The Countess’s Client (Spice Brief 2009) by Alison Richardson is the first in the Countess trilogy. For the unfamiliar reader, Spice Briefs are erotic short stories published by Harlequin in “e” only. During their half off sale, I bought this trilogy based on Janine’s enthusiastic recommendation of them. I’m glad that I did.
This is my first time reading Ms. Richardson and it probably won’t be my last. She writes well and even for such a short story, I was fully engrossed because the characters actually drive this story. And the driving conflict? Their social status in society.
Countess von Esslin is known around Parish society for her beauty and her virtue. Her reputation and status was constructed to give herself the freedom to enjoy her “erotic pursuits” without causing scandal to herself and others. As she says at the opening of the story, the appearance of virtue is a [very] useful thing. To quote the Countess further,
“To actually be as virtuous as narrow convention demands is far too high a sacrifice for any woman to make; to appear virtuous, however, requires only a small measure of ingenuity and a little luck.
One of the principals that has served her well in her youth include controlling men and their tongue. She advices that if women are to enjoy their sexual freedom as is their birthright, the men in their life must be “discreet and tractable.”
The only thing to keep a man’s mouth shut, according to the Countess is their fear of death. And as the only child of a general, Countess von Esslin indulged her sexual needs with willing soldiers of the Prussian army in Berlin. Her reputation remained untarnished because “it’s a hanging offense to be caught fucking the general’s daughter.”
Now at the age of twenty, the Countess admits to having made one “notable failure.” She decides to share her story to help steer others from the mistakes she’s made. The story thus starts with the death of her husband who was decades older. Widowed, the Countess is sent away to Paris to say with her cousin, Robert. It is there that she makes her first “misstep.” Upon learning that his cousin wasn’t so easily offended by the prostitutes he brought home, Robert starts taking her to the famous Madame Barthez brothel.
It is at the brothel that the Countess meets up with James McKirnan, a Scot who is the son of a common tradesman. He’s also an unpopular client. His clothes, his frugality and his appallingly bad French makes for much squabbling between the whores whenever he visits them every Thursday night. No one wants him save the Countess, who decides on this one occasion, that he isn’t so bad looking and she can satiate her needs by pretending to be a whore for the night.
She quickly becomes his favorite and soon she makes another “misstep” by telling him her real name, which is “Anna.” Intimacy as well as the danger of being found out slowly builds. The Countess aka “Anna” continues this ruse and enjoys these trysts because James proves to be a great lover. Her fear of being found out is a risk but she has no plans to ever run into James in public since they both inhabit different worlds and different social circles. Or so she thought.
However, Anna soon learns that James has received a nice commission from the King. The threat to her true identity being found out is elevated. Flush with cash, James asks that she become his mistress, in public and she refuses. This causes a rift between them and then they both go off in their separate ways. But they do meet again. Does James find out her true identity? And what if he does? What will happen? According to Anna and her cousin, Robert, no one would believe a Countess had been whoring herself to a commoner.
This is a tightly plotted story. The narrative is told in first person. The voice is that of a young woman who knows about all the rules of polite society and knows how to tweak them. The ending was interesting and not all that convincing but I enjoyed it all the same. Seems Anna and her tradesman have more adventures ahead. Good thing I bought the sequels.
Sex scenes were just the right amount and not overly. While not boring, they didn’t stand out either. Chemistry was nice but not as palpable as I would have preferred. Overall, I liked the story and the characters. B+. This was a really quick read which I suspect will probably be true for the other two stories in the trilogy.
And today is the last day in the TBR Challenge for 2009. I want to thank all the readers participated this year and please, if you’ve read down this far, please visit with the other participants of the challenge and enjoy!