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Hello, friends! C.P. Odom has a new Pride and Prejudice variation, Determination, and I’m excited to welcome him back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release. He’s here today to share an excerpt, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Please give him a warm welcome!


This excerpt is from Chapter 8 of my new novel, Determination. Since the released blurb on the cover and previous excerpts in the blog tour make it evident that Colonel Fitzwilliam is in romantic pursuit of Jane Bennet, the colonel issued an invitation for Jane, Elizabeth, and her aunt and uncle to be his guests at the theatre for a new production of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar. This excerpt is about what happens during that excursion.

Chapter 8

He is not a lover who does not love forever.

— Euripides, writer of classical Greek tragedies

Friday, May 1, 1812
Covent Garden, London

Jane looked out the window in surprise as her uncle’s carriage slowed and came to a halt. Shoppers still thronged the pedestrian walkways to either side of the street since many of the shops along Bow Street stayed open until ten o’clock or even later. But there was no sign of the theatre.

“Why have we stopped, Uncle?” Elizabeth asked, leaning out of the window for a better look. A series of dividers separated the pedestrians from the streets, and she was surprised to see a line of carriages ahead of their coach with several more stopping just behind.

“Covent Garden is the largest theatre in town, Lizzy, and it is usually considered to be the leading theatre of the English-speaking world. Only Drury Lane came close, but the rebuilding likely will not be completed until the fall. Even then, it is uncertain whether it will be able to open since the management is said to have been virtually bankrupted by the cost of the renewal.”

“I thought a new company had been formed to cover the cost of rebuilding by subscription,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“Quite correct, dear, but subscriptions have proven barely able to keep up with costs. Whitbread and his fellow investors are said to have little left in their purse. In any case, Lizzy, there is always a line of coaches, carriages, and hacks waiting to drop their passengers in front of the theatre. We shall simply have to wait our turn.”

Both Jane and Elizabeth settled back to look out at the shops on either side of the street, and there was much to see. Streams of people strolled along the street, pausing occasionally to inspect the various offerings in the fine, high windows. There were drapers, stationers, booksellers, china sellers, and many more, all close to each other and without any break between shops. The shoppers were dressed well but not opulently. Covent Garden and similar shopping areas such as Leicester Square and the Strand were not in the most fashionable areas, but the shops were still genteel and respectable.

The girls had shopped often with their aunt in Cheapside, which was not so very different from the scene they saw here, but everything was significantly altered at night as the streets were lit by a multiplicity of lamps and lanterns of all different colours and brightness. Jane pointed out a dressmaker’s establishment that showed women’s materials—silks, chintzes, muslins, and more—many of them visible behind the windows lit by carefully placed lamps to pique the interest of those passing by.

Just then, their coach lurched into motion again, and they moved up a coach-length before again halting.

“We could get out and walk,” Elizabeth commented, “and then we could inspect the shops more easily.”

“Ah, but it is not done that way,” responded her uncle with a smile. “The theatre employs people who will stop the pedestrians when we alight from our coach, forming a line so we may enter the theatre. If we walked up to the entrance, we would be simply more pedestrians, either forced to enter with those buying tickets or directed away from the arriving coaches. In addition, I should not like to try escorting three ladies past all these merchants’ windows and still arrive in time for the beginning of the play.”

Elizabeth sniffed audibly to show her opinion of this last comment and returned to inspecting the businesses on her side of the coach while her uncle and aunt shared a soft laugh at her expense.

“It is too bad Miss Lucas declined to attend, dear,” Mr. Gardiner said to his wife. “She might have enjoyed the shops even if she does not care for Shakespeare.”

“I believe she would have liked to come, if only to be able to say she had attended the theatre and seen all of the finest society in London. Why, I understand the Prince Regent will be attending tonight,” responded his wife. “But Maria must have eaten some bad meat when we were at the market yesterday. I especially suspect that beef pie she purchased from the gypsy.”

How Maria would have loved to boast that she dined nine times at Rosings with her ladyship, drank tea there twice, AND attended the theatre when the Prince Regent was in attendance, Elizabeth thought sardonically. Silly girl. I told her not to buy that pie.

Gradually, their coach moved up position by position, and Elizabeth happened to be looking at Jane when she saw her sister’s expression change. Jane had been idly looking at the shops on her side of the coach when her head suddenly swivelled and stopped. Her eyes seemed to sharpen and focus, and her whole expression softened even as her lips curved into a smile.

“There is Colonel Fitzwilliam waiting for us,” she said.

“I daresay he is waiting, Jane,” Mr. Gardiner commented dryly, “but I believe I am correct when I say he is not waiting for your aunt and me.”

“And as amiable as I find the gentleman, I am certain he is not waiting for me either,” Elizabeth said teasingly.

Jane’s cheeks grew a little pinker, and she lowered her eyes, but Elizabeth was sure she was not displeased. However, she could not help feeling a pang of regret when she thought of Mr. Bingley.

Had it not been for Mr. Darcy’s arrogant interference, that might be Mr. Bingley waiting, she thought angrily. No matter how Colonel Fitzwilliam might try to change my mind, I do not believe I can ever forgive Mr. Darcy for that.

***

As soon as their carriage stopped in front of the theatre, two servants in Covent Garden livery quickly opened the door and pulled down the step. Mr. Gardiner would normally have exited first in order to assist his wife and nieces, but he waved Jane ahead since the colonel was already stepping forward to do the honours.

Richard’s breath caught in his throat as Jane stepped through the door of the coach, bent over slightly to duck under the top of the door frame. She thus presented to him a most enchanting view down the front of her fashionably low-cut evening gown.

Her aunt had ordered the gown prepared early in Jane’s visit in order to show off her niece’s figure to best advantage though Jane had never had occasion to wear it until her aunt suggested she do so tonight. Mrs. Gardiner’s suggestion certainly achieved the intended result. Richard was not able to keep his eyes from dropping to Jane’s bodice and the view of her neckline as her breasts swelled against the constraints of her gown. He was at least able to make himself wrench his eyes away after a moment so he could accept Jane’s hand as she straightened and stepped to the ground.

Does she know just how enticing she looks? he wondered in numb confusion. Does she have any idea of the effect she is having on me—and on any other man looking this way?

Only manners strengthened by rigid self-control allowed him to exchange greetings with her, though he really wished to simply step back and stare. He did not think he had ever seen a young lady more beautiful in her person or more attractively attired, though he knew enough about women’s fashion to realize that Jane’s gown was nothing extraordinary. It was quite in keeping with the fashion of the day, heavily influenced by the move towards the more simplified and classical styles of Greece and Rome. The waistline was high, and the material was an inner layer of fine white linen with an outer layer of sheer white silk. Gone were the heavy brocades of the previous century, replaced by the clean lines that fell from the high waist just under her bosom all the way to her hem. The sleeves were short, hardly more than straps across the shoulder to support the dress while allowing a low, square-cut neckline to show off the snow-white perfection of a lady’s bosom.

It is a beautiful gown that many a high-society daughter could not wear with more credit, Richard thought. They might pick elaborate gowns with more embroidery and a much higher price, but they could not look as beautiful as this country lass before me—or as desirable.

The addition of physical desirability to his already fixed admiration for this striking young woman only firmed his already expressed intentions, and the soft smile she gave him sent a tingling sensation down his spine and made his blood seem to sing in his veins. He believed he would never forget this moment, his varied emotions twisting, turning, and melting together until no single strand could be untangled from the others.

My intentions are already declared, at least to her uncle, but tonight makes me absolutely determined that nothing—absolutely nothing—shall sway me from winning her and making her my bride.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

The note of query in Elizabeth Bennet’s voice brought Richard’s attention back to the present as he realized that, despite his attempt at self-control, he had clearly been staring too long at her sister. He was quick to turn back to the coach and assist Miss Elizabeth to the ground. The expression on her face was clear: she knew it was the sight of Jane’s exposed bosom that had paralysed him.

And it was clear that she did not approve.

***

Richard was correct in his supposition since Elizabeth had heartily disagreed with her aunt’s suggestion for Jane’s gown earlier that day, believing it was much too revealing.

“Lizzy, you are in London, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world,” Mrs. Gardiner had said with a smile. “Every woman attending the theatre for this opening performance will be dressed in her absolute best evening wear with considerable shoulder and bosom on display.”

At Elizabeth’s disbelieving look, her aunt had continued. “It is not customary or proper to wear a low-cut or short-sleeved gown to an afternoon event, even in London, but it is quite appropriate for the evening. Trust me, all the younger women tonight—both married and unmarried—will be showing considerable bosom. Jane will be much admired by all the men—and envied by all the women.”

“Especially one young man,” Elizabeth had grumbled under her breath.

“Well, I certainly hope so,” her aunt had replied merrily. “After all, we women have to use whatever assets God has given us.”

Elizabeth was well aware that her aunt was more sophisticated than either Jane or herself, but it was still startling to accept her aunt’s intention to make the best use of the impact Jane’s innocent but nevertheless undoubted sexuality would have on a healthy young man, even one as urbane as the son of an earl. Then she had a further thought.

“Will you be wearing…that is…”

“Will I be wearing anything similar to Jane, even at my ancient age?”

Mrs. Gardiner had laughed delightedly as Elizabeth turned bright red in embarrassment. “Yes, Lizzy, I have something in mind for myself also. After all, I have a man in my life to entice, even if we have had four children. I just wish I had had time to have something as alluring made for you, especially if your Mr. Darcy decides to accompany his cousin.”

“He is not my Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth had said instantly, startled and upset. But her aunt had simply given her a sly smile, which had left Elizabeth feeling decidedly unsettled.

***

Elizabeth was easily able to discern that Fitzwilliam was having difficulty breaking away from the vision of her sister though he did manage to straighten and mumble a greeting to her. But Elizabeth was inwardly certain that he had little awareness of what he said, and he looked distinctly relieved as he saw Mr. Gardiner step next into the doorway. That meant her uncle could assist his wife, which allowed the colonel to turn back to Jane and offer his arm. Elizabeth was warmed and disturbed at the same time as she saw the animation of her sister’s smile when she took the proffered arm.

But Fitzwilliam appeared more in control of himself as he offered his other arm to Elizabeth, and she lost little time in taking it. She had managed to quell her irritation by now, and her expression was one of careful calm. She knew it would do no good to poison the relationship between Fitzwilliam and herself. Even if she thought Bingley would have been a better match for Jane, it was obvious that Jane was captivated by the colonel. If he did as he had told her uncle and managed to marry Jane, it would be disastrous not to be able to visit her beloved sister because of the disapproval of her husband.

Two uniformed doormen opened the theatre doors as they approached, giving them all a bow. Elizabeth looked around in interest once they were inside, and she quickly realized her aunt had been correct about the eveningwear of the ladies. All the fashionable women walking about on the arms of their escorts or waiting to go to their seats were elaborately coifed and gowned, many in attire even more revealing than Jane’s.

Several of them should have exerted a bit more common sense and self-control, considering they no longer have Jane’s or even my aunt’s figure, Elizabeth thought puckishly, her usual nature beginning to reassert itself. She also apprehended that Aunt Gardiner had been right about Jane’s effect on the men.

The contortions some of these gentlemen are going through in trying to get a closer look at her without offending their present partners would be quite entertaining if it were not so necessary to maintain my composure.

For a moment, Elizabeth felt a brief flash of jealousy that she was not the cause of so many men trying to get a better look, but she easily repressed it. She had deliberately dressed in an understated gown that would have been appropriate for visiting but was rather out of place tonight. However, she felt little desire to attract the attention of other men. Having so unwittingly attracted the attention of Mr. Darcy, she had no desire for further interest along those lines.

