Lady Drusilla’s Road to Ruin
Harlequin/Apr. 3, 2012/$6.25 print, $4.79 digital
Considered a spinster, Lady Drusilla Rudney has only one role in life: to chaperone her sister. So when her flighty sibling elopes, Dru knows she has to stop her! She employs the help of a traveling companion, who looks harmless enough….
Former army captain John Hendricks is intrigued by this damsel in distress. Once embroiled with her in a mad dash across England, he discovers that Dru is no simpering woman. Her unconventional ways make him want to forget his gentlemanly conduct…and create a scandalall their own!
Lady Drusilla’s Road to Ruin, the latest Regency historical from Christine Merrill, is pure, unadulterated fun. It’s a road story replete with an elopement to Gretna Green, coaching inns, cross-dressing, and highway robbery, all presented with a wink and a knowing grin. It’s a special treat for those who love Regencies and are familiar with a host of common story elements, told with a twist.
The Lady Drusilla of the title has the unfortunate nickname of “Silly,” given to her by her sister, who’s run away with the handsome dancing master. Drusilla, in hot pursuit, is running out of money and being harassed by a fellow traveler. She realizes she needs help, and coerces her only ready option, a drunken traveling companion named John Hendricks, to help her—with the promise of future payment, of course. This instantly sets up an imbalance between them, of employer and employee; also, she’s respectable, while he’s the bastard son of a Duke or someone in the Duke’s family.
Drusilla is a terrific heroine, but John is my favorite character. He begins the story fleeing from an affair gone horribly wrong, bereft of employment, berating himself for his stupidity, and drinking himself into a stupor. He was clearly the villain of a previous book. This made me like him immediately.
He stared down into his glass, as though wishing it would refill itself. ‘My life, of late, has taken an unusual turn.’ Then he looked at her, thoughtfully. ‘It involves a woman. Given the circumstances, an excessive amount of alcohol and impromptu coach travel made perfect sense.’
‘And is this woman in Edinburgh?’ she asked, remembering his original destination.
‘She is in London. My plan was to take a coach to Orkney.’
‘You cannot take a coach to an island,’ she said, as patiently as possible.
‘I planned to ride as far as John O’ Groats and then walk the rest of the way.’ The glint in his eyes was feverish, and a little mad. ‘The woman in question was married. And not interested in me.’
His state did have its advantages, though.
The only advantage of being a gentleman of leisure was that he did not have to be at the beck and call of anyone. Not even young ladies with large dark eyes and forbidding expressions. It was ungentlemanly of him, but so be it. If nothing else, the last few weeks should have taught him not to become embroiled in the schemes of beautiful women who, in the end, would offer nothing more than dismissive thanks as they rushed past him to the object of their desire.
I adored his sarcastic sense of humor about his plight, and how it was mostly his own fault; it’s nicely spiced by his compassion, and his seeming terror at falling into a hero’s role. He reminded me, a little, of one of Anne Stuart’s heroes.
‘Mr. Hendricks, write my letters for me. Mr. Hendricks, rent me a room. Mr. Hendricks, lie to my wife. Not a word of this to my husband, Hendricks. As if I have no other goal in life than to run hither and yon, propping up the outlandish falsehoods of people too foolish to predict their outcome.’ He stopped suddenly, as though just noticing that he was speaking the words aloud. Then he dropped his hands to his sides and examined her closely. ‘You are not about to cry, are you?’
I love intelligent, sarcastic heroes like John; his humor intrigued me far more than arrogant, masterful hero-types who stagger beneath the weight of their own angst. He has to work a bit to make Drusilla see him as a hero, and I admired that, too. I enjoyed every bit of their romp along the road to both ruin and romance.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen; she has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform.” Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.