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  • Written by Mary Balogh
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  • Written by Mary Balogh
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Written by Mary BaloghAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Mary Balogh

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List Price: $7.99

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On Sale: April 01, 2003
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-440-33449-1
Published by : Dell Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Meet the Bedwyns…six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality…Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Aidan Bedwyn, the marriage-shy second son, discovers that matrimony may be the most seductive act of all.…

Like all the Bedwyn men, Aidan has a reputation for cool arrogance. But this proud nobleman also possesses a loyal, passionate heart—and it is this fierce loyalty that has brought Colonel Lord Aidan to Ringwood Manor to honor a dying soldier's request. Having promised to comfort and protect the man's sister, Aidan never expected to find a headstrong, fiercely independent woman who wants no part of his protection…nor did he expect the feelings this beguiling creature would ignite in his guarded heart. And when a relative threatens to turn Eve out of her home, Aidan gallantly makes her an offer she can't refuse: marry him…if only to save her home. And now, as all of London breathlessly awaits the transformation of the new Lady Aidan Bedwyn, the strangest thing happens: With one touch, one searing embrace, Aidan and Eve's “business arrangement” is about to be transformed…into something slightly surprising.

Excerpt

Chapter One


England - 1814

There was a shady dell slicing through the woods on the western side of the park at Ringwood Manor in Oxfordshire. The water of the brook gurgling over its rocky bed joined up eventually with a larger river that formed the boundary of the park and flowed through the nearby village of Heybridge. The dell was always secluded and lovely. However, on this particular morning in May it was breathtakingly beautiful. The bluebells, which did not usually bloom until June, had been seduced by a mild spring into making an early appearance. The azaleas were in flower too, so that the sloping banks were carpeted in blue and pink. Bright sunbeams slanted through the dark-leafed branches of tall cypress trees and dappled the ground with brightness and shadow while sparkling off the bubbling water of the brook.

Eve Morris was knee-deep in bluebells. She had decided that it was too glorious a morning to be spent in any of the usual activities about the house and farm or in the village. The bluebells were in bloom for such a short time, and picking them for the house had always been one of her favorite springtime activities. She was not alone. She had persuaded Thelma Rice, the governess, to cancel classes for a few hours and bring her two pupils and her infant son out flower picking. Even Aunt Mari had come despite her arthritic knees and frequent shortness of breath. Indeed, it had been her idea to turn the occasion into an impromptu picnic. She was sitting now on the sturdy chair Charlie had carried down for her, her knitting needles clicking steadily, a large basket of food and drink at her side.

Eve straightened up to stretch her back. A pile of long-stemmed flowers lay along the basket over her arm. With her free hand she pressed her ancient, floppy straw hat more firmly onto her head, even though the wide gray ribbon attached to its crown and brim was securely fastened beneath her chin. The ribbon matched her dress, a simply styled, high-waisted, short-sleeved cotton garment ideal for a morning in the country when no company was expected. She savored a conscious feeling of well-being. All of the summer stretched ahead, a summer unmarred by anxiety for the first time in many years. Well, almost unmarred. There was, of course, the continuing question of what was keeping John away. He had expected to be home by March, or April at the latest. But he would come as soon as he was able. Of that she was certain. In the meantime, she viewed her surroundings and her companions with placid contentment.

Aunt Mari was not watching her busy hands. Instead she watched the children, an affectionate smile on her lined and wrinkled face. Eve felt a rush of tenderness for her. She had spent forty years hauling carts of coal along passageways deep in a coal mine until Papa had granted her a small pension after the death of her husband, Papa's uncle. Eve had persuaded her to come to Ringwood to live a little over a year ago, when Papa was very ill.

Seven-year-old Davy was picking earnestly, a frown on his thin face, as if he had been set a task of grave importance. Close behind him, as usual, five-year-old Becky, his sister, picked with more obvious enjoyment and less concentration, humming tunelessly as she did so. She looked like a child who felt secure in her surroundings. If only Davy could learn to relax like that, to lose the strained, serious look that made him appear too old for his years. But it would come, Eve told herself, if she would just be patient. Neither child was her own, though they had lived with her for the past seven months. They had no one else.

