A Widow’s Rights Play a Large Role in my “His Christmas Violet” Release – What Was English Law on the Matter?

In my tale, His Christmas Violet, part of Regency Missives and Mischief, the heroine, Lady Violet Graham, is a widow. Being a widow at the time, particularly, women in the aristocracy or gentry class, provided a woman more freedom than she ever could expect in remarrying. She would customarily receive some sort of allowance to live on. Often, she would have access to the dower house. Lady Violet believes she has “earned” those rights, and, so, when Sir Frederick Nolan announces his intentions to make her his new wife, Violet wants NONE of the matter, even though, she has privately loved Sir Frederick since she was a young girl. Yet, our Violet worries Sir Frederick will be as high-handed as was her late husband, Lord Giles Graham.

Therefore, a basic understanding of a woman’s rights after her husband passes is required to move the story along. Here are some of the key points.

English Common Law provided a widow a life interest in one-third of the freehold lands her husband owned at the time of their marriage. She could not be denied these rights unless she was found guilty of treason, felony, or adultery. The law of dower gave a wife one-third of any property a man held on his death. That excluded entailed property, for the most part. However, the husband could defeat dower by leaving his wife as little as £50. The Court of Chancery did rectify such lapses if the widow had the resources or the  friends to help her bring suit and there was any property or money to be had. The court looked to the amount of the dowry and the position the widow had held as wife. Obviously, the court would see that a countess was provided for better than the widow of a vicar. Unfortunately in this cases, the countess had had a father or guardian who made sure iron-clad settlements were drawn up, whereas the vicar’s wife might not have been so lucky.

Even if the father did not bother to arrange the marriage settlements before the actual marriage (i.e., an elopement), and the husband did not leave his widow anything in his will, she was, as previously explained, supposedly entitled to one-third of his own estate. This is called her dower. She was to ask the sheriff to see that this was arranged properly. However, quite often the husband had no property he owned outright, as it was all entailed. Then, she would have to petition the Court of Chancery for a sum upon which to live.

It was difficult for a husband to set up a trust for his wife during his lifetime, other than in a will, if doing so was not accomplished before the marriage. Because a husband and wife, under law, were considered one, he could not legally give himself his own money. There were cases where a husband did give the wife money and wrote it out that this money was to be hers to do with as she would. However, in such one case where the woman took that money and purchased houses, she lost the property without recompense when her husband died, and the heir sued to have the houses declared part of the estate. Other situations that were deemed illegal included where the husband gave his wife money in a trust and then raided the trust, presented her property and then sold it for his profit, etc.

The Oxford Reference defines the Statue of Uses as, “The use was a legal device whereby property could be held by one person for the benefit of another, e.g. when a landowner was absent on crusade. But, by extension, it might be employed to evade or avoid obligations, defraud creditors, or escape legislation against mortmain. Henry VIII pressed strongly that uses should be restricted, arguing that his revenue was affected, but the Parliament of 1532 was unwilling to legislate and was told sharply ‘not to contend with me’. In 1535 Parliament accepted 27 Hen. VIII c. 10, which complained of ‘subtle inventions and practices’ and restored obligations to the beneficiary.” The “jointure” came into practice with the Statue of Uses. It was a settlement on a bride by her future husband of a freehold piece of property to be used to secure her widowhood. The bride was required to surrender her dower (not her “dowry,” although the terms can be confusing). 

Later in the 19th Century, wives lost their right to inherit, meaning in the 1830s, if the woman had no jointure rights recorded in her husband’s will, the widow could be left without anything upon which to survive. She could also lose the right to the property if she remarried. It would automatically revert back to his heir. 

Jointures were usually payable be the heir of the estate as an annual payment, which was equal to one-tenth of the dowry she brought to the marriage. This number was established because it was assumed that the wife would outlive her husband by ten years, for that was often the difference in their ages when they married. She would receive this payment for the remaining days of her lifetime. Thereafter, the principle would be allotted to her children. Providing the widow one-tenth of what she brought into the marriage meant she received back her dowry. The percentages were per year. The amounts were generally paid quarterly. The formula generally followed this plan: pin money was 2% of the dowry, while jointure was 10%.

As stated above, the jointure is usually set forth in the marriage settlements, which is a prenuptial or ante nuptial agreement. These funds are supposed to come to the widow without let or hindrance. However, it is often set up to be the income from some piece of land. If there is no income from said land, she is out of luck.

Yet, if the husband had not set up a jointure (her annual annuity), but, rather, left her a small sum in his will, that was all she would receive. Or if the heir was not her son, and the estate was encumbered by a mortgage, she might have a problem receiving either the jointure or the dower.

She was supposed to receive a sum large enough to allow her to live decently according to her rank, but not all knew equality under the law. There were even cases where the man left most of his cash to a grandson of a child by his first wife. In a few such cases, the courts felt the widow should have the return of most of her dowry, if nothing else.

PURCHASE LINKS:

PreOrder on Kindle. $0.99 is the cost for the anthology https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JWV49JK?fbclid=IwAR2Hpb-147G4xCVdLcRUzyDjb10AIkZsbto8Z8H7JCaEoBu-ArCBNO7TTFg

It will also be available on Kindle Unlimited on November 5.

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“Regency Missives and Mischief” Anthology Releasing November 5

On November 5, Regency Missives and Mischief will release. This year’s anthology plots center around how an “innocent” bit of correspondence – a letter perhaps or a misplaced note – which can change the events in a story (and in someone’s life).

Seven delightful Regency Christmas stories from best selling and award winning authors.
Each one of these stories involves, in some way, a letter – letters which set in train a series of events that lead to unexpected adventures and, of course, eventually to love and Happy Ever Afters!

My contribution to this year’s Christmas anthology is a tale called “His Christmas Violet.” It involves a “more mature” couple, who missed their chance for love when they were still quite young. Now, a world of possibilities exist. Their spouses have been buried for a respectful time of grieving, plus a few extra years. They reside in the same county and neighborhood. They have known each other since they were children. What more could they ask?

Therefore, Sir Frederick Nolan is bound and determined to make Lady Violet Graham his wife. They had been denied a chance at happiness when he was a young man. Violet, on the other hand, is not so certain she wishes to be tied to any man ever again. Her marriage to Lord Giles Graham had been anything but comfortable. Lord Graham never raised his hand to her, but her late husband had his ways of manipulating and controlling her every move. Now, she is a widow, and she possesses rights her married friends do not. Violet is not willing to give up her jointure rights and other privileges she has “earned” as Lord Graham’s widow.

Short Excerpt from Chapter One:

Sir Frederick stopped before her, removed his hat and bowed. “Good afternoon, my lady. Mrs. Bowers,” he said politely. “Might I join you?”

Emily responded before Violet could gather her wits about her. “Please do, sir.” Violet noted Emily’s use of coquettish tones, and she turned to her friend to present her a “how dare you” glare, but Emily was too busy batting her eyelashes at Sir Frederick to take note of Violet’s disapproval. Thankfully, Frederick had yet to present Emily more than a cursory glance. Instead, his attention had landed fully on Violet, and she resisted the urge to squirm. 

He adjusted his chair and sat between her and Emily before motioning the owner to deliver a fresh pot of tea. “And what are you ladies doing in town?”

Violet said, “I was just about to ask the same of you.” 

He smiled at her. “I came to speak to my man of business and thought I might also call in at the stable. You see, my lady, I am seriously considering in acquiring both a new horse and a new wife. I wish to make certain both, but especially the lady will be provided for properly.” 

His news was a shock for Violet, but, before she could compose her thoughts, Emily asked, “You have already chosen a new mate?” Her friend appeared quite dumbfounded by the possibility. 

“I have, ma’am,” he said simply. 

“Have you made an offer of your hand?” Emily continued to question him. 

He glanced to Violet, but appeared quite satisfied in answering Emily’s inquiries. “I have yet to win the lady’s permission to court her, but I pray she will agree. She is the only woman I might consider marrying.” 

“I . . . I see,” Emily stammered, as she gathered her belongings. “Then . . . then I wish you success, sir.” She turned to Violet. “I despise leaving so suddenly. I just took note of the time and realized I promised Mrs. Williams I would call upon her today about the charity’s need to assist the poor.” 

Violet knew Emily had already called upon the vicar’s wife on this day, but she assumed her friend knew a bit of mortification for flirting with a man who meant to marry another. “I am sorry you must leave so soon. I shall send a note around later in the week, and we may continue our conversation then.” 

Emily nodded her agreement and rose quickly. Frederick also rose to bid her a ‘“Farewell,” and within seconds Emily was gone. 

“That was odd,” Sir Frederick said as he resumed his seat. “Was it something I said which offended her?” 

Violet frowned again. “Emily is at sixes and sevens since her widowhood. The Williamses provide her counsel, and she finds the church’s charities worthy of her time.” 

Frederick tilted his head in serious consideration. “Then she was truly flittering with me? I assumed so, but I did not want to appear presumptuous.” 

“Some women are lost without a man’s guidance,” Violet observed. 

The tea arrived, and their conversation paused until they were alone again. 

“I assume you are not one of those women,” he observed with a lift of his brows. 

“If you are asking if I ever see myself remarrying, I would be remiss if I did not dissuade you or anyone else foolish enough to ask. Lord Giles Graham was a good man, but you and I are both aware my late husband was also a very regimented man, who despised any sort of spontaneity or disorder. You have known me since I was a child and will likely realize ‘perfect order’ was often difficult for me. Therefore, I do not wish to place myself under the rule of another man.”

Feeling a bit uncomfortable with her statement, Violet sipped her tea before saying, “Now, tell me, who is the fortunate woman on the receiving end of your affection?”

He chuckled easily. The sound of his laughter rumbling about in his chest brought a shiver of awareness to Violet’s spine. “After your most eloquent speech, I should likely be silent on the subject, but, as I know how ‘spontaneity’ is part of your nature, you will recognize a certain plainspoken tendency as part of mine.”

“I do,” she murmured, waiting with anticipation for his pronouncement. 

“Then you will hear my honesty when I say, I have no wish to remarry unless my next bride is you, Lady Violet.” 

The deep timbre of his voice and his closeness set her heart racing. 

It was her turn to be dumbfounded, but she had no opportunity to respond, for he stood suddenly. “Think upon it, Violet.” With that, he turned and placed several coins in the hand of the proprietor, before exiting the shop. 

All Violet could do was stare at the door through which he had departed. Sir Frederick Nolan wished to marry her? Her? She shook her head in denial. Even for the most compelling gentleman of her acquaintance, and Sir Frederick definitely fit those words perfectly, Violet was not about to abandon her well-earned freedom. Setting her shoulders in renewed resolve, she rose also, gathered her belongings, thanked the proprietor for his service and returned to her carefully constructed life. It would be a cold day in purgatory before she placed her life in the hands of another man, no matter how deliciously handsome her pursuer might be.

PURCHASE LINK:

PreOrder on Kindle. $0.99 is the cost for the anthology https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09JWV49JK?fbclid=IwAR2Hpb-147G4xCVdLcRUzyDjb10AIkZsbto8Z8H7JCaEoBu-ArCBNO7TTFg

It will also be available on Kindle Unlimited on November 5.

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Mystery and Suspense Month: The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy

When writing any mystery, the author cannot just have a murderer and a victim. He/She must also have suspects, red herrings (false clues), motives, and deception. There must be a balance between the suspense and the story’s pace must be maintained. The red herrings must lead the reader (and likely the hero/heroine) astray, but they cannot hijack the story line. Then one must mix in the subplots without destroying the purpose of solving the crime. In addition, a cozy mystery has other distinct qualities.

ALL BOOKS FEATURED THIS MONTH ARE ON SALE ON FOR $0.99. GRAB THEM WHILE THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

Malice Domestic (http://nancycurteman.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/10-characteristics-of-a-cozy-mystery/) lists these characteristics of a cozy mystery:

1. The murder is either bloodless or committed before the story begins.

2. Violence, sex, and coarse language are held to a minimum or referenced off scene.

3. The villain is apprehended and punished at the end of the story.

4. The amateur sleuth who solves the crime is an upstanding person with good values and minor faults.

5. The amateur sleuth has an “occupation” unrelated to detective work. He/she is remarkably capable in deciphering clues and making connections.

6. Standard cozies involved greed, jealousy, or revenge as the motive.

7. The setting is limited in its pool of suspects (likely a small town, neighborhood, an English manor, etc.)

8. Investigating the crime makes the amateur detective the target of the murderer.

9. The cozy is designed for a gradual revelation of clues, which lead to a surprise ending.

10. A bit of romance parallels the main story line in the subplots.

Among my Austenesque works, Colonel Fitzwilliam remains my favorite. Although Austen provides us so little information on the good colonel, I have my own opinions of the man, and in Christmas at Pemberley and The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, I have discovered a gentleman I really liked. (Actually, for me, defining Colonel Fitzwilliam in Vampire Darcy’s Desire opened up new possibilities. I was not truly satisfied with my characterization of the Colonel in my earlier works.) He has more layers in Christmas at Pemberley and The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy – was more than just Darcy’s sidekick. Readers will find him defined by his actions and his code of conduct.

Unlike some other Austenesque authors, I have called my Colonel Fitzwilliam “Edward” because “Edward” is my father’s name. In my later works, the Colonel has become a bit more of an alpha male, meaning he is successful in his chosen field. Although far from perfect, Edward Fitzwilliam acts from honor. He does not rest upon his laurels nor does he use his position as an earl’s son to bend people’s wills for his own benefit. The colonel possesses integrity; there are unwritten laws he will not violate. He is masculine, charismatic, and sensual. In each of my cozy mysteries and in my vampiric tale, Colonel Fitzwilliam does not simply rationalize what is best to solve Darcy’s dilemma, he acts to resolve the situation, and in a reversal of plots, it is Darcy who solves Fitzwilliam’s dilemma in The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin. 

To provide you an opportunity to explore The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, I thought I might provide you a taste of the story with three short excerpts and a bit about the historical setting. The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy begins some three months after the close of Christmas at Pemberley. At the end of Christmas at Pemberley, Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam have married in a rush before he must join Wellington at Waterloo. At the beginning of The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Georgiana, in anticipation of her husband’s return to England, has traveled to Galloway in Scotland to prepare the Fitzwilliam property for their “honeymoon.” Alone on the Scottish moors, Georgiana receives word her beloved Edward has died on the battlefield. Distraught, she races from the home she had set in preparation for celebrating their joining.

Back at Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth are told in a hastily written letter from the Fitzwilliam housekeeper how the staff have conducted a search for Darcy’s sister on the Merrick moor, and Georgiana is presumed dead.The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy is a cozy mystery based on the Scottish legends of the Merrick Moor and of Sawney Bean.

EXCERPT #1 (A girl has been found upon the moors and placed in a prison cell.)

Although the nightmare had returned, when a brace of candles floated into the room her eyes opened to devour the precious light. She pushed herself to a seated position and shoved several loose strands of hair behind her ears. She no longer possessed an idea of the number of days and nights she had spent curled up on the hard cot.

“I ‘ave brought ye a warmer gown—one of wool,” a female voice said. “If ye will change from yer fine cloth, I’ll be seeing to the stains.” The woman placed the expected food plate on the small stool. “I ’ave brought ye a bit of cheese this time.”

She watched the movements—memorizing the actions. How would it feel to walk across the room—to stretch her cramped muscles? By twisting awkwardly, she had managed to stand beside the cot and to mark her steps in place. To provide her weakened legs some much-required relief. But actually to take a step would be glorious. However, even the slightest shift on her part allowed the manacle to cut into her wrist.

“Come,” the woman said as she unlocked the metal cuff and assisted her to her feet. “There. Doest that not feel better?” The woman rubbed her hands with her own, and life rushed into the girl’s fingertips. She searched the woman’s face, but all she could discern was the lady’s age. Likely her late fifties. Silver-gray hair. Very strong hands. Not dainty like those of a woman of good breeding. Her ministrations indicated the woman did not readily retreat from hard work. Was she someone familiar? She could not be certain for the shadows robbed the girl of her savior’s other features. “Permit me to assist ye with yer laces and yer stays.”

Obediently, the girl turned her back to the woman. “My, yer skin be so smooth,” her captor said. The gown slipped down her body to the floor, and she stepped from it. A cold shiver rocked her spine, but she kept her focus on her surroundings. Where was she? Could she escape? The room resembled a cell–a place for prisoners, which is exactly what she was: someone’s prisoner, and she need never to forget that fact. Breaching the stone walls was not possible. She would require another form of flight.

“This gown should be making ye more comfortable.” The woman dropped the cloth over her head and began to lace the eyelets. Without her stays, she would be able to move more freely. “I ’ave also brought ye some gloves, as well as this strip of cloth. It’ll be keepin’ the shackle from cuttin’ into yer skin.”

She turned to the stranger. “Must I be returned to the cuff?” She wanted to explore her options more fully, but she permitted the woman to refasten the chain.

“I ’ave no right to order it otherwise.” Her captor’s gravelly voice held sadness, but the girl wondered if the woman offered an untruth. Something did not feel right. A shiver ran down the girl’s spine as she bent to accept the fastening.

“Then to whom should I plead my case?” she implored.

The woman’s mouth set in a tight line. “You’ll see in time.” The stranger straightened the gown’s line, tugging at the seams. “It be a bit tighter than I be thinkin’,” the woman said as she bent to retrieve the discarded traveling dress from the floor.

Without considering the gesture, the girl’s hand came to rest upon her abdomen. “My family shall pay whatever you ask for my release,” she said softly.

“Not yer husband?” the woman accused as she strode toward the door.

“My husband is dead,” the girl said softly into the empty room.

EXCERPT #2 (When Elizabeth Darcy discovers the news of Georgiana’s disappearance, she chases her husband into the Scottish countryside. She refuses to permit Darcy to face the possibility of Georgiana’s death alone.)

“How much farther, Mrs. Darcy?” Ruth Joseph asked as she shifted in the coach’s seat.

“Mr. Simpson reports we should be in Gretna Green within the hour. We shall spend the night. I would like to share some time outdoors with Bennet. I miss walking about with my son in my arms.”

“From Gretna, where to next?” Mary asked as she searched the landscape.

