I am so excited to bring the companion story of Sufficient Encouragement! It is part retelling and part sequel as the story coincides with the timeline of Darcy and Elizabeth’s courtship and also extends past the epilogue of their story.
Here’s the blurb:
Sometimes love needs a second chance.
Told against the backdrop of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s timeless love story, Renewed Hope continues the story of Sufficient Encouragement through the eyes of three couples experiencing love for the second time.
James Fitzwilliam may be the Viscount Arlington, but ten years ago he walked away from money and prestige to marry a servant girl against his family’s wishes. Unexpectedly, she died, and he has spent the time since trying to forget his loss. At last determining to marry with no hope of love, he settles on his cousin Anne de Bourgh – the very lady he cast aside years earlier.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam is a celebrated war hero and has loved only one woman. Her plot to use him to entrap his brother, the heir of a wealthy and powerful earl, crushed him in ways even battle could not. Years have passed, but the wounds remain. He knows better than to trust a lady again but is defenseless against the captivating Lady Belinda Crenshaw. Instead of proving faithless, she proves constant to the naval captain she loved who died at sea mere months ago. As Richard attempts to convince Lady Belinda to love again, his plans for retirement disappear.
Caroline Bingley has not always been mercenary and title grasping. Once upon a time, she was a naïve girl who fancied herself in love with a shopkeeper’s son with poor prospects due to the colour of his skin. When war broke out with France, he chose to prove his patriotism just as Caroline recognized her family would grieve over the match. Breaking the engagement nearly destroyed them both. Meeting Jacob Truman again could be the answer to all their dreams or their worst nightmares.
Volume One: Before Darcy and Elizabeth Wed
Chapter One: Awakening
James Fitzwilliam, Viscount Arlington and eldest son of the fourth Earl of Matlock, almost leaped out of his seat when the crowd at the King’s Theatre applauded. His eyes flew open, and the undeniable truth descended. He had fallen asleep!
“Are you ill, Arlie?” The blonde beauty next to him asked. “You fell asleep again.”
“Perfectly well,” he said. Only his companion was no longer listening as a tall, handsome man entered his box. Arlington recognized the gentleman, Lucas Hopewell, an acquaintance of his who had recently inherited a vast fortune. Sophia had eyes only for the younger—and seemingly more virile—man. Blast it if he was going to lose another mistress.
“Come, Miss Smith, you had claimed to not feel well,” Arlington said as Hopewell approached.
“If you are feeling unwell, then I will not delay you. It would be a crime to deny the stage your talent and beauty.” Arlington waited for the normal rage to emerge, but it did not come. He simply was not that interested in Sophia…or the last several mistresses he had.
“Oh, you are too kind,” she said with fluttering eyes. “I am in perfect health. It was his lordship,” she attempted to whisper, “that is fighting a cold, I believe.”
Not a cold, utter exhaustion at life. Boredom. And fatigue…it was as though his four and thirty years finally caught up with him after a decade of raucous living.
“Then I will bid you good night. Unless that is…Arlington would allow me the honour of escorting Miss Smith home.”
Arlington considered the situation for a moment. He had no exclusivity rights with Sophia. If Hopewell wanted a bite of the unimaginative, ignorant aspiring actress he discovered in a milliner’s shop, then he was welcome to her. On Sophia’s side, he could little blame her.
Hopewell had no title but was an independent man of means. Arlington had learned ten years ago there seemed to be only one lady who could be interested in him despite wealth and titles. He had thought himself unable to give up his allowance and marry her as he wished. How did he repay her love and devotion? By having Claire banished to a damp cottage on the coast of Kent and dying of a fever. Now, he lived off investments of his own—refusing Matlock money—and it certainly was insufficient to buy women like Sophia the jewels they craved.
“As you please,” Arlington replied at last and said his goodbyes.
As he left the opera house, he noted the expression of interest of many of the ladies of Quality looking for lovers. They might condemn Sophia, but they traded their virtue for pleasure and money just as much as Sophia and her kind did. Then, there was the sort his brother had briefly been engaged to. They threw themselves at him for his name. Faithless creatures, the lot of them! No amount of begging from his mother to meet Lady Belinda Crenshaw—much accomplished, divinely beautiful and with twenty thousand pounds—could convince him to make a marry any more than he would consent to marry his cousin Anne. Their arranged marriage was the beginnings of all his problems.
