Miss Lillian “Lily” Hargrove, is the orphaned daughter of a land steward and unwilling ward to the Duke of Warnick. Due to an odd and unbelievable series of events, her guardian, and then the next seventeen heirs to the title die in the course of about a fortnight, leaving a very distant claimant to the title, Alec Stuart, a belligerent Scotsman as the new Duke. He doesn’t like England, and stays in Scotland for the next five years, not even aware that Lillian exists.
As such, Lily lives a comfortable, if extremely isolated and lonely life in one of the ducal residences in London. She’s not of the aristocracy, nor is she a servant. She has no friends or family to support her, and so, when unscrupulous actor and artist Derek Hawkins encounters her walking in the park, woos her and flatters her and makes her feel special, it doesn’t take all that much persuasion for him to get her to pose for a nude portrait. Of course, Lily believed no one would see the portrait but them. She also foolishly believed Hawkins would propose marriage to her. Instead, he announces at the opening of the Royal Exhibition that his masterpiece will be displayed to the public on the closing day of the exhibition. Lily, distraught and shocked, makes a very public scene, and what little respectable reputation she may have had, is ruined.
Alec Stuart, reluctant twenty-first Duke of Warnick, known in the gossip pages as “the diluted duke” arrives in London two weeks after his solicitor informs him that 1) he has a young lady as a ward and 2) said lady is the object of a huge scandal. Alec has a number of reasons for disliking England and the English and he also has a massive distrust for all beautiful women. Lily announces that the painting will be unveiled to all the world in ten days’ time. She wants the money promised to her by her initial guardian, so she can go far away and reinvent herself, somewhere no one knows who Lillian Hargrove is.
Alec refuses to let her run and hide, and believes the solution is to get her married off to someone respectable, as soon as humanly possible. He bestows a massive dowry on her, and sets about trying to match her up with a suitable gentleman. Of course, he is fiercely jealous of any other man so much as looking in Lillian’s general direction. Yet when everyone around him, Lily included, suggests that he may be the best candidate for the job, all his fears and insecurities rise to the surface. Lily may have given herself to an unscrupulous artist and is about to have her naked body displayed for all of London to see, but Alec still believes that he is unworthy of her hand and needs to find her someone better.
Full review here.