Catesby Burgoyne is out walking the streets near a fairly poor neighborhood when he sees a woman being attacked and comes to rescue her. Prudence Youlgrave had found her tiny little house in White Rose Yard confining and had escaped to the outside, only to be attacked. She is wary of her rescuer but invites him into her house and before either of them really understand what is happening, they are sharing stories over glasses of brandy. She shares that her mother and her had been living in barely genteel poverty in order to send her brother, Aaron, to law school, but now that her mother has passed away and her brother has finished his schooling, he is refusing to help her out. He shares that he and his family have recently had a large falling out and he worries that he will never be welcome back into the family, even while concealing that his older brother is the Earl of Malzard. Catesby departs in the morning but neither can forget the evening spent over brandy as he goes about his business in London and she decides to go to Darlington and confront her brother and his new wife and demand her due.
Catesby is informed that his older brother is now the Earl and he rushes to the family estate, Keyning, which he has always coveted, much to his shame. He finds that his mother and sister-in-law have not forgiven him for the row he had with his brother and he escapes and finds Prudence about to marry a rich merchant. He senses that something is wrong so he objects to the marriage, which leaves them little choice but to marry themselves, even though her former fiance vows revenge and Catesby does not inform Prudence of his new social standing. He can not hide it forever though as their arrival in Keyning stirs up a pile of trouble as his sister-in-law does not bother to hide her resentment of the woman who is taking her place as mistress of the house and her new mother-in-law hides herself in her room. Prudence is determined to learn how to be a countess and with Catesby's help and support she manages to succeed and maneuver around her new position. But there is still someone out there who wishes them ill and Catesby will stop at nothing to protect his unlikely countess and usher in their long life together.
The book started incredibly slowly, with only 20 of the first 100 or so pages spent with them in each other's company and while I recognized the need to build up the background into how these two got together, I wanted them to be together more. The relationship developed slowly and when she "realized" she was in love with him, I felt like it came out of the blue. They both certainly thought about the other a lot but there was not enough getting to know each other, and I wanted to see them having more fun together. There was no sex between Catesby and Prudence and despite the reasoning behind this being explained, I felt like a big part of the book was missing. Prudence was an admirable character because she had to fight to get what she felt was her rightful place, but I lost some respect for her when she agreed to marry the wrong man I wondered what would have happened if Catesby hadn't come by in time to save her. I also admired her pride and sense of self and determination to hold her own, even if she isn't totally prepared to be a countess.
Catesby was confusing to me because they tried to portray him as a wastrel type but then it became clear that he was far from that and it just was awkward that they had done a complete turn around like Beverley had chickened out of a bad boy character. He cared about Prudence and several times actively protected her, both physically and possibly mentally from issues at his house. I just felt like he was not a very special character. His relationship with the people in his family was interesting but not completely explored to my satisfaction. The side characters in this book were really fun to explore, especially the sister-in-law because she was hurt and bitter about life and yet I could completely empathize with her situation. I also wish there had been some comeuppance for Prudence's brother Aaron for abandoning her and was disappointed on that end. The side-plot about the ex-fiance was short, quick, and fit well in the story but wasn't really much of a surprise or mystery and I knew from the beginning how it would end. I did like that there were a lot of historical details, such as the class hierarchy, and obvious research.
Rating: A slow moving book that lacked in the romance department and featured two fairly lackluster characters.