Summer is here! Time for days at the beach with lots of sun, sand, and romance. Grab your sunblock and join your favourite Austen characters in their adventures at the sea.
In this excerpt from What Would Lizzy Bennet Do?, Katie Oliver takes us to a regatta race on a summer’s day on the South Devon coast. Darcy’s yacht, the Pemberley, is running full sail with the Meryton in close pursuit. Will Darcy win the race? Or will his rival, the handsome but devious actor Ciaran Duncan, take the lead?
Read on to find out…
Last spring I was presented with a challenge by my publisher, Carina UK/Harper Collins: re-imagine three beloved Jane Austen novels – Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility – and update them with modern characters and situations.
Oh…and I had six months to write the books.
Like Lizzy Bennet, the heroine of my first Jane Austen Factor book, I’m not one to dodge a challenge. (Like her, I’m also in love with Mr Darcy, but that’s another story for another day.) So I figured out how many words I had to write each day to meet my deadline (2k a day/10k a week) and I set about plotting, writing, and editing.
In this excerpt from the first book in the Jane Austen Factor series, What Would Lizzy Bennet Do?, Lizzy’s landed in a spot of trouble after challenging Darcy’s fiancee, Holly, to ride a horse she knows is high-spirited. An unexpected summer storm results in an accident that leaves Holly’s ankle sprained and leads Lizzy’s father, Mr Bennet, to forbid Lizzy to attend the annual summer regatta at Longbourne. Instead, she’s to remain behind and help him at the local church fête.
But he relents halfway through and tells Lizzy she’s free to go to the regatta. She dashes off to watch the Pemberley, the Darcy family’s yacht, run in the semi-final race. Ciaran Duncan, the handsome actor who’s taken the role of Mr Wickham in a new production of Pride and Prejudice, is racing against the Darcy yacht as well, and he’s determined to win the regatta.
And just like his fictional counterpart, Mr Wickham, wherever Ciaran goes, trouble soon follows…
Lizzy Bennet has long been in love with her family’s wealthy neighbour, Hugh Darcy…and she’s never forgotten his kindness following her mother’s death. She’s long harboured a secret hope that her own life would follow Austen’s fiction, and that someday she might become Hugh’s wife.
But now she and her sisters Emma and Charlotte are grown, Darcy is practising law in London, and Lizzy has come back home to Litchfield on the south coast of Devon to regroup after losing her job.
The news that Hugh is returning home from London as well fills her with joy. But when he brings along his new fiancee, Holly James, Lizzy’s hopes for romance are crushed.
However, she’s not one to give up on love – or Darcy – so easily. After all, all’s fair in love and rivalry…
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Lizzy Bennet set the last of her father’s scones out on the gingham-draped table and surveyed her efforts with a critical eye.
She’d used an assortment of vintage, mismatched china plates she’d found at a recent car boot sale. They hadn’t cost much – five quid for a box – but they showed Daddy’s scones off to best advantage.
Now, if she could just unearth a vase somewhere, and plunk a few cottage roses or hydrangea blooms inside…
‘You’ve done an excellent job,’ Mr Bennet said approvingly as he joined her. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised if my scones don’t sell out completely this year.’
‘It’s perfect weather for the fête,’ she agreed. ‘Although,’ she added with a trace of wistfulness as she glanced around her, ‘everyone seems to be at the regatta today.’
He frowned. ‘Yes. It’s rather unfortunate timing on the church’s part, I admit. Still – when one isn’t given the best to work with, one must do the best one can to make it work.’ He beamed.
Lizzy said nothing, only nodded glumly at her father’s well-worn adage. She wondered what Hugh was doing right now. It was long after eight o’clock, so the race was underway. Hopefully Harry and his skipper would bring the Pemberley across the finish line first…
‘You wish you were at the regatta, don’t you.’
It wasn’t a question her father asked, but a statement, and Lizzy nodded again. ‘I do. I won’t lie.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you what. Stay here until eleven,’ Mr Bennet said as he consulted his watch, ‘and then you’re free to go. I’ll ask one of the parish ladies to take you to Longbourne. At least you can catch the afternoon half of the race.’
She looked up then, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed with excitement. ‘Thank you, Daddy!’ She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. ‘You’re beyond wonderful. The best. I’ll sell every single one of these scones before I leave. Just watch me!’
Mr Bennet eyed her with an indulgent smile. ‘Lizzy, my dearest girl – haven’t you learned anything yet?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean,’ he said dryly, ‘that you shouldn’t make promises you can’t possibly keep.’