Muffin was down by the brook, three of his paws braced precariously on three different rocks, the fourth tucked under his belly, his nose half an inch above the shallow water. He was not drinking. He fancied himself as a prize fisher-dog though he had never caught even as much as a tadpole. Silly dog!

Young Benjamin Rice toddled up to his mother, a cluster of azalea and bluebell heads clutched tightly in one outstretched fist. Thelma bent to take them in her cupped hands as if they were some rare and precious treasure--as of course they were.

Eve felt a moment's envy of that mother love, but she shook it off as unworthy of her. She was one of the most fortunate of mortals. She lived in this idyllic place, and she was surrounded by people with whom she shared a reciprocal love, the loneliness of her girlhood a thing of the distant past. In a week's time she would be able to leave off her half-mourning on the first anniversary of Papa's death and wear colors again. She could scarcely wait. Soon--any day now--John would be back, and she could admit to the world at long last that she was in love, love, love. She could have twirled about at the thought, like an exuberant girl, but she contented herself with a smile instead.

And then there was the other prospect to complete her happiness. Percy would be coming home. He had written in his last letter that he would take leave as soon as he was able, and now surely he must be able. A little over a week ago she had heard the glorious news that Napoleon Bonaparte had surrendered to the Allied forces in France and that the long wars were over at last. James Robson, Eve's neighbor, had come in person to Ringwood as soon as he heard himself, knowing what the news would mean to her--the end to years of anxiety for Percy's safety.

Eve stooped to pick more bluebells. She wanted to be able to set a filled vase in every room of the house. They would all celebrate springtime and victory and security and an end to mourning with color and fragrance. If only John would come.

"Who's ready for something to eat, then?" Aunt Mari called a few minutes later in her thick Welsh accent. "I'm exhausted just watching all of you."

"I am," Becky cried, skipping happily toward the basket and setting her flowers down at Aunt Mari's side. "I am starved."

Davy straightened up but stood uncertainly where he was, as if he half suspected that the offer would be snatched away if he moved.

Muffin came bobbing up from the brook, his one and a half ears cocked, woofing as he came.

"You must be famished too, Davy." Eve strode toward him, set her free arm about his thin shoulders, and swept him along with her. "What an excellent worker you are. You have picked more than anyone else."

"Thank you, Aunt Eve," he said gravely. He still spoke her name awkwardly as if he thought it an impertinence to use so familiar a form of address. He and Becky were not related to her, except by a very tenuous link through marriage, but how could she have two young children growing up in her home and addressing her as Miss Morris? Or Aunt Mari as Mrs. Pritchard?

Thelma was laughing. Flowers along one arm, Benjamin on the other, she was unable to prevent him from pushing her bonnet backward off her head.

Aunt Mari had the basket open and was taking out freshly baked bread rolls, which had been carefully wrapped in a tea towel. The yeasty smell of them and of fried chicken made Eve realize how hungry she was. She knelt on the blanket Davy and Becky had spread on the grass and took charge of the large bottle of lemonade.

The ten minutes or so of near silence that followed were testament to both their hard work and the culinary skills of Mrs. Rowe, Eve's cook. Why did food always taste so much more appetizing out-of-doors? Eve wondered, wiping her greasy fingertips on a linen napkin after devouring a second piece of chicken.

"I suppose," Aunt Mari said, "we'd better pack up and take all these flowers back to the house before they wilt. If someone would just hand me my cane as soon as I have my wool and needles in this bag, I could haul these old bones upright."

"Oh, must we?" Eve asked with a sigh as Davy scrambled to offer the cane.

But at that moment someone called her name.

"Miss Morris," the voice called with breathless urgency. "Miss Morris."

