To refresh everyone’s memory, I set the story two years into the Darcys’ marriage. Elizabeth has been plagued by several miscarriages, and she is haunted with the idea that the “shades of Pemberley had been thus polluted” by her inability to give Darcy an heir. She is struggling with whether she is worthy of her husband’s devotion. Encouraged by her physician to bring some joy into his wife’s life, Darcy has invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend Christmastide at Pemberley. To that effect, to allow time for his guests’ arrival, Darcy has taken Elizabeth with him on a business trip Upon their return to Pemberley, the Darcys are, unfortunately, unable to outmaneuver a blizzard, and Darcy and Elizabeth are stranded at a small inn, along with a young couple, whose name ironically is Joseph and whose first child is likely to be born during the night.
Meanwhile, Georgiana tries desperately to manage the chaos surrounding her brother’s six invited guests (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, Jane, and Bingley) and the eleven unscheduled arrivals, including Mary Bennet’s betrothed Mr. Grange (who Mrs. Bennet invited without asking the Darcys), Lady Catherine (who has not been at Pemberley since that infamous argument with Elizabeth and whose sudden presence will only confirm Elizabeth’s feeling of inadequacy), Anne De Bourgh (who can no longer be her mother’s pawn), Mrs. Jenkinson (who staunchly guards against Anne’s heart being broken), Mr. and Mrs. Collins (who Lady Catherine invited without anyone’s knowledge), Caroline Bingley (who decided to spend the holidays with the Bingleys rather than the Hursts), Mr. Winkler (the local minister who, during the storm, escorts the Collinses to Pemberley, but who is really there to woo Kitty Bennet), Colonel Fitzwilliam (who has returned from the American front), his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Southland (whose cousin once held the living at Rosings Park and who is “fascinated” with the De Bourgh family), and an American, Beaufort Manneville (who the colonel has been ordered to escort to London, but of whom he is suspicious).
This first excerpt brings the last of the “uninvited guests” to Pemberley. Expecting Darcy and Elizabeth, Georgiana is both disappointed and elated that her cousin, Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam, has returned from his duty on the American front.
Georgiana and Kitty raced along the passage and down the main staircase. “We’ll tell Elizabeth that your parents allowed you to return to Pemberley because you were lonely now that Miss Bennet
“Elizabeth will never believe I miss Mary’s company,” Kitty objected.
Georgiana tutted her disagreement. “We just need for our sister to believe us long enough for her to reach the drawing room to greet your family.”
They waited impatiently for the Darcys’ arrival, each girl fidgeting with her dress. Then Mr. Nathan opened the door, and instead of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, three winter-cloaked gentlemen strode through the opening. Both girls stood in awe of the men—all fine specimens of maleness. “Oh, my,” Kitty swallowed her words. She clawed at Georgiana’s arm.
But Georgiana stood frozen in disbelief. The man in front held her mesmerized. A year—more than a year had passed since she had last seen him, but he remained as before. Solid. Raven haired. Smoky blue eyes. Eyes that appeared to look through her. See me. Georgiana willed herself not to say the words. Not quite as tall as Fitzwilliam, the man’s broad shoulders filled Georgiana’s gaze. “Edward!” she called and launched herself into his waiting arms. In his embrace, Georgiana inhaled him deeply. He smelled of cold and leather and sweat and the spicy cologne he always had worn. “Thank God, you’ve returned to us.”
Her cousin picked her up, clutching Georgiana to his chest, and swung her around in a circle. “My, goodness!” he laughed easily. “What happened to my little Georgie?”
“You’ve been away for a year, Edward,” she protested.
“So, I have.” He laughed again as he set her on her feet. “Where’s that rascally brother of yours?” He glanced toward the main stairs.
“Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Darcy are on their way from Northumberland,” she explained.
Edward frowned. “Well, Fitz will be delayed. We barely made it from Liverpool on horseback. Darcy won’t chance it in a carriage.” The colonel gestured to the men waiting behind him. “Do you have rooms available, Cousin? I don’t wish to attempt riding to Matlock.”
“Of course.” Georgiana nodded to Mr. Nathan, and the man ducked into a servant’s passageway to do her bidding.
Edward spotted Kitty waiting patiently. “And is this who I believe it to be?” he asked teasingly.
“You remember Mrs. Darcy’s sister Catherine from the wedding, do you not, Edward?”
The colonel bowed to Kitty. “Absolutely. I am pleased to find you at Pemberley, Miss Catherine.”
Kitty curtsied to the group. “I’m certain Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth shall be thrilled for your return, Colonel.” Edward placed Georgiana’s hand on his arm. “Allow we to introduce my traveling companions, my dear. Miss Darcy. Miss Catherine. May I present Lieutenant Roman Southland? The lieutenant
is my assistant.”
The officer bowed formally. “Miss Darcy, the colonel has spoken often of his cousin, but his words didn’t do you justice.” He kissed Georgiana’s outstretched hand. “Thank you for accepting
our intrusion upon your hospitality.”
“Pemberley would never turn away the colonel’s associates,”
Georgiana responded. “Edward is family.” She wanted to ask what her cousin had said of her and how often the colonel spoke of her, but instead, Georgiana smiled welcomingly at the man.
