I had planned to kick-off this past December with a new holiday release: a Christmas story I’d been working on for a while. Alas, it was not to be. Still, I wanted very much to keep with my commitment to offer a new release as well as treat loyal readers to a tremendous bargain, so I put together a new book bundle.
It’s titled Loving for all Seasons. Released in mid-December, Loving for all Seasons is a special limited time only collection featuring Impertinent Strangers, my number four top-seller on Amazon. The regular price of the three-book bundle represents a cost savings of over 37% on Impertinent Strangers alone.
To Refuse Such a Man is also included in the collection, along with Matter of Trust: The Shades of Pemberley. The latter of the two, while widely available at most online retailers, was previously unavailable on Amazon in eBook or print, and will no longer be available once Loving for all Seasons is removed.
Matter of Trust is one of my early stories. Like To Refuse Such a Man, it is based on a forced marriage premise. Here’s an excerpt from Matter of Trust for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Moments later, she supposed she must have conjured him up, for after she donned her bonnet and shawl and opened the door, he stood there with his hand poised to knock.
“Good morning, Miss Elizabeth. I—I … we need to talk.”
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, then quickly stepped outside and closed the door behind her. “I am inclined to agree. We need to talk, but not here. Shall we take a walk?”
“Should we not go inside first? Perhaps visit with your family?”
“Is that your wish, sir?”
“No. However, after the events of last evening, I think it is only proper that we adhere to expectations.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Darcy, after the events of last evening, it is imperative I speak with you alone.”
Darcy extended his arm. “I am your servant. Lead me and I shall follow.”
Elizabeth crumpled her brow. Was he attempting to make light of her predicament? Accepting his arm, she walked with him down the steps and along a lane leading to the large duck pond. Nobody would bother them there.
“Why did you do it, Mr. Darcy?”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Why did you tell my mama that we are to be married?”
“In light of the circumstances, I do not see that I had a choice. Your mother was on the brink of hysteria, and I cannot say that I blame her. What happened to you in the short time after I left you on the terrace? Did Wickham return? Did he assault you?”
Elizabeth looked away. “Yes, Mr. Wickham returned after you left and, well, yes—I mean no, he did not—what I mean to say is he and I—we … we had a huge difference of opinion, a misunderstanding if you will.”
“A misunderstanding?” His raised voice held a measure of astonishment laced with contempt. Startled, Elizabeth took a tiny step back.
“Miss Elizabeth, you were frantic when you ran into me. Your gown was torn, ripped at the seams, and you dare to tell me that it was a misunderstanding.”
Elizabeth walked away and stared across the pond. How could she tell him the truth? How many times had he warned her about Mr. Wickham as late as mere moments before their misunderstanding? And that is exactly what it was, a misunderstanding. Somehow she had led the gentleman to think that she would welcome his proposal, welcome his advances, when all she ever meant to do was to enjoy his company. That and rejoice in their mutual dislike of Mr. Darcy!
Elizabeth would not share her shame with Mr. Darcy. He was just the sort of man who would take pride in having been correct in warning her against Mr. Wickham. Perhaps one day she would admit her mistake, one day when she had learned to trust him … but certainly not now.
“As I said, Mr. Wickham and I suffered a misunderstanding is all.”
Darcy walked up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder. Gone was the ire. He now spoke with genuine concern. “Why are you protecting him?”
Elizabeth turned to face him. Her demeanour prickled with defiance brought on by his earlier rebuke. “The better question is, why did you say that we were to be married when you knew that whatever my dilemma, you were not to blame?”
“I have been used to cleaning up for Wickham’s misdeeds for as long as I have known him. He is a scoundrel, a reprobate. Seeing you in such a state, first amongst my thoughts was that your father would be compelled to avenge your honour or even worse, attempt to persuade the man to marry you.”
Elizabeth schooled her expression. She did not intend for him to know that he had hit upon her exact fears.
“As much as the idea of marrying Wickham might not repulse you, I can assure you that it would never have happened. That is unless you have a comfortable dowry of at least ten, or better still, twenty thousand pounds. I could not bear to watch you suffer a similar fate as so many other young ladies he has taken advantage of with promises of love and felicity, and subsequently discarded.”
“You know nothing about me, Mr. Darcy. You never once looked at me, except to find fault. Must I remind you that you thought me only tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt you?”
He shook his head. “You are mistaken. I do not look at you to find fault.” He closed what little distance there was between them. “I look at you because I admire you, and because I am attracted to you like no other woman before you.”
Darcy took Elizabeth’s hand. “I ask you to forgive me for my careless remark at the assembly. You are the handsomest woman of my acquaintance.
“As regards your first accusation that I do not know you, I am guilty as charged. You and I do not know each other as well as we should; however, all that will change.”
Elizabeth withdrew her hand. “I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage, sir, for I have never supposed myself to be particularly attracted to you, and I have certainly never done anything to garner your good opinion.”
“And yet you have my good opinion, and I am fairly certain that it is only a matter of time before you admit that you are indeed attracted to me.”
“Mr. Darcy, I think you are mistaking me for Miss Bingley.”
“No, you are mistaken. Miss Bingley epitomises all that I disdain in a woman with her constant fawning and simpering. Whereas you, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, amaze me and always leave me guessing what you will do or say next.”
Holding his hands loosely behind his back, Darcy said, “Come, Miss Elizabeth, we are to be man and wife. Surely there must be something you like about me.”
“You are not my cousin—Mr. Collins. In fact, you are nothing like him. That speaks highly in your favour.”
“Such a comparison as that is hardly a compliment. I say that with certainty after having been forced to make his acquaintance last evening.”
Elizabeth suffered embarrassment akin to that at the ball when her cousin had the audacity to approach Mr. Darcy and introduce himself. “So, it is commendations you seek.”
“Exactly—I expressed my deep admiration for you. You ought to remark on what a loyal friend I am and how I would do anything in the world for those who mean most to me.”
“There is that, I suppose.”
“I do not mean to make light of our situation. The road ahead will be fraught with difficulties. There is the matter of your family, your lack of fortune and low connections. Truth be told, my own family will deem our marriage abhorrent. However, I shall not let their sentiments dissuade me. From this day forth, I commit myself to you. I shall do all I can to tolerate your relations as we spend time together over the coming weeks, or months even, should you desire a long-drawn-out engagement period.”
Tolerate! Not that again. Was it too late to accept her cousin? “Heaven forbid that you should find my family wholly intolerable,” she said.
“I knew you would understand my predicament.”
Elizabeth held her tongue. It would not do to argue with Mr. Darcy—certainly not on the first day of their engagement. The notion of killing him with kindness was now infinitely more appealing to her.
She smiled wryly. “Speaking of my family, perhaps it is time we return to the house. I imagine everyone, especially Mama, is eager to enjoy your company.”
“Must we? I rather enjoy this time alone with you. This has been an unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise.” Darcy reached out and tucked an errant curl behind her ear.
His affectionate gesture caught her quite by surprise. For a moment, Elizabeth’s spirits rose to playfulness. “Indeed. However, tolerance is often something that comes about with repetition, and I would not wish to deny you any opportunity to practise.”
How’s that for an auspicious start to an engagement? Have your share in the conversation. Comment below with your thoughts on forced marriage scenarios.
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