Summer and I have discussed, on and off, putting out a collection of short stories called A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Collection. The main reason for the collection is to publish our three short works, which are individually too short to turn into paperback books, as a paperback book for people who prefer physical books. Hence, collecting them all together. (We also published the collection as an eBook, which will cost slightly less than it would to buy all four stories individually.) However, we’d long felt we required a fourth shorter work to increase the word count to the level needed for a physical book, and we don’t often write short. We were at a standstill.
Near the end of 2019, I typed up a prospective blog post of about 2,000 words, including a short story I called Love at First Sight. I mentioned the unused blog post to Summer. Summer was happy to post it without reading the story. It’s nice to know she has faith in my writing, but I didn’t use it as a blog post because it wasn’t that good. Instead, I sent it to her insisting she read it and provide her thoughts. Apparently, her thought was that we’d finally stumbled upon our fourth shorter work. She sent me back over 13,000 words. I cut, changed and added. She cut, changed and added. We also changed the original title from Love at First Sight. Not because it is a bad title, but because it has been used too often by others.
The story, now titled Their Secret Love: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette, grew to over 17,000 words, most of which were written by Summer. Yes, we are equal partners, but we don’t do it by word count, which is a good thing for me. It’s also a good thing for our readers, because it is possible that we would both be tempted to advocate for what we wrote, rather than for the best book we can produce.
- Epiphany with Tea: A Pride and Prejudice Variation
- From Ashes to Heiresses: A Pride and Prejudice Variation
- Miss Bingley’s Christmas: A Pride and Prejudice Variation
- Their Secret Love: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette
If you haven’t read any, it will be a bit cheaper for you to buy A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Collection. If you’ve read them all except the newest, we aren’t asking much for Their Secret Love: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette because it is only a novelette. You can find it HERE.
What follows is the blurb and first chapter of Their Secret Love. Coincidentally, the first chapter is about the length I originally sent Summer.
(Giveaway details at the end of the post!)
What if Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly on purpose, but not for the reason you think?
When Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet meet for the first time, they quickly recognize a connection that could change their lives, but how can they explore their attraction with Mrs. Bennet sure to pounce on Darcy as a candidate for marriage to Elizabeth and with Darcy’s family certain to censure him for his choice? They need a good plan, or their relations could destroy their love before it’s hardly begun.
Their Secret Love is a Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette of approximately 17,000 words. If you like Renata McMann and Summer Hanford’s light, sweet romance and innovative variations, pick up a copy today to enjoy Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet finding their way to love.
THEIR SECRET LOVE
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette
Renata McMann & Summer Hanford
After Trafalgar jumped the fence, Darcy pulled him back to a walk. He suspected the fence, a clear delineator, meant he no longer rode on the land belonging to the property Bingley was considering leasing. It made sense to look at neighboring lands, but Darcy preferred to do so at a slower pace. He didn’t wish to inadvertently stumble onto a crop or even a rabbit hole.
Darcy felt relatively certain Bingley would lease the property, called Netherfield Park. Bingley had expressed pleasure with the principal rooms and the rest of the manor also seemed suitable and well maintained, as Darcy had discovered the grounds to be. It slightly amused him that he’d had to insist on looking at everything from the kitchen and the attics. Bingley hadn’t thought about anything beyond the entrance hall, ballroom, dining room, and master suite.
The agent of the owner had permitted the two of them to occupy the manor for two days and nights. A wise move on his part, as the beds were comfortable, the bedrooms well furnished, and the country mornings invigorating. The staff served an excellent dinner. While that only ensured they could, not that they always would, it provided a high recommendation for the level of service they could deliver. A level they seemed likely to maintain, as Bingley wasn’t required to keep them.
After riding for another quarter of an hour, Darcy had gone much farther abroad than the previous day. He brought Trafalgar to a halt atop a low hill and scanned the view. Lovely, if a bit wild. Not as familiar as Derbyshire. Not quite as appealing to his senses, but more than adequate. Certainly, the flora glowed a verdant green, even under a glowering sky, and wildlife flourished.
Looking about again, with less an eye for beauty and more of one for practicality, he realized the only way he could return to Netherfield Park was to retrace his steps. He’d taken many twists and turns on his ride, each change in direction dictated either by the terrain or whim. With the high, thick cloud cover, he couldn’t use the sun for direction.
