A Mugfull of Austen Inspired Fiction

30 Original Fiction Stories of 280 characters or less. A lovely gift for the Jane Austen fan in all of us. 

I gave myself a challenge to write a story, 280 characters or less, every day for a month. Here is what happened.

New Release!

Mr. Darcy's Missing Bride Cover

Compromised. Abducted. Rescued?

What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy met not at Hertfordshire but Hunsford? Rather than unwitting insults, they court in secret while exploring the grounds. It is perfect until the couple is caught in a compromising position. Will a forced engagement and a missing bride-to-be derail their love?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Missing Bride, Book 1 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Missing Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words with a guaranteed happy ending.

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Prologue

Thirst. Elizabeth that she had never truly been thirsty before. Before, drinking happened without a second thought; a servant was called, and Elizabeth drank. Now, her tongue lay like dry dough in her mouth. Elizabeth ran her fingers along the damp, stone floor. Her chained leg clinked with her movement. The links ran to an iron ring nailed into the wall, too dark and too far away to see.

Elizabeth shivered.

Piles of root vegetables hunkered in the surrounding darkness, mostly potatoes and carrots. Between them scurried things she preferred not know. A sip of plain water would be heaven sent, and the desire to stop the discomfort of being without dominated her thinking.

Light footsteps sounded above, interrupting the long silence.

“Please,” Elizabeth rasped. She cleared her throat and spoke more loudly, “I need some water, please.” The footsteps stopped, and she knew the owner of those soft footfalls was listening. “I am so thirsty.”

“I am not allowed to open the cellar door,” came a small voice. It was the boy, Aldous, Algon, Alfred —  what was his name?

“I am really thirsty,” she said, crawling to the base of the wooden ladder that led topside. She stood, reaching up to the trap-door above. The chain pulled at her ankle. From above shone half-moon of light shone through a barred square hole in the trap door, revealing the shadowed outline of his cheek. “Will you give me some water?” Elizabeth asked.

Perhaps, he would open the door and climb down. It was a wild hope; the boy was too small to pull up the heavy, wooden door that led down into the cellar. He was only four or five that she recalled. She heard him walk away and hopes sank.

“Wait, please!” she cried, scratching at the ladder rung above her. “I am so thirsty, please.” There was silence, then his footsteps returned.

“I can pour it through the bars,” he said, his voice closer. “You will have to catch it.”

“All right,” she replied. She was willing to try anything. It was odd that the boy would think of something like that. He was just a boy, but maybe this wasn’t the first time he had done this.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. Who cared how he had figured out how to get water into the root cellar. He could be a child genius, or maybe someone had taught him. Either way, he was the holder of the water she desperately needed, and his idea was better than sitting in defeat.

The water dribbled down. She put her mouth up and caught some water, gulping and swallowing gratefully.

“More,” she begged. It might sound unbecoming, but propriety was the farthest thing from her consciousness at this point. When Elizabeth had tried to escape, which landed her in this literal hell hole, she never thought she’d beg from a little boy who sounded as frightened as she. More water dribbled down through the opening.

Elizabeth heard to door open and held her breath. She heard a woman whispering, and the water stopped. “You will get us beat again.” the woman hissed above.

“She’s terrible thirsty, Mama,” the boy said. “She will not be any good if she dies down there.”

“He will put us both down there with her, if you get caught.”

“It is not his fault,” Elizabeth spoke up in the boy’s defense. “I begged him for water. I am so thirsty.”

“You should not have run, missy,” the woman said. “That just made Bart angry.”

“I know. I am sorry for that,” Elizabeth said. There was silence, and she hoped she had not lost the woman. “Please, Willow.”

After what seemed an interminable amount of time, she heard the latch click on the cellar door, and it lifted.

“Quick, give her the cup,” the woman instructed the boy. He handed the cup down to Elizabeth. “Drink quick or we are all in trouble.” She also handed her a bit of bread and meat.

Elizabeth gulped down the water. “Thank you,” she gasped, giving the cup back to the boy. “Call me Lizzy,” she said. Willow looked at her for a moment, then shook her head in the affirmative. Lizzy realized looking at Willow how thin she was as was her son compared to the girth her husband carried.

“I will try to get you more later,” Willow said, her gaze sad. “I cannot promise, but I will try.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said trying to smile. Not that Willow would see. Still, the effort mattered.

