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I am delighted to welcome Ellen Marie Wiseman to Diary of an Eccentric today to share an excerpt from her latest novel, The Life She Was Given, which I will be reviewing here soon. I fell in love with Ellen’s writing when she offered me a copy of The Plum Tree, which made my “Best of 2012” list. I’m woefully behind in reading her later releases, but hopefully I can catch up soon. In the meantime, let’s give Ellen a warm welcome to celebrate her latest novel, out today.

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An excerpt from The Life She Was Given, courtesy of Ellen Marie Wiseman

Chapter One

Lilly

 

July 1931

Blackwood Manor Horse Farm

Dobbin’s Corners

 

 

Nine-year-old Lilly Blackwood stood in the attic dormer of Blackwood Manor for what felt like the thousandth time, wishing the window would open so she could smell the outdoors. Tomorrow was her birthday and she couldn’t think of a better present. Sure, Daddy would bring her a new dress and another book when he came home from Pennsylvania, but it had rained earlier and she wanted to know if the outside air felt different than the inside air. She wondered if raindrops made everything feel soft and cool, the way water did when she took a sponge bath. Or did the outside feel warm and sticky, like the air inside her room? She had asked Momma a hundred times to change the window so it would open, and to take the swirly metal off the outside so it would be easier to see out, but as usual, Momma wouldn’t listen. If Momma knew Daddy let her play in another part of the attic when she was at church, Daddy would be in big trouble. Even bigger trouble than for teaching her how to read and for giving her a cat on her third birthday. Lilly sighed, picked up her telescope off the sill, and put it to her eye. At least it was summertime and she didn’t have to scrape ice off the glass.

Daddy called this time of day twilight, and the outside looked painted in only two colors—green and blue. The row of pine trees on the other side of the barn, past the fields where the horses played, looked like the felt Lilly used for doll blankets. Shadows were everywhere, growing darker by the minute.

Lilly skimmed the edge of the woods, looking for the deer she saw yesterday. There was the crooked willow tree. There was the rock next to the bush that turned red in the winter. There was the broken log next to the stone fence. There was the— She stopped and swung the telescope back to the fence. Something looked different on the other side of the woods, near the train tracks that cut through the faraway meadow. She took the telescope away from her eye, blinked, then looked through it again and gasped. Air squeaked in her chest, like it always did when she was excited or upset.

A string of blue, red, yellow, and green lights—like the ones Daddy put above her bed at Christmastime—hung above a giant glowing house made out of something that looked like cloth. More lights surrounded other houses that looked like fat, little ghosts. Lilly couldn’t make out the words, but there were signs too, with letters lit up by colored bulbs. Flags hung from tall poles, and a line of yellow lights floated above the railroad tracks. It looked like a stopped train. A really long one.

Lilly put down the telescope, waited for her lungs to stop whistling, then went over to her bookcase and pulled out her favorite picture book. She flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for—a colorful drawing of a striped tent surrounded by wagons, horses, elephants, and clowns. She hurried back to the window to compare the shape of the tent in the book to the glowing house on the other side of the trees.

She was right.

It was a circus.

And she could see it.

Normally, the only things outside her window were horses and fields, and Daddy and his helper working on the white fences or yellow horse barn. Sometimes, Momma walked across the grass to the barn, her long blond hair trailing behind her like a veil. Other times, trucks pulled into the barn driveway and Daddy’s helper put horses in and out of trailers or unloaded bags and hay bales. Once, two men in baggy clothes—Daddy called them bums—walked up the driveway and Daddy’s helper came out of the barn with a shotgun. If she was lucky, deer came out of the woods, or raccoons scurried along the fence toward the feed shed, or a train zoomed along the tracks. And if she put her ear to the window, the chug of the train’s engine or the shriek of the whistle came through the glass.

But now there was a circus outside her window. A real, live circus! For the first time in her life, she was seeing something different that wasn’t in a picture book. It made her happy, but a little bit mad at herself too. If she hadn’t been reading all afternoon, she might have seen the train stop to unload. She could have watched the tents go up and caught sight of the elephants and zebras and clowns. Now it was too dark to see anything but lights.

She put down the book and counted the boards around the window. Sometimes counting made her feel better. One, two, three, four, five. It didn’t help. She couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d missed. She pressed her ear against the glass. Maybe she could hear the ringleader’s cries or the circus music. The only thing she heard was air squeaking in her chest and her heartbeat going fast.

On the windowsill, her cat, Abby, woke up and blinked. Lilly wrapped an arm around the orange tabby and pulled her close, burying her nose in the animal’s soft fur. Abby was her best friend and the smartest cat in the world. She could stand on her hind legs to give kisses and lift her front paw to shake. She even jumped up on Lilly’s bed and got down when told.

“I bet Momma will go to the circus,” Lilly said. “She doesn’t have to worry about people being afraid of her.”

The cat purred.

What would it be like to see an elephant in person? Lilly wondered. What would it feel like to touch its wrinkly skin and look into its big brown eyes? What about riding a pink and white horse on a carousel? Or walking among other people, eating peanuts and cotton candy? What about watching a real, live lion perform?

As far back as Lilly could remember, there had been times at night after her light was out when she snuggled in her bed, her mind racing with thoughts of leaving her room and going downstairs. She’d read enough books to know there was more than one floor in a house, and she imagined sneaking across the attic, finding a staircase, making her way through the bottom floors of Blackwood Manor, and walking out the front door. She imagined standing with her feet on the earth, taking a deep breath, and for the first time in her life, smelling something besides old wood, cobwebs, and warm dust.

One of her favorite games during Daddy’s weekly visits was guessing the different smells on his clothes. Sometimes he smelled like horses and hay, sometimes shoe polish or smoke, sometimes baking bread or—what did he call that stuff that was supposed to be a mix of lemons and cedar trees? Cologne? Whatever it was, it smelled good.

Daddy had told her about the outside world and she had read about it in books, but she had no idea how grass felt between her toes, or how tree bark felt in her hand. She knew what flowers smelled like because Daddy brought her a bouquet every spring, but she wanted to walk through a field of dandelions and daisies, to feel dirt and dew on her bare feet. She wanted to hear birds singing and the sound of the wind. She wanted to feel a breeze and the sun on her skin. She’d read everything she could on plants and animals, and could name them all if given the chance. But besides Abby and the mice she saw running along the baseboard in the winter, she’d never seen a real animal up close.

Her other favorite game was picking a place in her book of maps and reading everything she could about it, then planning a trip while she fell asleep, deciding what she would do and see when she got there. Her favorite place was Africa, where she pictured herself running with the lions and elephants and giraffes. Sometimes she imagined breaking the dormer window, crawling out on the roof, climbing down the side of the house, and sneaking over to the barn to see the horses. Because from everything she had seen and read, they were her favorite animals. Besides cats, of course. Not only were horses strong and beautiful, but they pulled wagons and sleighs and plows. They let people ride on their backs and could find their way home if they got lost. Daddy said Blackwood Manor’s horses were too far away from the attic window to tell who was who, so Lilly made up her own names for them—Gypsy, Eagle, Cinnamon, Magic, Chester, Samantha, Molly, and Candy. How she would have loved to get close to them, to touch their manes and ride through the fields on their backs. If only it weren’t for those stupid swirly bars outside her window that Momma said were there for her own good. Then she remembered Momma’s warning, and as quickly as they started, her dreams turned to nightmares.

“The bars are there to protect you,” Momma said. “If someone got in, they’d be afraid of you and they’d try to hurt you.”

When Lilly asked why anyone would be afraid of her, Momma said it was because she was a monster, an abomination. Lilly didn’t know what an abomination was, but it sounded bad. Her shoulders dropped and she sighed in the stillness of her room. There would be no circus for her. Not now, not ever. There would be no getting out of the attic either. The only way she would see the world was through her books. Daddy said the outside world was not as wonderful as she thought, and Lilly should be happy she had a warm bed and food to eat. A lot of people didn’t have a house or a job, and they had to stand in line for bread and soup. He told her a story about banks and money and some kind of crash, but she didn’t understand it. And it didn’t make her feel better anyway.

She gathered Abby in her arms and sat on her iron bed tucked beneath a wallpapered nook with a rounded ceiling. Her bedside lamp cast long shadows across the plank floor, meaning it would be dark soon and it was time to turn off the light. She didn’t want to forget again and have Momma teach her another lesson. Momma had warned her a hundred times if anyone saw her light and found her up there they would take her away and she’d never see her or Daddy or Abby again. But one night last week, Lilly started a new book and forgot.

She put the cat on the bed and examined the scars on her fingers. Daddy was right, the lotion made them feel better. But oh, how the flame of Momma’s lantern had burned!

“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” Momma said.

Lilly wanted to ask if the Bible said anything about sparing the fire, but didn’t dare. She was supposed to know what the Bible said.

“I wonder what Momma would do if she found out I read the books from Daddy instead of that boring old Bible?” she asked Abby. The cat rubbed its face on Lilly’s arm, then curled into a ball and went back to sleep.

Lilly took the Bible from the nightstand—she didn’t dare put it anywhere else—moved the bookmark in a few pages, and set it back down. Momma would check to see how much reading she had done this week and if the bookmark hadn’t moved, Lilly would be in big trouble. According to Momma, the Holy Bible and the crucifix on the wall above her bed were the only things needed to live a happy life.

Everything else in the room came from Daddy—the wicker table set up for a tea party, complete with a lace doily, silver serving tray, and china cups. The matching rocking chair and the teddy bear sitting on the blue padded stool next to her wardrobe. The dollhouse filled with miniature furniture and straight-backed dolls. The model farm animals lined up on a shelf above her bookcase, all facing the same way, as if about to break into song. Three porcelain dolls with lace dresses in a wicker baby pram, one with eyes that opened and closed. And, of course, her bookcase full of books. It seemed, for a while, like Daddy would give her everything­—until she read Snow White and asked for a mirror.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when she was certain everyone was asleep and there was nothing but blackness outside her window, she turned on her light and studied her reflection in the glass. All she saw was a blurry, ghost-like mask looking back her, the swirly metal outside coiling across her skin like snakes. She stared at her white reflection and touched her forehead and nose and cheeks, trying to find a growth or a missing part, but nothing stuck out or caved in. When she asked Daddy what was wrong with her, he said she was beautiful to him and that was all that mattered. But his eyes looked funny when he said it, and she didn’t think he was telling the truth. He’d be in big trouble if Momma found out because Momma said lying was a sin.

