Kate is the oldest daughter in her slightly untraditional family. She and her siblings are all named after Shakespeare characters, something she can blame on her actress mother. Her father was the second born son of an earl, and his family disinherited and broke off all contact when he married so far below his station. While the rest of the family doesn’t care about the loss of status they never enjoyed, Kate dreams of reuniting the two branches of the family, being accepted as a member of their class, and marrying well. As the novel begins, it seems her efforts may have finally payed off because she receives an invitation from her aunt, the current countess.
Until his brother’s marriage to a former prostitute/mistress, Nicholas Blackshear was on his way to a promising political/legal career. Now his brother’s actions have affected his prospects, and despite him immediately cutting off his relationship with his brother (Martha is the only sibling that still speaks to Will but it also helps that his actions make hers seem tame). Nick has long worked with Kate’s father and is one of his protégés. He had at one point developed feelings for Kate and even attempted to declare himself, but she turned him down because his was not the type of marriage she aspired to attain. Being the daughter of scandalous marriage, she feels for Nicholas’ current predicament since like her lack of status, his fall from grace is due to actions of others.
Kate’s father has found a potential job or role for Nick. A newly returned officer wants to get involved in politics, and Nick would be the perfect person to help prepare him. The officer doesn’t know of the family disgrace, and this position would be a way for Nick to get his career and future back on track. Kate sees an opportunity at an advantageous marriage, even though as the novel progresses, she starts to wonder if status is really worth everything regardless of who gets hurt, and even notices her former suitor in a new light.
It’s not that this isn’t a good romance novel. Grant’s writing absolutely puts her books among the top of the genre, even when she is following a very conventional story line. It is simply that this one pales compared to her other novels. It’s absolutely worth the read, since even her lesser novel is better than many. I think one reason they stand out to me so much is that they feel much more grounded in reality. Most of the other romance novelist tend to include quips and the occasional quirky character, but Grant never goes for easy levity. I couldn’t even quite put my finger on this until I saw alwaysanswerb‘s description of Grant’s novels as “more harsh and less escapist” which is the perfect way of putting it.