Willow closed the door without replying. After a pause, when Elizabeth thought all was lost, the woman whispered, “If I get the chance, I will help you. No promises.”

Then, they both left and Elizabeth was alone in the dark, damp cellar. She had eaten a raw potato the night before and figured she could stomach another one. It was better than starving, but her stomach growled and twisted from both fright and the raw vegetables she was unaccustomed to.

The woman – Willow – had offered her water, bread and meat. Maybe, Elizabeth could convince Willow to help her escape.

It was a wild bit of optimism, but Elizabeth hoped. Hope was all she had, hope and the irrational dream Fitzwilliam Darcy would somehow find her in this place and rescue her.

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NEW RELEASE!

Darcy's Stolen Rendezvous Cover

Abduction. Rescue. Can passion heal their wounds?

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy enjoy meeting in secret as master and mistress. But when Elizabeth is abducted on the road to their rendezvous, can Mr. Darcy find his wife in time? And if so, will passion heal their wounds?

Find out in Darcy’s Stolen Rendezvous, a steamy Pride and Prejudice variation of 11,500 words, filled with danger, romance, and sensual moments between our favorite couple, all perfect for an evening read. 

Note: This is a sequel to Mrs. Darcy’s Masque Seduction. Each story stands alone, but are even better together. 

If you love sensual Pride & Prejudice variations, grab Darcy’s Stolen Rendezvous today!

Chapter 1

The afternoon sky hung gray and heavy over Pemberley, an ill portent for the afternoon ride to the posting inn and an excellent one for the evening with her husband. After ten days apart, Elizabeth would spend the evening tangled in Mr. Darcy’s arms as the rain pounded the posting inn’s roof.

Not that they would be together as husband and wife; tonight, she would make love to him as a mistress and he the master of her pleasure.

They had hired Mr. Grimes, a new footman, a month ago, after the birth of Elizabeth’s second daughter and when they agreed Philippa, the illegitimate child of Mr. Darcy’s cousin, would live at Pemberley for the foreseeable future. They’d taken on a new carriage and driver as well.

Driver and footman now stood in front of the carriage, their heads close in what appeared to be a serious conversation as Elizabeth approached.

Neither man appeared to notice her. The breeze carried a few words of their conversation, “Are you certain—no danger —?”

Elizabeth glanced at the sky again. The air smelled of rain, but she neither saw lightning nor heard thunder. An autumn storm. Inconvenient, but hardly dangerous, unless a lady rode a horse bareback in nothing but riding clothes and found herself thoroughly drenched.

Elizabeth smiled at the memory. The Darcys and Bingleys, now neighbors, shared dinner at one or the other’s home near every week. It was one of the many joys of Elizabeth’s married life.

Elizabeth said, “It seems an ordinary autumn storm. Are you concerned?”

“No, ma’am.” The driver, Mr. Carlisle, gave a start and stepped away from Mr. Grimes. Both bowed. Mr. Carlisle laughed. It sounded forced. “I’ve a fine rain slicker from my wife, and this hat.” He held out a wide-brimmed peasant hat that looked serviceable.

Mr. Grimes walked to the carriage door and held it open. “Mrs. Darcy,” he said. There was nothing improper in his manner, but Elizabeth disliked his gaze. His sharp gray eyes were as flat as the silver coins laid upon the dead. They narrowed as he caught her gaze.

Perhaps Mr. Grimes disapproved of her cosmetics. She had sprinkled rice powder over her face and rouged her lips and cheeks, painted a line above her lashes at Philippa’s insistence. The effect, Philippa had said, was subtle, but assured Elizabeth she would catch her husband’s attention.

Not that Elizabeth had any business taking advice of this sort from a fifteen-year-old girl, no matter her mother had been an Opera house singer.

If Elizabeth shared her dislike of Mr. Grimes with her husband, Mr. Darcy would send him away, but Elizabeth saw no reason to be cruel. He had done nothing. So she smiled, nodding, and accepted his help into the carriage. Elizabeth’s small trunk was loaded at the rear of the carriage with clothing to see Elizabeth through the night and morning and possibly another night should she and her husband extended their stay.

Mr. Grimes closed the door and took his place at the carriage rear with the trunk as Mr. Carlisle climbed into the driver’s seat, and they were away.

In the carriage, Elizabeth opened a slim volume of ancient eroticism titled Daphnis and Chloe, translated from the Greek, which her husband had given her to read before his departure. The pages were worn, and Elizabeth flipped through them, imagining her husband’s hands on her, his mouth, and his manhood a flowering tree, sweet wine against her skin.

