Join me in celebrating the second anniversary of the publication of Pansy Cottage. I have 5 party favors to #Giveaway! Five signed paperback copies of Pansy Cottage ~ Book 4 in my Mister Darcy Series of Comedic Mysteries.
We arrive at Pansy Cottage via a rustic country road somewhere in Maidenhead. Be careful to mind the flock of geese! The cottage sits among the prettiest of English gardens replete with dianthus blooming in pink and red, spikes of hollyhocks, stalks of fragrant lavender, and petal-packed peonies. I could go on, but your imagination will bring the many other blossoms to life.
The interior of the cottage is whimsical, shabby chic, and just as Grandma Gardiner had left it. She willed the house to Elizabeth and Jane, and then sadly passed before Mary was born. The two sisters have moved into the cottage allowing some modicum of independence from Mrs. Bennet. Lizzie maintains Elizabeth Bennet’s School of Canine Manners in the adjacent yard. Hear the dogs barking? They know Lizzie is arriving.
What happens at Pansy Cottage?
Lizzie plots a secret garden wedding for her sister, Jane and Charles Bingley. Can she outsmart Mother Bennet or will the gorgon prevail? With her nerves in high gear, Mrs. Bennet plans the marriage of her eldest daughter. Behind the scenes, Lizzie races against the clock to design a small garden wedding ahead of her mother’s over-the-top ball. Can Darcy cart the unsuspecting Mrs. Bennet to the garden ceremony? Will Mr. Bennet cooperate with Lizzie’s plans, or does Pansy Cottage still cast a long shadow in his memories?
Bingley tooled his antique Morgan roadster around the final bend in the unpaved road, a bouncing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We were almost home. I imagined Pansy Cottage calling a welcome.
Jane sat next to Bingley her hand on his shoulder, her eyes fixed on her fiancé.
I scrunched in the teeny backseat eating my knees. It had been a long cramped ride from London to Maidenhead. My legs were numb and my bum ached.
So much had happened during our unexpected stay in London. The worst of it being a concussion I received while Darcy merrily piloted a hot air balloon over vineyards in France. (Mister Darcy’s Secret)
The happiest of the events was that Jane and Bingley were now engaged.
In a sweet old-fashioned way, Bingley was coming to Pansy Cottage to ask Father for Jane’s hand. This London businessman was everything a father could wish for his daughter: kind, loving, and financially comfortable. I could see no reason why Father would not bestow his blessings on their union.
Father had temporarily managed my kennels at Pansy Cottage, although he knew little about dogs. Elizabeth Bennet’s School of Canine Manners housed fifteen rescued greyhounds, two whippets, and Boris the borzoi, whom I had placed in the dog witness protection program, but that was another story.
I had severely neglected my fledgling business since tumbling into Darcy’s world, but I knew Father was secretly happy for his sabbatical from Mother. She was a difficult woman on her good days, and those days were rare. My parents presented an example of how a marriage with an agenda can bring about a lifetime of bickering.
Jane bubbled like a champagne bottle ready to pop its cork. Love is a wonderful thing to observe. I wondered if I might be showing some early symptoms. Darcy had gotten to me in more ways than I anticipated. My response to his advances had ceased to be a retreat. I stood my ground, which happened to place me directly in Darcy’s arms.
Father expected Bingley to return us to Pansy Cottage. He was not expecting to give his firstborn to a cheerful young man he’d only recently met.
As we completed the bend, a flock of geese appeared on the mound to the left of the unpaved road. Eight large birds waddled across the path of our oncoming car. A mass of plump bellies mounted on webbed feet, they were all fowl attitude. They honked and squawked, sharing goose news and acting as if they were alone on the road.
Bingley laid on the horn. He hit the brakes and the roadster veered to the right, ran up the side of the embankment and embedded its wheels in the dirt. The birds were oblivious, assuming the honking came from one of their chums.
He turned to Jane. “Are you okay, my love?”
My sister nodded, giving Bingley one of those soulful looks she had mastered for his benefit. I secretly attributed numbers to her love looks. At the moment she employed 94C, which involved batting her blonde lashes and enlarging her blue eyes while staring into Bingley’s cerulean eyes.
He kissed her cheek, and then found her lips. They were both lost in the moment.
I cleared my throat to remind them I was in the audience.
“How are you doing back there, Lizzie?” Bingley said, smoothing his ruffled blond hair.
“Just fine. Have we a roadkill goose for dinner?”
He laughed. “Not a feather lost.”
