Hi, everyone! I’ve been spending some time lately re-designing the cover of A Matter of Chance. I wanted a bit of a different look but still incorporating my watercolor of the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the same time. I hope everyone loves the reboot! I’m really excited about it 🙂 The new cover is live on Amazon! You can also read A Matter of Chance free with Kindle Unlimited!
Charles turned onto a paved road surrounded by trees, that quickly forked, and they steered to the left. When the woods cleared, there was a lake with what appeared to be a very large barn on the opposite bank. As he again looked to the left, he saw the large house. He stared at the home in awe. From what he knew of Jane’s sister, he didn’t understand how she could afford living in such a place.
“I thought you said your sister was an artist. How can she afford the upkeep on a house like this?”
Jane turned so she could see William in the back seat. “The house belonged to my great aunt, who left it to Lizzy when she passed away four years ago. For years, Aunt Mel had requests from people who wished to have outdoor weddings on the property. When our friend Charlotte became a wedding coordinator, my aunt began allowing her to book the affairs. It began small, with a tent for the reception and as the demand grew my aunt expanded a bit to make the venue more marketable. Now there are weddings here nearly year ‘round.”
Jane cleared her throat and gestured to the right. “The barn out by the lake is actually a reception hall with a commercial grade kitchen. The facility is very nice; wood floors, Doric columns, a bar. During the months when it’s too chilly for an outdoor wedding, some choose to have their ceremony within the hall. The money made from the events has paid for the upkeep, as well as the main house’s kitchen remodel last year.”
“She doesn’t find it intrusive?” William asked.
“Most old homes like this give tours, hold weddings, and operate as bed and breakfasts,” explained Jane. “Lizzy values her privacy, so she’s kept it to weddings on the grounds, although recently, the reception hall has been rented during the week for business functions, as well. There’s parking out along the highway, and for events, a shuttle service brings guests from the lots to the property. Other than the catering trucks and a limo for the couple, there isn’t a crowd of cars.”
Jane pointed behind the pond next to the barn. “The fencing by the barn separates the wedding guests from the home, as does the pond. The pond narrows at the footbridge, but typically the bride and groom just take pictures on it, so that the house is in the background. There’s usually a rope up with a sign not to cross.”
She turned to face William once more. “By the way, you weren’t incorrect—Lizzy is an artist, but she also teaches a few art classes at the local college.” William nodded, truly impressed with the operation.
“Jane?” Charles asked, to garner his wife’s attention. “Why is Lizzy mowing?”
“Oh no,” Jane sighed. “I hope she hasn’t run off Billy again.”
Charles groaned. “Charlotte and I both had to convince him to come back after the confrontation they had last year. I don’t know if I can persuade him again.”
“I don’t understand,” interjected William. “Is she not supposed to mow?”
“With the reception area and the acreage around the house, there’s too much for her to keep up on her own. We hire a landscaping service that takes care of the mowing and keeps everything looking a certain way.” Jane chuckled. “Billy Collins, who owns the landscaping company, has had a thing for Lizzy since we were kids. Last year, he proposed marriage, and my sister didn’t appreciate his attempt. She told him exactly where he could shove his offer, and the weekend after, we found her mowing around the house. Although, sometimes she does it when she’s angry or frustrated about something.”
Charles was laughing. “You have to understand. She and Billy weren’t even dating. I don’t think Lizzy had ever had an issue with him in the past, but she certainly wasn’t interested in marrying the man.”
Jane picked the story back up from her husband as they neared the house. “They were never really friends, but Lizzy had nothing against him. To be honest, his proposal was offensive. I won’t divulge everything he said, but he actually said something to the effect that she could never expect that another offer of marriage would ever be made to her.” William raised his eyebrows, wondering what it was that would cause someone to make that kind of a comment.
A dog came up and began trailing the car as they pulled to a stop, and Jane quickly got out of the car, striding to where Lizzy was attacking the grass with a vengeance. William watched as Lizzy halted the mower and began obviously explaining something with large hand movements. As she made a gesture, he noticed one of her fingers was bandaged, and she pointed to the injury as she finished speaking.
“The dog is Bear. You’re going to want to wait until I get out of the car,” explained Charles. “He’s very protective of Lizzy and Mel.” Charles stepped out, and began petting the old blue merle Australian Shepherd. He motioned to William that he could get out as well.
