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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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 . . .”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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!
Hi there, one and all! Tomorrow is the day Austen Variations holds its annual Summer Sale, and I’m offering a sneak peek of what I will have on sale from July 2-4. Make sure you stop by Austen Variations tomorrow because all of the links will be there waiting for you! The sale will feature books by Jennifer Altman, Jack Caldwell, Nicole Clarkston, Christina Morland, Joana Starnes, Marilyn Brant, Shannon Winslow, and of course me. So stop on by and check out all of the great deals!
In the meantime, here is what will be from me in the sale!
All Ellie ever dreamed of was the perfect vacation.
Ellie Barrett’s first glimpse of the island resort is everything she dreamed when she planned her long-awaited tropical getaway—sun, sand, and miles of brilliant aquamarine water. She’d made it! Two whole weeks to explore paradise. What could possibly be better?
Perhaps an athletic man in board shorts with a body to die for and a pair of stunning blue eyes? On her first evening, she meets William. Intelligent, amazing to talk to, and hot as sin, he’d never be interested in her, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the view while it lasted!
But perfection isn’t bound to last. What if William isn’t everything he seems? When love persists over all obstacles, is it enough? How can Ellie trust William and protect her heart at the same time?
It’s Always Been You is a flirty, fun, and remarkably satisfying contemporary romance! I cannot wait to spend more time in Marysville, South Carolina with these characters! – Austenesque Reviews
Jena Barrett loves her perfect life. She has the best job in the world, a great place to live, and a best friend that she adores. The only hiccup is this wedding planner’s love life! However, when her sister Ellie suggests a remedy for Jena’s lack of significant other, the notion is so insane, it flips Jena’s universe off-kilter.
Brandon has always been the steady fixture in Jena’s life, her best friend. Even when he joined the Army out of high school, they never lost touch, picking up as though he never left the moment he returned. Now a local veterinarian, Brandon is the perfect man candy with his successful career, amazing personality, and a face and body no woman would kick out of bed—only he never dates. Not that she’s ever questioned why, at least not until now.
Could Ellie be right? Could he possibly be in love with her? If so, could Jena ever love him in the same way? The risk is huge. If everything blows up in her face, she could lose her best friend. But what if the train wreck doesn’t happen? What if Brandon is her missing piece, her happy ever after?
“It’s Always Been Us is another vibrant and engaging contemporary romance by L.L. Diamond – perfect for summer! Ms. Diamond has a wonderful talent for creating likable characters, capturing charming small-town vibes, and crafting together a captivating modern-day romance!” – Austenesque Reviews
If only he’d never come back!
Charlie didn’t mind being on her own. Heck, she’d been on her own since her high school sweetheart Jensen Worth left town for good after graduation. He obviously never looked back, so why should she? She had family and friends to keep her company. She certainly didn’t need a man in her life!
Thirteen years after Jensen left Marysville, he’s returned, joining the Marysville police force and reconnecting with the friends he left behind all those years ago—her friends. Why couldn’t he have simply stayed away? Her life was certainly much simpler without him around! The problem is he keeps turning up like a bad penny. Charlie not only has to bump into him around town, but to add insult to injury, her mother invites him for Thanksgiving. Can a little dog named Daphne, a family emergency, and pushy, meddling friends help break down that enormous wall around Charlie’s heart? Will Charlie be able to remain angry with the only man she’s ever loved, or God forbid, will she fall in love with him all over again?
“Charlie and Jensen are a couple you cannot help but love and wish to see succeed! This contemporary Austen-inspired romance series by L.L. Diamond is full of charm, couples with chemistry, and Jane Austen connections! I highly recommend!” – Austenesque Reviews!
Single mother Maggie Dashwood has no time for distractions. She’s just been promoted from an assistant to a full-fledged wedding planner, and her six-year-old daughter, Harper, keeps her running. So, why do her grandmother and her co-workers insist that she needs a man in her life? After all, a man would do nothing more than to split that precious little bit of free time she manages to snare between weddings and Harper. They might also leave like Harper’s father. Why would she want to risk that?
After an accident, her grandmother’s matchmaking eyes hone in on hunky Elliot Martin, an EMT who’s best friends with Maggie’s boss Charlie. As far as her grandmother is concerned, Elliot is flirty, sexy, and an all-around great guy whose singular purpose of wooing Maggie fits perfectly with her plan of finding love for her granddaughter. Meanwhile, Maggie struggles to maintain her equilibrium as well as dry palms when he’s around.
When ghosts from Maggie’s past return and threaten her possible happily ever after, will Elliot be the rock she so desperately needs or will he leave like Harper’s father before him?
“This series has been amazing! I have loved every single one! Romance, danger, pure love! Wish I could give more than 5 stars!! Read in under a day! Can’t wait to read all four again!!! ” – Amazon Review
Fascinated upon a first acquaintance, the Earl of Matlock is a determined suitor, but Rebecca Fairchild is not so certain. The earl is kind, yet he is always so frustrating and stubborn! He is not what she had planned or what she ever imagined in a partner. Other ladies have also laid claim to the handsome Lord Matlock despite his preferences. Can he convince Rebecca he is her future or will other forces stand in the way of their happily ever after?
“All the characters in this tale were well-defined, strong, and memorable. Whenever I put this book down, my head would remain full of them for long periods after.” – Austenesque Reviews
“I fell in love with the Earl when Rebecca did.” – Obsessed by Mr. Darcy
It’s been almost two weeks since Agony and Hope was released, and I’m still bowled over by the response. Nearly 600,000 page reads and 196 reviews (Undoing still has 197). That’s just amazing. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.
As for more amazing news, Stevie Zimmerman has completed the narration for Agony and Hope and it is submitted for approval! It’s just the ACX review team standing between that lovely recording and your ears. Hopefully, the process won’t take too long!
I have another Agony and Hope scene for you! This is another scene from before the rewrite. You can read the visit to Mrs. Bennet here and the theatre scene here. The theatre scene precedes this one and the epilogue that was in the published book is the scene after. I hope you’re ready for another wedding!
I have left the scene as is from the original draft, so this is completely unedited. Sorry for any errors!
Fitzwilliam straightened his cuffs, glancing at the clock to ensure he had arrived downstairs in time. While he and Elizabeth had a wedding to host today, the allure of his wife and their bed had proved impossible to resist, which was why he arrived with only three minutes to spare.
