Despite a recent diagnosis of diabetes, my 2019 has been going exceptionally well, and the writing has been flowing out of me, of late. In 2018, I caught the flu, which turned into bronchitis and then into pneumonia. I was down for the count for over two months, which put a definite crimp in my writing regime. I am one of those authors who writes daily. I say it is because I became accustomed to journaling several years past and just carried my writing forward in a different format. I have both Austen-inspired pieces and Regency tales to share below.
So, far in 2019, I have released two books, and I have 3 novellas (two in upcoming anthologies) and two more novels to make a showing before year’s end. Therefore, today, I possess all kinds of publishing news: recent and in the upcoming months. I have two first chapters to share, one for a new Regency novella and the second for a new Pride and Prejudice vagary available for your reading pleasure. Read to the end and comment on any of my publishing news to be part of my GIVEAWAY. See anything that interests you? Let me know. I have TWO eBooks of In Want of a Wife and two eBooks of Lady Chandler’s Sister available to those who respond below. Four winners in total. The giveaway ends at midnight EDST on Friday, May 3.
On February 11, I released In Want of a Wife. If you have yet to read, please have a look.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen
Elizabeth Bennet Darcy wakes in an unfamiliar room, attended by a stranger, who claims she is his wife and saying she has suffered an injury to her head. He accuses her of pretending her memory loss, but to Elizabeth, the fear is real.
“Surely you know me,” he protested. His words sounded as if he held his emotions tightly in check. “I am William. Your husband.”
She thought to protest, but the darkness had caught her hand and was leading her away from him. With one final attempt to correct his declaration, her mind formed the words, but her lips would not cooperate. Her dissent died before she could tell him: I do not have a husband!
Fitzwilliam Darcy despises his new wife, for he fears she has faked her love for him, better to see her family well-settled, and if love is not powerful enough to change a life, what is?
“This is unacceptable. I realize I was never your first choice as a husband, but it is too late to change your mind. The vows have been spoken. The registry signed. You cannot deny your pledge with this ploy. I will not have it. No matter how often you call out George Wickham’s name, he will never be your husband. I will never release you.”
On March 23, I released the third book in the Twins’ trilogy, Lady Chandler’s Sister.
Sir Alexander Chandler knows his place in the world. As the head of one of the divisions of the Home Office, he has his hand on the nation’s pulse. However, a carriage accident on a deserted Scottish road six months earlier has Sir Alexander questioning his every choice. He has no memory of what happened before he woke up in an Edinburgh hospital, and the unknown frightens him more than any enemy he ever met on a field of battle. One thing is for certain: He knows he did not marry Miss Alana Pottinger’s sister in an “over the anvil” type of ceremony in Scotland.
Miss Alana Pottinger has come to London, with Sir Alexander’s son in tow, to claim the life the baronet promised the boy when he married Sorcha, some eighteen months prior. She understands his responsibilities to King and Crown, but this particular fiery, Scottish miss refuses to permit Sir Alexander to deny his duty to his son. Nothing will keep her from securing the child’s future as heir to the baronetcy and restoring Sir Alexander’s memory of the love he shared with Sorcha: Nothing, that is, except the beginning of the Rockite Rebellion in Ireland and the kidnapping of said child for nefarious reasons.
An impressive ending to the beautifully crafted Twins’ Trilogy – Starr’s ***** Romance Reviews
Love. Power. Intrigue. Betrayal. All play their parts in this fitting conclusion to a captivating, romantic suspense trio. – Bella Graves, Author & Reviewer
On May 13, I will release Letters from Home, which was part of the Christmas Ever After anthology. The anthology has just been pulled from sales (customary practice for group projects), and each author is permitted to release her story as she pleases. I will be releasing this story as an eBook for Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited, as quickly as Dreamstone Publishing makes the book rights available to me.
“Letters from Home”
She is the woman whose letters to another man kept Simon alive during the war. He is the English officer her late Scottish husband praised as being incomparable. Even without the spirit of Christmas, she stirs his soul; in her, his heart whispers of being “home.” However, the lady wishes to remain invisible and in her place as her cousin’s companion. Can Major Lord Simon Lanford claim Mrs. Faith Lamont as his wife or will his rise to the earldom and his family’s expectations keep them apart?
July 5 will bring another Dreamstone Publishing anthology release, with the theme of a Regency Summer Escape. My contribution will be a piece called Courting Lord Whitmire. I loved how this story came together. Lord Andrew Whitmire has spent the last fifteen years away from England, first in the Napoleonic Wars and then on the Canadian front in Rupert’s Land. He is suffering from the betrayal of his father and his wife, the rejection of his daughter, and the lost of his best friend at the Battle of Waterloo. He is nearly 42 years of age and prepared to meet death as a lonely man. That is, until he meets Miss Verity Coopersmith, the young cousin of his friend Robert Coopersmith. The woman is half his age, and Andrew is fond of saying he “is old enough to be her father.” Yet, the lady finds a way past all of his barriers to prove she is worthy of courting Lord Whitmire, and he is worthy to claim her love.
