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.

 

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Three

While Jane and Bingley were outside talking, the rest of the party gathered in the library. Henry grabbed Darcy even just before entering.

“Darcy, I do not like this. I shall not read this.” Henry looked at him for a moment. “I do not think you do either. I do not trust the girls not to enchant the text as we read it. If either of us is destined for a Bewitched Sister—” He stopped at Darcy’s hard glare. “I only said if! If either of us is destined for one and we are enchanted to love another instead, it could have disastrous consequences.”

“They would hardly put a spell on you since you are their brother.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What would you have me do, Henry? It is your mother.”

“Step-mother, you mean.”

“Darcy, Henry, come in from the hall you will have to keep us waiting will you?” The very lady called out.

“Leave the matter to me, Henry.” They entered the room at last. “My dear Mrs. Tilney,” Darcy said. “My tastes do not lean towards dramatic readings. Shall we not debate the synopsis and merits of the play instead?”

The woman troubled her bottom lip. She looked at her daughters and then Miss Elizabeth before replying. “Of course, Mr. Darcy. Are we all familiar with the text?”

The others in the room look for Elizabeth. “Indeed, ma’am. I have seen it in London,” was Elizabeth’s reply.

Mrs. Tilney motioned for the others too sit, and Henry sees the topic you must.

“I have strong opinions about Anhalt,” said Henry. “As a clergyman, I find his position most of unquarrelsome.”

Darcy laughed. “What is there to quarrel over the clergyman?

“Surely, his poverty quarrels with himself,” said Elizabeth. “As well as inhibiting his chances with the fair Amelia.”

“You understand matters there,” said Henry.

“The General was simply scandalized at how little you get paid dear,” said Mrs. Tilney.

“Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth. “What do you think of the Baron? If he is a representation of the aristocratic class?”

“You asked me a question I cannot answer. For I am not and a noble,” said Mr. Darcy.

“Oh!” cried Caroline. “But you do have noble blood. The Matlock house is of old blood.”

Mrs. Tilney eagerly nodded her head. “And do not forget your magical legacy.”

“I fear we have wandered from the topic,” replied Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth asked if I agreed with the Baron’s depiction. I believe my answer is that people of every class leave lives of dissipation.”

“Even the clergy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile on her lips.

Henry laughed. “Unfortunately, I can agree with that sentiment.”

Darcy scowled. “Indeed.”

“And what do you think of these old vows between the lovers?” Caroline asked.

“I cannot think that there was any true love on the Baron’s side for Agatha,” said Elizabeth. “If he had truly loved her all those years before, then her lower status would have meant nothing. He loved money and himself.”

“Is that is not a rather simplified understanding of the world?” Caroline asked. “Shirley,” she said turning toward Darcy, “you would say the world is more complex, Mr. Darcy?”

“The world does have high expectations for the marriage mart. However, a man must answer to his integrity above society’s madates.”

Caroline smiled at his reply, leading Elizabeth to believe the other lady thought it possible to ensnare the gentleman.

“What do you believe Agatha ought to have done, Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.

“I believe that marriage to the Baron, after his terrible treatment of her for all those years, should have been her only answer. If his honor was roused enough to wish to marry her, he might have been prevailed upon to provide her a home and and income.”

Caroline, Mrs. Tilney, and Mrs. Hust gasped.

“What what lady would wish to live in such a way?” exclaimed Caroline. “There is no establishment is respectable as marriage for a woman.”

“I would rather be destitute than marry in that situation.”

“Such unwise words from someone so young!” Mrs. Tilney reprimanded. “I would hope my daughters would have better sense. A man is allowed his…indescretions.”

“I do not mean to say that a man must be perfect and flawless, anymore than I would say a woman should be without fault. There are certain fallings more prone to the male sex. I only believe that the right kind of temperament is necessary to be happy in marriage. A man who had discarded her for decades and has only just had a sudden change of heart. She would be foolish, after so many other disappointments in life and at his hands, to trust in that again. Once married she has little choice to secure her future in an independent manner. I have great respect for the marital state, but women need the right sort of man.”

Darcy leaned forward while the others mulled over her words. “You believe there is something specific about the nature of women that requires the right sort of husband, but you did not say men might have need of the right sort of woman. Did I understand you correctly, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Yes, that is what I meant. Women are at such a disadvantage; they had rather be sure they are gaining a husband that will treat them with respect and affection lest they are better off to stay as a spinster or poor relation, or even a street beggar as was Agatha’s case.”

Darcy stroke his jaw. “This belief is born out of personal experience?”

Elizabeth blushed a little. “Naturally, I can speak towards a woman’s position in life more than I could a gentleman’s.”

“And having only sisters certainly does not help.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I have heard you have a sister, Mr. Darcy. Does that make you an expert on all things female?”

“Mr. Darcy is the kindest brother in the Kingdom!” Caroline attemtped to interject herself into the conversation without success.

“No, I would not think that I know everything about the female mind. I do understand how rapid a lady’s imagination is. She will leap from admiration to love and matrimony in a span of seconds.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Perhaps your experience, too, is limited. Your sister is very young, I understand.”

“But she is so accomplished for her age!” cried Caroline.

“Age brings maturity then? If that be the case, then I would say a gentleman of age and wisdom understands that he needs the right sort of woman as well. Not every lady with a pretty face and passable manners can captivate him.”

