Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapters 11 & 12

It’s release day!! Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is now available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo.

I’m still waiting on iBooks and the paperback will be a few more days. I’ll post a few more chapters here but am also working on creating a page where you can read the chapters in a more streamlined way.

One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten 

MDBB4Dear C—

Thank you ever so much for your miniature of my beloved B. I do miss him terribly at times. Have you recently heard from your friend, Lord Cathcart’s daughter? I have read of plague in Moscow and worry for the Hamiltons as well as the Queen. It would be devastating for Russia to lose their enlightened monarch. She should serve as an example to our own King and Queen of German blood.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Monday after Easter, Elizabeth awoke determined to walk. Fresh air would clear her mind of the excruciating evening spent at Rosings the night before. It was their first invitation to the house since the arrival of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and Mr. Collins was beside himself in both pleasure and anxiety. Elizabeth shook her head. It seemed more likely that her cousin was related to her mother rather than her father given they both thrived on feelings of anxiousness.

The night was only tolerably better than previous visits to Rosings. Lady Catherine invited Elizabeth to play the pianoforte and seemed to take pleasure whenever she erred. In the course of one sonata, she referenced Anne’s imaginary but undoubtedly superior abilities at least a dozen times. Occasionally, Darcy would glance in Elizabeth’s direction. His blue eyes burned with intensity, likely with his disapproval of her. She was saved conversation with him, however, for Lady Catherine frequently called his attention back to herself. Elizabeth was not sorry for it. She had often heard of Miss Darcy’s superior abilities, and while the girl was everything sweet, the brother must be in the habit of hearing only the best performers — his aunt said as much.

Just before leaving, the post arrived. It was too early for a reply from her aunt, but there was a letter from Jane. Mr. Collins was away on parsonage matters, and Mrs. Collins and Maria had gone shopping in the village, allowing Elizabeth the freedom to take the letter on her walk and read in privacy.

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

I do not know what he planned to say, if anything, for his actions in the shop or the reason for his never returning to Netherfield or calling earlier. I refused to see him.

I have waited and hoped every day since November 27th for him to arrive on my doorstep again. I will no longer wait for his explanations. The time for that is long past.

Do not imagine me angry or sad, my dear sister. I am alarmingly at peace with the matter. Some blessing will come of this.

I hope all is well in Kent. Give Charlotte and Maria my love and greet our cousin for me.

Yours,

Jane

 

Elizabeth was incensed as she left the Parsonage for a fitful walk, heedless of the rain clouds quickly gathering. She walked along the path to Rosings. As soon as she was out of open view from the main road, she intended to run.

As she walked, she muttered to herself. “I am sick of them all! Charming men who prey on the silly and vain! Other charming and amiable men who prey on the sweet and innocent! Senseless goats that rattle on about nothing! Indolent fathers who sit in their libraries! Confusing, arrogant and wealthy young men who think they can order everything to their own choosing!

As she had weeks before, Elizabeth exclaimed, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” She certainly wished she could kick a young man or two the way she kicked the rock the day she heard Wickham’s insane boast. And a mountain might be climbed and therefore vanquished. But young men would apparently always persist in deceiving and confusing her.

“Miss Bennet!” the last voice in the world she wanted to hear called out, much, much too cheerfully.

She turned as though she did not hear him, but it was for nought. His long legs had him meet with her in a moment.

“Miss Bennet, I am surprised to see you out walking. I was just about to call on the Parsonage.”

“The Collinses and Maria are out,” she replied testily. She thought she saw a hint of a smile and it angered her again. Whether he felt himself better than them or just did not want to practice his conversational abilities on them, it was nearly the same thing.

“Perhaps, I could join you on your walk before it rains?” He held out an arm.

She looked up at the sky thick with swollen clouds. She had not realised until that moment how soon it was likely to begin raining. Then why should he call now? “No, I had not realised the weather had turned so severely. It is why I turned back.” She took a step closer to the Parsonage, but he spoke again.

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

What a ridiculous thing to ask! No day was truly agreeable here. She enjoyed Charlotte’s companionship, but the presence of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine detracted from all enjoyment she could find indoors. And then her letter!

“Not especially, Mr. Darcy. I have just had the most distressing letter from Jane. Weeks ago, she saw your friend Mr. Bingley and his sister outside a shop. They did not see her, but she easily saw Mr. Bingley lavishing attention on a young lady she believes was your sister. It is evident Jane was considered not good enough, and Bingley was just toying with her feelings the entire time.”

Darcy paled at her words, but she pressed on. “This is not the first time she has been treated as such from your friends. In January, Jane called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They claimed they never received her letters announcing her presence in town, and did not seem very pleased to see her. They waited over a month to return the call!”

“That is horrible…”

“But exactly what you wished, is it not? You need not fear; your friend is now entirely free from my sister. Not only were you able to separate them in Hertfordshire, but you were able to conceal her presence in town. Jane has the gentlest soul! She does not deserve such ungentlemanly treatment! Do not worry, sir, she refused to see Bingley and will never consider him a suitor again.”

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth clenched her fists as he seemed to latch on to the least important piece of information she relayed. “Yes, nearly as soon as she arrived in town. Hardly the actions of an indifferent lady. Or do you think her forward and mercenary now?”

“It is not what I think that matters.” He took a step backwards, and she advanced toward him.

“Is it not? And then I think of another one of your good friends. George Wickham is a scoundrel, and you knew it! You grew up with him and saw his ways, yet never warned the people of Hertfordshire when he arrived.”

“Did you not explain only yesterday how little faith anyone in the area has in me? Gentlemen do not go about slandering other people without the most extreme cause of provocation.”

“You left us defenceless!” Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. How did he not see it? As a man, and a wealthy one, he simply could not understand how little freedom ladies had.

Darcy scoffed. “Hardly! You said you would judge a man by his words and actions. What truly gentlemanly behaviour has Wickham displayed? He has entered the militia, and anyone who believes all men in a red coat are upstanding is the worst kind of ignorant and silly!”

Enraged as he dismissed her concerns, Elizabeth stepped forward again. “Since nearly the first moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with an immoveable dislike. I was frequently a victim of your constant arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It is not lost on me that the common element between the ungentlemanly men I mentioned is you.”

Darcy’s jaw tightened. “What do you mean?” He spoke with extreme coldness.

Elizabeth deflated. She had done it again. She aimed to cruelly wound him to mask her own pain. He had explained, and it made a certain amount of sense, that he found it difficult to converse with strangers. She had seen enough truth in Darcy’s looks the other day to know that he would never be complicit in any of Wickham’s actions. And did he not mention his concern over Bingley’s steadfastness? No quality could be further from Darcy’s character.

Elizabeth had always thought she behaved correctly, in light of the poor example from her mother and youngest sisters, but now she saw how her own actions may have made Bingley and Darcy feel her family too improper. She should have recommended herself more to Bingley’s friend, for her sister’s sake, rather than attempt to cleverly mock him and provoke him. Her manners were at fault as well, and her spirits lead her wrong.

In her silence, he assumed a meaning of his own. “I understand your meaning entirely.” He turned to leave her.

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth pleaded and walked after him. “I am sorry I spoke in anger. I cannot claim to know you well, but I know you are nothing like Wickham and, whatever your faults are, they are certainly not the fickleness of Mr. Bingley.

“Pray, forgive me. I have only recently recognised my own behaviour, and my poor treatment of you must have contributed to your feelings of the inadequacy of my family. I am uncertain now if I would desire Mr. Bingley to return my sister’s affections if his heart is not to be trusted, but it grieves me to suspect that I cost my dearest sister, such great love.”

Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “What mean you now?”

“That your justified dislike of me motivated you to separate my sister from your friend.” She hung her head low in shame.

“I will not be accused of such again! Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to marry you!”

Immediately, Darcy paled as though he realised what he said and wished he could collect his words back. Crickets hummed, and birds chirped, proving the world went on existing, and yet Elizabeth could not fathom a sphere in which Mr. Darcy wished to marry her.

“What?” She asked, shaking her head to dispel the insanity which made her mishear him to such an extreme degree.

A look of warmth and gentleness took over Darcy’s face. “I realise you dislike me, and perhaps rightly so. I did endeavour to separate your most beloved sister from my friend, though not as you suppose. And for this, you may never forgive me.” He paused as though drawing strength. “I am acutely aware my sentiments are unwelcome to you, but I would be pleased if you accepted my hand in marriage.”

Elizabeth stared at him, quite disbelieving. “You cannot be serious.”

“I am quite convinced you are the perfect woman to be my companion in life.”

“How can you possibly think that?” She blurted out. All they did was argue! Elizabeth shook her head. It was still entirely unfathomable. “Why?”

“Why?” He started as though he never expected to be asked such a question. He raised his hands up and helplessly motioned at her. “Because of you. Because of the thousand and one unique things that make up who you are! You are kind, intelligent, witty, clever, playful, lively. I admire your stubbornness and loyalty —  even when it’s directed away from me. You are the perfect companion for me in every way.”

Elizabeth shook her head once more and held up her hands. “You are mistaken, sir. I tease, and you hate it. I am silly and outspoken, and you are silent and taciturn.”

“It does not follow that I enjoy those qualities about myself or must dislike that you are quite the opposite.”

“I have no fortune, my relatives are in trade and my family is improper.” Darcy’s initial silence spoke volumes to her.

“I will not lie and say these things did not hinder my regard. I did think marriage to you imprudent, at first, but I have conquered those objections.”

“Then why are you only now speaking of it?”

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Because of every reason I had against Bingley’s match with your sister. I needed to be sure of my regard. Six weeks is not a very long acquaintance. I could not trust my judgment in my affections.

“I knew I enjoyed your company more than any other lady’s, but what if it were mere infatuation? You deserved more than that from a spouse. And as I acknowledged with Bingley’s situation, there would be some — even in my own family — that would dislike the union. I would not put you through being slighted by spiteful members of the ton, and my aunt, if we did not have a strong foundation.

He began to pace and ran his hands through his hair. “In the last week, I attempted to ascertain your feelings. As I explained with regard to your sister, it was difficult to make out how you felt in Hertfordshire. Here I thought, I had hoped…but it must have only been my vain pretensions.”

Elizabeth trembled slightly as she considered the compliment of being his object of affection. “What is it you want from me, Mr. Darcy?” They had reached the Parsonage gate.

“I ask nothing of you. What I want most you cannot give. I hope it was not selfish of me to declare my sentiments, but I could not be accused of disliking you again. I could not allow you to think ill of yourself, or that I found you unworthy in any way.”

Thunder cracked, and the clouds unleashed their bowels at last. Darcy closed his eyes, Elizabeth believed against the pain even her face must cause him now. “Good day, Miss Bennet.” After a slight bow, he departed.

Elizabeth would have stood still in her bewilderment longer, as she stared at Darcy’s back, if not for the rain. Instead, she dashed into the house and grabbed two umbrellas stored at the entry.

“Mr. Darcy!” She yelled loudly over the rain.

