Foiled Elopement is our latest Pride and Prejudice variation. Much of the action takes place at an inn we call the Sleeping Cat. I did not tell my co-author, Summer Hanford, that I gave it that name because she has cats, but she will proof read this and learn it then. Summer put a picture of a sleeping cat on our front cover as well as a sign for the Sleeping Cat inn on the back cover of our paper book. We considered using a different sign for the inn, and even had people vote on it. The vote was overwhelmingly for the one we used, but here is the other one as well. The Sleeping Cat is an inn a few hours south of Gretna Green.
Before the start of the story, Elizabeth visited Mr. Bennet’s sister in Scotland and is traveling in the company of Mr., Mrs., and Miss Muir, who are friends of Elizabeth’s London relatives. The Muirs have stopped at the Sleeping Cat for the night and are entertaining themselves before going to bed. Elizabeth noticed Georgiana and Mr. Wickham enter the inn. (Foiled Elopement is Available on Amazon by clicking here)
Excerpt: At the Sleeping Cat Inn
The instrument recalled to mind the sheaves of music Elizabeth had with her and how long it had been since she’d practiced. Her aunt, once an accomplished player, had no access to a pianoforte. As a parting gift, she’d given Elizabeth much of her sheet music, lovingly kept these many years. Ascending the steps to the room she would share with Miss Muir, Elizabeth wondered if the nearly empty common room would afford her the opportunity to play.
Once in their room, Miss Muir gave every indication of being over her pique as she and Elizabeth readied for dinner. When they headed back down, it was with the appearance of being cheerful companions. This lasted until after dinner, when she turned to Elizabeth with a guarded expression.
“I thought I might retrieve the playing cards,” Miss Muir said, eyeing Elizabeth meaningfully. “Would anyone be up for a hand or two?”
Elizabeth recognized the look and knew what was required of her. “No, thank you. I believe I shall attempt the pianoforte, if the innkeeper agrees. I’m going to fetch the sheet music my aunt gave me. Shall I bring you the cards?”
“That would be very kind,” Miss Muir said, looking relieved.
Elizabeth excused herself to retrieve the music and deck, hearing Mr. Muir call for his footman as she headed up the steps toward her room. She considered herself perfectly adept at whist, but wasn’t up to the standards of the Muirs and their footman. When Elizabeth joined them, Mr. and Mrs. Muir always insisted she partner Miss Muir, citing age. With the less skillful Elizabeth on her side, Miss Muir was hard pressed to win against her parents. They didn’t play for money, but took the activity very seriously. Elizabeth knew where she wasn’t required. Far from resentful, she was relieved for the excuse to spend a small amount of time on her own.
Returning to the common room, Elizabeth deposited the cards with the Muirs and went to speak with the innkeeper, a Mr. Buchanan, who stood behind the brightly polished bar. Neat rows of glasses and tankards lined the shelves beyond him, along with some choice liquor. He had an apron tied round his waist and a white cloth draped over his shoulder. All in all, Elizabeth felt the recommendation of the Sleeping Cat to be a good one. It was a clean, pleasant inn.
Mr. Buchanan offered a friendly smile as she approached. “What can I do for you, Miss Bennet?”
“I was wondering if I might play your pianoforte,” she said, gesturing toward the wall where the instrument stood, near the table occupied by the couple. She held up the sheet music. “I’m afraid there’s little here I know, but much of it looks simple enough to learn quickly.”
“Of course, Miss. It would be a delight, I’m certain.”
“Thank you, sir, and the moment you realize it is not a delight, be sure to approach me. I shouldn’t wish to drive off your customers.”
“Oh, I hardly think you’re in danger of that.”
Elizabeth retired to the bench to sort through the music. Selecting a simple piece, she tested the keys. She was pleased to find the instrument mostly in tune.
The piece she’d selected, like all of the offerings that weren’t church music, was one popular in her aunt’s youth. Elizabeth played it haltingly at first, running through it once quietly. She played it again, in better time. She began a third pass in full time and gave the pianoforte its voice.
“I want to go home,” the young woman seated at the table near the pianoforte whispered, likely thinking Elizabeth couldn’t hear her over the music.
