I hope everyone had an amazing holiday! The new year is coming quick, but before we reach New Year’s, don’t forget to check out the Austen Variations’ Deck the Shelves Book Sale which runs through January 1st! I have two books still in the sale It’s Always Been You and Me, a steal at 99¢, and Undoing for $2.99 (Half off!!). If you haven’t picked those two up, then get them while they’re reduced!
Today, I have an excerpt from Undoing for you. I hope you enjoy it!
April 1st 1809
Elizabeth and Georgiana rode ahead of Fitzwilliam as they proceeded towards the next rise. Elizabeth had told them of the glowing descriptions she had read of the view, and now that she required a place to ride, the location and distance seemed ideal to test her new skill.
Fitzwilliam shifted in his saddle while he kept his eyes on Elizabeth. This was the longest ride she had attempted thus far. Could she cope with the length of time in the saddle?
He had accompanied Elizabeth and his sister daily since he began Elizabeth’s lessons, which had progressed from walks and trots around the paddock to a canter in a matter of days. They took their first tour of the park the day prior, and Elizabeth showed no qualms about handling Thetis when necessary. She still required instruction, but nothing time and experience would not overcome.
When they reached the bottom of the peak, Georgiana and Elizabeth waited for him to draw beside them.
“Are you well, Lizzy?”
A laugh bubbled from Elizabeth’s throat freely. “I might be sore tonight, but I do not imagine it will be much worse than any other night since I began riding. Do not fret over me. Thetis does not jostle me around as I have seen other mounts do.”
He dismounted and checked the girths of both the ladies’ horses before he climbed back atop his own. “If she should stumble, give the reins some slack. She will require the excess to prevent herself from falling.”
Elizabeth arranged the reins in her hands. “I appreciate your concern, but I shall make it to the top.”
A corner of his lips lifted. “I do not doubt your ambition in the endeavour. Pray understand my concern stems from your lack of practice.”
Georgiana leaned forward in her saddle to speak across Elizabeth. “Should she do well, Brother, she will gain a vast amount of experience today.”
Elizabeth held a hand up. “I still will not venture from the stable block without a more learned rider. I am quite aware of my limited capabilities.”
“You are positive you wish to climb the peak?” He held her eyes, searching for any hesitance.
Her eyebrow arched, and she possessed an alluring curve to her lips. “I am certain, sir. I promise to notify you should I find the trip too arduous.”
He gave a large exhale and gestured before him. “Then let us go forth. This scenic vista awaits us.”
They all spurred their horses forward while he glanced over to her gloved hands. They appeared so small and delicate, yet she had proven she could handle Thetis. How ridiculous was he to judge Elizabeth by the appearance of her hands since Georgiana was younger by four years, but could handle a horse nearly as well as he.
“Thank you for taking so much of your time to teach me to ride. I appreciate your effort.”
A smile teased his lips while he watched Georgiana guide her horse around a rocky passage ahead of them. “I do not consider the last few days of lessons trying, by any means. I take great enjoyment in riding, and I have taken great pleasure in helping you learn.”
She watched Georgiana continue forward. “You do not mind her riding so far ahead?”
His sister’s horse moved along at a steady pace while he remained with Elizabeth, who held her horse back. “No, she is an accomplished rider for one so young, and she is not travelling with a fast gait; however, she may regret reaching the top before us when she must wait.” Elizabeth’s laugh renewed the smile upon his face. The sound was so lively and full of warmth.
“Georgiana mentioned your late nights to my father and me this morning.”
Her head whipped around with a slight gasp. “We have only been talking, though I did begin to teach her chess last night.”
“Your friendship means a great deal to her. Her excitement at telling us of her sisterly relationship with you was heart-warming. I cannot tell you how much it pleases us that you have taken her under your wing. She has needed a lady in her life for some time. Our aunt tries, but she is not the same as a sister.”