The next day, Arlington met with his solicitor.
“How attached are you to these investments in the North?” the graying man said as he patted a stack of papers.
Arlington’s lips twitched. “I didn’t know one could be sentimentally attached to factories. Are they in trouble?”
“There’s quite a bit of unrest in Nottinghamshire. Out of work farmers upset over the technology in the factories.”
“My investments are in Lancashire. Surely they are safe.” Truthfully, Arlington would rather do anything but give up those factories. The one near Bolton, Lancashire was the first investment he made, shortly before Claire died. It marked the beginning of his independence from his family. “What are a few unhappy farmers?”
“You would do well to recall your history lessons. Small rabbles always find a king, and it’s said this one has one. You’re too young to recall the problems after ‘45.”
“So are you,” Arlington smirked. His father hadn’t even been alive when the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden. “A group of poor farmers is not the same as having the support of Scottish lords and chieftains.”
“We were lax with the Americans but France changed everything, even your father agreed there. You know how fast we put down the rebellion in Ireland.”
“Still, they’re Englishmen through and through.”
“Aye, but there are Jacobins among them. They were all Englishmen in the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the slaughter.”
Arlington stood. He had no time for history lessons. “I think we’re done today, Bridges. I’ll be ‘round near Christmas to go over the quarterly statements again.” He was halfway out the door when he recalled an important change he needed to make. “Oh, and send no more gifts to Miss Smith.”
Mr. Bridges took up a pen and made the note. “And who shall they be sent to instead?”
“No one,” Arlington said and left the room.
He had chosen to not take a new mistress after Sophia left him for Hopewell. There were plenty of willing ladies, but none of them attracted him. Mere beauty bored him and even reputations of inventiveness in the bed chamber no longer thrilled him. He never meant to marry and the ladies his mother thrust in front of him still held no appeal. He would take his time and discover some gem, unnoticed by other men. He did not expect constancy from a female, but some companionship of shared interests and enjoyable conversation would not be remiss for a change.
Inside a hackney coach, Arlington ran his fingers through his graying curls. There was no denying he was getting older. The responsibilities he always ran from, were now unavoidable. His father was approaching seventy, and far too soon, Arlington would become Lord Fitzwilliam. Already the Earl was less active in Parliament, when he once stood as a true statesman, like a beacon before other men. Arlington had disagreements with his father and mother over their personal understanding of classes in society but had always admired his father’s politics. He might not have the stuff in him to be an earl, a steward to the estate and title and beget heirs, but he did revel in his political prowess. His father had groomed him well in all aspects, but the cunningness and shrewdness required for politics appealed to him in a way the straightforward and plain talk of a master to a tenant never did.
Put simply, Arlington had always enjoyed the game. As a youth, he was a talented athlete and skilled in chess and debate. After drifting for three years after Claire’s death, his lordship suggested that Arlington run as MP for West Riding and with his father’s staunch support gained an easy victory. Immediately, he showed great skill in matters of diplomacy and thought. He loved nothing more than to intellectually best an opponent and out argue him. With women, he had always enjoyed the chase and the conquest more than the fruits of his labor. So, why now that he was free of Sophia could he not consider a new lady to seduce? And why did he feel entirely dead inside at the notion of taking as mistress one of the ladies he already passed over several times before?
While sitting at his table eating a late breakfast, Lord Arlington read Darcy’s letter. He had met Darcy’s friend, Mr. Bingley, a time or two but the man seemed too astonished to speak in his presence. Darcy’s distaste for Arlington was well-known to him. If Darcy came alone, Arlington was sure the errand would be to complain about being left to go to the Crenshaws’ in his place. Arriving with a friend was unusual and left Arlington intrigued. Bingley had factories in Yorkshire, perhaps a business venture was the purpose of their visit.
Darcy and Bingley arrived promptly at the requested time. Accustomed to Darcy’s look of displeasure, he had not expected to see his cousin’s anxious looks or haggard appearance. Bingley looked even more nervous than usual in his presence.
“Gentlemen, be seated,” Arlington said. “How have you been?”
