SLIGHTLY WICKED starts out as a delicious fantasy for Judith Law. Because of her brother's careless philandering her father has been reduced to asking his wealthy sister for help. In return, one of his daughters is to go live with their aunt as a companion. In an effort to spare her sisters who seem to have better prospects, Judith is the one chosen to go. Judith has always aspired to be an actress and has had many fantasies in which she has become a famous one. One recurring fantasy has her going off on an adventure with a highwayman. When the carriage Judith is traveling in overturns she pictures her highwayman coming to the rescue. Instead she gets Lord Rannulf Bedwyn.
Lord Rannulf Bedwyn is on his way to his grandmother's when he comes upon the overturned carriage. Since he is on horseback he offers to take one of the passengers to the nearest town and have help sent back. He spies Judith and offers to take her. Not wanting to face their futures both Judith and Rannulf give fake names. Judith becomes Claire Campbell, actress and Rannulf becomes Ralph Bedard. Judith feels this is her last chance to experience relations with a man so Claire ends up spending the next couple of nights with Ralph due to the inclement weather. Then the weather clears up and Claire disappears.
This is where I felt that things get real interesting. Judith arrives at her aunt's house and immediately hits it off with her grandmother but her aunt and cousin are a different kettle of fish. Poor Judith is facing a very bleak future. Her cousin Julianne is expecting to marry Lord Rannulf Bedwyn and all Judith can expect is a life of drudgery. Then the fireworks start. Judith's brother arrives with Julianne's brother and Lord Rannulf and his grandmother come to meet Julianne. You can imagine what happens when Rannulf and Judith finally meet and realize who the other is.
I have had trouble reading historical for quite awhile now but Mary Balogh has crafted these characters and their stories in a way that I was totally hooked from the beginning. I loved the way Rannulf grows and comes to feel a connection with what will eventually be his inheritance. He also comes to realize that Julianne is not a woman he can spend the rest of his life with. Of course I wanted to smack him until he finally understands the proper way to woo Judith into becoming his wife and then it was Judith, don't be a fool, grab him with both hands. It takes some persuading but she eventually accepts him.
I plan to try the other books in this series and recommend that anyone who likes historicals also check it out. Especially if you've had trouble with them like I have. Happy reading!
Diane Mason, May 2003