Her shoulders relaxed while she resumed scanning the route ahead. “Here I was concerned your father might be upset with me for keeping her up so late.”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, nothing of that sort. He will be intrigued that you are teaching her chess. I do not think it ever crossed his mind to make the attempt.”
“Well,” she said in a slightly higher tone. “You may tell him she did splendidly. I feel certain she will excel if someone takes the time to challenge her.”
“Perhaps when we return to Pemberley. In the meantime, she will have more opportunities to practise with you and gain a touch of confidence with the endeavour.”
“Confidence is important.” With a watchful glance at his sister, she paused. “May I ask you a rather personal question?”
He furrowed his brow. What could she possibly wish to know? “I suppose that depends on the question.”
“I understand from my husband that Lady Anne passed when Georgiana was very young. Does she have any memories of her mother?”
He coughed and looked down at his hands, attempting to gain control of himself. The subject of his mother was always difficult. His eyes burned and that blasted lump never failed to appear in his throat.
“Forgive me for being so intrusive. It is only that Georgiana does not mention her mother, and I have been loath to broach the subject. She is such a tender-hearted girl. I do not wish to cause her pain.”
Elizabeth was so empathetic, a trait not often found amongst the upper circles. His aunt Lady Catherine came to mind. Empathy was not a trait she was ever taught. Her stern demeanour was legendary.
He blinked rapidly a few times. “No, my mother died when Georgiana was but a babe. I do tell her stories, especially ones from when my mother was expecting her.” Those remembrances were particularly difficult, and his throat always choked his words so much he struggled to speak them. Yet one corner of his lips lifted at the memory of Georgiana’s bright eyes as he told those tales. “Those are her favourite.”
“I can only imagine,” she said quietly. “I am not close with my mother, but if it were my father, I believe I would hold a similar attachment to those stories of him.”
“Did your father teach you to play chess?”
“As a matter of fact, he did.” Her face glowed with pleasure, making his breath catch in his lungs. “I spent many a day in his library, reading books and challenging him at chess.”
“You do not have to sound so shocked. I have bested him on several occasions, although he denies those losses with a vehemence not often seen in him.”
He grinned. He could only imagine his own father’s denial should his sister ever best him at a match. “You must miss him.”
“I do,” she said. “But he is healthy, and he sends a letter from time to time. Papa is not a faithful correspondent by any means.”
She again paused as she took in her surroundings. Finally, she turned back to him. “Would you mind telling me of your mother? I should like to know if your sister favours her in looks or temper.”
“With the exception of her dark hair, Georgiana’s eyes and complexion are reminiscent of my mother’s. She even has her manner.” He took a deep breath and gestured ahead to where his sister steered her horse with care. “She has her talent with horses. Lady Anne Fitzwilliam was known within the family for her skill as a rider.”
“Was she really?”
“She would join the hunts when it was only the Fitzwilliams and the Darcys.” He spoke matter-of-factly.
“As to her character, my mother was a generous and kind person. I have been told by many a tenant’s wife of her good works for those who lived at Pemberley. She also did much for the less fortunate of the neighbourhood. She has been missed by more than just her family. ”His chest remained tight, yet he wished to speak of his mother’s memory. He was prodigiously proud of her.
“Your father must have loved her very much. My husband has indicated Mr. Darcy would never think of marrying another.”
“He has never said as much to me, but I believe Thomas is correct. She took a large portion of his heart when she departed this earth. He will not be whole until he is with her again.”
Elizabeth gave a sniff and dabbed her eyes with the back of her hand once or twice as they continued. While they rode, they continued to speak, yet they left the more personal topics behind them.
Upon reaching their destination at the top, Fitzwilliam did not take in the view around him but observed Elizabeth, who absorbed everything with wide, admiring eyes. “What do you think of it?”
“I believe I have never seen a view equal to this one,” she said, her voice breathy and awed. “It is stunning.”
“We shall take you to Stanage Edge when you visit Pemberley,” said Georgiana. “The view from there is my favourite by far.”