“Tomorrow, we shall turn toward Dumfries and then onto Thornhill. The next day we shall arrive at Kirkconnel.” Elizabeth, too, stared at the changing scenery. “The land seems so hard,” she said as she thought of her home. “I once considered Derby and the Peak District quite savage, especially as compared to Hertfordshire. Yet, it was not wild, but wonderfully majestic and as old as time. Now, I look at this rugged terrain and wonder about those who live in the Scottish Uplands.” Elizabeth sighed deeply. “Will these people have nurtured Mr. Darcy’s sister? Is she safe among those who eke out a living in this rocky soil? Will such people treat kindly a girl who until not two years prior shrank from her own shadow?”

EXCERPT #3 (When the girl who was held prisoner falls and strikes her head upon the harden floor, she is moved to a room where her captors can tend her.)

“There. There.” The woman patted the back of her hand. “Ye be safe. We let nothin’ happen to you.”

The girl opened her eyes wider. The room was cleaner and larger than she had expected. “Where am I?” She attempted to sit up, but the woman pressed her back.

“Might be best not to move too quickly,” she said.

The girl sank into the soft cushions. “I am thankful for your consideration, but I would know the name of my rescuers and of my current direction.”

The woman captured her hand. The warmth felt comforting against her chilled fingers; yet, a warning rang in her subconscious. She could not pinpoint the exact moment betrayal manifested itself upon the woman’s countenance, but it had made a brief appearance. The girl’s breathing shallowed in response. “We be the MacBethan family, and you be a guest at our home in Ayr. Me oldest son is the current laird. Of course, ye know me youngest Aulay.” She gestured to a young man in his twenties waiting patiently by the door. “One of arn men found ye and brung ye to arn home. Do ye remember any of wot I tell?”

The girl’s mouth twisted into a frown. “I recall a different room, and I remember your presenting me with a fresh gown.”

“And that be all ye remember?” The woman asked curiously. “Nothin’ of yer home? Yer family befoe ye came to Normanna Hall?”

The lines of the girl’s forehead met. A figure stroking her hair softly fluttered at the edges of her memory. And another of water sucking the air from her lungs. Tentatively, she said, “Only what I have previously said.” She would not speak more of the comfort the figure had given her until she knew what she faced in this house. The woman shot a quick glance at her son. Soothing the hair from her face, she told the girl, “The room must ’ave been the sick-room. Ye be lost on the moor for some time and be in despair. We not be knowin’ if’n ye wud live. The family be thankin’ the gods for yer recovery.”

The girl stared at the woman who tenderly stroked her arm; nothing of what this woman spoke rang true; yet, she could not dispute the obvious. She had suffered, and she was a stranger at Normanna Hall. “May I know your name?”

“Dolina MacBethan. Me late husband, may he rest in peace, and now me son be Wotherspoon.”

“Dost thou raise sheep?” The girl inquisitively asked before she could resist the urge to know more of her surroundings. She knew something of the derivation of the family’s peerage.

The woman pointedly dropped her hand. “The family surname comes from those who tend sheep. It be an honest trade. Although our fortunes are now tied to Galloway cattle. The land be not so fit for farmin’.”

The girl shoved herself to her elbows. “I meant no offense.” The woman’s tone reminded her that she would need to guard her impulsive tongue.

As she watched, her hostess purposely smiled; yet, the gesture did not appear genuine. “Of course, ye not be offering an offense. ye be part of the family. Or very near to being so.”

Suspicion returned, but the girl schooled her tone. “I am a part of the MacBethan family? When did that happy event occur?”

“It not be official.” The woman straightened her shoulders. “Ye have accepted Aulay’s plight, and we be planned a joinin’ in a week or so. As soon as ye be regainin’ yer strength.”

“I am to marry Aulay?” she said incredulously. “How can that be? Until a few hours ago, I held no memory of your son. He is a stranger to me.”

The woman turned quickly toward the door; she shooed her son from the room. “I be givin’ ye time to remember yer promise to this family, Lady Esme, and yer lack of gratitude for our takin’ ye to our bosom.”

“Lady Esme?” The girl called after her. “Is that my name?”

The woman turned to level a steady gaze on her. “Obviously, it be yer name. Ye be Lady Esme Lockhart, and ye be Aulay’s betrothed.

***

“Mam?” Aulay whispered in concern once they were well removed from the closed doorway. “Wot have ye done? She not be Lady Esme Lockhart.” he gestured toward the room where they detained the girl. “She no more be Lady Esme than I be Domhnall.”

Dolina shushed his protest. “Didnae ye hear the gel? She cannae remember her own name. We kin create the perfect mate fer ye. Do ye not comprehend? I knows ye be slow, but it must be as plain as the lines on me face. She cannae rescind her agreement without just cause. It not be the ’onorable thing to do. Besides, when the gel recalls the bairn she carries, then she’ll be glad to ’ave a man who’ll accept another’s child.”

“But we be tellin’ her the truth?” he insisted. “We tell the gel of ’er real family?”

His mother rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Certainly, we’ll tell the gel of ’er roots. But for now, she be Lady Esme.”

This is the Grey Man in Merrick.

This is the infamous “Murder Hole.” Legend has it many years ago weary travelers were robbed and their bodies dumped in the hole never to be seen again. In summer. there is a ring of reeds growing around the hole but none grow in it. It’s also rumored in even the coldest winters, the centre never freeze.

Book Blurb:

Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor–the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced – finding Georgiana before it is too late.

Purchase Links:

Read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/hz/subscribe/ku?passThroughAsin=B083HMQZRR&ref_=ku_lp_rw_pbdp&_encoding=UTF8&shoppingPortalEnabled=true

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/Disappearance-Georgiana-Darcy-Prejudice-Mystery-ebook/dp/B083HMQZRR/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1X6CU5PESKGJC&keywords=the+disappearance+of+georgiana+darcy&qid=1578930549&sprefix=The+disappearance+of+geor%2Caps%2C145&sr=8-1

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Disappearance-Georgiana-Darcy-Prejudice-Mystery/dp/1655799037/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1X6CU5PESKGJC&keywords=the+disappearance+of+georgiana+darcy&qid=1578930573&sprefix=The+disappearance+of+geor%2Caps%2C145&sr=8-2

Audible https://www.amazon.com/Disappearance-Georgiana-Darcy-Prejudice-Mystery/dp/B00JJ6THLE/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+disappearance+of+georgiana+darcy&qid=1581880142&s=audible&sr=1-1

Other Posts on “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy”

The Legend of Sawney Bean, a 14th Century Cannibal

Scotland’s Merrick Murder Hole and the Old Grey Man

Posted in book excerpts, British history, excerpt, Georgian England, Georgian Era, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, legends, legends and myths, mystery, Pride and Prejudice, reading, real life tales, Regency era, Regency romance, research, suspense, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Early 47th Birthday, Matthew Macfadyen!!!

I am being a bit self-indulgent with this post. I adore Matthew Macfadyen’s work, and, as I am tied up this week with other things. Moreover, what is wrong with a revisit of a previous post? Sometimes LIFE interferes. Matthew Macfadyen will be 47 on Sunday. My how time flies! I have been following his work since long before he was “Mr. Darcy” in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Actually, I began following him in 1998, when I looked upon a scene in Wuthering Heights and he smiled. He possesses a captivating smile and LOTS of talent.

This bio comes from imdb.

Birth Name: David Matthew Macfadyen

Birthdate: 17 October 1974, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, UK

Height: 6’3″ (1.91 m)

Matthew Macfadyen may have been born in Norfolk, but as the son of an oil worker he spent at least part of his childhood in Indonesia before finishing his education back in England and winning a place at RADA in 1992.

He won critical acclaim in the UK with his work with the stage company Cheek By Jowl in the 1990s and was well established as a stage actor when he made his first TV appearance in Wuthering Heights  (1998) (TV). A couple more TV roles followed, but it was his role as Tom Quinn, head of Section D, in the hit BBC series “Spooks” (2004) that really made his name at home. And, indeed, established his home – he met his wife, Keeley Hawes, while working on the show.

A steady stream of TV and film work followed, with his performance as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (2005) firmly establishing his name worldwide.


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Posted in acting, Jane Austen, real life tales | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Mystery and Suspense Month: The Earl Claims His Comfort: Book 2 of The Twins’ Trilogy

Last Wednesday, I shared an excerpt from Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy, Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep. Today I have an excerpt from The Earl Claims His Comfort, which is Book 2 of the Twins’ Trilogy. In the previous book, Levison Davids, the Earl of Remmington, loses Miss Angelica Lovelace to his best friend, Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern. Rem has attempted “love” twice – once with his long-time love, Lady Delia, and then with Angel. He is a bruised soul, and only a “white witch,” a woman who deals in herbs and potions, can heal him. But before Miss Comfort Neville can cure what ails Remmington, a mystery that threatens to steal away his earldom must be solved.

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The Earl Claims His Comfort, Book 2 of the Twins’ Trilogy 

2016 Hot Prospects Award Finalist, Romantic Suspense

Hurrying home to Tegen Castle from the Continent to assume guardianship of a child not his, but one who holds his countenance, Levison Davids, Earl of Remmington, is shot on the road and left to die. The incident has Remmington chasing after a man who remains one step ahead and who claims a distinct similarity—a man who wishes to replace Remmington as the rightful earl. Rem must solve the mystery of how Frederick Troutman’s life parallels his own while protecting his title, the child, and the woman he loves.

Comfort Neville has escorted Deirdre Kavanaugh from Ireland to England, in hopes the Earl of Remmington will prove a better guardian for the girl than had the child’s father. When she discovers the earl’s body upon road backing the castle, it is she who nurses him to health. As the daughter of a minor son of an Irish baron, Comfort is impossibly removed from the earl’s sphere, but the man claims her affections. She will do anything for him, including confronting his enemies. When she is kidnapped as part of a plot for revenge against the earl, she must protect Rem’s life, while guarding her heart.

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Chapter One 

“Cannot recall the last time I slept in my own bed,” he murmured to no one in particular as he stood to claim his bearings. The room swirled before his eyes, but Rem shook off the feeling. Of late, it was common for him to know a buzzing in his brain.

Levison Davids, the 17th Earl of Remmington, set the glass down harder than he intended. He had drunk more than he should, but it was the only means to bolster his waning resolve. His home shire often brought on a case of maudlin.

Attempting to walk with the confidence his late father always demanded of his sons, he turned toward the door.

Lev was not supposed to be the earl. His father groomed Rem’s older brother Robbie for the role, but Fate had a way of spitting in a man’s eye when he least expected it.

Outside, the chilly air took the edge off the numbness the heavy drink provided him, and for a brief moment Rem thought to return to the common room to reinforce the black mood the drink induced. A special form of “regret” plagued his days and nights since receiving word of his ascension to the earldom.

“Storm comin’,” the groom warned when he brought Rem’s horse around.

“We’re in York,” Remmington replied in explanation.

Customarily, he would not permit the groom to offer him a leg up, but Rem’s determination to reach his country estate had waned in the hours he had spent at the inn. Nearly a month prior, he received a note via Sir Alexander Chandler that Rem’s presence was required at his home seat, and so he set out from France, where he had spent the last year, to answer another call of duty.

Sir Alexander offered little information on why someone summoned Rem home, only that the message came from his housekeeper. It did not matter that the journey required that Rem leave an ongoing investigation behind for he knew the others in service to Sir Alexander also possessed the knowledge and the stealth to see a successful end. Moreover, the baronet had assured Rem that several missions on English shores required Remmington’s “special” skills.

He caught the reins to turn the stallion in a tight circle. Tossing the groom a coin, he kicked Draco’s sides to set the horse into a gallop.

Even when the dark swallowed them up, Rem enjoyed the power the rhythm of the horse’s gait provided. He and the animal raced across the valley before emerging onto the craggy moors. At length, Rem skirted the rocky headland, and he slowed Draco as the cliff tops came into view. When he reached Davids’ Point, he urged the stallion into a trot. Rem could no longer see the trail, but his body knew it as well as it knew the sun would rise on the morrow. Eventually, Rem jerked Draco’s reins hard to the left, and as a pair they plunged onto the long-forgotten trail.

Rem leaned low over the stallion’s neck to avoid the tree limbs before he directed Draco to an adjacent trail that led upward toward the family estate, setting high upon a hill overlooking the breakwaters.

When he reached the main road again, Remmington pulled up on the reins to bring the animal to a halt. He patted Draco’s neck, as he stared through the night at his childhood home framed against the rising moonlight. It often made Rem sad to realize how much he once loved the estate as a child and how much he now despised it.

“No love left in the bricks,” he said through a thick throat. “Even the dowager countess no longer wishes to live here. How can I?”

It was not always so. Although he was a minor son, Rem always thought to share Tegen Castle with his wife and children. To relate tales of happier days.

“But after Lady Delia’s betrayal and then likewise that of Miss Lovelace, I possess no heart to begin again.”

In truth, of the two ladies, Rem had only loved Lady Delia. “Fell in love with the girl when I was but fourteen and she ten.” Rem crossed his arms over the saddle’s point to study the distant manor house. “Perhaps Delia could find no solace here,” he murmured aloud.

Even today, it bothered Lev to realize Delia did not care enough for him to send Rem a letter denying their understanding. He learned of Delia’s marrying Baron Kavanagh from Sir Alexander with whom Rem served upon the Spanish front. Sir Alexander’s younger brother delivered the news in a cheeky letter.

“I suppose Lady Delia thought being a baroness was superior to being Mrs. Davids. Little did she know I would claim the earldom. More is the pity for her.”

A large raindrop plopped upon the back of Remmington’s hand.

“If we do not speed our return to the castle, my friend, we will arrive with a wet seat.”

Rem caught up the loose reins, but before he could set his heels into Draco’s sides, a shot rang out. By instinct, Rem prepared to dive for the nearby ditch; yet, the heavy drink slowed his response, and Remmington knew the sharp sting of the bullet in his thigh.
Draco bolted forward before he had control of the stallion’s reins. Rem felt himself slipping from the saddle, but there was little he could do to prevent the impact.

He slammed hard into the packed earth just as the heavens opened with a drenching rain. The back of his head bounced hard against a paving stone, and a shooting pain claimed his forehead.

Even then, Rem thought to sit up so he might take cover, but the effort was short coming. The biting pain in his leg and the sharp pain claiming his vision fought for control. The blow to his head won, and Rem closed his eyes to welcome the new darkness.

* * *

“It still be raining, Miss Comfort,” the child said as she crawled into bed.

Comfort tucked the blankets about the girl. Little did she know when Baron Kavanagh ordered her to deliver Miss Deirdre to the Earl of Remmington that she would be more than a month tending the child without any sign of His Lordship.

“The weather shall not stop us from gathering herbs in the morning,” Comfort assured.
Deirdre took to the study of herbs and healing as quickly as had her mother.

Poor Lady Delia had tried every herb possible to increase her chances of delivering an heir for Kavanagh, but the baroness was not made to carry full term. She had lost several babes before Comfort had seen her to a successful delivery. Lady Kavanagh had drawn a shot straw in marrying the baron, and Comfort never understood the woman’s choice. Kavanagh treated his wife poorly and only when Lady Delia delivered the title’s heir did the man permit his baroness any surcease.

“Good,” the child declared. “I enjoy the days when we search for  herbs for our food and for assisting His Lordship’s tenants.”

Comfort smiled easily at the child: the girl was truly the spirit and image of her late mother.

Poor Deirdre suffered the venomous attack of Baron Kavanagh before Comfort and the child departed Ireland. It was a wonder the girl did not fear the world, but the child walked about with hope resting plainly upon her sleeve. Comfort supposed childhood resilience had something to do with how Deirdre had accepted her father’s words as the truth.

“I want Remmington’s bastard from my sight,” Kavanagh thundered as Miss Deirdre cowered behind Comfort’s skirts. “I cannot claim another to marriage while the earl’s by-blow wears my name.”

Comfort wanted to remind the baron that legally Deirdre would always be his responsibility and would never claim the name of Davids. She also wished to warn Kavanagh against using such crude language before the child, but she did neither. Instead, Comfort negotiated additional funds to tend to Miss Deirdre’s needs until Lord Remmington could claim the girl’s guardianship. Although she doubted there was a legal means for Lord Remmington to do so, she prayed the earl would treat Miss Deirdre more kindly than did the child’s father.

She set a candle on the far table to provide the child solace until Comfort could finish her chores and joined the child in the bed.

“My sweet Deirdre,” she thought as she glanced again to the countenance of the sleeping girl.

Comfort wondered at the irony of the choice of the child’s name. Deirdre was a tragic figure in an Irish legend that died of a broken heart when she was forced to marry Ulster’s King Conchobhar. The King killed her lover Naoise. Every true Irishman recognized the name “Deirdre” as coming from the old Gaelic name “Derdriu,’ meaning unknown.

The girl, less than six years of age, certainly held no identity. Kavanagh refused to claim his first born, and Lord Remmington knew nothing of the baron’s accusation.

“What vice have I executed against the child by escorting her to York?” she wondered.
“I pray the earl returns soon,” Comfort murmured. “This not knowing Miss Deirdre’s future has both of us playing a game I fear will break the child’s heart.”

* * *

Rem held no idea how often he had come to only to succumb to the darkness of his soul rushing in once again. Twice he attempted to reach where Draco ate his fill of the wet grass. Once he managed to lift his head to whistle for the stallion. Draco responded as Rem trained the horse to do, but Rem’s efforts to catch the stirrups proved fruitless. At length, Draco moved away to take up his unexpected feast, and Rem permitted the exhaustion to claim him.

Partially conscious throughout his ordeal, Rem knew when the heavy rain dwindled to the steady dripping from the trees. He recognized the slow decline in the temperature as the coolness slipped into every bone of his body except the one supporting the area where the bullet filled his veins with fire.

Will I die on this lonely road? His mind asked the question again and again. Irony. I am but a half mile from my childhood home, and there is no one to tend me.

Except perhaps his mother and his sister, Rem considered again how others would not think his demise worthy of note. He would be simply the latest Earl of Remmington to meet an unexpected death. His father tripped on a loose board upon the stairs and plunged head first to the foyer of the main hall, while his brother had an equally unprecedented accident less than a year into his reign as the 16th Earl of Remmington: Robinson Davids cleaned his favorite gun one too many times. The servants discovered Robinson slumped over his desk with a bullet hole in his chest.

Summoned home from the Continent to assume the earldom, Rem examined all the evidenced that Sir Alexander accumulated, but like the baronet, Rem uncovered nothing more suspicious than a dozen unanswered questions.

At long last, perhaps the baronet will know success, Rem considered. No one can call the bullet in my leg an accident.

