Happy New Year to everyone! However and wherever you celebrate the advent of 2020, I hope you are having a good time. At the time of this writing, I’m still not sure what our New Year’s Eve plans will be (although I keep hoping for an invitation to the party at the end of When Harry Met Sally 🙂).
I did have a lovely Christmas with my family—fairly stress-free. And I’m hoping for the same for everyone else. I have a tendency to overdo it on the Christmas decorations, particularly the ornaments, but it makes me happy.
If you’re still hanging on to the Christmas spirit and resisting the onset of January (like I am), you can purchase a double feature of my two Christmas stories—Christmas at Darcy House and A Very Darcy Christmas— in one volume. If you don’t already own my Christmas stories, you can buy both for the price of one. Both are also available separately as paperbacks and Christmas at Darcy House is also available as an audiobook.
Below is an excerpt from Christmas at Darcy House. Enjoy!
Mr. Darcy hopes Christmastime will help him to forget the pair of fine eyes that he left behind in Hertfordshire. When Elizabeth Bennet appears unexpectedly in London, Darcy decides to keep his distance, resolved to withstand his attraction to her. But when he learns that Wickham is threatening to propose to Elizabeth, Darcy faces a crisis.
For her part, Elizabeth does not understand why the unpleasant master of Pemberley insists on dancing with her at the Christmas ball or how his eyes happen to seek her out so often. She enjoys Mr. Wickham’s company and is flattered when he makes her an offer of marriage. On the other hand, Mr. Darcy’s proposal is unexpected and unwelcome. But the more Elizabeth learns of Mr. Darcy, the more confused she becomes—as she prepares to make the most momentous decision of her life.
It’s a Yuletide season of love and passion as your favorite characters enjoy Christmas at Darcy House!
Darcy followed the maid down the narrow hallway to the drawing room. She opened the door and announced, “Mr. Darcy, ma’am,” before withdrawing and allowing Darcy to enter the room.
His eyes immediately fell upon the male visitor, and he realized he had been far from imagining the worst.
His arrival had interrupted a scene of some mirth. Wickham was grinning while Elizabeth giggled, and Mrs. Gardiner had her hand over her mouth as if to suppress laughter. When Darcy stepped into the room, the merriment quickly died away.
The other man raised his eyes slowly to meet Darcy’s, a smirk forming on his lips. “Darcy,” he drawled.
“Wickham.” Darcy bit off the word.
Everyone stood to exchange an awkward series of bows and curtsies. Darcy seated himself in the closest available chair, which happened to be opposite Wickham’s. Unfortunately, the other man was also adjacent to the settee where Elizabeth and her aunt were situated. How did Wickham come to be in London? Why was he visiting Elizabeth? Was he actively courting her? Darcy’s breakfast sat like a lump of lead in his stomach.
He could not forget Elizabeth’s disappointment that Wickham had not attended the Netherfield Ball and her spirited defense of him during the dancing. The conversation had caused Darcy twinges of anxiety, but he had comforted himself that her meager dowry kept her safe from Wickham’s depredations. In perpetual want of money, the man would never pursue a poor woman.
And yet here he was.
“I was not aware you were in town,” Darcy said pointedly.
Wickham gave him a lazy smile. “I have a fortnight’s leave for Christmas and thought I would visit some friends here in London.” In other words, he was in town to gamble. “I would not have expected to see you in Gracechurch Street.”
Darcy stiffened. “I am on good terms with the Bennet family,” he said sharply. “And I made Mrs. Gardiner’s acquaintance yesterday.”
“This is my third visit,” Wickham smirked. “The Gardiners are most charming hosts.”
Three visits already? Perhaps he was courting Elizabeth. The room was too warm and too close. Sweat dampened the back of Darcy’s cravat, and he tugged to loosen it. It was unfair that providence had gifted Wickham with such pleasing manners and easy ways with people. He readily formed friendships while Darcy struggled simply to say appropriate words in social situations.
Mrs. Gardiner cleared her throat. “Mr. Wickham and I both spent our childhoods near Lambton, in Derbyshire.”
Darcy suppressed a desire to shout that he knew very well where Lambton was.
“We have many acquaintances in common,” she continued. Darcy no doubt had acquaintances in common with Mrs. Gardiner as well; unfortunately, they most likely took the form of having patronized the shops that members of her family operated. How have I arrived at this pass? His feelings for Elizabeth had brought him so low that he was beginning to regret his superior birth.
