Good evening from hot and sunny Oregon! I have had the absolute pleasure this week of being whisked away by my very own Mr Bingley (he’s far more cheerful than Darcy, and I like it that way) to a child-free writing retreat at the lovely Oregon Coast. I have had cool temperatures, a private room, and since I’m staying at the home of my delightful in-laws, all the chocolate and hot tea and Pepsi a girl could want. As a consequence, I have also nearly lost track of what day of the week it is.
I have been furiously typing away the last handful of chapters for my soon-to-be-released variation titled These Dreams. I am so excited, I can hardly stand it! I’ve taken to calling this book my “turkey”, and the little red “done” button is starting to pop. (For non-Americans, the turkey is that massive Thanksgiving treat we cook in the oven forever and ever. It smells intoxicatingly delicious long before you can take a bite of it, and then it feeds like thirty people. This book is about that size, and it has been driving me crazy for about that long.)
This evening I am sharing, for the very first time, the official book blurb, as well as another excerpt. If you enjoy it, please stop by More Agreeably Engaged on Friday for the cover reveal! Janet Taylor has outdone herself, and I am positively beside myself over it. Enjoy!
An Abandoned Bride
A Missing Man
And a Dream which refuses to die….
Pride and patriotism lend fervor to greed and cruelty, and Fitzwilliam Darcy is caught at the centre of a decades old international feud. Taken far from England, presumed dead by his family, and lost to all he holds dear, only one name remains as his beacon in the darkness: Elizabeth.
Georgiana Darcy is now the reluctant, heartbroken heiress to Pemberley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam her bewildered guardian. Vulnerable and unprepared, Georgiana desperately longs for a friend, while Fitzwilliam seeks to protect her from his own family. As the conspiracy around Darcy’s death widens and questions mount, Colonel Fitzwilliam must confront his own past. An impossible dream, long ago sacrificed for duty, may become his only hope.
Newly married Lydia Wickham returns to Longbourn- alone and under mysterious circumstances. Elizabeth Bennet watches one sister suffer and another find joy, while she lives her own days in empty regrets over what might have been. Believing Darcy lost forever, she closes her heart against both pain and happiness, but finds no escape from her dreams of him.
Longbourn, October 1813
“Lizzy, there is something important I wish to ask you.”
Jane Bennet had to compete for time with her sister of late. Elizabeth had flung herself into the management of the house, as their mother was more occupied with wedding plans. Her free time was often spent instructing the unhappy Kitty in the household accounts and in music, for Elizabeth seemed to have determined that one, at least, of her younger sisters should have some claim to recommend her.
When she was not so employed, she had discovered an intensified passion for walking out, and she would be away for hours together. Upon her return, she was nearly always secreted in a corner with a book, her head dipped behind it as a shield and her hearing closed off to anyone else in the room. At night, she retired late and slept so poorly that Jane hated disturbing her, even in the privacy of their own bedchamber.
At last, Jane had found her out by the drawing room window. Their mother had taken the carriage, along with Kitty and Mary, to call on Mrs Philips. Lydia remained, as always, in her room, and their father had locked the door to his library some while earlier. Elizabeth gazed in solitary reflection out the window, but only because her book lay finished beside her and a cold northern wind blew in the bitter months of winter, rendering a long walk impossible. She appeared deaf for a moment, but when Jane repeated her request for an audience, she gave a little start, and turned.
“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane breathed. Elizabeth’s eyes still shimmered strangely, their soft glow only enhanced by the dark circles beneath them. “You look so weary! Dearest, I wish there were something I could do. Will you not allow me to send for Mr Jones?”
Elizabeth swallowed forcibly, turning her face back to the window. “There is nothing anyone can do, Jane,” she whispered.
“But you are not yourself! I know it has been hard for you, with my wedding to plan and Lydia’s… marriage. Most of the usual household affairs have been yours, with Mama occupied. I know what a burden it has been!”
Elizabeth shook her head vaguely, her eyes still focused on some unseen point out the window. “The additional duties do not trouble me.”
Jane only chewed her lip in agonised silence. Elizabeth had ever been her soul mate, her confidante, but now, she had better luck conversing with a wall than her own sister. “I wish you might say a kind word to Lydia,” she advised gently. “I know you are angry with her, Lizzy, but perhaps when you see how broken-hearted she is, you might come to feel some pity for her. I think it might ease your own cares just now.”
Elizabeth made no response, but Jane could see her fine jaw clenching, her nostrils distending, and her eyes hardening. Jane gave up the point as hopeless.
“Well, anyway,” she sighed, “it is not that of which I wished to speak with you. Lizzy, Charles and I have talked it all over. We would like you to come live at Netherfield with us, once we are settled.”
Elizabeth turned silent, astounded eyes toward her sister, and Jane rushed to justify the offer. “Charles thinks very highly of you—he credits speaking to you in Derbyshire last August with lending him the courage to propose to me at last. It would really be a very great favour to us, Lizzy, for I do not know how I shall manage such a large house! Caroline shall not remain at Netherfield, for he has determined to provide her with an establishment of her own in London. So, you see, it will be very lonely with just the two of us there, and it would gladden our hearts to have you.”
“I never heard of newlyweds as violently in love as you feeling lonely. I would be an awkward addition to your home, Jane.”
“You could never! Lizzy, I cannot marry tomorrow and go away, leaving you as miserable as you have been. I could not dream of it! And Charles… well, to tell the truth….”
“He cannot wish for his sister-in-law to live with him!” Elizabeth objected. “Your Mr Bingley is kindness itself, but I will not impose upon his generosity.”
“No, Lizzy, it is not that. He likes having you near, as a friend, do you see. He likes hearing your opinions and enjoys the clever way you speak. He says he finds your presence comforting, for you remind him of Mr Darcy.”
