It’s chapter 2! Don’t forget to check out the cover after the chapter and the giveaway. We’re about two weeks away from the release! I hope you’re as excited as I am!
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The household retired early that evening, and Georgiana, who had been engrossed in a novel since her return to her room, startled at a light knock. After placing a piece of ribbon to mark her page, she stood and opened the door to find Lydia standing upon the threshold in her dressing gown.
“I hope I am not disturbing you. I thought we might talk.” Lydia’s fingers grasped and released each other and she shifted on her feet. “When we were younger, Kitty and I would stay up and chat and giggle. Those nights were ever so much fun. With all my sisters married and residing elsewhere, I have come to miss those evenings immensely. Since I am to journey to London and stay with Lizzy and Fitzwilliam, I hoped we might become better acquainted . . . if that is acceptable to you, that is.”
She pushed the door further open. “Lizzy and I have had similar talks, but she has been much occupied by William since he was born. I would be pleased to know you better.” With a wide grin, Lydia crept into the room and climbed to sit upon the foot of the bed.
Georgiana moved her book and resumed her place under the warm coverlet. What should she say? They had conversed when Lydia visited Pemberley, but they had become no more than friendly with each other. Most young ladies their age thought of nothing more than marriage. Perhaps such a subject was a good beginning? “Have you had any suitors since your return to Meryton?”
Lydia’s eyes rolled to the ceiling for a moment. “La! ‘Tis always the same young men, and they are such a bore. I have no interest in any of them.”
She exhaled a heavy breath. “Amongst our neighbours, three gentlemen are of interest to those ladies of a marriageable age. The youngest son of the Gouldings is but five years older than me, yet he has no property or profession and speaks of naught but himself. He is so dull! I should sooner dance with Papa than with him.
“The master of Haverhill, Mr. Standage, is widowed, one and forty, and positively ancient.” Lydia gave a dramatic shudder. “I have danced with him thrice in the last year. I promise not to be exaggerating when I say he stepped upon my toes during each set.” She swallowed. “The last of the unwed gentlemen of Meryton is Mr. Gibb, who is five and thirty as well as forever in his cups. Papa would never give his consent—not that I would want it. The last time Mr. Gibb asked me to dance, I thought I would become tipsy from the smell of his breath alone.”
Georgiana’s hand clung to the base of her neck. How vile!
“All of them are wanting in some manner. I have no wish to be courted by any of them.” Lydia leaned forward upon her knees with bright and eager eyes. “What of you? Do you fancy some young man? Is he handsome?”
She could not help but smile at Lydia’s current manner, which was reminiscent to when she was younger and more unfettered. “No, I am not yet out.”
Her eyes bulged. “Truly? Why?”
“When I was but fifteen, a young man tried to convince me to elope with him. I did not love him and refused, but the experience was . . . unpleasant to say the least. I have yet to feel equal to such a conversation again. I do not plan to ever marry.”
Lydia’s gaze became unfocussed. “Never marry?” Her words were faint. Why was the notion such a strange concept?
“Really, Lydia! I shall not be a poor old maid! A single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable. I am not an oddity and plan to have a full life. Lizzy and Fitzwilliam will allow me to live with them at Pemberley, and I shall see their children born and grow to adulthood. I consider myself fortunate since I shall not be forced to seek employment. I can remain in my home for my lifetime.”
Her hands were taken into Lydia’s quick grasp. “Forgive me. I have never considered a life without a husband nor have I met a lady with such an inclination—until now.” Lydia’s teeth wore at her lips for a moment. “I just hope I find a worthy suitor while we are in London for the Season.”
“Do Lizzy and Fitzwilliam know of your plans?”
Lydia drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I have not told them, but I do not think they will object. Do you? Like you, I am twenty, but too many people in Meryton remember how I once was. I must leave Longbourn and find my future elsewhere.”
“Do you truly feel your past behaviour prevents you from making a suitable match here in Hertfordshire?”
She stared at her fingers and picked at a piece of dry skin near her fingernail. “A few local gentlemen have married in the last two years, and while the mourning period for Mama prevented me from being courted for part of that time, I know I remain a poor prospect for a wife.”
“Has someone said as much or are you making assumptions? Your manner is so altered from when we first met, which one might attribute to maturity and experience. Your mother’s death also changed you a great deal.”