He momentarily ceased walking before shaking his head, as though chiding himself, and continuing onward. She called again as she ran to him and this time he stopped. He had not walked far; he was walking rather slowly, Elizabeth thought. He turned around just as she reached him.

“Mr. Darcy, please will you wait in the Parsonage until the rain passes?”

“Your cousins are not home, it would not be appropriate. I believe the last thing you would want is gossip about a compromising situation.”

Elizabeth blanched but pressed to her secondary plan and produced the other umbrella. “I knew you would decline out of stubbornness, if nothing else. Here, take the umbrella.”

Darcy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, that part of my character you would have made out very well, of course!”

He took the umbrella and made a small bow, but they both turned as they heard a carriage followed by Mr. Collins calling. “Make haste, Mrs. Collins, Maria! Make haste!” Darcy began to walk again, but it was too late. “Mr. Darcy! You must come inside.”

“I thank you, Mr. Collins but I would not like to get your furniture damp. It is better I continue on to Rosings. Miss Bennet was kind enough to loan me an umbrella when she saw me outside.”

“Walk back to Rosings in your wet clothes? Certainly not! Why Lady Catherine would never forgive me!” Her cousin was truly panicked, but Darcy looked towards Elizabeth.

“My cousin is correct. We would not wish you to catch your death. Please come in, Mr. Darcy.” He gave her a sad smile, but acquiesced.

Darcy was quickly ushered upstairs to dry off, and a servant sent to retrieve fresh clothing for him from Rosings. By the time he returned, dinner was being served, and Mr. Collins insisted Darcy remain. He spoke little during the dinner, which Elizabeth fully understood, between the rain and their conversation, he must be desperate to leave her presence.

She was surprised when he cleared his throat and addressed the table. “My aunt sent a note with the servant. She invites the whole party to dine at Rosings the day after tomorrow.”

Mr. and Mrs. Collins and even Maria exclaimed in delight, for they had not been invited to Rosings with the same regularity now that Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived.

“Eliza, is this not grand news?” Charlotte asked her. Elizabeth readily saw Darcy slyly observing her.

“Oh, yes. It is always a pleasure to dine at Rosings.” She hardly knew what else to say.

It was a simple dinner of a single course and before the hour was through Darcy was returned to Rosings in Lady Catherine’s coach that was sent for him. Elizabeth wisely pleaded a headache and excused herself upstairs before her friend could question her.

 

*****

 

Darcy returned to Rosings and pleaded illness rather than join the ladies. He was surely the weak link in the Darcy line. Not only could he not even propose to a lady correctly but she had no idea that he had long admired her. His pride thanked the Lord he never confessed love to her.

He and Anne had developed a plan. Darcy would take the time at Rosings to court Elizabeth, and prove that he could treat her as an equal and listen to her concerns. He would persuade his aunt to secure an invitation for her to Knole Park. He would support her interest in architecture. All the while, Richard would work to separate Wickham from the Regiment in Meryton, thereby keeping the Bennet sisters safe from his dastardly schemes.

Darcy would confess his story to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. His pride did not like exposing himself and acknowledging he was not without fault, but he would further prove to Elizabeth he was not ashamed of her relations. While in Meryton, he could make amends to the shopkeepers of the area. Additionally, he would encourage Bingley to return to Netherfield and, if Miss Bennet wished it, resume their courtship. Once in Hertfordshire, Darcy could properly court Elizabeth. She could see his merits after he had secured the happiness and safety of so many in her life. Not that she would marry him out of gratitude: he did not think she would do such a thing. But that it might enliven her feelings toward him.

If all went as planned, he would be married by Michaelmas. They would honeymoon at Pemberley and go to London for the Season. She would be an instant success and fit in the Bluestocking Club perfectly. They would be the envy of the ton, disgustingly happy. Georgiana would become so fastidious in desiring a love match, and confident in the friendship of Elizabeth, she would not wed for many years.

Yes, Darcy had verily planned the next five years of his life. Of course, that was without even speaking to Elizabeth and discussing her desires, let alone understanding just how deep her dislike for him went.

She had been quick to apologise today but had firmly believed he disapproved of her. Overcoming her prejudice and the wound he served her pride would not be easily won. Matters were progressing nowhere with Wickham as Richard had yet to hear from his comrade about reassigning the rogue. Nor had Elizabeth received a reply from Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Gardiner yet.

And Bingley!

To hear that Bingley had cut Jane in a shop had been more than Darcy could believe. He had thought his friend too embarrassed to speak and pulled away by his sister. Darcy ought to have anticipated that Bingley might call on the Gardiners to make amends. He ought to have warned his friend or been with him. He should confess to Jane Bennet that it was he who suggested Bingley not return to Netherfield. That he alone was the cause of her heartbreak, not Bingley. From the sound of how she turned Bingley out on his ear, Darcy rather thought he also would not be welcome at the Gardiner house. How would he speak with Mr. Gardiner about Wickham?

Elizabeth could never love him now. Not when he had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her most beloved sister. At the very least, he could not expect Elizabeth to choose him, when she did not love him, over her sister whom she loved more than any other person on this earth.

A light tapping on his door broke his thoughts. “Leave it,” he cried to the maid who brought his supper tray.

The maid continued to knock. “I said leave it!” he called louder.

The rapping did not cease. Shooting from his chair, he began yelling before he pulled the door open. “Leave it before I tell your mistress you’re incapable of following simple commands!”

He wrenched the door open, and his cousin’s small frame stood before him. She held her chin high.

“Anne!”

“Am I supposed to be frightened of your bellowing?” she asked and bent her head, edging her way under his arm and into his chamber.

“Anne, what are you doing?” he hissed, scanned the hall and then quickly shut the door.

“And you should know our servants hear enough screaming from my mother that your antics will not scare them. They are far more terrified of her.”

“Anne,” Darcy pressed fingers to his temples. They had avoided each other for the better part of a decade. Since he cleared the air with her, they had slipped into the easy friendship of their youth. However, he now desired solitude.

“No, I won’t leave you alone with your mercurial thoughts,” she said and sauntered to a chair.

Darcy stared at her. He had not spoken his thoughts aloud.

“You did not have to say anything. Anyone would know you wish me gone.” She scrutinised his face. Her thin brows joining together. “What have you done?”

Darcy walked to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He considered not answering her. “Do you care for anything?” He motioned to the contents.

Anne licked her lips. “I take a glass of sherry in the evening.”

Darcy filled a tumbler and brought it to her. “You, no doubt, know that I was caught in the rain and had to stay at the Collinses. I dare anyone to be in good spirits after that.”

Anne looked dubiously at him. “Rain never hurt anyone. And the lovely Elizabeth was there, was she not?”

“She was,” he answered neutrally and took a sip of wine.

“Usually, after a morning with her you can bear anything even my mother dishes out, and tonight you are out of spirits because of Mr. Collins? No,” Anne shook her head. “Do not forget that I am Mistress of Hearts. You quarrelled with Miss Bennet.”

“When have I not quarrelled with her?” Darcy bit out in disgust. It was as Bingley had tried to say. All the times Darcy thought they were merely debating and learning about each other’s character, she was arguing with his false pride. He had been too arrogant to see it. “I have ruined everything.”

“If you frequently argue then how can this one ruin everything?”

Darcy’s heart lurched at the hope Anne offered. “You do not understand. She has so many faults against me.”

“Are they true?”

“They are…complicated,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw.

“Are they true,” Anne repeated slower and raised her brows.

“Very well,” Darcy said and put his glass down on the nearby table. He blew out a deep breath and leant forward, earnestly meeting his cousin’s eyes. “A significant number of them are. There —  I am an arrogant ass!”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Better she knows it now.”

Darcy sagged against the chair. “Where’s your sense of familial pride. Should you not be outraged?”

“Think of who I live with,” Anne said and took a sip of her sherry. “We have arrogance in abundance.”

“Perhaps, but I am attempting to reform,” Darcy said.

“Bah,” Anne cried. “Do not reform. If she cannot bear your faults, she should not marry you.”

“I unjustly accused her sister of being a fortune hunter,” Darcy levelled. “I encouraged a friend who I knew depended upon my advice to leave the house he leased without a word to the neighbourhood and not return.”

“Ah, I see. And if he had decided to marry the lady instead, would he have needed you to tell him what to say?”

Darcy stared at his drink. “If he did then I would have ruined that too, no doubt.”

“Darcy! Do you mean to say…that is… no, it’s impossible!” Anne exclaimed.

Looking up from his glass, Darcy met her gaze. “That I proposed to Elizabeth Bennet today and she refused me? Naturally. I have the grace and tact of an elephant tiptoeing on ice.” He swallowed his remaining port in a large gulp.

Anne guffawed. “An elephant tiptoeing on ice! And people find you droll!” Darcy scowled further. “Come. The lady rejected her cousin and now stays under the man’s roof.”

“For the sake of visiting her friend,” Darcy said.

“Yes, and you are assisting her with Wickham. Once you return to London, you might ease the way between her sister and your friend.”

“I do not know that she can ever forgive me,” Darcy said.

“What has changed in the last day?” Darcy related the contents of Jane’s letter. “Excellent,” Anne nodded. “She should turn him out. He should work for her admiration! As should you!”

Anne stood and paced the room. “You men think everything is owed you on a silver platter! I read it time and time again in my article.” She paused upon seeing his raised brows. “Yes, gentlemen write to me. You accepted my help.”

Darcy did not bother telling her that it was hardly the same thing as accepting the advice of a stranger. “What would you tell another?”

“Time will prove that her sister will either recover from her heartbreak or that the gentleman was never worthy. You will not be the fair-weather sort of suitor. Between previously meeting her London relatives, and then your plan to speak with them and her father regarding Wickham, you will be in her sphere of acquaintance. Stay the course.”

“What if she wishes to never see me again,” Darcy said while shaking his head.

“See how she behaves for the rest of her time here. Do not force her but you must remain constant. She has had too many men prove they are unreliable. You can be the rudder in her ship. Help steer her safe even in troubled waters.”

Darcy did not immediately reply. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as he had first considered. She had seemed to forgive him before, and in general, forgiveness was not an overnight act. It often took quite some time. And time had persuaded her to visit Kent even when she detested her cousin. A slow smile spread across his face.

“You see I am correct,” Anne said and began walking toward the door.

“Really, Anne,” Darcy gave her a false frown and shook his head. “Navy references?”

“Nautical,” Anne corrected and winked. She inched open the door and upon determining the hall clear, promptly left.


Dear C—

You have asked for my advice regarding a proposal you found repugnant. You were right to seek my counsel. Despite your mother’s worries, do not wed where your heart is not attached. You have overcome too much to be the victim of alliances and convenience. I will write her directly and speak with her when I am next in town. I have enclosed volumes by the late George Edwards. With six hundred drawings to duplicate I believe it shall keep you busy for some time.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth sat on the chair in her bedchamber at the Parsonage. Charlotte had taken care to be an excellent hostess, despite the tension in their friendship, and her favourite flowers were frequently in a vase on the table. Also on it were a small stack of books borrowed from her friend. They must be from the Rosings library because Mr. Collins did not keep such works. Elizabeth nearly snarled recalling the conduct books he thrust at her. She picked up the novel she had been reading, it held no interest to her tonight.

