Cover reveal & Excerpt to Pledged

Retro curtain with stageLong time readers of my works (like Ginna) will remember a story I began in 2013 called The Bennet Brother. Elizabeth Bennet has an older brother who is friends with Darcy. They meet when much younger and the story changes from there. It was never far from my mind and I’ve worked on it a few times but it’s taken all these years to come to fruition. Last year, I retitled it to Loving Elizabeth. When working on it this year, I realized what I had (and why I didn’t make much progress on it for years) was three distinct plot lines that should be three separate stories. They are novella length and while I know some would argue I could combine them to make one long novel, I disagree. Conflicts arise and are resolved. Good story telling and structuring means I need to end the book, not create new conflicts. If you are not a novella reader, this series may not be for you but I suggest you try it!

I’ve named the series Loving Elizabeth. The first book is Pledged. The following in the series are Reunited and Consecrated. I hope to have both out Summer 2018.

I’m hoping to publish within a few days but still wanted to share on my blog. This is the unedited draft so there will be some changes and any grammar errors and typos will be corrected by publication. Let me know what you think!

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She was everything he ever wanted…if only she was not his best friend’s sister.

As any honourable gentleman knows, a friend’s sister is untouchable. It is a code that Fitzwilliam Darcy has never had an issue with until now. However, Elizabeth Bennet might be enticing enough to risk not only disinheritance from his father and the displeasure of his entire family but also the loss of his best friend’s trust.

 To Elizabeth, her brother’s friend, Will, is as pompous as the day is long. However, he is also enigmatic, and soon, she finds herself drawn to his complexities. Unexpectedly, she falls hard and fast for this young heir of a vast estate, but at sixteen, she has never been in London society before and is new to all its deceptions and games. Will she be able to decipher who to trust or will her heart pay the ultimate price?

 

Chapter One

June 20, 1806

“I would prefer to stay home this evening,” Will Darcy grumbled.

“Are you such an old man now that an evening at the theatre is too much?” Will’s older cousin, Captain Richard Fitzwilliam teased.

“Hardly,” Will said dryly. He had just turned two and twenty. “Do not forget that you are older than me, Richard.”

“All shall be well,” Richard replied. “It is one evening out before a summer in Ireland with your friends.” He motioned to their friends Samuel Bennet and Charles Bingley. “You will be appearing with us, our sisters, and our fathers not insipid debutantes and their matchmaking mamas. It is nothing compared to what the future will hold for you as the heir of Pemberley.”

The young men had all met years ago at Eton and continued the friendship to their time at Cambridge. Along the way, they learned their fathers had been acquaintances during their youth. Inspired by their sons, the older generation soon took up a correspondence. The men had all met a few times over the years, but this was the first time that any of the ladies would be present.

Will, Sam, and Charles, all snorted and rolled their eyes simultaneously.

“You forget Louisa and Caroline will be there,” Charles interjected.

“And though my mother is not present, rest assured she is scheming from afar,” Sam concurred.

Will leaned back in his chair and groaned. “Richard, your mother gives me more pressure than anyone but Aunt Catherine!”

“Mother acts out of love but let us be thankful she will not be present Besides, your father has made it clear to Aunt that you are not to bend to her will.”

“That is not the same thing as him believing I should choose my own bride.” Will’s shoulders slumped.

“Enough on Will’s marital prospects. Sam, tell us about your sisters.” Charles eagerly asked with his eyebrows raised in anticipation.

Sam grinned, “Now, Charles—and you too Richard—I know you cannot resist a pretty face but need I remind you no idle flirtations with my sisters?”

“Now, come on man!” Richard gesticulated wildly. “Charles is too young, and I am too poor to take a wife. We would never trifle with a gentleman’s daughter—especially a friend’s sister. And Will here has never ‘trifled’ with anyone. We would only like to find ourselves in the company of beautiful women tonight.”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Sam continued, “Very well. Jane is quite beautiful. Blonde, blue-eyed and willowy. She is charming and reserved in her expressions. She only sees the good in everyone, a veritable angel. Lizzy, though….she takes you by surprise. She is as dark as Jane is fair, and shorter too. She is outspoken and can even best my father in a debate. She might even be able to beat you, Will.”

“A regular bluestocking, then?” Richard‘s eyebrows slanted down in disappointment.

“No, not at all. It is true she is well-read, but she is also witty and charming. She plays pianoforte very well, and her singing captivates audiences. Lizzy loves walking and enjoys nature. If it were not for the theatre and opera, or the museums and bookshops, she would never even come to town.”

Charles’ eyes grew wide, “She does not care to shop?  Does not enjoy the balls and soirees?  That is all Louisa and Caroline live for!”

“I doubt she is out yet. Is not she thirteen?” Will complained to hide his growing interest in the young lady. “Why are we speaking so much about a little girl? I am not going on and on about Georgie!”

Through the years of his friendship with Sam, Will had yet to meet Elizabeth but was impressed with what he knew of her. However, he had always thought of her as Sam’s very young sister. Nothing could exist between them, even if he found her attractive and she was courting age, she was his best friend’s sister. If any of his friends ever fell in love with his sister, there would be pistols at dawn.

Sam shook his head. “Mary is thirteen. Lizzy is sixteen.”

Will rolled his eyes, at sixteen she would still be a silly girl with little shape. He resisted the older, experienced widows that approached him at balls and did not partake of paid affairs but his celibacy did not blind him to the beauty of a grown woman’s figure.

“She is out,” Sam continued, “thanks to my stepmother. However, now that the entail is broken, I hope Mama can feel some relief.” Sam shook his head and glared at Will. “We are speaking of her because she is a remarkable young lady and I was asked to share about her to three men who I trust. I think she could be a friend to you. Did I mention she can beat my father at chess?”

“Really?” Charles let out a low whistle. “Well, I daresay she is too much for me. I need a woman that is sweet, quiet and level.”

Winking at Charles and Richard, Sam baited Will. “Perhaps for you then, Richard?”

