Book 1 in the Willoughby Family Series
He is the one man she knows she shouldn’t trust.
Michael Ashton, the Duke of Ravensdale, is caught in two scandals, neither of which is his own doing. The first involves a woman (don’t they always), and the second…well, it also involves a woman and a large sum of stolen money. To clear his family name, Michael must track down his charlatan cousin… the same cousin believed to be dead.
She is the one woman he knows he can’t have.
Blythe Willoughby Ashton has been married for a year, but hasn’t been a wife for even a day. When she learns of her husband’s death, she just wants to be left alone. Then her husband’s cousin shows up uninvited on her doorstep, looking more handsome than any man should.
Ms. Ruesch has a knack for writing historicals.
A wonderful debut!
Rosemead Manor, Gloucestershire, England
Sunday, 12 February 1815
Thomas is dead. Blythe’s brother’s words echoed in her head as she peered out her bedroom window at the black clouds.
“Did you hear me?” Adam’s hand landed on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “Blythe, I’m so sorry.”
She should feel something. After a year of not knowing where her husband was, there should be grief, sadness. Perhaps a desire to rage at the quirk of fate that had brought her here.
Anything but this veil of nothingness.
“Was he traveling alone?” She knew the answer, or at least she suspected it.
“He had a woman with him.”
Pain sliced through the numbness. Of course he did.
Sheets of rain poured down outside and pelted the window with fat droplets. She stared at a rivulet of water as it slid down the glass. It seemed fitting somehow that the skies would rage today.
“When did he die?” She turned to Adam.
“Six months ago, in a carriage accident. She…the woman, I mean, survived.”
Blythe’s husband was dead, but his mistress was alive. Was that supposed to be comforting?
She nodded her understanding and turned back to the window to stare at the ominous clouds on the horizon. She had always loved storms, their volatile energy, the way the clouds hugged every inch of land and saturated it with rain. She had been enthralled, ever since she was a little girl, by the loud cracks of thunder and the explosions of light that seemed to reach into every corner of the world. Oddly, they calmed her.
“Blythe, I didn’t come alone. Mama and the girls are here.”
Panic slid in behind the pain. Her family, here? The idea of seeing Adam had been hard enough. But now she had to deal with her mother and three sisters, too? The urge to run from the room and escape into the storm overwhelmed her.
She hadn’t been able to face them for months.
“They are all here?” And ready to pounce, no doubt.
“Yes. We will be leaving for London from here. Cordelia’s debut and all.” He paused. “We plan to leave in less than a week.”
“A quick visit, then.” How odd that even though she hadn’t invited them, now that they were here, the idea of such a short stay distressed her.
“Not a visit, Blythe.” Her brother’s voice was firm under the gentle tone. “We came to take you with us.”
She snapped her gaze to his. “What? Take me where?”
“You can’t believe that I’d run off to the London season now.”
Adam stared at her with that look, the one that bordered on pity, the look that had finally forced her into seclusion at Rosemead. The look that said, ‘Oh, that poor girl, abandoned on her wedding day. How pitiful.’
“Rosemead is my home,” she told him, when his demeanor didn’t change. “I belong here. People need me here.” She fisted her hands together. She would not leave the only sanctuary she had.
Her brother chose that particular moment, however, to act the part of the Earl of Merewood – unyielding, unbendable. No sign of the easy-going brother she’d always been able to cajole to her side.
“I failed you when I let you marry that bounder. I will not fail you again by leaving you here alone.”
“I’m hardly alone in a house full of servants.” She left out how lonely she’d felt of late. Lonely she could deal with. But London? A town full of people who would whisper behind her back about her inability to keep a husband? Not in her foreseeable future.
“This is not negotiable. You are coming to London with us.”
“No, I am not.”
“I won’t have my sister spinster herself for a man who wasn’t worth it. And it’s ridiculous for you to remain here alone, when–” He stopped. “There is more I have to tell you. Then you will see we are right.”
“We?” Blythe echoed. “Mama agrees?” She sniffed. “Of course she’d want me to come home. Silly question. I’m surprised she hasn’t started packing my belongings.” She bit her lower lip and hastened to the doorway that adjoined to her bedroom. Just in case.
“Blythe, you need to listen to me.”
The metal of the doorknob chilled her hand as she turned it and entered the room. Her gaze swept across the furnishings, focusing on the items important to her. Her brush and mirror on the dressing table. A book on the nightstand that she’d used to help herself fall asleep. Her dressing gown, thrown across the foot of the bed.