Good thing Lilly would never tell on Daddy. He was the one who taught her how to read and write, and how to add and subtract numbers. He was the one who decorated the walls of her room with rose-covered wallpaper and brought her new dresses and shoes when she got too big for the old ones. He was the one who brought Abby food and let Lilly in the other part of the attic so she could walk and stretch. One time, he even brought up a wind-up record player and tried to teach her the Charleston and tango, but she got too tired and they had to stop. She loved the music and begged him to leave the record player in her room. But he took it back downstairs because Momma would be mad if she found it.

Momma brought food and necessities, not presents. She came into Lilly’s room every morning—except for the times she forgot—with a tray of toast, milk, eggs, sandwiches, apples, and cookies, to be eaten over the rest of the day. She brought Lilly soap and clean towels, and reminded her to pray before every meal. She stood by the door every night with a ring of keys in her hands and waited for Lilly to kneel by her bed to ask the Lord to forgive for her sins, and to thank Him for giving her a mother who took such good care of her. Other than that, Momma never came in her room just to talk or have fun. She never said “I love you” like Daddy did. Lilly would never forget her seventh birthday, when her parents argued outside her door.

“You’re spoiling her with all those presents,” Momma said. “It’s sinful how much you give her.”

“It’s not hurting anyone,” Daddy said.

“Nevertheless, we need to stop spending money.”

“Books aren’t that expensive.”

“Maybe not, but what if she starts asking questions? What if she wants to come downstairs or go outside? Are you going to say no?”

At first, Daddy didn’t say anything and Lilly’s heart lifted. Maybe he would take her outside after all. Then he cleared his throat and said, “What else is she supposed to do in there? The least we can do is try to give her a normal birthday. It’s not her fault she—”

Momma gasped. “It’s not her fault? Then whose is it? Mine?”

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Daddy said. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Sometimes these things just happen.”

“Well, if you had listened to me from the beginning, we wouldn’t . . .” She made a funny noise, like her words got stuck in her throat.

“She’s still our daughter, Cora. Other than that one thing, she’s perfectly normal.”

“There’s nothing normal about what’s on the other side of that door,” Momma said, her voice cracking.

“That’s not true,” Daddy said. “I talked to Dr. Hillman and he said—”

“Oh, dear Lord . . . tell me you didn’t! How could you betray me like that?” Momma was crying now.

“There, there, my darling. I didn’t tell anyone. I was just asking Dr. Hillman if he had ever seen . . .”

Momma’s sobs drowned out his words and her footsteps hurried across the attic.

“Darling, wait!” Daddy said.

The next day, Lilly quit praying before every meal, but she had not told Momma that. Since then, she had disobeyed her mother in a hundred little ways. Momma said it was wicked to look at her naked body and made Lilly close her eyes during her weekly sponge bath until she was old enough to wash herself. Now Lilly looked down at her milk-colored arms and legs when she bathed, examining her thin white torso and pink nipples. She felt ashamed afterward, but she wasn’t being bad on purpose. She just wanted to know what made her a monster. The only thing she knew for sure was that her parents looked different than she did. Momma had curly blond hair and rosy skin; Daddy had a black mustache, black hair, and tan skin; but her skin was powder-white, her long, straight hair the color and texture of spider webs. It was like God forgot to give her a color. Is that what made her a monster? Or was it something else?

Now, hoping she’d be able to see more of the circus tomorrow, she changed into her nightclothes, climbed into bed, and switched off the light. Then she realized Momma hadn’t come up to make sure she said her prayers.

Lilly curled up next to Abby and pulled her close. “She’s probably at the circus,” she said, closing her eyes.

***

The next night, after Lilly first saw the circus outside her window, the rattle of a key in her door startled her awake. She sat up and reached for her bedside lamp, then stopped, her fingers on the switch. It was the middle of the night and if Momma saw the light, it would mean big trouble. Maybe Momma had found out she’d spent the entire day watching the circus through her telescope instead of straightening her room and reading the Bible. The circus looked tiny through the end of her telescope and she couldn’t make out every detail, but no matter what Momma did to her, it was worth seeing the elephants and giraffes being taken into the big top. It was worth seeing the crowds of people outside the tents and the parade of wagons and clowns and costumed performers. It had been the most exciting day of her life, and nothing was going to ruin it. She took her hand away from the lamp and, one at a time, touched her fingers with her thumbs. One, two, three, four. The door opened and Momma slipped inside carrying an oil lantern. Lilly watched her enter and her belly trembled. Momma never came into her room this late. At the end of the bed, Abby lifted her furry head, surprised to see Momma too.

Momma—Daddy said her real name was Coralline—was a tall, pretty woman, and she always wore her long blond hair pinned back on the sides. Her only jewelry was the wedding band on her left hand, and she dressed in simple skirts and sensible shoes in the name of modesty and for the glory of God. Daddy said Momma put on her best dresses and furs when she went out to important dinners and parties, but only because that was what everyone in the outside world expected. Lilly didn’t understand why Momma changed what she looked like, but Daddy said that was okay. One time, Daddy showed her a picture of Momma all dressed up and Lilly thought it was someone else.

Daddy liked to tell the story of how he had first spotted Momma between the barn and the round pen, sitting on a barrel watching the horses play in the field. Momma’s father, a retired Pentecostal minister who always dreamed of raising horses, had come to Blackwood Manor Horse farm to buy a stallion. Daddy thought Momma was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. But it was six months before she would talk to him, and another six before she agreed to have dinner. For some reason, Momma’s parents didn’t trust Daddy. But eventually Momma and Daddy were walking hand in hand through the apple orchards; then they got married. When Daddy got to that part of the story, his face always changed to sad and he said Momma had a hard time growing up.

Now, Momma came into Lilly’s room in a flowery dress and pink heels. Her lips were painted red and she was wearing a yellow hat. Lilly couldn’t stop staring. She had never seen Momma dressed like that, not in person anyway. Momma’s cheeks were flushed and she was breathing hard, as if she had run up the stairs.

Lilly’s stomach turned over. Daddy was supposed to come back from Pennsylvania tomorrow. He promised birthday presents first thing. But he had told her a long time ago that she didn’t need to worry about being left alone when he and Momma went out because his helper was always downstairs in case someone called about a horse. If “something” happened to Daddy and Momma, the helper would read a letter in Daddy’s desk. He would find Lilly in the attic, and he would know what to do. Lilly wasn’t sure what “something” was, but she knew it was bad. What if Momma was here to tell her “something” happened to Daddy and he wasn’t coming back?

Lilly touched her tongue to each tooth and counted, waiting for Momma to speak. One, two, three, four . . .

Then Momma smiled.

Momma never smiled.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Momma said.

Lilly blinked. She didn’t know what to say. Daddy brought surprises, not Momma. “Where’s Daddy?” she managed.

“Get dressed,” Momma said. “And hurry up, we don’t have much time.”

Lilly pushed back her covers and got out of bed. Abby sat up and stretched her front legs, treading the blanket with her claws. “Is someone coming to see me?” Lilly said.

Besides her parents, no one had ever been inside her room. One winter she got sick and Daddy wanted to call a doctor, but Momma refused because the doctor would take her away and put her “some place.” Instead Daddy spent three days wiping Lilly’s forehead and applying mustard powder and warm dressings to her chest. She would never forget the sad look on his face when she woke up and said, “Daddy? What’s ‘some place’?”

“It’s a hospital for sick people,” Daddy said. “But don’t worry, you’re staying right here with us.”

Now, Momma watched Lilly take her dress from the back of the rocking chair. Lilly’s legs felt wobbly. What if someone was coming to take her “some place”?

Momma chuckled. “No, Lilly, no one is coming to see you.”

Lilly glanced at Momma, her stomach getting wobbly too. Momma never laughed. Maybe she had been drinking the strange liquid Daddy sometimes brought up to her room in a silver container. Lilly didn’t know what the drink was, but it made his eyes glassy and gave his breath a funny smell. Sometimes it made him laugh more than usual. What did he call it? Whiskey? No, that was impossible. Momma would never drink whiskey. Drinking alcohol was a sin.

“Why do I have to get dressed, Momma?”

“Today’s your birthday, remember?”

Lilly frowned. Momma didn’t care about birthdays. “Yes,” she managed.

“And I’m sure you saw the circus outside.”

Lilly nodded.

“Well, that’s where we’re going.”

Lilly stared at Momma, her mouth open. Her legs shook harder, and her arms too. “But . . . what . . . what if someone sees me?”

Momma smiled again. “Don’t worry, circus performers are used to seeing people like you. And no one else will be there but us. Because against my better judgment, your father insisted on paying the circus owner to put on a special show for you.”

Goose bumps popped up on Lilly’s arms. Something felt bad, but she didn’t know what. She glanced at Abby, as if the cat would know the answer. Abby looked back at her with curious eyes. “Daddy said he wasn’t coming back until tomorrow,” Lilly said.

Momma smiled, but her eyes changed. The top half of her face looked like it did when Lilly was in big trouble. The bottom half looked like someone Lilly had never seen before. “He came home early,” Momma said.

“Then where is he?” Lilly said. “He always comes to see me when he gets home.”

“He’s waiting for us over at the circus. Now hurry up!”

“Why didn’t he come get me instead of you?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Lilly wished she hadn’t said them.

Momma walked toward her and her hand rose with a sudden speed. It struck Lilly across the jaw and she fell to the floor. Abby leapt sideways on the bed and crouched next to the wall, her ears back.

“You ungrateful spawn of the devil!” Momma yelled. “How many times have I told you not to question me?”

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Lilly cried.

Momma thumped her with the side of her foot. “What did I do to deserve this curse?” she hissed. “Now get on your knees and pray.”

“But, Momma . . .” Lilly’s sobs were too strong. She couldn’t get up and she could barely breathe. She crawled to her bed with her hair hanging in her face and pulled herself up, air squeaking in her chest.

“Bow your head and ask for forgiveness,” Momma said.

Lilly put her hands together beneath her chin and counted her fingers by pressing them against each other. One, two, three, four. “Oh Lord,” she said, pushing the words out between wheezes. Five, six, seven, eight. “Please forgive me for questioning my momma, and for all the other ways I have made her life so difficult.” Nine, ten. “I promise to walk the straight and narrow from here on out. Amen.”

“Now get dressed,” Momma said. “We don’t have much time.”

Lilly got off her knees and put on her undergarments with shaky hands, then took off her nightgown and pulled her play dress on over her head. Her side hurt where Momma kicked her and snot ran from her nose.

