Overworked and underpaid curate James Weatherly is resigned to a life of genteel poverty, never suspecting he is heir to a dukedom until a solicitor appears on his doorstep. Alas, on the way to claim his inheritance, James is set upon by footpads whose handiwork deprives him of his memory.
Margaret Darrington is no stranger to genteel poverty herself, since the death of her father has left her in charge of her two younger siblings and feather-brained aunt. But the decisive Margaret has a plan: to salvage the family fortunes, she has only to put her beautiful younger sister, Amanda, in the way of marrying a wealthy man—perhaps the new Duke of Montford, who is expected to arrive any day.
When Margaret finds a beaten and bloodied young man on the road, his shabby attire and collection of second-hand books lead her to mistake him for the tutor she has hired for her younger brother. Still reeling from the attack upon his person, James is relieved to have the mystery of his identity so easily "solved," and accompanies her home.
As James's bruises fade, Margaret discovers that he is, if not classically handsome, undeniably pleasing to look upon, with an appealingly self-deprecating wit. Suddenly Amanda's brilliant marriage is in jeopardy, for how can any impressionable young female resist such a paragon? But nothing about the penniless pedagogue is quite as it seems, and Margaret would do well to forget about her sister, and look to her own heart instead . . .