“She indeed sounds like a most extraordinary young lady. Will, you would have more time to bask in the attention of Bingley’s sisters. What does she look like, Sam?” Richard leant forward as though eager to hear more.

“Yes,” Will let out a derisive snort. “Since she has developed such a personality, she is probably merely tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt me at all.”

“Tempt you!” Same cried. “First of all, this is my sister!  I would like her not to tempt anyone. What beauty holds you?  You have criticised every beautiful woman of your acquaintance. Lizzy’s personality could challenge and interest you. Her beauty will speak for itself.” He paused and looked at his watch. “Enough teasing. I am thankful I can trust each of you with my sisters and need not fear you as potential suitors. Chaperoning them will turn me prematurely grey. Now, it is time to prepare for dinner; we had better get to it.”

Will exited the library blushing at the description of himself, but he could not be sorry for it. Is it too much to ask not to be bored by the woman I spend my life with?  To enjoy her company at the end of the day instead of living separate lives?  And be attracted to her as well?  However, he was only two and twenty and certainly had time to continue to look.

****

Let the horrible men find out about dinner some other way! Elizabeth thought as she returned to her bedchamber at Darcy House. Her first reaction was to show the ungentlemanly young man his place and come down for dinner in a way that would make her mother proud. However, upon reflection she realised that she was not so vain as to care to show off like that, nor did she have such a gown with her at present. No, the gown she had planned to wear would service just nicely and what did she care if it earned his admiration.

Aside from the fact that he is the most handsome young man I have ever seen and has the most pleasing voice. Such thoughts brought back memories of what he said with such a voice. Spending too long in her musings, Elizabeth came down the stairs to overhear another conversation.

“I had sent Elizabeth to remind you all of the time, but you say that you did not see her?  And she has yet to come down?”  Mr. Bennet asked his son.

“Aye. I hope she is not ill,” Sam replied.

“I doubt that. You know your sister’s constitution. All the walking keeps her quite healthy.”

“Oh, yes. We must not forget what a great walker Miss Eliza is,” Caroline Bingley’s sickly-sweet voice broke in.

She only met me this afternoon, and she acts as though she knows every intimate detail of my life!

Not caring for more abuse of herself, Elizabeth cheerfully called out from the open drawing room door. “Oh, I am here and quite well. I am afraid I merely lost track of time.”

Ignoring the gentlemen, Elizabeth focused on her sister, Jane, in conversation with an amiable young man.

“Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet called her attention away, “Sam told me that you never met him in the library. I know you cannot have forgotten where it is located. What happened?”

“Oh!  Perhaps I am such a little girl that I could not be trusted with such a task?” She raised an eyebrow and resisted the urge to look at Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Mr. Bennet gave Elizabeth a puzzled look but shrugged. Muttering about not understanding the moods of young ladies, he left the young people to their devices.

Richard inched closer to Elizabeth. “Sam, introduce us to your sister.”

“My pleasure,” Sam laughed then performed the introductions of the two young men next to him.

He continued to identify the occupants of the room. “Lizzy, you already met Miss Bingley and Miss Caroline. The gentleman mooning over Jane there is Mr. Charles Bingley. And the gentleman talking with Father and Mr. Darcy is Charles’s father, Mr. Joseph Bingley. Richard’s father, Lord Fitzwilliam, and a few other relatives will meet us at the theatre.”

Elizabeth gave them a dazzling smile that made her eyes sparkle. “Delighted to meet you.”

Richard smiled widely in return. Elizabeth’s words seemed to remind him to jolt Will to action, and he belatedly bowed. She turned her eyes on him, ready to tease him for his past words but before she could say anything dinner was called. Richard offered her an arm to escort her to the table. Caroline and Louisa Bingley immediately seized Will’s arms, claiming them for their own. Elizabeth inwardly laughed and wondered if the two sisters would fight over the pompous young man.

At the table, Elizabeth found herself situated near Will’s father and easily made conversation with the older gentleman. “Mr. Darcy, I am very much looking forward to meeting Miss Darcy. Will she be meeting us later this evening?” The Bennets had arrived during Georgiana’s lessons, and due to her shyness, it was arranged for her to wait to meet the visitors.

“She will dine in the nursery, but will join us to exhibit on the pianoforte afterwards.”

“Oh, dear Georgiana!  How I long to see her again!” Caroline cried. “She is so talented on the pianoforte for such a young age. Yes, Miss Eliza, you must be quite dismayed to dine with us instead of company better suited your age.”

Caroline had just come out at the age of seventeen. Elizabeth internally rolled her eyes. Did Caroline dislike Elizabeth’s age or did she see her as a threat for Will’s attention? She would find his opinion of me quite pleasing, I am sure.

With good breeding, Elizabeth calmly ignored Caroline’s comments. “I look forward to hearing Miss Darcy play later.”

“And do you play as well, Miss Elizabeth?”  Mr. Darcy asked.

“A very little and very ill indeed.”

“It is such a shame that we cannot all have access to the masters!” Caroline gave Elizabeth a pitying look. “However, I suppose the priorities of the country are quite different than Town.”

“I cannot speak for all of the country,” Mr. Darcy spoke with a hint of irritation in his voice, “but it is true in Derbyshire. Miss Elizabeth, I am sure you are too modest. If it does not make you too uncomfortable, I ask you to play for us this evening.”

Sam looked their way and gave his sister a puzzled look. “Lizzy plays quite well. I insist that you play for my friends.”

“You are a very strange creature by way of brother!” Elizabeth laughed. “I would rather not play in front of those that must be used to hearing the very best. Yet, you know my courage always rises in the face of every attempt of intimidation.”

“A theory as relevant for the drawing rooms of London as for his majesty’s troops!” Proclaimed Richard and thus he turned Elizabeth’s attention to himself for the remainder of the dinner.

 

Chapter Two

Will observed Elizabeth during the meal. Although trapped between the Miss Bingleys and unable to speak with his friend’s sister, he recognised his father’s look of approval. Elizabeth was shorter than average and, although Will was quite tall, he always had a soft spot for petite women. It brought out his protective instincts, and he could see that she could nestle under his chin nicely when embraced. During his mother’s life, he had often seen his parents in just such a pose, and the image invoked all things comforting to him.

