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.
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.
Allison Weatherby and her mother–both widowed and impoverished– would have been in trouble without the generous care of Thorne d’Aumont, Marquess of Silverthorne. Having grown up with him and his cousin, James Betterton, Allison has always trusted Thorne completely. She might just be falling in love with him . . . and she thinks, he with her. Then, one night, Thorne proposes the impossible: to make Allison his mistress–but not his wife. Affronted and disillusioned, she flees Thorne’s household . . . perhaps to her own destruction.
After being abandoned at the alter by Oliver, Viscount Elmont, Rebecca Creighton supports her family by writing penny tracts that sing the praises of a moral life. Then, her former suitor reappears, proposing marriage again. Little does Rebecca know that he has offered for her only because his estranged father has promised to pay Ollie’s debts if does so. For him, it’s Fleet, France, or shackling himself to “the Paragon”–a fate almost worse than prison. Curious, Ollie’s best friend, the poet and philanthropist Sir Michael Fairgrove, disguises himself as a valet to see the plain little shrew for himself.
Miles Fletcher, a dandy who has made his living by dealing in beautiful art, is about to inherit his ailing uncle’s vast estate. After Uncle Lester has an unusually good night at the card table, he sends Miles to a house party to “save an innocent lamb from being fleeced.” Little does Miles know that the innocent lamb–one Aurora Ramsay–would be a diamond in the rough. Little does he know that they would strike a bargain: she will teach him how to run a farm, and in exchange he will teach her the skills necessary to secure a wealthy husband. And little does he know that he would fall in love with her.
It was not a fashionable night to be seen in the streets of London.
—The Duke’s Wager
Although not as striking as the opening lines of Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, with this sentence author Edith Layton introduces a side of the Ton to which we are rarely exposed. No, this is not White’s or Almack’s. This is London’s demi-monde, where aristocrats hunt for new courtesans and trade those they’ve tired of to less prestigious and attractive friends. It is also a side where innocents can get themselves into a great deal of trouble. Regina Berryman, who has just arrived from the country to live with her new guardian, is determined to spend a night at the Opera, even if her uncle is away on a business trip. Little does she know that she’s picked the wrong night–and caught the eyes of London’s two most profligate rakes.
For years, the Ghost of Hammerswold castle has appeared to his descendants to advise them about whom to marry to ensure their family’s future security. The current heir, Lord Jared Faverill, is on the path to dissipation, destruction and an early grave. After he has a fit of apoplexy, his grandparents are desperate to get him wed and reformed. What better method can there be than to hold a Halloween house party, populated by eligible blondes, to tempt the ghost to appear and make his choice?
Joanna Patterson and and Lord Sedgewick Wylie are as different as can be. The former is a clumsy, wool-gathering, bespectacled vicar’s daughter with a tendency to stammer when she’s flustered. Sedge is the pinnacle of fashion, and he can make or break a person’s reputation with a sharp word and a critical glace through his quizzing glass. All Joanna wants is to successfully find a suitable husband for her charge, Harriet. If only she could stop colliding with Sedge–literally–and navigate London society without making a complete cake of herself . . .
Hugh Rowland isn’t fit to marry (or so he was told). Being unattached, he is perfect for Sir Parker’s unorthodox assignment: to go undercover as a street thief and infiltrate a crime ring masterminded by members of the Ton. Hugh is doing well with his assignment, too–until he rescues Rebecca Westcott from a rogue in the street. When Rebecca insists on “saving” her street thief by installing him as a servant in her family’s house, Hugh struggles to maintain his disguise. As for Rebecca, she cannot understand why she feels that the rough and criminal servant is the only man she could ever love . . . if she could save him from himself.
Miss Claire Yelland is in a tight spot: almost alone in the world, she has few options for employment. Therefore, she turns to the theatre, reinventing herself as the dashing Clairisse Deschampes. She goes to great pains to hide her identity beneath a raven wig and guards her virtue to such an extent that she becomes known as the “Iceberg.” Then, her younger brother gets into a scrape that requires a large sum of money fast. Claire must make an uncomfortable bargain to save him: she agrees to marry the jaded Sir Egon Hollister. Egon wants to thumb his nose at his imperious, matchmaking grandmother by parading a scandalous bride at her house-party. Now, Claire must give the performance of a lifetime: loving newlywed in public, indifferent professional in private–while enduring Sir Egon’s assumption that she is a loose woman . . .