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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!

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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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