L.L. Diamond

News, Blog, and Stories

I thought I’d post a bit of a throwback today. If you’ve been following my upcoming release, His Perfect Gift, you may wonder where my original idea came from. This is the original scene, written for Pride and Prejudice: Behind the Scenes that I souped up and continued for His Perfect Gift. In the meantime, if you haven’t preordered His Perfect Gift, you can do so here! Release is the 21st and coming quick!

26 January 1812.

An hour prior, Colonel Fitzwilliam had appeared in his study, insisting they had to venture out to a shop in Cheapside. Cheapside! Of course, he had refused, if for no other reason, but to avoid yet another reminder of Elizabeth Bennet. Was there nothing that would spare him the torment of her memory? Unfortunately, his cousin would not leave him to the solitude of his library.

“I must insist you finally tell me where we are going,” he demanded in a surly tone.

Fitzwilliam lifted his eyebrows. “My but you are ill-tempered this morning. What has you in such a mood these days?”

“You are aware how much I dislike the balls and dinner parties of the season? I have had to endure your mother’s Twelfth Night ball as well as a dinner party given by none other than Miss Bingley. I should think those two events alone would be enough to sour anyone’s disposition.” Darcy steered his attention to the view outside the window as he attempted to avoid any further discourse on the subject.

A hearty chuckle came from across the carriage. “The only teeth set on edge by Miss Bingley belong to you, cousin, and I daresay it is your own fault.”

His head jerked back. “My fault?”

“You are too concerned with offending Bingley, so you do not treat her in the curt manner you do most women.”

Aggravation with his cousin’s observation and the situation welled within him. “I may not enjoy speaking with the ladies as you do, but I am not curt.”

The colonel gave a small snort. “I beg to differ. I have seen many a lady who was offended by your method of keeping them at bay.”

“I have no wish to be ensnared by any of them, so I ensure I do nothing to encourage their hopes.” With a heavy exhale, Darcy grimaced. “But I am afraid my latest endeavour to be of aid to Bingley has not helped the matter with Miss Bingley.”

His cousin’s expression reflected his curiosity as he leaned forward in his seat. “So, you have saved Bingley from himself once again? What was it this time? Another bad investment opportunity?”

Darcy shook his head. “Bingley became enamoured of a local girl while in Hertfordshire.”

“That does not sound too dire,” responded the colonel. “He is always fancying himself in love; it passes soon enough.”

Again, he shook his head. “No, this time was different. Bingley showed a decided preference for the young lady from the first of their acquaintance, and by the time of the ball at Netherfield, it became apparent that he had raised the expectations of the neighbourhood. They all believed him soon to propose.”

His cousin furrowed his brows. “You felt a marriage to this lady to be imprudent?”

Darcy closed his eyes as he envisioned the deplorable behaviour of Mrs Bennet and the three youngest Bennet daughters. “It would have been a most imprudent match. She had little dowry, no connections, and the behaviour of her family was objectionable, to say the least.”

“You must consider it a triumph to have successfully separated the two.”

“You can be certain,” he stated with conviction. “My only regret is that by being in collusion with Miss Bingley, she seems more assured I will one day propose to her. She is intolerable.

Colonel Fitzwilliam regarded Darcy with a critical eye, prompting him to shift in his seat. “Come to think of it, your insufferable mood was not present until your return with Bingley.” A smirk lit his cousin’s face. “Did you make the acquaintance of a woman in Hertfordshire? Would you be pining for someone as unsuitable as Bingley’s new angel?”

He scoffed as he adjusted his cuffs. Elizabeth Bennet? Unsuitable? If not for her family and connections, she would be eminently suitable. “You are ridiculous. I would never be so imprudent.”

The colonel sighed. “No, I suppose you would not.”

“What is so special about this wine and brandy merchant?” asked Darcy, with the intention of changing the subject.

“As I told you earlier, he boasts of a particularly fine assortment of port, claret, and brandy. My father was impressed by their selection when he placed his order for the ball. I thought you might wish to meet the proprietor.”

He suppressed a smile at the success of his manoeuver. “I do not see the urgency of such a matter. I have a perfectly adequate supplier on Piccadilly Street, who I have used since my father passed.”

With an irritated huff, his cousin sat back against the squabs. “I would wager this man’s prices to be more reasonable. He will also deliver to Grosvenor Square and Belgravia, which means you should not have to return once you have set up an account.”

The two gentlemen stared at one another for a few seconds until Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head and turned to watch the buildings pass through the window.

A row of houses along Gracechurch Street drew Darcy’s particular interest while he avoided further conversation with his cousin. Did one of them belong to the uncle of Elizabeth Bennet? He had never taken the time to study the neighbourhood in the past, and he had to admit some of these homes were actually pleasant and well tended. Of course, the appearances did not necessarily correspond to the personalities of the owners. After all, Longbourn was not objectionable from all outward appearances.

A small park ahead caught his eye. Had Miss Elizabeth ever walked in that park? With her love for the activity, she must have during one of her visits to her family. He could almost envision her strolling through the trees, her hair windswept and the hem of her dress stained with grass and dirt—much as she had appeared upon her arrival at Netherfield to care for her sister.

They drew closer, and a young lady at the front gates came into focus, revealing her to be none other than Jane Bennet. Darcy leaned back from the window, while he watched her walk into the park hand in hand with a small child, a servant trailing behind.

He would have to ensure Bingley remained away from Cheapside for the near future. They had struggled so to prevent his return to Hertfordshire and to conceal Miss Bennet’s presence in London; it would not do for him to happen upon her now.

“There is a handsome young lady,” said his cousin, interrupting his thoughts. “Who is she?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Darcy donned a mask of feigned indifference. “How am I to know? I would imagine a tradesman’s daughter, one of good means by her dress.”

“You appeared to have recognised her, or at least, taken interest?”

“No, I am not acquainted with her, and as for her being of interest…” His last view as they passed was of Jane Bennet smiling to the child at her side. “She smiles too much.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam gave a bark of laughter. “That has to be the most preposterous notion I have ever heard you utter. What man has not been bewitched by the smile of a beautiful woman?”

Miss Elizabeth again came to mind and Darcy gave a wry grin. “Perhaps a pair of fine eyes might one day garner my notice.”

His cousin chuckled. “I pity you when they do. You are so accustomed to maintaining your distance, you will be at a loss as to how to win her favour.” He turned serious and held Darcy’s eye. “But she will be a lucky woman—a lucky woman indeed.”

I’ve mentioned this is coming, and due to popular demand, Rain and Retribution is on audiobook! I’m so excited and I hope everyone gets a chance to hear Alexandra Lee Smith’s brilliant narration, so until you are able to listen to your copy, I have a sample for you!

It’s one of my favorite scenes and the first I ever imagined, so when I started writing, I had to figure out how to get E and D on that road together. It was so much fun listening to Alexandra bring Darcy’s disbelief to life and I hope you enjoyed it as well.

