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I’m absolutely thrilled to be hosting Joana Starnes on her blog tour today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, A Timely Elopement. Joana is here to share a little about the book as well as an excerpt. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Thank you, Anna, for welcoming me here today to share an excerpt from my latest book, A Timely Elopement.

This variation spins off from P&P in Charlotte’s parlour at Hunsford, where Mr Darcy is about to deliver his insulting first proposal. And he has absolutely no idea just how lucky he is that Colonel Fitzwilliam storms in to let him know that their cousin Anne had eloped – with Wickham! Thus, there is no time for a confrontation between our favourite characters, and Mr Darcy is not shot down in flames for a change.

I loved following this premise, but writing about an unreformed Darcy was a bit of a challenge. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun to imagine him saying the wrong things and misreading Elizabeth’s reactions. The problem was that I often forgot just how annoying he was meant to be in the early stages, soon after his interrupted proposal.

He was not supposed to be selfless and considerate, not for a fair while yet! Even so, the Mr Darcy we all love kept trying to make his way into the story (the Mr Darcy who had become aware of his errors, deeply regretted them and was keen to make amends). Shushing him and keeping him in the wings really went against the grain, and I couldn’t wait to give him enough reasons to break through.

As always, it was wonderful to rely on Colonel Fitzwilliam for help: our favourite matchmaker and the voice of reason who teases and cajoles his cousin onto the right path.

The excerpt I’d like to share with you today takes us to one of those moments when the dear colonel loves to have his say. And he’s not in the least put off by the fact that he needs to start with an apology (or several) for spilling the beans about Mr Bingley:

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A TIMELY ELOPEMENT

(Excerpt from Chapter 6)

“Terribly sorry, Darcy,” he said with deep contrition. “Landed you right in it, eh?”

“Just so,” came the grim confirmation.

“But… what of the strong objections you spoke of?” Fitzwilliam asked, his air puzzled and concerned.

Darcy dismissed the question with a flick of his hand.

“They have little bearing in my case. Pemberley is a long way from Hertfordshire. Besides, Elizabeth is not—”

He broke off and frowned. His main argument against Bingley’s marriage was that his friend would have been accepted as a means to an end. It was plain to see that Miss Bennet’s heart was not touched. He was about to say that Elizabeth was nothing like her cool, insipid and calculating sister, nor was she indifferent to him as Miss Bennet was to Bingley. But, knowing what he now knew, could he still vouch for her affection? She said she would have refused him. If she cared for him, why would she?

“Is not what?” Fitzwilliam prompted, distracting him from the troubling question.

“No matter,” he said tersely, his jaw taut.

Still remorseful, Fitzwilliam resumed with some determination:

“Let me apologise again for speaking out of turn. I hope I did not make things too difficult for you.”

“You did,” Darcy resentfully disabused his cousin of the comforting notion.

“Oh dear. Awfully sorry, old chap,” the colonel muttered, clasping his shoulder. “Still, you did clear the air, did you not? The pair of you and Georgiana seemed quite cosy at breakfast.”

“Yes, well, so much for cosiness,” Darcy grumbled, and at that Colonel Fitzwilliam rather lost his patience.

“One of these days you will drive me to distraction with your cards to your chest and all that cursed nonsense. ‘Tis me you are speaking to, Coz, not my father. So out with it – are you engaged or not?”

Darcy scowled. This was not the first time – nor would it be the last – that his cousin should be nettled by his innate reserve, and he by Fitzwilliam’s proverbial forthrightness. He was in no humour to oblige with a straight answer, but he knew of old that the confounded man would accept nothing less. So, after the briefest deliberation, Darcy could only say, “I am not.”

Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened. “She refused you?” he incredulously spluttered.

Darcy grimaced at the belated notion that he should have said he was not engaged as yet. This was hardly a good moment to share Elizabeth’s admission that she had considered a refusal. Not that he was inclined to disclose and dissect her comment at any other point, like some diffident youth – or an anxious damsel. So he merely shrugged, “We need more time to speak in peace. Which is precisely what I do not have,” he observed with another scowl.

“True,” the colonel acknowledged, the corner of his lips quirked in sympathy. “This business with Anne is not helping matters.”

“No. It is not, in more ways than one. Nor is Elizabeth’s insistence to remove to Gracechurch Street,” he irritably added.

His cousin gave a derisive bark of laughter. “What, you imagined you would court her under Lady Catherine’s nose? Or indeed Pater’s?”

Fitzwilliam’s sardonic air was profoundly irksome, but Darcy was compelled to own that the other might have had a point – and, frankly, he should have already considered that particular aspect. Nevertheless, he jeered, “So, am I to court her in Cheapside?

