Later this week, I will pack up my home in North Carolina and move to my home town in Virginia. I’ve lived in three different states, driven across country twice, and visited China. I have to say, I have mixed feelings about leaving this area. We didn’t get to meet a lot of people but everyone we did meet was so friendly. There’s just more southern hospitality here. And our house is HUGE and in a low cost of living area. I was really trying to put down roots since we were told it would be a two to three year move. However, I do love the Shenandoah Valley. There’s no place like it on earth. Trust me, I’ve seen a fair bit of it. And the people are nearly as friendly and kind as small town North Carolina, in addition to family and friends who reside there. Still…I’m going to miss it here so this song seems appropriate.
What do you think of the cover? Check out the giveaway on Diary of an Eccentric.
Previous Chapters: Chapter One
“Fitzwilliam, Darcy,” Lady Catherine nodded as they entered her drawing room. “Kiss your cousin.”
Anne barely lifted her head for Richard to peck on her cheek but offered more of her face for Darcy. His heart sank. Had he not made his preferences regarding any possibility of their marriage clear? Perhaps she merely meant to please her mother. Darcy stifled a groan at the thought of having to discuss the matter with mother or daughter again.
“Where is Georgiana?” Lady Catherine asked.
“Do you not recall? I wrote to you over a week ago. She is recovering from a cold and preferred to remain at home.”
“I do not see why she could not come,” she frowned at him. “It is only a cold.”
“I confess I spoil her and did not wish to discomfort her with the ride.” Darcy slid his eyes to Richard. He had been correct that Lady Catherine would insist on asking about his sister.
“I should scold you for being so indulgent,” her ladyship said with a censure-less smile.
“I also considered Anne, of course.”
“That is just like you,” Lady Catherine beamed. “You think of everyone and everything.”
Darcy lightly shook his head but refrained from blushing at his aunt’s praise. Richard was correct. Aunt Catherine never saw fault in him. He could say he intended to dance barefoot on the dining table and she would find a way to praise him. Was it any wonder that all her servants were as complimentary? Take her parson, for example. How he was related to Elizabeth, Darcy could never understand.
No. No more thoughts of Elizabeth.
“Did you hear me, Darcy?” Lady Catherine, thankfully, interrupted his thoughts. “I asked how your sister liked Ramsgate. I have thought of taking Anne. Or if you still have the house perhaps we might stay with you this summer.”
“I have already told you she did not care for it, Aunt,” Richard said with a subtle nudge to Darcy’s knee.
“I do not want to hear it from you. What do you know? You spend months in mud and on horses in a Godless country.”
Darcy’s brows rose. Lady Catherine’s insults were particularly barbed today. “Thank you for your inquiry,” he attempted to smooth the situation. “Richard is correct. Georgiana did not care for Ramsgate. She mentioned the house was insufficient so I did not retain it. If you would like, I could suggest a solicitor in the area who might assist you.”
Said solicitor did not ask intrusive questions or gossip when Darcy unexpectedly showed up and whisked his sister away after firing her governess on the spot. Darcy clenched his hands at his side. Would that all men in his employ could have been so loyal. No, some attempted to seduce his sister and blackmail him for the misfortune of his birth.
“Perhaps,” Lady Catherine pursed her lips. “If Georgiana did not care for it then it may not be the best place to send Anne. I am very selective about where to spend my holidays. So is Anne.”
Darcy nodded. One reason he did favour his aunt, aside from being happy to finally have any family at all, was that she never required much input from him. His mind was free to wander and merely nod now and then. Richard, who was a regular magpie, could not conceive remaining quiet for much of an hour let alone an entire day.
“And so Georgiana has spent all her time in London since then?”
“We went to Pemberley first, but she has been in Town since September.”
“I wish you had followed my advice and kept a governess for her. They transition to companion quite nicely, as you see with Anne.” Lady Catherine nodded to her daughter.
“If she had been brought up with a governess all along, I am sure you would have been correct,” Darcy answered. “I have recently hired a companion.”
“I do not see why you needed to hire one specifically just to sit with her when she has female relations,” her ladyship frowned.
Darcy glanced at Richard. Was there any pleasing the woman? He began to understand what his cousins always complained about.
“I am feeling rather slighted, Aunt,” Richard interrupted. “You have not asked after my family or me at all.”
“I hear from the Earl often enough. What do you have to say that will interest me? I know you prefer to shock me.”
Lady Catherine shook her finger at the colonel as if she were scolding a much younger boy. Darcy bit back a chuckle.
“It is not my fault I have been deployed to the Continent a few times and have lived to tell the tale.” Richard winked, and Anne smiled. “One would think you are ungrateful that I live.”