Elizabeth put her hand to her eyes, her frame beginning to shake and a small sound escaping her.
“Oh, Lizzy, I am sure he did not mean it quite that way!” Jane fluttered helplessly, still uncertain what way she could have meant, and why it seemed impossible to mention Mr Darcy’s memory without causing Elizabeth to close down entirely. “Why, I know that you and he were never friends, but he was a good man, after all, and I should think you might have been flattered by the comparison. Oh, Lizzy, do say something!”
Elizabeth’s fingers worked over her eyes, eventually pinching the bridge of her nose before her hand finally dropped from her bowed face. “I do not wish to speak of Mr Darcy, Jane,” she grumbled. She turned then, and her voice grew with the strength of anger spurred by sorrow. “Nor do I wish to speak to Lydia, or—do forgive me—your Mr Bingley, or anyone else who was close to him! I wish to forget that he ever entered our lives!”
Jane drew back, her lips and cheeks pale. “Lizzy, you cannot mean that! Darling, you must tell me, what is the root of all this resentment toward Mr Darcy? Was he unkind to you when you saw him in Derbyshire? You never did tell me how he first heard of Lydia’s troubles,” she added reproachfully.
Elizabeth turned back to the window, her arms crossed. Her chin trembled and she blinked several times in rapid succession. “It does not matter now, Jane. He is dead. Nothing can change that.”
“Do you know,” Jane murmured gently, sliding an arm about her recalcitrant sister, “I think that if things had turned out differently, you and he might have become friends. Oh, he was a bit prickly on the surface, but given time, I think—oh! Dearest, you are crying!”
“I am not!” Elizabeth shook her head, cowering behind her hand.
“You are! Lizzy,” Jane grasped her sister’s shoulders and forced her about. “Why—you were in love with him! I see it now! Oh, how could I have been such a fool?”
“No, Jane, you are entirely mistaken.” Elizabeth heaved a fresh breath, drying her eyes. “In love with him! Do not be ridiculous. No more dissimilar souls ever walked this earth. Have I never told you how we always set to arguing when we were in Kent?”
“Yes, and I know how you adore a spirited debate. And he was in love with you, you told me of that once! Oh, Lizzy, to think that he has been so cruelly taken-”
“Stop it, Jane!” Elizabeth stamped her foot, wringing her handkerchief in a clenched fist. “I was not… not in love, as you say! I only… I came to appreciate his qualities, I suppose. I think it so horribly unfair that his life was cut short. His poor sister!”
“You and Charles have both told me of her,” Jane agreed sadly. “She must be devastated!”
“She cannot be otherwise, for she was most prodigiously attached to him. So good to her he was! I am very sorry for her, but also angry when I consider it. To think that it was all the fault of Lydia and Mr Wickham!”
“Lizzy, now you go too far. You sound as if you would accuse them of murder!”
“Not deliberately, perhaps, but their carelessness led directly to…. He would never have gone to such a place if not for… for… oh, Jane!” Elizabeth crumpled the handkerchief uselessly over her face.
“There, dear.” Jane enveloped her sister in an embrace—the sort where the mourner can lose herself to the ravages of grief, where no shadow of condemnation might follow. Elizabeth shook and trembled, her arms clasped tightly to her own breast, for she had not the courage at first to return the affection. Only when the keening sighs—high and utterly beyond her power to restrain—wavered from her lips did she dare to reach for her sister. Jane shushed and soothed, stroking Elizabeth’s hair and instinctively rocking to and fro as she would to comfort a babe.
“He—he did it for me, Jane!” Elizabeth choked at last, her hot words crying against Jane’s shoulder. “He went there, looking for them… he did it because of me! I shall bear this guilt forever. The fault was theirs, but the motivation was all my own doing. I was so—so stubborn! I was wrong about so many things, accusing him of the worst sort of malice and pride. Would that I had never spoken so harshly to him! He lost his life trying to help Lydia—stupid, stupid girl!—and to prove that he was not the sort of man I had once thought. How could I have been so blind? He was the very best of all, Jane, and I—I flung him away!” Elizabeth gave up all pretense of control. She sought her sister’s arms now, her slim body racked with anguished sobs and gasping breaths.
“Oh, dear Lizzy!” Jane murmured, awkwardly patting her sister’s back. “I had no idea… little wonder you have had such a frightful time of it these past weeks! I begin to understand now. This is why you speak so little to anyone and why you do not sleep!”
Elizabeth turned her face away, shrugging off her sister’s arms as she pulled back. “I sleep.”
“Not well. You toss and turn most of the night. Have you been having nightmares?”
“No… not exactly. Well, not most of the time.” Elizabeth bit her lip thoughtfully. “I think I had one last night.”
“I heard you cry out. Do you remember it?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. I just remember darkness, feeling cold and alone, as I have nearly every night of late. Then, there was a sudden panic, like a flood of white light, and I awoke.”
“How dreadful! Lizzy, surely your grief has led you to feel all manner of horrors by night which you will not allow yourself to experience by day. Perhaps if you talked more—”
“No,” Elizabeth retorted firmly. “I do not wish to speak of it.”
“But Lizzy, do you remember how Aunt Gardiner says it can help?”
“No! I will not waste away my days whimpering and sniveling like some lovelorn kitchen maid! It will change nothing, and I have too much to do. In fact, I ought to be going in to Papa, for we were to look over the household budget this afternoon.”
Jane sighed, stepping back as Elizabeth swept around for her book. “Do come talk to me when you are ready, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth paused, not missing the reluctance in her sister’s tone. She studied Jane’s sincerity for half a second, with eyes almost willing to see and lips nearly prepared to speak, but swiftly her face closed down once more. “I promise, Jane,” she lied.