We’re on to Chapter 5 and the last bit of the preview! Thanks to everyone for the amazing compliments on the cover and taking the time to give Georgiana a chance 🙂 If you don’t have your copy yet, then don’t wait! Get your copy here!
In celebrate release day, I have a giveaway, so make sure you look after the chapter to enter!
The merry tinkle of the bell rang from the door, and Aunt Charlotte leaned against Georgiana’s side.
“Why do we always happen upon those we would rather avoid in this shop?”
She peeked over her shoulder. Two ladies had entered and now scanned the interior. The first was one with whom she had attended school and was certainly not one whose company she would seek. The second was unfamiliar, but her association with the first was not in her favour.
She fingered the finely woven silk ribbon attached to the bonnet in her other hand. “I am acquainted with Miss Thorpe, but I do not know the second.”
“Lady Harriet Neville. Do not be fooled by her manner. She is a tremendous gossip. I doubt she would care if the scandal was related to her own mother. She would call on all of her acquaintance to ensure its dissemination.”
“The details and the colour are lovely.” Julia fingered the rosette where the ribbon attached. “Do you have a spencer or pelisse in a similar shade?”
With a start, Georgiana turned back to the hat. “I do, though I already have more bonnets than I require.”
“Mrs. Darcy!” exclaimed Lady Harriet. “I was just telling Miss Thorpe that I had yet to hear of your arrival in London. I would have called had I known you were in town.”
Georgiana, Julia, Lydia, and her aunt all turned to watch the exchange.
“You are too kind, but we have not yet begun to receive callers. We have spent our days shopping or spending time with family.”
If only she could be as adept in such an awkward situation! To someone who knew her well, Lizzy’s reserved politeness was obvious. To those who were not her sister’s intimates, her manners were all that was proper and bore no signs of artifice.
“Lady Fitzwilliam, how pleasant to see you again,” exclaimed Miss Thorpe when she took note of Aunt Charlotte. “My mother and I enjoyed speaking with you Monday last.”
Her aunt nodded. “It was good of you to call.”
With a look around the shop, Lady Harriet grinned. “Miss Thorpe has been invited to a house party held by the Earl of Sussex, and though her mother was unwell today, we are procuring a few items for the occasion.”
Georgiana did her best to keep her expression neutral. Everyone in London knew the deplorable reputation of the Earl! Even with the presence of a chaperon, what sort of parent would allow their unmarried daughter to reside under his roof?
“I hope you have an agreeable time.” Aunt Charlotte gestured to Julia. “We were shopping for my son’s betrothed, Miss Julia Raeburn, as well as my niece, Miss Darcy, and Mrs. Darcy’s youngest sister, Miss Bennet.”
Lady Harriet’s attention was drawn behind Lizzy and she pointed to a ruby-coloured velvet bonnet. “Oh! Do look, Isabella. Is that not a similar shade to your new cape?”
Lady Harriet bobbed a quick curtsey to Lizzy. “I beg you excuse us. We have so much to do before Mrs. Thorpe requires Isabella’s return for tea.” The two ladies bustled to the rear of the shop.
A sigh caused them to turn to Julia, who shook her head. “I suppose her snub was better than a cut direct.”
“Do not let them disturb you, dear,” soothed Aunt Charlotte with a dismissive wave of her hand. “They are not worth your time or injured sensibilities. Now, you mentioned desiring a new fan and a pair of gloves for the ball. I know of a quaint little place two shops down.”
Lizzy’s head lifted from where she searched in her reticule. “I require a new pair of gloves as well. Georgiana? Lydia? Do you wish to remain here or will you depart with us?”
Lydia scanned the room and her shoulders dropped. “I have yet to find a new bonnet. When I think I have found the perfect one, I find another I adore just as much. ‘Tis a hopeless situation.”
One corner of Georgiana’s lips tugged upwards. The drama and exaggeration in Lydia’s words never failed to amuse her. “I shall remain with Lydia. I have yet to wear the gloves I received from you on my birthday. I have no need of more.”
