The Secret Mistress (The Mistress)

The Secret Mistress - Mary Balogh 3.5+ starsVery tame for a Mary Balogh book - don't let the title fool you! Yes, Lady Angelina becomes a "secret mistress", but not until she's engaged.Angelina is the sister of Jocelyn (Duke of Tresham) and Ferdinand, both notorious rakes. Their parents had a stormy marriage - their father employed several mistresses, even one of their country home grounds; their mother had several lovers. Angelina's eldest brother, Jocelyn, left home at the age of 16, when his father "arranged" for Jocelyn to discover and enjoy his mistress. Their mother paraded the "pretty" Ferdinand around London with her, and he became jaded as he witnessed his mother's indiscretions. But neither parent cared much for Angelina - they left her in the country in the care of various governesses. Angelina knew that she wasn't a delicate beauty, as her mother was. And while Ferdie did make attempts to see her every now and then, he spent most of his time away, as did Jocelyn. Until her coming out at age 19, Angelina saw her eldest brother twice in the past 5 years: at her father's funeral and then at her mother's funeral.Angelina is determined to marry a true gentleman - not a rake. She wants someone who is steady and solid... someone who will love her regardless. While waiting for Tresham at the Rose & Crown Inn (a stop to London), Angelina is in the public taproom alone - a no no for any gently bred lady. But her maid is sleeping, and Angelina persuaded the reverend who accompanied her to continue with his journey. Angelina is only in the taproom, because it has the best view of the road, so she can see in an instant when Tresham arrives. She's giddy with excitement to be partaking in her first Season, and she's full of dreams about her presentation to the queen, her coming-out ball, and of course, a wonderful romance with the perfect gentleman.While waiting, Lord Windham enters the taproom and makes some suggestive remarks to Angelina. He doesn't recognize her as a lady, because 1) ladies wouldn't be in a public taproom and certainly not alone, 2) Angelina favors bright, brash colors - something else that a lady wouldn't do, and 3) Angelina is leaning against the window with her pretty bottom out and her bosom fairly exposed - she's unaware, of course, that's how she looks, but still.... It just so happens that the Earl of Heysham, Edward Ailsbury is also in the public taproom. Edward has been having a few randy thoughts about Angelina, too, although he's doing his best to pull them back in. Edward is only 1 year into the being an earl, his eldest brother, Maurice, having been killed in a curricle race accident. Maurice was a wild one, and somewhat of a rake even after marrying and having a daughter. In fact, Maurice was racing Tresham when he was killed.Edward has always tried to do what is right - not just because it's right, but because he believes it's the right and honorable thing to do. He loves freely, but not romantic love. He's a proper gentleman. So when Windham makes his suggestions to Angelina (neither know who she is), Edward points out that Angelina is, of course, a lady, and Windham should leave her alone. But Windham escalates the argument, clearly looking for a fight, which Edward denies. Windham baits Edward by calling him a coward, but Edward doesn't rise to the bait. Instead, when Windham attempts to leave, Edward blocks his path until Windham offers an apology to the lady (Angelina). Angelina falls in love right there with Edward.The two don't officially meet, however, until Angelina's come-out ball. Edward's family believes it's time for him to find a wife and establish his nursery - it's up to him to keep the title, and even though he's only 24, they think he should get on with it. Edward wants to marry a longtime friend, Eunice, who is the daughter of a Cambridge professor; but Eunice believes that Edward should seek higher, because of his title. So Edward's family arranges it for him to lead Angelina in her first set of dances at her come-out ball. The two are shocked and not displeased when they officially meet. But Edward panics, because he doesn't dance - he's not emotional, so while he knows the steps, his legs seem wooden. Angelina senses his discomfort, and so she feigns turning her ankle. She figures they can sit the rest of the dance out and simply talk, which she does - in abundance. But Edward misunderstands her purpose, and he thinks she's embarrassed by his dancing. It's not until Windham manages to get a set of dances from Lady Angelina - the supper dances at that - that Edward, now walking with Eunice, decides to step in and rescue Angelina again.Edward is drawn to Angelina, but he doesn't quite know why. She doesn't seem to be at all the type of girl he prefers -- she's all color and laughter and talk and dancing... and joy. Eunice recognizes that Angelina is exactly what Edward needs and wants, and she also sees that Angelina is hopelessly in love with Edward. But can the two of them figure it out? Or will Angelina think that the perfect gentleman only wishes to marry her because of a shared kiss in Vauxhall gardens?-------------------I'd wondered about Angelina and Edward, who were characters in her brothers' stories. Edward did seem stiff to Angelina's brashness. I couldn't figure out how the two of them ever got together or stayed together, seeming to be such opposites. But Edward isn't a stick-in-the-mud at all; and Angelina isn't all brash and loud. The two are quite a nice pair and balance each other out.This is a charming tale of Edward and Angelina -- of who they are deep down, and how the two of them discovered that romance can encompass friendship, desire, and lasting love.