To get your own copy click on the link to Audible US, Audible UK, Audible France, or Audible Germany

In the meantime, I’m giving away 5 copies of Alexandra’s fun great narration. Just leave me a comment below and let me know whether you’re Audible US or Audible UK so I know what kind of code to send you when the time comes 🙂

Happy listening!

Happy Monday! October 21st is coming quickly so don’t forget to preorder your copy of His Perfect Gift! If you’d like a sneak peek before publication, I’m putting up a few chapters prior to the 21st at Austen Variations. You can read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 and I’ll be posting Chapter 3 this Friday! My working blurb is:

A reacquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Christmas in London, what could go wrong?

Fitzwilliam Darcy is a man torn between choices. Having fled Hertfordshire with the singular goal of separating himself from the fine eyes and pert opinions of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, he finds himself face to face with her in London through a connection he never would have expected. He would like to abandon his reservations and court Miss Elizabeth, but other considerations are holding him back, including his family and friends, who might consider him honour-bound to another.

Following Mr. Bingley’s abrupt departure from Netherfield, Elizabeth Bennet accompanies her sister Jane to London to visit her aunt and uncle. A sudden reunion with the disagreeable Mr. Darcy is not in her plans, but the man she discovers is not the same one who insulted her so grievously at the Meryton Assembly. Instead, a doting brother and amiable gentleman calls upon her in Cheapside.

A quiet Christmas at Gracechurch Street with her aunt and uncle seemed ideal, but the inclusion of Mr. Darcy brings old acquaintances and conflicts neither expected.

Can Mr. Darcy convince his family and friends to choose Elizabeth? Could Elizabeth turn out to be his perfect gift?

I can’t wait for everyone to finally read it!

In other news! I have a few books that I removed from KU to give others a chance to purchase them in other formats. At the moment, Confined with Mr. Darcy, The Earl’s Conquest, It’s Always Been You, and He’s Always Been the One can be read on Nook, Oyster, Scribd, and iBooks. I attempted to move Undoing as well, but the distributor refused to approve the formatting for distribution. I have the letters formatted correctly, but they don’t like the spacing and want the letter completely clumped together, which makes the designer in me cringe. I apologize. I may try again in the future, but for the moment, I put Undoing back in KU.

I hope to start having new content back up here soon! In the meantime, stay happy and healthy!

Leslie xx

Wow! I owe everyone an apology! In July, I spent a little over two weeks with my daughter in Texas, getting her settled there, before returning to Missouri and moving less than two weeks later. The last thing I wished was to move ourselves, but the office that schedules moves was still backed up (Thank you, Covid!) and while my husband wasn’t technically moving for another month, I wanted the children in school at our new home and not moving a month into the school year.

Fast forward to today, and we’re settled as much as we can be in the new house. We’ve had a myriad of issues crop up, but we’re dealing as best we can. My husband arrived a few days ago and has a bit of time to relax before he starts into work here.

So! What have I been up to? I have been unpacking, caulking (that word would make my children giggle), and unpacking as I can get rooms painted. I’ve also been finishing up the final edits, cover, and proofreading for His Perfect Gift, coming on October 21st to Kindle and Kindle Unlimited! Check out Austen Variations for Chapter 1 and tune in again tomorrow for the cover reveal as well as Chapter 2!

I’ve got a working blurb, but I will probably tweak it a bit more before publication day!

A reacquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Christmas in London, what could go wrong?

Fitzwilliam Darcy is a man obsessed. He had fled Hertfordshire with the singular goal of separating himself from the fine eyes and pert opinions of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but through a connection he never would have expected, he finds himself face to face with her in London of all places. Should he abandon his reservations and court Miss Elizabeth? What of his family and friends? Would they accept Elizabeth or believe him honour-bound to another? The decision as well as the repercussions occupy one’s mind for weeks!

After Mr. Bingley’s abrupt departure from Netherfield, Elizabeth Bennet accompanies her sister Jane to London to visit her aunt and uncle. A sudden reunion with the disagreeable Mr. Darcy is not in her plans, but the gentleman she discovers in town is not the same man who insulted her so grievously at the Meryton Assembly. How is she to reconcile the man she knew in Hertfordshire with the doting brother and amiable gentleman who calls upon her in Cheapside? A quiet Christmas at Gracechurch Street with her aunt and uncle seemed ideal, but the inclusion of Mr. Darcy brings the return of previous acquaintances and conflicts neither expected. A Christmas courtship could be idyllic, yet is Mr. Darcy the suitor for her? Only Elizabeth can decide what will happen and whether she will become Mr. Darcy’s perfect gift.

I started a modern before I left Missouri that I hope to continue any day now. I look forward to losing myself in another story that I can eventually share with you 🙂

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy!

Leslie


Hi everyone! Happy Monday to you! I just wanted to write up a quick post to let everyone know that the Rain and Retribution Kindle file is updated. When I first published it, I was trying to figure out how to make a Kindle file and couldn’t figure out how to make an interactive table of contents. A great deal has changed in the last eight years or so, and I had the file open this morning and couldn’t resist making a good number of file updates. I just uploaded it, but if you check tomorrow, I’m sure the new file will be ready for you to download, complete with a spanking new table of contents for you to use.

I will make an announcement on Facebook when the new file is ready to go. I hope you enjoy the table of contents and a bit nicer format to the book 🙂

Happy Reading!

Happy Monday! So, not much writing for the last two weeks. I finished going over my latest book, which is not lengthy by any means (just under 50K), but a quick, fun Christmas romp (I think anyway!). That’s being beta’d and I’m working on touching it up for final edits. I also managed another 2K on a modern I have going and hope will be easier to keep up with during all this upheaval than a modern. You’d never know it, but during Agony and Hope, I had one name for the butler and housekeeper then completely changed them midway after not being able to write because of my back. Let’s hope the modern is a bit easier to keep tabs on!

I blogged our last moves and our time in England, and I thought I’d blog this move as much as I could. This one is a sort of two parter. In the beginning of July, we signed the papers for a small place for our daughter near where she is going to college. My husband took her down and cleaned it up and moved a bunch of boxes and her futon in. She needed a new mattress in a bad way, so he purchased her one. Then they returned and a week later, the three of us returned. Hubby had to come home to go to work and I stayed for over two weeks dealing with contractors and constant trips to Michael’s (not a hardship to go to the craft store!) and the home improvement store (this depends on what I’m needing!).

Before my husband left, we built a French drain to try to alleviate some of the rain water collecting in the backyard. Someone had blocked the drainage hole in the brick fence line and we cleared that and added the drain. It still collects some, but it drains much better and we’re working on ways to help with the rest. We put a rain barrel under the base of the gable of the neighbors house to collect that, and eventually, we will put up a gutter for what comes off of the roof of ours. We cut down a medium sized tree in the back (with a hand saw!!) and trimmed the trees which let in some light to help dry it up some as well. I also put down some grass seed in the hopes we can have more than weeds and mud.