What would Darcy’s opinion on such a book be? Her memory flashed to their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he had asked her opinion of books then, but she was so determined to be displeased. Even during her stay at Netherfield, there was once a discussion on female accomplishments, and after Miss Bingley’s ridiculous list, Darcy added a woman should have an improved mind through extensive reading. Elizabeth had held a book in her hand at the time, although she was too preoccupied with the discussion of the room to pay any heed to the volume. She had thought then he was mocking her, but it now seemed he was genuinely interested in her opinions.

After Darcy’s insult to her, she was determined to never dance with him. At each refusal, she was quite aware she was likely the only woman in the world to do so. She thought the revenge rather complete when she was able to refuse him twice to his once.

When she could not refuse him at the Netherfield Ball, she made it quite an unpleasant dance for him. She knew the mention of Wickham would provoke him. She blindly trusted Wickham because his tales supported what she most wanted to believe about Darcy.

She had spitefully blamed him for her sister’s pain because she did not want to see anyone else’s responsibility in the matter. Bingley was fickle. Jane was too reserved and too naive to see his sisters’ machinations. Her family behaved improperly, and yet it was quite accepted among her community while they all blasted Darcy as the most disagreeable man in the world off his behaviour in less than one evening. To those outside their circle, however, her family behaved so badly it may have put off an agreeable suitor for her most deserving sister.

What a humiliation! Was nothing in the world as she thought it?

Mr. Darcy wished to marry her. He, who she had thought was proud and arrogant, who must have seen the greatest beauties of London for years, who could have fortune and rank, wanted her. It was humbling.

She knew Wickham was not to be trusted for several weeks now, but still, she did not discount all of his words against Darcy. Even in the last few days, she persisted in believing he would separate Bingley from Jane only due to desiring fortune and circumstance for his friend. Her opinion of Darcy was so wrong that the entire time she had been convinced he wished to keep Bingley from her sister, he was examining her character.

The times she had been certain he had looked at her in contempt, he admired her from afar. It seemed every time she took offence to something, he had only attempted to compliment her. Now, she could even see the times he had tried to court her good opinion. All the while she had courted prejudice and willful ignorance! How blind she had been!

Elizabeth’s eyes had been opened, however, and it was a new world to her. She could not repent her words on his behaviour in Meryton, but neither could she ignore the unjust accusations she made. To compare him to Wickham, to blame him for Bingley’s defection was terribly wrong of her. She also could not forget the look of pain when he acknowledged she must refuse him or the resigned air in which he tendered his aunt’s invitation.

She must prove that no matter her silly ignorance she could behave correctly. She could hardly determine if she wished to welcome his attentions, but she would prove she was worthy of the respect and esteem he held for her. She was through acting like a spoiled child over insults, imagined or real.

Elizabeth’s pride did shirk, momentarily, at having to apologise and confess to her vanity, but her honour demanded it. Darcy deserved it, and her duty required it to ensure his help to her family. For them, she would bear any degradation. Her only hesitance was should he not wish to converse on the subject, or worse, seek to blame himself. Additionally, she admitted to a minuscule amount of concern that he had only offered his help out of thinking he helped his future family. She told herself that was merely old prejudice and he could only act out of honour. Darcy would not revoke his assistance at disgust with her incivility or hurt pride at her rejection. However, he was a mortal and who could have the strength to frequently meet with the woman who so callously spurned him?

Choosing to not ask herself why it mattered if he had already overcome his preference for her, she decided to write a brief note of apology to give him in case conversation proved impossible. She could only hope he would overlook the impropriety. She had the greatest trust he would not betray her.

Sitting at the little table in her room she drew out a sheet of paper from her writing box and began to swallow her pride.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I pray you will forgive me for the terrible breach in propriety I am making by writing this letter but, like a great many things, men do not hold a monopoly on honour and mine demands I apologise for my unforgivable words yesterday. I hope we can put our differences behind us as we work on our project.

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

Despite Anne’s words of encouragement, Darcy believed he could not treat his last argument with Elizabeth as no different than the ones before. He had not understood at the earlier times that she had specific accusations against him. He rather thought she was testing to see if he felt similarly about the world. Now, every conversation they ever had seemed to take on a new light.

At Lucas Lodge, when she declined dancing with him it was revenge for his first insult. Indeed, even at Netherfield, it was. Had she doubted ladies could have good sense and accomplishment or merely that he would deign to know them? On that score, she had been nearly correct. Not for lack of trying, he had to wade through hoards of empty-headed ladies to find the diamonds he sought. Apparently, when they argued over pride and vanity, she meant to expose him as having both.

Darcy stretched his legs out. She was not faultless, but she had apologised. Some would wonder how he would think her worthy if she disliked him and desired to only debase him, but she was not flighty or conceited. She did have pride and for her to apologise must have cost her quite a bit.

He pushed aside any residual anger he felt at Elizabeth’s complaints and assumptions and instead focused on her feelings. When Georgiana had been hurt by Wickham, it was as though Darcy’s own heart bled with her. Elizabeth now felt that for Jane and it was through his methods. Having noble intentions did not excuse the misery he caused. An apology was in order.

The maid arrived with the supper tray, and as Darcy ate, he ordered his thoughts. He had always expressed himself better in writing than with words. Once finished with his light meal, he walked to his escritoire and pushed aside letters of business. His sister and aunt had written, but he would read those letters on the morrow. Tonight, Elizabeth deserved his entire attention.

Withdrawing the writing items and arranging himself as neatly as he could, Darcy paused before he began. It was surely a silly thing to entreat the Almighty for, but he wished to infuse his regret and love into this letter so he might start again with Elizabeth.

Dearest Elizabeth

Darcy crossed it out and blew out a sigh. That was far too informal. Balling up the paper, he tossed it aside.

Dear Madam.

No, too cold and formal. How did one begin a letter to a lady he wished to wed? To one he loved but did not offer his heart? A woman with whom he had a long acquaintance, and yet, she would say they were not friends. Annoyed, he settled for the same name all the world called her.

Dear Miss Bennet,

Words can scarcely convey the regret I feel at learning for the many months of our acquaintance you have been under the misapprehension that I disapproved of you. I understand there may have been mitigating factors, and I know in your generosity you would excuse some of my behaviour, but allow me to take the blame I must. My honour demands it. Had I behaved as I ought to have, none of this would now be an issue. As such, I apologise to you, and when I meet with your relations, I shall entreat their forgiveness as well. I understand, too, that I have harmed the citizens of Meryton and when an apology is in my power, I will make amends.

On the matter of making my sentiments known to you, I ask your pardon as well. A gentleman does not force his attentions on a person and had I not been so careless and presuming, I would have known better. I hope I have given no lasting distress.

I remain your humble servant and wish to aid you should you ever need it,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s eyes scanned over the words. He hoped to give it to her on the morrow, although letters between unwed ladies and gentlemen were not entirely proper. Nor was the letter exactly genuine. Amongst the things he apologised for there were many things, he was not the least sorry for. His mortified pride hated that he had proposed to a woman who had never seen his admiration or desired his notice, but he felt freer having spoken some of his heart. All the days he had met under the guise of discussing Wickham — and he did worry about the cad — Darcy had had nervously courted Elizabeth. Now, when he met her next, there would be no deceit between them. When he was attentive to her, she would know his honourable intentions.

Of course, it might be that she never wished to speak with him again.

Tossing his pen aside, Darcy peered at the clock in his room through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. If he arose at his regular time, he would have less than six hours of sleep. Before trudging to his bed, he reached for his mail, duty calling to him. As he undressed for the evening, he paused now and then to make out words.

Georgiana was in good health and enjoyed her newest pianoforte master. Mrs. Annesley was a balm to her wounded soul. Richard visited often, and Bingley and his sister called nearly daily. Darcy wished he knew if Georgiana was forming an attachment. He did not believe for a moment that Bingley had any interest in his sister if he was so in love with Jane Bennet as to call on her at the Gardiners’ and without an introduction. Nor did he think Bingley would encourage a lady while his affection lay elsewhere. However, Georgiana was quite young still. Darcy chuckled imagining her face upon such a claim.

Boots and stockings removed, Darcy moved on to the Baroness’ letter. He told himself he would alert her and Mrs. Annesley to the possible complication of Georgiana’s attachment to Bingley, who was rather spoken for. Lady Darcy reported that she had found a new candidate for the Bluestocking Club and asked after his progress. He had come under the guise of asking the Duchess of Dorset’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Jenkinson, to join. Her father was a noted astronomer and had raised his child to appreciate the stars. Mrs. Jenkinson, in turn, relished in her father’s profession. As the wife to a very wealthy and influential politician, Mrs. Jenkinson could be a very powerful patron of science. Lady Darcy also bade him to hurry his “adventure at the Dragon’s” and choose his bride. Darcy frowned. She was not usually the aunt to wish him to the altar in a trice.

Pulling his shirt over his head, he accidentally knocked his still full glass of port and cursed. Dashing to the wash stand, he grabbed the towel to clean his mess. His aunt’s letter had fluttered to the floor, but by the time he had everything settled again, he decided to wait and finish reading his correspondence later. Sleepiness pulled all strength from his body, and he stumbled toward the bed as though he were drunk. Collapsing in it, he slept soundly until awoken with a start as his valet entered at the usual time.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Nine

MDBB4Dear C—

I am delighted to hear of you have seen our cousin’s new baby girl. A pity she would rather wish for a son. I would suggest she spend more time with her aunt as I know my mother has always wished to be closer to her brother-in-law’s children. When you marry I hope you will not think sons are the only children worth having. Your uncle loves our girls.

Your Aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Nine

As much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, Elizabeth could not mistake the look of pain and hurt in Darcy’s eyes as he left. She had done so much more than wound his vanity. Is that what she wanted all along?

Elizabeth thought over the history of her acquaintance with Darcy. She barely spoke to him without wishing to cause him pain. When had she become such a spiteful creature?

Elizabeth knew not how long she stood in place, alone and crying until she felt someone leading her off the path again.

“Miss Bennet, are you well?” Mr. Darcy had returned!

She could not answer. What must he think of her? Never before in her life had she been so cruel to a person! Always, always he provoked her past the point of civility! She allowed herself to be tugged into a sitting position.

“Please, do not cry for my sake.”

When she still did not speak, she felt something entirely unexpected. Mr. Darcy pulled her into his arms and held her! Near a public path on his aunt’s estate! All men from Derbyshire must be mad!

She pulled back from his arms and looked up at his face. “Mr. Darcy…”

“Shhh…”

This was madness! Why did he still hold her? Why did she let him?

This time she pushed against him, intent on rebuking him but something in the way he watched her stilled her tongue. She had said enough for one day. How long would she hold a grudge for one statement eight months ago?

“I cannot bear to be the cause for your tears and distress,” he said with an unfathomable gentleness.