William opened his door and rose from the seat. Bear watched him carefully from where he was standing near Charles, and then came over to give him a sniff. William put out his hand for the dog to smell, but Bear backed away and took a place near Charles.
“His trust isn’t easily gained, but once it is, he’s extremely loyal.”
Nodding, William turned his head to see Lizzy steering the mower around to the back of the house. He could see Jane chuckling as she made her way back to the car.
“Well?” Charles inquired.
“3-D design,” explained Jane.
Charles began to laugh. “What happened now?”
Jane looked at William as she began to explain. “3-D design is a class Lizzy is teaching. She didn’t like the class when she was required to take it, and she’s even less enamored of the idea of teaching it. But the university has no one willing to teach the class—well, that and no budget to hire a new instructor—so they’ve put it on Lizzy’s schedule for the last year.”
“Why doesn’t she like it?” asked William.
“Well, for starters, she isn’t a sculptor. Add to that a healthy fear of power saws and the fact that she doesn’t have a large amount of experience with the other power tools that are used in the class, and you have the general basis of her contempt.” Jane took a deep breath as she removed her purse from the passenger seat of the car and closed the door. “My sister has worried since she began teaching the class that she or one of her students will accidentally cut off her finger in class. Yesterday, she was helping a student, and he shot her in the finger with a nail gun.”
William and Charles visibly flinched at the idea. “Oh, no!” exclaimed Charles. “Is she okay?”
Jane laughed. “Yes, she’s fine. She had her hand x-rayed at Dr. Ladner’s office when the class was over. He also updated her tetanus shot.”
“Wait a minute,” paused William. “When the class was over?”
Jane nodded. “Uh huh,” she replied. “The incident actually happened very early in the class, but Lizzy pulled the nail out and bandaged it up so she could finish teaching.”
William’s eyebrows lifted, surprised, and although he was reluctant to admit it, impressed.
“Is Melly napping?” asked Charles.
Jane smiled. “She should be waking soon. Lizzy’s going to go shower while we finish up the garden.”
Charles nodded. “I guess we should get to work then.”
“Lizzy has all of the tomatoes and corn picked. She also brought out the tiller so you can turn under the plants that are done.” Jane turned and smiled at William. “As I said before we left the house, you can sit on the back porch and read or bark orders.”
Laughing, Charles grabbed a bag from the back seat and closed his car door. “There’s an occupation where a Darcy excels.”
As Jane brought the bag inside, William followed Charles as he began to walk toward the left side of the house. “Lizzy, Jane, and I have been sharing a small vegetable garden since Lizzy took over Longbourn. We often spend Saturdays working on it together, cooking or grilling dinner when we’re done.”
“How long has Lizzy lived here?”
“For almost two years now. She moved in when Melanie was about five months old.”
William began to scan the property. He could see where the drive branched and trailed back. His eyes followed it to a building that he presumed was a garage set back and to the left side of the property where it wouldn’t readily be seen from the front or the barn that was across the lake to the right of the house. A door on one corner of the garage had a path made of brick pavers that led through an arbor covered in wisteria to a courtyard behind the house.
As they rounded the corner of the home, the entirety of the courtyard came into view, and William paused to take it all in from right to left. There were pathways framing flowerbeds, and urns placed in a few of the beds. In the center of the maze stood a large fountain that didn’t flow, although it appeared to be filled with water.
As his eyes trailed back, he noticed the house made an L shape. Attached to the back of the main building on the opposite side appeared to be the former slave quarters. The doors and windows had been converted to French doors to blend in with the main building. The porches were also all joined, and ran the length of the rear of the house.
The flowerbeds were filled with roses, day lilies, crepe myrtle, agapanthus, and other decorative flowers mixed with herbs, tomatoes, and peppers of different varieties and colors. Behind a small black wrought iron fence, to the back of the courtyard, was what appeared to be a grove of dogwood that eventually blended into the tree line of the forest.
To the left, William’s view returned to the garage, and between him and that building was the vegetable garden. There were corn stalks, a couple of vines with some small pumpkins, what appeared to be small pea plants, a few watermelons, cucumbers, and squash. The plot wasn’t exceedingly large, but seemed to be well planned.
Charles turned and smiled to his friend. “The courtyard is incredible, isn’t it?”
A small smile graced William’s face. “It’s lovely.”