“Tolerably well,” Darcy said succinctly and obviously lying. His right eye always twitched when he lied. Bingley remained silent. If Arlington was less affable, he would be offended at this odd pair that did not extend the usual civility back to him. Silence consumed them, making Arlington want to leap on his chair and shout.
“I have no complaints, other than the aria last night seemed slightly off.” Baiting his cousin’s displeasure would be better than this infernal silence.
Darcy raised an eyebrow. “You have been enjoying much of the opera, I hear.”
It seemed his bait would go untaken if that’s all Darcy had to say. Sighing, Arlington crossed his legs. Darcy would have it his way and get on with the straight talk. “Darcy, you requested this meeting, and I can see you have no interest in empty chat. Say your piece.”
“As you may know, I have been in Hertfordshire with Bingley for several weeks. We have left for only a few days and when I return I mean to take Georgiana with me.”
Arlington mutely nodded his head, his mind wandering. What on earth could attract Darcy in Hertfordshire enough to return? Just as Arlington was envisioning a buxom farm girl that would certainly draw his notice if not Darcy’s his reverie was interrupted.
“I want you to come with me.”
Just like Darcy! He did not ask, he simply stated his preference. “And I would like to visit Spain but we cannot always have our desires, Cousin,” Arlington said and winked at Bingley’s smile.
“There is the matter of Georgiana’s safety. Wickham is quartered in the neighborhood of Bingley’s house, and I would appreciate an additional chaperone for her.”
“Why take her there at all? What can draw you to a country town that London does not have?” When Darcy did not answer, Arlington looked at Bingley for a clue, but the young man remained silent. “Did you not hire a new companion?”
“She cannot leave with us.”
“With your dislike of company and her fear of you, I hardly understand why you would need additional company for her. Bingley has a sister doesn’t he?”
The man in question only nodded his head.
“Miss Bingley cannot offer the supervision and companionship that a girl of Georgiana’s disposition needs.”
“Then ask her other guardian,” Arlington said. Why should he be inconvenienced?
“He has only just returned and will be busy with matters for some time. In any case, she has always been fond of you. As little as I can understand it.”
Curse Darcy for bringing up Georgiana’s affection. He had disappointed so many people in his life, it touched his heart that she still revered him with awe-like fascination. If he could, he would keep her an innocent young girl forever. But again, that would all be for a selfish motivation.
“I will think about it, but you said Bingley had a request of me?”
Bingley turned red but finally met Arlington’s eyes. “Forgive the impertinence, but I believe you have expertise in these matters.”
“I would not think that I could have more experience than yourself.”
Bingley blushed again. “I—I cannot say I am an innocent, but your reputation exceeds my own…” he trailed off as at last he noticed the surprise on Arlington’s face. His eyes darted to Darcy’s who wore a small smile at his friend’s embarrassment.
“I had thought you were speaking of a business venture, but it seems you come on a personal request?”
“Bingley needs assistance in ascertaining the desires of a lady,” Darcy translated.
Arlington looked his guest over. “You are handsome and rich enough. She desires you.” He stood to refill his port.
“Her mother certainly desires him for a husband, but the lady is very discreet in her opinions.”
“A husband! Why would you talk to me about courtship? I had thought you meant advice on arranging a mistress or liaison.”
Bingley stood to his feet. “I would never disrespect Miss Bennet so!”
Arlington returned to his seat and shook his head. “Ah, so you think you love her?”
“I—I care for her.”
The look on his face belied his true feelings. He loved her but either was too anxious to admit the feeling to a man nearly a stranger and a peer or did not wish to declare his feelings before knowing hers. The latter was likely the reason he was in Arlington’s room. “You wish to save yourself the embarrassment of requesting her hand before knowing her sentiments?”
Bingley nodded his head, and Darcy’s attention was also focused on Arlington. “Each lady is different, but if her mother is such a promoter of the match, then it is more difficult to decipher. Has she taken notice of Darcy?”
Darcy quickly answered, “Certainly not.”
“Well, I can hardly comment without meeting her.” He took a sip of his port. “It seems you get your wish, after all, cousin. I will come to Hertfordshire with you although I do not believe that what draws you back is the concern for your friend attaching himself to a fortune hunter.” Seeing Bingley’s look of anger, he added, “I mean no offense. I am sure she is as good as any of them.” His words did little to change the expression on Bingley’s face, but then Arlington had not cared to be charming. “How was dinner with my parents, Darcy? And latest debutante being thrown at you?”