Elizabeth felt the fire crackle in her again. He alluded, again, to the night of the assembly in Meryton. “I did not reference captivation. You have proved my point exactly. A woman must consider a man’s income, his family and standing in the world. His treatment of her and others in his care. She must have faith and trust in his good character and that it will not bend or change through the course of life. A man is not beholden to anyone. Therefore, while he may like a little bit of money out of his wife, considers if her beauty  can last and whether her accomplishments are superior to her peers and can tempt him into matrimony. He wants a hostess and a portrait; a caricature of a woman, not a flesh and blood wife.”

“A man is not beholden to anyone?” Darcy cried. “Do you not consider he may have a family duty to fulfil? Others to care for and being prudent on money is only sound.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but Darcy pressed on. “Nor did I mean such superficial and changeable things such as beauty or ability. Her mind, madam, will be his constant companion. She must be suited to compliment his temperament and powers.”

“Then I rather wonder at some men needing a wife at all,” she said with derision. “Some gentlemen have money aplenty and are the heads of their family and their own temperament are so comprehensive that they would not have need of anyone else. While their powers,” here she looked at the windows which had begun a frost from the inside before returning her gaze to Darcy, “gain so much acclaim, he would have no need of another to strengthen his own. And you forget, sir, that I have several step-brothers.”

“I fear I must disagree with you one count, Miss Elizabeth,” Henry at last spoke. “No person, be it gentleman or lady, can live a solitary life. We all have need of each other.”

“Well said, Henry,” Mrs. Tilney said and then rose, causing the others to as well. “I rather think some music would do us all good before we must separate to dress for dinner.”

They heard the voices of Jane and Bingley in the hall. “Excuse me,” said Elizabeth. “I should see to Jane.”

She fled the room as fast as her limbs could carry her. They burned with fire…or was it from the cold?

 

*****

 

Catherine walked with Mrs. Allen into Meryton.

“What a shame to hear about that maid,” Mrs. Allen said.

Catherine mutely nodded her head. The beauty of spending time with Mrs. Allen was that so little thought was required. She would carry the conversation entirely.

“Come, dear. Some shopping will pick you right up. Rumor has it that the Tilneys are going to give a ball! We will have a nice, new gown made up.”

Catherine followed her sponsor into the small shop but could not look at the fabric with any ease. She did not wish to go to Netherfield ever again. What must Henry think of her?

Having failed to gain even a smile from her charge, Mrs. Allen declared they would next go to the milliner. As they left the shop, they nearly collided with a woman followed by several young ladies. After the requisite pardons, it was revealed Mrs. Allen had an old acquaintance with the other lady, named Mrs. Thorpe. They had been school friends but had only seen each other once since their marriages, and that was upwards of fifteen years before. The Thorpes were now visiting a relation in Hertfordshire. In due time, the women recalled the presence of the young ladies around them.

“This is Isabella, my eldest daughter,” Mrs. Thorpe explained.

Upon Catherine’s introduction, she was surprised at the reactions of the others.

“How very much like her brother Miss Morland looks!” Miss Thorpe exclaimed.

“Indeed!” said her mother.

As they began to explain their history with Catherine’s eldest brother, she recalled that James had spent a portion of last Christmas with a family by the name of Thorpe. Immediately the Thorpe ladies declared a wish to know Catherine better, and she could not dislike the idea. A new friendship would be just the thing to forget the pangs of what might have been a hopeful romance.

The two young women felt immediate bonds of friendship and walked the shops of Meryton together, with Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe following behind. When the time came for the groups to part, the young ladies arranged to walk together in two days’ time. Isabella would get to meet Catherine’s older sisters. As Catherine walked home, she acknowledged the only thing she could look forward to more than walking with Isabella again was the return of her sisters from Netherfield.

The next morning, Catherine bounced on her toes in excitement as Jane and Lizzy arrived.

“You will never guess what has happened!” Catherine said. Jane seemed to immediately perceive everything, but Lizzy made several silly conjectures.

“No, Mr. Allen has not joined the circus,” Catherine frowned. “In fact, Mrs. Allen was worried about his foot. Mr. Jones cannot help his gout.”

Catherine looked at her older sisters for a minute before the news gushed from her lips. “I have made a new acquaintance! The family already knows James and they are visiting nearby relatives. Mrs. Allen knew Mrs. Thorpe when they were at school.”

“And does Mrs. Thorpe have a handsome son? For what else would put such a smile on your face?”

Catherine frowned again. She had done her best to not think about the humiliating incident at Netherfield. Her heart was certainly not ready to move on from Henry Tilney.

“No, Elizabeth,” she said in a patronizing way which earned an eye roll. “I met a sophisticated lady and already feel as though she is a dear friend. She is to join me on a walk to Meryton tomorrow. Say you will come.”

“Anything and anyone is preferable to spending any more time at Netherfield with the intolerable Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth declared.

“Girls, come to the drawing room,” Mr. Bennet said, and the ladies followed. He informed the housekeeper they were not to be bothered and shut the doors. The girls looked at him with anxiety.

“Shortly before the attack on Kate and Lizzy,” he said, “I received a letter from my cousin, Mr. William Collins. He is my heir that is to inherit this estate. Although we are magical, England’s laws still exist. It is my greatest regret that I cannot secure the estate for my children. At least, your elder brothers are set through Mr. Morland’s legacy.”

Catherine had three elder brothers. Their father had left a small estate which held the incumbency of two livings. Her eldest brother, James, was now the master of a small estate worth four hundred pounds a year in Wiltshire. He would become a clergyman as well, to add to his income. He could, indeed, obtain both livings but had promised the lesser one to his next brother, Richard, who was still at Oxford. Catherine’s third brother was meant to become a barrister, and the little ones would join the navy, but they were not yet old enough. Her sisters, Sally, and Becky, were at a local seminary.

