Starting about mid November, I have read a variety of Christmas-themed stories. I privately refer to this time period as “cleansing my palate” for much of what I have committed to read, starting in mid-January. Each year, about that time, I read/judge entries in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards program. In the past, with the RITAs, one could indicate which two categories one preferred to read (with a third choice, just in case). For the last several years, one can only eliminate two categories. Therefore, a reader cannot expect to know whether she will be asked to read contemporary (various lengths), erotica, historical (various length), main stream with a central romance, paranormal, romance novella, romance with religious or spiritual elements, romantic suspense, or young adult. Therefore, I need a little Darcy right this very minute. Are you like me? Do you enjoy reading JAFF and other Christmas tales this time of year? Then I offer two of my Christmas tales for your delight.
Mr. Darcy’s Present grew out of a trip down memory lane. I was attempting to go through photographs found in a box among my late mother’s belongings. I was adding the ones of people I recognized to a photo album, and among the pictures were several that chronicled two different occasions in my childhood. The first group were of the Christmas I remember most clearly of all those from my childhood. Among the few gifts my mother presented me was a box held a locket made of what we called “pink gold.” According to my mother, the locket belonged to my grandmother, a woman I never knew because she passed from cancer when my mother was but seventeen. Inside the locket, she had placed a picture of me and one of my grandmother.
Now some of you might think this sounds a bit too sentimental to have really happened. Yet, if you knew my family — one side of staunch German blood and the other of high-strung Scottish roots — you would know how much family and traditions mean to me. We spent many evenings sitting around with the “old folks” and enjoy tales of days gone by.
The other set of pictures came from the Easter I received three Easter baskets. My parents separated when I was young, and in a day when women did not go off to work, it was difficult for my mother to pull together enough money together for an Easter basket, but that particular year, I received three: the modest one my mother purchased for me, a bit larger one from my grandfather, and a super-sized one from our neighbors, who had no children of their own. The thing was that my mother put all three in hiding until the big day, but my mother’s cousin, who was not so well educated, dropped the cards from each, and when she put them back, the cards got mixed up, having me thanking the wrong people for each basket, until my mother became wise to what had occurred.
From these memories, an idea hatched for Mr. Darcy’s Present. What if, in his misery and wishing he had the right to call upon Elizabeth Bennet again, Darcy purchased a gift for her that he never meant to present her? What if a run-in with a coal cart has him laid up for several weeks, and he employs Bingley to add a message to a calling card for each present he has purchased? What if Anne de Bourgh receives Georgiana’s present; his sister Georgiana, the one meant for Elizabeth; Darcy’s long time “friend” and confidante, the one meant for his cousin, Anne; and Elizabeth, the one meant for his “friend”? How much chaos can ensue? What if Darcy’s gift of a simple book of poetry and a ruby stick pin are the perfect gifts to win Elizabeth’s heart?
The Greatest Present He Would Ever Receive is the Gift of Her Love…
What if Mr. Darcy purchased a gift for Elizabeth Bennet to acknowledge the festive days even though he knows he will never present it to her? What if the gift is posted to the lady by his servants and without his knowledge? What if the enclosed card was meant for another and is more suggestive than a gentleman should share with an unmarried lady? Join Darcy and Elizabeth for a holiday romp, loaded with delightful twists and turns no one expects, but one in which our favorite couple take a very different path in thwarting George Wickham and Lydia Bennet’s elopement. Can a simple book of poetry be Darcy’s means to win Elizabeth’s love? When we care more for another than ourselves, the seeds of love have an opportunity to blossom.
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Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Mr. Darcy’s Present... ENJOY!
“It is not her,” he murmured in self-chastisement.
Nearly a month had passed since he last looked upon her countenance, and although Elizabeth Bennet had adamantly refused the offer of his hand, every time he turned his head to scan the crowds scampering along the walkways lining Bond Street, Darcy expected to encounter her. It was as if he thought his constant desire for her would manifest itself in her actual appearance. You remain as foolish as ever.