“Ungrateful! Me?” Lady Catherine thumped her cane. “Your jesting seriously displeases me.”
“Pardon me,” Richard smirked. “I had thought it would delight you.”
Lady Catherine sniffed and cast her eyes about the room.
“You did not tell them about Mr. Collins,” Anne spoke softly.
Mention of Collins made Darcy walk to a window and look out it. Too many memories of Hertfordshire were associated with the name.
“Quite right, Anne. I have got a new parson. Old Dr. Montague retired.”
“Riveting,” Richard said in a wry voice.
“Well, he is newly married. Is that not news enough for you?”
Richard chuckled. “News of a marriage does not titillate men the way it does for women.”
“He is just the sort of rector we need in this parish. He is heir to an estate entailed on him away from five daughters. For Anne’s sake, I am glad such things were not thought necessary in Sir Lewis’ family.” Lady Catherine paused for a moment and went on. “Well, I convinced him to visit the family. There had been some kind of breach, and it was his Christian duty to heal it and marry one of the cousins.”
Dread filled Darcy’s heart. It could not be.
“Well, he did even better than I had commanded,” Lady Catherine said. Without seeing her, Darcy knew she smiled. “His cousins, judging by the one visiting, are impertinent and falsely superior. No, he did much better than marry one of them and brought back a meek and humble wife.”
Darcy let go of the breath he had been holding.
“Miss Charlotte Lucas as was. Daughter of a tradesman who was knighted. Just the sort of woman to know her place. Not too low and not too high. She manages the household and her husband perfectly. Her sister and one of his cousins are now visiting.”
Richard laughed again. “I like the image of her managing her husband. You say relatives are visiting?”
“Yes, one was a particular friend to his wife. A few weeks ago, Mrs. Collins’ father visited. He brought with them a sister and her friend, Miss Bennet. They will remain for several weeks.”
A buzzing sound filled Darcy’s ears.
“What are these young ladies like?” Richard asked.
Darcy wanted to punch his cousin. Whether it was Elizabeth or not, Richard should not take such pleasure in idle flirtation.
“Miss Lucas never speaks. She is in awe of Rosings, of course. Miss Bennet,” Lady Catherine said with a bit of contempt mixed with amusement in her voice, “has far more courage. Wit and impertinence combined. If she knew how to treat her betters, she would be perfectly charming.”
Darcy’s heart began beating loud and fast. He felt as though he were in a ring at Gentleman Jackson’s. Each word his aunt uttered was a new blow to his heart.
“She sounds like an excellent addition to our small party,” Richard said.
“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane. “I heard that you already know the occupants of the Parsonage.”
Darcy turned to face them, hoping he could hide his state. “I met Mr. Collins while visiting a friend in Hertfordshire. I had to good fortune to also know his wife and the family he was visiting.”
“What did you think of Miss Bennet?” she asked. “I cannot put my finger on her. Sometimes I believe she might be mocking me.”
“You?” Richard feigned disbelief. “Never!”
If it was the Miss Bennet which Darcy feared then the correct answer was “always.”
“As you say, there were five Miss Bennets, and they came with a wide variety of personalities.”
“Ah,” Richard nodded. “You must describe her—for Darcy’s sake, of course.”
So help him, if Richard would sit there and envision Elizabeth’s loveliness and fantasize about her and right in front of him!
“She has brown hair,” Lady Catherine answered.
Four of the five daughters had brown hair. Of course, Darcy would describe Elizabeth’s as mahogany. The way sun would shine on it had always fascinated him.
Lady Catherine continued, “She is medium height, I would say. Around Georgiana’s size.”
That could be three of the five. Anticipation built as his aunt continued.
They were down to two, although Darcy knew from the description of her personality there could only be one. His heart beat a staccato rhythm.
“Anne, do you recall what her name was?”
“Elizabeth,” her daughter replied.
Elizabeth, Darcy’s mind repeated. It felt like a cannon blast had sounded, and he fought to stay upright from the shock of it all. Elizabeth, here at Rosings. So very close. All his arguments about why she would not suit began to crumble in the face of her nearness. Lady Catherine had not been repulsed by her. She even seemed to respect and like her. She praised her.
“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane.
“Pardon me, ma’am, I was woolgathering.”
“Hertfordshire was quite unkind to him, we are to understand,” Richard chuckled. “It seems London does not lay claim to all the match-making mamas.”
“They dare to think their daughters worthy of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley? Of the son of Lady Anne Fitzwilliam?”
“You cannot blame a mother for believing her daughter worthy of anything,” Darcy said. “Perhaps if it seems unrealistic it is only a mark of the ferocity of her love for the child.”
Had he just defended Mrs. Bennet?