* * *

Comfort tugged harder on the vegetable cart she rescued from the shed behind the dowager house she shared with Miss Deirdre. The three-wheeled cart bounced along the root-filled path.

When she and the child arrived at Tegen Castle, the earl’s butler refused them admittance, literally driving her and Miss Deirdre from the threshold. Only by the goodness of Mrs. Stoddard, the castle’s housekeeper, did they find a means to survive.

Against Mr. Flood’s wishes, Mrs. Stoddard presented Comfort the key to the dower house. “Her Ladyship retired to another of Lord Remmington’s properties, but if you are handy with a pot and a few chores, you may remain until I send for the earl.” Mrs. Stoddard caressed Deirdre’s cheek. “His Lordship would expect me to protect Lady Delia’s child. I will have the servants bring you firewood and as many supplies as I can spare from Mr. Flood’s oversight. Can you do as I ask, Girl?”

Needless to say, Comfort made all the necessary promises, but now she held second thoughts. Before she departed Ireland, she sent a letter and a promise to her cousin to join Isolde’s household to tend the Baroness Swenton’s delivery of the baron’s first child. Isolde married the baron six months prior, and Comfort was to assist Isolde’s time. Unfortunately, Comfort was more than a week tardy in her arrival at Swenton Hall.

“For what do we search today?” Deirdre called as she danced along the rutted path before Comfort.

Comfort brought her thoughts to task at hand. “Soapwort for Mr. Thorne’s carbuncle,” she pronounced with a grunt of effort to right the cart when it veered to the left. “Devil’s claw for Mr. Pratt’s sore knee.”

When Mrs. Stoddard learned that Comfort had the gift of healing, the housekeeper turned several of the earl’s tenants to Comfort’s care.

“Shepherd’s purse for Mrs. Stoddard’s niece, Pearl,” Comfort thought aloud. “We can always use dandelion root, watercress, rosemary, parsley, and winter savory for the meals, so keep your eyes sharp for any of those.

“Can we not use the herbs in the estate’s garden?” Deirdre reasoned.

“I would prefer not to be more indebted to Mrs. Stoddard than we already are. The lady places her position in jeopardy to protect us. Moreover, we hold no knowledge of His Lordship’s ready return.”

Deirdre nodded her understanding, but the child appeared distracted by something up ahead.

“What is amiss, Deirdre?” Comfort called as she maneuvered the cart up the incline to the main road leading behind the estate.

Deirdre stood squinting into the early morning sun. “Do you see a bit of red where the forest opens for the lane leading to the manor?”

Comfort wiped her brow against her sleeve and used her arm to block the sun. A sense of dread skittered up her spine. “We should have a closer look,” she murmured. “Likely nothing more than a wildflower or a lady’s ribbon.”

Comfort took up the handles of the cart once more and started toward the spot Deirdre noted. She glanced to the child who walked a half step behind her. The girl knew fright, but she trusted Comfort to protect her. The idea pleased Comfort, but it also brought on her own anxiety. They approached the spot slowly. Neither of them spoke; the road curved at an odd angle, and a deceptively steep incline kept them from discovering the answer until they were within yelling distance of the place.

“It is a horse,” Deirdre declared as she rushed forward.

Comfort abandoned the cart and raced to reach the animal before the child.

“Wait, Deirdre,” she cautioned. “We must be certain a gentleman is not…”

“Not what?” The child screwed up her face in confusion.

Comfort swallowed her embarrassment. “Men are obstinate creatures, and we women cannot predict their ways.”

Her answer made little sense in relation to the child’s question, but Deirdre appeared satisfied.“You wait here. If I tell you to run,” Comfort warned. “Go quickly. Find Mrs. Stoddard.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Deirdre said in quiet fear.

Comfort edged closer to the horse. It was a beautiful stallion. Strong hindquarter. Black as coal. The bit of red was a line detailing the saddle’s engraving.

Éasca, mo áilleacht,” she said as she stroked the animal’s neck. “Where is your master?”
Comfort noted the saddle and harness were wet. The horse had been out in the rain all night. “An bhfuil tú gortaithe?” She ran her hands along the animal’s legs to search for swelling or a cut. Catching the harness, she turned the animal back toward the road.

“He is a mighty one,” Deirdre said in admiration. The child always wished for a pony of her own, but Lord Kavanagh denied the girl a place in his heart.

“He is at that,” Comfort spoke in caution. “I just wish I knew the whereabouts of his rider.”

“Do you think he is in the forest somewhere?” Deirdre’s fear flared again. “Should we not seek out Mr. Flood? He’d know if the horse belongs to one of His Lordship’s neighbors.”

Comfort glanced about them. “The horse was out in the rain overnight. A gentleman would never leave such a fine animal unless something amiss occurred. I think we should look about before we seek out Mr. Flood. His Lordship’s servant already holds us in contempt. If we bring a false tale to his attention, Mr. Flood will use it against us when Lord Remmington arrives. The earl’s butler will not be pleased if we set up a stir without proof.”

The child did not appear convinced, but Deirdre followed Comfort’s lead.

“Look for hoof prints. They should be clear after the rain,” she instructed. “But do not go into the woods alone. Just look for where the horse exited the forested area onto the road.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Comfort looped the animal’s reins loosely about one of the cart’s handles.

“I shall search this side of the road. You take the other side.”

Deirdre nodded her agreement.

They moved slowly along the lane, inspecting each marking. Comfort smiled when she noted how Deirdre squatted to look at several loose stones: The child embraced every task Comfort presented her. It was a true shame Baron Kavanagh treated the child so poorly. Lord Kavanagh would be blessed by Miss Deirdre’s pure affection.

“I plan to inspect the path upon which we discovered the horse,” Comfort instructed. “I shan’t go far, just deep enough into the passage to determine if the stallion and his rider followed the lane.” She pointed to a large elm overspreading the main road. “You are to go no further than the large tree at the fork. Wait for me there. Call out if you discover anything.”

* * *

In the deepest recesses of Rem’s mind, he thought he could hear someone talking, but the words remained garbled. His last conscious thought was of his impending death, so were the voices that of God’s angels.

Although he was certain his expression did not change physically, the thought brought a smile to Rem’s lips. “More likely the Devil’s disciples,” Rem’s mind announced. “You are not likely to know God’s mercy.”

The voices dwindled to an uncomfortable silence, and Rem fought for the clarity his injury denied him. For several elongated moments, his unconscious mind claimed dominance, and Rem found himself tumbling toward the darkness once again, but just as he abandoned the hope of the angels claiming him, a comfortably heavy weight landed upon his chest.

Thump.

The suddenness of the attack had Rem searching for his next breath.

“Here!” A screeching voice demanded. “Down here!”

There was fear and anxiousness in the tone, and something in Rem’s body reacted to the cry for assistance. His mind shut the door leading to the dark pit and began its climb toward the speck of light beckoning to him.

“Wake up!” the voice demanded.

Hands caught the lapels of Rem’s jacket to tug him forward. Even so, it was several seconds before he ventured to open his lids. When Rem did so, the light pierced his eyes causing him to blink hard to protect his sight.

“Can you hear me?” the voice asked as a body blocked out the sunlight to tower over him.

“I’m not deaf, demme it,” he hissed as he cracked his eyelids open to claim the light once more.

At length, the face hovering above his took on a familiar form. Dark curls. A heart-shaped face. The soft complexion of youth. The image brought him comfort while it frightened him beyond reason for he knew the figure before him dead.

“So, it is true?” Rem struggled through a dry throat, swallowing hard against the unreality of the situation. “God prefers his angels to possess the innocence of children.”

“I am no angel,” the face assured.

“You are…” Rem stumbled over the familiar name.

“Deirdre.”

“Delia.”

They said together.

“What?” Rem squeezed his eyes shut to clear his vision, but when he opened them again, the childlike image remained. “Are you Delia or not?” he demanded testily.

“Not,” the figure pronounced as confusion crossed her features.

Yet before Rem could gather his thought, the image retreated to be replaced by another. Blue-green eyes. Golden-red wisps of hair flamed with the light behind it. Full lips. Creamy white skin touched with flecks of the sun’s kiss. This was Remmington’s idea of an angel. Unfortunately, concern crossed the celestial being’s expression.

“Can you tell me what occurred? Are you injured?”

The “angel” ran her hands over Rem’s body to search for his wounds, but Rem held no thoughts of the woman’s charity. Her clean, slightly floral scent tempted him as nothing had in some two years. It claimed his reason and his desire to know the truth of the one “not” called “Delia.”

“Oh, my,” the woman said on a gasp as her fingers grazed his bloody leg. She jerked a scarf from her head and leaned over Rem’s body to wrap the cloth about his leg.

Rem knew he should warn her not to touch his wound, but the heat of her body draped over his danced through his veins. Her breasts brushed against his manhood, and despite his every limb feeling the numbness of inaction and the overnight rain, his body reacted to her closeness.

“We must remove you to safety,” she said in anxiousness as her image returned to a point above him. Without the scarf to cover her locks, the woman was more spectacular than before, and Rem permitted himself the hint of a smile.

“I shall return to the manor and plead for assistance,” she said as she prepared to stand. “You must have the services of a surgeon.”

Her words cleared the fog clinging to Rem’s mind. “No!” he snapped as he caught the stranger’s arm to stay her rise.

“You require a surgeon,” she reiterated.

Rem knew her correct, but his wound was no accident: He did not know whom he might trust among those at Tegen Castle.

“Even though I recovered your horse, I simply cannot permit you to attempt to ride on your own.”

“You found Draco?” he asked with an attempt to sit up only to have the woman shove downward on his shoulders.

“You cannot ride without assistance,” she insisted.

“You are not my demme mother,” Rem accused.

She shoved hard against his frame, and although he knew the woman meant it as part of her chastisement, his mind returned to the pleasure of having her so draped across his body. It was the first time in more than a year that he had felt an instant attraction to a woman.

“First, Sir, will not speak so freely before the child. If you continue to act without respect for Miss Deirdre’s tender nature, I shall leave your carcass here to rot.” The woman poked Rem’s chest with one of her fingers to punctuate her threat.“Moreover, from the cut of your clothes, I presume you to be a gentleman; therefore, you are expected at Tegen Castle.”

“Is Remmington not at the castle?” Rem said suspiciously. Some of his renowned reasoning had returned: After all, the woman leaning over him was a stranger. Perhaps she was involved in the attack upon his person.

“The earl is expected,” the woman repeated in what sounded of earnestness.

When she looked with more purpose upon his countenance, Rem noted a flicker of confusion crossed her expression.

“Even though you object,” Rem spoke with the authority he developed during his time serving under Wellington, “I mean to mount Draco and seek my own assistance.”

The woman continued to study Rem’s expression closely–too closely for his ease.

“Very well,” she said at length. “Permit me to lead your stallion to the shade of the tree. Draco will be waiting for you there.”

With that, the woman strode away to catch the girl by the hand and tug the child along behind her. In her anger, the female was magnificent. Rem raised himself to his elbows so he might observe her retreat. It was as he expected: He enjoyed the sway of her hips as she sidestepped her way across the short expanse leading to the back road of his estate.

Swallowing a cry of pain as he lifted his weight to a seated position, Rem calculated how many steps it would take to reach the large elm. “Twelve,” he grunted while rolling to his one good knee. Grabbing the spindle-like branches of a large shrub, Rem pulled himself to a standing position, purposely not placing weight on his left leg.

Blowing out a short breath, he took a tentative step forward, followed by a hobble step. His good leg remained numb from lack of use, while his injured one shot pains through his body to lodge in his tightened jaw. “Four,” Rem hissed as he repeated the maneuver, and his determination took hold.

However, the rocky path had a mind of its own. It rose up to claim his footing, and he stumbled to land face first in the mud.

“Hold the horse,” the woman instructed the child. She was scampering over the short distance to reach him.

“Keep back?” Rem growled as he shoved himself upward. The woman came to a stumbling halt. “I require no assistance.”

Biting down on his stubborn will, Rem slowly repeated the process of standing–this time without the aid of the shrubbery. Yet, his resolution had suffered a blow with his fall, and he swayed in place. His disorientation was enough to send the woman into action again. She rushed forward to brace Rem’s stance, and her floral scent filled his lungs, causing the dizziness to increase.

“Please permit me to assist you,” she pleaded.

“It is not necessary,” Rem insisted.

“Allow the woman her due,” a very masculine voice called out from behind where the child waited with Draco.

“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” Rem snapped as he took in the countenance of his former friend.

Yet before the Marquess of Malvern could respond, the woman shoved hard against Rem’s chest, sending him backward to land upon his posterior.

“I warned you, Sir, I would not tolerate your foul tongue!”

Posted in book excerpts, book release, books, British history, castles, estates, family, Georgian Era, Great Britain, historical fiction, Living in the Regency, marriage customs, medicine, mystery, primogenture, Regency era, Regency romance, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mystery and Suspense Month: The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy

THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MR. DARCY was originally published on February 18, 2013. It is a cozy mystery set in Dorset, and it is a real thriller. There are witches and resurrectionists and a mass murderer, oh my!!! I hope you enjoy the excerpt below.

ALL BOOKS FEATURED THIS MONTH ARE ON SALE ON FOR $0.99. GRAB THEM WHILE THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

A thrilling story of murder and betrayal filled with the scandal, wit and intrigue characteristic of Austen’s classic novels

Fitzwilliam Darcy is devastated. The joy of his recent wedding has been cut short by the news of the sudden death of his father’s beloved cousin, Samuel Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy travel to Dorset, a popular Regency resort area, to pay their respects to the well-traveled and eccentric Samuel. But this is no summer holiday. Danger bubbles beneath Dorset’s peaceful surface as strange and foreboding events begin to occur. Several of Samuel’s ancient treasures go missing, and then his body itself disappears. As Darcy and Elizabeth investigate this mystery and unravel its tangled ties to the haunting legends of Dark Dorset, the legendary couple’s love is put to the test when sinister forces strike close to home. Some secrets should remain secrets, but Darcy will do all he can to find answers—even if it means meeting his own end in the damp depths of a newly dug grave.

With malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy will keep Austen fans turning the pages right up until its dramatic conclusion.

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

2013 SOLA’s Eighth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Awards, Honorable Mention, Romantic Suspense;

Finalist 2014 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction;

Winter Rose Awards 2014, 2nd Place, Romantic Suspense

If you love the “history” in historical fiction, you might find these articles interesting:

Resurrectionists in the UK – Supplying Bodies for the Teaching Hospitals, Part I

Body Snatchers, Part II

A Witch Bottle

The Lesser Key of Solomon

Mudeford, an English Spa Favored by King George III

An Exquisite Excerpt from Chapter 22

Elizabeth had finally fallen asleep with her head resting on her folded arms on the small escritoire in her chambers. She had removed Samuel Darcy’s journals from the hiding place among her most intimate wear to return to the coded passages. With Darcy searching for Mr. Barriton, it became more vital for her to solve the mystery of his cousin’s words. Steadfastly, she had manipulated the possible dates for Perdita Sanderson’s birthday, for Elizabeth was certain, after learning something of Samuel Darcy’s history with the child’s grandmother, it seemed only natural for Darcy’s cousin to hold a perverted heightened interest in the girl named for Samuel’s great love.

It had taken Elizabeth thirteen attempts before she had come across the correct combination. “14 September 1808,” she had announced to the empty room. “Fitzwilliam shall will be surprised to learn Perdita Sanderson is a year older than my dear husband recalled.”

Diligently, she had translated several related passages. She found with gratitude that Samuel had used the same coded pattern for the entries. In his own words, Darcy’s cousin spoke of contacting a gentleman in a newly minted state in what was once known as the Northwest Territory in America. According to the late Mr. Darcy, Ohio had become a state in 1803. Surprisingly, Samuel spoke of having explored several sections of the land beyond the mountains of Virginia some fifteen years prior, and having made the acquaintance of a Giles O’Grady. The gentleman of Samuel’s acquaintance had passed some ten years prior, but Samuel had maintained his correspondence with Mr. O’Grady’s son, Peter.

Three years prior, the younger O’Grady had contacted Samuel Darcy with news of an invention Peter thought would awaken Samuel’s scientific hunger. Samuel and the younger O’Grady had corresponded regularly, and Darcy’s cousin Samuel had offered financial support for the man’s efforts.

Samuel Darcy had traveled to America twice in the past eight years. The earlier of the journeys had served as a duty call on the O’Grady’s, for Cousin Samuel had held a great affection for the elder. Samuel had written, “Giles O’Grady had saved my life when I foolishly stumbled into a bear trap. Giles nursed me to health over a six-weeks’ period. In gratitude, I had made O’Grady a gift of a loan so Giles could purchase his homestead. A proud one, Giles refused my thanks, but I finally convinced O’Grady to accept my money. I held no doubts of Giles’ success. My friend repaid me every penny.”

Elizabeth enjoyed reading of the O’Grady family, but when Samuel Darcy began to speak of the likelihood of the young O’Grady’s creation exploding if not handled properly, she had ceased her translation and had studied the sketches Samuel had made in the margins. “Fitzwilliam referred to this device as some sort of torpedo.” Elizabeth turned the sketch on its side, and upside down. “I have not the right of it,” she grumbled as she compared one sketch to another. Each drawing displayed more details than the previous one. “I can give no account of what I have read,” Elizabeth said in frustration. “Perhaps Fitzwilliam or the colonel will understand these notations.”

She had left the pages behind to stand and stare out the window. Heavily, she leaned against the frame. Elizabeth’s cheek rested against the cool pane. “Protect him, God,” she whispered to the night sky. She said no more. God would know her sentiments regarding the probability of Darcy’s demise.

There she stood from three to five of the clock, staring out the window, gazing at the road, but seeing nothing. She kept an anxious vigil awaiting Darcy’s return. As dawn’s fingers broke through the blackness, her anxiety increased. “Where is he?” she whispered as she searched the outline of trees and shrubbery on the horizon. Elizabeth reasoned, “If he were injured, Mr. Holbrook would have brought word.” For a brief moment, she felt the satisfaction of Darcy’s continued health, but the dread Elizabeth had forcibly placed aside reared its ugly head. “But if Darcy were dead…” She stared intently at the narrow path leading to the main road, the same road her husband would ride upon his return. Hot tears pricked her eyes, and Elizabeth could not catch her breath. “Would …would they not inform me?” she sobbed. “Would they not permit me to comfort Fitzwilliam in his last hours? His last minutes?”