“Not that one,” Momma said. “Find something better.”

Lilly took off the play dress and half-walked, half-stumbled over to the wardrobe. She pulled out her favorite outfit, a yellow satin dress with a lace collar and ruffled sleeves. “Is this one all right?” she said, holding up the dress.

“That will do. Find your best shoes too. And brush your hair.”

Lilly put on the dress and tied the belt behind her back. She brushed her hair—one, two, three, four, five, six strokes—then sat on the bed to put on her patent leather shoes. Abby edged across the covers and rubbed against Lilly’s arm. Lilly gave her a quick pet, then got up and stood in the middle of the room, her ribs aching and her heart thumping. Momma opened the door and stood back, waiting for Lilly to go through it.

Lilly had waited for this moment her entire life. But now, more than anything, she wanted to stay in the attic. She didn’t want to go outside. She didn’t want to go to the circus. Her chest grew tighter and tighter. She could barely breathe.

“Let’s go,” Momma said, her voice hard. “We don’t have all night.”

Lilly wrapped her arms around herself and started toward the door, gulping air into her lungs. Then she stopped and looked back at Abby, who was watching from the foot of her bed.

“That cat will be here when you get back,” Momma said. “Now move it.”

Thank you, Ellen, for being my guest today and for sharing the first chapter of your novel. I hope you’ll visit again soon!

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About The Life She Was Given

From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

Check out The Life She Was Given on Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

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About the Author

Ellen Marie Wiseman

A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. She is a bestselling author whose novels have been translated into seventeen languages. Her debut novel, THE PLUM TREE, is loosely based on her mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during the chaos of WWII. Bookbub named THE PLUM TREE One of Thirteen Books To Read if You Loved ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Ellen’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, was named a Huffington Post Best Books of Summer 2015. Her third novel, COAL RIVER, was called “one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015″ by The Historical Novel Review. Her fourth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, will be released in July 2017. She lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Connect with Ellen Marie Wiseman via Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Giveaway

Ellen is generously offering one copy of The Life She Was Given to my readers. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and tell me what intrigues you most about the book. This giveaway will close on Sunday, August 6, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and to celebrate her life and her novels, my guest today is Rose Servitova, with an excerpt from The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence Between Mr. Collins & Mr. Bennet.

Please give her a warm welcome:

I love minor characters and believe they add so much to novels. What I loved about writing this book, is the licence it gave me to allow Austen’s brilliant characters such as Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, Mary Bennet and Mrs Philips as well as Mr Bennet and Mr Collins more ‘air-time’ to develop and become more tangible. It also enabled me to introduce new, comical minor characters such as the charismatic Reverend Smellie, the eccentric inventor Mr Lucas, the carriage-driving Baroness Herbert and Reverend Green (who walks an invisible dog).

This excerpt is taken from the second chapter of The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr Collins & Mr Bennet, when the plot of Pride and Prejudice is coming to an end (Lady Catherine’s fury at Darcy and Elizabeth’s engagement sparks a sudden visit by Mr and Mrs Collins to Lucas Lodge). The relationship between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, although in its infancy, is on the cusp of taking on, as it does for the remainder of the novel, a life of its own.

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An excerpt from The Longbourn Letters, courtesy of Rose Servitova

Lucas Lodge

11th October, 1792

 

My Dear Sir,

We have just now arrived at Lucas Lodge and wish to let you know of our unexpected arrival into the Hertfordshire countryside and your neighbourhood. Charlotte, in her condition, was eager to spend time with her family, while her health permits it but, in truth, we are moved more speedily hither due to a matter of great concern to me.

Lady Catherine was rendered so outraged by the news of her nephew’s engagement and left lose all her disappointment and fury that much of it fell on my own head. She stated that my being Elizabeth’s cousin and Charlotte as her childhood friend were responsible for throwing the lovers together and, indeed, almost conspiring against her. In such a state of trepidation, we felt it safest to remove ourselves immediately to Lucas Lodge to take cover and wait for the worst of the storm to pass, though I must confess, that it may take some time. I should never wish to witness her ladyship in such a distressed state again and pray that it shall not happen for the remainder of my residence at Hunsford.

I can only wonder that her deep disappointment perhaps stemmed from not soon calling Darcy her own son, adding vinegar to the wound, for it was certain in her mind that fate would have it so. Indeed, I too am bitterly disappointed for my vision of their wedding ceremony is crushed and there is no occasion now fitting my great passages. I shall bear it as best I can but I must confess I am perplexed that you did not heed my warning and part the lovers until a more convenient route be found. One wonders how he could be thus tempted to act in such a rash and unguided manner when he could have had Rosings in addition to Pemberley. I will, however, put aside my displeasure to add that I sincerely wish them well and hope that, although it would be impossible for Lady Catherine to degrade herself by attending the wedding ceremony, both Charlotte and I would be flattered to be present. I believe I heard from the servants that, not one, but two, pineapples have been ordered for the celebrations of this momentous occasion.

We encountered Baroness Herbert, her dog and carriage on the final stretch of our journey. Indeed she does move at alarming speed, displaying a wildness of character quite unbefitting a member of the aristocracy. 

We will no doubt, sir, be delighted to see you within the next day or two.

With compliments to your wife and daughters,

 

William Collins

 

Postscript: I am all astonishment with regards your prize-winning blackcurrants for when I first visited Longbourn last year, I shook my head with regret that the bush was in such a sorry state. I will not tell you, sir, that it was dead but it was certainly not alive. Your lettuce, which I momentarily mistook for cabbage, existed for the sole purpose of feeding the local population of rabbits and slugs. That the blackcurrant bush not only survived but went on to win first prize with its crop is a miracle, cousin, of biblical proportions. I myself have enjoyed some little success at the Westerham Fair, third prize in the categories in which I entered, but as the first and second prizes were all won by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I was deeply humbled and delighted to witness my name listed next to hers in the winners logbook. In her current fury, however, all that is forgot.

 

 

Longbourn,

11th October, 1792

 

My Dear Sir,

I congratulate you, for you must be delighted. Elizabeth’s impending marriage to Darcy makes you practically a nephew-in-law of Lady Catherine in all but name. Little did you think when you were casting yourself at her feet as a humble servant that you would one day look her in the eye as an equal and relative? I hope in time, when her fury takes a turn for the better, that she will relish, nay enjoy, the connection as much as we do. Fear not, your wonderful ‘passages’ will get a day out, at some future time. Keep them safe, sir, for you never know when your eloquent passages will be in great demand amongst the upper gentry of this fair land.

May I caution you, sir, not to trouble yourself with rushing to our sides on this visit. We know that you will be tending to the needs of your wife during this delicate time of expectancy and we would not have it on our consciences, if she should need you at Lucas Lodge while you were entertaining us. Yours is a generous spirit and one we must take care not to take advantage of. If we see you within the week, we will consider ourselves most fortunate.

Another reason which would have me delay the pleasure of your company is that you would find us not quite ourselves as wedding preparations have taken over our lives, minds and purses. The weddings will be joined – Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. The date will soon be fixed and if you hold tight at Lucas Lodge, you most probably will be in attendance, for these lovers have no patience.

As you can imagine, Mrs Bennet has already made her way to the draper in Meryton for the sole purpose of returning to inform me that there is nothing therein fit for the clothing of one who will be soon the mother-in-law of both gentlemen. She must, she declares, absolutely must, visit the best warehouses in London in the company of her sister-in-law, Mrs Gardiner. I encourage it, and choose to forget the cost, for the few days of peace it will afford me. The older I get, it seems, the greater value I put on my time rather than my money. Mrs Bennet will take our daughters with her and so, I will once again be free to roam my house without interruption and, temporarily at least, become the head of the house once more. Only last week, while searching for an old map of the West Indies, I entered the back room, wherein the lady of the house occasionally retires when she has one of her headaches, to discover I had not set foot in it for over a year and it had new wallpaper, a bureau and armchair which I had never seen in the course of my life. A veritable stranger, I have become, in my own home!

I will send for you to join me for dinner on one of these quiet evenings, when I have the house to myself and we can do as we please without offence to any other. It will also give me the opportunity to show you the first prize ribbon which my blackcurrants won for me and we can marvel together at this miraculous happening.

Your cousin,

 

Henry Bennet

Thank you, Rose, for sharing this delightful excerpt with me and my readers. I can’t wait to read the book!

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About The Longbourn Letters

Where Pride and Prejudice ends, a new relationship begins.

Good-humoured but detached and taciturn, Mr Bennet is not given to intimacy. Largely content with his life at Longbourn, he spends his evenings in the solitude of his library, accompanied only by a glass of port and a good book. But when his cousin, the pompous clergyman Mr Collins, announces his intention to visit, Mr Bennet is curious to meet and appraise the heir to his estate.

Despite Mr Bennet’s initial discouragement, Mr Collins quickly becomes a frequent presence in his life. They correspond regularly, with Mr Collins recounting tales of his follies and scrapes and Mr Bennet taking great pleasure from teasing his unsuspecting friend.

When a rift develops between the men, Mr Bennet is faced with a choice: he must withdraw into isolation once again or acknowledge that Mr Collins has brought something new and rich to his life.

Tender, heart-warming and peppered with disarming humour, The Longbourn Letters reimagines the characters of Pride and Prejudice and perfectly captures the subtleties of human relationships and the power of friendship.

Check out The Longbourn Letters on Goodreads | Amazon

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Book Trailer

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About the Author

Rose Servitova

Irish woman, Rose Servitova, is an award-winning humour writer, event manager and job coach for people with special needs. She has published in a number of literary journals as well as being short-listed in the Fish Flash Fiction Prize and at Listowel Writers Week. Other than PG Wodehouse, Rose is a lifelong fan of Jane Austen. Her first novel, The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr Collins & Mr Bennet, described as a ‘literary triumph’, has received international acclaim since its publication earlier this year. Rose is also curating Jane Austen 200 – Limerick, a festival celebrating Limerick’s many links to Austen while nodding at its extensive Georgian heritage through literature, architecture, screen, theatre, fashion, talks and, of course, tea!! Her next novel is in the offing.

