Over three years ago, in March of 2014 to be precise, I published Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship, my “prequel to the sequel” novel. Why I had decided to write into the past, as it were, after writing eight huge novels following the newly-married Darcys into the future, was a combination of prompting from fans and my own internal muse. I felt that the engagement/betrothal period of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet was worthy of deeper coverage than the handful of “flashback” tidbits scattered amongst the five novels that comprise my Darcy Saga sequel series. At the time, I was blessed with a seemingly endless number of inspirations! Fresh scenes of the lovers growing to know each other better, as well as expanding upon those scenes already written. For roughly a year, while simultaneously undergoing a massive move from California to Kentucky, I wrote what was originally planned to be one book. That concept shifted into a two-volume “prequel duo” when the ideas still in my mind, together with the content already written, amounted to more material than one reasonably-sized book could handle. Publishing as two books was a sound concept, and I swear that my intentions to complete the second part in a matter of months after releasing the first were sincere. I even created both book covers at the same time! It would have been doable… if everything with me had remained unchanged.
As most of us know, life can throw curveballs. Hopefully those curveballs are few, minor, and easily overcome. Alas, this is not always the case. Perhaps someday I will share all that I have gone through these past three years, lay my soul bare, as the saying goes. I do think it would be cathartic, and maybe even helpful to someone else. This is not the place, however. So, without going into the gory details, my profound hope is that everyone will believe me when I say that not finishing the second volume was never a conscious, willful choice. I tried, oh how I tried! To state simply that which is incredibly complex: the muse was gone and I could not write. Period. Any attempts to write, and there have been hundreds, were met with a stone wall. Here and there I managed to string a sentence or two together, a smattering of actual paragraphs even, and once almost a whole chapter. Then the manuscript would sit untouched for months. I would try to work on another project, something totally non-Austen as well, with no real success.
The vast majority of my fans have been patient and understanding. I truly cannot express how essential the kind emails, encouragement, sweet praise, faithful support, and blessed friendships have meant to me. This has been my lifeline, my hope. Knowing that readers wanted more, and were willing to wait in love, kept me from giving up entirely. Those of you who know me, even a little, are aware how precious my readers are to me. I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for sticking with me.
I also MUST thank the incomparable Regina Jeffers. She has been a rock and constant friend, through the worst of times. Seriously, I cannot sing her praises high enough! Persevering with Austen Authors was her push, and I cannot ever sufficiently thank her for holding tight to me and to our dream for this website. This blog, the amazing authors who participate, and the ongoing community-at-large of Austen literary fiction has also sustained me. As long as Jane Austen remained alive and vibrant, then I had a place to return to.
There are many, many others I owe a debt to. My amazing husband is a continual source of comfort and support, and without him I would not have survived. Medical doctors got my health issues under control. Above all, God, who is my ultimate strength and peace through the storms. Another huge impact has been the wonderful ladies in my romance writers group. I refused to give up on my Romance Writers of America membership, no matter how often I questioned why I bothered, and the women of Louisville Romance Writers (LRW) never gave up on me. For a writer, even one struggling as I was, being active in a writers community is vital.
About six months ago the curveballs stopped coming. The sky started to clear, and I began to believe I could, maybe, just possibly write again. But, I confess, after so long I was… scared. What if I opened the manuscript, again, for the umpteenth time, and nothing came? Fear is a powerful thing! Then, in March, LRW decided to hold a writing challenge. A mini-NaNoWrMo just for us. It was the kick in the arse I needed! I set a personal challenge of 10,000 words for the month. Frankly, I thought I was insane to aim so high. Well, it was rocky for the first week, I admit, but I soon realized that the novella I had chosen to work on wasn’t as close to my heart as the story of Lizzy and Darcy. Fear had kept me from opening the dormant prequel. Nevertheless, I had written a thousand words on the novella (more than I had written in ages) so while struggling, it gave me hope, and courage. Inhaling, I opened Hope of the Future, and….
I WON THE CHALLENGE! Yep! By the end of March I had written 22,742 brand new words! Twice my set goal! For me, this was phenomenal. The prize included several items, but the biggie was our group mascot, the adorable Gerard the Sockpuppet, seen to the right with his namesake, the yummy Gerard Butler. I get to keep Gerard (the puppet, not, sadly, the man) until next April. He is my new muse and friendly face in the office as I write. Joy!
I have been off and running ever since. April saw a short interruption as I waded through the dreaded taxes and a flair up of my shoulder bursitis requiring several doctor visits, and this month we had a break in the endless Kentucky spring rains for a slew of yard and home projects. Today we welcome dear friends from California for a week-long visit, so that shall keep me from the computer. However, even with that, I have been busily writing! Even with one exceedingly long chapter that required extensive hours of research as I wrote (both a joy and a bane), I have nearly tripled my March word count total. Go Sharon!