Bingley put the car in reverse. The tires spun but failed to gain traction. He smashed his foot to the floorboard, making a show of man-over-machine. The car dug in like a tunneling mole. It was stuck.
“We’re only a jog away from the cottage. We can call a road service lorry to free your roadster,” I said.
Bingley jumped out, ran around, and opened the door for Jane. I hopped from the backseat, did a few leg-stretches to get the blood flowing and trotted toward the cottage. The Bingleys-to-be followed hand-in-hand.
Father must have been peeking from the curtains. He opened the door and stepped onto the tiny front porch. I ran into his arms.
“My darling, Lizzie!” He held me so tightly I thought my ribs would crack.
All fathers have their own particular scent. Mine smelled of old books, pipe tobacco, and hiding from Mother. I burrowed into his neck, kissed his cheek, and stepped back to assess his condition.
Father appeared to have lost considerable weight in a good way. Suntanned and bright of eye, his time away from Mother had given him a healthy glow, or perhaps some of his newly found twinkle was a reflection of the happiness in Jane’s eyes.
“I thought you were driving from London, not hiking. It’s thirty miles to Maidenhead. You must be knackered,” Father said, chuckling at his joke.
“We were goosed!” Bingley said. “Just round the bend. An entire herd crossed the road to get to the other side. My roadster is firmly planted in your roadbed.”
Father laughed heartily. “We have some serious goose-herd problems in Maidenhead. Gangs of ganders are taking over the town.” I was relieved to see Father put Bingley at ease. Despite his London social skills, the groom-to-be was a basket of jitters. A man does not ask for another man’s daughter but once in a lifetime.
I excused myself as much to give them privacy as to see my dogs. I missed them so.
The barking and howling increased as I approached the kennel fence through our overgrown garden. I opened the gate and stepped into a sea of slobbering tongues and sniffing noses. Gently patting each nose, I let the owner know he or she was special to me. The scents of Darcy’s dogs, Derby and Squire, added to their excitement. The pack adored the London-based basset hounds and thought perhaps I might be hiding them in my pockets.
Of a sudden, the dog mob grew silent, shuffling to the left and right; they created a clear aisle down the center of the pack as if making way for the Queen’s corgis.
Head held high, Boris the borzoi strutted toward me, flinging his Fabio hair behind his ears. He came to heel at my feet and raised his right paw. We shook.
There were times when Boris unnerved me. A dapper international canine and master of intrigue, he locked eyes with me and gave me a wink. We shared a secret. He had been a witness to an illegal enterprise in London and for his safety I placed him in my dog witness protection program at Pansy. He was my first criminally connected canine, and I hoped he was my last.
I heard Jane walk down the path from the cottage.
She stepped to my side linking her arm in mine. “Well, Bingley is having the talk with Father.” She gave me a nervous smile. Her sweet personality had recently vanished, a result of engagement jitters, but she was back to being Jane again.
“I am sure it will be fine. Father liked Bingley from the first time they met. I am sure now that he sees Bingley’s intentions are honorable he will be totally pleased. But now Father must fasten his belt and braces as we carry the good news to Mother.”
Jane clutched my hands with sweaty palms. “Mother! Oh Lizzie, help me. She is surely going to embarrass me to tears with grandiose plans.”
“Hmm. I imagine Westminster Abbey is a tad over her budget,” I said, trying to make light of what could only be viewed as a coming storm. Mother would battle to assure Jane had the wedding of the century, and Jane would run in the opposite direction.
Father had his arm around Bingley’s shoulder as they joined us at the kennels. “Meet my new son-in-law,” he said. He placed Jane’s hand in Bingley’s. “May you always be as happy as you are on this day,” he said. He patted her hand and bit his lower lip as he gazed at her emerald and diamond engagement ring. Father was thinking of Mother. She’d make jolly sure that ring visited every house in Meryton, with or without Jane.
He stepped back and rubbed his hands together nervously. “Now we must face the Lioness of Longbourn. When she sees your engagement ring, she will demand the wedding be held at the Abbey.”
Jane and I exchanged glances of agreement. Mother would make the next few weeks a torment.
To enter the drawing for a signed paperback copy of Pansy Cottage – Book 4 in the Mister Darcy series of comedic mysteries, please post a comment on this page before midnight Friday July 28th. The five winners will be announced on Sunday July 30th ~ on this page. Sorry, but due to the expense, paperbacks will be sent to US winners only. I will happily send ebook versions of Pansy Cottage to any winners outside the US.
To see the entire series (to date) click here: Mister Darcy series comedic mysteries
With love and laughter!