The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth was my very first Jane Austen variation–and I’ve written ten more since then! I had a chance to revisit my first book when I listened to the audiobook version recently. Narrator Stevie Zimmerman did a terrific job with the story (I particularly like her voice for Darcy). The audiobook was just released at Audible and Amazon. If you aren’t familiar with The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth, below is an excerpt from the beginning of the novel.
Darcy was drunk.
He was inebriated. He was soused. He was foxed.
He had imbibed too much, and he knew it. Carefully, he set his empty glass on the table only to realize he had actually set it on the air next to the table, causing it to tumble to the floor and shatter. Darcy exhaled some oaths. He thought about summoning a servant to clean up the mess, but it seemed like too much effort—and all the servants were asleep. Better to simply avoid that part of the floor until morning.
He gazed around his sumptuously appointed study: the mahogany bookshelves crowded with his favorite books, the handsome stone fireplace, two quite comfortable wingback chairs flanking the fireplace. The ancient wooden desk had been in his family for years, but it was now piled high with papers he was trying to ignore. It was a handsome room, and he loved it, but it did nothing to soften his mood.
Perhaps the room’s best feature was the crystal decanter of port resting on the shelf behind his desk. Swaying a little, he poured himself another glass and then shakily made his way back to a wingback chair. There was no fire in the grate in early June, but he found the chair more comfortable than sitting behind the desk regarding the work he should be doing.
He had started with wine at dinner and moved on to port only after Georgiana retired for the night because she should not see him like this. Of course, she would witness the aftermath in the morning, but he could pass it off as a headache. Or with luck he could sleep so late that she would be out when he arose. He drank deeply from the glass. This had become the only way he could achieve a whole night of sleep. One or two more glasses and he should be able to achieve oblivion.
But he was not there yet. He could still see Elizabeth’s fine eyes shining and imagine the exquisite texture of her dark curls…the way her mouth quirked up when she laughed. But then these images dissipated as he recalled the sound of her voice: You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it. Shaking his head, he tried to rid himself of the memory, its pain almost as fresh as the day of the disastrous proposal.
The vision of her face, white with rage, haunted him. Why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? What had possessed him? But he knew the answer. I believed I was being frank and honest with her about my misgivings, he mused bitterly. I was so proud of myself. But I never gave a thought for her sentiments. Instead he had hurt her by relating sensibilities he had better left unspoken. She was correct in refusing me, he thought desolately. I do not deserve her. This realization warranted another glass of port. This time he poured with more care, and all of the tawny liquid made it into the fine crystal glass. As he took a sip, he smiled grimly.
Suddenly, the door burst open, causing Darcy to spill port on his shirt in surprise and curse vividly, glaring at the intruder. Colonel Fitzwilliam strode nonchalantly through the door and paused to survey the scene before him. “Port? What an excellent idea!” After pouring himself a snifter, he peered dubiously at the broken glass littering the floor, cautiously walked around it, and settled comfortably in the other wingback chair next to the fireplace.
“Richard,” Darcy greeted him irritably. He had dismissed the servants specifically so no one would witness his dissipation. “I do not recall inviting you into my house or my study.”
“I have a standing invitation and a key to your house,” Richard reminded him, holding the port up to the light. “This really is excellent port. You should consume it more slowly and respectfully.”
Darcy was certain Richard had a purpose in being there at that time of night but was equally certain he did not want to know what it was. His brain moved sluggishly, and he knew he was no match for his cousin tonight. Carefully keeping his glass level, he took an unsteady step to the door, hoping—rather than believing—that his cousin would simply let him depart. “It is past time to retire. If you will excuse me…”
Richard stood in one fluid motion and blocked Darcy’s path, gently pushing and toppling him back into his chair. “What do you want, Richard?” Darcy’s voice was edged with irritation.
“This is not a simple social call, Cousin,” Richard revealed, gazing steadily at Darcy.
“Imagine my surprise.” Darcy emptied his glass in one swallow. If Richard is determined to be difficult, I am not nearly foxed enough.
“A few days ago, Georgiana asked me to talk with you. I requested that she notify me the next time you did this.” As he gestured to encompass the room, Richard’s tone was brisk and matter-of-fact.
“Georgiana?” Now Darcy was surprised. “How—?”
