WSP Imprint: Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga “Prequel”
After finishing The Passions of Dr. Darcy in June I discovered myself working on two projects at once. This was new territory for me, and I felt a bit schizophrenic. Then, to my even greater surprise, I recent found myself wildly inspired in a third direction! This latest project has totally captured my heart and mind, and I am writing like crazy. It feels fantastic! I can’t say when my as yet untitled novel will be released, but I am tentatively planning for next spring, probably close to the April release of Dr. George Darcy’s novel. Whenever it is available, I will be publishing it myself under the Austen Author’s imprint White Soup Press. So excited about that!
Inspired by the numerous posts I wrote for this month’s P&P200 finale, I have decided to expand upon the theme. I am traveling back in time, so to speak, to the period of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s engagement. Those who have read my Darcy Saga sequel series know that I briefly touched upon moments/scenes set during the weeks prior to their marriage, but never comprehensively. Well, now I am! Starting with the proposal itself and ending with the wedding ceremony, this novel will cover uncharted ground. I hope you are as excited by the prospect as I am.
This scene is set on the day of their betrothal. In my first book – Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One – I flash-backed to the proposal and wrote of a surprisingly passionate first kiss between Lizzy and Darcy in Longbourn’s garden. This excerpt follows Darcy as he returns to Netherfield. Enjoy!
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Darcy covered the distance between Longbourn and Netherfield at a much faster pace than typical. Dimly he was aware of hunger pangs from having skipped breakfast, and the prospect of his quiet bedchamber where he could filter through his thoughts and emotions was appealing, yet neither was the reason for his rushed steps. It was as if his joyous heart and soaring soul kept his feet from touching the ground and lent a buoyancy to his muscles. Twice he had burst into spontaneous laughter, four times had caught himself whistling – and he never whistled – and he strongly suspected that the only reason he didn’t stop to marvel at a flower or sun-kissed dewdrop was because he only saw Elizabeth’s face. Under any other circumstances such nonsensical behavior would have frightened him into seeking help from a professional versed in mental illness! Today, while he would not necessarily want anyone to witness his bizarre giddiness, he knew precisely the cause and relished the unique experience.
Elizabeth loves me! And, she agreed to be my wife!
This time a sort of dancing skip accompanied the thought, not that Darcy even noticed.
He paid no heed to the passing terrain, or the ground in front of him for that matter, and was startled to realize he was at Netherfield’s north gate when he had just left Elizabeth’s arms a moment ago! He could still feel her warm palms on his neck and the exquisite pressure of her lips, the sensations so vivid and acute that he groaned and turned around, as if she might actually be there.
“Get control of yourself, Darcy,” he muttered, vigorously shaking his head in hopes of restoring clarity and control before entering the house. It helped to a degree, although he did stare at the gate’s latch for a full thirty seconds before remembering how it worked. Fortunately he was able to slip in the side door and dash up to his suite without encountering anyone. His manservant Samuel was straightening the bed when Darcy barged in. Lifting a calm face to his master – as if such antics were routine – Samuel inquired after his needs.
“Coffee, please, and a breakfast tray if it can be managed. I left before eating.”
For five minutes after the valet departed to carry out his orders, Darcy stood in the middle of the room. Always a person who craved solitude and the peace that comes from silence, Darcy breathed deeply and remained still for a purpose. He allowed the tranquility to infuse his body and clear his mind. As it did, he gazed around the chamber that had grown comfortable and familiar to him far more than any other temporary dwelling place ever had. It wasn’t because this suite was particularly wonderful, but because it was while here, down the corridor from where Elizabeth Bennet had stayed when Jane Bennet was ill, that Darcy had fallen in love with her. Never mind that he had blindly denied his feelings, Netherfield, located in Hertfordshire a mere three miles from Longbourn, would forever be associated with her. After today, and with the promise of happy moments inside these walls in the weeks to come, the connection would be strengthened.
So while he yearned for the day when Pemberley and his bedchamber there would hold the premiere association with Elizabeth – and in a far more intimate way – Netherfield and this bedchamber were the current favorites. An odd sort of peace settled upon him in these rooms where, without fail, his thoughts had been filled with Elizabeth nearly from day one.
Shrugging out of his coat, he tossed it onto the bed and sat at the chair closest to the fireplace. His body burned with flames of love and passion, so much so that the heat from the fire was unpleasant. He scooted the large chair back a bit, brought the table where his breakfast would soon sit along with him, and bent to remove his boots. Ordinary tasks that occupied his hands while his mind sorted through everything that had happened. Attempts to gain perspective and latch onto a logical vein were difficult with his stomach growling like a caged tiger and Elizabeth permeating his being.