Who was this man? Not the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, or even thus far in Kent. He let go of her and Elizabeth was nearly positive she saw regret etched on his face. Yes, he must regret speaking to her if she could not even keep a civil tongue and then resort to tears!

She said nothing as he sat beside her looking straight ahead. She was certain she had the most dumbstruck look on her face.

“Do you truly believe I dislike you and think so little of everyone around me?” His voice was quiet and uncertain.

Still not trusting herself to look at him, she fixed her gaze on the distance. “I confess it has been my firmest opinion these many months.”

Darcy was silent for many moments and Elizabeth hazarded a glance in his direction. Now his eyes remained forward, but she saw his jaw clenched tight and a muscle twitching near his eye.

Darcy plucked a blade of grass and focused on shredding it into small pieces while he spoke. “I do not mean to offend. I become nervous meeting new people. They all look at me, are judging me, estimating my income, presenting their daughters to me, approaching me with a business proposition, wanting to meet my uncle.

“More than that, with all the unwanted attention I am under constant scrutiny. I have been careful to not besmirch my family name. It is one reason I do not attempt to slander Wickham and why I have given into his financial demands before. The one time I did not, it nearly cost me dearly.”

Elizabeth thought over his words before replying. “I never thought you may be feeling that way, but did you ever think what other people might be feeling when the most powerful and richest person they have ever met enters the room, and will not even make eye contact with them? Will not speak with them? And who are you? Only a gentleman. You are not a peer or prince! We have our pride in Meryton, as anywhere.” Belatedly, Elizabeth recalled that he would one day inherit a barony.

“And I wounded yours.” Elizabeth blushed. “I never should have said it. I was in a foul mood but should have danced anyway. Truthfully, I would have danced after Bingley pointed you out but you know how I feel about Bingley’s ability to be easily persuaded. I only grasped at something to say.”

Before she could speak in reply, such as noting that it was the poorest apology she had heard in some time and she grew up with three younger sisters, he pressed on to the more important topic of discussion. “We still must decide how to warn your father. It seems he would not listen to your testimony and he will not listen to mine. Is there someone he may respect?”

Excessively grateful for the turn in conversation, she took a moment to think. She considered suggesting Bingley return, but it did not seem like her father would be willing to take Bingley’s word for it either. “My father greatly esteems my aunt and uncle in London. You have met them and know they have good sense.”

However much Darcy accepted his eccentric and titled aunt inviting the Gardiners to her home, Elizabeth knew it would be a stretch for a man of such pride to visit a tradesman, and was astonished when he did not hesitate to answer.

“If I explain matters do you think he will keep the confidence?”

“Yes, he certainly would. He met Wickham at Christmas. My aunt, especially, enjoyed his tales of Derbyshire and Lambton as she is from there, but they would be very interested in knowing the truth of his character. As you saw, they had no prejudice against you.” Unlike me.

Darcy smiled a little, and she was pleased that he noted her non-stated apology. Then another thought struck her. “Well, they did hear of you,” she could not bear to explain it was from her own mouth, “but they are fair people and enjoyed meeting you in London. My aunt had wondered about Wickham’s sensibilities when he began to pay attentions to a young lady who recently inherited ten thousand pounds when, previously, his affections seemed to lie…elsewhere.” Realising she rambled, she suddenly ceased speaking. She attempted not to blush but could feel the heat on her face.

“I see.” He sounded angrier than she expected. He clenched his jaw again.

“My aunt is predisposed to think well of you as she knew how good your father was.” Unexpectedly, Darcy smiled a sincere smile at that. His expression changed, and Elizabeth recognised that was when he was feeling proud. It was rather becoming.

“When do you leave for London?”

“I am to stay nearly another month.”

“I cannot call on your aunt and uncle without cause.”

A sly smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. “Mr. Bingley could call on my sister, and you could accompany him. I could send a letter with you.”

He began shaking his head before she had even finished her suggestion. “I would prefer you to be present.”

Elizabeth was annoyed he did not respond to her suggestion about Bingley. Of course, Darcy knew Jane as well and could call on her without his friend’s presence, but he seemed to have rejected that idea.

“Might you leave early?” he pressed.

Elizabeth huffed. “I do not have the freedom to order my own life. Mrs. Collins expects me here for another month, and my aunt and uncle are not prepared for me.”

“Perhaps you could write and ask if you may arrive in advance? You could argue the society here is discomforting, and I think that would be rather truthful. If they reply in the positive, you could find some excuse to Mrs. Collins.”

“I suppose you will tell me it is only fifty miles of good road and I might see my friend again frequently,” she said with something nearing sorrow. With all that Charlotte and Mr. Collins had put her through, leaving them would be no hardship but she had the distinct feeling her friendship with Charlotte would suffer forever.

Darcy cast a nervous look at her. “Might we worry about this trouble with Wickham before we borrow more from the future?”

“Very well. I can see, sir that your suggestions are prudent. I will sacrifice my leisure for the benefit of my family and the community. Oh, what I do for my beloved sisters!” She said dramatically, for greater effect.

He smiled at her theatrics. “Again, you cannot be certain what the future holds.”

Darcy pulled out his watch and noticed the time. “Allow me to escort you to the parsonage.” Once they began walking again, Darcy inquired, “When will you write your aunt?”

“I will write today. Things should be arranged in less than a week.”

Darcy frowned. “We had not considered how to convey you. Surely Miss Lucas would desire to stay with her sister longer. Additionally, your relatives might wish for you to remain in Town for a time rather than send you immediately to Hertfordshire, as Miss Lucas would likely prefer.”

Elizabeth chewed her lip. Was there a hint of anxiety in Darcy’s eyes? “I had not thought of that. We were to travel by stage, but my uncle was to send a manservant for us.” Darcy looked away, but Elizabeth saw him wince at her news. Undoubtedly, he would never dream of travelling by stage.

“If I could arrange for a maid to travel with us, might you ride in Lady Catherine’s carriage while I ride on my horse?”

Elizabeth disliked having to accept so much from Darcy, but it was the only feasible way. She could not travel with only a manservant and hated to have to beg for a maid from either the Collinses or the Gardiners. “Thank you.”

They arrived at the Parsonage gate, and Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand. As he left, she sighed. Once again, she could not make him out at all. Fortunately, there were two such people just within who would rectify that feeling immediately.

*****

Darcy knocked on Anne’s sitting room door and looked up and down the hall, hoping no servant would see him.

“Yes?” she called out.

“It’s Darcy,” he said. A memory of them as young children flashed in his mind. They would play “hide from the dragon.” Richard and their other cousin would never let Darcy hide with them. Anne, as a resident of Rosings, always knew the best places to hide. How often had he knocked on a wardrobe or cover and said, “It is me,” and she knew his voice immediately? Now, because of her mother’s scheming, they had grown into mere strangers.

Anne opened the door and also scanned the hallway. “Well?” she asked.

“I need to speak with you privately. Might I come in?” Darcy watched as Anne’s nervousness increased tenfold.

“If you must,” she said and walked toward the seating area. She lowered herself slowly into a chair and motioned for Darcy to do the same. Sitting on the edge of her chair, as though prepared for flight at a moment’s notice, she stared at her hands rather than look at Darcy.

“I must ask for your assistance,” he began nervously.

Anne’s head shot up. She looked a mixture of relieved and sceptical. “You need my help? Whatever for?”

“Miss Bennet finds she must journey to London earlier than previously planned. Neither the Collinses nor her relatives in Town have a suitable conveyance. I have offered to escort her, but she will need a chaperone and use of one of your mother’s carriages.”

Anne’s eyes widened, and she placed a hand protectively over her neck. “I cannot journey so far! London? No, never!” She looked ghost white, and she clenched the arms of her chair in terror.

Darcy gently touched her arm, causing her to jump. “Forgive me,” he said and drew it back. “I did not mean to alarm you,” he said. While some might fear confined places, Anne never did. No, she feared large groups of people. The result of being nearly trampled as a child when taken to see Macbeth with her father and a riot broke out due to an increase in ticket prices.

“Wha — what did you want then?” she asked, her chest still heaving but the fear easing.

“I wondered if you could arrange for a maid to accompany us. Miss Lucas will not wish to leave so early.”

“Oh, is that all?” Anne sagged against the chair in relief and looked younger than he had seen her in ages.

“That shall be hard enough without arousing the suspicion of your mother.” Darcy stood to leave.

“And what of my suspicions?” She said, and if it were not for the fact that Anne seldom left the vicinity of Rosings, Darcy would despise the way she sounded like her mother. As it was, she could hardly help it.

Darcy raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “You will not dally with Mrs. Collins’ friend, will you?”

“I hardly need to explain myself to you,” Darcy turned to go but at the last moment thought better of it. He was striving to be a better man because of Elizabeth’s rebuke. “Forgive me,” he said and retook his seat.

Anne furrowed her brow, unaccustomed to him caring about her opinion.

“I assure you, I have nothing but honourable intentions toward Miss Bennet, but that is all there is worth saying at this moment.” He took a deep breath and pushed forward. “Anne, surely you know… That is, it can be no surprise…” Blast it. There was a reason he had never discussed the situation of her mother’s hopes before.

Anne squeezed her hands tightly and stared at her feet.

Respect. “No, I will not dictate to you as you have had done your whole life. I will not tell you how you must think or feel and will not presume to know better than you.”

Slowly, she lifted her eyes, tears misted them.

“It was wrong of me to avoid this conversation for so many years. Your mother has made her preferences quite known, and I suspect has even raised you to expect our union.”

Anne timidly nodded.

“I ask your forgiveness. I ought to have discussed my feelings long ago.”

“You love Miss Bennet,” she said with understanding.

“I do,” Darcy confirmed. “However, I had felt since my youth that I could not marry you.” She opened her mouth, but Darcy waved it off. “Please, do not disparage yourself. I do not find you wanting. Another man will be quite blessed to have you as a wife. You deserve a man who passionately adores you. I have always known I am not that man and believed I was doing you a service by not bowing to your mother’s wishes.”

Anne exhaled a long breath and tears streamed down her eyes. “Thank you,” she clapped her hands together. “Thank you! Thank you! I have lived in fear, in dread of your proposal for most of my life.”

Despite his relief that she did not resent his rejection, it stung to hear yet another lady wanted no part of his courtship. “Again, I apologise for not stating my feelings earlier.” He stood to depart.

“I can help you!” She called out as his hand reached for the doorknob. He turned back toward her. “I can assist you with Miss Bennet.”

“What makes you think I need your assistance?”

Anne laughed. “She has not the faintest clue you admire her. She would sooner expect Richard’s stallion to grow wings.”

“And you are an expert on matchmaking now?”

“Those who cannot wed, plan!” Anne exclaimed. “I will tell you a secret.”

Dutifully, Darcy returned to his seat and leaned forward as Anne motioned. “I write for a ladies’ magazine. I am Mrs. Mabel Fairweather, mistress of hearts.” She scurried off to her desk and brought correspondence for him to inspect.