We also had to rebuild a shower, which was basically a fiberglass shower with the floor completely stripped. Unfortunately, the home is older and they don’t make that size anymore (we’re finding that on a number of things!). We had to have the entire shower rebuilt and the tile guy had a heck of a job leveling the walls. The demo guys also broke the drain which had to be fixed before we could get the tiling even started. Needless to say, I was done with it all by the time all of that was over.

We also had two doors with water damage replaced. The storage room door was also an odd size and had to be reframed a bit.

Of course, it never ends there! The dishwasher decided to burn up and take the power outlet with it. Fortunately, the warranty company replaced nearly every outlet in the house, we’re working on a new dishwasher through them, and today, the plumber the warranty company is dealing with is replacing the hot water heater that decided to start leaking water the week before I left. There will always be something it seems! I’m still peeved the new bathroom vent/fan didn’t fit the hole and I can’t find one online that will, but that’s a repair for another time! (Even if I tried and failed miserably to rush one the night before we left!!)

One of my last projects was to put pavers under the trash and recycle bins so they wouldn’t sink into the mud as it was. Grass wouldn’t grow there and rocks would’ve made taking the bins out and putting them back a nightmare.

Even with the issues, it’s a cute place and we will continue to fix it up since our other two children intend to go to college there as well. I have a long and probably expensive list of things to accomplish, but the way I see it, we have 10 years or so to do it. I also had 2 weeks on my own with my oldest, which I can’t complain about. We took advantage of a clearance sale at Michael’s, painted the second-hand furniture she purchased, and re-covered the torn up chairs for her kitchen table with some fabric samples we were given. She also spoiled me by cooking nearly every day (even if I had to wash the dishes when the dishwasher crapped out! 😉 )

Anyway, one move accomplished! We just have one more to go!

For those of you who are fans of Emma, you might remember Mr. Knightly’s mention of Astley’s where Harriet Smith finally thrown back into the company of Robert Martin, which leads to his proposal and of course, her acceptance, however, Mr. Knightley never mentions what on earth Astley’s is!

“It is a very simple story. He went to town on business three days ago, and I got him to take charge of some papers which I was wanting to send to John.–He delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley’s. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley’s. The party was to be our brother and sister, Henry, John–and Miss Smith. My friend Robert could not resist.” – Emma (Chapter 54)

“However, I must say, that Robert Martin’s heart seemed for him, and to me, very overflowing; and that he did mention, without its being much to the purpose, that on quitting their box at Astley’s, my brother took charge of Mrs. John Knightley and little John, and he followed with Miss Smith and Henry; and that at one time they were in such a crowd, as to make Miss Smith rather uneasy.” – Emma (Chapter 54)

Harriet Smith even tells Emma all about her evening at the mysterious Astley’s, but we still never learn what it is!

Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley’s, and the dinner the next day; she could dwell on it all with the utmost delight. –Emma (Chapter 55)

So what exactly was Astley’s?

Astley’s Amphitheatre first opened in 1773 in Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth. Philip Astley, who is now known as the “father of the modern circus,” previously owned a riding school where he taught in the morning and performed equestrian tricks in the afternoon. Over time, he incorporated acrobats, jugglers, strong men, rope dancers and clowns, which comprised the show when the amphitheatre opened.

In 1794, Astley’s burned and reopened a year later as Philip Astley’s Royal amphitheatre, which contained not only the circus ring, but also a ramp, allowing the horses to run from a stage to the circus ring during the performances while the audience sat within inches of the horses as they ascended to the stage.

The shows, called hippodromes (plays consisting of horses), contained drama and song as one would expect in a more traditional theatre setting. Re-enactments of famous battles could also be seen at Astley’s complete with explosions and sound effects that remained in popular demand into the Victorian period.

Astley's

The building, like all theatres of the age, used candles for light–causing Astley’s to burn again in 1803. Astley, however, never rebuilt exactly what he had prior. With each fire and successive rebuild, he made the structure grander or more ornate than it was before. The illustration to the right is of Astley’s when it reopened in 1804.

The doors opened to the 1804 season and “the handsomest pleasure haunt in London” (the new theatre) on Easter Monday. One might not notice the opulence of the new structure when they approached from the outside, but a chandelier consisting of fifty patent lamps hung over a sawdust circus ring. Audiences of close to two thousand (mostly middle class) were entertained with Astley’s ‘hippodramas’ which included dramas such as The Black Red Knight (1811) and sometimes even a pantomime or harlequinade.

Audiences had several options for seating just as those who frequented the Theatre Royal. One could have a box on one of the two tiers of boxes for four shillings, sit in the pit for two shillings, or the sit in the gallery for one shilling. Doors opened at half past five and the performances began at half past six until the season ended in October or November.

To this day, Astley is still credited with discovering and first using the optimum size circus ring of forty-two feet because it allowed the horses to run continuously in a circle without stopping and also allowed him to use centrifugal force to balance on the horse’s back.

Sources:
British Library: http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/illustration-of-astleys-amphitheatre
Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-first-circus/
Cronin, Richard & McMillan, Dorothy (editors). The Cambridge Edition of Emma. Cambridge University Press (2005).
Feltham, John. The Picture of London for 1803. R.Phillips (1803).
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L. The Regency Companion. Garland Publishing (1999).

Rain and Retribution

Today, I have an excerpt from my first book, Rain and Retribution. I have been asked over the years to have an audiobook produced for this story, so I’m chuffed to bits to tell you I’ve found a narrator! Alexandra Lee Smith has accepted my offer and seems excited to get going. Due to the length of the book, the release will not be for a couple of months, but there will be a release!

Now, to get to that excerpt!

Elizabeth could hear the hustle and bustle of the people in Meryton, and was relieved when the noise of the town died away, leaving only the sound of the creaking cart. Mr. Hill let her know that she could come out from under the cover since the road was clear; however, it was not long after when it began to rain. 

Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not have any protection from the weather, and the cover over the cart did not offer any barrier from the wet and the cold. As a result, she quickly became completely soaked through and began to shiver due to the chill of the late November storm. The rain increased in intensity and the road quickly became muddy. Without warning the wagon pitched to one side, causing her to be thrown off balance into the side of the cart. 

“Blast!” swore Mr. Hill. “Oh! I apologize, Miss Lizzy!” he exclaimed, as he suddenly remembered Elizabeth’s presence. 

She jumped down, splashing mud all over her dress and petticoats. Her situation was not good—it was not good at all! Hatfield was miles away, the rain showed no signs of stopping, and she was cold and filthy. Mr. Hill quickly ascertained that the cart had fallen into a deep rut made impossible to see with the water pooling in the road. Not only was the wheel stuck, but it was also broken.

They were not too far out of Meryton, and Mr. Hill decided to walk back in order to find shelter and someone to help, but he refused to leave her there in the weather. Elizabeth began to panic; she certainly could not return to Meryton. She argued that she would find a spot under a tree to wait out the storm; yet, he would not be moved. She was finally forced to acquiesce, and was waiting for Mr. Hill to unhitch the horse for the walk back when a carriage appeared through the sheets of rain. Elizabeth could not identify the equipage, but vehemently prayed it was not someone who would return her to Longbourn.

