Welcome to the book reveal for Mr. Darcy’s Challenge (Book 2 of Mr. Darcy’s Pledge). I would love to hear what you think of the cover. Please leave a comment below describing what impressions the cover evokes for an additional chance to be entered on the Launch Day Giveaway. Meanwhile, I’d like to let you know that Mr. Darcy’s Challenge is now available for pre-order on Kindle. Here’s the link.
For those of you who’ve already read Mr. Darcy’s Pledge, I’d love to find out which cover you like better.
Meanwhile, I have another chapter for you. If you haven’t yet read the Prologue, please make sure to read it first (click here). This chapter is a little bit slow. I like to think of it as being like the slow climb up to the top of the roller coaster, before the ride begins. For the moment, you hold your breath, enjoying the anticipation. Slowly, slowly, the wheels creaking, you are pulled upwards to the top. Then the story begins.
You can find the Prologue here
“I wonder where Mr. Darcy could have gone?” said Mrs. Annesley as Georgiana sat down to breakfast.
Georgiana was taken aback by the question. Mrs. Annesley discouraged speculation generally, calling it detrimental curiosity and she certainly never showed interest in William’s comings and goings. Yet here she was, asking a question which Georgiana could not answer.
“What do you mean, Mrs. Annesley?” she said. “Surely it has nothing to do with us.”
Mrs. Annesley took a nervous sip of her coffee. “Naturally, I did not mean to question Mr. Darcy’s whereabouts. I simply wondered if you knew where his travels were taking him this time.”
Georgiana was so startled at this unexpected revelation that she dropped her fork.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Annesley, hurrying to pick it up from the floor. “I did not mean to startle you, Miss Darcy. I am very sorry to have done so.”
“My brother is traveling? Again? What could have possessed him to do so?”
She ought not to be critical of her brother in front of Mrs. Annesley, but really, it was very puzzling. Why had he not informed her he was leaving? She would be forced to admit that she had no idea where her brother had gone, nor for how long. She would not even have known that William had left Pemberley if it were not for Mrs. Annesley’s question.
“Are you certain he is traveling?” said Georgiana.
“Yes. I know I should not be eavesdropping, but the window was open and I overheard him say to young Ebenezer when he brought the horse that he would be away for a few days. Mr. Darcy gave specific instructions about exercising the new mare he acquired.”
“I do not understand,” said Georgiana. “He said nothing to me at all last night.”
Georgiana could scarcely credit it. So Darcy had departed yet again. Of course, William was a free agent and being her older brother, he was not obliged to inform her of his movements. There was nothing remarkable about that. He was a man. He was free to go and come as he pleased, and it was not up to her to question his reasons. Perhaps he had received a last minute invitation to a house party.
However, that did not mean she did not feel provoked that, after she had believed they had come to trust each other a little better, he had departed without even saying goodbye. It pained her that he disregarded her presence so completely, quite as if she was no more than a child and not the current mistress of Pemberley at all. The least he could have done was leave her a note.
Perhaps he had left one and she was growing upset over nothing. Georgiana tugged at the bell-pull.
“I would like to speak to Timmons,” she said, when the footman answered the summons.
She wished she did not need to question Timmons. When she was a little girl, she had quailed under his disapproving eye and solemn expression. Now that she was older, she knew he was an excellent butler, but she still preferred to have as little interaction with him as possible.
Timmons appeared promptly.
“Did Mr. Darcy leave a message for me?” she asked.
“He did not,” said Timmons, his tone implying what was obvious: namely, that if Mr. Darcy had left a message, it would have been delivered.
Georgiana hesitated. She had to find out where her brother had gone, but she did not wish the staff to know that William had not informed her. She did not feel secure in her position as mistress of the household and she could not help feeling that her ignorance of her brother’s departure would lower her status in their eyes.
“Did he inform you when he would return from his trip?”
Timmons’ expression did not change, but Georgiana noted rather gleefully that his body had stiffened. So, the butler did not know either. She felt less mortified now.
“He did not,” said Timmons.
“Thank you, Timmons. That is all. Could you send Mrs. Reynolds to me? I will be in the parlor.”
The old butler bowed and withdrew. As she Georgiana walked with Mrs. Annesley to the parlor, she debated inwardly whether to reveal her ignorance to the housekeeper or not.
Fortunately, Mrs. Reynolds solved the problem for her.
“I am glad you sent for me, Miss Darcy. I was just wondering if you knew when Mr. Darcy would be returning. Cook is desirous to plan her menu for the next three days, but I was wondering if I should advise her not to put together any formal dinners.”
