My latest novel, Christmas at Darcy House, should be available on Amazon by the end of this week. Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the book to whet your appetite!
Mr. Darcy believes Christmastime in London will allow him to forget a certain pair of fine eyes that he left behind in Hertfordshire. But then Elizabeth Bennet appears in town, and Darcy realizes his attraction to her is inescapable. Unfortunately, Wickham is also in London and suggesting he might propose to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth does not understand why the unpleasant master of Pemberley insists on visiting her when his distaste is so apparent. She is enjoying Mr. Wickham’s company and is flattered when he proposes. But then—much to her surprise—Mr. Darcy proposes too! Her family prefers Mr. Wickham, but Elizabeth is not sure she can trust him; and she feels a strange attraction to Mr. Darcy.
It’s a Yuletide season full of love and passion as your favorite characters enjoy Christmas at Darcy House!
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 Ja—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 a cold fury blazed in her eyes. Miss Bingley remained oblivious, but Darcy recognized the danger.
“Is that why your party departed 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 in 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.
Out of loyalty to Bingley—not to mention his own sense of self-preservation—Darcy should not have focused so much attention on Elizabeth Bennet. However, his eyes had too long been starved for the sight of her face; it was like drinking water after a long trek in the desert.
Miss Bingley had recovered a modicum of her composure. “You would not have us leave town at Christmastide, would you?”
“I understood most families preferred to be in the country at Christmas,” Elizabeth remarked with wide, seemingly innocent eyes.
Darcy experienced a sudden fit of coughing. Elizabeth was quite correct. London at yuletide was not fashionable, although enough families of the ton remained to create some society. The Bingleys no doubt would have preferred Netherfield, if not for the desire to separate Bingley from Jane Bennet.
“London has its pleasures as well at this time of year,” Miss Bingley said through gritted teeth. “There are…er…mummers, and clowns at the Drury Lane Theatre, and Astley’s Amphitheatre has a special Christmas show.”
Miss Bingley could not possibly intend to partake in any of those entertainments. Such low-brow delights were entirely beneath her notice.
“And we have been invited to any number of balls and dinners and card parties,” she concluded with a sniff to remind Elizabeth Bennet that she had not been invited to such events.
“How lovely,” Elizabeth responded brightly. “No doubt you shall pass a happy Christmastide here. Many consider the company in Hertfordshire to be quite confined and unvarying.”
Oh, that was a shot across Darcy’s bow. Her mother had taken exception when Darcy used that phrase to describe Hertfordshire. Elizabeth shot him a sly look, perhaps daring him to object, but he did not even frown at her. Instead, he was too busy suppressing a grin.
“That is not why—We did not leave because—! I found Netherfield, indeed all of Hertfordshire, quite charming,” Bingley insisted earnestly. “I am eagerly anticipating my return, even if my sisters choose not to accompany me.”
Miss Bingley narrowed her eyes at her brother but did not respond.
“We would be quite happy to see you there!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Although, of course, we would miss your sisters exceedingly.” Her tone implied the opposite. “But my whole family would be quite pleased, Mr. Bingley.” Was she deliberately leaving Darcy out of this oblique invitation? No. I am being overly sensitive. She is simply making a point to Bingley’s sisters.
“And what about you, Mr. Darcy?” Miss Bingley inquired. “No doubt you and Georgiana shall be departing for Pemberley ere long.”
Darcy had not, in fact, decided where they would pass Christmastide. Georgiana had hoped they would stay in London since some of her friends were remaining, but in general he preferred Pemberley during the holidays. London could be bleak and dirty. However, it could offer one thing that Pemberley could not: Elizabeth Bennet.
“We will be remaining in London,” Darcy heard himself say.