The noise level had increased remarkably once they were inside the foyer, and Jane had to lean towards Richard as she said, “There are more people here tonight than I had expected. Is it very expensive to attend this theatre, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“Not unduly so, Miss Bennet. The ground level boxes go for six shillings, and a great number of people from all walks of life attend every week. It appears they will be playing to a full house tonight.”

“Where shall we be sitting?”

“We have the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, so we should have an excellent view. We go up these stairs just ahead,” Richard said, nodding towards the stairway. An employee in evening dress was passing parties up the stairs and, when their turn came, Richard handed him the card Darcy had given him. The man took only a cursory look at it since Richard had taken the precaution of presenting the card prior to the arrival of the Gardiner party.

The man snapped his fingers, and one of several uniformed boys sprang to his side.

“Enjoy the performance, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” the man said as he handed the card to the boy.

“Thank you, Logan, we shall,” responded Richard politely.

“After me, if you please.” The boy, who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, led the party up the stairs and down a long, narrow hallway.

“Here you are, ladies, gentlemen.” He opened a door towards the end that led into a box. “Enjoy the play.”

“Thank you,” Richard said, giving the boy a shilling. Mr. Gardiner gave him another, and the boy grinned widely at his good fortune.

“Thank you, sirs!” he exclaimed before he scampered down the narrow hall, expertly squeezing past the next party being led to their box by one of his fellows.

“Now we know why they employ boys,” Mr. Gardiner said. “They are small enough to get past parties coming this way.”

The box had seats for six, three in front and three behind, with the chairs in front on a lower step so the view from the rear was unimpeded. The chairs were comfortably made with cushions on the seat and back as well as upholstered arms.

***

“Would you and Mrs. Gardiner care for the lower seats, sir?” Richard asked. “Or perhaps we could let the ladies sit in front while we sit behind.”

“No, no, you young people sit down front. I only need my spectacles to read—my vision is otherwise quite excellent. Mrs. Gardiner and I shall make ourselves comfortable in the rear.

And you will also be able to keep an eye on your two nieces, thought Richard with amusement as he recognised Mr. Gardiner’s ploy. Who knows what might happen with Jane dressed as she is?

Richard made sure that Elizabeth did not manage to separate him from Jane, and before she realized what was happening, he had offered her the left hand seat. She had no choice but to take it, which allowed Richard to seat Jane in the middle seat. He took the remaining seat on the right while Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner settled down in the two seats on the right directly behind Jane and him.

Richard saw Elizabeth looking at him in a speculative fashion, and he arched an interrogative eyebrow. The interior of the box was only dimly lit, but their eyes were rapidly growing used it.

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth? Did you have a question?”

“Not a question, sir, a compliment on the skilful way you arranged the seating.”

“Tactics—my soldier’s training, you know. But I do want to offer you a compliment on your diligence in attending your sister. No ne’er-do-well shall get close to her with you providing protection.”

“Surely you are not suggesting you fall into that category.” Elizabeth gave him her sweetest smile but with the light of deviltry dancing in her eyes. She might prefer Bingley as a husband to her sister, but she did very much like Fitzwilliam. “Yet I do note with dismay that you have reverted to your beloved uniform again. And just when Jane and I had reason to believe your wardrobe of fashionable attire was rather extensive.”

“I am afraid your sister has caught me out, Miss Bennet,” Richard remarked, turning now to Jane. “Either your assessment of my indifference to fashion was correct, or I have exhausted the only two pieces of gentlemanly attire I own.”

“Ignore her, Colonel,” replied Jane with a smile. “She and I often tease our younger sisters about swooning over a red coat, but I think your uniform suits you perfectly.”

“I hope I might be introduced to your other sisters soon,” Richard said quietly, his nerves tingling as he awaited an answer to this probe.

Jane was conscious of a sudden constriction in her throat at this indication that Richard’s interest would not be limited to her tenure in London. She had to swallow several times before she could finally say, “If…if you visit our home in Hertfordshire, I shall be glad…very glad…to introduce you.”

“Excellent,” Richard said, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders. “Perhaps I might pay your family a visit Saturday week? I know you travel home tomorrow.”

“I…I shall look forward to seeing you again,” Jane said quietly, and the softness in her eyes as she looked at him made Richard feel about six inches taller.

However, he caught the expression on her sister’s face, and he was not at all sure what to make of it. Not disapproval, exactly, just…assessing. But assessing what?

“I am not at all familiar with this play,” Jane said as they waited for the theatre to fill. “Lizzy and I were usually more interested in the comedies and the tragedies.”

“The tragedies, Miss Bennet?” Richard asked, arching his eyebrows. “I am dreadfully sorry, but I have great difficulty picturing you delving into King Lear.”

“Well, perhaps my interest did lie more towards the comedies,” admitted Jane sheepishly.

Richard fixed his eyes on Elizabeth. “And does that mean you were more interested in the tragedies?”

“Actually, it was the histories rather than the tragedies, though I admit a partiality to Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.”

“I cannot remember hearing of a production of Julius Caesar here in London,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “I read the play many years ago, but it does not seem too popular any more.”

“It used to be popular some fifty years ago,” her husband said. “And I hear it is very popular in America these days. Evidently, they read it in the spirit of republican patriotism, and whenever it is performed, the part of Caesar is invariably played by an actor with a most distinguished upper-class British accent.”

The last sentence was stated in such a droll manner that it inspired a general round of laughter, tinged with some apprehension since relations between America and England gave every appearance of degenerating into dangerous territories.

“In any case,” Richard said, not wishing to dwell on such sombre matters, “it seems this resurrection of Julius Caesar is the work of John Kemble, who manages the theatre and is the brother of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, the famous actress. He will play Brutus, and his brother Charles will play Marc Antony. I have heard they plan a completely different interpretation of the play. Evidently, they intend it to be more of a ‘noble drama,’ with great attention paid to ‘accurate costuming’ and ‘scenic splendour.’ Or, at least that was the way it was described in The Times.”

Richard had noted that Elizabeth was looking around the theatre as he talked, and he guessed that she had just realized how favourably their box was placed, close to the left side of the stage and at a slightly higher level, where they would be able to look down on the actors from a point only slightly above their heads. Suddenly, when she twisted around to look at the empty seat behind her, he was not surprised to see a sudden look of anger on her face.

“Uncle,” she announced, clearly trying to keep her voice calm, “do these not appear to be very nicely located seats? Compared to what I can see, ours would seem to be among the very best.”

“Of course, Lizzy. This is a third level box, a private box. It can only be rented yearly, and the seating is thus very desirable.”

Elizabeth nodded tautly, before turning to Richard. “You mentioned you had the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Would it be possible this box belongs to your cousin Mr. Darcy?”

Richard’s expression as he looked at Elizabeth was one of calm composure though he could see embarrassed looks on the faces of her aunt and uncle out of the corner of his eye. He knew Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had to be distressed at the unseemly anger their niece was displaying.

They, of course, must have immediately deduced what has only now occurred to their niece, he thought, but they had too much tact to comment on it; whereas, Miss Elizabeth, with her usual forthright manner, simply plunges in and speaks her mind.

“It is indeed Mr. Darcy’s box. He was kind enough to offer it to me for our use tonight.”

“I do hate to be so uncharitable since we are your guests tonight, Colonel,” Elizabeth said, her anger now openly displayed, “but I remember your original reason for visiting my uncle’s house. I cannot help wondering whether Mr. Darcy might coincidentally be joining us tonight.”

“No, he will not,” Richard said flatly. He locked stares with Elizabeth, and he saw the surprise on her face at his blunt statement and his cold, dispassionate tone. She could not long maintain her glare in light of such a refutation of her suspicions, and he could see her anger fading away.

“Then why did he give these seats to you?”

“Because he knew he would not be attending. When I mentioned my intention to attend tonight, he offered the box to me, saying someone might as well have the use of a box for which he had already paid.”

Fitzwilliam’s last words had been stated in an emotionless tone, and Elizabeth flushed in embarrassment as she realized how rude her comments had been.

“I might also mention,” Fitzwilliam continued, “that my cousin has always favoured Shakespeare’s histories, and he had shown the greatest interest in attending this revival of Julius Caesar. I was thus surprised when he made his offer. In addition, this is not the first time he has allowed me and others of his friends to make use of his box. He has always been most generous, even when we were boys together.”

Elizabeth was now stricken at how she had converted the convivial atmosphere to one of cold formality, and she realized Fitzwilliam had just thrown in her face the knowledge that Mr. Darcy had not put her out of his mind but was instead avoiding his usual activities because of the blow to his spirits. She felt especially dreadful as she remembered commenting so lightly to Jane that she was sure he had other feelings that would soon drive away any thought of her. Obviously, such a change in his opinion had not taken place, and she suddenly realized just how spiteful and malicious her behaviour must appear to her companions. A great wash of embarrassment and shame swept over her, and her cheeks flamed red as other remembrances flashed across her mind.

“I am sorry,” she said in a strained voice. “I spoke very much out of turn. I beg everyone’s forgiveness for my careless and thoughtless words.”


About Determination

“Love at first sight” is a laughable concept in the considered opinion of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam andnever occurs in real life—certainly not in the life of an experienced soldier. In fact, until he observes the smitten nature of his cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy, he doubts that fervent love truly exists. Marriage, after all, is a matter of money, social standing, and property.

But his cousin becomes besotted with Elizabeth Bennet, the lovely but penniless daughter of a Hertfordshire gentleman, and is determined to make her his wife. Unfortunately, emotions overwhelm hisgood judgment, and he botches an offer of marriage.

When the colonel attempts to untangle the mess, his own world becomes almost as chaotic when he makes the accidental acquaintance of Miss Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s beloved elder sister. Can emotions previously deemed impossible truly seize such a level-headed person as himself? And can impassible obstacles deter a man of true determination?

Amazon (U.S.) | Amazon (U.K.)


About the Author

By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.

I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife’s beloved Jane Austen books after her passing.  One thing led to another, and I now have five novels published:  A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019), and A Covenant of Marriage (2020). Four of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposal, Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets, Consequences, and A Covenant of Marriage.

I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Colin Odom Facebook page | C. P. Odom Amazon Author page | C. P. Odom Goodreads page | C. P. Odom Meryton Press page


Giveaway

Meryton Press is generously offering 8 ebook copies of Determination as part of the blog tour. You must enter through this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!


Thank you, Colin, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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Hello, friends! I’m thrilled to have Jessie Lewis as my guest again today to celebrate the release of her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Fallen. Jessie is here to share a deleted scene from the novel, and there’s a giveaway as well. Please give her a warm welcome!


This scene didn’t make the final cut into Fallen, but I wrote it to demonstrate how the relationship between Darcy and the Bingleys is the-same-but-not-quite-the-same as we’re used to seeing in Pride and Prejudice. Their ‘closed ranks’ superiority is heightened, yet the tension between them all is more pronounced, and it is this which intrigues the observant Elizabeth Bennet right from the off as she attempts to put her finger on what is going on behind the scenes at Netherfield Park.


“Move over, Mary, you are taking up half the seat.” This demand was accompanied by a determined shove as Lydia shouldered her sister into the corner of the carriage.

“I am taking up no more room than you!”

“For heaven’s sake, put your book down.” Mrs Bennet gave Mary no time to object—only snatched the offending article from her grip, snapped it closed and thrust it back towards her. “There is not enough room for you to sit with your elbows sticking out every which way.”

Lydia sent Mary a look of triumph; Elizabeth sent Lydia one of disapproval that was returned with a loud sigh and theatrical eyeroll. She turned away to look out of the window, wishing she had insisted upon walking, for so many Bennet women in such a confined space was making even the short drive to Netherfield arduous.

