THE SECRET MISTRESS – Mary Balogh
Delacorte Press (Hardcover)
Lady Angeline Dudley was brought up in lonely luxury mainly by a series of starchy governesses. It’s a wonder they were unable to completely squelch her ebullient personality. Now at nineteen, she is finally to make her first trip to London for her come-out. She is so eager for her brother and guardian, the Duke of Tresham, to arrive at the inn where they are to meet, that she casts aside strict propriety to peer out the window of the inn’s public room to watch for him. She’s not as alone as she believes. Edward Ailsbury, the new Earl of Heyward, is present. Now, Edward is cut from a different cloth from his late, rakish brother whose fatal curricle accident raised Edward to earl. Edward is conscientious—some say serious to a fault—and determined to be the best peer he can be; he’s on his way to take his place in the House of Lords. That is not to say he can’t admire the fetching, pink-clad derriere pointing at him from the window. But he’s too much a gentleman to embarrass a lady and prepares to silently depart. But then a crony of his brother’s enters, and Lord Windrow is definitely not one to pass up an opportunity for dalliance. In short, Edward manages to defend the lady without resorting to violence or learning her name. Angeline’s brothers are themselves charming rakes, and she loves them, but whatever husband she finds this season will not be like them. She manages to stare down the insulting gentleman and has already fallen immediately in love with the genuine, but anonymous one.
Once in London, Edward and Angeline again come face-to-face riding in the park one morning. Again her actions lack propriety but racing with a bunch of young men. (One is her other brother, but that would make little difference to Edward if he knew.) It’s another black mark against her in his book, but a happy event to Angeline. Now she knows there is a chance they will finally be properly introduced. Meanwhile, the ladies in Edward’s family connive with Angeline’s sponsor, Lady Palmer, the cousin who is presenting her, for Lady Angeline to be led out in the first dance at her come-out ball by the Earl of Heyward. They are sure the two, the most eligible catches of the Season, would suit. Neither has any idea who the other is or that they have already met.
Edward has a long standing friendship with the daughter of his old friend and mentor from Cambridge. He spent many happy times at the Goddard home and he long ago decided he would some day marry the intelligent and sensible Eunice. As respectable as her family is, now that he has the title, he knows it will be hard to convince his family of women that she will do for him.
Edward and Angeline are marvelous characters. She is irrepressible even though ridden with self-doubts for which her neglectful family is to blame. As a tall, dark haired beauty, she doesn’t believe she can compare with her delicate and fair late mother. She is one of the few—outside his womenfolk—who see there is more to Edward than his brother’s dull replacement. Are the two actually so completely opposite as they seem? Or does one complement the other? If so, what will have to happen before recognition comes to be? I can’t say how this lovely book came to be titled THE SECRET MISTRESS—Lady Angeline is far from naïve or unintelligent, but she’s one of nature’s natural innocents. See if you can figure it out before the end.
Several minor personages nicely fill out the tale. You’ll like Eunice and hope for a happy ending for her rare visit to Town. Then there are Angeline’s wild brothers. THE SECRET MISTRESS is a prequel to two earlier titles; her two brothers are still running wild and free. Are they redeemable? Luckily, their stories have already been told in MORE THAN A MISTRESS and NO MAN’S MISTRESS. The latter two titles have recently be re-released in a paperback double book, so you’ll now have a chance to read the whole series together, even if you’ve already read the first two. With wit, passion, and excellent plotting, a Balogh book is always prime for a re-read.
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