Banished, destitute, and labeled a murderess, Cassandra, Lady Paget, arrives in Regency London determined to overcome the reputation that has preceded her and to find a wealthy gentleman who can restore her to the extravagant life to which she's grown accustomed. She sets her sights on Stephen, Earl of Merton - an angelic-looking man of means who surely cannot resist her.
Intrigued by Cassandra's charm, Stephen agrees to make her his mistress. But despite his looks and easy charm, Stephen is no angel, and Cassandra soon realizes that there is a price to be paid for trying to tempt one.
I was a bit worried about reading Stephen's story because in the other Huxtable books he sounded too modern and too perfect to make an interesting hero. While he continues to be a bit of a paragon I actually liked him more than I thought in this story.
Cassandra, Lady Paget, married at 18 a man old enough to be her father. She was abused by her husband and when he dies, in less than clear circumstances, she is suspected of having murdered him with an axe. Although she was not charged, she was ruined in the eyes of society and, having lost her home, she finds herself in need of supporting herself. With not many options open she decides to find a rich protector who will support her.
Her choice falls on Stephen, the earl of Merton and she plans to meet him at a ball given by his sister Margaret. She does and she manages to attract his attention despite the scandalous rumours circling about her. Stephen finds himself intrigued by her and, knowing how easily society's judgments can false, accompanies her home. He is somewhat taken aback by her directness and businesslike manner about a possible arrangement between them and he makes her a proposition of his own, less cold and financially advantageous for her.
As they get to know each other better, and Stephen realises that among Cassandra's house mates there is a little girl, he feels less comfortable with having a sexual relationship with her but he still wants to know her and spend time with her and he certainly doesn't mind paying for it. Secure financially Cassandra gains a new confidence and decides to fight for her husband's inheritance that her step son had refused her.
Cassandra's problems are indeed great and they make her a bitter and distant woman. She wants her relationship with Stephen to be just a business arrangement and the means for her to make a living without her heart being involved. Besides being penniless she has to deal with the snubs from society and from her own brother and all that seems to strengthen Stephen’s resolve to protect her. And, as they spend more time together, he starts falling in love with her.
Although I was worried about finding Stephen too perfect I did like him a lot more than I thought and, in the end, a lot more than I liked Cassandra. He was still very honourable, kind and ready to help everyone in need but I felt he had matured also. Cassandra on the other hand keeps fighting their feelings and keeping him at a distance almost till the end. I thought her coldness and resolve to abandon him went on for a bit too long. I also thought she forgave her brother a bit too easily and that the explanation for what had really happened to her husband was a bit unbelievable.
Still I do like that Balogh gives us characters that are in difficult situations and manage to make them came out the victors in the end. My problem with her recent books is that they don't move me as much as her older books did. The ending was a bit too rosy, I loved seeing all the Huxtable siblings together but this rallying about someone whose reputation they want to save is getting to be a bit repetitive.