Several coos arose when the house came into view. Elizabeth had glimpsed it many times over the last few years, but as neither her mother nor any of her sisters shared her love for walking, this was their first sight of it since the Connellys gave up the place. Nobody had been inside since then, and Elizabeth could not help but be impressed by what she saw as they were shown through to the saloon, for she had forgotten quite how grand the house was. Her interest in the proportions of the rooms was not equal to her curiosity about the people occupying them, however, and while Mrs Bennet craned her neck to admire the gilt cornices, Elizabeth watched closely to see how they were received by the ladies of the house.

With dismay bordering on alarm was how, if she did not mistake the fleeting look Miss Bingley sent Mrs Hurst, and the disdainful twitch that pulled at the former’s top lip until it stretched into a tight smile. “How good of you to call, Mrs Bennet,” that lady said. “And so soon after we saw you at the assembly.”

Mrs Bennet—from whom Jane had inherited her propensity to always see the good in people, and Elizabeth her propensity to always assume people would see the good in her—smiled unquestioningly. “That is precisely as we thought, Miss Bingley, for though we were enchanted to make your acquaintance on Saturday, there is never much opportunity to talk at a dance,”—Elizabeth dipped her head to hide a smile, fancying her mother had never suffered any such impediment—“and we wished to make certain you knew how welcome you are to the neighbourhood.” As though to ensure they never left it, Mrs Bennet anchored herself, without being invited to, on the nearest sofa. Her youngest three daughters followed suit, dropping onto various pieces of furniture around the room until only Jane and Elizabeth remained standing.

Miss Bingley’s chest swelled with indignation.

“Are you finding the country to your liking?” Elizabeth enquired to distract her from her pique.

“We are not yet much acquainted with the area, so it is difficult to say. Will you not sit down, Miss Elizabeth? Miss Bennet? You may as well now.”

Elizabeth inclined her head and lowered herself into the nearest seat, as did Jane and then Mrs Hurst. Miss Bingley remained standing.

With seamless grace and a little assistance from Elizabeth, Jane turned the indelicate beginning into a genteel discussion of Hertfordshire’s merits. Mrs Bennet only occasionally contributed; Mary, Kitty and Lydia not at all; thus, the conversation had begun to show real promise of becoming agreeable to all when the door burst open and Mr Bingley strode into the room, looking for all the world as though he had thought it was on fire and he was the man to put it out.

“Ah! Caroline! I heard we had guests, and…well, I…I thought you might need me to…that is, I was worried you would, ah…Good day, Miss Bennet. And Mrs Bennet. And Miss…Good day to you all.”

Elizabeth could not be happier for Jane, whose presence had almost certainly induced this hasty and tongue-tied arrival. Why Mr Darcy had thought it necessary to come was less clear. He walked into the room more sedately than his friend, but glowering at everybody present, less as though he meant to extinguish a blaze and more as though to determine who started it. She was still delighting in his supercilious nonsense when his sweeping gaze reached her, and she took some pleasure in his obvious surprise at having been observed in his scrutiny of the room. She made no attempt to disguise the fact that she was diverted and instead raised an eyebrow by the smallest increment—I know what you are about, sir!—then turned to join the conversation that had sprung up amongst the others.

“Aye, there is a dance every month at the assembly rooms,” Jane was telling Mr Bingley.

“Though, you must not concern yourself that you will have to wait that long to dance again with Jane,” Mrs Bennet informed him. “There are forever impromptu little reels being danced at the sorts of parties we attend.”

Elizabeth cringed inwardly, which turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, for Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst both did so outwardly.

Mr Bingley either did not share his sisters’ disdain for ungarnished country amusements or was too gallant to show it. “How merry and uncontrived all your gatherings must be. I am impatient to experience one for myself.”

“Then I hope you will agree to dine with us a week on Tuesday, sir. We shall send a card, of course. I hope you will come, for if it is lively and informal that pleases you, then I think you will like Longbourn very well indeed.”

Elizabeth’s increasingly good opinion of Mr Bingley was bettered further still when he gave no indication of being put off by this and accepted on behalf of his entire party. She glanced at Mr Darcy to determine how deeply the prospect appalled him and caught sight of Miss Bingley sending a most expressive look in the same direction—one that seemed to beg him to extricate them from the engagement. Elizabeth did not think he could have missed it, for Miss Bingley was directly in his line of sight, yet rather than acknowledging her, Mr Darcy turned away to look out of the window. It was an exchange by which Elizabeth was uncharitably diverted. Jane had reported to them all a remark Miss Bingley had made that while Mr Darcy rarely spoke among strangers, he was remarkably agreeable among his intimate acquaintance. Not so very agreeable, it seems, she thought. Or so very intimate. Poor Miss Bingley!

“Have you had the opportunity for much sport since you arrived?” enquired Mrs Bennet, never one to let a conversation lapse long enough for anybody to grow complacent.

“Not as much as my brother would like,” Mr Bingley replied amiably.

“We thought you might be shooting today,” Jane said with a smile that Elizabeth fancied must signal to everybody her pleasure that he was not.

“We would have been, had we known the weather would be so clement. Alas, we went out yesterday—in the rain—and we have to constrain ourselves to one shoot a week else Darcy will kill every bird on the estate before Michaelmas.” He leant forwards and whispered theatrically, “There is such a thing as being too good an aim.”

“How good of you to be the one to make the sacrifice,” Elizabeth remarked. “I might be more inclined to enjoy the sport whenever I chose and ask my friend to curb his efficiency.”

“We could hardly expect Mr Darcy to shoot fewer birds simply because Charles does not aim as well,” Miss Bingley interjected. “We should as soon ask Mr Hurst to win fewer hands at cards because none of us play as well as he.”

“Or you to buy fewer dresses, though you do look better than I in all of them,” Mr Bingley said to her over his shoulder.

Try as she might, Elizabeth could not fully repress a laugh; it bubbled up and caught in her throat just loudly enough to draw notice. She made a more concerted effort to conceal her amusement when Jane cast her a beseeching look, though she did not truly believe she had done much damage until she noticed Mr Darcy was glowering at her again. She bit her lips together to banish her smile and resolved to be sensible for the remainder of the visit.

“Well, that went well, did it not, girls?” Mrs Bennet said as their carriage pulled away. Then her expression soured. “Though Lizzy must learn not run on at people the way she does.”

“She was only being polite, Mama,” Jane protested.

“No, no she was not!” She tossed a vexed glanced at Elizabeth. “She was being clever, as she always has to be. Well I beg you would stop being clever, Miss Lizzy, until your sister is engaged. Then you may run on at everybody to your heart’s content.”

“Why, thank you, Mama. I am not sure there is any logic to your hope that my being stupid will increase Jane’s chances of falling in love, but if you are convinced it will help then you may count on my obedience.”

This answer pleased her mother not at all, but Jane laughed more easily than she usually would have, convincing Elizabeth that the visit truly had gone well, and delighting her enough that she did not object once to Mary’s elbowing her in the ribs all the way home.


About Fallen

The air was all gone, and coldness overtook her, as though she had fallen into icy water and was sinking into the blackness. Her stomach churned, as it was wont to do these days. He would not marry her. She was ruined.

THE ARRIVAL OF TWO ELIGIBLE GENTLEMEN at Netherfield Park sends ripples of excitement through nearby Meryton. But Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy are not the only additions to the neighbourhood raising eyebrows. An unremarkable cottage in the woods between Netherfield and Meryton also has new tenants. One of them—a lively little girl with an adventurous spirit, a love of the outdoors, and a past shrouded in mystery—draws the notice of more than one local.

ELIZABETH BENNET—YOUNG, INTELLIGENT, and UNFASHIONABLY INDEPENDENT—forms a poor first impression of the haughty Mr Darcy. On closer acquaintance, and against her better judgment, her disgust begins to give way to more tender feelings. Yet standing in the way of any potential romance is the closely guarded history of a certain little girl in a cottage in the woods. Elizabeth might be ready to disclose her hidden affections, but she is about to learn that some things are better kept secret, and some hearts are safer left untouched.

Buy on Amazon


About the Author

Jessie Lewis, author of Mistaken, Speechless,and The Edification of Lady Susan,enjoys words far too much for her own good and was forced to take up writing them down in order to save her family and friends from having to listen to her saying so many of them. She dabbled in poetry during her teenage years, though it was her studies in Literature and Philosophy at university that firmly established her admiration for the potency of the English Language. She has always been particularly in awe of jane Austen’s literary cunning and has delighted in exploring Austen’s regency world in her own historical fiction writing. It is of no relevance whatsoever to her ability to string words together coherently that she lives in Hertfordshire with two tame cats, two feral children, and a pet husband. She is also quite tall, in case you were wondering.

You can check out her musings on the absurdities of language and life on her blog, LifeinWords.blog, or see what she’s reading over at Goodreads. Or you can drop her a line on Twitter, @JessieWriter, or on her Facebook page.


Giveaway

Quills & Quartos is generously offering a free ebook of Fallen as part of the blog tour. The winner will be chosen by the publisher from the commenters on this post one week after the tour is over (January 22, 2021). Good luck!


Thank you, Jessie, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book!

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Hello, friends! I’m pleased to welcome Jack Caldwell back today to celebrate the release of his latest novel, Rosings Park. Jack is here to talk a little about the book — the last installment in his Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series — and to share an excerpt and a giveaway. Please give him a warm welcome!


Greetings, everybody. Jack Caldwell here.

I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about my latest novel, ROSINGS PARK: A Story of Jane Austen’s Fighting Men. This book is the closing chapter to the series I started with THE THREE COLONELS: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men. There are currently two other books in the series, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and PERSUADED TO SAIL.

The Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series is a unique one in Austen fiction. I take the immortal characters created by Miss Austen and insert them into the historical events of the Regency period, the most notable being the Hundred Days Crisis of 1815. I also assume that all of her characters knew and interacted with each other. This leads to some interesting stories, I can assure you!

The first three books were companion novels—separate stories that happened in and about the same time, but with some limited interaction. They can be read as stand-alones, but it is more fun to read them all and enjoy the small amount of interweaving between them all.

ROSINGS PARK is different. A sequel to THE THREE COLONELS (which was itself a sequel to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY), ROSINGS PARK acts as the concluding chapter to the series. THE THREE COLONELS was about the Battle of Waterloo. ROSINGS PARK is what happened afterwards. And boy, did a lot happen! Economic depression, rapid industrialization, volcanic explosions, civil unrest, and crop failures. Regency Britain was in turmoil and our favorite characters are caught up in the midst of it.

Who are those characters? Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, of course, are major players in my little drama. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam has been knighted, married Anne de Bourgh, and lives at Rosings with the irksome Lady Catherine. Meanwhile, Sir Richard’s good friend, Sir John Buford, suffers grievous injuries received at Waterloo, and his wife, the former Caroline Bingley, struggles to nurse him back to health. Meanwhile, there are unknown forces out to destroy Rosing Park.

Excited yet? I hope so!

Not everything is dark and mysterious. There are some lighter moments, such as this excerpt. To set the scene, it is a summer morning in 1817. Darcy, Elizabeth, and their children are at a house party at Rosings Park, now controlled by their cousins, Sir Richard and Anne Fitzwilliam. Also visiting are the Fitzwilliams’ friends, Sir John and Caroline Buford.


Elizabeth had been at the instrument only a short time when she was distracted by a gentleman’s entrance.

“Pray, do not let me disturb you,” Darcy said.

She gifted him with a bright, private laugh. “It has been many years since your presence disturbed me, my love. Did you enjoy your ride?”

Darcy frowned as he unconsciously glanced at himself. He had changed out of his riding clothes. “It was…informative.”