“It was a dinner. We ate. There was conversation.” Clearly annoyed, Darcy stood. “Thank you, for your assistance. I should return to Georgiana and begin preparations for our travels.”
“Yes, thank you,” Bingley followed suit.
After the men had left, Arlington studied his wine glass. He had no reason to stay in London and no real reason to leave either. Again, he felt adrift in life. What use was there in the endless seas of balls, dinners, engagements, and ladies? Once, he had planned on really living life and being of use. He wondered when it was that after turning his back on the Matlock fortune, he had become the typical dissipated heir in waiting. Had Claire lived, he would have had purpose and meaning. He would have been a husband and father. There would have been a reason to wake each morning and go about his business. A legacy to leave, children to instruct. As it was, no one relied on him or expected better of him, save one. Having committed to leaving with his cousin out of little more than curiosity, he would do his duty by Georgiana. Especially if Darcy was foolish enough to bring her within one hundred miles of Wickham.
Plans were made for Arlington to accompany the Bingleys and Darcys. As such, he was surprised to receive a message from Darcy two days before the intended departure date.
Bingley has determined he must go to Hertfordshire early as there will now be additional guests. He has requested I join him when he leaves on the morrow. You know I am going for his sake. I entrust Georgiana to your care.
Arlington chuckled as he read the missive. Everyone knew a housekeeper that oversaw the arrangement of things before Bingley resided in the house could certainly handle two additional guests. Bingley was eager to see his Miss Bennet, and it was plain to see Darcy had an equally fervent desire to return. He hoped his cousin was not lusting over a woman that seemed spoken for. He knew Darcy to be too loyal to act on his desires and harm a friend, but the heart wanted what it wanted.
At the appointed hour, he arrived at Darcy House to ride with Georgiana to Hertfordshire. He kept no coach, but Darcy kept one. He had gone in Bingley’s chaise. Miss Bingley and the Hursts would go in their own. Or so Arlington had thought. He was surprised, however, when he was taken to the drawing room and found a young lady seated with Georgiana.
“James,” Georgie said nervously and introduced the other lady as Miss Bingley.
“Dear Georgiana was so gracious as to invite me to ride with her. She desired female companionship and Mr. Hurst’s carriage makes three crowded.”
“I see,” he replied. He did see. She had heard that a viscount would be accompanying Georgiana and hoped to insinuate herself in the situation.
“I am sure your carriage would be even larger, but there is no need for us to have that much space.”
She stood and selected a few grapes from the refreshments laid out on a table across the room. Arlington recognized the activity for what it undoubtedly was. Her figure was displayed to its best advantage when walking, and she meant for him to notice. Attempting to not roll his eyes, he instead noticed Georgiana’s pale face. “I actually have no carriage. Did you eat, Georgie?”
“No. I never eat before a journey.”
“Then we had better leave as soon as possible so you may refresh yourself when we arrive.”
“Have no fear of that,” Miss Bingley said returning to her friend. “The housekeeper has specific instructions about the meal and rooms. Your brother was so good to go ahead and make sure everything was to your liking.”
The butler then arrived telling them the carriage was ready. Arlington took a deep breath, quelling the strength to bear with such a grasping lady for the next several hours. As they gathered in the hall, Georgiana spoke with the butler about something and Miss Bingley whispered to him.
“I understand you have not traveled much with her before. She often feels ill when not facing the road. If you will forgive the impertinence of not allowing your lordship to choose the better seat, I think Georgiana should take it.”
Her words startled him. He had planned on giving the ladies the better seat in any case, but her obvious concern for Georgiana was unexpected. Her eyes continued to watch her younger friend.
“And perhaps we ought to stop more often than usual.”
Arlington nodded his head but inwardly he was assessing the lady at his elbow. She came from trade but must be worth nearly as much as Georgiana. She was past the first bloom of youth but still handsome. Her dress suggested she hoped to look of the first circles of Society. A gentleman of Darcy’s family legacy or a title such as his own would be a tempting catch for her.