With a sigh of resignation he did what was required. Christmastide would arrive within the week, and he held obligations. There were the traditional “gifts” to be arranged for his staff at Pemberley and at Darcy House, as well as for his tenants, and there were the more elaborate presentations expected by his dear family. He despised the necessity of purchasing the expected. Darcy preferred to surprise those for whom he cared with tokens of his affection throughout the year, rather than to break with the religious tone of Christmas Day, but society seized every opportunity to claim another reward to assuage its pride.
“You have the list, Sheffield?” he asked his valet. Because Darcy’s secretary had taken ill, Sheffield volunteered to retrieve the items for Darcy’s family and the senior servants.
“Yes, Mr. Darcy.”
“Although I consider this business all of a piece, have the selections delivered to Darcy House. Make certain the merchants know some items will be returned as inappropriate for the recipient.” He had previously viewed all the items on his list, but Darcy had yet to make a decision.
“I understand, sir.”
Darcy gripped his cane tighter. Since his last encounter with Miss Elizabeth, he often felt off kilter, as if he expected his familiar world to tilt. “I will call upon Mr. Hess regarding the adjustments to Miss Darcy’s dowry and see you again at Darcy House later.”
“I shan’t be long, sir,” the valet assured him.
“Speed is not compulsory,” he instructed. “I wish you to conduct business in my name.” Glancing toward the bookstore across the busy street, he said in distraction, “Add a book of poetry to the list. Cowper, Scott, Coleridge, Prior, or something in that range and mayhap a simple pin a lady could wear upon a bonnet or to secure a shawl in place. Nothing ostentatious. Just a jewel to mark a gentleman’s regard.”
He knew Sheffield studied him carefully, but Darcy could not abandon his maudlin. He would never present Elizabeth Bennet with the fairing, but he would place the items away in the drawer with the multiple letters he had written to her, but never posted. “Anything else, sir?” his servant asked in a tone that sounded of concern.
Darcy shook his head in the negative. “That will be all, Sheffield.” Still deep in his regrets, he turned to bump into a young buck up to London on holiday. Darcy opened his mouth to extend his apologies, but the young man took instant offense at having his cravat knocked askew. The dandy shoved hard against Darcy’s chest, sending him windmilling backwards into the busy street. He noted that Sheffield shoved past the youth to reach for Darcy, but it was too late. A coal cart pulled by a donkey plowed into his side, knocking him to the ground. A loud groan of wood against wood announced the driver’s load shifted, and the coal covered him completely.
* * *
Darcy could hear the rumble of voices nearby, but he refused to release the dream, for it was one of his favorites. He had claimed Elizabeth Bennet’s hand at the Netherfield Ball. Needless to say, he would have preferred a waltz where he might hold her close, but it was strangely satisfying to grasp her gloved hand in his, even for a few brief seconds when they came together. Surely the lady must understand that their connection was singular. Surely she experienced the same zing of a knot inside her chest that wished to be set free. That wished to know him as much as he wished to know her. That wished to bind them together. Never had Darcy known a woman who made his heart feel lighter.
“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room or the number of couples.”
He smiled as he circled her. “Whatever you wish me to say will be said.”
A familiar playful taunt claimed her tone. No female had ever flirted with him by matching wits. Darcy enjoyed the twist of her lips as she said, “Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps, by and by, I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones, but now we may be silent.”
They bantered in a like manner until they claimed the opposing corners in the form. It was then that he made a serious misstep, one worse than claiming her toes. “Do you and your sisters very often walk to Meryton?” he asked to keep the conversation easy between them. He was so consumed by the joy of studying Miss Elizabeth’s beauty that he did not realize Mr. Wickham’s lies would foul the air surrounding them.
“When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.”
Despite his best efforts, a deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, and during a long pause he searched for words that could warn her from his former friend. At length, he responded in a constrained tone, “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may insure his making friends. Whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain.”
The lady replied with emphasis, “He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life.”
Matters between them were worsened by the appearance of Sir William Lucas, who made it clear that the neighborhood expected Bingley to propose to Miss Bennet. Sir William’s statement had Darcy rethinking his fascination with Miss Elizabeth. How could he permit Mrs. Bennet’s connection to trade to tarnish his family’s name? And a gentleman does not play with a lady’s reputation with misplaced flirtations, he reminded himself.
Her words penetrated his half-hearted responses. “I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave–that your resentment, once created, was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created?”
