You can read other Friday Features here: The Secrets of Pemberley / Mr. Darcy’s Miracle at Longbourn / The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter Second Edition / Sufficient Encouragement/ Mr. Darcy’s Kindness / Once Upon a December / Love Lasts Longest / A Sense of Obligation / No Cause to Repine / Undone Business / Letters from the Heart / The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter
What if Elizabeth had an older brother?
What if he was best friends with Fitzwilliam Darcy?
The genesis of this story began way back on my old blog from 2013, The Darcy Obsession. It was originally titled The Bennet Brother. Much of Pledged comes directly from the few chapters I had on that. However, over the years, I realized that I had a few other abandoned stories that kept dealing with a similar theme. So, I mashed them together in what I affectionately call a Frankenstein story. Pieces from this and that. Also, those original chapters were ROUGH! I sure learned a lot in the ensuing years.
The publication of Pledged, though, is categorized as pre-MS in my head. We had just moved (again) and I decided to pull this story out. I realized that it was really a story in three parts, but each one had it’s own satisfying conclusion. I decided that I would rapid release them and prove that I could finish a series. My kids were in summer camp and I was free to write my days away. I was feeling better than I had in years. I was also experimenting with dictation using a recorder and some computer software. Some writers swear by it and say it allows them to write much, much faster. Honestly, it did seem to work for me! However, it was definitely awkward to be speaking scenes rather than writing them at first. Closing my eyes helped.
Pledged begins with a younger Darcy and Elizabeth meeting via her older brother. Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are her half sisters through her father’s second marriage. Sam, Jane, and Lizzy were from the first marriage. Charles Bingley (and his sisters) and Richard Fitzwilliam are also friends with Will Darcy and Sam Bennet. Oh, and Wickham is lurking about as the elder Mr. Darcy is still alive. The group of young people get to know one another over a few days and a few outings. It is all about young summer love and a Regency version of the brother’s best friend trope.
Will and Lizzy’s love is just beginning but what will happen to them during a planned summer trip among the young men? Of course, not everyone is on board with their relationship! There are some arguments against them from surprising areas! Plenty of other conflict is also set up for the rest of the series.
Overall, I really enjoyed writing this novella. My husband and I had a similar whirlwind romance at a young age (started dating just before turning 18 and engaged within a few months). So, I like the idea of it happening to a younger Darcy and Elizabeth. I also enjoyed challenging myself with taking a modern Romance trope and making it Regency.
I will be doing some light edits to this in the coming months to be more in line with my current sweet romance standards. I think I pushed some boundaries back then further than I would like.
Following breakfast, the young people gathered in the drawing room. Jane came downstairs just before the Bingleys arrived. Despite Caroline and Louisa suggesting the day before they meet for their outing at eleven, they did not reach Darcy House until half past the hour. Will rolled his eyes. They claimed they did not want to seem too eager and miss the greatest of personages to be seen during the fashionable hour in Hyde Park. Fortunately, the Bennet sisters seemed entirely unaffected by the notion.
Charles seized the first opportunity to speak with Jane and offered himself as an escort. Although Elizabeth had been down the entire time, Will had finally screwed up enough courage to ask to be her escort. Before he could ask, however, Charles’ detested sisters plastered themselves to Will’s side. Once again, Elizabeth was left with Sam as company. As much as she appeared to like her brother, Will would guess most young ladies would want more attention from other males.
Caroline and Louisa chirped nonsense in his ear all the while he attempted to listen to Sam and Elizabeth’s conversation behind him. They greeted many acquaintances on the path and Will was pleased to see the pride in which Sam introduced his sisters. They appeared welcoming but modest, whereas Charles’ sisters always acted as though they expected more praise from their brother and instant fawning from whoever they met. It was no different when Lord Harcourt approached them.
Harcourt had attended Eton and Cambridge the same years as Will and Sam but their careers as students diverted there. Harcourt embraced the tyrannical lifestyle favoured by some boys as a way of exerting some semblance of power and authority over others. Wickham soon became acquainted with Harcourt and his ilk. Will barely contained his surprise when the young earl stopped Sam by name.
