Monday, November 02, 2009

More than a Mistress by Mary Balogh

Jocelyn Dudley is Duke of Tresham, and in the middle of a duel when a young woman runs onto the field, shouting at the participants to stop. This causes him to hold his fire, but not his opponent, who fires and wounds Jocelyn in the leg. Jocelyn lets his opponent sweat for a bit, then fires in the air, but the leg wound is a bad one, and he lays the blame at the feet of the young woman who distracted him at a critical moment

She is Jane Ingleby, and she tried to stop the duel because she was saddened at the thought of two men throwing their lives away on something so pointless as a duel, especially one over a woman. But when she receives the sharp side of Jocelyn's tongue, she doesn't shrink back, she answers him in a like fashion, despite the fact that she is a mere shopgirl and not a Duke. But when she finally makes her way to work in the milliner's shop in which she toils, the proprietress will not accept her excuse and wants a note from the Duke before she will believe Jane.

Jane tracks down the Duke to his home, where the surgeon is removing the ball from his leg. He declines to give her the note, mainly because he blames her for his injury, and partly because he is drunk from the liquor that was pressed on him to dull the pain from his injury while the ball is excised. But he decides to have his revenge on her by making her play the part of his nursemaid while he recovers. Ordinarily, he's a trial to deal with. But injured? He's a thousand times worse. He views it as only fair to make her pay in that way.

And so she goes to work for him, hired for a period of a mere three weeks, by which time he should be mostly recovered. But Jocelyn is a man always on the go and chafes at inactivity. He's angry at Jane, angry with her ugly dress and the hideous caps she hides under. Perceptively, he realizes that she is very pretty, and figures she must have a good reason to hide her beauty. But he doesn't want her to hide it from him.

Jane is not just the orphan she pretends to be, and someone is hot on her trail. He is Mick Boden, a Bow Street Runner hired by the Earl of Durbury, who claims that a certain young blonde-haired woman attacked his son and robbed his house. He wants Mick Boden to apprehend her.

That young woman, of course, turns out to be Jane Ingleby- but that isn't her real name. And Jane is terrified of being dragged back to him, especially when she hears the rumors being bandied about concerning her and the attack- that she burst in with a pistol in each hand and shot the Earl's son when he didn't move fast enough, and made off with a fortune in jewels.

All of this is a lie, of course, but Jane keeps herself hidden, thinking-knowing that no one will listen to a penniless woman when placed against an earl. But Jocelyn has discovered that his nurse has unexpected depths. She sings like an Angel, but doesn't want to do it professionally. At his wit'e end, wanting her like he's wanted no woman before but unable to marry her because she is so far beneath him,he approaches her about setting her up as his mistress.

And she, wanting to hide, agrees. But first, she will redecorate the house, which she feels makes the inside look like a brothel. A really tacky brothel. But when Jocelyn takes her virginity in the newly remodeled house, something special happens. He doesn't treat her like a man with a mistress, but as a man with his lover. And he begins telling her things, things he's kept locked inside him for his entire life.

He's alarmed by this tendency, but he finds that he can't stay away from her, even if he does treat her coldly and arrogantly after he unexpectedly lets loose with one of his recollections. But when Mick Boden comes to Jocelyn's house looking for Jane, who is actually a lady named Sara Illingsworth, Jocelyn suddenly finds himself absolutely furious. Suddenly, everything changes. Suddenly, the world is different- he doesn't have to make her his mistress- he can have her as his wife. But will she have him after the way he's treated her? And what about the Earl's son? Is he really near death, and can Jocelyn save Sara from the hangman's noose?

I liked this book. I liked how Jane stood up for herself, and how she had spine and backbone despite being reduced to near-penury and having to support herself with work. I also liked the real reason that the Duke's son was injured and how, and the comeuppance that not only the Duke, but her supposed fiance got at the end of the book.

However, I didn't think that Jocelyn really groveled enough for the way he'd treated her. And I know it was hard for him to apologize or even admit any softer feelings after the way he'd been raised and what his father had done that brutalized his feelings. But I do feel he got off a little too easily. He should have suffered a bit more before he won the heroine.

I also liked the way the hero and heroine came together. Not necessarily the sex part, although that was fine, but the way they came together as people and as a couple. She is able to pull out of him deep emotions that he's repressed for far too long, and even though he hates looking and feeling weak, he feels better in her company than anyone else.

I found this an altogether charming book that made me care when I was sure I never would care about the hero and heroine at the start of the story. Each character is damaged in some way, but Jocelyn's is by far the worse, and he's adopted a cold, unfeelingly arrogant mask to hide the damage. But with Sara/Jane, you feel that in the end, he might actually be all right, and become a deeper, richer person, while Sara was already rich and seasoned, but untried as well. Recommended.

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