Slightly Wicked by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but here it is: another Balogh, another winner! She hasn't disappointed me yet, and I just love her writing.
Slightly Wicked is the second book in Balogh's series about the Bedwyn siblings, and tells the story of third son Rannulf (aka Ralf).
As the story opens, Ralf is on his way to Grandmaison, his grandmother's estate, well aware that, once again, she's going to try and persuade him to finally take a wife. He's used to her "gentle persuasion" and understands her concern, since she's named him heir to her property and fortune and has every right to be worried about her heritage, but this doesn't mean he's ready to settle down with the newest young lady she's chosen for him and start procreating. Ralf doesn't really know what he wants to do with his life - ah, what a joyful and idle life these rich aristocrats live! - but he knows that marriage isn't in his immediate plans. However, fate intervenes - of course, LOL - and, in the middle of his journey to Grandmaison, he comes upon an overturned stagecoach and one particularly lovely passenger who introduces herself to him as Claire Campbell.
Claire Campbell is actually Judith Law, an impoverished clergyman's daughter who's on her way to her wealthy aunt's estate to live the life of a "poor relation", i.e., to "work" as a companion to her grandmother and be subjected to all kinds of humiliation by her rich relatives - excluding her grandmother, who turns out to be the only person in the family who likes Judith. Think Cinderella and you'll know how Judith's life is in the hands of her vicious aunt. But before she reaches her destination, the stagecoach she's traveling in has an accident and all the passengers end up stranded in the middle of the road. That's when help comes in the form of a young gentleman on horseback, who introduces himself as Ralf Bedard and offers to take Claire/Judith with him to the next inn and send people to help the remaining passengers as soon as possible. Needless to say, Ralf Bedard is no other than our dear Rannulf Bedwyn, and the stage is set for a little deception by both Judith and Ralf.
Thinking of the imminent dreadful life that's waiting for her at her aunt's house, Judith throws caution to the wind and decides to experience one "grand adventure" before resigning herself to what's going to be close to Hell on Earth. So she pretends to be an actress - and we all know what kind of reputation actresses have! - and gives free reign to her attraction to Ralf, surrendering her virginity to him and enjoying two nights of passionate lovemaking in the nearest inn. Ralf is willing to spend more than these two nights with Judith - not that he's alreay in love with her, but he's definitely smitten - but she knows she can't keep the farce much longer, so she tricks him and leaves without notice, taking the next stagecoach and resuming her journey to her aunt's house. Ralf gets more than unhappy when he finds out she's left him, but he isn't about to go after an actress just to get some satisfaction.
Naturally, fate intervenes once more to get Ralf and Judith together again... As it turns out, Ralf's grandmother's estate and Judith's aunt's estate are in the same neighborhood, Ralf's grandmother and Judith's grandmother are close friends and, worse, the latest young lady Ralf's grandmother has selected to be his wife is Judith's brainless cousin. It's a small, small world, indeed! But now that the early deception is over and Ralf and Judith know who the other really is, how do they feel about it? They're not in love with each other, but there's definitely something between them. However, he's a Bedwyn, a wealthy aristocrat, son and brother of a Duke, and she's only a poor daughter of a clergyman, so a match between them would be extremely inadvisable. He's also a gentleman and she's a gentlewoman - impoverished but deserving of his respect - so he's obliged to ask her to marry him after having "compromised" her, isn't he? ;) Well, what follows was just delicious to read...
This story wasn't particularly original - there were some echoes of the fairy tale 'Cinderella', which I've already mentioned above, and also Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - but Ms. Balogh's writing was so good that I never felt shortchanged. As a bonus, this book was a bit spicier than I came to expect from Ms. Balogh and I really enjoyed reading Ralf and Judith's lovemaking scenes. Ralf was definitely sexier than his brother Aidan was in Slightly Married. :)
Plotwise, there was a "mystery" involving the theft of Judith's grandmother's jewels in the second half of the story, but the resolution was quite obvious so it was only a matter of finding out how the culprit would be caught and not who he was. The whole incident was kind of predictable, but it added some light action to the story and was the perfect opportunity to introduce Judith to Ralf's siblings. And what a scary lot they are, the Bedwyns... I thought Judith would be eaten alive by them, considering how insecure she was.
I have to say, Judith grated on my nerves a couple of times with her insecurities and the way she let her aunt stomp all over her. The only reason I didn't think she was a complete doormat was because she had no problem standing up to Ralf. On the other hand, Ralf was just perfect. Okay, he was basically an aimless playboy in the beginning of the story, but he started to change his ways when he fell for Judith. There was more in him than I'd expected, and now I must eat crow: I really disliked Ralf in A Summer to Remember but now I'm in love with him. Kudos to Ms. Balogh for redeeming him!
Overall, I had a great time reading this book and I can't wait to get the next one. As far as I can tell, Ms. Balogh can do no wrong.
Note: The next book in the series is Slightly Scandalous, and I admit I considered skipping it because I still don't like Freyja and can't make myself root for her HEA. But I'm going to take a deep breath and read it, even if it's only to see what kind of "loser" will be leg-shackled to her. It should be an interesting experience, cheering against the heroine, LOL.
View all my reviews