Lady Annabelle Wylde, beautiful but capricious, is getting desperate. The man she'd loved all her life married someone else a couple of years ago, and the men she'd turned to after losing Damon have all abandoned her for other women - though she's self-critical enough to admit that at least some of it is her own fault. So when her father brings her a proposal of marriage from a man she has never met, she's just desperate enough to escape the whispers to accept.
Miles Croft, recently returned from the wars and sold out of the army, needs a wife. Money isn't an issue; what he needs most of all is someone who has a secure position in Society, so that she can launch his younger sister Camille and provide a steady influence for his younger brother. His mother, cowed by her second husband, has neither the confidence nor the influence to help - so his choice of wife is crucial. Lady Annabelle appears to fit the bill in every respect.
So a marriage of convenience, entered into not because either character even likes the other. Annabelle, on her wedding night, is shocked to discover that her husband actually intends to consummate the marriage *now* rather than waiting until she feels ready to do so - and, although the act is mildly pleasurable for her, the pain she feels doesn't recommend lovemaking very much to her.
But then, the very next day, as they journey to Miles' holiday home in Devon, Annabelle is taken ill. She has influenza, and is very badly affected, almost dying. A quack doctor has her head shorn and cuts and bleeds her; that, combined with an alarming degree of weight loss, robs her of her good looks and turns her in appearance into a skeletal, bald, pock-marked child. Miles has stayed with her throughout, out of pity and a sense of responsibility, but it is during this time that the couple actually become close - far closer, it seems, than they might have become had Annabelle not been ill.
But then, how can she re-enter Society with her looks gone? How can she possibly help Camille? And be the kind of wife Miles needs? Annabelle fears that he will never see her as attractive again, let alone want to make love with her and give her children. But does Annabelle's only interest for Miles lie in her looks?
Contrary to another comment, Miles does not lose all sexual interest in Annabelle while she's recovering; he does want her, but he's afraid to hurt her or get her pregnant before she is strong enough to carry a child.
This book continues Edith Layton's C series, and readers of that series will recognise Annabelle as the capricious, selfish woman rejected by Damon, Rafe and Drum, and in whom Eric Ford pretends an interest order to help Rafe. Can she be redeemed? I really wasn't sure - but then Layton confounded all my expectations and made me like Annabelle. It is her illness which makes all the difference: robbed of her beauty, Annabelle has to fall back on finer qualities, which make her a much more likeable person.
You will also get glimpses of characters from previous books in To Marry A Stranger, and there is hope that Eric Ford may get his own book next. A good read!