“What you describe is grasping,” Lady Catherine frowned. “Rank ought to marry like rank, or it is a recipe for distrust and disaster. Your own parents—”
“I will thank you to not mention anything about my parents!”
Darcy fumed. He could not take more of these vacillating emotions. He needed an escape. A fast ride to the Parsonage and banging on the door, grabbing Elizabeth in his arms and kissing her senseless came to mind. He settled for retiring to his chambers.
In the calm and quiet of his room, he acknowledged that his aunt had a considerable point. His mother had been born the daughter of an earl, and she married a country gentleman. Although the Darcys were wealthy, they did not favour Town. She used to tell Darcy of her debutante days of dancing set after set in London. The faraway look in her eyes and sadness in her voice had demonstrated how much she longed for such a time again. Although he had not meant to be cruel, sending her to Scotland was the worst kind of punishment her husband could render.
Their temperaments had been too different. Mr. Darcy was lively and amiable. He welcomed everyone and counted his steward as his closest friend. Lady Anne resented it all. She longed for the aloofness of London. She enjoyed the balls and soirees where she could be above others and did not have to rub shoulders with all ranks. She had been taken from everything she knew and asked to behave differently.
If Darcy married Elizabeth, it would be much the same. Elizabeth was content and happy in her country life. Had she not defended it to him? He did not doubt she could learn, but as he had been forced into playing the role twenty years ago, he long knew there was a difference between learning the steps to the dance and enjoying it. Elizabeth was made for laughter and love. Taking her from the life she cherished would snuff the light from her eyes and he could not live with himself if he did that.
While every fibre of his body longed to race to her door and carry her away, his head cautioned to avoid the Parsonage. Lady Catherine always invited him to look over the books while he visited. He would spend as much time as he could on it. There was no need to call on the Parsonage. None at all. He could conquer this.
Coward his heart whispered to him. All his arguments against Elizabeth were not just vain pretensions but a protective choice. Marrying Elizabeth would set his love aflame, there would be no containing it. No distant and appropriate English marriage for them with separate chambers and separate lives. No, he could not bear to have her away from him for so many hours. Her passionate nature would be just the same.
Then, like his mother’s love for her husband, one day it would end. Or perhaps she could die. Then what would happen to him? He had, at last, found someone to love and love him in return. His heart would be crushed. He would become a shell of a man, unable to go on and see to his duties. Georgiana and Pemberley would be in disarray. Darcys of the future would mock his existence and laugh at his portrait in the gallery. Then, one day, one would find the truth. He was never a real Darcy. And then they would know why he had been the weak link in the family legacy. His blood would find him out.
No, marrying Elizabeth would be the ruin of him.
A few months ago I had to update some material in my books. They had old bios, needed to have my new releases listed etc. At the same time, I had decided to write sequels for The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter and A Sense of Obligation. While updating the books, I decided to group my stand-alone stories which will not be a series, into one cohesive brand. I have seen other authors do similar things. They might have a “series” where each story is a stand-alone sequel to Pride and Prejudice. My imagination leans more towards variations and, who knows, one day I might branch into other Jane Austen books so I did not want to limit myself to only Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen Reimaginings is just that–I’ve reimagined Austen’s classic world just as I always do but the stories remain in Jane Austen’s created universe. Each book stands on its own and can be read in any order. Each book has its own departure point from Austen’s work unlike my other series: When Love Blooms and Pride & Prejudice & Bluestockings.
Additionally, I will be publishing in the Regency Romance genre in future years and those books will all be series. This way a reader can look at my book and immediately know if it is a Jane Austen book or a Regency Romance book.
To officially launch the series, I’ve put together an anthology with all my stand-alone books except my latest release (Mr. Darcy’s Miracle at Longbourn) and my upcoming release (The Secrets of Pemberley). With three novellas, two short story anthologies, and one novel it’s more than half my catalog. Currently, you can download it via Kindle Unlimited or purchase for $3.99!
Download today! Kindle
For 2018, I thought I’d shake things up some and swap out Motivational Monday for Music Monday. I snatched the idea from my good friend and awesomesauce author Leenie Brown. Read all about her amazing books and blog posts here: http://www.leeniebrown.com
In college, I worked at a classical radio station. Antonin Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was one of my all time favorites. Despite currently living in North Carolina (to change soon!) we got a few inches of snow last week and had below freezing temperatures. The result was snow and ice remaining for days and days as there were insufficient snow plows and salt in addition to the lack of heat. It reminded me of when I lived in Alaska, actually! Thankfully, we are now back to normal temps for the area and the snow is melting away, kids are back in school, and roads are returning to normal.
For your listening pleasure, “Winter” from the Four Seasons by Vivaldi.
