Readers who are already familiar with my current work in progress may recall how I was uncertain what to call it. I went back and forth between Most Ardently, Most Unknowingly in Love and Most Ardently, Most Unconsciously in Love for a while. Thanks to a comment from a Facebook JAFF friend, I have settled on the former. The story follows canon to the point where Miss Bennet goes to Netherfield and falls ill. Things heat up rather quickly for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth soon after. If you read and enjoyed A Night with Mr. Darcy to Remember, you’re going to love this novel-length story. If, on the other hand, you read A Night with Mr. Darcy to Remember and believed its premise to be beyond the bounds of credulity, well … the cover says it all. I’m pretty sure this particular cover will not pass the Amazon AMS Ads test, which means the Amazon eBook cover likely will be tweaked a bit.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2:
Although Jane was sure she had imposed on their generous hospitality long enough, especially with her falling ill on the heels of her arrival, her new friends, the Bingley sisters, were ever so cordial toward her as well as accommodating. On that particular evening, the ladies were visiting Jane in her room. Their reasoning had been that as long as Jane could not come to them, then they would gladly go to her.
When it was mentioned that the gentlemen were once again dining with the officers, Miss Bingley expressed her doubts. “I suspect that gambling, drinking port, and smoking cigars are truly the order of the evening.”
Mrs. Hurst nodded her head. “Of that, there can be no doubt, but you know our brother, Charles. He is always just as eager to part with his money as he is to give away his heart. I declare I have never met another young man who is always falling in love wherever he goes.”
Jane could only wonder if her friend’s assertion was meant for her. She was silent.
The younger sister said, “Oh! You will get no argument from me on that score. One would think our dear brother would follow Mr. Darcy’s lead. He never allows his head to be turned.” Here she smirked. “Not even by a pair of fine eyes,” she concluded. Placing her hand on Jane’s, she said, “My brother likes you, but I would not read too much into his affections if I were you. Charles is of an age where his acquaintances are always increasing. He is always falling in love with one young lady or another, but I can say with certainty that his constancy is just as lasting as a drop of rain. I suspect there is but one young lady of his acquaintance capable of garnering truly lasting regard in my brother’s eyes.”
“It is a good thing Miss Darcy is as constant as she is, else my brother might be in grave danger of losing her heart.”
Here, Jane could no longer hold her tongue. “Miss Darcy?”
The elder sister nodded. “Yes, Miss Georgiana Darcy. I really do not think she has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments, and the affection she inspires in my sister and me is heightened into something still more interesting. Whenever we are all together either at Pemberley or in London, it is all our brother can do not to admire her. We can scarcely wait until we can call her our sister.”
As this was Mrs. Hurst speaking and not Miss Bingley, who was wont to embellish, Jane could not help but feel ill.
This, the younger woman detected. “Dearest, Miss Bennet, you look ill. I hope it is not because of what we are discussing. We were both of the opinion you knew that Miss Darcy and Charles are destined to be married.”
She reached for the glass of water on Jane’s bedside table, no doubt intending to offer it to her guest, but Jane declined the gesture with a slight wave of her hand.
Miss Bingley continued, “Why! It is the favorite wish of both our families! Everyone who knows us knows it to be true.” She looked at her sister. “Is that not correct, Louisa?”
“It is indeed,” Mrs. Hurst replied, standing. “But perhaps we should not have said a word. Poor, Miss Bennet, you really do look ill.” She turned to her sister. “Come, Caroline, let us leave our guest to rest. I fear we have prevailed on her long enough.”
Caroline Bingley stood, “Of course! Pray accept our apologies if we caused you any distress, my dearest Miss Bennet. I assure you it was unconsciously done. Oh! Do get some rest. I am sure you will feel much better tomorrow.”
After furtive glances on both their parts, the Bingley sisters took their leave.
For the first time in her life, Jane was almost tempted to think meanly of someone. Such a sentiment was fleeting, however, for why would Mr. Bingley’s sisters wish to injure her with speculation and innuendo? No—if both sisters agreed that an alliance between their brother and Miss Darcy was destined, then surely it must be more than wishful thinking. Surely it must be true.
Oh, why on earth did I allow myself to be cast into such a situation as this – a young woman from a small country estate entail away from the female line and from a family with no fortune and no connections dare not stand a chance against the likes of Miss Darcy.
Jane buried her head beneath the covers. I do not know that I have been so embarrassed in all my life.
The notion that she had somehow been complicit in her mother’s matchmaking scheme could not help but bolster her self-recriminations. Lizzy would never have allowed Mama to send her on such a foolish endeavor. Nor would Miss Georgiana Darcy behave so recklessly, I am sure.
Jane fought the urge to cry, for she was sure she was half in love with Mr. Bingley already.
It had been years since she had allowed herself to entertain such fanciful notions – not since the young man from town had shown more than a passing fancy in her. He even wrote her a nice poem.
In truth, Jane could barely recall the amiable young man’s name. She surely had no recollection of how he looked. But as for his poem—those words she would never forget:
What more does the heart of mortal man desire?
But to admire. But to yearn.
But to love and to be loved in return.
Alas, nothing came of it. Before that, Jane and her sister Elizabeth had sworn to each other that nothing, other than the deepest love, would tempt them to marry. Such sentiments she had long since buried in the wake of the young man’s defection only to have them resurface once more and at a time when – according to the Bingley sisters, all hope must surely be in vain.
