A Love by Design

In the last couple of years, the Secret Scientists of London series by Elizabeth Everett has emerged as a standout among historical romances. These are smart books highlighting women who fit within the STEM label (and STEMinist label), except it’s the 1840s and they’re facing even more career pushback than women today. I’ve been meaning to read A Lady’s Formula for Love and A Perfect Equation, but instead I’ve chosen chaos and started with book #3, A Love by Design. Is it better to read this series in order? Probably. Was it still enjoyable to start with the third book, though? Absolutely!

Special thanks to the publicists at Penguin Random House and to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Summary

Margaret and George met when they were kids and quickly became best friends. But then George backed out of their plans to run away together, and their lives took very different paths. Now George is an Earl who’s determined to use his power for good, and Margaret is a widow just returned from France with a plan to open her own engineering firm. She’s never forgiven him, and she’s much more focused on her current work to build a tunnel under the Thames. But George is determined to apologize and explain why he left her, and he hopes to rekindle what they once had. Can these two find a new chance at love? Will their other obligations even allow it?

Review

A Love by Design is a second chance love story between Margaret and George. The love they shared as teenagers was cut short years ago, but have they actually forgotten it? As soon as Margaret is back in town, George is drawn to her. He hopes she’ll listen to him long enough for him to apologize for and explain his past actions… but he also hopes they can became friends again. Or maybe something more? Margaret is icy towards him at first, but given enough time she may thaw.

Much of this book focuses on Margaret’s work as an engineer. There were few women in this profession in 1844, and she faces a lot of sexism and barriers to entry, but Margaret is determined to prove just how talented she is. Indeed, she intends to open her own engineering firm for women. She signs on to accomplish the (nearly) impossible and build a tunnel under the Thames. But her work with this project is plagued by trouble from the start, and Margaret doesn’t know how to seek help.

For his part, George went from rags to riches and is now an Earl. He is working to overcome his bad reputation, in part so he has enough influence to do true good with his power and help those who are poor and disadvantaged. In his free time, he also drives Arthur and Violet up the wall with his increasingly lavish gifts for their baby daughter. This latter subplot is a bit silly for my taste, but it does keep the first book’s couple highly involved in this one.

Some of what I most enjoyed in A Love by Design are the themes of working women, especially in the sciences, and more especially in applied work in a man’s world. It’s interesting how Margaret must navigate tough working circumstances, and sometimes make compromises or sacrifices, in her efforts to further her career. There are also some LGBTQIA+ themes which I enjoyed, both in side characters and more centrally. And George’s mission to help people—in part because he himself came from so little—is one of my favorite aspects of his character.

The love story between George and Margaret is also cute. Most of their conflict centers on what happened in the past, but even after that is cleared up, there is still trust that needs to be rebuilt and is tested along the way. Even once they reach a point where they could want a romantic relationship again, their respective social standings and careers would pose significant complications. How can it all work out? These two are sweet together, and you’ll root for them to find a way forward. It may take an action-packed ending to get there, but in the end, I love the life they embark on.

Final Thoughts

A Love by Design is a sweet and smart book that’s equal parts romance and a story of a woman earning career success. It does get rather silly at times (presents! geese! hedgehogs!), and there is an unexpectedly thrilling final act, but the thoughtful themes and cute couple are what ultimately stand out the most. It’s a wonderful addition to the growing trove of “STEMinist” romances.

Now I just need to go back and read the first two in this series before the next one arrives!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get the Book

You can buy A Love By Design here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

A Love By Design by Elizabeth Everett
SeriesThe Secret Scientists of London (#3)
AudienceAdult
GenreHistorical Romance
SettingEngland
Number of Pages352
Format I Readebook (NetGalley)
Original Publication DateJanuary 17, 2023

Official Summary

You couldn’t design a better hero than the very eligible and extremely charming Earl Grantham. Unless, of course, you are Margaret Gault, who wants nothing to do with the man who broke her youthful heart.

Widowed and determined, Margaret Gault has returned to Athena’s Retreat and the welcoming arms of her fellow secret scientists with an ambitious plan in mind: to establish England’s first woman-owned engineering firm. But from the moment she sets foot in London her plans are threatened by greedy investors and—at literally every turn—the irritatingly attractive Earl Grantham, a man she can never forgive.

George Willis, the Earl Grantham, is thrilled that the woman he has loved since childhood has returned to London. Not as thrilling, however, is her decision to undertake an engineering commission from his political archnemesis. When Margaret’s future and Grantham’s parliamentary reforms come into conflict, Grantham must use every ounce of charm he possesses—along with his stunning good looks and flawless physique, of course—to win Margaret over to his cause.

Facing obstacles seemingly too large to dismantle, will Grantham and Margaret remain forever disconnected or can they find a way to bridge their differences, rekindle the passion of their youth, and construct a love built to last?

Excerpt from A Love by Design

Maggie had returned.