Lily awoke to raindrops on her head. At first, she remained motionless, allowing the refreshing chill to wash over her and ease the aches of her body and the sting of her wound. As the storm picked up, she attempted to sit, feeling dizzy as she did so.
“Easy now, Miss!” a lady’s voice called from several feet behind her.
Lily struggled to turn to see who approached but moaned in pain at the action. She heard footsteps increase in speed.
“We saw you fall. We will be there in one moment.”
“Try not to move,” a masculine voice said.
Who were they? Lily had never seen others visit the cemetery before. Although at the moment all she cared about was ending the near blinding pain in her head.
“Let’s get you out of the rain,” the man said as he reached her side.
Lily took in his Wellington boots, buckskin breeches, and black overcoat before slowly moving her head up the inches of his frame to see his face. Any sudden movement would end in agony. A kind face and pale blue eyes gazed back at her.
“Do you think she has a concussion?” the woman said.
“Out of the rain first, Sybil.” The man knelt before Lily. “Can you put your arms around my neck? There’s a folly not too far from here we might seek refuge.”
Lily attempted to speak, but no sound came from her. Deciding that nodding would be too painful, she lifted her arms, fighting the dull, heavy feeling of those limbs. Her teeth chattered as cold crept in from the rain. Already sodden, she began to fear she would never be dry or warm again. What would have become of her if not for these angelic strangers?
In one graceful movement, the young man scooped her up and marched toward the folly built by the previous squire. The lady kept pace with them.
“I am Sybil Morgan and this is my brother Peter. We are visiting kin in the area.”
When Lily did not speak, Sybil chatted on. “You must be overwrought from your experience. Never mind speaking to us just now. I only thought introducing ourselves would put your mind at ease.” She paused and beamed at her brother. “Peter is a doctor. He’s going to be the best doctor this country has ever seen!”
Lily glanced up at the man who held her. He looked as though he had just finished his training. They reached the folly, and he set her down gently.
“May I examine you?” he asked with practiced calm.
Again, finding speech too difficult, Lily gave a slight smile and Mr. Morgan began his assessment. His fingers ran over her limbs and ribs, looking for signs of any broken bones.
“It is as I suspected. Other than a few scrapes and bruises any injury was to your head. I imagine you have the devil of a headache.”
Lily attempted to nod and moaned at the sensation.
“Help me with her bonnet,” Peter said to his sister. Together they undid the strings of Lily’s sodden hat. Sybil undid her hairpins and Peter speared his fingers through Lily’s dark brown mane. Locating the tenderest spot, Lily yelped. Peter withdrew his fingers.
“No blood,” he frowned.
Lily furrowed her brow and looked at the siblings, hoping one would explain.
“After a fall like that, I would expect bleeding. That there is none on the outside indicates an internal contusion,” Peter said matter-of-factly. “Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?” He held up three, two on the one hand and one on the other.
Lily opened her mouth, but again, no words came out. She motioned to her throat.
“No voice?” Peter asked.
Lily nodded, wincing at the pain.
“But you understand our words?”
“I do not think she is a mute,” Sybil said. “She wouldn’t try to talk if she were.”
“I agree,” Peter said. “How curious.” He reached for Lily’s chin and turned it gently in his gloved hands. He trailed his fingers over her neck which would have made her blush if she were not so cold.
“Does your throat hurt? Have you had a recent cold?”
Lily shook her head and held up three fingers.
“Three?” Peter said in confusion. “Oh, from a moment ago. Yes, I held up three fingers.”
“Well, we need to get you home Miss. You need dry clothes and a warm fire.”
“How can we manage that if we don’t know who she is?” Sybil asked and twisted her hands. “We could bring her—”
“You know we can’t do that,” Peter said quietly but in a tone that left no room for argument.
Lily thought for a moment. Her quick mind moved slower through the pain and the cold. If only she could write out her name and directions to her home. She held out her palm and shaped her other hand as though she were holding a pen. She went through the motions of writing.
“I’m afraid neither one of us have any writing instruments,” Peter frowned.
Lily’s shoulders sagged for a moment.
“I’m sure someone in town must know who she is. Her clothes are fine enough, she must be local,” Sybil said.
Lily’s eyes widened at the thought of her being carted off to town as they asked every passer-by if they knew her as she looked ragged and a mess. Frantic to avoid being made into such a scene of pity—again—she held up her fingers in the shape of a cross.
“A cross?” Peter and Sybil echoed together.
“You would like us to take you to the church?” Sybil asked. “I do not think anyone will be there at this hour.”
Lily would roll her eyes if she did not think it would cause pain. Sybil was not the most intelligent lady Lily had ever met.
“Perhaps she means the vicar’s house. He would know her at the very least.”
