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.”
“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.