Elizabeth glanced between the two of them. “I look forward to it. Is it close enough to ride, or will we need to travel by carriage?”
“Fitzwilliam and I usually take a picnic. He drives us out in a curricle, and we have our luncheon nearby before walking around the peaks.”
His face warmed with not only Elizabeth’s approbation but also a bit of embarrassment at his sister’s revelation. He prayed she did not go further and mention how only a few years ago, Georgiana would bring a doll or two, and they would play tea party during their picnics.
“We should have brought a picnic today,” said his sister while she looked back at the view.
He could not help but laugh. “With nowhere to tie off the horses?”
“I had not considered that since I can leave Ginger, and she does not move.”
“Our horses have been trained to do so, Georgie. Even with that training, it is unwise to leave them untethered for such a long time. Should they spook, we would be returning to Worthstone on foot.”
His sister smiled at her new friend. “Elizabeth could manage. She is an accomplished walker.”
Elizabeth gave a small jump. “I may be, but it is a long walk—even for me.”
“Well, I daresay Uncle Thomas would send a carriage when the horses returned to the stables. We would not be stranded for long.”
With a smile, Fitzwilliam gave a nod and a grin. “I am certain you are correct, but I have no desire to test your assumption. We might scare the wits out of our father and Thomas.”
After pulling Thetis’s head from her attempts to nibble at the grass, Elizabeth tightened up on the reins just as she should. “I arranged for tea to be prepared for when we return. We shall not be deprived. I hope you do not object to having our repast at the temple.”
Georgiana’s face lit with excitement, and though her hands still clutched the reins, she pressed the insides of her fists together. “Oh, how wonderful! I should take great pleasure in the view of the lake while we rest from the ride. The weather has been delightful. We should enjoy the advantage of the blue sky and sunshine while it remains.”
“You have precisely echoed my thoughts on the matter,” said Elizabeth. “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than nature, and I try to take advantage of fine weather, for one never knows when Mother Nature may change her mind—she does tend to have a rather capricious disposition.”
The glint in her eye, the arch of her eyebrow, and the slight quirk to one side of her lips enchanted him. With a heavy swallow, Fitzwilliam turned his concentration towards guiding his horse back down the incline. Peleus was a sure-footed steed, but he required some time to compose himself.
Elizabeth was bewitching, but it would not do to fall under her spell. She was a married woman—wed to his cousin. Prior to the Darcy’s departure from London, he found himself comparing several ladies whose acquaintance he had made at a ball to Elizabeth. Those ladies had fallen short, dreadfully short, which was disturbing. His admiration needed to remain as nothing more than friendship, yet how? How did one keep themselves under such strict regulation?
The dilemma continued to plague his mind as they made their descent from the summit and began to plod along more even ground. His thoughts might have remained on the issue at hand, but the sound of her sweet laugh permeated the fog to bring an unbidden smile to his lips.
“Fitzwilliam!” called Georgiana from beside him.
He started and frowned. “I do not require you to yell in my ear, Georgiana.”
“I would not have done so, except we called your name several times and you failed to respond.”
A glance behind his sister revealed Elizabeth biting her lip to keep from laughing. “She did indeed attempt to gain your attention, but you did not answer. In the future, dearest, I would recommend touching his arm over shouting while in such close proximity. Lydia has cried out into my ear before, and I can attest that it is a painful experience.”
Georgiana cast wary eyes in his direction. “I do apologise, Brother. I had not intended to cause you pain.”
He reached over and wrapped a hand around her fist as she held the reins. “I am not angry. After all, I should not have been wool-gathering, and you should have been able to gain my attention without such an extreme measure.” With a final squeeze to her fingers, he returned his hand to his own reins. “Was there something you required?”
“Well, Lizzy would like to try trotting again, and I thought we could ride ahead of you while you keep watch.”
He looked past Georgiana at Elizabeth. She was doing well, and their return trip would be a crawl if they did not attempt a swifter pace. “The two of you ride ahead. I shall follow.”