Lily clapped her hands in approval rather than risk moving her head again, earning a smile from Peter and Sybil. Peter looked out at the horizon.
“The rain is easing, and our carriage is not very far.” Again, he scooped her up and carried her as though she weighed nothing.
Sybil took to chattering again. “Our father was a doctor too. Of course, Peter paid much more attention to doctoring than I did. I suppose he would have wanted me to be a nurse like our mother, but I was not made for that kind of concentration.”
By the way the lady walked—nearly skipping—Lily would agree.
“And not to be outdone with displeasing our Papa, Peter took an assignment that had him travel all over England, the Continent, and the furthest corners of the Empire.” Sybil grinned. “He brought me with him, of course.”
“Sybil, let us not air all of our private lives just now,” Peter said with a hint of annoyance.
“Well, I suppose you are correct. It is more fun to release it in small doses and surprise one’s friends. When next we see you, I will tell you a tale from India.”
Lily blinked and wondered if Peter’s worry about a contusion on the brain was indeed correct. They thought they might see her again? They did not even know her name! And now they were laughing and carrying on as though she were one of their dearest friends. And as strange as it was, Lily also found herself yearning for it. She had felt so very alone since her mother died.
Once in the carriage, Peter brought out a blanket from a box beneath the seat and Sybil arranged it around Lily. The trundled the small distance to the parsonage house. Rather than carry her to the door, Peter assisted Lily out of the carriage, and then both siblings helped her walk to the door. They knocked and at first no one answered. Tears were welling in Lily’s eyes as she reached for the knob, determined to see herself inside when the door opened.
“Oh, it’s you,” Daisy said and moved aside. “What on earth did you do to yourself? Hurt your ankle, I guess,” she supplied when Lily did not answer. “Well, put her in the parlor here.”
Daisy pointed in the direction and then yelled for the cook, marching off when no one answered. The siblings brought her to the room and lowered her on the settee.
“You are certain she will be looked after here?” Sybil asked her brother.
“She is with her people,” Peter said. “It is wrong for us to intrude longer. We will call on you tomorrow. Ice for the head,” he said then bowed.
Sybil curtsied and followed her brother out of the room. Lily laid her head back on the pillow, thinking it the strangest but most thrilling day she had ever lived.
In three days’ time, Lily recovered from her fall. At first, heavily bruised and sore, the pain eased with the application of ice and rest. Her voice, as well, mended and returned within a day. Not that Lily had much use for it. Her sisters did little more than pop their heads in and gawk at her. Her father avoided her room entirely. Although disappointed that Peter and Sybil did not visit as promised, Lily determined to leave the house on the third day. She had spent too much of her life in the sick room.
Strolling through the muddied lanes, she approached the cemetery. Closing the gate behind her, she meandered through the paths to her mother’s grave. Laying aside the now destroyed flowers she had last left at the tomb, she lovingly placed a new bouquet.
Hearing the squeak of the gate closing in the distance, Lily lifted her head. A gentleman and a lady entered the grounds of the cemetery. As they came closer, Lily made out the faces of Peter and Sybil. How strange that they frequented the graveyard but were not residents of the area.
They paused for several minutes at a set of stones and Lily allowed them privacy. When they looked up, Sybil caught her eye and tugged on her brother’s coat. Nodding to his sister’s unspoken request, they began walking toward Lily. She met them halfway.
“Good day,” she said with a polite curtsy.
“Miss Shapcote,” Peter said with a bow. “Forgive us for not calling on you. I am happy to see you are well.”
“It is of no matter, but I was sorry to not be able to thank you earlier. I shudder to think what might have become of me if I had not been discovered so quickly.”
“Yes,” Peter agreed.
“Fate must have played a hand in our meeting,” Sybil said with a smile.
Since her mother’s death, Lily had no trust in fate whether it was called destiny, Providence, or God’s handiwork. How could there be any good in her mother being taken from her? Rather than disagreeing with her new acquaintance, Lily gave them a tight smile.
“Will you walk with us, Miss Shapcote?” Peter asked and extended his arm.
Lily took it and allowed him to lead her from the graveyard. They walked in silence for several moments. Perhaps like Lily, they considered the most likely candidate for conversation—that of mourning a loved one—too intrusive. Finally, it occurred to her, that they had learned her surname.
“You discovered my name,” she said. Her voice rose, indicating her apprehension. She dearly hoped her story of falling and rescue in the rain like a drowning kitten was not bandied about the town.
“I hope you do not mind,” Peter said. “We asked our aunt the name of the vicar and were told he is Mr. Shapcote with three daughters and recently lost his wife. Seeing as we met you at the cemetery, it seemed likely you were a daughter and not a servant or friend.”
“Yes, I am his second daughter. Lily.”