~ * ~

Darcy had been staring out at the rain, trying not to contemplate the fine eyes of Elizabeth Bennet, when he noticed a cart to the side of the road that seemed to be having difficulty. As they moved closer to the broken down cart, he thought he saw Elizabeth standing a short distance away from the wreck. He shook his head as if to clear it.

“Good Lord, now I am seeing her everywhere!” he exclaimed, not believing his eyes.

Normally, Darcy would have stopped to help, but Meryton, the last place he wished to be, was still the closest town, so he decided to keep moving. Yet, as they began to pass, he could not help but take a closer look at the young woman standing next to the road. She had a petite frame with a light and pleasing figure, which could only remind him of Elizabeth. However, he could not make out her face, and found himself mesmerized as he watched her peel the soaked bonnet off of her drenched chestnut curls. He was willing to swear that it was Elizabeth Bennet. 

“Blast!” he cursed as he beat his walking stick against the roof of the carriage. He had to be sure. If indeed it was her, his conscience would not allow him to simply leave her out in the dreadful weather.

The carriage had barely skidded to a halt when Darcy burst forth before the groom could open the door, striding to the young woman who looked up and startled him to a stop. He could not believe his eyes; he was dumbfounded. Elizabeth Bennet was truly standing before him, sopping wet, her dark curls plastered to her face, her piercing emerald green eyes betraying her shock at his arrival. He took a few hesitant steps to stand in front of her.

“Miss Bennet,” he said as he noticed that her clothes were wet through and she was shivering from the cold.

“Mr. Darcy,” she replied. She was trying very hard not to be intimidated by his six-foot plus frame, which seemed to tower over her, his vivid blue eyes visible even through the heavy rain. 

“I was passing and noticed that you were stranded. May I be of assistance?”

Elizabeth could not believe he had stopped, much less offered his aid. “Mr. Hill was conveying me to the post station in Hatfield when the cart became stuck and the wheel broke. We were just preparing to walk back to Meryton when you happened upon us.” 

“Please allow me to be of assistance. You are cold and need to get out of the rain. We can take shelter in my carriage while we discuss your options?”

“Mr. Darcy, you are perfectly aware that it would not be proper for me wait in your carriage with you,” she objected. Although she desperately wanted to be out of the weather, she knew that Mr. Darcy had only ever looked at her to find fault. Jumping into his carriage at the offer he surely felt obligated to make, especially as wet as she was, would most certainly not improve his opinion of her.

“You will catch your death in this rain,” Darcy implored, becoming concerned at her increasing pallor and shivers. “I promise you will be perfectly safe with me—unless you think your servant will gossip, because I assure you, mine will not.”

His statement affronted Elizabeth and she became defensive. “No, Mr. Hill will not say a word, but I am soaked through, and I really do not believe that you want me in your carriage.”

“I would not make the offer, if I did not mean for you to accept.” 

Elizabeth still had reservations, but she nodded. “Thank you.” She turned to remove her valise from its hiding place within the cart and startled when Mr. Darcy took it from her, immediately passing it to a servant before he hurried to assist Elizabeth into the carriage. Once inside, he pulled some rugs from under the seat.

“If you remove your pelisse, you can dry off as much as possible and warm yourself with these.” 

She nodded just before he turned his back to her, so she could remove the drenched garment without exposing her wet form to him. When she had dried as much as she could with one of the smaller rugs, she wrapped herself in the two largest and turned to face him. She noticed that while he had become wet, he was not as soaked as she was. He had not been in the rain for long in addition to being protected by his greatcoat, which he had since removed.

Elizabeth was not sure why Mr. Darcy was being so kind to her; he had always been so proud and aloof. After all, he had insulted her at the Meryton Assembly. He practically oozed disdain whenever he was in company with her family, so why would his manner change so drastically?

Upon indicating that she was covered, he turned and regarded her curiously. She was so cold and wet that he did not expect her to refuse his offer, and now she seemed so cautious. Was she afraid of him? Did she think he would become angry if she soaked the upholstery? 

“If you tell me where you are going, I can transport you there, so you do not have to venture back into this horrid weather.”

“I am traveling to my uncle’s house in Cheapside,” she said, waiting to see a reaction to her destination. “Mr. Hill had to run an errand in Hatfield and was delivering me to the post station, so I could take the next post to London. The rain stalled us.”

Darcy pondered his dilemma. He could not strand Miss Bennet here, and he did not feel it was prudent to leave her at the post station alone. However, could he ride in a carriage—alone with her—and not lose his head? He was worried about being in such close proximity to her for the trip to London, yet there did not seem to be much choice in the matter. 

“I am en route to London now and would be pleased to escort you.” 

“Sir, I appreciate your offer, but it would be an imposition. I am perfectly able to travel by post,” Elizabeth answered, wondering what he was about.

“I insist. It is no imposition,” declared Darcy. “I have the room, and I am already traveling for London. If you are worried about your reputation, you have assured me of your servant’s discretion, and I assure you that mine will not breathe a word—no one need ever know.”

Elizabeth eyed him warily. She was not sure about travelling all of the way to London, but she was not going to mention that now, since it would only cause further debate. She was resolved to ride with him no further than Hatfield where she would remain behind at the post station when he departed. Elizabeth nodded her agreement causing Darcy to confer with his driver. Mr. Hill was not happy leaving her with the gentleman, insisting on and receiving confirmation of her choice before he left with the horse to return to Meryton.

As the carriage began to move again, Darcy looked at Elizabeth not understanding her trepidation. Deciding conversation was the best way to put her at ease, he tried to think of topics to discuss, and remembering her words from the Netherfield ball, gave a small smile.

“Miss Bennet, we must have some conversation.”

She raised her right eyebrow in response to his statement, recognizing her words from the previous night. He was such an enigma; maybe the ride would give her the opportunity to finally sketch his character. 

“What do you wish to discuss, Mr. Darcy?” 

“I wish to ask you about a comment you made last night, if you would allow me.”

“Of course.” 

“You claimed Mr. Wickham had been so unlucky as to lose my friendship, in a manner which he would suffer from all his life. I was wondering precisely what he told you.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Mr. Wickham informed me of his relationship to your family. He told me of your father’s wishes, as well as your refusal of the living your father had meant for him.”

Darcy was angry to find he was correct in his earlier assumptions. “I suppose he left out the portion of the story in which he informed me that he was resolved not to take orders and was compensated accordingly,” he declared, without thinking or regarding the tone of his voice; her face flushed and her eyes widened in surprise. 

He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, beginning again in a more regulated tone of voice. “Wickham was the son of my late father’s steward. Mr. Wickham senior was a respectable man, and to reward a faithful servant, my father supported the younger Wickham at school and later at Cambridge.”

