Let’s start 2021 with a new story!
Matching Pemberley is the first book in the Matchmakers and Wallflowers series. It’s also a gender swap for Darcy and Elizabeth. In this story, the Bennets are related to the Fitzwilliams, de Bourghs, and the Pemberley Darcys. William Darcy is from trade but aspiring to the place of landed gentleman. He might have a claim to Pemberley itself.
This is a very different start for me, so please let me know how it sits with you! The story is completely written and is in the editing phase. I will post three times a week.
William Darcy shifted the weight on his feet as his eyes scanned the crowded ballroom. He did not belong here. No matter how many times he came at the behest of his friends, Charles Bingley and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, he could never be one of the people carelessly dancing the night away with more wealth spent on one slipper than his parents had seen their entire lives.
Oh, Darcy did not mind the raised brows or the sideways glances. He cared too little for their opinion to let their pride bother him. No, what struck Darcy the most about why he should not be at soirees and balls was that he would much rather prefer to be in his dusty bookshop, pouring over old documents. A few years ago, he was doing just that when he met Fitzwilliam. Darcy was now involved as a silent partner for a factory in Derbyshire with both Bingley and Fitzwilliam. His sudden wealth made Darcy more popular than he had ever been before.
“Darcy, you cannot glare at the crowd all night long,” Fitzwilliam said from Darcy’s side.
“My mother would have my hide.”
Darcy sighed. Fitzwilliam was the younger son of an earl. However, the countess was a kind-hearted woman, and Darcy did not wish to grieve her. “I will happily dance with the Countess.”
“I regret to say her card is already full. My father barely had time to get a spot on it.” Fitzwilliam shook his head and grinned. “You might dance with one of my cousins.”
“What would I say to a stranger? She will want to know how deep my pockets are, and I will only wish to observe the importance of…” Darcy trailed off as he perceived Fitzwilliam tired of the subject.
“Nevertheless, it must be done. No guest of mine can appear so ungentlemanly, lest Mother rescind all future invitations.”
“That is exactly what I would prefer.”
“And yet not what you need,” Fitzwilliam said. “Or do you no longer wish to stake a claim to Pemberley? You will need the support of more than Bingley and me.”
Darcy sighed. He had grown up hearing how he was the rightful heir to a wealthy estate. His parents never had the proof, but through tireless research, Darcy had finally found it. Of course, documentation was not the only thing necessary to acquire the right to call himself the Master of Pemberley. For himself, Darcy did not care about wealth. However, he had promised his parents to pursue their legacy. He needed to appear at Fitzwilliam’s events to enlarge his acquaintance amongst the peerage. “I will need an introduction,” he said.
“Certainly. Point out the lady, and I can perform the office. Might I suggest the group of wallflowers? A bluestocking might put you at ease.”
Darcy gulped. A female of any variety was unlikely to put him at ease — even if they did not mind him talking about his obsession with history.
“If you do not select a lady, I shall be forced to choose for you,” Fitzwilliam said with raised brows. His eyes seemed to hold a threat.
“A lady in green will do,” he hastily answered.
“A lady in green.” Fitzwilliam chuckled as he steered Darcy toward a flock of ladies. A few looked up with hope in their eyes. At the same time, Fitzwilliam glanced at their gowns and clucked disapprovingly, pulling Darcy along.
Finally, they stood before a lady who appeared to hide behind her fan. She did not notice them. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat. There was movement behind the fan, but it was not lowered. Finally, Fitzwilliam glanced at a neighbouring lady. She shrugged then spoke to Darcy’s intended dance partner.
“Anne put down your book. Our cousin wishes to speak with you.”
“Which cousin?” The woman, Darcy presumed her name was Anne, asked. There was another movement behind the fan and then a slight rustle of paper.
“Our favourite cousin, Richard.”
“The school days of me being Gullible Nancy are long gone, Elizabeth. Richard would know better than to try and dance with me.”
“Pardon me, Anne,” Fitzwilliam said, “but I should like to introduce you to a friend of mine.”
“Oh!” Miss de Bourgh cried. In her rush to put down her fan, her book fell.
Darcy and Miss Elizabeth both bent to retrieve the items. Miss Elizabeth’s eyes met his, and he was momentarily caught in their beauty. Here was his favourite shade of green. Why had Fitzwilliam not suggested her? Their hands grazed as Darcy returned Miss de Bourgh’s belongings.
When Darcy had straightened and pulled his gaze from the dazzling Miss Elizabeth, who was momentarily distracted by another lady speaking with her, Fitzwilliam continued with the introduction. Then, all eyes were upon Darcy. “I — I — I would be most honoured if you would dance a set with me, Miss de Bourgh.”
“Me?” The lady squeaked.
“Indeed.” Darcy nodded and hoped he looked earnest.
The lady sighed and looked at her book before returning her eyes to Darcy’s gaze. “If I must.” She shrugged.
Glancing at Fitzwilliam for help, he merely copied the lady’s movements.
“Of course, you can refuse,” Miss Elizabeth said. “However, as a friend of Richard, he must be a very honourable man. Surely you can find something to converse about.”
Miss de Bourgh’s eyes bounced between Darcy, and her book before she gave a slight nod and stood. She placed her hand in Darcy’s.
Leading her to the dance floor, he hoped to hide the tremble in his knees. The lady stood opposite him and could not look more disinterested. This would hardly help his position at Fitzwilliam’s ball. Pushing aside a thousand observations about the historic building and wonderings about long ago battles and dinners, he focused on his dancing partner. She had been enthralled in a book, and he had interrupted her.
“I believe you were reading when I approached,” he said to her as they waited for their turn.
“Was it very interesting?”
“Far more interesting than a ball.” Belatedly, Miss de Bourgh seemed to have realized what she said, for she gasped and blushed. “I should not have said that.”