At the bend of a path, an unexpected meeting. She is all May. He is December. But love knows not time.
October 16 will see the release of The Heartless Earl from Black Opal Books. It is part of the Common Elements Romance Project. Each book in the project, no matter its genre, will contain the same 5 elements: a lightning storm, a set of lost keys, a haunted house (or rumored to be haunted), a stack of thick books, and a person named Max.
STERLING BAXTER, the Earl of Merritt, has married the woman his father has chosen for him, but the marriage has been everything but comfortable. Sterling’s wife, Lady Claire, came to the marriage bed with a wanton’s experience. She dutifully provides Merritt his heir, but within a fortnight, she deserts father and son for Baron Lyall Sutherland. In the eyes of the ton, Lady Claire has cuckolded Merritt.
EBBA MAYER, longs for love and adventure. Unfortunately, she’s likely to find neither. As a squire’s daughter, Ebba holds no sway in Society; but she’s a true diamond in the rough. Yet, when she meets Merritt’s grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Merritt creates a “story” for the girl, claiming if Ebba is presented to the ton as a war widow with a small dowry, the girl will find a suitable match.
LORD LYALL SUTHERLAND remains a thorn in Merritt’s side, but when the baron makes Mrs. Mayer a pawn in his crazy game of control, Merritt offers the woman his protection. However, the earl has never faced a man who holds little strength of title, but who wields great power; and he finds himself always a step behind the enigmatic baron. When someone frames Merritt for Lady Claire’s sudden disappearance, Sterling must quickly learn the baron’s secrets or face a death sentence.
On October 18, Dreamstone Publishing will release its latest Christmas anthology, which will feature tales of “intelligent women.” The anthology will be available for 6 months (October to mid March 2020) for a price of $0.99. My contribution is called Last Woman Standing. Miss Gwendolyn Hawthorne has come to River’s End to serve as the Dowager Marchioness Rivens’s companion. However, when Lady Rivens’s annual Christmas ball is over, the “last woman standing,” so to speak, wins the hand of the lady’s grandson, Jackson Shaw, the Marquess of Rivens.
Here is my first excerpt for today. (This excerpt is from my WIP. It has NOT been edited, so no screaming about errors. LOL!)
“Blast it all!” Gwendolyn growled as her boot again sank in the heavy snow, sending a cold slush seeping in around her ankles. What choice did she have but to traverse the nearly two miles to the Rivens’s estate? If she expected to be presented with employment, it was imperative she arrive at the estate today. Lady Rivens’s instructions had been quite specific in that manner. Certainly neither Gwendolyn nor her ladyship could have anticipated either the snowstorm or the broken crankshaft sustained by the mail coach, the only transportation Gwendolyn could afford. Her nearly empty purse was also the reason she could not hire someone to transport her to the Rivens’s manor—the lack of funds and the nearly knee deep snow accumulating in every nook and cranny along the road.
Her father’s cousin, and long-time enemy, had spent little time in ordering her from her family’s small estate, leaving her to beg for assistance from the village’s vicar and his wife until she could secure a position. Vicar Grayson attempted to speak to her father’s heir regarding an allowance for Gwendolyn, but all knowledge of her father’s will, which should have provided for her, had been denied my the estate’s new master. Despite the Graysons promising to keep her as long as she chose to stay in Surrey, she did not think she could bear to look upon Loyton Hawthorne’s face again without executing a bit of damage to the man’s too large nose.
“Must keep my temper in its place,” she chastised when she stopped to dust the snow off the road sign to determine which way to turn. It was getting late, and she needed to reach the manor house before she became lost. She had left her trunk at the coaching inn and only carried a small bag with a change of clothes and her personal possessions.
“For all I know Lady Rivens is as villainous as is Cousin Loyton.” These were the words she had hidden from the Graysons and from herself. Gwen had received word of the position as a companion to Lady Rivens through an agency. According to the request, Lady Rivens wished the services of a gentleman’s daughter, one preferably comfortable residing in the country, rather than in Town.
