The last thing Tess wants is another husband. She's had three already. And through his abuse, one of them destroyed her ability to be intimate. So she is just fine being single. She spends her vast amounts of money supporting charities that help women in need. And she spends her time and considerable talents supporting the reformist movement.
But as the book begins she is faced with two problems. The first comes in the form of a vile man trying to blackmail her into giving up her 15 year-old stepdaughter for marriage. The second comes when she is nearly unmasked as a satirical cartoonist by Owen, an agent for the government. She realizes that she can solve both her problems at once by becoming Owen's bride. It's an idea that sounds even better with rumors that Owen is impotent and unable to force her into the marriage bed.
Owen knows there is more to Tess' proposal than meets the eye. But she captivates him to the point where he is willing to see where it all leads. Tess is a broken woman in some ways, but in others she is very strong. She is smart and loyal... and she does a fantastic job of hiding it all under the persona of a flighty wanton, a role thrust on her by society. Owen is a really solid guy. He sees beyond the façade Tess projects and grows to love and respect her for who she really is. The two surprise themselves and each other as the courtship that is supposed to be for show, becomes based on real affection.
Of course, Owen's not actually impotent, so it's only a matter of time before they have to deal with Tess' intimacy issues. I found this part of the story to be really anticlimactic. It's this big looming cloud throughout the whole book... one that has plagued Tess for a decade and suddenly she gets over it in a day. Literally, one day. The love scenes were hot, but if Tess was really that damaged, the road to their sexual intimacy should have been much bumpier.
There were times Tess made choices that annoyed me; and Owen held on to a secret that he shouldn't have, and it blew up in his face later. But overall, they're a good match.
This is book five in The Scandalous Women of the Ton series. The couples and storylines from previous books are woven into the plot. And there were a couple of times things got a little murky for me in the backstory of side character Tom Bradshaw. But for the most part, this works well as a standalone. 3 1/2 stars.*ARC Provided by NetGalley