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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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On Sale: April 29, 2003
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33383-8
Published by : Dell Bantam Dell
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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 Rannulf Bedwyn, the rebellious third son, enters into a liaison that is rather risqué, somewhat naughty, and…Slightly Wicked.

With his laughing eyes and wild, rakish good looks, Lord Rannulf Bedwyn is a hard man to resist. To Judith Law, a woman in need of rescue when her stagecoach overturns, Rannulf is simply her savior, a heroic stranger she will reward with one night of reckless passion before she must become a companion to her wealthy aunt. Imagine Judith's shock when the same stranger turns out to be among England's most eligible bachelors…and when he arrives at Harewood Grange to woo her cousin. Certainly, they had made no vows, no promises, but Rannulf never did forget his uninhibited lover…nor did she forget that one delicious night. And as scandal sets the household abuzz, Rannulf proposes a solution…but when Judith refuses to have him—in love or wedlock—Rannulf has only one choice: to wage a campaign of pure pleasure to capture the heart of the woman who has already won his.


Chapter One

Moments before the stagecoach overturned, Judith Law was deeply immersed in a daydream that had effectively obliterated the unpleasant nature of the present reality.

For the first time in her twenty-two years of existence she was traveling by stagecoach. Within the first mile or two she had been disabused of any notion she might ever have entertained that it was a romantic, adventurous mode of travel. She was squashed between a woman whose girth required a seat and a half of space and a thin, restless man who was all sharp angles and elbows and was constantly squirming to find a more comfortable position, digging her in uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing places as he did so. A portly man opposite snored constantly, adding considerably to all the other noises of travel. The woman next to him talked unceasingly to anyone unfortunate or unwise enough to make eye contact with her, relating the sorry story of her life in a tone of whining complaint. From the quiet man on the other side of her wafted the odors of uncleanness mingled with onions and garlic. The coach rattled and vibrated and jarred over every stone and pothole in its path, or so it seemed to Judith.

Yet for all the discomforts of the road, she was not eager to complete the journey. She had just left behind the lifelong familiarity of Beaconsfield and home and family and did not expect to return to them for a long time, if ever. She was on her way to live at her Aunt Effingham's. Life as she had always known it had just ended. Though nothing had been stated explicitly in the letter her aunt had written to Papa, it had been perfectly clear to Judith that she was not going to be an honored, pampered guest at Harewood Grange, but rather a poor relation, expected to earn her keep in whatever manner her aunt and uncle and cousins and grandmother deemed appropriate. Starkly stated, she could expect only dreariness and drudgery ahead--no beaux, no marriage, no home and family of her own. She was about to become one of those shadowy, fading females with whom society abounded, dependent upon their relatives, unpaid servants to them.

It had been extraordinarily kind of Aunt Effingham to invite her, Papa had said--except that her aunt, her father's sister, who had made an extremely advantageous marriage to the wealthy, widowed Sir George Effingham when she was already past the first bloom of youth, was not renowned for kindness.

And it was all because of Branwell, the fiend, who deserved to be shot and then hanged, drawn, and quartered for his thoughtless extravagances--Judith had not had a kind thought to spare for her younger brother in many weeks. And it was because she was the second daughter, the one without any comforting label to make her continued presence at home indispensable. She was not the eldest--Cassandra was a year older than she. She was certainly not the beauty--her younger sister Pamela was that. And she was not the baby--seventeen-year-old Hilary had that dubious distinction. Judith was the embarrassingly awkward one, the ugly one, the always cheerful one, the dreamer.

Judith was the one everyone had turned and looked at when Papa came to the sitting room and read Aunt Effingham's letter aloud. Papa had fallen into severe financial straits and must have written to his sister to ask for just the help she was offering. They all knew what it would mean to the one chosen to go to Harewood. Judith had volunteered. They had all cried when she spoke up, and her sisters had all volunteered too--but she had spoken up first.

Judith had spent her last night at the rectory inventing exquisite tortures for Branwell.

The sky beyond the coach windows was gray with low, heavy clouds, and the landscape was dreary. The landlord at the inn where they had stopped briefly for a change of horses an hour ago had warned that there had been torrential rain farther north and they were likely to run into it and onto muddy roads, but the stagecoach driver had laughed at the suggestion that he stay at the inn until it was safe to proceed. But sure enough, the road was getting muddier by the minute, even though the rain that had caused it had stopped for a while.