He rubbed his hands together and attempted to push the lingering memory of this morning from his mind, when instead of rising early and preparing for the busy day ahead, they lingered to make love and breakfast together in their sitting room. During the meal, the knowledge Elizabeth sat beside him in nothing but her dressing gown had done little to help him consider the day ahead, and rather brought to mind images of her fresh from sleep, dishevelled and writhing beneath him, her soft murmurings and noises driving him to bury himself inside her again and again. As soon as she finished her last bite, he dragged her back to bed where he loved her until they both could do naught but hold each other as they recovered.
He entered his study, determined to not take the steps two at a time to return to Elizabeth. No sooner had he stepped behind his desk, but a rap at the door drew him back to the hall where Butler allowed Richard entry. “Good morning, Lord Carlisle. I hope you are well.”
“Yes, exceedingly well, thank you.” Once his coat and hat were left with the servant, Richard took one look at Darcy and chuckled. “For goodness’ sakes, remove that ridiculous grin from your face. I do not even have to ask to know what has pleased you so.”
“Just you wait. You will be in a similar place soon enough.”
Richard ducked inside and shut the door. “Speaking of that.” He scratched his neck and winced before opening his mouth then closing it.
“Well, come on. Spit it out man.”
With a growl, Richard sat and propped his elbows on his knees. “Neither of us are without experience.”
Laughing, Darcy shook his head. “You more than me, Cousin. I rarely partook, and once I knew I loved Elizabeth, I refused to be a part of something so meaningless.” He never even tried. How would he have even managed to begin so much as complete the act? He would have been humiliated.
“I never imagined I would marry, Darce,” said Richard throwing himself back and crossing his ankle over his knee. “The problem I have is that she is a maiden.”
Darcy sat upon the edge of his desk and frowned at his cousin. “Are you saying you would have preferred her come to you already experienced?”
“No!” Richard waved his hands in front of him before covering his face. He let his arms drop. “I am saying this poorly.” After a minute or so pause, he looked back to Darcy. “I am terrified of hurting her. I have heard stories at the club of men and their wedding nights, but most could care less whether their wives want them in their bed. You are the one person I trust to ask advice on the matter.”
Darcy crossed his arms over his chest and made a study of his feet. “I suppose I should be flattered that of all people you would ask me, but since the subject is such an intimate one . . .” He exhaled and ran a hand through his hair, his arm falling back to its former position. “I wish I could tell you some secret to help you, but I was unsuccessful in that regard. Unfortunately, I do not know if it was something I did naught to prevent, something I did, or whether she would have hurt regardless.”
After a knock, Butler showed Gardiner inside. They greeted each other before Gardiner sat in a chair near Richard. “So, what are we discussing? Or did I interrupt?”
“No, not at all.” Darcy waved dismissively. “Richard was asking the secret to a successful wedding night.” His cousin stepped over to the fire, picked up the poker, and jabbed at the coals. His complexion somewhat red, though whether from the light of the flames or his embarrassment, he could not say.
“Should I worry about my niece?” asked Gardiner with a laugh. He held up a hand. “Forgive me, I am teasing you, but I do remember having the same concern when I wed my wife. The only advice I can give you is patience and control.”
Richard’s expression remained tight as he nodded, yet he said little afterwards as the conversation turned to business matters. A maid delivered coffee, which they drank until Witney arrived and the voices of the ladies carried through the open doorway, luring them to the drawing room.
~ * ~
“Oh, Jane,” said Aunt Gardiner. She held a handkerchief near her mouth as she gave a teary smile. “You are so lovely.”
Elizabeth stood back and allowed her aunt the opportunity to act the part of mother for the day. She and Jane had spoken of whether to send a carriage for her mother, but after the manner in which Mrs. Bennet behaved during their visit, Jane decided she preferred not to remain mortified for the entirety of her wedding day.
Jane smoothed a hand down the white embroidered silk gauze and tilted her head. “Do you think it will do?” She pivoted and studied the elegant train behind her.
“Do?” Lady Fitzwilliam stepped beside Jane and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Madame Villers is known for her masterpieces, and this gown is no different. You look every bit a viscountess. And, I much prefer that wig to Lady Anne’s, which was terribly out of fashion. I do know it is all you had at the time, but this is much more becoming.” She clasped her hands together in a dramatic fashion. “Now, I have a gift from my son.” She stepped over to the dressing table and picked up a wooden box she had brought with her.
Jane opened the lid with care as it protested by creaking at the movement. When her sister gasped, Elizabeth came to stand beside her. Nestled in velvet was a sapphire, pearl, and diamond necklace with matching ear bobs and comb. “Oh, Jane,” she said quietly.
With two hits of her walking stick against the floor, Lady Catherine craned her head to see from her chair. “What did he give her? I must have my share in what is happening?”
Lady Fitzwilliam took the box and tilted it. “They are the Carlisle sapphires. The housekeeper found them in the mistress’s dressing room when she cleaned it for Miss Bennet’s use.”
At a glance from Lady Fitzwilliam, their aunt took the necklace and draped it around Jane’s neck.
“My son said Lizzy had not yet found you a maid, but I have a young lady who has been training under my maid for some time. I have sent her to Carlisle House for the next fortnight. If you like her, you may hire her to remain with you.”
“Thank you, My Lady,” said Jane while her aunt placed the comb.
Lady Fitzwilliam rolled her eyes and handed Jane and ear bob. “None of that, my dear. You can address me as Evelyn or Mother, whichever you prefer. Your sister has yet to address me by my name since I invited her, but I assure you I am in earnest in the matter.”
When Mary stepped to her side, Elizabeth wrapped an arm around her. “You are next. Is aught prepared?”
“Yes, Aunt has been wonderful,” said Mary with teary eyes. “After Papa’s death, did you ever believe we would be where we are today?”
“No, I did not.” Elizabeth hugged her younger sister a bit closer. “We seem to have truly reversed our fortunes.”
“Not seemed, niece.” Their aunt tilted her head down as she spoke. “You have indeed.”
At a light knock, Elizabeth turned to the servants’ door. “Come!”
“I beg your pardon, but the bishop has arrived as has Lady Witney.”
Lady Fitzwilliam patted Jane’s hands and helped Lady Catherine as they made their way to the drawing room. After one last embrace, Aunt Gardiner and Mary followed Fitzwilliam’s relations, leaving Elizabeth and Jane to each other.
“I never imagined that when I rushed to beg Fitzwilliam’s help that it would lead us here.” She took Elizabeth’s arms and shook her head. “I am so happy. I never dreamt I could be thus.”