Although young, Elizabeth had a well-formed figure, with more curves than he would expect for her age. She had dark curly hair and eyes that quickly flashed between light hazel brown to a bright green. More than her physical attributes, something about her spirit attracted him. She could never be called small or ordinary.

Will’s reverie ceased when his father decided to forego the usual separation of the sexes and invited everyone to the drawing room.

On their way, Richard drew closer to Will. Seeing his cousin’s eyes follow Elizabeth, he whispered, “Bewitched yet?”

Mr. Darcy welcomed the ladies to sing and play. The Miss Bingleys eagerly displayed their skills. Caroline had greater technical, but Louisa was the better singer. Elizabeth seemed to need some persuasion to play, but her performance entranced Will. Although not superior to Caroline and Louisa’s skill, Elizabeth played and sang with more emotion and obvious enjoyment.

Jane Bennet did not play or sing, but it hardly appeared to matter to Charles. Additionally, she seldom spoke. Will internally laughed at Charles’s habit of falling for the prettiest girl in the room whether she had any sense in her head or not. At least she did not behave poorly or have a shrill voice. Some men had little requirements for what attracted them to the fairer sex. Will was not one of them.

Caroline played as her father sang in a rich baritone while Louisa turned pages when Georgiana came down at last. Mr. Bennet, Sam, and Elizabeth spoke amongst each other while Will’s father and Richard laughed over something. Will sat alone. Georgiana’s governess accompanied her, but the young girl gulped when she saw the number of people in the room.

“Papa…” The girl of twelve began.

Mr. Darcy looked up from his conversation. “Come along Poppet. Play us a new jig.”

Georgiana looked around the room in distress. Will hated it when his father did this. Both Darcy siblings were shy and more like their mother, but their father could not understand their dispositions.

Will walked to his sister. “Georgie, if you play, then I will dance. You will be too busy laughing at your poor brother to feel nervous.” She bit her bottom lip, and he continued, “Everyone present is certain to be pleased by your performance. I assure you, you will hear no unkind remarks.”

At last, she nodded her head in acquiescence.

“Follow me,” he whispered, and she placed her hand in his.

The others had stood when Georgiana entered the room, and everyone made the necessary bows and curtsies after Will performed introductions. Mr. Darcy called Mr. Bennet and Sam over to him, leaving Elizabeth alone with the Darcy siblings.

Georgiana smoothed her hands over her skirts and remained mute until Elizabeth spoke. “I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy. I have heard you are very accomplished on the pianoforte.”

Georgiana blushed. “Thank you, Miss Elizabeth, but I am too young to be very accomplished at anything. I am certain you must play better than me.”

“Never assume age is a disadvantage…or an advantage. Most things in life are learned traits and not inherent abilities. I am told you practice very diligently, whereas I forsake my practice for other pursuits.”

“Yes,” Georgiana nodded. “Miss Graves tells me I play too much, and will never be a truly accomplished young lady if I do not also put effort into other tasks.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Miss Graves is undoubtedly correct, but I did not mean that I am engaged in ladylike accomplishments.” She gave Will a conspiratorial look before leaning in closer to Georgiana as though speaking in confidence. “I read everything I can get my hands on and I go on very long walks all over the countryside. I play chess with my father and delight in arguments, or as my mother would say ‘vexing her.’

“I take no enjoyment in sewing, embroidery, drawing, painting tables, or netting purses. With four sisters our house will be overflowing with tables and fireplace screens in a year or so. If playing pleases you so much, why should you not be able to enjoy it?”

She then looked toward Will as though asking him to challenge her. Caroline Bingley approached before Will could reply to Elizabeth. The Bingleys had just finished their performance.

“Oh, Miss Darcy! How nice to see you again! How well you look! And my! You must have grown. Mr. Darcy, do you think she will be as tall as me?”

Caroline stood as close to Will as was decent. He supposed she was trying to display her height, believing he would desire a woman of her attributes. She did not allow him to comment.

“Well, do come Miss Darcy. I long to hear you play again! Now, I will turn your pages.”

Caroline began to lead Georgiana to the instrument when the latter looked toward Will.

“Georgie will you play _______? I would love to dance with so many fair partners.”

Instantly, Caroline took a step closer to Will. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elizabeth turn her head to hide a smile.

“Miss Caroline,” Elizabeth said. “I am not inclined to dance this evening. May I be of service to Miss Darcy so you might be available?”

Caroline readily agreed, and although Will knew it meant he would have to dance with Caroline instead of Elizabeth, he was pleased with the way she rescued his sister.

Soon the rug was rolled up, and Georgiana played lively Scotch tunes. Elizabeth turned the pages while the other young people danced. Caroline looked incredibly smug, at first, until Will began to make some faces and dance badly, earning giggles from his sister. Before too long, another gentleman entered the room.

“George! How are you, my boy?” Mr. Darcy exclaimed. He quickly introduced George Wickham, his godson and steward’s son to the room. “George, I must see you dancing with the other young people.”

“I would be delighted to, Mr. Darcy,” Wickham flashed a smile, “but it seems all the young ladies have partners.”

“Nonsense, Miss Graves can dance with you.”

“Miss Graves?”

“Oh, you have not been introduced yet!” Mr. Darcy directed Wickham to the twenty-something lady sitting in a chair near the pianoforte and watching her charge. “George Wickham, meet Miss Laura Graves. She is Georgiana’s new governess.”

Will could easily tell Wickham found Miss Graves attractive. Although not a great beauty, she looked pretty enough. Wickham preyed on servant women who either easily succumbed to his charms, or were too embarrassed to confess anything to their masters. This was the only reason Will could believe it a good thing Wickham was to leave with the other gentlemen in a few days.

Wickham gave her an impeccable bow. “Miss Graves, would you care to dance?”

“Oh, I had not thought to dance this evening.”