Connect with Rose Servitova on Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Giveaway

Rose is generously offering 2 signed paperbacks of The Longbourn Letters, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address, and tell me how you are celebrating Austen’s life and works or what intrigues you most about this book. This giveaway will close on Monday, July 31, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Today I am so excited to welcome Pamela Lynne to Diary of an Eccentric for the first time to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Surrendering the Past. Please give her a warm welcome as she introduces the book and shares an excerpt with us:

Hello everyone! I am so excited to be here at Diary of an Eccentric today. Thank you, Anna, for hosting me. My new book, Surrendering the Past, released yesterday and it is the first book of The Granville Legacy Series. In the series, we explore family bonds and how they affect us for better or worse. I brought two guests with me today, Jane and Amy Dawson, and their sisterly devotion is one of my favorite things about this book. Below we see a conversation between the two that says so much about their relationship and their roles in their family. I know you will love them as much as I do!

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Amy’s soft admonishment to rise and greet the day only made Jane retreat farther under the covers. The threat to tickle her until she cried, however, had the desired effect, and Jane begrudgingly sat up on the pillows.

“You are a mystery to me, dear sister. How can you be so cheerful after the horrors of last night?”

A gay laugh filled the room, and Jane could not help but smile. Amy could laugh through torture, which was exactly what the previous evening had been.

“If we allowed the discomfort of a night’s dinner party follow us into the next day, we could never hold our heads up. Besides, I know something you do not.”

Jane arched an eyebrow and tried not to smile. “Amy, have you been listening at doors again?”

Returning the gesture with more defensiveness than mischief, Amy replied, “I did overhear something, but it was not on purpose. Uncle and Father’s voices were so loud Mama could have heard them through her wine-induced stupor.”

“Were they arguing?”

“Yes.”

Jane closed her eyes. “About me?”

“I am afraid so. Uncle Carrington is angry at Father for consenting to your engagement.”

“But it was my choice to accept the earl.”

“Yes, but our uncle feels it is too great a sacrifice.” Amy took Jane’s hand. “You do not love him.”

“People do not marry for love, Amy. There are other things to consider. Mama’s manner is vulgar and embarrassing, but her words are true. This marriage will bring good things for our family. We have nothing, Amy, only our charms. But, like Mama says, you and Meg stand a much better chance of marrying well with this connection.”

Amy sighed as she stood and walked to the dressing table. Picking up a brush, she returned to the bed and motioned for her sister to move forward. “It is ridiculous, is it not? As I am now, I am hardly worth noticing, but if a marriage to me might bring an invitation to an earl’s party, then I am suddenly quite attractive!”

Jane smiled as her sister unfastened her braid and began to untangle her blonde locks. She would miss this time with Amy dearly. “You are a wonder no matter whose party you attend. It will take an equally wonderful man to appreciate you. You will now be in more varying society and more likely to find that man. Two things will be required, though: Mama will have to be given a heavy dose of laudanum before she goes out, and you, dear sister, must not provoke handsome gentlemen into arguments.”

Amy blushed. “I do not know what you mean.”

Jane snorted and turned to face her sister. “Yes, you do.”

“I did not provoke anything. I will have you know that if I was, in any way, petulant toward a certain gentleman, it was his fault entirely. He is almost unbearably handsome, rich, intelligent, and showed signs of a keen wit. Of course, I had to be argumentative lest I began to feel ridiculously inferior. The truth of our vast difference in situation must never be acknowledged if I am to maintain any dignity at all.”

Jane’s eyebrow again rose and was joined with an impish half-grin. “I suppose he must have found some charm in your impertinence. He has given you a pet name, has he not? Something from Shakespeare?”

Amy gave Jane a look that let her know she was not fooled by her innocent tone.

“What was it, Caterina, Catherine? Yes, that is it. He called you Kate. You love Shakespeare, so that must have been quite a compliment.”

“You know very well he called me a shrew!”

Jane laughed. “I can tell by the look on your face that you were not at all offended. You know you deserved it.”

Amy fell back on the pillows. “Oh, Jane! I am a shrew. Between Mama and me, what must the earl’s family think of us?”

“I do not think you made a bad impression. Mr. Hale seemed to be amused by your conversation.”

“You mean he was laughing at me.”

“Perhaps a little.”

Amy rose and handed Jane the brush so she might finish her own hair. “All of this has distracted me and threatens to sour my mood. I had something to tell you, remember?”

“I am listening.”

“Father is taking Mother back to Surry after breakfast. They will remain there until the wedding.”

Jane’s eyes grew wide with hope. “Oh? But will you be staying?”

“I am. Uncle convinced Father it would be better for you if Aunt and I were the ones assisting you with preparations. I do not think he has told Mama yet. The house is too quiet.”

“Oh, thank God. I am probably a terrible daughter to be saying so, but I am so happy she is leaving. I simply cannot bear her with any good humor the way I used to.”

“We are terrible together then, for I have never been able to bear her. Oh, Jane! What am I to do without you?”

“Amy, would you consider coming with me? After I am married, I mean. Will you come live with me?”

“Are you certain? Would you not wish to establish yourself as a wife first?”

“No, it will be easier for me if you are there.”

“Very well. If Father allows it, I will come.”

Jane sighed with relief. “Thank you. I will discuss it with Lord Litchfield this morning. Oh, I feel so much better now. Perhaps Meg can come in a few years, as well.”

“It would be good for her to spend time out of Surry and away from Mama. Our mother just cannot understand Meg’s gentle but inquisitive nature. She needs more varying society so her great gifts might grow.”

“You see; that is precisely what I want for both of you. Mama will calm once she knows our situations are secure, and Papa will not have to worry over money as much once I am gone. This marriage will bring about good things for our family, I am sure of it.”

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Unfortunately, the road to happily ever after will not be as smooth as Jane hopes. Surrendering the Past is available at Amazon and will be up at other vendors next week. Thank you all for visiting and thanks again, Anna, for hosting. Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win one of three prizes! Happy reading, everyone!

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Thank YOU, Pamela, for being my guest today and for offering such a generous giveaway! Congratulations on the new release, and please come back again soon!

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About Surrendering the Past

In a world of honor and obligation, falling in love can be a dangerous game. Captain Richard Granville has returned to London after serving the Crown in perilous missions fighting Napoleon’s army. Bone weary and distrustful of all around him, the captivating Jane Dawson awakens his long dormant desire for more than a solitary existence. When he learns she is betrothed to his father, the conniving and dangerous Earl of Litchfield, shadows of the past descend upon Richard, bringing along memories of a tortuous childhood and his failure to protect the person he had loved most.

Jane Dawson would pay any price to renew her family’s happiness, but is the cost of marrying Lord Litchfield too high? A woman of virtue and honor, she cannot break a promise once given, especially when doing so would ruin those she seeks to protect. But can she ignore the connection she feels to the wild soldier who understands both her duty and her heart?

Follow the men of the Granville family in this suspenseful Regency romance series as they discover that their family legacy is much darker than they realized, and that the future holds treasures they can only grasp by surrendering the past.

Check out Surrendering the Past on Goodreads | Amazon

Connect with Pamela Lynne on Facebook | website

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Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Eliza Shearer to Diary of an Eccentric for the first time to celebrate the release of Miss Darcy’s Beaux, which is a continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudiceMansfield Park, and Persuasion. As soon as I saw the cover, I knew this was a book I wanted to read, and my dear readers, I hope you agree. Having read the guest post you’re about to read, I must say I am even more excited about delving into the book. Please give a warm welcome to Eliza Shearer as she explains why Georgiana Darcy is one of her favorite Austen characters, and what makes her so interesting and important to Pride and Prejudice:

Miss Darcy’s Beaux, or the making of yet another introverted Austen female heroine

Jane Austen is renowned for having written splendid secondary characters in her stories. From Mr Collins and Mrs Jennings to Lord Elliot and Mrs Norris, there are plenty of well-drawn portraits peppered through her novels. One of my personal favourites is Georgiana Darcy, Mr Darcy’s younger sister in Pride and Prejudice, who takes centre stage in my debut novel, Miss Darcy’s Beaux.

Seasoned Janeites know that Georgiana doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. However, her role in the novel is crucial. Georgiana’s planned elopement with Wickham highlights her seducer’s lack of scruples and morals, and also acts as a partial motivator for Mr Darcy’s dramatic intervention to make Wickham marry Lydia Bennet. More interestingly, the way Darcy treats Georgiana in Pride and Prejudice allows Elizabeth and the reader to glimpse a softer side to him, fuelling his transformation from insufferable snob into the romantic hero we all know and love.

Georgiana is young, sweet and extremely timid, something Elizabeth notices immediately: “Since her (Elizabeth’s) being at Lambton, she had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 44)

Jane Austen has a soft spot for quietly spoken female characters. Let’s remember that two of Austen’s heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion and Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, could be distinctly defined as introverts. Like them, Georgiana is not one for casual flirting and inconsequential chatting; to her, socialising can feel like a chore, and she thinks more than she speaks. Georgiana’s reserve is a trait she shares with her brother, Mr Darcy, who at one point says to Elizabeth: “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 31)

However, one may argue that her shyness is not just a matter of nature vs. nurture. Georgiana’s circumstances, and particularly the people involved in her upbringing, undoubtedly play a role in the development of her timid disposition. Her mother dies at her birth, her father a few years later, when she is still a girl, and growing up her guardians are her brother and her cousin, both much older than her. Darcy, ten years her senior, becomes a sort of substitute father. Colonel Fitzwilliam is charming and more affectionate than her brother, but he is also in the army at a time of war, so presumably away for long periods on a regular basis.

The other man in Georgiana’s early life is, of course, Wickham. I see him as the object of her puppy love, an outlet for her repressed affection. Georgiana is impressionable, and Wickham’s charm would have been hard to resist in her situation. We all know what happens next. However, what interested me the most about the failed elopement was its impact on Georgiana. What would such a lapse in judgement represent for a naturally timid young girl? She would be terrified to make another mistake. She would be tempted to retire and avoid the big bad world. She may even well grow to loathe her fortune, because it makes others see her for her settlement, not for who she really is.

As for the female influences on shy Georgiana, the only close relatives we know of are Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Anne de Bourgh. Lady Catherine, as we all know, is intimidating and a bit of a bully.  I could easily picture Georgiana terrified of her aunt when growing up. As a young girl, she certainly wouldn’t be seeking Lady Catherine’s advice on sensitive matters. Georgiana’s cousin Anne is much older than her, but she is also very quiet, so she and Georgiana may have felt a natural affinity (“she spoke very little, except in a low voice, to Mrs Jenkinson”, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 29).

