If you are like me, you have often felt a bit sorry for Charlotte Lucas. It’s true that she entered into her marriage with Mr. Collins with her eyes open, and I have no doubt she will be able to manage him quite well. But she is an intelligent woman married to a stupid and selfish man. It is hard to escape the sense that she is settling for the best choice available to her—which isn’t a particularly good one—because she is desperate to escape her current situation. More than any other character in P&P, Charlotte demonstrates how constrained the choices were for women during the Regency.
For a while I have been picturing how to give Charlotte an opportunity for her own happy ending, one where she finds a man who deserves her. I am pleased to announce the release of my new novel, When Charlotte Became Romantic, which imagines what would happen if Mr. Collins had competition for Charlotte’s affection—in the form of a mysterious man from Charlotte’s past.
Below is an excerpt describing Charlotte’s first meeting with James. She has just discovered him apparently spying on some other people in a garden. I hope you enjoy it!
Desperate to escape her parents’ constant criticism, Charlotte has accepted a proposal from Mr. Collins despite recognizing his stupid and selfish nature. But when a mysterious man from her past visits Meryton for the Christmas season, he arouses long-buried feelings and causes her to doubt her decision.
James Sinclair’s mistakes cost him a chance with Charlotte three years ago, and he is devastated to find her engaged to another man. Honor demands that he step aside, but his heart will not allow him to leave Meryton. Their mutual attraction deepens; however, breaking an engagement is not a simple matter and scandal looms. If they are to be happy, they must face her parents’ opposition, Lady Catherine’s disapproval, dangerous figures from James’s past…and Charlotte’s nagging feeling that maybe she should just marry Mr. Collins.
Charlotte had forsworn romance years ago; is it possible for her to become romantic again?
He cleared his throat, coloring as he glanced at her. “I know this appears to be…er…irregular behavior. My…er…friend asked me to watch over his fiancée. He suspected she might be flirting with other men.”
Oh. Charlotte’s indignation fled. The woman he had been watching obviously had been on rather intimate terms with the man. “I fear he might have been correct.” Spying was not laudable, but perhaps in this situation it might be understandable.
“As do I. My friend will not be best pleased with my report.”
“It is unfortunate you cannot give him better news.”
He regarded her with an odd intensity. Perhaps she had some traces of the punch on her face? She resisted the impulse to wipe her mouth. “I noticed you in the ballroom,” he said finally.
He had noticed her? Charlotte blinked at him. Nobody noticed her. Long ago she had realized that something about her features or demeanor ensured she would always blend into the wallpaper. Upon entering a room, a man would frequently speak with every woman present save Charlotte—as if she were invisible.
She did not credit his words—they were simply the tiresome things men said to women. “I do not believe you did.” Perhaps she should not have been so blunt, but she was tired of playing polite games.
He turned a startled laugh into a cough. “I beg your pardon?”
This was one of those pretty compliments that men used to flatter women, nothing more. “I do not believe you noticed me in the ballroom. I did not see you.”
“You were speaking with Mrs. Chadwick, who is a dear friend of my aunt’s.”
“Oh!” Well, that was not quite an introduction, but it came close.
He made a bow. “James Sinclair, at your service.”
Feeling like a fool for having doubted him, she made a small curtsey. “Charlotte Lucas.”
With two strides he stood in front of Charlotte. “I am so pleased to encounter you here. I had longed for an introduction. I hope you do not think me too forward.”
What was this man about? Nobody ever longed to be introduced to her. “Not at all,” she murmured.
“I was quite arrested by your beauty in the ballroom. You are a vision.”
Charlotte knew she was not beautiful, and listening to insincere compliments had long ago ceased to be a charming activity. Today, in her present mood, Charlotte found it particularly irksome. For a moment she had hoped that this gentleman might be different from the others.
“No, I am not.” The words were out of Charlotte’s mouth before she could prevent them.
Mr. Sinclair gaped at her.
She did not appear capable of halting the babble. “I am, in point of fact, quite plain. Everyone agrees—even my mother.” Merciful heavens! What am I saying? How can I stop? “I commend your attempt to flatter me; it is, however, unnecessary.”
Oh, what had she done? How could she be so unforgivably rude? Charlotte pressed a hand to her mouth lest she have the impulse to say anything else dreadfully stupid, but the damage was done.
Charlotte’s entire body was hot with embarrassment, and her skin felt too tight. Briefly she considered fleeing for the garden gate. She could be halfway back to her family’s rented lodgings before they noticed her absence.
But the expression on Mr. Sinclair’s face stayed her flight. Rather than disgust, he seemed to regard her contemplatively, as if she represented a puzzle he would solve.
“I apologize,” she blurted out. “I should never—”
He interrupted her. “You dislike compliments?”
“I dislike false compliments.”
“And since you believe yourself to be plain, you think all compliments to your beauty must necessarily be false?” He tapped a finger thoughtfully to his chin.
“Naturally.” She gestured impatiently to her face.
He regarded her seriously. “Hume wrote, ‘Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.’”
“Hmm?” What was he about?
“Beauty is not an objective state, Miss Lucas. Simply because others believe you are not beautiful does not mean that I may not find you so with complete sincerity. Others might prefer silly blonde girls with ringlets while my tastes might run toward tall, serene brunettes with solemn eyes.”
Charlotte was struck dumb. How could she possibly respond? And which part of his remarkable speech should she respond to? He truly thought she was beautiful? She had solemn eyes? Serene? He might actually prefer her to another woman—to any other woman? She was far too overwhelmed to speak. Nobody had ever spoken so to her. Oh, a friend’s brother had joked that he “saw stars in her eyes,” and a passing militia officer had once professed his love for her. But he had been foxed, so she could hardly take him at his word.
But here was a man—to all appearances completely sober and with his wits about him—who seemed to genuinely find her pretty. She was flattered and yet also slightly suspicious.
I must say something in response. Anything. “I am not so tall,” she said. Anything but that! Oh, why could I not say something witty? Or at least thank him? Why must I always be a fool when speaking with an attractive man?
“No.” He shook his head solemnly with only a hint of humor in his eyes. “Now that I look again, I see that you are about average. My height, actually. I like being able to see directly into your eyes.”
Naturally, this caused her to glance away and blush violently.
His shoulders sagged. “I have said too much. It is my curse. I always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. My mother says I let my mouth run away with me.”
No, he should not chastise himself for the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her. Charlotte wanted to touch his arm in reassurance, but it would be the height of impropriety. She had just met the man. “Not at all. I am quite flattered. I am simply…unaccustomed… Nobody says such things to me.” She immediately bit her lip. Why must she reveal so much to a complete stranger?
“Surely other men have—”
Charlotte stepped away from him. The discourse had grown excessively personal. “It is hardly appropriate to discuss other men.”
The young man ran his hands through his hair. “Of course not. Forgive me. I am making a hash of this.”
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY. I am giving away a free ebook of When Charlotte Became Romantic for a winner randomly chosen from those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST, Tuesday, November 12. The winner will be announced November 24. Good Luck!