The Morland girls each would have three thousand pounds, and Mrs. Bennet had left five thousand pounds to her surviving daughters who could not be made over to his next wife. Had Mr. Bennet, fewer children, he might have managed to save more, for the second Mrs. Bennet was everything economical. However, his wife had ten children of her own upon their marriage. Jane and Lizzy would have two hundred pounds a year to divide among themselves until they married, but Mr. Bennet’s widow would have only four hundred pounds a year to divide among all the children at home and the older sons until they entered their professions.

“It is no secret that I detested my cousin Bart Collins. We quarrelled over our magical blood, and he insisted that his family would never know it. Now, he has died, and his son wishes to extend an olive branch to our family.”

“How does he wish to do so?” Mrs. Bennet asked. She was as sensible as anyone that the family would need his support should Mr. Bennet not live for many more years.

Mr. Bennet chose to read Mr. Collins’ letter.

Dear Sir,

I know that my father had a long disagreement with you for many years. However, I do not think I do him a dishonor by attempting this communication with you as I was ordained this past Easter, and surely reconciliation is very Christian-like, and I have waited two years out of deference to his memory. I have been so fortunate as to gain the patronage of the one of the most esteemed peeresses in the kingdom, the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh. I am quite sensible to the injury the entail would give to your daughters and Mrs. Bennet’s children, and so I come quite ready to offer every possible method of amends. If this is acceptable to you, I am at liberty to arrive on Monday the 18th and can stay until following Saturday. I send respectful compliments to your wife and family.

William Collins

“I have replied, and he is arriving tomorrow as proposed. Remember, he does not know of the magical world, and we cannot risk him learning of it and exposing us at such a vulnerable time.”

“You do not trust him?” Catherine asked.

“I do not know him,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“He sounds a bit ridiculous,” Elizabeth observed.

“Yes, and adults seldom take the news of learning about the magical world well,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“What can he mean by his willing to make amends to us?’ Catherine asked.

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “The Collins family had no independent income. Bart was a yeoman farmer but upon his death, his widow gave up the farm to take rooms at Bath. William gaining the patronage of a noble is quite amazing. I fear the only thing he can offer as amends is a permanent place to you all at Longbourn.”

“That would be rather a hard promise to keep should he marry,” Elizabeth said.

“Precisely,” Mr. Bennet said. “He means to offer marriage to one of you.”

“But we don’t even know him!” Elizabeth cried aghast. “He can’t just assume he would fall in love with one of us, and it would be reciprocated.”

“My dear,” Mrs. Bennet said calmly, “marriages are often forged on nothing more than familial alliances. It does not mean they must always be cold and unloving.” She smiled at her husband, who returned it with one of his own.

“Fear not, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said as he redirected his gaze to his daughters. “I would not approve a marriage to him. It is wisest, as I mentioned before, to keep the presence of magic in Meryton a secret from him, and obviously, that would be impossible if he married a magical lady, let alone a Bewitching Sister.”

“That is certainly a relief,” Catherine said.

Elizabeth was staunch in her opinions that marriages required love, but Jane and Catherine believed every person had a perfect mate, and love was relatively easily formed. Elizabeth vehemently disagreed. At times, she insisted she would be a spinster and never marry.

“Let us not worry ahead of time,” Mrs. Bennet chided. “For now, we must await for the gentleman to arrive.”

With nothing of more significance to report of the day, the hours passed until at last the family went abed, each anxious in their own way for tomorrow’s meeting with Mr. Collins.

 

*****

 

Jane kicked Elizabeth under the table at dinner the following night. Mr. Collins had arrived at his appointed hour and was as ridiculous as Elizabeth and their father had expected.  They alternated sharpening their wit on the unsuspecting man and could hardly quell their urges to laugh. Jane had to admit she would feel worse if she detected any hint that Mr. Collins perceived the slight his hosts were giving him. Instead, he was entirely oblivious to the crafty insults slung at him as he rambled on about the magnificence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s person, wealth, estate, character, and judgement, with the situation of his parsonage as the added relish of his recipe of perfect delight. Whoever married him would have to be a very long suffering lady, indeed!

Alas, it seemed her close attention to perceive his feelings was noticed by the man in question. He began to speak almost exclusively to her. Sending her parents a desperate look, Mrs. Bennet pulled Mr. Collins aside after dinner. Jane was not told the contents of their conversation until much later that night.

“I noticed Mr. Collins paying you a great deal of attention, Jane,” Mrs. Bennet said to her as Jane readied for bed that evening.

“Yes, I tried to discourage him,” she replied.

“I know, dearest. He simply is blind to anything he does not wish to believe. I do think, however, that I have managed to bring you ease for the remainder of his stay.”

“Really?” Jane’s voice raised in pitch, mixing disbelief with excitement. “You have my most extreme gratefulness if that is the case.”

“I hinted that I expected you would soon be engaged.”

Her words immediately caused Jane to blush and look away.

Mrs. Bennet took Jane’s hand and led her to the bed. “You know I do not have premonitions of the future, dear. I am speaking only as a mother and a woman in love who can recognize the signs. Did you get to spend much time with Mr. Bingley at Netherfield before your return?”

“No, I did not get to spend much time with him, but the time I did have was time well spent,” she replied with a soft smile on her face.

“I am very happy for you,” her step-mother replied.

Mrs. Bennet squeezed Jane’s hand and then stood to depart. She was at the door when Jane broke the silence.

“Mama? Oh never mind,” Jane said quickly.

Mrs. Bennet turned to face Jane. “What is it?”