“’Twas not so much Mama’s death as it was the ladies of the neighbourhood in the months following.”
Georgiana leaned against the pillows and headboard behind her. “Which ladies?”
A beleaguered breath was noisily blown from Lydia’s mouth. “The day after Mama passed, Mrs. Simms, my former companion, and I walked to town to purchase some black ribbon. I felt trapped within Longbourn and needed to escape, so I volunteered to go in Mrs. Hill’s stead. When I entered the shop, Mrs. Goulding, Lady Lucas, and Mrs. Long were speaking of Mama and her lack of decorum. They had no compunction about gossiping with Mama when she lived, but once she was dead, their true opinions of her were no longer suppressed. Upon taking note of me in the doorway, the shopkeeper cleared his throat, but not before I heard what was said.”
The poor girl! “What did they say?”
Lydia gave a one-shouldered shrug. “They belittled Mama. They described her as silly, vain, and shallow before Mrs. Goulding said, ‘Her youngest is just like her, and the last girl in the world my George will marry. I will not have that little strumpet for my daughter.’ I know naught of what Mrs. Long or Lady Lucas would have said because they blanched and ceased their conversation when they became aware of my presence.”
“Were you not friends with Lady Lucas’ daughter? Forgive me, but I do not recall her name.”
“Maria. Yes, I was, but she did not call as much after Charlotte married Mr. Collins and Mrs. Simms became my companion. Once word spread into town that Mama passed in her sleep, Lady Lucas had no reason to call at Longbourn. Maria then married George Long.” One side of her lip turned up in a pathetic attempt to feign unhurt feelings. “We greet one another at church on Sunday.”
“Your changed manner must have had some effect on your friendships in Meryton. How can it not?”
“But I was not changed until Mama’s death—not in essentials. I grew tired of fighting Papa and Mrs. Simms, so I pretended in the hopes they would give me some freedom. Instead, I learnt people’s true opinion and found I did not like it.”
Georgiana took Lydia’s hand and gave a gentle squeeze. “No one can deny your improved temper. They are fools if they cling to the judgements they made almost five years ago.”
“You are very kind, but I am no longer wilfully blind to how I behaved.”
“Then, we must introduce you to new acquaintances. My aunt knows all of London. I am certain she could help.”
Lydia giggled. “I do not require all of London. One nice young man from a good family would be sufficient. I do not require him to be a duke, despite what Mama once said. I also do not wish for a marriage such as she had with my father. I hope to marry a man who loves me like I do him.” Her cheeks turned a little pinker as she glanced away for a moment and then back. “I have shown you my gown for tomorrow. I should dearly love to see yours. I am sure it is quite fine.” With a jump from the bed, Lydia made for the wardrobe while Georgiana rose and followed at a more sedate pace. Georgiana opened the door, removed her sky blue silk, and held it by the shoulders.
“Look at the colour!” gushed Lydia. “I missed colour so when we were in mourning. I shall be well-pleased to never wear black again.” Her eyes met Georgiana’s for a moment and flickered back down as she fingered the small pearls along the edge of the bodice. “I hope I do not sound selfish. I know I shall be required to don that wretched shade more than once in my lifetime, yet I shall loathe every moment.”
Georgiana hung the gown back on the peg. “The pale rose of yours complements the subtle glow in your cheeks. My aunt tends to choose fabrics she feels matches my eyes. Do not misunderstand me. I like blue, but I hope to purchase a few gowns of a different shade whilst in London. I would adore a day gown in a pretty sprigged muslin.”
Lydia’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Georgiana for a moment. “Rose or pink would suit you well, I think. Perhaps the right shade of silver?”
With a smile, Georgiana took Lydia’s hand and tugged her back towards the bed. “Well, you shall help me decide. I hope you will not mind shopping with me on Bond Street.”
Her friend placed the back of her hand to her forehead and dropped to the bed. “How shall I survive?”
They both dissolved into giggles as Georgiana settled back into her place, tilted her head, and appraised the young lady before her. “Do you have any particular wish for while we are in town? Fitzwilliam has taken me to the theatre and a few exhibitions. I have obviously not attended any balls thus far, but I—”
“Why ever not?” cried Lydia. “Despite what happened with that man, you cannot hide for the rest of your life. After hearing what was said about Mama and myself, a part of me never wanted to leave the security of Longbourn, but Mrs. Simms would not have it. She made me understand that I could not closet myself from the world. Instead, I could change and no longer provide fodder for them to criticise.”
