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Slightly Wicked (Anglais) Poche – 29 avril 2003

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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.

Présentation de l'éditeur

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.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 98 commentaires
23 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Nothing Slight About It 1 décembre 2004
Par Corrine - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Poche
This is the onle one of the Slightly series that I will review. And I chose this one because it was my favorite - though the others are excellent as well. I have read Stephanie Laurens who I find tedious and long winded during love scenes. I have read Julia Quinn who I find humorous but just not able to tap the right emotion.

Mary Balogh gets the right amount of all sensuality and wit and emotion. I cry in every book and that is not an easy fit for a jaded romance reader like myself.

Slightly Wicked begins with deception. Judith Law is traveling to live with her aunt and grandmother when her journey is interrupted by an accident. Rannulf Bedwyn is traveling to Grandmaison to meet the young girl his grandmother, Lady Beamish, has chosen for him to court. He stops to help an the passengers of an overturned cart. He can only take one person on his horse while he goes to fetch help. Of course he chooses the stunning redhead.

And so it begins that Claire Campbell, a jaded, experienced actress and Ralph Bedard, a roguish gentleman, are stranded in an inn for several days. The inevitable happens.

After escaping the inn, Judith, alias Claire, goes to live with her Aunt, cousin, and grandmother. And during her cousin's week-long party, who shows up to court the young woman but Lord Rannulf Bedwyn.