“Jane told me that Lizzy and her aunt drew out the plans themselves when Lizzy was a teenager. Then once the pathways, arbor, fountain and fence were all in place, the two of them planted everything together.”
William’s eyebrows lifted. “It must have been a lot of work.”
“Lizzy will complain about how much work it all is sometimes, but you can tell she loves it. It’s the only part of the yard the landscaping service isn’t allowed to touch.” He looked around at the garden. “Well, I guess we should get going, or we won’t be finishing today.”
There was the sound of a door closing, and they both turned to find Jane coming to join them. Jane and Charles pulled some gardening tools out of the garage, and William extended a hand.
“What would you like me to do?”
Charles stopped pushing the tiller and studied William’s face. “You didn’t bring a change of clothes, and this is going to get pretty dirty.”
William chuckled. “I’m not afraid of a bit of dirt.”
“We brought you along for company, and to meet Lizzy, not work,” explained Jane. Regarding her dubiously, he opened his mouth to speak, when Jane cut him off. “Before you get all half-cocked, we aren’t setting the two of you up. We spend a good deal of time with Lizzy and our niece, so we thought it would be good for the two of you to become friends.”
He relaxed, and Charles stepped closer. “You’ve been in the office all day every day since you returned from London. Take a break today.”
“I’ll feel lazy watching the two of you work,” he complained.
“Then keep us entertained,” suggested Jane.
He sighed as they put themselves to work and William found a swing hanging from an oak tree to the far side of the garden. He chatted with his friends until Charles began running the tiller, mixing the soil where the corn once was. He tried to read his book, but the noise was too loud, so he moved to a rocking chair on the back porch.
There was a light breeze, and he remained there for some time before he heard a voice to one side.
“I’ll be right back, Melly!”
He looked up from his book to find Lizzy closing the door and walking over to a gas grill. She turned on the gas and saw him when she looked up as she was lighting it.
“You must be William,” she said with a raised eyebrow.
“I am,” he replied, “and you’re Lizzy.”
She nodded and looked under the lid of the grill to ensure it had lit. Her eyes were a brilliant color green, and she had coppery brown hair that trailed down her back in long curls. William thought she looked about five foot six or seven, and she had a pleasing figure that he could not help but admire. Her bare toes peeked out from a long flowing skirt paired with a fitted top that resembled an old-fashioned corset. His reverie ended when he heard a small voice.
He looked to the door where her daughter stood in the open doorway.
“Hey, sweetie,” Lizzy called as she began walking toward the little girl. “Did you get bored with the pots and pans?” Mel nodded, but started when she noticed William. “It’s okay. He’s a friend of Aunt Jay and Uncle Charles.”
William watched as she began to pull her mother, who turned and smiled apologetically, inside the house. As he heard the door close, he turned his attention back to his book, until he heard the door open again and the lilting voice invade his solitude.
“Are you going to help mommy?” Lizzy asked as the toddler followed her out of the door.
“Can you please close the door for me?” Little Mel did as she was asked, receiving a thank you for her efforts, and followed her mother, who was carrying a plate of something William couldn’t identify out to the grill. He noticed that opening the lid would be difficult with her hands full, so he jumped up from his seat.
“Let me help you.”
“Thank you,” she responded, as he strode quickly over to where she was waiting.
He opened the grill and looked down at what looked like a tied-up bundle of twigs. “What is that?” he asked rather abruptly.
She paused and looked at him. “It’s a leg of lamb,” she answered. “The bone is removed and then the meat is seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. It’s wrapped in rosemary that has been soaked in water, then tied together, and grilled.” She looked at him worriedly. “Jane and Charles said you like lamb?”
He was entranced, watching as her eyes sparkled as she spoke. “Um . . .I do, but I’ve never seen it prepared that way.”
“Oh,” she chuckled. “I saw it on a cooking show once and tried it. It has since become one of my favorites.” She looked down to the plate in her hands. “Would you mind holding the plate for a moment?”
“Of course.” He noticed that she lifted a work surface from where it was folded down the side of the grill before she took back the dish and set it on the makeshift counter.
“Thank you.” Lizzy gave him a small smile and he nodded briefly. He then watched her use tongs and a large fork to place the lamb on the grill before she closed the lid. She picked up the plate and turned to face him. “I should go back inside. You’re welcome to come in if you become too hot out here.”
“Thanks,” he said with a small smile.
