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.