Elizabeth cradled her sister’s face and sniffed in attempt to hold back tears. “No one deserves felicity more than you, Dearest.” After a peck to Jane’s cheek, she inhaled and grinned. “Let us get you married. I am certain a very eager groom awaits you.”
As she made to turn, Jane grabbed her arm. “Lizzy, wait!”
“What is it?” Her sister bit her lip. “Aunt spoke to me of what to expect tonight. I want to know what advice you would give.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks heated, and she pressed her palms to them for a few seconds, hoping to cool them a bit. “I shall only say to trust Richard and to speak to him. He will learn as much from you as you will from him.”
“I do not understand,” said Jane with her nose crinkled.
“You will. I promise.” She took Jane’s hand and gave a gentle tug towards the door. “Are you ready.”
Her sister smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am.”
When they arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Uncle Gardiner awaited to give her to Richard, who still paced when Elizabeth entered the room. The moment his eyes landed upon the bride standing in the doorway, a calm overtook him and a wide grin replaced the tight lines of before.
Fitzwilliam took Elizabeth’s hand, and she rested her temple against his shoulder while they watched the besotted couple recite their vows. After they signed the register, Jane covered her mouth and laughed, but Richard pulled her hands away and drew her to his side. Jane Bennet was no more. She had been replaced by Jane Fitzwilliam, Lady Carlisle.
~ * ~
As Lady Fitzwilliam accepted her glass of sherry and relaxed back into her chair with a grace befitting that of royalty, her eyes darted to Jane who spoke to Aunt Gardiner near the fire. “She is a lovely girl,” she said to Richard. “I am pleased you discovered a lady you found tolerable. I began to fear you would never marry, and I would like to enjoy a grandchild or two in my dotage.”
“We have not even been wed a day, Mother, and you are pestering for grandchildren?” He took a gulp of his brandy, bearing his teeth as he swallowed, and touched his shoulder to Darcy’s. “Good Lord, Darce. Me? A father?” He had spoken in low tones, but Witney, who happened to be passing behind them, laughed and slapped him on the back.
“One thing at a time. If you consider all at once, you may faint.”
Darcy pressed his lips together to keep from chuckling but could not prevent his shoulders from shaking. He peeked at his cousin who glared at him. “Forgive me, but I do not believe I have ever heard you so overwrought.” He pointed to the glass. “Do not indulge too much in spirits as you do not want to be in your cups later.”
After his cousin peered into his drink, he downed the last and set the tumbler on the tray. “Good point.” His eyes set on Jane and softened though his foot tapped in an incessant rhythm on the carpet. “How long before we can depart for home?”
“If you are so inclined, say your goodbyes. I shall have the carriage brought around.”
Richard shook his head. “I do not believe I have ever used a carriage between our two houses unless I intended a brief stop during a trip to the club or my solicitors.” The work for the servants for such a short trip—”
“Jane’s trunks were packed and sent to your house this morning, so she has no boots to walk—only the slippers on her feet. The length of her gown would also be a problem for her. You will want the carriage.”
“You are correct, of course. I have never needed to pay heed such considerations. Thank you.”
While Richard collected his wife, Darcy poked his head into the hall and gave instructions to Butler. His cousin and Jane dispatched their farewells with an efficiency born of Richard’s military training and departed the moment the carriage was at the kerb.
The rest of their party, including Lady Catherine, made for their own homes not long after, leaving Darcy blessedly alone with Elizabeth. He knew once Jane wed Richard she would no longer live with them, but the reality of that arrangement and the benefits struck him as he brought her into the study and closed the door behind him.
She sat in the corner of the sofa, angled herself towards his desk, and pulled her legs underneath her, reclining into the corner. His breathing all but stopped and his heart pounded against his sternum at the familiar position. How many times had his desperate mind conjured her thus? Her eyes held the same glint, and she arched that one eyebrow in a sultry invitation.
Like a moth to a candle, he could not resist her lure. He sat upon the edge of the sofa and took her in his arms, his face burying into her neck. He tasted the sweetness of her flesh and inhaled deeply of her rosewater scent. He would be forever lost when it came to Elizabeth—to his wife.
He had been so alone for so long. He had family, had Georgiana and Richard, but Georgiana and Richard would have always had their own lives. He would have haunted the halls of this house and Pemberley for the rest of his life if it had not been for Elizabeth. Her return saved him.
“I love you,” he breathed into her ear. “I do not know how I would have survived without you.”
Her soft lips brushed his temple as she drew him up so they were face to face. “You need not ever think of that again because you do have me, and will forever.”
He slipped behind her, and she lay back against his chest, drawing his arms to her stomach. He held her with the side of his head pressed to hers. Holding her thus brought such comfort to him when he returned to that dark place he once inhabited.
She lifted one of his hands and kissed his thumb then his palm, and he responded by suckling that place just under her ear. A soft moan from her vibrated through him and his hand slid up from her stomach to squeeze her breast.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam,” she said quickly with a hiss. “That hurts.”
He jumped back as much as he could with the arm of the sofa behind him and frowned. “You have never complained of such before.”
She turned in his arms and began to touch his cravat. “They have been tender of late.” Her eyes met his and held them fast. “I am not certain, but I was to have my courses three weeks ago. My aunt believes I am with child.”
His eyes bulged and his jaw dropped.
“I shall not know until the babe quickens, and that will be several months from now.” She studied him while his heart raced for an entirely new reason. He could be a father before their first anniversary. He suddenly became dizzy. “Will you not say something?”
“I should not have teased Richard earlier?”
Elizabeth’s chin hitched back. “I do not understand.”
He shook his head and rested his palm on her stomach. “I cannot believe this has happened so soon.”
“Are you upset?”
His gaze returned to her wide eyes. “No, of course not. I am merely in shock. Little more than two months ago, Georgiana had just wed and I faced the prospect of being alone for the rest of my life. Forgive me if I am overwhelmed. I promise I am far from upset.”
“I do understand.” She rested her head against the back of the furniture and smiled. “Mary and I spoke today of how, since Papa’s death, we reversed our fortunes. Three months ago, I no more expected to be here with you, than you expected to be here with me. I do sometimes wonder how long before I become accustomed to so much change.”
“Well,” he said with a smile. “We have months before our lives will change again, but as long as we have good fortune, I shall welcome it with grace—I hope. With you, I have all I ever dreamt of. Any children that join us will be a blessing. When Jane returned you to me, my fortunes reversed as well. Now, my cup runneth over.”