Elizabeth shook her head. Darcy again rode the grounds of Rosings to inspect them. She needed to rid herself of her slight irritation at his scrutiny. She rose, extending her hand. “Come—I long to enjoy a good walk with you.”

A handsome half smile graced his face. “I am at your disposal, as always, my dearest.”

~~~

Sometime later, the Darcys were deep in the groves of Rosings Park. The two conversed about topics important only to themselves while walking comfortably, nearly hip to hip as happily married people often do. Elizabeth, both arms wrapped about Darcy’s, was laughing over her husband’s droll commentary about Mr. Collins’s latest foible when she was brought to a halt so suddenly that she nearly lost her footing.

“Fitzwilliam! What on earth?”

Darcy stared straight ahead, his expression a mixture of distaste and mortification. “Forgive me, my dear,” he managed after a moment. “Let us turn back to the house.”

“But why?” Elizabeth looked about. “The weather is not uncomfortable, and I wish more time with you. Are you well?”

“Perfectly. There is a path over here.”

“If you wish.” Elizabeth could not understand Darcy’s actions. There was nothing amiss with their present location. It was a well-worn path along a fence. There was a gate nearby.

“Come, Elizabeth.” Darcy practically tugged her along.

“What is wrong? You act as though you wish to flee this place.”

“You cannot want to be here!”

Elizabeth was taken aback at the pain in her husband’s eyes. Such a statement could only cause her to glance about her again. There was something familiar about that gate.

“Oh…!”

“There, you see?” Darcy moaned. “I should have minded my steps better.”

Elizabeth was frozen in place. This was the spot she received his letter—the letter—the missive that had so changed her life.

The entire incident flashed before her mind. Her disjointed early morning stroll, her thoughts, both angry and regretful. His surprising appearance. The thick letter extending over the gate in his long fingers. His haughty request at war with his weary, pained, defeated expression. His stiff, measured escape. His written words—his terrible, awful, horrifying, wonderful, charitable words.

“This was the place,” Elizabeth whispered, her eyes wide. “How could I forget?”

“I am so sorry, my dear. I have ruined our walk. Come away from here.”

“You have ruined nothing, Fitzwilliam,” she returned, refusing to be moved, still staring at the gate. “I can only wonder at my negligence. This spot should be burnt into my memory.”

“You wish to remember my dreadful behavior?”

“No!” Elizabeth turned to him, taking both his hands in hers. “Do you not see, my love? This is the place of our beginning!” At his frown, she continued. “Before that day—before your letter—I was a proud, blind fool. You opened my eyes, and I saw myself for the first time. I realized how in love with myself I had been—how stupidly I had acted.”

“I was worse!”

Elizabeth smiled, her fingers stroking his firm, chiseled jaw. It calmed him, as she knew it would. “Our motives were different. You acted out of self-preservation and love of your family and friends. I had no idea how hunted you had been by the women of the ton. Who could imagine the pain and disappointment Georgiana suffered at the hands of Wickham or her fear of exposure? With Charles, you acted as a friend, for you could not see emotions Jane refuse to display.”

“I should have,” Darcy broke in. “I should have known her by my own example.”

She laughed. “I shall allow that! But your reserve was not the only reason I misunderstood and misjudged you.”

“My thoughtless comment at the assembly was inexcusable.” He grimaced in disgust.

“It was rude, my dear, and a bad start but not inexcusable. You showed your interest in me only a few days later at the Lucas’s party and again at Netherfield. If I had been in my right mind, I would have forgiven you and fallen in love at once. I certainly never should have paid Mr. Wickham any notice at all! But there was nothing noble in my actions. I intended to hurt and belittle you for the petty crime of bruising my vanity. I was an angry little girl.”

She turned her attention to the gate. “At this place, I became a new creature. At this painful, wonderful place, my heart was opened, for I then saw it was incomplete.” Her dark, sparkling eyes were on Darcy again. “It was at Pemberley that I finally admitted what my heart was missing: you, my dearest love. You.”

There was only one way Darcy could respond to her declaration. He swept his wife into his arms and kissed her senseless. In turn, she wrapped her arms about his neck and returned his passion fully. They only stopped for the need to breathe.

Darcy tilted his head so their foreheads touched. “I must disagree, Elizabeth. You did nothing wrong. I deserved your refusal, your censure. I was a fool. You are the saving of me. You have made me a better man.”

“Impossible.”

He shook his head slowly. “I shall no longer argue with you for the greater share of the blame. Instead, I vow to labor that you never have cause to regret marrying me.”

She grinned. “Impossible.”

Darcy chuckled. “It is you who are impossible! However can I convince you?”

Her voice was a caress. “Kiss me again.”

Sometime later, as they stood in a close embrace, Elizabeth said, “I have a request to make, my dear. I need to change your mind about this blessed spot. We shall have a picnic here one day—just the two of us.”

Darcy was unconvinced. “How will that change our memories?”

Elizabeth gave her husband her most playful look. “We shall think of something.”


ROSINGS PARK – a Story of Jane Austen’s Fighting Men is now available in print, Kindle, and at Kindle Unlimited.


To celebrate, I am giving away two (2) ebook copies of ROSINGS PARK – a Story of Jane Austen’s Fighting Men in your choice of MOBI (Kindle) or EPUB format!


To enter Jack’s generous giveaway, please leave a comment with your email address. The giveaway will be open through Sunday, December 27, 2020. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

A big thank you to Jack for being my guest today. Congratulations on your new release!

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Hello, friends! I’m delighted to welcome Mark Brownlow back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of his latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Port and Proposals (Mr. Bennet’s Memoirs Book Two). Mark is here to introduce the novel and share an excerpt and giveaway. Please give him a warm welcome!

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Hi Anna and thank you so much for hosting me again at Diary of an Eccentric. Port and Proposals takes Mr Bennet’s perspective on life at Longbourn, beginning with Lizzy’s departure to Hunsford. However, the novel interweaves the events of Pride and Prejudice with Mr Bennet’s own story and the fate of Mary.

We know Mr Bennet has intelligence and an excellent eye for observation, but he rarely applies either to the advancement of his family’s welfare. Over the course of Port and Proposals, he starts to examine a few home truths about himself and his failings.

Mary’s story asks what would happen if you give her a chance to grow and blossom, and whether young flowers can survive the kind of harsh winds of fate that sometimes blow through Longbourn.

The following excerpt comes from an early scene at breakfast, where our father of five begins to realise there might be more to his middle daughter than everyone assumes. This is the tentative beginning of a deeper relationship between the two that takes on added significance when a young (unmarried!) curate begins to show an interest in Mary.

Mrs Bennet, Lydia and Kitty are off to organise new gowns for an upcoming ball they hope will include military guests, leaving Mr Bennet and Mary alone at the table…

Knowing no words could now breach the battlements of maternal optimism, I remained silent as my wife, Lydia, and Kitty left the room, all of them clucking in joyous abandon like hens around the threshers.

“You have no wish to join them, Mary?” I peered over my paper.

My daughter looked up from her plate, on which a poached egg lay half-eaten, cut around its edges to leave a precise circle of white surrounding a golden heart. “I do not care for balls, Papa, as you well know. Nor for officers.”

I put down my paper and rested my hands on my lap, contemplating my daughter for a few moments. There was nothing out of place with Mary, not even a loose hair or thread. Her egg even rested on a pedestal of toast that formed a perfect square.

“What do you care for?” I said. “Apart from, it would seem, geometry.”

“What do you mean, Papa?”

“I know much of what you claim to dislike: balls, gossip, drink, and more. It is a lengthy list. But what is it you enjoy? What do you wish for in your life?”

My daughter did not answer and took a sip of coffee, face as inscrutable as ever.

“I do not mean to pry,” I continued. “You have your books and pamphlets. They likely make more sense than most people of my acquaintance. You are wise to put your faith in printed words, for they, at least, will remain constant.” I turned my attention to my food.

“I should not be averse to marriage.” Mary spoke quietly.

My mouth fell open like that of a trout fresh from the river, but my daughter continued with her breakfast as if she had merely passed comment on the state of the weather.

“Well,” I said. “That is unexpected. Though hardly a rousing endorsement of the state of matrimony.”

“We are taught its value in principle, Papa. But…” Mary looked up at me, and I raised an eyebrow. She put down her cutlery. “How are we to judge who makes a good husband?”

“That is quite a question, child. Does scripture not have something to say on the matter? The Bible invariably has an answer, if not always the right one.”

My daughter’s eyes grew distant for a moment. “It says, ‘For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.’ Ephesians.”

“You wish a husband willing to give up his life for you?”

“A husband who would…love me.” Mary’s head and voice dropped as she spoke the last two words. Then she picked up her knife and fork and began cutting vigorously at her egg, which bled yellow before the onslaught.

“We all wish for a partner who will love us.” I paused for a moment as I thought back to an earlier conversation with Mrs Bennet. “But it is denied to many.”

Mary stopped cutting and raised her head again. We stared at each other, like two deer emerging from a copse into an unfamiliar field, uncertain of our next step.

“I am not like my sisters.” The words came out hesitantly.

I reached out to touch Mary’s hand, but she pulled her arm away.

“There is joy in diversity,” I said.

“Men do not look at me and see a potential wife. Or even…or even a woman. I am not given to lively conversation. I have some talent at the pianoforte, but I am…plain.”

“Come now, Ma-“

“No, Papa.” My daughter raised her hand for a moment. “It is but the truth, and we are urged to honour the truth. I have my qualities, but they are not easily recognised. I am nobody’s favourite. Not Mama’s. Not…” She turned her head away from me.

My stomach tightened. “You are cherished by your mother. And by myself.”

“Am I?” Mary’s voice was barely a whisper now. “Lizzy has her intelligence, Jane her beauty, and Lydia her confidence. Kitty has Lydia. What do I have? Who pays notice to me?”

Mary trembled a little, and for a moment I saw past the stiff back and assured morals that had previously left me in little doubt of her character. “Mary, I-“

We both jumped at the clatter of the door.

“My, how serious you look,” said Lydia. “You will never find a husband if you will not smile, Mary. Come along, Mama is waiting.”

I glanced at Mary, but all trace of vulnerability had vanished, her face now as stony as one of Moses’s tablets.

****

About Port and Proposals

All Mr Bennet wants to do is read books, eat cake, and study butterflies. But life has other plans for him in this Regency tale of love, regret, and second chances.

Family troubles and a promise to his middle daughter, Mary, force our father of five out of his library to deal with reticent bachelors, stubborn curates, and glib officers. Though his greatest challenge may be to face up to a past he cannot seem to forget.

Mark Brownlow presents a Pride and Prejudice variation full of Mr Bennet’s wit and wisdom that plays out against the backdrop of Vols II and III of Jane Austen’s famous novel.

Although a standalone story, Port and Proposals is also the sequel to Brownlow’s Cake and Courtship.

Kindle and Kindle Unlimited: USA | UK | Canada | Australia (and all Amazons)
Paperback: USA | UK | Canada (and most other Amazons)
Goodreads: Book page

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About the Author

Mark Brownlow is a British-born writer living in Vienna, Austria. He has published three Regency tales narrated by Mr Bennet: the novels Cake and Courtship and Port and Proposals, as well as a short story (A Third Proposal). He has also authored two novellas in the Charlotte Collins Mysteries series: The Lovesick Maid and The Darcy Ring take place in Jane Austen’s fictional village of Hunsford. You can find Mark at LostOpinions.com.

Science degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Aberdeen and Reading prefaced a short-lived career as a research academic. Since turning from facts to fiction, Mark has also worked as a translator, marketing consultant, business writer, and copywriter. None of which kept his soul happy in the way that creative writing does. When not writing, he works as a travel journalist and part-time lecturer in medical and scientific English at a local university.

If there is no pen to hand, he can be found discussing football with his sons or sharing a glass of wine with his wife in front of a costume drama.

Mark’s website
Mark’s author page at Goodreads
Mark’s author page at Amazon.co.uk
Mark’s author page at Amazon.com
Mark on Twitter
Mark on Facebook

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Giveaway