It all remained as it should. Nothing out of place.
She continued toward her dressing room. At the doorway, she peered inside and sighed with relief that her clothing was where she’d left it.
As were Thomas’s things. His empty trunks sat against the far wall. His clothes still lay folded where his servant had stored them a year ago. Blythe had never moved them.
Had she somehow believed that leaving his belongings ready and waiting would bring him home? How foolish. It had become an eerie shrine to a man who didn’t deserve one.
She turned and saw her brother standing in the middle of the room, arms folded and legs spread out as if he balanced on a ship’s deck.
His fighting stance. Blythe sighed, not in the mood to do battle with her brother.
“Thomas is gone. He can’t hurt me any longer. So it does no tmatter where I live.”
Adam’s troubled expression did not bode well.
“What haven’t you told me?”
He took a breath as if to fortify himself. “The money is gone – your dowry, your dower portion. Thomas took it. All of it.”
“What do you mean, he took it?”
“I don’t know how he managed it. Your entire dowry is gone. Disappeared from the accounts. He must have withdrawn it when he went to London.”
“He went to London?” She shook her head, as a myriad of memories pummeled her. The man she’d married had dressed to the hilt, as only a man of excessive means could. “I don’t understand. Thomas was wealthy when I met him. He didn’t need my dowry.”
“If he ever had wealth of his own, it’s gone. His accounts have been in arrears for years.”
“Wonderful. I am a walking cliché. Abandoned and penniless.”
“You know I won’t leave you penniless.” Adam studied her with apparent frustration. “I’m sorry for all of this. I only wanted to find your husband and bring him home. I did not expect to find such a deuced mess.”
“Either you brought him home or you didn’t. Neither option makes me giddy with happiness.” What self-respecting woman wanted a husband she could keep only if her brother dragged him back by his well-heeled toes?
She moved to a nearby chair and sank back onto it. “What a bloody horrible day.” She cringed. “I didn’t mean you being here. Or Mama or the girls. I am happy about that. It’s just-”
He waved a hand in the air. “No need to explain. You’re entitled to your share of dissatisfaction.” He strode to the small seating area she sat in and dropped into the chair opposite hers.
When he smiled, the tension disappeared and she could see the light-hearted brother she knew. “You almost had me fooled, you know.”
“Into thinking you were the unbendable Earl Who Would Broker No Argument. Papa would’ve been proud.”
He chuckled. “It seems to be a talent I’m gaining. It must be infused in the title.” His brows furrowed. “But I was serious about London, Blythe. It would be best.”
“For you, perhaps. Not for me.” She hoped she carried some of that brokering-no-argument ability herself. “I have no desire to go to Town and be gossiped about and pitied.”
Adam stayed silent.
“See, even you can’t deny there will be wagging tongues.”
“You wouldn’t be gossiped or pitied.”
Amused at his brotherly solidarity, she laughed. “A woman married and abandoned on the same day by a man who couldn’t wait to run off with another woman? Town gossip thrives on stories such as mine. You know it as well as I.”
“No, I don’t. Because no one knew Thomas had married.”
That wall of blessed numbness crumbled like dust around her. “What?”
“When Thomas left on your wedding day, he went back to London. He delved into the season’s entertainment and then, about a month later, left London for good.” He paused. “He was still believed an unmarried bachelor.”
His words tore the air from Blythe’s lungs, leaving her dizzy. It explained why Thomas hadn’t wanted to postpone their wedding so his family could attend.
He’d never even told anyone he had married her.
“As the grandson of a former duke and the cousin of the current Duke of Ravensdale, he was quite the eligible bachelor.”
“Thomas was related to a duke?”
Adam stared out the window. “One of the many things he lied about that I should have investigated.”
A heavy, tired feeling covered her like a thick blanket and she fought tears. She hadn’t known her husband at all.
And she felt like a fool.
“Adam, please.” Tears blurred her vision. “If there’s more, I. Don’t. Care.”
He squatted in front of her and took her hands in his. “You need to be with your family, in a different environment. You don’t have to worry about gossip, because they don’t know anything. You can start anew.”
“You want me to lie? Pretend I was never married?”
“Why not? Who does it hurt? It’s not as if Thomas bed you.”
Adam’s bluntness stung like a slap.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Yes, you did. And you are right. My husband didn’t even want me enough to stay around to bed me. A wonderful reference for my future husband, don’t you agree?
“No. I’m not going to London. I’m not facing that.” She’d dealt with enough loss in the last year, down to the loss of her very dignity. She was not going to leave the home she felt safe in.