Elizabeth threw her arms around his neck and held him close. “Oh, Fitzwilliam, I do love you so.” He could not remember a time when his heart was so full or he felt so alive, but in that moment, he considered himself the most fortunate man alive.
I hope you enjoyed this! I’d love to hear what you think!
If you haven’t read Agony and Hope yet, then take a stop by Amazon and pick it up 🙂
I have another Agony and Hope scene for you! Yay! I believe I mentioned on social media that I had rewritten the end of the story because it was too long between the engagement to the wedding then the end. When I did so, we lost a bit on the back end. I tried to move a bit around, so a few lines may be familiar from the argument later in the book between Darcy and the earl. In the earlier version, Darcy and Elizabeth were wed at Pemberley before returning to London to tell the Gardiners of their good health. My daughter revolted and insisted that wouldn’t work. I agreed with her so that bit was rewritten during edits. Other than knowing of a secondary pairing, I’m not sure there’s a spoiler involved. I’ve told everyone there’s an HEA and you know Elizabeth is alive, so I’m not offering a spoiler warning 🙂
In the original draft, this scene occurs after their return to London. Darcy and Elizabeth are wed and Richard and Jane are courting. I have not altered anything to fit the final edit of the book. I have left it as is, so this is completely unedited. Sorry for any errors!
Darcy descended the last step then tugged at the bottom of his topcoat as he glanced about the hall. He had not attended the theatre since Georgiana begged him to take her last Season, but when he mentioned the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane was putting on a production of the Taming of the Shrew, the light in Elizabeth’s eyes convinced him to put aside his desire to keep her to himself and whisk her away to the theatre.
In the month since they returned, they dined with Jane and Richard most evenings, but for the most part, they spent a prodigious amount of time together. Elizabeth and Jane had met with Madame Villers to be fitted for what little spring weather remained as well as for the summer months. They both also purchased fabrics for winter gowns and embroidery supplies to pass the time. Elizabeth selected materials for her rooms at Pemberley as well as Darcy House, though Mrs. Northcott would not begin redecorating until they departed for Pemberley in a fortnight, after they attended Miss Mary’s wedding.
As he made to enter the library to wait upon the ladies, a knock at the door made him pause. Butler was swift to admit Richard, who shook his great coat and removed it, allowing Butler to hurry away with the damp garment. “The fog is thick and has made the chill of the evening a penetrating one. I daresay a certain amount of the cold will remain into May. The weather simply has not warmed as I had hoped it would by now.
“Yes, I was surprised by the chill in the air when I visited my solicitors yesterday.”
Richard chuckled as he followed Darcy into the library. “Perhaps you and your wife should venture from the house more. Her maid accompanies Jane and me on our walks in the park since the two of you remain sequestered more often than not.
“Elizabeth spends time with her sister every day.”
His cousin held up his hands, palms forward. “Do not become offended, Darce. I am merely teasing. Jane has spoken of their time together as well as how she has urged her sister not to feel obliged to her.”
Darcy’s shoulders relaxed, and he lifted his eyebrows. “Jane? Do you have a request to make, Cousin?”
With a smile, Richard’s crooked grin was enough to answer Darcy’s question. “Jane is of age, but I journeyed to Gracechurch street this morning and spoke to Gardiner.”
“Did you?” Darcy sat in a chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. “What did he say?” He was genuinely curious. Mrs. Gardiner regularly visited both Jane and Elizabeth and shopped with them for fabrics, but Gardiner seemed content with Jane remaining Darcy’s responsibility. Not that Darcy minded. They simply had not discussed the matter.
“He indicated you should be applied to for the honour, though he did give his blessing.” Richard sat across from him and mirrored his position with the exception of his foot bobbing in a constant motion—his only outward sign of his agitation. Darcy could not help but smile at the sight of a former colonel in the Regulars nervous at the prospect of applying for a lady’s hand. His cousin had never been one to show his unease, even when he left for the peninsula to fight Napoleon’s army, but to be felled by a simple question was too amusing to overlook.
A low, easy laugh escaped before Darcy could stop it. “Do you love her?”
His cousin let out a growl and shifted as if he still wore a sabre at his hip. “I should have known you would be an arse about this.”
“I hope you do not speak so before your betrothed.” Darcy’s shoulders shook while he held in his amusement. He so seldom had this sort of opportunity. “You did not answer my question.”
Richard picked an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers, refusing to meet Darcy’s eye. “What question?”
“Do you love her?”
“Yes,” said Richard forcefully. “Are you pleased?”
“Yes, thank you, though you surrendered much sooner than I would have thought.”
“With Jane or with this conversation?”
“Both.” He cleared his throat in an attempt to stop laughing. “Have you told her you are in love with her?”
“Yes, not that it is any of your business.” He tugged at his cuffs.
Darcy pressed his lips together and reined in his amusement. “Forgive me for finding humour at your expense.” He blinked a couple of times. How best to say this? “You are a good man, a good cousin, an esteemed friend. You are more loyal than most I know and will put yourself in harm’s way to ensure those you care for are unharmed. You are not reticent, by any means, but you do not share your feelings with ease. When I asked if you told Jane, I wanted to know if you could speak to her of matters close to your heart. I am glad to know you trust her enough to share your concerns. You have my blessing and consent.”
Richard shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “Thank you.” He picked at one of his fingernails before meeting Darcy’s eye. “And, yes, I can speak to her. I told her of Carlisle.”
“What did she say?”
“She understood why I was uncomfortable with the title and my position, yet she convinced me to be more accepting of it all since Carlisle will never return.”
If Jane had been successful at his cousin finally accepting what his aunts and Darcy had been saying since the announcement of Carlisle’s supposed death, then she would be good for him. “Did she tell you about Bingley?”
Richard rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Bingley never deserved her, yet I disagree with your actions at the time. If I had known her when you told me of separating Bingley from an unsuitable lady, I would have hit you without holding back for hurting her. You were wrong, even though I believe you did her a tremendous favour.”
“I did tell Bingley of my interference at Pemberley. He claimed he would return to Hertfordshire for her, but never did. I am certain Miss Bingley heard of the family’s predicament, which was why she insisted upon him giving up the lease to Netherfield.” Bingley had been weak willed. He did not deserve someone as good and kind as Jane Bennet.