“We are pleased to formally meet you,” Sybil said with a gentle smile.
“You seem to know the area well, and yet I do not recall meeting you before,” Lily said and redirected the conversation.
“As my sister told you when we found you, we have spent many years abroad. My father moved here, at his sister’s request, shortly after our mother died over ten years ago. Not to malign your town, Miss Shapcote, but coming from the bustling city of Liverpool, we found it too confining. I took a post to India and Sybil came with me.”
Lily glanced at the couple she walked with. Ten years ago they would have been in their early twenties, and well out of the sphere of people Lily would have known as a child. “Who is your aunt?”
“Mrs. Wilson,” Sybil answered.
Lily’s eyebrows shot up. She had not heard Mrs. Wilson had any kin. The widowed woman was reported to not have left her home for nearly ten years.
“You do well to seem surprised,” Peter said in a melancholy voice. “It seems she has shut herself in after our father died. News of which did not reach us until recently. I fear there is no one to blame for his death but myself.”
“Peter! No, do not say such things!” Sybil let go of her brother’s arm and stood in front of him, hands on her hips and tears in her eyes.
“It is the truth, Sybil. I broke his heart when I left home.”
Lily shrank back, uncertain she should hear such a private conversation.
“You are not to blame for his illness,” Sybil shook a finger at her brother. “As a physician, you should know better. Nor was he so heartbroken that he bothered to read your letters.”
“I suppose you are correct,” Peter said looking at his toes. “He simply returned them unopened.”
Lily stifled a gasp, shocked that a father could do such a thing. Then, she considered the indifference her own had shown her in the recent months and tears welled in her eyes.
“No matter how much he blamed you for Mother’s death, it was not your fault,” Sybil said. “I am sure Miss Shapcote would agree.”
Sybil looked in Lily’s direction. “Oh, my dear!” She rushed to Lily’s side and embraced her. “I am sorry our discussion distressed you so much. Peter is always telling me to quit chattering so much and telling all the world our woes.”
She rubbed her hand soothingly over Lily’s back. She had not had an embrace since her mother died. Her sisters had not shown much emotion at their mother’s passing, and Helena was not the demonstrative sort.
“I apologize for my tears,” Lily said and rummaged for her handkerchief but not finding one.
“Use mine,” Peter said and pressed his into her hand, giving it a squeeze.
“I can sympathize with your troubles,” Lily said when she could speak. “My mother died after caring for me through illness.” Lily sniffed then confessed, “I know my father—” Her voice broke, “My father blames me.”
Blurb: To the world, Fitzwilliam Darcy has it all. He’s the young master to one of the kingdom’s oldest and wealthiest Norman families. Through his mother, he is related to a powerful line of earls. Beneath the perfect façade lies the truth: he’s the product of his mother’s affair and the heir George Darcy never wanted.
At twenty-eight, Darcy has fought hard to put to rest the pains of the past and earn his place in Society. But can he resist the allure of ending his loneliness with the unsuitable woman who has tugged at his heartstrings? Will he tell her his secret and if he does, will she keep it? Or will someone else from the past destroy everything Darcy has worked for?
“You have done this, Anne, and I will never forgive you.”
A large, stern man hovered over Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sobbing mother. Her cries awoke the boy of eight from his nighttime slumber in the small Scottish cottage where he and his mother shared a room. The only light was a lantern in the man’s hand. Outside the open window, the world remained quiet except for the sound of horses snorting and stamping impatiently. A coachman attempted to calm them.
“But do not take him away from me! Do not take my boy!”
Fitzwilliam attempted to hide behind his mother who now sat on his bed.
“You have taken mine!” the man roared. “Have you no words of regret on the passing of your firstborn? My son! My heir! He needed his mother — but no, you were here.”
Lady Anne Darcy remained mute and continued her sobs. Her son peered curiously at the angry man. Mother had another child? He had a brother?
“Do not fret,” the man glared and had no sympathy for the tears he saw. “I kept your affair a secret, and he has my name. He will be accepted.”
“But he will not be loved!” Lady Anne sobbed anew, and she hugged Fitzwilliam.
“You should have thought of that before you played the harlot.”
“If you would allow me to come with you,” she pleaded.
“Absolutely not. You will remain here for your “health.” Now, pass the boy over.”
The man looked at the Fitzwilliam. He looked strange, unfamiliar and in clothing that showed no signs of wear. Mother had always said one day his father would come for him one day, but looking at this man, Fitzwilliam did not want to go.
“No, anything but that please,” Mother cried.
Large hands tried to snatch Fitzwilliam’s arm, and she threw herself in front of the child. He darted to the other side of the room.
“Anne,” George said in a warning tone. “The law is on my side.”