Judith had blocked it all out--the oppressive resentment she felt, the terrible homesickness, the dreary weather, the uncomfortable traveling conditions, and the unpleasant prospect of what lay ahead--and daydreamed instead, inventing a fantasy adventure with a fantasy hero, herself as the unlikely heroine. It offered a welcome diversion for her mind and spirits until moments before the accident.

She was daydreaming about highwaymen. Or, to be more precise, about a highwayman. He was not, of course, like any self-respecting highwayman of the real world--a vicious, dirty, amoral, uncouth robber and cutthroat murderer of hapless travelers. No, indeed. This highwayman was dark and handsome and dashing and laughing--he had white, perfect teeth and eyes that danced merrily behind the slits of his narrow black mask. He galloped across a sun-bright green field and onto the highway, effortlessly controlling his powerful and magnificent black steed with one hand, while he pointed a pistol--unloaded, of course--at the heart of the coachman. He laughed and joked merrily with the passengers as he deprived them of their valuables, and then he tossed back those of the people he saw could ill afford the loss. No . . . No, he returned all of the valuables to all the passengers since he was not a real highwayman at all, but a gentleman bent on vengeance against one particular villian, whom he was expecting to ride along this very road.

He was a noble hero masquerading as a highwayman, with a nerve of steel, a carefree spirit, a heart of gold, and looks to cause every female passenger heart palpitations that had nothing to do with fear.

And then he turned his eyes upon Judith--and the universe stood still and the stars sang in their spheres. Until, that was, he laughed gaily and announced that he would deprive her of the necklace that dangled against her bosom even though it must have been obvious to him that it had almost no money value at all. It was merely something that her . . . her mother had given her on her deathbed, something Judith had sworn never to remove this side of her own grave. She stood up bravely to the highwayman, tossing back her head and glaring unflinchingly into those laughing eyes. She would give him nothing, she told him in a clear, ringing voice that trembled not one iota, even if she must die.

He laughed again as his horse first reared and then pranced about as he brought it easily under control. Then if he could not have the necklace without her, he declared, he would have it with her. He came slowly toward her, large and menacing and gorgeous, and when he was close enough, he leaned down from the saddle, grasped her by the waist with powerful hands--she ignored the problem of the pistol, which he had been brandishing in one hand a moment ago--and lifted her effortlessly upward.

The bottom fell out of her stomach as she lost contact with solid ground, and . . . and she was jerked back to reality. The coach had lost traction on the muddy road and was swerving and weaving and rocking out of control. There was enough time--altogether too much time--to feel blind terror before it went into a long sideways skid, collided with a grassy bank, turned sharply back toward the road, rocked even more alarmingly than before, and finally overturned into a low ditch, coming to a jarring halt half on its side, half on its roof.

When rationality began to return to Judith's mind, everyone seemed to be either screaming or shouting. She was not one of them--she was biting down on both lips instead. The six inside passengers, she discovered, were in a heap together against one side of the coach. Their curses, screams, and groans testified to the fact that most, if not all, of them were alive. Outside she could hear shouts and the whinnying of frightened horses. Two voices, more distinct than any others, were using the most shockingly profane language.

She was alive, Judith thought in some surprise. She was also--she tested the idea gingerly--unhurt, though she felt considerably shaken up. Somehow she appeared to be on top of the heap of bodies. She tried moving, but even as she did so, the door above her opened and someone--the coachman himself--peered down at her.

"Give me your hand, then, miss," he instructed her. "We will have you all out of there in a trice. Lord love us, stop that screeching, woman," he told the talkative woman with a lamentable lack of sympathy considering the fact that he was the one who had overturned them.

It took somewhat longer than a trice, but finally everyone was standing on the grassy edge of the ditch or sitting on overturned bags, gazing hopelessly at the coach, which was obviously not going to be resuming its journey anytime soon. Indeed, even to Judith's unpracticed eye it was evident that the conveyance had sustained considerable damage. There was no sign of any human habitation this side of the horizon. The clouds hung low and threatened rain at any moment. The air was damp and chilly. It was hard to believe that it was summer.