“I am,” he replied in a firm voice.
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice.”
“I hope not.”
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion to be secure of judging properly at first.”
Her words had him second-guessing his opinion of only a few moments earlier.
“May I ask to what these questions tend?” His tone knew suspicion.
“Merely to the illustration of your character.”
His character? His roots were impeccable! His was a noble lineage!
“I am attempting to make it out.”
Disguising his piqued interest, he asked, “And what is your success.”
She shook her head as if she held her doubts. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as to puzzle me exceedingly.”
For a brief second Darcy wondered if he proposed, would she realize his finer qualities? “I can readily believe,” he replied gravely, “that reports may vary greatly with respect to me, and I could wish, Miss Elizabeth, that you were not to sketch my character at this moment.” He was once again from countenance with her. “As there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”
“But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity.”
Did she wish to know him better? A marriage would bring them together on every level. A tolerably powerful need for her remained even when his head declared the emotion insensible. “I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,” he said through husky tones.
“Darcy? Darcy? Can you hear me?” It was Georgiana and she sounded frightened. “Please, William. Open your eyes.”
He did not wish to leave Elizabeth’s image behind. There was still much he wished to say to her. It was imperative that he convince her to accept his hand, but he held a duty to Georgiana. And so he lifted his heavy lids to welcome the worried features of his sister.
“Oh, William.” Her sob of relief had her bottom lip trembling. “I feared we had lost you. I could not bear it.”
He wished to take her in his arms to comfort her, but try as he might, Darcy could not lift his arms.
Bingley nudged Georgiana from her place. “You gave us quite a scare, Old Chap,” his friend said with a reassuring smile. “Do not worry if you cannot yet move about. Doctor Nott and Mr. Harvon could not agree upon your treatment, but it was decided they would tie your arms to the bed frame. Broke you right wrist and suffered a blow to your head, as well as multiple cuts and bruises. Neither Harvon nor Nott wished you to bolt up unexpectedly and do more injury to yourself.”
Darcy made himself form the word “Water.” His mouth was excessively dry.
“Miss Darcy, fetch your brother some water,” Bingley ordered. His friend remained sitting with one hip on the edge of the bed. At length, Georgiana handed Bingley the glass. Darcy could feel her worried eyes upon him, and so he made the effort to appear alert. “I shan’t attempt to brace you. Let us use this spoon.” Bingley held up the utensil before spooning the water into Darcy’s mouth. “A coal cart toppled over on you,” Bingley explained as he tended to Darcy. “You will be quite stiff for a few days, but Harvon says your wrist is the worst of it. Once the laudanum wears away, Harvon will untie your arms. Miss Darcy says the opiate provides you nightmares, and no one wishes you thrashing about in the bed.”
Darcy thought of his dream of Elizabeth. It was far from perfect, but certainly not a nightmare. “Thank you,” he said as he refused another spoonful of the water. “Sheffield?”
“Your man is fine. He took Lord Joyner’s son to task for the youth’s lack of forethought. His lordship was less than pleased with Sheffield’s tongue lashing of his son until he realized young Mr. Joyner had struck Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.” Bingley winked at him. “Lord Joyner prays you will not withdraw your investment in the canal in which he holds the primary interest.”
Darcy pronounced through stiff lips, “Would be foolish.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Bingley said as he sat the glass of water and the spoon aside. “When you are well enough to consider the situation, the magistrate awaits your decision as to addressing a complaint against the his lordship’s heir. But there is no need for you to place your mind to it at this time. Just rest. It will do young Joyner good to wait a few more days until he learns whether he faces charges of assault. I heard he has known great anguish at considering a charge of murder if you died. The wait will make him appreciate the privileges his father’s barony provides him. As to Sheffield, he tended you for the last two days. I sent him to his bed for some much required rest.”
“Two days?” Darcy asked weakly.
“The reason for your sister’s distress,” Bingley replied. “Miss Darcy and I have fended off all those more curious than sincere. You have nothing of which to worry. The Matlocks and I will tend to Miss Darcy. For now, just rest.”
Darcy attempted to nod his gratitude, but the movement sent a wincing pain shooting through his head. He squeezed his eyes shut to quell the piercing ache between his eyes. “I am in your debt,” he murmured through gritted teeth.