‘What a lovely day for the regatta,’ Lady de Byrne pronounced.
Holly, buying herself a cup of lemonade at one of the booths lining the street, turned to see Hugh’s godmother standing behind her in white trousers and a boat-necked, blue-and-white-striped bateau.
‘Lady Georgina,’ she said, and smiled. ‘You look very nautical today. It suits you.’
‘Thank you, my dear. I thought it appropriate under the circumstances.’ She glanced over Holly’s shoulder. ‘Where is Hugh? Did he not come along with you today? You shouldn’t be managing those crutches on your own, particularly not in this crowd.’
‘Oh, that’s kind, but I’m fine. Hugh’s just gone to get us something to eat. Would you like a lemonade?’ she offered.
Lady de Byrne declined. She dug in her purse – a vintage straw handbag – and thrust on a pair of white cat’s-eye sunglasses. ‘I think I’ll go and watch the race. Quite an exhilarating spectacle, isn’t it, with those billowing sails and prows slicing through the water. I do hope the Pemberley wins.’
‘I do, too.’ Holly paused. ‘You know Ciaran Duncan’s in the race as well, don’t you? He and Hugh’s brother Harry are neck and neck so far.’
‘Ah, yes, the Meryton. An impressive vessel,’ she noted dismissively, ‘but not half so impressive as the Darcy yacht.’ She tilted her head back and added, ‘I shouldn’t worry. Mark my words – young Harry will win the race. He’ll make us all proud.’
‘He’s quite the sailor, according to Hugh. Even if he’s not actually sailing the ship, only crewing.’ She sighed. ‘I can’t imagine ever being half as intrepid as Harry. He’s amazing.’
‘You like him, don’t you?’
Holly glanced at her in surprise. ‘Yes, of course I like him. He’s looked after me since I arrived, visiting me at Rosings when I sprained my ankle, making me laugh at the silliest things, and…’ she stopped, and blushed. ‘And commiserating with me about his mother,’ she admitted.
‘Yes, Lady Darcy can be quite intimidating when she wishes,’ Lady de Byrne agreed. ‘Harry’s an impressive young man, considerate and loyal, if a bit less serious-minded than his brother.’
‘They’re like chalk and cheese,’ Holly agreed. ‘Hard to believe sometimes that they’re brothers.’
‘I wonder… do you think, perhaps, that you might feel a bit more for Harry than friendship?’
Holly stared at Hugh’s godmother. ‘What do you mean? You’re not saying what I think you are…?’
‘I’m saying I think you’d best be careful, Miss James,’ Lady de Byrne said, her words measured, ‘or Hugh’s heart won’t be the only one that gets broken.’
And with a polite nod, she turned away and disappeared into the crowd.
When Lizzy arrived at Longbourne a short time later, there was nowhere to park. Thank goodness Mrs Cusack had driven her and dropped her off on a side street.
‘If you need a ride home afterwards,’ she called out as Lizzy opened the car door and got out, ‘give me a bell. I’ll be at the church fête all day.’
‘Thank you, Mrs Cusack. That’s very kind. But getting a ride back home shouldn’t be a problem.’
At least, she hoped it wouldn’t.
‘Very good, then. Have fun!’ And with a smile and a waggle of her fingers, she left.
‘Lizzy.’ Hugh Darcy, just leaving a booth and holding a tray with paper containers of fried shrimp, chips, and slaw salad in his hands, approached her. ‘I didn’t expect to see you here.’
‘I was helping my father at St Mark’s.’ No need to tell him why she’d been stuck at the church fête, she reasoned. She wouldn’t be able to bear Hugh’s disapproval if he knew what a stupid thing she’d done.
‘Yes, I know all about it.’
She couldn’t see his eyes behind those aviator sunglasses. But he definitely wasn’t smiling. Uh-oh. ‘You do?’
‘I know you insisted Holly ride Thor when you know perfectly well he’s difficult to manage, and you did so even after she asked you to let her take Lady instead.’
Lizzy was silent. There was nothing she could say in her defence.
‘And I know your actions were intended to show your superior horsemanship and make Holly look bad,’ he went on, his expression grim. ‘Which actions, I might add, led to her being thrown from the horse, and injured.’ He stepped closer. ‘She might have been badly hurt, Lizzy. How could you do such an irresponsible and reckless thing?’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and felt her throat thicken. ‘I’ve apologised to Holly.’