Fitzwilliam arched a brow. “I do believe our aunt spoke of the place in the very same tone. Perhaps you ought to bear that in mind, should you be tempted to employ it in Miss Bennet’s presence. She might draw the comparison as well – and find it less than flattering.”

Lips tightened, Darcy glowered at his cousin. This had been Fitzwilliam’s game for many years now: whenever he was inclined to purposely provoke him, he likened him to Lady Catherine. The tactic was successful every time.

“Thank you,” he acidly replied. “I shall take note.”

“Do,” the colonel said, his teasing manner suddenly abandoned. “And while you are at it, pray do yourself a favour and cease bristling at well-meaning advice.”

“Have you anything else to propose for my general improvement and future felicity?” Darcy scoffed, but his cousin was undaunted.

“I have, in point of fact. When you bring yourself to court her in Cheapside – as, by the bye, you know damned well you must – you might also wish to consider that you often come across as aloof and supercilious to those who do not know you better.”

Darcy shrugged and brushed the irrelevant remark aside. “That is a matter of opinion. Besides, Elizabeth knows me well enough.”

“I was speaking of her relations,” Fitzwilliam pointed out. “As to Miss Bennet, for your sake, I hope you are in the right. I can imagine why you could scarce say ten words to her at Rosings, let alone pay her any particular attention or talk about anything of consequence, but I venture to hope you did better while you were staying with Bingley at… whatever his pied-à-terre is called.”

“Netherfield,” Darcy supplied – a laconic answer, nothing more – as he grudgingly marvelled at Fitzwilliam’s knack for disconcerting him with views so very different from his own, yet valid all the same.

No, he most certainly had not paid her any particular attention in Hertfordshire, nor spoken to her of anything of consequence. In fact, he had made every effort not to. It would have been an unforgivable unkindness to give rise to expectations while he was not prepared to fulfil them.

He frowned. Fitzwilliam had no way of knowing that the passing comment uncannily complemented Elizabeth’s. She had told him that she had seen no sign of his regard and admiration, something which he had found very hard to credit. Yet it must be true.

Well, now she knew – and it still was not enough.

In the restless hours of the night, he had wondered with no little discontent precisely what it was that she wanted – and, for that matter, what more there was for him to give. A great many other ladies of his acquaintance, if not most, would have declared themselves gratified by the prospect of becoming Mrs Darcy.

He gave a quiet snort. Perhaps he would have lost less sleep last night if he had not dwelt quite so much on his resentment, but called to mind a couple of salient facts. Namely, that if he had wanted to offer for any of those other ladies, then he would have. It was Elizabeth he wanted – and however mystifying, frustrating or contrary she chose to be, one thing was certain: since she had not leapt at the opportunity when it was first offered, he would have no cause to wonder if she married him for his name and fortune when she finally agreed to be his wife.

In the meanwhile, Fitzwilliam seemed to draw his own conclusions, however erroneous, for he drawled, “I take it from your self-satisfied smirk that you did do better at Netherfield. Praise be. It will stand you in good stead later. Unless, of course, you choose to do your favourite impersonation of a haughty prig when you call on her in Cheapside.”

To save himself another lecture and more unsolicited advice, Darcy sought to prevent his smile from turning sour as he bent down to lock the compartment where he had found Mrs Younge’s previous address, then put the key away.

“I will go with you to see your informants,” he decided, and forbore to correct Fitzwilliam’s misapprehension as to the cause of his improved humour. “Come, let us get on with it.”

As for his cousin’s final jibe, he wisely chose to ignore it. He would get on with that as well. He would court Elizabeth in Cheapside, if needs must.

But, by Jove, it had better be a whirlwind courtship!

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GIVEAWAY TIME!

If you’d like to find out if it was a whirlwind courtship or not 😉, please leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle copy of A Timely Elopement. There are two up for grabs. The giveaway is international, and it’s open until midnight on Tuesday 23rd June 2020. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post.

Good luck, thanks for reading, and thanks again, Anna, for hosting me today!

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Joana is the author of ten Austen-inspired novels and a contributor to the Quill Ink Anthologies. Her novels are all available on Amazon in Kindle Unlimited and in paperback, and some have also been released in Audible.

Joana’s page on Amazon

You can connect with Joana on: Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram | Website | Austen Variations

Or visit Joana’s Facebook page All Roads Lead to Pemberley for places and details that have inspired her novels.

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Thank you, Joana, for being my guest, and for bringing Colonel Fitzwilliam to my blog today. (I’m a sucker for a good Colonel Fitzwilliam scene!) Congratulations on your new release!

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