“None of that,” Bingley insisted. “No soul can claim a truer friend.”
Bingley’s words had Darcy wondering if he had betrayed his friend’s trust by permitting Miss Bingley to separate Bingley from Miss Bennet. Was I protecting myself rather than my friend? he wondered. If Bingley claimed Miss Bennet, I will lose a friend, for I cannot bear to be in Miss Elizabeth’s presence and view her choose another. With that doubt planted firmly in his mind, he drifted to sleep only to return to the Netherfield ball and the disaster that marked his rejection.
Even though throughout the evening, he had held reservations regarding his own sanity in considering marriage to Elizabeth, as the ball at Netherfield wound down, his unconscious mind again sought Elizabeth. Surprisingly, he discovered her hiding behind a pillar upon the terrace. Although she was not in the first tier of fashion, Elizabeth’s exuberance for life had him considering her more than just a handsome face. He looked upon her and could see his future in her eyes. And so, despite the world whispering in his ear for him to be rational, he asked, “Would you walk with me, Miss Elizabeth?”
Her spirits appeared inclined to refuse, but she nodded her agreement and placed her hand upon his proffered arm. He directed their steps first on a circular tour of the terrace and then down the steps to the garden. As foolish as it would be to speak the words aloud, his fate was marked. He held no plans to propose on this evening, but he knew he would do so. As they walked, Darcy attempted to organize the words he wished her to know. “It is a beautiful evening, especially for November,” he said in distraction. “If we were in Derbyshire, we would be thinking of snow.”
“I understand the southern shires are more temperate,” she responded.
At length, he brought her to a halt under a rose arbor that no longer held its blooms. They stood in silence for several minutes before he mustered the nerve to speak his heart. “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Elizabeth, obviously, had not expected him to speak so soon of his regard for her. After all, they had known each other only some six weeks. But he thought she must understand how often he showed her his preferences above all others in their company. She stared and colored, but remained silent. Such was sufficient encouragement for him. Foolishly, he spoke his avowals of all he felt for her. Even as the scene replayed through his laudanum-induced mind, Darcy knew a certain pride in how well he spoke. It was only when he detailed the qualms he held regarding her connections that things turned sour. In hindsight, he should have omitted his sense of her inferiority, of its being a degradation, and of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination from his recital. If he had known his words would incite her waspish tongue, he would have held his.
He might have taken her unawares, but her response destroyed him. “In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode is to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot. I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and, I hope, will be of short duration. The feelings which you tell me have prevented the acknowledgement of your regard can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.”
He knew he paled with anger for he felt the blood rush from his heart, and the disturbance of his mind had to be obvious to her, and unfortunately, he could not disguise the tight line of his features as he sought control. He struggled for the appearance of composure. He refused to open his mouth until he believed he could speak without the alarm ringing in his head. “And this is all the reply which I am to have the honor of expecting? I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.”
“I might as well inquire,” replied she, “why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings been decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favorable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept a man who would act against the happiness of a most beloved sister?”
His color changed, but the emotion was short lived. He reined in his anger, but before he could respond, she continued, “I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. You speak of the faults and follies of my family as if they are the unwashed. You deny a childhood friend a means to better himself, but the worst of your sins is how you plot with Miss Bingley to divide her brother from Miss Bennet. After our dance, I overheard you speaking to the lady. Miss Bingley spoke of Sir William’s assumption of a marriage between Jane and Mr. Bingley.”
“I did not encourage Miss Bingley’s aspirations,” he said in defense.
“Yet you made no move to curtail her derogatory comments,” she accused. “In fact, you agreed with Miss Bingley, even going so far as to suggest that she discover a means to keep her brother in London when he departs upon business this week. You have joined forces with Miss Bingley to expose your friend and Jane to the censure of the world for caprice and instability and to the derision for disappointed hopes, involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.”
He wished to deny all of her accusations, but how could he? He had listened to Miss Bingley’s litany of offenses against the Bennets, and although he never considered either Elizabeth or Miss Bennet inferior, Darcy held his doubts regarding the others in her family, the same doubts he had expressed earlier in his proposal. Moreover, as a guest in Bingley’s household and as a gentleman, he could not dissuade Miss Bingley, for the lady served as Netherfield’s hostess.