“Elizabeth.” He whispered her name, a broad smile splitting his face. Leaning his head back and closing his eyes, Darcy succumbed to the irresistible euphoria.
There was an aspect to his euphoria that was unreal, like a beautiful dream so tangible that it stays with you even after you wake. How long had he been in love with Elizabeth Bennet? How many hours had he imagined kissing her? Was it possible to count the number of dreams in which she was his? Was this just another dream that he would awaken from?
His heart pounded in terror at the very thought. Reaching one hand to press trembling fingertips to his lips, he relaxed. None of his dreams, as distinct and realistic as many had been, ever felt like this. Her taste remained on his tongue, her lavender scented hair filled his nostrils, her passionate sighs rang in his ears, her adoring face floated before his eyes, and the softness of her flesh tingled the nerve endings on his hands. Darcy groaned and shifted in his chair, the irrefutably genuine sensations affecting him physically.
No, there was no doubt whatsoever that today was not a dream. It was a God-gifted miracle that he could never thank the Almighty enough for. He certainly would try, of course, once he was fully able to wrap his mind around the reality of the miracle and accept that his dreams had come true.
Elizabeth Bennet loves me.
Months ago, when he first proposed in his arrogance and selfish comprehension of love, he hadn’t given much thought to the importance of Elizabeth loving him in return. It still shamed him to admit how little he understood his own heart, or the mysteries of real, soul-bonding love. Deep in the throes of ardent love for her, and sure that she would not refuse him based on his numerous qualifications – Darcy winced anew at that remembrance – he hadn’t considered the emptiness, even if she had said yes, of marrying her without first winning her heart. Every word she had said to him, each sentence as clear today as it had been then, convicted him of his sins. Her truthful condemnation had taught him many things, not the least of which was the importance of mutual love.
Until that day at Pemberley, Darcy hadn’t thought the lessons learned would benefit him personally. Still grieving, the concept of finding another woman to take Elizabeth’s place in his heart was impossible to fathom. He had been convinced that his one chance had been destroyed, by him, and the logical, deserved outcome was a life alone. Forever a man of faith, if not as strongly as his grandfather, Darcy interpreted Elizabeth’s surprising appearance at Pemberley as a message from God. Not that Elizabeth was destined to be his, or that he was being handed her on a silver platter! Indeed he immediately perceived that it was a chance. Nothing more. A chance to prove to her, and most importantly to himself, that he had learned the truth and was worthy to be loved by a woman of her caliber. If it took months or years, no matter. If in the end he failed, somehow he would accept that she was better with someone else. The thought nearly killed him, but all that truly mattered, he eventually realized, was her happiness.
Her happiness, and to a large degree Charles Bingley’s happiness, was what prompted him to hunt down Lydia and Wickham. Guilt drove him as well, the sure knowledge that whatever might have prompted Wickham to seduce Lydia Bennet, whether a sensed awareness of her sister’s importance to Darcy or not, the fact remained that it never would have happened if his abominable pride hadn’t allowed Wickham to roam freely. If a solution was within his power, Darcy would have done anything to accomplish it so that the Bennet family, especially Jane and Elizabeth, would not be adversely affected by a scandal. Fortunately crossing a line into an illegal zone had not been necessary, but Darcy had been prepared for that as well.
When it was finished, even after confessing his error in judgement about Miss Bennet to Bingley, and seeing the positive outcome there, Darcy hadn’t allowed himself to hope.
A knock at the door postponed further musings of recent events, and ignited fresh rumbles in his stomach. Samuel entered with a heavily laden tray, sat it onto the low table by Darcy’s chair, and proceeded to unerringly prepare his master’s coffee the way he liked it.
“Do you have any specific instructions for me today, sir?” Samuel handed the hot cup to Darcy. “Should I unpack the rest of your bags?”
“Yes.” Darcy winced at the scald to his tongue, but took another gulp of the restoring beverage anyway. “We will be staying at Netherfield for a while longer after all. If I can have my bath drawn in an hour, that would be perfect. And, I shall be dining at Longbourn tonight with Mr. Bingley. If my dark blue suit and green and gold waistcoat are clean, I would like to wear them tonight.”
