While this is the third novel Mia Vincy has published, and the second book chronologically in her Stanhope Abbey series, all the books work well on their own. She writes excellent historical romances, though, so you should check out all of them.
Arabella Larke has been promised to Guy Roth, the Marquess of Hardbury since they were both children. He’s been off exploring the world for years and years, and Arabella has been able to put off any other offers of marriage because she claimed to be honouring this agreement. However, Hardbury has returned to England, and one of the first things he did was send a letter breaking the engagement. Arabella’s father is sick of waiting for Arabella to find a husband and start producing heirs, so he promises to cast her off entirely if she doesn’t accept the suit of Lord Sculthorpe, a wealthy baron, and lauded war hero. Since Sculthorpe’s words and leers make Arabella’s skin crawl, she is desperate to find a way to escape marriage to him.
At the Prince Regent’s ball in his honour, Guy Roth finds himself reunited with his former betrothed after she schemes to get them literally tied together for a time. While they were growing up, Arabella was the only one who ever dared to properly challenge him and they had a very combative relationship. She always liked to brag about how she was going to be a Marchioness one day, and Guy isn’t really surprised to discover that Arabella is now a haughty, proud, and very manipulative woman. She represents everything he fled England to escape, including his now-dead father’s tyrannical control over Guy. He’s convinced she’s upset that she’s lost her chance to become his wife, and refuses to listen to anything she suggests, even as he fights his attraction to her.
While Guy was away, defying his father’s expectations, his sisters were put under the guardianship of one of his father’s friends, Sir Walter Threadgold. Guy wants to find a nice, calm, charming wife, regain guardianship of his sisters and settle down into the family life he’s always dreamed of. He just needs to prove that Sir Walter is mismanaging his sisters’ money somehow, he just needs to find the proof.
Back before Guy left England, he fell in love with an unsuitable woman, who his father disapproved of. Arabella’s current fiancee, Lord Sculthorpe, ended up seducing this woman, and when challenged to a fight by Guy left him beaten severely and humiliated. The lady in question ended up becoming one of London’s most popular courtesans. Arabella, therefore, believed that Guy might want to aid her in getting revenge against Sculthorpe by pretending to still be engaged to Arabella (until she could sort out a more suitable husband for herself). To her dismay, he distances himself from schemes, manipulation, dishonesty, and skulduggery of any kind. Guy is all that is honourable and stalwart, which doesn’t really help Arabella get out of the match with the creepy Lord Sculthorpe, who seems obsessed with her virginity and the fact that he will possess her once they’re married.
While Guy may be honest, honourable, and not have a manipulative bone in his body, his life-long rivalry with Arabella means that he doesn’t just toss her out when she shows up at his townhouse at midnight, demanding that he deflower her (she’s determined to claim her virtue for herself, because she’ll be damned if Sculthorpe gets it). He thinks it’s yet another scheme to get him to marry her and wants to reject her, but instead, their strange battle of wills and wits ends up with Arabella having achieved her goal of getting deflowered, leaving Guy absolutely baffled when she then leaves and claims she’s gotten all she needed from him.
As Guy still insists on believing the worst about her, and refusing to listen to a word she says about how his eldest sister Frederica is in trouble, Arabella takes matters into her own hands and makes sure her family invites the Threadgolds to their estate, so Guy’s sisters are nearby and she can keep an eye on them. She’s shocked to discover that her father has decided that rather than getting married in the spring, like she’s first believed, he intends for her to marry Sculthorpe within the month. She has a lot less time to free herself than she believed but refuses to be told what to do by anyone. If only Guy would have agreed to the fake engagement plan, everything would be so much easier…
Full review on my blog.