Adam wiped her tears. “I understand you need time to adjust to all of this, but I’m not leaving you here. If you’d like to stay for a while, fine. Then we’re staying as well. All of us, until you change your mind.” With that, he strode from the room.
The click of the door told her Adam had left.
She glared at the floor, wishing her gaze could pierce through earth and hell to burn a hole or two through Thomas’s backside.
Had she seemed naïve the day she met him? Had he taken one look at her as they’d met on St. James Street and said, ‘Yes, I can manipulate her, use her, take her dowry and run!’
All this time, she’d been wondering where her husband was, alternating between worry and fury, and he’d gone on with life as if she didn’t exist.
The dratted jumble of hurt, anger and sadness bubbled up, so Blythe grabbed a pillow, sunk backwards onto her bed, and pulled it over her face. She would not cry. Thomas wasn’t worthy of her tears. Well, any more tears.
In a matter of moments, the light scent of jasmine filled her nostrils.
Her mother’s scent.
“I’m not going to London,” Blythe said through the pillow.
After a few seconds of silence that stretched like hours, Blythe moved the pillow from her face and opened her eyes warily.
Hypatia Willoughby, the Dowager Countess of Merewood, possessed an elegance that Blythe had forever tried to emulate, even now with the familiar look of “We’re not finished with this conversation” stamped across her timeless features. Her honey-blond hair was pulled back in the same flattering chignon she always wore and she wore a tasteful morning dress in a light shade of blue.
“I’m not going to London,” Blythe repeated even as her heart swelled at her mother’s presence. How she’d missed her.
Her mother sat next to her on the bed. “You shut me out of your life, and for that, I should soundly spank you.”
“Mama, I’m an adult.” She eyed her mother. She wasn’t going to argue about London?
“You are still my child.” Hypatia pushed a finger lightly at Blythe’s chin. “And I love you. When you hurt, I hurt. When you’re a mother someday, you shall understand.”
“I don’t believe children are in my future,” Blythe muttered. One could not have children without a husband, and she had had one too many of those.
“You’re young, beautiful and possessed of lands and a decent…well, lands in any case. When you are ready, you shall have no difficulty finding a new husband.”
The idea of that ranked somewhere in the depths of mucking out the stables, but Blythe held her tongue. Her mother could be formidable when she had a project.
“Anyway, that is a conversation for another time.” She pulled Blythe up and into a tight hug. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long.”
The warmth of her mother’s embrace reminded Blythe of the times she’d run right to her arms when she’d had even the slightest pain. How amazing that her mother’s hugs still managed to ease the ache in her heart.
With a final squeeze, her mother held Blythe out at arm’s length. “Your brother said you needed time alone, so I left you alone. But I will not allow you to go ten months without communication again. Not even one, as a matter of fact.”
Guilt gnawed at Blythe. “I know I hurt you, Mama. I’m so very sorry for that, but Adam was right. I just needed time.”
“Well, your sisters aren’t going to give you time, so prepare yourself.”
“Are they very upset with me?”
“You haven’t responded to a single letter they sent. What do you think?”
Blythe sighed. “I know I have plenty of amends to make.”
“Even Cordelia has missed you.”
A smile tipped the corners of Blythe’s lips at the mention of the eldest of her younger sisters. “Now you are trying to make me feel guilty.”
“Is it working?” Hypatia raised an eyebrow.
“Good.” She tilted her head. “But for now, darling, we are simply glad to be with you.” Her voice lowered. “Adam has told you?”
“Yes, I know everything.”
Her mother sighed. “After Thomas’s dreadful treatment of you, I can’t seem to find any grace in my heart for him.”
Blythe couldn’t summon much herself.
“In any case, you’ll come home with us and leave this dreadful year behind.”
Ah ha. “I am home.” Blythe pushed herself forward until her feet touched the ground. “I love Rosemead. I’ve wanted to live here since I was little.” Of course, she’d assumed that would be with a husband who stayed. Rosemead had belonged to her family for generations; she’d always known it would be hers when she married.
Hypatia’s lips curved. “You once promised your father never to sass him again if he’d let you live here. I think you were about eight years old.”
“And Papa told me he would miss my sassing if I left.”
Hypatia chuckled. “He would have. He loved all his children, but you were his first—the apple of his eye.” The sentimental gleam in her eyes turned feisty. “I imagine your father has found your young man in the afterlife and is giving him a sound thrashing as we speak.”
The image made Blythe smile.
“He would want happiness for you.”