“Bennet, we are overdue a conversation, are we not?” Harcourt drawled, stopping their entire party.
Will raised his brows at his friend, who did not signal back he needed assistance.
“And who do we have here?” the Lord smiled at Elizabeth and then examined her head to toe the way he would his nightly courtesan.
Will watched as Sam pulled Elizabeth slightly closer and covered her hand with his. “My sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy, meet Lord Harcourt.”
“My lord,” Elizabeth curtseyed.
“You have not been in London before, have you? I would recall you.”
His words were beyond impertinent and Will noted he did not confine himself to a more acceptable, although still too forward in his imagination, compliment of saying he would recall her face.
“I have only been to visit my aunt and uncle, my lord.”
“Yes, this is Eliza’s first time out in Society,” Caroline pushed forward then cleared her throat.
Bingley sighed. “My younger sister Caroline and my elder sister Louisa. Girls, as you heard, Lord Harcourt.”
“That would be the Seventh Earl of Harcourt, correct?” Caroline asked.
“Indeed.” Harcourt looked bored as the sisters attempted to rein in their enthusiasm. His interest returned to Elizabeth, and he eyed her with unconcealed lust.
“And on Bingley’s arm is one of my other sisters, Jane,” Sam said.
Harcourt barely spared her a glance and Elizabeth began to shrink from his gaze. Her cheeks were red, and she stared at her feet.
“Come, no need to be shy,” Harcourt said and moved forward.
Primal jealousy stirred in Will’s chest, and he had to contain a growl.
“We will soon be excellent friends, I am sure.”
“My lord?” Elizabeth lifted her face, confusion in her eyes.
“I believe you wished to speak with me, my lord,” Sam said. “Darcy and Bingley, would you continue to escort the ladies?”
Caroline stammered out that she wished to remain and Louisa echoed her.
“Perhaps we might wait while you discuss whatever your business is a few steps away,” Charles suggested.
Harcourt shrugged, and Sam led him several feet away.
Will shook his head. He did not like how Harcourt continued to eye Elizabeth. “Come, Miss Elizabeth. I believe you would enjoy continuing forward,” he offered his arm.
Elizabeth hesitated but placed her hand around his arm. Will thought he felt a slight tremor.
“Are you well?” he asked once they were away from the others.
“That man…I do not trust him.” A shudder racked her frame.
“You are correct not to trust him.”
“What has he done?”
“I should not say,” Will answered. “I wish I could warn every man and woman in creation.”
“Is he so wicked?”
“He is among the worst of men, but I do not wish to speak of such things.”
“Do you think it distresses me?” Elizabeth let go of Darcy’s arm and paused to look at a specific visage.
“I would not do you the dishonour. I am merely loathe to talk about such a reprobate before a beautiful young lady.”
Elizabeth smirked. “Oh, you have charming words when alone with a young lady, but before your peers, you must malign the same lady sight unseen.”
“Based on your behaviour last night, I had thought you heard. Pray, forgive me and allow me to thank you for not displaying my shame to my friends and father.”
Elizabeth turned to face him, her head cocked to one side, as she considered his request. “Very well, I do forgive you. Only flattery is not necessary. Thank you for relieving me of the discomfort of Lord Harcourt’s company.”
Elizabeth returned to Will’s side but did not take his arm, he noted with irrational longing. They resumed walking. “No thanks is necessary, nor did I flatter you.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, I know I am not the beautiful sister. Fortunately, my vanity has never taken that turn. I would much rather be thought clever and allow my dear Jane to have all the admiring beaus.”
Will lightly gripped Elizabeth’s wrist, staying her movements. “Your sister is lovely, but it was your eyes that captivated me last night.”
Elizabeth’s mouth hung open in an O. She looked so adorable Will felt the need to continue.
“Your smile sets my heart racing, and your voice enthralls me. Your wit and sharp mind have my admiration while making me inwardly chuckle. Your face or figure alone might not meet Society’s definition of beauty but you are beautiful, and I am pleased to have your individual attention.”
Elizabeth blushed flame red, but she did not look uncomfortable as she did under Harcourt’s gaze. She met Will’s eyes, as though attempting to assess if he meant his words. She seemed at a loss of what to say.