Now, the million dollar question those of you who have read this far are asking: When will Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future be released? I do not have a date to give as yet. BUT, my personally set deadline is to have the book fully written and in the hands of my editor by the end of June. God willing and the creek don’t rise (Yes, I am Southern!) this will happen. If so, then a release would be sometime in July. Again, these are tentative dates! What I do feel confident in assuring is that the book WILL be finished, which is something I honestly did not think would happen for a long while.
I hope this excites everyone as much as it excites me! I look forward to sharing more as I move along. Keep an eye on my blog: Sharon Lathan, Novelist and my Facebook Page for updates. For now, here is a small excerpt to whet the appetite. Enjoy reading, and please share your thoughts with me! Cheers!
Excerpt from Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future
Darcy offered his arm to Elizabeth, but they were halted before reaching the door. “Take the time necessary to complete the business properly, Mr. Darcy.” Mr. Bennet said while staring at the chessboard. “I am confident all of us can entertain ourselves in the interim, securely within the walls of this well-appointed room. I can think of no reason to bother you.”
“What did he mean by that?” Elizabeth asked once they were outside the room and descending the stairs.
“I am beginning to suspect your father is not as oblivious as we have surmised. Distracted by my library he may become, and he clearly has a soft spot for his favored daughter which leads him to turn a blind eye and trust implicitly. This, however, does not mean he is unaware of moonlit terrace embraces, solitary dalliances in the private rooms of the townhouse, or the host of stolen kisses and caresses at Longbourn.”
“Oh my! And we thought we were so clever!”
“Apparently not. Fortunately, it does not seem as if he is overly disturbed, and may actually be encouraging the activity. Speaking for myself, this is tremendously relieving, and gives me all sorts of brilliant ideas. Does this suit you as well, Miss Bennet?” The pretty blush spreading over Elizabeth’s cheeks was utterly delightful, as was the frankly welcoming expression on her face. Darcy steered her to a bench in the foyer, waiting until she sat. “Hold that thought for now,” he quipped, touching one fingertip to her nose. “Don’t move an inch. I will return momentarily.”
Hurrying to his office, he retrieved the two boxes sitting on his desk, and hastened back. Elizabeth hadn’t budged, as commanded, her eyes watching him approach and brows lifting at the sight of the boxes in his hand.
“I thought I was forced to wait until our wedding night.”
“You are, for the gift I bought today. These are something else. Here, come.” He extended his hand, Elizabeth taking it and rising. “The terrace is a lovely location for our discussion. I was informed today that you have a fondness for starry skies and fresh air. Who knew?”
“Oh, my word! I shall never be able to face my father again!”
Laughing, they exited through the double door onto the wide terrace. The fountain bubbled musically, drowning any sounds coming from the townhouses surrounding. It was a cool evening, but the sky was clear and air fresher than usual for London. Darcy selected a table and chairs directly in sight of the patio doors, which he left wide open. The terrace torches had been lit per his directions, so between those and the lights inside the foyer, there were no immediate shadows to hide them. While this did fulfill Darcy’s promise to Mr. Bennet that they would be within eyesight, another purpose was to clearly see what was inside the boxes, both of which he sat onto the small table.
Clasping onto her hands, he scooted his chair close until their knees were touching. “I have two special items to give you, Elizabeth. First, I must apologize for the delay in bestowing them. Both have been kept securely locked at Pemberley, requiring two trusted staff members to deliver safely. They are priceless, in several ways, as I shall explain. Then, I wanted them cleaned, polished, inspected for any damage, and resized, in the case of one. You see, they have years of wear but also many years of sitting undisturbed, so I was unsure of their condition.”
Pausing, his fingers traveled to the ring on her left hand. The gold band with the seven gemstones spelling out the message “dearest” had been given to her three weeks ago, and he had never seen it off her finger. Smiling, he went on, “If you recall when I gave this to you, I said it was not the betrothal ring I most desired to give.” He pulled it from her finger, noting the involuntary flinch and breathy gasp with a certain pleasure, and swiftly slipped it onto the ring finger of her right hand. Kissing the skin above the sparkling band, he murmured, “I trust this ring will always hold a special place in your heart, as it does in mine?”
“For all of my life.”
The catch of emotion in her voice was nearly his undoing. Only the task needing to be completed stopped him from drawing her into his arms. Taking the smaller box into his hands, Darcy peered intently into her love-drenched eyes. “This is the ring that has waited, patiently, for me to place onto the finger of the woman I promise to love, cherish, and be faithfully devoted to for as long as I draw breath.” Slowly he lifted the lid, watching her eyes reluctantly leave his to peer downward. Her gasp was sharp and loud this time.