Lizzy turned and walked to the door as her daughter followed at her heels once more. “Open the door for mommy?”
They were soon inside, and William was left to stare after her, realizing that he was attracted to this woman. He shook his head as he returned to his seat. She would definitely not do. She was an artist, after all, with an odd sense of style, and most importantly, a kid. No, the last thing William Darcy needed was to get involved with a single mother. Shaking his head as if to clear his mind, he returned to his book.
~ * ~
Lizzy eyed William as he sat across from her at the table. The lamb was wonderful, especially paired with the Greek salad she’d prepared on the side, and he’d graciously complimented her on the meal. He seemed everything that was proper and polite since his comment earlier, but she was still bothered by his attitude. He’d joined in the conversations with Jane and Charles; however, other than the compliment on the meal, he hadn’t said more than two words in her direction the entire evening. She took a sip of her wine, and glanced around as her three guests chatted away.
“Would anyone like any dessert and coffee?” she asked in a cheerful tone.
“Oh, I saw your chocolate cake in there!” Jane gushed and turned to William. “Lizzy makes the absolute best chocolate cake!”
William gave a small smile. “Perhaps a little later?” he asked. “I’m full at the moment.”
She nodded, and stood to begin clearing the dishes from the table. Her daughter picked up her own plate and followed her as she pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen. Lizzy set down the load in the sink and reached down for her daughter’s plate.
“Thank you,” she said, while Melanie smiled in return. “You’re welcome?”
“You welcome,” the toddler replied.
The kitchen door swung open, and Jane came in and swooped the little girl into the air as she burst into a fit of giggles. “Why don’t I take this giggle box upstairs for a bath and a story?”
“Yay!” cheered Melanie, as Lizzy smiled.
“You don’t have to, you know.”
“I know,” replied Jane, “but I enjoy it. Besides, you won’t let her spend the night with us, so I have to get my Melly fix while I’m here.” She began to tickle her niece as she was talking.
“What would I do while you took her for the night? Putter about this big house by myself?” Lizzy shook her head vehemently. “No, thanks!”
“You could go out with Charlotte—we could all go out. Have a girls’ night out?”
“Jane, Charlotte goes out looking for men. I will not find a man I want to date in a bar!”
“You never know,” Jane called out in a singsong voice as she carried Melanie out of the door.
Lizzy smiled and shook her head as she thought about her sister. She wouldn’t have survived the last two years without her, but Lizzy wasn’t a college student any longer. She’d never even been one to party much in college. While she was studying for her masters, there were a group of friends that she’d periodically go out with while Greg was who knows where, but the idea just didn’t appeal to her anymore.
She loaded the dishwasher, pressed the button to turn it on, and cleaned up any remaining mess as she wiped down the counters. She hung the towel on the stove handle and walked out of the kitchen toward the living room. As she crossed the foyer of the house, she heard Charles speaking, and crept to where he and William couldn’t see her. She knew she shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but she wanted to understand what this guy’s problem was. Charles praised him to the skies, and to Lizzy he came across as haughty and rude.
“It’s called an automata,” she heard Charles say. “Lizzy made it in her 3-D design class when she was studying for her BFA.” She heard the telltale clicking of the homemade gears turning and knew her project was being tested out.
“It sticks a bit,” was the arrogant sounding response.
“They’re handmade gears made out of discs of wood and nails. Do you really expect it to operate flawlessly?” exclaimed Charles incredulously.
“It’s tolerable for a first try, I suppose,” said William in a snotty voice. “But she could hardly expect a serious art collector to buy it.”
Lizzy drew herself up to her full height, incensed at the insult to something that she worked so hard to create. She paused as she heard her brother-in-law’s voice once more.
“Well, you could be a little less critical. Lizzy would probably agree with you about the project. She was proud of the fact that she built it, but she would never presume to try to sell it. She’s not a sculptor and she’s not mechanically inclined. This was a difficult project for her.”
Nodding, Lizzy mumbled, “Darned straight!” The conversation seemed to have ended, so Lizzy decided to remain a minute before she entered the room. She didn’t want them to realize their conversation was overheard.
“Lizzy! Melly wanted a kiss good night before I put her in bed,” called Jane, as she walked down the stairs, carrying her niece.
Lizzy had just leaned against the wall when she jumped. She whirled around, blanching at being caught listening, while Jane placed the toddler on the floor to run toward her. She lifted her daughter into her arms and rested her on her hip.
