Lady Olivia Archer is unmarried after four seasons on the marriage market, known as “London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal”. Everywhere she goes, her mother forces her to recount her ladylike accomplishments, such as embroidery, playing the piano, painting water colours and other deathly dull things. Olivia isn’t surprised people have taken to calling her “Prissy Missy” and that at one memorable garden party, a gentleman jumped into a hedge rather than speak to her (or her mother).
One of her best friends, Lady Emma, another former wallflower, recently married a duke after a series of unusual events and is now determined to match her two besties with suitable men. Before she has time to introduce them to anyone, however, Olivia meets a handsome stranger at a ball and has a moment of true chemistry with him after their eyes meet across the room. The morning after, she is told her parents have accepted the proposal of Sir Phinneas Cole for her hand in marriage. A genius and reclusive inventor, Phin is in London to work on completing a machine with Lady Emma’s husband. He wants a pretty, quiet and polite wife to help him manage his vast Yorkshire estate. He is also popularly known as “the Mad Baron”.
Some years ago, all the newspapers ran stories about the tragic fire in his lab and how his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. While in finishing school, all three wallflowers read the scandalous accounts of how “the Mad Baron” stole his brother’s fiancee and later likely murdered her. Because he lives in Yorkshire and never goes into society, Phin was of the naive belief that the rumours had died down. He was very wrong. It’s clear that the woman he wants to marry is both afraid of him and behaving very strangely.
Olivia has concocted a plan with her friends to make Phin break off the engagement. If he wants a proper and ladylike bride, then Olivia must be everything but. She’s been brought up knowing all the rules that mustn’t be broken and has never stepped a toe out of line before. This has brought her nothing but scorn, ugly nicknames and now a very unwanted, possibly murderous fiancee. She starts behaving as scandalously as she can – wearing excessive amounts of makeup, getting drunk in public, dancing with rakes and scoundrels and generally trying to cause scenes (she’s not very good at it).
Phin (who of course is the handsome man she met that magical night) is puzzled by the erratic behaviour of Lady Olivia. He can’t deny the attraction he felt for her that first night, and even at her worst, Olivia can’t come close to causing the sort of scandals his first wife inspired. The more outrageously Olivia acts, the more determined he is to go through with the marriage.