A figure appeared at the far end of the path, and for the pause of three heartbeats, hope swelled in Elizabeth’s chest. She clung to the sash and watched as the figure moved closer. Her heart lurched. “Not Darcy,” she whispered. The figure belonged to a woman. “Too spry for Mrs. Jacobs,” she reasoned.

Whoever she was, Woodvine was the female’s destination. Elizabeth turned from the window. She quickly gathered Samuel’s journals and shoved them from view between the mattresses of her bed. She would hide them more carefully upon her return. Elizabeth shed the satin robe she had worn over a simple chocolate-brown day dress. She had donned the robe  to fight the night’s chill. She had chosen the brown dress for its warmth when she had hoped to accompany Darcy to the field. When her husband had refused, Elizabeth had remained dressed for an impending emergency.

Now, she caught up a heavy wool shawl before rushing toward the servants’ stairs. Elizabeth meant to meet their visitor and learn news of her husband. Surely, a woman would not be on the road at this hour without words of pressing importance.

Elizabeth burst into the kitchen just as the door opened quietly upon the room. Few servants were about at this hour, and other than a scullery maid filling a kettle with water at the well, no one stirred. The familiarity of the visitor’s countenance subtracted from the surprise Elizabeth might have felt otherwise.

“Mrs. Ridgeway?” Elizabeth hissed. “What has brought you to Woodvine at this hour?”

The woman glanced to where the door to Mrs. Holbrook’s small room was propped open with a broom. She stilled, her features, initially, going flat. With a grimace, the housekeeper caught Elizabeth’s arm and tugged her in the direction of an alcove that served as a stillroom. “I came to fetch you, Mrs. Darcy,” she whispered.

“Why all the secrecy?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mr. Stowbridge did not want the others to know what happened in Mr. Rupp’s field.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught in her throat. She let out a long exhale. It was her impatience showing, but Mrs. Ridgeway appeared to ignore Elizabeth’s exigency. “You have word of my husband.” The housekeeper nodded curtly. “Is Mr. Darcy in health?” Elizabeth asked through trembling lips.

Mrs. Ridgeway tugged Elizabeth along a passage to a side entrance. “I cannot say for certain,” she said seriously. “For I have not seen Mr. Darcy personally. Mr. Stowbridge thinks such matters are not in the realm of a lady’s disposition.”

Elizabeth could hear the strained words, a sound of contention between the housekeeper and the woman’s new employer, but she had more pressing concerns. “Speak to me of Mr. Darcy.” She rushed to keep pace with the housekeeper. They had exited Woodvine and had set off across the well-tended lawns.

Mrs. Ridgeway spoke over her shoulder at the trailing Elizabeth. “I possess only the knowledge of second tongue and in what I overheard Mr. Holbrook tell Mr. Stowbridge.”

Elizabeth caught the housekeeper’s arm and dragged the woman to a halt. For a discomfiting moment, neither of them moved. “I understand,” she said with more calm than she possessed, “that Mr. Stowbridge did not confide in you. Yet, if you possess any knowledge of Mr. Darcy, I demand you speak of it immediately.”

Mrs. Ridgeway’s eyes appeared distant, and Elizabeth could not read the woman’s true intentions; yet, she would let nothing stand between herself and her husband. The lady paused for what seemed forever, but was likely only a handful of seconds. Finally, Mrs. Ridgeway said, “If you will accompany me, I shall explain what I have learned. I think it best if we speak while we walk. It will save time, and, as I am certain you will wish to reach Mr. Darcy’s side as soon as possible, we should hurry our steps.”

Elizabeth offered, “Should I have someone saddle horses or bring around a gig?”

Mrs. Ridgeway tutted her disapproval. “By In the time it would take to rouse one of Captain Tregonwell’s men to assist us, and then have the gentleman find us appropriate transportation, you could be reunited with your husband. That is assuming you do not mind a walk across a country lane.”

Elizabeth despised the challenging tone in the woman’s voice, but she hesitated only a moment to glance toward the house before making her decision. “Lead on, Mrs. Ridgeway,” she said with determination.

The housekeeper strode toward the line of trees, and Elizabeth quickened her step to keep abreast of the woman. “This is what I overheard when Mr. Holbrook came to Stowe Hall in the early hours.” Their pace slowed when they reached the rough terrain of the wooded area. “Mr. Samuel’s groom called at the squire’s house at a little past four of the clock. He told Mr. Stowbridge a most astounding tale.”

Elizabeth and the housekeeper climbed a stile and emerged on the other side. Mrs. Ridgeway set a diagonal path across the field. “Mr. Holbrook spoke of discovering a coven celebrating Beltane under the stars where the old monoliths are found. Do you know the field, Mrs. Darcy?”

Elizabeth wished the woman would speak of Darcy’s condition, but she understood the housekeeper’s perverseness. Mrs. Ridgeway held all the high cards, and Elizabeth was a mere player. She said encouragingly, “I am familiar with Mr. Rupp’s land.”

The housekeeper continued her tale and the punishing exercise. When they exited the field over a like stile, Elizabeth realized this was a part of the estate with which she was unfamiliar, but she brushed the thought aside as she hiked her skirt to maintain her gait. If Mrs. Ridgeway thought her a pampered lady of the ton, the housekeeper was in for a surprise. Elizabeth was not afraid of a long walk or a steady stride.

“Apparently, Mr. Barriton had taken Mrs. Jacobs prisoner and threatened to kill the woman.”

Elizabeth heard the derision in Mrs. Ridgeway’s voice. She supposed the woman thought Mrs. Jacobs deserved part of her punishment. Elizabeth said cautiously, “Mr. Darcy and Mr. McKye journeyed to Mr. Rupp’s field to stop Mr. Barriton.”

“Well, they certainly managed to accomplish their task,” the housekeeper declared. “One of Mr. Tregonwell’s men shot Mr. Barriton after the man shoved Mrs. Jacobs into the fire the coven had built in Mr. Rupp’s field.”

Elizabeth offered up a silent prayer that it had not been Darcy who had dispatched Mr. Barriton. She thought such an act would lie heavily on her husband’s conscience. “Was Mrs. Jacobs injured badly?”

The housekeeper led Elizabeth deeper into the woods. Elizabeth supposed this was the shortcut to Stowe Hall. She glanced around to learn her bearings.

“According to Mr. Holbrook, he was to seek the services of the junior surgeon Mr. Glover had once trained,” Mrs. Ridgeway shared.

“Mr. Newby,” Elizabeth provided the name.

Mrs. Ridgeway confided. “If Geoffrey Glover trained the man, Mr. Newby will serve this community well. Mr. Glover was a man of science.”

Elizabeth’s patience had worn thin. She had thought to permit Mrs. Ridgeway her moment. In some ways, she supposed she owed the housekeeper that much, for Mrs. Ridgeway’s forced exit from Woodvine had placed the woman in an untenable position. In truth, Elizabeth felt a bit of guilt for having dismissed the woman, but she could no longer tolerate the lack of news of her husband. “Please,” she said as she came to a halt. “I beg of you; speak to me of Mr. Darcy. I cannot bear not knowing.”

The housekeeper came to an abrupt standstill. She turned to Elizabeth, and with a smile of what appeared to be satisfaction, she said, “Mr. Holbrook was to fetch the surgeon to tend your husband. It appears Mr. Darcy fought with the kidnapper. Your husband was stabbed with some sort of ceremonial knife. Mr. Holbrook says Mr. Darcy has lost a significant quantity of blood.”

Elizabeth felt her legs buckle, and she could do little to prevent herself sinking to her knees. Darcy had been seriously injured. While she slept at her small desk, her husband had lain in a field, possibly bleeding to death. “Dear God,” her trembling lips offered in supplication. “Do not take him from me.” She swayed in place as the darkness rushed in.

“Mrs. Darcy,” the housekeeper said brusquely. “We have no time for histrionics. Your reaction is why I have waited to speak of your husband.”

Despite wishing to rock herself for comfort, Elizabeth gave herself a sound mental shake. She bit her lip to prevent the cry of anguish on the tip of her tongue. She looked up into the disapproving countenance of the housekeeper. However, she did not apologize; instead Elizabeth managed to stagger to her feet. “What else should I know?” Elizabeth asked fearfully.

“Mr. Stowbridge sent word of his late return to Stowe Hall. In the message, he indicated the surgeon had seen to your husband and had advised Mr. Darcy to permit Mrs. Rupp to nurse him until a coach could be sent from Woodvine. However, Mr. Darcy insisted on returning to your side.”

Elizabeth thought how like Darcy it was to recognize her concern and, therefore, place himself in danger in order to relieve Elizabeth’s anxiety. “Where is my husband now? At Stowe Hall?”

“They found him on the road after he could not sit his horse. Mr. Newby is treating Mr. Darcy in a small tenants’ cottage while Mr. Holbrook escorts Mrs. Jacobs to Woodvine and returns with a wagon. Tregonwell’s men assist Mr. Stowbridge with the investigation and the prisoners.” The woman turned back to the path, and Elizabeth fell in step beside her. “It was thought that Mr. Darcy would prove a better patient with you in attendance.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, a smile shaped Elizabeth’s lips. She could easily imagine aristocratic Darcy barking orders to the young surgeon. That is if he were able, Elizabeth cautioned herself. “Where is this cottage?” she asked in concern.

“One more field to cross,” Mrs. Ridgeway said confidently. “See.” The woman pointed to where a thatched roof could be seen behind an overgrown hedgerow.

Elizabeth quickened her stride. “Why in the world would they have taken shelter in such a deserted area?”

The housekeeper shrugged her shoulders. “It is the way of men to make women’s lives complicated.” The woman looked off in the opposite direction. “If you have no other need of my time, Mrs. Darcy, I will leave you to tending to your husband. I am certain Mr. Darcy has no desire for my presence.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement and watched as the woman turned her steps toward Stowe Hall. Alone in the early morning hours, she rushed across the field, which now stood in fallow. Her heart pounded in her ears from the speed of their journey and from the all-encompassing fear which surrounded her. Would she be in time? Mr. Holbrook said Mr. Darcy had lost a significant quantity of blood. Men did not normally worry so unless danger existed. Was Mr. Newby skilled enough to stop the bleeding? What of infection? She lifted her skirts higher and quickened her pace. Soon she was running, needing to reach Darcy before it was too late.

Gasping for air, Elizabeth burst into the small cottage, nothing more than a one-room sanctuary from the cold, to discover a profound silence. Nothing moved within. Her chest heaved from her run and from the heart heart-stopping realization that Mrs. Ridgeway had erred somehow. She caught at the stitch of pain in her side. “Where is he? Where is my husband?” she croaked.

An arm caught her across the neck while another hand placed a large damp handkerchief over her mouth and nose.  “Dead,” a harsh voice whispered in her ear.  ”Mr. Darcy is dead.”

Purchase Links:

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/Mysterious-Death-Mr-Darcy-Prejudice-ebook/dp/B08DZVGT3F/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+mysterious+death+of+mr+darcy&qid=1596223337&sr=8-2

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DSSZN56

Audible https://www.amazon.com/Mysterious-Death-Mr-Darcy-Prejudice/dp/B00JJXWPES/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+mysterious+death+of+mr+darcy&qid=1596223364&sr=8-2

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-mysterious-death-of-mr-darcy-3

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-mysterious-death-of-mr-darcy-regina-jeffers/1112705054?ean=2940162211488

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Reduced to a Tweet. The Lost Art of the Social Call, a Guest Post from Diana J Oaks

Social connection. It’s the pulse of civilization, the foundation of community, and a deeply held human need.  You might have guessed that I’m not necessarily talking about networking with influential people here. I’m talking about friendship, camaraderie, recognition, love, and belonging.  Jane Austen was particularly adept at infusing the relationships in her novels with an undercurrent vibrant with the nuances of social connection. Even the letters, though not face-to-face interaction, are deeply personal, written by the hand of the communicator. The texts, tweets and Facebook posts that are primary forms of interaction today are far removed from their ancient predecessor, the social call.

My thoughts have turned frequently over the past year and a half of social distancing to the once-common tradition of calling on one’s neighbors, friends, and acquaintances in their homes. Social calls were the glue that held Georgian, Regency, and Victorian societies together–at least for the gentry and upper classes. It’s how they tapped into the grapevine, networked, ministered to the poor and sick, navigated new, and nurtured existing relationships.

Consider that In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet was highly attuned to social opportunities that might benefit her daughter’s marriage prospects, and so too, was Mr. Bennet. In that society, an introduction was required for ladies to form an acquaintance, but gentlemen could call on other gentlemen without the benefit of an introduction. In this scene, Mrs. Bennet is lamenting that Mrs. Long has been able to visit Netherfield, but she has not.

Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it.

… (fill in here with Mr. Bennet teasing his wife and daughters.)

“While Mary is adjusting her ideas,” he continued, “let us return to Mr. Bingley.”

“I am sick of Mr. Bingley,” cried his wife.

“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me so before? If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.”

Mrs. Bennet exults when she learns that Mr. Bennet has called on Mr. Bingley.

In Northanger Abbey, we experience with Catherine the pattern of making a social call: Presenting a card at the door to a servant and waiting to learn whether you will be admitted. After being tricked into a social blunder the previous day, she fears she has offended Miss Tilney. Anxious to make it right, she is eager to call.

“Mrs. Allen,” said Catherine the next morning, “will there be any harm in my calling on Miss Tilney today? I shall not be easy till I have explained everything.”

“Go, by all means, my dear; only put on a white gown; Miss Tilney always wears white.”

Catherine cheerfully complied, and being properly equipped, was more impatient than ever to be at the pump–room, that she might inform herself of General Tilneys lodgings, for though she believed they were in Milsom Street, she was not certain of the house, and Mrs. Allen’s wavering convictions only made it more doubtful. To Milsom Street she was directed, and having made herself perfect in the number, hastened away with eager steps and a beating heart to pay her visit, explain her conduct, and be forgiven; tripping lightly through the church–yard, and resolutely turning away her eyes, that she might not be obliged to see her beloved Isabella and her dear family, who, she had reason to believe, were in a shop hard by. She reached the house without any impediment, looked at the number, knocked at the door, and inquired for Miss Tilney. The man believed Miss Tilney to be at home, but was not quite certain. Would she be pleased to send up her name? She gave her card. In a few minutes the servant returned, and with a look which did not quite confirm his words, said he had been mistaken, for that Miss Tilney was walked out. Catherine, with a blush of mortification, left the house. She felt almost persuaded that Miss Tilney was at home, and too much offended to admit her; and as she retired down the street, could not withhold one glance at the drawing–room windows, in expectation of seeing her there, but no one appeared at them. At the bottom of the street, however, she looked back again, and then, not at a window, but issuing from the door, she saw Miss Tilney herself. She was followed by a gentleman, whom Catherine believed to be her father, and they turned up towards Edgar’s Buildings. Catherine, in deep mortification, proceeded on her way. She could almost be angry herself at such angry incivility; but she checked the resentful sensation; she remembered her own ignorance. She knew not how such an offence as hers might be classed by the laws of worldly politeness, to what a degree of unforgivingness it might with propriety lead, nor to what rigours of rudeness in return it might justly make her amenable.

This passage makes it evident that much was riding on the crucial question of admittance by the person being visited.  If you’d like to learn more about all the nuances of social signals in the formal call, this article on calling card etiquette is excellent.

The Allens call on the Morelands to invite Catherine to go to Bath with them.

If you think through Austen’s novels, you’ll certainly come up with many references to calls made, since they are full of them. Darcy and Fitzwilliam calling at Hunsford, Lady Catherine doing the same, but for different reasons. Anne Elliot calling at Uppercross, and on her friend, Mrs. Smith in Bath. Emma calling on Harriet, Miss Weston, Miss Bates, and Jane Fairfax, etc. Emma coaching Harriet on the etiquette of paying a call to the Martins. Some of these visits feature what Austen called “cold civility,” while others show warmth and affection. In any case, I think a social call beats a tweet any day, although nowadays if you plan to pay a call, be sure to place a call to make sure it’s a good time. None of my friends have a butler to perform that service.

Anne Elliott calls on her friend Mrs. Smith, an act her father resents because she is expected to call on her titled relations instead.
Harriet pays a call to the Martins.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Have you paid a social call in the past five years or so? Have you ever left a personalized “calling card” that isn’t a business card? Do you appreciate people stopping by to visit? What do you consider proper etiquette for a social call in 2021?

Posted in Austen Authors, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Mystery and Suspense Month: Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep: Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy

Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep was originally released by Black Opal Books. Recently, I managed to receive back the rights to this book and have rereleased it, hopefully to new readers, who missed it the first time around. ALL BOOKS FEATURED THIS MONTH ARE ON SALE ON FOR $0.99. GRAB THEM WHILE THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep is the first book in the Twins’ Trilogy. The Earl Claims His Comfort and Lady Chandler’s Sister will follow. You will not want to miss this one!!!

HUNTINGTON McLAUGHLIN, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, and being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and ANGELICA LOVELACE is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined ins a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart.

As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury have robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear he intends to claim Miss Lovelace as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit Angelica to align herself with the earldom or to claim the only woman who stirs his heart – and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress as his wife?

We have an excerpt of when Huntington McLaughlin and Angelica Lovelace first notice each other. Chapter 1 

Excerpt from Chapter 3 (The first time Huntington and Angelica meet, but it is far from auspicious…)

Angel cursed the Fates with every soggy step she took. Her half boots sank into the quick-forming mud as she attempted to climb the steep slope. Her cloak caught upon every bramble and every twig, but the rain was too heavy and too cold to abandon the outer garment.

She caught at one of the rough-shaped bushes clinging to the side of the slope, pawing for a finger hold that would prevent her leather soles from sliding down the way she just came. As the rain swelled the river into which her coach had pitched, she refused to turn her head and look upon Lord Mannington’s second coachman, whose body rested against the back of the coach’s box, his life long removed. The broken left side of the coach sat upon Mr. Brothers’s chest, and the man’s neck was bent at an odd angle. Angel had offered prayers of deliverance for the man’s soul as she knelt beside him while searching for a sign of life before she made the choice to leave the man in God’s benevolence.

When the coach dipped over the road’s edge to turn upon its side, she did not scream. Instead, she braced herself against the coach’s backbench to keep from tumbling head first into the air.

With the sound of tumult drowning out her heartbeat, Angel made a resolution to survive, for she knew word of her demise would kill her father. All he would have remaining in the world would be her younger brother Carson, and Car remained in America with Papa’s business partner. So, Angel fought for her entire family.

