The California Dashwoods
by Lisa Henry
Release Date: May 1, 2018
About The California Dashwoods
Make a new future. Choose your true family. Know your own heart.
When Elliott Dashwood’s father dies, leaving his family virtually penniless, it’s up to Elliott to do what he’s always done: be the responsible one. Now isn’t the right time for any added complications. So what the hell is he doing hooking up with Ned Ferrars? It’s just a fling, right?
Elliott tries to put it behind him when the family makes a fresh start in California, and if he secretly hopes to hear from Ned again, nobody else needs to know. While his mom is slowly coming to terms with her grief, teenage Greta is more vulnerable than she’s letting on, and Marianne—romantic, reckless Marianne—seems determined to throw herself headfirst into a risky love affair. And when Elliott discovers the secret Ned’s been keeping, he realizes that Marianne isn’t the only one pinning her hopes on a fantasy.
All the Dashwoods can tell you that feelings are messy and heartbreak hurts. But Elliott has to figure out if he can stop being the sensible one for once, and if he’s willing to risk his heart on his own romance.
A modern retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.
Read my 4.5-starred review of The California Dashwoods.
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An Excerpt from The California Dashwoods
The Brooks Brothers, Elliott learned at dinner, were actually the Ferrars brothers. They were Francesca’s younger brothers, Ned and Robert, and they apparently did something in construction. By the looks of them, nothing at the dirty end of that business. The Ferrars family resemblance was clear. The brothers were both tall, blond, and good-looking in a way that had just as much to do with presentation as it did with genetics. Skincare lotions and hair products and designer clothing gave a glossy shine to the brothers’ otherwise ordinary exteriors. Elliott found himself glancing at Ned’s profile more than once during dinner. His nose was a little long for his face. His jaw was a little wonky. His ears stuck out a bit. Without that two-hundred-dollar haircut working for him, would he still be as handsome, or would the slightly awkward way he held himself be even more apparent?
Elliott had never had a two-hundred-dollar haircut in his life. His father might have grown up obscenely wealthy, but his mother hadn’t. Two hundred dollars for a haircut when there was a perfectly good pair of scissors lying around? Not on Abby’s watch. Even now Elliott’s dark hair was tousled and unruly. When it was wet after a shower, it hung in tendrils in his eyes and down the back of his neck. When it was dry he rubbed some wax through it, stood it on end, and let it do whatever the hell it wanted for the rest of the day.
And he was the most presentable of his side of the family. He’d heard Francesca telling Robert exactly that after the brothers had arrived, before conceding that he was also “the least objectionable.”
Not exactly high praise, then.
Elliott glanced at Ned again, and this time Ned caught his gaze and offered him a small smile. Elliott smiled back, a little embarrassed to have been seen looking, and stabbed a piece of carrot.
Dinner with the Family was an ordeal. And Elliott meant that in the most ancient judicial sense. At this point he would rather choose ordeal by fire and walk over red-hot plowshares than endure another round of stilted conversation and barely concealed barbs. In addition to John and Francesca and the Ferrars brothers, Great Uncle Montgomery had been in residence since the funeral. He hadn’t done much except wander around Norland Park poking his cane into the wainscoting and announcing the presence of dry rot, then making grumbled threats to sue Abby for failing to keep the house maintained while she was a tenant.
Aunt Cynthia and her husband, Aldous, had also been staying since the funeral. Elliott couldn’t decide if they were better or worse than Montgomery.
“Oh, such pretty children,” Aunt Cynthia had said the night she’d arrived. “They don’t look anything like Abby, do they?”
Aldous had grunted. “That girl’s got metal through her nose.”
Worse, probably. They were worse than Montgomery. Montgomery might complain about holes in the wainscoting, but at least he didn’t comment on the hole in Marianne’s nose.
With the arrival of the Ferrars brothers, it didn’t take long for conversation at dinner to turn to the fact that they now had more guests than available guest rooms.
“Well,” Francesca said, with a thin smile in Abby’s direction, “I’m sure that the children can share, can’t they?”
Abby narrowed her gaze. “Excuse me?”
“I think it’s only fair to offer guests a proper bedroom, isn’t it?” Francesca asked.
Elliott met John’s gaze. John glanced away.
“Invited guests, yes,” Abby said. “But I didn’t invite them.” She grimaced in the direction of Ned and Robert. “No offense.”
They both mumbled something that sounded vaguely polite.
“Well, I just thought that Marianne and Greta could share,” Francesca pressed on. “That would free up a room.”
Abby drew a deep breath. “Excuse you. My daughters don’t have to—”
“Ned and Robert can have my room,” Elliott said, to head Abby’s diatribe off at the pass. Francesca looked smug, John looked relieved, and Abby looked like she had a hell of a lot more to say on the subject. “It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
Ned shot him a worried glance. “That’s really not necessary.”
“I don’t mind,” Elliott repeated.
In the awkward silence that settled over the dining room, Great Uncle Montgomery muttered about nonexistent mold spores, and Greta turned her steak knife over and over in her palm in a thoughtful manner that made Aunt Cynthia shuffle her chair a few inches further away.
* * *
Elliott trudged upstairs after dinner to grab some spare clothes and his laptop and phone. He dragged a duffel bag down from the back of his closet and shoved clothes into it. This was his room, but he had known since his father died that he wouldn’t be allowed to stay in it. The Family wanted them out of the house. It was a matter of when, not if.
Elliott slid his laptop into his bag, then zipped it up and slung it over his shoulder. He stared down at his rumpled bed, but fuck it. If the Ferrars brothers wanted clean sheets, they could find them for themselves. Elliott crossed to the door and wrenched it open, surprising Ned Ferrars.
He had a suitcase on wheels.
“Sorry,” Elliott said, and stepped outside his room.
“No, um, I’m sorry.” Ned pressed his lips together. A faint wrinkle appeared at the top of his nose, right between his drawn-together eyebrows. “For, um . . . for your loss, and for everything.”
Elliott’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t think a single person associated with the Family in any way had stooped to offer him their sympathies. At the funeral, everyone gave their condolences to John, as though Abby and her children, even in that moment, were interlopers with no claim on Henry Dashwood.
He was our dad too.
“Thanks,” he murmured, his throat aching.
Ned nodded and wheeled his little suitcase into Elliott’s room. The door snicked shut behind him.
* * *
Henry’s studio was largely undisturbed. It smelled of oil paints and turpentine. Stacks of unfinished canvases leaned against the walls. Elliott set his duffel bag down on the old paint-spattered couch his dad used to take his naps on every afternoon. It still smelled faintly of weed.
He crossed to the wall and traced his shaking fingers down a canvas. The paint was laid on thick, in a choppy texture that read like Braille. He closed his eyes and could hear Henry’s voice.
“This is art, my boy! Art! Nothing matters more in the world!”
“Says the man living in a Cape Cod mansion!”
Henry’s laughter had filled the room, and then he’d grown uncharacteristically solemn.
“Alexander Dashwood used to fly kites, you know? He used to watch the birds, and fly kites. He wanted to soar. He had an artist’s soul as well, I think. What would he make of his descendants, hmm? Making their fortune by manufacturing military drones. All innovators become oppressors, given enough time.”
Elliott smiled, his chest aching, and lifted his fingers away from the canvas.
“Love you, Dad,” he whispered to the silent studio. “Miss you.”
Lisa Henry likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn't know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she's too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
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