She wants to be one of the world's first female doctors; romance is not in her plans.
1887: Too tall, too shy and too bookish for England, Lady Josephine moves to Holland to become one of the world's first female doctors. With only one semester left, she has all but completed her studies when a power–hungry professor, intent on marrying her for her political connections, threatens to prevent her graduation. Together with the other Bluestockings, female comrades–in–study, she comes up with a daring, if somewhat unorthodox plan: acquire a fake fiancé to provide the protection and serenity she needs to pass her final exams.
But when her father sends her Lord Nicholas St. George, he is too much of everything: too handsome, too charming, too tall and too broad and too distracting for Josephine's peace of mind. She needed someone to keep her professor at bay, not keep her from her work with temptations of long walks, laughing, and languorous kisses.
Just as it seems that Josephine might be able to have it all: a career as a pioneering female doctor and a true love match, everything falls apart and Josephine will find herself in danger of becoming a casualty in the battle between ambition and love.
About the Author
Renee Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a side-note of dark humour. Renee has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse racing industry doing data analysis. She writes for two racing publications, churning out feature articles, interviews and advertorials. When she isn't reading or writing, Renee wrangles a partner, four children, and volunteers at the local cricket club committee.
If you'd like to know more about me, my books, or to connect with me online, you can visit my webpage www.reneedahlia.com, follow me on twitter, or like my Facebook page.
Read an Excerpt
To Charm a Bluestocking
By Renée Dahlia
Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Renee Dahlia
All rights reserved.
Josephine fiddled with her pencil as she sat with her friends, cosy on the leather bench seat. If only her mind would settle down and concentrate on her study. Outside the frigid wind blew strong and brought with it a knowledge that winter would be long and cold. The three friends had shunned the ancient university library, with its inadequate heating, in favour of the local pub. Here, they could talk as much as they liked, and as loud as they liked. The table was scattered with papers. Medical textbooks sat alongside notebooks embossed with the Municipal University of Amsterdam crest. In the hearth, a fire roared and crackled. It filled the room with much needed warmth, but did nothing to calm Josephine's mental state.
'So, Josephine,' said Claire, 'tell me about Professor Van Percy. I've seen the way he looks at you in class. Tell all.'
'Was it love at first sight?' asked Marie. A faint blush painted Marie's cheeks. Josephine wrinkled her nose at her friends' loved-up state. Her sense of unease had grown in the last few weeks until the mention of his name made her vaguely ill. Everyone knew that Professor Van Percy was a star on the rise at the university. He was expected to make great advances with his surgical research and students deemed it a privilege to be in his classes.
'Not you too!' exclaimed Josephine. Both her friends frowned, and Claire raised one eyebrow. It smirked at her and she huffed back at Claire.
'My aunt has just finished a long visit and the whole time she kept asking "when are you going to give up this doctor nonsense and find a nice man to marry?"' said Josephine. A strong mocking tone coloured her voice.
'Oh my! What did you say?' asked Marie.
'I told her that I needed a couple of months to consider the idea,' said Josephine. Claire roared with laughter.
'That is so sly! You'll be finished by then,' she said with a loud snort. Josephine just smiled, pleased to move on.
'Hold on a moment,' said Claire. 'Back to our professor. Everyone says it's a perfect match. He's a bit too focused for my tastes. But his standout ability with his hands might suit you.' Josephine shook her head at Claire's euphemism.
'Is he being unwelcome?' asked Marie. Josephine hugged herself tightly and rubbed her arms. Damn it. There was no avoiding this one. She pinched her lips together.
'Unwelcome! You make it sound like he's giving her bad poetry. We are almost doctors, surely we can talk without innuendo,' said Claire with a snort.
'Is the professor pestering you? We ladies must stick together,' said Marie. She ignored Claire and turned towards Josephine who grimaced. Her hands stilled, and she bit her bottom lip. She watched her friends as they leant towards her. She blew out a long breath and shrugged her shoulders.
