Appearances aside, The Pretender only pretends to take place on Earth. It is actually set in a galaxy far away, on the Romance Planet, where Earth conventions are just a rumor and authors can rewrite history with impunity.
The heroine - Elizabeth, daughter of the Duke of Sudeleigh - is presented as a feminist author who is regularly published in a widely circulated feminist brochure in 1746. When the horrified Duke of Sudeleigh discovers that his darling oldest daughter is a seditious author demanding female equality, he sends Elizabeth and her younger sister, Isabella, to Scotland where the unwitting Elizabeth is to be married to Lord Purfoyle. (On Earth, would a noble father send two young, unmarried women off to Scotland, unchaperoned except for two burly footmen, shortly after Culloden? Donít be silly.)
When their coach breaks down, a Highland crofter rescues the girls from a very deep mud puddle (on Earth, two burly footmen would probably have been up to the task) and accompanies them to an inn. Elizabeth gets drunk and passes out in the taproom, whereupon the crofter carries her up to the room she does not share with her sister. (Earth? Sorry.) When he returns shortly thereafter to return the shoe she dropped, she is scantily clad and in bed, but begs him to stay with her because she is afraid of the dark. Which he does. Naturally, heís discovered lying beside her, naked, the next morning.
Elizabethís sister insists that this Scottish peasant, having compromised Elizabeth, must marry her. They return to Sudeleigh where the Duke is relieved to discover that the crofter is not really a poor farmer at all, but Douglas, heir to the Earl of Dunakin. The family estates and title were forfeit when Douglasís father supported the earlier Jacobite uprisings and Douglas has been attempting to get them back ever since. He hopes to do this, in spite of the fact that his brother is also a known Jacobite, supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie. (Good luck. Only here on the Romance Planet.)
The Duke offers to help Douglas achieve his goal - if Douglas takes Elizabeth back to Scotland for two months. There, without knowing who he really is, she will be a poor farmerís wife and learn the consequences of her heedless actions. The Duke compares this to handfasting, and says that if Douglas brings Elizabeth back with her virtue intact, heíll get Douglas an annulment and the ear of the King. (On Earth, of course, handfast couples had sex. Even when it came to trial marriages, Earth Scots had a secure grip on reality.)
Like so many Romance Planet heroines, the author spends a lot of time telling us how intelligent Elizabeth is, and then making her do every dumb thing she can think of. Near the end, Elizabeth finally shows herself to be a good sport, a trouper, and actually possessed of common sense and several working brain cells, but by that time Iím more than ready to come home to this planet.
Douglas is a very nice Highland laird kind of hero, handsome, clever, honorable, admirable and fun to look at without his shirt. But he doesnít really have a lot to do except get caught sleeping naked with Elizabeth after not making love to her. Itís the one real Romance Planet anomaly, and itís the one I could have done without.
In a note at the end of the book, the author tells us of the real Earth people and events appearing in the story, so she clearly did some research. Unfortunately she stopped too soon. In a book about a supposedly educated, independent woman, written by a woman for women, it seems a shame that the intelligence of women (characters and readers) should receive so little respect.