Will heard her voice waver and wondered if the housekeeper had forewarned her of Wickham. Mr. Darcy frowned at her response and Will intervened. While Georgiana and Elizabeth selected the next piece, the room grew quiet. Conscious that they could all hear his conversation, he nevertheless persisted. “Miss Graves, might you allow Miss Elizabeth a respite from her duties? Or perhaps you might play, and Georgiana could rest?”

Mr. Darcy firmly broke in. “It is good for Georgie to practice and she does not need help to turn the pages for one last jig. Now, I insist all the young people dance.”

Miss Graves paled a little and Will wondered if she might beg off and claim to be ill, but he chose to try again. “Then, I insist your first dance of the night be with me, Miss Graves.” Will ignored the raised eyebrows of many people in the room as he led her to the dance floor.

While Caroline let out an audible huff, Will made quick eye contact with his friends, and a wordless scheme was put in place.

Caroline paired with Richard, Charles stayed with Jane, Sam partnered with Elizabeth, leaving Wickham with Louisa Bingley. The gentleman had earlier pieced together the likelihood of Wickham appearing and how they would safeguard the ladies. They believed the Bingley sisters the least likely to be susceptible to his charms as they valued wealth and connections over ideas of romance.

The four friends had focused on protection and not fairness or sensibilities. Belatedly, Will realised he made Miss Graves break propriety by dancing with him after refusing Wickham. Additionally, Elizabeth looked displeased with her brother as a partner. Her eyes continued to seek out Wickham, who she undoubtedly saw only as a handsome and agreeable young man. As the night wore on, and Will and the others continued to block Wickham’s attempts at speaking with Miss Graves, his expression turned stony.

*****

The following day, Elizabeth arose early. Always an earlier riser, she slept restlessly in unfamiliar beds and homes. Additionally, the events of the evening before circled in her mind. Why should Sam’s friend be so rude to Mr. Wickham? Mr. Darcy had been the only one friendly to Wickham. The old man’s son and his friends believed they knew better than the patriarch. Elizabeth shook her head at such disrespect.

Her father had always inspired deep respect in her. Her mother on the other hand… Elizabeth frowned. It was not that she desired to disrespect her mother. The woman merely had such different understanding and feelings of all the world than Elizabeth. When she was younger, she thought perhaps it was because Fanny Bennet was her step-mother, but Elizabeth now saw the same disconnection in temperaments between Fanny’s eldest daughter and the woman. Elizabeth’s next younger sister, Mary, was much more severe and studious than the youngest Bennet daughters. Their frivolity and love of luxuries bordered on spoilt. When Elizabeth would mention as much to her father or brother, they would laugh. Why should they moderate their spending when Sam was breaking the entail? When the sad day came that Mr. Bennet died, Sam would become master and all of his sisters and step-mother would forever be welcome at Longbourn. Additionally, Sam’s betrothed was the daughter of the local knight and Elizabeth’s close friend. Charlotte would never toss them in the hedgerows.

Yes, as much as Elizabeth respected and loved her father, she had to admit he was just a little blind when it came to the ways of his second wife. However, Elizabeth would never publicly argue with either one of her parents or disrespect their requests as Fitzwilliam Darcy had done. On the other hand, even Sam seemed to agree with his friend. Could Sam be so easily led astray?

Jane continued to sleep and Elizabeth quietly dressed for the day. Perhaps all the extra sleep is what made Jane so beautiful. Of course, all the rest in the world could not change Elizabeth’s disposition. Jane was mild and sweet-tempered whereas Elizabeth delighted in sarcasm and debates. Some, like Louisa and Caroline Bingley, would call her unladylike. Elizabeth shrugged as she ran a brush through her brown tresses. She cared not one jot for the opinion of those ladies.

With silent steps, Elizabeth crossed the spacious chamber and softly shut the door behind her. The Darcys’ London house had none of the old squeaks and groans of Longbourn. The stairs made no complaint as she descended them in favor of the Library. Pausing outside the door, Elizabeth listened for voices, hoping the room was empty. Satisfied there were no occupants, Elizabeth eased the door open and sighed at the glorious sight of so many rows of books. Undoubtedly the work of several generations, Elizabeth could not help but admire the dedication it took to amass such a stockpile of tomes.

Running her fingers over the woodgrain of the cases, Elizabeth noticed a partially hidden notch. Touching it, she felt the wood push in a little and heard a soft click. A panel on the edge of the case by a door that opened to Mr. Darcy’s dressing room eased open. Curious, Elizabeth approached and peered in the empty hidden cupboard. Suddenly, she heard a sound coming from the dressing room. Panicking, Elizabeth slid inside the closet and pulled the panel closed.

“Enough, Fitzwilliam,” Mr. Darcy said. “George will accompany us. This childish rivalry you have needs to come to an end. One day you will be master of Pemberley and George will be there to help you just as his father has assisted me.”

“I have the highest respect for Mr. Wickham, Father. As your steward, I agree he has been indispensable to you, but his son…”

“Will,” Mr. Darcy sighed. “Sometimes I see too much of your mother’s pride in you. Perhaps we ought not to have named you after her side of the family. They can be so exclusive with their lofty titles.”

“I am sorry you think so.”

Elizabeth believed it was said with a mixture of offense and regret.

“I finalized everything yesterday. He will have the living at Kympton. After this summer, he will begin his training to be rector, and you will begin learning more about Pemberley. Together, you will be the models for all of Derbyshire gentry class to aspire to be.”

“Yes, sir,” Will said. “Ah, here is the Plato I wanted.”

“Now, let us find breakfast. Bennet and Joseph ought to be down any moment. Undoubtedly the ladies will sleep until later. Will you join us at the club?”

They exited through the library door and left for the breakfast room, Elizabeth assumed. Her mind whirled with all she had heard. Even Will’s father called him proud! Elizabeth lingered in the library until she heard voices on the stairs. Hearing her father’s voice, she met him and both Mr. Bingleys in the hall.

“Lizzy,” Papa said and kissed her cheek. “I trust you well.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth smiled. After greeting the others, she placed her hand on his arm, and they walked to the breakfast room together.

“Have you been in the library long?” Mr. Bennet asked as they entered the room.