Such described Gwendolyn perfectly. She was the daughter of a gentleman, and, despite being two and twenty, she had never spent one day in London. Had never had a gentleman caller. Until this journey, had never traveled outside her village. Had never known anything but the bucolic existence her father preferred. “Had never been to the moon,” she grumbled, as she worried once again whether Lady Rivens would wish her to be more worldly. “All I know of the world can be found within the pages of a book.” She stopped to consider another thing she should have asked of the position before she took it. “Do you suppose Lady Rivens will require constant nursing?” A deep frown found its way upon Gwen’s features. “I pray that is not the case because I do not have the stomach to clean up another’s—”
Gwen shivered with both a cold gust of air tugging at her pelisse and the remembrance of cleaning the runny noses of two of the Graysons’ younger children, as well as mopping up the results of their upset stomachs.
Realizing she needed to move or freeze to death, she set out again. Following the sign pointing to a narrow lane, she plugged along, side-stepping the deeper snow drifts. Spotting an opening in the wood line, Gwen hurried forward, wanting to be out of the cold and the dampness. “I will be fortunate not to come down with an ague.”
It was then she heard the cracking sound beneath her feet, and she halted in place. “Blast and double blast!” she grumbled. She dared not to move, fearing the ice upon which she stood would crack again, and she would tumble into the icy water beneath. “How could I have mistaken a frozen pond for a glade?” The idea dumbfounded her. She was customarily quite sensible. Tilting her head back, she called out to the Heavens, “Now what God?” She lifted her skirt, better to view the ice beneath her feet.
“Perhaps I may be of assistance,” a distinctly baritone voice responded from some where off her right shoulder.
Gwen dared not turn to view whoever had come to her rescue. Any movement could, literally, be her downfall.
“Assistance would be a blessing,” she assured the stranger.
She remained perfectly still as he circled what must be the banks of the pond. When he came into view, she blinked several times to clear her eyes, thinking she must be mistaken, for the man was the most handsome gentleman she had ever encountered, Although her interactions with members of the aristocracy was limited, she recognized quality when she saw it. Dark, nearly raven-black hair. A well hewn noble countenance. Full lips, turned up in an engaging smile. Nose, just a bit crooked. Full chest. Trim waist. And wearing a many-caped greatcoat that flapped open in the breeze, providing the impression of his being as strong and dangerous as an ancient conqueror of the land.
Quickly lowering her skirts, she lifted her gaze to meet his. “I am grateful for your presence, sir.”
“I do not often encounter a soul brave enough to venture upon Pandora’s Pond, especially before the ice thickens to a reliable three to four inches.”
Gwen found herself blushing. Hopefully, with the darkening shadows, he did not take notice of her embarrassment. “I thought I had simply left the woods for an open glade,” she explained.
He glanced back to the tree line. “I suppose you did. Unfortunately, if you had entered from the opposing tree line, say over there,” he pointed to where he had emerged from the woods, “there is a wider bank.”
Cold and frightened, Gwendolyn’s response exposed her exasperation. “I shall keep your advice in mind if I have the opportunity to pass this way again. That is, assuming you would agree to extend a hand in my rescue.”
He crossed his arms as if to ward off her growing outrage. “I am no longer certain.”
Gwendolyn sputtered, “You cannot mean to walk away without a care? What if the ice cracks, and I fall in?”
“Exactly,” he said. “If the ice cracks, I will be forced to dive in after you, and it is excessively cold out here.”
“You coxcomb!” she growled, just barely stopping herself from stomping her foot. “Very well. Go on about your business. I absolve you of any blame in my demise. I shall manage just fine without you.” Without waiting for his response, she lifted her small bag in her two hands above her head and gave it a heave-ho in the direction of the bank. Regrettably, the shift of her weight and the icy surface beneath her feet had her windmilling to keep her balance. Tumbling over backward, she lost the battle, slamming hard against the ice. Another louder crack of the surface followed, and Gwen groaned in helplessness as icy water seeped in around her.
She heard the gentleman’s, “Oh, no. No. No. No!” but she did not turn her head to observe his efforts to reach her. Her vision was blurry, and her limbs felt too heavy for her to lift them.
It was then she felt his hands on her ankles. “Do not move!” he grunted. “I have you!”
He slid her across the ice, tugging her, heels first. As ridiculous as it would appear to those who had never experienced the sensation of the heat of his hands engender combined with the cold surface, Gwen smiled.
At length, his hands were on her knees, then her thighs, and, finally, her waist. He maneuvered her to the side of where he was stretched out upon the ice. He wedged his hands beneath her back and lifted her carefully to a seated position, cradling her to him. “Tell me you are not injured,” he pleaded.
She pressed a wet glove to her forehead and sought a look at her surroundings. “Allow me a moment,” she murmured.
“I fear we do not have a moment,” he said in cautious tones. “We are still on the ice, and I do not think it will long support the both of us.”
Gwen attempted to make sense of his words, but her head still buzzed from her fall.
