I am so excited to welcome Joana Starnes back to Diary of an Eccentric today! I became a fan of hers after devouring and absolutely loving The Subsequent Proposal, in which she brilliantly blended Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, and The Unthinkable Triangle, in which she seriously (and again, brilliantly) had me worried about Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s happily ever after. Joana is back with Miss Darcy’s Companion, which I will be reviewing here this summer. I can’t wait to read it! Please welcome Joana as she shares an excerpt from the novel and graciously offers a copy to one of my readers.
Many thanks, Anna, for welcoming me here today on the blog tour for my latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Miss Darcy’s Companion.
In this story Elizabeth and Mr Darcy’s acquaintance does not start at the Meryton assembly with a most ungentlemanly comment. Instead, they come across each other in a fashionable townhouse, where the recently bereaved Miss Elizabeth Bennet is temporarily employed as a governess to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s nieces and nephew. But the children’s mother, Lady Stretton, is about as pleasant as Lady Catherine de Bourgh towards her social inferiors. So what are knights in shining armour to do when faced with a damsel in distress?
Before long, at his cousin’s persuasion, Mr Darcy rather reluctantly agrees to let his dear sister have a say in choosing her companion. Georgiana would much rather not have Mrs Younge. In fact, she would greatly prefer Miss Bennet.
I hope you’ll like the following excerpt. Having been detained by family obligations, Mr Darcy finally joins his sister and her new companion at Pemberley to learn what they have been up to in his absence. Despite Miss Bennet’s young years and obvious inexperience as a lady’s companion, she seems a good choice. She is cheerful, kind and outgoing and might help Georgiana conquer her shyness. But is that all she is? Or is Mr Darcy to discover that he has bitten rather more than he could chew?
“You will find that I have become quite the walker, Brother. Lizzy and I have ventured further than I have ever gone before.”
“Escorted, I hope,” Darcy frowned in expectation, and Miss Bennet promptly reassured him.
“Of course, Sir. I have not seen the need in my Hertfordshire rambles, but here it was a different matter. The paths were unknown to me, and besides I had your sister’s welfare to consider.”
“I appreciate your diligence, Miss Bennet. And I expect this good practice to continue even when you have grown familiar with the area, regardless of whether Georgiana accompanies you or not.”
At that, Miss Bennet’s eyes flashed briefly towards him.
“I am quite accustomed to looking after myself, Sir,” she replied, but for all her civility of manner, Darcy could not fail to detect the mutinous undertones.
Riled in no small measure, he shot back:
“Are you now! Pray tell me, how would you fare if you were to come across ruffians or simply twist your ankle? Self-sufficiency is one thing, Miss Bennet. Recklessness is quite another. You will not leave the formal gardens unescorted, and that is the end of the matter,” he said flatly and reached for his cup of tea.
A heavy silence fell. Miss Bennet’s eyes were trained upon her plate, and Darcy could only wonder if they hid distress, remorse or further rebellion. Across from him Georgiana fidgeted, casting uncomfortable glances from her companion to her brother. This riled him too. For the second time since his arrival he had been cast into the part of the unbending ogre, and he did not appreciate it in the slightest. Which was one of the reasons why he morosely observed, “If we are to go riding, Georgiana, perhaps you ought to go and change.”
His sister required no further prompting and stood to do as bid. Her glance still averted, her companion dabbed her lips in readiness to follow, presumably thinking herself likewise dismissed, but Darcy was quick to disabuse her of that notion.
“Miss Bennet, a word, if you please.”
She kept her seat and her back stiffened, but still did not look up when she was spoken to. This sort of conduct bordered not merely on a level of insubordination he was not accustomed to, but was beginning to skirt the edges of downright incivility.
Darcy took a deep breath to calm himself. In living memory he had not lost his temper with one of his people and, by Jove, a slip of a girl would not provoke him into it today. Lady Stretton might have been a nuisance in so many ways, but perhaps she had the right of the matter in one respect at least. He would have known where he stood with an experienced companion for Georgiana – much more so than with a young lady freshly out of the schoolroom and scarcely accustomed to working for a living. Most certainly he would not have had this sort of trouble from the likes of Mrs Younge. He might have to remedy that error and reconsider Miss Bennet’s employment. But that was for another day. For now, he sought to regulate his voice to deliver sensibly and calmly:
“If we get to know each other better, you will see that I do not seek to rule my household with an iron fist, Miss Bennet. However, I do expect my people to obey sensible requests. And also to look at me when spoken to.”
