The book opens by telling us how Cynthia (a popular and lively young lady), once snubbed Miles at a ball, commenting to her friend that a second son is beneath her notice. Later, however, Cynthia falls on hard circumstances after being the center of a terrible scandal. Now her only hope is to find a quick match with a man who has not yet heard of her past--and her last opportunity for that will be at the house party at Miles' family home. Miles knows that Cynthia is desperate. He, too, has resigned himself to a dull marriage of convenience to one of the ladies at the party. Miles offers to help Cynthia find her wealthy and gullible husband, in exchange for a single kiss.
The entire book was much better than I expected. The tone is different from the previous book, with a cozier feel and a more limited setting. The plot is so much smaller, with just Cynthia and Miles dealing with their respective marriage woes--and yet I preferred it. I find that I was much more able to enjoy Long's excellent writing style and the way that she characterizes our hero and heroine.
Cynthia and Miles will challenge you as a reader, because they are both fairly flawed--at times even unlikeable. They are singular in their goals to ignore love and marry the most convenient person at the party, as expediently as possible. Cynthia's focus is on gaining financial security, since she is flat broke and facing a life of service if she doesn't marry right now. Miles wants to marry one particular girl, Georgina, because his family approves of the match in terms of prestige, and because her father has the money to fund another exploratory expedition for Miles. They both seem shallow. Cynthia seems vain and desperate. Miles seems cold and selfish. Yet they aren't unlikeable. Over the course of the book, you begin to understand their positions more and more--I felt a lot of empathy for Cynthia, who's financial situation is truly precarious. I felt rewarded for sticking with them to the end, and I felt that Cynthia in particular learned a lot about honor.
The relationship building is so slow, but slow worked for the tone of the book. They are clearly in love from an early point in the book, but both are too stubborn and bound by their circumstances to admit it. This is one of my very favorite romance tropes, and again I found it rewarding to reach that point where they finally give in.