"We are still here, Charlie." She swiveled around to watch a large, fresh-faced young man come lumbering over the top of the bank from the direction of the house and crash downward toward them in his usual ungainly manner. "Take your time or you will slip and hurt yourself." She had hired him several months ago, even though Ringwood had not needed any more servants, to do odd jobs about the house and stable and park. No one else had wanted to offer Charlie employment after the death of his father, the village blacksmith, because he was generally described as a half-wit. Even his father had constantly berated him as a useless lump. Eve had never known anyone more eager to work and to please.

"Miss Morris." He was gasping and ruddy-cheeked by the time he came close enough to deliver his message. Whenever Charlie was sent on an errand, he behaved as if he had been sent to announce the end of the world or something of similarly dire import. "I am sent. By Mrs. Fuller. To fetch you back to the house." He fought for air between each short sentence.

"Did she say why, Charlie?" Eve got unhurriedly to her feet and shook out her skirt. "We are all on our way home anyway."

"Someone's come," Charlie said. He stood very still then, his large feet planted wide, his brow creased in deep furrows of concentration, and tried to bring something else to mind. "I can't remember his name."

Eve felt a lurching of excitement in the pit of her stomach. John? But she had been disappointed so many times in the last two months that it was best not to consider the possibility. Indeed, she was even beginning to wonder if he was coming at all, if he had ever intended to come. But she was not yet prepared to draw such a drastic conclusion--she pushed it firmly away.

"Well, never mind," she said cheerfully. "I daresay I will find it out soon enough. Thank you for bringing the message so promptly, Charlie. Would you carry the chair back to the house for Mrs. Pritchard and then return for the basket?"

He beamed at the prospect of being able to make himself useful and stood poised to scoop up the chair the moment Aunt Mari got to her feet. Then he turned back to Eve with a beaming smile of triumph.

"He is a military feller," he said. "I seen him before Mrs. Fuller sent me to fetch you and he was wearing one of them red uniform things."

A military man.

"Oh, Eve, my love," Aunt Mari said, but Eve did not even hear her.

"Percy!" she cried in a burst of exuberance. Basket and flowers and companions were forgotten. She gathered up her skirts with both hands and began to run up the bank, leaving her aunt and Thelma and Charlie to gather up the children and the bluebells.

It was not a long way back to the house, but most of the distance was uphill. Eve scarcely noticed. Nor did she notice that Muffin ran panting at her heels every step of the way. She was up to the top of the dell in a few moments and then through the trees and around the lily pond and up over the sloping lawn to the stables, along in front of the buildings and across the cobbled terrace to the front doors of the house. By the time she burst into the entrance hall, she was flushed and panting and probably looking alarmingly disheveled, even grubby. She did not care one iota. Percy would not care.

The rogue! He had sent no word that he was coming. But that did not matter now. And surprises were wonderful things--at least happy surprises were. He was home!

"Where is he?" she asked Agnes Fuller, her housekeeper, who awaited her in the hall, large and solid and hatchet-faced. How like Percy to keep her in suspense, not simply to rush out to meet her and sweep her off her feet and into a bear hug.

"In the parlor," Agnes said, jerking a thumb to her right. "Out you get, dog, until you have had your paws washed! You'd better go upstairs first, my lamb, and wash your--"

But Eve did not even hear her. She dashed across the checkered floor of the hall, flung open the door of the visitors' parlor, and hurried inside.

"You wretch!" she cried, pulling undone the ribbon of her hat. And then she stopped dead in her tracks, feeling intense mortification. He was not Percy. He was a stranger.

He was standing before the empty hearth, his back to it, facing the door. He seemed to half fill the room. He looked seven feet tall, dressed as he was in full regimentals, his scarlet coat and its gold facings immaculate, his white pantaloons spotless, his knee-high black cavalry boots polished to a high gloss, his sheathed sword gleaming at his side. He looked broad and solid and powerful and menacing. He had a harsh, weathered face, its darkness accentuated by black hair and eyebrows. It was a grim face, with hard, nearly black eyes, a great hooked nose, and thin, cruel-looking lips.

