Friday Feature– Undone Business

undone business.jpg

Undone Business was like a revelation for me. It started as a novella destined for a multi-author JAFF anthology that didn’t end up being produced. It was going to be named When Love Blooms, a title I later re-used. At the time, I really liked using phrases from Pride and Prejudice for my JAFF stories and so I changed it to Undone Business from this quote:

and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?”

The “what if” question in my head when I began was “What if Sir William Lucas never interrupted Darcy and Elizabeth’s dance?” Would they talk about more things? Would Darcy be as determined that Jane was indifferent to Bingley? Without Sir William’s words which made it sound like Bingley’s honor was nearly engaged, would Jane and Bingley have found their happily ever after? Would Darcy and Elizabeth avoid all the heartache and drama of the Hunsford refusal?

“Thank you for telling me,” she said softly. “I…I think I know you better now.”

“And I know you better now.”

“Oh yes, vain and simple-minded creature that I am.”

He extended his hand and nearly touched her face before dropping it limply to his side. “No, never that. Forgive me. I was angry at myself more than you. Your complaints are just. I have appeared haughty and arrogant, and I would never wish for you to accept me for anything less than love.”

Her heart actually ached as though it was pierced and in its pain it cried out to her that she should accept him now. Not today, her mind replied, everything is too new.

“Then…then do we say goodbye now?”

He visibly swallowed, but his eyes never left hers. “How am I supposed to give up trying? I know not how to go on. Loving you has become a part of who I am.”

She trembled, longing to give in to the love he still offered. “Nothing has changed, you know. My mother’s family still comes from trade. My nearest relations still behave poorly. Society may still shun me.”

“Nothing has changed,” he said with disaffected calmness. “Good day, Miss Bennet.”

He turned and walked away, leaving her alone and astonished. She had not meant to discourage him entirely, to make him think nothing had changed in her regard for him. She watched his back for a moment knowing she had lost her chance forever. Gently-bred ladies do not race after men and declare newly-born sentiments and demand they propose; nor do men of such pride and sense propose to a lady who so callously spurned their first attempt.

She looked down to the letter still in her hand and traced her name on the envelope. There was no reason to keep it now, she had heard all his confessions and believed him among the best of men. Refusing to weep she simply sat on the ground, not caring it was slightly wet from the dew still. She tore open Darcy’s letter. It simply said:

Forgive me. I love you.

She could contain the tears no longer.

For each story, I try to do something that challenges me. It wasn’t immediately clear what that would be in Undone Business. As the story progressed, however, I wondered what it would be like if I gave Jane Bennet someone else to marry. I went into the situation with quite a bit of prejudice. Did she really love Bingley? Can you truly only love one person in life? So often in literature and films, the person realizes it was never really love they felt for the other. Thus far, every non-Bingley pairing I had read was like that. Jane ultimately realized she had only loved the idea of Bingley. She recognized the flaws she had previously ignored and then the love goggles came off and she was free from regret of losing him and found someone better. Full disclosure: I’ve known a shocking number of women who fall in love with every man who passes their way. I’ve always internally scoffed that what they felt was not love. And, it might not be–but it might have been. The heart CAN love more than one person in a lifetime (although not at the same time–I do draw the line there!)

What sort of character growth does Jane have to go through to recover from genuine heartache over Mr. Bingley? Who could be her perfect match?

“Eyes the blue of forget-me-nots under a midsummer sky,” he said.

She furrowed her brow. The words seemed familiar. She must have read them in one of Elizabeth’s poetry or botany books.

“Jane Bennet, all grown up,” he remarked in something like awe.

“I do not believe we are acquainted, sir.”

He shook his head. “Yes, I would assume the passage of eight years would erase all memory of me. I am Isaiah Burton.”

Growing embarrassed as she could not recall him, she spoke hastily. “Mr. Burton, I am obliged to you. I apologise for delaying you. Good day.” She turned to leave.

“You still do not recall me, do you?” He followed after her.

Bristling that this stranger would think she should recall him, she stuck her chin out. “As you say, if we have met, you acknowledge it has been many, many years. I simply cannot recall every gentleman of questionable breeding I meet with.”