Darcy returned his gaze to Elizabeth’s eyes. “When my father died, Wickham turned down the living. He claimed a desire to study the law, so I provided him with three thousand pounds in lieu of the living as well as the one thousand pounds my father bequeathed to him in his will. 

However, when the living at Kympton became available, he reappeared, requesting a letter of presentation. Obviously, I refused.”

At this point, overwhelmed by what she was hearing, Elizabeth noticed Mr. Darcy take a deep shuddering breath as he returned to looking at the rain, appearing pained, almost defeated. She watched in amazement when, as he turned to face her, his entire manner and demeanour changed. The whole of his body had become rigid, and his face had the stern expression she was so used to seeing him wear.

“The circumstances of my next meeting with Wickham I would wish to forget, and I sincerely ask you to keep this matter between us, as it could have rather dire consequences should this information come to the attention of society.”

Elizabeth was not sure what to make of his request, yet she nodded her head in acquiescence.

“Last summer, my sister and her companion, a Mrs. Younge, travelled to Ramsgate. Wickham followed, persuading Georgiana to believe herself in love and consent to an elopement.” 

Darcy took a deep breath. “Fortunately, I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement, and my sister, confessed the entirety of the affair. His primary object was my sister’s fortune of thirty thousand pounds. I also believe he intended to revenge himself on me.”

Mr. Darcy’s gaze returned out of the window as he said in a softer tone, “His revenge would have been complete indeed.”

At the end of his recitation, Elizabeth looked at Mr. Darcy in shock. Oh, how could she have believed George Wickham! She had never questioned how inappropriate it was for him to impart his history with Mr. Darcy so soon after making her acquaintance, and realised with mortification that as a result of his unfortunate comment at the Meryton assembly, she had allowed her prejudice against him to influence every interaction between the two of them.

Elizabeth contemplated the change in his manner prior to relating the tale of his sister; she watched him don a mask that had slowly slipped, revealing the pain of the memory in his eyes. Had he been hiding his true self whenever in company? Why would a man of sense and education hide himself from the world? 

“I regret that I attempted to provoke you last night with my uncivil behaviour. I am ashamed to admit that I believed his slander and I whole-heartedly apologize,” declared Elizabeth, fighting back tears of embarrassment.

“Please, do not make yourself uneasy, Wickham’s easy manners deceive many people. I have not only witnessed but also dealt with the repercussions of his deceptions too many times to count.”

Darcy had hoped to warn Elizabeth to be on her guard with Wickham. He had not realised that her generous heart would be hurt by discovering the cad’s true character, and found his stomach in knots as he became aware that he was jealous Wickham had gained her regard.

“Now, I only wish I had imparted this information earlier, in order to prevent injury to you,” he said sympathetically.

Elizabeth had her brow furrowed in thought until she understood his implication. “Sir, you misunderstand. He had pleasing manners and I enjoyed his company, but he did not injure me.” 

“Good, I am relieved to hear it,” he replied, exhaling in relief. His jealousy and worry subsided as her confession settled within his mind and heart. 

Now that he had revealed his history with Wickham, Darcy began to think about how odd it was to discover her on the side of the road, in the pouring rain no less. Why did she not take the post coach from Meryton? Why was she traveling to London with only a valise and not a trunk? He was beginning to think there was more to her story than a trip to visit her aunt and uncle.

“May I ask you another question?” Darcy queried.

“By all means,” said Elizabeth, wondering what was causing the suddenly contemplative look, which had appeared on his face.

“I apologize if you find me intrusive, but I was wondering why you did not take the post from Meryton.” 

Elizabeth, who did not expect the question, coloured and looked away, not knowing how to answer without revealing all.

“I have entrusted you with some very personal information. I assure you, I can be trusted with your deepest and darkest secrets as well,” he continued with a mischievous smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

Elizabeth’s eyes widened as she looked at his expression; it was so very different from the usual stern manner he used in company. She had never considered him unattractive, however seeing the beginnings of a smile on his face, she realised how very handsome he was. 

“I do not doubt your discretion. My story is rather embarrassing, and I fear you will not think very highly of me when it is concluded,” Elizabeth answered, turning to look out of the carriage window. “I would prefer to leave matters as they are. You can deliver me to the post station in Hatfield without any knowledge of my future plans, other than that I was traveling to Cheapside.”

Darcy began to worry with her last statement. “I doubt you have heard, but Mr. Bingley and his sisters departed Netherfield today. Obviously, I am leaving as well, and while I do not know if Bingley plans to return to the neighbourhood, I do not.” She returned her gaze to him as he continued. “If you are leaving without your parents’ knowledge, I will not be in Meryton to be questioned, nor will I offer any information regarding your whereabouts, unless it is your wish.”

He had such an earnest look upon his face that she could not help but believe him, but did that mean she could divulge her plans and the reason behind them? She was concerned that taking Mr. Darcy into her confidence would only complicate matters immensely, and complications were not something she could afford at the moment.

“Miss Bennet, if you have chosen to leave home, you will have limited options available to you. I would be willing to assist you should you require it.”

“I could not ask that of you, sir,” replied Elizabeth softly. She was dumbfounded. Mr. Darcywanted to help her. It was inconceivable, yet he was offering. Why would he do that?

“Tell me why you are leaving and let me be the judge of whether or not I would like to help,” he implored.

Elizabeth was mortified. She closed her eyes, and attempted to order her thoughts. He had assured her of his discretion. After all, he expected her not to divulge the information he had imparted regarding his sister. She opened her eyes and adjusted the rugs around her body, still trying to warm herself as she decided that she did not have much choice but to trust Mr. Darcy.

Happy Monday, everyone! I’m starting this week with a flashback of sorts to the Austen Variations anthology Pride and Prejudice: Behind the Scenes . Hope you enjoy!

Darcy has just handed Elizabeth Bennet into the carriage after happening upon her at Pemberley. As the horses begin to move, carrying her away, he begins to reflect on finding Elizabeth at his beloved home…



Darcy’s gaze followed the carriage carrying Elizabeth Bennet as it wound its way around the lake. After the long journey, the afternoon in Miss Bennet’s company was a welcome he had not expected, yet relished all the same.

Elizabeth’s countenance revealed her shock at their initial meeting; she had not expected any of the family to be at home. Her expression when he joined the Gardiners and herself as they walked the grounds was no less surprised, but he could not ignore her presence as he did most visitors who toured the house. He had to prove to her that he had heeded her reproofs—that he had indeed changed.

Of course, their meeting was not without some awkwardness, and he did not miss the appearance of concern expressed in her fine eyes when he requested an introduction to the Gardiners. She was well aware of her relations’ intelligence and manners, which meant her worry had been for his reaction. His heart ached at the remembrance of it.

Fortunately, the Gardiners, who could easily be mistaken for people of fashion, were indeed amiable, and Darcy found no great difficulty in conversing with such charming people. He had been in earnest when he invited Mr. Gardiner to fish in the stream. In fact, Darcy would happily show the man each and every spot he might find the best sport and bait his hooks if it meant he could change Elizabeth’s feelings towards him.