Georgiana smiled, happy to be saved the embarrassment of asking.
“I know nothing about my brother’s plans,” she said. “I did not know that he was leaving.”
One would have thought that he might at least have said something to Mrs. Reynolds, but the housekeeper was quite as mystified as Georgiana was. Not that she said anything, of course. She was far too loyal.
“Well, I am sure Mr. Darcy has his reasons,” said Mrs. Reynolds, folding her hands in front of her, which was something she tended to do when she was baffled. “I just wish he had taken an overcoat with him in case of rain.”
“Your concern does you credit, I am sure,” said Mrs. Annesley, which was irksome because it was precisely what Georgiana herself had been about to say.
“Thank you, Mrs. Annesley,” said Mrs. Reynolds. “Miss Darcy, about dinner?”
“Dinner in your room might be best, Miss Darcy,” said Mrs. Annesley.
“Yes, of course. I would prefer that, Mrs. Reynolds. There is nothing more dreary than dining alone at a big empty table,” she replied. She already felt the weight of the loneliness. It had been so busy the last few days, and now everyone was gone, including William, and she was left behind.
“I thought so,” said the housekeeper, giving Georgiana a warm smile. “You must be missing all the company we have had lately. The house seems very quiet.”
Thank heavens for Mrs. Reynolds, who knew her so well she seemed to read her mind sometimes. She ought not to think that way, of course, but she felt that Mrs. Reynolds was the closest to a mother that she had. She had been a constant support since her mother had died so many years ago. It was probably silly of her to think this way, but she could not help it. Mrs. Annesley was all very well as a companion, but she did not know her half as well, and besides, she took her duties as much too seriously to attempt to discover Georgiana’s feelings about anything. If she had as much as mentioned loneliness to Mrs. Annesley, she would have found Georgiana more sewing to do, or sent her out into the garden to sketch lavender or whatever happened to be blooming at the moment.
“It is certainly much more peaceful,” said Georgiana, catching the housekeeper’s eye, “especially with Lord and Lady Matlock gone.” It was probably foolish of her to make so much of it, but Georgiana had been flattered when Mrs. Reynolds had come to her to complain that two of the chambermaids had been in tears after Lady Matlock had dismissed them without a reference for bringing bath water that was too cold. Georgiana had spoken to her aunt rather firmly, reminding her that as a guest in the house she did not have the right to dismiss any of the staff. She had been trembling in her shoes while she did it, but astonishingly her aunt had not argued the point.
“Your servants are very slack,” had been Lady Matlock’s response. “Clearly a mistress is needed at Pemberley to take over the reins. Not you, my dear Georgiana, naturally – no one would expect it of a schoolgirl. That brother of yours has a great deal to answer for. What is he waiting for? When is he going to find himself a wife?”
The servants had been reinstated and sent to another side of the house, all without Mrs. Annesley even knowing a thing. It made Georgiana feel like a guilty kind of pleasure at accomplishing something without Mrs. Annesley looking over her shoulder.
Mrs. Reynolds returned her look but was too discreet to say anything further.
“I will convey your decision to Cook, then.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds.”
The moment the door closed behind the housekeeper, Mrs. Annesley put down her needlework.
“I hope you will not take it amiss, Miss Darcy, but it is best not to make remarks about persons of higher rank like your uncle and aunt to the servants. I cannot think it quite right that you were discussing Mr. Darcy’s departure, either.”
Mrs. Annesley was really very kind, but sometimes she grated on the nerves, particularly since she seemed to constantly find fault. Lately Georgiana was beginning to feel a need to take charge more. Being on a short leash strained her patience. How was she to learn her responsibilities if she did not have the opportunity to practice? She had hoped to talk to William about it once all the guests had departed, but now he was not here.
She sighed, wondering yet again why William had dashed off without a word. She could not help feeling worried about it. There was no getting around it. Her brother was no longer the same brother she had known for seventeen years of her life. This new Darcy was unpredictable and erratic. The fact that she knew the reason for this great transformation went by the name of Elizabeth Bennet did provide some explanation, but it did not make it any less troubling. She had witnessed how restless he had been before Elizabeth Bennet had arrived in Pemberley. He had even been on the verge of becoming engaged to someone else – to Miss Marshall, of all people. Georgiana could not think of a worse choice of a wife.
At least William’s sudden trip had nothing to do with Miss Marshall, who, as far as Georgiana knew, was still resident in Lambton. Georgiana could not rest easy, however. This new William was not to be relied upon not to make imprudent decisions on the spur of the moment. The more she thought about it, the more concerned she became. It was not like William to go away without informing anyone at all. Perhaps he had received an urgent summons or heard bad news.
