Many a fortune has been lost on the turn of a card, and the Regency era knew its share of such happenings. Tom Cherington has been busy losing his, mostly to one Lord Rowe, and when Tom finally observes the older man cheating, and then accuses him, naturally this leads to a duel. Knowing he's not any better a marksman than he was a gambler, Tom begs his best friend, Kit Highclare, to marry Louisa, Tom's sister, should the worst happen. Then Tom writes Louisa, asking her to marry Kit to secure her future.
Louisa has been employed as a governess to eight-year-old Emma Lawrence, but when Emma's older brother Geoffrey returns from his Army duty, he decides he wants Louisa, but not as his wife. Of course, the second Lady Lawrence has other ideas. She wants Emma sent away to school, which will remove the need for a governess, and then she can have the dashing young Captain all to herself.
Kit Highclare, heir to the Earl of Redway has considered himself in love with Thea Rowe, wife of the same Lord Rowe who has cheated Tom of his meager fortune. When Thea refuses to leave her husband to elope with Kit, he grudgingly agrees to marry Louisa, if --
Of course, the duel goes badly for Tom, who does at least manage to wound Rowe in the arm before he falls. Keeping his promise, Kit seeks out Louisa and asks her to marry him, and she agrees, knowing she has no other choice but this hastily-arranged marriage of convenience.
Gossip being the second most favorite occupation of the ton, tales begin to fly. Louisa and Geoffrey, Kit and Thea--all grist for society's gossip mills. Kit, who has against all his teachings, carried on an affair with a married woman thinking himself truly in love with her, now finds himself thoroughly jealous of Louisa. He's falling in love with her, and wants her all to himself. Unfortunately, these tempting little tid-bits of gossip keep falling in his ear, leading him to believe what he doesn't want to. And at the same time, of course, he thinks he can continue to see Thea, even if in an innocent way, while in actuality, that won't work either.
Louisa is no milk-and-water miss, however, having a well-developed sense of honor which precludes her from acting in a hypocritical way. She gives as good as she gets, startling--and embarrassing--Kit, and prompting him to keep her in seclusion at the family home on the Isle of Wight. Duty is served, but behind the scenes shenanigans keep the pot well stirred, as honor begins to lose the battle to gossip. In the end, all comes right, but it's a near thing, as finally, the two confess their love for and to each other.
As usual this gifted author has gone beyond the ordinary London settings by taking us to the Isle of Wight for a summer regatta in the Solent between Southhampton and the island. You'll chuckle at the humor-laden references to the wardrobe so hurriedly put together for Louisa, in this unusually complex, yet very traditional---and very enjoyable--Regency novel.