“Mrs. Simms sounds to be an intelligent and well-informed lady.”
“She is. I was sorry to see her leave, but with you, your companion, Mrs. Annesley, and Lizzy for the next several months, her services were simply not required.”
“Mrs. Annesley is with her relations for the next month, but we shall have Lizzy and my family. When you return, you will have the new Mrs. Bennet.”
“Precisely! ‘Tis a luxury my father does not need to continue. He should be saving those funds for a more worthy purpose, though I have no idea what.” She gave a weary smile. “We are a sad lot, are we not?”
Georgiana crossed her arms over her chest. “Why would you say so?”
“Well, we have exhausted the subject of young men, discussed fashion and shopping, Mama’s death, and my alteration. We shall never stay awake the rest of the night with naught to entertain ourselves.” Lydia lifted herself to sit straight. “I know! We should creep down to the kitchen and make ourselves some tea and steal a few biscuits from Mrs. Hill’s pantry.”
Her eyes widened to the point that they hurt. “Would we not get into trouble? I cannot imagine doing such a thing at Pemberley.”
Lydia waved away Georgiana’s concern. “Mrs. Hill has not minded since it is just me who remains at home. When all five of us were young, her biscuits all disappeared on more than one occasion. She was furious when the ladies came to call and she had nothing to serve them.”
“I cannot imagine Lizzy stealing from the kitchens.”
With a grin, Lydia shook her head. “Who do you think taught me?” She took Georgiana’s hand and pulled. “Put on your dressing gown! If we make haste, we can return before anyone is the wiser.”
Lydia cracked the door. “No one is in the corridor. Quick, we must hurry.”
At the sound of a loud noise, Georgiana’s eyes shot open, she placed a hand to her forehead and shifted. Why were her sheets scratchy? Had someone put sand in the bed? With a groan, she wiped her cheek and studied the residue upon her fingers. Biscuit crumbs!
A deep, rattling snore sounded behind her. She rolled onto her back and propped herself on her elbows. Lydia was sprawled across the majority of the mattress as the most ungodly noise sounded as though it was being pulled raggedly from her when she breathed. Georgiana managed to smother a laugh. Lydia and her future husband would certainly have separate bedchambers! How did one sleep through such a racket? Thank goodness they would not be sharing a room at Darcy House!
With care, she lifted herself and sat upon the side as Lucy entered and silently closed the door behind her. Georgiana put a finger to her lips and Lucy grinned.
“I looked in on you earlier,” whispered her maid. “I wondered at how you slept on such a small sliver of the bed.”
“Not well at all.” She brushed the sheet with her palm. “I am afraid we made a mess of the linens.”
“Do not fret. I shall take them into the garden and give them a good shake. No doubt, Mrs. Hill will give the room a thorough cleaning once we have departed after the wedding breakfast anyhow.” Lydia’s next snore reverberated around the room, and the both of them watched to see if she would awaken herself. She did not. How did Kitty share a room with her for so many years? Lucy covered her mouth in an attempt to restrain her mirth.
As Georgiana crept from the bed, Lydia rolled to her side, murmured to herself, and tittered. They both halted in their steps to be sure she did not awaken.
Her maid hastened to grab Georgiana’s brush and a few necessities before they crept through the adjoining door to what was once Mary’s old bedchamber. “Mrs. Hill offered for us to use this as a dressing room should we require it, but at the time, I had no notion we would.”
Georgiana peeked back at Lydia and began to giggle. “Did she say, ‘La! I would adore a dance!’ as we departed?”
“I heard ‘La’ and ‘dance,’ but I am unsure of the rest.” She peered back through the doorway before she closed the door with care. “Who do you think she wanted to dance with?”
“I am uncertain, but I would wager on a handsome but mysterious gentleman.” They both grinned while she removed her dressing gown and handed it to Lucy, who gestured towards the water and towelling.
“While you clean yourself up, I shall fetch your gown.”
Lucy crept back into the bedchamber, but soon returned with the blue silk over her arm. She then styled Georgiana’s hair in a trice and helped her dress. “As soon as Miss Bennet awakens, I shall pack your trunk and have it ready for when Mr. Clarke, Phoebe, and I depart. Phoebe has said she plans the same with Mrs. Darcy’s trunks.”