He whirled Trafalgar in a tight circle, then rode back down the hill. Heading back the way he’d come, he returned to a familiar fenced pasture and halted to get his bearings. The pasture stood out in his memory for being almost overgrazed. As he recalled and could easily see, the next field over had lush grass that the cows contentedly munched. Suddenly feeling the passage of time, Darcy pulled free his pocket watch, to find he’d been absent longer than was reasonable. Reexamining the sparse grass of the field, Darcy decided he could let Trafalgar canter without doing any harm.
He urged Trafalgar forward, gaining enough speed to jump the low fence. Darcy smiled, enjoying the sensation of sailing through the air on a sure steed. Trafalgar landed smoothly and leapt forward into his canter. He’d barely taken two strides when he stumbled and fell.
Darcy hurtled through the air, an altogether less pleasant sensation. He hit the ground, landing on his back with a whooshing thump. He struggled to suck air. Coughed, gasping. The world executed a dizzying swirl. He concentrated on getting breath back into his lungs.
Once he could breathe again, he carefully moved each limb. Finding nothing amiss, he reached up and felt the back of his head but located no particular area of hurt. He patted the ground, finding no rocks where his skull had crashed down. He drew in a long, deep breath. Nothing particularly pained him.
Slowly and carefully, Darcy rose to his feet. Everything appeared to be in working order, his limbs miraculously unharmed by the fall. Tentatively at first, but with more vigor when no pain shot through him, he dusted at his clothing. Trafalgar stood a short distance away, watching. Darcy’s hat rested on the ground near his horse.
Cautiously, Darcy walked toward his horse. Trafalgar wasn’t trying to graze. He didn’t shy away or approach. Simply remained oddly still. Darcy reached him and, ignoring his hat, secured the reins.
“Sir, are you all right?”
Darcy whirled around to look at the owner of the voice. He would have done so with more decorum, but the five words were musical to his ears. Liquid melody. He’d never imagined a voice could be so lovely, and this despite being touched with concern.
As he turned to face her, he almost closed his eyes, but forced them to remain open. He steeled for disappointment. No one could be as beautiful as that melodic voice hinted.
Bright, dark eyes peered out of heavy lashes. A few strands of hair escaped, but they only enhanced the loveliest face he ever had seen. As she gracefully walked toward him, he saw her figure was as elegant and appealing as the rest of her.
He blinked to dispel the vision. Then again. Absently, he raised a hand to reexamine his head for injury. The vision before him didn’t waver, only moved nearer.
“I’m unharmed,” he managed to say. He wanted to say more but was afraid to shatter this dream. Surely, a creature this lovely had every intension of disappearing in a puff of smoke, to exist only in the depths of his imagination. In his dreams.
“Your horse isn’t.”
“Isn’t what?” he asked, confused.
“Isn’t unharmed.” She issued an elegant gesture toward Trafalgar. “He was limping after he got up. Off fore.”
Darcy stared at her a moment. An eyebrow winged up and he realized she expected something from him. He blinked, then turned to Trafalgar.
Stepping back, Darcy gave a gentle pull on the reins. Trafalgar, as loyal a steed as a man could ask, followed. Indeed, the right front leg was lame. Looping the reins over his arm, Darcy checked the leg. It didn’t appear to be broken.
He turned to the woman. Panic shot through him. Her back to him, she walked away. A cry formed on his lips, but before the sound could issue forth, she dipped down and picked up something.
She turned back, holding out a horseshoe. “I saw this fly off, just before your horse fell.” To Darcy’s relief, she started back in his direction.
“Thank you,” he said when she returned and proffered the shoe. He accepted it, then made to doff his hat, before realizing he’d yet to retrieve it. “My name is Darcy, by the way.” He bowed.
“Elizabeth Bennet.” She paused. For the first time, hesitation touched her expression. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” She curtsied.
Elation shot through him. She wasn’t married. And she wanted him to know that.
“Miss Bennet, I am in need of direction.”
“Where to, sir?” A touch of challenge brightened her eyes, adding another layer of appeal. “And how is it you do not know the way? Is your destination different from whence you’ve ridden?”
A jolt of surprise followed her words. No one ever questioned him. “I came from Netherfield Park and I can find my way back by retracing my route, but I cannot have a lame horse jump a fence.” He had jumped several on his way and he didn’t remember if they all had gates. He decided to issue a challenge of his own. “Do you know the lay of the land well enough to direct me to a route that does not have fences?”
She paused for long enough to make him worry that she could not, before saying, “The shortest way requires crossing a stream.” Her gaze dropped to his well-shined hessians before returning to his face, the glimmer of a dare lurking within her fine eyes. “The stream is not deep, but your boots will get wet.”