“With as many admirers you must have had, I am unsurprised. There was a time, however, when you visited your uncle in town when you did not find my breeding and manners so repulsive. Tell me, is that why you are still unwed? You did not correct me on your name, so I can only assume you are still single.” His voice sounded a mixture of offence and humour.

She turned to face him and in her seldom-felt anger felt more like Elizabeth than herself. “Because I am three and twenty I must be foolish to not have flung myself on any of the stupid ninnies I have met with? Oh yes, marriage to any of them would have been a delight over my present state. For certainly being in the care of healthy and doting parents and living with my three younger sisters, must be very pitiable. Or do you presume marriage is the only tolerable position for a young lady? As you are so interested in my own state, I assume you are also unwed yourself. Now, why has not a lucky lady ensnared you, Mr. Burton? For surely your manner recommends yourself to all.”

Having said her piece she turned to leave again. Her heart beat fast. She had never said something so unforgiving in her life. And she desired to flee before he had a moment to react. But was that…laughter? He was laughing at her!

“You have changed quite a bit, I see. The girl I knew was much too docile to have even a shred of the spunk for such a speech, even if you looked about as fearsome as a kitten. I shall have to amend my poem. You are no longer as mild as a lamb.”

Her steps ceased as she recalled his words. Isaiah Burton was the man who wrote her very bad poetry when she was but fifteen. Her aunt and mother were certain he would offer for her, but he never declared himself before leaving for a business trip and before he returned she departed again for Longbourn. When she returned to London the following year she had not seen him, but was not so affected by him to even ask her uncle what happened to his business friend.

I also usually have a research topic for each story. In Undone Business, it became the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom. Shockingly, Bingley inserted himself in that.

She showed him he could make decisions for himself, that he ought not to shy away from a confrontation and that he should not leave matters undone, for in the course of six and twenty years it was exceedingly tempting to cast off his lofty visions and allow younger and seemingly abler men finish this all-important task.

“Speech! Speech!” the crowd cried, and the gentlemen deferred to him.

He stood, with not a wine glass in hand, but a tea cup. “I thank you all, the friends young and old who helped in this worthy endeavour. You saw beyond the shallow fickleness of our lives of luxury. You looked beyond selfishness and saw suffering. And while even I was tempted to paint everything in the best light, there comes a time when all mankind must stand for truth and righteousness. And now…” he took a sip, “I very much look forward to enjoying my first taste of sugar in over twenty years, and it harvested from entirely paid labour. My solicitor will bemoan my pocketbook and my wife will bemoan my health, but I will drink it in delight and know the dignity our friends and equals in the Indies now have in earning wages for their work.”

He sipped again, and an applause broke out. He held up his hand. “But there is more work to do yet, my friends. Let us not leave our business undone. Tonight we celebrate and tomorrow we work.”

The group murmured their agreement and smiled in return. As he sat, he wondered what next would become the business of his life.

If you have never read Undone Business, I hope you’ll try it. It is a very different sort of story but one that is as close to my heart all these years later as it was while I wrote on it. You can see shades of the writer I continued to grow into. I would go on to write more about 19th-century politics. I have played with the Jane and Bingley pairing other times. I have grappled again with the question of eternal love.

Undone Business was like a line in the sand for me. I think of it as the book where I became my own writer. Personally, I nearly quit publishing after Letters from the Heart. It was before working on Undone Business that I determined I would make writing my career. I made that decision knowing I had several other stories. No Cause to Repine and A Sense of Obligation were already completed and only awaited professional editing. I had dozens of short stories. I had already started on Sufficient Encouragement, what has become the Loving Elizabeth Series, Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride, and many others that continue to wait their turn. Undone Business was the first story where I wrote it with the entire intent on publishing it and it amped up the pressure. Still, I am proud to say that I had the integrity to stay true to myself rather than worry about what would sell. As I said at the beginning of this post, Undone Business was a revelation.