Elizabeth’s feelings! He had made such a misjudgement in Meryton, yet her unease in his company today was evident. His disquiet was no less acute. Had she understood the explanations contained within his letter?

In retrospect, the missive had been penned with such bitterness of spirit, a part of him hoped she had burned it. Her opinion of him was low enough without her perceiving a resentment that was not present, yet Mrs. Reynolds indicated Elizabeth found him handsome. Perhaps not all hope was lost!

He could not help but notice that at the mention of Mr. Bingley and his sisters, Elizabeth had become quiet. He had not had the opportunity, as of yet, to enlighten Bingley as to Miss Jane Bennet’s feelings, but he had seldom been in company with the gentleman since Easter. Those few instances included Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst as well. He could not very well broach the subject in their presence. Could Elizabeth still harbour anger for his poor advice to his friend?

Yet, she had agreed to make the acquaintance of Georgiana! He had written to his sister of Miss Bennet, telling his younger sister of Elizabeth’s intelligence and wit, and he anticipated their actual meeting. His sister required a friend who would not fawn and simper in order to gain her favour like Miss Bingley; no, she required someone with a touch of impertinence to draw her out of her timidity. Elizabeth’s kindness and outgoing personality would suit well. Georgiana would arrive on the morrow and they would travel to Lambton straight away. His sister would love Elizabeth as much as he did!

The carriage would disappear from sight soon, into Pemberley woods on its way to Lambton, so he turned and began to stride toward the house. Pemberley was a beautiful place and he loved it with everything in him; however, he had often imagined Elizabeth walking the halls, inhabiting the mistress’ suite, and laughing with him as he walked the gardens. His home was not the same as it had been prior to making her acquaintance; it now required her to be complete.

The time he spent denying his attraction and feelings for Elizabeth! This time matters would be different—he would not repeat his mistake. Whilst she was nearby, he would expend every effort to ensure she was aware of his affections and wishes. Those precious feelings had not changed since Hunsford, except this time, he would do everything within his power to gain a favourable response to the offer of his hand.

He glanced back just in time to view the back of the carriage as it disappeared into the trees. Miss Bennet may be leaving today, but one day she would return, never to be separated from him again.

It’s time to move again, which means I have books to give away! I don’t have as many as the last move, but I have a set of the first three books of the Wedding Planners Series. So, first is an excerpt from It’s Always Been You and Me. Just a warning about language. This book is from Charlie’s point of view and she’s got the mouth of a sailor, or can when prompted. Don’t forget to check out after for the instructions on the giveaway!

Wedding Planners

Excerpt from It’s Always Been You and Me

The warmer fall came to a sudden end when the cool front we’d been waiting for finally dumped a ton of rain as it plowed over the east coast. With the weather, my beach volleyball match with Elliot had been postponed a week. Luckily, the change in day didn’t conflict with my work schedule, or else we’d have had to forfeit.

I wasn’t a fan of beach volleyball when it felt more like winter than summer, but at least I had my long-sleeved Clemson top from my days playing in college. Although I’d mostly competed on courts, I’d always loved playing in the sand and digging my toes into the warmth beneath my soles, using it for a solid base when I jumped to spike the ball.

Elliot glanced over to me and lifted his eyebrows while we waited for the other team to serve. He held the same passion for the sport I did, which worked well. I’d never played mixed doubles until he approached me to play in this recreational league. We’d been partners ever since.

I shifted on my feet with my hands on my hips then kicked my heels back one at a time. The last thing I wanted was to get cold.

The other team served, and Elliot rushed up to the net, jumped, and attacked the ball, sending it into the sand on the opposite side. He walked back and lifted his hand for a high five before resuming his spot. That was when I saw him.

When I’d peered over my shoulder, Jensen stood along the side with his arms crossed over his chest, his burgundy long-sleeved Henley clinging in all the right places. I ripped my eyes away. My heart beat quick and heavy in my chest. What was he doing here? A hand interrupted my view, and I startled.

“Earth to Charlie. They’re about to serve.” For the second time that afternoon, Elliot’s eyebrows rose on his forehead. After we won the next point, he glanced behind him while I valiantly pretended Jensen had vanished into another dimension. If I didn’t look, he wasn’t there, right?

The rest of the game dragged by as I kept my attention focused as best I could on the game and not whether Jensen still lingered somewhere off to the side or whether he was talking to some woman. Why would I care if he flirted or spoke to someone else anyway? I sure as hell didn’t want him back.

When we scored the last point, Elliot came over, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “Him? Is he the reason you won’t give me or any other guy a chance?”

“Shut up,” I said, pushing him away. “I never said a word.”

With a laugh, he rolled his eyes. “You didn’t need to, sweetheart. For anyone who looks, it’s written all over your face.”

I ignored his butthead comment and headed toward the concrete ledge near the parking lot. I’d left my bag on top so it wouldn’t be full of sand when we finished. As I dusted the annoying grit off my legs, a shadow crossed the pavement in front of me.

“I’ve been trying to call you.”

“I don’t know why. I told you we have nothing to discuss.” I jammed my foot into the leg of my sweatpants. The sooner I had those on, the sooner I could leave.

“We have the same friends and always have. I’m not sure why you’re so hostile, but I thought if we could agree to get along, it would be more comfortable for everyone.”

I straightened and clenched my fists at my sides. “You’re not certain why I’m hostile? You fucking left.”

“You didn’t want to marry me,” he countered. “I had school in Chicago. You knew that.”

“I never said I didn’t want to marry you.” I grabbed my phone and keys and zipped my bag. “See, this is why we have no business dredging up the past. It won’t magically cure anything. It won’t suddenly make us friends.” I started to walk toward my car, cringing when footsteps followed me. “I can’t believe you followed me out here to resurrect an ancient argument we have no business rehashing.”

“You’re still good—really good. Did you ever try out for the Olympic team like you’d wanted? I know you made the U.S. Collegiate National team your sophomore year. I tuned in to watch volleyball at the Olympics in Beijing, fully expecting to see you kicking ass. I was shocked you weren’t there.”

I gritted my teeth. “I tore my ACL during training a month before. Instead of playing in the Olympics, I was having surgery to repair it. I know athletes who’ve continued with high level athletics, mainly soccer, after ACL surgery, and their knees are a mess. I didn’t want to be thirty with the knees of an eighty-year-old. My coach red-shirted me for the year of rehab, hoping I’d change my mind. I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” he said with more feeling than I would’ve expected. “I know how important that was to you.”

“I know it’s cliché, but life and shit happens. I’m not the only person in this world prevented from living their dream by one circumstance or another, but I came damned close. I have no regrets.”

He gestured at the beach. “You still play, though.”

“The sand is much more forgiving on my knee, and it’s not the same as hard court international level volleyball.” I threw my bag in the backseat of my car as a blonde, leggy thing walked up behind Jensen and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

“Hey, there. You ready?” she said in nearly a purr next to his ear.

