Just in time for the holidays, I have just released a new audiobook version of Christmas at Darcy House! In celebration of the release, I am giving away a free copy (details below).
I hope you enjoy this excerpt from the beginning of Christmas at Darcy House:
When Bingley opened the door to his home, however, Darcy’s hopes of escaping the man’s sister were immediately dashed. Miss Bingley’s nasal voice blared into the hallway from the adjoining drawing room, although it was impossible to discern the words.
“Dash it all!” Bingley exclaimed. “Caroline and Louisa have guests. If I do not say hello, they will give me no end of grief about it.”
Darcy sighed. It would be the height of bad manners not to accompany his host in to greet his sisters and whatever guests had arrived. “Of course.”
The drawing room was inhabited by women, who all rose and curtsied when the men entered. Darcy and Bingley both bowed. Darcy first noticed Bingley’s sisters, Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley. The third woman was a bit older and unknown to him. The fourth woman…
The fourth woman was Elizabeth Bennet.
By some sort of alchemy, the sight of her instantly extracted all the air from his lungs. His breathing ceased altogether, and it was possible his heart stopped beating as well. He knew, somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind, that a civil greeting was called for. But the entire English language appeared to have deserted him.
Fortunately, Bingley was not stricken with the same affliction. “Miss Bennet!” he cried, a broad smile on his face. “I did not know you were in London!” Good Lord, Darcy thought. If Bingley were a puppy, he would lick her face.
“I arrived but three days ago,” Elizabeth replied with a smile that was far more reserved. “I am in London to celebrate the Christmas season with my aunt and uncle.” She gestured to the older woman. “This is my aunt, Madeline Gardiner.”
“I am delighted to make your acquaintance,” Bingley said. Darcy gave her a nod as she repeated the sentiment. She was not ill-favored and was dressed in a very genteel manner, quite different from the garish costumes Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters favored.
“The Gardiner family lives on Gracechurch Street, in Cheapside,” Miss Bingley drawled. Mrs. Gardiner flushed, and Elizabeth’s expression darkened. Had the entire conversation been like this? If so, Darcy was amazed they had not drawn knives already.
“Tell me,” Bingley hastily addressed Elizabeth, “did you arrive in London alone? Did not Ja—any of your sisters accompany you?”
A flash in Elizabeth’s eyes showed she had noticed Bingley’s slip. “Unfortunately, I am quite alone. Jane was to have accompanied me, but she had a fall the day before and was unable to come.”
“A fall!” The alarm on Bingley’s face suggested he was prepared to ride for Longbourn that instant.
Elizabeth’s intent scrutiny of Bingley was at odds with the light tone of her voice. “Nothing of great import. She slipped on the stairs and sprained an ankle, but the apothecary wants her to stay off her feet for a week or so. She was sorry to miss the chance to visit.”
Bingley’s face had gone quite pale. “Please give her my best wishes for a quick recovery.” Elizabeth nodded.
“How distressing!” Miss Bingley exclaimed. “I hope it will not hinder her fine dancing.”
Mrs. Hurst snickered. Jane Bennet was not terribly light on her feet, and the Netherfield drawing room had witnessed many derisive comments to that effect.
Elizabeth eyed the two women narrowly. “I should not think so. She is always sought as a dancing partner.”
That was true, Darcy reflected. The woman was quite pretty and had an amiable temperament; he believed she had not sat out one dance in the time he was in Hertfordshire.
Bingley bounced on his feet, again resembling a restless puppy. “I pray you, give her—er, your family—my regards.”
“I shall,” Elizabeth promised with a knowing smile. If only her eyes would sparkle at me like that! Although then it would be impossible not to kiss her. And the curls curving around her neck…
“Shall I also give them your regards?” After a moment Darcy realized Elizabeth addressed him, an impish smile on her face—teasing him once more.
“By all means,” he replied.
The women seated themselves again. Bingley hovered anxiously near the doorway, and Darcy with him. Now would be the perfect time for the men to take their leave, but Bingley obviously wished to stay and learn more about the happenings in Hertfordshire.
Ordinarily Darcy would have been eager to continue with their plans, but Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes drew his gaze like a lodestone. Over the past month he had convinced himself that he had exaggerated her beauty in his memory. That distance and separation would lessen his ardor for the woman. Now he was dismayed to discover he was wrong.
Bingley inquired about a mutual acquaintance. Elizabeth replied, and a conversation was engaged that required the two men to take seats in the drawing room. Miss Bingley made a sour face—she was eager to separate her brother from any of the Bennet family—but Darcy could not have been more pleased.
Elizabeth’s dark curls, her delicate lips, her light and pleasing figure—everything about her was as uniformly charming as always. Not only could Darcy fail to remove his eyes from her person, but he also found himself wishing she would occasionally glance at him instead of Bingley.
Naturally, she is looking at Bingley; they are conversing about events in Hertfordshire, and she would like to secure him for her sister. But this awareness did not help to dispel Darcy’s disquiet over her persistent attentions to his friend.
Evidently Miss Bingley was also discomfited by the conversation, for she inserted herself into it rather abruptly. “How fortunate you are, Miss Bennet, to be in London during Christmastide. It is delightful. December in Hertfordshire, I would imagine, is rather…brown.”
Elizabeth blinked. Between one moment and the next anger glinted in her eyes. Miss Bingley remained oblivious, but Darcy recognized the danger.
“Is that why your party departed from Netherfield so suddenly?” Elizabeth asked in a deceptively innocent tone. “It was excessively brown for your tastes?”
Bingley had already given his sister a quelling glare over her snide tone; now he hastened to respond. “No. Of course not! I-I simply had pressing business back here in town.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I hope it was concluded satisfactorily?”
Bingley relaxed into his chair, believing the disaster averted. “It was.”
Oh no. Bingley cannot see the trap she laid for him. “Then we shall expect the pleasure of your company back at Netherfield soon?” Bingley appeared to choke on his tongue, and his sister’s face turned an unbecoming shade of purple.
She knows. She knows there was something behind our departure beyond the all-purpose excuse of “business.” Darcy should be chagrined that his party had been caught being less than correct. He should be appalled that Elizabeth was drawing attention to it.
Instead, he experienced an obscure sense of pride. In effect, she had forced Bingley to admit they had lied, twisting the knife effortlessly. Even Caroline Bingley could not best Elizabeth at this game.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY. I am giving away a free audiobook copy of Christmas at Darcy House for a winner randomly chosen from those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST, Tuesday, December 10. The winners will be announced the weekend of December 14-15. Good Luck!