“How did you know you truly loved your husband? How did you know he was the soul matched to yours?”

Mrs. Bennet smiled. “I didn’t. I loved him, and he loved me, and we simply had faith that love could take care of the rest of it.”

Jane’s smile vanished. She had hoped for more definite knowledge.

“But you know,” Mrs. Bennet said with a far away look in her eyes, “Lizzy is not wrong to think that most people have only one true love in their life. Many people remarry and I expected nothing more than safety for Kate and security for my children when I remarried to your father. I found so much more. I assumed Morland was my lasting love of a lifetime, but I was wrong.”

“How did you know when Papa was?”

“If you have to ask, then that is your answer. One day, I realized I didn’t have to ask any longer. I loved him from eternity and back. It took time. I suspect that is all you need as well, my dear.”

She kissed Jane on the forehead and then left.

As Jane laid in her bed, that night she meditated on her step-mother’s words. She loved Bingley, but was she truly certain she loved him enough? That he was her one true love for a lifetime? If the prophecy he disclosed to her was correct, her union with a false heart would prove disastrous. Yes, she would not be in a hurry.

 

 

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Elizabeth spent the remainder of the day with Jane, and most of the gentlemen were absent until dinner. General Tilney had gone to the Council in London with the retained servant of Longbourn. Checking on Jane after the meal, Elizabeth was pleased to see her sister so improved she could come downstairs for an hour. She smiled as Mr. Bingley situated Jane near the fire. After seeing to her comfort, he sat closest to her and drew his chair close. A sigh escaped Elizabeth as she watched their romance blossom. She had always thought the closest lovers would have a language of their own and indeed her sister and Bingley needed no words to know each other’s thoughts and feelings.

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, startling Elizabeth’s reverie. “Come walk around the room with me. It is refreshing after sitting so much.”

Surprised, Elizabeth agreed and set aside her work. She noted with chagrin that at last Mr. Darcy looked up from his book; clearly Caroline’s motive all along.

“If you are tired of your book now, Mr. Darcy,” Caroline said with a pointed look at the book he had closed, “you are welcome to join us.”

“As a gentleman, I must decline. I can think of only two motives for your desiring to walk around the room together and I would hate to be in the way with either.”

“What can you mean?” Caroline asked. “Miss Eliza, do you have any idea?”

“I do not have the slightest idea, but I believe he is inclined to be severe with us. We ought to disappoint him and ask nothing of it.” Elizabeth truly wondered if she had the fortitude for yet another round of condescending talk from Mr. Darcy and fervently hoped Miss Bingley would leave him to his own devices. Alas, it was not to be.

“I simply must ask. I cannot comprehend your meaning at all, sir,” Caroline persisted.

“I have no objection to explaining myself. You either walk together as you have secret affairs to discuss or because you know your figures appear to the greatest advantage by walking.” Caroline preened beside Elizabeth, causing her to roll her eyes. Darcy continued, “If the first I should be completely in your way; if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.” His eyes met Elizabeth’s for a moment, and again she felt that familiar flash of fire and ice that only he managed to provoke.

“What a shocking reply!” Cried Caroline, although clearly she was satisfied with Darcy’s words. “I have never heard anything so terrible before. How shall we punish him?” She asked Elizabeth and ceased their walking directly before him.

Quelling the urge to rise to Mr. Darcy’s bait and unleash her fury, Elizabeth chose to laugh instead. “There is not an easy way, I am sure. But we should return the favor and tease and laugh at him as well. As well as you know him, you ought to have some idea of his weaknesses.”

“There is nothing worth teasing Mr. Darcy over. He has no insecurities, no weaknesses.”

“Oh my! How uncommon, and I hope it remains so. As you know, I dearly love to laugh.” Especially these days, when so much of her life felt out of control.

“Miss Bingley flatters me more than can be,” Mr. Darcy replied. “Even the wisest and best of men may be ridiculed.”

Aha! She had got Darcy to admit to his weakness. He cared too much for the opinion of others. “I own that inconsequential faults and follies divert me, and I laugh at them as often as I can. I hope I am never guilty of deriding the good and just. But I suppose you do not have those sorts of whimsical failings.”

“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. I have made it a study, however, to avoid the faults which commonly cause learned men to stumble.”

“Such as vanity and pride,” she lifted an eyebrow.

“Vanity is a failing,” he said. “But pride will be under good regulation when one has a truly superior mind.”

Elizabeth turned her head to hide a smile. His words, which must have been intended to anger her by accusing her of being too proud but with inferior birth, were laughable. The man was so blinded to his own nature.

“Do you believe you have found something worth laughing at, after all, Miss Eliza?” Caroline said, her voice dripping with condescension.

“Indeed, no,” Elizabeth replied. “Mr. Darcy is a man without fault.”

“That is impossible,” Darcy said rather forcefully. “I am not pretentious enough to believe that. I have failings but not of the mind. It is not in my disposition to easily forgive vices and evil behavior as much as the world would like. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

“Ah, that is a failing indeed but impossible for me to laugh at.”

“We all have a natural failing that nothing can overcome, I believe.”

“And yours is to hate everyone,” Elizabeth supplied.

“And yours,” he said with an incomprehensible smile, “is to willfully misunderstand them.”

Miss Bingley put an end to the conversation by suggesting music, but Elizabeth could not shake the feeling that Darcy had admitted to a personal evilness and rather supposed such darkness dwelled in everyone. As one who was trusted to support her and her sisters, it was a chilling and fearful thought.