At the end of Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen tells us that, after Elizabeth and Darcy’s wedding, Georgiana grows close to her sister-in-law. It makes perfect sense. Elizabeth has plenty of experience with teenagers and, although the younger Bennet sisters are much more outspoken than Georgiana, their preoccupations and interests are likely to be similar. As for Georgiana, I imagine her delighted to have another female under the same roof, and an affectionate, intelligent and funny one at that.

So, would Georgiana have stayed at Pemberley once her brother married? I think so. It would have been a suitable state of affairs for everyone. Georgiana and Elizabeth would have enjoyed each other’s company. Darcy would be able to keep an eye on his sister.  Add the departure of Lady Catherine and Anne from the family circle, and it is plausible to suppose Georgiana would for some years.  Moreover, there’s the magnificent Pemberley library. What introvert wouldn’t think of the place as a paradise?

But a story needs conflict to advance, and Miss Darcy’s Beaux is no exception. Georgiana’s idyllic Pemberley stay has to come to an end. As she is pushed out into the unknown, I could not think of a better companion for her adventure than a Lady Catherine de Bourgh obsessed with marrying her niece to the best possible suitor.  The novel takes Georgiana to London, but for an introvert like her, it may as well have been Borneo: it’s a whole world away from the safety of her home, and well beyond her comfort zone. In the end, she enjoys the ride, and I hope you do too.

Thank you, Eliza, for putting into words some of things that make Georgiana such an intriguing secondary character.

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About Miss Darcy’s Beaux

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s beloved sister Georgiana is now a woman of twenty. After living in the enclosed safety of Pemberley for years, she is sent to London for the season with Lady Catherine de Bourgh as her chaperone. Lady Catherine is determined that her niece shall make a splendid match. But will Georgiana allow her domineering aunt to decide for her? Or will she do as her brother did, and marry for love?

Check out Miss Darcy’s Beaux on Amazon | Kobo | Nook | CreateSpace | Goodreads

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About the Author

Eliza Shearer

Eliza Shearer is a long-time an admirer of Jane Austen’s work and writer of Regency fiction and Jane Austen variations. She can often be found enjoying long walks and muddying my petticoats, or re-reading Jane Austen’s novels by the fireside. She is very partial to bread and butter pudding, satin slippers and bonnets and ribbons, but has never cared much for cards. You can find her on Twitter @Eliza_Shearer_ or at https://elizashearerblog.wordpress.com.

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Giveaway

Eliza is generously offering 3 ebook copies of Miss Darcy’s Beaux to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and tell us what you find most intriguing or endearing about Georgiana Darcy. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Sunday, July 9, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you again, Eliza, for being my guest today. I hope you will come back soon!

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I’m delighted to welcome Cassandra Grafton back to Diary of an Eccentric. Today she will be sharing an excerpt from A Quest for Mr. Darcy, which will be released tomorrow, and a very generous giveaway that fans of Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy will not want to miss!

First, here’s the blurb for A Quest for Mr. Darcy:

Fitzwilliam Darcy is on a quest. Convinced he is over his foolish infatuation with Elizabeth Bennet, he returns from a year of travelling with a plan, both to protect the estate of which he is guardian and to ensure his sister’s happiness: he intends to do his duty and secure a wife at the earliest opportunity.

Duty; a path from which Darcy knows he should never have been diverted. Duty was safe and nothing would persuade him from it a second time.

Soon restored to his home in Derbyshire, Darcy puts his quest in motion, preparing to welcome guests from Town, one of whom is the suitably eligible young lady he has earmarked as his future wife.

But what of the Bennets of Longbourn? What befell them in Darcy’s absence from England? And what of the new tenants on his estate named Bennet? Is his path fated to cross with Elizabeth’s once more?

With the addition of his friend, Bingley’s, mischievous twin younger sisters, letters from a stranger and a shadowy figure lurking in the grounds of Pemberley, Darcy’s life is about to be turned upside down

Can he remain steady to his purpose, or will his carefully laid plans soon be in tatters as the rigid protection he has placed around his heart begins to falter?

Check out A Quest for Mr. Darcy on Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo

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Please enjoy this excerpt from A Quest for Mr. Darcy, courtesy of Cassandra Grafton

‘As you can see from the story blurb, Darcy has been travelling for a year and is now back in London set upon his quest to find a wife. This excerpt is from Chapter Three.’ ~ Cassandra

Chapter Three

Once he had broken his fast the following morning, Darcy repaired to his study where he found it difficult to settle, eyeing the small pile of still unopened post on his blotter unenthusiastically. His gaze drifted to the silver salver beside it. He had been back little more than four and twenty hours before calling cards were being handed in by those anxious to reinstate their connection with him. Lifting the card on the top, he studied the embossed name thoughtfully, then turned it over to read the few words penned on the reverse.

Latimer was keen to see him, and Darcy suspected the purpose behind his prompt presentation of his card: his daughter must remain unshackled. But then, what did it signify? Was this not precisely what he sought?

Fitzwilliam had the right of it. He was a single man in want of a wife. Miss Latimer would suffice as well as any other – was she not well educated, of impeccable lineage and with nothing but the common civilities to say for herself? Yes; she would suit him very well.

Darcy dropped Latimer’s card onto the desk and began sifting through the post to determine if any might warrant his attention, but just then a quick rap came on the door as Bingley’s head peered around it, and Darcy happily tossed the letter aside and got to his feet.

‘Good morning, Darcy! I cannot tell you how splendid it is to see you behind your desk once more.’ Bingley came to shake the proffered hand, beaming widely. ‘Pagett will berate me, for in my eagerness to see you I dodged around his stately progress!’

Darcy laughed, waving his friend into a seat. ‘You look in fine spirits. Are you well?’

Bingley leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs at the ankles. ‘I shall not complain; though I would berate the length of your absence. You were missed beyond measure, and it is not only I who delights in your return. It was merely a spark of ingenuity which permitted my escape from Hurst’s house without Caroline attached to my coat tails.’

So Miss Bingley remained at home. Darcy almost shrugged. Though he had forsaken love, he was not quite so desperate!

‘We have much to catch up on, Bingley. Will you join us, take up your usual rooms?’

There was silence for a moment and then, to Darcy’s surprise, his friend leapt from his seat and walked over to the window.

Darcy frowned. ‘There is no obligation – do not feel under duress.’

Bingley swung around. ‘No – no, it is nothing of the sort. I am merely—‘ he ran a hand through his unruly hair.

‘You wished to speak to me – you are troubled?’

Bingley’s air was unusually serious. ‘I have long reflected in your absence on the correct direction to follow – yet always I desired your counsel, and thus my deliberations have come to nothing.’ He waved a hand at the painting of Pemberley above the mantel as he walked back across the room. ‘I have been considering my estate. I am a poor tenant of it. Should I give it up?’

‘And what then? You were determined to purchase and not leave it to the next generation.’

‘Indeed, I was.’ Bingley sank back into his chair. ‘I did like Netherfield, very much. But I do wonder if its attraction was enhanced by the local populace.’

Darcy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He had long owned responsibility for separating his friend from Elizabeth’s sister, though he had kept it to himself. ‘Then, perhaps,’ he hesitated, unsure of his motive. ‘Should you not relinquish the lease, seek an establishment elsewhere?’

‘Well, there is the rub of it.’ Bingley ran a hand through his hair again. ‘I must now consider my sisters’ needs; all of my sisters’ needs. I have deliberated long and hard, yet I fail to reach a conclusion which delivers satisfaction for all.’

Darcy leaned back in his seat, eyeing his friend’s conflicted countenance. ‘Tell me.’

Bingley sighed. ‘Well, here it is: the twins have completed their formal education under their governess and are presently awaiting entrance into the same seminary Louisa and Caroline attended in London, where they will duly receive the finishing touches to their accomplishments.’ He laughed ruefully. ‘Though I believe they will present a greater challenge to their tutors than my other sisters!’

Darcy smiled. He had heard sufficient tales from Bingley of the twins’ exploits to understand he made no exaggeration.

‘So,’ his friend continued, ‘they will be here in Town whilst being tutored and thus residing in Grosvenor Street during the holidays. The former is what feeds my disquiet; the latter does likewise to my sisters.’

‘How so?’

Bingley released a slow breath. ‘I am reluctant to place Olivia and Viola in an establishment renowned for turning young girls into what my other sisters have become. I cannot bear to think of their merry natures being crushed or their joy of life constrained into oppressive formality, though I suppose it is almost inevitable.’

With Bingley’s countenance expressive of his concern, Darcy knew not what to say by way of comfort.

‘But can you imagine, Darcy, how the thought of having the twins in their home for any duration is being received by the Hursts and Caroline, let alone my younger sisters themselves?’

‘And Netherfield? Should you return and take up residence, it is conveniently situated for Town and the perfect home for the girls when not being prepared for the demands of formal society. But what of Julia? She is full young yet, is she not?’

‘Indeed.’ Bingley nodded. ‘She will return to Scarborough to complete her formal education at home, by which time I am certain Cousin Margaret will be well once more. As for Netherfield, though it would serve the twins well when they are not under tuition, Caroline would, as a consequence, have to return to run the household. I am certain you can imagine how they all feel on such a matter!’

Darcy comprehended his friend’s difficulty. Though he had rarely been in company with the twins, Miss Bingley had made no secret of her dislike for her younger half-sisters when they had made a brief appearance at Netherfield, and she frequently complained of them to her brother in Darcy’s presence. As for Miss Bingley’s liking or otherwise for Hertfordshire, he doubted it had undergone much alteration since she left with such obvious satisfaction in the year eleven.

‘The stability of a home with you at Netherfield must be preferable for the younger girls, and being cooped up together in a town house in London is unlikely to satisfy any of the family. In Hertfordshire there are ample opportunities to partake of the country pursuits. Would not the size of the property secure Miss Bingley some solitude?’

Bingley threw his friend a keen glance. ‘Caroline could allocate a part of the house to the twins and keep to as many other rooms as she wished, you mean?’

Precisely. Darcy shook his head. ‘Not at all.’

Bingley sat up slowly in his seat. ‘I do not know if it will answer, but it does offer a more palatable solution than we have at present. Besides, I do wonder…’ he met Darcy’s gaze. ‘I do think I ought to pay a visit… to Netherfield.’ He fixed his friend with a determined stare. ‘I can avoid it no longer; I must speak of it. You recall the Bennet family and my tendresse for the eldest daughter?’

Tension began to seep into Darcy’s shoulders, but he refused to pay it any mind, waiting for Bingley to continue.