She knew Horace Lovelace’s nature. He would blame himself for not accompanying her, as if his presence would have prevented the disaster. Her father remained at Fordham Hall because he contracted the sniffles and a slight cough with a low fever.

“I will wait with you,” Angel had insisted.

“No,” her father protested. “To be invited to the Duchess of Devilfoard’s house party will translate into your acceptance among the beau monde. You cannot give insult by not arriving when expected. I will follow in a few days. I sent a note to your mother’s dear friend, Countess Gunnimore, to explain my delay. Lady Gunnimore will assume your chaperoning until I arrive. Lord Harrison showed us a great service in procuring an invitation for his family’s fête. We must not disappoint.”

As the Manningtons were invited elsewhere, Angel set out for Warwickshire with only a maid in tow. Unfortunately, at the last stop, Mari claimed a like illness as to what struck Angel’s father, and so she had sent the girl home with the single footman to escort her.

“Thank Goodness only Mr. Brothers suffered,” she grunted as she clawed her way up the hill, bit by bit. “This situation could be much worse. Mari and Dono could also have been killed.”



Hunt cursed his decision to send Etch and his carriage ahead. The rain came down so violently, he could no longer see the road. He was now riding purely from instinct. There was not a dry thread upon his body, but he meant to reach The Yellow Hen, which was less than three miles if he guessed correctly. He thought himself near Halford, still some ten miles to Shakespeare’s reported home of Stratford-on-Avon and many more to his home outside of Bedworth. From the corner of his eye, Hunt could make out the muddy approach of the River Stour flowing over its banks. The Stour to the Avon to the Severn, he thought, but that would take him to the west, when he needed to reach the River Anker instead.

Fingers of watery rivulets joined the standing water upon the stone road. He began to wonder if, while racing the approaching storms, he had made a wrong turn. The sheets of water streaming over Alibi’s neck convinced him to act without caution, and although Hunt thought himself still in Oxfordshire when the rain caught him, perhaps he had achieved Warwickshire. If so, The Yellow Hen was long since forgotten.

He gave his head a good shake to clear both his vision and his thinking, and Alibi mimicked Hunt’s actions. As if entranced by the mighty horse’s movements, Hunt did not see the attacker’s approach until it was too late!



Angel pulled herself over the lip of the stone roadway before collapsing into a cold muddy puddle. Several inches of water stood upon the odd-shaped stones while the excess cascaded over the edges sliding down the slope to meet the rising stream crawling its way upward. If the rain continued for much longer, one would not be able to tell where the road ended and the water began. Pulling herself to her knees, Angel rose slowly, exhaustion claiming its due. She did not hear the stranger’s approach over the rumble of the thunder and the beating of her heart pounding in her ears.

It was only afterward that she realized her sudden appearance frightened the man’s horse. The beautifully powerful animal rose up on his hind legs to paw the air above Angel’s head. On impulse, she covered her head with her arms. She heard the man attempting to calm the animal and the shrill cries of the beast in counterpoint to the continued war with nature. She shuddered, but before she could respond, a hard thump announced one of the battles was lost.

Without considering the consequences, she bolted into action. Accustomed to being around horses, Angel caught the animal’s reins before it ran off into the shadowy mist.

“Easy, boy,” she pleaded as the animal jerked its head to free her grip. “Easy.” She stroked the stallion’s neck to quiet its fear. “I shan’t hurt you.” The horse showed its teeth, but it did not bite her. Her hand traced the animal’s neck to its shoulder. “Permit me to see to your rider.” Gently, Angel patted the steed’s neck before dropping the loose reins and praying the animal was trained to remain in place when the reins went slack.

Lifting her rain soaked cloak and gown, Angel sloshed her way toward where the man lay upon his side in the muddy water.

“Sir?” she said with true regret. “How badly are you injured?”

Angel prayed this stranger did not share Mr. Brothers’s fate. She could not bear another innocent’s death upon her conscience. The thought of the kindly coachman brought tears to Angel’s eyes, but she had no time for grief. The stranger offered no response nor did he move beyond a single breath escaping his lungs.

Carefully, she edged the man onto his back before running her hands up and down his legs and arms. She realized he could have an injured ankle, but removing his boots was not an option at the moment. It was imperative for her to assist him to his horse before he, literally, drowned in the muddy waters rushing across the road.

“Sir.” Angel placed her hand upon his shoulder to give it a good shake.

Immediately his eyes sprang open, and a string of curse words announced that she had discovered his injury.

The man grabbed at his shoulder. “Bloody hell!”

Angel jumped away, not wishing to touch him again. “I apologize, sir. I did not mean to bring you pain. Are you able to stand?” She shot a glance at the rising water sloshing against his side. “We are in a tenuous situation. We must seek higher ground.” In hesitation, she knelt beside him. “Have you suffered injuries beyond your shoulder?”



Hunt looked up into the most mesmerizing eyes that he ever beheld: A bluish green, the shade of the ocean upon a sunny day. For a moment, he could not think. His head hummed a song Hunt did not recognize.

“Where am I?” He was aware of a cold rain dripping from her worn bonnet to splash upon his chest.

She watched him with an indefinable emotion. “We are somewhere in Warwickshire.” A quick glance to the right preceded her frown. “At least, I think we are.” Her scowl deepened. “We are in a steady rain, and the water is rising quickly. I insist upon supporting you to your horse. I doubt I could lift you to the saddle, but I would endeavor to do so if your injury prevents your mounting on your own.”

Her words amused him. Unless Hunt underestimated her stature, she would not reach his shoulder. “Assist me to sit, instead.”

He noted how the water sloshed against his jacket’s sleeve as she made her way behind him. He was lying in a stream of water!

Her fingers crawled beneath his shoulders and nudged him upward. Despite lying in a pool of cold rainwater, heat shot straight to his chest. Hunt never experienced anything like it in his eight and twenty years. He used the hand, which did not throb with shooting pains, to shove himself to a seated position. Everything about him swirled into a mixture of gray and green and brown. He felt his stomach turn over, but he breathed through the darkness that sought to consume him. The woman did not err in her estimation. They were in danger, and he must reach Alibi if they were to survive.

Hunt did not know when “he” became a “they,” but it had. The moment his eyes rested upon hers, he claimed himself her protector. Surely the woman lived nearby. He would assist her home and beg for a physician to be called.

Crawling to his knees and then to his feet, Hunt bit into his bottom lip to keep from calling out in pain. He swayed in place, and the woman hurried to brace his weight. Although she was beautiful enough—her skin pearly white—to be a fine lady, Hunt could not imagine her so. What lady of Society would wallow through the mud to tend him?

“Can you cross to the horse or should I bring him to you?” She shoved her wet body underneath his arm to keep Hunt from tipping forward.

With a deep steadying breath, Hunt again clenched his teeth. “Lead on,” he gritted through tight lips. With a knee-buckling lurch, he took a dozen steps to reach Alibi’s rump. “Easy,” he cautioned as he used the horse to brace his weight.

Muddy tracks of water streamed down from his hair, and Hunt used his free hand to sweep it back from his forehead. His hat had long-since drifted away in the narrow stream of water carving a deeper rut in the road.

“Hold his reins,” he instructed the woman, a woman whose name he had yet to learn. All in good time, he thought.

The lady lifted his arm so he might catch the rise of the saddle before she moved away to hold Alibi’s head still. When she nodded her preparedness, Hunt captured a deep breath, placed a foot in the stirrup, and lifted his frame to swing a leg over his horse. His settling heavily into the saddle made Alibi skittish again, but the woman’s melodic voice—one that reminded him of God’s angels—coaxed the stallion to stillness. Even so, in spite of his best efforts, Hunt thought the ground rose up to greet his descent. Desperately, he wrapped his arm about Alibi’s neck and slumped forward.



“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no,” she reprimanded as she rushed to secure the man to the horse. He rested against the animal’s neck, his face buried in the horse’s wet mane. Angel thought again of those dratted Fates who meant to vex her. Jerking the ruined bonnet from her head, she ripped the ribbons from their fastenings. Tearing them loose, she tied the two pieces together, lapped one end around the carbine bucket and the other around the stranger’s wrist, and tightened the makeshift rope to balance the man in place.

Self-consciously, Angel looked around before hiking her skirt to her knees.

“Papa would be furious,” she chastised, as she put her booted foot upon the stranger’s, caught the tails of the man’s jacket, and pulled her weight into the saddle behind him.

The stranger did not move, and again Angel placed her hand upon his back to feel the rise and fall of his chest before noting the red mark of dried blood upon the back of his head. The water continued to rise—likely some two inches deeper.

“We cannot wait any longer,” she said as she caught the reins from the stranger’s loose grip, wrapped her arms about his waist, and kicked the stallion’s side to set the horse in motion.

“I pray we find assistance soon,” she said as the animal walked smartly through the running water. “I fear my…” Angel did not know what to call the man. They had not even exchanged names. “I fear my acquaintance hit his head on the road’s stones.”

Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep: Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy

2013 SOLA’s Eighth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Awards, 3rd Place, Historical Romance

2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense

2017 finalist Derby Award for Fiction

Purchase Links:

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Mystery and Suspense Month: The Phantom of Pemberley

For October, I thought to highlight some of my mysteries and suspense novels. Heck, it is the time for ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the dark. ALL BOOKS FEATURED THIS MONTH ARE ON SALE ON FOR $0.99. GRAB THEM WHILE THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

Today, I bring you The Phantom of Pemberley.

In 2010, Ulysses Press released The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery. It was the first of my cozy mysteries, and it remains a favorite. Two years ago, I received the rights to all my Ulysses Press titles back from the company. I have slowly been rereleasing them with new covers and to new readers. I would love to share something of the historical tidbit that is the key to solving the mystery, but, as I skipped kindergarten (and a few other grades), I never learned to share properly. LOL! The whole “solving the mystery thing” revolves around one key clue all the characters miss. Will you be wiser than they are?

One idea I will share with you is the legend of “Hat Man.” The legend of the Hat Man plays a large role in The Phantom of Pemberley. 

Shadow People are supernatural shadow-like humanoid figures that, according to believers, are seen flickering on walls and ceilings in the viewer’s peripheral vision. They are often reported moving with quick, jerky movements, and quickly disintegrate into walls or mirrors. They are believed to be evil and aggressive in nature, although a few people consider them to be a form of guardian angel.

(Image used by The Shadow Man on Twitter https://twitter.com/theshad78631449)

Reportedly, Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger on an experience Craven had as a young boy. He once saw a scary looking man wearing a bowler hat. The man had scars all covering his face. People who reportedly come across a “hat man” usually claim to feel a frightening feeling, as if they are being threatened. While some ghosts do not seem aware of the presence of the living, it appears shadow people do. Witnesses claim, despite not seeing his face, they have a sense the hat man is staring right at them.

Furthermore, it would seem this entity’s sole purpose in visiting people is to make them as uncomfortable and frightened as possible. The apparition normally does not try to communicate, except for the fact he is emitting bad vibes. His mere presence alone is enough to make someone feel extremely uncomfortable and even threatened.

Today, I will simply tempt you with the opening of the story, and the last line of the tale: “Then I suppose we will go down in local lore: Bungay has its Black Shuck; Cornwall, the Well of St Keyne; Somerset, the Witch of Wookey; and Cheshire, the Red Rider of Bramhall Hall. We will be known for the house populated by shadow people—the home of the Phantom of Pemberley.” Enjoy!

HAPPILY MARRIED for over a year and more in love than ever, Darcy and Elizabeth can’t imagine anything interrupting their bliss-filled days. Then an intense snowstorm strands a group of travelers at Pemberley, and terrifying accidents and mysterious deaths begin to plague the manor. Everyone seems convinced it is the work of a phantom—a Shadow Man who is haunting the Darcy family’s grand estate.

Darcy and Elizabeth believe the truth is much more menacing and someone is attempting to murder them. But Pemberley is filled with family guests as well, as the unexpected travelers—any one of whom could be the culprit—so unraveling the mystery of the murderer’s identity forces the newlyweds to trust each other first and last and to work together.

Written in the style of the era and including Austen’s romantic playfulness and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer—before it’s too late.

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The Phantom of Pemberley

2010 SOLA’s Fifth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Awards, 3rd Place, Romantic Suspense 

Chapter One

“WE SHOULD TURN BACK,” Fitzwilliam Darcy cautioned as they pulled their horses even and walked them side-by-side along the hedgerow. They explored the most removed boundary of the Pemberley estate, near what the locals called the White Peak. 

“Must we?” Elizabeth Darcy gave her husband an expectant look. “I so enjoy being alone with you—away from the responsibilities of Pemberley.” 

Darcy studied her countenance. Hers was a face he had once described as being one of the handsomest of his acquaintance, but now he considered his previous compliment a slight to the woman. Her auburn hair, her fine sea-green eyes, her pale skin, kissed with a brush of the sun, her delicate features, and her heart-shaped face made her a classic beauty, and Darcy considered himself the luckiest of men. “For a woman who once shunned riding for the pleasure of a long walk, you certainly have taken to the saddle,” he taunted. 

“I have never said I preferred riding to walking. Most would think me an excellent walker,” she insisted. “It is just that when I sit atop Pandora’s back and gallop across an open field, I feel such power—as if Pandora and I were one and the same.” 

Darcy chuckled. “Do you call how you ride ‘galloping,’ my love?” 

“And what would you call it, Fitzwilliam?” 

Even after fourteen months of marriage, he could still stir her ire, though she now understood his love for twisting the King’s English and his dry sense of humor. It had not always been so. Elizabeth had told her friend Charlotte Lucas that she could easily forgive Fitzwilliam Darcy his pride if he had not mortified hers. And Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, had once described Darcy as “a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing.” Yet, none of that mattered now that he and Elizabeth were a couple, for a better understanding existed between them.

Darcy’s eyebrow shot up in amusement: He recognized the tone his wife used as one of a “dare.” They had certainly challenged each other often enough during their up and down courtship. Actually, shortly after their official engagement, Elizabeth declared it within her province to find occasions for teasing and quarreling with him as often as may be. She had playfully asked him to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. The scene, so familiar now, played in his mind as if it were yesterday. 

“How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning, but what could set you off in the first place?” 

It was a time for honesty between them, so he told her, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.” He laced his fingers through hers. 

“My beauty you had early withstood.” She teased him by running her hand up his jacket’s sleeve, and Darcy could think of nothing but the natural ease of her touch. “And as for my manners,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes twinkling with mischief, “my behavior to you was at least bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?” 

“For the liveliness of your mind, I did,” he said diplomatically. He did not—could not—admit to her his dreams of making love to her. A gentleman never spoke thusly to a lady, even a lady to whom he was betrothed.

“You may as well call it impertinence at once; it was very little less.” In retrospect, Darcy silently agreed. He had often found himself lost in his fantasies of her; so much so he did not always recognize Elizabeth’s disputation as impertinence, but more of flirtation. “The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them. You thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.” 

Startled by this revelation, Darcy had to admit Elizabeth was correct. She caught his attention because she was his complete opposite, even while she perfectly complemented his nature. With her, he had become freer. And he had come to think less poorly of the world. 

Elizabeth cleared her throat, signaling to Darcy that she awaited his response. “I believe, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,” he said as he winked at her, “I must call it a breakneck ride from hell.” 

Elizabeth glared at him for but a split second, and then she burst into laughter. “You know me too well, my husband. Most assuredly, you must take the blame. It was you who taught me to ride to the hounds.” 

“Why is it, Mrs. Darcy, all your ill-habits are derived from my influence?” 

“It is the way of the world, Fitzwilliam. Because God created Eve from Adam’s rib and breathed life into her form, a woman is a vessel for her husband’s generosity, but also his depravity.” 

“Depravity?” He barked out a laugh. “I will show you depravity, Mrs. Darcy.” He reached for her arm, threatening to pull her from Pandora’s back to his lap. 

However, Elizabeth anticipated his move, and she kicked her horse’s flank, bolting away, across the open field toward the tree line. She urged her mount faster, as her laughter tinkled in the crisp morning air, drifting back to where Darcy turned his horse to give chase. 

He flicked Demon’s reins to send his stallion barreling after his wife. Although Pandora was as excellent a mare as he had ever seen, Elizabeth’s horse stood no chance of beating Demon in an out-and-out race. As he closed in on her, he admired how his wife handled her animal—how she gave Pandora her head, but still knew when to exercise control over the horse. Elizabeth was a natural, as athletic as the animal she rode. 

Darcy pressed Demon a bit harder, and the distance between them shortened. As he accepted his success as inevitable, horror struck. From nowhere and from everywhere all at once, sound exploded around him. Pandora bucked and then stood upright, pawing the air. Elizabeth’s scream filled him, as her horse whipped Elizabeth backward. His wife’s leg, the one wrapped around the pummel came loose, but not the one is the stirrup until she kicked free to slide off the animal’s rump, smacking her backside hard against the frozen ground. From the tree line, the screech of an eagle taking flight set Darcy’s hair on end as he raced to her side. 

Sliding from his horse’s back, he was on the ground and running to reach her. “Elizabeth,” he pleaded, “tell me you are well.” He brushed her hair from her face as he gently lifted her head in his hands. 

She groaned, moving gingerly at first. “I am most properly bruised.” She brushed the dirt from her sleeve. “And I fear my pride is permanently damaged.” 

Darcy kissed her forehead, relief filling his chest, as he assisted her to stand. “Are you certain you can make it on your own?” He steadied her first few steps. 

Elizabeth walked with care, but with determination Darcy could admire. “Did you see him?” she asked cautiously. 

“See who?” Darcy instinctively looked toward the tree line. “I saw no one, Elizabeth; I was concentrating on you.” 

“The man … I swear, Fitzwilliam, there was a man … there by the opening between the two trees.” She pointed to a row of pin oaks. “A man wearing a cloak and carrying a hat.” 

“Stay here,” Darcy ordered as he walked toward the copse, reaching for the pocket pistol he carried under his jacket. 

* * *

Elizabeth watched him move warily to inspect where she had indicated. “Be careful, Fitzwilliam,” she cautioned as he disappeared into the thicket. 

Nervously watching for his return, Elizabeth caught Pandora’s reins as her horse nibbled on tufts of wild grass. After securing her horse’s bridle, she led Pandora to where Demon waited. “Easy, boy,” she said softly as she took Demon’s reins, but she never removed her eyes from where Darcy had vanished into the shadows. 