Darcy turned them over, recognising her penmanship. “I do not know what to say. You are accomplished beyond my wildest thoughts.”

“Now, you have begun your courtship on the wrong foot,” Anne grinned and retrieved her letters. “However, Elizabeth is a reasonable woman. She can be convinced to let the past remain there. She is prejudiced against your rank and wealth, and it does not help that she knows my mother,” Anne groaned at the thought.

Darcy silently added that Elizabeth’s other accusations involved Wickham and Bingley. “I have already determined I must show her and her relations greater respect.”

Anne nodded. “An excellent start. And how will you demonstrate this? Just wait for them to appear? Or to be brought up in conversation?”

Indeed, that was exactly his plan. Conversation was not his strong suit. Now, if only Society allowed him to demonstrate his passion for the lady…

“Do not fret,” Anne said. “We can practice some conversation and” she waggled her eyebrows, “we can discuss the appropriate behaviour of suitors. You must not leave her in doubt of your regard.”

Darcy loosened his cravat. The ways in which he desired to show Elizabeth his affection were not suitable for a lady’s ears, or anyone really. He had long struggled with accepting that he could feel very carnal desire for Elizabeth and love her intellect and personality as well. He stood to leave.

“When do you see her again? I imagine in the morning. I have not seen her sketching as early as she used to.”

“She sketches?”

“Oh yes,” Anne nodded. “She favours the hill overlooking the village. In the distance, you can see the spires of Knole Park. It does not surprise me that she has an interest in architecture.”

Darcy grinned. A true bluestocking. Neglecting fashionable pursuits for “gentlemen’s art.” She could not be more perfect for him than if he had intended to find a wife upon his entering Hertfordshire. He might have searched for many years before finding her.

“We do often meet in the grove,” Darcy answered neutrally.

“Do not go tomorrow,” Anne said. “Leave her wishing she had seen you. Visit me, and we will discuss how to proceed.”

“Thank you,” Darcy said, uncertain he should encourage her meddling in his life.

“And where the devil did you send Richard?”

“He had business in London and is detained by an ill commander. He hopes to return soon.”

“Yes, well, Mother pesters me more about you when he is absent.” Anne waved a hand. “You may go.”

Darcy, at last, left her sitting room, marvelling how much she was like her mother, and yet, that was not an entirely bad thing.

 

Sufficient Encouragement- Chapter 6

We finally get to the ball! And Wickham comes!

I just think they're a cute couple.
I just think they’re a cute couple.

Chapter Six

Elizabeth smiled at Jane in the mirror as they put finishing touches on each other’s hair. Jane was all excitement; she could scarcely imagine a better evening in her life. Elizabeth, however, felt more apprehension than anything, not least because Mr. Collins had requested the first two dances of the evening. She also thought she would have to contend with Darcy’s attentions. She told herself again that it was only until Jane secured Bingley; then she could be herself and offend him as she was certain she would. Five seasons with no suitors had taught her how easily she achieved that.

Additionally, she hoped to avoid Mr. Wickham. The last thing she desired to hear was anything complimentary about Darcy. It was better to keep her first impressions of him. If his admiration of her was as real as Miss Bingley—and even Mr. Wickham— seemed to believe then it would occasion him some pain when the time came for her to spurn him. She had no doubt it would mostly be his pride and vanity that would be wounded, but she desired to know as little about his better traits as possible.

After making it through the receiving line, she entered Netherfield’s drawing room. It was as much a crush as Meryton had ever experienced. Mr. Darcy very shortly came to her side.

“How are you, Miss Bennet?”

“Very well, thank you.”

“You did not take ill?”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “No, I have been very well. I have a very strong constitution.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

He then stood silently before her for a moment and although she dearly wished to find someone to converse with she could find no easy answer in eyesight. Left to study him, she thought she detected fatigue in his eyes.

“Forgive me, I am distracted by the splendour of the ball. I trust you are well.”

“Exceedingly.”

Biting her bottom lip she cast about for a topic to discuss. “I was happy to see the sun this morning. Four days of rain is more than I can bear. I would ask if you were similarly frustratedbut I suppose the house was all busy-ness preparing for the ball.”

He looked uncomfortable as he answered. “It was, I believe.” He looked over her shoulder and suddenly excused himself.

“Eliza,” she heard her dearest friend, Charlotte Lucas, call out to her. Upon reaching Elizabeth’s side, she asked softly, “Whatever did you say to poor Mr. Darcy? I saw him run off as though he was chased.”

“You will be happy to hear I have avoided my impertinent ways. Rather, I believe your presence is what scared him off.”

“I think he admires you.”

Elizabeth stifled a groan. She did not wish to hear this from yet another person and rapidly changed the subject. “How nice you look Charlotte!”

Her friend blushed at the praise. “Thank you. I love the flowers you have put in your hair. Will they hold up while you dance?”

Elizabeth recalled her conversation with Mr. Darcy and began to laugh. “My dearest Charlotte, are you suggesting I sit out a few sets?”

She gave Elizabeth a sly smile. “You cannot blame me for trying. One can barely look tolerable on the floor when you are, with all your liveliness.”

“Hush. Now, who is on your card?”

Charlotte smiled. “Several officers and Mr. Bingley already. What of you?”

“Only my cousin Mr. Collins, who I do not anticipate being gifted in the dance.”

“Mr. Darcy did not ask? I had imagined that was what he was saying to you.”

“Why would a man excuse himself as though frightened if he had been simply asking for a dance? Your imagination is too much at times.”

The two friends circulated amongst the room for a few minutes before the dancing began. Mr. Collins swiftly claimed his set. As feared, a more mortifying experience Elizabeth could not imagine.

She felt as though she barely survived before Mr. Carter requested a dance. He talked pleasantly of the weather and the ball. He briefly mentioned their newest officer, Mr. Wickham, and then shared a humorous story. He was a lively dancer and Elizabeth was grateful that, no matter what the rest of the evening held, she had at least enjoyed one dance. After the dance, she found Charlotte and was in conversation with her when Mr. Darcy suddenly approached.

“May I have the next dance, Miss Elizabeth?”

“You may,” she replied instantaneously.

“Thank you.” Then looking at Charlotte, he said, “And I wonder if your supper set is free, Miss Lucas?”

Stuttering in surprise, Charlotte answered, “It is, sir.”

“And may I have the honour?”

“Certainly.”

Mr. Darcy hastily bowed and left without another word. The two ladies watched after him in astonishment.

“Well, I dare say I owe that piece of civility to you, Eliza.”

“Civility? For the man to dance at a ball? And with one of the sweetest and prettiest ladies in attendance?”

“You will not convince me otherwise. He wishes to recommend himself to your friends.”

Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. It was becoming increasingly unlikely that Mr. Darcy’s actions were that of a mere flirtation. Worse than that, she had not even taken a moment to remind herself of her resolve before agreeing to his request to dance when, scarcely more than a week ago, she had delighted in refusing him. After nervously sipping her punch, she could not deny the feeling of excitement she felt when he came to claim his set.

She saw the looks of amazement on the faces of her neighbours to see her stand up with the reserved gentleman. She dearly wished she would not soon become part of their gossip. But one dance hardly made a proposal.

They stood across from each other in complete silence for several minutes, and Elizabeth warred with herself over the idea of speaking first. Generally, she would love nothing more than to vex him, but she was trying to hold her tongue.

“I dearly wish to know your thoughts,” he suddenly asked.

His words startled her, just as it was their turn to move, and she nearly missed a step.

“I should remark that private balls are pleasanter than public ones.”

The steps separated them and when they returned he raised his brow at her. “But you do not conform to frivolous conversation. What you should remark and what you actually wished to say are two very different things, I am sure.”

“You are attempting to get me to say something impertinent.”

“Perhaps I am.”

“I was considering the very great similarity in the turn of our minds. Neither of us wishes to speak unless we are certain to amaze the whole room.”

“That is no very great resemblance to your own character. You think it a faithful portrait of mine, undoubtedly.”

“I must not decide on my own performance.”

“I recall you saying you enjoyed sketching a character.”

“I do.”

His gaze went over her head, and she turned to look. She saw Mr. Wickham talking with her parents before leading Lydia to the floor.

“I also remember you agreeing that a country society would offer little opportunity to meet new people.”

“I did…” she was growing confused.

“In the event that Mr. Wickham’s character is not easily sketched allow me to shed some light. He is able to make friends, whether he is equally capable of retaining them is less certain.”

“He has told me it was only a trivial misunderstanding betwixt you; that he counts you as one of his greatest friends.”

A deep shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he was silent as he sought out Wickham’s face on the dance floor.

Soon they were interrupted by Sir William Lucas. “You both dance so gracefully I hope to see this often repeated when a certain desirable event,” he glanced at Jane and Bingley, “shall take place. Oh, but I will let you dance.”

He went away quickly, and Elizabeth watched Darcy. He remained focussed on Jane and Bingley for some time.

“Now, I would ask you what you are thinking, sir.”

The moment the words left her lips she wished them back for his eyes snapped to hers. He studied her for a long moment, and they were separated again by the dance.

“Perhaps it is as you say, our minds turn in the same direction.”

She held her breath for a moment. “But do they turn with the same feeling?”

“That I know not.”

“I would remind you of the words you said about never judging with prejudice,” she said rapidly.

“And are you attempting to make out my character again? I do not know if the present will give either of us credit.”

“But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.” She heartily hoped that Bingley would propose tonight. Then she could end this facade, and when she did she certainly believed he would no longer care for her. Surprisingly, the thought brought a prick of pain.

“You are contemplating something again.”

“No, I am merely focused on the present.”

“Are you? For I promised to give you many opportunities to sketch my character in the future.”

The dance ended, and they parted in silence.

Immediately Miss Bingley came to her. “You ought not to have spoken so much to Mr. Darcy during your dance, Eliza. This entire evening is taxing for him.”

She counted to three before replying. “I would hate for my company to be counted as the sole purpose the evening is taxing for him. I believe, when planning this very ball, your brother made mention Mr. Darcy could go to bed early if he so wished.”

She turned from Miss Bingley. Mr. Collins hovered by her side for the remaining dances before supper, hence deterring any other offers. She was pleased to see Jane receive so much attention from Bingley, although he did appear to sit out several dances. Looking about the room, as she tried to ignore Mr. Collins’ babbling, she saw Wickham was very attentive to her parents and danced with Kitty, and then Mary during the supper set. Charlotte appeared to be enjoying her dance with Mr. Darcy. He talked easily with her. She smiled, though, when they came to her at the end of the dance, and they all entered the dining room together.

 

*****

 

Darcy’s head pounded as the evening progressed. Upon returning to Netherfield after leaving Elizabeth’s company the previous Thursday, he and Bingley were informed that both Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had caught Miss Bennet’s cold. He thought it was all an attempt to cancel the ball until it spread to the menfolk. The invitations had to be sent by proxy and Bingley was grieved to not wait upon the Bennet ladies in person, but he insisted the ball go on. For all that Bingley’s sisters claimed that the Bennet ladies were too indelicate, they recovered from their colds much faster than Miss Bennet had.