‘Well, then. I will own I fear bringing unease upon the lady. You said Miss Bennet was indifferent to me. My removing myself from the neighbourhood must have brought considerable relief. If I now return, will she fear I might renew my attentions?’

Darcy stirred in his seat again. ‘You assume she remains at home. It is nigh on two years since your brief sojourn in Hertfordshire. The lady may well have found an establishment.’

Bingley slumped back in his seat, his skin paling. Was it as Darcy had feared? Did his friend remain affected, even after all this time?

Yet he, Darcy, had recovered from his foolish admiration for the lady’s sister, had he not, and had sworn to think on her no more? Thus, the sooner his friend made a decision, the better for all.

‘Then shall we not go directly?’

Bingley looked startled. ‘Now? This very day?’

‘Why ever not?’ Darcy glanced at the clock on the mantel. ‘It is a ride of but a few hours and the weather holds fair. We could stay overnight, assess the estate on the morrow, and be gone from the neighbourhood within four and twenty hours. If you are at leisure?’

Bingley got to his feet. ‘I am at leisure all too often, my friend; all too often!’

Returning to Hertfordshire had never been part of Darcy’s expectation but he got to his feet determined. The sooner the visit was paid, the better, and what finer evidence was there to prove his distance this past year had been the effective cure for putting the past firmly where it belonged?

~o0o~

Shepherding Bingley into action took longer than Darcy had foreseen, and they had barely reached Hertfordshire before dusk fell. They passed what remained of the evening in a small sitting room, having been served a hastily prepared dish of soup by one of two custodian servants, their conversation touching on many things pertaining to the house and the twins, but never on the family who lived but three miles across the parkland.

The following morning dawned clear and bright, and Darcy took the opportunity to walk out into the grounds. The air was fresh and the prospect pleasing as he approached the area of woodland forming the boundary between the park and the lane as it wound its way towards Meryton.

Reaching the far wall, Darcy leaned on the stone stile and stared thoughtfully into the distance. The spectre of Elizabeth hovered in the air, taunting and tantalising – out of reach yet ever present. He had not anticipated it here at Netherfield, and though he did not welcome it, he had no power to expunge it. He stood even now at the very spot where he had met her on the morning she sought news of her sister’s health, and she appeared before him as clearly as though it were yesterday.

 Darcy released a frustrated breath. ‘Be gone,’ he muttered, turning away from the boundary wall. He needed to concentrate on their reason for being there, and to ensure their departure today was timely.

He walked back across the parkland, his eye now fixed upon the house. It had a pleasing aspect and was in excellent condition for a property leased out since it had been built but five and twenty years ago. Should Bingley retain it; purchase it, even, and make a much-needed home for himself and his younger sisters, or should he give it up?

This morning would perhaps bring a solution. They had agreed to ride out and tour the park and the remainder of the estate and, determined to hasten a decision so he could remove himself swiftly from the memories curling around him like ever thickening wisps of smoke, Darcy picked up his pace and returned to the house.

~o0o~

Some hours later, Darcy and Bingley turned their mounts away from the furthest boundary of the estate and began to ride back towards the house. Their tour of the land had been somewhat circuitous, with any foray in the direction of the Bennets’ home neatly avoided.

Yet, as they made their way along the lane and neared Netherfield once more, Darcy realised they were perilously close to Longbourn.

‘I say, Darcy,’ Bingley hailed his friend as they reached a junction in the road which would determine their course.

Darcy turned in the saddle. ‘You wish to make a call.’

Bingley would attribute the disinclination in his voice to an entirely inaccurate cause, but it suited his purpose. His reluctance to truly test his mettle in Elizabeth’s company was his concern alone — should she even remain at home.

Bingley drew his mount to a halt next to Darcy. ‘You will not accompany me. I understand. Yet I wish to call and pay my respects. When I went away in the year eleven, I took no proper leave of the family. I do not intend to make Miss Bennet-’ he hesitated. ‘Should Miss Bennet remain at home, I have no desire to make her uncomfortable, but I do feel duty – and honour – bound to do what I could not back then.’

Darcy shifted in his saddle. ‘As you wish. You may have my support if you so desire, but if you would prefer to attend alone…’ he hesitated. ‘I was never well received by any of the family.’

Bingley threw him an unreadable glance. ‘I think it was fairly reciprocal, old man.’

Darcy acknowledged the hit. ‘Then if you will excuse me, I shall continue on to Netherfield and await your return.’

With a touch of his hat, Bingley turned his mount, branched left at the junction and set off at a canter towards the gates to Longbourn.

For a moment, Darcy watched his friend. Why this sudden and irrational urge to follow him? With a tug at the reins, he turned his mount to the right. This was no time for self-indulgence. Staying away would clearly answer for Elizabeth and her family having an easier time of it during Bingley’s visit. His friend had the right of it; he, Darcy, had displayed no inclination for the company of the family in the past, and they none for his, and the sentiment was unlikely to have undergone any alteration in his absence.

~o0o~

Darcy returned to the house quite out of countenance but reluctant to own it. No resurgence of memories would be permitted to undermine the newly-found peace he had acquired; yet he could feel himself weakening and was gaining a devil of an ache in his brow from attempting to prevent it. The sooner Bingley returned and they headed back to Town the better. Any qualms he suffered over what news his friend might bring of Elizabeth and her present marital status he rigidly silenced. What was it to him anyway?

Barely had he set foot in the entrance hall, having returned to the house through the boot room, when he came face to face with a middle-aged woman who let out a shriek.

‘Oh, my dear sir! Such a fright you did give me!’

‘Forgive me, madam.’ It was Bingley’s former housekeeper, and Darcy racked his memory for a name. He could not recall exchanging a single word with her during his earlier stay – he had left such pleasures to his friend and his sisters.

‘Mr Bingley wished to visit the house for a brief period. We will be returning to Town directly, and thus he felt no need to recall the household servants.’

The woman before him looked disapproving. ‘All the same, sir, I would have appreciated the opportunity to ensure the provision of adequate meals and a warm fireplace by which to sit. The house is cold from lack of use.’

Could she not leave him in peace to indulge his aching head? ‘Perhaps you could address your concerns to Mr Bingley on his return from Longbourn.’

The woman paled visibly, a hand shooting to her throat. ‘Oh dear! Oh dear me!’

Darcy was intrigued despite himself. ‘What is it? What ails you – here, perhaps you should be seated.’

He waved the housekeeper onto a nearby settle, and she all but fell onto it.

‘Oh, Mr Darcy, sir!’ Clearly, she had a better recall of names than he. ‘This is no way for the master to find out.’

An icy hand took hold of Darcy. ‘Find out what, madam?’

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Cassandra Grafton

Connect with Cassandra Grafton via Blog | Facebook | Twitter

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Giveaway

Cass is generously offering an assortment of goodies to one lucky reader: an ebook or paperback (winner’s choice) of A Quest for Mr. Darcy, an ‘I’d Rather Be at Pemberley’ mirror, a ‘Mrs. Darcy’ badge, a set of 20 Jane Austen bookplates, and a silver Jane Austen silhouette charm, all in an ‘I’d Rather Be at Pemberley’ tote bag!

This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and tell us, now that you’ve had a peek, what makes you most excited about reading this book.

This giveaway will close on Thursday, June 29, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you so much, Cass, for sharing the fantastic excerpt and giveaway! I can’t wait to find out what happens next, and hope you’ll visit again soon!

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I’m delighted to welcome Abigail Reynolds back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate her latest variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Please give her a warm welcome as she introduces Conceit & Concealment, and then enjoy the guest post:

Conceit & Concealment is a new kind of Pride & Prejudice variation with an unusual plot twist. In essentials it’s much like any other P&P variation – an Elizabeth and Darcy happily-ever-after with all the usual characters, set in the usual locations with the usual cast of characters. Instead of changing events or characters, I’ve changed history by having Napoleon invade England six years before the book begins. Living in occupied England changes everything. Elizabeth detests the French invaders, while Wickham is working for them. Darcy’s situation is the most complicated of all – and therein lies the tale.

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Here’s an excerpt of Darcy’s enchanting first meeting with Elizabeth, courtesy of Abigail Reynolds:

Darcy could find no particular fault with Netherfield Park. The house was spacious and pleasant. The grounds were well kept. The rolling hills surrounding it kept the landscape interesting. Bingley was a gracious host. His cook produced tasty meals. And after two days, it was slowly driving Darcy mad.

He had spent hours calming Georgiana’s anxieties about being in a new place. He had walked with her around the gardens and listened to her practice her music. The previous night he had stayed up late drinking brandy with Bingley, something he had been looking forward to. But instead of finally being able to talk freely to his friend as he had hoped, he had hidden everything.

Today Bingley had gone to visit a neighbor, and Darcy was too restless to keep his attention on a book. The only distraction he could find was to work on his billiard game. At least it was quiet in the billiard room apart from the clicking of balls striking and the satisfying thump when one dropped into a pocket.

Bingley appeared in the doorway, apparently done with his visits. “Practicing again? As if you need it to thrash me thoroughly!”

Leaning over the table, Darcy sighted along his cue stick. “It passes the time.”

“If it is time you wish to pass, I have volunteered you to join me in a charitable duty.”

Without raising his head, Darcy flicked his eyes up at Bingley. “Why do I suppose I will not like this?”

Bingley chuckled. “It is true; you will not like it. The local regiment is having an assembly and has commanded the presence of all the young ladies. I agreed we would escort two of them who would both be unprotected otherwise.”

Darcy dropped the cue stick and straightened. “Bingley, the last thing I want is to be giving some local girl expectations I will never be able to meet.”

“There will be no expectations. Their fathers arranged it purely as a matter of their safety. So many of the local men have been conscripted that there are few left to provide escorts, leaving the ladies to the mercies of the French officers.”

“I suppose we must, then,” Darcy said grudgingly. Had he not already given up enough for his fellow countrymen? But the same answer always resounded in his head. Many had been forced to give their lives for their country, and he had not. Yet.

He would only go to this damned dance because if he refused and anything happened to those poor girls, he would bear that burden forever – along with so many others. Sometimes he wondered if a clean death in battle would not have been preferable. But Georgiana needed him, so that was not an option.

Bingley clapped him on the shoulder. “No need to be so glum, old fellow! You might even enjoy yourself a bit. From what I gather, you are getting the young and pretty one. Mine, according to her loving father, is all but on the shelf and ‘not what I would call pretty, but a good girl, a good girl.’” His voice had deepened into an imitation of an older man’s.