Musical laughter sliced through the heaviness of the conversation and beckoned to him. At her appearance in the doorway, he stood and welcomed Elizabeth with an outstretched hand to draw her close. A lingering kiss was bestowed to her knuckles as he drank in her beauty. Her eyes sparkled and her complexion glowed. The gauzy crimson fabric of her gown brought a bit of colour to her cheeks, and his mother’s rubies stood in stark contrast to the fairness of her neck.
When he forced his attention from his wife, he turned in time to witness the slight tilt of Jane’s head and her soft smile. The expression was similar to one she had worn for Bingley, yet her eyes held a depth that was not present years ago when she had looked upon his friend. Richard’s gentle gaze held his betrothed’s eyes while he brushed a light kiss to the back of her hand. Tenderness was not a word he would have ever associated with his cousin, yet watching him with Jane, he witnessed a side of his cousin he had never known.
In that moment, his regrets about his part in Jane’s separation from Bingley disappeared entirely—that niggling in his gut that would not let him forget what he had cost her. Jane had found a love more fulfilling than what she could have ever had with the man who was once his close friend.
He turned to Elizabeth’s eyebrows drawn down a bit in the middle. “Forgive me. I am happy for them. She seems much happier with Richard than she was with Bingley.”
“She is,” said Elizabeth. “She has told me as much. The circumstances of the past few years have changed her, and she has wondered if Mr. Bingley would have resented her for Lydia’s downfall. Richard knows of everything—of Lydia and St. Giles—and still wants her. I do not know what they have spoken of, but she has indicated he has confided a great deal to her. She is honoured by his trust.” She studied his face for a moment. “You did give your consent, did you not?”
“Of course, I did. Richard is a good man and like a brother to me. I could not deny him love, particularly when I believe Jane is precisely what he needs.” He brushed his lips against her hand one more time before Butler interrupted to inform them the carriage had been brought around.
After donning their coats and hats, the gentlemen handed in their ladies before joining them, though sitting together since propriety dictated Jane and Elizabeth share a seat. The trip to the Theatre Royal was not a long one, so they soon alighted in front and helped the ladies dodge the remnants of the horses to enter the building.
Darcy removed his great coat, handing it to his waiting footman, before helping Elizabeth with her cape. Once his servant was in possession of their belongings, he hurried up to the boxes to await their party.
Under the light of the candles, Elizabeth glowed as those fine eyes that enchanted him looked up and down at the grandeur of the new theatre that had replaced the former, which burned in 1809. His eyes traced over her now full head of auburn curls, which allowed Taylor to use jewelled pins, combs, and ribbons to give her a more stylish coiffure. Tonight, Taylor used a crimson ribbon to match the hue of Elizabeth’s gown.
“Shall we make our way to the boxes?” asked Richard with Jane on his arm.
Darcy looked around at a sea of people, some of whom were noting his entrance and examining Elizabeth in great detail as she had her hand upon his arm. “I believe so.”
One or two acquaintances stopped them along the way. Darcy politely introduced Elizabeth, and since most knew Richard, he introduced Jane as his cousin’s betrothed, raising more than a few eyebrows in the process. They had barely reached the staircase when a hand grasped Darcy’s arm and whipped him around.
“Have you so little respect, boy?”
He ensured Elizabeth was well, then stiffened, drawing himself as tall as he could. “I beg your pardon, Lord Fitzwilliam. Is there a problem?”
“A problem?” His uncle hissed spraying spittle in the process. “I bring you suitable candidates to be your wife, and you choose this chit?” Lord Fitzwilliam’s eyes raked over Elizabeth as though she were covered in filth. “Have you forgotten what you owe your family? What you owe me?” People around them halted their conversations to watch the spectacle with eager eyes, and no doubt, storing away what was said to gossip about during their calls on the morrow.
“I told you years ago I would not agree to your marriage schemes. I wed my wife with nothing but my own happiness and that of hers in mind. I owe you nothing.” He needed to rid himself of his uncle, even though the earl was only making himself appear the fool.
“No more,” said Darcy with a firmness that made his uncle clamp his mouth shut. “I have told no one of the breach between our houses, but your display of ill-temper tonight should have tongues wagging for weeks. Do you wish all and sundry to know why I have broken with you?”
His uncle peered over one shoulder then the other. “This is not over, Darcy.”
Darcy chuckled and leaned closer to the earl. “This is indeed over. You tend to your house, and I shall tend to mine. While you are doing so, you might spend less time at the club playing cards. I believe you have enough of Carlisle’s and his wife’s gambling debts to pay.”
Lord Fitzwilliam turned a brilliant shade of red that nearly matched the colour of Elizabeth’s gown before Darcy turned his back and started to lead his party up the stairs.
“You,” said the earl in a sneer.
Richard gave no indication of disquiet nor did he bow. “My Lord, I am here with my cousin and betrothed.” He rested a hand atop Jane’s on his arm. “Miss Bennet, this man is my father the Earl Fitzwilliam. He will never be admitted into our homes.”
“You will not marry that trollop!” All talk within the room silenced as the few who had not already been taking in the spectacle turned to watch. “I forbid it.”
Jane’s hand slid into Richard’s as he stepped down so he was face to face with his father. “Forbid my marriage all you wish. You will not stop me, and I shall never wed someone of your choosing. In that, Darcy and I are of precisely the same mind. You have attempted to twist and bend the will of your family until we act as you desire. By joining the Regulars, I removed myself from your machinations long ago, and while I am now your heir, I refuse to be controlled by you.”
Richard turned his back on his father and drew Jane beside him as they ascended the stairs. The crowd began to murmur, surely shocked at what had just occurred. They may have attended for “The Taming of the Shrew,” but they had an earlier offering that would be spoken of in the drawing rooms around London for weeks if not months, particularly in light of the common knowledge of Lady Fitzwilliam’s solitary living arrangement.
They were quiet until they reached the box, but the moment the curtain fell behind them, Richard dragged Jane back into the dim recesses and took her in his arms. When Darcy glanced about the theatre, a few people sat in their boxes or in their seats below, but the vast majority were still in the entrance hall. He looked back to see Richard’s head on Jane’s shoulder while she whispered into his ear.
He steered Elizabeth so they stood in front of his cousin and her sister, blocking them from the general view of the theatre. “I apologise for my uncle’s spectacle.” His uncle had never been one to enjoy the theatre, and he had never expected his uncle to confront them in such a public manner. The earl’s concern over appearances typically overrode his affront, so tonight’s exhibition was not something he ever imagined would take place in the theatre or anywhere else.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” said Elizabeth in hushed tones. “Will Richard be well?”