To not unduly raise Elizabeth’s expectations, he had danced with several other ladies this evening. He was far from fully recovered, but it could not be helped, he must dance every set if he wished to dance with Elizabeth twice.

Wickham’s presence was another contribution to his painful head. Why had he misled Elizabeth that they were great friends? Nothing could be further from the truth! There must be some scheme afoot. However, there was little Wickham could do, and little Darcy could understand during a ball. He would allow himself to instead think about Elizabeth. Securing Miss Lucas, her dearest friend, for the supper set he hoped would allow him to sit near Elizabeth during the meal.

Upon sitting, Darcy learned his enjoyment would be mixed with displeasure. They were seated near Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their three youngest daughters. Bingley, the lucky man, managed to sit at another table with his sisters and Miss Bennet.

Darcy turned his head to hide his wince at Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice. Could he really be considering this? This for life?

He turned to Miss Lucas. “I would be pleased to serve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” was her impeccably civil reply. He reminded himself that clearly some were capable of proper decorum in the area.

Then he turned to Elizabeth. “I would be pleased to assist you as well, Miss Elizabeth.”

She began to answer but was interrupted by a small man he had seen dancing with her at the beginning of the ball. He nearly tripped over his chair to get to Darcy’s side. “Mr. Darcy of Pemberley!” He declared it more than asked it.

“Yes…”

“I have heard so much about you from my patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Such a magnanimous and condescending lady! And her daughter! A beauty of the first water! You will be a lucky gentleman!”

Darcy had been hoping to quickly excuse himself but when the man said those words he focused on him again. “I do not have the pleasure of knowing your name,” he said coldly.

“William Collins, at your service,” he bowed deeply and Darcy only barely returned it.

“Mr. Collins is my father’s cousin,” Elizabeth began to say, but Darcy saw the strain about her eyes. Would her embarrassing relations ever cease? How could they be so thoughtless to cause her such distress?

“If you will excuse me, I must retrieve the ladies their supper,” he turned to leave.

“I am fetching Miss Elizabeth’s. We may speak more while we are in the line.”

Darcy peered at the strange gentleman again. He seemed to be very attentive to Elizabeth. Too attentive. “Very well.” He bowed to the ladies and left with the strange man in tow.

Throughout Mr. Collins attempts to whisper about his happiness in his new situation, Darcy learned many things. Among them was that the clergyman, as heir to Longbourn, came with the express intention of marrying one of his cousins, and Elizabeth caught his eye. Never! His mind and heart screamed.

Upon sitting, his evening worsened further. Wickham was seated next to Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia. Wickham nodded his head at Darcy, and he perceived Elizabeth watching. Uncertain what his enemy was playing, at he returned the civility.

“Oh, Mr. Wickham! How gallant you are to dance with three of my daughters! Surely you will do the other two the favour as well.” Mrs. Bennet screeched.

“Certainly, madam.” Wickham grinned and then looked at Elizabeth. “Miss Elizabeth, may I have the honour of one of your sets?”

She looked quickly to Darcy before replying. “Of course, sir.”

“Is the last available?” Wickham took a sip of wine, but Darcy saw his eyes show a smug glint as he looked at him over the glass.

“It is,” was there a tremor in Elizabeth’s voice? Did she wish to close the dance with Wickham? And the very dance Darcy intended to ask for, not that propriety allowed her to refuse an earlier offer and still dance!

“It will be a pleasure, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Who are you dancing with after supper, Mr. Wickham?” Lydia cried out.

“Why you, if you will have me,” he smiled roguishly and Lydia and Mrs. Bennet tittered.

Supper droned on with the voices of the most annoying of the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet appeared to even vex Lady Lucas with her exclamations that Jane and Bingley would soon marry. The thought was vexing to him too, but he would think about it later. For now, the concern that Wickham was rising in the Bennets’ esteem was troublesome enough.

Bingley stood up to invite the ladies to entertain the room, and Darcy would have been grateful for Wickham’s suggestion that Mary’s constitution was too delicate to perform this evening if he were not so concerned that Wickham was concocting a scheme. Mr. Bennet seemed to be liberally consuming Bingley’s wine. At last it was time to return to dancing, and as he escorted Miss Lucas into the ballroom, it finally occurred to him he had not spoken above five words to either his supper partner or Elizabeth.

As Miss Lucas’ partner came for her, he went to find Miss Bingley. She complained, as expected, about the course of the evening, especially the Bennets. He was happy to have no need to supply much conversation as the dance was lively, and he found himself short of breath. He steered her to the punch table. Elizabeth was there as well, Mr. Collins hovering near her.

After quickly draining his glass, hoping to stave off a cough he felt tickling the back of his throat, he turned to Elizabeth. “Miss Elizabeth, I was hoping to partner with you for another set.”

“But Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Collins and Miss Bingley both exclaimed.

Collins seemed to defer to Miss Bingley for the moment. She continued, “Surely you should not tax yourself so much after your illness.”

“You were ill?” Elizabeth asked with concern. How he had wished, she had attended his bedside rather than his valet.

“Lady Catherine would be most displeased if her nephew threatened his health just to be so inordinately civil to such a crowd of people. Mr. Darcy, I insist you sit out the remainder of the ball.”

“Thank you, Mr. Collins, but gentlemen are in short supply, and I will do my duty.”

Miss Bingley’s partner collected her so she could no longer protest, and Mr. Collins attempted to argue again.

“Mr. Collins, speaking of a shortage of gentlemen, perhaps you should find a partner,” Darcy suggested.

“Certainly, I would love to dance with my dearest cousin again.”

“But I am engaged with Mr. Darcy for this set.”

“He does not mean to dance now; I am sure of it. Come, Miss Elizabeth,” he held out his hand for her, but Darcy spoke coldly.

“The lady is engaged, but I do see Miss Lucas without a partner for this dance. It is exceedingly ungentlemanly to let a lady sit out. My aunt, especially, hates such incivility.”

“Oh! I had not seen her there. I had not meant to leave…but if it would really be the gentlemanly thing to do…”

“I am certain Miss Lucas would be pleased,” Elizabeth interjected.

He made a bow and quickly moved to Miss Lucas’ side. Darcy held out his hand for Elizabeth, but she shook her head.

“Sir, if you have been ill you really should rest yourself.”

“Are you to be my nursemaid?” He rather liked the thought, but then he thought he would rather her care for him daily, as a wife would. He smiled at the thought.

“Oh no. I am certain you are a dreadful patient,” she returned.

“And yet I had thought you the sort whose courage always rose to every occasion.”

She laughed a heavenly sound. “I will strike a bargain with you, sir. We will sit out this dance, and I will allow you the silence I am sure you wish for if you will promise to go to the card room for the last set. No one can say you have been uncivil tonight.”

“Silence? Why would I wish silence in your presence?”

She said lowly, “I was under the impression the company of this evening had been distasteful.”

He lowered his head to speak for her ears alone. “Your company is never distasteful.”

She blushed. Why had he thought he could resist her?

“You did not always think so, sir,” she raised her head and her eyes challenged him.

“I am sorry you think so. Since the beginning of our acquaintance, I have found you enchanting. My manners must be to blame.”

She looked at him cautiously for a moment before replying. “Enchanting but not tempting.”

“You are quite incorrect. I have never been more tempted … to converse.” Truthfully, he was tempted in more pleasurable ways as well.

She swallowed and paused. “You are far more civil tonight than you were during your first dance in the country.”

“I am uncomfortable forming new acquaintances.”

“And yet you remained silent for most of your time in the country. Do you now count yourself as sufficiently acquainted with Miss Lucas or Miss Long?”

She was trying to say something, yet he could not connect the clues. It made him uncomfortable. “Did you not say some relationships cultivate faster than others?”

“I did. Perhaps now we can think about events of the evening with similar feelings after all.”

“Indeed?” He had not realized how insecure he felt of her feelings until such a declaration. He suddenly felt like he could move mountains.

“Jane has always been so reserved and never had her heart touched by a gentleman before. Yet, look at her now. She smiles so happily next to Mr. Bingley.”

He blinked in surprise. Had she been speaking of her sister and Bingley? He had never seen signs of real affection from either one of them. He studied them closely now. Yes, Bingley was more attentive than usual. But could mere smiles alone be Miss Bennet’s signal of admiration?

Such a peculiar family they were! Two incorrigible flirts, one sister who would rather read than speak to acquaintances, and then Elizabeth—lively but entirely proper. How could Miss Bennet turn out so differently?

Then his mind turned toward his own sister. They were both reserved, but she was truly shy, timid even, in company. And she certainly did not have the cause to worry and conceal her feelings that Miss Bennet did. But such thoughts just made him consider Elizabeth’s family again, and tonight he preferred to simply enjoy her smiles.

“I am certain Miss Bennet is everything proper,” he said at last.

“She is. Your sister will benefit from a correspondence with her.”

“My sister wants more liveliness, Miss Elizabeth. I am certain she will benefit even more from corresponding with you.”

“Thank you,” she blushed again. Of course, Georgiana would benefit even more if Elizabeth were a constant influence.

The music ended, and Wickham approached. He smiled gaily at Elizabeth and then Darcy, clearly wanting to continue the facade that they were friends. Seething with jealousy just seeing Elizabeth’s hand in Wickham’s he turned to the card room. He would call on the Bennets tomorrow and manage to say something. A call on Wickham was in order as well.

 

*****

 

Wickham smiled at his partner. All was going according to his plan. The Bennets were charmed by him, he would easily be welcome in their home at any time. Mr. Bennet was encouraged to drink plenty of port and then took his suggestion to go to the card room after supper. Denny would take care of the rest on that side of things. Now Wickham needed to gain Elizabeth’s trust.

“Well, Miss Elizabeth, you have spent two dances with Mr. Darcy and sat near him at supper. Are you any closer to making him out?”

“I wonder why it concerns you so much? I am not in the habit of people being so interested in my affairs.”

“I have been connected with him for so long and although our acquaintance is short I feel as if I know you very well.”

She arched a brow. “And this sort of intimacy has allowed you to consider what, sir? That we are well matched?”

“I have certainly deduced what has attracted my friend.”

“And that is?”

His eyes scanned her body before returning to her face. He could nearly feel the heat of her blush. It had been too long since he felt the heat of a woman’s body, but he made his mind focus. “The sharpness of your mind, of course.”

Elizabeth scoffed. “You are incorrect. He prefers more mild-mannered ladies.”

“No, I know my friend well.”

“Then he certainly wishes for someone with greater connections and wealth.”

“If that were true he might have married any lady long ago. His aunt is after him to marry his cousin.”

“I do not care for Town,” she said it rather weakly.

“Neither does he.”

“I do care for my family and he does not.”

“That is an obstacle but one that is conquerable.”

“Really, I do not care if it is. I have no wish for his attentions,” Elizabeth said with what was clearly impatience.

“You certainly do not give the impression of a lady that wishes to put a man off. Now, your sister must be tiring of Mr. Bingley.”