“Most likely yours will at least manage some interesting conversation. What is the name of my insipid miss?”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her father already dislikes you, so you should be safe from expectations.”

“Dislikes me? I have not even met the man.”

Bingley grinned. “Oh, you are in a mood today! It is the usual complaint. I did not hesitate to point out his own failings in that regard. But look – the sun is finally showing its face. You should go for a ride and clear your head.”

He had been longing all day to do exactly that. “You will stay here if I do? I do not like to leave Georgiana alone in a new place.”

“Of course. Now go. Get out of here!”

A quarter of an hour later, the stable master regarded Darcy as if he were a being from another planet. The Netherfield staff had not yet accustomed themselves to their guest’s eccentricities, such as saddling and bridling Hurricane himself. But Hurricane was the one luxury he had insisted on keeping at a time when he had given up so much else. He had raised and broken the horse himself, and Hurricane always understood him. Darcy hated allowing anyone else to handle him. Even the process of saddling him and the feeling of Hurricane’s warm flanks under his hands brought him some much-needed peace.

They set off at a trot down the lane and jumped a fence before cantering across a pasture. The sun had not yet burned off the dampness in the spring air.

Darcy had loved springtime when his mother was alive. She had taught him the names of each spring flower in the Pemberley gardens, encouraged him to watch each stage of leaves unfolding, made wishes with him over the star-shaped wood anemones, and taken him on adventures in Pemberley’s magical bluebell wood. She had died in the springtime, too, just as the bluebells were fading away to nothing. And then there had been the terrible spring of 1805 which had cost him his father and more relatives and friends than he could count, as well as his freedom and his country.

Spring had once been a time of beginnings for him. Now it made him think of all he had lost.

These thoughts were not helping to clear his head. He laid a hand on Hurricane’s neck, feeling the tautness of his muscles beneath his shiny coat. Hurricane was still with him – loyal, steady Hurricane.

At Pemberley he could gallop for miles over the empty moors, but Hertfordshire was more settled. He spotted a copse in the distance and made for that, hoping to find some semblance of untamed nature there. He skirted the edge until he found a path leading into it, but before he even entered the copse, a familiar floral scent transported him into the past. It was a bluebell wood.

On impulse, he dismounted and tied Hurricane’s reins to a tree. Ahead of him bluebells swayed in the dappled sunlight. He strode towards them as their almost otherworldly scent enveloped him, raising goose bumps on his skin. The spring green of the wood was the perfect frame for the sapphire flowers. Magic, his mother had called the bluebells.

His pace slowed. How long had it been since his last visit to a bluebell wood? He could not even recall. The bluebells seemed to dance around him with a ripple of laughter. But no – that was human laughter, and it was followed by a squeal of pain.

“That hurt, young man! Or young woman, if that is what you are.” A woman’s musical voice seemed part of the magic, drawing him towards it with a seductive enchantment of its own. Where was she, the woman of the rippling laughter? He searched for a side path through the flowers. His mother had taught him never to trample bluebells.

There it was, so faint it could barely be called a path, just grass dividing a sea of bluebells. Carefully he stepped along it.

He could see her now. Tendrils of dark chestnut hair escaped their binding to riot across her long neck in exuberant curls. She sat on the ground, her legs curled up beside her, and she was surrounded by… puppies? Yes, puppies, crawling over her lap, nipping at her skirts, and rolling over for petting. She picked one up and kissed its head. Fortunate puppy!

His lips curved. A poet would call her Titania, queen of the fairies, in the flesh. More woodland magic.

She must have heard his footsteps, or perhaps the yapping of a puppy alerted her, because she looked back over her shoulder. At the sight of him, she twisted around and scrambled backwards.

In the dappled sunlight, his Titania’s face was alive with energy, full of fine sparkling eyes and kissable lips.

And she was pointing a fully cocked pistol at him.

He took a step back and opened his hands to show they were empty. “I mean you no harm.” The sound of his own voice startled him.

“English?” Her voice was sterner now.

“Yes. I am visiting from Derbyshire. Or, if you prefer, I will say it – Theophilus Thistle, the thistle sifter, sifted a sieve full of unsifted thistles, thrusting three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.” It was the tongue twister no Frenchman could pronounce, no matter how accentless his English might be.

Her lips quirked, but she kept the pistol leveled at him. “Well, Theophilus Thistle from Derbyshire, why are you following me?”

“Because I was walking through an enchanted bluebell wood when I heard the dulcet tones of Titania, queen of the fairies, which enspells any mortal man.” He swept her a full court bow.

She chuckled. “Lovely words, but perhaps you should avoid sudden movements when I have a pistol trained on you.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Of course. You could have been a French soldier out hunting for game.” The distaste in her voice made it clear what kind of game the soldiers hunted here.

“Good. I trained my sister to shoot for the same reason.” One of the puppies began to crawl in his direction.

“Ah.” She lowered the pistol but did not put it aside. “If I am Titania, perhaps I will cast a spell on you instead. It would be much less bloody.”

“Since I would prefer not to have the head of an ass, perhaps I should leave you in peace. Or at least as much peace as you can find with all these puppies.” He could see the mother dog now, a springer spaniel lying in a hollow between two trees and nursing two more puppies. “Which was the one that nipped you?”

She pointed to the brown puppy squirming his way toward Darcy. “That little wild thing.”

He took a slow step forward and held out his hand to the puppy, who sniffed it eagerly. “May I?”

At her nod, he picked up the puppy. The mother dog raised her head and growled.

“You need not worry,” his Titania said to the dog. “He is wearing brown, not blue.” She looked up at him again. “I am training her to attack soldiers who come too close to me.”

“I will keep that in mind.” He turned the puppy over in his hands and examined him. “If you were still wondering, he is a young man. Definitely a young man.” He held the puppy up to his shoulder and scratched its ears. Pushing back against his hand, the puppy licked his chin. Repeatedly.

Her eyes sparkled when she laughed. “I should have known as much since he is a troublemaker already!”

Darcy cuddled the puppy for another minute, taking pleasure in his warmth and the softness of his fur, then reluctantly set him down. “Back to your mistress, young Puck,” he told the puppy firmly. “And now I will leave you in peace. Farewell, proud Titania.”

She set down the pistol at last, picked up the puppy, and waved a tiny paw at him. “Theophilus Thistle, I grant you safe passage through my domain.” She crinkled her nose at him.

He made his way back through the sea of bluebells, smiling for what felt like first time in years. His mother had been right; there was magic in a bluebell wood. He would not wait so long to revisit one.

Perhaps he would bring Georgiana here. She was even more in need of a dose of magic than he was.

Thanks, Abigail, for sharing! I can’t wait to find out what happens next, and hope you’ll visit again soon.

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About Conceit & Concealment

Pride & Prejudice meets Alternate History

Six years after Napoleon’s invasion of England…

Fitzwilliam Darcy is a traitor. He even admits to collaborating with Napoleon’s troops. And Elizabeth Bennet despises all traitors.

But Elizabeth can’t make sense of Darcy. He doesn’t act like a traitor. He risks his own safety to save young women from the French. And how can she despise a man who loves puppies? Something about him doesn’t add up – and she finds him far too attractive.

Then Darcy’s carefully constructed world crumbles, and he must entrust his closest-held secret to Elizabeth. To protect that secret, Elizabeth must disappear entirely, leaving her family and Darcy behind, to plunge herself into the dizzying world of fashionable London and the dangers of the Loyalist Resistance. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Darcy is determined to find Elizabeth. Now that she knows the truth about him, there’s nothing to keep them apart – nothing, that is, until the day Darcy is forced to choose between his country and the life of the woman he loves…

Check out Conceit & Concealment on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Abigail Reynolds

Abigail Reynolds may be a nationally bestselling author and a physician, but she can’t follow a straight line with a ruler. Originally from upstate New York, she studied Russian and theater at Bryn Mawr College and marine biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. After a stint in performing arts administration, she decided to attend medical school, and took up writing as a hobby during her years as a physician in private practice.

A life-long lover of Jane Austen’s novels, Abigail began writing variations on Pride & Prejudice in 2001, then expanded her repertoire to include a series of novels set on her beloved Cape Cod. Her most recent releases are Conceit & Concealment, the national bestsellers Alone with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections, and Mr. Darcy’s Journey. She is currently working on a new Pemberley Variation and the next novel in her Cape Cod series. Her books have been translated into five languages. A lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she lives on Cape Cod with her husband, her son and a menagerie of animals. Her hobbies do not include sleeping or cleaning her house.

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Giveaway

Abigail is generously offering 2 ebook copies of Conceit & Concealment to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and let us know what intrigues you most about the book. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Sunday, June 25, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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My guest today is a newcomer to Diary of an Eccentric. I’m pleased to welcome Don Jacobson to celebrate the release of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, which is Volume 1 in The Bennet Wardrobe Series. First, I’ll let Don share a little about the series, and then you can enjoy the excerpt.

Please give a warm welcome to Don Jacobson:

The Bennet Wardrobe Series is an alternative history in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into three-dimensional personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency period.  If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the period, the time-traveling powers of The Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance, and learn lessons by giving them a chance to escape that time frame, if only for a brief, life-changing interlude.

The Wardrobe underlines my conviction that each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back.

Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline?

Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was the intersection between my youthful fascination with speculative fiction and my mature appreciation of Austen and 19th Century fiction—that threw the idea of the Wardrobe up in front of me.  Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials and in the process carry the eternal story of love and change forward to even the 21st Century.

Some Bennets will travel further and remain in the future longer than others. We may not be privy to accounts of all of the journeys they take. Rather, we may see whispers of those trips as they impact others.

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Please enjoy this excerpt from The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, courtesy of Don Jacobson

Chapter V

Darcy House, August 21, 1886

The excitement was building in Kitty’s breast as she watched from her bedchamber’s window while carriage after carriage halted in front of the Grosvenor Square prospects of Darcy House. Out of those vehicles stepped a fair representation of Britain’s society. The engagement ball would see attendees representing the country’s brightest from the landed aristocracy to press lords, from captains of industry to the literati and from imperial princes to the diplomats whose daily bread was the expansion of British spheres of influence tempered by the avoidance of war with another great power.

Tonight would mark another merger between Great Britain’s economic and political clans; to be confirmed in the simple (is any marriage truly simple Kitty mused) joining of Lord John Cecil and Caroline Anne Bingley the following Monday. As Kitty had discovered in the weeks since she had tumbled out of Papa’s Wardrobe (t’will always be Papa’s in my mind no matter that it stands in Henry’s chambers in Matlock House), her grandniece, Miss Bingley, was herself one of the wealthiest women in the country, with resources at her disposal that would have humbled many of George III’s ducal offspring.