“I am happy here.” Perhaps happy was a misleading—very well, a completely inaccurate choice of words, but she wasn’t about to jump into the humiliation of the marriage mart.
“You’re too young to hide away and become a spinster, dearest.”
“I’m twenty,” Blythe muttered. Goodness, but she felt old.
“Come to London with us. We’re planning–” She paused, mouth open.
“You’re planning what?”
“We’re planning a party. It will be the perfect opportunity to jump into the season.”
“Mama.” Blythe sighed.
“It will be our first party in London, with a small guest list which might include some very nice young gentleman that I think-”
“Mama, I’m not going to marry again.”
“Nonsense.” Her mother sniffed. “Of course you’ll remarry. You have a full life ahead of you. We must move on, Blythe. Life after your father’s death was unbearable for me. But I move on. I get up every day; I enjoy the world that the Lord has given me. I enjoy my children. I miss my daughter.”
“Do you think you’ll ever remarry?”
“Goodness, no,” Hypatia replied. “But I’m so far past my prime I don’t even remember being there.” She poked a finger at her.
“But don’t you dare compare yourself to me, young lady. Your father and I had a lot of happy years. Those years are still ahead of you.”
“I’m not going to London.”
Her mother brushed a hand over her hair. “I’m not giving up on this.”
Blythe felt like a five year old with a newly learned sentence. “I’m not going to London.”
Hypatia stood and peered down at Blythe for a moment with a speculative gleam in her eye. “I’ll see you down at breakfast.”
After she left the room, closing the door with a soft click, Blythe sunk back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.
She would be happy at Rosemead. Eventually. Here, she didn’t have to worry about falling in love. Or being rejected.
Here, she was safe.
© 2008 Jeannie Ruesch
Reviews & Awards
- #1 Amazon Bestseller for Regency Historical Fiction, Kindle version
- Selected as a Top/Hot Pick for April 2009 Regency Reads on http://www.gaelenfoley.com
- #1 Wild Rose Press Bestseller
“…Ms. Jeannie Ruesch did an excellent job writing this book. From the first few pages, I was captured in the story. The actions of Bethie were so typically juvenile and so humorous that it was impossible not to imagine the effects of her playfulness. The two main characters were both so scarred by the past that it was hard to not feel their pain. The storyline was so realistic that I was mesmerized from the beginning. I hurt for the burdens that Blythe lived with. I wanted to see the two of them get together.
The barriers that both faced were well plotted by Ruesch. The poignant storyline was so engrossing that I could not put the book down. I loved the backup characters and could not believe the way the story progressed. The ending was inevitable; however, it was such a surprise that it made the agonizing worthwhile.
I loved this story and feel that anyone would love the book. I highly recommend that you read it and promise you will not be disappointed. Kudos, Ms. Ruesch. ” ~ Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio
“Who doesn’t love a great historical romance? Dukes, Ladies, beautiful dresses, fancy balls… Sigh, I know I do. Ms. Ruesch has a knack for writing historicals. She paints a beautiful picture of the era. We’ve got infidelity, premarital sex, secret babies…it’s a dream come true for scandal hungry London, and the actions of each character is frustratingly believable. I’m now going to look up the other books in the series. I’d love to hear Blythe’s brother’s story. A sweet romance, I recommend Something About Her.” FANTASTIC/STAYS ON SHELF RATING ~ Jade Ryan, Writers and Readers of Distinctive Fiction
“Engaging characters and a hint of intrigue lead to an interesting novel. The plot is not a new one, but the evolution and emotion inherent in each character makes for a rich, well-presented tale. A moderate pace and strong secondary characters make the story enjoyable.” ~ Keitha Hart, RT Book Reviews
“A wonderful debut! Jeannie Ruesch writes with tremendous heart.” — Gaelen Foley, NYT Bestselling Author of HER EVERY PLEASURE
“A wonderful, romantic story, with engaging characters and an enjoyable story line. I look forward to her next book.” ~Audrey, co-owner of Book Lovers Bookstore in Sacramento, CA.
4.5 Martinis (stars) from The Girls On Books :: “Blythe is a woman torn by her husband’s absence and infidelity. From the opening page, there is an inner strength about her that drew me into the story. She’s uncertain of her ability to reach out and connect with anyone, and that is a vulnerability so many women can understand. The fact that she does reach out to a precocious and lovable young girl is proof of her resilience.