If he hadn’t been staring directly at Samuel, Darcy wouldn’t have noticed the slight lift of his valet’s brows. In a flash the hint of surprise was gone, a smooth-faced Samuel assuring that all would be as he commanded. Once the door to his dressing room was shut, Darcy gave in to the smile and chuckle. He knew why Samuel was surprised. In his over ten years of service to Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, there were probably less than ten times Darcy had ever expressed a preference for which garment to wear. Darcy honestly cared less, most of the time, as long as he was clean, properly attired in the latest fashion, and presentable. Darcy wondered if Samuel was thinking of the handful of particular clothing requests he had made, realizing that the majority of them had been in the last year when his day involved being in the presence of Elizabeth Bennet!
“Probably not,” he muttered between bites of jam-smeared toast. Samuel was an excellent manservant, but his attention to Mr. Darcy’s personal life did not extend past knowing his schedule so he could plan for the correct cravat knot and pocket fob. If Darcy had mentioned his engagement, the response from Samuel would have been something like: “Very good, sir. Congratulations. Would you like more salt on your eggs?”
The first piled plate was cleaned and refilled before Darcy resumed his musings.
Elizabeth Bennet loves me.
The thought was no less gratifying than before. The ridiculous grin and palpitating heartbeat continuing unabated even as he chewed. Darcy knew she spoke the truth, Elizabeth never one to mince words or speak falsehoods. It was simply so astounding that he struggled to grasp how it happened!
If he was being honest, the reality is that after spending time with Elizabeth at Pemberley, Darcy had begun to hope that her opinion of him had changed. He didn’t entirely trust his ability to decipher Elizabeth’s demeanor and actions after so hideously misinterpreting them before. Nevertheless, after nearly four months of constantly replaying every verbal and non-verbal exchange from the moment he saw her at the Meryton Assembly to that disastrous day when she vigorously refused his offensive proposal, he surmised his vision was clearer. While he hadn’t thought for a second that Elizabeth had developed affection for him, her general disposition wasn’t that of a woman who actively hated him either.
So, yes, during their hours together at Pemberley, he had allowed glimmers of hope to seep in. If he was reading the sign from God correctly, and if he was finally interpreting Elizabeth’s manner without bias, then perhaps there was hope that they could start afresh. Tragically, there had been no time to anticipate or plan beyond that initial step. The Lydia/Wickham affair violently halted everything and, to Darcy’s dismay, probably destroyed the fledgling threads of hope.
How could Elizabeth ever forgive him? He, who had had the power to stop Wickham, yet had remained silent. It was a dramatic reminder of his pride and failure. The only bright spots during that whole sordid mess were a handful of vague comments by Mrs. Gardiner that alluded to Elizabeth’s favorable impression of Pemberley and him. Darcy had chosen to tuck them away in his mind, but prohibited his heart from dwelling upon them.
Upon their few, brief interactions when Darcy returned to Netherfield with Bingley, Elizabeth hadn’t appeared angry at or disgusted by him. His heart had lifted, hope again seeping inside, but he clamped down on the tiny trickle. After all, her sister had just been proposed to! What woman wouldn’t be in a fine mood with smiles and cheery conversation the normal attitude? Every day, while Bingley danced with joy and gushed on and on about his great happiness, Darcy was torn. Not only did he feel the urge to throttle Bingley – purely out of his own heartache and not because he was unhappy for his dear friend and Miss Bennet – but mainly because he didn’t like the train of his thoughts. He had no reason to suspect that Elizabeth knew of his involvement with the Wickham fiasco, and prayed fervently that she did not know, but it was undoubtedly obvious to her that he had played some part in bringing Bingley back to Hertfordshire and to Jane. Add to that the natural romantic sentiments that revolve around an engagement and promised wedding, and it wasn’t a leap to imagine that if ever there was a time when he could press his advance with Elizabeth, it would be now.
While it made perfect sense on one level, and was hugely tempting, Darcy refused to win Elizabeth’s hand under any sort of leverage or artifice. Frankly he didn’t think she was so gullible, woman or not, and far too independent to succumb to such emotional sentiments. He wasn’t going to take the chance, however, so had returned to London a week ago. A small voice inside doggedly whispered Fool! all day and all night without ceasing. He ignored it as best he could, determined to give her space to enjoy Jane’s happiness before he returned to the area. Then, so his nebulous plan went, he would proceed slowly as they found themselves together due to mutual connections to the betrothed couple, and see where fate led.
Those plans and newly born traces of hope were obliterated when Lady Catherine unexpectedly descended upon him at Darcy House in London.
Scowling at the memory, Darcy muttered a curse and sat the empty plate onto the tray. Pouring another cup of coffee, he replayed the nasty scene….
