I’ve mentioned before that I’m a great fan of historical romances with crossdressing heroines (or heroes – but those stories seem to crop up more rarely). Indeed, the blurb’s description of this book’s crossdressing female naturalist was so appealing that I completely omitted to check whether the novel was part of a series. It is – or at least the second in a duology – but stands on its own two feet perfectly well, with little knowledge required of the reader as far as past events involving the characters is concerned.
Eleanor Townsend isn’t particularly interested in finding a husband; her family, such as it is, is putting her under no pressure to marry, and she’s quite content to stay by herself in their Edinburgh residence, enjoying the limited delights of local society (compared to London, anyway), while her brother settles into life at their country residence with his new wife.
Eleanor’s real passion is for the insects she studies, although none of her research has been accepted by any of the exclusively male learned societies. On impulse she signs her latest paper on the mating habits of beetles with a male pseudonym – and suddenly finds that the author is being asked to present ‘his’ findings in person. Encouraged by her younger sister, and grudgingly supported by her brother, Eleanor dons a disguise and attends the meeting at which her alter-ego has been asked to speak.
While the majority of the audience are taken in by the somewhat odd young man in front of them, James MacGregor, a former prizefighter turned boxing salon owner, and the unacknowledged illegitimate son of a duke, realises almost straight away that the mannerisms he spots are those of a woman playing a role. James is determined to show his father just how far he has raised himself from humble beginnings and has been living beyond his means in the hope of securing a wealthy wife. Eleanor doesn’t fit his requirements, but he believes that she can secure him an introduction to the woman who currently interests him, due to her family’s status and wealth.
Faced with James’ threat to reveal her deception, Eleanor agrees to help him succeed with his; however, she soon finds herself leading an ever more extensive double life as she further explores, in her male persona, all those places barred to women, while at the same time gaining entry to higher parts of female society than she could previously access through her new friendship with James’ object of desire.
Both parties begin to tire of their secrets, however, especially as they come to realise that they have feelings for each other that far surpass those James thought he would develop for his rich miss. All comes good in the end, of course, but the real fun was to be had in following their various misadventures along the way.
A very enjoyable read, and one that makes me hope to make another trip to Edinburgh very soon, not to mention instigating a very real need to go back and read the previous book in this series.
Wallflower Eleanor Townsend is not like most women. She has no interest in marriage, the ton, or fashion. Instead, her heart lies with science. And when the opportunity to present a paper arises, she takes it, even though it means dressing as a man. But her disguise doesn’t quite work. Someone notices—and the brute intends to blackmail her!
Former prizefighter James MacGregor wants to be a gentleman, like the men he trains in his boxing saloon. His first step is gaining a beautiful, wealthy wife. Eleanor Townsend is not that woman, but a chance encounter gives him the leverage he needs. She’ll gain him entry to high society and help him with his atrocious manners, and in return, he won’t reveal her secret. It’s the perfect arrangement. At least until the sparks between them become more than just their personalities clashing. But there’s too much at stake for James to give in to his growing attraction.
Read an excerpt.