Elizabeth Hotchkiss lives with her younger siblings in gentile poverty; she is Lady Danbury’s companion, an irascible widow who rarely shows her softer side. Elizabeth decides something must be done about their situation and then amazingly she somehow stumbles across a small red book titled “How to marry a Marquis”. Despite being embarrassed by such a find it meets her needs and her sister Susan quickly decides to use the book to help Elizabeth entrap a suitable suitor.
Lady Danbury requests her nephew James Sidlow, the Marquis of Riverdale to come to her house in disguise as her estate manager to investigate some letters trying to blackmail her. James has considerable experience in undercover work through his previous experience as an agent for the war office. James is intrigued by his aunt’s companion and when he discovers Elizabeth's secret plan he agrees to help her attract a husband. However their practise and his teaching methods set off an attraction between them both.
Despite finding love and rescuing Elizabeth from the attentions of a dishonourable man, James is unable to resolve the issue of who the blackmailer is. He decides to take matters in hand and to sort all both his aunt’s and his own personal problems out by taking a brief visit to London. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is forced to attend her Ladyship's masked ball and makes a new best friend in Caroline Ravencroft (nee Trent) this leads to Elizabeth discovering James’s true identity.
Elizabeth is horrified that a real Marquis has been making fun of her marriage intentions but both of the lovers’ friends and family conspire to bring them together. This book has an appearance from Caroline and Blake from the previous “spies” book
I really did like James in this book, he was far more appealing than the miserable Blake in the previous “spies” book and it was good to see him taking a larger role as in the earlier story he was merely a convenient matchmaker and constantly complained that the couples arguing was giving him a headache! He has much more humour but also brings a bit of “worldliness” to the quiet and rather dull life Elizabeth leads. It’s also great to see more Lady Danbury, who I loved in the Bridgerton books too – so this appealed on many levels for me, as I’m sure it does for other readers of Quinn’s books.
As a heroine, Elizabeth is a bit wet, there’s only so much wandering around rose gardens a girl can do and she really needs to get over herself and just admit that James is wonderful, despite being a Marquis! The idea of a regency version of “The Rules” is slightly bizarre, as is the everyone descends on the cottage scene - but overall this is one of the Quinn books (other than the first two of Bridgerton series) I enjoyed the most!