Today, I celebrate the birth of my 48th book baby. 48!!!! The idea shocks me!!! I will be at 50 by the end of this calendar year, with the release of The Heartless Earl in October and “Last Woman Standing” in December.
Mr. Darcy’s Bet: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary is a story which came to me one night in my sleep. I had been thinking all day (outside weeding flower beds, where I do some of my best thinking) of how Elizabeth must have felt when moving into Mr. Darcy’s world. After all, Mrs. Bennet was not the best example of the mistress of an estate, nor of the wife of a man of the landed gentry. Despite her remarks to the contrary to Lady Catherine, surely Elizabeth held doubts about whether finally to accept Mr. Darcy, if the gentleman renewed his proposal. How would she serve as Pemberley’s mistress? It would take more than her bravado to see her through what she might encounter there. What of his relations? Obviously, Lady Catherine would never accept her, but what of his mother’s brother, whom most of us who write JAFF refer to as Lord Matlock? That concept became the base of this story.
This story begins on Jane and Bingley’s wedding day. I am certain some of you have read part of this excerpt on Austen Authors, but I have added a new scene to the mix. Enjoy!
Leave a comment to be part of the giveaway of 2eBook version of Mr. Darcy’s Bet. The giveaway will end at midnight, EDST, Friday, September 27.
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – Act 1, Sc. 4, William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure
FITZWILLIAM DARCY has done everything within his power to prove his devotion to ELIZABETH BENNET. He believes they are so close to knowing happiness; however, when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, accosts Elizabeth with predictions of Elizabeth never being able to fit in with his social connections, everything changed. Although the lady sent his aunt packing with words to the contrary, a bit of doubt has slipped under Elizabeth’s shield of confidence, and she again refuses his hand in marriage, this time to protect him from the gossiping beau monde.
Therefore, Darcy has taken a leap of faith, he has proposed to her before the congregation gathered for the marriage of Elizabeth’s sister and his friend Bingley. A public proposal from which he cannot legally or morally withdraw, one only Elizabeth Bennet can refuse. He bets he can win not only her heart this time, but also her consent. With the assistance of her family and his, a plan is put into motion to prove Elizabeth Bennet, not only worthy of his attentions, but also the only one he should consider marrying.
He glanced up from his musings to view the woman whose image haunted his dreams 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 assume she means to present 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. “If such were possible, I believe you would be more lovely if you were wearing jewels in your hair, rather than the flowers.”
A sound at the rear of the church drew everyone’s attention—everyone’s but his. From the corner of his eye, Darcy noted Mrs. Bennet scampering up the aisle to assume a place on the front pew. Miss Bennet paused at the head of the aisle, the lady’s attention on Bingley as Jane Bennet approached them.
“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 at negotiation.
“We are not marrying, large, small, or—” Her voice increased in volume with each denial. “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 a Christmas and Twelfth Night 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 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 sluggard.”
“Mr. Bennet,” Darcy called out; yet, 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 present Mr. Darcy your assent this very moment.”
Bingley stepped up beside him. “In case neither 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.
Darcy listened in as Bingley leaned closer to speak to Elizabeth without an audience. “You do know something of Darcy’s dogged determination once 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. No matter how may proposals he issues, I shall not be moved. In fact, some find ‘my’ stubbornness endearing.”
“My money is on Mr. Darcy,” Colonel Forster called out.
“Then you will lose, Colonel,” Elizabeth declared adamantly. “I remain unmoved.”
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 fifty pounds. Before this is over, Miss Elizabeth will change her mind. She will accept my proposal. I mean to prove I possess more resolve than does Miss Elizabeth.”
“You coxcomb!” she growled when Darcy finally cornered her in the churchyard. “Do you have any idea how miserable you have made my life? My mother will not rest until she browbeats me into accepting your proposal,” Elizabeth hissed.
Darcy caught her elbow and directed her steps further from those still gossiping about the spectacle he had caused. He still could not quite believe he had acted so boldly—the man who had always preferred the outside rim of a crowded ballroom had strode to the center of the floor for all to observe his most vulnerable moments. She jerked her arm from his hold, drawing his attention back to the exhibition he had created. Despite his qualms over how things had turned out, a grin still marked his lips.
With a sigh of resignation, he schooled his countenance and suggested, “You could change Mrs. Bennet’s dudgeon to elation by accepting my proposal now.”
“N—O—T ever a possibility,” she growled in elongated syllables.
“Are you so set against me?” he demanded. “What happened to the vibrant Elizabeth Bennet I knew in Derbyshire?”
“Life,” she said, her shoulders dropping in obvious defeat. “Reality. Lady Catherine. Lydia. Mr. Wickham. Miss Darcy. They all happened.” She looked up at him, tears forming in her eyes. “I am begging you to leave me in Hertfordshire. Return to Derbyshire and your life.”
Holding himself stiff so as not to reach for her, he whispered. “A life without you would be a shadow of what God intended for either of us.”
Her bottom lip trembled when she responded, “Is it your wish to force me into a marriage not of my choosing?”
“You know it is not. I hold you in great affection, and I had hoped—” Her tears, just as they had at the inn in Hunsford when she had received word of Miss Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham, were like a fist to his midsection, only this time, he had proven to be the source of her misery. Darcy took a step back, placing distance between them. “If such is your true desire, I will leave Meryton immediately.”
She glanced about in bewilderment. “You mean tomorrow, do you not? You cannot think to leave today. We hold obligations to Mr. Bingley and Jane. The wedding breakfast. People will expect us both there. If you are absent, the guests will assume I sent you away.”
“Which is exactly what you are doing,” he insisted.
“But—” she began.
“You cannot have it both ways. You asked me to leave, and I have agreed to do so. Now, you insist I stay. I must assume you wish me to shoulder my share of the blame for interrupting your sister’s marriage. Or do you have another motive? Do you mean to ring a pell over my head before your neighbors and friends to demonstrate your indifference to me? If such is so, my leaving will prove your denials equally as well and without either of us facing further embarrassment. Permit me a bit of dignity. Your adamant rejection will indicate your triumph.”
“What of Mr. Bingley?” she protested.
“My friend will have nothing but his new wife on his mind,” Darcy argued. “He will offer a mild denial and then return to his elation. Moreover, your declaration of your disgust for me will embolden Miss Bingley. I shan’t chance her taking it in her head I am now vulnerable to her charms simply to satisfy your pride. If I must choose another, then the woman will be someone to my liking.” He presented her a brief bow. “If you will pardon me, I will make my excuses to Bingley. Please know I wish you all the happiness life has in store for you.”