Fanny–raised as a poor relation by her jocular Uncle Edgar–is ready to seize her opportunity to flee England and become one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses. Then, she sees the two small children that she came to London to meet. One glimpse of her uncle’s new (also impoverished) wards–who have been shipped all the way from China–convinces the young woman that she cannot leave them to grow up at Darkwater without her. How can she condemn them to the miserable childhood she herself endured?
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).
After a three-year affair that ended in heart-break, Louise Amberley is determined not to make the same mistake again. Therefore, when Otto Winther–a charming, handsome Dane–pursues the young travel-writer, she insists he wed her before she’ll let him into her bed. Unfortunately for Louise, her infatuation allows her to be rushed into a quick, secret wedding–before she discovers a series of devastating secrets about her new spouse.
After many years of working for a living, Maggie Chambers learns that she has inherited Bride’s Leap, a truly gothic edifice. Soon, she and her new companion, Constance, set out for Maggie’s new estate. Oddly, she’s plagued by accidents on the way–including a near-kidnapping that she is saved from by Captain Ian Sherrill. Unfortunately, when yet another “incident” opens Ian’s recently-received wound, he has little choice but to recuperate at Bride’s Leap. At least his forced convalescence will give him a chance to figure out who is behind the murder attempts–and who the mysterious “ghost” that haunts Maggie’s balcony actually is.
After almost falling prey to a fortune hunter during her first season, Lucy Percy flees to the country-side to escape the scandal. To secure her anonymity, she trades names with her aunt and companion. Now known as “Mrs. Percy,” who tragically lost her husband in the war, Lucy is ready for her peaceful, cottage retreat. Unfortunately, she attracts the ire of her neighbor, Lord Avedon. He suspects her of being a low-bred schemer bent on ensnaring his ward, a witless, wealthy young nephew and Lucy’s landlord. Thus begins a furious campaign: Avedon swears to evict Lucy Percy by any means necessary, and Lucy is equally determined to remain in her cottage and defy her tormentor.
Lord Belami is so close to happiness that he can taste it: he is engaged to the lovely Deirdre Gower and hopes that their wedding can go forward as soon as possible. Then, tragedy strikes. Deirdre’s guardian, the money-obsessed Duchess of Charney, worries that her wealthy and unhealthy brother is about to change his will and cut her out. Shortly after the Duchess delivers a bowl of stew to her sibling, he is found dead of arsenic poisoning. All the clues condemn the Duchess, and Deirdre is unwilling to go through with her wedding with such a scandal brewing. Now Belami, an amateur detective, must discover the truth about Dudley’s death–or lose his bride.
Miss Cecilia Cummings is a cunning matchmaker who loves nothing more than to travel from town to town, bringing couples together. Of course, she herself–at the ripe age of twenty-two–has no interest in marriage: she prefers her independence. Then, she is called to Laycombe, which has been in an uproar since the return of Lord Wickham (a determined bachelor after being abandoned by his first wife). Now, the young lads in the neighborhood are falling over themselves to emulate their stylish hero. While the youths drink, gamble, and spend money like water, their love-interests pine away at home. Determined that Laycombe will be her greatest triumph, Cecilia treats her campaign with Lord Wickham like a war.