“I thought not,” replied Lizzy. “I will have a quick word with the proprietor before we depart.”
Lydia and Georgiana perused the displays side-by-side. The bell on the door sounded, signalling the remainder of their party’s departure.
As Lydia removed a pink silk confection, she giggled. “At one time, I would have thought this quite pretty.” She placed it upon her head and batted her eyelashes. “I would have added more lace and ribbons as well.”
Georgiana removed the yards of lace and silk from Lydia’s head. “I believe I had a similar one for my doll when I was young. I thought it quite handsome.” They both burst into quiet laughs.
“Lord Sele!” Lady Harriet’s voice was loud enough to reverberate around the room. “Lady Lindsey mentioned you were to return for the season this year. It must be of great comfort to her after so long a separation.”
Her entire body stiffened. Perhaps he would not notice them tucked away in the corner. The likelihood was small, was it not?
“I prefer to believe she is pleased to see me. She appears gratified, nonetheless. I hope your family is in good health, Lady Harriet, as well as yours, Miss Thorpe.”
“They are all very well. Thank you, my lord.” The enthusiasm in Miss Thorpe’s voice was ridiculous, and reminiscent of Miss Bingley. Nathaniel would not care for such affected attentions, would he?
When he spoke to the two ladies, the timbre of his voice carried around the shop. The tone was much deeper than when they were children. Of course, he was no longer a child, but a grown man. She was ridiculous not to consider him so. Lydia had even suggested he was now capable of growing a beard. He was certainly taller. A sharp pain in her ribs caused her to suck in a hard breath.
“Would you cease with the infernal elbow to my side?”
“Why would he enter an establishment for ladies’ hats?” whispered Lydia.
She shrugged. “Perhaps a gift for his mother?” She mouthed the words. The last thing she wanted was to be overheard—she would prefer not to be discovered either.
Lydia’s eyebrow rose on one side. Obviously, she was doubtful as well. Then, Lady Harriet’s too loud whisper reached her ears.
“She is not yet out, did you know? All of the ton has speculated as to why she has not had her début, but the Darcys and the Fitzwilliams have been exceedingly tight-lipped. ‘Tis most vexing.”
“I heard she had a scandalous affair with a servant’s son. She is sure to be ruined.”
“Oh no, Isabella, I have it on good authority that she has a deficiency of the mind. These last years of seclusion at Pemberley were due to her infirmity, though I heard she was present at Mrs. Darcy’s lying in. Can you imagine? How improper!”
Her back and shoulders went rigid. How dare they!
A tight squeeze brought her attention to her hand. When had Lydia taken it? The gesture, however, did nothing to alleviate the tension now plaguing her. She was so stiff, Lydia was certain to feel it.
“Ladies, I would beg you importune me no longer with your unfounded gossip. My family has been on intimate terms with the Darcys since before I was born. I spent a great deal of time with both of the Darcys when I was young, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms, Miss Darcy is not deficient in the mind, nor is she likely to have been intimate with a hired hand. Now, if you will excuse me.”
A small squeak came from Lydia. A jerky movement could be seen from the corner of her eye. Was Lydia bouncing?
The bell rang. Nathaniel, no doubt, stormed through the door in his anger, and Georgiana turned to watch him through the window, but rather than seeing the street through the glass, she stepped forward into a hard mixture of fine lawn and scratchy wool. When she drew back, amused dark eyes and a lop-sided mischievous grin were the first attributes she noted.
“Nathan—Lord Sele! I—” Her heart thudded in her chest and her palm rested upon her stomach.
“Forgive me if I frightened you, Miss Darcy.” He bowed as a painful pinch was delivered to the sensitive flesh of her side.
She curtseyed, clasping her hands tight before her. “I had not expected . . .”
He glanced to her side. “Would you do me the honour of introducing me to your friend?”
Her head whipped around to . . . Lydia? He wanted to meet Lydia? This was mortifying! Could she not run back to Darcy House directly and hide between her bedcovers?
“Lord Sele, this lady is Miss Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister of Mrs. Darcy. Miss Bennet, this is Nathaniel Howard, Viscount Sele.”
