Hopefully this post finds you well in these trying times. The world is very strange right now, but we’re doing our best to keep writing. We’re also working with the wonderful Catherine Bilson on an audio book for Hypothetically Married. That adds a spark of joy to our days, as she’s found the most marvelous, sneaky little errors in my typing. Some are quite amusing. With my errors, I’ve accidentally made Elizabeth quite wealthy, and almost turned Mr. Darcy into Batman.
We’d love to hear what you’re doing to stay busy, and hopefully sane. Let us know below (which, incidentally, will enter you in the giveaway as well).
We’re posting today to celebrate our newest variation, After Anne. After Anne was in the works for quite some time. In fact, the first chapter debuted at the 2019 Jane Austen Fan Fiction Writer Reader Get Together last November. But it goes further back. Renata started working on it early in 2018. As of writing this, there are fifteen reviews on Amazon averaging 4.7 stars. Some are very favorable, such as Nearly Perfect and So much fun!.
Here’s a peek at After Anne, and then a giveaway!
What could possibly make Lady Catherine deliberately throw Elizabeth and Darcy together?
Elizabeth Bennet cannot believe the effrontery of Mr. Darcy’s proposal to her, but before she can firmly decide to despise him, he hands her a letter. Unsure what he could possibly have to say to redeem himself, she sneaks off to read his words, only to witness the flight of Miss Anne de Bourgh. Now, despite the array of turbulent emotions between them, Lady Catherine de Bourgh insists that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy form a team to search for her daughter. Though Lady Catherine has motives of her own, being thrown together may help Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth better understand each other, all while they go after Anne.
Elizabeth trailed Sir William Lucas and Miss Maria Lucas as they followed Mr. Collins out of the front door of the Hunsford parsonage and into the cold March air. Their breath making little puffs before them, they all tromped down the drive and turned back to face the low stone building. Elizabeth politely refrained from stomping feet already cold after the long carriage ride, although she had strong doubts that her cousin, Mr. Collins, would even notice an outward sign of discomfort from her.
Anytime in the next week, before Sir William headed back home to Hertfordshire, would be a better time for a tour, but Mr. Collins insisted they all see the newest feature of the parsonage immediately. Elizabeth cast a longing look at the warm glow emanating between the slats in the shutters and dreamed of a cup of tea. She couldn’t help but wonder if her longtime friend, Maria Lucas’ older sister Charlotte Collins, had run off to check that their possessions were delivered to the correct bedrooms for the explicit purpose of avoiding Mr. Collins’ tour of their home.
He turned back to face the parsonage and made a dramatic, sweeping gesture that encompassed the gray stone dwelling. “You’ll note the new shutters. They were my patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s, inspired notion. Before I returned with my new wife, she replaced the old ones, which were falling apart.”
“How generous,” Elizabeth said truthfully.
“What superb kindness Lady Catherine shows you, Mr. Collins, by seeing to this matter for you,” Sir William said, managing to impart the same thought but with more than five times the number of words Elizabeth had used.
Mr. Collins had led them out without donning an overcoat and now chafed his arms. He glanced about, as if desirous of saying more, but led them back to the front steps. Grateful, Elizabeth counted them lucky that the cold air affected him as well.
“My patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, also replaced the chain for the doorbell,” Mr. Collins said. He reached out and yanked the bell pull. Inside, bells rang out. “The old chain was quite worn.”
“A very find chain.” Sir William reached out. “May I?”
Mr. Collins nodded. “Certainly.”
Sir William rang the bell, harder and louder than Mr. Collins had. “Very fine. What a wonder your patroness is. How fortunate you are in her care and dedication.”
“Yes. Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s regard is my most prized possession.” Mr. Collins turned a smug, expectant look on Elizabeth.
She rubbed her arms, aware he wouldn’t open the door until she’d complimented the new chain, or Lady Catherine, or both.