 

*****

 

The rest of the house was abed, but Jane could not sleep. As understandable as it would be, it was because she had been in a sleep-like state for three days. The time was not particularly restful. She had spent it feeling as though she battled some unseen evil force. It made sense with what her mother had said. She was simply fighting off the potion’s effects on her powers. Somehow, it seemed darker than that. Jane was hardly likely to suppose what it could mean, however, since it was difficult for her to think of evil in the world at all. Elizabeth had acquainted her with the demons that had attacked her and Catherine. Jane regretted she had not been present to help but was pleased to hear that their powers could reach far.

What kept Jane awake tonight was the arrival of new feelings. It felt as though a veil on the Netherfield house had been lifted. Not everyone was easy to make out, and truthfully she had little desire to invade the privacy of her friends, guardians, and family. One person’s feelings easily reached out to her, though. It had been growing since their first meeting and now, strengthened by the fear that gripped him during her illness, Charles Bingley unequivocally declared his love for her.

I must speak with you, his thoughts filled her mind. Can you walk with me on the morrow after breakfast?

Of course, she replied.

Rest now, love, he said to her and somehow, hearing those thoughts calmed her mind.

On the next morning, Jane arrived in the breakfast room in time to overhear Elizabeth requesting use of the carriage to leave for Longbourn that day. Before she could think of a reason to put Elizabeth off, lest she miss her walk with Bingley, he spoke.

“I would worry about Miss Bennet’s health. An additional day of rest will surely be to her benefit. It is no trouble at all to host you both longer.”

His mother and sisters seemed to rouse to similar sentiments upon his voicing it and would not hear of them leaving. She might have felt selfish for putting her desires before Elizabeth’s, but Jane immediately sensed Elizabeth’s pleasure at Bingley’s attention.

“I have a suggestion on how to spend the day!” Mrs. Tilney exclaimed when breakfast was finished. “Come to the library.”

Sensing that Bingley was hesitant to deny his mother’s request, Jane spoke. “Might I meet with you all later? I find I need a restorative walk.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but Jane shot her a quelling look.

Bingley stood. “I would be most pleased to escort you, Miss Bennet.”

Caroline frowned. “Perhaps we all ought to take our exercise.”

Mrs. Tilney nodded her head. “Oh, very well. We can read Lovers’ Vows some other time.” She stood, signalling, as hostess, that the others should as well.

“I prefer the library,” Mr. Darcy said, and Jane felt Bingley’s gratitude.

Caroline seemed indecisive for just a moment until Elizabeth spoke. “Indeed. I would rather read as well.”

Caroline looked at her mother, who graciously directed the situation. “Henry, you will oblige me, will you not?” She asked her step-son who agreed. “And Louisa and Hurst certainly would rather read than walk. Very well, Charles. We shall see you when you return. Be sure to not keep Miss Bennet out too long.”

The lady sailed from the room, and the others followed. Bingley held out his arm and Jane eagerly took it. Stopping in the hall for their outerwear, they were soon walking the gravel paths of Netherfield’s park.

“I have much to tell you,” Bingley said as he guided Jane to a stone bench. He laid his great coat to give added protection from the cold for Jane.

After she had been settled, he began. “Your family told you of the attack your sisters faced?”

“Yes. I confess I do not quite understand how it all worked.”

“True love is unbreakable. Time and distance cannot diminish it.”

Jane nodded her head. Yes, she easily understood that.

Bingley stood and paced. “I…I…” He ran a hand through his hair and beat his hat on his leg. Jane never knew a man could be so adorably flustered.

She grabbed his hand. “I understand,” she said. She did not need his words of love when she could feel his emotions so plainly.

He smiled and sat, entwining their hands. “I love you, Jane. I knew it the moment I first saw you. And you felt it too.”

“Yes,” she said, breathless at his declaration and unable to meet his eye. He gently lifted her chin and drew closer. She was certain he meant to kiss her, and so she hated all the more that a thought would intrude at just that moment. Was this not all too easy and simple? Love at first sight?

Bingley pulled back and shook his head. “Ah, yes. My intention was to explain more.”

Jane blushed, worried that her thoughts wounded him and cost them the romance of the moment.

“Never fear, darling. I will collect my kiss,” he said with a wink. “Your father had not told you the text of the prophecy regarding you and your sisters because he sought to protect you. What he does not yet know, however, is there was a new prophecy made not long before your mother and sisters died.”

Jane gasped.

“Very few knew of it. By this time, it was suspected there was a spy amidst the Council, and it was just after it became evident your sisters were the Bewitched ones. Before your family could be apprised of the news, the Oracle was killed.”

Jane paled and trembled. How many had died to protect her?

Bingley wrapped his arm around her. “They gave their lives out of love.”

She nodded her head. Again, that she could understand. “But how could this oracle love us? Did she know us?”

“In a way…” Bingley said, and Jane perceived he felt he could not say more on that topic.

“What did the prophecy say?” she asked.

He looked around the gardens. “It is too dangerous to speak it. We cannot risk the enemy learning of it, but I will communicate it to you. Here,” he held out his hands. “It makes it easier.”

Jane put her hands in Bingley’s.

Love can come in many forms. A sisterly bond does not require blood and women were the chosen vessels as this can be forged from an early age. Men can have such a bond as well, but it is usually born through battle and in this case, the witches needed to be united in love before facing their enemies.

Jane nodded her head. Women’s lives were more confining than men’s, even as children. They were more predisposed to cling to each other.

An even more powerful, but volatile, bond is romantic love. A person will foresake all, even their family, to unite with their lover. Such the prophecy declared:

Lo! The Bewitched Sisters I have seen

Unflinching love betwixt them never lean

Carnal lovers bend and break lest one soul

A heart true and powers akin make whole.