After several long moments, he emerged from behind an evergreen tree, and Elizabeth let out an audible sigh of relief. As he approached, Darcy gestured toward where he had searched. “I apologize, Elizabeth. I found nothing—not a footprint or any other kind of track. Nothing unusual.” 

“Are you certain, Fitzwilliam?” Still somewhat disoriented, she anxiously looked about her. “It seemed so real.” 

“Allow me to escort you home.” He moved to assist her to her mount. 

“Might I ride with you, Fitzwilliam? At least, until we reach the main road again. I would feel safer in your arms. Moreover, I do not think my backside cares to meet Pandora’s saddle at this moment.” 

Darcy’s smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “You cannot resist me, can you, Mrs. Darcy?” 

“It is not within my power, my husband.” Despite her nervousness, she attempted to sound normal so as not to alarm Darcy.

He slid his arms around her and brushed his lips over hers. 

Elizabeth’s arms encircled his neck. She lifted her chin to welcome his kiss. “You are indeed irresistible, my love.” 

* * *

“I was simply uncomfortable,” Elizabeth told Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s long-time housekeeper. They sat at the kitchen’s butcher-block table; they had spent the past hour going over the coming week’s menus and now shared a cup of tea. 

“Ye be seein’ one of the shadow people, mistress,” Mrs. Jennings, the estate cook, remarked, although she had not been part of the initial conversation. 

Elizabeth hid her smile behind her teacup; but her voice betrayed her skepticism. “Shadow people, Mrs. Jennings?” 

“Yes, mistress.” The woman wiped her floured hands on her apron. “People be seein’ shadow ghosts ’round these parts for years. It be a man. Am I correct, Mrs. Darcy?” 

“Yes, I believe whatever I observed was a man, although Mr. Darcy thinks it might have been some sort of animal—maybe even a bear.” 

Mrs. Reynolds attempted to downplay Mrs. Jennings’ fear of the unusual, a fear apparently shared by many Derbyshire residents. “I am certain it was a bear, Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Darcy would not minimize your concerns by placating to you.” 

“Most assuredly, you are correct, Mrs. Reynolds. Mr. Darcy would never ignore a possible danger to anyone at Pemberley.” 

Mrs. Reynolds said the words Elizabeth had heard repeated often. “Mr. Darcy is the best landlord and the best master that ever lived. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better.” 

The very man of whom they spoke strolled through the doorway. “There you are, Elizabeth.” 

Elizabeth offered up a bright smile: Her husband’s masculine appearance always made her heart catch in her throat. Broad shoulders—slim waist—muscular chest and back—well defined legs and buttocks—no extra padding found on the man. And Elizabeth relished the idea he had chosen her. “I apologize, Fitzwilliam; I was unaware you sought me out.” 

Darcy’s steel gray eyes caught hers. “I thought we might spend some time in the conservatory; the temperature turns bitter. We are in for a spell of bad weather.” 

“Really?” Elizabeth stood to join him. “My first winter in Derbyshire was quite mild. Should I expect lots of snow? We normally received some snow in Hertfordshire, but I was sadly disappointed with Derbyshire last season. I had hoped for sledding and skating.” 

“Well, Mrs. Darcy, I do believe you will receive your wish.” He placed her on his arm and led her away from the kitchen and toward the main part of the house. 

However, when he turned to the main staircase and their private quarters, Elizabeth leaned into his shoulder. “I thought we were to enjoy the conservatory, Mr. Darcy,” she reminded him. 

Darcy tilted his head in her direction to speak privately. “Do you object to a change in our destination, my love?” 

“Not even in the least, Fitzwilliam.” A blush betrayed her anticipation. 

“I enjoy the flush of color on your cheeks, my sweet one.” He brought her hand to his lips. After all these months together, she now understood the powerful yearning for her that her husband had controlled only with great determination when they were together at Netherfield. If she had known then what she knew now, Elizabeth might have been frightened of Mr. Darcy, instead of thinking he disliked her. Her husband was a very passionate and loving man, something she had never considered knowing in marriage, but knew, instinctively, she could never live without.

Elizabeth tightened her hold on his arm, but she could not express her thoughts aloud. Darcy had that effect on her. Even when she had thought she despised him, in reality, she sought his attention—his regard—his approval. They made the perfect pair. Darcy provided her the freedom to have her own thoughts and opinions, something she treasured; and Elizabeth showed him how insufficient were all his pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. She truly esteemed her husband, looked up to him as a superior. Yet, theirs was a marriage of equals in all the essentials that made people truly happy. He was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, most suited her. “I love you, Fitzwilliam,” she whispered. 

“And I love you, Elizabeth.” 

* * *

“Did you hear that?” Elizabeth sat up suddenly in the bed.

“Hear what?” Darcy groggily sat up and looked around for something out of place.

Elizabeth clutched the sheet to her. “I do not know. It was a click—as if a latch or a lock was being engaged.”

Darcy pulled on his breeches and began to check the room. 

They had locked the door when they entered their shared chambers, and it remained secure so he examined the windows and the folding screens, but found nothing. 

Elizabeth’s eyes followed his progress. 

Darcy released the door lock. Peering out, he nodded to someone in the passageway and then closed the door again. Sliding the bolt in place, he turned toward the bed. “Murray is changing the candles in the hall sconces. Perhaps that is what you heard.” 

“Perhaps,” she mumbled as she relaxed against the pillows. “It just sounded closer—as if it were in the room, not in the hallway.” 

Darcy returned to the bed and followed her down. “I believe your fright earlier today with Pandora has colored your thoughts.” He kissed Elizabeth behind her ear and down her neck to the spot where he could easily feel her pulse throbbing under her skin. “Allow me to provide you something else upon which to dwell.” 

Her moan signaled her agreement. Lost to his ministrations, neither of them heard the second click echo softly through the room.

* * *

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Bennet Wickham traveled by public conveyance to her sister Elizabeth’s Derbyshire home. It was her first journey to Pemberley, which even her husband reported to be one of the finest estates in all of England. She would rather this visit included her husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, but as Elizabeth’s husband, Mr. Darcy, refused to accept Wickham in his home, such was not possible. The men had held a long-standing disagreement, of which Lydia generally made no acknowledgment. In Lydia’s estimation, Mr. Darcy should do as the Good Book said and forgive. However, men were stubborn creatures who neither forgave nor forgot, and, much to her dismay, Mr. Darcy and her husband continued their feuding. 

Lydia found the whole situation disheartening. Even Elizabeth had taken offense at her congratulatory letter, although Lydia did not understand why. She had spoken the truth, and she had lowered herself to ask for Elizabeth’s assistance, something she had once sworn she would never do. All she had asked of her sister and new brother-in-marriage had been a place at court for Wickham and three to four hundred pounds a year so she and Wickham might make ends meet. She had even told her older sister not to mention it to Mr. Darcy if Elizabeth thought it might upset him. 

As far as Lydia had determined, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy appeared to think her dearest Wickham held out some hope Darcy might be prevailed on to make Wickham’s fortune; and, in Lydia’s mind, she could not see a reason the Darcys should not assist them. It all made perfect sense. Darcy had the means to assist Wickham, without damaging his own wealth. Moreover, was that not what family did for each other? If it were she and Wickham who held the wealth, they would certainly be generous to others. She hoped on this visit to soften Mr. Darcy’s feelings about her husband. Lydia recognized her strength: She could charm any man. Naturally, she despised wasting her talents on such a prideful and conceited man as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, but she would prevail on him in order to aid her husband. Mayhap then, their marriage might be saved. Wickham would stop thinking her such a poor choice if, somehow, she could sway the great Fitzwilliam Darcy. 

As she bounced along the country road in a public coach, Lydia attempted to appear assured of her self-worth. She knew not many young women—married or not—traveled alone. However, Wickham had insisted. He had bought her the ticket to visit Elizabeth because he had been ordered to Bath for the upcoming month; therefore, this was Lydia’s perfect opportunity to plead their case. Her husband had seen her to Nottingham before they parted. Now, she traveled unaccompanied. 

“What is a fine young lady such as yourself doing traveling alone?” A man in his thirties, who smelled of stale cigars and boiled turnips, leered at Lydia. He glanced quickly at the matronly woman riding beside her. The woman’s eyes remained closed, and she breathed deeply. 

Lydia recognized the man’s intentions, and although she would never consider such an alliance, she welcomed the conversation. Sitting quietly for long periods was not part of her nature. Most acquaintances thought her chatty—boisterous even. Her husband often ordered her silence, claiming she chirped on like a magpie. “I am visiting my sister, who is near Lambton.” 

“I know Lambton well, miss. Your sister is well placed, I assume.” He noted Lydia’s stylish traveling frock, one of three new pieces she had insisted she required for this journey, despite her husband’s declaration they could not afford the additional expense. 

“Very well placed.” Lydia puffed up with his notice. “Do you know Pemberley?” 

The man’s initial tone changed immediately. “Pemberley? Everyone for miles around knows Pemberley,” he asserted. “Might your sister be associated with such a great estate?” 

His words brought satisfaction to Lydia; she thoroughly enjoyed the idea of people admiring her, even if by association. In that manner, she and Mr. Wickham were very much alike. Sometimes she dreamed of what it might be to have her own home—her own estate. And sometimes she regretted having not set her sights on Mr. Darcy herself, although Lydia supposed the man preferred Elizabeth because her older sister devoured books—just as did their father. Lydia preferred fashion to Faust and society to Shakespeare. In all considerations, Elizabeth definitely better suited the man. If Mr. Darcy treated everyone as he did her Wickham, she would disdain his company in a heartbeat. “My sister is Mrs. Darcy; she is the mistress of Pemberley.” 

“The mistress of Pemberley?” The man let out a low whistle. “I am duly impressed.” 

“Mrs. Darcy is one of my older sisters,” Lydia babbled, “but my eldest is Mrs. Bingley of Hertfordshire. Charles Bingley counts Mr. Darcy as his most loyal acquaintance. My husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, grew to adulthood on Pemberley. We three sisters remain connected, even though we find ourselves scattered about England. My dear Wickham serves his country: We reside in Newcastle.” 

She noted how the man attempted to disguise his amusement at the situation’s irony, but there was a glint of laughter in his eye. “I know of George Wickham,” he mused. “Even in Cheshire, your husband has female admirers.” He chuckled. “It will break many hearts when I spread the story of your marriage, Mrs. Wickham. Are you newly wed?” 

“Lord, no. In fact, I was the first of my sisters to marry, although I am the youngest of five. Mr. Wickham and I have been married nearly two years.” 

“Two years?” The man appeared amused again. He said, “I suppose it is too late then to offer my best wishes?” His eyebrows waggled teasingly. Lydia was confused as to his reaction.

She swatted at his chest with her fan. “I am an old married woman, sir.” 

As she hoped, the man provided her a compliment. “You may be married, ma’am, but you most certainly are not old nor are you the picture of matronliness.” He nodded in the direction of the sleeping woman and then winked at Lydia. 

She loved flirting, even with someone who would not interest her otherwise. Wickham despised how easily men hung on her every word. She giggled, suddenly aware of the privacy of their conversation. She turned her attention to the coach’s window. “I certainly do not enjoy traveling in winter. The roads in the North were abhorrent—so many ruts and holes. Passengers could barely keep their seats. Thankfully, my husband kept me safe, but a lady who traveled with us to Lincolnshire tumbled most unceremoniously to the floor.” 

The man’s eyes followed hers. “The farmers at home would probably say we are in for some bad weather. See how the line of dark clouds hug the horizon.” He pointed off to a distance. “I simply hope we make it to Cheshire before the storm hits. I prefer not being upon the road when winter blasts us with her best.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “We will stay in Matlock this evening. You should be in Lambton by mid-afternoon tomorrow.” 

“I will be pleased to be away from this coach,” Lydia murmured as she settled into the well-worn cushions. 

As the man drifted off to sleep, he managed to say, “You will experience the best money can purchase at Pemberley. You shall enjoy your stay, I am certain.” As she sat alone in the silence of the coach, Lydia consoled herself with the man’s words. If Mr. Darcy was as wealthy as all said, surely he could spare a bit for her and Wickham. Then, her husband would view her with respect instead of disdain.

* * *

“Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said. She had found her husband in his study. “Georgiana and I plan to call on some of the cottagers today.” She stood before his desk, looking down at the stack of ledgers piled five high. “I thought you might care to join us, but I see you are excessively busy.” 

“I am afraid this business cannot be postponed.” He gestured to the many letters lying open before him. 

Elizabeth moved to stand behind him. She snaked her arms over the chair back and around Darcy’s neck. She kissed his ear and then his cheek. “You will miss me, Mr. Darcy?” she inquired, her breath warm against his neck as she continued to kiss along his chin line. As she hoped he would act, Darcy reached up to catch her arm. In one smooth motion, he shoved his chair back, making room for her on his lap, and pulled Elizabeth to him. She rested on his legs before sliding her arms around his neck. “I love you, my husband.” She laid her head against his shoulder. 

Darcy used his finger to tilt her chin upward so he might kiss her lips. “So nice,” he murmured. He deepened the kiss, and Elizabeth gloried in their closeness. “I could drown in your love,” he whispered near her ear.

“You are so not what the world expects.” Elizabeth ran her fingers through his hair.

Darcy chuckled, “I am exactly what the world expects: I serve this estate well and my sister well. Such is my role in life.” 

Elizabeth envied his confidence and the deep respect he inspired in the community. 

“And me well.” Elizabeth moaned as his lips found the point where her neck met her shoulder. 

Darcy pulled her closer. “That is what is unexpected—how much I love you—how I can give myself over to you so completely.” 

“You possess no regrets about aligning yourself with a woman without family, connections, or fortunes?” It was a question she asked often, although his answer remained the same each time. 

“It amazes me you can continue to doubt my loyalty—my love. Elizabeth, you possess me body and soul. Do you not know how thoroughly I require you in my life?” 

“I know,” she admitted, feeling foolish for asking the question again. “It is just that I desire to hear your professions with regularity. I realize it is foolish of me, but it is my weakness, I fear.” 

“Then I will resolve to speak the words more often, my love.” He kissed her tenderly. 

Elizabeth scrambled from his lap when she heard the servants outside the door. “I must leave.” She straightened the seams of her day dress. “I am certain Georgiana waits for me by now. We will return in a few hours.” 

“Do not go far, my love. The winter weather looms; we are in for a bad spell.” 

“Listen to you, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth teased as she headed toward the door. “You sound like one of the old hags who claim they can tell the weather from their rheumatism.” 

Darcy cleared his throat, stopping her exit. “Elizabeth, I have lived my whole life in Derbyshire. I understand the harshness of the winters. Trust me, my dear.” 

She stopped in her tracks. “If you are serious, Fitzwilliam, I will follow your lead,” she assured him, before turning pensive. “Do you suppose Lydia will arrive before this weather changes?” She now expressed the same concern as he. 

Darcy stood and came to where she waited. “A rider brought me some papers from Liverpool today, and he said the weather turned bad quickly. If he is correct, the storm is at least a day out, but it is likely to be here by early in the day tomorrow. Mrs. Wickham’s coach will be driving into the storm. Your sister may have some uncomfortable hours, but I am relatively certain she will arrive safely.” 

“You will go with me to Lambton—I mean to escort Lydia to Pemberley?” Elizabeth inquired. 

“I will not leave you to your own devices.” Darcy kissed her fingers. “Have a good visit with the tenants.” 

“Mrs. Hudson requires someone to repair her window,” Elizabeth reminded him as she prepared to leave. 

Darcy followed her to the door. “I will see to it immediately.” 

* * *

Elizabeth and Georgiana took Darcy’s small coach for their visits. Often, they made their rounds on horseback or in an open curricle, but Georgiana still suffered from a head cold, and Elizabeth would take no chances with Miss Darcy’s health in the bitter weather. “We have only two more baskets,” Elizabeth said. She accepted Murray’s hand as she climbed into the coach. He closed the steps, setting them inside. “Thank you, Murray. Tell Mr. Stalling we will see the Baines and the Taylors.” 

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.” 

Mr. Stalling turned the carriage toward the hedgerow leading to the main drive. “We will keep our visits short,” Elizabeth told Darcy’s sister. “I can tell you are not at your best today.” 

“My head feels so full. Perhaps I should remain in the carriage. Both the Baines and the Taylors have a houseful of children. It would not be the Christian thing to share my illness.” Georgiana sniffed and reached for her handkerchief. 

“I think only of you, Georgiana,” Elizabeth assured. She glanced out the coach’s window, noting the sun was well-hidden behind the clouds. “Such might be best. I shall make the call; you shall stay in the carriage and keep your feet on the warming brick. Then I will see you home. I am certain Mrs. Reynolds has a special poultice to make you feel better.” 

“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Georgiana sniffed again. 

Elizabeth adjusted the blanket across Georgiana’s lap. “Fitzwilliam will be distressed to know you feel poorly.” 

“He does worry about me.” Georgiana Darcy leaned back into the thick squabs of the carriage, adjusting the blanket tighter about her. 

Elizabeth recalled the first time she had seen the girl, who had been little more than sixteen at the time. Darcy had brought his sister to the inn in Lambton to take Elizabeth’s acquaintance after discovering Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visiting Pemberley on holiday. It had been the beginning of their life together. 

Although Elizabeth was four years Georgiana’s senior, Darcy’s sister was taller and on a larger scale. She was less handsome than her brother, but there was sense and good humor in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Everyone who knew Georgiana Darcy esteemed her for her compassion and her goodness. Elizabeth treasured having Georgiana in the household. Having left a houseful of sisters in Hertfordshire, she appreciated having female companionship. 

“Your brother has spent his adult life caring for you.” 

Georgiana closed her eyes, a noticeable shiver shook her body, and Elizabeth knew real concern. “I will be happy to claim my bed.” 

Elizabeth gently touched the girl’s forehead with the back of her hand. “You are not warm—no fever.” 

“I simply ache all over, and my head is so tight with pressure,” Georgiana rasped. 

Before Elizabeth could express further concern, the carriage came to a bone-jolting halt. “I will be only a few minutes.” Elizabeth opened the door. Murray assisted her to the ground before handing Elizabeth one of the two remaining baskets he carried. 

“Murray, I want to see Miss Darcy to the house as quickly as possible. Would you mind delivering the basket you carry to the Taylors? Provide them our regards and explain the situation. I will call on Mrs. Baine.” 

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” The footman headed toward the Taylors’ cottage, less than a quarter mile down the main drive. 