His valet would be in fits, but Darcy kept his face neutral and replied, “Then they will get wet. I imagine I will survive the experience.”
“A new one for you, sir?”
Did she tease him, this Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Always in the past, the distant past now, when anyone had teased him, usually his one-time friend George Wickham, Darcy had felt a sting of shame and anger. Now, a strange warmth spread through him. He almost enjoyed the challenge implicit in her words. “Not new, but not recent.”
As if that reply satisfied her, her demeanor relaxed. “The way is too complicated to describe, but I can show you.”
“Please. I would be very grateful.” More grateful because of your company, Elizabeth, he thought. Even her name was enchanting.
She flashed a smile. “I’ll retrieve your hat.”
Elizabeth returned with his hat, the garment not much worse from flying from his head, then led the way across the field. They walked slowly at first, both watching Trafalgar intently, but his limp didn’t get worse and he didn’t resist being led. After a time, Darcy relaxed, less worried for his horse.
As if sensing his change in mood, the next time Elizabeth glanced away from their path it was to look up at Darcy askance, not to check his horse. “Might you satisfy my curiosity as to why you must reach Netherfield Park, Mr. Darcy?”
“My friend, Bingley, is considering leasing it. He asked me to come help him decide.”
“He must either value your opinion highly or his own quite little.”
Darcy suspected both, but as she gave him the choice of belittling Bingley or promoting himself, he remained silent. He rather suspected her words constituted another small test of character.
“Do you think he’ll take it?” she asked after a time, leading him down a hill to a gate in the fence.
They crossed a well-trod path, then entered a narrower one that snaked into a grove of maples. To his relief, the path remained wide enough to walk side by side, Trafalgar trailing.
“Will you visit him, your friend who might lease Netherfield Park?”
Darcy’s heart thudded. Did she wish him to? “If you are any example of the company to be found in Hertfordshire, I most certainly will.” He regretted the words, so very forward, almost instantly. They sounded like something a charming man would say. Someone like Wickham. Whenever Darcy attempted charming, he failed.
“I daresay I am one example. I live about three miles from Netherfield Park, in Longbourn.”
He tried to read her tone. To his ear, she didn’t sound displeased.
“There is the stream,” she said, pointing.
Disappointment filled him. Not because his boots would definitely get wet, but because he couldn’t ask her to cross the wide, shallow swath of gurgling water. Her feet would become soaked, as would her hem, unless she held it up to a slightly indecorous height. That image filling his mind, his heart sped up once more.
“You should cross there,” she said, pointing.
He turned to her and manfully suppressing his sorrow at her eminent departure, surprised at the depth of the feeling. Maybe he had hit his head after all? “Please, give me directions. You cannot cross.”
Laughter bubbled from her, the sound like silver bells. She whirled and headed off, upstream. Darcy watched her disappear into the dense trees. Had she been a woodland spirit after all?
He shook his head. With no choices before him but forward or back, he led Trafalgar to the stream. His mount wanted to drink, so Darcy paused to let him. As Trafalgar raised his head, movement upstream caught Darcy’s eye.
He turned to see Elizabeth, arms flung wide for balance, all but skipping across a fallen log. She reached the other side, flashed him a smile, and disappeared into the trees again. Darcy tugged on Trafalgar’s reins.
Halfway across the stream, water sloshing to mid-shin height, Darcy almost tripped on a rock, his attention rivetted on where Elizabeth might reappear on the path ahead, rather than on his footing. As he and Trafalgar climbed from the streambed, she emerged on the path before them, his woodland sprite come to lead him onward. Darcy couldn’t help but return her smile.
She glanced at Trafalgar. “I didn’t mean to abandon you to the stream while I remain dry, but you could never have gotten him through the rocks and underbrush, with him lame. Besides, you couldn’t have led your horse and balanced at the same time.”
“You have me off balance.”
She stared at him, smile lost as her lips formed an O of surprise.
Something akin to fear shot through him. He’d attempted charming again and, as always, he’d botched it. He’d scared her. Offended her. How could he make it right? He blurted, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
She shook her head. “I do not. Attraction, yes. Not love.”
“Well then, I’m attracted to you like I’ve never been attracted to another woman. I know nothing about you, but part of me wants to take you in my arms and never let you go.” Surely, he was mad to say such things.
She backed up a step, in silent agreement to his thought, her eyes wide with worry.
To enter the Giveaway, just comment below. Four winners will each get their choice of:
an ebook copy of Their Secret Love
an ebook copy of A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice
a print book copy of A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice
Giveaway runs from March 12th to the 18th. Winners will be announced on the 22nd.