She did as bid at last, only to shock him into momentary silence. Unshed tears glimmered in her eyes and it was Darcy’s turn to look away, caught between embarrassment and exasperation. Heavens, what now? Was she distressed by his forceful manner or were they tears of indignation at being ordered about? She must have reflected, with either sadness or vexation, that she would not have had to bend to a stranger’s will, had her father been alive. The notion struck a chord, because of Georgiana. How would she have fared, had she found herself dislodged from her place in the world, deprived of protection, forced to earn her keep? It did not bear thinking and, thank goodness, it would never happen; the Darcy name and fortune would always be her shelter, come what may. The young woman before him had none of those advantages. And only the likes of Lady Stretton would blame her if she still struggled to adjust to a very different way of life. Darcy cleared his voice.
“Forgive me for distressing you with my forthrightness, Miss Bennet. I only had your safety in mind. I should not wish to be forced to write to your pa–… your relations that you have been harmed whilst your welfare was my responsibility,” he offered mildly, and was pleased to see that the altered manner had the desired effect and her strained countenance softened.
“‘Tis I who should beg your pardon, Mr Darcy. I fear that my upbringing has had a major flaw, in that it has not taught me the virtues of unquestioning obedience, but rather the opposite. It does not serve me well under the circumstances,” she concluded with a conscious smile, which Darcy mirrored.
“I suppose I should find it in me to be grateful for the practice. A time might come when Georgiana’s mind is different from my own. But let us not hasten that day if we could help it and, for the sake of household harmony, pray do not make a habit of questioning my requests. With some degree of effort, I might be able to disguise some of them as suggestions, but that would not apply to all by any means,” he added, only partly in jest.
Her earnest reply showed she had grasped his meaning: not just light-hearted repartee, but a structuring for the future.
“I thank you for your understanding patience. All I can say, and it is not in my defence, quite the contrary, is that in your welcoming household I found it all too easy to remember how it felt to be my father’s daughter. Lady Stretton had never allowed such licence. Not everyone would.”
“Not everyone has a young sister whom they would not wish to imagine in trying circumstances,” Darcy owned candidly, then stood. “Speaking of which, I should not keep Georgiana waiting any longer. Pray find yourself a cheerful way to pass the time, Miss Bennet, and I urge you to consider allowing one of my grooms to help you overcome your reservations about riding. Derbyshire is best seen on horseback and someday you might find pleasure in joining us.”
“I would only slow you down, I fear. In my most sanguine hopes I cannot imagine mastering anything faster than a canter. Enjoy your ride, Mr Darcy and, once again, I thank you,” she added softly and was gone, leaving him in a far better frame of mind than he had been but a half-hour ago.
So much so that when he found Georgiana by the stables, already in her riding habit and waiting for him, he met her troubled glance with a light chuckle.
“Do not look so concerned, sweetling, I have not devoured your Miss Lizzy for breakfast. She is safe and well, awaiting your return.”
Georgiana’s brows shot up at the uncharacteristic levity but she made no reply, presumably because a groom was by then approaching with their mounts. With a nod of thanks to the man, Darcy helped his sister into the saddle, then leisurely swung into his.
“So… all is well?” Georgiana tentatively asked as they took to the road together.
“All is well. But pray tell me, is she always so wilful?”
“Not that I have noticed,” his sister laughed lightly in response. “But then I am nowhere near as strong-willed as you, so there was little risk of our tempers clashing.”
He conceded her the point, although that brought a different reason for concern. Of course, Georgiana could benefit from the good example of a more outgoing nature, but if she was led by a stronger character, all manner of mischief could brew should she be led in the wrong direction.
Darcy snorted. He had hoped to share the responsibility of his sister’s welfare with a female companion engaged for the purpose, yet there he was instead, in charge of not one but two young ladies of a trying age. His aunt Malvern might have had the right of it. Everything would be a great deal easier if he married.
He snorted again, less audibly this time, lest he should attract Georgiana’s notice. The matchmaking matrons of the ton would laugh themselves into a stupor if he, who had so far resisted all their concerted efforts, should be brought down by a couple of young lasses. Heaven help him if Georgiana and her companion should try his patience enough to goad him into matrimony!
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and that you’ll like the full story. Please leave a comment with your email address by Sunday, June 5 for the chance to win a Kindle copy of Miss Darcy’s Companion, available internationally. Thanks for stopping by and many thanks again, Anna, for the lovely welcome at Diary of an Eccentric, you’re so kind to have me as your guest!
About the author:
Joana Starnes lives in the South of England with her family. She has published six Austen-related novels:
- From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley ~ A Pride & Prejudice sequel
- The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion
- The Second Chance ~ A Pride & Prejudice – Sense & Sensibility Variation
- The Falmouth Connection ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation set in Poldark territory
- The Unthinkable Triangle ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation, where loyalty comes at loggerheads with love
- Miss Darcy’s Companion ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation
They are available on all Amazon sites.
You can connect with Joana Starnes on
Or visit ‘All Roads Lead to Pemberley’ on Facebook, for places, events and titbits that have inspired her novels.
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