Once upon a time long, long ago, when I first discovered “Regency world” thanks to Georgette Heyer’s Arabella, it was commonplace to find very young heroines with much older heroes. As a preteen, I found this highly romantic; I could imagine a Mr. Beaumaris-like gentleman falling in love with me in a few years time. A decade or so later, stuck in a gloomy hotel room in Leeds and desperate for something to read, I picked up my first Barbara Cartland and discovered the selfsame age differential. But now I found this pairing much less attractive. Perhaps the reason was my own advancing years; or perhaps it was the much less sure hand of a much less talented author. Because it takes considerable skill to create a believable romance between and eighteen year old girl and an experienced man of thirty. Fortunately, Mary Balogh has the necessary skill and therefore Slightly Tempted works as a romance.
This is the fourth in Balogh’s series of books about the romances of the Bedwyn siblings. Headed by Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, the family has all the pride and arrogance one would expect. This is the youngest’s story. Lady Morgan Bedwyn has, somewhat reluctantly, “come out” into society. She enjoyed her first season more than she expected, but when her friend, Lady Rosemund Havelock invited Morgan to accompany her family to Brussels during the exciting spring of 1815, Morgan was happy to abandon London. Rosamund’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Caddick, had come to Belgium to be near their son and heir, Lord Gordon who is in the Life Guards. That Morgan’s brother, Alleyne, is stationed at the British embassy is another reason to go to Brussels.
Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn, is also in the Belgium capital. But
he has not come from England. Rather, he is on his way back after nine
years of exile. He had been driven from his home by a scandal and only
is father’s death, a year earlier, has made it possible for him to think of returning. Gervase first notices Lady Morgan at one of the constant balls that made life in Brussels so exciting. While he is struck by her beauty, he is not much interested in pursuing an acquaintance. After all, he is a man of wide experience and she is a very young lady. Then he discovers her identity. Gervase blames Wulfric for his long exile and is slightly tempted to get back at his enemy through his sister. The temptation is not that slight after all.
Gervase arranges to be introduced to Morgan, whisks her away into a
delightful waltz, and begins to use his practiced charm on her. However, he quickly discovers that Morgan is no simpering miss. She is not taken in by his wiles and gives as good as she gets. She knows he is trying to impress her, especially when he arranges an evening picnic in the forest and makes his attentions quite clear. What would have become of Gervase’s pursuit cannot be known because one Napoleon Bonaparte intervenes. Suddenly, the party is over and reality comes crashing in.
The Caddicks are unable to get out of Brussels before the battle so
Morgan finds herself in a city filling up with wounded. She volunteers
to help. Gervase, too, pitches in to provide needed aid. Then, with the
battle won and Lord Gordon wounded, the Caddicks determine to return to
England as soon as possible. But now another complication arises.
Alleyne, sent to communicate with Wellington during the battle, has gone missing. Morgan refuses to leave Brussels until she can discover her brother’s fate. Left alone, she turns to Gervase for aid and support.
What makes this - and every other - romance work is the characters.
Obviously, what happens is that in the trauma of war and its aftermath,
Gervase’s and Morgan’s relationship changes and grows into something
more than a light flirtation. But it is imperative that the author be
able to make the reader believe that there is something about Morgan
that would attract Gervase and vice versa. At this she succeeds
Morgan is portrayed as intelligent, perceptive and wise beyond her
years. She has keen insights into human behavior that impress Gervase
and she shows bravery and compassion in the face of danger. Gervase,
whatever his earlier motives, becomes the rock on which Morgan depends.
He behaves not at all like the flirtatious rake she had first thought
him to be. They develop a friendship and something more. But their
relationship has become a scandal and England and Wulfric wait.
Obviously, the truth about Gervase’s original motives is the proverbial
fly in the ointment. It says something for the sympathy that Balogh
creates for her characters that I awaited Morgan’s discovery of
Gervase’s original perfidy with dread. I simply couldn’t bear to see her disenchantment and unhappiness. Some might say that her subsequent
behavior seems out of character and excessive. I did not find it so. For all her intelligence, I never forgot that Morgan is an eighteen year old young woman. Her actions seem completely understandable.
Slightly Tempted, while not the best of the “Slightly” books thus far, is nonetheless and enjoyable romance. Balogh remains, in my
opinion, one of the best writers of Regency historicals we have. A
merely decent Balogh is better than ninety percent of the rest of the
books in this genre.