Of course, she was now known as Madame Margaret Gault.

Try as he might, Grantham could never twist his tongue around the name.

Almost his whole life, he’d called her Maggie.

His Maggie.

From upside down, he watched as she turned the corner of the carriage house, the wind unfurling the hem of her simple bronze pelisse. A brown capelet hung about her shoulders, and a matching muff hid her hands. Catching sight of him, she paused, tilting her head so he caught a glimpse of lush auburn curls peeking out from beneath her tea-colored bonnet trimmed with bright red berries. Margaret’s fair skin showed no hint of the freckles that had once plagued her every summer, and thick brown lashes shielded her hazel eyes.

She was unusually tall for a woman; nevertheless, she moved with effortless grace, and not even the blazing clash of colors adorning Violet next to her could detract from her beauty.

For she was a beauty, Margaret Gault. Once wild and graceless, she’d bloomed into a woman of elegant refinement.

A woman who was more than met the eye.

A woman who would rather feast on glass than give him the time of day.

For eleven years, the first day of summer meant Margaret would be waiting for him beneath the willow where they first met. She and Violet attended the Yorkshire Academy for the Education of Exceptional Young Women together. While Violet came home to her large, affectionate-and very loud-family, Margaret had no one waiting for her at home. Her father had died of a stroke when she was ten and her mother had little interest in Margaret’s whereabouts or well-being.

Violet and Grantham had been Margaret’s family. The three of them had been the best of friends until one hot afternoon when Margaret had smiled a certain way and the ground went out beneath his feet. A year later he was soldiering in Canada and Margaret lived in Paris and their summers together were nothing but a memory he pulled around himself like a blanket on cold lonely nights.

“Good afternoon, Grantham,” Violet greeted him, seemingly unaffected by his headfirst dive into her rosebushes. She wore a shocking yellow day dress beneath a burgundy velvet paletot and atop her head sat a garish blue bonnet topped with a life-sized stuffed parrot.

Swallowing a barrelful of curses, Grantham tried wriggling out of the bushes, every single thorn piercing his flesh a hundredfold as Margaret stared without saying a word.

“Ahem.” He cleared his throat as he managed to get to his feet despite being trapped in the center of one of the bushes. As he pulled a branch from his hair, a shower of wrinkled brown rose petals drifted down his shoulders. “You are especially . . . vibrant today, Violet. I brought this for Baby Georgie.”

He thrust the torn, dirtied rabbit at Violet, who received it with a bemused air. One of the buttons had come off and the silk was stained green and brown.

“Madame Gault,” he said, bowing to Margaret. “So lovely to see you again.”

No matter how strongly Grantham willed it, Margaret did not speak to him in return. Instead, she bent her knee a scant inch in a desultory curtsey, her lush mouth twisted like the clasp of a coin purse, no doubt to hold inside the names she was calling him in her head. He had a good idea what some of them were, considering he most likely had taught them to her.

Grantham hadn’t seen Margaret for thirteen years until their reunion-if one could call it that-a year and a half ago in the small parlor of Athena’s Retreat. He hadn’t exactly met the moment then, either-although to be fair, there’d been a hedgehog involved. The handful of times he encountered her since, she’d avoided meeting his eyes with her own, as though he were an inconsequential shadow cast by their past.

Someone to be dismissed.

Someone who had broken her heart and whom she would never forgive.

“See who is come to live in England for good.” Violet linked her arm with Margaret’s and beamed at her friend.

This was news.

When Margaret had come to stay at Athena’s Retreat a year and half ago to complete an engineering project for her father-in-law’s firm, Grantham had hoped she’d stay but she returned to Paris after three months. He’d asked Violet if Margaret might ever return, but Violet had doubted it.

“She’s one of the only women engineers in Europe with an excellent reputation. Why give up a dream hard fought to come back to England and fight all over again?” Violet had asked.

Something had changed, however, and now Margaret was home.

His heart leapt in his chest and the bitter orange flavor of hope flooded his mouth.

“Clean yourself up and come inside for tea,” Violet said to him now.

Margaret did not echo the invitation. Instead, she tightened her hold on a stylish carpet bag and accompanied Violet and Arthur into the building.

There are moments in life when the world shifts as though a door has opened somewhere out of sight. Whether a person runs toward that opened door or not depends on how fast they’re stuck in place. Grantham considered for a moment how painful it would be to get himself unstuck.

Although the tangle of branches in front of him twisted menacingly, he pulled a deep breath of resolution into his lungs alongside the scents of rosehips and crushed greenery. Gritting his teeth, he made his way through the thorns toward the open door.

Excerpted from A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett Copyright © 2023 by Elizabeth Everett. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Everett

Credit: Asa Shutts

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

More Books by Elizabeth Everett

Elizabeth Everett - A Lady’s Formula for Love
Elizabeth Everett - A Perfect Equation

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