A Christmas Bride

The Gifts of Christmas

Indiscreet

Irresistible

The Last Waltz

More Than a Mistress

No Man's Mistress

One Night for Love

A Regency Christmas Carol

Silent Melody

A Summer to Remember

The Temporary Wife

Thief of Dreams

Truly

Unforgiven

 
Slightly Married by Mary Balogh
(Dell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-24104-9
*****
Slightly Married is the first in a planned series of books about the Bedwyn siblings. They are six in number and all were given strange, Anglo-Saxon names by their romantical mother. At the head of the family is Wulfstan, the stern and powerful Duke of Bewcastle. His brothers are Aidan, Rannulf and Alleyne; his sisters are Freyja and Morgan. This is Aidan’s story.

There have been some puzzled comments about the title. How can someone be only Slightly Married? But if a man marries a woman out of duty to a dead comrade and if a woman marries a man to protect her family and dependents from penury and if neither intends to live as man and wife, then perhaps they are only Slightly Married.

Colonel Lord Aidan Bedwyn finds a dying Captain Percy Morris on the battlefield after the English victory at Toulouse. Earlier, Captain Morris had saved Aidan’s life. Hence, when Percy asks the colonel to protect his sister, “no matter what,” Aidan has no choice but to agree.

Aidan arrives at Ringwood Manor to inform Eve Morris of her brother’s death and to offer his services to help her in any way he can. Eve thanks the colonel nicely for bringing the tragic news personally but insures him that she will be all right. After all, Ringwood Manor is hers. But Aidan soon discovers that Eve will not be all right. Her father had indeed left her the manor, but with unusual conditions.

If Eve does not marry within a year of his death, the property is to go to Percy. If Percy dies before this date, Ringwood Manor and all the fortune will pass to her unpleasant cousin, Cecil. The anniversary of Mr. Morris’ death is just four days hence. Aidan realizes that the only way he can protect Eve, “no matter what,” is to marry her.

Eve had had other opportunities to wed but she was waiting for the return of her lover, the son of the local nobleman. But John has not come. If Eve refuses Aidan’s offer, not only we she be left penniless but all of the lame ducks she has taken under her wing will find themselves homeless. Hence, she agrees to Aidan’s proposition that they wed and then part. Aidan will return to the army; Eve will continue her life at Ringwood.

Of course, the best laid plans go oft astray. Bewcastle discovers the marriage and insists that Lady Aidan be presented to society. She may be a coal miner’s daughter, but she is now a Bedwyn and the proprieties must be observed. Thrown together, Aidan and Eve become more than “slightly married,” but will their marriage of convenience turn into a love match? Will they change the terms of their agreement?

Balogh’s unparalleled ability to create compelling and convincing characters is on display here. As the second son, Aidan had been expected to go into the army. He had done his duty, despite his own inclinations, and had excelled at his appointed career. He has seen too much of death and destruction, but he can see no future but to continue on. He had planned to marry the daughter of a general and soldier on. Eve opens up to him another kind of life.

Eve had been given a lady’s upbringing, but her father’s lowly antecedents had kept her from marrying the man she loves. She has made a good life for herself and has created an unusual family, consisting of two orphans and several others who have no place else to go. She is a warm and caring person and her warmth understandably attracts Aidan.

Balogh’s characters, both primary and secondary, come alive on the pages. Bewcastle presides over the fate of his family like an eminence grise. He appears distant and proud, but it becomes clear that he cares deeply for his family. In just a few scenes, Balogh manages to create a compelling character about whom we want to know more.

Slightly Married is, in many ways, a traditional marriage of convenience tale. But Balogh’s talent takes this tried and true plot and creates something very special. She uncovers her characters’ feelings layer by layer until we know them as well as they know themselves. And she makes us care deeply about them.

Balogh’s many fans cannot get enough of her stories and we are fortunate that Slightly Married will be followed by two more Bedwyn books in May and June. I just hope that the rest of the Bedwyn books come fast and furious. There are never enough books by Mary Balogh. She is simply the best.

--Jean Mason


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