“William! It is… exquisite!”
Inside the box propped a ring of shiny gold, the narrow band adorned with a one-carat star sapphire of vivid blue, centered between two round half-carat diamonds.
Inhaling shakily, he explained as he slid it onto her finger, “My father designed this ring for my mother. As the story went, he searched far and wide across the breadth of England for the most perfect, magnificent sapphire. It was my mother’s favorite jewel, you see. Each time he told the story to me and Georgiana the search took longer and the traveled miles grew.” Darcy laughed softly in remembrance. “We know he exaggerated, but also know the basics are true. He waited four years to marry Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, until she was of the proper age, according to old Lord Matlock. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s grandfather,” he clarified. “They were passionately in love, my parents, and nothing but the very best was good enough for her. This is how my father felt about my mother, and why I have dreamt for the same.”
Kissing the skin above the ring, as he had to the one transferred to her right hand, he then enclosed both between his palms. Pouring every ounce of his powerful love into his eyes, he proclaimed confidently, “Giving you this ring, Elizabeth isn’t just my personal wish. My mother wanted you to have it. She may not have known you, or my father either, but each of them told me before they passed that their heart’s desire was for me to find the love they shared together, and when I did, this was the ring that woman should wear.”
Tears were swimming in Elizabeth’s eyes, and after twice parting her lips as if to speak, Darcy smiled and reached for the other box. Sliding it to the edge, he attempted to ease the overwhelming emotions they were both experiencing by making a joke.
“Might as well move on to the next part so we can completely lose all ability to verbalize.”
She released a tremulous laugh that was equally an emotive sob, so his jesting worked a little. Palm atop the flat, wide box, Darcy launched into a second bit of family history. “This belongs to you, Elizabeth, as will all the jewels at Pemberley. For reasons you will understand in a moment, this was one of my mother’s favorite pieces, although it has been in the family for I honestly have no idea how many generations. My reason for gifting it now isn’t out of extreme sentimentality or as a request from my mother, as it was with the ring. This is all me, simply because I have always loved it. It is also important for me to stress that while I would greatly adore seeing you wear it on our wedding day, I do not want you to feel obligated to do so if you have a Bennet family heirloom, perhaps, or if this does not properly match the gown you have chosen, or—“
He stopped talking when she pressed two fingers against his lips. “William, I am honored to wear this on our wedding day. Whatever it is. To please you, and express my incredible happiness in becoming your wife, I… would do anything.”
Slowly grinning, he asked, “What if it is hideous?”
Laughing aloud, she shook her head. “Somehow I doubt that is possible.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” he warned with mock severity. “There is a certain brooch I recall in one case that should have earned the jewelry maker a trip to the gallows. Or maybe my taste in jewelry is frightfully bad.”
“Just open the box! The suspense is now killing me!”
Suddenly feeling rather giddy, Darcy flipped open the lid with dramatic slowness. No heightening theatrics were necessary, however. Nestled on a thick pillow of white velvet was a stunning necklace of sapphires and diamonds, in various shapes and sizes, masterfully crafted and woven into a spiraling arabesque style. The lights bounced off the polished metal and gemstones as Darcy lifted it off the velvet. He draped it over his palms, Elizabeth reverently brushing her fingers across the sparkling stones. After a minute of awed inspection, he slipped it around her slender neck. Securing the clasp, he gently laid his hands to either side of the dangling necklace, fingers caressing the nape of her neck.
“Beautiful. Almost as beautiful as you.”
Elizabeth was staring at him, her glowing eyes round as saucers and teeming with emotions almost too intense for him to bear. With her left hand she nimbly stroked the teardrop sapphire lying below the hollow of her throat. Her right hand floated upward, contact made on his chin as her thumb traced a lazy circle, before gliding up to his lips. The pressure was light, yet sent rivers of fire over the surface of his mouth. He parted his lips, tongue moving toward the sensitive pad, but her thumb was gone, brushing across the corner of his mouth with the same sluggish pace before drifting up toward his cheek.
The warm splay of her entire palm against his face intensified the delicious sensations racing through his skin. Darcy instinctively tilted his head to increase the pressure. Doing so, he realized how far he had already leaned toward her, unaware of his actions. Her luminous eyes were inches away, still open although the lids had grown heavy. In the remaining seconds before he bridged the gap to kiss her, Darcy noted everything. The eager lifting of her face, the tongue sweeping between parted lips to moisten, the sound of rapid breaths, the rich flush infusing her cheeks, and the increasing heat burning the hands still resting on the curve of her neck.
Then, an inch from the paradise of her mouth, she whispered, “I love you.”