“Georgiana, your home is with me.” The man’s voice was a mixture of ingratiating and demanding. “As soon as I get your dowry, I’ll buy you a home. With thirty thousand pounds, I’ll buy you two if you like.”
“I don’t want you to buy me a home. I want to go back to mine.” The girl sounded on the verge of weeping. “I should never have agreed to run off. Mr. Greyson was right about you.”
“You’re art instructor?” The man spoke with derision. “A gentleman who would give up his place in society to instruct witless, spoiled girls? I find it difficult to believe he could be right about anything.”
“Well, he was right about you. He said you were dangerous to me.”
The man snorted. “And I suppose you think he was right when he said you have real talent, too? He’s no different than I am, saying what you want to hear to get his coin. Listen to me, Sweetie, for this is the truth.” His voice was low, almost menacing. “The only thing dangerous to you would be leaving me.”
Elizabeth finished the song. Instead of playing it a fourth time, she switched to one she knew well enough that she didn’t need music or even thought. She realized she was doing precisely what she’d condemned the Muirs for, eavesdropping, but any care she had for her pride in the matter was being rapidly replaced by worry for the girl, Georgiana, seated behind her.
“I don’t want to marry you anymore,” Georgiana whispered. “You’re unkind to me.”
“If you don’t marry me, you are ruined.” He sounded smug.
“I don’t care. Take me home. My brother will take care of me.” From Georgiana’s voice, Elizabeth wouldn’t be surprised if she turned to find the girl’s face streaked with tears.
“Maybe. I’m sure he’ll see you won’t starve.” The man’s words were clipped, his voice cold. “But you know how proud he is. You know how he’ll look at you after what you’ve done. Likely as not, he’ll shut you away in some little cottage with a caretaker who will insist you spend your days in prayer. You will be a shameful secret to him for the remainder of your life.”
In the silence that followed his words, Elizabeth thought she heard muffled sobs.
“Or you could stay with me.” His tone was coaxing. “If you’d be a bit more accommodating, I could teach you how fun life can be, Sweetie.”
“No. I . . . I don’t want to do that again.”
“But you did it once.” His voice was very low. Elizabeth had to remind herself to keep playing. “And once is all it takes. You have spent your greatest gift, your virtue. Even more, you know you could be with child. Do you really want your child to be a bastard?”
“No.” Elizabeth barely made out that whispered reply.
“Think on it, Sweetie. I’m not going to take you home. I worked too hard to get you for that. If you have your head on right, I’m sure you’ll realize you’re better off with me.”
“My brother won’t lock me away or be ashamed of me. He loves me.”
“More than he loves his pride?”
Silence met his question. Elizabeth wondered at this brother, and which of the two spoke the truth. Georgiana was obviously naive, but equally obvious was that her companion was cruel.
“Dry your face. You’re hideous like that,” the man said abruptly. “I’m going to see if I can find some fun, somewhere away from your maudlin looks. There’s a group playing cards over there and I fancy a few extra coins. If you don’t want to start behaving like a dutiful wife, you can spend the night in the common room, for all I care. When you realize you are alone, friendless, and without money, you’ll get on the stage with me tomorrow. In fact, if you did have any money, I’d wager five pounds you’ll be in our room, in bed, waiting for me, before I’m in for the night.”
Elizabeth heard the scrape of his chair as he got up. Behind her, Georgiana heaved quiet, muffled sobs. Elizabeth’s heart went out to this girl, hardly more than a child, who’d obviously been seduced for her dowry. She kept playing, but she turned her head half-toward Georgiana.
“Miss Georgiana?” Elizabeth said in a soft voice. “Perhaps you would like to sit with me. I don’t know if you play, but one of the pieces I have is a duet.”
The girl looked up, surprise clear in her red-rimmed eyes.
“I couldn’t help overhearing. You don’t have to be friendless and alone. I may be able to help.”
What do you think? Was Elizabeth brave or foolish to embroil herself in Miss Darcy’s troubles?
Now, for the GIVEAWAY! To celebrate Foiled Elopement, we’re giving away two Kindle copies!
To enter, just comment below. The GIVEAWAY will end at midnight EST on Wednesday, July 12th, 2017. Winners will be announced on Saturday, the July 15th.