The story set a hot curl of desire in her core, but it did not compare to her anticipation of her husband’s touch.

No, not her husband. Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth flipped through the book as she rode, the words lighting fantasies in her mind as her womanhood grew warm and slick. It was two hours to the nearest posting inn, and the bounce of the carriage sent tingles of pleasure through Elizabeth. Perhaps she and her husband could have their way with each other again on the way home. They need only draw the curtains and hide each other’s moans in deep kisses.

Elizabeth ran her tongue between her lips. Outside, the sky had darkened, so much so she could not see the words of the book. She put the book aside and considered slipping her hands beneath her skirt to feel her desire. But she did not wish to spend herself too soon. She wanted Mr. Darcy’s hand to bring relief and had wicked ideas of how she might, once more, earn his forgiveness; though, after a year and a half of this game, neither put much effort into refining the misdeed for which she required forgiveness.

The carriage slowed. It had been just an hour by her estimation. Elizabeth looked out of the window. No busy market thoroughfare or posting inn greeted her eyes. Instead, it was the road with fields at one end and trees on the other. Whatever was the matter? The carriage rocked as Mr. Grimes jumped down and walked past the carriage door towards the driver.

If Elizabeth was more proper, she would have waited in the carriage for Mr. Grimes to return and tell her what was wrong. But after another minute, her curiosity burned, and Elizabeth opened the carriage door and stepped out.

Elizabeth looked to her left and to her right. They had pulled over at the side of the road, which ahead took a sharp turn. A drop of rain touched Elizabeth’s cheeks. She pulled her bonnet down over her forehead.

The carriage had moved smoothly enough. Was something wrong with the horses? When Elizabeth was twelve, she and her sister Jane had visited the Gardiners and one of the carriage axles had broken. Then, the carriage had lurched awfully before stopping. Nothing of the sort had happened here. Elizabeth walked to the front of the carriage.

Mr. Carlisle was not in the driver’s seat. From the opposite side, Elizabeth heard them speaking.

“Do you think we can move it?”

Elizabeth climbed up onto the empty driver’s seat to see to what the two men were referring. Both men had their back to the carriage, looking out at a small path, barely wide enough for a carriage, leading from the main road. A tree had fallen across it.

Elizabeth looked towards the main road again. It was clear. There was no reason for them to stop here and no reason to take the alternative route. “Why are you looking there?” Elizabeth asked.

Both men whipped around.

“Mrs. Darcy!” Mr. Carlisle grabbed at the top of his rain hat, pulling it askew on his head. “You should go back to the carriage.”

“Why have we stopped?”

Mr. Carlisle gave her a weak smile. “There’s no reason for concern. Please, return to the carriage.”

“I should like to know why we have stopped and what business we have with that road,” Elizabeth said, pointing. Though calling it a road was an exaggeration.

“Get back in the carriage!” Mr. Grimes ordered.

Elizabeth’s heart pounded. These men were servants. They had no business speaking to her in such a manner. Mr. Carlisle at least had the grace to look nervous. Mr. Grimes’ face flushed, and his eyes narrowed as he pulled something from behind his back. The glint of steel. 

“Grab her!” Mr. Grimes shouted.

Elizabeth took the reins as Mr. Carlisle circled the front of the carriage and Mr. Grimes, younger and in much better health, closed the three steps and began to climb up, grabbing at her. Elizabeth whipped the reins as she had seen other drivers do.

“Mrs. Darcy. Do not do anything rash!” Mr. Carlisle leaped out of the way as the horses began to move.

On the seat, Elizabeth shifted away from Mr. Grimes, kicking out as she continued whipping the reins. Mr. Grimes pulled himself up just as one of Elizabeth’s feet, covered not by a dainty slipper but a sensible, heavy walking boot, connected with Mr. Grimes’ chin.

“Ooof!”

Elizabeth kicked again. Between her struggles and the carriage’s rattling, the footman lost his hold.

“Go!” Elizabeth cried, waving the reins again. The horses were trotting now, and Elizabeth’s stomach lurched as the carriage careened towards the bend ahead on the road. She tried pulling the reins to direct the horses, but they were racing, and Elizabeth did not know what to do.