Mark is generously offering an ebook copy of Port and Proposals to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, December 20, 2020. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Mark, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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Hello, friends! If you’re looking for a short and sweet holiday book, you’re in for a treat. Maria Grace is visiting the blog again today to celebrate the release of Unexpected Gifts, the fourth book in her Pride and Prejudice-inspired Darcy Family Christmas series. Maria is here to talk about her inspiration for the book and to share an excerpt and a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

****

Thank you, Anna for hosting me.

You well know, I love to write holiday stories, next to dragons they are my very favorite writing project. One of these days I may need to do a dragon holiday story, maybe next year, right?

(Ok, you can stop rolling your eyes at me. I can hear you doing it you know.)

In the past, I’ve done holiday romances—I mean who doesn’t love a feel-good holiday romance, right? But somehow that didn’t feel quite right this very memorable, challenging, 2020-has-now-become-its-own-adjective kind of year.

With all this this year has wrought, I wanted to write about what can happen when we find ourselves shut in the house with people whose relationship with us is a wee bit fraught. The kind of thing that happens during the holiday season (or during a pandemic, just sayin’.) We all have people with whom we wonder how we are going to get through the holidays without setting off something untoward.

The holidays just seem to bring out all those rough edges and leave us at risk for rubbing each other the wrong way—rather like petting a cat backward, which is generally not recommended. On the other hand, they also offer us a great opportunity for making things right between people with difficult relationships.

That seemed to be a very appropriate place to draw a holiday story from this year.

One doesn’t have to look to long or hard at the Darcy family to identify places where difficult relationships were likely: Lady Catherine, Lady Matlock, Lydia, even Charlotte Lucas might harbor some serious resentments towards Elizabeth and Darcy. So that became to foundation for this collection of three holiday short stories.

These stories may make you laugh, make you think, and might even make you cry, but they will definitely leave you with the warm fuzzy holiday vibe that we all so need right now!

This is the fourth book in the Darcy Family Christmas series. Remember to check out the other three!

Here’s a little excerpt:

A draft blew from the windows at the end of the corridor. The chill air sent a shiver between her shoulders. Perhaps she had underestimated the comforts of the blazing parlor fire. Tiny, wiry, not-to be-trifled with Mrs. Reynolds bustled up to her, that something-is-not-going-according-to-plan look on her face. She did not wear that look often.

“Mrs. Darcy, guests have arrived and are waiting for you in the lower parlor.” Though petite, Mrs. Reynolds commanded respect—and perhaps even a little fear when her dark eyes flashed the way they did now.

Something about the way she said guests … “I am not aware that Mr. Darcy has invited anyone else to Pemberley for Yuletide.”

“That is what I understood, too, madam. But the young woman was insistent that I present you with her card.” Mrs. Reynolds held out a plain white card.

No, that was not possible.

“So, you were not expecting her? Shall I turn them away?”

“Them?”

“Yes, madam, there are two small children with her.”

“She brought the children? Is there anyone else?”

Creases tightened beside Mrs. Reynolds’ dark eyes. “I imagine you are asking if there is a man with them. No, I have been assured there is not.”

“Then …” She chewed her lip. No doubt Darcy would not like it very much, but really, what else was she to do? They had come such a long way—how had they managed that? As long as he was not with them … “See that rooms are made up for them and another girl is assigned to the nursery to assist. I will go down and find out how long she and the children are to stay. I will inform Mr. Darcy of the plans myself.”

“Very well, Madam.” Mrs. Reynolds looked just a little relieved as she took Elizabeth’s arm and escorted her down the grand stairs—another one of Darcy’s precautions in her delicate state.

Perhaps he was a little, just a little, overprotective.

Elizabeth paused just outside the lower parlor door and smoothed her periwinkle blue gown over her ample midsection.  Yes, enjoying the soft wool beneath her fingertips was just stalling, but surely that could be excused this once.

What was Lydia doing here, and why had she given them no notice of her plans?

Elizabeth waddled into the elegant room, appointed in teal and ivory furnishings and drapes. It was one of those rooms that was not precisely according to her tastes, a bit too reserved and formal for parlor company. The carved mahogany furnishings demanded respect rather than welcomed visitors. But Darcy liked it very well indeed as his mother had seen to its décor herself. So, she had determined, it would stay exactly as it was.

Darcy rose from the wingchair near the not-yet-lit fireplace and approached her. 

Darcy?

What was he doing here? Mrs. Reynolds had made no mention … He took her arm and guided her to a soft teal armchair close beside his. It was probably polite for him to keep his expression so neutral, but it also meant his feelings were quite the opposite. The baby kicked and fluttered, perhaps agreeing with her sentiment.

“No wonder you were so slow to arrive, Lizzy, you are as big as a horse.” Lydia sprang up from the long ivory settee where both her children lay sleeping and bounced toward her. The thick floral carpeting muffled her footfalls.

How dare she be so light and easy on her feet.

“I had no idea of your coming.” Elizabeth looked directly at Darcy.

“No, neither of us did.” He pressed his hand tight against her arm.

No, he was not pleased.

“You did not expect me to arrive on St. Nicholas day? It is the traditional start of all holiday visits, is it not?” Lydia started to roll her eyes but stopped the expression with a slap to her forehead. “I am such a goose, I must have forgot to post the letter. What a joke! Even so, you cannot be surprised at my coming for a house party at Christmastide.”

Calm, she much be calm. “How did you—”

“Jane mentioned she and Bingley were coming in one of her letters.” Lydia curtsied and flounced back to her seat. Ragged threads dangled from her dusty faded hem, and her half-boots sported scuffs and dirt, more than travel alone would explain.

“Of course, she did.” Elisabeth shrugged at Darcy. She would have a few—gentle—words with Jane.

“I know you would have invited me had you thought we had any way to get here.”

“Naturally.” Did Darcy realize how strained his voice sounded when he spoke through a forced smile? He gripped the arm of his chair hard enough that the veins stood out on the back of his hand.

“Are you not going to ask me how we managed?”

“How did you manage it?” Elizabeth hid her hand under her skirt and clenched her fist.

“La, it was not so difficult after all. You have noticed, I am sure, that Wickham is not with us. He has been on the continent you see, since … since May I think.”

Elizabeth gasped and Darcy pressed his shoulder to hers. 

Waterloo.

 “After some months without the regiment in residence, Julia, Martha, and I decided we no longer wanted to keep house together. Julia decided to go with her baby back to her father’s house only ten miles from here. So, the children and I came with her that far and paid our way from there. You see, I am far more clever than you gave me credit for, am I not, Lizzy?”

Elizabeth blinked several times. Dare she ask? No, if there were bad news, they would surely know by now. “You came all this way, with the children?”

“As you see,” she pointed to the children sleeping on the settee beside her. The little mites’ faces were dusty and their clothes seemed ill-fitting and in need of mending.

“And where are you going to live now that…”

“Oh, that. I am going to Longbourn of course.”

“You have written to Mama—”

Lydia picked at her skirt. “I will directly if you are so insistent about it. But now that Kitty is the only one living there, I know there is plenty of room for us. It will be ever so much nicer than the fourth-rate house we rented up north. I know that Mama will enjoy the lively company we will bring. You remember how dull Kitty can be. I will ask Papa to send the carriage for us after Twelfth Night unless Mr. Darcy would rather send us with his coach.”

“You ought to prepare yourself for Papa to insist you take the stage instead.”

“I am sure it will all work out. You have become such a worrier, Lizzy. I do not see how you tolerate her, Mr. Darcy.” Her laughter always grated when she used it to blunt an insult.

“We make do very well I think.” He laid his hand on hers. Was that the tiniest bit of amusement in his eyes?

“I have no doubt you have room for us in such a very grand house. I think we shall do very well together for the holidays, do you not?”

Elizabeth chewed the inside of her cheek. Lying was unbecoming, at least under most circumstances.  “I suppose, what is one more, and her children, to an already merry little party?”

“I knew you would see it that way. Oh, I see your housekeeper Mrs. Richards—Is that her name?” Lydia sashayed past them and out into the corridor where indeed Mrs. Reynolds waited with a pair of maids who swept in and picked up the children.

Darcy rose and shut the door, sighing as he turned back to her.

“I had no idea she was coming.” Pray he would look her in the eye.

“I have no doubt. Clearly that was her intention all along.” Some of the tightness around his lips eased.

“And her visit is agreeable to you?”

He fell heavily into the chair beside her. “The only person I have forbidden from this house is Wickham. About that I will never change my mind. But Georgiana is away with the Matlocks, and Lydia is my sister now. I will not deny her hospitality.” He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling as he often did when resigning himself to some duty he disliked.

“I will do my best to see that she does nothing to disturb you—”

“I will not have you worrying about anything, Elizabeth. Not. Anything.” When he stared into her eyes like that, there could be no argument. “You must remain calm and rested for the baby. If she upsets you, that will be reason enough for me to find her other accommodations. There is an inn at Lambton. We can send a maid with her if need be.”

“You are all that is considerate, even if she is not. I suppose we should be accustomed to unexpected guests at Yuletide by now.” Her laughter sounded thin even in her own ears.

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About the Darcy Family Christmas Series

Unexpected Gifts (Book 4)

Yuletide 1814, the Darcys are celebrating their third wedding anniversary and the baby Elizabeth is expecting. Overprotective and perhaps overbearing, Darcy is ready to do anything for Elizabeth’s comfort, including defying the will of his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh who demands their presence to bestow a gift that absolutely cannot wait.

What sort of gift is so urgent it cannot wait for a more auspicious time?

Christmastide 1815, the Darcys hope for a particular sort of joy to bring a close to a dark and difficult season. It only seems fitting that an unexpected—and unwelcome—guest disrupts their small family house party. Could the unexpected gift they bring be the key to the fulfillment of the Darcys’ most heartfelt desires?

Buy on Amazon

Start from the Beginning…

Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 (Book 1)

Jane Austen never wrote the details of Christmastide 1811. What might have happened during those intriguing months?

Following the Netherfield ball, Darcy persuades Bingley to leave Netherfield Park in favor of London to avoid the match-making machinations of Mrs. Bennet. Surely, the distractions of town will help Bingley forget the attractions of Miss Jane Bennet. But Bingley is not the only one who needs to forget. All Darcy wants this Christmastide is to forget another Miss Bennet.

Can the diversions of London help Darcy overcome memories of the fine eyes and pert opinions of a certain Hertfordshire miss?  

Without the Bingleys, the Bennets are left to the company of Mr. Collins and the militia officers—entirely suitable company, according Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth disagrees, refusing an offer of marriage from the very eligible Mr. Collins. Mama’s nerves suffer horridly until Elizabeth follows her advice to make the most of the officers’ company.

Even Mr. Bennet seems to agree. So, whilst Jane pines for Bingley, Elizabeth admits the attentions of one agreeable Lt. Wickham. What possible harm can it cause, especially when her parents are so pleased?

Buy on Amazon

The Darcy’s First Christmas (Book 2)

Elizabeth anxiously anticipates her new duties as mistress of Pemberley. Darcy is confident of her success, but she cannot bring herself to share his optimism.

Unexpected guests unsettle all her plans and offer her the perfect Christmastide gift, shattered confidence.

Can she and Darcy overcome their misunderstandings and salvage their first Christmastide together?  

From the award winning author of Given Good Principles, Remember the Past and Mistaking Her Character, Sweet Tea short stories offer the perfect bite to transport readers back to the Regency era for the first days of new love.

Buy on Amazon

From Admiration to Love (Book 3)

After the debacle of the previous holiday season, Darcy and Elizabeth joyfully anticipate Christmastide 1813, Georgiana’s come out at Pemberley’s Twelfth Night Ball culminating the season. With months of planning behind the event, even Lady Matlock is satisfied and sends Colonel Fitzwilliam to represent the family, assuring there will be no repeat of the previous Christmastide.

On St. Nicholas’, Anne de Bourgh and Lady Catherine arrive on Pemberley’s doorstep—never a good sign—demanding sanctuary against the de Bourghs who (according the Lady Catherine) are trying to retake Rosings Park for their family with plans to seduce and marry Anne. Needless to say, Darcy and Fitzwilliam are skeptical.

Not long afterwards, three gentlemen suitors appear at Pemberley, hoping to court Anne and obliging Darcy to offer holiday hospitality. Anne adores the attention whilst Lady Catherine makes her displeasure know, throwing Pemberley into turmoil that threatens the Twelfth Night Ball. Can Darcy and Elizabeth, with a little help from Fitzwilliam, soothe Lady Catherine’s nerves, see Anne to a respectable match, and still salvage Georgiana’s come out?   