“Bear with me,” he said. She felt him brace her weight against what certainly was a large rock, and then his heat and his closeness was gone. She heard the crunch of his boots on the snow behind her, before, with a grunt, he lifted her upward in what was surely an awkward position for him. Swinging her around, he again placed her down, this time on the trunk of a fallen tree. He braced her in an upright position with a hand on her shoulder to keep her steady. The clean scent of soap and the heat of his body only added to her incoherence. Gwen had never been so close to a gentleman in her life. “You will pardon me, but I should examine the back of your head. You took quite a fall.”
Gwen managed to shrug away his suggestion. “I only require a minute,” she insisted, blinking several times to keep his image in focus.
Up close, his smile was as breath-taking as she suspected it would be. “I see you possess pluck. I like pluck, but now is not the time for it.”
He reached for the back of her head, but Gwen swatted away his hands. “I said I shall be well.”
“And so you did.” A chuckle rumbled in his chest. “But I require proof. Let me view you standing on your own.” He stood and stepped back to provide her room.
Gwen reached for the rough texture of the tree’s bark to steady herself and pushed upward; however, before her knees could lock in place, she pitched forward into the gentleman’s waiting arms.
“As I suspected,” he said as he lifted her to him. “We must see you to your destination.”
“Oh, no,” she protested, while clinging tightly to his shoulders, fearing if she let go, she would land face first in the snow. “Lady Rivens is expecting a healthy companion, not an invalid.”
He looked at her suspiciously. “You are to serve Lady Rivens?”
“If you would permit me to retrieve my bag, I could provide proof of my placement from the agency.”
“Never mind your bag and the placement papers; at this moment, it is imperative I see you to some place warm. You are shivering, and I admit the cold mixed with my wet clothes are combining to make me uncomfortable.” He lifted her higher in his arms, and Gwendolyn welcomed his warmth. “Then again,” he said with a wicked smile, “perhaps it is your closeness and the sweet smell of lavender that has me experiencing a lightheadedness comparable to your own. Do you suppose we are in some sort of delirium?”
She stiffened in anger at his remark. “You may place me down any time you wish!”
He barked a laugh. “That is the rub, my dear. I enjoy the feel of you in my arms.” He started off in the direction from which he had entered the glade.
“Where do you think you are taking me? Place me down at once!” A revealing heat of what she prayed appeared to be disbelief flooded her cheeks.
“I am taking you to my manor at River’s End,” he insisted. “It is but a quarter mile removed.”
“But I cannot!” She twisted to release herself from his hold, but he clutched her tighter to him.
“Cease your caterwauling,” he ordered before giving her a little shake. “We will have a physician examine your head, and, if all is well, you may begin your duties to her ladyship.”
“My things?” she protested weakly.
“I will send someone for your bag.”
- * * *
Jackson Shaw, the Marquess of Rivens, called to his servant, “Fetch Doctor Perkins, at once.” The footman, who had been rushing across the courtyard to assist him, made an immediate turn toward the stables. The door to the manor house remained open, and so he strode through and headed tor the stairs, calling out orders in his wake. “Watkins, have a maid fetch the lady some tea. She is quite chilled.” Realizing he required more information, he paused on the steps. “Which room has been set aside for Lady Rivens’s companion?”
“The blue room, my lord,” Watkins responded.
The woman whose body warmed his sucked in a sharp breath. “You said this was your manor.”
He chuckled easily as he watched several revealing facts dawn upon her lovely countenance. “It is.”
Heat flooded her features. “Then…then…you are—”
“Exactly. Lord Rivens at your disposal. Her ladyship is my grandmother.” He smiled at her and leaned closer to whisper, “Not that I mind holding you close, but I would prefer to do so without an audience.”
To his delight, the woman’s eyes sparked in outrage. “You are incorrigible!”
“Yes, I am.”
Jackson knew she wished to take him to task for his actions, but it was obvious she realized he was her employer. He was not the type of aristocrat who preyed upon his servants, but Jackson could not deny his instant attraction to this particular woman.
At length, he shouldered open the door to the room the maid indicated was to be the lady’s chambers. “Inform my grandmother her new companion has arrived,” he instructed as he sat the woman down upon the bed. He paused to catch his breath as the lady scooted further up the bed, putting distance between them. Something about the act bothered his sense of honor, or, perhaps, it simply called to his sense of mischief.
He looked at her, a full smile curving his lips. “Not even a word of gratitude, my dear? After all, I risked my life to save you from your precarious blunder, likely ruining one of my favorite coats, not to mention my carrying you all the way to this well-furnished room.”
“Naturally, you own my deepest gratitude, my lord.” What appeared to be unease caused her to stiffen. Her shoulders were rigid.