The door swung open to reveal a slightly harried looking maid, drawing Mr. Collins’ attention and saving Elizabeth from replying. The maid’s expression morphed from deliberately blank to surprised as she saw who waited without. No doubt, the girl wondered why Mr. Collins kept ringing instead of entering his home. “Sir?”
“Don’t stand there blocking the door,” Mr. Collins said. “It’s cold out here.”
Expression confused, the maid backed deeper into the entrance hall. Mr. Collins followed, allowing them all to return to the relative warmth of the parsonage.
Inside, their tour continued in this fashion, from cellar to attic and including every room in between, right into the servants’ quarters. Mr. Collins even opened the servants’ wardrobes to show off the improvements Lady Catherine had made there. Elizabeth felt certain the staff would not approve of him displaying their possessions. She wondered if, while under Mr. Collins’ roof, his cavalier disregard for privacy would extend to the room given her and to her possessions. She suspected it would.
After the lengthy and unnecessary tour of the parsonage, and that on top of a day of travel, Elizabeth struggled to remain alert during the evening meal. She retired early and woke well rested and in want of exertion. For all the doings of the day before, most of her time had been spent sitting, and her legs cried out for a walk. Early as it was, she felt certain she could stretch her legs and return before the others even met for breakfast.
Donning her bonnet and cloak over a walking dress, for the sun wasn’t fully up and the March air was cold, she slipped from the parsonage and headed to the road. At the end, she looked both right and left, then elected to walk in the direction from which they hadn’t arrived the day before. After some short while, a smaller lane left the one down which she strode. The sun rested above the horizon by then, so she deemed the narrower track more likely to remain peaceful and turned onto it.
She walked along the quiet lane, enjoying her privacy, and rounded a gentle bend. To her surprise, another figure, a woman, strode up the lane ahead. Not wanting to intrude, Elizabeth slowed so she wouldn’t catch up. The figure ahead paused, tipped her head to the side as if listening, and turned around.
She didn’t head back down the lane to Elizabeth, but didn’t turn away, either. Rather, the other woman stood, hands clasped before her, and watched Elizabeth approach. “Are you Miss Bennet?” she asked when Elizabeth drew near.
Elizabeth nodded, unsurprised at how quickly word traveled in the country community. “Yes. What gave me away?”
The woman, slender, diminutive and perhaps Charlotte’s age of seven and twenty, shrugged. “Mr. Collins said his cousin and his new sister would both visit along with his wife’s father. It’s quite obvious you are not Mrs. Collins’ father. Mr. Collins described Miss Lucas as tall and you don’t fit that description. That, coupled with the fact that you bear absolutely no resemblance to Mrs. Collins, means you must be Mr. Collins’ cousin, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Elizabeth shook her head, alerted by the edge of amusement in the other woman’s voice that a game was afoot. “I cannot fault that logic, except that it assumes I set out from the parsonage. That, I feel, you cannot know. To claim I come from there is a leap.”
The woman nodded, face serious but eyes bright. “A leap perhaps, but not one so great as you believe, for I know this lane. There are no residences near, save the parsonage and Rosings, and few people employ this roadway. In truth, it’s rather useless, except that I enjoy the quiet.”
Elizabeth adopted a look of mock severity. “Come now, you cannot expect me to believe a woman dressed as finely as you has intimate knowledge of the traffic on a country lane.”
Wit sparked in the woman’s gaze. “Ah, but I do. I walk here often. More than that, there exists a hidden bench. I sometimes sit there for a goodly length of time and no one comes by at all. Therefore,” she decreed with a touch of dramatic flare, “knowing of a certainty that you didn’t set out from Rosings this morning, I declare your very presence here at this early hour points to the parsonage, and that you must, in fact, be Miss Elizabeth Bennet. No other felicitous explanation exists.”
Elizabeth chuckled, relenting. “It seems I must be Miss Bennet indeed and that you have me at a disadvantage, for I’ve no notion to whom I speak.”
