In order to act as a courier for two star-crossed lovers, Helena Nash agrees to go to a masquerade ball dressed as a young man and wearing a face mask. Nothing can disguise her womanly shape however, and she finds herself saved from a group of young ruffians by the renowned swordsman, Ramsey Munro. He diffuses the situation by claiming her with a kiss. Here, without revealing her identity, she tries to thank him and explain that she doesn't usually find herself in such predicaments.
As the secrets she kept were not hers, she could no more reveal her reasons for being here than tell him her name.
"I am. Usually I am quite confident of a man's situation and character before I... That is he is not my concern. He means nothing to me beyond—" She broke off, warmth seeping into her cheeks. This would never do. To have him think her an adventurous lady was one thing, but she discovered she did not want him to think she was a prostitute. "I'm not a…" she searched for the proper term and decided to use the one he had, "the woman you think. I am not," she leaned forward earnestly, "the woman I appear to be."
"Really?" Humor danced in his eyes. "But your depiction is extraordinary! Why, right down to the yielding softness of your—"
His lips curved into a wolfish smile. "Well now, I confess myself utterly taken in." He leaned forward and continued confidingly, "I do hope you won't bandy about the heatedness of my response to you, will you? I should hate having to have to call people out over it. Quite ruins a dinner party."
"What?" she stammered.
"You are nonplussed." He stepped away. "But no more than I. I am in awe of your skill. I had heard there were clubs in the east end where gentlemen such as yourself practiced amazing transformations from one gender to another but I never—"
"I am not a gentleman!"
"One would never know that either," he said consolingly. "Perhaps you are not by birth but in speech and manner you are the equal of any peer," he frowned, "or peeress of my acquaint—"
"In no way whatsoever am I a man!" she declared, aghast. "I am entirely female. I am just not that sort of woman!"
"Oh?" He tipped his head, studying her form and face with every evidence of doubt. And Helena, her femininity for the first time in her life being suspect, could not refrain from puffing her chest out and tilting her chin to an angle which would display to advantage the long, graceful neck many, many men had declared flawless.
"Well?" she demanded haughtily.
His sudden smile declared his delight but she had the sudden suspicion that he'd been teasing her all along. "I believe you. You are female. Which is excellent as I confess I was concerned for my powers of discrimination. Not to mention my hopes for future heirs."
She should have been insulted. Mortified. At the very least, shocked. Instead, she laughed.