The Secret Mistress - Mary Balogh Mary Balogh’s fans have been clamoring for years for a prequel to the Dudley brothers’ stories, More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress. In both those novels, Lady Angeline Heyward, née Dudley, plays a prominent role in her brothers’ lives. Readers always wanted to know, though, how the exuberant, garrulous Angeline and her quiet, unassuming earl managed to fall in love. With her most recent book, The Secret Mistress, Balogh completes the Dudley series and finally gives us Angeline and Edward’s love story.

Lady Angeline Dudley has lived a secluded, restricted life on her family’s estate, just waiting to make her London debut. For a young woman who’s never been allowed to explore the world around her, London Society is endlessly thrilling. Of course, Angeline’s primary duty is to find a suitable husband, and no one is more suitable than the new Earl of Heyward. The minute she meets the earl, she knows he is positively the only man she can marry.

Edward Ailsbury never wanted to become earl, but after his brother’s untimely death, he finds himself inheriting the estate and needing to produce an heir pronto. Though he’d like nothing more than to be comfortably married to the daughter of his former professor, his family wants him to court the eligible Lady Angeline. Edward is uncomfortable, though, with Angeline’s irreverent attitude, garish fashion sense and complete inability to according to Society’s rules. Of all eligible women, Angeline is the last woman he would choose as his wife.

Angeline and Edward are, by all appearances, hopelessly mismatched. For Angeline, everything is a superlative – every bonnet is the “loveliest,” all social events are the “most wonderful.” Her over-exuberance, though, masks the loneliness she’s felt throughout the years as she was put down by her mother and carelessly forgotten by her loving but distant brothers. Edward is generally considered a dud, overshadowed by his late brother’s bold spirit.

These are two insecure people who each consider themselves unworthy of romantic love, though they hide their insecurities in vastly different ways. Angeline smiles relentlessly; Edward buries himself in silence and duty. Ultimately, though, they’re meant to be together. Getting to the happily-ever-after isn’t easy – Edward does everything he can to avoid a marriage with Angeline, breaking her heart in the process. Watching Angeline find strength despite her pain was truly touching.

If you’re a Balogh fan, this is a must-read.

Yes, The Secret Mistress is the first book in the series, though it was the last book published. I honestly can’t tell you what order I think would make most sense – go for whatever strikes your fancy! Each stands alone very well. Side note: I love Balogh’s books, but I do think someone needs to caution her on the abuse of italics. They became a serious distraction at some points.