Buy Links

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Desperately Mr. Darcy Anthology–includes Letters from the Heart, Undone Business, Sufficient Encouragement & The Secrets of Pemberley

 

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy & the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Two

Road in dark forest

Previous sections: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2 / 4.1

“Just the usual nerves and village disputes. Nothing malevolent.”

“Charles?” Darcy watched as his friend, a telepath, flushed a little. The others had not remarked on it, but Darcy had noticed how little Charles actually spoke during his dances with Miss Bennet, who rumor had it was an empath. Darcy would have bet Charles conversed through thoughts with her.

“Sir William Lucas has done his job well,” Charles said, at last. “The Bennet ladies seemed sufficiently ignorant of their powers, and all the jobbards had no suspicion of magic being the cause for our return.”

“Eleanor?” The General looked hard at his daughter who had not said a thing all evening.

“I agree they did not seem to know of their powers, but I sensed great potential,” she answered in a gentle voice. “They are strong, confident and unaffected young ladies. They will rise to the task if allowed.”

Before more could be said on the subject of “allowing” the ladies to become true witches, Mr. Hurst let out a loud snore. Judging by the look on the General’s face, it was best to not allow the conversation to continue anyway.

Mrs. Tilney must have noticed as well.

“Louisa,” she said, “I’m afraid Hurst is long overdue his rest. You must wake him.” Mrs. Tilney stood and called for the servant who began using spells to clean the room. “I will bid you all adieu.” She looked at her husband meaningfully.

“Allow me to escort you,” he said and stood. He gave the room a sloppy bow before placing his wife’s hand on his arm and leading her up the stairs.

Before Caroline’s eyes could brighten with the opportunity of more secluded conversation with him, Darcy announced his intention to retire as well. He extended his arm to Eleanor, who sat near the door, as Caroline nearly fell off the sofa trying to stand. Mr. Hurst’s feet rested on her train.

In his chamber, Darcy dismissed his valet and sighed. It continued to feel too stiff and formal. He hated being a guest in other places. He had grown up just outside the one all-wizard town in Britain. The rest of the county, of course, was inhabited by many non-magical people. It was only in Pember Wigan that wizards and witches did not have to worry about blending in with jobbards. He supposed other people that grew up in that environment were more adept at it than he. His parents sent him to jobbard school so he might learn to fit in better, but by that age, it was rather sealed. Unfortunately, he was awkward among wizarding-kind as well.

The necessity of living double lives to avoid detection had caused an interesting revolution in the practice of magic in the last century or so. While the learning of potions and spells continued to be taught, they were increasingly less useful. Even more so, the rich shunned using them at all and instead hired magical servants. Now, a simple spell to carry away tea things was seen as low work. The lack of practical application of magic had an adverse effect on the wizards. Fewer and fewer families had children with any manifesting powers at all. Three sisters with inherited powers was a potentially devastating weapon. Darcy and the other members of the Quorum were tasked with finding the sisters before Napoleon did. Recalling his recent letter from his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, who was non-magical but served in the King’s Army added fuel to Darcy’s already steadfast determination.

Darcy punched his pillow without success before climbing out of bed. “Solatium,” he said, and the room was transformed to a mirror image of his bedchamber at Pemberley. He sank into the comfortable mattress that lacked the frilly lace with which Mrs. Tilney decorated. The room was now covered in muted colors and thick carpets, the furniture a dark and sturdy wood. Just before he closed his eyes, the fire went out, and he heard the crackle of ice frost over his windows. He smiled as he felt the tension of the evening ease away. It was his duty to lead the Quorum in this journey to find the Bewitched Sisters, but the truth was, he much preferred solitude.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters, Chapter Three Part One

Road in dark forest

Chapter Three

 

Instead of dreaming of gentlemen as might be supposed after a ball, each lady dreamed of their deceased parent. Mr. Morland came to Kate bathed in a white glow and bade her go to the woods behind the east garden. The deceased Mrs. Bennet ordered her daughters there as well. Jane obeyed readily enough, although she trembled at the strangeness of her mother’s ghost appearing before her. Elizabeth, however, was too sensible even in her dreams. At length, as she felt as though her limbs were on fire, she determined the cool autumn air would bring relief.