"Oh, I do beg your pardon," she said, suddenly, horribly aware of her bedraggled appearance. She pulled off her hat--her old, shapeless hat--and held it at her side. Her hair must be flattened and untidy. She surely had grass and flower bits all over her. She probably had streaks of dirt all over her face. Why had she not stopped to ask Agnes the identity of the military man who had come calling? And why was he here? "I thought you were someone else."

He stared at her for a long moment before bowing. "Miss Morris, I presume?" he said.

She inclined her head to him. "You have the advantage of me, I am afraid, sir," she said. "The servant who came for me had forgotten your name." "Colonel Bedwyn at your service, ma'am," he said.

She recognized the name instantly. She could even supply the rest of it. He was Colonel Lord Aidan Bedwyn and Percy's commanding officer. If she had felt deep mortification before, now she wished a black hole would open beneath her feet and swallow her up.
Mary Balogh|Author Q&A

About Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh - Slightly Married

Photo © David Wild

Mary Balogh is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Slightly novels: Slightly Married, Slightly Wicked, Slightly Scandalous, Slightly Tempted, Slightly Sinful, and Slightly Dangerous, as well as the romances No Man's Mistress, More than a Mistress, and One Night for Love. She is also the author of Simply Love, Simply Unforgettable, Simply Magic, and Simply Perfect, her dazzling quartet of novels set at Miss Martin's School for Girls. A former teacher herself, she grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada.

Author Q&A

Mary Balogh on Romance Writing


Romance authors are prolific writers. Knowing that there are so many romance books published each year, how do you keep your ideas fresh and avoid traveling over well-worn territory?

I read very little romance. One reason is that because I write romance all day I look for a different type of literature to fill my leisure hours. Another reason is that I want my ideas to be my own. I don't want to pick up trends from other writers and I certainly do not want to unconsciously plagiarize from anyone else—and it is easy to do precisely because it is unconscious! As far as keeping my own writing fresh is concerned, it is a matter of constant attention. Sometimes I have a plot idea that seems great and fits the story well—and then I recall that I used the same idea four books ago. I try not to do the same thing over and over—and if I do reuse an idea (the fake betrothal, for example) I try to use it in quite different ways each time.

Many of you write with recurring characters in your stories. How do you keep track of what your characters have done to ensure that your storyline stays true?

I keep lists of characters and places and key descriptions. But on the whole I am a "head" person—I keep everything stored in my brain. If I am not sure of a detail, then I have to go rummaging through the previous books to check. But it is, of course, hugely important to keep the details consistent. My books Slightly Tempted and Slightly Sinful not only are related but also run concurrently. I had to get both plots and sets of characters to converge at a certain time and a certain place (the same scene occurs close to the end of both books). That meant keeping very detailed time lines for each book. I did not want one group arriving at the appointed place a whole month ahead of the other group! It was tricky—but then part of a writer's job is to be able to pull off these things. It is part of the fascination of the job!

Do you visualize your characters as anyone in particular? A celebrity or a significant other?

No, never. My books are purely creations of the imagination. Though I do have a mental picture of my characters, it is not as anyone I know. I remember once grimacing when told by a reader that she pictured one of my heroes as an actor whom I disliked. But that of course is the privilege of the reader. We all see things differently with our different imaginations. How wonderful to work in a medium in which so much personal freedom is allowed both writer and reader—unlike film or television.

If you write historical romances, how do you do your research?

In great bulk at the start, reading both history and contemporary sources. But since most of my books have been set in the same historical period (the Regency), I am constantly adding to my knowledge. And there are two great e-mail loops of Regency fanatics to which I belong. What the people on those loops do not know about the Regency period is not worth knowing. Everyone is very willing to share expertise. I am British by upbringing. This is a huge advantage to a writer of historical fiction set in Britain. I have an intuitive feel for what people would do under certain circumstances or feel about various issues, and how they would speak. I spend a month there each year to soak up atmosphere.