Buy on Amazon

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About the Author

Six-time BRAG Medallion Honoree, Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16-year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences. She pretends to be a mild-mannered writer/cat-lady, but most of her vacations require helmets and waivers or historical costumes, usually not at the same time.

She writes gas lamp fantasy, historical romance and non-fiction to help justify her research addiction. Her books are available at all major online booksellers.  

She can be contacted at: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com | Facebook | Twitter | Random Bits of Fascination | Austen Variations | English Historical Fiction Authors |Pinterest

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Giveaway

Maria is generously offering an ebook copy of Unexpected Gifts to one lucky reader, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, December 13, 2020. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Maria, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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I am delighted to welcome Anngela Schroeder back to Diary of an Eccentric today, this time to celebrate the upcoming release of her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, A Life Worth Choosing. Anngela is here to talk a little about the book and to share an excerpt and a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Hello Anna, and thank you for having me at Diary of an Eccentric. I hope you and your readers had a wonderful holiday, and stayed safe.

I realized in the last several months, we have all had the opportunity to create numerous opinions of happenings in the world: masks, politics, if uber-eats is worth the exorbitant fee just so we don’t have to cook dinner! 🙂 And in all of those moments, we were certain our beliefs were correct; that everyone should agree with us. Isn’t it a rude awakening when that’s not the case? When those we love don’t see things the way we do––how their choices could negatively affect their lives?

That is the daily life of Fitzwilliam Darcy! As the firstborn son, he has been reared to put duty and responsibility first, and protect those in his circle. He is always right. He should not be questioned because his experience has led him to determine the correct course of action in all cases. He has the best interest of those close to him at heart.

And then…he meets Elizabeth Bennet, who we all know has a mind of her own. Poor Darcy. To have his very core principals shaken by this inferior woman, only to realize she is not inferior in the least. I have often thought about what those moments were like when he returned to Rosings after his rejected proposal. The anger, but also the shock and sadness at Elizabeth’s response which drove him to write the letter. He was just acting in accordance with his principles­––those of a first born son, and yet this woman, the only one who had ever piqued his interest, rejected him. Him the Master of Pemberley.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt into the mind of our favorite hero, and look forward to your reviews when A Life Worth Choosing is available on Amazon in January of 2021.

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December 26, 1811

8 years later

Fitzwilliam Darcy came as close to slamming the door of his chambers at Rosings as he possibly could without arousing his aunt’s suspicion. She believes him! That she would trust him so implicitly over me. Me! Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of Pemberley! Me—who has saved George Wickham’s reputation and life from debtors’ prison for the last five years, and longer.

He tore off his cravat and tossed it onto the chair, certain Briggs, his valet, would be none too pleased. Yet, he did not care. The one woman whose esteem he desired the most had championed Wickham. Wickham! He shook his head in disgust and walked to the window with measured steps, staring out into the ink-black night. Having lived a life of honor, of respectability! She would still believe the words of a man whose illegitimate children Pemberley supports?

Darcy turned back toward the room, pacing with quick steps. That the boredom of my yearly Easter trip to my Aunt’s estate was broken by Elizabeth visiting the newly minted ‘Mrs. Collins.’ He slammed his hand on the writing desk as he passed. “Miss Bennet, man! She is not yours to think on as ‘Elizabeth.’” She made it quite plain this evening that she does not value the title of “wife” by me!

Shaking his head, he slowly came to a halt before slumping down into the tufted chair, still not believing how the evening’s events transpired. “Do I not know the heart of women? Or at least one worthy of being pleased?” When did I become so vulgar? Always being chased by fortune-hunting mothers and daughters. Yet, when a woman of substance is placed before me, can I not act in accordance with civility?

He leaned his head back and sighed deeply before whispering to the ceiling. “‘You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.’ Truly, Elizabeth? No possible way?” He reached over to the bottle of brandy on the table and poured two fingers before downing it in one fiery gulp.

No, this is how it should be. Elizabeth Bennet had no money or connections, but a mind and spirit that would send his world spiraling like a whirling dervish. It was providence that she…rejected me. Now I can leave Rosings cleansed of my fantasies of bringing her home as the mistress of Pemberley.

“But Wickham.” He spat the name, standing up and walking back to the window. The memory of her words still smoldering as he stared across the lawn and heard their echo. ‘If your father had not had a son, Mr. Wickham could have fulfilled that role more admirably.’ His jaw tightened at the thought. Darcy knew not which version of Wickham’s lies she had been subjected to. How he was not awarded the living at Kympton after his father’s death or how Wickham was refused any inheritance at all. Maybe both? Touching the glass separating their two worlds, he looked toward the parsonage and saw a dim light in a window. Oh, Elizabeth.

Hesitating only a second more, Darcy called for his valet, who came immediately. “Briggs, we will depart in the morning after I conclude a small matter of business.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let Colonel Fitzwilliam’s man know as well.”

“At once, sir.”

Waiting for the door to close behind him, he touched the glass again and traced the far-off window of light. Although his pride was hurt, if he did nothing, her name might be added to the list of women soiled by Wickham’s hands. I cannot allow that to happen.

Walking to the writing desk, he sat and withdrew a piece of parchment. “If only I had not been born?” He grunted before scratching out his first thoughts in a most inauspicious letter …

Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter…

…that it may contain any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which last night were so disgusting to you. Its writing, however, could not be avoided as charges were brought before me, which I felt honor bound to defend— my character and very being demands it…

…[A] charge laid before me dealt with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham was the son of a very respectable man who had the management of our family’s estate. The elder Wickham was a devoted member of our service, and before I had left the nursery, married a widow with a young son close to my age.

My mother and father encouraged our friendship, and I enjoyed having a playmate. As we grew older, however, George Wickham began to show signs of a defect in his character. His cruelty to animals began to extend to humans, and many a servant was abused by his hand.

His true character surfaced at Cambridge, where my father gave him a gentleman’s education in honor of Mr. Wickham, Senior. This is where our friendship all but ended. My playmate found more enjoyment in gaming and drinking, and other debauched activities.

After the death of both his father and my own excellent one five years ago, my father instructed in his will to give Wickham a living should it become available. Declaring no interest in the church, my former friend asked for and received three thousand pounds instead and abandoned our family for what pleasures I know not. He then returned a year later when his funds had dissolved, attempting to reclaim the living.

After all this, the worst was yet to come. My sister, Georgiana, took a house in Ramsgate with her companion last summer, a woman in whose character I was greatly misled…

Georgiana’s tender heart was convinced of his love but was then shattered by deception, as his intent was her dowry of thirty-thousand pounds. Had I not arrived unannounced, her future of misery would have been secured with her elopement to Gretna Green and an eternal shackle to the most unworthy man in all of England. She was but fifteen years old…

And now, Miss Elizabeth, I return to your words from earlier this evening. If my father had not had a son, might ‘another’ have satisfied that role more admirably? I have never become careless in my duty, and had I not been born the master of Pemberley, I assure you the Darcy legacy would have continued unaffected.

If, however, after reading this, your thoughts continue to champion another, I would not wish to suspend any pleasure of yours. Yet, I hope to never encounter a world where George Wickham’s power exceeds his moral limitations.

As for myself, I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My greatest failure is not within the confines of my family but in those of my heart.

I will only say, God bless,

F.D.

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I hope you all enjoyed that excerpt as much as I did! If you want to find out what happens next, look for A Life Worth Choosing when it is released on Amazon in January 2021.

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Giveaway

Anngela is generously offering one lucky reader a choice between a Kindle copy (international) or a signed hardcover (U.S. only) of A Life Worth Choosing. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. The giveaway will be open through Sunday, December 13, 2020. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Happy release day to Jayne Bamber! She’s stopping by today to celebrate her new novel, NorthFanger, a Gothic mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, with an excerpt and a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Hello, dear readers! It’s great to be back at Diary of an Eccentric! I am celebrating the release date of my seventh JAFF novel, NorthFanger. As you can tell from the title, this Pride & Prejudice/Northanger Abbey mash-up is vampy, campy, and full of gothic twists and turns!

The story opens as Elizabeth Bennet travels to Kent to visit Charlotte Collins – and she is accompanied by her cousin, Catherine Morland, who has every expectation of spooky shenanigans and secret romance. Elizabeth has no such hopes, and yet she is almost immediately entrenched in that very scenario – and not at liberty to share the sordid details with her excitable, imaginative younger cousin. Even practical, pragmatic Charlotte Collins is soon drawn into the drama that renders Elizabeth Bennet and her companions essential to the undead Darcy debacle!

The story leads an oddly assembled band of misfits to Bath, in search of Elizabeth’s vampire-expert uncle – but they are not the only ones separately trying to track down wily old Silas Bennet. In Bath they encounter the Tilneys, the Thorpes, and an array of familiar faces and vicious villains bent on wreaking bloody havoc!

The except I am sharing today is from the first chapter of NorthFanger and, like all things (as Mr. Collins would insist) it revolves around Lady Catherine de Bourgh….

Much to Catherine’s chagrin, the coveted invitation to dine at Rosings Park came a few days later, when she was abed with her monthly pains. Their cousin Mr. Collins was distressed that Catherine would brave her Ladyship’s displeasure by remaining at the parsonage, but this was nothing to the disappointment that Catherine expressed privately to Elizabeth.

“I hope Charlotte will give me a faithful account of the evening, if you do not, Lizzy,” she sighed, when Elizabeth came to check on her. “I long to see how you get on with the gentlemen. You look so beautiful tonight, I am sure they shall both end the evening violently in love with you!” Catherine threw herself back against the pillows to emphasize her conjecture.

Elizabeth blushed. She had dressed with great care, though it was from a sense of defiance toward the mistress of Rosings, rather than any desire to arouse admiration from either of the gentlemen she would encounter there. “Her Ladyship did not seem much impressed with me in church yesterday,” Elizabeth said archly. “And I could not let our cousin be disgraced by having such a relation!”

Catherine giggled. “She was severe! Do you suppose she is aware that you once refused Mr. Collins?”

“Hush,” Elizabeth laughed, “I do not wish Charlotte to overhear you say such things. But yes, I had thought it possible. On the other hand, perhaps Lady Catherine is simply used to thinking herself quite above her company. A family trait, I think.”

Catherine screwed up her face for a moment, then gave a bashful smirk. “Perhaps she has noticed that her nephews admire you!”

“Pah!” Elizabeth swatted playfully at her. “I will bid you goodnight then; clearly your mind is already entrenched in some lurid novel.”

Still grinning, Catherine picked up the book on her nightstand and opened it, giving Elizabeth a suggestive look before she raised the book up so that the cover blocked her face from view. 

“Though they had only met twice, the dashing colonel declared his insurmountable passion for Elizabeth,” Catherine said with feeling, her finger trailing across the page for dramatic effect. She gasped, and continued her charade. “And then the brooding Mr. Darcy took her in his arms, proclaiming his own ardent admiration. There was thunder, lightning, and a terrible rain – Lady Catherine burst in and commanded Elizabeth be taken to the dungeons! The colonel charged at her, saber drawn….”