It was late in the afternoon and Darcy was alone in the Darcy House billiard room. Hitting balls accurately required discipline and concentration, both excellent for keeping his mind occupied and not dwelling upon his love life. Or lack thereof.
A tumult from the foyer was followed by the door bursting open and Lady Catherine de Bourgh charging in not unlike a raging bull toward a fluttering red cape. Darcy was so shocked that he stared at her advancing body and forgot to bow or even sit the cue down. A white-faced Mr. Travers, the butler, trailed behind her, his pleas falling unheard, and after a stunned nod from Mr. Darcy, he practically bolted from the room. Darcy didn’t have time to envy the butler’s escape, however, because his aunt was already talking. Or yelling, to be precise.
“Darcy, I have passed the most unpleasant morning as a result of alarming reports, scandalous falsehoods, that I intended to deal decisively with at the root, in the same manner as one must employ to destroy a poisonous weed. My intentions were honorable and wholly of sound reason, I can assure you, and for the sake of everyone involved! One anticipates that a person will be reasonable, especially when confronted with logic and facts by a woman of my breeding and station. To say that I have never been thus treated in all my days is a vast understatement. I had no wish to burden you with this vicious scheming, nephew. I hoped to ease your load and spare your sensibilities by talking to the chit myself. Never did I expect a girl of uncommon pigheadedness! Such hideous lack of propriety and decency! Rude as I have never before encountered! How could I have been so blind as to not see her for the creature she is? No wonder she could presume, as unworthy as she is in every facet, that she could use her wiles to reach above where she rightfully belongs. I shudder to imagine what our well-ordered world is coming to if this brand of selfishness and, yes, evil abounds! Of course, considering her upbringing and low connections….”
After no less than five attempts to interject into Lady Catherine’s tirade, Darcy gave up. He stood at the edge of the billiard table, the cue finally laid onto the felt surface, and focused on his obviously furious aunt. The worst of his surprise was passed, it replaced by concern and confusion. Her disjointed harangue made no sense to him whatsoever and with nothing in the way of concrete facts as to what the “scandalous falsehoods” were, Darcy couldn’t yet muster a personal concern. Lady Catherine, on the other hand, was red-faced and sweating! Rather than losing steam, each sentence appeared to rile her more, Darcy seriously beginning to fear she might faint or collapse from an apoplectic fit. However, before he could step forward to take command of the unstable situation, Lady Catherine’s last remark penetrated, and instantly doused his concern.
“What did you just say? You were at Longbourn? Are you speaking of Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
The cold inflection and abrupt stride toward her accomplished what his previous soft interjections had not. Lady Catherine’s voice stuttered to a halt and she fully looked at his face. The icy anger visible in his eyes and hard set of his jaw she misinterpreted, that evident by her next words.
“Indeed I am speaking of that horrible girl! Nephew, you have no idea what scheming has been taking place amongst that family. Tragically the eldest has gotten her claws into poor Mr. Bingley, although perhaps there is hope for him yet. The scandal of a broken betrothal would be less than the devastation of marrying into that family—“
“Enough!” He barked. “I refuse to listen to slurs against the Bennet ladies, or Mr. Bingley, are we clear?”
She was staring at him in amazement, neither agreeing or disagreeing with his command. Then her eyes narrowed. “I was certain it must be impossible. Please tell me there is no truth to the claims, Darcy. Surely the Master of Pemberley is too wise to be drawn in by a pretty face and seductive advances. You would not forget your promises to Anne, and stoop so low as to actually offer marriage to that girl, would you?”
“Lady Catherine, my personal affairs are absolutely none of your business. Not now, not ever. And I will not listen to another word, from this day on, regarding me and Anne. That topic has been closed for a decade or more.” He stepped closer, fury warring with panic and causing his insides to churn. “As unfathomable as it is, evidently you accepted rumors from God knows where, and then traveled from Rosings to Longbourn for the express purpose of confronting Miss Elizabeth Bennet. What, exactly, did you say to her, Aunt Catherine?”
“Only the truth. That it had been reported to me by a reliable source, by my rector Mr. Collins, that not only had the eldest Bennet contrived to receive an advantageous offer of marriage, but that you were to soon be united with her! Impertinent girl that she is, a straight answer to my request for clarification was not rendered. By her evasion and shameful arguing, with me, no less, I knew it to be a vile lie. Nevertheless, she persisted in countering every logical reason I gave for why a match with you would be unacceptable.”