“Can you deny that you have done this?” she demanded.
With assumed tranquility, he replied, “I have no wish of denying that I offered my opinion to Miss Bingley, may she rejoice in her success. Toward Bingley I have been kinder than toward myself.” He presented her a curt bow. “I would offer you escort to the house, but I do not wish to hear another refusal from you lips.” He looked upon her with dashed hopes. “I perfectly comprehend your feelings and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time. Please accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.”
That was the last time he had seen her. Bingley departed for London on the Monday morning following the ball. He and Miss Bingley had followed two days later, and there was not a second that had passed in the three weeks since that Darcy had not regretted his actions that night, but not because of his profession of love, but because the outcome had not been what he wished.
Second Choice: Christmas at Pemberley was originally published in 2011 by Ulysses Press, which still holds the rights to the book, because it remains in print. However, in my time with Ulysses, my contracts always held an unusual clause that says I might self-publish my books, as long as I was not selling it to a competitor who would place the title in bookstores, etc. Therefore, I recently decided to bring the book out again with a new cover and a reworked manuscript (only minor changes were made in the story line). Hopefully, a new crop of JAFF readers will discover it and those familiar with the book will give it another read. The main advantage for the reader is the new book, which is a little over 107,000 words, has a more affordable price than the price of either the print copy or the eBook copy from a publishing company.
So, for those who have not read the book and those who require a “refresher course,” for me, this is simply a story of life and death and new beginnings…the story of a Christmas miracle. This book is essentially Georgiana’s story, but Kitty Bennet plays a major role, as do Elizabeth and Darcy.
At the beginning of the book, Darcy has taken Elizabeth with him on a business journey. She is pregnant, and he wants to keep her close, for they have experienced several miscarriages, and Elizabeth is despondent. On their return from Northumberland to Derbyshire, there is a massive snow storm, and the Darcys must take shelter at an inn. Okay. This is the hokey part: It is Christmas, and there is no shelter for the Josephs family at the inn. You got it. Mrs. Joseph is ready to deliver. Elizabeth insists that she and Darcy aid the family.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (oops! I mean Pemberley),thinking it would be good for Elizabeth’s disposition, Darcy secretly invited the Bennets to Pemberley: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, and Mary’s intended (who was not expected). Mrs. Bennet took it on herself to invite the young man. We also find the Bingleys in attendance. They have arrived with their children and news of Jane expecting again. And although not invited, Miss Bingley tags along with her brother. These few are the only invited guests to what becomes a large holiday party.
Lady Catherine, with Anne in tow, appears upon Pemberley’s doorstep and demands that Georgiana admit her. Her ladyship and Darcy have yet to resolve their differences after he married Elizabeth, and Georgiana fears the worst, but she acts the consummate hostess. Moreover, Lady Catherine was to meet with the Collinses before returning to Kent, and she invites Mr. and Mrs. Collins to join her at Pemberley.
Kitty’s love interest, the clergyman, Mr. Winkler, who holds the living at Pemberley, comes and goes with some regularity in the story line. He involves Kitty in administering to the poor in the neighborhood, a perfect role for the wife of a clergyman.
Then Colonel Fitzwilliam calls upon the household. He has been in America (during the War of 1812). With him is his aide, Lieutenant Roman Southland, and a gentleman from America, Mr. Beauford Manneville, who is not all he pretends to be. The storm has waylaid their travel, and the colonel brings his companions to Pemberley, expecting Darcy will welcome them.
This is absolutely a love story. Obviously, Darcy and Elizabeth are in love, but what of the others? Georgiana convinces the colonel finally to SEE her. The lieutenant, who happens to be the cousin of the cleric who held the living at Rosings Park before Collins—a man Lady Catherine respected, takes a liking to Anne, while the American has a eye on both Kitty and Miss Bingley. There are lots of high jinxes and tender moments. You will laugh, and you are likely to cry at some of the scenes, for once Darcy and Elizabeth make it home, their world will never be the same. [I should say this book won several Inspirational Romance awards when it was originally released, for there are more than one character learning to accept God’s intent within one’s life in the story line, but without it being preachy.]
Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Holiday Vagary Told Through the Eyes of All Who Knew It
To bring a renewed sense joy to his wife’s countenance, Fitzwilliam Darcy secretly invites the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend the Christmastide festive days at Pemberley. But as he and Elizabeth journey to their estate to join the gathered families, a snowstorm blankets the English countryside. The Darcys find themselves stranded at a small out-of-the-way inn with another couple preparing for the immediate delivery of their first child, while Pemberley is inundated with friends and relations seeking shelter from the storm.
Without her brother’s strong presence, Georgiana Darcy desperately attempts to manage the chaos surrounding the arrival of six invited guests and eleven unscheduled visitors. But bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley finally find a mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy know happiness?
Written in Regency style and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, Christmas at Pemberley places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in an exciting yuletide story that speaks to the love, the family spirit, and the generosity that remain as the heart of Christmas.
Excerpt from Chapter 4 (Colonel Fitzwilliam’s return to Pemberley. [NOTE: In all my stories, Colonel Fitzwilliam is “Edward,” my father’s name.]
Georgiana and Kitty raced along the passage and down the main staircase. “We will tell Elizabeth your parents allowed you to return to Pemberley because you were lonely now that Miss Bennet is engaged.”
“Elizabeth will never believe I miss Mary’s company,” Kitty objected.
Georgiana tutted her disagreement. “We simply need for our sister to believe us long enough for her to reach the drawing room to greet your family.”
They waited impatiently for the Darcys’ arrival, each girl fidgeting with her dress. Then, Mr. Nathan opened the door, and instead of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, three winter-cloaked gentlemen strode through the opening. Both girls stood in awe of the men—each a fine specimen of maleness. “Oh, my,” Kitty swallowed her words. She clawed at Georgiana’s arm.
But Georgiana stood frozen in place. The man in front held her mesmerized. A year—more than a year had passed since she had last seen him, but he remained as before. Solid. Raven haired. Smoky blue eyes. Eyes that appeared to look through her. See me. Georgiana willed herself not to say the words. Not quite as tall as her brother, she still barely reached his shoulders. “Edward!” she called and launched herself into his waiting arms. In his embrace, Georgiana inhaled him deeply. He smelled of cold and leather and sweat and a spicy cologne he always had worn. “Thank God, you have returned to us.”
Her cousin picked her up, clutching Georgiana to his chest and swung her around in a circle. “My, Goodness!” he laughed easily. “What happened to my little Georgie?”
“You have been away for a year, Edward,” she protested.
“So, I have.” He laughed again as he sat her on her feet. “Where is that rascally brother of yours?” He glanced toward the main stairs.
“Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Darcy are on their way from Northumberland,” she explained.
Edward frowned. “Well, Wills will be delayed. We barely made it from Liverpool on horseback. Darcy will not chance it in a carriage.” The colonel gestured to the men waiting behind him. “Do you have rooms available, Cousin? I do not wish to attempt riding to Matlock.”
“Certainly.” Georgiana nodded to Mr. Nathan, and the man ducked into a servant passageway to do her bidding.
Edward spotted Kitty waiting patiently. “And is this who I believe it to be?” he said teasingly.
“You remember Mrs. Darcy’s sister Catherine from the wedding, do you not, Edward?”
The colonel bowed to Kitty. “Absolutely. I am pleased to find you at Pemberley, Miss Catherine.”
Kitty curtsied to the group. “I am certain Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth shall be thrilled for your return, Colonel.”
Edward placed Georgiana’s hand on his arm. “Permit me to introduce my traveling companions, my dear. Miss Darcy. Miss Catherine. May I present Lieutenant Roman Southland? The lieutenant is my assistant.”
The officer bowed formally. “Miss Darcy, the colonel has spoken often of his cousin, but his words did not do you justice.” He air-kissed Georgiana outstretched hand. “Thank you for accepting our intrusion upon your hospitality.”
“Pemberley would never turn away the colonel’s associates,” Georgiana responded. “Edward is family.” She wanted to ask what her cousin had said of her and how often the colonel spoke of her, but instead, Georgiana smiled welcomingly at the man.