‘Yes, she told me.’ He paused. ‘I know about it only because she blurted the story out to me by accident a few minutes ago, and begged me not to say anything to you.’
‘It was stupid of me.’
He let out a short breath. ‘Let’s forget it, then, shall we? It’s over now.’
‘Thanks, Hugh.’ Lizzy drew in a breath of relief. ‘I’ll never do anything so stupid again.’
‘I trust that you won’t.’ Darcy studied her, his expression unreadable, and added, ‘I’m disappointed in you, Elizabeth. I never would have expected such behaviour from you, of all people.’
Lizzy blinked. She felt a flare of anger, as sudden as it was strong, at his words. ‘I’ve told you I’m sorry,’ she returned evenly, ‘and I’ve apologised to Holly, and been punished for what I did. And I am sorry.’ Her arms tensed at her sides. ‘But my actions, no matter how stupid or ill conceived, were never maliciously intended. I might ask you to remember that before you rush to judgement.’
So saying, she turned on her heel and left Darcy standing alone in the street, holding his tray and staring after her in shock, and went to find her sister Emma.
As the yachts rounded the point late that afternoon and sluiced through the waves to head into the final stretch back to port, Harry eyed the Meryton uneasily.
‘We have the lead, but only just,’ he told the ship’s captain. ‘We’ve been neck and neck since we crossed the starting line.’
Captain Kearns nodded. ‘She’s running close, a bit too close for my comfort. I’m keeping an eye on her.’
‘Good. I don’t trust Duncan. I wouldn’t put it past him to try and disqualify us.’
‘Oh, aye, that he will, if he can. I’ll see his arse disqualified afore we are, though,’ Kearns growled. ‘You can count on that.’
Excitement was palpable in the air as the yachts raced into the harbour and the last stretch before the finish line. Several vessels had been disqualified due to right of way and other infractions, Holly knew; but thankfully, the Pemberley wasn’t one of them.
Unfortunately, neither was Ciaran’s yacht, the Meryton.
Both vessels sailed neck and neck back to port, with the Meryton having a slight – very slight – advantage.
‘Oh, I do hope Harry wins!’ Lizzy exclaimed as she joined them on the boardwalk. ‘Come on, Darcy!’ she shouted, cupping her hands around her mouth as she leant against the railing. ‘Let’s win that cup!’
‘Oh, Lizzy – you’re here,’ Holly said. ‘Good. I thought – well, that is…’ she lowered her voice. ‘I thought you were stuck at St Mark’s.’
‘It’s all been sorted,’ she told Holly. ‘Hugh knows what happened, and Daddy knows, too, and everything’s forgiven. He let me leave the fête early so I could see the end of the race.’
‘I’m glad.’ Holly squeezed her hand. ‘I hope Hugh wasn’t too hard on you,’ she murmured. ‘I didn’t mean to tell him, it just sort of – slipped out.’
‘He was livid, and I don’t blame him. He’s right – it was a stupid, reckless thing to do, and I’m truly sorry.’ She glanced at Hugh, who returned her glance without expression and turned back to the race.
‘He can be a bit… judgemental,’ Holly agreed in a low voice. ‘He has impossibly high standards. But he means well, I think.’
‘He does, and he is. Judgemental, that is. And sometimes it infuriates me. But I confess that Hugh’s approval means everything,’ Lizzy admitted. ‘I can’t bear to be angry with him, or him with me. I never could.’
Although she smiled and turned her attention back to the race, Holly felt a pang at Lizzy’s confession. After all, Hugh and Lizzy had a history together; they’d known each other since they were children. They’d practically grown up together.
She’d barely known him for a year.
‘Look,’ Hugh cried, his face suffused with excitement as he pointed. ‘The Pemberley’s just taken the lead!’
Indeed, the Darcy yacht’s bowsprit edged forward as the Pemberley surged ahead of the Meryton and sailed triumphantly over the finish line.
The crowds erupted into cheers and clapping, and Holly, Lizzy and Hugh flung their arms around one another, laughing and cheering as the winner was announced over the loudspeaker.
‘I’m so proud of Harry,’ Holly said.
‘He didn’t skipper the ship, the captain did,’ Lizzy reminded her. ‘Still – well done to the both of them.’
‘This is only the semi-final,’ Hugh pointed out. ‘The final race next weekend determines who wins the regatta cup and the prize money.’ He grinned. ‘But I must admit, right now, I’m pretty damned proud of my little brother.’
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