Lydia curtseyed. “A pleasure, my lord.”
“Are you enjoying the Christmas season in London?” His eyes had returned to her. He was speaking to her?
“Very much. In the past, I have missed my brother, Lizzy, and their son while I remained behind at Pemberley. I am pleased to have joined them this year.”
His head tilted just a fraction. “I have yet to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Darcy. Perhaps on the morrow at the Fitzwilliams’ ball? I have not attended in several years, but I anticipate this year’s event. The Fitzwilliams have much to celebrate, it seems.”
“Yes, my aunt and uncle were thrilled when their eldest and his wife welcomed a son in June. My cousin Richard’s betrothal and retirement from the military is a blessing as well. They will be glad to see him safe from harm’s way.”
His lips curved a mite on one side. “If you are attending, I hope I am not too late in requesting a set—perhaps the supper dance?”
Her eyes hurt, they widened so. A dance? With her? No!
“She would be honoured, Lord Sele.”
Georgiana’s head jerked to the side where Lydia stood wearing an enormous grin. Was there a tooth in her mouth that could not be seen?
“I shall also mention making your acquaintance to my sister,” continued Lydia. “I am certain she will want to add you to the invitation list for Miss Darcy’s ball. I believe the date is in early March—just at the beginning of the season.”
Her head was beginning to spin. What was Lydia doing? Her pulse pounded against her eardrums and her breath was coming in short pants. She was going to swoon! How horrifying!
Nathaniel’s smile lit his face and his eyes. “I would be pleased to join your family for such an auspicious occasion. Pray have Mrs. Darcy send ‘round the invitation. Thank you.”
He leaned forward and caught her gaze. “However, I would like to hear your acceptance of my request for a dance in your own voice.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. What choice did she have? “Yes, of course.” Why was her voice so weak and shaky? “I would be glad to reserve the supper dance for you.”
Look at his smug, self-satisfied grin! She should tell him she changed her mind, but Lydia already made her appear ridiculous. How would it look if she then refused him? Lydia was well meaning, but this notion of a ball was nothing short of terrible. What had possessed her? When they returned to Darcy House, she was going to lock Lydia in the cellar!
“Nathaniel?” He stepped back as he turned to where Lady Lindsey stood just within the door.
“Look who I have happened upon, Mother.”
Recognition flashed in Lady Lindsey’s eyes, her arms stretched out, and she strode forward. “Georgiana Darcy, I cannot remember the last time we were in company.”
Before Georgiana knew what had happened, Lady Lindsey held her in a warm hug. Her eyes closed as she savoured an embrace that brought back memories and sensations of her mother. A similar calm and sense of security overtook her in Lady Lindsey’s arms.
“Forgive me, but I have missed you, my dear.” She held out Georgiana’s arms and took her measure. “You have grown into a handsome young lady—so like your mother. Your hair might be chestnut where hers was golden, yet your eyes and your features are hers.”
As Lady Lindsey continued to hold her hands, she glanced towards Lydia. “I have been rude not to request an introduction. Would you?”
Georgiana cleared her throat. “Lady Amelia Howard, Countess Lindsey, this is Miss Lydia Bennet, Mrs. Darcy’s youngest sister.”
The lady’s smile became wider and her eyes glowed. “I have met Mrs. Darcy. Unfortunately, I have not been in her company enough to call her a great friend, yet I like her very much. Fitzwilliam’s happiness is evident in his manner and looks when they are together. Anne wanted nothing less for both of her children. I am pleased to see him make such a match.”
“Both my sister and brother are content in their situation,” interjected Lydia. “They are indeed well-matched.”
Lady Lindsey sighed with a smile. “Marriages based on love are rare in our sphere and to be valued. I hope you both are as attentive to such matters when a young man attempts to court you.”
“I—” What was wrong with her? Why could she not utter a coherent sentence other than an introduction? “What I meant to say was I had not—” A pain shot through Georgiana’s upper arm at Lydia’s relentless grip.