“I am certain he will. He abhors what his father is and avoids him as does Lady Fitzwilliam.” At her crinkled forehead, he moved so his mouth was near her ear. “It is common knowledge among the Ton that my uncle lives with his mistress. My aunt insisted he go years ago, and he has never returned—not that she is amenable.”
Elizabeth blinked rapidly for a few seconds and shook her head. “What a shame. He will one day have no one but himself for comfort.”
“He has no one to blame but himself,” said Richard as he and Jane joined them. “Forgive me. I fear my father and I shall never see eye to eye. Darcy’s father took me in when I left home and Pemberley was where I returned from Cambridge as well as where I returned when I had leave from the military. Darcy, Georgiana, and my mother are my family. Before Jane, I was unsure if I would ever trust someone enough to have a marriage like my Uncle and Aunt Darcy or even you and Darcy. When he threatened that, I—”
Elizabeth squeezed his cousin’s hand and shook her head. “You need not explain yourself to me. Jane seems to know all and that is what is most important. We shall make the announcement of your betrothal in the paper, and the two of you will wed by special license like Fitzwilliam and I did.” She tipped her head down to ensure Richard met her eye. “Do not let him ruin our evening.”
“Thank you, Lizzy,” said Jane, who hugged Richard’s arm to her.
Darcy drew his wife back to his side and kissed her temple. He cared not if all of the Ton called him besotted. He was, after all. “I do not believe my uncle will carry through on his threats, but we should send the betrothal announcement tomorrow. We will also obtain the license. Georgiana and Witney return to town in two days.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I can plan a simple wedding breakfast in two days.”
He nodded. “Good, I say the sooner we have them wed, the better.”
Happy Monday! I promised once Agony and Hope had been released for a bit, I’d post an outtake for you! I have always said it is a HEA story, but just in case SPOILER WARNING, if you haven’t read it. Just to set up the scene–this takes place during the trip back to London to reveal all to the Gardiners and the other HEA bits. This is from the first draft, so it has not gone through editing and a bit rough. The story was also a bit different at the time so I’ve had to adapt it to fit the newer timeline. I hope you enjoy!
A Call to Mrs. Bennet
Elizabeth’s temple rested against the squabs while the scenery passed through the carriage window. They had not tarried at Drayton for long after the betrothal. The following day, Fitzwilliam had sent out letters arranging their travel and requesting the Gardiner’s company at Darcy House for dinner within the next se’nnight after their return. They had departed as soon as the horses had their rest and were, at last, on their final day of travel. As much as Elizabeth had wished to either remain at Drayton or start their lives at Pemberley, she had no choice but to go to town, though she had not relished the prospect of their return journey. She was weary of travel.
Her stomach rolled at the idea of revealing herself to her aunt and uncle, and she pressed a hand to her belly to quell the unrest. The disquiet within, however, was not caused by the nervousness of telling them, but rather, their possible reaction to the shocking news. They would be upset, to be sure, but would they forgive her? She and Jane had worried them and cost them some much needed funds investigating their disappearance. Her uncle’s children were more entitled to that money than the Bennet daughters, which was why Elizabeth and Jane had hidden themselves away in the first place. The Gardiners should not have been forced to bear the cost of their impoverished family. Elizabeth loved her father dearly, but his failings as head of the family had not gone unnoticed.
Elizabeth faced forward where her betrothed of four days sat across from her, reading Milton. The night before they departed, he had mentioned how she proved a most effective distraction from his reading, and how, when in her company, he had attempted to read passages more than once without a pittance of success. At the moment, he appeared engrossed in the prose upon the page instead of her. Was she still a distraction or had their engagement been the antidote to his affliction?
She bit her lip and smiled as she slid her foot forward to tap Fitzwilliam’s boot. At the contact, he glanced to Jane and Richard who both slept against the side of the carriage, closed his book, and lifted his eyebrows. The stiff edge of his boot grazed her ankle. “What are you about, Miss Elizabeth?” He spoke in soft tones.
“How do you get on reading today, sir?”
One side of his lips quirked and he shook his head. “Not at all. I must discover how to free myself of this interference. Do you have any ideas for my relief?”
“I can think of several, sir.” How she would adore kissing him again! The mere thought was enough to give her gooseflesh.
“Can you?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “And what do you suggest?”
“Perhaps using second carriage for your cousin and future sister,” said Richard dryly. He had not opened his eyes or moved his head. “Then, we would not be forced to endure listening your flirtatious drivel.” Elizabeth started, pulled back her walking boot, and directed her attention back to the passing scenery. How mortifying! She would not have engaged Fitzwilliam in such a way if she had known Richard could hear.
“You could have mentioned you were awake instead of eavesdropping,” said Fitzwilliam.
Richard straightened and rolled his eyes. “You know I cannot read in a moving carriage, which leaves me little to do for pleasure. I sometimes prefer to keep my eyes closed and rest when I cannot find sleep. I have made this journey often and no longer obtain enjoyment from watching the woods and farmland pass by the window.”
As they passed an inn, Elizabeth frowned and followed the building until it disappeared from her line of sight. “Fitzwilliam? Are we in Hatfield?”
He peered through the window and shrugged. “I am not sure, but we should be in Hertfordshire.”
“I know where we are. I rode with Papa once to fetch a book he wanted from a bookseller in Hatfield. This is not the road one usually travels to journey to London.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are we going to Longbourn?”
He sighed and his shoulders dropped a bit. “No, but I did plan our final stop for Meryton. I meant to surprise you. The horses could rest, and you and Jane could see your mother and sister before we continue our journey.”
“Mama?” Jane sat up. “We are to visit Mama?”
“Yes, unless you would rather not.” His eyes darted back and forth between them. “We can bypass Meryton and stop at the next village.”
Elizabeth reached forward and took his hand. “This was incredibly thoughtful of you. Thank you. We should tell Mama in person. I am ashamed for not considering her.” He squeezed her hand in return.