The woman smiled, transforming a rather plain face into one that hinted at beauty. “I am Miss Anne de Bourgh.”
Elizabeth hid a jolt of surprise, finding the woman before her not at all what she expected. “I ought to have guessed as my cousin has made mention of you.” Elizabeth didn’t add that Mr. Collins had also expounded on Miss de Bourgh’s engagement to Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy was a handsome but rather disagreeable gentlemen whom Elizabeth had the displeasure of meeting on his visit to Hertfordshire the previous autumn. It seemed the specter of the man must follow her even now, all the way to Kent. She could only hope his person did not. “It is pleasant to make your acquaintance, Miss de Bourgh.”
“And yours, Miss Bennet.”
“May I ask, on the chance I may walk this way again, to know the location of this hidden bench?” Elizabeth made her tone light, but in truth she didn’t fancy being spied upon while she walked.
“Certainly. It is not hidden from you.”
With that odd statement, Miss de Bourgh whirled and led the way up the path. She came to a large pine, the only conifer in sight, and pushed back the bare deciduous branches to the right of it. To Elizabeth’s surprise, the elegantly dressed woman ducked past the tree limbs. Catching them on her arm, Elizabeth followed. She found a small, relatively branch-free space about a lichen-kissed stone bench.
“When the trees and brush leaf out more, you can sit on the bench and not be seen by passersby,” Miss de Bourgh said and sat.
“I wager most would pass already without sighting this,” Elizabeth observed, alighting beside her.
“Oh yes. Certainly, if you came down the roadway. The pine obscures the bench completely from that direction. Coming up the road, in the direction you were, I don’t doubt you would have walked past without sighting the bench, with so many branches before it, but a light-colored skirt will be visible until the leaves are full.”
Elizabeth felt the other woman had given an interesting amount of thought to how well concealed the bench made her but decided a more acceptable point of conversation would be, “How does a bench come to be here?”
“Generations ago, the lane was more frequented, but at some point in the past, the de Bourghs acquired the lands flanking either side and to which it leads. Now, it only remains because my father used to employ it on rides. I believe my mother maintains it out of sentiment.”
“So, the bench is forgotten, engulfed by the trees.”
Miss de Bourgh nodded. “Not only a bench, but a gazebo as well.” She swiveled to gesture deeper into the woods. “I assume this area was the edge of a garden of some sort. I’ve never found remains of a house, but there is a low stone wall along this lane, back in the forest, and the gazebo stands through those trees, there.” She pointed. “You can hardly make it out. The base is stone and the roof slate, the main beams stout. I wager it’s been there a hundred years and I don’t doubt it will last a hundred more. It still keeps out the rain.”
Elizabeth turned back from peering at the hint of a gazebo she could discern through the trees to quirk an eyebrow. “Does it?”
“I’ve taken shelter there on occasion, although it’s always problematic if I’m out for too long.” Miss de Bourgh grimaced.
“Problematic?” Elizabeth repeated with a frown.
Miss de Bourgh turned to face her, expression entreating. “Look, Miss Bennet, you will likely visit Rosings, my mother’s home, and we shall be introduced formally,” she said, ignoring Elizabeth’s query. “Please don’t let anyone know you’ve seen me.”
Mister Darcy’s betrothed grew more mysterious by the moment. Maybe she intrigued him intellectually, for she did not possess the beauty Elizabeth would have supposed in a woman Mr. Darcy would take to wife. Then, being Lady Catherine’s daughter, Miss de Bourgh must have a considerable dowry with which to attract a man like Mr. Darcy. “Of course not, if that is what you wish. But why?”
Miss de Bourgh sighed. “I like to escape sometimes. My mother can be overbearing. You’ll understand once you meet her.”
Elizabeth considered that. “Perhaps she simply seeks to keep you safe and well cared for?”
Miss de Bourgh’s expression turned mulish. “No. She thinks I’m sickly. I was, once, and I do take naps, but that is only so I may escape almost every morning and walk before she wakes up.”