Desperate, she yanked on the right rein, or maybe the left, to get the horses to turn. They did, and the carriage rattled, wheels screaming, as they turned. Elizabeth’s teeth slammed together as carriage lurched, barely avoiding a large tree before returning to the road.

Behind her, both men shouted, but their voices faded as the horses ran blindly ahead, and Elizabeth struggled to hang on. At least they were on the road again. Rain tapped Elizabeth’s face. She held onto the reins to steady herself as they approached a second turn. This was not as sharp is the first, and Elizabeth guided her horses left.

But the animals, already panicked, mouths frothing and sides shining with sweat, startled and veered too far, no longer skirting but now careening between two trees. The carriage slammed into one, and the impact threw Elizabeth from the driver’s seat. She flew, hit the ground and slid. Pain stabbed through her left shoulder.

The horses kept on, dragging the broken carriage away.

Terrified, Elizabeth looked down the road from where she had come. She had gotten away, but not far enough. Mr. Carlisle and Mr. Grimes would follow, and if she stayed here, they would catch her. Shoulder throbbing, Elizabeth lifted her skirts with her opposite hand and ran into the woods. 

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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 8-9

On the morning of the Assembly, heavy rain pattered against the roof, making the day as gray and troubling as Elizabeth’s mood. She rechecked her deciphering with her father and penned an urgent letter to the prime minister’s office.

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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 6-7

In Mr. Bingley’s small but cozy library, Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley occupied armchairs at a polite remove. They were technically chaperoned, though Miss. Caroline’s maid sat on the other side of the room with a book in her lap. She stared intently at the pages, even venturing to flip one every couple of minutes.

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NEW RELEASE!

Mrs. Darcy's Masque Seduction Cover

Can Elizabeth seduce Mr. Darcy a second time?

Fearing Mr. Darcy has taken a London mistress, Elizabeth follows her husband to a Masque ball to uncover the truth. Has he betrayed her, or is she betraying him? And can she seduce him a second time?

Mr. Darcy would never stray from his wife. But holding this masked beauty in his arms, he is tempted. Will forbidden desire destroy their marriage or save it?

Find out in Mrs. Darcy’s Masque Seduction, a sensual Pride and Prejudice variation of 11,500 words, perfect for an evening read.

Grab Mrs. Darcy’s Masque Seduction at the links below!

Chapter 1

Fitzwilliam kissed like a man drowning. He held Elizabeth close, one hand on the small of her back, the other cupping her head, his tongue slipping between her parted lips, his manhood hard against her belly. It was enough to make Elizabeth forget his mistress in London.

If he had a mistress.

Elizabeth did not know for sure. She knew he had lied to her though, his steward stating no knowledge of sudden repairs or disaster at their London townhouse. Mrs. Lavinia Dorset, neighbors and old family friends of Mr. Darcy the elder, insisted a mistress the most likely reason Mr. Darcy so frequently visited his London townhouse alone.

Mrs. Dorset’s proclamation had knocked the breath from Elizabeth’s lungs. A week later, doubts knotted Elizabeth’s guts, resting in the back of her throat taste like acid as she and their two children waved their father goodbye for the third time in as many months.

“Dinna fret, childer,” the nanny Sophie, a round-faced Scottish lass with long, auburn hair in braids the nape of her neck, said, patting Elizabeth’s youngest, Emma, on the head. “Your da will return in the flick of a horse’s tail.”

Emma, a dark-haired three-year-old possessed of Fitzwilliam’s quiet nature and thoughtful squint, nodded.

Her five-year-old brother, Aldous, laughed. “A poopy horse?” he said, slapping his hand over his mouth, dark eyes twinkling as honey-brown curls bounced on his forehead.

“Shh!” Emma admonished, stamping her foot and glaring at her brother.

Aldous laughed again.

Elizabeth schooled her face into a serious expression even as inside she smothered a laugh. She loved the children with every fiber of her soul. Though she might doubt her husband, she could never doubt them. Soon, within six months if she measured her monthly courses accurately, she and Fitzwilliam would be blessed with a third child. Surely then, her husband would stay home. Or perhaps a mewling infant would drive him further away. Some men, like Mr. Hurst, avoided their babies until they were old enough for, in his words, ‘a proper conversation.’

No, not Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth might question his fidelity, but not the evidence of his fatherly affection. Fitzwilliam had loved holding his infant children. Even as they grew older, he took time to play with Aldous and Emma, more often than other fathers of their elevated class, as Elizabeth had learned.