“And this gentleman,” the colonel indicated the man not wearing a uniform. “This is Mr. Beauford Manneville. Mr. Manneville is from South Carolina in the Americas, but he’s come to our ‘enemy’ shores to do business with our government and to renew his acquaintance with his distant cousin Lord Shelton.”
“Welcome to England, Mr. Manneville.” Georgiana curtsied and again extended her hand. “I am sorry that your first experience on British shores brings you icy roads.”
The colonel laughed softly. “You don’t understand, Georgie. In South Carolina, snow rarely falls. Cold weather doesn’t tarry either. Is that not correct, Manneville?”
The man openly shivered. “I’ve never been so cold, Colonel, and you may leave your levity out of it, Sir.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed stiffly. “As you wish, Manneville.”
He turned to Georgiana with a touch of lightheartedness. “And from what did we pull you ladies?”
Georgiana suddenly remembered the others waiting in the drawing room for her return. “Oh, Edward,” she gushed. “I am doubly happy to see you, especially in Fitzwilliam’s absence. We’ve a houseful of guests, including Lady Catherine and Anne.”
“Darcy invited our aunt for Christmas?” he asked incredulously.
“No. Her Ladyship invited herself, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Lady Catherine visited the Earl, but His Lordship and the Countess have traveled east to welcome the arrival of Viscount Lindale’s first child.”
Edward beamed with the news. “Did you hear, Southland? I’m to be an uncle. My brother Rowland’s wife is in her confinement.”
The lieutenant removed his gloves and laid them nearby. “Then it is fortuitous that we didn’t seek Matlock. It appears your family is scattered between here and Lincolnshire, Sir.”
“They are. That they are.” He smiled genuinely at Georgiana. “Come, Gentlemen. I’ll introduce you to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, my family’s paragon of virtue,” he said teasingly.
Georgiana fell into step beside him as they climbed the stairs. “In addition to Her Ladyship and Anne, the Bingleys and the Bennets are in residence,” she said softly.
“My, you do have a houseful. I thought you exaggerated, Cousin. How many await me in the drawing room?” he directed Georgiana toward the open door. Kitty and the lieutenant followed, and Mr. Manneville brought up the rear. “Counting you three, we number nineteen,” she responded. “Fitzwilliam invited the Bennets and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley as a surprise for Mrs. Darcy, but others have sought shelter at Pemberley.” Georgiana leaned against him. “Handling so many distinct personalities has been challenging.”
His finger stroked her arm. “You’ve performed well, Georgie. I’m proud of you.”
They had reached the open door. Taking a deep breath, Georgiana glided into the room. “Look who’s joined us,” she announced.
An hour later, Georgiana and Kitty climbed the main stairs together. “When had you planned to tell me of Mr. Winkler?” Georgiana teased.
“As I did not know myself until this evening, how could I tell anyone?” Kitty’s eyebrow kicked up.
Georgiana giggled. “What do you think of the possibilities?”
Kitty clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Delicious. At least, in some ways. Mr. Winkler is a fine-looking man. But then again, so are Mr. Manneville, Lieutenant Southland, and your cousin.”
Georgiana jerked to a stop, her mind rebelling at her friend’s words. “Kitty, you’re welcome to choose among our guests. Look to Mr. Winkler, to Mr. Manneville, or to the lieutenant. Look to any of them except the colonel.”
Kitty wrapped her hand around Georgiana’s elbow and smiled sweetly. “Exactly as I supposed. So, that’s how the land lies?”
“That’s exactly how it is.”
This second excerpt appears a bit later in the book. Colonel Fitzwilliam is attempting to discover Lady Catherine’s true reasons for coming to Pemberley.
Edward tapped softly on Lady Catherine’s door and a maid admitted him immediately. Her Ladyship lounged on a chaise. She held toast in one hand and a teacup in the other. He bowed and then motioned the maid’s departure. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Your Ladyship.”
“Why would I not, Edward? You’re a most beloved nephew. You’ve brought honor to the Fitzwilliam name.” She gestured him to a chair.
Edward took the seat, but he remained alert. Years of dealing with his aunt had taught him to never underestimate the woman. Dressed in a dark purple velvet gown, his aunt was a paragon of determination,
and many shrank from her renowned inflexibility. She was dark of eye and hair, much darker than her brother, Edward’s father, and the complete opposite of the fair-haired Lady Anne, Darcy’s mother. She could convey her arrogance with a lift of her square chin or a glare along her straight, high-bridged nose. “My choice of military service came as the lesser of two evils, but I’m content with my time. I believe God has placed me in this role to save men from death’s grip. I’m thankful for that position.”
“As you well should be.” Lady Catherine pushed her way to a seated position. “Of what did you wish to speak, Colonel?”
Edward frowned deeply. “I’d like to know your true reason for coming to Pemberley uninvited.”
“You came to Pemberley uninvited,” she accused.
