Mary Farren is the daughter of a Lord, and her sister, Diana, has been playing about with too many servants. When Mary, on the eve of her long-awaited "Grand Tour" to the continent, tries to save her sister from her father's wrath, it has one very unexpected consequence: she is ordered to take her sister with her by their father, who is tired of having to deal with his younger daughter's dalliances with the stable boys and groomsmen.
She finds her sister uninterested in the same things she is: antiques, old paintings and museums, so when in France, she leaves her sister and their chaperone sleeping in the hotel and goes out to a small shop selling antiquities. Unbeknownst to her, the owner of the shop is a conman, and most of the items in his shop are fakes, created by sharpers to sell to tourists with more money than common sense.
There, she encounters Lord John Fitzgerald, a near-penniless Irish Lord who makes his way by playing cards for a living all over Europe. He's had a good night, and has come to Dumont's shop to see if the man has anything genuine in all the dross. Both he and Mary are taken with a painting of an angel, but not the usual sort of angel, rather an angry and protective one, with a fierce expression. Fitzgerald knows it is real, and more than taken with the picture, he is also taken with Mary. He attempts to buy the picture for her, but she offers more to Dumont and buys the painting for herself. He finds this charming, and after she leaves, he quickly questions Dumont, figuring out the painting was probably stolen.
Still taken with Mary, he tracks her to her hotel and offers to buy her some fresh strawberries. She is about to agree, when Dumont appears and tells her to let no one know that she has the painting. She is shaken by the warning, and leaves Fitzgerald to move on to Paris with her sister and chaperone. Later that night, Dumont is killed and his shop burned, and Fitzgerald tracks Mary down again to inform her of this new development. Feeling less than sanguine about her safety, and still attracted to and intrigued by her, he offers to show her and her sister around to all the places they would like to go, taking the place of their bearleader, or guide.
Mary, finding him attractive, as well as his offer to help her unravel the mystery of the painting, agrees. The two of them spend time in each other's company, and find their attraction growing. But there is danger. Some very ruthless men want that painting, and will do anything, including theft and murder, to retrieve it. Can Lord Fitzgerald keep Mary *and* her sister safe, or will the men who are searching for the painting kill or injure them before they can unravel the mystery surrounding it?
I liked this book a great deal. The characters are fresh and interesting, and even though they have little in common at the start of the book, they are soon drawn together by the mystery they have stumbled into and their mutual attraction for each other. Set against a backdrop of medieval, renaissance and regency France, the book sppealed to me very much, drawing me into the story in a way few other romance novels have done lately.
I recommend this one highly. It didn't just stand out because I compared it to a bunch of losers, but because it is very, very good. It's more than just the characters, the mystery, and close brushes with death or maiming, but all of those combined and more that makes a sweet and thrilling love story that's a sheer pleasure to read.