“Jane loves him!” She blushed. “Forgive me. My sister is very reserved and would hate to be the source of such impertinent remarks.”

“Well, I do not know many men who would understand a lady had great feeling for him if all he received were serene smiles.”

She looked towards Miss Bennet and Mr. Bingley. “You think he does not perceive her regard?”

“I do not. And with such other objections…”

“What other objections?” she asked harshly.

“His sisters are very concerned with wealth and connections. And as you say, his friend is not impressed with her relations.”

“But…if, as you suggest, his friend would consider me surely my sister must be enough.”

“Yet you do not wish him to consider you.”

She hesitated and in that instant Wickham understood things exactly. She did not wish for Darcy’s attentions but neither did she wish to offend the man who held sway over her sister’s suitor. He may win both Darcy’s money and his woman after all, a very pleasing thought.

He smiled and spoke before she replied. “I have teased you enough for now. I certainly hope all ends well for you and your sisters. I have only your happiness at heart.”

The dance ended, and they parted in silence. On his side, he was wondering how he may use this information to the best advantage. Timing would be everything.

 

Sketching Character- Author Interview with Pamela Lynne and Giveaway!

I’m so excited to have Pamela Lynne here today! I first got to know her on a JAFF forum a few years ago and have absolutely loved her first published work, Dearest Friends. I’m really looking forward to the release of her next novel, Sketching Character. Look for it on Amazon on release day September 28th and paperback on other retailers soon afterwards!

Blurb

sketching character resizedWhat if a tragic event involving a beloved sister shatters Elizabeth Bennet‘s confidence in her ability to accurately judge a person’s character? When she leaves Longbourn for Kent, Elizabeth’s heart is full of worry for those she left behind. She carries a secret that would ruin her family if exposed and she must deceive the ones closest to her to conceal the truth.

She unexpectedly encounters Mr. Darcy on her journey and his gentlemanly behavior confuses, yet comforts her. Their daily encounters in the woods surrounding Rosings soothes Elizabeth’s weathered conscience and she soon falls in love. Her doubts, along with the well-placed words of another, threaten to destroy the peace she finds in Darcy’s company and she wonders if she has again failed to correctly sketch his character.

When the truth behind her deception is uncovered, will Darcy shun her as Elizabeth fears, or will his actions prove that he is the very best of men?

Now, let us attempt to sketch our author’s character. Grab your coffee or tea and settle in for this interview.

I love Dearest Friends, it’s one of my go to comfort reads. How would you describe Sketching Character? More or less angst for our couple than your first release?

Thank you, Rose! I always love to hear that, especially from another author. Sketching Character is far more angsty than Dearest Friends. There are some sweet and funny moments, but overall, SC is more serious. We have supporting characters, but pretty much all the action centers around D&E.

One of my favorite jokes in Dearest Friends is about a family prevalence for an “inner Fitzwilliam” trait of sexual awareness and appetite. That aside, the Fitzwilliam family is pretty accepting of Elizabeth in the book. What are they up to in Sketching Character?

In DF, the Fitzwilliams were loveable in spite of their faults. We see a different family dynamic here. We don’t see much of Matlock and Lady Catherine. The reader will be thankful for that, I think. That’s all I can on that subject. 😉

While we’re on the subject of minor characters, if this were the Oscars, who would get Best Supporting Actor and Actress?

Richard and Lydia are the ones we see most but all the usual players are there.

This is silly, but I’m in a silly mood. I once found a website that generated suggestions for a Romantic hero’s scent using two nouns and based on his name. So, what’s Fitzwilliam Darcy smell like to you?

LOL. What would Darcy smell like in two words. That’s hard! No, that’s not my answer. The first word that comes to mind is woodsy. The next is hero. So, Woodsy Hero.

As a fellow writer, I know characters can surprise us. Did that happen with this book? Do you find it more frustrating or freeing when the story takes its own life?

After my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants experience with DF, I decided SC would be more purposeful. I knew the characters well when I sat down to write their scenes, so I didn’t have very many surprises. There was some adlibbing and many of the romantic lines between D&E were spontaneous, but everything else was pretty well thought out.

What was your favorite part of writing this book? What was your least favorite?

My favorite part is seeing Darcy as the hero. In DF, that role was spread around. Here, he really shines. My least favorites are how long it takes me to write and much I have second guessed myself with some things.

Do you have a special process or routine that helps you write?

I wish I did. Having one might make the whole process easier.

How do stories come to you? A full thought out scene/outline? A flash of an idea?

DF started with a flash of an idea—what if Bingley insisted Darcy marry Caroline after she faked a compromise. SC came from several different places that I wove into one story.

Is there a particular moment in Pride and Prejudice or one of your books when you fall in love with Darcy?

In P&P, it’s definitely the letter. On the surface, it’s just a relaying of events. When you look deeper, however, you see how much of himself he exposed there. That’s part of the genius of Austen—to take a simple statement of facts and turn it into something profound. Her simplicity is rarely simple.

Who is your favorite literary male and why? If it’s Mr. Darcy, do you have another one?

It’s definitely Darcy. No other romantic hero can compare. He loved Elizabeth and showed it through his efforts with Lydia and Wickham. It was his respect for her that caused his introspection, I think. What woman wouldn’t love a man who both loved and respected her, especially in those times.

I also love Laurie in Little Women and have actually put a little of him in Bingley. As far as my own writing goes, nobody has captured my heart as much as Sebastian.

Who is your favorite literary female? (It’s ok to list Elizabeth Bennet here. I feel like the world doesn’t talk about her enough. Lol.)

I do love Elizabeth and related to her a great deal when I first read P&P. My favorite heroine (currently) is Jane Eyre. This was a woman who was not loved in her life. She had one friend, who died, and lived a very harsh existence. Then, she is presented with a deep, passionate love from a man who should have been out of her reach. She was finally wanted. But, there’s an insane secret wife hidden in the attic. Even through such heartache, she remained true to herself and that inner sense of what’s right. She was not a woman who would carry on an affair in the name of love. Elizabeth didn’t like Darcy when she rejected him. Jane loved Rochester, but she had the strength to walk away. You have to admire that.

Giveaway

Pamela Lynne is offering a special Vanity and Pride Press Prize pack along with a copy of the book for US entries and an ebook for international entries. To be considered for the giveaway please ask a question for Pamela in the comment section below. Entries close Monday, September 28 at 11:59 EST.

About the Author

Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O’Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who seeped into her being.

She often describes her developing years as “Longbourn, The White Trash Version,” and credits Jane Austen for what little sense she brought away from that time. She has met her share of Willoughbys and Wickhams, Bingleys and Tilneys, and writes about them all.

Pamela currently lives among the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Other books by Pamela Lynne

dearest friendsDearest Friends: Amazon, Nook, Barnes & Noble

Letters from the Heart- Excerpt and Giveaway

LettersFromTheHeart-Ebook-1aWell, November just flew by between editing Letters from the Heart and participating in National Novel Writing Month, throw in some car repairs, kids checks ups, allergic reaction/skin infection, surprise moving and I think I could sleep for the next month straight!

But enough about me. Letters from the Heart went live on Kindle about 24 hours ago and it’s already doing great.The paperback on Amazon will be available in a few days.

I originally planned on it coming out on December 7th, which was perfect as it’s “Letter Writing Day” which was the “Wacky Holiday” I chose when this story began as a challenge piece on an online forum. Now, I offer a giveaway on that day!

I must have needed sleep more than I thought last night because I forgot the blurb!

Resolved to forget Elizabeth Bennet during a winter in London, Fitzwilliam Darcy writes a letter in bitterness of spirit. Frustrated by her growing obsession with the arrogant man, Elizabeth commits her thoughts to paper. But angry people are not always wise, and secret thoughts do not always remain secret. Compelled to face their selfishness and fears, their actions encourage those dearest to them to change as well.

You can read the full first chapter as a sample on Amazon. Here is an excerpt, only available here, from Chapter 2.

*****

Elizabeth Bennet crept up the servant’s stairs to her bedroom. The last thing she wanted at present was to be discovered by her mother. She had been unusually troubled this morning before her walk and took little heed of the mud puddles she walked through. My petticoats are six inches deep in mud again, Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth shook her head; she must stop thinking of that arrogant, annoying, frustratingly beautiful man. She chose not to reprimand her thoughts for describing him as beautiful, for it was as true as any description of him. Opening her bedroom door, she had every intention to burn the letter she wrote the night before. Indeed, as she should have after she finished writing. No, I never should have written it at all.

Her eyes grew wide with foreboding when she saw her letter stack gone. The maid must have taken her mail to be sent. Attempting to stave off the alarm rising in her breast, she assured herself that no matter how agitated her mind was last night, she would not have left it on her desk. She must have absently tucked it in a drawer. She had not even sealed it and so there was no mistaking it for a letter to be sent, certainly.

For good measure, she recounted her motions before bed last night. She had sealed and addressed four letters. That fact was entirely perfect, as she had written four letters. No, No, No! She wrote four letters, but only three were meant for the post! Flying down the stairs, she asked the maid if the post had been sent.

“Aye, Miss Elizabeth, and the master has all the letters that came today in his study.”

“Elizabeth!” Just then her father called from his study, before she had a chance to give in to the despair that must naturally follow the situation.

“Yes, Papa?” she asked from the doorway.

“Shut the door and be seated.” Elizabeth looked at her father in confusion and consternation. His tone had a sharpness she seldom heard; it was as though she was being reprimanded for some grave error.

Mr. Bennet looked at his favourite daughter expectantly, but when she said nothing he decided to begin. “It has come to my attention that you have been involved in a secret correspondence with a gentleman of our acquaintance, though I am uncertain he deserves the title gentleman.”

Elizabeth gasped and began to refute the claim, but he interrupted her. “No, Elizabeth, I have indisputable proof. Now, normally such things would point to a secret betrothal, which would be concerning enough, but in this letter—written in your young man’s hand—he denies such a marriage will take place. I must say, for all that we have heard of him and observed, I never believed him so dishonourable as to correspond with a single lady with his name blatantly signed all over it. I suppose he does not have to worry about his reputation, and he must have no fear that I can demand satisfaction.”

“I have not the slightest idea who you mean. I am not corresponding with any gentleman.” The slight blush to Elizabeth’s cheeks betrayed her as she recalled her mislaid letter.

“Do not lie to me.” He pulled out the now-opened letter addressed to his daughter and waved it at her. “Here is the letter from your man, and your maid confirmed a letter to him was sent this morning.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted and was silent. Mr. Bennet considered this sufficient encouragement to continue, “Your mother knows of this and I am uncertain I can keep her silent. At least one maid in the house knows of your correspondence. Heaven only knows what the postman and his clerk have said. I cannot make sense of it. I thought you disliked him, which might explain his actions, but you wrote him. He vows he will not marry you, yet he publicly compromises you.”

After a lengthy pause, he asked very quietly, “Have there been other compromises?”

Elizabeth cried, “Papa! How can you think it of me?”

“What am I meant to think, child?”

