Elysia Rougemont is all set to marry the Count of Vannes, Jacques St. Simeon, but members of his family, including his nephew, Conon St. Simeon, think she is a money-grubbing witch who seeks only to profit from the match. For Jacques St. Simeon is an old man, and fat and unhealthy from a lifetime of overindulgence. But since Elysia had no say in the marriage, she cannot get out of it.
Discomfitted by Conon's remarks, Elysia makes it through the rest of her marriage day until she must go upstairs for her wedding night. Then, her new husband accidentally stabs her in the thigh with his eating knife, making a bloodstain on the bedsheets, and when he finally heaves himself off her, asks her to strip for him. She does so, only for her new husband to have a heart attack and die before the marriage can be consummated.
But when she summons help for her new husband, the bloodstain on the sheet makes it seem that he has deflowered her. So even though her marriage lasted less than a day, she must stay at least a month in her new home to ensure that she is not pregnant. She attempts to say it is not necessary, but no one seems interested in letting her explain, so she finally gives up and decides she can use some time to relax in the castle that was to be her new home.
Although Conon resents her even more now that his uncle died so quickly after marrying her, she doesn't act like the sort of money grubber who is amused by getting so much for so little. Eventually, he begins to like her, and finds himself attracted to this lovely young woman. Adding to her troubles is that the man set to guard her by her overlord wishes to force Elysia into marriage with him, and Conon must soon rescue her from her erstwhile guard.
While Conon escorts Elysia back to the English castle where she was born and raised, he comes to think of her as a money-grubber once more. Lacking money after her father died, Elysia set up a linen-making business out of her home that brought her and her mother much-needed income. Now that it is successful, her mother has been forced into marriage with a neighboring landowner, threatening Elysia's business and peace of mind. When her new stepfather seems determined to marry her off, she asks Conon to intercede on her behalf with the King. But instead he comes back as a suitor for her hand, along with his friend who quickly becomes interested in Elysia's mother.
Can Elysia trust Conon after he betrayed her by not doing what she asked? And can he trust her when all she seems interested in is money and being financially solvent? Just what happened to her bridal portion from her marriage to Count Vannes? Does Elysia have it? Does her new stepfather have it? And can Elysia and Conon ever be happy with the issues of trust and money overhanging their relationship?
This was an okay book. It's well-written and skillfully done, but I just never got into the story very much, so it was less successful for me. Elysia's story of struggling to maintain her independence despite being unable to do much on her own without a man overseeing her is historically accurate as well as being poignant. However, Conon's dislike of Elysia being in trade and trying to keep herself and her mother free and independent made me itch to slap him silly. I would have thought that being dependent on his uncle's generosity (while being constantly disappointed) would have made him a little more sympathetic to her plight. Eventually he does come around, but in my opinion, it took him way, way too long to do so.
I found him a less than compelling hero for this, and that made it hard for me to lose myself in the story. So, not exactly one I'd recommend, but an okay read if there is nothing else around.