Charity Barlow recently lost her parents in a carriage accident and now finds herself penniless and at the mercy of a godfather she hasn't seen since she was fifteen. Despite her trepidation, she has no other choice but to travel to the Marquess of St. Malin's castle set upon a cliff and overlooking the sea.
Upon her arrival, she is met by a man named Robert who is much too young to be her godfather. Turns out he is the nephew, his uncle recently passed away and demanded in his will that the two of them marry or the fortune will pass along to distant relatives. She thinks something along the lines of "No way, you dreamy stranger!" and turns him down. Then he ups the offer. He really wants the inheritance, if not a wife, and tells her she won't have to cohabitate with him, can even take on lovers if she's careful and discreet and adds that the only thing she'll have to provide him is an heir. In exchange she gets to be mistress of a castle (a castle people!), will have her own servants who do all the cooking and cleaning and she can spend all day playing with the dog. Hmm, he wouldn't have to ask me twice! Shame he didn't ask me. She ponders and agrees to spend the night thinking about it. She soon realizes marriage to Robert is her best option. They marry lickety-split and he whisks her away from the lovely castle and off to London.
The book then switches gears from what I thought was going to be a gothic style romance and turns into a standard regency fish out of water tale. Charity charms the staff but struggles to fit in with the snooty members of the ton (which includes her new husband), who seem to do nothing but cheat on their spouses, gossip and cut each other down. Robert attempts to continue on with his life, hanging with his friends and leaving her alone for long stretches of time while demanding she dress the part and attend functions where she doesn't fit in. After a nice start, their relationship stalls out and they argue, avoid each other for pages on end and then argue some more. I felt bad for Charity who was neglected, ignored or treated meanly and then told to accept insults with grace. She is strong willed and opinionated and has a beautifully sarcastic tongue that Robert just doesn't understand. Instead he just gets angry and frosty. He is humorless and hampered by an untrusting nature and I love, love, love the fact that Charity isn't afraid to call him out on it. Their road to love is full of fits and starts and long pauses and Charity really has to work to make it work. Fortunately, the girl has far more patience than I do!
There are some fantastically awkward and realistic scenes between Robert and Charity as they find themselves newly married and complete strangers and the sexual desire that slowly builds between them was well done. BUT I have to admit that Robert's personality grated on my last nerve throughout nearly the entire book. He was bad-tempered and bossy and Charity carried the book. If she hadn't been so well drawn and likable I probably would have DNF'd this one but she deserved a happy ending and I wanted to see her get there. Robert comes around at the end with an "I'm sorry for my jerky ways" but, for me, it wasn't a completely believable turnaround and wish he had been made to suffer more for all of his pompous behavior.