Factory girl Nell Whitby's life changes dramatically when she sneaks into the Earl of Rushden's residence to get revenge for the death of her mother. Having been told that she is the Earl's daugther while said mother was ill, Nell wrote to the Earl for money to pay for a doctor, but heard nothing. She quickly discovers that this is because the old Earl is dead, and never got her letter.
Simon St. Maur, the new Earl, is nearly penniless, as all the former Earl's money was left to his two daughters, Katherine and Cornelia. Cornelia has been missing without a trace since she was six, and Simon is delighted to see that Nell, the angry young woman who's pointing a gun at his naked self (yup, the hero is buck naked when he meets the heroine for the first time) bears a striking resemblance, though thinner and grimier, to Lady Katherine. Realizing that Nell believes herself to be the bastard daughter of the late Earl, he in fact surmises that she is the missing Lady Cornelia, having been kidnapped by her "mother" many years ago. He can promise her a wonderful new life as a rich heiress, all she has to do is marry him.
Simon needs to prove to society and the courts that Nell is actually the missing heiress, and unless he marries her, he'll not see a penny of her fortune. At first, he convinces Nell to stay by threatening to call the police on her if she doesn't, she did after all, break into his house and threaten to shoot him. Later, the prospect of pretty dresses and any valuables she can filch and resell when she goes back to her old life in Bethnal Green makes her agree to the deal, as she still doubts Simon's word that he will actually marry her, and convince anyone that she is a noblewoman. As time goes on, though, Nell starts to remember things, and she begins to wonder if Simon could actually be correct in his conviction that she is Lady Cornelia.
Meredith Duran is now an author whose books I pre-order, and eagerly look forward to. Her characters are always something out of the ordinary, and their path to the happy ending is usually not an easy one. She has an excellent grasp of language, and I find myself almost wanting to read bits of her prose out loud, which doesn't happen that often in romance novels. Both Simon and Nell are wonderfully complex characters, Nell, especially. Refreshingly, she doesn't deny her near-instant attraction to Simon, but realizes that while he may be telling the truth, and she may have been born a noblewoman, they are from vastly different worlds, and he holds a terrifying amount of power and influence over her. Should he change his mind, she's the one withe the most to lose. Simon starts out as a bit of a cold opportunist, and probably grows and changes even more than Nell. At first, he clearly doesn't deserve her, but at the end, he has proven that he's her perfect match.