If only Lavinia had not put these notions in Elizabeth’s mind. Fitzwilliam, a mistress? Elizabeth had married for love, and she had a wonderful life and family. It was foolish to question her good fortune. She wanted to banish her doubts, and for the next few hours she did, joining Sophie and the children in the nursery, playing games and reading aloud to them as she did often, wanting them to love books as much as she did.

Elizabeth put her doubts far from her mind through the morning and for a picnic lunch after which Emma and Aldous waded gleefully in the fountain in defiance of the early summer heat.

A moment of joy, quickly dashed, rose in Elizabeth as she saw a carriage approaching the house and recognized it was not her husband, changing his mind about his sudden, town business, and instead bore the Dorset seal.

Mrs. Dorset made a habit of popping in around tea time. She had three children of her own, all boys, two of school age, and one in the care of a nanny. None of the boys were in attendance today, which meant they were running about her estate or summering with their cousins near the sea. Likely the former as Mrs. Dorset was not one to forego the opportunity to travel.

Sophie said, “I’m supposing it is Wednesday. Mrs. Dorset invites herself for tea on Wednesdays.”

Normally, a servant would not be so forward in her admonishment of a guest, but Elizabeth and Sophie had grown close over the years and Elizabeth was not one to be strict about proprieties in any sense. Especially as she agreed Mrs. Dorset took liberties, both in her self-invitation and her intimations that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy might be unfaithful.

But Elizabeth knew better than to cut the woman, no matter how well she might deserve it. Mrs. Dorset held the regard of many important ladies in the area, and while Elizabeth had higher status due to her husband’s wealth and relations, Mrs. Dorset could make Elizabeth’s life miserable if she chose.

So Elizabeth left her children, after giving each a kiss on the forehead, with Sophie and made her way to find out what their neighbor wanted today.

“Oh, Mrs. Darcy, you poor dear, out laboring in this heat!” Mrs. Dorset waved a fan over her face. She was a stout, fashionably dressed woman of five and forty. Grey strands wove through her brown hair, which she wore in a knot of elaborate braids, curls framing her face. In her time, she had been a beauty, and the bones of it remained in the regal sweep of her nose, height of her cheeks, clear blue eyes, and excellent posture.

Mrs. Dorset looked over Elizabeth, skin flushed from exertion and browned in the sun, and said, “Your love of nature is laudable, but perhaps it be best not to exert oneself so in the summer months.” She cocked her head, “Especially when one is expecting.”

Expecting! How did she know? Elizabeth lowered her gaze. “We have not spoken with the midwife.”

Mrs. Dorset grinned. “I thought it might be with your youngest just turned three. Mr. Darcy knows?”

“We have not shared it.” Though now, Mrs. Dorsett’s loose tongue would ensure the neighbors and all neighboring villages knew of the Darcy’s news. “We are not certain, as yet.”

“Yes. Yes, the midwife. You are sturdy, I must say. With good hips for birthing, thanks be to the Lord.”

Elizabeth smiled, feeling more like a horse being assessed at market then a friend. Which, despite Mrs. Dorset’s frequent visits and advice, they were not. Elizabeth said, “It is hardly a trial to picnic with one’s children. What brings you all this way?”

“Mr. Darcy is not in attendance?”

“No,” Elizabeth said, the doubts she had so diligently stifled once again rising. “He is once more to town.”

“As I thought!” Mrs. Dorset took Elizabeth’s hands and squeezed. “I thought it was his carriage that passed by our home. It was far off to discern the exact make, but…” She glanced at the entrance to Pemberley, Elizabeth, knowing propriety offered her little choice, said, “Come inside. It is warm, as you say. I will have a maid bring us refreshments.”

Mrs. Dorset grinned. “Have you those finger pastries, with the strawberries, your cook offered last week? They were divine!”

“We were not expecting company, but I am sure cook has something one hand.” It was the closest to admonishment Elizabeth could manage.

They sat, drink tea, as Mrs. Dorset relayed her noticing Mr. Darcy’s carriage, which he presumed must’ve been his, and repeated admonitions for Elizabeth not to worry but to focus her attention on home and family as was her probable as wife and mother.”

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said, not wishing to use her husband’s given name the presence of Mrs. Dorset who read too much into the slightest information. “Has seemed well… satisfied… In our marriage and…” Elizabeth’s cheeks warmed. “Fully involved in all the activities of a husband.”