Elizabeth still could not credit what she understood from her father’s words and chose to continue her denial, “You have no proof of my alleged letter aside from the maid’s testimony, and I have not read the letter in your hands. I cannot fathom who you mean.”

Her attempt at deceit could not prevail, for her father knew her too well. “I will not play your game, Elizabeth. Now tell me, do you truly hate him, for I think I must appeal to his honour.”

Elizabeth gulped deeply and spoke to her folded hands. She could not meet her father’s eye. “No, I do not hate him. I only wish I could.”

“Very well, that gives me some peace.”

“Papa…surely you have heard how he has treated Mr. Wickham, and I know he has taken Mr. Bingley away from Jane. We cannot hope he will do the honourable thing. If this is known, what shall become of me, of my sisters? How cruel of him!”

“You mailed a letter as well!”

“But I did not mean to!”

“And why not?”

“I cannot respect him! I like him against my will and all reason!”

He laughed heartily and added, “It seems you both love each other against your will.”

Elizabeth’s head sharply lifted at such words, and her eyes flew to the letter Mr. Bennet still held. “Here child, I have kept you in suspense long enough.”

Her hands greedily reached for the letter, and her eyes spoke her thanks. She ran upstairs to her room to read in solitude.

 

Giveaway

I’m giving away one paperback and one kindle copy of this book, both open internationally. Please leave a comment below with which format you prefer and make sure the email address you enter is a good one to contact you through. Giveaway ends December 7, 11:59 pm EST.

Letters from the Heart

I have exciting news! My next release, Letters from the Heart, is off to the editors and should come out in December 2014. I’m even more excited because I finished my editing and additions a few days before my October 31st cut off date.

hungrywords2Letters from the Heart has been through the works a few times. I originally posted the story as “The Best Laid Plans” about a year ago. The total word count was 7,999 words and came from Beyond Austen’s “Wacky Holiday” short story prompt. There were a series of suggested holidays and I chose “Letter Writing Day.” The word limit was 8,000 words and I did not plot the story well and really hit the limit. Dissatisfied with the rushed nature of the closing I pulled it back out in April. I doubled the length and allowed betas to work their magic, posting it as “Knowing You by Heart.” When I considered publishing it a friend reviewed it and really suggested that I extend it even further. And so we have Letters from the Heart at 36,067 words- before final edits. So, it’s been a lot of additional writing. Nearly all of the original work was put in the first three chapters.

Here’s the tentative synopsis: Resolved to forget Elizabeth Bennet while wintering in London, Fitzwilliam Darcy writes a letter in bitterness of spirit. Annoyed at her growing obsession with the arrogant man, Elizabeth journals her thoughts. Unfortunately, tormented minds are not always the clearest.

 

And as a special treat to you, I am including a new excerpt from Chapter 4.

With such disheartened thoughts Elizabeth entered the drawing-room, and soon thereafter Mr. Wickham and some other officers entered to call on the ladies. Wickham began his familiar complaints about Darcy, but Elizabeth could not stand for it.

“I wonder, Mr. Wickham, that you were not able to find another parish.”

He shifted his eyes uncomfortably and paused before answering. “My only contacts were through Darcy, and his malice was so strong he would not see me settled anywhere.”

“Surely he cannot have such power over the entire kingdom, sir. Perhaps when my ordained cousin, Mr. Collins, returns in a few days he might have a recommendation for you.”

Wickham winced, and Elizabeth continued. “I only thought, sir, it would be a shame for you to waste your education and what must assuredly be a vocation for you. If you have the opportunity to give sermons and get some bit of your just due— after all a clergyman earns more than a militia officer— then it must be worth any pain to your pride.”

He gave her a glare at the reminder of his income.

“For you would have spent three years studying for ordination and two years since awaiting orders somewhere, I believe.”

Wickham’s friend, Denny, perked up then. “Ordination? I know I met you three years ago when you lived at Lincoln’s Inn.” Denny stifled a howl as Wickham stomped on his foot. His exclamation of pain brought the notice of the room.

Wickham attempted to explain as all eyes focused on him but sounded unconvincing, “Darcy had made it plain at his father’s death, just as I was finishing at Cambridge that he would deny me the living. I sought to study the law instead.”

Elizabeth hid her smirk at how fast his story changed. “That would have been a very great thing for you, indeed! But whatever happened? How could you afford it in the first place?”

“I was given a bequest of one thousand pounds.”

 “I am glad to hear Mr. Darcy was not so hateful after all, to not give you anything from the will and that you were able to study. Such a sum must have covered all your costs.” One thousand pounds to study the law was just sufficient but an additional three thousand pounds was more than enough for educational and reasonable societal pursuits alike.

“There is that…but the living ought to have been mine.” He clearly chose not to address the fact that apparently he did not face the bar and could only blame it on his poor understanding or running low on funds and not finishing his education.

“I rather recall you mentioning it could be treated as conditional only, as Mr. Darcy claimed you rather extravagant.”

 She paused, and Wickham gaped, searching for something to say.

 “But then, we cannot think so generously of Mr. Darcy. Instead, let us consider the good fortune his father bestowed upon you by ensuring with every lawful means you received the one thousand pounds, to give you such a start in life.”

 “Yes, I will forever be grateful for the kindness of the father.”

 “It does you credit that you have not forgot him.”

Elizabeth gave Wickham a knowing look, and she could tell he understood her perfectly. Not many weeks ago he had vowed to never say a negative word of Darcy unless he could forget the good of his father.

Having heard the officers from his library, Mr. Bennet came and sat with them. Elizabeth cast worried looks to him, and soon he pointedly engaged in monopolizing Wickham’s time exclusively for the remainder of the call. Lydia seemed displeased, but was easily consoled with attention from others.

 When they had left, Elizabeth followed her father into the library.

 “Papa, in light of Mr. Darcy’s information on Mr. Wickham, what do you plan to do?” He did not look up from his book.

 “Plan to do?”

 “He is a rake and a gamester, surely a threat to our community.”

 At his silence, she persevered. “Please, Papa. I was so mistaken in Mr. Darcy’s character and so willingly spoke against him even more so in the last week. Please, some redress is the least I can do.”

 Mr. Bennet sighed and finally focused on his daughter. “What would you have me do? Mr. Darcy did not authorize us, or I should say you, to say anything about Wickham – if he even meant to send that letter at all. He left the area without concern for us, surely he must consider Wickham no great threat to us.”

“Perhaps…but he also had no connections in the area. It would be quite impertinent for him to tell the area’s residents how to protect themselves from such an unworthy man. Nor could he say anything on Wickham’s dalliances without risking too much about his sister. The whole area is very prejudiced towards him. It would be the death of half the good people of Meryton to find out that Wickham is a cad and from Mr. Darcy’s own mouth. Yet, you they may believe.”

Her father groaned, and Elizabeth hastily spoke. “You need not be direct, after all you have no information of your own, but you are clever and well-respected. You can plant the seeds of doubt. How much is he spending, and how much does he earn? Is he known to treat the ladies respectably? Use his words against him. Why, just now I just found many holes in his story about Mr. Darcy denying him the living with a few simple questions!”

“Did you now?” he asked with pride.

Elizabeth smiled, “Indeed! I cannot think of how foolish I was to fall for it in the first place. If he was prepared for ordination then he would have done the necessary studies and been able to find work somewhere. If he did not study then what did he do between his godfather’s death and when the living fell vacant and how could he expect Mr. Darcy to give him the living unqualified?”

“Quite right.”

“Just now, after a friend gave him away, he declared that he realized upon graduation from university that Mr. Darcy never intended to give him the living, and so he chose to study law instead.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyebrows shot up in silent query, and his daughter continued. “Of course, how could a penniless steward’s son afford that in the first place? He confessed to receiving a bequest of one thousand pounds which ought to have been sufficient to study. I did not bait him further by asking him why he was not a lawyer, or telling him I knew of the additional three thousand pounds Mr. Darcy gave him, but I did subtly remind him of his declaration to me weeks ago, that he would not besmirch the Darcy name out of loving memory for his godfather.

“So you see, we just need to make some statements like so, and he will lose all credibility. Hopefully the merchants will not extend him so much credit that they are hurt when he leaves the area, and when others know he is not to be entirely honourable, they will hopefully defend their daughters.”

“You might be correct.” He paused for a minute. “And we have a special advocate amongst us.”

Understanding him, Elizabeth suppressed a chuckle. “Do you think Mamma would like to visit my Aunt Phillips?”

Mr. Bennet laughed heartily.

“What is so amusing?”

“I certainly do know she desires to visit your aunt and tell her all about your supposed engagement as she saw your letter.”

Elizabeth gasped.

“She only saw the opening declaration and then skipped to find the name of the author before shrieking in hysterics. She knows nothing of his other words.” Elizabeth’s cheeks burned scarlet. “I am uncertain we can hope she will not spread it abroad, but perhaps if we distract her with discounting Wickham in an effort to raise the community’s opinion of Mr. Darcy that will work for the afternoon. After all, he may be as ‘good as a Lord’ as she put it, but she would certainly want you to be the envy of the county and not just for his riches.”

“Father, he may not offer for me and there may be no need otherwise…”

“Fine, fine. Have it your way, but I find it excessively amusing that we may rid the county of Wickham and save your Mr. Darcy’s reputation through the silliness of your mother.”

He meant it as a jest, but Elizabeth could not help but recall Darcy’s rather just accusations of the impropriety of her family and blushed again. “Father, as useful as that trait will be in this case, you must see it is not always so. My mother means well but can do material harm to our credit, especially as my youngest sisters are allowed to go unchecked. I cannot but think that if he had not so despised our family’s behaviour he might not have counselled Mr. Bingley on leaving the area. Even if they both believed Jane indifferent, her affections might have been won or even deemed bearable if not accompanied by such vulgar relations. No, it was not her modesty which is to blame, but the actions of her own family, myself included.”

“Such squeamish youths.”

“Squeamish! Men of sense do not want to be connected to a family prone to disaster. Were we not just speaking of the misfortunes that could befall a lady that accepts Wickham’s attentions? Do you really believe your daughters somehow immune from such charms? And not just him, but any man willing enough to give them the attention and affection they find lacking elsewhere?”

Suddenly realizing what she implied, she quit speaking. She expected to see her father angry, but instead saw sad acknowledgement, resignation and guilt on his face.

“Forgive me, father.”

“No, no. I have at last seen that I must be cautious. I will speak with your mother, and we will begin a course of improvement.”

Humbled that he could take her opinion so readily, Elizabeth gazed at her hands. “Thank you.”

“Now, I am certain you will wish to accompany your mother, so round up your sisters while I go and explain to her why we must save your young man’s reputation.”

“Papa, please. No more teasing. You read his letter. His senses were addled. If we can prevent the gossip, then there is no reason for him to marry me. I do this only because it is required of my honour.”

She left the room and did not hear her father mumble, “I recall perfectly well being in love against my will five and twenty years ago, my dear. Make no mistake about it, he does love you and will come and take you away from me.”