She caught Lucy’s eye in the mirror. “It has been some time since we travelled, has it not?”
“Aye, it has.” Her slight smile disappeared when she pinned the last curl into place. “I can’t say as I blame you for wanting to remain at Pemberley, though. I hope you don’t think me impertinent, but I am pleased to see you back to the young miss you were before Ramsgate.”
Georgiana opened her mouth to speak, but had not the opportunity.
“I know you are forever altered in some ways, but you seem more content as you are, which is a good thing. If only I had not departed that evening—”
She grasped Lucy’s arm and removed the brush from her fingers to join their hands. “I have told you before you are not to blame. Neither of us is.”
“I heard the talk below stairs about Mr. Wickham at Pemberley and London. I knew what he was. I should have never left you alone with Mrs. Younge.”
“No more! You were helping me to escape. You had no way of knowing Mr. Wickham would appear at the house and force himself upon me. Neither of us is responsible.” She searched Lucy’s eyes. “Do you understand?”
“You are too kind, miss.”
She stood and clenched Lucy’s hands in her own. “No, I simply refuse George Wickham the satisfaction of causing either of us further grief. He is dead and can no longer harm another soul.”
A knock came from the adjoining room, causing them both to jump and hurry to return to the bedchamber Georgiana was sharing with Lydia. As Lucy opened the door, Lydia sat up in the bed and groaned.
“’Tis too early!” Lydia’s eyes blinked hard, likely to adjust to the light from the window, and her brow furrowed as she glanced about the room. “Lord! I think I have biscuit crumbs in my shift.”
Lizzy’s merry laughter came from the door. “So, you have been initiated into the Bennet sisters’ tradition of talking late into the night and stealing from Mrs. Hill’s pantry?”
A huff came from behind her and Lydia stepped to her side. “Well, someone had to teach her, though she was positively scandalised by the idea of doing so at Pemberley or Darcy House. What sort of servants do you employ, Lizzy? If I had not been a guest of yours before, Georgiana’s reaction would almost make me fear staying with you.”
“I am glad to see you have not lost your talent for exaggeration,” teased Lizzy.
Lydia stuck out her tongue and Lizzy’s eyebrows rose upon her forehead.
“Oh, I am only teasing! Ask Papa. He makes his sarcastic remarks from time to time and I do the same to him. He finds it funny. I would never behave so in company.”
Lizzy placed her hands upon her youngest sister’s shoulders. “I am proud of the changes you have made, and I am pleased to find you have not lost all of your lively spirit. Otherwise, you would resemble Mary.”
“I love Mary, but it would be dreadfully dull to read histories like she does day after day.”
With a curve to one side of her lips, Lizzy raised an eyebrow. “Well, is no one hungry for breakfast? Fitzwilliam has been with Papa in his study for an hour at least, and I mean to eat before William finds me gone.”
“I shall join you.” Georgiana peered around Lydia. “Lucy? Would you be so kind as to help Miss Bennet prepare for the day?” Lydia’s eyes widened and she bit her bottom lip.
“Of course, Miss Darcy.” She gave a curtsey and turned to face Lydia. “Whenever you are ready, miss.” Lydia giggled while Lucy followed her into the corridor.
“That leaves the two of us.” Lizzy offered her arm. “Shall we?”
When they stepped to the top of the stairs, Georgiana glanced over her shoulder. Lizzy was a wonderful sister, but she was going to enjoy Lydia’s company for the next few months. She had not had a friend her age since school, and a part of her never trusted those acquaintances. Too many girls were merely interested in status or finding their way into the society of another girl’s unmarried brother. Of course, her brother was no longer eligible, so she had few young ladies approaching her these last four years.
Lydia, on the other hand, desired nothing but friendship. Perhaps London would not be so bad after all.
It’s cover reveal time!
The blurb on the back might change a little. I’m terrible about making last minute changes. But now, we have a giveaway! I’m on a giveaway rampage it seems! And I don’t know why I seem to be into themes. Today’s giveaway is two stemless wine glasses, one has a silhouette of Jane Austen and the other has a quote from Persuasion. Then we have a set of Pride and Prejudice themed lavender bath products from The MacBath. One signed paperback of the readers choice from what I have available and an audiobook of Particular Intentions. Everything you need to relax in the bath, have a glass of wine, and read.
Just leave me a comment below to enter!