Caroline Anne’s family’s fortunes had continued to wax in the decades since her Great-grandfather Charles had joined forces with Mr. Darcy to create Darcy-Bingley Enterprises.  As a daughter of the house, she was the beneficiary of the income from thousands of preferred shares of DBE, all of which were held on her behalf by the Bennet Family Trust.  Kitty recalled gossip that placed Miss Bingley’s annual revenue at upwards of £30,000.[i]

Darcy-Bingley Enterprises was one of the nation’s, nay, the world’s, leading industrial conglomerates.  People from one end of the British Empire to the other traveled on railroads underwritten by DBE. The first class dining coaches served exquisite meals prepared from the finest ingredients that had arrived in Southampton, Liverpool and Glasgow—or Alexandria, Calcutta and Hong Kong—on DBE steamers. Those meals were laid on fine cloths woven in DBE mills. Later, the gentlemen would adjourn to the lounge car to read any one of a dozen DBE newspapers, perhaps to receive a telegram delivered across DBE wires.

While the Darcy and Bingley names had pride of position atop the corporate letterhead, Kitty had learned that the Bennet, Fitzwilliam and Gardiner families were co-equal partners. Never again would a Bennet mother worry herself to distraction trying to marry off poorly dowered daughters.

Kitty’s lips twitched as she considered how the Miss Bingley of her time would have acted had she succeeded in winning the marriage mart lottery by aligning herself with the kingdom’s second family—the legendary Cecils.

Caroline Bingley would have been insufferable. The airs she would have put on would have made her regular behavior seem positively refined.  She was already impossible to begin with! Even marrying a member of the junior branch of the Cecils…Lord John is only a Kentish cousin[ii] to the Prime Minister[iii]…would have been a triumph of Napoleonic proportions.

And Miss Bingley would have the right of it, too. Back in our time, as a daughter of trade, she was more likely to have been considered lucky to marry a man of the lower gentry…like her sister’s Mr. Hurst or Sir William Lucas’ son John. Her £20,000 settlement would have been put to use elevating the status of her children by increasing her husband’s estate. So, for her to capture the hand, let alone the heart, of a Cecil…

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Kitty lost focus on the street outside with both sight and sound receding into the background as she burrowed deeper into her brown study.

Everything Kitty had learned of the Caroline Johnson who returned from America in 1836 laid lie to all that Kitty had known of the woman who had treated Jane so shabbily.  When the entire Fitzwilliam clan had finally journeyed north to Matlock for Lydia’s internment beside the General and their sons in the family crypt, Kitty had taken a few days to visit with her Derbyshire family.

Taking advantage of Caroline Anne’s invitation, she, along with Henry’s younger sister Eleanor and their companion, Mrs. Brandon, had journeyed by rail from Matlock to Lambton. From there, the Bingley coach had whisked them over to Thornhill turning left at the fork in the road marked with a sign directing Pemberley-bound travelers onto the right branch. Kitty was secretly thankful that she did not have to depend on her great-nephew’s “hospitality” at Pemberley.

This Earl is such a sour man. He reminds me of Mr. Collins—oh wait—‘He who shall remain nameless’[iv]—all disapproval but without any effort to ingratiate himself to his companions.

“Cousin” Kitty spent nearly a week relaxing under the boughs of Thornhill’s giant oaks or talking family history with Caroline Anne and her father, William Bingley. Learning the stories that gave meaning to the lives of Jane, Charles, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy (Kitty could not imagine that forbidding man as anything other than ‘Mr. Darcy.’) helped her come to terms with their lives. As she wandered Thornhill’s halls, she frequently paused before Mrs. Johnson’s portrait. She tried to comprehend how this stately woman bore up under the tragedy of losing both her husband and young daughter in one cataclysmic instant. On top of it, this Caroline could not be granted the surcease of having memory of the horror dim over the years because her scars would remind her every time she considered her likeness in a mirror.

Leaving Thornhill, she, Ellie and Mrs. Brandon caught a London-bound train but broke their trip at Meryton.  Although the village had grown considerably in the 75 years since Kitty had left, it still seemed pleasantly quaint. Alerted by an early-morning telegram from Lambton Station, Kitty’s nephew, Michael Bennet, had himself piloted the carriage from Longbourn. Driving the three ladies back toward the manor house along the lane deeply shaded by overarching trees now more than two centuries old, Mr. Bennet stopped at the Longbourn chapel at Kitty’s request.

She walked through the churchyard past weathered stones bearing familiar family names—Lucas, Gardiner, Long, Philips—until she stood before the great granite obelisk that carried her name—Bennet.  She knelt before a stone pillow set in front of the main memorial with two names scribed side-by-side in its surface

 

Frances Lorinda nee Gardiner                 Thomas Michael

      Died October 9, 1817                      Died January 17, 1815

Aged 47 years                              Aged 54 years

                            Companions through time

              Master and Mistress of Longbourn House

          Beloved by their children and grandchildren

 

Removing her gloves, she gently traced the sharp-edged script identifying the mortal remains entombed beneath the rich turf.  She absently took in the fact that the area around the entire Bennet monument was meticulously groomed. Fresh flowers filled vases placed in brackets throughout the site.  The scent of roses lifted over the moist greenness of freshly cut grass. This was an oasis of memory and a place of profound sadness for Kitty.

Soft footsteps disturbed her reverie. She turned and looked up at a somber Michael Bennet.

“You know, Aunt Kitty, I never met them. They passed away well before my parents were out of the nursery.  Grandmother Charlotte took in my father rather than sending him North and raised him right alongside my mother.

“She told us the great stories—the ones that spoke of how each of my aunts, including her dearest friend, Aunt Elizabeth, searched for and won the loves of their lives. And, when we children were old enough, we summered at Thornhill and Matlock, Pemberley and Kympton and even Windsor Castle. Ask Estelle about the time at Windsor when the four Bennet children along with the Vicompte de Rochet and his little sister disrupted the Queen’s afternoon levee in pursuit of the Crown Prince and the Princess Royal.

“That may have been the first time Her Majesty may have uttered ‘We are not amused’,” he chuckled.[v]

He continued, “Come with me to the family cenotaph.  I imagine I will have to get the stone cutter to add Aunt Lydia and the General.”

Michael helped Kitty rise from the lawn and held her arm as together they walked through the sun-dappled family plot.

There, in the back, directly adjacent to the churchyard wall stood the stark black marble marker nestled amongst fragrant red and yellow blossoms. The highly polished surface bore the names of those family members not resting at Longbourn.  The engraved letters sparkled of their own accord as the flecks in the mineral caught the warm rays of the Hertfordshire summer sun filtering through the canopy.

Jane and Charles lived long and, I imagine, well.

Oh Lizzy, to leave your Mr. Darcy alone for more than nine-and ten-years. The poor man.

And Mary…I wish to have known you better. Your history, as it is written at the Trust, reveals the remarkable woman you became. I could use your dependable counsel now.

“The flowers are so luxurious, Mr. Bennet.  I am impressed that they thrive even here in the shade of the wall,” Kitty observed.

The older man smiled. “You may not know it or appreciate it yet, Aunt Kitty, but roses are something of a Bennet family tradition.”

Kitty leapt in, “Oh, I am fully aware of it. Actually it is a Gardiner family tradition. My Mama brought it to Longbourn when she married Papa. Any of the four and twenty families who Mama dined-in knew that they could depend upon Longbourn to supply all the rose hips they would ever need.”

“Well, your sister, my aunt Lydia, the Countess, took it to new heights.  She rarely if ever lost a competition when her blooms were in the lists. Other master gardeners who wished to plant Rosa floribunda in unusual climes often consulted her. Even today, the Matlock greenhouses attract horticulturists from around the world.

“These are special hybrids of the classic Darcy Lady Annes and the Darcy Lizzy’s Own Red Bourbons designed to flourish in low light,” Bennet added.

The moment he voiced the names, a tear ran down Kitty’s cheek. Accepting Michael’s handkerchief, she dabbed at her eyes before asking, “Might we cut a few flowers for me to place by Mama and Papa? Though they have each other, I would like to give them Jane, Lydie, Lizzy and Mary for just a moment.”

***

The soft rapping on the door dragged Kitty back to the present.  She shook her head to clear away the recollections of the past weeks as the sounds of Grosvenor Square vibrated once again through the windowpanes. She bade the knocker to enter. Her lady’s maid arrived to assist Kitty in her final preparations for the evening’s festivities.

[i] By way of reference, Prince Albert was granted an annual allowance of £30,000 in 1840 when he married Queen Victoria.

[ii] Term denotes a distant relation.  http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cousin accessed 2/15/17.

[iii] Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister 1885-86, 1886-92, 1895-1902. https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/robert-gascoyne-cecil accessed 2/15/17.

[iv] All credit is due and given to J.K. Rowling for this reference to another execrable character.

[v] Often attributed to Queen Victoria, there is little concrete evidence that she ever said it. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/we-are-not-amused.html accessed 2/15/17.

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About The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque

Beware of What You Wish For

The Bennet Wardrobe may grant it!

Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry dawns especially cold for young Kitty Bennet. Called to Papa’s bookroom, she is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet who intends to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall.

She reacts like any teenager chafing under the “burden” of parental rules—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe.

Her heart’s desire?

I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall!  Anywhere but here!

As Lydia later said, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.”

London, May 1886.  Seventeen-year-old Catherine Marie Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, a scion of the Five Families and one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, while their paths may have crossed that May morning, Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future.  And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.

Check out The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque on Goodreads | Amazon

Check out Volume 1, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Don Jacobson

Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”

Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.

He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).

He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.

His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

Connect with Don: WebsiteAmazon Author Page | Goodreads Author Page Twitter

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Giveaway

Don is generously offering 8 ebooks of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque. Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once a day and daily commenting on a blog post or review that has a giveaway attached for the tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented (which will be verified). If an entrant does not do so, that entry will be disqualified. Remember: Tweet and comment once daily to earn extra entries.

A winner may win ONLY 1 (ONE) eBook of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque by Don Jacobson. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter, and the giveaway is international.

Enter by clicking this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

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Thank you, Don, for being my guest today and sharing an excerpt of what sounds like a fascinating book! I hope you come back to visit again in the future.

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