My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After being somewhat disappointed with Slightly Scandalous, the previous book in this series, I'm glad to say that things got back on track in this book. Slightly Tempted tells the story of Morgan Bedwyn, the youngest, most beautiful of the Bedwyn siblings, and the only one who had the fortune of not being afflicted by the famous, prominent Bedwyn nose.
Thirty-year-old Gervase Ashford, the Earl of Rosthorn, has been living in exile on the Continent for the last nine years after being banished from England by his own father due to a scandalous and humiliating affair involving the Duke of Bewcastle. If there's one person Gervase blames for his situation and hates with all his heart is Wulfric Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle, and his bitterness and thirst for revenge gets the best of him when he meets Bewcastle's youngest sister, Lady Morgan Bedwyn, at a ball in Brussels. Ah, it looks like fate is finally smiling his way after all these years... Is there any better way to get even with Bewcastle than to involve young and innocent Morgan in a scandal and leave the duke to deal with the consequences?
Eighteen-year-old Morgan is in Brussels looking for a respite from her first Season in London, where she was bored to tears by the ton's brainless events (balls, assemblies, rides in the park, etc.) When she's invited to join one of her suitor's family to Brussels, she jumps at the chance of participating in a meaningful and most certainly historic event, the coming Battle of Waterloo. Bonaparte has escaped his prison in Elba and the threat of a new war against him is in everyone's minds. Unfortunately, the life of a lady in Brussels turns out to be the same as in London, and Morgan is annoyed to find herself attending the same brainless events where no one is willing to "worry her pretty little head" with talks about the iminent war. So when she's introduced to Gervase at one of these infernal balls, she's bored enough to give him the attention she wouldn't think of granting him in other circumstances.
Gervase's sole purpose in pursuiting Morgan is to have a quick (and very public) dalliance with her, so he sets out to charm and woo her. She isn't stupid and doesn't take him seriously - he's obviously a rake, not to mention much older than she is - but she decides to have some fun with his flirtation, all the while letting him know that nothing will come out of it. But as they spend time together and he gets to know her, he begins to like her and to question his plan to use her as a pawn in his revenge against Bewcastle. Then war erupts, chaos ensues, her brother Alleyne goes missing on the front line, and Morgan ends up alone in Brussels with no one to lean on but Gervase. He becomes her faithful friend while she waits to hear any news from Alleyne, helps and escorts her around the city - and thus compromises her reputation in the process, even though he isn't thinking of revenge anymore.
When Morgan is informed of Alleyne's death a few days later, there's no reason to stay in Brussels anymore and Gervase escorts her back to England. When he's confronted by Bewcastle right upon their arrival, all the hatred comes back and he can't help feeling some satisfaction with his enemy's "distress". It took nine years, but Gervase got back at Bewcastle. So why does he feel that it isn't over? And what will Morgan do when she finds out that he's used her? Will she ever forgive him?
I'm not a big fan of revenge-driven plots, mostly because the character who's seeking revenge usually ends up doing something nasty and unforgivable. Fortunately, Gervase didn't do anything to that extreme in this book and Ms. Balogh did a great job making me understand and even support his hatred for Wulf. I'm not saying I agree with what Gervase did to Morgan - because I don't - but even I hated Wulf at one point. Obviously, the conflict between the two men was resolved in the end - the HEA wouldn't be complete without that - but I can't say I was completely satisfied with its resolution.
That was actually one of my problems with Morgan. She was the one who kept urging him to forget the past and forgive those who had hurt him, but she didn't suit her actions to her words. So it was good and right for him to forget and forgive, but she was allowed to keep nursing her grudge against him? That was a little hypocrit, wasn't it? I also thought that some of Morgan's lines were too mature for her age. I know, she wasn't a regular eighteen-year-old brainless woman and she wouldn't be a good match for thirty-year-old Gervase if she were, but her "philosophical" talk didn't ring true.
As for the plot, I really liked the first half of the story that takes place in Brussels. There was action, some suspense (whatever happened to Alleyne?), and interesting encounters between Gervase and Morgan. That was when Ms. Balogh showed how they fell in love with each other, even though neither was aware of it then. When the story moved to England, it became more predictable and less thrilling, but it was still enjoyable. The fake bethrotal made its appearance in this series again - I really hope it doesn't show up in the next books! - and so did the Bedwyn family. The sad note in that gathering was Alleyne's absence, since he was (presumed) dead, and that rendered a wonderful little scene with Wulf that brought tears to my eyes:
"She did not knock on the door. She opened it quietly, intending to creep inside without drawing attention to herself.
He was standing before the empty hearth, staring into the fireplace, his back to her. His shoulders were shaking. One of his hands was balled into a fist on the mantelpiece above his head. He was sobbing, choking on the sounds as Aidan had done days before.
Morgan gazed in horror for a few paralyzed moments.
Then she closed the door even more quietly than she had opened it and fled upstairs to her room.
If Wulf was weeping, the end of the world seemed near indeed."
Oh boy, Wulf definitely doesn't have ice in his veins like his enemies like to say. I can't wait to read his book!
Overall, Slightly Tempted was a very good read. Not the best in the series, but totally worth the reading. It's Balogh, what else can I say? :)
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