The sisters stood around a neglected fountain currently covered in overgrown ivy. They looked at each other in confusion.

“How strange that we are all here,” Jane said.

“Yes,” Kate agreed. “I do not recall leaving my bed. I have never roamed about when asleep before.”

“Nor I,” said Elizabeth. “However, now that I am here, I feel like I ought to remain. That is ridiculousness, is it not? Leaving feels somehow wrong.”

Jane looked around the area with dawning comprehension. “Lizzy, do you remember how we used to play here? I think I was about eleven when we stopped coming.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They had not visited this fountain in many years, long before her mother and sisters died. Playing here was one of her first memories. “Yes, we would dance around it with Mary. I don’t think Kitty was born yet. I used to pretend the most fantastical things happened. The trees and flowers would dance with us and sing a special song.”

“Why did you stop coming?” Kate questioned.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Mary had a nightmare, and then we were not allowed to come here anymore.”

“They frightened her so much,” Jane murmured. She had always been very sensitive to the feelings of others.

“I used to have bad dreams,” Kate said. “Sometimes it seemed like they came true.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked while Jane gasped in alarm. Why had Kate never mentioned that before? Is that what had happened with Mary? Elizabeth could not remember.

“It started with small things. I dreamed my cat had kittens and the next day she did.”

“That is rather explainable,” said Elizabeth dubiously. “Someone probably told you she would soon have them.”

Kate nodded. “I dreamed of a man in a carriage during a terrible storm one night. There was a large rut in the ground, and it broke the carriage wheel. The man came to no harm, but one of the horses went lame.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Did that come to be as well?”

“Yes, my uncle came to visit us the next day, and the exact scenario had happened to him.”

“What else?” Elizabeth asked as her curiosity grew. Jane trembled beside her.

“The last dream I had was of my grandmother dying. She sang some strange song to me as she held my hand.”

Words lodged in Elizabeth’s throat. She felt as though she were on the cusp of something, like looking over the edge of a cliff and deciding to jump. “Did…did…that come true?”

“Yes. I was so upset and terrified. I wept at her side, and I remember thinking that I had caused her death because of my dream.”

“Surely that was not so!” Jane cried, tears shimmered in her eyes as though she could now feel the despair Kate must have experienced.

“It was my last dream,” Kate whispered.

“How old were you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Eleven. We soon came to Hertfordshire and…”

Kate trailed off as each girl knew what happened afterward. An illness swept the county and claimed their parents.

“Sometimes, I still feel as though I have seen something in a dream. The ball this evening, for example, seemed eerily familiar.”

Recalling her strange dream of her dead mother earlier this night, Elizabeth looked at Kate intently and asked, “Did you dream tonight?”

Kate slowly nodded. “Yes. My father told me to come here.”

Jane spoke up. “I have never had such strange dreams before, but tonight my mother appeared clothed in white and asked me to come to the fountain.”

Elizabeth laughed. “How strange that I should dream the same thing. I am sure you obediently went, even while still asleep, whereas I argued with her!”

“What made you leave your bed then?” asked Jane.

“I suddenly felt so hot. It was as if I held my hand over a fire too closely.” A breeze rustled in the nearby trees, and Elizabeth shuddered. “Now I feel cold.”

“Come, share my wrap,” Jane said.

Their youngest sister suddenly looked in need of comforting. She held out her other arm to Kate.

“You too, Kate.”

The three sisters huddled together before the fountain when a great rush of wind parted the sky. The moon shone so brightly they had to cover their eyes.

“Look up, children.”

Elizabeth and Jane gasped in unison when they saw their deceased mother bathed in white and floating like an angel.

“Kate, all is well.”

A ghostly gentleman said next to Elizabeth’s mother, and she presumed it was Mr. Morland.

“This cannot be!” cried Elizabeth.

“It is real,” Mr. Bennet said from behind them.

The sisters spun on their heel to see their living parents standing hand in hand and with no expressions of shock.

“Have no fear,”

“Are we dead?” Kate asked in confusion.