“I have a kitty,” Melanie said happily to her mother as she pointed to her nightgown.
“Yes, you have kitty on your nightie,” smiled Lizzy. She gave her daughter a big kiss on the cheek. “And what does a kitty cat say?”
Jane smiled and gave a little clap while the little girl beamed. Lizzy suddenly realized the men were standing in the foyer just outside the door to the living room. She turned and gave them a half smile.
“Is it bedtime?” Charles asked as he stepped forward to give his niece a kiss on the cheek. “Good night, sweetie.” Melanie gave him a noisy kiss in return, and everyone smiled.
“Sweet dreams,” William said with a small curve to his lips that almost appeared to be the beginnings of a smile.
Lizzy gave her daughter a kiss. “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite,” she whispered in Melanie’s ear, hugging her tightly. “I love you, my Melly.” The toddler returned the hug and gave her mother a kiss.
“Night night, Mama.”
Jane reached out her arms, and Lizzy passed Melanie to her. The two proceeded back up the stairs, and Lizzy turned to face Charles and William.
“I’m thinking it’s time for coffee and cake,” Charles grinned, rubbing his mid-section.
Lizzy laughed. “I prepared everything earlier. Just give me a minute to go cut the cake.”
The men returned to the living room, and she made her way back to the kitchen to dish out the dessert and place it and the coffee on a tray for the four of them.
The remainder of the evening passed similarly to the first. Charles and William reminisced a good deal about the past and Jane laughed and joined in by asking questions as well as making comments. However, while Lizzy’s sister and brother-in-law included her in the conversation, William Darcy did not.
What was even stranger was that periodically, Lizzy would feel as though someone was watching her, and glance over to find William staring at her. He’d quickly look away, but it disconcerted her. She decided he must have found something he couldn’t like about her, and looked at her only to find more of her faults. This continued until Jane and Charles declared they were exhausted from all of the work that afternoon and the three of them departed to go to Netherfield. Turning off the lights and preparing for bed, Lizzy decided that regardless of the why, she’d think of William Darcy no more and went to bed.
~ * ~
William was once again in the back seat for the return trip to Netherfield. “Why have I never met Lizzy before?”
“Hmm?” asked Jane as she turned in her seat.
“Well, the two of you seem so close, but she wasn’t at your wedding.” He knew he’d brought up the subject with Charles before, but he still found it odd that she hadn’t been at such an important day in her sister’s life.
“No, she wasn’t.” Jane rested the side of her head on the headrest. “She was unable to attend.” He waited for a moment for either Jane or Charles to clarify, but neither did. “It’s really Lizzy’s story to tell, and I try to respect that. I hope you understand.”
“Of course.” He didn’t really understand, but since he didn’t feel like it was right to press the issue, he let the subject drop.
William reclined his head on to the headrest of the back seat, while Jane turned and began a conversation in soft tones to Charles in the front of the car.
When William had first seen Jane’s sister mowing the yard, she was farther away, she’d had her hair pulled up on top of her head, and she was wearing ratty clothes. He hadn’t spared her a second glance. But when she came outside after she’d taken a shower and changed, he’d been able to look at her—really look at her. Her hair was a brown color, but when the sun hit it, there were coppery red and blonde highlights that made it stand out from just simple brown. Her body seemed fit and she appeared to have just the right proportions in all of her assets.
Although, who knew what was hidden under those clothes—stretch marks, flabby skin? She did have a kid, after all. Speaking of her daughter, who was the child’s father? She wasn’t married, and neither Jane nor Charles had ever mentioned a husband, so she’d probably never been married. He didn’t even want to imagine the criticism he’d endure from his family if they had any idea that he was even remotely attracted to her.
He’d realized the attraction during their first face-to-face meeting, but he still held fast to his belief that she was the last thing he needed. He even recognized that he didn’t really believe any of the negative ideas about her, but he clung to them nonetheless, to squash the attraction. But what he couldn’t get out of his head were her eyes—emerald green, warm, intelligent. Keeping his own eyes off of her had been impossible; his line of vision was continually drawn to her.
He closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn’t avoid Lizzy in the future, especially while he resided with the Bingleys. He would just have to be very careful not to show her his admiration, or excite any expectation in her. William Darcy couldn’t afford the distraction that Lizzy presented.