Can heartbreak ever lead to greater happiness?
When Elizabeth weds one of Darcy’s dearest friends he tries, and fails, to put his love for her behind him. Then, after two years of regretting his decision to step aside for his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy is given that rarest of gifts, a second chance. Though he mourns the cousin he loved like a brother, Darcy can’t help but wonder what might have been, and what could still be.
Elizabeth’s heart is broken by her husband’s death. Worse, she’s being pressed to marry not only by her family, but a barrage of suitors. Amid the chaos and sorrow, only one person, Mr. Darcy, seems to fully understand her need to grieve. He, like Elizabeth, knows Colonel Fitzwilliam deserves the respect of a full twelve months of mourning.
Still, much can happen in a year.
The Royal Parlor, as Lady Catherine preferred to think of it, was closed and stuffy. If she had her wish, brocade curtains and leaded glass windows would be thrown wide to let in the evening air. Her daughter, Anne, however, was afflicted by poor health, and the April evening held a slight chill. Lady Catherine would never do anything to put Anne at risk.
“So, you see, Aunt Catherine, I really can’t return to London at the moment,” her nephew Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was saying.
Lady Catherine drew her attention back to him. It wouldn’t do to be thought of as someone with wandering focus. Certain it would keep the conversation going and not reveal her distraction, she said, “No, I do not see at all, Richard.”
He made a huffing sound. She could read on his features that he was marshalling his next argument. She let him, looking beyond her nephew to the fourth occupant of the parlor, Mrs. Jenkinson. Meeting Lady Catherine’s eyes over her needlework, Mrs. Jenkinson gave a slight nod, signaling that Anne needed to be sent to bed.
Lady Catherine answered with a quick, grateful smile. She’d never found the knack of knowing when Anne was overtired. Lady Catherine’s only child often tried to conceal her exhaustion, especially when they had guests. Anne railed against her weakness and would do herself ill if permitted to, all to appear well before her cousin. Lady Catherine might overlook her daughter’s fatigue, but Mrs. Jenkinson never did.
“Anne, why don’t you retire? Richard can entertain me,” Lady Catherine said. Because Mrs. Jenkinson was ostensibly Anne’s servant, she had no place giving Anne orders. Lady Catherine was happy to do so, especially for Anne’s benefit.
“Yes, Mama,” Anne said. She got up, curtsied, and left.
Her expression giving no indication of her role in Anne’s dismissal, Mrs. Jenkinson followed dutifully behind her.
Anne’s immediate acquiescence spoke to how tired she was, and Lady Catherine regretted not checking with Mrs. Jenkinson sooner. She’d been distracted by her discussion with Richard, but that was no excuse. Besides which, it particularly suited her to be alone with her nephew. She had business to conduct with him, business that would surprise him.
“She accepted your proposal?” Lady Catherine asked.
“How did you…” Richard trailed off, eyeing her with mild pique. “An eavesdropping servant?”
“You underrate me,” Lady Catherine said smugly. “I’ve watched your courtship for weeks. Did you think me fooled by your excuses as to why you didn’t leave when Darcy did? You are not one to forgo a free, and comfortable, ride into London without a reason.”
Worry dampened Richard’s good looks. “Aunt Catherine, I–”
She held up a staying hand. “Don’t pretend you want more of my company. You spend as much time as is permissible with your Miss Bennet. When she came for tea today, the look on her face, no, on both of your faces, was enough to convince me that you proposed and she accepted you.”
Richard’s worry evaporated, replaced by a particularly foolish expression. Lady Catherine sighed. It was love, then, obviously. Only love could make a fool of her normally sensible nephew.
“I would have said something.” He leaned forward in his chair, obviously eager to discuss his engagement. “Truly I would have, Aunt Catherine, but it’s not proper to spread the details about until I hear back from her father.”
Lady Catherine snorted. “You’ve told me you proposed, she accepted, and you’ve written to her father. I doubt there are many more details than that.”
He shrugged, still grinning incessantly. “I’m sure you were already aware of all I’ve said.” His grin faltered, trepidation returning. “Are you going to congratulate me?” he asked, voice touched with hope.
“Oddly enough, yes.” She hid her amusement at his obvious surprise. “Congratulations, Richard. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is smart and pretty. She has relatively good manners, but she also doesn’t put up with bullying and impertinence. She seems like a splendid match for you.” And you’re the only person Darcy would never try to take her from, she added in her mind.
Richard didn’t need to know that key facet of Lady Catherine’s happiness at his courtship. Anyone with one working eye and half a brain could see one of her other nephews, Darcy, was in love with Miss Bennet as well. Between the two, Lady Catherine preferred the beguiling little country miss wed to Richard. Darcy was for Anne.
“Who’s been trying to bully her?” Richard said, angry over words Lady Catherine was already forgetting she’d spoken, her mind more on Anne than Miss Bennet.