This is a moving, witty, emotionally transcending piece of artwork that inspired me to go out and actively collect all of Ms. Balogh's works. And as I said before, though I think this is the best, all of them are far worthy of the time it takes to read them. It is the best regency series available, in my opinion.
19 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
a good read 2 mai 2003
Par tregatt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Poche
"Slightly Wicked" is the second in the Bedwyn series. And while it was a pleasant enough read, it wasn't vintage Mary Balogh either.
Miss Judith Law is on her way to her aunt's house where she will begin her life as a poor (and I'm assuming unpaid) relation, when the stagecoach she's traveling in meets with an accident. Along comes a dashing gentleman on a horse. He introduces himself as Mr. Bedard, and offers to take Judith to the next town; and she, sensing that this will be her last chance to have one daring and grand adventure before her life of unending drudgery begins, agrees to go with him. Judith passes herself off as out of work actress, Claire Campell, and succumbing to Mr. Bedard's charms, agrees to spend the night with him. But the next morning, she leaves in order to resume her life as poor relation, Judith Law. At worst, in Judith's mind, she will find herself pregnant; at best, she will have one precious memory to hold for the rest of her life. The last thing she expected was that her dashing gentleman would turn up in the neighbourhood, that he would turn out not to be plain Mr. Bedard, but Lord Rannulf Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle's younger brother, and that he is expected to make a match of it with her spoilt and self-centered cousin, Julianne.
What should Judith do? Learn to grit her teeth and bear the sight of Lord Rannulf courting her cousin? Or should she give into Lord Rannulf's demands that she marry him? For a woman who wants love and passion from her marriage, the very thought of marrying someone because he feels obliged to is an anathema! What Judith discovers however is that she has far more resolve, courage and honour than she herself had ever expected, and that holding true to her heart may bring the greatest reward after all...
As with "A Summer to Remember" & "Slightly Married" there was nothing terribly new about the plot of "Slightly Wicked" -- not even an invigorating plot twist or two. And except for the principle two characters, the rest of the cast wasn't exactly memorable either. However, it is the characters of the heroine (Judith), the hero (Rannulf) and how they cope with the situation they find themselves in that makes this book so very readable and engrossing. Judith is, I think, a heroine that most readers will definitely take to their hearts and root for. A fast paced plot that unfolded smoothly and seamlessly, "Slightly Wicked" a well written romance novel not to be missed.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Balogh's newest fan 30 avril 2003
Par A. Fitzsimmons - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Poche
I picked this book up, not realizing it was No. 2 in a series. I decided to read it anyway and was not let down. I read tons of romances and I think this one is clearly up at the top of my list. I thought the premise that brought Rannulf and Judith together was different. All too much, authors focus on the physical attraction between the two main characters, but Balogh did a great job developing their mental/emotional realtionship as well. Then again, maybe it's because the man realizes he loves the woman FIRST! *sigh* Can't wait to read the other two!
9 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
delightful Regency romance 10 mai 2003
Par Harriet Klausner - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Poche
Judith Law is the sibling with no future so her parents send her off to become a companion to her wealthy aunt. However, her first stagecoach ride proves unromantically tedious until the accident leads to the overturning of the vehicle. Lord Rannulf Bedwyn rescues the damsel in distress. Knowing she has nothing to look forward to, Judith decides she will have one memory, a night of passion with no strings with her hero though she uses an alias.
Not long afterward, Judith arrives at her aunt's estate but shockingly Rannulf comes almost immediately afterward accompanied by his grandmother. He is meeting Julianne Effingham, Judith's cousin. However, once he recognizes who the companion is, Rannulf knows he is courting the wrong relative but he has to persuade his beloved that they belong to each other.
Though the "Slightly" series uses one night of heavenly passion as part of an initial encounter, this tale also depends heavily on a second step coincidence. Still, fans will feel wickedly entertained by this delightful Regency romance. The key to this pleasant plot is the lead characters, trying to do the right thing for everyone, but also wanting to please themselves, which conflicts with their noble efforts. The latest Bedwyn tale is an invigorating novel that will send newcomers seeking previous Mary Balogh stories and her fan base waiting for next month's SLIGHTLY SCANDALOUS romance.
Harriet Klausner
8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Only "slightly" wicked 25 juin 2003
Par curvynovelsdotinfo - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Poche
Heroine: voluptuous
 A rainy night. An overturned coach in the middle of nowhere. A dashing, helpful stranger made all the more appealing by a young girl's fanciful mind.
To Judith Law her rescue from the muddy roadside was absolutely providential, and in more ways than one. Here was her chance to experience both her first and last night of passion before becoming a lifelong paid companion in her well-to-do aunt's employ. And it seemed such a simple thing to love this stranger for but a few days, then leave him behind forever.
So imagine Judith's utter surprise when her erstwhile lover arrives at her aunt's house and is revealed to be none other than Rannulf Bedwyn, the favored suitor for her beautiful young cousin's hand!
And yet Rannulf declares privately to Judith that he'd rather have her--red hair, freckles, curves and all. Can this be true, or is Judith dreaming her way to disappointment once again?
What worked for me:
I liked the leonine Rannulf even though I usually prefer my heroes tall, dark, and devastating. He was a bit of a playboy at first but other than that was a reasonably stand up guy. Not as alpha as one might like, but not a simpering wuss either.
There was some pretty good tension in this story that kept me reading on. I just had to find out how Judith's horrible family got their comeuppance in the end.
Size-wise Judith was voluptuous and very attractive to men, though she wasn't aware of it. In fact, her religious family had her convinced that she was ugly as sin.
What didn't work for me:
I wanted to like our heroine and her family, who sold her off into slavery to her unkind aunt. (But then, it would have been more or less the same scenario had she been married off instead.) And mostly I did like her, but she just made one foolish decision after another, whether it was jumping into bed with a complete stranger or later turning down his proposal of marriage after they had gotten to know each other and actually fallen in love. Of course, had she not made those mistakes this book would have been all of 8 pages long.

If you can set aside your common sense and think with your heart instead of your head, you'll enjoy this Regency era romp. (And if you want more of the same, then be sure to check out the rest of the Bedwyn "Slightly" series.)
Warning: There's a steamy scene at the beginning of this book. (Considering that the word "wicked" was in the title, I did expect the story to be spicier.)
If you liked "Slightly Wicked" you might also enjoy  "Into Temptation", "Suddenly You", "The Accidental Bride", "The Bride and the Beast", "The Fire-Flower", "The Last Days of a Rake", "Unmarriageable", "Cat and the Countess", "The Courtship", or "Enchanting Pleasures".
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