His eyes forcefully demanded that his aunt not fence verbally. “True. However, I’ve never expressed indignation regarding Darcy’s marriage. Neither did I send him language so very abusive, especially
of Mrs. Darcy, when he announced his engagement. You’ve not spoken to Darcy or his wife for over two years, and then suddenly you appear on my cousin’s doorstep. I ask myself why, but I cannot decipher your way, Aunt.”
“Possibly, I had no other recourse,” she said slyly.
Edward forced himself to hold her gaze. Years had taught him that Lady Catherine used her dominating stare to quell her dissenters. “I might believe you sought Pemberley’s safety if you hadn’t sent word to Mr. Collins before you left Matlock.”
“Georgiana told you that, did she?” Lady Catherine accused.
Edward struggled for an obliging response. “I’m Georgiana’s guardian. It would be natural for her to seek my advice. And I would warn Your Ladyship not to think that I’ll fall for your diversionary
tactics. Georgiana isn’t the issue. Now, let’s revisit your motive for returning to Pemberley.”
Lady Catherine’s mouth tightened in a furious line. “In reality, I have no response.” She waited for his retort, but Edward’s silence demanded a longer explanation. “Matlock left for Lincolnshire. I’d
already promised Collins a means to Kent.” She ticked off her reasons on her fingers. “The road conditions deteriorated before I could make other arrangements. I saw my niece in your family home some days prior, and I realized I missed my sister’s offspring.”
Edward’s eyebrow rose in disbelief. “Do you mean to say, Aunt, that you wished for a reconciliation with Darcy?”
“Marriage is forever. I cannot change what’s been done. Although I vehemently disagree with Darcy’s choice, I’ve come to realize that my objections are also keeping me from Georgiana. In order for my niece to have a successful Season, Georgiana needs the weight of her connections. Darcy’s position gives Georgiana impetus, but Matlock and Lindale’s names lend credence to her consequence.” His aunt’s words didn’t sit well with Edward, but he couldn’t identify what it was about the image of his cousin’s Society Come Out that bothered him most. It was certainly not Georgiana’s appearance; his cousin’s beauty would awe even the most hardened heart. Possibly, that was it: He couldn’t picture
Georgiana in another man’s embrace. “The De Bourgh connection shall strengthen my niece’s suit.”
“So, for Georgiana’s sake, you’ll swallow your distress regarding Darcy’s marriage?” he said incredulously.
“Darcy has thrice sent correspondence offering an appeasement. Admittedly, I’ve ignored his olive branch, but Christmastide seemed a time for forgiveness.”
Edward certainly didn’t believe her reasons, but he knew from experience that his aunt believed what she said. Therefore, Lady Catherine’s frankness penetrated his reserve. “You are an intelligent
woman, Your Ladyship, so I’ll forego the customary warning. You’re aware of Darcy’s nature. My cousin will never tolerate your condemnation of his wife or his guests.” Surprised, he watched as Lady Catherine swallowed her temptation to criticize.
“I am appalled by the people with whom Darcy surrounds himself, but I can tolerate his acquaintances without considering them my intimates.”
“I pray you can, Aunt.” Her sincerity rang of possibilities. “It’s comforting to think that you’ve considered Georgiana’s future, but you should also make room for Mrs. Darcy’s role in your life. You
must maintain no delusions of Elizabeth ever being replaced in Darcy’s estimation. The man loves his wife, very much in the manner that the late Mr. Darcy loved Lady Anne. You must accept it, or Darcy will limit your access to Georgiana.” He hoped she didn’t practice some sort of chicanery.
Their conversation at an end, Edward prepared to leave her; however, Lady Catherine reached out to stay him. “Tell me what has transpired with Mrs. Darcy.”
“I don’t understand, Aunt.”
Lady Catherine sighed deeply in exasperation. “As you said, Colonel, I’m far from lacking my wits. I have overheard bits and pieces of information. Why has Mrs. Darcy not given her husband
Edward’s suspicions returned. “If you mean to insinuate that Mrs. Darcy hasn’t presented my cousin with his first child because of her low connections, I’ll warn you of the danger of doing so. Darcy will bring his ire to your doorstep, Ma’am.”
“That wouldn’t stop me, Edward,” she declared. “I have faced a man’s dudgeon before. Give me the facts, and I shall decide my actions.”
Edward growled. “I will not be a part of your venomous ways, Your Ladyship. A moment ago, you spoke of harmony. You cannot have it both ways, Aunt.”
“You make the assumption that I mean Mrs. Darcy harm. I never said I would openly criticize the chit. I simply said that Darcy’s ire wouldn’t deter me. Would you prefer that I ask Mrs. Darcy’s witless mother?”
Edward felt his cheeks flush. “Mrs. Darcy hasn’t carried to term previously,” he said through gritted teeth. “But the lady’s with child. Darcy hopes the pleasure of seeing her family for Christmastide
will give Mrs. Darcy comfort. He’s surrounded his wife with those who love her.”
“Except for uninvited guests,” she observed.
“That’s more than half of those in attendance,” Edward responded. “Darcy isn’t likely to be happy with the alteration in his plans.”
“I suppose that means me.”
Dismay tightened Edward’s jaw. “Your presence will truly be a Christmastide surprise, Your Ladyship.”