My next P&P variation, The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy, will be released later this week, but below you can get a sneak peek at the very first scene! Also, please leave a comment so you can be entered in the Giveaway for a free copy.
Mr. Darcy arrives at Longbourn, intending to correct the mistakes he made during his disastrous proposal in Hunsford. To his horror, he learns that Elizabeth Bennet was killed in a ship’s explosion off the coast of France. Deep in despair, he decides to travel to France in disguise to seek out the man responsible for her death. But a surprise awaits Darcy in the French town of Saint-Malo: Elizabeth is alive!
Recovering from a blow to the head, Elizabeth has no memory of her previous life, and a series of mistakes lead her to believe that Darcy is her husband. Now they must escape from wartime France and avoid capture by Napoleon’s spies. Elizabeth slowly regains her memories, but they often leave her even more confused. Darcy’s pressing goal is returning Elizabeth to England, but what will she think of him when she learns the truth of their relationship?
“What shall I do if Miss Bennet will not speak with me?” Bingley asked. “If she cuts me?”
The carriage rattled over a bump in the road, causing Darcy to lurch as he considered how to respond to this latest inquiry. This subject had occupied Bingley’s entire conversation for the length of their journey to Hertfordshire. Darcy considered new ways to offer reassurances. “It is highly doubtful that Miss Bennet has ever cut anyone in her life.”
“No, no. She is an angel.” With a small sigh, Bingley fell back against the squabs. Within a few minutes he would no doubt find a fresh cause for concern, which Darcy would need to assuage.
Darcy gritted his teeth, wishing he could be as sanguine about his welcome as he was about Bingley’s. Miss Jane Bennet would assuredly receive his friend with tolerable composure and a warm smile, but Darcy could not be as certain about his own reception. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was unlikely to cut Darcy publicly, but her reception of him might be cool. Even disdainful. She might even refuse to speak with him in private, thus depriving him of the opportunity to apologize for his behavior in Kent.
The words he had uttered during his proposal at Hunsford Parsonage continued to haunt him; only a heartfelt and abject apology could possibly exorcise them.
Bingley need only apologize to Jane Bennet for his precipitous departure from Netherfield in November. In contrast, Darcy sought Elizabeth’s forgiveness for having offended and insulted her—and her family—while making her an offer of marriage. Not for the first time he wondered if there had ever been such a maladroit proposal in the history of the world.
Darcy’s fingers drummed restlessly on the seat beside his leg. Perhaps this was a fool’s errand. Upon waking that morning, Darcy had nearly convinced himself of its futility; were it not for his obligation to Bingley, he might have begged off the whole venture.
Darcy’s regret over his role in separating Bingley and Miss Bennet had been increasing for some time. As had, he admitted to himself, his desire to see Elizabeth Bennet once more. Two days ago, Darcy had finally confessed to his friend that he had concealed Miss Bennet’s presence in London the previous winter. He also had unburdened himself of the entire sad tale of his proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford. While rejecting Darcy, Elizabeth had suggested that her older sister had been anything but indifferent to Bingley and actually had mourned the loss of his company.
Bingley’s fitting anger at Darcy’s duplicity had quickly given way to eagerness to see the woman again and seek her forgiveness. When Darcy offered to make amends for his deceit, Bingley demanded that Darcy accompany him to Netherfield as his penance. Darcy had agreed with alacrity. Over the long months of May and June, he had harbored delightful fantasies of encountering Elizabeth, begging her forgiveness, and demonstrating the amiable side of his nature. Perhaps there was hope he could change her opinion of him.
But the nearer the horses brought them to Longbourn, the more Darcy’s doubts increased. While Bingley had every reason to anticipate a warm reception, Darcy did not. After all, Jane Bennet had never declared Bingley to be the last man in the world she would ever be tempted to marry.
Bingley’s voice roused Darcy from his reverie and the sight of both his fists clenched on his thighs. Deliberately relaxing his stiff hands, he nodded at Bingley. A smile was beyond his capacity at the moment. But his friend was not concerned with Darcy’s state of mind. “What if she is engaged to somebody else?”
“Surely not in so short a span of time,” Darcy said even as his mind seized the possibility. Elizabeth might have accepted an offer from another man! Nausea roiled his stomach as Darcy silently urged the carriage to greater swiftness—as if arriving half an hour earlier could thwart such an event.
Dear Lord, there were so many possibilities with which he could torment himself.