“Neither of us would consider less, Lady Lindsey. How could we settle when we have such an example of felicity set by my sister and her husband?” Lydia exuded such confidence and poise. Who was this girl and where was the friend with the bubbly giggle? This Lydia was not as much to her liking. She accepted dance requests in her stead, squeezed her arm painfully, responded to questions for her, and the pinch! How could she forget the pinch?
Nathaniel cupped his mother’s elbow in his palm. “I am loath to interrupt, but we promised my father we would return by two.”
While she checked her son’s open pocket watch, Lady Lindsey rubbed her thumbs over Georgiana’s knuckles. “You must come ‘round for tea. I shall send an invitation for the two of you and Mrs. Darcy. Perhaps we can arrange a dinner in a few weeks’ time?”
“I shall let Mrs. Darcy know.” Her voice was so faint. She wanted to call upon Lady Lindsey and become acquainted with her mother’s good friend once again. Why was she behaving with such timidity?
“Excellent.” She leaned forward to kiss Georgiana’s cheek. Could Lady Lindsey feel her tremble? “I look forward to your call.”
When his mother released her, Nathaniel shifted so he was directly before her and took her hand. “Until tomorrow evening.” He kissed her knuckles, released her hand, and bowed to Lydia. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Bennet.”
Once Lord Sele and his mother departed the shop, he grinned through the glass when he passed, much like he had at Gunter’s a week prior, but all she could do was stare. Could she even make a peep?
Georgiana closed her eyes and took a deep breath, filling her chest as full of air as she could. Her entire body shook. She needed to calm. She took another long inhale. She was going to string Lydia up in the attics by her toes!
She reached over and pinched the flesh over Lydia’s ribs.
Without turning to the friend who betrayed her, she strode from the building, pausing when her boot hit the pavement. The chill air was a shock after the warmth of the shop and prompted a shudder.
She pivoted in both directions and peered across the busy street. In which direction did Lizzy say they would go?
She made an abrupt halt in the midst of her next turn. That hat! She narrowed her eyes and squinted, but the lady’s face was still unclear. It could not be, could it? But who would own the same headpiece?
“Have you completed your purchases?” She whipped around. When had Lizzy crept up behind her?
“I wish to return home.”
The bell behind her rang, and Lydia stepped beside her.
A crease formed between Lizzy’s eyebrows while she looked back and forth between them. “What has happened?”
When the remainder of their party joined them, Aunt Charlotte stroked her cheek. “You are pale, dearest. Perhaps we should return you to Darcy House before you take ill. The weather does have a bite to it today.”
Fortunately, the carriage awaited them nearby, and they were soon all settled for the return to Mayfair. Georgiana had no desire to be near Lydia as she had on the trip to Bond Street, so she seated herself across the carriage and stared through the window.
Lizzy leaned forward where she could see them both. “Neither of you have indicated what occurred to upset you so. I expect an explanation now.”
Lydia opened her mouth, but Georgiana threw her arm up and pointed. “Lydia has decided I am to have a ball in early March, and she has taken it upon herself to invite Nathaniel Howard.”
An incredulous chirp came from Lizzy, and all the ladies in the carriage stared at Lydia.
“Nathaniel Howard?” asked Aunt Charlotte. “Viscount Sele?”
Lydia’s hands lifted palm up in a sort of shrug and then dropped to her lap. “Yes, and he fancies her. He noticed her in Gunter’s a week ago, he approached her in the hat shop today, and he defended her to those nasty harpies who had entered before you left. He also requested a dance at tomorrow’s ball.”
Why was her voice so exasperated? She was not the injured party! “Which you accepted for me!”
“Lydia!” Her sister’s head shook. “I knew you had curbed the worst of your impetuous nature, but to force Georgiana as you have . . .”
“Why do you coddle her and protect her?” asked Lydia in an exasperated tone. “No other lady would wait until she was twenty to début. She lives in the world, yet she does not live.”