Mr. Darcy and Will stood and bowed at her entrance, but the younger man’s eyes met hers with a curious gaze.

“No, only for a moment,” she answered and fought a flush coming to her cheeks. “I must have just missed you upstairs.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “And, of course, you thought of reading before food.”

Mr. Darcy smiled. “My son is also a great reader, Miss Elizabeth.”

“I wish I could take that term as a compliment, but my mother assures me it is a very troublesome habit,” Elizabeth said with a sly smile.

The gentlemen laughed.

“I am sure she would,” Mr. Darcy said with a grin.

“What sort of books do you enjoy reading?” Will asked.

“Whatever captures my imagination,” she shrugged.

“Novels,” Will supplied.

Perceiving his disapproval, Elizabeth drew her shoulders back. “I do appreciate novels, but I read many things. Poetry, engineering, history—surely that calls for as much imagination as anything with the way the writers have imagined the thoughts and words of the world’s greatest men and women.” She raised a brow. “I even find enjoyment in philosophical treatises such as The Republic.”

Will’s mouth dropped open before he managed to speak. “You read Plato?”

“In the Greek,” Mr. Bennet grinned. “Sam taught her. They drive my wife mad with speaking in ‘foreign tongues’ as she calls it.”

“Telling of my exploits, Father?” Sam said from the doorway. With a bow to its occupants, he took a seat next to his friends.

“There would be nothing to tell,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You are the very best brother and the most gentlemanly man. Papa is far more likely to find stories to tell of me.”

Sam raised his brows and then looked between his friends before they all burst out in laughter. Elizabeth blushed in embarrassment.

“Nevermind us, Miss Elizabeth,” Will said when they had calmed. “We see a different side of your brother than perhaps you do, but I would hope one day my own sister may say the same of me.”

“Surely she will,” Mr. Darcy cut in. “Fitzwilliam knows the Darcy legacy he must live up to. He has always made me proud, and I know he will never disappoint me.”

As the older man spoke, Elizabeth thought she saw Will’s previous amusement fade. Such words ought to inspire well-deserved pride and affection. Instead, Will looked a bit like a man trying not to choke.

“Well, what are plans for the morning?” Mr. Bingley asked.

“I invited Fitzwilliam and his friends to the club, but he has declined. I suppose the young people would prefer to find other forms of amusement.”

Charles nodded. “Caroline and Louisa wanted to walk in the park during the fashionable hour and then visit a few shops.”

“Very good,” Mr. Darcy smiled at his guest. “I expect you and Fitzwilliam will accompany the ladies.”

Elizabeth saw the nearly imperceptible set of Will’s jaw tighten. Meeting his father’s eyes, he nodded. Next, he met Elizabeth’s gaze. Her breath stole as she thought she could read the young man’s feelings and found they reflected her own. Fitzwilliam Darcy was a puzzle she seemed in no danger of solving anytime soon.

St. Michael’s Little Summer

This story has been edited and is now published as The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter. It is now for sale on Amazon. Below is an unedited sample of chapter one.

 

Rose-EBookCover-Final

Chapter 1

“Come Brother, let us rest ourselves for a moment,” Georgiana Darcy beseeched her elder brother.

“I am sorry Sweetling. It is very warm and I should be more attentive to you. Would you like to go home?” Fitzwilliam Darcy looked at his sister with concern. The sun was shining unseasonably warm for early October.

“No, I am well.”

“I do wish you would come with me to Hertfordshire, or allow me to stay behind with you. I do not like leaving you after your ordeal just yet.”

They left Pemberley, their country house, the day before, after their customary Michaelmas feast at Pemberley. After the betrayal of the summer and the hussle and the harvest Darcy was looking forward to enjoying a holiday, but hated to leave his dear sister behind.

“Really, William, it was not an illness. I have simply had low spirits because of my foolishness.”

Georgiana lowered her voice. “I would enjoy the countryside but I will take the cowardly way out and avoid Mr Bingley’s sisters since you offered. You know how difficult it is for me to make new friends and I do not trust my judgment to their sincerity anymore and would therefore be trapped with the Superior Sisters all day and make you feel guilty for any enjoyment you experience. No, you go, you work so hard. Mrs Annesley and I shall see you at Christmas.”

After a short pause she added, “Now, I think I shall watch the ducks just down there.”

Mr Darcy watched his baby sister leave. She had grown into a beautiful young lady while he was unawares. Early in the summer she had been taken advantage of, her heart broken asunder, by his childhood best friend and very own father’s godson. I have failed her.

Across the way he heard something wholly unexpected, a full, hearty laugh from a young woman. It had been years since he heard a woman laugh so openly, not since his mother’s death. And the tone of this particular laugh was delightful and enchanting.

His eyes sought out the owner of the musical laughter and saw a woman surrounded by four children under the age of ten. Surely she is much too young to be their mother and dressed too fine to be a governess. Though clearly she takes little care of her wardrobe, given the way she romps with the little mites. Refreshing, a young lady not interested in fashion.

“Again Cousin Lizzy! Again!” the smallest lad cried demandingly as she took him in her arms and spun around once more. Setting him down in laughter, two older women approached her, one staying with the children and the other walking with the young lady towards a nearby bench. Darcy was shocked by the tugging in his heart. He felt regret in the assuredness of never witnessing a similar scene at his own home. Will my own children be happier than I was?

He had no intention of eavesdropping but a very familiar name caught his attention. “All Mr Collins could speak of was his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” said the younger lady, ‘Cousin Lizzy.’

She continued, “Thankfully Mamma directed him away from Jane to start with, as Mamma believes Jane must be saved for an illustrious match given her beauty. Not that I feared she would accept him anyway, you know Jane and I have vowed to never marry but for love and I could not even respect his sycophantic ways. Whatever came over Charlotte to accept him I truly will never understand. But I thank you for allowing me to visit, Mamma was becoming unbearable.”

“Of course, dear. We are always happy to have you. And shall you return to us in January?” the older woman asked.