Too bad for her the little girl is daughter to her husband’s cousin! But what a quality character he is–and their first meeting! It tickled me–a perfect mishap. I think a single dad is one of the most tender characters, and Ruesch did Michael well. Within the regency setting, he had the age-old conflict of obligation and saving face. His obvious[to the reader, anyway] attraction to Blythe sort of breaks your heart a little.
Ruesch took Regency London and played it to the fullest in this wonderful new story. The cast of characters compliments the growing romance and adds just enough conflict to keep the reader turning the pages. This is an historical romance, classic in its telling and definitely worth reading. I give it a four and a half martinis. I’ll be looking for more from Jeannie Ruesch in the future…especially since I’ll get to hear Adam’s story next.” ~ Betty, TheGirlsOnBooks.com
“I am looking forward to reading more about the Willoughby family. However, Something About Her needs a hanky alert – you will need one, maybe two before the end of the novel as this story is so beautifully written. Blythe was an excellent character. She knew her mind and lived the life she wanted but her family refused to allow her to stay in the country to live in her widowhood. Blythe was compassionate and loving to those who lived on her estate. The people, in turn, loved her. As Blythe learns more of Thomas and his wrongs, one of the most beautiful scenes of the book is when Blythe tells Anne, another person hurt by Thomas, how Thomas died. She can either tell the truth or let Anne’s memory of Thomas remain happy and loving. This is the turning point for Blythe in her treatment of Michael. She knows now how difficult it was for Michael to tell Blythe what Thomas did and why he made the choices he did.
Michael is an honorable man, which is important to him since his parents ran the family name through the mud, constantly trying to outdo one another. Michael’s mother is formidable, but I liked when she learned to respect him. She was so afraid he would follow in his father’s footsteps putting honor ahead of love. When Michael makes his choice, she can support him and it may be the beginning of a changing relationship between the two. Michael’s 7-year old daughter, Bethie, is a scream. She is forever playing hide and seek, even if no one else is playing. It is her way to keep bad things from occurring in her life and her father’s.
Something About Her is Jeannie Ruesch’s debut novel. It is a good one and if the rest of the series is as good we’ll be in for some excellent reading. Fantastic, Ms. Ruesch! ~ Sheila, Two Lips Review
“Sit down. Make sure your seatbelt is fastened correctly. Keep your hands inside the car at all times. And hang on! Because Something About Her by Jeannie Ruesch is a carnival ride during which you might forget to breathe.
…The best fiction features a main character the reader can’t help but like, puts her in boiling water, and then turns up the fire, notch by notch, until you’re sure the poor thing will be boiled alive and served with garlic butter. And Jeannie Ruesch does this like a master. I kept thinking it could not get any worse for poor Blythe, and then it did. Again and again.
In fact, it got SO bad I couldn’t see any possible way for Ruesch to pull off the Happily-Ever-After ending. But Something About Her is … romance! It has to end happily, it has to! …But we love it when a writer makes us worry that maybe this time will be the exception, and halfway through the final chapter, I still wasn’t sure it would turn out well. This is the one of the best examples I’ve seen recently of an author raising the stakes to the point where the main character absolutely MUST get what she wants, and raising the conflict to the point where there appears to be no possible way she will.
I would have liked to see antagonists as fully developed and real as the rest of the characters, but this is a very small objection, especially for a debut novel. The fact is, Ruesch’s writing is some of the cleanest I’ve ever seen in romance (or at all, really), and her storytelling skills are equally strong. The story starts smack in the middle of the action (just the way I like it!), and it never slows down until the last sentence (ditto).
It was a great ride, and I’ll willingly step through any door Ruesch opens in the future.” ~ Katrina Stonoff, Stone Soup Blog & Reviews
4.5 STARS from LONG AND SHORT OF IT REVIEWS
“They need some constructive work to do is what I always think when I read about characters of English nobility set in early nineteenth century. BUT, what fun and how intriguing the antics of these characters prove to be. The rules of society, with all their taboos, make living properly something like walking on a tightrope. Jeannie Ruesch creates some fantastic characters that fall off the tightrope and into some complicated schemes that move Something About Her along at a spellbinding pace.
… Jeannie Ruesch’s smooth writing style slips the reader into the story to mingle with and eavesdrop on the dynamic characters. Bethie, one of these characters, is the catalyst for some major turning points. Her irrepressible yet chameleon personality creates humorous and heartfelt events as the story unfolds.
Something About Her is a splendid tale that takes full advantage of the early nineteenth century mores for high society in England—a super good historical romance that shows forgiveness is not an emotion but it is a choice. DELIGHTFUL READING! ~ Camellia, Long and Short of It Reviews