Still, she might have married earlier in life. Darcy seemed to believe she always hung on his arm, but this lady was too intelligent to hang every hope on marrying her brother’s friend when he had maintained indifference for so many years. He, however, was fresh meat and yet she did not seem to be circling too much to prey. In fact, she seemed resigned. He had no doubt she would offer the usual compliments to a peer and attempt to gain his notice, but she did not seem to have real feeling behind it. She only played a part, as much as he did.
Before he could allow the startling duel revelations too much time in his head, he called Georgiana away from the servant and escorted the ladies to the carriage. In a matter of minutes, they were on their way. Georgiana soon squeezed her eyes shut to stave off a headache. At first, Miss Bingley was silent, but at last, she spoke quietly.
“I will not pretend to you, Lord Arlington, that I am happy to be going back to Hertfordshire.”
“Will you return to London after Christmas?” He only intended to stay for a few weeks and imagined few things worse than being trapped in a country house for the winter.
Miss Bingley sighed. “I suppose that is up to Charles. Usually, he takes my feelings into consideration so much but…” she trailed off and motioned at the window, “here we are.”
“Here we are,” he vacantly replied. And then, simply because he was bored, he smiled his most charming smile. “How shall you spend your time, Miss Bingley? Do you need recommendations for activity?”
Her eyes grew large as she understood his deeper meaning. Of course, he would not actually proposition her, she was a lady and his host’s sister. It was merely fun to tease. He waited for the shock to give way to pleasure as was usually the case but any feeling soon left her eyes. She returned to her falsely blank exterior and cleared her throat.
“Will you stay until Parliament returns or will you spend the Holidays with the earl and countess?”
Arlington shuddered. He would rather fall off a cliff than spend holidays at the family estate. “I have no fixed plans. I will see what my business determines.”
“Men are fortunate. They can travel as they wish.”
“Indeed,” he said but considered his brother who now resided with their parents and would be spending Christmas in Yorkshire. Richard had been a soldier for most of his life. The only travel he had done was to the Spanish Peninsula.
They said little else and their journey was without incident. At the first stop, they encountered Mr. And Mrs. Hurst. The other lady seemed to bring out more liveliness in Miss Bingley. Georgiana continued to feel unwell, but he could see she did not appreciate too much attention. He chose to take her at her word when she declared she was well. Displaying his trust, he was rewarded later when she admitted she was fatigued and thought returning to the road would be best rather than prolong the journey. After that, the other stops had a better air of efficiency about them.
At last, they arrived at Netherfield. It was a large, handsome building. Darcy and Bingley greeted them on the steps.
“Georgiana, are you well?” Darcy asked when he took in her pale face. He cast an accusing eye on Arlington.
“I only need refreshment and rest. James took excellent care of me,” she said, and Darcy visibly relaxed.
“Of course,” he said succinctly and led her inside.
Miss Bingley came to life in a flurry of activity as the hostess and Arlington never would have imagined she had no desire to be there. He saw too as the act she put forward included flattery to Darcy and coddling of Georgiana.
“When will we meet the Miss Bennets?” Georgiana asked as they all sat in the drawing room eating a cold luncheon.
“I can hardly imagine why you would be in such a rush to meet them. Whatever your brother must have told you of them must hardly be complimentary,” Miss Bingley said leaving Arlington to conclude she did not approve of her brother’s attachment.
“Indeed! The whole family is noisy and loud! Such uncivilized manners!” Mrs. Hurst chimed in.
“Do you think two days’ time ought to be sufficient, Darcy?” Bingley ignored his sisters’ remarks like the affable chap he was.
“You can hardly call on them on Sunday,” he said.
“Why not have the ladies here?” Arlington suggested. If he was meant to determine a lady’s feelings, seeing her reaction to the possibility of her future home would be beneficial.
“A splendid idea, Arlington!” Bingley seemed to find his voice around him now that it involved an intention to see Miss Bennet and tell her the longings of his heart…eventually. “Caroline, will you write them at once? I recall they may need advance notice to arrange matters with their carriage.”
“Yes, with the horses on the farm,” Caroline sneered.
Arlington crossed his legs. Who was this woman with so many faces? Which was the true her and why was she so fascinating? Disliking the train of his thoughts, he stood and quickly excused himself. In the safety of his room, he wondered if madness over Claire’s death was finally consuming him. Why should the harpy interest him? He knew little of her but that she dogged Darcy’s steps for half a decade.