“I have,” Lady Catherine replied, with no remorse. “I always try to bully people. Most of them accept it. Mr. Collins wants it. Miss Bennet is the rare person who, with an impressive show of courtesy, manages to stand up for herself.” She offered Richard a serene smile. “I am now going to proceed to bully you.” She paused for a long moment to give him the opportunity to protest. She was pleased to see he had the sense not to. “You must change your lifestyle,” she finally continued, once he began to squirm under her persistent stare. “You cannot support a wife and fritter away your money.”
“I know that,” Richard muttered, sullen.
“Have you kept your promise to your father?” How she enjoyed the surprise on Richard’s face.
“You know about that?” he sputtered.
Expression lofty, she nodded.
Richard cleared his throat, regaining his composure, along with a touch of ire. “If you know about my promise, then you know I gave my word. If you were a man, younger, and not related to me, I would challenge you for suggesting I haven’t kept it.”
“You have no outstanding debts, then?” she pressed, wanting to be certain.
“I promised him more than that,” Richard said, tone laced with bitterness now. “I haven’t signed so much as a single IOU in three years, let alone used credit against purchases.”
Lady Catherine gave a sharp nod. “It was a fair exchange for paying your debts and buying your rank.”
Richard shrugged, looking away, his features folded into sour lines. “It certainly changed how I live my life.”
As was the late earl’s hope, but it would be cruel to voice that condemnation aloud. Richard hadn’t been on a terrible track, only a typical one for a younger son, spending coin he didn’t have. Squandering a sound body and educated mind. “Have you saved any money?”
He grimaced. “Not really, but I’m debt free. I’ve only recently saved enough so I can pay cash for everything up front. It’s annoying.”
She offered another nod. She believed him, though that belief was founded as much on investigation as on trust. It was her gift to him to not reveal her enquiries. Let him think she took him at his word. “Because you’ve proven so honorable, I’m going to do something for you. I will get you command of a regiment.”
His eyebrows shot up. “That would be nice,” he said, his tone showing disbelief, “but how can you get me command of a regiment when my father could not?”
“Your father didn’t have the connections I do. More importantly, he wanted you to have the command of a safe regiment, which takes even more influence than I have. The regiment I get you command of will be in a war zone, but you’ve expressed a desire to fight for England.”
Richard’s mien became eager. He wanted to wage war for his country and king. Good. Lady Catherine wondered if she should have made her offer earlier, before he committed himself to a country miss. Would he regret his choice once he learned he could have more, do better for himself?
No, he seemed to genuinely care for Miss Bennet. More than likely, her presence would help. He would want to protect her, just as he wanted to protect England, giving him more pride in his duty and better reason to uphold the Fitzwilliam name.
Richard should not be idle. He was too good to be a foppish younger son. Once he was given the job, he would learn to do it and do it well. Her offer would ensure he remained on the path his father had set him on.
“I should like that, Aunt Catherine.” It was a mild statement for the excitement on his face, the eagerness all but reverberating through his frame.
“I thought as much.”
His eyes narrowed. “I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but may I ask why you will do this for me?”
“Simply to reward you for your good behavior,” she said, not adding that there was little else to which she could apply her time and influence. She had only Anne and the scantest hope that, once she convinced Darcy to wed her daughter, there would be grandchildren. Wed they would, though, for she would not see Rosings fall from the family line. If Anne truly wasn’t long for their world, Darcy would keep Rosings in Fitzwilliam hands, even if his connection to Fitzwilliam was through his mother and his first name. “And to secure a continuation of that good behavior, I have an additional carrot. If I get very good reports about you, and don’t be fooled, I will get accurate reports, I will see that you have a substantial inheritance when either Anne or I die.” She wouldn’t have guessed Richard could look both more shocked and more eager than he had moments ago.
He struggled to school his features back into a reasonable semblance of polite interest. “You’re going to live forever.”
I will probably outlive Anne, Lady Catherine thought, but tamped down the sorrow that knowledge called forth. She shook her head at Richard’s platitude. “Leave me now. If you don’t feel it’s too late in the evening, go to your betrothed. Tell her of my offer. I have a letter to write.” Once she had Richard settled securely into the life he should be living, she would turn her attention to the issue of Darcy wedding Anne, before it was too late.
Richard stood, walked over to her and kissed her cheek. “A substantial inheritance?” he said, grinning again. “I’ll be perfect.”
“You do that,” she said, returning his smile.
After bowing to her, Richard sauntered from the room.
Lady Catherine rose and went to the fireplace to light a taper. She took it with her to her writing desk for the candles there. She would write the better connection she spoke of. Lady Gwen was perhaps her oldest friend, but more importantly, Lady Gwen owed her a favor. It was time to collect.
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Giveaway runs from today until October 4th. Winners will be announced on October 7th. Good Luck!