“No, dearest,” Mrs. Bennet explained. “The time is now right for your powers to be returned. You are descendants from great lines of witches.”

Still in each other’s arms, Elizabeth could feel Kate and Jane tremble at such news.

“No,” Jane whispered and vehemently shook her head. “I would never want to harm a soul.”

Elizabeth squeezed her older sister’s hand. “Of course not, Janie. You are the sweetest person in the world!”

“We must be fevered or going mad!” Kate exclaimed.

“I see your fear,” Mr. Bennet said and raised his hands to silence them. “You do not recall for we bound your powers and erased the memories. However, you were born with gifts and for many years knew of the magical world. Contrary to the contemporary representation, we come from good witches.”

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Two part two

Road in dark forest

What does Elizabeth think of the Assembly and Darcy? Can they get along better in this magical world?


While Jane and Bingley danced, Elizabeth sat out due to the absence of partners. She had not minded and was busy watching the new neighbors. Mr. Darcy had caught her eye early in the evening, and she now amused herself imagining his inner thoughts as he circled about the room with an expression of disdain. His strong jaw was firmly set. Now and then someone bumped into him and his face contorted. She was busy wondering if the spasm was an expression of revulsion or pain when Mr. Bingley left his second dance with Jane to approach his friend.

“Darcy! I must have you dance!” Mr. Bingley’s face was flushed from the heat of the ballroom and the exertion of dancing.

Mr. Darcy looked amongst the crowd. The baker and his wife promenaded past, and Elizabeth thought she saw his lip curl.

“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”

Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.

“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley and he turned his whole body to look at Jane.

Darcy loosened his cravat and then stared at his gloved hand while responding. “You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”

Bingley grinned but shook his head. “No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught. The last thing she desired was to be inspected by Mr. Darcy. She reminded herself she had no reason to want his good opinion, all the same, she wished she had worn a different gown or spent more time on her hair.

“Which do you mean?”

Darcy looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away.

“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. The minute Darcy walked on to find fault with another dancer, she promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.

Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth’s description of the haughty interchange. Once calmed, she whispered into Elizabeth’s ear, “His eyesight must be weak for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”

Elizabeth sincerely doubted such a specimen of a man could have any fault so mundane as weak eyesight but laughed at the image provoked. She imagined Darcy with a quizzing glass which magnified objects tenfold and yet he still needed to bring items close. Perhaps he might mistake a dirty stocking for a posy and sniff it.

“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”

Charlotte’s sharp eyes met her friend’s. “Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”

Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”

“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”

Elizabeth shook her head. Her dark curls dancing at the movement. “You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”

Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.

“I cannot believe he meant it in that way!” Jane’s blue eyes went wide in shock and disbelief. “Mr. Bingley is the friendliest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.

Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted. As the evening wore on, however, it seemed Mr. Darcy was always watching her. Finding more fault with her, she assumed. She did not care about his close inspection.

At one point, Mr. Bingley’s younger sister was led to the dance floor by Darcy. Her orange silk gown floated around her in an almost magical quality. At first, Elizabeth admired the dress but believed it did not flatter Miss Bingley’s complexion. Additionally, her nose quite literally stuck in the air lest she suffer from the aroma of her fellow dancers. Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley cringe before touching every other partner. If Mr. Darcy’s eyes wandered, Miss Bingley would say some joke, judging by the way she laughed at her words, and Mr. Darcy’s lips tilted up in a small smile. Elizabeth suspected snide comments being made and hoped someone in Miss Bingley’s set would trample on her train. Elizabeth grinned at the possibility then immediately felt guilty about what Jane’s reaction would be.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she turned her attention to her sisters. Kate danced with Henry Tilney, and Elizabeth smiled to herself as the gentleman made her younger sister laugh. Kate had just come out a few weeks earlier, and Elizabeth applauded her parents for allowing their other daughters of close age out even while the eldest remained unmarried. Elizabeth happily saw her sister’s first ball must be everything a lady needed. For once, Elizabeth did not even regret Kate’s fanciful imagination. Growing too warm, she stationed herself near an open window until Mr. Bingley collected her for their set.

 

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.