Mrs. Dorset laughed. “With a third child on the way, I suspect so. Men are always interested in bed play.”

“So I do not believe a lack of interest is… at all…”

“Oh, Mrs. Darcy! Dissatisfaction does not lead men astray. A gentleman will enjoy his prized cook’s meals and still seek satiation elsewhere. Do not worry of it. Or speak of it. They always come home.” Mrs. Dorset took a third finger tart and bit into it.

Elizabeth sipped her tea. “Mr. Darcy does not seek novelty.”

Mrs. Dorset laughed. “All gentlemen crave novelty, Mrs. Darcy. I suspect he is off to join her at that masquerade ball. My husband and I were invited, but town is a horror in summer. The stench!”

Elizabeth cocked her head. “My husband was invited to no ball.”

Mrs. Dorset asked, “Are you certain?”

“Mr. Darcy is not fond of dancing, or small talk, or large groups of people,” Elizabeth said.

“As you say,” Dorset finished her tart. “As you say.”

Elizabeth took another sip of her tea. The subject shifted, and Mrs. Dorset mentioned the Midsummer Festival village held every year. “Your husband will have returned by then, certainly,” Dorset said.

As it is six weeks from today, I should hope so,” Elizabeth said. And Fitzwilliam would return by then, but would he leave again after?

Finally, Mrs. Dorset left, and Elizabeth had dinner in the nursery with her children before returning to her cold, empty bed.

Mr. Darcy would not have gone to London to attend a ball, costumed or otherwise. The idea was ridiculous! If anyone had invited them to such an affair, Mr. Darcy would have declined.

And yet, the suspicion lingered. Elizabeth knew she had no business puttering about her husband’s study, but, after half an hour of pretending interest in a novel she had been, before her husband’s departure and Mrs. Dorset’s visit, excited to read, Elizabeth snapped the volume closed and, taking a candle, went to her husband’s study.

She would not open his correspondence. She trusted her husband, and he deserved his privacy. As she did. But it would do no harm to glance at the shape of the letters on his desk, if there were any unopened. She would see if there were any invitations, either upon his writing desk or, more likely, thrown away.

She could not be faulted for that.

Elizabeth slipped into the room. Unlike Elizabeth’s writing desk, which was a mess of half-finished missives and notes to herself, Mr. Darcy’s desk was clear. Orderly. Elizabeth opened the desk to look inside. Not to open any of his correspondence, simply to note what was present. She saw no invitation.

Elizabeth glanced at the wastebasket. A paper lay crumpled up inside.

Elizabeth stared at it. Her fingers itched. If he had thrown it away, that hardly counted as a violation of his privacy.  After a moment more deliberation, Elizabeth knelt, took the letter from the wastebasket and flattened on the desk, running her fingers over the surface to remove the creases.

Elizabeth’s stomach clenched at the looping script. The paper was scented with rose-water, and the words that followed cloyed at her throat.

My Dearest Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy,

How is it you promise to care for me and then, at your convenience, leave me alone to rot? I cannot bear it.

I will be at the Lord Whitmore’s costumed ball. The invitation is enclosed. If you cannot be persuaded to return from your country manor to retrieve me, I suppose I must offer my dance to another.

With Great Affection,

Phillipa

Elizabeth’s hands shook. Mrs. Dorset’s words rang in her mind. Not that Mr. Darcy was dissatisfied, but he craved novelty. Elizabeth had thought herself enough, but this harlot had tempted him away.

But if Fitzwilliam had a kept woman, it was not clear in their household finances, which he made no efforts to hide. With as much wealth as Mr. Darcy possessed, it was as likely he had some small income hidden away somewhere. Or perhaps he had hidden the income required for his mistress’ keeping as some other expense. The townhouse had flooded last autumn. Or so Mr. Darcy had said. They had not visited London together since the previous spring.

Elizabeth dropped into her husband’s chair. Her stomach roiled. She folded the letter into her palm and put her head in her open hands. The paper crinkled against her forehead. She swallowed.

What was she to do? Elizabeth had no guarantee this Phillipa was her husband’s mistress. If asked, true or not, Fitzwilliam would deny it. Elizabeth needed proof.

Sophie could manage the children for a short time, and the household would manage itself. What Elizabeth could not manage was the waiting. Better to find out her husband had betrayed her than eat herself alive with doubts.

