Escaping the invasion of Napoleon's army, Francesca Robin seeks to flee Italy on an English ship. When Francesca -- an artist whose risque paintings are much desired by wealthy gentlemen buyers -- learns of Admiral Lord Nelson's decree that no lady may gain passage on an English ship without a husband, she dares to do the unthinkable: find an eligible English bachelor and marry him at once. Estranged from his noble family, Captain Lord Edward Ramsden has built a stellar naval career. Proper and upstanding, he shocks himself by impulsively exchanging vows with this forward and flirtatious lady in distress. But in London, their mock marriage is turned upside down when Edward is unexpectedly named a duke -- and Francesca his unlikely duchess -- stunning the genteel "ton. Their newfound social status invites danger and scandal -- and now the duke risks all to win the heart of the woman he loves madly -- his bold-spirited duchess.