'I, ahh. Where to start?' she said.
'With the worst bit,' said Claire. Josephine puffed out a laugh and tilted her head to the side.
'Fine. We have four weeks to go until our final exams,' she said. Her friends nodded in agreement as she stated the obvious. Claire opened her mouth to speak, and Josephine held up her finger in a 'wait' gesture.
'It's not just the rumour that we are desperately in love.' Josephine sucked in a deep breath. Her friends waited as she let the breath hiss back out between her teeth.
'I've just been informed that he will be the surgical assessor for my final grade.' Her words rushed out of her, a mirror to the panic that had infused her mind since she'd heard the fateful news.
'Oh,' said Marie.
'That is a problem. If it was just the rumour we could counter that. But if we antagonise him, he will fail you and you won't graduate,' said Claire.
'Yes. A random selection of two surgeons and I get him.' Josephine's shoulders sagged as the full weight of the problem was shared with her friends. They understood. The three of them had come so far, and none wanted to fall at this last hurdle. She had control over the final examinations; they were just a matter of hard work, and she was prepared. The surgical assessment was practical, and it all rode on the judgement of the professor.
'Forget the assessment for a while,' said Claire. She tapped her finger on her lips.
'What? No. That's the only part of this that matters,' Josephine retorted.
'I get that. Just let me think this through,' said Claire. Josephine watched her friend lean back against the seat. Claire's lips pursed together and Josephine felt the weight of her stare. She hunched her shoulders and turned away to lean over her notebook. She picked up her pencil and started to doodle.
Marie reached over and patted Josephine on the hand. The friendly gesture broke the tension, although the silence lingered.
'All I want is to study in peace. I really don't understand him, and I just don't need all this attention. It's very distracting,' said Josephine in a soft mumble.
'I don't understand. Are you sure the professor is in love with you?' asked Marie.
'Always with the love talk!' said Claire, a teasing note in her voice as she sat up straight. Marie gave her a quick shove on the shoulder and they both giggled. Josephine growled under her breath. Friends. How could they laugh about this?
'This isn't funny. Don't you think he acts as if he has the right to hold power over life and death?' said Josephine. She stabbed her notebook with her pencil. The lead broke.
'He is a surgeon; a God complex comes with the territory,' said Claire with a small shrug.
'Damn it, Claire. This isn't the time for joking.'
'So it's not just a rumour?' asked Marie.
'Well, if you'd said that he was actually harassing you,' said Claire over the top of Marie's comment. There was another pause. Josephine cleared her throat.
'Look. That's why this is confusing. He's, well ... I don't know. Not the usual way,' she said. She rubbed her eyes.
'So he hasn't told you that you shouldn't be here. That your proper place is in the home,' said Marie, her voice full of spite.
'Or in his bed,' said Claire. 'All you need is a baby in your belly. I'll give you one,' she mocked, and rolled her eyes. Marie nodded vigorously. Josephine couldn't stop a smile. Perhaps she had overthought this whole thing.
'Give up the space for a young man who needs it,' she said and flicked a glance at Claire whose face broke out in a huge smile.
'We've all heard that one plenty,' said Claire.
'Aside from marriage, that's basically all my aunt talks about. "Higher education is only for young men who require a profession. As a girl, and with your family's status, study is wasted on you,"' continued Josephine, mimicking her aunt's oft-touted words.
Most of the time she didn't mind that she was seen as a second class citizen. She was shy and spent her time hidden in her books. Although the expectation was that female doctors would stick to women's health, they still had to be trained the same way. Josephine would earn the same degree as the male students. She would reach her goal. To understand childbirth and improve survival rates. She couldn't save her own mother, but she could make a difference for other people.
'Josephine, if the professor isn't touching you or being outrageous, and he's just paying you some attention, what is the problem?' asked Marie. Josephine shuffled in her chair, and fiddled with her busted pencil.
