Ann Colbert–recently married to the charming Glenn Stacey–is struck by a sudden blow: her father dies, leaving her alone in Boston. After receiving a desperate, half-finished letter from her childhood nurse, Miss Lucy, Ann rushes to fly to her childhood home in Devon. There, she meets the cousins she’d never known: the Thornes of Valicombe, a crumbling old mansion. After learning of Miss Lucy’s sudden death just days before, Ann sets herself up in her nurse’s cottage, determined to wait for her husband to arrive. Glenn never appears, however, and Ann finds herself drawn into a terrible intrigue.
The Duke of Kingswood has two big problems: his younger cousin, Richard, who got engaged to a notorious courtesan then murdered her lover, and the lovely Benedicta Calvine. The latter, a tatter-worn daughter who’d been travelling with her preacher-father, is discovered in one of the Duke’s tenant’s barns after her father has had a stroke. Now, the Duke has two invalids in his household, plus an idealistic, young, and bright-eyed ingenue. What better plan could the Duke come up with (since he has no plan to marry, oh no, not ever) than to arrange for Benedicta and Richard to make a match of it? Nothing could be simpler. Right?
Natasha Phillips has been left alone too long. With most of her family deceased and her brother Peter fully committed in the war on the Peninsula, she’s been marooned in the country with an old aunt. Now that Napoleon has been defeated and Peter is facing deployment to the Americas, he must find a way for his sister to have her first Season. That’s where his friend Major Cameron Talbot comes in: he’s to keep an eye on Natasha, screen her suitors, and offer himself up as a chaperone. As a favor to his friend, Cam agrees–but with trepidation, because everything he hears about the outspoken, impulsive, educated Tasha clashes with his idea of the perfect woman.
Felicia Simmons and her family have fallen on hard times. Ever since her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent mental decline, the resourceful and kind young woman has labored intensely to maintain her unusual household. Charitable as can be, Felicia collects stray, socially-outcast servants and insists on feeding poor children. She gives up her place in society, teaches music lessons, economizes, and even polishes her own brass doorknob (though so early in the morning that no one on her fashionable street can see her–except for the cynical Sir Christopher Wilde, newly arrived from India).
The lovely, seventeen-year-old Miss Lili Martingale is out of place wherever she goes. Rescued from a convent by Cornelia and Beau Russell, she has been raised for the last four years on a farm. Now, it is clear that her beauty is turning too many heads and that she’s is not suited to farm life. On the double, Beau and Cornelia swoop in, take her back to their estate, and prepare her for an early come-out. Her age, extensive convent-education, her country ways, her ever-ready, thoughtless tongue, and her disregard for rank all stand in the way of her making a good match. Especially since the Russell’s neighbor, the Viscount Halpern, and his family suspect her to be an adventuress. The situation is made worse when vicious rumors about Lili’s parentage begin circulating around the ton.