Cousin Lizzy snorted, “You know very well I never want another London Season. I do not care for Town at all but for the theatres, museums and bookshops. After turning down Mr Collins, Mamma has despaired of me every marrying and has decided to send Kitty in my place. I am not sure if Mary should feel disappointed at being overlooked or relieved!”

She laughed and then sobered a little, “Truly, I believe Mamma is correct. No man shall have me for none respect me. I have practically no portion, a vulgar family, no connections and am certainly not handsome enough to tempt one otherwise.”

“Now, Elizabeth, you have not met very many men and are only twenty. This smacks of bitterness.”

“Oh, Aunt Gardiner, I just feel as though I do not fit in anywhere, never valued for myself. I am impertinent and wild and care not to change either.”

“Some men prefer outspoken women with frankness and you are never improper or mean; indeed there is a playful sweetness about you. And wild? I have never seen evidence of that.”

“Well, I did walk three miles to Netherfield in the mud to check on Jane last month.” Glancing down at herself she told her aunt, “I arrived looking very much like this now and I know Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst held me in contempt for it. But Jane was ill and needed me and the carriage was not to be had. I have yet to have the patience to truly master riding and so I walked.”

Darcy had been fascinated by the conversation before but he recognized the name of the estate she mentioned as the very one leased by his best friend, the very place he intended to travel to on the morrow. And hearing her care for her sister resonated with his own heart. If I ever marry, I would want her to be a true sister to Georgie, with affection like this young miss has for her sister.

He then stole a look at her, given the fact that she knew his best friend and believed his sister hated her. He had no difficulty believing that, Caroline Bingley hated most people.

Elizabeth’s face was bright and animated by the exercise and conversation. Her eyes were vibrant and danced in the sunlight, a unique shade which danced between green and brown. It reminded him of a ride through the woods on a sunny day.

“I would never call those actions wild, though perhaps unwise. As for Mr Bingley’s sisters I am sure you can handle them with all the grace and poise you exhibit in every one of the catty London drawing rooms.” Patting her niece on the hand she continued, “Now, let us speak of better things. Will you come with us on the lake journey next summer?”

“Yes, you know not how I anticipate it.”

“Very good. Among other stops we plan on visiting my childhood home in Lambton.”

Darcy could scarce believe his ears. This young lady knew his aunt’s parson, his best friend and now her aunt grew up a mere five miles from his estate and would be visiting the area the following summer.

“You will want to see Pemberley, I am sure. I believe Derbyshire to be the finest of all the counties and Pemberley’s house is my favourite. But the grounds! Lizzy, we shall have to drag you away.”

Elizabeth laughed at this, “I do look forward to it then! Tell me more about Derbyshire. Does uncle still plan to buy an estate there soon?”

Darcy frowned, she apparently was in trade. It mattered not; surely he had no intentions towards a stranger. Though when I arrive at Netherfield she will no longer be one.

“Yes, we could have earlier but the unrest with Napoleon makes him want to wait so he can better manage his affairs.”

“I think it so brave of you and uncle to have taken the Import/Export opportunity.”

“You know your uncle. Grandson to a gentleman but his father disliked Town and chose to become a country lawyer as the usual lot of second sons did not appeal to him. Your uncle came so late to your grandfather’s life the law practice was already promised to Mr Phillips after your other uncle’s unexpected death. But I think we both know that he is far happier in his current profession than he would be as an attorney.”

So, a second son of a second son, that is….respectable.

“And what of you? Surely the Greenes expected you to marry a gentleman.”

“And so your uncle is! I do not hold with the belief that because he manages a business instead of land he has lost his rank due his birth.”

“Besides, we make too much of birth. No one is born with superior behaviour, they are taught it through education and many tradesmen these days can better afford expensive schooling than peers.” Elizabeth stated emphatically.

Darcy reeled at the words: astonishing, unpopular and thought provoking. She did not sound like a revolutionary, simply a pragmatist. Is not my friend Bingley proof of this? Not to mention my aunt, born a Lady, she can be quite vulgar.

Elizabeth began again with gusto, “The times are changing. The tradesmen are propelling technology and industry which is creating capital needed to fund the incessant wars and colonization, which is not as entirely profitable as the lords would have us think. Meanwhile people are leaving the estates and cottage system to try their luck at wealth in the cities. Fortunately few of our tenants have left, but I worry for those that do. The cities are cruel and there is no one to aid them. Our estate is not vast or very profitable, though I attribute at least some of that to my father’s indolence as he hates the entailment. At any rate, what we do have we owe to our tenants and in turn we treat them very well.”

Darcy breathed out a sigh of relief. She was a gentleman’s daughter after all. Clearly not one of any importance, as he had never heard of him, but they were…equals. Yes, equals. My relations might be nobles but I am not.

“Very wise, as always, my dear. But come, let us gather the children.”

Darcy was struck with their conversation and was dwelling on the prospect of a pair of very fine eyes in the face of a pretty and very astute, intelligent woman. All worries for his sister slipped away, for the first time in months.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Georgiana Darcy left her brother on the park bench and made her way to the pond. Watching the ducks she said a silent prayer. She desired a friend, a true confidante and perhaps a sister. A good wife for William and a sister for me. She spied four children and their governess frolicking and tossing a ball when it went astray, near her. She bent to retrieve it and walked towards the group of children.

“Here you are dear,” she spoke to the youngest boy.

“Thank you. Are you an angel?” the little one asked.

“Michael!” The governess chided.

Laughing Georgiana intervened, “No, he is charming. No, little one, I am not an angel. What makes you think so?”

“Your hair is made of gold! Even prettier than Cousin Jane! What is your name, Angel?”

“Michael, such poor manners!” the governess reprimanded again.

“But my name is an angel and so is Gabe’s and the girls are named after Grandmama and Grandmother and Mamma says they are angels watching us from Heaven and all of our cousins are named for other angels in Heaven…”

Georgiana laughed again, “Actually, Master Michael I am named for my mother and father, George and Anne Darcy, and they are both now angels in Heaven too.”

Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth approached with every intention of chiding Michael as well and overheard Georgiana’s last statement. Mrs Gardiner could not contain her delight upon hearing who conversed with her children,

“Excuse me, did I hear correctly? Are you Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley?”

Startled and shy speaking with the older ladies, she looked at her feet and spoke softly. “Yes, I am.”

Darcy happened to view the scene and began to move in their direction.

Mrs Gardiner tried to ease Georgiana’s embarrassment, “Forgive me, I do not mean to make you uneasy. You see I grew up near Lambton and remember meeting your family a few times.”

Georgiana’s head jerked up in delighted surprise, “Really? You met my father and mother?”

“Yes, a sweeter woman who loved her family and tenants I have yet to meet. And you, dear, are just as beautiful.”

Mr Darcy reached Georgiana just then, “Georgiana, are you well?”

“Oh, yes, William! She was just telling me about mother!” Georgiana beamed at her brother.

He attempted to conceal his excitement at a reason to speak with the pretty young lady. “How delightful. Could you introduce me to your new friends?” At this she reddened in embarrassment.

Mrs Gardiner intervened again, “Forgive us sir. I happened upon Miss Darcy as she was speaking with my children and was too delighted to make an acquaintance from my childhood home to remember the essentials! I am Mrs Edward Gardiner of London. My husband owns the Import/Export shop on _____ Street, perhaps you have heard of our tea?”

Quite surprised Darcy’s eyebrows rose, “Indeed, Madam, my favourite in fact.”

“I thank you sir. And this is my niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire.” Darcy forgot to breathe as Elizabeth bestowed a beautiful smile, blinding him almost like the sun.

Georgiana remembered her role, “And this is my brother, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.” Darcy bowed and all the ladies curtsied.

Elizabeth replied, “A pleasure to meet you Mr Darcy.”

Darcy surprised his sister by actually breaking into a wide smile; it was now Elizabeth’s turn to forget to breathe at the sight of his dimples. “Likewise, Miss Bennet.”

Georgiana was oblivious to the tender moment, “Hertfordshire! Is your home anywhere near Netherfield Park? My brother’s best friend, Mr Bingley, just leased it.”

“Why, yes, Longbourn is but three miles. What a coincidence! I lately had the pleasure of making Mr Bingley’s acquaintance; he is quite popular in Hertfordshire. I will be leaving tomorrow, in fact, to return.”

“Tomorrow! What another coincidence. My brother and I,” Georgiana stressed the last two words for Darcy to catch, “will be leaving tomorrow as well, to stay several weeks at Netherfield. We would be delighted to convey you in our carriage.”

Darcy tried to hide his surprise; not only at the offer but Georgiana’s openness with speaking to strangers. Additionally, her sudden change of heart regarding journeying to Netherfield astonished him.

Elizabeth was shocked at the offer, a bit forward for a new acquaintance, but did not want to embarrass the obviously shy young woman, “Oh no, I could not possibly intrude.”

Never able to deny Georgiana anything, Darcy emphatically stated, “I assure you, it is no imposition.”

“Very well, I thank you for your kindness.”

Georgiana was speaking again, “And will you and Mr and Mrs Gardiner please dine with us this evening? I would dearly love to hear more of my mother.” Exchanging glances the ladies agreed a time was settled upon for their next meeting.

Knowing You by Heart

Summary:

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.


LettersFromTheHeart-Ebook-1aThis story is now published as Letters from the Heart on Amazon. You can read a free sample by following the link.

 

 

A Sense of Obligation

This story is releasing for publication on July 25, 2015. You can now preorder it on Amazon. Below is a sample.

Blurb: A chance, but meaningful, encounter in Netherfield’s library changes everything between Darcy and Elizabeth. As they rush to the altar, Darcy’s faulty memory may destroy their chance at domestic comfort before they begin. Knowing their obligations and no longer resisting their attraction, they forge a foundation of trust and respect. New feelings may not be enough, however, to overcome the misunderstanding which lays between them. Exploring the juncture of sentiment and reason, A Sense of Obligation, takes Darcy and Elizabeth on a passionate, humorous and introspective path toward happiness in marriage.

dress final

Ch. 1

The first rays of sunlight filtered through the flimsy, but fashionable, curtains of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s bedchamber at Netherfield Park. Darcy groaned a little at the light and tried to ignore the signs of dawn in hopes of returning to his dream. It had been the most erotic and satisfying dream of his life; it nearly felt real.

“The best feeling ever,” he muttered to himself, only to have his sleep-addled mind reply, nothing could feel better than last night with Elizabeth Bennet.

The thought made him suddenly sit up in alarm, which made his head swell in pain. With a sinking feeling he noticed his tangled bedclothes and felt a familiar sticky substance between his…bare…legs.

No, no, no. This is impossible, he thought. He was a gentleman, he did not importune innocent ladies, daughters of gentlemen, and, Elizabeth Bennet had too much sense to succumb to any man’s seduction, let alone his. She did not seem to court his good opinion like most other ladies he knew. Darcy did not think she would attempt a scheme to entrap him, but neither did he think her in love with him or wanton.

He felt certain his earlier thought was the mark of a befuddled mind, caused by too much brandy from the night before, if his headache was any sign. However, as he slowly disentangled himself from his bedclothes, he spied a red stain on the white bed linens.

Impossible! He told himself again. Surely, it was from an injury he unknowingly acquired. And then he saw it. A lady’s handkerchief embroidered with wildflowers, monogrammed ERB, with another blood-stain.

He quickly checked himself for any sign of injury and found none. His senses became more alert as he recognised the lingering scent of lavender on his person.

“Dear Lord, forgive me!” he cried out in despair.

*****

At last the birds were chirping and Elizabeth felt it was a reasonable hour to begin her day. She had not slept and her head pounded. Today she was to leave Netherfield after morning services. Not that I should walk into God’s house after last night.

Fortunately, she could claim the headache and a desire to stay with Jane as a means to miss the service. But she could not think of a way to avoid appearing at breakfast. If her headache was too intense to leave her room this morning, Mr. Bingley would likely demand she and Jane stay longer. Her mother would put up no fight at all, and then she would be residing under the same roof as Mr. Darcy even longer. And he was the last person in the world she desired to see, ever again!