The tears she had been holding back flooded Jane’s eyes, and she cried and cried until she fell asleep.
Seeing Miss Jane Bennet outside her apartment at that hour of the night wandering the halls of Netherfield was a cause for considerable alarm for the amiable master of the house, Mr. Bingley. He hurried to her side. A closer view gave the young man even more reason for concern. From the looks of things, the young woman was in no state to be wandering about outside her room. Her complexion was pale, and her countenance was sickly. He had to admit that he had not expected her to look that way. In his eyes, she was the loveliest woman in the whole world. At that moment, she seemed like the most helpless young woman in the entire world.
“Pardon me, Miss Bennet,” Bingley said, catching her attention. Jane ceased ambling along the corridor, braced her hand against the wall for support, and turned to look at him. Her angelic eyes bore a muddled mixture of embarrassment and confusion.
“Mr. Bingley,” she replied in a low, sickly voice. Jane covered her mouth with her other hand and started to cough into her handkerchief. This only served to alarm the gentleman even more than he had been previously alarmed in seeing her outside her room, wandering the halls. The house had settled for the evening long ago. No one ought to be awake at such an hour, not even a footman.
Mr. Bingley thinking Miss Bennet might be unable to bear her own weight amid the onslaught of her incessant coughing placed his arm about her shoulder, trying to offer her some support and much-needed assistance. “You must allow me to aid you in returning to your room,” he said. “You do not look well, and I fear you might collapse right here in the hallway.”
“My sister,” Jane said. She averted her eyes to the end of the hallway to where Elizabeth had said she was staying. “I was hoping to see my sister. I need her.”
The young man nodded, somewhat appeasingly and somewhat concerned. “And I shall make sure that she is aware that you would like to see her,” Mr. Bingley responded to Miss Bennet’s plea, even though he was not sure how he would do so at that hour. The thought that he might prevail on his sister Caroline at such a time as this entered his mind and quieted his concerns.
“But first, we must attend to your safety, which means you must return to your room.”
Jane shook her head as best she could. “No, sir,” she began. “I cannot impose on you in this way. I fear I have inconvenienced you and your sisters long enough. However, you are correct. I ought not to be out of bed so soon. I fear I overestimated myself. If you see that my sister Lizzy is aware of my urgent desire to see her, then I shall be in your debt. As for returning to my room, I shall manage on my own.”
“Are you certain you can manage on your own? I assure you it is no trouble. It pains me to see you in such a state when I can rectify it in a matter of minutes.”
“No—again, I cannot ask such a thing of you.”
“If that is truly your desire, then I have no choice other than to oblige,” he said, allowing his arm to fall to his side, albeit reluctantly.
Jane tried to smile. “You are very kind, sir.”
“If it is all the same to you, I think I shall walk along beside you until you are safely inside your room, and then I shall have your sister summoned to your side.”
Bingley was nothing if not kind and considerate of others. There really was nothing he would not do to help someone in need. He would even behave recklessly or without concern for consequences—he would do whatever needed to be done. These particular aspects of his character were but some of the many things that made the young man so endearing.
Once alone in her room, Jane’s first impulse was to chastise herself for her haste in wanting to see Elizabeth to confide in her what Mr. Bingley’s sisters had been going on and on about earlier that evening.
What was I thinking? It is not in my nature to behave so recklessly. Vanity was not in her nature either, yet Jane could not help but glance in the mirror out of concern for how she must have looked to Mr. Bingley.
She shuddered at this picture of herself. Her unkempt hair. Her pale, sickly complexion. Her loosely tied robe. What was I thinking in chancing that anyone would see me this way? Especially Mr. Bingley.
She certainly admired Mr. Bingley for his kind-heartedness and his unwavering goodness. She, too, had a penchant for putting the needs of others before her own needs, which is why she was immediately sensitive of how Mr. Bingley’s coming to her service at that hour and under such circumstances as those the two of them were facing might be perceived by someone bent on misinterpreting purely innocent gestures.
On the other hand, Mr. Bingley’s accompanying her to her apartment was anything but appropriate and therefore was not innocent. Young men did not escort single women to their apartments at any hour. To do so would be to compromise the young lady’s reputation—the retribution of which could be any number of undesirable consequences – one such consequence being a forced marriage between the two parties.
Jane liked Mr. Bingley too much to see him be forced to endure such a fate. Now, safely back in her own bed under her own volition, she whispered a silent prayer that her late-night chance encounter in the hallway with Mr. Bingley had gone undetected.
Want to know what led to this point in the story? Wondering what Elizabeth was up to while all this was unfolding with Jane? Find out more when you read the free posts on my Patreon page, where I am sharing the story as it unfolds.
Speaking of my Patreon page, a new more economical patron tier has been added. The other three tiers’ benefits have been greatly enhanced as a result, including a Winter Holidays Mystery Gift Box that I’m very excited about.
Don’t forget to check my Patreon page for details.
The target release of Most Ardently, Most Unknowingly in Love is late June 2020. Fingers crossed! Leave a comment for a chance to win a release day eBook edition. One copy will be given away to the winner. In the meantime, the winner will be awarded an eBook edition of either A Night with Mr. Darcy to Remember or the winner’s choice. The giveaway contest ends Tuesday, June 2, 2020.