Elizabeth smiled in commiseration. “I sometimes wish I could escape from my family.”
“If they are like Mr. Collins, I understand.”
“No one is like Mr. Collins.” Which Elizabeth felt was fortunate, though she didn’t admit as much. She would be a poor guest to overtly criticize her cousin, even to someone who obviously didn’t have a high opinion of him.
Miss de Bourgh pulled a face. “When my mother finally awarded the living, I hoped it would bring someone kind into my life.”
Elizabeth, who valued Charlotte Collins’ friendship above almost any other, couldn’t help but ask, “What about Mrs. Collins?”
“Mrs. Collins is nice and sensible, but she always plays the role of a perfect wife. I’m afraid if I let her know that I am unhappy, it would get back to my mother, because her husband would want her to report what I said.”
Elizabeth attempted to show no outward reaction to that information. Claiming a desire to escape one’s family and admitting to a lack of happiness were of a different ilk. “What would happen if it got back to your mother?”
“She would tell me to be grateful for what I have. She would say I am well fed, have the best clothes London can supply, expensive jewelry, and enough money to see that I will always have those things. I live in luxury and I should appreciate it.”
Miss de Bourgh was nothing if not intriguing. Elizabeth couldn’t picture her with the staid, stodgy Mr. Darcy at all. “What would you rather have?”
Miss de Bourgh threw up her hands. “Something to do. I would like to run my own household. I would like to pick the people with whom I associate.”
“Not Mr. Collins,” Elizabeth ventured to say.
“Definitely not Mr. Collins,” Miss de Bough said emphatically. “Have you ever wanted to escape from your family?”
“I already admitted as much,” Elizabeth said with a slight smile.
“What stops you from doing it?”
“Much like you, I escape a little by taking walks.”
Miss de Bourgh shook her head. “I mean, escape for a long time. Possibly for good.”
“I suppose when I marry, I’ll escape,” Elizabeth said. “But then I’ll have another family I may want to escape from, and it wouldn’t be possible.”
“Why not? Couldn’t you simply run away if you don’t like it?”
“How would I get enough money to live? Who would call on a woman who left her husband?”
Miss de Bourgh eyed her intently. “So even if you had enough money to live, running away wouldn’t make you happier?”
“It’s a moot point. As a woman, I am unlikely to ever have the resources to go where I like and do as I please.”
“But let us suppose you are a female who does have such resources. Then you would run away?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. At most, all I would want is a temporary respite. Even if I wanted to escape, I do love my family, and there are those who would miss me if I left.” Elizabeth couldn’t help but imagine the pain her disappearance would cause her older sister Jane and her father. She looked Miss de Bourgh in the eye and spoke with all seriousness. “There are times when my family exasperates me, but I love them.” There were also times they embarrassed her, but she didn’t want to say so.
Slowly, Miss de Bourgh nodded. “You speak wisely.” She turned her lips up in a smile that didn’t bring the hint of beauty Elizabeth glimpsed earlier. “I’d best go. As I said, I don’t want to be missed. Don’t forget, you promised you will act as if we’ve never met when you’re introduced to me.”
“I won’t forget.”
Miss de Bourgh offered another dull smile, rose from the bench, and slipped back through the branches, leaving Elizabeth many more questions than she’d set out with that morning. Not the least of which was, if Miss de Bourgh rebelled against an overbearing mother, how would she fare with a husband as arrogant as Mr. Darcy? And if she wished to escape her relations and felt one might even escape a husband, was the husband she alluded to Mr. Darcy, and their engagement something from which she considered running? After her few encounters with the man, Elizabeth could well understand the inclination. Despite her earlier sentiments about Jane and her father, Elizabeth would gladly run away rather than marry such a man as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
The giveaway will run from April 9th through the 16th, and winners will be announced on Sunday the 19th.
Two winners will each get their choice of a print or eBook copy of After Anne!
To enter, just comment below.
Stay healthy everyone.