Level with ushow easy or difficult is it to write a love scene?

I don't really think of my books as romances. I think of them as love stories. They are emotional experiences, bringing together as they do two people who are quite separate entities to the point at which they commit their lives to each other in a deep love relationship. Sex is a crucial aspect of such a relationship, and so it is important to me not to leave the reader outside the bedroom door, so to speak, and thus remind her that she is not one of these characters but a reader holding a book. I love writing love scenes. I look forward to them. I never write them for titillation purposes. My love scenes are an integral part of the love story, the moments at which the passion of the growing relationship is at its most intense—either negatively or positively, showing what is wrong with the relationship or what is right. Love scenes are as much as emotional experience as a physical—perhaps more so.

Which do you think readers prefer, the more erotic/graphic romance or the old-fashioned romance that leaves most everything to the imagination? Has this changed over the years?

I think there are a wide variety of tastes out there. Books have clearly become more graphic over the years. I do not know which type of book is the most popular. A survey of readers would have to be taken to get that answer. Very few of my readers have ever objected to the explicit nature of my love scenes—even when I was writing traditional Regencies. And no reader has ever asked for more sex in my books. So I suppose for my own readers the balance is just right.

In the publishing business, do you feel there is a stigma attached to romance novels and, by extension, romance authors? Are the subgenres that are being used to define novels todayromantic suspense, historical romance, romantic mysteryan attempt to eliminate any stigma attached to the romance genre?

In the publishing business itself? If there is, I have not felt it. I have always been in the romance program with editors of romance. The fellow-authors I tend to meet are romance authors. So I suppose I would not know what the overall house attitude is. I suppose in the reading world in general there is some stigma on romance—perhaps because it is primarily a woman's genre and anything that is heavily feminine is still seen as intrinsically inferior and irrelevant to the "real" world. My answer is always that romance and happy marital love are as real as all the horror stories we watch on the news each evening. It is just that the emphasis, the perspective is different. And I far prefer my perspective!

What are some things that you think could help increase awareness and sales of romance books?

My main suggestion is already being implemented—though I don't claim any credit! The sleazy covers that used to adorn our books so that male buyers would choose the books to go into their stores are gradually becoming a thing of the past. They almost never gave an accurate idea of the book within the covers. I wept over some of mine! Most romances now look like real books.

What do you love about your fans? Tell us about a memorable encounter with one of your readers while on tour, or via your website or email.

It would be strange indeed, I suppose, if I did not love them because they love my books! But in particular I love the way many readers become so immersed in the books that they treat the characters as if they are real people—and they discuss them as such in groups, sometimes quite heatedly. They hate to let the characters go at the end of a book—and even more so at the end of a series. If a book is part of a series, they speculate on what will happen in the future books. Many of them will beg for stories for some minor character they enjoyed. Many go out looking for my backlist, which is horribly out of print. Perhaps my most memorable encounter with a reader happened at a large convention. When she saw the name on my name tag, she threw both hands in the air, went down on both knees, and declared herself to be my number one fan. What was memorable about it was that she is a New York Times bestselling author—and at the time I was still writing the small Signet Regencies!

Have you ever written a book outside the genre?

No. I have written outside the Regency era, though not far outside it. I have written a few Georgians (18th century) a Victorian, and two Welsh books set in the 1830s (I grew up in Wales). But I have never wanted to write anything but romance.

What do you think is the future trend for romance novels?

Since I do not read much romance, I really have no idea here.

What are you working on now?

I have just left behind a six-part series of books about the Bedwyn family. I feel rather bereft. I have just started a quartet of books about four teachers at the same school in Bath. Two of these teachers appeared briefly in one of the Bedwyn books, so I am not completely out on a limb! The first book has no title yet, beyond Governess I. Since that is hardly a title to make a book fly off the shelves, it will eventually be renamed!


  • Slightly Married by Mary Balogh
  • April 01, 2003
  • Fiction - Romance - Historical
  • Dell
  • $7.99
  • 9780440241041

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