“You truly believe it eluded her that you get foxed several times a month?” Richard’s tone was light, but there was steel in his eyes. “She is anxious about you. Now that I see you, I am as well.”
Darcy put down his glass on a small table with a little more force than necessary. “There is nothing to be anxious about. I am perfectly fine. Leave me alone.”
Richard was undeterred, regarding his cousin skeptically. “It is nothing? Since we returned from Rosings, you have been closeting yourself in your study and stalking around the house like someone died. Georgiana tells me you refuse most invitations, never going out and barely speaking to anyone. Have you looked in the mirror, man? You seem to have aged ten years!”
Darcy felt anger rise but struggled not to lash out. His cousin deserved better. “Very well. There is something bothering me, but you can do nothing to help.” Darcy thought his voice sounded calm and controlled under the circumstances. “I would rather not discuss it.”
“I am here to listen. Sharing your troubles may lessen them.” Richard’s tone was no longer mocking.
“No.” Darcy stood again to leave.
“So I should leave Georgiana alone to cope with this?” The thought of his sister stopped Darcy cold. “I know your inebriation is not accidental.”
“No,” Darcy readily conceded. “But it is only an occasional indulgence.” Richard snorted in disbelief. Darcy’s tolerance was ebbing. “Go home. Leave me alone.” He turned to eye his cousin. “I shall be better in the future.”
“If it were simply your well-being at stake, I would not hesitate to let you stew. But unfortunately for you, I am Georgiana’s guardian as well; what affects her concerns me.” Richard poured himself another snifter of port as Darcy stumbled back to his seat, fearing he would fall over if he did not sit. He held out his glass for a refill, but Richard pushed it away.
“I hardly think my moods are within the purview of a guardian,” Darcy said acidly.
“On the contrary.” There was more anger in Richard’s tone than Darcy expected. “She is despondent over your behavior, but apparently you have not noticed. If you will not talk to me for your sake, do it for hers. Otherwise, she will persist in believing she has caused your despair.”
Now Darcy was shocked. “What? This has nothing to do with Georgiana!”
“If you confide in me, I can reassure her of that.” Richard watched his cousin closely, but Darcy fell silent. Georgiana was the one thing in his life that still mattered, his one point of vulnerability. He had believed he could keep his despondency from affecting her but was ashamed to discover how wrong he had been.
Slumping into his chair, Darcy regarded Richard through half-closed eyes, unwilling for his cousin to realize how shaken he was by the news about Georgiana. “I can see you will not grant me any peace until I have revealed all.”
“Now you are talking some sense.”
Darcy grabbed the bottle of port from the table next to Richard and quickly poured himself another glass, quelling Richard’s incipient protest with a glare. He would not tell the humiliating story without fortification. But after sipping his port, he fell silent, reluctant to relive the farce.
“Well?” Richard prompted.
“I…proposed to a woman, and she turned me down….Something many a man has had to grapple with. Not much to tell actually.” He strove to keep his tone matter-of-fact and his voice steady.
“What?” Whatever Richard had expected, it was not that. He simply stared at Darcy. “You—?”
“Yes.” Darcy found his cousin’s shock oddly disturbing, as if it confirmed the enormity of his failure.
“I cannot believe it! All of London has been holding its breath waiting to see who you will marry. For eight years, you have not favored a single woman. You have been leaving a trail of broken hearts in your wake—”
“I hardly think…”
Richard ignored his protest and barreled on. “She refused you? Who in the world would do that? Who did you propose to? A princess?”
“Believe it, there are women in England who do not care about my fortune. At least one. She refused me because she does not care for me.” She was right to do so, a voice in his head whispered.
“She does not like you? Darcy, who is this paragon who has seen through you?” Richard meant it as a light-hearted jest, but it struck Darcy to the quick. He scowled; that was exactly what Elizabeth had done.
“Does it matter?” The words came out almost as a groan. Darcy rubbed his face, realizing how tired he felt. Hopefully, Richard would leave soon so he could stumble up to his bedchamber.
“Yes, because I am dying of curiosity.” Richard sat up straighter in his chair.
“I think I would rather let you perish.” Darcy no longer attempted to conceal his irritation.
“Wait, is this Miss Bennet we are discussing?”
