Dominic Aikenhead and his brothers have traveled Europe picking up information on Napoleon for the British government. Dominic is in France when he wakes to the smell of smoke. The inn stables are on fire and he sets out to save the horses. Inside the stable is a young man working to save the them as well. On their last trip into the stable, the young man's bedshirt catches fire. While putting out the fire, he learns the truth; this courageous person is not a man but a woman. The next morning, Dominic tries to find her but is thwarted at every turn.
As the Duke of Calder, Dominic would normally not be attached to accompany a diplomatic mission. However, his ability to speak Russian makes him invaluable as the Tsar prepares to visit England. Dominic is tasked with keeping the Tsar's party out of trouble and learning whether the Tsar plans to interfere in English politics . On the docks while waiting for the Tsar's party, Dominic hears a voice like that of the young lady from the fire. Since his mother is urging him to remarry, Dominic finds himself thinking about the courage of the young lady. As he searches for the person speaking, he is surprised to find it belongs to a young man in a Russian cavalry uniform.
Alexei Ivanovich Alexandrov enlisted in the cavalry and distinguished himself in battle. His bravery results in a commission in the Mariupol Hussars, the Tsar's personal guard. It is a dream come true for Alexei. His gratitude is so great that when asked to spy on the Duke of Calder, he feels he cannot refuse. Only the Tsar knows the secret of his true identity.
As Dominic and Alexei spend more time together, Alex wants to tell the truth of her identity to Dominic. Dominic finds himself dreaming more about the young woman he saved from the fire the more time he spends in Alexei's company.
It's impossible to reveiw this book without spoiling the ending. Alex is falling in love with Dominic and he with her. With their loyalties firmly divided, it is hard to envision a happy ending between the two. Based on a true story, it's not hard to appreciate this story. Alex's courage, daring and strength of character are all admirable qualities. Dominic's conviction and belief in what he is doing for his country make it easy to enjoy the interactions between him and Alexei. The main sticking point for me was Alex's ambivalence toward her femininity. She would go months without any desire to dress as anything but a man and then she would be overwhelmed by her love for Dominic and take a chance of appearing in public as a female to entice him.
The author has done a great job of incorporating fictional characters into the historical setting of the visit of the Russian Tsar to England as the allies celebrated the defeat of Bonaparte. Overall, it was an interesting start to a trilogy about the Aikenhead brothers. However, it wasn't the strongest book in the trilogy and I found it hard to believe that Alexei was able to carry off the impersonation for five years.