“Shall we continue?” Will again offered his arm and this time, Elizabeth took it.
They ambled along for some time comparing the differences between Hertfordshire and Derbyshire countryside. Suddenly, Elizabeth recognized their surroundings. They had long left the fashionable path and scarcely met a passerby.
“I know this area,” Elizabeth grinned. “I come here with my aunt and uncle and their children. The little ones delight in feeding the ducks.”
Another bend in the path displayed a small brook and a few children gathered near with a governess or nursemaid. Elizabeth approached one. “Can you share with my friend and me?”
The child held out a sack and Elizabeth reached her hands in, and pulled out fistfuls of breadcrumbs. “Here,” she thrust some into Will’s hands.
“What am I supposed to do?” He asked, loving the amusement in Elizabeth’s eyes. Caroline was right in a way. There was a sort of youthful exuberance around Elizabeth, but she was not child-like.
“You toss the crumbs out like so.” Elizabeth scattered a few pieces on the ground and ducks waddled over, quacking along the way. The children clapped and giggled.
“This is entertaining?” Will frowned and repeated her motions.
“I suppose you would rather be shooting at them with a gun,” Elizabeth murmured.
“I do enjoy hunting,” Will confessed, “but less for the sport than for the opportunity to be outdoors.”
“And activities such as this is for children,” Elizabeth nodded.
“And young ladies?”
“Some ladies, of all ages, I imagine,” Elizabeth blushed.
“My mother used to put bird feeders up around the gardens of Pemberley,” Will confessed. “I did not mean to criticise.”
“It is not so different,” Elizabeth agreed. “My sisters and I do the same at Longbourn. When in London, I am often inside and find it so stifling. A long walk in the park is just what I need. This corner is rather distant from the rest of the park, and so it is a favourite.”
Will looked around. It was rather distant from where they began. “We should return. The others will be wondering where we are and they had wanted to go shopping.”
“Oh, by the time we meet them it will be too late to go shopping at any rate. We may as well enjoy ourselves here and allow them to go without us.”
“How sly you are, Miss Elizabeth!” Will chuckled. She had neatly placed them in a position where they had the perfect excuse for missing the tedious part of the morning. “You do not wish to go shopping?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I certainly do not want to go shopping with the Miss Bingleys.”
“What shall we do instead?” Will asked as he guided her to a nearby bench.
“Tell me about Scotland and Ireland. Have you visited your estates there before?”
“Yes, a few times when my mother was alive but not since. I fear my memories would be through the eyes of a child.”
“And does that make them less valuable? Do you think a child recognizes the fields as any less green or the seaside as less magnificent?”
“The opposite, I am sure,” Will said with a growing smile. “Very well.”
As Will launched into descriptions from his childhood memories of far-flung places, several more families with children came and went. Some of them fearlessly approached Elizabeth. A few she seemed to be on friendly terms with, complimenting them on how much they had grown since last year and speaking with whoever chaperoned them. They all invited her to play with them. She encouraged the fearful ones and cautioned the adventurous ones. She chased and laughed as the children squealed with joy.
Will watched with a growing warmth spreading in his chest. Hours ago, they had left the high society of London behind, and he had never been happier. He did not care for the balls of the haute ton and the matchmaking mamas or money hungry debutantes. When he considered what he desired in the future, it was what these families had. A brood of happy children, living far away from the harshness of city life. Of course, a man did not make such a blissful family on his own, and he began to think he had met the companion he desired by his side.
She was everything he ever wanted…if only she was not his best friend’s sister.
As any honourable gentleman knows, a friend’s sister is untouchable. It is a code that Fitzwilliam Darcy has never had an issue with until now. However, Elizabeth Bennet might be enticing enough to risk not only disinheritance from his father and the displeasure of his entire family but also the loss of his best friend’s trust.
To Elizabeth, her brother’s friend, Will, is as pompous as the day is long. However, he is also enigmatic, and soon, she finds herself drawn to his complexities. Unexpectedly, she falls hard and fast for this young heir of a vast estate, but at sixteen, she has never been in London society before and is new to all its deceptions and games. Will she be able to decipher who to trust or will her heart pay the ultimate price?