“I grew up at Pemberley,” Darcy said.
The older woman’s eyes grew wide. “Oh…Darcy! I should have realized—!” She turned to her niece. “You neglected to inform me that the Mr. Darcy of your acquaintance was Mr. Darcy of Pemberley!”
Elizabeth’s expression revealed no chagrin. “I did not realize you would know the name, Aunt.”
So she had rarely discussed Darcy with her aunt, and yet Wickham arrived for frequent visits. Darcy had the distinct impression he was losing a footrace he had not known he was running.
For the rest of the visit, Darcy remained an outsider. Elizabeth knew how Wickham liked his tea. Mrs. Gardiner inquired after his cousin’s health. Wickham referred to incidents which had occurred at Longbourn after Darcy had left for London.
Darcy made only occasional forays into the conversation, but his subjects were not taken up by the others. In desperation, he blurted out an invitation for Elizabeth to join him for a curricle ride through London.
She blinked at him, a faint line forming between her brows. “I thank you for your most generous offer, Mr. Darcy. But I fear I might be contracting a cold and do not believe it would be prudent for me to remain outside for great lengths of time.”
“Of course,” Darcy murmured while Wickham smirked. “Another time perhaps.”
Nevertheless, Darcy refused to quit the drawing room and leave Wickham in possession of the battlefield. To do so would not only admit defeat but would also leave Elizabeth unprotected from the other man’s whims. As a result, both men stayed quite a bit longer than was customary. Finally, Mrs. Gardiner announced she felt a headache developing; both Darcy and Wickham regarded that as an invitation to depart.
Darcy preceded Wickham out of the door but did not mount his curricle. Instead, as the other man exited the house, Darcy caught him by the elbow and hissed in his ear. “Lovely day for a walk. Shall we?” With a jerk of his arm, he forced Wickham along the footpath beside the road.
“Whatever is the matter, Darcy?” Wickham grinned lazily. “Are you feeling neglected?”
Darcy’s free hand curled into a fist, but he forced it to remain at his side. “What are you playing at with Elizabeth Bennet?”
“Playing at?” Wickham said with affected innocence. “I enjoy her company.”
“So you are courting her,” Darcy said from behind clenched teeth.
“What is it to you if I am?”
Stopping abruptly, Darcy spun the other man about to face him. “She has no dowry to speak of. You could not possibly be interested in more than a dalliance.”
Wickham put his hand to his heart. “Do you think me so mercenary as all that, Darcy? I am insulted, sir!”
Darcy’s patience had worn out. He held Wickham in place with a hand on his shoulder and stared fiercely into the other man’s eyes. “If you hurt her—or her family—in any way, I will make sure you suffer for it.”
“I have the greatest admiration for Miss Bennet and have no intention of harming her.” The sincerity of his words was belied by his noxious smirk.
Darcy shook the other man by the shoulder. “I am not making an idle threat.”
Wickham shrugged. “I have debts, Darcy. I may be forced to flee London. If I do so, I might prefer some company.” He winked.
Darcy’s fist raised, but he managed not to strike the other man. How can he think such despicable things about Elizabeth? How can he be so disgustingly cavalier about her virtue? “She would never join you,” he hissed.
Wickham eyed Darcy sardonically. “If you say so… Then you have no cause for anxiety.” He flung off Darcy’s arm. “I suppose time will tell.” After flashing Darcy a knowing grin, the other man hurried away. Darcy did not stop him.
He stood in the pathway, clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to get his ragged breathing under control. Damnation! I have tipped my hand. Wickham is not stupid. The officer recognized Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth.
But Wickham’s presence at the Gardiners’ had taken Darcy by surprise. The officer was more than capable of continuing to pursue Elizabeth just to spite Darcy. Wickham had no true feelings for her, and he had no intention of proposing marriage, but his presence could impede Darcy’s plans with Elizabeth.
Not that I have any such plans, of course. I am simply being friendly.
Still, how could he protect Elizabeth from Wickham? Darcy envisioned various schemes involving bodyguards or Bow Street Runners watching the Gardiners’ house, but they were impractical and unlikely to succeed without Elizabeth’s cooperation.
There was nothing for it, he concluded reluctantly. He must tell Elizabeth why Wickham was unsuitable company. Hesitant to spread gossip and unaware of which lies Wickham had told Elizabeth, Darcy had refrained from speaking of the matter before. But now it appeared to be the only way to protect her.