Jane thought about Bingley’s words for a moment. She appreciated how un-intrusive he was. He could decipher the prophecy for her. Instead, he allowed her to use her own reason. Our powers are not whole without romantic love? I thought our powers were unconquerable?

As sisters, you are very formidable. With the right lovers, you might truly be unpenetrable. Or

Broken and destroyed by deceit from the wrong one.

Indeed.

Powers akin They will have magical powers, and it will be similar to our own. She blushed considering her power with Bingley’s. That is rather vague. Surely many have the ability to interpret feelings…or thoughts.

True. It is not the power which makes one fall in love. It is love plus the power. The spouse is meant to be a support to the sister.

Jane’s heart pounded hard. She loved Charles Bingley. She truly did. Surely he must be the one who was to be her true love and match her power.

There is more to explain, Bingley interrupted her thoughts.

Who else knows of this prophecy? She wondered.

The immediate family of the Oracle, the Council, my family. You have wondered what triggered the return of your powers. When your youngest sister entered society, it signaled that you were all susceptible to an evil suitor. The quartering of the Militia here is no mistake. Someone in their midst must work for the Dark One.

Are…are you all meant for one of us?

I do not mean to be vague, dearest. But we cannot predict who one shall love. When I was told of the revival of the Bewitched Sisters and this prophecy- as my step-father was allowed to inform us and we were inducted into a special chapter of the Council- I did not think I might fall in love with the woman who was an empath. I had not thought of how similar those powers were, but it is more than that. It is as though a shared understanding of our hearts.

It is. Jane agreed.

Besides, with Frederick here there are four of us unwed and only three sisters. Bingley winked.

What does all of this mean for us?

It means, should the enemy know anything about this, he would try to separate us. He would wish to make it look as though I am evil or unworthy in some way. I beg you, if you truly love me, to trust me and believe in my love and honour.

Always. She felt the word echo in her mind, and that is when she realized, she and Bingley had not been speaking with their minds, but rather with their hearts. It must have been the same way Kate and Lizzy had managed to call to her for help even though they were separated by miles and she sick in bed.

The heart understood the heart.

Yes, it does, Bingley spoke to her. He stood and held out his hand.

When Jane slipped her hand in his, she felt a peace settle in her. When his lips claimed her own she knew her soul had found its other half, and she would never let that go.

Pulling back after some minutes he smiled and looked into her dazed eyes. Come, let us return to the house.

 

Sufficient Encouragement- Excerpt + Giveaway

I’m kicking off the blog tour for my latest release, Sufficient Encouragement, right here!

One of the things I love most about JAFF is that we have the freedom to imagine Darcy’s thoughts and feelings on situations. In Sufficient Encouragement, I frequently split a scene in half so you get both Elizabeth and Darcy’s perception of incidents. Here are two excerpts from Chapter Two as Jane and Elizabeth are leaving Netherfield to return to Longbourn.

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Excerpt #1

After a few more awkward and disjointed but adorable remarks between Jane and Bingley, he handed her in. Elizabeth stepped forward and was surprised to feel the warmth of a hand take hers. She nearly gasped when she realised the gentleman was not wearing gloves.

Looking down, she saw a bare, strong, masculine hand hold her own ungloved one. The owner’s thumb lightly stroked across the top of her hand and gave a gentle squeeze. She glanced up in bewilderment and saw the very proper Mr. Darcy attached to the hand that still held her own, and his pale blue eyes seemed to pierce her.

He immediately released her hand, quickly turned, and walked away. He did not even glance at the carriage as it drove away. Elizabeth hated to admit how much his gallantry affected her sensibilities. She had never had a suitor, no man to bow over her bare hand in her home before. If not for the ink spilling on her only pair of gloves, her hands would have been covered. What must he think of her for breaking propriety so much? And why was her heart thumping so wildly in her breast? And what was that look Mr. Darcy gave her?

ThinkstockPhotos-468818072

Excerpt #2

A faint scent of lavender alerted him to Elizabeth’s presence. He barely managed to bid her farewell. Suddenly, his body was moving on its own. His mind still reprimanding itself for not speaking more to Elizabeth, it barely registered that she was about to enter the carriage. He stepped in front of Bingley and handed her in.

A thrill coursed through his body when their hands met. Her skin was so soft that he could not resist the temptation to stroke it with his thumb. He gave her delicate hand a squeeze. If he were more aware, his mind would have been filled with questions, not the least of which would have been, why did she not rip her hand from his? Instead, she lifted her face, and her beguiling eyes met his in wonder.

In a flash, he felt how much he truly desired the young lady before him. Slowly, his mind registered that she was pulling her lean fingers from his hand. He released her hand and quickly walked back into the house, wondering how so much of his life seemed to pass before him in just one instant. How could so much of his life now seem centered in the feeling of her hand in his? As innocent as it was, he ached to hold her hand again, to cradle it, to stroke every inch, to tenderly kiss each lovely finger. His hand reacted in response to his thoughts.

Once safely in the library, momentarily away from even Miss Bingley’s cloying remarks and Bingley’s sadness, he allowed himself to ponder what on earth had just happened.

Darcy paced. He had always been careful not to raise the hopes and expectations of any of the ladies of his acquaintance. Not that it stopped most from having hopes. But there had been occasions when he had been prompted by a forward lady or two to touch a bare hand. Any doubts he may have had about his attraction to Elizabeth Bennet died even as his body came alive in a way he had never known.