“Why should you not state your honest opinion?”
“It is generally considered improper, sir.”
“It would be rude to say to the host, but your feelings are perfectly safe with me.” Darcy gave a reassuring smile.
“It is nothing against my aunt or uncle, of course,” she rushed out.
“Of course.” He nodded. “For the record, I rather agree with you.”
Darcy stiffened. Did he appear illiterate? She must know of his low birth.
“Blast, I have done it again,” Miss de Bourgh muttered. “And again! Pardon me. I did not mean that I thought you could not read.” She cleared her throat. “I only meant that you appeared more athletic than studious.”
A genuine smile formed on Darcy’s lips as he understood his partner’s social unease. Fitzwilliam had been correct; she was exactly the sort to put him at ease. “I am surprised to hear you think that. I have often been teased for my scholarly interest. However, you did not fully answer my question. What book was it which captured your attention so thoroughly?”
Miss de Bourgh’s eyes sparkled. “It was Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The third volume, to be precise.”
“I applaud your selection, Miss de Bourgh.” Darcy smiled as he reached for her hand. “We seem to have a similar interest in history.”
The steps of the dance separated them for a few moments. Now, Darcy felt he was on sure footing. He could easily speak about his passion. What luck to find a lady who paved the way for him. If only all his partners would be so intelligent.
“May I inquire what aspect of history interests you the most?” Miss de Bourgh asked when reunited.
“I am an ardent admirer of British history. However, I confess most of my research has been about King Arthur, and if there is any truth to the legends.”
As the dance continued, they compared their opinions about various historical events and historical writings. It occurred to Darcy that part of proper ballroom behaviour dictated that he call on his dance partners the following morning. Speaking with Miss de Bourgh again would bring no difficulty. He enjoyed the ease in which they established a friendship.
The dance came to an end, and Darcy returned his partner to her seat.
“Oh, Elizabeth!” Miss de Bourgh gushed to her sister. “Now, I see why others enjoy balls so much.”
“I take it you had an enjoyable time, then?” Miss Elizabeth laughed.
Miss de Bourgh nodded her head, her smile rendering her face nearly luminous.
Miss Elizabeth mirrored her sister’s smile. “Perhaps you might introduce me then as Richard neglected to do so before, and I did not even catch your partner’s name.”
“Oh, yes. How silly of me to forget.” Miss de Bourgh happily performed the introduction. “This is my cousin, Lady Elizabeth Bennet.”
“You look surprised, Mr. Darcy,” Lady Elizabeth said with an arched brow.
“I confess that I believed you to be sisters. You have similar looks and called Mr. Fitzwilliam your cousin.”
Miss de Bourgh grinned. “Our mothers were sisters; perhaps that explains it.”
Darcy wondered why Lady Elizabeth’s name seemed so familiar to him. He was sure he had never even laid eyes upon her before. He would have remembered a woman as beautiful as she. It was highly unusual she was sitting among the wallflowers. She caught him staring at her and cleared her throat.
“I would be honoured if you would dance with me, Lady Elizabeth,” Darcy asked as dread filled his stomach. What would he have to say to such a beautiful lady and the daughter of a peer?
“I regret to say my card is entirely full.” She said coldly and looked past him as a gentleman arrived to escort her to the dance floor. “I was pleased to meet you, Mr. Darcy.”
She had said she was pleased, but her tone and demeanour said otherwise. She swiftly left Darcy and Miss de Bourgh’s side without a glance. Even worse, Darcy saw her card as she walked off. There were only two names scrawled on it.
Familiar shame burned in Darcy as Miss de Bourgh set about to introduce him to other ladies nearby. He would never be good enough for this set. He chose to not dance again immediately. Instead, he retrieved punch for several ladies. While he sipped, he could not help but notice it tasted like ashes in his mouth.
After a meaningful glance from Fitzwilliam, Darcy knew he could not put off his duty anymore. He arranged sets for the rest of the evening. Each lady was courteous, if nervous. All of them allowed him to lead the conversation. A few also knew their history well; others feigned interest. Overall, the evening went far better than he had anticipated, except for the encounter with Lady Elizabeth.
The ball drew to a close, and Charles Bingley came to his side. “I have been looking for you in this crush all night. Every time I saw you, you were on the dance floor and therefore unapproachable. What made you so sociable this evening?”
“Fitzwilliam threatened his mother would be displeased if I did not dance.”
Bingley made a face. “Her ire is something to behold.”
“I thought I saw you speaking with Lord Collins’s sister.”
“Surely not!” Darcy cried. George Collins, the new Lord Collins, was his rival for Pemberley. An acquaintance with his sister would be a mistake.
“Perhaps I should clarify that it was his sister-in-law. You would not have known they were related by their difference in surname alone.”
A boulder grew in Darcy’s gut. He fervently prayed she was not a lady he would be required to call upon. “Her name?”
“Lady Elizabeth Bennet.”
Darcy gave Bingley a nervous smile and assured him they only spoke briefly. The friends then parted, allowing Darcy time to think about the evening on his way home. He ought to have been relieved that he did not have to see Lady Elizabeth again. However, annoyance flared once more as he recalled the way she looked past him while they spoke. It was the way the nobility had looked at him all of his life. She, more than anyone, would have cause to believe he did not deserve to be in the same room as her.
Even as he dismissed her attitude, he could not help but wonder why a woman as beautiful as she had so few dance partners. Perhaps her demeanour deterred the other gentlemen. Darcy shook his head as he climbed into bed and blew out the candle. That was only wishful thinking. The daughter of an earl could have anyone, and there would always be men desiring her company. Evidently, she believed most of them were too far beneath her notice. As Darcy drifted to sleep, he clung to the thought that while he might have been rejected, he was one of many.