Ladies don't propose marriage. So when Peter Stannard unexpectedly inherits an Earldom and a Yorkshire estate from his uncle, he is startled to receive such a proposal from a neighbouring landowner, the widowed Lady MacDonald. To avoid giving offence by refusing he invents, with his brother John providing details, a Spanish fiancée.
The Priory and Glebe Court were originally one, but Henry V111 divided it to reward two supporters. Lady MacDonald's father and Peter's uncle once planned to reunite the estates, until Edward Stannard foiled the scheme by eloping to Gretna with the previous Rector's daughter. Now Edward is dead at Waterloo, so is Lady Macdonald's husband. Determined on her scheme, she dispatches her brother-in-law to Spain with orders to break the betrothal in any way he can.
When Gabrielle's father dies she is destitute. As he never spoke of his family, from whom he had been estranged, the only English relative she knew was Jemima, Lady MacDonald, who had occasionally written to them. She had no money to return to Madeira and her dead mother's family. The lawyers dealing with her father's affairs pack her off to Jemima, where Gabrielle tries to earn her keep by teaching little Prudence.