“I swallowed the vomit that rose in my throat and stung the back of my tongue. My eyes narrowed. It was the gym bunny bimbo from Halloween. Not his type. Hah!

“Charlie, you know Kimberly, don’t you?”

“You’re a member at the fitness center, aren’t you?” I didn’t offer my hand.

Her eyes lit and widened. “Oh, yeah! I didn’t realize you played. One of my sorority sisters and her husband were on the opposing team today. She told me before we came out that they didn’t stand a chance.”

I forced a smile on my face. 

“Charlie!” Before I could speak, Elliot came bounding up, holding out an envelope. “Your gift card, madame.”

As I took the envelope, Elliot put an arm around my waist and pulled me in, his lips claiming mine. I froze so solid it must’ve been like kissing a rock. What the hell did he think he was doing?

When he pulled away, he tugged me a little closer and turned to Jensen. “Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting.” He held out his hand. “I’m Elliot.”

“Jensen,” said Jensen woodenly while he shook Elliot’s hand. Jensen glanced back and forth between us, but I couldn’t look at him. I fixed my gaze on the ground as though it were a Playgirl centerfold.

“Good to meet you.” Elliot’s natural ease with everyone shone while he rubbed his thumb in an intimate gesture under my ear. “I hope you don’t mind if I whisk her away. I owe her lunch for a game well-played, you know?” I did my best to relax but that damned thumb tickled so badly I struggled not to slap the holy heck out of his hand.

“Of course. I wouldn’t want to hold you up.”

I had no idea what sort of expression Jensen wore. All I knew was his hands were stuffed into his pockets even though Kimberly remained plastered to his backside. Before I could take a peek, I was shoved into the passenger seat of my car. 

Elliot’s face appeared before me as he bent over. “Relax,” he whispered. “He’ll never buy it if you won’t touch me.”

I glared at him while my hand curled around his ribs. I should be thankful Elliot stepped up and kept me from looking like a pathetic idiot, but I’d never dealt well with surprises and I was certainly no actress!

“Good girl,” he crooned with a grin. “Now give us a kiss.”

“Fuck you.”

He leaned closer until he pressed his lips to my neck. I closed my eyes and gripped his t-shirt. There was a reason I didn’t date and this awkward revulsion was exactly why. With a wag of his eyebrows, Elliot pulled away, ran around the car, and hopped into the driver’s seat. “Where are the keys?”

As I closed the door, Kimber-bimbo pulled Jensen in the opposite direction. He glanced back for a second, making me whip my head around to Elliot. “Now that they’re gone, what the fuck are you doing?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Calm down. I’m helping you. Trust me.” He leveled me with a know-it-all gaze, his index finger pointing. “You nearly went down in flames out there. The last thing you want him to know is that you’re jealous, and that foul-mouthed green monster you possess is lurking just under the surface, ready to pounce. I had a much better vantage point since I have no emotional involvement. He attempted to break a few bones when I shook his hand, and he kept taking peeks at you. Trust me. He’s still interested.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’re over. We were over more than a decade ago.”

“You wouldn’t be so tied up in knots if everything was final and packed away for good. I’m telling you, he still has feelings too. I’m willing to bet he’ll either try harder or give up. If he gives up, he’s not worth it.”

I slapped my keys into his palm. “He gave up thirteen years ago.”

Elliot laughed and shifted the car into reverse. “By that frown he’s wearing, I’d be willing to bet he wouldn’t mind a second chance.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen.”

“Sorry, babe, but I don’t believe you. I don’t even think you believe yourself.”

“Where are we going anyway?” I turned around in my seat, spotting Elliot’s beat up Civic still sitting in the parking lot. “You’re leaving your car, you know?”

“We’ll swing by for it after lunch.”

“I never said we’d go eat.” Why was Elliot’s impulsive behavior such a shock? It wasn’t like I hadn’t known him for years.

“Don’t worry. I’m paying.” He shot me a crooked grin. “Consider it that date I’ve never gotten you to accept.”

“It’s not a date, Elliot.” My voice hardened. All I needed was this added to the mess that was my life.

“Semantics.”

In less than five minutes, we pulled up to a food truck with “The Best Arepas in Charleston” emblazoned across the back.

“We’re here,” he said nearly chirping as he bounded from the car.

I hurried after him, almost tripping on a seam in the concrete and face-planting. “You’ve got to be shitting me? You’re bringing me to a food truck?”

“Hey, they have great food. I promise.”

A loud snort escaped before I could stop it. “Just be warned. If I get food poisoning, I’m coming after your ass. You won’t walk for a month.”

“Promises, promises.” He chuckled and yanked me up to the window by my arm. “Only in my dreams, sweetheart.”

I could only shake my head while he ordered for both of us. Normally, that would’ve completely pissed me off, but since I knew nothing about the menu, it didn’t bother me this time. When we were seated at a wooden picnic table with our food, Elliot kicked my shoe.

“So, what’s up with this Jensen guy? You’ve never spoken about him.”

“Because I always tell you about my personal life?” I countered.

“Touché. Doesn’t mean you can’t?”

I swallowed my first bite and sighed. “Why does everyone think talking will be the miracle cure for happiness? Like if I purge my soul, it will be all rainbows and sparkly unicorns.”

Elliot grimaced while he forked up a bite but let it rest in the paper bowl. “I would never make that sort of promise. Sometimes revealing the past and getting our feelings out in the open is cathartic. You and I aren’t particularly close, but that can make talking about personal matters easier. You never know.”

“I don’t . . .”

“Charlie. Spill.”

I stabbed my fork into my food several times and slumped. “We started dating when I was a freshman in high school. He was the stereotypical high school quarterback with perfect grades and perfect looks.”

“And he went for the athletic girl with the amazing body and beautiful face instead of the self-absorbed cheerleader. I have to admit. I admire that.”

With a shrug, I took a sip of my drink. “I was gawky.”

“I doubt it,” he said with pursed lips. “How long did you go out?”

“Until the night I graduated from high school. He’d left for the University of Chicago the year before, but we called and emailed all of the time. We used to meet in this clearing in the woods behind my parents’ house.

Jensen’s strong arms wrapped around me the moment I stepped into the clearing. “God, I’ve missed you.”

My lips claimed his as I slipped my hands under his t-shirt, loving the feel of his solid abs and the sound of his swift inhale. I pulled back long enough to whisper “I missed you too” before I reached for the button on his jeans.

With a groan, he guided me back, tugging me down on a quilt he’d spread before I arrived. His lips grazed down my neck while he shifted my skirt up and out of the way so he could touch me, bringing me to orgasm before he satisfied himself. It was fast, but we’d been apart for months. While he had been gone, I’d yearned with everything in me for that connection. He must’ve as well. His touch and kisses spoke of desperation rather than the slow burn we’d always had in the past.

Afterwards, my cheek rested on his chest, near his shoulder, the sound of his heart thrumming in my ear. “When do you want to talk to your parents?” he asked. His fingers combed through my hair and his lips grazed my forehead. My stomach sank. I lifted onto my forearm so I could hold his eyes.

