Today was just going to be my final excerpt before my book launch next month, but I have another surprise. I also have the cover reveal for “Mr. Darcy’s Rival” which I hope to have available by the beginning of June. The cover still needs a little tweaking, but here it is. I hope you like it.
This excerpt takes place immediately following my previous post (you can read it here). Enjoy!
As the men walked back to Rosings, Rickland and Fitzwilliam spoke with great admiration of the pleasant company at the parsonage. But Darcy’s mind and heart were so full, he could not attend to their words.
It was useless. He had made a futile attempt at reining in his feelings for Elizabeth, but as soon as he had seen her, he was lost in her warm smile, exuberant laugh, and her fine eyes. She had looked stunning in the blue dress she was wearing, and the attractiveness of her every feature seemed heightened. He felt as though he were trying to swim against a strong current as he fought the rush of those strong feelings. He was making no progress; in fact, he was sinking into the depths of admiration for her!
He nearly took in a deep breath, but checked himself, knowing that his cousin would almost certainly comment on it. He forced himself to breathe evenly as he thought about seeing Elizabeth for the first time again after so many months. Could his heart beat any more forcefully or every rational thought disappear so quickly? She was standing in front of him, and all the resolve to expunge her from his heart and mind had vanished.
He absently kicked at a rock in the path as he recollected his father’s grief at the death of his mother. They had loved each other deeply, and his father’s despondency had frightened him. He had become – for a short while – someone Darcy did not even recognize.
When he was still quite young, he had determined he would marry a woman suitable to be his wife and Mistress of Pemberley, perhaps even Anne. He would allow others to marry for love, but not him. He had actually found it preferable, as the suitable women he met hardly made any lasting impression on his heart. They were either too shy or too scheming, too coy or too cunning, or too avaricious with nary a thought of being generous to others. That was until he met Elizabeth Bennet!
This woman, whom he deemed only tolerable the first time he saw her, whose family members occasionally exhibited the most inappropriate behaviour, and who lived in a country manor entailed away to a cousin, unwittingly and quite surprisingly had become embedded within the very fibres of his heart. From the moment he had declared she was not handsome enough to tempt him, he had not been able to dismiss her from his thoughts.
“Darcy, are you not paying attention?” Colonel Fitzwilliam gave his cousin a nudge.
“I am sorry. Pray, forgive me. What were you saying?”
Rickland stepped in front of Darcy and stopped. “We were talking about Miss Elizabeth Bennet. What is your opinion of her?”
Darcy searched his mind for something to say that would not sound contrived. “She seems a pleasant young lady.”
“I heartily concur,” Rickland said, “but that is an odd thing to say about someone with whom you are already acquainted.”
“Well, yes, I… I am, although it is not a particularly close acquaintance. But everything I saw of her indicated she was a… pleasant young lady.” He realized he was fisting his hands so tightly his fingers hurt.
“I think I am going to enjoy our visit this year. It will add so much to our days when we can pay a call on the whole party at the parsonage and when they are invited to Rosings,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a smile.
“And Miss Bennet, in particular!” declared Rickland. “The few times Aunt has invited Mr. and Mrs. Collins and their guests to Rosings to dine or for tea, it has been a most enjoyable time. Miss Bennet is not at all intimidated by our aunt, and actually enjoys a lively debate with her.” Rickland laughed. “It has been most amusing.”
Darcy suddenly found himself jealous of the time Rickland had been here with Elizabeth. Did she challenge his opinions like she had his own? Had she raised that single brow and lifted her lips in a smile directed at Rickland as she had to him? Did she wish to sketch Rickland’s character as she had attempted to sketch his?
Darcy frowned. That reminded him of his last evening with her before he left Hertfordshire. They had just ended their dance at the Netherfield Ball, and it had not gone well. He felt his jaw tighten and wondered again what Wickham had said to cause her to be so angry with him. He could only imagine, and as the men started to walk again, he speculated about what lies Wickham could have told her.
He looked down at the ground as he walked, shaking his head, wondering… wondering.