“And this gentleman,” the colonel indicated the man not wearing a uniform. “This is Mr. Beauford Manneville. Mr. Manneville is from South Carolina . . . in the Americas, but he has come to our ‘enemy’ shores to do business with our government and to renew his acquaintance with his distant cousin Lord Shelton.”
“Welcome to England, Mr. Manneville.” Georgiana curtsied and again extended her hand. “I am sorry your first experience on British shores brings you icy roads.”
The colonel laughed softly. “You do not understand, Georgie. In South Carolina, snow rarely falls. Cold weather does not tarry either. Is that not correct, Manneville?”
The man openly shivered. “I have never been so cold, Colonel, and you may leave your levity out of it, sir.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed stiffly. “As you wish, Manneville.” He turned to Georgiana with a touch of lightheartedness. “And from what did we pull you ladies?”
Georgiana suddenly remembered the others waiting in the drawing room for her return. “Oh, Edward,” she gushed. “I am doubly happy to see you, especially in William’s absence. We have a house full of guests, including Lady Catherine and Anne.”
“Darcy invited our aunt for Christmas?” he said incredulously.
“No. Her ladyship invited herself, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Lady Catherine visited the earl, but his lordship and the countess have traveled east to welcome the arrival of Lord Lindale’s first child.”
Edward beamed with the news. “Did you hear, Southland? I am to be an uncle. My brother Rowland’s wife is in her confinement.”
The lieutenant removed his gloves and laid them nearby. “Then it is fortuitous we did not seek Matlock. It appears your family is scattered between here and Lincolnshire, sir.”
“They are. That they are.” He smiled genuinely at Georgiana. “Come, Gentlemen. I will introduce you to Lady Catherine De Bourgh, my family’s paragon of virtue,” he said teasingly.
Georgiana fell into step beside him as they climbed the stairs. “In addition to her ladyship and Anne, the Bingleys and the Bennets are in residence,” she said softly.
“My, you do have a house full. I thought you exaggerated, Cousin. How many await me in the drawing room?” he directed Georgiana toward the open door. Kitty and the lieutenant followed, and Mr. Manneville brought up the rear. “Counting you three, we number nineteen,” she shared. “William invited the Bennets and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley as a surprise for Mrs. Darcy, but others have sought shelter at Pemberley.” Georgiana leaned against him. “Handling so many distinct personalities has been challenging.”
His finger stroked her arm. “You have performed well, Georgie. I am proud of you.”
They had reached the open door. Taking a deep breath, Georgiana glided into the room. “Look who has joined us,” she announced.
Excerpt from Chapter 16:
Without preamble, Lady Catherine stormed into the room as the couple jumped apart. Never in all her years had she expected to discover her daughter in an intimate embrace with a gentleman. She did not know whether to celebrate or stand in horror. As typical, she chose something less sedate than a celebratory moment, centering her disdain on the gentleman who had just compromised Anne. “Lieutenant.” she snarled. “Have you no principles? You will unhand my daughter immediately.” Anne took a half step toward her in the lieutenant’s defense, but her cold glare warned her daughter not to interfere. “I ask again, Lieutenant. Have you no defense for your actions?”
“Perhaps, Lady Catherine, we could all have a seat and discuss this calmly,” Elizabeth said with authority from the open doorway. With a flick of her wrist, Pemberley’s mistress sent the two maids and a footman on their way and closed the door behind her. She quickly assayed the dilemma and discovered a very flushed Anne De Bourgh standing between her mother and Edward’s aide. Immediately, she moved to defuse the situation. “Come, permit me to assist you, your ladyship.” She caught Lady Catherine’s about the waist and directed Darcy’s aunt to a nearby chair. “Allow me to pour you some sherry,” she said as she shot a pleading glance to the lieutenant to move.
Southland reacted immediately. He scurried to a nearby tray and poured a glass and handed it to Elizabeth. “Drink some of this,” Elizabeth encouraged. “It shall calm your nerves.”
Lady Catherine intoned autocratically, “I am not the type to succumb to nerves, Mrs. Darcy.”
“No one believes you are, your ladyship,” Elizabeth said softly, “but a few sips of the restorative will provide us a moment to compose our thoughts. Please do it for me.” Elizabeth knelt obediently beside Lady Catherine’s chair.