By some miracle, even the outside passengers had escaped serious injury, though two of them were caked with mud and none too happy about it either. There were many ruffled feathers, in fact. There were raised voices and waving fists. Some of the voices were raised in anger, demanding to know why an experienced coachman would bring them forward into peril when he had been advised at the last stop to wait a while. Others were raised in an effort to have their suggestions for what was to be done heard above the hubbub. Still others were complaining of cuts or bruises or other assorted ills. The whining lady had a bleeding wrist.

Judith made no complaint. She had chosen to continue her journey even though she had heard the warning and might have waited for a later coach. She had no suggestions to make either. And she had no injuries. She was merely miserable and looked about her for something to take her mind off the fact that they were all stranded in the middle of nowhere and about to be rained upon. She began to tend those in distress, even though most of the hurts were more imaginary than real. It was something she could do with both confidence and a measure of skill since she had often accompanied her mother on visits to the sick. She bandaged cuts and bruises, using whatever materials came to hand. She listened to each individual account of the mishap over and over, murmuring soothing words while she found seats for the unsteady and fanned the faint. Within minutes she had removed her bonnet, which was getting in her way, and tossed it into the still-overturned carriage. Her hair was coming down, but she did not stop to try to restore it to order. Most people, she found, really did behave rather badly in a crisis, though this one was nowhere near as disastrous as it might have been.

But her spirits were as low as anyone's. This, she thought, was the very last straw. Life could get no drearier than this. She had touched the very bottom. In a sense perhaps that was even a consoling thought. There was surely no farther down to go. There was only up--or an eternal continuation of the same.

"How do you keep so cheerful, dearie?" the woman who had occupied one and a half seats asked her.

Judith smiled at her. "I am alive," she said. "And so are you. What is there not to be cheerful about?"

"I could think of one or two things," the woman said.

But their attention was diverted by a shout from one of the outside passengers, who was pointing off into the distance from which they had come just a few minutes before. A rider was approaching, a single man on horseback. Several of the passengers began hailing him, though he was still too far off to hear them. They were as excited as if a superhuman savior were dashing to their rescue. What they thought one man could do to improve their plight Judith could not imagine. Doubtless they would not either if questioned.

She turned her attention to one of the unfortunate soggy gentlemen, who was dabbing at a bloody scrape on his cheek with a muddy handkerchief and wincing. Perhaps, she thought and stopped herself only just in time from chuckling aloud, the approaching stranger was the tall, dark, noble, laughing highwayman of her daydream. Or perhaps he was a real highwayman coming to rob them, like sitting ducks, of their valuables. Perhaps there was farther down to go after all.

Although he was making a lengthy journey, Lord Rannulf Bedwyn was on horseback--he avoided carriage travel whenever possible. His baggage coach, together with his valet, was trundling along somewhere behind him. His valet, being a cautious, timid soul, had probably decided to stop at the inn an hour or so back when warned of rain by an innkeeper intent on drumming up business.

There must have been a cloudburst in this part of the country not long ago. Even now it looked as if the clouds were just catching their breath before releasing another load on the land beneath. The road had become gradually wetter and muddier until now it was like a glistening quagmire of churned mudflats. He could turn back, he supposed. But it was against his nature to turn tail and flee any challenge, human or otherwise. He must stop at the next inn he came across, though. He might be careless of any danger to himself, but he must be considerate of his horse.

He was in no particular hurry to arrive at Grandmaison Park. His grandmother had summoned him there, as she sometimes did, and he was humoring her as he usually did. He was fond of her even apart from the fact that several years ago she had made him the heir to her unentailed property and fortune though he had two older brothers as well as one younger--plus his two sisters, of course. The reason for his lack of haste was that, yet again, his grandmother had announced that she had found him a suitable bride. It always took a combination of tact and humor and firmness to disabuse her of the notion that she could order his personal life for him. He had no intention of getting married anytime soon. He was only eight and twenty years old. And if and when he did marry, then he would jolly well choose his own bride.
Mary Balogh|Author Q&A

About Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh - Slightly Wicked

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 Wicked by Mary Balogh
  • April 29, 2003
  • Fiction - Romance - Historical
  • Dell
  • $7.99
  • 9780440241058

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