Momentarily appeased, Bingley glanced idly out of the window. In relaying the story of the disastrous proposal in Kent, Darcy had deliberately avoided details. His friend did not know of the vehemence of Elizabeth’s rejection or how badly he had botched the proposal. If Bingley understood on what terms they had parted, he never would have suggested that Darcy face her again. He would not have understood why Darcy leapt at the opportunity to visit Longbourn.
Darcy did not understand it himself, save that he had no choice.
Darcy had tried for the better part of three months to forget his feelings for Elizabeth, but she had haunted his waking thoughts and inhabited his dreams. His stubborn heart insisted that only Elizabeth would make an acceptable wife. Every other woman he met paled in comparison.
Bingley noted the angle of the sun. “We are in good time. Perhaps we might visit Longbourn before arriving at Netherfield?”
“Of course,” Darcy said, simultaneously anticipating and dreading the inevitable.
Darcy stretched his stiff legs as he alighted from the carriage, hoping that the Bennets would offer them some refreshments. Hours in a closed coach had made for a stifling journey.
The late afternoon sun was still bright, and Darcy squinted as he surveyed the front of Longbourn. There was none of the activity he associated with the house—no servants bustling about or chickens pecking along the drive. The sounds of giggling Bennet daughters did not float in from the garden. Was the family from home? No, there was no reason for alarm; everyone simply must have sought refuge from the heat in the relative coolness of the house. The two men strode to the front door, and Darcy reached out to knock—only to withdraw his hand with an oath. A length of black crepe had been secured to the knocker.
Bingley sucked in a breath. “They are in mourning.”
The two friends exchanged a swift glance. If only Darcy knew the family well enough to have maintained a correspondence with Mr. Bennet! Or indeed anyone in the neighborhood. But he had been too proud then to forge the ties that would provide him with valuable information now.
What if they mourned Elizabeth’s father? The Longbourn property was entailed away upon the odious Collins, placing the Bennets in distressing circumstances. Or perhaps it was Elizabeth’s mother—or one of her sisters. Darcy’s heart clenched painfully in his chest. What had Elizabeth endured these past few months? He should have visited earlier.
Bracing himself for distressing news, Darcy banged the head of his walking stick on the door.
The ensuing wait stretched several minutes, tempting Darcy to knock again, but finally the door was opened by a craggy faced housekeeper. She stared dully at the two men, only coming alive when they gave their names and produced cards.
She ushered them into a cramped drawing room, mumbling that the family would soon join them. Darcy’s eye was caught by a fraying sofa arm and several chairs at least thirty years out of fashion, but he dismissed such observations as uncharitable. The housekeeper eventually returned with a tea service that she set on a low table, but they still saw nobody from the family.
After several minutes, the door opened to admit Mr. Bennet, moving slowly and with a heavy tread. At least he was not the one who had perished, Darcy thought with relief. Still, he might have aged ten years since their last meeting; Bennet’s face was drawn and pale as he shook his visitors’ hands. They had exchanged only a few pleasantries before Mrs. Bennet and Miss Jane Bennet—both wearing black mourning clothes—slipped into the room. Darcy had hoped the deceased was some distant relative, but their demeanor and dress suggested otherwise.
Mrs. Bennet gave Darcy a cursory curtsey but hurried to Bingley, embracing him warmly. “Mr. Bingley, I am so glad you are come, even under these circumstances!”
“I am very glad to be back in Hertfordshire, madam,” Bingley responded.
Surprisingly, the normally voluble Mrs. Bennet did not follow up on the subject but merely invited them to sit. Darcy took a chair opposite the three Bennets while Bingley and Jane had somehow managed to sit beside each other. A long, uncomfortable silence followed.
“I am afraid we are behind the news,” Bingley said finally, his face solemn. “I see that your family is in mourning…?”
Jane Bennet’s hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide with horror.
“You do not know?” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “I thought you called to offer your condolences.”
“I am afraid we have had no recent word from Meryton,” Bingley responded.
Tears rolled down Jane’s cheeks. Darcy found himself holding his breath. All evidence suggested a grave loss. Had one of the younger daughters perished?
“Our darling Lizzy is gone!” Mrs. Bennet sobbed. “Gone! A full fortnight now.”
I am giving away One Free Copy (ebook or paperback – winner’s choice) of The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy! Please leave a comment below by Midnight EDST, July 24, to be entered in the Giveaway. The winner will be announced the weekend of July 28.