It's the late Georgian period in England. Emma Fairbourne's father, owner of a well-regarded auction house, has died. Emma's brother Robert, her father's heir, is believed to have drowned in a shipwreck some time ago, so it's up to Emma to keep the auction house afloat. But she's a woman and it's 1798. No one would have any confidence in a business run by a female.
In addition, Darius, Earl of Southwaite, who has been a "silent partner" in the business, now wants Emma to sell it and live off funds invested after the sale. That's what women are supposed to do. They're not supposed to work. But convincing Emma of this will be easier said than done.
Between Darius and Emma there's not just the clash of wills about the auction house, there's also some great sexual tension and attraction, which Emma in particular needs to fight. She must not surrender to Darius' will, in or out of bed. Emma is a great heroine, with just the right amount of gumption, willing to stand up for what she thinks is necessary.
This is an excellent HR, with an interesting and complex storyline, with spies, smugglers, the question of the exact circumstances of Emma's father's death, and the mystery of Emma's brother. Did Robert drown or is he still alive? What all was Emma's father involved in before his unexpected death? Can Emma find the answers to these questions? And can she save the auction house?
Hunter gives us this very enjoyable story and, in addition, her trademark great romance between a rather autocratic (but hunky) hero and a heroine with a backbone and intelligence. Her heroines sometimes can become a bit weak when around the overly strong hero, but Emma here manages to hold her own and confound Darius often. This is the best HR I've read in months.
Be on the lookout for #2 in this Fairbourne Quartet, The Conquest of Lady Cassandra, which will be released in October of 2012. Cassandra is the rather scandalous daughter of a peer and is best friends with Emma. Their relationship in Emma's story is lovely to read and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Cassandra in the sequel.
BTW, Hunter puts to great use her Ph.D. in Art History in this HR, with references to famous painters of the time period whose works are being auctioned off at Fairbourne's. This is, as I said, a very complete and satisfying read.