The ladies both cued their mounts forward. A short time later, Elizabeth exchanged a few words with Georgiana before Thetis began a slow, controlled canter. His sister gave tips for her friend’s seat while they rode, so he saw no need to intrude. Georgiana was instructing Elizabeth well enough on her own.
When they reached the stable and dismounted, Elizabeth was aglow with a wide smile. “Did you see me canter?” Her eyes glimmered in the sunlight, and her voice was breathless. God, she was beautiful.
He shook himself mentally and held his reins a little tighter. “I did. You did very well, and you will only improve since the more you ride, the more accomplished you will become.”
“So, I shall only improve with constant practice?” She wore an impish grin and lifted an eyebrow.
With a laugh, he shook his head. “I never said constant.”
“True, you did not.” She glanced over her shoulder to Georgiana, who approached. “We should return to the house and refresh ourselves. I, for one, would like to have tea.”
“I would as well,” said Georgiana, linking arms with her friend.
Fitzwilliam could do naught but follow until they were separated at the top of the stairs where he was required to forcibly make himself turn towards his chambers. Elizabeth had been laughing at some tale she told Georgiana, and some quality of that bubbling sound was like a siren’s song and difficult to resist.
The Grecian-inspired temple at Worthstone was nestled upon a small rise beside the lake. From the windows of the main drawing room, one could appreciate its picturesque placement, and the element of beauty it added to the view.
The folly was nothing more than some columns with a ceiling, open to the elements as well as the cool breeze which made a delightful noise as it filtered through the surrounding trees.
Elizabeth refilled Georgiana’s teacup while she admired the lovely scenery. When she first noticed the building during a walk, she had an almost immediate love for its charm.
“I was not aware Thomas ever used the temple,” said Georgiana. “However, this is a lovely place for tea. We should stroll by the lake when we are finished.”
“Georgiana, you walk around the lake at Pemberley several times a week.” Fitzwilliam held an apple, pausing after swallowing a bite. “Besides, Lizzy might not be inclined for the exercise after the long ride earlier.”
“I am well. I would enjoy a stroll by the water.” She grinned and glanced towards Fitzwilliam. “It will take far more than a long horse ride to curtail my enjoyment of a good ramble.”
“As you wish,” he responded with a curve of the lips.
“I do wish. The grounds here have been such a comfort to me since my arrival. While in London, there was nowhere I could walk without the escort of a footman and a maid.”
Fitzwilliam’s brow furrowed, and he stopped before taking another bite of apple. “You should have a trusted footman with you regardless of where you walk.”
A laugh escaped before Elizabeth could bite her lip to prevent it. Georgiana directed a puzzled expression at her while Fitzwilliam studied her for a moment.
“Thomas attempted to have a footman follow you.”
“He did,” she responded, “but I was naughty. I evaded him several times once I was familiar with the grounds.”
“You did not!” Her young friend’s eyes were wide and her mouth agape.
“I do not recommend you emulating my example, dearest, but I did. I am accustomed to my solitary walks. I use the time to think and puzzle out my problems. I cannot do so with a noisy footman trailing behind me.”
Fitzwilliam shook his head but his expression was not angry or upset. “Thomas should still not allow it.”
“Oh, Jonathan still follows, but far enough behind that I maintain my privacy. If I happen to think aloud, he is not so close that he hears my babblings.”
As Elizabeth took a sip of her tea, Georgiana gasped at the sight of a puppy bounding across the grass near the temple. “He is adorable!” She craned her neck to see around the columns. “I hope he is not here all alone.”
Elizabeth caught a glimpse of the small black and white spaniel as it came running back. “Oh, I would wager young Evan is nearby. He does not allow Hazel to run the property unsupervised.”
“Who is Evan?” asked Fitzwilliam.
“He is an under-gardener and a nephew of my husband’s valet. He could not find work, and his parents could not afford to house and feed him. The duke brought him here and provided him employment and a place to live.