Why was any of this Lydia’s concern? She would one day marry and Georgiana would be perfectly content to remain with her brother’s family. “I have managed myself quite well before your officious interference!” Georgiana argued. “I take pleasure in a full life and have no intention of changing!”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Oh, you enjoy time with your nephew and shopping excursions, but you do not venture from the safe, secluded world of your creation. You are like a caterpillar in a cocoon who refuses to break free.”
A strange, strangled noise came from Lizzy’s nose before she broke into giggles. Georgiana bit her bottom lip and managed to stifle a laugh.
“What amuses you?” Lydia’s wide eyes and serious mien only made Lizzy fall against the side of the carriage trying to restrain her laughter. The youngest Bennet could do naught but cross her arms over her chest with a huff. Aunt Charlotte’s lip twitched as she paid rapt attention to the buildings passing while Julia’s shoulders shook but no sound emerged.
“Forgive me,” pleaded Lizzy. “I am not accustomed to such statements from you. Your behaviour since Mama’s death, while proper, still surprises me at times. Do not mistake me. I am proud of the changes you have wrought, yet what you said was so unexpected. I could not help myself.”
Lizzy sank back into the squabs and pressed her lips into a fine line. “Today, you were quite brazen to speak for Georgiana. Her brother and I promised to abide by her decisions and your interference could force her into unwanted situations.”
“I have not pushed her from a precipice or put her in an improper position. She is attending the ball tomorrow night, so what is one more in her honour? Besides, Miss Georgiana Darcy,” chided Lydia as she wagged a finger in her face. “You were as red as beetroot when he approached you. Your face when he kissed your hand . . .”
Lizzy’s favourite brow lifted. “He kissed your hand?”
Was that Gunter’s they were passing? She stared through the window at the people walking the pavement. Why was a kiss to the hand so important?
“Georgiana!” The tone of Lizzy’s voice was one she had heard before. She would not allow the argument to lie. Georgiana rotated in her place so she faced the interior of the carriage and Lizzy’s admonishment. “Will you have a ball or shall we call upon Lady Lindsey and correct Lydia’s misinformation?”
“Lady Lindsey did say we should call soon.” She cleared her throat in an effort to make her voice louder. “She mentioned tea or inviting us to dinner.”
Aunt Charlotte pivoted in her seat and cradled Georgiana’s cheeks in her palms. “I remember your mother and father speaking of your frequent arguments with Nathaniel. He could ruffle your feathers with little to no effort. Lady Lindsey and your mother were certain he sought your attention.”
That frustrating finger was again waving in the corner of her sight. “I told you!”
A gloved hand pushed Lydia’s to her lap. “Lydia, this is hardly helpful.”
“We still have one unexplained item from Lydia’s list.” All eyes turned to Julia. “Why did Lord Sele feel the inclination to defend you? What did those two ladies say or do once we departed?”
Lydia huffed. “Georgiana and I were laughing at a ridiculous pink frilled bonnet when Lord Sele entered. Those two ladies greeted and fawned over him before they began telling him of the rumours surrounding Georgiana.”
Aunt Charlotte placed a hand over Georgiana’s and leaned forward. “What did they say?”
“The ladies argued over which rumour was correct. One said Georgiana had a scandalous affair with a servant and was ruined. The other claimed Georgiana had a mental infirmity, which was why she remained at Pemberley the last few years. Her presence at your lying in, Lizzy, was another bit they found shocking.”
“I plan to never use that midwife again,” growled Lizzy. “Did she tell all of Derbyshire, who then spread it to all and sundry? I shall never understand why an unmarried lady cannot witness childbirth. The process is a natural one and I daresay, after witnessing a birth, many a young lady may give more thought before behaving in an improper or imprudent fashion with a man!”
With a wince at Lizzy’s loud defence, her aunt sat back. “Nevertheless, the gossip is about. Her presence in London will soon be known as well. A ball is a prudent idea. No one can claim Georgiana has some deficiency of the mind once she has been presented, but the talk of her potential ruin could prove more persistent as a result.”
“By proving one incorrect,” queried Julia, “the other would be fixed as truth?”