In contrast, Jackson’s smile grew wider. “I fear your statement of appreciation lacks genuine tones, especially when I must prompt its delivery. The words feel insincere.”
Her eyes flashed in derision. “All I can do is express my gratitude, my lord. I possess no money to speak of, and I cannot imagine you require what few pennies there are in my purse as payment for your kindness.” She gestured to the well-established room. “Your purse is obviously deeper than that of one of your grandmother’s employees.”
“My employees,” he purposely corrected, just to irritate her a bit more.
She swallowed hard. The woman, obviously, had not long been accustomed to cowing to her employer. “Pray, what do you expect other than my appreciation?”
He had led her exactly to where he wanted her. “I suppose I must settle for this.”
He leaned toward her. Slowly, but purposely. Providing her time to object, while praying she would not. The lady’s lips parted in outrage, but no words were uttered. His hand caught her jaw and tilted her chin upward. For an elongated moment, their gazes remained locked, and, then, he covered her mouth with his. A soft sigh slipped from her lips, and Jackson felt himself harden. The lady knew absolutely nothing about kissing, but he had no doubt she was teachable, for she did not draw back, but, rather, clung to him. If they had more time, he was more than willing to explore her mouth thoroughly, but the distinct sound of his grandmother’s cane tapping along the passageway had him pulling away and standing upright in what he hoped was an innocent stance, just before Lady Rivens entered the room.
“What are you doing in here, Jackson?” his grandmother asked as she eyed him suspiciously.
“I did not wish to leave the lady alone,” he said obediently, but from the look his grandmother presented him, her ladyship was not fooled by his act. A quick glance at the woman who only moments earlier had been in his arms showed the lady sat with her head down in a subservient position. “The lady,” he gestured to the woman before suddenly realizing how flushed her cheeks appeared, and a bit of pride made its ways to his chest, “hit her head in a fall on the ice. She appeared confused and was not capable of standing on her own.”
His grandmother’s frown deepened. “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
“I fear I do not understand, Grandmother.”
“Exactly. Now be off with you. Leave Miss Hawthorne to me.” At least, now Jackson knew her name. “I shall watch over the chit until Perkins arrives. You and I both know a gentleman would never purposely tarnish a lady’s reputation.” She gestured to the door with her cane. “Be about your business and permit me to be about mine.”
Jackson turned to the lady to present her a bow of farewell. “Although we were not officially introduced, I beg you to please pardon both my manners and any rough handling you suffered when I attempted to assist you. Welcome to River’s End, Miss Hawthorne.” With that, Jackson strode from the room, but with each step he wished to return and continue Miss Hawthorne’s lessons in intimacy. Never had a woman shaken him so thoroughly as had this country miss, and he was suddenly wondering how he could spend his days in the same house with her without touching her again? And what would her presence do his grandmother’s plans for him to choose a wife at her annual Christmas ball?
Finally, some time soon (depending on how much time I have to write, for I have several pressing deadlines for traditional publishers), I will release a new Pride and Prejudice Vagary. It will be called Mr. Darcy’s Bet. Again, I have provided a WIP chapter from the tale, which begins after Lydia’s marriage to Wickham and Lady Catherine’s call on Elizabeth. It is Bingley and Jane’s wedding day, and Darcy is more determined than ever to marry Elizabeth, but, although she loves him, she is having second thoughts as to whether she is worthy of him. Disclaimer: This chapter has yet to see an editor. Do not scream of typos and the like. LOL!
As days went, Elizabeth Bennet could not name this particular day as anything but pleasant. After all, this was her eldest sister’s wedding day. Jane Bennet had accept Mr. Charles Bingley’s late-coming proposal, and all was right in the world of the Bennets. “At least, Mama is happy. Two daughters married within the span of a few months.” Even so, Elizabeth was eaten up with guilt, for she knew, without the assistance of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, none of her mother’s manipulations would have known the same outcome.
Elizabeth also could not shake the idea one of the reasons the gentleman had acted was because of the accusations she had thrown in his face when Mr. Darcy proposed to her at Rosings Park. She would give anything if she could go back in time to that day when she had righteously accused, “I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only, means of dividing Mr. Bingley and my sister from each other; of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.”
She peeked around the corner of the passage where the library was located. Elizabeth had searched all the common rooms in the house and had concluded Mr. Darcy was again holed up in the library, likely avoiding Miss Bingley’s company, as well as hers.