Elizabeth glanced quickly at Georgiana to assure herself the girl would be well while alone in the coach. Then she strode toward the small, white-washed cottage. Before she reached the door, it swung open, and a burly-looking man greeted her. 

“Mrs. Darcy, let me be helpin’ ye with that.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Baine.” Elizabeth entered the house and glanced around quickly to inspect how well the Baines maintained their home. Darcy did well by his tenants, but he expected the cottagers to keep the property in good repair and not to destroy what he provided them. 

“Ye be alone, Mistress?” Mrs. Baine looked to the threshold. 

Elizabeth gestured toward the coach. “Miss Darcy feels poorly. We both thought it best not to bring an illness into your house. In fact, I only have a few minutes. I wish to see Mr. Darcy’s sister in the comfort of her own bed.” 

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” Mr. Baine set the basket on the table. 

“There is flour, sugar, some potatoes, ham, and turnips in the basket.” 

“We be thankin’ ye, ma’am,” Mrs. Baine said and lifted the cloth to peer at the things the Great House had sent to them. 

“Naturally, there are sweets for the children.” Elizabeth touched a tow-headed boy of four. “You may dole them out when you deem appropriate.” 

Mr. Baine picked up a blonde girl of two. “The little ones be our greatest gift.” 

The Baines had six children, and Elizabeth chuckled at the irony of the statement. “Then you are indeed blessed, Mr. Baine. Mr. Darcy says the weather will turn dangerous, so be certain everyone is inside. Perhaps you should bring in some extra wood for the fire.” 

“We be thinkin’ the same, Mistress.” Baine stroked the child’s head as it rested on his shoulder. “We be well, ma’am.”

“You must surely know if you require anything, just send someone to Pemberley. Mr. Darcy will assist you if he is able.”

“We be knowin’ it, ma’am.” Mrs. Baine joined them as they stood by the door.

Elizabeth glanced toward the carriage. She worried for Georgiana. “I really must see Miss Darcy home. Please pardon me; we will visit longer the next time.” 

“You see to the master’s sister,” Mrs. Baine said as she reached for the door handle. “We be puttin’ Miss Darcy in our prayers.” 

“My sister will appreciate your thoughtfulness.” 

* * *

Georgiana Darcy pulled the blanket closer. She hoped Elizabeth would not be long. She really just wanted to be in her own bed where she might sleep for a few hours—mayhap even have Mrs. Jennings heat up some chicken broth. 

Reluctantly, she sat forward to determine whether Elizabeth had exited the cottage, but saw no one. Georgiana scooted the warming brick closer; it had quickly lost its heat in the chilly air. She reached out and slid the curtain aside to look for Elizabeth again. Then she saw him, and a different kind of shiver ran down her spine. He just stood there in the tree line. A blond-haired man, wrapped in a black cloak and wearing a floppy-brimmed hat, leaned against a tree. Georgiana felt her heart skip a beat, and her breathing became labored. 

The sound of Elizabeth’s approach drew the girl’s attention for a fraction of a second, and when her eyes returned to the trees, the man was no longer there. 

“Did you see him?” she pleaded as Mr. Stalling assisted Elizabeth into the coach. 

“See who?” Elizabeth turned expectantly. “Was someone there?” She searched where Georgiana stared, but all they saw was a bareheaded Murray walking toward them, slapping his coat to keep himself warm. 

Elizabeth sat beside Georgiana and slid her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Might we escort Miss Darcy home, Mr. Stalling?” 

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.” 

The driver stored the coach’s step inside before motioning Murray to climb aboard the back of the coach. 

As the carriage circled to return to the house, both women stared out the opposite window, looking for something neither of them hoped to see again.

“He is not there,” Georgiana whispered. 

“No one is there, Georgiana.” Elizabeth allowed the curtain to fall in place. “Would you tell me what you saw?” 

“A man—all in black—wearing an unusual hat—like those in the books from America.” Georgiana’s eyes widened. “Do you believe me?” 

Elizabeth tightened her hold on the girl. “Your brother thought what I saw yesterday was a bear, but what you just described is exactly what I saw in my mind’s eye. Except I could not make out the man’s face.” 

“Neither could I,” Georgiana whispered, although they were alone in the moving carriage. “What does it mean, Elizabeth?” The girl grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, holding on for dear life.

Elizabeth did not answer; she simply pulled the blanket over both of them. “We will tell Fitzwilliam. He will know what to do.” 

Chapter 1 

“WE SHOULD TURN BACK,” Fitzwilliam Darcy cautioned as they pulled their horses even and walked them side-by-side along the hedgerow. They explored the most removed boundary of the Pemberley estate, near what the locals called the White Peak. 

“Must we?” Elizabeth Darcy gave her husband an expectant look. “I so enjoy being alone with you—away from the responsibilities of Pemberley.” 

Darcy studied her countenance. Hers was a face he had once described as being one of the handsomest of his acquaintance, but now he considered his previous compliment a slight to the woman. Her auburn hair, her fine sea-green eyes, her pale skin, kissed with a brush of the sun, her delicate features, and her heart-shaped face made her a classic beauty, and Darcy considered himself the luckiest of men. “For a woman who once shunned riding for the pleasure of a long walk, you certainly have taken to the saddle,” he taunted. 

“I have never said I preferred riding to walking. Most would think me an excellent walker,” she insisted. “It is just that when I sit atop Pandora’s back and gallop across an open field, I feel such power—as if Pandora and I were one and the same.” 

Darcy chuckled. “Do you call how you ride ‘galloping,’ my love?” 

“And what would you call it, Fitzwilliam?” 

Even after fourteen months of marriage, he could still stir her ire, though she now understood his love for twisting the King’s English and his dry sense of humor. It had not always been so. Elizabeth had told her friend Charlotte Lucas that she could easily forgive Fitzwilliam Darcy his pride if he had not mortified hers. And Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, had once described Darcy as “a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing.” Yet, none of that mattered now that he and Elizabeth were a couple, for a better understanding existed between them.

Darcy’s eyebrow shot up in amusement: He recognized the tone his wife used as one of a “dare.” They had certainly challenged each other often enough during their up and down courtship. Actually, shortly after their official engagement, Elizabeth declared it within her province to find occasions for teasing and quarreling with him as often as may be. She had playfully asked him to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. The scene, so familiar now, played in his mind as if it were yesterday. 

“How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning, but what could set you off in the first place?” 

It was a time for honesty between them, so he told her, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.” He laced his fingers through hers. 

“My beauty you had early withstood.” She teased him by running her hand up his jacket’s sleeve, and Darcy could think of nothing but the natural ease of her touch. “And as for my manners,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes twinkling with mischief, “my behavior to you was at least bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?” 

“For the liveliness of your mind, I did,” he said diplomatically. He did not—could not—admit to her his dreams of making love to her. A gentleman never spoke thusly to a lady, even a lady to whom he was betrothed.

“You may as well call it impertinence at once; it was very little less.” In retrospect, Darcy silently agreed. He had often found himself lost in his fantasies of her; so much so he did not always recognize Elizabeth’s disputation as impertinence, but more of flirtation. “The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them. You thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.” 

Startled by this revelation, Darcy had to admit Elizabeth was correct. She caught his attention because she was his complete opposite, even while she perfectly complemented his nature. With her, he had become freer. And he had come to think less poorly of the world. 

Elizabeth cleared her throat, signaling to Darcy that she awaited his response. “I believe, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,” he said as he winked at her, “I must call it a breakneck ride from hell.” 

Elizabeth glared at him for but a split second, and then she burst into laughter. “You know me too well, my husband. Most assuredly, you must take the blame. It was you who taught me to ride to the hounds.” 

“Why is it, Mrs. Darcy, all your ill-habits are derived from my influence?” 

“It is the way of the world, Fitzwilliam. Because God created Eve from Adam’s rib and breathed life into her form, a woman is a vessel for her husband’s generosity, but also his depravity.” 

“Depravity?” He barked out a laugh. “I will show you depravity, Mrs. Darcy.” He reached for her arm, threatening to pull her from Pandora’s back to his lap. 

However, Elizabeth anticipated his move, and she kicked her horse’s flank, bolting away, across the open field toward the tree line. She urged her mount faster, as her laughter tinkled in the crisp morning air, drifting back to where Darcy turned his horse to give chase. 

He flicked Demon’s reins to send his stallion barreling after his wife. Although Pandora was as excellent a mare as he had ever seen, Elizabeth’s horse stood no chance of beating Demon in an out-and-out race. As he closed in on her, he admired how his wife handled her animal—how she gave Pandora her head, but still knew when to exercise control over the horse. Elizabeth was a natural, as athletic as the animal she rode. 

Darcy pressed Demon a bit harder, and the distance between them shortened. As he accepted his success as inevitable, horror struck. From nowhere and from everywhere all at once, sound exploded around him. Pandora bucked and then stood upright, pawing the air. Elizabeth’s scream filled him, as her horse whipped Elizabeth backward. His wife’s leg, the one wrapped around the pummel came loose, but not the one is the stirrup until she kicked free to slide off the animal’s rump, smacking her backside hard against the frozen ground. From the tree line, the screech of an eagle taking flight set Darcy’s hair on end as he raced to her side. 

Sliding from his horse’s back, he was on the ground and running to reach her. “Elizabeth,” he pleaded, “tell me you are well.” He brushed her hair from her face as he gently lifted her head in his hands. 

She groaned, moving gingerly at first. “I am most properly bruised.” She brushed the dirt from her sleeve. “And I fear my pride is permanently damaged.” 

Darcy kissed her forehead, relief filling his chest, as he assisted her to stand. “Are you certain you can make it on your own?” He steadied her first few steps. 

Elizabeth walked with care, but with determination Darcy could admire. “Did you see him?” she asked cautiously. 

“See who?” Darcy instinctively looked toward the tree line. “I saw no one, Elizabeth; I was concentrating on you.” 

“The man … I swear, Fitzwilliam, there was a man … there by the opening between the two trees.” She pointed to a row of pin oaks. “A man wearing a cloak and carrying a hat.” 

“Stay here,” Darcy ordered as he walked toward the copse, reaching for the pocket pistol he carried under his jacket. 

* * *

Elizabeth watched him move warily to inspect where she had indicated. “Be careful, Fitzwilliam,” she cautioned as he disappeared into the thicket. 

Nervously watching for his return, Elizabeth caught Pandora’s reins as her horse nibbled on tufts of wild grass. After securing her horse’s bridle, she led Pandora to where Demon waited. “Easy, boy,” she said softly as she took Demon’s reins, but she never removed her eyes from where Darcy had vanished into the shadows. 

After several long moments, he emerged from behind an evergreen tree, and Elizabeth let out an audible sigh of relief. As he approached, Darcy gestured toward where he had searched. “I apologize, Elizabeth. I found nothing—not a footprint or any other kind of track. Nothing unusual.” 

“Are you certain, Fitzwilliam?” Still somewhat disoriented, she anxiously looked about her. “It seemed so real.” 

“Allow me to escort you home.” He moved to assist her to her mount. 

“Might I ride with you, Fitzwilliam? At least, until we reach the main road again. I would feel safer in your arms. Moreover, I do not think my backside cares to meet Pandora’s saddle at this moment.” 

Darcy’s smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “You cannot resist me, can you, Mrs. Darcy?” 

“It is not within my power, my husband.” Despite her nervousness, she attempted to sound normal so as not to alarm Darcy.

He slid his arms around her and brushed his lips over hers. 

Elizabeth’s arms encircled his neck. She lifted her chin to welcome his kiss. “You are indeed irresistible, my love.” 

* * *

“I was simply uncomfortable,” Elizabeth told Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s long-time housekeeper. They sat at the kitchen’s butcher-block table; they had spent the past hour going over the coming week’s menus and now shared a cup of tea. 

“Ye be seein’ one of the shadow people, mistress,” Mrs. Jennings, the estate cook, remarked, although she had not been part of the initial conversation. 

Elizabeth hid her smile behind her teacup; but her voice betrayed her skepticism. “Shadow people, Mrs. Jennings?” 

“Yes, mistress.” The woman wiped her floured hands on her apron. “People be seein’ shadow ghosts ’round these parts for years. It be a man. Am I correct, Mrs. Darcy?” 

“Yes, I believe whatever I observed was a man, although Mr. Darcy thinks it might have been some sort of animal—maybe even a bear.” 

Mrs. Reynolds attempted to downplay Mrs. Jennings’ fear of the unusual, a fear apparently shared by many Derbyshire residents. “I am certain it was a bear, Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Darcy would not minimize your concerns by placating to you.” 

“Most assuredly, you are correct, Mrs. Reynolds. Mr. Darcy would never ignore a possible danger to anyone at Pemberley.” 

Mrs. Reynolds said the words Elizabeth had heard repeated often. “Mr. Darcy is the best landlord and the best master that ever lived. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better.” 

The very man of whom they spoke strolled through the doorway. “There you are, Elizabeth.” 

Elizabeth offered up a bright smile: Her husband’s masculine appearance always made her heart catch in her throat. Broad shoulders—slim waist—muscular chest and back—well defined legs and buttocks—no extra padding found on the man. And Elizabeth relished the idea he had chosen her. “I apologize, Fitzwilliam; I was unaware you sought me out.” 

Darcy’s steel gray eyes caught hers. “I thought we might spend some time in the conservatory; the temperature turns bitter. We are in for a spell of bad weather.” 

“Really?” Elizabeth stood to join him. “My first winter in Derbyshire was quite mild. Should I expect lots of snow? We normally received some snow in Hertfordshire, but I was sadly disappointed with Derbyshire last season. I had hoped for sledding and skating.” 

“Well, Mrs. Darcy, I do believe you will receive your wish.” He placed her on his arm and led her away from the kitchen and toward the main part of the house. 

However, when he turned to the main staircase and their private quarters, Elizabeth leaned into his shoulder. “I thought we were to enjoy the conservatory, Mr. Darcy,” she reminded him. 

Darcy tilted his head in her direction to speak privately. “Do you object to a change in our destination, my love?” 

“Not even in the least, Fitzwilliam.” A blush betrayed her anticipation. 

“I enjoy the flush of color on your cheeks, my sweet one.” He brought her hand to his lips. After all these months together, she now understood the powerful yearning for her that her husband had controlled only with great determination when they were together at Netherfield. If she had known then what she knew now, Elizabeth might have been frightened of Mr. Darcy, instead of thinking he disliked her. Her husband was a very passionate and loving man, something she had never considered knowing in marriage, but knew, instinctively, she could never live without.

Elizabeth tightened her hold on his arm, but she could not express her thoughts aloud. Darcy had that effect on her. Even when she had thought she despised him, in reality, she sought his attention—his regard—his approval. They made the perfect pair. Darcy provided her the freedom to have her own thoughts and opinions, something she treasured; and Elizabeth showed him how insufficient were all his pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. She truly esteemed her husband, looked up to him as a superior. Yet, theirs was a marriage of equals in all the essentials that made people truly happy. He was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, most suited her. “I love you, Fitzwilliam,” she whispered. 

“And I love you, Elizabeth.” 

* * *

“Did you hear that?” Elizabeth sat up suddenly in the bed.

“Hear what?” Darcy groggily sat up and looked around for something out of place.

Elizabeth clutched the sheet to her. “I do not know. It was a click—as if a latch or a lock was being engaged.”

Darcy pulled on his breeches and began to check the room. 

They had locked the door when they entered their shared chambers, and it remained secure so he examined the windows and the folding screens, but found nothing. 

Elizabeth’s eyes followed his progress. 

Darcy released the door lock. Peering out, he nodded to someone in the passageway and then closed the door again. Sliding the bolt in place, he turned toward the bed. “Murray is changing the candles in the hall sconces. Perhaps that is what you heard.” 

“Perhaps,” she mumbled as she relaxed against the pillows. “It just sounded closer—as if it were in the room, not in the hallway.” 

Darcy returned to the bed and followed her down. “I believe your fright earlier today with Pandora has colored your thoughts.” He kissed Elizabeth behind her ear and down her neck to the spot where he could easily feel her pulse throbbing under her skin. “Allow me to provide you something else upon which to dwell.” 

Her moan signaled her agreement. Lost to his ministrations, neither of them heard the second click echo softly through the room.

* * *

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Bennet Wickham traveled by public conveyance to her sister Elizabeth’s Derbyshire home. It was her first journey to Pemberley, which even her husband reported to be one of the finest estates in all of England. She would rather this visit included her husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, but as Elizabeth’s husband, Mr. Darcy, refused to accept Wickham in his home, such was not possible. The men had held a long-standing disagreement, of which Lydia generally made no acknowledgment. In Lydia’s estimation, Mr. Darcy should do as the Good Book said and forgive. However, men were stubborn creatures who neither forgave nor forgot, and, much to her dismay, Mr. Darcy and her husband continued their feuding. 

Lydia found the whole situation disheartening. Even Elizabeth had taken offense at her congratulatory letter, although Lydia did not understand why. She had spoken the truth, and she had lowered herself to ask for Elizabeth’s assistance, something she had once sworn she would never do. All she had asked of her sister and new brother-in-marriage had been a place at court for Wickham and three to four hundred pounds a year so she and Wickham might make ends meet. She had even told her older sister not to mention it to Mr. Darcy if Elizabeth thought it might upset him. 

As far as Lydia had determined, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy appeared to think her dearest Wickham held out some hope Darcy might be prevailed on to make Wickham’s fortune; and, in Lydia’s mind, she could not see a reason the Darcys should not assist them. It all made perfect sense. Darcy had the means to assist Wickham, without damaging his own wealth. Moreover, was that not what family did for each other? If it were she and Wickham who held the wealth, they would certainly be generous to others. She hoped on this visit to soften Mr. Darcy’s feelings about her husband. Lydia recognized her strength: She could charm any man. Naturally, she despised wasting her talents on such a prideful and conceited man as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, but she would prevail on him in order to aid her husband. Mayhap then, their marriage might be saved. Wickham would stop thinking her such a poor choice if, somehow, she could sway the great Fitzwilliam Darcy. 

As she bounced along the country road in a public coach, Lydia attempted to appear assured of her self-worth. She knew not many young women—married or not—traveled alone. However, Wickham had insisted. He had bought her the ticket to visit Elizabeth because he had been ordered to Bath for the upcoming month; therefore, this was Lydia’s perfect opportunity to plead their case. Her husband had seen her to Nottingham before they parted. Now, she traveled unaccompanied. 