'It's absurd, but I think he might want to marry me.' She bit her bottom lip. 'I would have thought he'd pick someone like you, Marie. Your father is in a position to promote him.'
Marie held her hands open over the table and her lips kicked up in a half-smile.
'You are forgetting Bertrand, my fiancé,' said Marie. 'Besides, it's not absurd that a man might view you like that. You are lovely, my friend. Any man would be lucky to gain your hand.' She reached out to grab Josephine's hand. Josephine pulled away and wrinkled her nose.
'I don't understand him.' She tapped the impotent pencil. 'Actually, it's the change I don't trust. He used to ignore me, now he is attentive. Far too attentive. He follows me around campus, asking about my progress. Just yesterday evening I was walking down the library steps and there he was. Asking to escort me home. I declined, of course, but he leant in and whispered ...'
'Girls! Miss Tobinbury, my darling, so nice to see you here and with your lovely little friends.' That unwanted voice washed in blotches of horror over her skin, leaving her cold and clammy. Josephine stared down at her notebook, suddenly interested in the dent caused by the pencil's previous forceful collision.
'Professor Van Percy,' said Claire, her voice colder than the blast of outside air that followed him in. 'What brings you to this establishment?' 'I heard that you three often study here, and I wanted to drop by and offer Miss Tobinbury my special assistance,' he said. Many observers would call Van Percy handsome.
A medium-sized man, neatly groomed with black hair and moustache so well trimmed, it was as if his hair wouldn't dare be out of place. He smelled sterile, of bleach with a hint of pomade. An intense and fiercely contained person, he had a way of looking right through people.
'Professor, you are being presumptuous,' said Josephine, her eyes still on her page as she shrank in her seat. Her mouth tasted of ashes as his voice grated on her ears. Her palms were slick with a cool sweat. They trembled with effort as she resisted the urge to hide them under the table. The professor had a habit of bouncing twice on his heels after he spoke. He did it now and concluded the precise action with a small stroke of his finger across his moustache.
'Miss Tobinbury, I am most gratified to find you here. You must accompany me to a conference on surgical instrumentation being held next week in Cologne.'
'But that's more than a day on the train,' whispered Marie.
'You forget, sir. I'm one of your students,' said Josephine. Her hands dropped into her lap and she shuffled closer to Claire on the leather bench seat.
'A very capable student,' he replied. His well-modulated voice somehow reminded her of the leeches in the university hospital. The sound sent a cold shiver across the nape of her neck. Each hair at the base of her skull raised.
'You shall be my guest at the dinner on Thursday night. I require a partner with the requisite intelligence as befits my position in the surgical world.' Josephine blinked rapidly at his presumption and glared at him as she pleaded with her brain to invent a viable excuse.
'Thursday isn't convenient,' stated Claire boldly. 'Miss Tobinbury has a prior appointment with my family.' Josephine's breath whistled inaudibly through her pinched lips. Thank the Lord for outspoken friends.
'I'm sure she can postpone that small commitment,' said Van Percy, his nostrils flaring. He rose slightly on his toes before his heels double-clicked against the floor. 'My conference is more important. Our natural complementarity is apparent and a public showing at this conference will be pivotal for our long term career goals.'
Josephine's eyes flicked towards Claire whose eyebrows almost met as she glared at Van Percy. Josephine sat up straight and squared her shoulders. She had to do something to prevent an impolite outburst that might scuttle her surgical assessment.
'My apologies, Professor. It would be rude to cancel my prior appointments at such late notice. Will you cover the conference in class?'
She hoped to mollify him so he would take her hint. It didn't work, only serving to further engage his interest in her. If only she'd paid attention to her aunt's lessons in social graces. She coveted the ability to politely tell him to remove himself. Claire seethed at the professor now, who ran his finger along his moustache. He finished the gesture with a tiny twirl of the longest hair.