His reason told him it was mere attraction, infatuation, perhaps lust and carnal desire — and nothing more — that caused his reaction. His will determined that it could withstand the temptation of Elizabeth Bennet for a few more days. He would soon return to Town — far, far away from her—and be lost in his worries once again.

There were beautiful ladies of the ton. There were witty, intelligent, kind, and accomplished ladies by the dozen, or so he had been told. True, he was fastidious, and he refused to bend on that, but surely Elizabeth Bennet was not the only woman who could fit his definition of perfection.

Perfection? When had he determined she was the lady most suited to him?

No, that thought would not do. She could not be the only woman whose touch ignited his dormant passion.

Passion? When had he determined his feelings were so passionate?

He was never passionate, and yet it was difficult to ignore his body’s impulse to rush after her and take her in his arms. He would kiss her lips mercilessly until she could tease him no longer. And then he would…

He shook his head. Nothing but carnal desire, certainly. He would not be a slave to such feelings. Other suitable ladies existed, he reasoned. He was only too busy before to notice these other women, to make their acquaintance. There was no such thing as destiny. And if there were, he could not afford it.

Surely there must be ten ladies who may stand in even better light than Elizabeth Bennet!

Just to firm his resolve and not at all because he was fleeing from the lady, his next thought was London. I must leave immediately for London.

His solitude was, welcomingly, broken by Bingley.


Darcy’s got it bad! Here’s the book synopsis.

SE final 4We are all fools in love…

Some say a lady’s imagination is very rapid. Such is the case when Elizabeth Bennet overhears that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy admires her eyes. She thinks nothing for herself, but immediately considers her dearest sister’s growing attachment to Mr. Darcy’s friend. If Elizabeth spurns such a wealthy — and proud — gentleman, he might do everything in his power to separate his friend from her sister.

Raised in a world of expectations and pedigree, Darcy knows Elizabeth Bennet can offer him nothing of material value. As his attraction for her grows, he becomes increasingly convinced his feelings are nonsensical. Still, he might forsake it all if only he had true encouragement.

Misunderstandings lead to betrayals and the couple soon learns falling in love takes courage but staying in love requires forgiveness. Traversing from the groves of Hertfordshire to the drawing rooms of London to the complexity and danger of Luddite revolts in Yorkshire, Sufficient Encouragement follows Darcy and Elizabeth’s journey of love and forgiveness.

*This story contains a scene of nonexplicit sexual violence.


Sufficient Encouragement is the first in the When Loves Bloom series. It stands alone as the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s courtship and first days of marriage.

About the When Love Blooms Series

“Love is like a flower, for it is well worth the toil to cultivate it.” She shrugged her shoulders, “Love is beautiful.”

Take a stroll in the garden of love and enjoy the unique blooms of the intersecting lives of the Bennet, Darcy, Fitzwilliam, de Bourgh and Bingley families. Sufficient Encouragement follows Darcy and Elizabeth as they fight to save their love from an unexpected frost while Jane and Bingley’s love grows strong roots. The companion story, Renewed Hope, adds depth to the bouquet with the love stories of Darcy’s cousins and Miss Bingley. The third book in the series, Extraordinary Devotion, follows Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage while their younger sisters experience a London Season.

Pre-order now!


Check out my About Me section!  You can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


SE blog tour final

Sufficient Encouragement Blog Tour Schedule

4/16: Excerpt & Giveaway at Stories from the Past

4/17: Excerpt at My Jane Austen Book Club

4/18: Excerpt & Review at The Ardent Reader

4/19: Excerpt & Giveaway at Diary of an Eccentric

4/20: Interview & Giveaway at Austenesque Reviews

4/21: Review at Half Agony, Half Hope

4/22: Guest Post at Babblings of a Bookworm

4/25: Review at Just Jane 1813

4/26: Guest Post at More Agreeably Engaged

4/28: Guest Post & Review at From Pemberley to Milton


Giveaway!!

I’m giving away ONE ebook and ONE paperback to two lucky winners. Both open internationally! Comment below about why you love Mr. Darcy.

Please enter by Friday, April 22, 2016 at 11:59 PM EST.

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.

 

Blog Tour- Excerpt + Giveaway: Promises Kept by Zoe Burton

Zoe is a great friend and I had the wonderful honor to be one of her beta readers for Promises Kept. The love between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is so sweet. Strong and tender in all the right places. The perfect read for when you need the perfect man in your life- as those only exist in books! (Sorry hubby, love you but you’re not perfect.) It just hits so many good spots!

Promises Kept is the sequel to I Promise To… and showcases Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam’s first year of marriage- things unseen in the novella- but also works as a stand alone read.

Blurb:

pkThis ‘Pride and Prejudice’ novel variation follows Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy through the first year of their marriage. Arranged by his father in the I Promise To… novella, their union saved Elizabeth from a persistent, abusive suitor. The couple has known each other for years and quickly come to realize their love for each other. However, not everyone is happy with the marriage, and trouble comes quickly upon them. Dealing with jealous ladies and scornful gentlemen in London as well as illness and injury at Pemberley, they grow together as a couple while Elizabeth regains the confidence she has lost.

Excerpt:

“Fitzwilliam, I need to ride out to visit Mr Barton today. Wickham has told me the roof of their house is leaking. I wish to see the damage myself and ensure we get everything repaired. I would not put it past Barton to fail to report something, so as not to be a bother to anyone. Far too self-effacing, that one. Would not do for him to try to make those repairs with his own funds, not with four children to raise.”

“You are correct. It would not do. I do not understand such behaviour. Surely he would rather not use his own money to repair a home he does not own?”