“I love you.”

His forehead crinkled like he did when he was confused. “I love you too.”

“Do you remember when I told you about the scholarship the head coach offered me at Clemson?”

“Of course, I do. It’s awesome, and I’m so proud of you.”

I grazed my teeth along my bottom lip. “I accepted it.”

“What?” He lifted up as I sat back on my heels, my blouse hanging loose, unbuttoned all the way down. “I asked you to marry me before I left for college. We agreed we’d get married when you graduated.”

I shook my head and clenched the blanket. “I told you I wanted to marry you, but I also told you that I wasn’t ready yet.”

“Because you were still in school?” He said slowly as though he were trying to explain it to a small child.

“No, because I just turned eighteen two months ago, because I’m not ready to move so far from my parents, because I have my own dreams. I love you, but it’s not fair to ask me to give up on what I want.”

“You can play volleyball at Chicago.”

Once again, I shook my head then covered my face. “You have three years left on your degree before you join the Navy. Then what happens to me?”

“You come with me. We can both go to school during the summer so we both finish our degrees and graduate at the same time. You might have to wait in Chicago until I finish basic training, or maybe you can stay with your parents.”

“No, Jensen. When I spoke to the coach at Chicago, he didn’t offer a scholarship. You have that college fund from your grandfather you’re using to pay for college, but I don’t expect my parents to pay so much money. I want to marry you, but I’m not ready to be your wife. I can’t imagine being left for months on end while you’re deployed or go wherever the Navy sends you. Please understand, I need to have something for myself first.

“I want to go to Clemson with Ellie. You and I can continue emailing and living for breaks. You can come back to Marysville. I can travel to Chicago for spring break. I’d love for you to show me around.”

His eyes searched mine, but he didn’t smile or give any sort of hint about how he felt while my eyes burned. I couldn’t lose him!

“I want to be with you. I need you, Charlie.”

“I want to be with you too, but I don’t want to be an adult quite yet.”

Finally, something cracked, and he shook his head. “I can’t come back to Marysville. My father won’t let me stay at the house—not that I’m really complaining since his drinking has become worse. You know how he can be when he’s drunk. I have to stay at that crappy little motel right outside of town. All of my savings is for school. I can’t afford to travel down here and stay in motels all of the time. If you go to Clemson, we’ll never see each other.”

I tried to take his hand. “We will. I promise.”

He withdrew his hand before mine could wrap around it, shook his head again, and stood. “I have to go.”

“Jensen, wait. Can’t we talk about this?”

A noisy breath came from his lips. “I don’t know. I have to go.”

“Jensen?”

“He left me sitting alone in the woods in the dark. The next day, I borrowed my mother’s car and drove out to the motel where he was staying. He’d already left town. I didn’t see him again until a few months ago when he walked into our office. I’d called the police over a former boyfriend of Jena’s and in walked Jensen as if he owned the damned place.”

Elliot sipped his drink from a straw with a frown. “You were both too young. I mean think about it. If you’d married him, would you still be together today? At least you recognized you weren’t ready. He should’ve respected that, but as I said, you were both young. If you’d actually gone through with it, you wouldn’t have traveled to play volleyball in college, you wouldn’t have the business with Jena and Ellie, and you’d probably be divorced and wondering what to do next with your life. You might even be saddled with a child or two.”

“I wouldn’t mind the child. I could never regret that.”

Elliot rested his forearms on the table and held my eye. “Single parenthood isn’t easy. My mom struggled financially even though my father paid child support. My point isn’t about having a child. It’s that you wouldn’t have the solid foundation you have now if you’d followed that road. I believe you’d make an awesome mother if you had to do it on your own now. You have the financial means and support because of the choices you’ve made. My mother was a housewife when my father left.”

“Jensen didn’t have to leave like he did.”

Elliot sighed and took my hand. “I agree that it was shitty of him to leave without a word, but the two of you both had the opportunity to shoot for your dreams. You probably don’t want to hear this, but letting go was the best thing you could’ve done for one another.”

I blinked back tears. Crap! I never cried, and I was about to blubber like a baby. “Is it stupid that I’m still in love with him—that I can’t see myself with anyone else?”

“Did you try to move on?”

“More than once,” I said, jabbing my straw into the ice in my cup. “It always felt wrong—like I was being unfaithful. I lost my heart to Jensen and never managed to get all of it back.” I bit my lip and slumped. “I always wanted a child. Now I wonder if I’ll ever have one.”

“Tell you what.” He waggled his eyebrows, making me jerk back and give him a sidelong stare. “If you aren’t married, or you don’t have a significant other by the time you’re thirty-four, we’ll have a kid together.”

“I’m not having sex with you, Elliot.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Who said anything about sex? We can turkey baster it.”

“Eww! You’re terrible,” I said, dissolving into laughter.

“But you’re laughing.” His index finger pointed directly at my chest. “I much prefer this to that weepy Charlie I just saw. It’s so unlike you that I don’t know what to do with her. You might be like a Tootsie Roll pop, but it doesn’t mean I need to see it.”

“A Tootsie Roll pop?”

“Yeah, hard on the outside and soft in the middle.”

More laughter bubbled up from my throat as I snorted loudly. I covered my nose and shook my head.

“That’s hot,” he said sarcastically.

When I could breathe, I nodded my head. “Thank you.”

“Just remember. I’m always around if you need a date—no strings attached. Maybe he still holds a torch for you? We could make him jealous.”

“Do I really want to put my heart out there again?”

He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. “Only you can decide that. If you can’t give him another shot, you need to move on. Clinging to something or someone without a future won’t fulfill you and will only leave you with huge regrets down the line. You deserve to be happy just as he does.”

“What about you?”

His smile widened, and he glanced to the side. “I’ve always asked you out, but it didn’t mean I stopped dating. Recently, I’ve taken an interest in someone. I’ll make a move eventually. I’m not quite ready yet.”

“Really?”

His chuckle carried with the breeze. “Honestly. You’re pretty and fun. I thought we’d enjoy going out. I don’t think the two of us would be more than two people spending an evening together. I met someone a couple of months ago. We don’t know each other well, but we bump into each other from time to time. It’s odd. I hardly know her, but I want to know everything about her.”

My lips quirked upward. “I know what that’s like.”

Elliot bobbed his head. “Yeah, I guess you do.”

“Are you going to go for it?”

“Eventually.”

“Don’t wait too long,” I said. “She might find someone else.”

“You act as though it’s easy, asking out someone you’re serious about.”

I gave him a half-hearted smile. “Easy, no. But even if she says no, you’ll have tried.”

Alrighty then! Let’s talk giveaway! I have the first three Wedding Planners in paperback. Giveaways are limited to the U.S./APO addresses. Sorry! Postage has gotten crazy expensive these days. Just leave me a comment to enter!

It’s Always Been You and Me is on Kindle, KU, and Paperback!

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