Miss Verity Thornrose is the last of a line of a respectable family who are known for their principles of reform and good works. Raised in the tradition of reform by her aunts, Faith, Hope and Charity, Verity believes it is her mission in life to help the unfortunate. Her determination brings her to rescue the pretty Irish girl Deidre from a life walking the streets. Deidre is young and high spirited and allows herself to be lured into going to a masquerade with her former employer's husband (who is the reason she's on the streets). Rushing to rescue Deidre, Verity finds herself denied admission to the masquerade because she can not pay the fee. The door attendant suggests that Verity ask one of the gentlemen lurking outside and Verity searches until she finds her Good Samaritan. Unbeknownst to Verity, her "Good Samaritan" is Alaric, the Earl of Brathmere, a notorious rake and libertine who has mistaken her for a Cyprian! Alaric is puzzled by this woman who dresses like a Quaker and speaks like she's Oxford education but yet stirs his passions. Verity manages to rescue her maid from a villain of the streets and depart with her virtue in tact. Alaric is asked to lend an air of superiority to his young debutante cousin's ball where he discovers Verity's true identity and sets out to seduce her. Verity insists on dragging Alaric into her plan for Good Works and Deidre finds herself in trouble again. A daring rescue by Alaric, Verity and her servants places Verity in great danger. Her self-righteous Puritan cousin Ocativian is determined to marry her and make her his Goodwife and together they will rid the world of demons, including Alaric. Alaric must reconcile himself to feelings he didn't know he had in order to get what he really wants. This is a long and complicated story. It seems to be a parody of 18th century Gothic novels with each chapter being titled with a clever description and the entire Thornrose family being named after virtues, including their animals. However, if the story was meant to be funny, it wasn't. I found Verity annoying and Alaric disgusting. The characters weren't well developed at all and behaved with a single-minded purpose and then just randomly developed passionate feelings. The villain was the most interesting character and he was totally crazy. I enjoyed the subplot about the maid Deidre more than I did the main romance. There are a few sensual scenes but they can be overlooked and not affect the plot of the novel. The story is told in third-person omniscient which makes it hard to follow all the characters as their story lines progress. I did really like the period details. It's obvious the author has done a lot of research on the time period and has a talent for recreating the nitty gritty details of life in the 19th century that don't often appear in romance novels. I don't think I'll be reading the sequel, Miss Sedgewick and the Spy.
Lord Edmund Debham returns from the wars to be denied his inheritance and cast out of the family by his cruel older brother. With nothing but a few coins, the clothes on his back and his trusty horse, Edmund wanders across England pondering his situation. He stops at a hedge tavern to rest and finds himself entering into a high stakes card game with a young gentleman with a large purse. Thinking to teach the young man a lesson, Edmund seeks to relieve Jason Ormhill of his purse, however, the more Jason drinks, the better he plays and Edmund ends up literally losing himself. The wager: Edmund stays a year on the Ormhill estate to learn land manage and he marries Jason's older sister Olivia. Jason is eager to travel and explore the world but feels duty bound to protect Olivia until she marries. Jason thinks Edmund would make his sister the perfect husband, but she has other ideas. Olivia Ormhill is a beautiful, intelligent woman who is more than capable of handling her own estate. Her father recognized her intelligence in his will, stating that she should have complete control over her own lands even after marriage. The catch is, she needs to marry a lord or the lands will default to her brother. Jason thinks Edmund is the perfect lord for Olivia but Olivia has no interest in marriage any longer. She had once been engaged and had her heart broken and no longer trusts men. She believes Edmund is a foolhardy gamester and fortune hunter and wants nothing to do with the wager. Another wager shows her a different side of Edmund, one she could learn to appreciate, but she still doesn't quite trust him. Her former fiance, Lord Corbright comes back into Olivia's life and wants to rekindle their romance. He seems sincere but Olivia isn't sure she can trust him either. She must discover the true nature of both men and decide where her heart lies and whether she will be able to find happiness in marriage. This is a bit of an unusual plot since the hero defies conventions. The heroine and the other characters are fairly stereotypical though and then in this character-driven story, the author introduces a villain to complicate the already complicated plot. The villain reminded me of William Walter Elliot from Persuasion so I was suspicious of his motives and thought Olivia was a bit of an idiot to even think about taking him back. The romance didn't really do anything for me. It developed nicely and realistically, but yet I don't feel that Olivia and Edmund spent enough time together (at least on page) to really have any chemistry. I liked the secondary romance much better and was even more interested in Jason's plot than Olivia and Edmund. This is an average, forgettable story and not one that makes me want to read any others by the author unless she publishes one about Jason! *High sticklers beware that I believe there are some inaccuracies in this story