No, he is not. As she looked at her stained mitt, the thought she had tried to keep locked away since last night came unbidden, and Elizabeth blushed in remembrance again.

Last night she had not been able to sleep and went to Netherfield’s library, hoping to find something dull and sleep-inducing. Instead, she found Mr. Darcy.

He had jumped up from his chair when she entered and, although she saw a glass of brandy in his hand, she had not considered him in his cups. Her eyes darted to the mostly-full decanter. He stared at her unspeaking for a long minute before Elizabeth realised she was in her dressing-gown and alone with him with her hair a wild mess, loose down her back.

She was turning to go when he grabbed her hand, bowed over it and asked, “Miss Bennet, might I have the favour of this dance?”

Elizabeth looked at him as though he was fit for Bedlam, but he persisted. “I will not be denied your hand thrice. Now, come.”

Before she could be irritated at his high-handedness he was singing “The Ash Grove” and leading her through the steps of a dance. She was quite surprised he chose the song she sang at Lucas Lodge and had to admit he sang and danced very well. He bade her to join him in song and all was well until they disagreed on the words for the last verse and dissolved into laughter. The sight of his handsome face lit up in a smile with dimples only added to her breathlessness. He seemed no less affected and nearly collapsed into his chair.

“In Derbyshire, my version is correct,” he insisted, unwilling to concede defeat.

She laughed and shook her head. “But you see we are not in Derbyshire, sir!” In truth he had slipped into “Cease Your Funning” from The Beggar’s Opera, a song with a similar tune. While Darcy’s ending was bitter about a woman’s charms, it was more pleasant than a lover’s death. Elizabeth chose not to argue with him.

His eyes took on a look she could not make out and he replied in a low voice, with sudden intensity, “Should you like to see Derbyshire, Miss Bennet?”

Elizabeth gulped, but felt certain his meaning could not be what it seemed. He had only looked at her in disapproval and argued with everything she ever said, had he not? “Aye, sir, and perhaps one day I will. My Aunt Gardiner is from Lambton, and I frequently travel with my aunt and uncle in the summer. They speak often of visiting the Northern counties and even the Lakes someday.”

“Indeed? What was her maiden name?”

“Clark. Her father was–”

“The vicar at Kympton. My father knew him well. Father was quite sorry when Mr. Clark had to relocate the family to Bath for his wife’s health. I have only recently been able to find a satisfactory replacement.” An odd expression passed across his eyes but he continued, “What a curious connection.”

“Yes.”

“And do you often stay with them?”

“Jane and I frequently do. To my mother’s dismay, I admit I prefer the bookshops and theater to balls and soirees. I would rather not go during the height of the Season.”

He gave her another odd look and grew quiet for a moment, and Elizabeth stood to leave, realising the impropriety of the entire tête-à-tête.

Darcy hastily stood to bow, but when he did he knocked his brandy glass from the table. Elizabeth immediately knelt down to pick up the broken shards and at the same time her dressing gown slipped open. Realizing she must be much too bare to Darcy’s eyes, with her shift indecently low on her bosom, she wrenched her hand back and tried to stand.

She cried out at a sharp pain in her hand, near her thumb. In her haste she had cut herself on a piece of broken glass. In an instant Darcy gathered her in his arms. Gently, he removed her lace mitt and produced a handkerchief from his pocket. Elizabeth was shocked to see it was her own. Where had he got it from? Earlier that very day she had worked on one in the library. When Darcy walked in she set it aside, reading a book to discourage conversation. She must have left it behind when she finally went back to Jane, and Darcy must have pocketed it to return to her the next day.

The wound soon stopped bleeding, leaving a large blot on the handkerchief. As they inspected her hand it was clear stitches would not be required. Fortunately, it was her left and she was right handed, she could avoid using it until entirely healed. Elizabeth wondered why Darcy treated such a minor injury so seriously. He held her bare hand in his own, even caressing it, while they stood looking in each other’s eyes. When Elizabeth discerned not disapproval but affection, and perhaps desire, in his blue eyes she nearly swooned.

“Allow me to help you to your room.” He lifted her as though she weighed nothing and carried her to her room. Later she wondered how he knew which door was hers.

When they reached the door he spoke softly. “I apologise that my actions were the cause of your pain.” He paused and she almost believed he blushed, but the lighting was poor as only a small lamp lit the hallway and she could not be sure. “And as for my display earlier, I fear the brandy may have gone to my head. Good night, Miss Elizabeth, sleep well.” Then he turned and strode away.

She stumbled into her chamber and spent the hours until dawn in deep confusion. She was filled with shame to admit she found great comfort in his touch. She had seen a playful side of him she had never known before and confessed to herself he had always been handsome, but his smile and the disappearance of his arrogance made him captivating.

If he had not announced that any sign of regard she had seen him display for her was solely due to being half-drunk, she might have concluded he was in a fair way to being in love, and think an offer was near. She could argue the sentiments she feared she now harboured, and the sensations she enjoyed, came naturally when in love. Instead, she was mortified, for she had thrilled to his touch, the touch only a husband should give. She could not even say she liked him, and they had no understanding. What did it say of her to allow him such liberty and enjoy it?

Never once did she reproach him or try to pull away. What must he think of me? She had conversed with him and danced with him late in the night, entirely alone. She arrived in only her night clothes and when her dressing gown slipped open her body was much too exposed to him. She allowed an embrace, caresses and even acquiesced as he carried her to her bedchamber door. If they were seen her reputation was ruined! She could even now still smell his scent, and the feel of his arms around her was seared into her memory and branded on her flesh. Shame at her wantonness mingled with unrepentant enjoyment of the memory.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts and readied for the day before slipping silently into Jane’s room. She still slept. Taking a deep breath Elizabeth descended the stairs and entered the breakfast room. At the sight of Darcy, who made no acknowledgement of her presence other than rising, her traitorous heart screamed out, Never yours!