He sounded angry, and Fitzwilliam flinched at the voice, but his mother did not cower. Either Mother was very brave, or perhaps there was no reason to fear violence from the man.
“Allow me to say goodbye,” Mother pleaded.
At last, the towering man relented.
“Fitzwilliam, my darling son,” Mother choked out and embraced him.
He wrapped his hands tightly around her waist and pressed his head to her chest. “Mama, please do not send me away. Do not make me go with that man.” Tears streaked down his face, and he trembled in fear. Other than Cook and the maid, he had seldom known other people. He was even too shy to greet the minister they saw every Sunday.
“He is your father,” Mama said.
The man snorted, and Fitzwilliam lifted his head.
Mother turned her head to face Father. “What else is there to tell him, George?”
“Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he said through gritted teeth. “Am I not lying enough as it is?”
“Please,” Mother asked as her chin trembled and tears fell down her cheeks. “Please.”
“Blast it. You always knew how to get your way,” Father whispered. “I will tell him when he is old enough.”
Fitzwilliam felt relief in his mother’s frame, and she exhaled the breath she had been holding.
Turning back to her son, she ran comforting hands over his hair and face. “Now, you will go with your Papa and learn everything you can about running a big estate. So many people will look up to you and will count on you. Do you think you can do that?”
Fitzwilliam shook his head.
“Our son was never afraid of anything,” Father said sadly. “Did you ever wonder?”
Pain and anguish flooded Mother’s eyes, and she squeezed them shut. Upon opening, determination filled them.
“You can do this! I know you can! Do you remember the name of the estate?”
“Yes! See how smart you are already?”
Fitzwilliam did not care about praise at this moment. Why did he have to leave Mother behind? “When will I see you again?”
“Do not worry about that,” she answered with a quavering voice. “I must remain here and get healthy.”
Mother often said they lived here because of her health. She never seemed ill to him, only sad. However, he would never wish to hurt her. “Must I go?”
“Yes, it is your duty to be the heir of Pemberley.” She pulled him into a crushing hug. “Now, never forget how I love you. No one will ever love you as your mother.”
“Boy, it is time,” Father called.
After another minute, Mother released him and gave him a kiss on each cheek. He reluctantly walked to his father’s side.
“I am pleased to meet you, Father,” he said.
George Darcy harrumphed and left the sparse room. Fitzwilliam cast a parting look at his mother, who tried to smile and waved goodbye. Then, he trailed down the stairs and maintained silence until they were in the carriage. As they pulled away from the cottage which been his only home, Fitzwilliam cried.
“See here, boy,” George said sternly. “You are a Darcy. Darcy men do not cry.”
“I am sorry, Father.”
“And we never apologise for being ourselves. Hold your chin up high.”
“Like this?” his voice warbled as he held back more tears.
Father did not praise him but nodded. After a few moments, Fitzwilliam managed to control his emotions. Seeking his father’s approval, he asked about his new home.
“Mother told me so much about Pemberley. She told me about the horses. I like horses. Do you?”
Father said nothing and only looked out the carriage window. Fitzwilliam tried again.
“I like reading too. Mother says you will teach me how to run Pemberley. I am a very good student.”
“Boy, a Darcy does not chatter. I am not interested in your interests, and you are not interested in mine. Be silent until I speak to you.”
Father’s command was so harsh it rattled off the walls of the carriage, and he followed it with a harsh glare. Fitzwilliam’s lip trembled, and he sank back in his seat, remaining silent until they reached the gigantic house.
“Yes?” the now adult Fitzwilliam Darcy asked without opening his eyes as the images of his long-ago past settled into the recesses of his mind.
“You wished to arise early for your journey to Rosings.”
“Yes, thank you,” Darcy said, dismissing the valet.
The master of Pemberley rose and swung his legs out of bed. As he went through his morning ablutions, he pushed aside the thoughts of his past. The man he had thought was his father was not his father at all, of course. He was the product of an affair, and there was not one drop of Darcy blood in his veins. However, of all their worth he was now master.
His mother had told the truth on one score. She was the only one to ever love him. When his foolish heart brought up the memory of a pair of fine, dancing eyes and free laughter, he closed his eyes and gripped the dresser before him.
“Think with your head, not your heart,” he muttered through grit teeth. The mantra had been pounded into him from the man who raised him, and he would not see all that he worked for to be a true Darcy come to an end through wayward thoughts of the beguiling Elizabeth Bennet.
“Will this be the year, Darcy?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam asked his cousin.
“Pardon?” The question pulled Darcy from his brooding.
“Do not play dumb. You well know Aunt Catherine has wanted you to marry Anne.”
“If I were at all likely to do that, why would I have waited so long?”
