Lady Angelique Archer is desperate for money and needs to make sure that no one in polite society is aware of it. Lucky for her, she is mathematical genius who can do huge amounts of sums in her head and count cards from more than one deck at a time. She’s been using her brilliant mind to win substantial amounts of money at vingt-et-un-table in the gaming club of Alexander Lavoie, doing her very best to stay unnoticed to everyone. She needs the money because her father died last year, in a robbery gone wrong. After his death, Angelique and her brother, the new Marquess of Sutton, discovered that their father had been selling off most of the land and estates, with none of the family solicitors aware of where the money from the sales had gone. After they sold off pretty much everything but basic furniture from their town house, even letting all the servants go, Angelique is still struggling to pay the bills and keep her younger twin brothers at their posh boarding school, as is befitting the sons of a marquess. The new Marquess doesn’t seem to realise the extent to their money woes, and keeps making very stupid decisions.
While Angelique may have believed herself to be subtle and unnoticed, Alexander Lavoie has been paying close attentions to her comings and goings to his club, especially with the amount of money she’s been winning. A man with contacts all over London, it is unusual for him to not have the slightest clue as to her identity, and when a drunken nobleman takes offence at Angelique’s spectacular success at the gaming table one evening, Alexander finally has a chance to speak to the mystery lady. He knows she has two gowns she alternates, he knows she lives within walking distance of his club, he suspects that she is very clever and he is dying to discover who she really is and what she needs the money for. After discovering what a genius she is with numbers (she’s able to find several clerical errors in his accounting by just looking at a page in his ledger), he offers her a job. He offers to pay her very handsomely to run his vingt-et-un-table for him, using both her beauty and brains to fleece the patrons of their money night after night, making him an even bigger fortune than he already has. He’s instantly smitten with her, possibly more for her intelligence than her looks, but has a strict policy about not romancing his staff, so tells himself that if she accepts his job offer, she is off limits.
Angelique is very attracted to Lavoie, and very flattered by his offer, but knows that the daughter (and now sister of) a Marquess cannot work in a gaming establishment, even if her identity was hidden behind a mask. Should the truth come out, her reputation would be ruined. There are also countless rumours about Lavoie – that he’s a spy, possibly an assassin and certainly that he’s a unrepentant rake. However, when the idiot Marquess steals all her winnings from the club to go buy himself a new coat, the same money that was meant to pay for their brothers’ tuition at Harrow, she sees no other option but to accept the job offer. Angelique had just one season out in Society, before her mother took ill and died. Her mother made her wear fashionable dresses that nonetheless were dreadful for Angelique’s voluptuous figure and her intelligence and shyness was off-putting to most people. She was given the nickname of the Marble Maiden. When Alexander looks at her or talks to her, Angelique can forget her horrid nickname and she likes the way his obvious attraction makes her feel. Ever sensible, she does recognise how foolish a romantic entanglement between them would be, but is very tempted to act on their mutual pants feelings nonetheless.
When Angelique’s younger brother, the selfish and clueless Marquess of Sutton, finds himself caught literally red-handed over the corpse of a blood-drenched maid servant, having apparently broken into a nobleman’s house to steal some jewelry, Angelique is distraught. She seeks out the offices of upper class fixer firm Chagarre and Associates, who are rumoured to be able to cover up any scandal, no matter how bad – if the price is right. After speaking to owner, Miss Ivory Moore, Angelique discovers that Alexander, who had already offered her any help she might need, is in fact a part-owner of the company. She accepts how out of her depths she is and agrees to take his assistance.
Full review here.