During her reply, Darcy had turned away and walked to the window. He saw nothing outside. Darkness, borne of murderous rage and plunging despair, engulfed him. Thinking was nearly impossible, and every word his aunt said was as painful as a dagger thrust into his gut. Yet he had to know everything. Not out of any possible hope in salvaging the damage she had done, but because his honor required he attempt to apologize at the very least.
“What reasons did you lay at her feet? Tell me precisely what you said made… us… unacceptable.”
“Of course I told her of Anne. Whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, Fitzwilliam, it was the wish of your mother, and Anne is your destiny.”
He spun about, Lady Catherine clamping her lips on the word destiny and taking an involuntary step backward. Darcy hadn’t moved away from the window, but clearly his expression alarmed her. “Not. Another. Word. And never mention my mother again. Ever. Consider that a warning, Aunt Catherine. Now, tell me what else you said.”
She did, in fine detail, seeming to relish every word. Darcy was too numb to wince at her “reasons” which were all to familiar since many had once crossed his own lips. Undeniably in a slightly nicer tone, and after expressing his love for her, but every bit as harmful. This debacle coming on the heels of the Wickham disaster was a sure death nell to any chance he might have had with Elizabeth. It was all he could do not to strangle the woman standing before him, or fall to his knees weeping.
“I am deeply disappointed in you, Darcy. I fail to comprehend how you can toss aside your honor, family interests, and position in Society to even begin to entertain an alliance with Elizabeth Bennet. Promise me that you will not make such a disgraceful connection!”
“I repeat, Aunt, my personal affairs are outside the realm of your authority. In all matters I judge for myself, and reach decisions based on my wishes and desires. I owe you nothing, and will certainly never extend to you a promise to do, or not do, anything. Just as I never promised to marry Anne, so will I never promise not to marry Elizabeth Bennet!”
As if that is an option, his soul sobbed, but it is worth the shock on her face to pretend otherwise.
“Have my points of fact meant nothing to you, Fitzwilliam? Are you to be as unreasonable as she? Refusing to promise entering into an engagement you must know in your heart is utterly wrong, just as she did? You are resolved to have her, despite the consequences? Like her, you would face contempt and ruin? For what? I know why she is determined to ensnare you. But what is your motivation? Is it love,” she sneered, “or is it simply lust?”
Darcy frowned, creases marring his brow as he ruminated on her references to Elizabeth being as unreasonable as he, refusing to promise as he did, and being determined to ensnare him. The curiosity of those oblique statements overrode the offense at the last slurs, which he refused to discuss. Suddenly a number of the comments she had made during her tirade were seen in a different light.
“Elizabeth argued with you. Isn’t that what you said?” He spoke slowly, watching her closely and holding up his hand when she opened her mouth to speak. “A nod will suffice. Thank you. She did not back down, or agree with your bleak assessments of a union between us, is that what you are saying? Ah… interesting. She has always been a woman who speaks forthrightly and with courage.”
He smiled, in spite of the tense aura in the room, his heart lifted in fresh admiration. God, she is amazing! Facing down Lady Catherine de Bourgh, no less! What an incredible Mistress of Pemberley she would be!
“One more question,” he interrupted, his voice calm but as stern as his granite gaze. “I presume, by what you said, that you attempted to extract a promise from Miss Elizabeth not to accept me? And she refused to make that promise?”
Lady Catherine flinched and glanced away, the reaction quickly covered by her hastening to grab the cloak she had tossed onto a sofa back. “I can see that you are overwrought, Nephew, so will leave you. Please dwell upon my—“
“Answer the question, Aunt. Did she refuse to promise?”
“Yes,” she snapped, “and that alone should reveal the depth of her recalcitrant… ambitious… horrid nature!”
“Oh, it reveals a great many aspects of her nature indeed. Just none of them as you have listed. I wish for you to leave Darcy House this instant, Lady Catherine. I have had enough of your interference.” He crossed the remaining space until a foot away, never diverting his hard gaze from her eyes. She was angry still, that was obvious, but also worried and, perhaps, a bit frightened. Good, he thought. “Listen to me closely, and have no doubt that I mean this as a threat. If you ever go near Miss Elizabeth, or any of the Bennets, I cannot say what my response will be precisely, but can assure that you will not like it.”
“Threats do not become a gentleman, Darcy.”
“Irrelevant. Of course, if you prefer, consider it a promise rather than a threat. I am sure you know the way out. Good-bye, Lady Catherine.” And without a bow or backward glance, Darcy exited the room.
**Intrigued? I hope so! I am writing diligently, and will share excerpts here, or on my website, from time to time. More news on release dates, titles, and so on as I know them. White Soup Press, here I come!