Gabrielle Le Coeur does not want to become some man's mistress, but her mother Rosalind is determined that she have a grand passion. Rosalind has been a duke's mistress for 20 years and she believes that being a wife precludes being in love and having said grand passion. One night Gabrielle runs away and finds herself at Prime Minister Gladstone's house, where he has mistaken her for a common prostitute and attempts to save her soul. When she runs away from there she is rescued by Pierce St. James, the Earl of Sandbourne, who wants her help proving to the world that Gladstone's religion is a front for his perverted needs. Gabrielle and Pierce strike up a deal that she will try to help him with Gladstone if he agrees to pose as her lover/ protector to her mother while she looks for a real husband. Trying to fool her mother is not exactly easy and the two spend a lot of time together, singing silly songs and reciting silly poetry. But when Gabrielle's nobel father catches them in a compromising position he insists on marriage.
Pierce has always wanted his independence and he can't help but think that Gabrielle has somehow arranged this whole plot to trap him. Although she has always wanted a calm marriage of convenience, Gabrielle has not counted on being so attracted to her husband or on her treating her like she has betrayed him. With her mother-in-law helping her instructing her on how to fit in with society and her own mother teaching her the myriad ways to go about seducing her husband, Gabrielle has a plan to get herself back in Pierce's good graces. The more she tries the more Pierce is concerned that he will be giving up his independence and freedom and Gabrielle will take over his life. Meanwhile his conservative colleagues in Parliament are still trying to bring down the liberal Gladstone, even if Gabrielle is sympathetic to their policies. Finally it comes down to Pierce realizing that it is with his wife that he wants to be a better person- a person his wife can love.
Gabrielle was an interesting character, but her naivete was impossible for me to truly get over as I don't really see how someone who led that life would really think she could find a respectable gentleman. What I loved was her can do attitude and the lengths she went to to get back her husband. And I liked Pierce and Gabrielle were friends and got along with each other before the marriage and after the marriage she was just trying to get that spirit back. I was a little more confused by why exactly Pierce is so strongly against losing his independence: he seems to think that his mother stole his father's, but in reality the two were apparently never together. And it really does cause him to behave in ways that are amazingly deplorable. I wish their had been more sex between these two as it seemed to be some of the few times that they really got along and Pierce wasn't being so mean to her.
Gabrielle's mother was absolutely fascinating as she was so intent on finding a grand passion for her daughter and yet she never really admitted to herself that the passion she imagined she possessed with the duke was contingent on abandoning her daughter and basically completely arranging her life to the Duke's pleasure. It was definitely interesting to read more about a courtesan's life and the book did a great job of portraying how that life could be appealing and yet how it was a completely false sense of importance and freedom, without passing too much judgement. I didn't know weather to admire the book for its' realism or be angry at how obviously classist it was as she turns down men because they won't be able to provide for her in the most comfortable manner. His mother was also quite amazing as she was uptight and high society, yet she knew that she needed to work with her rather unconventional daughter-in-law to get what was really best for her son.
Rating: This book was incredibly long and really should have been cut by 50 or so pages. I wish that he had not been so mean to her and I did not really enjoy it as a romance all that much.