“I thought of Mama.” They all looked at Jane who sighed. “I do care for my mother’s feelings, yet I feel guiltier about deceiving Uncle Gardiner than Mama. We were his responsibility, and he was left to tell Mama of our disappearance, pay for the investigators, then inform her of our death. He and our aunt have always loved us like their own children and were likely beside themselves with worry and grief. I do not mean to belittle my mother’s feelings, but my concern lay more with speaking to our aunt and uncle than Mama. I thought after speaking to them, I would request we travel to Meryton if no one else made mention of it.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath as she sat back in the seat. Their first day of reckoning would come sooner than she had initially planned, but her mother would not be as difficult. Mama would moan and complain of her nerves, but would, no doubt, forgive them—particularly when Elizabeth introduced Fitzwilliam as her betrothed. She only hoped Francis Bennet would not faint dead away upon hearing the happy news. She chewed on her lip. What if her mother began raving about Fitzwilliam’s wealth? She stiffened at the thought.
Something tapped her walking boot, making her jump. “Stop fretting,” said Fitzwilliam. “I remember your mother well.”
Jane nudged Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Perhaps we should purchase salts prior to our call.” After laughing at Jane’s comment, the carriage became eerily quiet as though they were to attend a funeral rather than resurrecting a loved one from the ashes.
The miles dragged by until they alighted in front of the Cross Keys inn. Fitzwilliam offered Elizabeth his arm, and they walked in the direction of Longbourn, though they stopped well before at a small but well-tended cottage at the edge of the village.
Her eyes roved over the façade, which boasted a newly thatched roof evident by the fresh straw colour of the reeds and sedge. “How do you know where they live?
“Your uncle told me of it the evening I learnt of your death.” She gripped Fitzwilliam’s elbow and shook her free arm in an attempt to dispel some of her nerves.
Richard unlatched the gate and held it open. “So, shall we go in or shall we stand here for the next hour or two and speak of the weather?” When they approached the door, Jane knocked then grasped Elizabeth’s free hand.
The door opened a crack and a familiar face peeked through before it swung the remainder of the way. “Miss Bennet! Miss Elizabeth! Oh! Bless my soul!”
“Hello, Mrs. Hill,” said Elizabeth. “I was not aware you stayed with Mama. Are you and Mr. Hill well?”
The housekeeper hurried them inside. “Yes, Mr. Hill and I are very well, thank you. I am relieved to see you young ladies hale and standing before me.” Her eyes flickered to Fitzwilliam and Richard before the latter requested they be introduced.
Jane moved to stand beside Mrs. Hill. “Mr. Darcy, you may remember Mrs. Hill? She was our housekeeper at Longbourn.” She held her hand in the direction of Fitzwilliam. “Mr. Darcy and my sister were lately engaged.”
The woman’s eyes widened to the size of horse chestnuts. “Thank the Lord I bought more salts this week.” She bent closer to Elizabeth. “You had best ensure your mother is sitting when you tell her the news. That way, you need not catch her when she faints.”
“Mrs. Hill,” said Jane who gestured towards Richard. “This gentleman is Viscount Carlisle, Mr. Darcy’s cousin.”
“My Lord,” said Mrs. Hill with a bobbed curtsey. “Let me show you to the parlour. I shall not introduce you since I am certain you will want to tell your mother yourself.” She opened the first door in the entry and held out an arm, gesturing for them to enter. Elizabeth and Jane shared a glance before her sister stepped inside with Elizabeth bracing herself before following.
“Hill, when will you bring tea? We always have tea at one.” Her mother never looked up from her needlework until she let her hand holding the frame drop into her lap. “Hill—” As soon as her eyes set upon her two eldest, she gasped then gaped for at least a minute before she swayed in her seat.
“Mama!” They rushed to their mother’s side and knelt at her feet. “’Tis truly us,” said Elizabeth. “We hid from Uncle Gardiner so he would not need to support us.”
When she still did not speak, Jane took the embroidery from her and clutched her hands. “Mama, will you not say something?”
“Your uncle said you were dead. When I first saw you, I thought you had come to take me.”
Elizabeth’s hands joined Jane’s. “No, we are not dead. Unfortunately, we did lead Uncle to believe us to be. We are terribly sorry for causing you pain, but Uncle could not afford to support us all, regardless of how he wished he could.” Elizabeth waved Fitzwilliam and his cousin inside the room. “Mama, do you remember Mr. Darcy?” No matter what she and Jane said, with the exception of the one sentence, her mother sat in stunned silence. Her sister shrugged at the uncharacteristic behaviour. Was this to be the extent of their visit? Surely there had to be some way of snapping her from this stupor.
She stood, wrapped her fingers around Fitzwilliam’s arm, and held out her hand to show off a ring Fitzwilliam had given her to mark their betrothal. “Mr. Darcy asked me to marry him. Is that not wonderful.”
At the mention of his name, Richard stepped beside Fitzwilliam and bowed. “Mrs. Bennet, ’tis a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Her mother blinked, looked to Fitzwilliam, then to Richard. She extended an arm and pointed at Elizabeth’s hand. Elizabeth held it out as her mother peered down at the ring. When she lifted her head, she still appeared dazed until without warning, she clasped her hands together. “Thank heavens! We are saved! Hill! Where is that tea?” She began waving a handkerchief that appeared out of nowhere. “Oh! What a good girl you are? And so clever!” Her mother stopped flapping the bit of muslin long enough to wink in an overdramatic fashion.
Elizabeth’s eyes bulged. What? Oh Lord! Her mother could not possibly be implying—
“I suppose he is marrying you because you are with child. Of course, every gentleman wants an heir.” Richard began coughing as though he were choking. “At the assembly, they said his income was ten-thousand pounds!” She enunciated Fitzwilliam’s income. In that moment, Elizabeth wished to shrink to the size of an ant, if such a thing were possible. “Ten-thousand pounds! And so handsome! Oh! I shall go distracted. Where are my salts? Hill! Hillllll!”
Elizabeth turned her head into Fitzwilliam’s arm and closed her eyes. Her mother thought she hid to become Fitzwilliam’s mistress. She would die of shame.
“Mrs. Bennet,” said Fitzwilliam, “I was as shocked as you when I discovered your daughters were alive. I loved your daughter when I stayed at Netherfield three years ago, but I never declared myself. I meant to when I happened upon Elizabeth visiting my estate with her aunt and uncle a year later, but they departed Derbyshire before I could propose. The Gardiners told me of her disappearance when all was for naught. When I found her last month, I decided I could not rest until she was my bride. I would never make her an improper offer. I beg you not to insult either of us by implying otherwise.”
How Elizabeth wanted to take his face in her hands and kiss him most improperly! Her mother’s mouth opened and closed before her jaw snapped shut.
Fitzwilliam’s body shifted slightly and a kiss was bestowed to her temple. “I love you,” he whispered near her ear. “We shall be gone for London soon.”
