Slightly Wicked (Bedwyn Family Series)

Slightly Wicked - Mary Balogh 3.5+ starsI truly enjoyed this book, because as outrageous as it might seem, I could relate to Judith's plight and even her decision to be "slightly wicked". I realize many might not be able to suspend belief to accept that a woman like Judith might be more than tempted -- that she might actually *be* wicked with a handsome, wealthy stranger for 1.5 days and 2 nights, when she was a gently bred lady. And then to refuse his offer of marriage?But that's the charm of this book... Judith is not our ordinary heroine. Sure, she fits much of the romance-genre formula in that she's smart, witty, resourceful, and very much unaware of her own beauty. And it must be such a challenge, as a writer, to come up with unique characters, especially heroines -- people the readers can like and relate to that aren't copies of another character in another story. But I find Judith refreshing. She's got her sense of duty, but she's got an imagination. And a talent for acting! All hidden away...When we first met Rannulf Bedwyn, he appeared at Aidan's and Eve's home at the end of Slightly Married to meet his new sister-in-law. Rannulf was on his way to visit their maternal grandmother, and he'd missed all the excitement with of Aidan's "secret" marriage and subsequent to-do in Town. And at the end of that book, the new Lady Aidan (Eve) prophetically wishes that Rannulf could be so fortunate as his brother Aidan to find a wife and love and a happy marriage.Judith is the 2nd or 3rd daughter of a small village rector. Her father has a modest living, but the only son Branworth is the darling of the family (as the only son). Bran has been well-educated and is currently living it up as a gentleman in London Society. Why, I really can't quite figure out, since I couldn't see that Bran was in line for any titles. He is a gentleman, but not a Lord, only a Mister. So to me, Bran, and the way his family spoiled him was a mystery. (I suppose Bran was 2nd in line to his uncle's title, behind his cousin Horace, but is that enough to allow Bran to practically bankrupt the family living it up? And to be allowed to do so?)Anyway, Judith's father is so busy paying off Bran's debts and clothing bills that the family is practically destitute. So he appeals to his sister, who married a baronet. Lady Effington is everything you'd imagine the noveau titled to be: arrogant, haughty, and a pretender. She's just brought out her daughter Julianne, and with the Season ended, Julianne seemed to have a few offers. But her mama hadn't yet decided which was the most advantageous offer, so they returned to their country home. Lady Effington's mother, the elderly Mrs. Law, is quite a handful, and Lady Effington doesn't have the time or inclination to deal much with her. So Lady E decides that to take on one of her brother's daughters as a companion to Mrs. Law and to be at her beck-and-call as an unpaid servant. Besides, her neighbor, the rich Lady Sarah Beamish, has decided that perhaps Julianne will make a good wife for dear Rannulf. Lady Beamish made Rannulf her heir, and at 28, he's still not married and settled. Rannulf loves his grandmama, so he dutifully rides out to see her. What he doesn't know is that his dear grandmama is dying. And so her constant attempts to get him married and produce an heir are more than just trying to get him married off. She's hoping that Rannulf (Ralf) will truly settle into the living that he'll soon inherit. And that she might see a grandchild or two before she's gone. On his way to see her, Rannulf encounters a carriage (post) that's overturned on the muddy roads in the storm, and the passengers are in need of assistance. Rannulf spots a goddess among them, helping with the minor cuts and scrapes of the incident: Judith. Her glorious golden sunset hair has fallen down in the crash, and her hourglass curves are being shown to their best advantage. Rannulf makes a bold offer: he'll take her with him on his horse to send back help. Judith knows that she's off to be a poor relation and unpaid servant at the Effington's; she's certain that she'd doomed to life of spinsterhood. And Judith has always thought that she was ugly, because her rector father was constantly criticizing the way she dressed and accusing her of soliciting the stares and leers of the young men.So when Rannulf makes his slightly wicked offer, Judith accepts. And decides to play the role of Claire Campbell, an actress and sometimes courtesan. And when she responds to his flirting, Rannulf procures a room for them to spend the night in -- or at least until the rain stops and the roads are passable again. Judith knows what a lady does and does not do. But she figures it's her only opportunity to find out what goes on between men and women in the intimacy and privacy of their bedroom, since she doubts she'll ever experience it any other way. Except that after spending 1.5 days and 2 glorious nights with him, Rannulf (who pretended to be Ralph Bedard) decides he wants to follow her to her destination and make her his mistress. Claire (Judith) can't bear for him to learn the truth, so she runs, hugging the dream of their time together to stave off her coming misery. But a few days after she arrives at the Effington home, and is properly put in her place by her aunt (her hair must be covered with a cap at all times, nothing showing, and her gowns are let out at the seams to hide her curves and make her appear chubby and over 30), Judith learns that Ralph Bedard is really Rannulf Bedwyn, the "intended" of her own cousin, Julianne. Now what Judith thought of as a wonderful dream is just... a nightmare. And then there's her step-cousin, Horace, determined to treat his poor relation as his plaything, despite what she might think. And try as he might, Rannulf can't keep his mind off Judith -- or stop rescuing her from Horace's clutches.As predictable as this book is, and yes, it is predictable, it's still a fun, fluff, guilty pleasure of a story. Judith isn't a bad girl, she just wanted a taste of something she thought she could never have. She wanted that one, handsome stranger to whisk her away and make love to her -- to give her memories that she could hold onto for the rest of her dull life. And as funny as it is to us, the reader, that she's "caught", it's also sad, because Judith can no longer hold onto that dream. Now she's only caught in shame and confusion, because that stranger is a stranger no longer. As imaginative as she is, Judith is very practical. And she can't conceive of any world in which she and Rannulf could be involved.While Rannulf is an alpha-male, he was remarkably constrained, I thought. He truly is a gentleman. And yet, he needed Judith. Someone to open up to, to share his thoughts with. Someone to help him see that it's time for him to take on the responsibilities that he's going to inherit. And to see that love is inconvenient, but when it comes, you should embrace it and go with it.I'm really liking the Bedwyn sagas! Wulf, the eldest, is such a character, I'm tempted to read his book next, just to see who could possibly catch his eye and heart! But I'll be good and read them in order, so that I won't potentially spoil the books in-between.