“What is a fine young lady such as yourself doing traveling alone?” A man in his thirties, who smelled of stale cigars and boiled turnips, leered at Lydia. He glanced quickly at the matronly woman riding beside her. The woman’s eyes remained closed, and she breathed deeply. 

Lydia recognized the man’s intentions, and although she would never consider such an alliance, she welcomed the conversation. Sitting quietly for long periods was not part of her nature. Most acquaintances thought her chatty—boisterous even. Her husband often ordered her silence, claiming she chirped on like a magpie. “I am visiting my sister, who is near Lambton.” 

“I know Lambton well, miss. Your sister is well placed, I assume.” He noted Lydia’s stylish traveling frock, one of three new pieces she had insisted she required for this journey, despite her husband’s declaration they could not afford the additional expense. 

“Very well placed.” Lydia puffed up with his notice. “Do you know Pemberley?” 

The man’s initial tone changed immediately. “Pemberley? Everyone for miles around knows Pemberley,” he asserted. “Might your sister be associated with such a great estate?” 

His words brought satisfaction to Lydia; she thoroughly enjoyed the idea of people admiring her, even if by association. In that manner, she and Mr. Wickham were very much alike. Sometimes she dreamed of what it might be to have her own home—her own estate. And sometimes she regretted having not set her sights on Mr. Darcy herself, although Lydia supposed the man preferred Elizabeth because her older sister devoured books—just as did their father. Lydia preferred fashion to Faust and society to Shakespeare. In all considerations, Elizabeth definitely better suited the man. If Mr. Darcy treated everyone as he did her Wickham, she would disdain his company in a heartbeat. “My sister is Mrs. Darcy; she is the mistress of Pemberley.” 

“The mistress of Pemberley?” The man let out a low whistle. “I am duly impressed.” 

“Mrs. Darcy is one of my older sisters,” Lydia babbled, “but my eldest is Mrs. Bingley of Hertfordshire. Charles Bingley counts Mr. Darcy as his most loyal acquaintance. My husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, grew to adulthood on Pemberley. We three sisters remain connected, even though we find ourselves scattered about England. My dear Wickham serves his country: We reside in Newcastle.” 

She noted how the man attempted to disguise his amusement at the situation’s irony, but there was a glint of laughter in his eye. “I know of George Wickham,” he mused. “Even in Cheshire, your husband has female admirers.” He chuckled. “It will break many hearts when I spread the story of your marriage, Mrs. Wickham. Are you newly wed?” 

“Lord, no. In fact, I was the first of my sisters to marry, although I am the youngest of five. Mr. Wickham and I have been married nearly two years.” 

“Two years?” The man appeared amused again. He said, “I suppose it is too late then to offer my best wishes?” His eyebrows waggled teasingly. Lydia was confused as to his reaction.

She swatted at his chest with her fan. “I am an old married woman, sir.” 

As she hoped, the man provided her a compliment. “You may be married, ma’am, but you most certainly are not old nor are you the picture of matronliness.” He nodded in the direction of the sleeping woman and then winked at Lydia. 

She loved flirting, even with someone who would not interest her otherwise. Wickham despised how easily men hung on her every word. She giggled, suddenly aware of the privacy of their conversation. She turned her attention to the coach’s window. “I certainly do not enjoy traveling in winter. The roads in the North were abhorrent—so many ruts and holes. Passengers could barely keep their seats. Thankfully, my husband kept me safe, but a lady who traveled with us to Lincolnshire tumbled most unceremoniously to the floor.” 

The man’s eyes followed hers. “The farmers at home would probably say we are in for some bad weather. See how the line of dark clouds hug the horizon.” He pointed off to a distance. “I simply hope we make it to Cheshire before the storm hits. I prefer not being upon the road when winter blasts us with her best.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “We will stay in Matlock this evening. You should be in Lambton by mid-afternoon tomorrow.” 

“I will be pleased to be away from this coach,” Lydia murmured as she settled into the well-worn cushions. 

As the man drifted off to sleep, he managed to say, “You will experience the best money can purchase at Pemberley. You shall enjoy your stay, I am certain.” As she sat alone in the silence of the coach, Lydia consoled herself with the man’s words. If Mr. Darcy was as wealthy as all said, surely he could spare a bit for her and Wickham. Then, her husband would view her with respect instead of disdain.

* * *

“Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said. She had found her husband in his study. “Georgiana and I plan to call on some of the cottagers today.” She stood before his desk, looking down at the stack of ledgers piled five high. “I thought you might care to join us, but I see you are excessively busy.” 

“I am afraid this business cannot be postponed.” He gestured to the many letters lying open before him. 

Elizabeth moved to stand behind him. She snaked her arms over the chair back and around Darcy’s neck. She kissed his ear and then his cheek. “You will miss me, Mr. Darcy?” she inquired, her breath warm against his neck as she continued to kiss along his chin line. As she hoped he would act, Darcy reached up to catch her arm. In one smooth motion, he shoved his chair back, making room for her on his lap, and pulled Elizabeth to him. She rested on his legs before sliding her arms around his neck. “I love you, my husband.” She laid her head against his shoulder. 

Darcy used his finger to tilt her chin upward so he might kiss her lips. “So nice,” he murmured. He deepened the kiss, and Elizabeth gloried in their closeness. “I could drown in your love,” he whispered near her ear.

“You are so not what the world expects.” Elizabeth ran her fingers through his hair.

Darcy chuckled, “I am exactly what the world expects: I serve this estate well and my sister well. Such is my role in life.” 

Elizabeth envied his confidence and the deep respect he inspired in the community. 

“And me well.” Elizabeth moaned as his lips found the point where her neck met her shoulder. 

Darcy pulled her closer. “That is what is unexpected—how much I love you—how I can give myself over to you so completely.” 

“You possess no regrets about aligning yourself with a woman without family, connections, or fortunes?” It was a question she asked often, although his answer remained the same each time. 

“It amazes me you can continue to doubt my loyalty—my love. Elizabeth, you possess me body and soul. Do you not know how thoroughly I require you in my life?” 

“I know,” she admitted, feeling foolish for asking the question again. “It is just that I desire to hear your professions with regularity. I realize it is foolish of me, but it is my weakness, I fear.” 

“Then I will resolve to speak the words more often, my love.” He kissed her tenderly. 

Elizabeth scrambled from his lap when she heard the servants outside the door. “I must leave.” She straightened the seams of her day dress. “I am certain Georgiana waits for me by now. We will return in a few hours.” 

“Do not go far, my love. The winter weather looms; we are in for a bad spell.” 

“Listen to you, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth teased as she headed toward the door. “You sound like one of the old hags who claim they can tell the weather from their rheumatism.” 

Darcy cleared his throat, stopping her exit. “Elizabeth, I have lived my whole life in Derbyshire. I understand the harshness of the winters. Trust me, my dear.” 

She stopped in her tracks. “If you are serious, Fitzwilliam, I will follow your lead,” she assured him, before turning pensive. “Do you suppose Lydia will arrive before this weather changes?” She now expressed the same concern as he. 

Darcy stood and came to where she waited. “A rider brought me some papers from Liverpool today, and he said the weather turned bad quickly. If he is correct, the storm is at least a day out, but it is likely to be here by early in the day tomorrow. Mrs. Wickham’s coach will be driving into the storm. Your sister may have some uncomfortable hours, but I am relatively certain she will arrive safely.” 

“You will go with me to Lambton—I mean to escort Lydia to Pemberley?” Elizabeth inquired. 

“I will not leave you to your own devices.” Darcy kissed her fingers. “Have a good visit with the tenants.” 

“Mrs. Hudson requires someone to repair her window,” Elizabeth reminded him as she prepared to leave. 

Darcy followed her to the door. “I will see to it immediately.” 

* * *

Elizabeth and Georgiana took Darcy’s small coach for their visits. Often, they made their rounds on horseback or in an open curricle, but Georgiana still suffered from a head cold, and Elizabeth would take no chances with Miss Darcy’s health in the bitter weather. “We have only two more baskets,” Elizabeth said. She accepted Murray’s hand as she climbed into the coach. He closed the steps, setting them inside. “Thank you, Murray. Tell Mr. Stalling we will see the Baines and the Taylors.” 

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.” 

Mr. Stalling turned the carriage toward the hedgerow leading to the main drive. “We will keep our visits short,” Elizabeth told Darcy’s sister. “I can tell you are not at your best today.” 

“My head feels so full. Perhaps I should remain in the carriage. Both the Baines and the Taylors have a houseful of children. It would not be the Christian thing to share my illness.” Georgiana sniffed and reached for her handkerchief. 

“I think only of you, Georgiana,” Elizabeth assured. She glanced out the coach’s window, noting the sun was well-hidden behind the clouds. “Such might be best. I shall make the call; you shall stay in the carriage and keep your feet on the warming brick. Then I will see you home. I am certain Mrs. Reynolds has a special poultice to make you feel better.” 

“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Georgiana sniffed again. 

Elizabeth adjusted the blanket across Georgiana’s lap. “Fitzwilliam will be distressed to know you feel poorly.” 

“He does worry about me.” Georgiana Darcy leaned back into the thick squabs of the carriage, adjusting the blanket tighter about her. 

Elizabeth recalled the first time she had seen the girl, who had been little more than sixteen at the time. Darcy had brought his sister to the inn in Lambton to take Elizabeth’s acquaintance after discovering Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visiting Pemberley on holiday. It had been the beginning of their life together. 

Although Elizabeth was four years Georgiana’s senior, Darcy’s sister was taller and on a larger scale. She was less handsome than her brother, but there was sense and good humor in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Everyone who knew Georgiana Darcy esteemed her for her compassion and her goodness. Elizabeth treasured having Georgiana in the household. Having left a houseful of sisters in Hertfordshire, she appreciated having female companionship. 

“Your brother has spent his adult life caring for you.” 

Georgiana closed her eyes, a noticeable shiver shook her body, and Elizabeth knew real concern. “I will be happy to claim my bed.” 

Elizabeth gently touched the girl’s forehead with the back of her hand. “You are not warm—no fever.” 

“I simply ache all over, and my head is so tight with pressure,” Georgiana rasped. 

Before Elizabeth could express further concern, the carriage came to a bone-jolting halt. “I will be only a few minutes.” Elizabeth opened the door. Murray assisted her to the ground before handing Elizabeth one of the two remaining baskets he carried. 

“Murray, I want to see Miss Darcy to the house as quickly as possible. Would you mind delivering the basket you carry to the Taylors? Provide them our regards and explain the situation. I will call on Mrs. Baine.” 

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” The footman headed toward the Taylors’ cottage, less than a quarter mile down the main drive. 

Elizabeth glanced quickly at Georgiana to assure herself the girl would be well while alone in the coach. Then she strode toward the small, white-washed cottage. Before she reached the door, it swung open, and a burly-looking man greeted her. 

“Mrs. Darcy, let me be helpin’ ye with that.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Baine.” Elizabeth entered the house and glanced around quickly to inspect how well the Baines maintained their home. Darcy did well by his tenants, but he expected the cottagers to keep the property in good repair and not to destroy what he provided them. 

“Ye be alone, Mistress?” Mrs. Baine looked to the threshold. 

Elizabeth gestured toward the coach. “Miss Darcy feels poorly. We both thought it best not to bring an illness into your house. In fact, I only have a few minutes. I wish to see Mr. Darcy’s sister in the comfort of her own bed.” 

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” Mr. Baine set the basket on the table. 

“There is flour, sugar, some potatoes, ham, and turnips in the basket.” 

“We be thankin’ ye, ma’am,” Mrs. Baine said and lifted the cloth to peer at the things the Great House had sent to them. 

“Naturally, there are sweets for the children.” Elizabeth touched a tow-headed boy of four. “You may dole them out when you deem appropriate.” 

Mr. Baine picked up a blonde girl of two. “The little ones be our greatest gift.” 

The Baines had six children, and Elizabeth chuckled at the irony of the statement. “Then you are indeed blessed, Mr. Baine. Mr. Darcy says the weather will turn dangerous, so be certain everyone is inside. Perhaps you should bring in some extra wood for the fire.” 

“We be thinkin’ the same, Mistress.” Baine stroked the child’s head as it rested on his shoulder. “We be well, ma’am.”

“You must surely know if you require anything, just send someone to Pemberley. Mr. Darcy will assist you if he is able.”

“We be knowin’ it, ma’am.” Mrs. Baine joined them as they stood by the door.

Elizabeth glanced toward the carriage. She worried for Georgiana. “I really must see Miss Darcy home. Please pardon me; we will visit longer the next time.” 

“You see to the master’s sister,” Mrs. Baine said as she reached for the door handle. “We be puttin’ Miss Darcy in our prayers.” 

“My sister will appreciate your thoughtfulness.” 

* * *

Georgiana Darcy pulled the blanket closer. She hoped Elizabeth would not be long. She really just wanted to be in her own bed where she might sleep for a few hours—mayhap even have Mrs. Jennings heat up some chicken broth. 

Reluctantly, she sat forward to determine whether Elizabeth had exited the cottage, but saw no one. Georgiana scooted the warming brick closer; it had quickly lost its heat in the chilly air. She reached out and slid the curtain aside to look for Elizabeth again. Then she saw him, and a different kind of shiver ran down her spine. He just stood there in the tree line. A blond-haired man, wrapped in a black cloak and wearing a floppy-brimmed hat, leaned against a tree. Georgiana felt her heart skip a beat, and her breathing became labored. 

The sound of Elizabeth’s approach drew the girl’s attention for a fraction of a second, and when her eyes returned to the trees, the man was no longer there. 

“Did you see him?” she pleaded as Mr. Stalling assisted Elizabeth into the coach. 

“See who?” Elizabeth turned expectantly. “Was someone there?” She searched where Georgiana stared, but all they saw was a bareheaded Murray walking toward them, slapping his coat to keep himself warm. 

Elizabeth sat beside Georgiana and slid her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Might we escort Miss Darcy home, Mr. Stalling?” 

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.” 

The driver stored the coach’s step inside before motioning Murray to climb aboard the back of the coach. 

As the carriage circled to return to the house, both women stared out the opposite window, looking for something neither of them hoped to see again.

“He is not there,” Georgiana whispered. 

“No one is there, Georgiana.” Elizabeth allowed the curtain to fall in place. “Would you tell me what you saw?” 

“A man—all in black—wearing an unusual hat—like those in the books from America.” Georgiana’s eyes widened. “Do you believe me?” 

Elizabeth tightened her hold on the girl. “Your brother thought what I saw yesterday was a bear, but what you just described is exactly what I saw in my mind’s eye. Except I could not make out the man’s face.” 

“Neither could I,” Georgiana whispered, although they were alone in the moving carriage. “What does it mean, Elizabeth?” The girl grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, holding on for dear life.

Elizabeth did not answer; she simply pulled the blanket over both of them. “We will tell Fitzwilliam. He will know what to do.” 

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Of Lace and Finery: Coded Language in Austen’s Novels, a Guest Post from Diana J Oaks

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on July 26, 2021. Enjoy!

Jane Austen continues to astonish me. We turn again toward her use of clothing to inform her characters, this time focusing on the handful of references to lace and/or finery in her novels. Lace appears to be, in Austen-speak, a euphemism for empty-headed, trivial, vain, self-centered, and even vulgar. Perhaps this is due to the nature of lace; characterized by empty spaces and fragility in spite of the inherent beauty. In the context of the time period, machine-made lace was cheaper to produce than the time-consuming needlework or bobbin lace, rendering it an affordable luxury compared to the price of costly hand-made lace. Machine lace was the “cheap knock-off” of the Regency era. Connoisseurs of lace could detect the difference. Those who crafted it by hand even subtly changed the appearance so the machine lace didn’t replicate their work exactly. The sudden availability of affordable lace might also have influenced Austen’s use of this textile as a symbolic element in her characterizations.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet’s enthusiasm for Mr. Bingley is nearly matched by her enthusiasm for lace.

“Oh! my dear,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! and his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst’s gown — ”

Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Bennet protested against any description of finery.

Mr. Bennet’s complaint against such speech is contrasted by what we learn of Mr. Hurst in the next chapter: that he was a man of more fashion than fortune.

Another Austen character who is known for her displays of finery, is Mrs. Elton, in Emma. Austen devoted no less than three passages from three points of view illuminating how ridiculous Mrs. Elton made herself by her mode of dress. The first to express disdain is Emma herself:

“Insufferable woman!” was her immediate exclamation. “Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley! I could not have believed it. Knightley! never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley! and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and under-bred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady.

Our next observer is just that. While the narrator details the scene, the thoughts are attributed to Emma’s brother-in-law, John Knightley.

 The day came, the party were punctually assembled, and Mr. John Knightley seemed early to devote himself to the business of being agreeable. Instead of drawing his brother off to a window while they waited for dinner, he was talking to Miss Fairfax. Mrs. Elton, as elegant as lace and pearls could make her, he looked at in silence — wanting only to observe enough for Isabella’s information…

In our last example, we view Mrs. Elton through the lens of Miss Bates, who, like Mrs. Bennet, personifies a bit of the ridiculous herself. Unlike Emma and John Knightley who were unimpressed with Mrs. Elton’s show of finery, Miss Bates’s impoverished status lends a naivete to her exclamations of awe over Mrs. Elton’s lace.

Stop, stop, let us stand a little back, Mrs. Elton is going; dear Mrs. Elton, how elegant she looks! Beautiful lace! Now we all follow in her train. Quite the queen of the evening!

In perfect Austen style, she flips the viewpoint in the final paragraph of the novel, and it is through a lack of sufficient lace that Mrs. Elton perceives herself as better than Emma in an act of lace-lorn snobbery.

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.”

One more, and I will say, “point made” for this post. This is from Northanger Abbey. The thought forms in the mind of Mrs. Allen, so before we look at her thought, let’s find out how Austen has described her:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them. She had neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner. The air of a gentlewoman, a great deal of quiet, inactive good temper, and a trifling turn of mind were all that could account for her being the choice of a sensible, intelligent man like Mr. Allen. In one respect she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine; and our heroine’s entree into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in learning what was mostly worn, and her chaperone was provided with a dress of the newest fashion.

And this is the lady, who, when she runs into a former acquaintance can only triumph at the superiority of her lace.

Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with the discovery, which her keen eye soon made, that the lace on Mrs. Thorpe’s pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own.

Had you made this connection in your reading or viewing of Austen adaptations? Can you think of any equivalencies in our day? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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