There was a time back in August when they were both at Pemberley that Elizabeth had thought they could be more than passing acquaintances. However, Lydia’s marriage to Mr. Wickham destroyed those hopes. Through her mother’s relations, Elizabeth had learned something of Mr. Darcy’s involvement in bringing her youngest sister and Mr. Darcy’s long-time enemy together. The gentleman had spent a small fortune to bring Mr. Wickham to solvency and to provide the scoundrel an occupation, but, his actions essentially prohibited Mr. Darcy from aligning his family with hers. Darcy had protected her and her sisters from censure, and she was thankful for his honorable actions. Yet, an idea to which she had never given voice still haunted her: she had lost more than her reputation was worth. She had lost the possibility of a great love. There was no way Mr. Darcy would propose to her a second time, for how could he when Mr. Wickham could still harm Miss Darcy with a careless slip of the lip? And she would not permit that to happen, no matter how much such yearned for a different outcome. The gentleman had protected her, and, now, she would protect him.
Setting her shoulders in determination, she made her way along the hall. She prayed not to encounter either of Mr. Bingley’s sisters, for she was to deliver a message to Mr. Darcy, once she found him. A message that was none of the Miss Bingley’s concern. Jane—dear, sweet Jane—had forgiven the ladies for their purposeful separation of their brother from Jane, and, even though, Elizabeth had issued her cautions, Jane had said, “God would expect me to offer my forgiveness. Moreover, how can I think to separate Charles from his sisters?”
Mr. Bingley had been less forgiving: He permitted his sisters’ arrival to occur specifically on yesterday’s date, but had insisted on their leave-taking on the morrow. Elizabeth agreed with her new brother-in-marriage’s ire. She was not one who readily forgave those who harmed the people she held in her heart.
The library door was closed when she reached it. Elizabeth tapped lightly and turned the handle, but the lock did not release. She tapped again. “Mr. Darcy? Are you within?” She prayed she was not interrupting a private encounter between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Over the last month, she had walked in on more than one of their intimate moments. However, when she considered the possibility of Mr. Bingley, a man who rarely read for pleasure, choosing the library for a moment with Jane, or of Mrs. Bennet permitting Jane from her sister’s room, where she prepared for the wedding, Elizabeth knew both an impossibility.
Her father, Mary, and Kitty had remained at Longbourn last evening. Mr. Bennet had entrusted the letter to Elizabeth before she left to join her mother and Jane, who had dined with the Bingleys. “I do not wish your mother to see this,” he had explained.
“What type of business do you have with Mr. Darcy?” she had asked suspiciously.
“Just an offer he made me,” her father responded with less than a full disclosure. “At first, I refused an association with him, for we all found him to be a proud, ill-mannered sort of fellow.” Her father’s words caused Elizabeth to blush. His opinion was based on her earliest opinions of Mr. Darcy, and, although she now knew them inaccurate, she could not speak to the gentleman’s amiability without betraying all she knew of him. “However, after the gentleman convinced me of his honorability, I have had a change of heart. There is no reason not to hitch my wagon to a thoroughbred is there?”
“Mr. Darcy has proven himself,” she said, wishing to defend the man against the general dislike presented him by her family and the neighborhood, as a result of Mr. Wickham’s lies. “I am convinced it was with his influence that Mr. Bingley returned to Netherfield and Jane.”
Her father’s eyebrows rose in question. “Then you think more kindly of the man than you did previously?”
“Aunt and Uncle Gardiner assisted me in seeing Mr. Darcy in a new light,” she had explained. “He was everything cordial when we visited Pemberley.”
Therefore, she knocked a third time and spoke against the wood. “Mr. Darcy, it is I, Elizabeth Bennet. My father asked me to bring you a letter.”
Suddenly the door opened, and she was pulled roughly into the room. The lock was shot behind her.
“Mr. Darcy!” she protested.
“Shush,” he warned, before catching her elbow and guiding her—or rather pushing her toward the far corner of the room.
“What is—” she began, but when his finger touched her lips, Elizabeth forgot her protests. She could feel her cheeks catch fire, as the idea of her kissing that finger took hold. “Why are you hiding in Mr. Bingley’s library?” she demanded, in hushed tones.
“Miss Bingley,” he confessed.
“Surely it cannot be so bad that you must isolate yourself away?” she questioned. Elizabeth’s breath came out in a rough exhalation when she looked into his handsome face. “Is it not possible to explain to the lady you mean a different course for your life?”
He smiled at her. “As you well know, Miss Bingley is not easily diverted. Such is the reason I asked my valet, Mr. Sheffield, to sleep in my quarters last evening. I cannot take the chance. Desperation makes one act from character.”
Elizabeth could only manage an “Oh” before blushing again.
He gestured to a gathering of chairs. “Make yourself comfortable.”
She shook off the idea. “I cannot remain alone in a room with you, especially behind a locked door. My reputation would be ruined, and all your efforts to save it would be for nought.”