Though Elizabeth had indulged her friend with a wry smile, they were interrupted by Mr. Collins calling out in the corridor – her Ladyship, a paragon of punctuality, could not be kept waiting. Elizabeth gave a playful roll of her eyes as she took her leave. “Good night, Catherine.”

***

Dinner at Rosings Park was dull indeed when Elizabeth compared it in her mind to the flagrant images her cousin had conjured up. Catherine would have preferred something more horrific than their hostess’ self-important conversation over the meal, though the girl was not wrong in supposing the dowager to be more villainous than Elizabeth had first thought.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh was an imposing woman, full of self-importance. When she was not receiving Mr. Collins’ endless compliments with haughty gratification, she questioned Elizabeth at length about her family, her connections, and her accomplishments. She extended a great deal of imperious advice, Mr. Collins praised her wisdom and condescension, the colonel japed as if naught was amiss, and Mr. Darcy silently glared at them all. 

Lady Catherine’s daughter, Anne de Bourgh, was silent and dull throughout the meal, and remained much the same in the drawing room afterward. Her companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, spoke only to her charge and her employer; Miss de Bourgh spoke to nobody at all, and Mr. Darcy completely ignored her – what a happy couple Elizabeth imagined they would make!

Elizabeth spent much of the evening missing her younger cousin, and indulged more than once in private laughter at what Catherine would say about what was passing. Charlotte, at least, was doing her best to keep the conversation civil. At length she steered her Ladyship’s attention away from Elizabeth’s shocking quantity of sisters, only for Lady Catherine to insist Elizabeth open the pianoforte. 

Colonel Fitzwilliam instantly offered to turn the pages for her, and followed Elizabeth across the room as she took her place at the instrument. Lady Catherine listened to half a song before her attention waned, and she began to speak to Mr. Darcy, but ere long he moved away as well, leaving her to Charlotte and Mr. Collins. 

Elizabeth became aware of the sound of rain outside, and the pattering at the window panes was more distracting than the colonel’s idle chatter. When Mr. Darcy joined them, Elizabeth could scarcely keep her composure as she recalled Catherine’s fanciful musings. “Do you mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me?” She looked up at him, intending to tease him further, when she was struck by the odd look in his eyes. 

There was a flash of lightning outside, and Mr. Darcy’s face was suddenly lit more brightly than the dim sconces in the drawing room allowed. Elizabeth’s fingers stumbled over the keys, and she ceased playing entirely as she suddenly perceived the powerful melancholy Catherine had described. The sorrow in his countenance was tinged with something else, something deeply troubling and frighteningly attractive; Elizabeth gave a little gasp, and looked away.

“I say, Darcy, you do look dreadfully alarming,” Colonel Fitzwlliam said with a deep guffaw. “Whatever are you about, giving Miss Bennet such a fright?”

Elizabeth braved another glance up at Mr. Darcy, and he returned her gaze with no little intensity. His eyes locked on hers, and Elizabeth felt a strange heat in her chest as they drank in the sight of one another. For a moment she forgot there was anyone else in the room; Mr. Darcy was smiling at her in earnest, and it was a magnificent, shattering thing. 

“I have had the pleasure of Miss Bennet’s acquaintance long enough to know it is quite impossible to frighten her,” Mr. Darcy said, his eyes twinkling with something stronger than mirth – Catherine might have called it longing. 

Elizabeth could not take her eyes off him, nor could she make any sensible reply. She laughed nervously, rallying herself to shake off the heady thoughts her cousin had planted in her head. Though Elizabeth had no wish to betray the fact, she was frightened – she had begun to think that Mr. Darcy might admire her after all. 

***

Darcy stared down at Elizabeth, his heart racing in his chest. His attraction to her in Meryton had been a trifling thing – he had thought it under good regulation, even at the Netherfield ball. The crisis of his sister’s flight from London had pushed Elizabeth from his mind, though not entirely, and not for long. He had returned to Meryton for Bingley’s wedding, pressed by his cousin to keep up appearances while they searched for Georgiana, and his feelings for Elizabeth had overpowered him once more, the moment he set eyes on her. 

A great tumult of emotions stirred in Darcy’s chest as his gaze swept over her. Seeing her again so soon was torture for him; even if he could overcome his scruples about his duty to his family and the inferiority of her connections, he could not subject Elizabeth to the threat of scandal and the desolation caused by Georgiana’s disappearance. Yet it was this very despondency that made him long to take her in his arms. He smiled down at Elizabeth and for a moment everything ebbed away, save for the sheer joy of being in her presence.

There was another flash of lightning, and one half of Elizabeth’s upturned face was lit from the side as the window panes cast a lurid glow.  Her lips parted and her eyes were wide with surprise, and something else – comprehension. It was as if she had pierced his heart and seen it laid bare before her.

He had scarcely been aware of what he said to her, and when she finally replied, her voice was obscured by a peal of thunder that sent a hush over the assembled company. A moment later Darcy was startled out of his amorous reverie when the window blew open with a loud clatter. 

Mr. Collins let out a high pitched shriek as cold rain blew in and the wall sconces flickered, and then Lady Catherine began to shout at him to close the window. The parson hastened to do as he was bid, but froze as a shadow appeared there – the silhouette of a woman. She sprang up into the window frame, illuminated by another flash of lightning. Darcy’s breath caught in his throat; he could just make out the features of his sister. 

Before he could speak, Lady Catherine stood and went toward the window, demanding Georgiana come in and explain her wild appearance. She leapt into the room at an incredible speed; Lady Catherine and Mrs. Collins screamed, and Anne fainted. Richard was on his feet at once, while Darcy took a protective step toward Elizabeth, who slowly raised one hand to rest her fingers on the long silver chain that was wrapped several times around her delicate ivory neck. Her other hand clasped onto his as he moved nearer, and Darcy could see the goose flesh on her arm.

He looked back to his sister, unable to speak at such a staggering moment. Georgiana was clad only in a nightdress, the tattered garment and her loose blonde hair billowed in the rainy wind that blew in through the open window. She was eerily still; there was an overpowering sense of otherness about her, and then Darcy realized – she had fangs. 

Thanks for joining me on this first stop of the NorthFanger blog tour! I will be at My Jane Austen Book Club on Monday with an except that picks up where this one leaves off, and there will be subsequent blurbs along the blog tour featuring more of what’s in store for Lizzy & Darcy, baby-vamp Georgiana, and the supernaturally starved Catherine Morland.

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for an eBook copy of NorthFanger

Buy NorthFanger on Amazon

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Thanks, Jayne, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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Hello, dear friends! I have the pleasure of welcoming Jennifer Joy back to Diary of an Eccentric today to reveal the cover of her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Wager, which will be released on November 5. Jennifer is also offering a very generous giveaway. I hope you all adore the cover as much as I do. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Hi, Anna! Thank you so much for celebrating the upcoming release of my newest novel with me! This is a story that’s been percolating in my mind for a long time, and I’m so happy to finally be able to share it with you and your readers.

My cover designer always asks what mood I want to inspire with the cover, and I love how he conveyed hope with the sun peeking over the horizon. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Wager is a happy story that shows the power of humor, forgiveness, and a strong woman who loves her son fiercely. Lady Anne is alive and well and full of surprises. She also has a thing or two to teach Darcy about the human heart.

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About Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Wager

He has one shot at regaining Pemberley.

Fitzwilliam Darcy has worked tirelessly to earn back his family’s estate. But the current master of Pemberley holds all the cards … and he knows his advantage.

She has one shot at finding love.

Elizabeth Bennet lays her happiness on the line when her freedom is threatened. Now, she has one month in London to fall in love her way, or she will have to marry to secure their home.

One toss of the dice will choose the winner.

With the help of Darcy’s mother and sister, Elizabeth finds her place in society … and in Darcy’s heart.  Can a cautious man be convinced that love is a risk worth taking? The odds are stacked against him when Darcy faces an impossible choice: Pemberley or Elizabeth?

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Wager is a sweet and clean romantic suspense variation of Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Pride and Prejudice. It’s the fourth book in the Dimensions of Darcy series of standalone novels.

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Giveaway

Jennifer is generously offering 4 ebook copies of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Wager. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, November 8, 2020. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Jennifer, for stopping by today. The cover is gorgeous and definitely appears to capture the spirit of the story. And I definitely want to find out about Lady Anne and the surprises you mention! Congratulations on your new book!

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Hello, friends! I’m delighted to welcome Riana Everly back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest Pride and Prejudice-inspired novel, Death of a Clergyman, the first in the Miss Mary Investigates series. Riana is here today to talk about Regency-era forensic techniques and share some excerpts from the novel, as well as a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

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CSI-Regency Style

Murder, mayhem, love!

When Elizabeth Bennet is accused of murder, her sister Mary is set on proving her innocent of the crime. Then Mr. Darcy rushes back to Meryton from London, also intent on clearing Elizabeth’s name. Darcy brings with him a private investigator named Alexander Lyons, who quickly sets about his task. But Alexander finds Mary pestering him at every turn. And Mary knows she has found something interesting, if only the annoying man from Town would listen to her!

Mary makes a great sleuth, especially when she teams up with Alexander. Individually they find evidence, and together they put the pieces together to unmask the killer. But what sort of evidence might they have at their disposal? Forensic science was hardly a career taught at the universities, and certainly not in the nursery rooms at Longbourn! Today we watch great shows such as CSI and Elementary and marvel at the science they use to solve their own cases, but things were a bit different in 1811. Here is a very short overview on some developments in forensic science over the years.

The term “forensic” comes from the Latin forēnsis, meaning “of or before the forum,” where criminal cases were analyzed and discussed in order to achieve justice. In modern terms, forensics has come to mean the analysis and application of evidence in the course of an investigation.

Some techniques in this analysis are ancient. Asking questions, interviewing people, and recording their testimony goes back as far as the first twig pressed into a clay tablet. But other endeavours are more deliberate and scientifically based. Let’s look at just a few.

Footprints

During the eighteenth century, reason began to supplant superstition in investigation. Hard evidence replaced belief in witchcraft and logic replaced torture and ordeal. Footprints were one such type of evidence.

One such case occurred in Warwick in 1816, when a farm worker was tried for assaulting and drowning a maidservant. The authorities found footprints and an impression of patched corduroy cloth in the mud where the woman died, which matched the man’s boots and breeches. He was convicted based on this and other similar evidence. (Kind S, Overman M (1972). Science Against Crime. New York: Doubleday)

Footprints could be sketched or filled with plaster to preserve them, and our sleuths could certainly use such evidence in their pursuit of the culprit in this story.

Toxicology

The first test for detecting simple arsenic in corpses was devised in 1773 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish scientist. In 1806 German chemist Valentin Ross furthered this work by working out how to detect arsenic in a victim’s stomach. This was first used in court in 1832 by James Marsh, and when the sample was too degraded for the jury to use it, he came up with a better test still. Marsh described this in The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal in 1836.

So while the concept of testing for poisons was certainly around at the time of our story, the practical use of the science was still a few years away.

Ballistics

Although the first bullet comparison was conducted by Henry Goddard of Scotland Yard in 1835, the idea of analyzing shot predated that by several decades.