Elizabeth lifted her head to meet his eye. “Thank you.”
Mrs. Bennet began to fan her handkerchief once more. “Then I suppose you have come for Jane,” she said looking to the viscount. “Oh! I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing. A viscount! Hillllll!”
Mrs. Hill bustled in with the tea service, set it on the table, then wafted a small jar of salts before Mrs. Bennet’s nose. Their mother flinched and began shaking that ridiculous scrap of cloth.
“Mama,” said Jane, “where is Kitty?”
“She went to visit my sister. She was supposed to return before tea.” She turned wide eyes on her callers. “You will stay for tea, will you not?” She began spooning the crushed leaves into the pot until with a swift movement, she looked at Jane then Elizabeth. “Why do you stand there so? And why are you still wearing bonnets? Sit!” She giggled as she continued her preparations. “Lady Lucas will be so jealous. I will have Mr. Darcy and very likely a viscount for sons when she has only Mr. Collins.”
Jane sat upon the small settee. “Has Maria never married?”
“She is betrothed to the youngest Goulding boy.” She gave a sniff. “He is a cleric.”
“A cleric is quite respectable,” said Elizabeth.
“He is no viscount nor is he worth ten-thousand a year.” Their mother pressed her palms together as if she were praying. “Lady Carlisle.” The words were said in almost a reverent whisper. “How well that sounds!”
“La! The two of you have been alive all this time? What a joke!” The entire room pivoted to Kitty who stood in the doorway. “And Mr. Darcy? What is he doing here?”
Mrs. Bennet nodded her head in Elizabeth’s direction. “He and Lizzy are to be married, and Jane marry Lord Carlisle.” The last was said reverently and with dreamy eyes aimed at Richard, who stepped back and stood half-way between her mother and the door, as one might do when considering a swift escape.
“We are not even courting, Mama.”
“Oh!” She gave a dismissive flick of her wrist. “You are as good as married. I am certain of it.”
Kitty skipped to the window and plunked into the closest chair. “If Jane has returned, then I need not live with Uncle Gardiner as she can live with them and help with the children.” Elizabeth had hoped Kitty had matured without Lydia’s influence, but her hopes seemed to have been in vain.
Mama exhaled dramatically. “No, you will go. Your uncle can afford you much better than me, and with your sister’s betrothals, you will be thrown into the paths of rich men. ’Tis a shame you aren’t as agreeable as Lydia or beautiful as Jane, but look at Mary. If she can capture a man of reasonable wealth, so can you.”
Elizabeth gripped Fitzwilliam’s arm, her fingernails digging into the wool of his topcoat. “We should be returning to the inn. The horses will have been changed by now.”
“I am sure they have.” Fitzwilliam took her mother’s hand and bowed. “Pray, forgive the brevity of our call, but we did want to inform you of the good health of your daughters in person.”
“Mama, we are to dine with our aunt and uncle this week. We plan to tell them then,” said Jane as Richard helped her stand. “We would appreciate you not write to Aunt of our visit for the time being.”
Their mother huffed and flattened her lips. “But I may tell the local families?”
Elizabeth suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Yes, you may.”Her mother allowed a smug smile and clasped her hands, her shoulders lifting with the motion. “Lady Carlisle! How well that sounds!” Was that Jane who had groaned?
So, was Mrs. Bennet’s behavior mortifying? I bet Jane and Elizabeth think so!
If you haven’t read Agony and Hope, it is currently available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback!
Happy Thursday, everyone! It’s been a crazy week. We find out we’re moving… AGAIN! And, Agony and Hope is released! I’d like to thank everyone who helped get my book baby out: Carol, who edited it, Debbie and Brenna for proofreading, my ARC readers, and then everyone who has purchased and reviewed it. What a roller coaster!
This book started in my head years ago with the scene of Jane showing up at Darcy’s door. The scenario flitted back into my mind from time to time. I would let it play out but I never sat down to start writing it out until late last year. The injury to my back slowed my writing down a lot and created a lot of inconsistencies that I had to go back and fix once I’d written the entire thing. I’d changed names and all sorts of problems. The ending was also longer. I have a scene that was cut that I will rework and post later. The ending was changed in editing, so I’ll have to do a bit of tweaking to it so I don’t contradict the published story.
Anyway, I will see what I can spruce up from my original manuscript to give you a bit more over the next couple of weeks. I’m trying to flesh out a new story, so we’ll see when and what I can come up with.
In the meantime, thank you for all of your kind words on Agony and Hope, and if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Go read!!
Release day is tomorrow! I hope you have preordered your Kindle or ordered your paperback so you can get reading! We have one more small excerpt posting on Austen Variations tomorrow during the release day celebration. If you have missed the previews, you can catch up by clicking for the previous chapters:
“I have endured the deepest agony, only to be shown a hope so bright I cannot but yearn for it.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy is mourning the love he lost—a love that was never allowed to bloom. What will become of him when Georgiana is wed, and he is left by himself? He cannot give away a heart not his own. Must he remain in this mournful existence, anticipating the nights to come, where in his dreams, he can finally be with Elizabeth, a spectre of his once living, breathing beloved. When a surprise visitor brings unexpected news, his hope is breathed back to life. Will he finally obtain his deepest desires? Will Fitzwilliam Darcy be able to leave behind the agony of the past and hope for the future he once thought impossible?
Due to circumstances beyond her control, Elizabeth Bennet’s family is irrevocably altered. Her father is dead, Lydia is missing, and her mother and remaining sisters are to be relegated to a life of poverty. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s behaviour at Pemberley indicates he still loves her, but too much has happened. She can never hope for him to once again make the offer of his hand. Elizabeth’s sole option is to abandon the life she once led and start anew. But what happens when her path once again crosses with the love she thought lost to her? Will Elizabeth choose to protect him with the one option available to her or will she put aside the agony of the past and choose hope?
There are also reviews! One is already posted on Amazon, but you can find all 4 of the early reviews posted on Goodreads 🙂 I hope you’ll also write your review once you’ve read it!
So, let’s talk specifics… and maybe a few vague hints!
The most common concern when people read the initial chapters is whether there is a HEA. Yes, there is a HEA!
I’ve been asked if there is steam. Yes, there is chemistry and steam, but no sex scenes. Sorry to those who enjoy those, but they didn’t fit with the storyline. For those who prefer stories without that sort of content, this will work for you!
How long is the book? Paperback is 266 pages. It’s just under 70K words.