Eighteen year old Morgan Bedwyn, sister of the Duke of Bewcastle, is with friends in Brussels on the eve of the battle of Waterloo. Gervase Ashford, the Earl of Rosthorn, an ex-patriot unjustly banished by his father nine years earlier for reasons directly involving the Duke of Bewcastle, also finds himself in Belgium on the eve of the great battle. When Gervase notices Morgan at a ball, he is immediately drawn to her because she is the sister of his sworn enemy and pursues her with vague intentions of revenge. She takes him for an accomplished rake (which he is) and decides to allow him to flirt and dance with her for the fun of it, knowing it will ultimately go nowhere. As he gets to know her as a person, however, he realizes that using her to get back at her brother would be wrong. But before he can steer clear of her, war erupts and their lives are thrown into chaos and turmoil.
Morgan is beside herself with worry over her brother Alleyne, who is on the front lines, and refuses to leave when her chaperone’s family flees the city. Left to her own devices in Brussels as the wounded pour in, she quickly makes herself useful, illustrating both her depth of character and a maturity belied by her youth. Gervase escorts her to and from the makeshift hospital for her own protection, but when they finally are back in England, it is clear her reputation will be in shreds. Gervase would be happy to wed her to avert a scandal, but there are two obstacles: Morgan thinks it is unnecessary and Bewcastle won’t hear of it.
Bewcastle is furious that his sister has been compromised by a man he believes to be the worst sort of scoundrel, but Gervase is no longer interested in that sort of revenge. By this time he has decided he actually wants to marry Morgan, and sets out to woo her and enlist the aid of the rest of her family, even if not Bewcastle himself.
What is so nice about this story is how believably love develops between the two. We see them converse in both pleasant and unpleasant surroundings, from society balls to a wartime hospital, and in casual walks along the shore and formal meetings in society drawing rooms. They obviously learn a lot about each other’s character and get to know each other very well. Even better, when Morgan confronts him about the history between himself and her brother, Gervase answers her honestly, with little hesitation or dissembling, and she gives him the benefit of believing his story. It’s quite refreshing to have the Big Secret dispensed with so simply.
The twelve-year age difference between the hero and heroine didn’t bother me. Morgan is at times naïve, but she is never stupid and she matures quickly in a crisis situation. Equally, Gervase has been in a sort of arrested development since his banishment, so I felt they fit. Despite her social maturity, she still acts convincingly eighteen at times. When she realizes that his early interest in her must have been motivated by revenge against the Duke, she’s hurt and angry and comes up with a form of retaliation which is both cute and clever. She is unfailingly honest and loyal, while at the same time chafing against the restrictions her youth and standing place around her. Gervase’s past is tragic and my sympathies were very much engaged by the story behind his nine-year separation from England and his family.
However, there are still a few flaws. Some of the events stretch credulity a bit far, for instance. It seems unlikely that Morgan would have been allowed to be taken so close to a location where war was likely to erupt. Her naïveté about how her relationship with Gervase will be viewed by outsiders also seemed hard to credit – she is supposed to have grown up in Regency England, after all. When she learns of the death of someone close to her, her initial reaction was to be expected, but the actions that immediately followed did not make sense to me and seemed out of character for a Regency miss, overwhelming grief or not. And the ultimate resolution to the bitter feud between Bewcastle and Rosthorn was slightly unsatisfying. I needed a face-to-face hashing out, not a summarized letter.
Despite these flaws, I found Slightly Tempted fascinating and compelling. Setting half the novel in a city so involved in an epic battle makes the settings of other Regency-set historicals seem to pale by comparison. The backdrop is detailed, the characters are sympathetic, and the love story quite romantic. It definitely a book to recommend.