'My dear Miss Tobinbury, let me say this. This matter requires you to set your priorities in order. Your scholarly career hangs in the balance. I am sorely disappointed in your decision to ignore this opportunity to illustrate my ...' The professor coughed and tapped his heels again.
Bile rose in the back of her throat and she gagged on the acid as it burnt. She grabbed her mug and took a big gulp. Why couldn't her usually quick brain say something useful? Anything? The blankness in her head grew and the mug slipped out of her sweaty fingers. It hit the table. Beer splashed up and hit Van Percy. Josephine watched as time slowed down. Marie giggled and clasped her hand over her mouth. Claire's mouth hung open. Professor Van Percy deftly pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and cleaned his sodden clothes in controlled motions.
'This is not over,' he said. He turned on his heels and stalked out of the pub.
'Oh, he's a reptile,' said Claire. Her feisty words broke the silence and time came back to normal speed. Josephine slumped as her body lost the tension that had invaded it.
'Marie's father could do something. After all, he is the Vice Chancellor and virtually runs the university,' said Claire. Josephine was amazed that Claire had the ability to think. Her own brain churned in a mix of terror and amusement at the sight of Van Percy soaked in beer. Marie grimaced.
'You have to be kidding. Professor Van Percy is the next great super surgeon for the university. He is going to "put this university on the map". Father would never believe that Van Percy could do anything wrong,' said Marie.
'He hasn't done anything wrong,' protested Josephine in a shrill voice.
'Not yet. But I see what you mean about him pushing strongly for you to partner him,' said Marie. Claire waved her arm and the barmaid came over with a mop and rag to clean up the spill.
'Father is always talking about Van Percy at dinner and how his researches are groundbreaking, as if that excuses his ambition.' Marie gestured wildly as she spoke. Marie always appeared bigger than her petite stature.
'It seems to me that he likes cutting up people a little too much. Thankfully, Father always sends me away when Van Percy visits for dinner. He believes it would be a miscarriage of my learning and unfair to everyone else in the class. But then, Father is both proud of me and at the same time, treats me harshly in public so as not to seem like he is giving me an unfair advantage.'
'It's hardly an advantage to be a woman,' said Claire. The two of them continued to bicker in that time honoured way that great friends do. Josephine let her thoughts drift. Marie's father might not help, but her own father probably would. If only he wasn't in England.
'You know what you need?' Claire grabbed Josephine's arm, jolting her out of her internal monologue.
'What do I need?' she asked cautiously. Four years of friendship had taught her to be wary of Claire's enthusiastic brand of living.
'You need a fiancé. A long term fiancé. Someone who pre-dates Van Percy. A reason for him to stop hunting you without upsetting him for your surgical assessment.' Claire reached up and grabbed Josephine by the shoulders.
'Ha, "to hunt me". You make it sound like he's the fox and I'm a rabbit that he's running to ground,' said Josephine awkwardly. She gently removed Claire's hands and looked her friend in the eye.
'Just where am I going to conjure up a fiancé at short notice? You are the one who is so clever at attracting men, they flock to you. I'm too tall and socially awkward for that to be believable. And who would affiance themselves to a medical student? The whole idea is farcical. Most people don't think we are even proper females. Apologies, Marie, to your Bertrand who obviously has seen past the social difficulties involved.' Her words came out so fast that they stumbled over each other. A pile of words spat out. Josephine's lungs grasped for air as the entirety of the idea sunk in. Marie's laugh rang too loud in Josephine's ears.
'Josephine, my friend, you have many great qualities, and some men like statuesque women. It's not like you are gigantic. There are enough men out there taller than you. It's not as big a burden to love as you think,' said Marie. Claire rolled her eyes and snorted.
'Love. Says the only one of us with a real fiancé. You see romance everywhere. Some of us don't want love.'
Excerpted from To Charm a Bluestocking by Renée Dahlia. Copyright © 2017 Renee Dahlia. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd..
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