Miss Prudence Merriweather Payton has been dubbed “London’s Least Likely to Be Caught in a Compromising Position” and after four seasons, she may be the only woman to go unmarried for so long after graduation her finishing school. No one, not even the loving aunt who raised her or her two best friends, knows that Prudence was raped at a ball early in her first season and has made very sure she’s never alone with a man or considered marriage material. After all, her entire worth on the marriage market has been forcibly stripped from her. Yet now, with the upcoming anniversary ball of her finishing school, where even her two former wallflower friends have found happy marriages, she can’t bear to be the only graduate left unmarried.
Taking matters into her own hands, Prudence travels to Bath and arranges a marriage of convenience to a gentleman who she knows will never expect or demand conjugal rights, as he’s rather more interested in his best friend. However, on the way to his estate, where they are to be married by special licence, their stagecoach is attacked by a highwayman, and her intended pushes her out of the carriage to distract their attacker. She manages to escape, no thanks to her fiancee, without attracting the robber’s attention and is left to make her way to civilisation alone.
Trudging through uncomfortable heat at first and later pouring rain, Prudence vows never to trust another man again. When she’s offered a ride by a dashing and handsome man who introduces himself as John Roark, Viscount Castleton, she refuses even though she’s cold, wet and tired. They nevertheless meet again at the country inn where she seeks refuge. As the torrential downpour continues for days on end, the two are trapped, along with a number of other guests, until the weather settles down. John and Prudence spend quite a lot of time in each other’s company, and it doesn’t take long for John to realise that someone badly hurt Prudence at some point in the past.
Roark is on his way to London with a grand business proposition which will secure not only his own future, but that of his mother and sister. He has secrets he cannot divulge and certainly isn’t looking for or able to support a wife in his current situation. Yet he gets more and more smitten with the wary Miss Merriweather (she doesn’t give him her full name) and when her dark past shows up unexpectedly at the inn, and she nearly suffers a repeat performance of her former attack, he doesn’t even think before jumping in to defend her and pummelling her attacker.
After John beats up her rapist, saving Prudence from another nightmare scenario, she breaks down and finally tells someone about the (to her) deeply shameful secret about what happened years ago, and he comforts her, confessing that his sister once suffered the same fate as her. He is therefore fully aware of how scared and distrustful of men she must be. Even knowing that she may be scared, he proposes that they travel to London together, leaving the inn in case her attacker returns. They pose as man and wife on the road, and John’s gentle treatment, understanding and patience gives Prudence hope that she may in time be able to trust another man again and possibly not recoil at being touched. But John’s past is about to catch up with him too, and what will happen when Prudence discovers the secrets he’s been hiding and the reasons he’s in such a hurry to make it to London?
Full review here.