“When we returned from London, the stable manager informed him how Evan was very taken with one of the puppies. Thomas’s favourite hunting dog had a litter a few months ago.”
“How can an under-gardener afford to keep her fed?”
Elizabeth caught a glimpse of the young pup running by with a stick in her mouth. “I believe his uncle has provided some aid in the endeavour.”
“Do you think he would allow me to pet her?” Georgiana was enthralled and so eager.
“Evan is very kind. I am certain he would allow it.”
“May I, Brother?” Fitzwilliam nodded, and the young girl rose to rush to the grass in a swirl of her skirts.
Finished with her tea, Elizabeth stood and moved to lean against a column while young Evan introduced Georgiana to his pet. A giggle burst forth when the puppy began licking the richly dressed Miss Darcy, making her chest ache. How she missed those days of being so care free!
A low laugh came from beside her, and she peered up to find Fitzwilliam had joined her. “Father has considered acquiring a small dog for her. She loves to venture out to the stables to play with those he uses for hunting.”
“Judging by her response to Hazel, I believe she would take great pleasure in such a gift.”
“Hazel?” he asked, with a puzzled expression.
“Evan’s pup. That is the name he chose for her.”
He turned a soft gaze towards his sister who now held the squirming bundle of fluff as it gave her another big lick on the nose. Fitzwilliam was a wonderful brother. What Elizabeth would have given for such a sibling! Her life at Longbourn would have been so different. Perhaps her mother might not be so silly, and her husband’s generosity would not have been required. Her marriage would not have been a necessity. She would have refused the duke. After all, her brother would have inherited the estate after her father’s death, guaranteeing them security.
“You seem deep in thought.”
She started and smiled. “Forgive me. I was wool-gathering.”
“I am not offended. You only appeared so serious that I became concerned something was amiss.”
With a shake of her head, she also shook away her useless musings. “No, just idle thoughts. It does no good to dwell on them.”
After taking his offered arm, he escorted her down, and they walked beside the lake, keeping Georgiana in sight while Evan showed her the tricks he had taught Hazel.
They maintained a quiet but comfortable attitude while they strolled. Elizabeth, charmed by the golden rays of the sun reflecting off the water and the cheerful sound of the birds in the trees, lost herself in the enchantment of nature and delighted in her happiness at that very moment. Her favourite grove bordered the water nearby, the chalk-coloured trunks that seemed to peel to reveal the reality inside, and brought a peace to her soul. She also had the perfect companion, a luxury she never had.
Her life with her husband was not unacceptable by any means, it was simply lonely and lacked the affection she had dreamt of when she was a young, impressionable girl. Had her youthful wishes been a fool’s paradise? Were those relationships even possible?
More than anything, she longed for a child to fill that void but had come to despair that blessed event ever occurring. Her husband never came to her bed, and regardless of the naivety of what was supposed to occur when he did, there was no possibility of conceiving a child as long as he stayed away. If only she could comprehend what he meant when he said, “I cannot.”
“Have you enquired of your aunt the places you are to see in Lambton?”
Fitzwilliam’s voice again jolted her back to the present. “I received her detailed response a week ago. She provided names of friends and locations that hold special memories or meaning. I am eager to see if the reality is everything I have imagined.”
“Our corner of Derbyshire is beautiful and boasts some incomparable views. I daresay you will not be disappointed.”
“I have heard nothing but praise of the area from my Aunt Gardiner and my husband. My husband claims it similar to the environs of Worthstone.”
“I suppose the regions are similar, but something about home renders the area more beautiful to me.” He spoke with such fondness, one could easily discern the love he had for where he lived.
“You were raised in the heart of that country, so one cannot find it surprising you would have a passion for the area. It is your home.”
“Your perception does you credit,” he said, his eyes crinkling in the corners as his lips curved ever so slightly. “Are you often so astute?”
Her shoulders gave a slight lift. “I enjoy sketching characters, but some individuals make for a simpler study than others.”