Darcy sighed. “Yes.”
“I noticed you were in a foul mood when we departed Rosings, but I believed that was because you wanted her but thought she was beneath you.” Richard’s teasing tone disappeared, apparently sensing how seriously Darcy took this situation.
“It appears I am beneath her.” Darcy gave a mirthless smile.
“Come, it cannot possibly be that dire. I know she found pleasure in matching wits with you at Rosings. What reasons did she give for her refusal?”
“I am proud, arrogant, and insensitive.” Darcy ticked the points off on his fingers. “Also, her opinion of my character was shaped by conversations with our great friend George Wickham….And….I helped persuade Bingley to separate himself from her sister.”
“That was her sister you told me about?” Richard groaned. “I am afraid I conveyed that information to Miss Bennet.” He appeared genuinely contrite.
Darcy waved this concern away. “It does not matter. No doubt she would have discovered it another way.”
“These do not seem to me to be insurmountable obstacles. You can explain the truth behind your dealings with Wickham and fix the situation with Bingley. Then you only need to be nicer to her…I know that will be the hardest part.” He gave Darcy a wicked grin, his teasing nature resurrecting itself.
Darcy stood and started pacing, rather unsteadily, on the carpet before his desk. “I already refuted Wickham’s lies in a letter to her. I also confessed my sins to Bingley two weeks ago. Hopefully, he will forgive me someday.”
“That was well done.” Richard nodded approvingly. “Will he return to see the sister?”
“I believe he will visit Netherfield next week.” Darcy stared bleakly at the pattern on the carpet.
“You should accompany him. Perhaps you can change Miss Elizabeth’s opinion of you.” Richard’s voice was full of hearty encouragement.
Darcy considered it for a moment; perhaps his letter had altered her view of his character, but, no, it could not possibly change enough. He shook his head in despair. “I am afraid it is a hopeless cause. She made that abundantly clear.”
“Surely there is some small reason for hope.”
“She said she had not known me a month before she knew I was the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry. I defy you to find cause for hope in that.”
Richard gave a low whistle. “That is…impressive.…”
Darcy raised his eyebrows in appreciation of Richard’s reaction. “Indeed.”
Richard rubbed his chin with his palm. “Well, she is a spirited woman with decided opinions.”
“Yes.” That is why I love her.
“So, may I ask, what purpose does the port serve?” Richard’s voice was gentler and less teasing. Did he sympathize with Darcy’s despair?
“The theory behind the port is that it dulls the pain and causes me to forget, at least for a little while. It also helps me sleep. And then the following day, I feel so awful that I cannot think of anything else.”
“So that is the theory. How does it work in reality?” Richard asked.
Darcy shook his head, realized that it made the room sway, and stopped. “A life in tatters with drink is still a life in tatters.”
“Surely it will get better with time,” Richard said encouragingly.
“So I believed as well, but I have yet to see it.”
“You need a distraction, something to take your mind from her,” Richard mused. Then he stood suddenly. “I know! Some friends and I are going to Paris in two days’ time. You should accompany us. It will provide exactly the distraction you require.”
“Paris?” Darcy’s port-soaked brain was having difficulty absorbing the rapid shift in the conversation.
“Yes, since the treaty was signed, English visitors have been flocking to the city. We will spend two weeks seeing the marvels of Paris. Come with us!” Darcy had to admit that his cousin’s energy and enthusiasm were contagious.
However, the thought of going anywhere was anathema in his present condition. “No. I would—”
“You would rather brood and cause Georgiana distress? Come with us! A change of scenery is just what you need. Maybe you will meet some beautiful English heiress doing her Grand Tour.” Enthusiastic about his plan, Richard walked restlessly about the room.
“No, I will never love another.” I will never get married. It will be up to Georgiana to provide an heir for Pemberley. He knew this truth in his heart but did not voice this thought out loud.
“Fine, my friends and I will attend balls, and you can visit museums. Come with us!” He gave Darcy a calculating look. “You know I will hound you until you agree.”
Darcy shook his head, unequal to the task of arguing with his cousin. There were good reasons not to visit France, he knew, but at the moment he was having trouble marshalling those reasons to his cause. “Very well.” He sagged in his chair. Maybe it would do him good. At least he could get drunk in France just as easily as in London.