John Smirke’s black marble heart has an insatiable need to be loved and admired, but his only developed talent is causing creative misery. Outside his immediate family he's universally hated. The word love has no emotional definition in his brain while the word romance can only be conceived as a state of heightened sexual pleasure. As he meets death at the end of a rapier in a senseless duel of honour he belatedly longs to find a woman who can love him, whatever that means.
Smirke’s in luck. He’s failed so miserably to learn even the basic skills of humanity that he's being sent back to his body to succeed or suffer his own hellish company.
His desire to avoid hell is heightened by the fact that Heaven has located one woman under the age of seventy who’ll love him. He's determined to find and marry this mysterious Joan as quickly as possible so he can have sex without getting the pox and ending up back in hell, but she could be anywhere. Of course if he'd been paying attention he'd have realised that there was only one female who could be the saintly Joan.
Miss J. Lark, Smirke’s unmet ward, has been living in Lincolnshire dying of loneliness. Learning Smirke will be in Bath for the winter Joan impulsively sets off to meet her wicked guardian and see if he’s as beautiful as his portrait. Love opens its tool box and sets to work on Smirke's marble heart. Hit by a sledgehammer, Smirke learns the hard way that love is far more than physical pleasure.