This book is a reissue of two Mary Baolgh Signet Regency stories from 1996. Early Balogh is not as good as later, but even so these are sweet, enjoyable stories. As I understand it, the Dark Angel series (no idea what that name is supposed to imply) is about four friends who embark upon forced, or nearly forced, marriages to women they don't love, or who don't love them. Naturally, they all end up happy.
In The Famous Heroine,
Cora Downes rescues a duke's young nephew from drowning in Bath and is brought to London by the grateful grandmother. Since Cora is a wealthy Bristol merchant's daughter, she is clearly out of her element, but the ton,
is intrigued by her heroism (and her dowry) and is rather accepting of her anyway. Lord Francis Kneller, a friend of the duke's, agrees to help squire her about to meet an eligible husband, and they become good friends. Because Lord Francis dresses in lace and bright colors, like a dandy (a macaroni, perhaps?), while all the other gentlemen have adopted Beau Brummel's austere look, Cora assumes that he is probably a man who does not perfer women. (It's rather odd that Cora even knows about such things and that she's so accepting of him, but hey it's Romancelandia.) Purely by accident, he compromises her in public, twice, and feels honor-bound to offer for her. Why she accepts is never entirely clear, except that she likes him and enjoys his company. They hie off to the country; misunderstandings ensue; happiness results. The Plumed Bonnet
is about the Duke of Bridgwater (Lord Francis's friend from the previous story) and his marriage to a governess turned heiress, Stephanie Gray. He literally picks up Stephanie on a country road, when she is wearing a fuchsia cape and a pink bonnet with three feathers. He thinks she's an actress or a ladybird and invites her into his carriage, mostly because he's bored and she has concocted a far-fetched story about being robbed on the way to claim her vast inheritance at her grandfather's estate in Hampshire. After they have traveled three days together and arrived at the estate, he is shocked to learn that her story is true. He insists that she marry him, partly to assuage his honor and partly because she will otherwise be forced to marry a creepy relative in order to keep her inheritance. (The will is one of those where she has to marry within six months to get the money. Did people really do that back then?) She accepts and they go to London, where the dowager duchess (the grateful grandmother from the previous story) trains her to be a proper duchess. Indeed, she becomes so proper that her own personality disappears, but she is so grateful to the duke for rescuing her and treating her with respect that she is determined to be the wife he should have. After they're married, he confesses what he first thought about her, and offers her her freedom. I think we all know what happens next.
These books are relatively short, compared to Balogh's later works, so the characters are less well-developed. Like I said, though, they are sweet, fun stories for a quick read.
Kudos to Mary Balogh for working to see that her backlist is published in ebook format.