Giving the lieutenant a deathly glare, Lady Catherine reluctantly took a small sip of the potent drink.
“Thank you, your ladyship.” Elizabeth caught the woman’s hand and gave it a weak squeeze. Lady Catherine’s gaze fell on her, and for a brief moment, Elizabeth saw vulnerability.
Yet, a soft knock on the door drew their attention, and Darcy slipped into the room. Elizabeth observed the recognition in his eyes. “Mr. Nathan seemed to think her ladyship had suffered some sort of shock,” he said cautiously.
Darcy’s eyes rested on her face. He spoke of his aunt’s health, but he would take his cues from her. “A bit of an exaggeration, I fear,” Elizabeth instinctively rose and took a step toward him. It was an act of which she became conscious upon Darcy’s return to Longbourn—when he brought Bingley to Jane in order to right a wrong. Elizabeth found herself physically drawn to him. No matter when she saw him, the moment Darcy stepped into a room, she moved closer. “Her ladyship simply requires moment. Perhaps, you might escort your cousin and the lieutenant into the room next door while I see to your aunt.”
Darcy did not protest. Over the last three years, they had learned to trust each other exclusively. With a nod of understanding, he said, “Anne, might you and Lieutenant Southland join me in the yellow sitting room?” He turned to lead the way.
Anne turned to her mother. “I am sorry, your ladyship,” she whispered through silent sobs. “You must try to understand.” After a brief bow to both Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, Southland caught Anne’s elbow and escorted her from the room.
Elizabeth waited for their departure before turning to Darcy’s aunt. With a deep sigh, she pivoted, expecting to find an irate aristocrat whom must appease, but was greeted by the distraught tear-stained face of Lady Catherine, and instantly, Elizabeth felt compassion for what she suspected to be a very lonely woman. “Your ladyship,” she empathized and pulled a nearby footstool over to sit before Lady Catherine.
“Might I?” Lady Catherine held the glass for Elizabeth’s view.
She took it immediately. “Most assuredly.” Walking to the serving tray, Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder at the sunken figure resting back into the chair’s cushions. What happened to the imperious Lady Catherine? Where did all her fight go? Returning to the footstool, she sat and then eased the drink into the woman’s gnarled grasp. They sat in silence for a few minutes, before Elizabeth said, “Would you like to speak of it, your ladyship? I realize I am probably the last person with whom you would consult, but I am at your disposal. You are my husband’s aunt, and I desire only the best for you.”
Lady Catherine’s gaze returned to Elizabeth’s face. “Why would you treat me with respect? With compassion?” she murmured. “I have never treated you kindly.”
Elizabeth frowned. “We have known our contentious moments, but I understand your intensity. You wished the best for your child, and Mr. Darcy is truly the best of men. If I were to have my own child, I would fight with a similar ferocity to secure his or her future.”
Something like admiration played across the lady’s face. “I expect you would, Mrs. Darcy. You give as good as you receive. I doubt if Darcy had any idea of your tongue’s viciousness.” Lady Catherine half smiled.
“I beg to differ, your ladyship. Your nephew was on the receiving end of more than one of my barbs. I like to think my sassiness was part of my charm,” Elizabeth impishly said.
The line of Lady Catherine’s mouth tightened to hide her smile. “A certain sassiness on my sister’s part attracted his father, and I am positive Sir Lewis found it appealing.”
“I suspect you are correct,” Elizabeth said judiciously. “Therefore, although your words stung, after careful analysis, I accepted your intent. I can place those sentiments behind us if you are agreed.”
Lady Catherine’s eyebrow rose in question. “I suppose we might make the effort for Darcy’s sake.”
“Then for Mr. Darcy’s familial benefit we shall persevere,” Elizabeth said contritely. “Now, with that settled, might we address your concerns for Miss De Bourgh.”
“What is there to address? Anne must marry Edward’s aide. She has been compromised.”
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY: I have 2 eBook copies of EACH of these Christmas tales available to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Friday, December 7, 2018.[Disclaimer: IF Amazon does not approve the rerelease of “Christmas at Pemberley” by Friday, December 7, winners may choose from these Christmas-themed tales: “Mr. Darcy’s Present,” “Christmas Ever After,” or “Lady Joy and the Earl.”