I had the interesting experience of reading all three Slightly books back to back to back. Immersed in all things Bedwyn, I did at times get a little weary of Bewcastle’s quizzing glass and the abundant hauteur of the rest of the clan. But on the whole I am finding this series entertaining, and Slightly Scandalous is another worthwhile offering.
Lady Freyja Bedwyn first made her appearance in A Summer to Remember, where she was ironically “the other woman” to a heroine who was also once “the other woman” (in One Night for Love. Got that? There will be a quiz later). Freyja wanted to marry her neighbor and childhood companion, Kit, and she ended up behaving badly. When Slightly Scandalous opens, Freyja has fled her home for Bath to avoid being in the neighborhood during the birth of Kit’s first child. Freyja finds Bath dull and the company less than inspiring, and she admits to herself that her willingness to go there in the first place is a sign of her desperation.
On her way to Bath, Freyja spends the night in an inn and is surprised during the night when a partially dressed man enters her room and hides in the wardrobe, asking her to lie and cover his presence. She has no intention of doing so, but the innkeeper who is seeking the man treats her rudely, without the deference due a duke’s daughter. So she covers up for the young man until his pursuers have left her room, and he kisses her in gratitude. Then she screams, and he bolts out her window.
Freyja finds him again during a walk in Bath, when he appears to be molesting an innocent servant girl. Shocked and outraged, she punches him in the nose and vows to expose him to Bath society, just as soon as she discovers his identity. When they meet in the Assembly Rooms, she loudly accuses him of trifling with women – in front of all of society – only to discover that she was mistaken. She is suitably embarrassed for making a spectacle of herself, though she’s also secretly glad she livened up Bath’s staid atmosphere, after which the two strike up a cordial friendship and try to ignore their underlying attraction to each other.
The reprobate in question is Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere. Josh is newly returned from the continent after years of “unofficial government employment,” and his sense of fun and adventure is quite similar to Freyja’s. He is in Bath to spend time with his grandmother, and perhaps to consider his responsibilities to his family and his title. Raised as an unwanted relation in his uncle’s home, Josh never thought he’d be marquess. But his uncle’s only son died young, and Josh inherited the title and estate upon the death of his uncle. It’s a life Josh never aspired to; he has an egalitarian streak a mile wide, and his memories of life in his uncle’s home are mostly unhappy. Really, Josh would be happy to leave his widowed aunt alone to enjoy the property while he made his life elsewhere. But his aunt has other ideas. She is determined to cement her place at Penhallow, the family estate, by having Josh marry her oldest daughter Constance. And she has a frightening habit of manipulating others so that she gets her way every time.
As Josh, Freyja, and Constance are all at a ball together, it becomes clear that the wily Marchioness intends to manipulate Josh and Constance into a public engagement announcement. At the last moment, Josh thwarts his aunt by announcing his engagement to Freyja. Neither intends for the engagement to be real. Josh doesn’t particularly want to marry, and Freyja thinks Josh is a shallow, irresponsible rake – good for a bit of fun, but not a realistic marriage prospect. They believe they can keep the fun going for a day or so, then stage a public argument. But circumstances start getting out of hand, forcing them to continue their deception. As they do, both start to wonder if they really should break the engagement after all.
This is a book that mostly lives up to its promise. Those acquainted with Freyja from Balogh’s earlier books were probably wondering what kind of man was the right one for her; I know I was. Freyja is the good kind of spunky: she’s the type who can punch a man in the nose when he needs it, but not the type whose so-called spunk is just stupidity by another name (you know the heroines I mean – the ones who run off to confront the villain at midnight… in the graveyard… without telling anyone where they’re going). She ignores convention by speaking her mind and wearing her long, abundant hair down, but she secretly desires love and marriage. Josh is perfect for her, and I liked him tremendously. He comes off as cavalier and irresponsible at first, but his true nature is gradually revealed to Freyja, and the reader as well.
What especially works well is Josh’s ability to hold his own against Bewcastle, the controlling Duke who has a tendency to steal every scene in which he appears. Josh might seem rather flighty at first, but he handles problems just as confidently as Bewcastle does – albeit in a totally different way. It’s also nice to see that the final, major problem to confront Josh is solved entirely without Bewcastle’s help, which is a welcome departure from the other books in the series.
I also couldn’t help admiring the characterization of the Marchioness of Hallmere, one of the nastiest villains in recent memory. Her brand of manipulation and control is more subtle and deadly than the usual “I’m trying to have the hero killed by suspicious, unsuccessful accidents” method. She’s a worthy adversary, and an interesting one.
The one problem I had with the book is that it sags somewhat toward the end, almost as if there are about fifty unnecessary pages inserted. Freyja’s still likable and Josh engaging, but the plot slows down to the point where it feels like everyone is just treading water for awhile. Some judicious pruning would have a produced a tighter, better book.
That niggle aside, Slightly Scandalous is a fine addition to a strong series. And while I read the books in order, my opinion is that they each stand firmly on their own. For what it’s worth, I would rate this one above the first book, Slightly Married, and slightly below the second, Slightly Wicked (which I enjoyed a great deal more than my colleague did).