“Because you are Fitzwilliam Darcy and brood over everything and take your time with your decisions?”
“It would be ungentlemanly to make Anne wait so long.”
“She has already waited.”
“Her mother has waited. It does not follow that Anne has been left in the dark about my feelings.”
“Ah, I see,” Richard grinned. “This is the first I have heard you ever criticize Aunt Catherine.”
“It is not my fault that I am the son of her long-lost sister,” Darcy murmured.
He had not been allowed to meet his mother’s family until after George Darcy’s death. While many saw Lady Catherine de Bourgh as proud and intrusive, she had a soft spot for her youngest nephew.
“I happened to spend time in an area this autumn with a woman whose matchmaking attempts rival Aunt’s.”
“Never say you were nearly caught in her web. I thought there was not a miss alive who could ensnare you!”
“No, no. I was not her target.”
Darcy grew quiet as he recalled a ball at his friend’s house in Hertfordshire. The woman he was thinking of had five daughters, and she had selected her eldest for his friend. She had loudly extolled to any guest within earshot that she expected a wedding before the New Year.
“A friend then?”
Darcy nodded. He did not meet with Richard more than once or twice a year, and so there was always much to catch up on. Darcy would not reveal his friend’s identity, but it would take little imagination to make the correct guess. He never had made many friends.
“I had to separate him from a young lady.”
“Grasping wench, was she?”
“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not think so bad as that, but she was not the type to fall in love off a short acquaintance. All advantage of the match would be on her side, and she was a very dutiful daughter.”
“And so we return to Anne,” Richard said.
“There certainly were similarities,” Darcy agreed.
“And so this woman was looking for helpless, foolish sots seduced by a pretty face for her penniless but dutiful and complacent daughters. Did she have any sisters?”
Darcy laughed at the picture Richard painted. “Certainly not all complacent.” Elizabeth’s teasing words came to mind.
“Ah,” Richard smirked. “So, was this an act of friendship or self-preservation? If the eldest miss was out of the way, the mother might foist her next upon you!”
Darcy’s heart pounded at the thought. So Richard would not think him affected by the idea, Darcy chose to tease. “You sound jealous,” Darcy raised a brow. “Perhaps you would like an introduction?”
“No, no,” He waved a hand. “Harmless flirtations only for me.”
“Beware. A lady’s imagination is very rapid,” Darcy cautioned.
“I’m no green boy.” Richard then leaned forward, “She will ask about Georgiana. She will ask about your summer.”
Darcy sighed and swiped his brow. Some four years after Darcy had been separated from his mother, she had born a daughter. Once again, George Darcy concealed his wife’s adultery and paid for the child’s care and education. When he died, he named his wife’s son and her nephew as guardian rather than any Darcy relatives.
Darcy had been delighted to finally get to know his sister. She remained at school, but he visited often. When she turned sixteen, he withdrew her from the seminary and put her in the care of a companion who was meant to oversee her transition to womanhood and presentation into society. Instead, disaster struck. Missing her friends and feeling no great affection for her brother, Georgiana readily believed herself in love with an old friend and planned to elope. The merest chance interrupted their plans: Darcy had unexpectedly arrived, and Georgiana confessed all.
Even now, nearly a year later, what hurt Darcy the most was that his sister had not loved him enough to consider his feelings. Of course, that was his sentimental Fitzwilliam side talking. The man George Darcy raised him to be would worry first about the family reputation.
“She has no way of finding out the particulars. If we make it seem uninteresting, she will not care. Georgiana went to the seaside, and I was at a house party.”
“That may work,” Richard agreed. “I only have to be myself to irritate her in some way and distract her attention from you.”
“You have my thanks for that,” Darcy chuckled. Too soon, the lightness faded, and heavy loneliness weighed on him again.
“You should marry,” Richard said suddenly.
“What?” Darcy asked. Surely he hallucinated.
“A wife would ease your burdens. If you marry well, she might make you laugh and ease those worry lines on your brow. She could help with your sister since you will not allow my mother or Aunt to take her—”
“Georgiana is my responsibility,” Darcy said firmly.
Richard held his hands up again. “I only wished to express my concern.”
“Of course,” Darcy said and exhaled. Never having felt he was a true Darcy, he neither fit in with the Fitzwilliams. His insecurity over acceptance often made him push loved ones away rather than rely on anyone else. “Thank you.”
Richard stared at him for a moment and opened his mouth but then shook his head and closed it again. Whatever he was going to say, he had thought better of uttering. He turned his head to look out the window, and Darcy did likewise.
“Here we are again,” Richard sighed. “The palings of Rosings.”
“Another year older,” Darcy said. “Another year wiser.” Another year lonelier, he added to himself.