The date for the ball was a week from now. It was enough time for Elizabeth go to London and secure an invitation. She would stay with her aunt and uncle and make no mention of her presence to Mr. Darcy until the ball.

Perhaps Mr. Darcy had not fallen into bed with another woman? Perhaps there was another reason for this lady’s effusive letter? Or perhaps he had succumbed, but only once? Perhaps this Phillipa was blackmailing him?

Mr. Darcy could not love this woman. It was, at worst, novelty.

Elizabeth would not lose her husband to the allure of novelty. If Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy had been seduced, then by all in this world, Elizabeth would find out the truth, and win him back, if she could.

Or end it.

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After Mr. Darcy’s disastrous proposal at Rosings, will Brighton offer a second chance?

Safeguarding Lydia’s virtue is no easy task. Not with Lydia throwing herself into trouble at every opportunity. The flirting. The gambling hell. Mr. Wickham! And when Mr. Darcy arrives in Brighton, Lydia’s virtue is not the only thing at stake. Can Elizabeth save her sister without risking her heart?

Hiding the betrayal of a friend is no easy task. Especially not when Mr. Bingley drags Mr. Darcy to Brighton before Darcy can verify the truth of Miss Jane Bennet’s continuing affection. Add Wickham, smugglers, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet to the mix, and friendship is not the only thing at stake. Can Darcy prove himself worthy of a second chance before Elizabeth breaks his heart again?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Seaside Romance, a new addition to the Jane Austen Challenge: All Go to Brighton Project! Mr. Darcy’s Seaside Romance is a sweet novel of 53,000 words with a touch of danger and a healthy dash of romance, all sealed with a kiss.

Grab Mr. Darcy’s Seaside Romance by the links below!

Chapter 1

“Lizzy, you have convinced me.” Mr. Bennet stood, his lips tight with the corners turned downwards with an uncharacteristic frown. “If our Lydia is incapable of weathering the perils of Brighton on her own, then you, being possessed of a keen sense and an agile mind, must accompany her.”

“Papa!” Though Elizabeth could not deny she felt some small temptation to visit the seaside, she could imagine no greater difficulty than being forced for weeks to rein in her younger sister’s high spirits, especially when Lydia faced the twin temptations of male attention and the opportunity to flirt as much as she wished. “It is not seemly. I cannot force myself, uninvited, into Mrs. Forster’s home. While I accept my bonds of filial loyalty, it is well acknowledged that Lydia and I share no special closeness. I will be an imposition. Papa, do not ask this of me,” Elizabeth pleaded.

“I know this is a burden, but if Lydia’s summer in Brighton is as dangerous to her character and reputation as you have so passionately argued, then I have little choice but to insist you accompany Lydia to ensure both her appearance and substance of virtue.”

Pulling at her skirts and gripping them in tight fists, Elizabeth attempted to clarify her original point. “I am not asking, even if they had invited me, to summer in Brighton. I am saying I do not wish Lydia led astray. Forbid her to go. I cannot ask it more plainly.”

“Lydia is indeed a silly girl, but it is also because she is, here, a large fish in a tiny pond. In Brighton, her youth and vivacity will not be so different from that of other young ladies, and under your watchful gaze, I suspect any temptations shall be circumvented. She may go, but only if you accompany her. As much as it pains me to lose your intelligent conversation for a time, what must be must be.”

Elizabeth recognized from the stubborn tilt of the father’s chin and the hardness in his gaze, she could not change his decision and so took her leave. Heart heavy and chest tightening in a manner reminiscent of one of Mrs. Bennet’s spells, Elizabeth could but pray her presence would be too much of an imposition for Mrs. Forster to receive them both.

Only then would Lydia and Elizabeth be saved.

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When a naughty Mrs. Darcy finds her husband sleepwalking, she seizes the opportunity to fulfill both their desires. But what happens when he wakes?

Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy knows her husband has a secret. Why else would he curb his passion and flee their marital bed every night? When she finds him walking in his sleep, and his hidden passion is unleashed, naughty Elizabeth seizes the opportunity to fulfil both their desires. But what happens when he wakes?

Find out in Darcy’s Hidden Desire, a steamy Pride and Prejudice variation of 11,500 words of romance, passion, and, of course, a sensual HEA. Perfect for an evening read.

Grab Darcy’s Hidden Desire at the links below!