“You know about my interference in your youngest sister’s life? I did not think the Gardiners would be so willing to share what I hoped to keep secret.”
Elizabeth hesitated, not knowing quite how to respond. “You must not blame my aunt, Lydia’s thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest till I knew the particulars. Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering Lydia and Mr. Wickham.”
“If you will thank me,” he replied, “let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on,I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owes me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.”
Elizabeth felt herself blush again. It was her greatest wish that he stilled desired her, but the reality was simple: Mr. Darcy could not present his family fortune and his name to woman with a silly mother, a sometimes indolent father, one daughter married to a man constantly in debt, and the husband of the eldest daughter, although a dear friend, still steeped in the “filth” of a man from the world of business. Elizabeth’s recent encounter with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s aunt, had easily spoken to Elizabeth’s doubts of her worth to a man of Mr. Darcy’s means.
Awkwardly, Mr. Darcy turned away. “Evidently, I have left you in a position where words have escaped you. I must beg your pardon. I never meant to discompose you. I thought perhaps after you refused to agree with my aunt’s demand for you to deny me, that hope still lived.”
“I told Lady Catherine I would permit no one to dictate to me to whom I presented my hand.” She studied his stance. Countless memories stood between them. Elizabeth loved him, but she loved him too much to bring harm to his door. Regret squeezed her heart hard. “The wedding begins in an hour. I sought you out because my father asked me to deliver a message to you. It was late when I arrived at Netherfield last evening. I was told you had retired.”
His eyes narrowed. “A letter from Mr. Bennet?”
She reached into her reticule and extracted the folded over letter. Handing it to him, she asked, “What business do you have with my father?”
Mr. Darcy accepted the letter, staring at his name upon the foolscap. “I am uncertain beyond his providing me and Mr. Gardiner with a list of Mr. Wickham’s debts in Lambton. Perhaps it is an accounting of what he paid out to the various merchants.”
She did not believe him, for her father had mentioned that Mr. Darcy had contacted him, but she was not in a position to accuse him of something nefarious. “Then Mr. Bennet knew of your involvement in the matter?” she questioned. Elizabeth prayed he would not lie to her again.
He shook off the idea. “Not initially, but it is possible Mr. Gardiner took your father into his confidence.”
“Are you going to read it?” she asked.
“I will when there is time for me to study the contents. I heard the carriages coming up from the stable. Bingley will be searching for us, and, as you said, we cannot be found together.”
* * *
God, he wished someone would shake some sense into Elizabeth Bennet. Why could she not see they were perfect for each other? When he first opened the library door to pull her inside, Darcy had come within an inch of abandoning his customary good sense and, instead, gathering her into his arms to kiss her into submission. She would have regretted his actions, but he would not. From that first night after the Meryton Assembly, and every night since, he had dreamed of kissing her as she had never been kissed previously.
“Did Miss Elizabeth do something to anger you?” Bingley asked as they stood near the altar waiting for the ceremony to begin.
“Why would you think so?” Darcy asked in tones he prayed sounded of nonchalance.
“You were scowling when the two of you exited the house,” Bingley explained. “I pray you are not arguing again. You appeared on much better terms when we were all in Derbyshire together.”
“Nothing of the sort. Just a letter of business I received,” Darcy assured.
“I did not hear a rider,” Bingley observed.
Darcy slapped his friend on the back in a gesture of companionship. “And why should you? You are marrying the delectable Miss Bennet. in less than a half hour.”
“She is an angel.” Bingley’s smile widened, but it quickly disappeared, when his friend noticed the entrance of his sisters. “Duty calls,” he said and moved off to deal with the ladies’ need for attention.
Left alone for a few minutes, Darcy replayed Mr. Bennet’s letter in his head. After Lady Catherine had issued her orders and departed in a huff, without knowing satisfaction, Darcy had secretly sent Mr. Bennet a message and requested a private meeting with the man, where Darcy had laid his heart on the line. Elizabeth’s father had remained skeptical, but he had agreed to consider what Darcy had shared and would inform him of Bennet’s intention to extend or deny Darcy’s request to pursue Elizabeth as his wife.
He glanced up from his musings to view her coming toward him, and his heart sang its song of love and devotion. “Is it time?” he asked when she took her place beside him, for they were to stand up with Bingley and Miss Bennet during the ceremony.
“Mama agrees, so here I am,” she said with a grin. “In truth, I think she means to give Jane the talk regarding what to expect on the wedding night. Mrs. Bennet does not know Mrs. Gardiner has already spoken to each of us.”
Darcy grinned. Whether the lady realized it or not, Elizabeth Bennet considered him one of her closest confidants, for she spoke to him on a level not afforded indifferent acquaintances. “May I say you look lovely?” he whispered.