In 1784 in Lancaster, John Toms was tried for shooting and killing Edward Culshaw. A pistol wad (a piece of crushed paper from the pistol) was found in Culshaw’s wound. This paper matched exactly with a piece of torn newspaper found in Toms’ pocket. He was convicted.

Fingerprints

The idea of using fingerprints for identification was advanced by Sir William Herschel in 1858. But the first use of fingerprints in a criminal case was by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four in 1890. Scotland Yard did not start to collect and use fingerprints until 1901.

Clearly, our sleuths would not have access to fingerprints in their investigation into Mr. Collins’ death!

However, despite the nascent nature of the science of forensics, our sleuths Mary and Alexander still had access to interesting ways of accumulating evidence. Here are a couple of excerpts from Death of a Clergyman.

Mary

Mrs. Cooke allowed the girl to introduce herself and state her business—namely the search for a position—before ushering her to the large table where Mary and Margaret sat. She caught herself short upon seeing Mary and faltered in her step. “Miss… Miss Bennet!”

“Hello, Polly.”

The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, please don’t make me go back. If he finds me, he’ll blame me for certain, although I’m sure I haven’t done anything wrong! Please, I beg of you, Miss Bennet!”

“Be easy, Polly,” Mary interrupted. “I am not here to take you anywhere, or to betray your whereabouts to anybody. But I would dearly like to talk to you. Perhaps together we can stop him, so that he will bother you no longer. Will you talk to me? Will you do that?”

The young maid looked from Mary to Mrs. Cooke to Margaret and back again, eyes wide and terrified like a rabbit caught in a trap. “I promise I mean you no harm, only help,” Mary tried once more, and was rewarded by a slight relaxing of the girl’s shoulders and a flicker of her eyelids.

“Sit, please. Mrs. Cooke, would it be too much trouble to ask for some tea and biscuits, if Margaret does not object? Thank you.” She turned to the maid and reassured her, “We only wish to find out more of what you know. I believe you have done nothing wrong, and together, perhaps, we can ensure that you are never blamed for something you did not do.”

Polly nodded with slow deliberation. “Very well, Miss Bennet. I shall try.”

“Thank you. My first question, so that we may all be certain of whom we spoke, is this: Who is ‘he?’ Who is this man who terrifies you so?

Alexander

As the meal progressed, Alexander found himself slipping further and further into a wine-dulled fog. His ears caught snippets of conversation—“the coaching inn on the road to Scarborough had terrible bread…,” “…seventeen feathers in her headdress, can you imagine it!…,” “…haven’t been back to the estate in months, or is it already two years?…”—but he could not bring himself to focus on any one thread. He allowed his eyes to wander across the table, transfixed in some strange way by the arrangement of dishes and platters on the white embroidered cloth.

Forcing himself out of the mist of wine and exhaustion, he brought his full attention to the beautiful tableware. The platters themselves were of exceptional quality—exquisite china and polished silver fought for pre-eminence at the table, and Alexander wondered if any of these valuable pieces would be the next to disappear from the household’s storage rooms. A sudden inspiration, fueled by boredom and the effects of too much wine—struck him, and he decided he was willing to incur the wrath of his hostess. He was thought to be a lout; let him prove it with his actions.

In the most unrefined manner he could muster, he picked up a large silver platter, now nearly devoid of its burden of sliced ham, and raising it above his head to peer at the hallmark, asked, “I say, Bingley, this must be worth a pretty penny. Any idea what it would set a man back?” Whereupon he replaced the platter atop the crisp linen cloth and sat back to observe his audience. As far as he knew from the servants, the master and his guests were quite unaware of the missing candlesticks. Perhaps, however, someone did have some knowledge! He leaned back to watch through half-closed eyes.

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About Death of a Clergyman

Mary Bennet has always been the quiet sister, the studious and contemplative middle child in a busy family of five. She is not interested in balls and parties, and is only slightly bothered by the arrival of the distant cousin who will one day inherit her father’s estate. But then Mr. Collins is found dead, and Mary’s beloved sister Elizabeth is accused of his murder. Mary knows she must learn whatever she can to prove Elizabeth innocent of this most horrible crime, or her sister might be hanged as a murderess!

Alexander Lyons has made a pleasant life for himself in London, far from his home village in Scotland. He investigates missing documents and unfaithful wives, and earns an honest living. Then one day Mr. Darcy walks into his office, begging him to investigate the murder of Mr. Collins and to prove Elizabeth innocent of the crime. It seems like a straightforward enough case, but Alexander did not count on meeting a rather annoying young woman who seems to be in his way at every turn: Mary Bennet.

As the case grows more and more complicated, Mary and Alexander cannot stop arguing, and discover that each brings new insight into the case. But as they get close to some answers, will they survive the plans of an evildoer in the midst of quiet Meryton?

Buy: Amazon | Universal Buy Link

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About the Author

Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back.

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading!

Connect with Riana: Website | Facebook | Amazon

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Giveaway

From Riana: I am giving away one eBook to one lucky blog visitor today. To enter, just leave a comment on the post, and I will randomly select a winner five days after this blog is posted. Please include an email address so I can get in touch with the winner. “Name dot name (at) domain” will do fine if you want to avoid bots! I will contact the winner and email the book directly, so there are no concerns about not being able to receive Amazon gift copies, which sometimes happens. Good luck!

Thank you, Riana, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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Hello, friends! I’m thrilled to be part of the Meryton Press blog tour for Grace Gibson’s new Pride and Prejudice variation, Silver Buckles. Grace is here today with an excerpt that I’m sure you’ll all enjoy because it puts readers into Mr. Darcy’s head during his infamous insult. Please give Grace a warm welcome!

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It’s such a treat to be given a spot on Diary of an Eccentric, Anna.Can there be anything better than to discover a whole community of people who love, understand and keep alive Jane Austen’s stories?

While musing over Pride and Prejudice one day, something I admit I do far too often, I began to think on Darcy’s infamous refusal to stand up with Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly. In some variations, he does not realize he was overheard by the lady, and in some, he is well aware she heard him. As a gentleman, how would he feel if he became fully conscious he had publicly insulted a lady? Suddenly, I was eavesdropping on his innermost thoughts…!

Mr. Darcy’s Story…                                                                          Meryton Assembly Rooms

I stood at the edge of a bacchanal. The noise—it could hardly be called music—was pitched to a high screech that emanated from a second-rate gaggle of performers. I loathe a crush, and I do not like to associate with people who are unfamiliar with the word ‘dignity.’

Deuce take you, Bingley! I raged inwardly at my host. I was only there because, if I had refused to come, his sister Caroline would have felt obliged to stay home and entertain me. Survival, I mused darkly, is sometimes an uncomfortable business.

Somehow, my friend Charles Bingley had sniffed out my location. I stood off to the side of the room, and he came toward me, panting with enthusiasm.

“Come, Darcy,” he said joyfully, “I must have you dance. I cannot bear to see you standing about in this stupid manner.” He then continued to pressure me and even pointed out the sister of his own most recent partner. “Do let me ask Miss Bennet to introduce you,” he said.

“Good lord, Bingley!” I replied impatiently. “I have been paraded before a hundred people tonight and had names babbled at me from every corner of the room. I am certain I am known to her, but you will forgive me for failing to distinguish one girl in a white dress from another.” And while I reluctantly admitted Bingley’s partner was the prettiest girl in the room, the offer of an introduction to her sister smacked of meager leavings, and I had no intention of standing up with anyone that evening.

“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me,” I replied, and then seeing him take a breath to persuade me from my vile mood, I added, “Do go away, Bingley. I am not inclined to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

Bingley, whose sunny disposition did not allow him to be vexed, only shrugged and laughed before he left me alone. As I stood there brooding—as he is fond of calling the state of sober silence—I noticed the object of our recent conversation out of the corner of my eye.

She was a dark-haired girl, small and unremarkable. I had responded to Bingley’s urgings by rote, knowing after an initial scan of the room that there were no ladies present who could tempt me to the floor, and I was gratified I had not erred in refusing to stand up with her. She was looking out onto the swarm of dancers, seemingly quite engaged in her observations, but then I noticed, as I examined her covertly, that the girl had about her mouth a coy little smirk.

She had heard me!

An unwelcome warmth crawled up my neck. That I spoke with full consciousness I would be overheard I cannot deny, but to see the consequences of an insult so casually delivered left me slightly breathless. My beastly state notwithstanding, I do have my standards. I limit myself to a hair’s breadth above behaving like a lout. And so, I stepped directly up to the young lady—one of the Bennet sisters, I believe, although I must be forgiven for not knowing which one.

“Miss Bennet,” I said with a stiff bow, “I believe you may have overheard my ungenerous remark just now.”

The lady had slowly risen when she perceived I was about to address her. She held her head proudly, cocked slightly to the side, with her right eyebrow delicately raised. “Sir,” she replied in cold acknowledgement.

“Forgive me. My friend Mr. Bingley is unbearably persistent, and I spoke intemperately only to deflect his efforts to force me to enjoy myself.” I spoke briskly. I am not one to simper or whine.

There was an archness in her manner as she replied. “You do not like a country dance, I surmise.”

I do not know why, but this gambit forced a wry half smile from me. “I do not, Miss Bennet.”

“Very well. If your explanation was given as a sort of apology—”

“It was.”

“Then I accept your explanation and give you leave to return to the wall you have been supporting for the last half an hour.”

Never in my life had I been so rudely dismissed! I would be damned to hell if I scuttled away like a scolded child. I held out my hand.

“I believe, Miss Bennet, we had better dance. It would look odd for us to have stood here in conversation for as long as we have without ending our tête-à-tête in the usual manner.”

“But you abhor dancing, Mr. Darcy,” she said gravely, and for a second, I thought she might even refuse!

“I have never said so. I abhor being urged to dance as though I only require a nudge. Come, I am standing here with my hand extended, and we are now creating a scene.”

A reluctant grin threatened to undo Miss Bennet’s smoldering glare, and she took my hand.

Are you curious how Elizabeth will respond to such an ungracious invitation to dance? Visit Austenesque Reviews tomorrow for a continuation…

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About Silver Buckles

She staggered a great man. He was reeling. She was overwhelmed.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, standing irritably at the edge of the Meryton assembly, declines to dance with Elizabeth Bennet. In a mood of revulsion, he rejects her without concern of being overheard. Country pretensions are always in need of squashing, and what better way to make clear he would not partner anyone outside his party? However, when he looks over at her, she does not appear humbled at all. She is secretly laughing at him!

Elizabeth is perversely delighted to encounter such an outrageous snob as Mr. Darcy. When he approaches her with a stiff, graceless apology, she coolly brushes him off, believing that, like most annoyances, he will go away when properly snubbed. But no! The man then puts out his hand and, not wishing to create a scene, compels her to stand up with him.

They go through the steps of the dance mutually disdainful and intent upon wounding each other. But by the time the musicians end their tune, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have traded barbs with such accuracy, they are unaccountably amused and engaged. Will this most inconvenient flirtation drive them apart—or, like silver buckles, are they a matched pair?

Buy: Amazon (U.S.) | Amazon (U.K.)

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About the Author

Grace Gibson

In addition to mosaic art, which I create at Studio Luminaria, my home-based glass shop in El Paso, Texas, I enjoy writing regency romance and Pride and Prejudice variations for pleasure.   

Connect with Grace on Facebook

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Giveaway

As part of the Silver Buckles blog tour, Meryton Press is generously offering an 8 ebook giveaway. To enter, you must use this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

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Thank you, Grace, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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