In this book, the author has taken a stock Regency plot, the titled rake and the comprised virgin, and given it a new twist.
Robert Stilton, Marquess of Monroyal (a secondary character in Oliver's An Unsuitable Match), has spent most of his thirty-six years avoiding marriage and indulging in dissipation with his similarly minded friends. Now, however, his friends seem to be finding themselves wives and wager that he, too, will soon be leg-shackled. Monroyal is adamant that he definitely will never marry and, entering into yet another wager, vows to continue his hedonistic pursuit of willing females.
Lady Pamela, daughter of the Earl of Melrose, is content at twenty-five with her unmarried state. No great beauty, she failed to take during her single season and now devotes her time to musical composition. A neighbor, Sir Rodney Morton, has proposed, but his desire is mainly for her fortune.
Pamela's cousin Freddy has met a paragon of youthful beauty and wishes Pamela and her father to accompany him to Brighton to meet the beauty and help him protect her from the unwanted advances of a lecherous marquess. The marquess, of course, turns out to be Monroyal who is the hated enemy of Lord Melrose due to a scandal and duel before Pamela was born.
In Brighton, the beauty turns out to be suspiciously susceptible to Monroyal's maneuvers in spite of Freddy's belief in her innocence. While trying to aid Freddy, Pamela follows Monroyal and the beauty into the country where Monroyal has planned a seduction. Pamela's appearance thwarts the planned seduction, and the beauty's defection and flight leave Pamela herself in Monroyal's company and her reputation in jeopardy.
Monroyal, who is beginning to question his life style, accepts that he has compromised Pamela and that he must propose to the daughter of his greatest enemy. Pamela, however, is not as accepting and refuses him.
"And pray, whatever gave you the notion that you would make a good husband, my lord?" she said coolly. "Have you ever assessed your worth in terms other than rank and fortune? Take those away—and believe me I value neither of them—what is left? An aging roue who spends his life in the pursuit of dissipation and debauchery in all their most disgusting forms. A libertine who would seduce a brainless chit of seventeen for a paltry wager of five hundred pounds. What sensible female would consider such a man an eligible match?"
Give that lady a standing ovation!
Of course, in the end Pamela is forced to accept his proposal even though she tries to run away with Sir Rodney to avoid marrying Monroyal. After the ceremony, Monroyal takes her to a distant estate and deposits her with a banished aunt and returns to his former life.
When Monroyal's younger brother is wounded and turns up at the estate, he sends an urgent message to Monroyal that brings the errant bridegroom back. Soon Monroyal's beloved stepmother and six half-siblings also arrive, and Monroyal gains a new perspective on the wife he never wanted and she on him.
Monroyal, of course, turns out at heart to be anything but the unprincipled debauchee he seems to be. He seems to be a trifle over-drawn. First he's a dissipated hedonist, then the tortured introspective and finally the rigid traditionalist. Whatever his next persona, it's sure to be intense. Living with this guy is going to be no picnic.
Lady Pamela is a terrific heroine—intelligent, talented, strong. I often think that the poor virgin who's forced into marriage with the jaded rake is doomed to disappointment when the lure of the fleshpots pulls him back into his former way of life. If anyone can keep Monroyal on the straight and narrow, it's Pamela.
There are a number of stock characters in the story: the greedy tart, the pushy mother, the free-spirited brother, the avaricious fortune-hunter, but what this story lacks in originality it makes up for in creativity. Yes, you've read this before but not quite like this.
Incidentally, there's a minor subplot concerning Monroyal's cousin Lord Blandford that is left unresolved. I wouldn't be surprised if the resolution is destined for its own book.