Ava Moreland's spoiled sister Priscilla is pregnant, a problem for any single woman in 1882, but catastrophic for the Moreland family and their status in high New York society. Ava's determined to save her family from being ostracized. A husband is the solution, but it must be someone unknown, willing to marry for pay and disappear after the marriage.
Ava and her father's trusted secretary Harold Winters encounter Joshua Angell near the end of the time limit for legitimizing Cilia's baby. They hire Angell, planning to transform him into an externally acceptable husband before returning to New York.
Ava, strongly attracted from the beginning, refashions Angell for her sister and is astonished as he learns with amazing speed. Angell doesn't reveal his secret nor his reason for deciding to never marry or have children-he's the son of the master of a plantation and a third generation mixed-blood slave woman. Angell was raised a gentleman until the master begot a legitimate son, then he and his mother lost their pampered life.
In this innovative take on the Pygmalion plot, Elaine Fox demonstrates a virtuoso understanding of American class divisions and attitudes. This one's a carefully created romance every bit as entertaining as "My Fair Lady." Sensual (July, 320 pp., $4.99)