The last couple books I’ve read involved a wicked rake as the hero of the story, so this book is a departure from that. I’ve not read a lot of Mary Balogh, but I picked this one up on a whim at the library when I couldn’t find much in the new releases section. It’s a prequel to a couple of other books, which I haven’t read, but I don’t think that really made a difference.
The heroine is Angeline Dudley, a young lady on her way to London for her first Season. Her parents are both dead, and she’s been raised by governesses for a good part of her life. She is rather innocent in the ways of the world, but full of spirit and eager to experience life. She has two older brothers who are rakish to the extreme, one being the Duke of Tresham, the other Lord Ferdinand Dudley.
On the way to London, she is alone at the Rose & Crown Inn, waiting for Tresham to pick her up. This makes her a bit of a target for another of those wicked gentlemen, thinking she is less than a lady. Luckily for her, Edward, Earl of Heyward comes to her rescue. He is a newly anointed Earl, after his older brother Maurice died in a tragic curricle accident. He’s always been conservative and thoughtful; in fact, he’s considered a ‘dry stick’ by the more rakish members of the ton. One of these rakes is Tresham, who was involved in the curricle race, and Heyward blames him in part for his brother’s death.
He needs a wife, and Angeline is hoping to find a husband, someone the opposite of her brothers. (She loves her brothers dearly, but realizes that she doesn’t want to marry any man just like them.) Naturally their paths cross again in London, but he really doesn’t think they are compatible since she seems very flighty, frivolous and far too impulsive (not to mention the whole family feud sort of thing with Tresham). He wants to marry his long time friend, Eunice, a more scholarly young woman. Eunice realizes this wouldn’t be a good match, they are too similar, and once she meets Angeline, thinks that Heyward would do well to marry her instead.
Angeline feels an attraction to Heyward, but she’s sure that she’s too tall, dark haired and not as pretty as the myriad of tiny blonde women she debuted with. Instead, she decides to throw him and Eunice together, putting her own desires aside. What follows are a lot of balls, teas, and a house party that brings all of the main characters together.
In the end, Eunice gains the attention of someone else, and by chance Angeline and Heyward find themselves alone at an inn. His sense of duty is overcome with his desire for her, and they find that they are a good match after all. He is dependable and honorable, and she is the right woman to show him how to have a bit of fun. The ‘secret mistress’ part is explained in the last part of the book, and it does make sense in the context.
This was a fast and frothy sort of read for me, and I enjoyed it. For some reason, I kept picturing Heyward as Matt Damon at his most bookish! I may have to find the other books in the trilogy to read what happened with Tresham and Ferdinand.