“I would like that,” Darcy heard Colonel Fitzwilliam say. “Splendid idea! What do you think, Darcy?”
Darcy closed his eyes trying to recall what Rickland had just said. The last thing he remembered him saying was that he was amused by how Elizabeth had not been intimidated by their aunt. After that, he had become lost in his thoughts about her. He could not allow them to know he was not paying attention, again.
“I would… like that, as well.” Darcy hoped he was admitting to something he truly would enjoy.
“Good!” Rickland clapped his hands together. “You are the one to discuss it with our aunt! She will do almost anything you ask her to do.”
Darcy grimaced. Of what is he speaking?
“I doubt that I have such powers of persuasion,” he replied cautiously. “Rickland, you have been here longer and are better acquainted with her mood at the moment.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam stopped and grabbed Darcy’s shoulder. “But Darcy, you only need to tell Aunt Catherine you think this will be beneficial for Anne. Just think how enjoyable a musical soiree would be. I would wager that our cousin would truly enjoy going.”
Darcy’s eyes widened. How did they go from talking about Elizabeth to talking about attending the musical soiree?
“It will be a small, informal gathering, and I hope there will be some dancing.” Mr. Rickland had a wide smile on his face. With a slow nod he added, “I am certain an invitation has come to Rosings. If someone in the neighbourhood is hosting any entertainment, they know they had best extend an invitation to Her Ladyship.”
Darcy’s thoughts turned again to Elizabeth as he considered having another dance with her, hopefully an improvement on their last one. But he did not like the idea of encouraging his aunt to accept the invitation for her daughter’s sake. “You know that Anne is barely allowed to step outside, and heaven forbid that she go out in the evening. I admit I like the idea, but I strongly doubt our aunt will agree.”
“No worry, Darcy. We shall all encourage Aunt Catherine in the matter. She only needs to hear that you wish to attend,” Fitzwilliam said. He added with a chuckle, “Perhaps we can ensure that there are a few other eligible gentlemen to whom Anne can be introduced. This might be exactly what you both need to get out from under Aunt Catherine’s expectations for your marriage.”
Rickland laughed a little too enthusiastically for Darcy’s peace of mind. “I would have thought that in the four years since we have seen each other, the issue of your betrothal would have been resolved… one way or the other!”
Rickland slapped his hand on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s shoulder. “Do you think, Colonel, that your esteemed cousin is still contemplating going through with this arranged marriage to Anne, or is he merely waiting for the right lady to come along before he decides?”
The colonel chuckled. “We were talking about that very thing on our way here.” He leaned over as if to whisper to Rickland. “Apparently he is even immune to the beautiful Miss Grace Strathern.”
“You are aware that I can hear you, Fitzwilliam!” Darcy’s voice was edged in frustration.
“Miss Strathern?” Rickland’s face reflected great astonishment at such a thing. “Darcy, she is all that is beautiful. Perfection itself!” He shook his head. “Please do not tell me that she has welcomed your attentions but you are disinclined to welcome hers!”
Darcy clenched his jaw. Neither of these men would understand. “This is something I am in no mood to discuss.”
“As you wish,” Rickland said, turning to walk on. “But please, do speak to our aunt about the soiree, Darcy. It shall be a fine thing to add to our visit.”
“Are you planning to stay long?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.
Rickland shrugged his shoulders. “I have no pressing engagements. As long as the two of you are here, I think I might as well stay.” He turned to look at Darcy. “How shall it be, Darcy? Will you inquire of our aunt about the soiree?”
Darcy could not help but consider with pleasure the notion of having another dance with Elizabeth. At the mere thought of it, his heart pounded. He wondered silently, however, how it was that his resolve had disappeared so quickly. He had hoped his heart would be safe from her. He had been in her presence no longer than half an hour, and he was just as captivated and drawn to her as he had been in Hertfordshire.
“I suppose there is no harm in trying,” Darcy said, as calmly as he could manage.
I hope you are excited about the upcoming release. I will keep you posted!