He grinned widely, stopped, and turned towards her. “Have you sketched my character?”
She blanched and pressed her lips together tightly. This would teach her for speaking so freely. Now she was trapped into answering a question she preferred to keep to herself. “Perhaps I have, but then, perhaps I have not.” Would her coy response put off his inquiry or would he press forward?
His eyes narrowed, and he studied her with an intensity that made her want to squirm. “I believe you have and do not wish to tell me.”
Her cheeks burned as she began to walk towards Georgiana. She needed her company to deflect Fitzwilliam. A gentle hand to her elbow guided her around to face him.
“You will not offend,” he said, leaning slightly closer. Her stomach erupted into a flurry of butterflies, making her gulp. “Pray, I am merely curious of your impression.”
What if he became angry? Oh, well! He insisted. She dragged in a deep breath. “When I first made your acquaintance, you hardly spoke and stared in my direction. My husband assured me of your generosity and kind nature, but if I had not his insight, I might have thought you proud and disagreeable. I have since found that you mask your true self behind that stern reserve, keeping strangers at bay.”
His demeanour indicated he was not disturbed, and he gave a slight nod for her to continue.
“Since the dinner at Worth House, I have found you amiable, and a kind and generous brother to Georgiana. You are one of the best of men, Fitzwilliam. I am honoured to call you my friend.”
Did she overstep? Her eyes searched his, taking in the slightest twitch of his lashes and each nuance of his eyes, in order to gauge his feelings. She had so few true friends. He was becoming increasingly important to her current happiness.
Her letters from Jane had been her lifeline when she first wed her husband, but while she still cherished every word her sister put to paper, Elizabeth had begun to rely on the friendship of Georgiana and Fitzwilliam more. After all, they were present and tangible. She could see them before her eyes, touch them—even if only to lay a hand upon his arm—and speak to them.
“I am pleased you have come to regard me as such,” he said warmly. “I have grown to think of you with the utmost respect since our introduction. I hope we can continue to forge a strong friendship. We are now related after all.” His lips quirked to one side, and she was amused by his subtle tease at the end of his statement.
“Fitzwilliam! Is she not the most precious little girl!” Georgiana ran towards them, pointing back to Hazel. The puppy trailed after her owner as he departed. Meanwhile, Georgiana’s bright eyes glowed from her pink cheeks and she wore the biggest grin Elizabeth had ever seen upon the girl—despite the muddy paw prints on the fine muslin of her gown. Elizabeth pressed her lips together. How many times had she returned home splattered in mud?
Fitzwilliam’s expression was inscrutable. “Hazel is an adorable puppy, but I am certain your maid will not be pleased to scrub the mess she has left upon your gown.”
With a slight brush to her bodice, Georgiana shrugged. “Brooks will not mind. She dearly loves puppies as well.”
Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. “My maid may have some idea how to remove the mud should yours have any difficulty.”
Georgiana’s hands clasped before her while she glanced back and forth between her brother and Elizabeth. “So, what have you been discussing? You appeared so serious while you walked along the water.”
“We were merely discussing Lizzy’s trip to Pemberley this summer,” said Fitzwilliam. “Her aunt has generously provided a list of places to see as well as friends to meet, and I have vowed to be of aid, to ensure she sees it all.”
With her hands still pressed together, Georgiana bounced on her toes. “I wish to help. I cannot wait to show you my home.”
Elizabeth looked between the brother and sister. “I anticipate viewing Pemberley through your eyes.” Her gaze locked onto Fitzwilliam’s and held. Her face became unbearably hot and breathing was a chore, yet she somehow managed to break eye contact and took Georgiana’s arm, pulling her ahead of Fitzwilliam. She peeked over her shoulder in his direction as she passed, but his attention was occupied by the sheep on the opposite side of the lake. At least she was the only one who suffered from whatever this was. Fitzwilliam appeared unaffected. The question was how to make it stop?