetite yesterday. Why does every male in London think me an empty-headed fool to be taken advantage of with impunity?

Going to her desk, she sat and took out a fresh sheet of stationery. Lord Tavistoke must be informed. She hated to bother him, but the situation required it.

London was a man’s world. If a dispute between a man and a woman was brought before the magistrate, he tended to side with his fellow male, regardless of the evidence. Male solidarity had more pull than fairness. She had proof of the builder’s fraudulence, but it was no guarantee she’d see justice served. Having Tavistoke quietly exert his influence on her behalf would.

Signing the letter with a flourish, she laid it aside on the blotter to dry. A splotch of ink on her hand caught her eye. In the dim light the dark fluid reminded her of blood. So much blood… She rested a hand on her belly. So much has been lost.

Stop this. He’s dead, and I’m free. The life I have now is of my own design. Determined to put the nasty business out of her mind, she moved on to the much happier task of reading an essay written in French by the first and oldest of her students, Honora.

Staying busy seemed the best way to keep the specter of her past at bay, and there was always work to be done here. A school this large didn’t run itself. She served as headmistress, teacher, nurse—whatever was needed—and she was glad of the hard work and long hours.

Pride filled Jacqueline as she scanned the lines. Honora was a prime example of how the proverbial sow’s ear could be transformed into a silk purse. If she could overcome her origins, anyone could. Just because a girl was born in the stews didn’t mean she was without worth, and having a prostitute for a mother should never condemn a child to a life of the same.

The house was awake and stirring by the time Jacqueline went down to breakfast. Joy buoyed her spirit as she passed between trestle tables lined with little girls in gray woolen dresses and clean pinafores. Their cheerful greetings of “Good morning, madame” banished the last of her lingering malaise.