Lady Judith Worth lost everything when her father and eldest brother, Anthony, was convicted on treason. Her father committed suicide in prison, her brother was sentenced to deportation to Australia. Due to complications during the journey, Anthony never arrived at his destination, and is presumed dead. Since losing their wealth and their privileges, Judith has been the sole breadwinner for two of her younger half-siblings; the spoiled, socially challenged and extremely cat obsessed Theresa and her youngest brother Benedict, who she’s finally saved up enough money to send to Eton.
Judith has been supporting her family using her skills with clockwork design and through careful saving and scrimping has set aside money for the dowry of both her sisters. Her other sister, Camilla, was taken in by an “uncle”, a friend of their father’s, who offered to take all the Worth children, except Theresa. At such an ultimatum, all but Camilla refused his “kindness” and as a result, Camilla has been estranged from her family for years and years. Now Judith is worried that the solicitor handling the money may have embezzled it, and she needs help. She has no one to turn to but Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford. Her brother’s former best friend, the man she once thought she would marry, until he became the man who provided the evidence that condemned her father and brother. She’s fairly certain he’ll send a trusted servant, and is none to pleased when he eagerly turns up on her door step in person, on the same day her brother comes back from his first term at Eton, clearly badly beaten, swearing never to return.
Christian Trent still loves Judith. He’s never been able to forget her, and he’s haunted constantly by nightmares about what his actions did to his best friend. While Judith is staunchly loyal to her brother, refusing to believe he could ever have done what he was accused of, Christian instead fears that his guilt was all but certain. Christian acted according to his conscience, but believed Anthony would serve seven years in Australia, and be able to return to his family. Instead he most likely died during the journey. He knows Judith can’t possibly forgive him, because he can’t really forgive himself, but if there is anything in his power he can do to help her or her siblings, he has to offer it. He and Judith make a deal. If he manages to assist her in making sure her sisters’ dowries have been paid to their accounts, he will get to borrow Anthony’s journals. Reading them might help him to figure out the reasons Anthony may have acted as he did.
It’ll come as no surprise to anyone familiar with romance, that once they start spending time together again, Judith and Christian, despite Judith’s anger and bitterness, grow closer once more. Their attraction to each other is built on a mutual understanding of each other’s oddness, a shared sense of (very peculiar) humour and a deep abiding affection for the same people. Christian spent most of his school holidays with the Worths and grew to love Judith over several years, never really acting on his feelings out of respect for Anthony. He proposed to Judith at her father’s funeral, but she could barely stand to see him and soundly rejected him. No woman has ever compared to her in his memory, and the more time Judith spends in his company, the more her feelings for him reemerge.