“The possibility exists.” Aunt Charlotte lifted her eyebrows. “You must decide, Georgiana. Would you prefer to remain as you are or eliminate a good portion of the talk surrounding your seclusion? For all intents and purposes, you are out, should anyone enquire, and a ball held at the beginning of March in honour of your first London season would do well to quell most of the rumours.
“If Lydia is correct and Lord Sele has carried a tendre for you all of these years,” continued her aunt, “he may attempt to pursue you. He is known as a respectable gentleman. He would be a wonderful match for you.”
The carriage came to a halt in front of the house, and before the footman approached, Georgiana threw the door open and hastened into the hall. She stripped her gloves and tugged at the ribbons of her bonnet, handing them to the maid with little care.
She pulled her pelisse from her shoulders and dispensed with it in the same fashion as her other outdoor garments. “Perhaps I never sought his attention, and perhaps I do not wish for it now!”
Her eyes stung and her breath caught in her lungs. She hiked her skirts and sprinted up the stairs to her room, slammed the door, and dropped into the chair at her escritoire.
December 28th 1816
Why do accomplished ladies and gentlemen require lies to find entertainment? It seems I must have a ball else people will talk, but the gossip may change to a tale just as heinous. I hate this! I hate George Wickham!
Besides, Nathaniel never sought my notice! He was an annoying, headstrong young man and is, no doubt, much the same as an adult. His defence of me to Lady Harriet and Miss Thorpe was out of loyalty to my parents and caring for his mother’s dearest friend. Naught but those reasons exist. The notion he could have feelings for me is preposterous! He does not know me! I appreciate his defence of me, and for that reason alone, I shall dance the supper set with him, but no more!
I would have been out without much fanfare had Lydia’s statements not forced me into a more formal début into society. Despite the circumstances, my resolution will not waver. I will never marry!
A bubble of ink caused a black stain at the end of her entry. “Blast!”
“Georgiana?” Lizzy peeked through a crack in the door before she entered. “Your aunt means well, but you were rude. I agree Lydia overstepped, yet she had the best of intentions, which is a phrase I never thought I would utter in my lifetime.”
Her body sagged. She had been frustrated when they departed the shop, but she had not meant to be impolite to Aunt Charlotte. “I shall apologise to my aunt, but Lydia should not have—” Her voice cracked.
“No, she should have remained silent, and I will discuss her behaviour with her once I know you are well.” Her sister’s hands rested upon her shoulders. “Do remember there was a time when Lydia thought of no one but herself, and today she thought of nothing but your future happiness. She has made remarkable progress in the last few years. Do not ruin the bond between you over such a trifling incident—and when you consider what has occurred in your life, it is a mere trifle.”
Lizzy kissed her forehead. “As your aunt said, you must decide, but do not take too long. We will need time to plan.” She turned to leave, but before she could close the bedchamber door, Georgiana stood.
She turned. “Yes?”
“Would you and aunt plan the ball?” Her thumbnail scratched an imperfection in the wood of the table. “I worry so about the repercussions of not adhering to the ton’s expectations, and this course would eliminate those fears.”
With a smile, Lizzy nodded. “Very well. I shall inform your aunt. We can discuss it more on the morrow when you are rested.”
“Lizzy?” Her sister stepped back. “Allow Lydia to believe I am vexed with her for a while longer.”
After a grin, Lizzy nodded. “I shall not say a word.”
Now, it’s giveaway time!!!
Today, I have some goodies I picked up in Chawton at the Jane Austen House Museum as well as a pack of cards, and a pair of Jane Austen socks that I just thought were fun 🙂
Included in the giveaway are – 1 I heart Mr Darcy pin, 1 Tiny P&P, 1 JA Bookmark, 1 postcard with JA’s and Cassandra’s crosses, 2 lovely Mansfield Park greeting cards, 1 “Jane Austen: Notes and Quotes,” 1 notepad featuring JA’s jewelery, and one copy “Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels In one Sitting” all from JA House Museum. Then one 5 pack of Notecards and one pair of JA socks to round everything out.
Giveaway is international!! Just leave me a comment below to enter!