With a sense of sudden urgency, she rang for Timmons to enquire if any letters had arrived this morning.
“Yes, there was a letter for Mr. Darcy,” said the Butler.
“Do you know who sent it?” she asked.
There was a slight flicker in the butler’s eyes, as if he was considering whether answering would betray his master’s confidence or not.
“I believe it was from Lady Catherine, to judge by the handwriting,” he said.
Georgiana could not help but feel that answering her question was a big concession on his part. With a surge of gratitude, she smiled at him. “Thank you for the information. You have been very helpful.”
The butler did not react. He bowed gracefully and retreated.
Old Stoneface, she thought, but at least he had given her the information. So now she knew there was a letter involved. What could Lady Catherine possibly have said that could have sent her brother running? If there had been an emergency of some sort – an accident or illness – Georgiana was certain William would have told her. After all, there would have been no need to keep it a secret.
If it was a secret, then it very likely had something to do with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. What connection could there be, however, between Lady Catherine and Miss Bennet? Perhaps Timmons had mistaken the writing. Miss Bennet had also left Pemberley very suddenly. Was William’s departure related to hers?
The clang of the front doorbell interrupted her thoughts and Timmons appeared again.
“Mrs. Renwick. Mrs. Marshall. Miss Marshall.”
Georgiana groaned inwardly. Miss Marshall was the last person she wished to see at the moment.
“Good afternoon, Miss Darcy,” said Miss Marshall. “We thought we would keep you company now that Mr. Darcy has abandoned you. We ladies must stick together.”
Georgiana frowned. How did Miss Marshall know that Darcy had left?
“You may well look surprised,” said Mrs. Marshall. “We have come straight from visiting Mrs. Parris, you see, and she told us that Mr. Logan came across Mr. Darcy this morning. Darcy informed him that he expected to be away a few days.”
“I see,” said Georgiana.
“What an exciting life Mr. Darcy appears to lead!” said Miss Marshall. “Always travelling hither and thither! I cannot imagine why he has returned to London so soon after leaving it.”
“I am not privy to my brother’s private business,” said Georgiana tightly, not wishing to encourage any discussion in that direction, even though she was desperately curious whether William had told Mr. Logan that he was going to London. “He is free to come and go as he pleases.”
“In any case, that is not why we are here. We came to take our leave as well,” said Mrs. Marshall. “The countryside is all very well, but when there is no hunting and everyone is away, it is quite abysmally dull. We have been invited to a house party in Kent – Lady Anthorpe, you know, everyone longs for an invitation from her – then we shall return to London. Perhaps we will see you there soon?”
“Possibly,” said Georgiana, hoping fervently that Miss Marshall would find an eligible partner at Lady Anthorpe’s house party.
“I shall be counting the days, Miss Darcy. I have become very attached to you, you know,” said Miss Marshall, “even though we have known each other but a short time.”
Having informed her of their plans, they did not stay long, claiming to have a great many things to do before they traveled. Georgiana could not imagine what could possibly occupy them in a tiny village like Lambton.
“Will you not open the window, Georgiana? The scent Miss Marshall is wearing always seems to bring on a headache,” said Mrs. Annesley.
“That is because you do not like her,” said Georgiana, with a little smile.
“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Annesley, “I would not be so forthright as to venture an opinion on the matter, for as far as I know, Mr. Darcy is considering asking for her hand in marriage.”
Her eyes were round and unhappy.
With a sigh, Georgiana looked out of the window. The carriage had not yet left and the two ladies were inspecting the stable area as though Pemberley belonged to them. As they approached, she could hear them speaking.
“He seems to keep good stables, at any rate,” said the mother.
“A pity the house is so musty. I am sure no one has bothered to redecorate since Lady Anne died,” said Miss Marshall, with a giggle.
The two women entered the carriage and drove away.
Georgiana watched until they disappeared into the avenue of trees then turned to Mrs. Annesley. She was not going to let Miss Marshall get her claws into her brother, or into Pemberley for that matter. She loved both too much.
“My brother is not going to marry Miss Marshall,” said Georgiana, firmly.
“Just because you do not wish it,” said Mrs. Annesley, “it does not mean it will not happen.”
Georgiana thought of Elizabeth Bennet and the expression on her brother’s face whenever he looked at her.
“It will not happen,” she said, crossing her fingers behind her back.
One thing was certain. If Miss Marshall was to be in London and there was a chance that her brother would be there too, then Georgiana’s purpose was clear.
She would go to London as well.