Her brows drew together in disapproval. “Your tone says you would place an addendum to the compliment.”
He hesitated before answering. “I think you would be more lovely, if such were possible, if you were wearing jewels in your hair, rather than the flowers.”
Everyone’s attention turned to the back of the church—everyone’s but his. From the corner of his eye, he noted Mrs. Bennet scampered up the aisle to assume a place by her husband on the front pew. Miss Bennet paused at the head of the aisle, the lady’s attention on Bingley as she approached.
“Is she not beautiful?” Elizabeth murmured.
Darcy’s eyes, however, remained on Elizabeth. “Not as exquisite as you,” he said in hushed tones.
She glanced up at him, displeasure crossing her expression.
Yet, before she could react, Darcy took the ultimate leap of faith. “When we marry, would you prefer a large wedding or a more private affair?”
“Neither,” she hissed. Embarrassment, or perhaps it was anger, colored her cheeks.
“You would prefer one comparable to the future Mrs. Bingley?” he asked in what he hoped sounded of innocence. Convincing Elizabeth to agree with him would take all his skills of negotiations.
“We are not marrying, large, small, or—” Her voice increased in volume. “Or—”
“Or would you prefer to leave for Gretna Green? Is a marriage over the anvil more to your liking?”
“Enough, Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed in a voice and tone rarely used in a church.
“Elizabeth Bennet!” her mother warned from her position on the pew. “This is not your day.”
Elizabeth nodded her apologies, but Darcy ignored everyone but the woman he loved. “Autumn has already made itself known. If you hold no objections, I would prefer we pronounced our vows before Christmastide. You have not lived until you celebrate Christmas at Pemberley.”
She spun around to face him. Pointing her finger at him, as if he was a misbehaving child, she enunciated each of her words slowly. “I once told you I would not marry you even if you were the last man in the world.”
“But we both know you did not mean those words. You have had a change of heart. No absolutes!”
“I am not marrying you, sir,” she growled.
Darcy thought her adorable when she was so angry that she had lost her ability to reason. “Never? Let us ask your mother,” he said with a smile.
“You would not dare.” Elizabeth no longer spoke in soft tones.
“Before I do, answer me this: Are you set against me? Completely set against me?”
“Not if we were the last two people on earth,” she said with a stomp of her foot to emphasize her irritation.
“We would require at least one more person,” he continued logically. “To witness the joining.” He thought it exhilarating to watch the passion flowing through his Elizabeth when she was angry. Just imagine how it will be when we are alone together, he cautioned his heart. “Simply explain what obstacles remain to prevent us from marrying.”
She shot a glance to the congregation, who was watching their interactions with great interest. Darcy refused to look, knowing his daring would die if he encountered a scowl upon her father’s face, or those of her neighbors. “You know my reasons without my pronouncing them aloud.”
Off to the side, he heard Miss Bingley announce, “I knew the chit did not have the brains of a slug.”
“Mr. Bennet,” Darcy called out, but his eyes remained on Elizabeth. “Do I have your permission to marry Miss Elizabeth?”
Her father’s voice held his amusement. “As I said, son, you must convince Lizzy on your own.”
“Understood, sir. But you hold no objections?”
“Not if Elizabeth is happy.”
Mrs. Bennet shot to her feet, finally comprehending what was happening. “Elizabeth Bennet, you give Mr. Darcy your assent this very moment.”
Bingley stepped up beside him. “In case none of you have noticed, this is my and Miss Bennet’s wedding day, not a battlefield.”
“All this is Mr. Darcy’s fault,” Elizabeth accused, refusing to abandon her anger.
Bingley growled, “I do not care for faults. All I care about is my Jane and our pronouncing our vows. I swear one more interruption, and I will personally escort you both outside.”
“I apologize, Bingley,” Darcy said in contrition.
“I will be silent,” Elizabeth said obediently.
Bingley leaned closer to speak to Elizabeth without an audience. “You do realize how stubborn Darcy can be when he sets his mind to a task. It might be best if you offered your consent now. It would please both Jane and me to see the two of you happy.”
Darcy noted how Elizabeth stiffened in denial. “I am determined I will not marry him. Some find my stubbornness endearing.”
“My money is on Mr. Darcy,” Colonel Forster called out.
“Then you will lose, Colonel,” Elizabeth said stubbornly. “I remain adamant.”
Sir William announced, “Those who wish to place a bet, see me outside after the ceremony. For now, Mr. Bingley wishes to claim his bride.”
Before the focus switched away from him and Elizabeth, Darcy called to the man, “Put me down for a hundred pounds. I mean to prove that I possess more resolve than does Miss Elizabeth.”