“One would think not; however, he has done so in the past. I recall his father being a harsh man, always chastising his wife and children for being an impediment to him. He was not happy with his life, I think. Perhaps that is why his son is this way. At any rate, would you ride with me? I should like to get your opinion of the matter.”

From the bedroom attached to the sitting room they were in, the gentlemen heard a series of harsh coughs. They looked at the door, then back to each other.

“If you do not mind, Father, I would much rather stay here and tend to Elizabeth. She woke in the night with that terrible cough and a sniffling nose. I am concerned about her.”

“I had not realized she was ill! Certainly you should stay with her,” Mr Darcy replied. “Does she need the doctor? I can send him a note when I go downstairs.”

“She does not show signs of a fever yet. I would prefer waiting until that happens. You know how she can be if she feels she is being fussed over unnecessarily.” Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes as his father chuckled.

“Indeed I do.” He slapped his hands on his knees as he rose, adding, “Well, then, I will leave you to comfort and coddle your wife. But promise me that if she begins to get fevered, you will send for the physician.”

Fitzwilliam had risen along with his parent. “I promise. I will see you upon your return. Please be careful.”

Waving his son’s concerns away, Mr Darcy headed down the grand staircase and out the door to mount his waiting horse for the ride to the Barton farm.

He had not been gone an hour when the wind began to pick up and a light rain to fall. By the time he had thoroughly inspected the tenant house, spoken with both Mr and Mrs Barton, admired the children, and consulted with Mr Wickham to give specific instructions as to repairs, the rain was coming down in sheets. Turning down an offer to wait out the storm with the Bartons, citing the closeness of Pemberley House to their own, he mounted once again and began the trek back. Moving more slowly than he had earlier, due to the reduced visibility caused by the weather, he turned his collar up in hopes of preventing any more rain from sliding down inside his coat. Suddenly, what had been a simple downpour became much more dangerous.

Darcy heard the thunder rolling in seconds before he saw the lightning. His horse moved uneasily beneath him, and every ounce of focus and skill he had was required to keep the animal under control. When the next blast of thunder sounded loudly in his ears followed by an even closer crack of lightning, the horse began to rear. Darcy fought to regain the upper hand, but when it began to buck, he lost his seat, landing on his back with a thud, his head slamming into the hard-packed earth of the path.

Out of breath and woozy, he laid on the ground for a few minutes, rain soaking and pooling around him. After a few minutes, he tried to rise. Pain in his leg and head stopped him, and he lay back down in the hopes it would recede once again. Next he tried to peer through the storm to locate his horse, but was unsuccessful. Hopefully, the silly thing returned to the stables, he thought. That one will need some additional training.

He attempted to move once or twice more before giving up. He knew an alarm would be raised if his horse appeared without him. Even if it remained nearby, when he failed to come to supper, Fitzwilliam would know something was wrong. He’s a good boy. I am so glad he did not fight me about Elizabeth. She was just what he needed. Darcy’s thoughts continued on until, exhausted and in pain, his unconscious took over and allowed his mind to rest.

At the house, his son was trying to entice his wife to take some tea laced with honey, for her throat. She had not eaten much that day, and Fitzwilliam was anxious that she take some nourishment, even if it was of the liquid variety. He had begun to threaten her with honey-laced Scottish whiskey if she did not take the tea. Stubborn woman that she was, Elizabeth argued with him, which, of course, made her throat hurt worse.

“Sweetheart, did you not just recently chastise Georgiana for being so impatient for her lessons to be complete so she could attend our picnic? And did you not tell her that the quicker she worked, the sooner she could play?” At her nod and before she could begin to speak, he continued, “Do you not see the similarity in your situations? The quicker you drink this tea, the sooner I will stop fussing at you about it and threatening you with stronger remedies.” He hid a smirk at the roll of her eyes and twitch of her head. “Drink this tea, my love, and I shall leave you be about it for a few hours.”

With a loud sigh, followed by another harsh bout of coughing, Elizabeth drank the tea. It did feel good on her throat, though she was not about to tell her husband that. He was correct entirely too often; she must do her best to ensure his understanding that this was not allowed. She opened her mouth to say so when a knock came upon the dressing room door.

Entering at Fitzwilliam’s bidding was his valet. “Pardon me, sir. I have an urgent message for you.” He threw a quick glance at the mistress, telling his master without words that it was serious and that perhaps she did not need to hear.

Turning to his wife, Fitzwilliam stroked her face, saying, “Let me go listen to what Smith has to say. I shall return shortly.” He leaned to her, giving her a quick kiss on the forehead, then stood and left the room, gesturing for his valet to follow him. Upon gaining his dressing room and shutting the door behind them, he asked, “What is it?”

“Sir, word has just come from the stables. Your father’s horse has returned, without him. Mr Wickham has been notified, and search parties are being organized. Wickham felt you would wish to take part. I was not as certain, knowing Mrs Darcy to be ill, but I promised to tell you straight away.”

Giveaway:

Zoe is giving away one ebook copy! Please comment below before 11:59 pm EST August 28th to be entered.

Buy Link: Amazon

Bio:

Zoe Burton first fell in love with Jane Austen in 2010, after seeing the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice on television. While making her purchases of Miss Austen’s novels, she discovered Jane Austen Fan Fiction; soon after that she discovered websites full of JAFF. Her life has never been the same. She began writing her own stories when she ran out of new ones to read.

Zoe lives in the snow-belt of Ohio. She is a Special Education Teacher in an online school, and has a passion for romance in general—Pride and Prejudice in particular, and NASCAR

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.