Following an identical chronologic path as her best-selling Slightly Tempted, Mary Balogh’s latest Bedwyn Family romance is set against the backdrop of war. As the Battle of Waterloo rages, Alleyne Bedwyn, aide to the British ambassador, carries an urgent message to the Duke of Wellington. Since the “Iron Duke” is often found at the forefront the action, Alleyne’s mission takes him deep into the battlefield. On his return trip to Brussels, he ventures too close to the main fighting and is injured. Determined to complete his mission, he pushes on, unaware that his injury is life-threatening. Finally, faint from the loss of blood, Alleyne topples from his horse, suffering a severe blow to the head.
While the battle rages, Rachel York is planning another sort of warfare. As the victim of an elaborate scam, Rachel has not only lost her savings and her pride, but the funds earned by a quartet of enterprising soiled doves who followed the army to Brussels. While marriage to smooth-talking Rev. Nigel Crawley would have solved some of her problems, her heart was not engaged. When his perfidy was revealed, Rachel’s consuming ire was for the loss of money and security. She is desperately looking for a way to return to England and confront the villain. As a last resort, she ventures unto the ravaged battlefield, looking for anything of value that might be used to obtain her passage. She is too late. The scavengers have already combed through the unfortunate victims - leaving nothing behind. When she stumbles across the nude corpse of a young man, she is horrified at the ruthlessness of the grave-robbers. Mourning the loss of such a handsome man, Rachel is shocked to discover that he is still warm! In fact, he is alive!
This is my favorite “Slightly” book to date, easily surpassing the other four novels. As a rather frivolous character in previous books, Alleyne shows a hidden depth of character. His path of self-discovery begins before he is wounded, and circumstances continue to drive his introspection. As the fourth son of a duke, his family wealth has left him without purpose. It is a pleasure to watch him slowly discover who he is and what he is meant to do. Rachel also has her own family issues, which are resolved in very touching fashion.
One of the highlights of this book are the secondary characters. The four “ladies” of the evening provide much-needed comic relief from the horrors of war. They are warm, generous and loving, just the sort of friends that Rachel needs. The addition of Sergeant Strickland as a “gentleman’s gentleman” is a stroke of genius. His common sense approach to life keeps everyone well-grounded. As the ensemble makes their way back to England, they need all of their wits and resources to confront the villainous minister and prevent him from duping any more unsuspecting victims.
I could go on and on with my praise, but it would reveal too much of the tale. Ms. Balogh has written a vivid story, set against one of the most horrific battles ever waged. The emotions run high but are genuine. The characters are perfectly developed and are completely believable. Her deft touch has brought both laughter and tears. She is fast becoming a star of the Regency genre with her gift for memorable stories and unforgettable characters.