Five years prior to the start of the book, Lady Mercy Danforthe eloped with Rafe Hartley, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. The two youngsters were discovered before their marriage could be consummated and the marriage was quickly and quietly annulled. Since then Rafe has harbored an intense hatred of Mercy. When Molly, Mercy's best friend and lady's maid leaves Rafe at the altar and Mercy must be the one to break the news to him, he goes off the rails, leading Mercy to declare that she'll find him another wife. In the course of this plan, she must spend more time in his presence than she has done in the preceding five years and their long tamped down attraction to each other flares into life again, hot and intense.
Mercy as a character is meddling and bossy. She is a control freak and little does Rafe know it but she's been controlling him for years, disguising herself as a wealthy, elderly benefactor in order to direct his life. She can see the ways in which he is living his own life wrongly but cannot for the life of her see the bad choices she's made in hers, not least of which is getting engaged to a dull and colorless older man. She is imperious and childish. Rafe, on the other hand, is stubborn and proud with a temper that flares like a match. He is dominant and willfully contentious. He has a great hatred, one rather unearned, for the aristocracy despite the fact that his aristocratic father tries very hard to make up for the shortcomings in his son's life. Mercy and Rafe spend much of their time fighting each other and their renewed attraction. They use verbal barbs to drive each other batty. Insults and shouting are the currency of their conflict with each other. And while it could be argued that Rafe's anger is dangerously close to love, it comes across as a violent lust which Mercy, despite being generally cool and high-handed, reciprocates.
There is nothing gentle or pleasant, or even very convincing, about their love story. As characters, they are immature, spoiled, and unpleasant. They do deserve each other. The idea of class conflict being a primary reason for their original separation had potential but when there turned out to be very little to back up the deep simmering resentment on Rafe's part, it simply cheapened the concept. As I read romances for escape, sadly this one was not one I enjoyed all that much.