Oct 5 2013 10:00am

Playing a Part: Masquerades in Romance Novels

He even made her smile quite merrily by telling her of the Scarlet Pimpernel's quaint and many disguises. —Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel

Many heroes and heroines get disguised to achieve their ends, but how does it work if the hero or heroine gets romantic with the object of their affections while in disguise? During the course of the encounter, the hero (it's usually the hero) is reminded of the woman he's been interested in prior to this event, but he still continues with his amorous proclivities.

Is it cheating? Or is it that their souls know each other, no matter how different they look from usual? Where do you make the distinction?

In Elizabeth Hoyt's The Raven Prince, the heroine Anna Wren disguises herself as a prostitute and goes to a brothel where the hero—her employer, Edward de Raaf—plans to assuage his manly desires. Which he does.

His longing for Anna had not only grown stronger, but was also mingled with lust for the mysterious little whore. He had two obsessions now instead of one, and they were tangled together in his overwrought brain.

In Overexposed by Leslie Kelly, baker-by-day, stripper-by-night Isabella Natale dons a mask and dances for her childhood crush, Nick Santori, who definitely has different feelings for the woman he sees in the evening.

As the Crimson Rose, she could have him—take him—completely free of the repercussions that would surround her if she dared to do such a thing as Izzie Natale.

The trope of “boring-person-by-day, crazy-sexual-being-at-night” is a popular one, including Amber by Night by Sharon Sala:

From nine to five, she was Amelia Beauchamp, typical small-town librarian. But when the sun went down, she was miniskirt-clad cocktail waitress Amber Champion. And she'd caught the eye of the town's biggest rake, Tyler Savage. 

The twist here is that Tyler is well aware of Amber's daytime identity, and he's having a blast (as rakes do!) going along for the ride. That seems better, at least from a heroic standpoint, than having no clue that the two women in his life are the same. As in Mary Balogh's first book, A Masked Deception, where the wife disguises herself and goes to a ball, where she meets her husband—who is enchanted by the “seductress,” not realizing it's the woman to whom he's married.

Doesn't that sound like cheating? Is it forgiveable? Maybe not, judging by the title of Joanna Chambers's Unforgiveable, where a wife disguises herself, intrigues her husband (whom she hasn't seen for five years), and then is appalled when he doesn't even recognize her after she removes her disguise:

Although his eyes had widened as she drew the mask away, they had not done so with any degree of recognition. Merely with wonder and pleasure. The sight of her pleased him, but not because of who she was... She had assumed he would recognize her.


Being in disguise for some sort of noble cause or a need to escape a horrible situation is one thing; to deliberately mislead someone because you would like to seduce them seems like it's less moral. Of course, being able to shed one's personality and explore a hidden side of one's self is a fantasy, for sure, so perhaps this kind of subterfuge is acceptable in the greater good (of the romance)?

What do you think about pretending to be someone—someone much more sexual—in order to fool the object of your affection? What other books have this trope?


Megan Frampton is the Community Manager for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son.

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Julia Broadbooks
1. juliabroadbooks
I'd forgotten about Amber by Night! I love that book precisely because, as you say, the hero is in on the deception.
Sabrina Jeffries
2. Sabrina Jeffries
I used to love a Rebecca Brandewyne book in which the hero and heroine who have a marriage of convenience are also engaged in a wild relationship as their pirate alteregos, The Crimson Witch and Capitaine Diabolique. I loved that book back in the day, but I think I got rid of it a while back. Now I'm curious to read it again. It was a bit improbable, but the hero and heroine, if I remember right, hadn't shared a bed as husband and wife. When I read it, I never thought of it as cheating because the couple as husband and wife had married for convenience and weren't in love. They fell in love as their alteregos. Didn't bother me then, but I don't know if it would now.
Laura Bracken
3. Night -owl
In the book, Dreaming Of You, by Lisa Kleypas, there is a masquerade. In this book it works perfectly because the hero, Derek Craven, is trying to deny his feelings for Sara, so he trys to prove to himself that he feels nothing for her by going for the masqueraded Sara. However, the only reason he goes for her, is because, she reminds him of Sara. I really love this book, its almost perfect!
Laura Bracken
4. Night -owl
However, in the book, Derek, realizes who she is. If he had slept with her, thinking she was someone else, I would have hated that. That would have ruined the book for me.
5. Kareni
There is a masquerade in Joanna Bourne's The Spymaster's Lady when the hero assumes new identity midway through the story. (I don't want to say too much as I'd hate to reveal what the author so capably hides about the heroine from both the reader and the hero.) The heroine has feelings for both the original hero and the hero in his new identity. She ultimately teases him with this fact when all is revealed. I highly recommend the book.
Donna Bailey
6. donnarb60
An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn is one of my those Bridgerton boys :)
Sabrina Jeffries
7. Kimba121
Eloisa James' debut, Potent Pleasures, features a young woman who loses her virginity at a masked ball, and whose seducer does not recognize her when he marries her, then punishes her because she isn't a virgin. Despite my poor description, it's a great book!
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