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Chapter 1

Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy woke as her husband pulled his arm from around her and sat up. She wished Fitzwilliam had only awakened to use the chamber pot and not to steal away from her bed. The bed she wished they shared.  

Fitzwilliam pressed a kiss to her exposed shoulder, his lips lingering. They had made love half an hour before, slow and sweet. Elizabeth was glad for the closeness to her husband their marriage bed entailed, but she could not help wondering if he wanted more. Perhaps it was the French postcards Lydia had found in their father’s study. The images entailed were not sweet, but they had fascinated Elizabeth. Not that she dared share such fascinations with her husband. As it was, his interest in their conjugal relations was stilted. 

Elizabeth rolled over to face him. Sometimes, she could tempt him to return to her arms, and hold her in his embrace. Maybe, if she tired him enough, he might stay the night.

For a while longer at least. Fitzwilliam always slipped from the room after he thought her asleep.

“Lizzie,” Fitzwilliam said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Go back to sleep.”

“Stay,” Elizabeth murmured. She reached for him. The coals of the fire, gave the room dim, red cast, allowing her to discern the outline of Fitzwilliam’s lean-muscled shoulders and lightly furred chest. Elizabeth loved the feel of her husband against her. The way he held her close as they gave each other pleasure. “Please.”

“I cannot,” Fitzwilliam brushed his thumb over her cheek. “I love you, but I must go.”

Fitzwilliam’s voice held a cool note of finality. Elizabeth knew she would not persuade her husband tonight.

Fitzwilliam took the oil lamp from the nightstand there he had left it, where he left every night, and lighting, padded from the room. Elizabeth rolled over into the spot where he had held her and breathed his scent from the sheets.

More than anything, thought of repeating her parents’ mistakes scared Elizabeth. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had never shared a bedroom. It was the accepted way of doing things, and certainly, Fitzwilliam Darcy did what was expected of him. Elizabeth had known this when she had become his wife. But she also hoped for to persuade him. If not share a bedroom, but at least to have them share a bed until they greeted the dawn together in each other’s arms.

But even on the carriage ride to Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy had insisted upon his own rooms. The innkeepers, silenced by his generous payments, had bowed with stony gentility, but Elizabeth had noted the pity in the servants’ eyes.

Elizabeth love Fitzwilliam Darcy. He claimed to love her in return. But was she fooling herself? Would their closeness fade as swiftly as Fitzwilliam’s scent faded from their shared sheets?

Elizabeth pulled the cover to her neck. She had vowed to marry for love, and she would not let her marriage fail before it even begun.

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An Unsuitable Governess Cover

Sparks fly when Miss Elizabeth Bennet takes work as a governess at Pemberley.

Will deceptions, highwaymen, and a rambunctious eleven-year-old girl bring Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together or tear them apart?

After rejecting Mr. Collins proposal, Miss Elizabeth Bennet assumes the persona of a widow and goes to Lambton to find work. But when she befriends Mr. Darcy’s half-sister Rose and becomes her governess, she must contend with Mr. Darcy, a man she wishes to despise, and Col. Richard Fitzwilliam, a man she wants to love but cannot. With Rose’s help, will Elizabeth find the strength to follow her heart?

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy would sooner face bandits than return to Pemberley and deal with his stepmother — alas, he must do both. And when he discovers Miss Elizabeth Bennet in his home, serving as governess to his half-sister Rose, things go from bad to worse. Col. Fitzwilliam is falling for her. Mr. Darcy is too — or would be, if Miss Elizabeth were at all suitable. Will Mr. Darcy stop denying his heart before his cousin steals Elizabeth’s?

Find out in An Unsuitable Governess, a standalone Pride and Prejudice novel of 64,000 words.

Warning! This book contains: one not at all wicked stepmother, one 100% wicked band of highwaymen, one rambunctious eleven-year-old, one deceptive governess with a heart of gold, one love-stricken colonel, one handsome gentleman in denial of his true feelings, one found treasure, and two happily ever afters to set your heart aflutter.

If undeterred, grab a copy of An Unsuitable Governess today!

Chapter 1

Beneath a gray and weeping sky, a Royal Mail stagecoach trundled north towards Derbyshire. Miss Elizabeth Bennet wished to pretend it was all a grand adventure, but three days being jounced about until her muscles and teeth ached and three nights in tiny coaching inn rooms with the thin, ill-tempered maid Mrs. Gardiner had insisted Elizabeth bring as a chaperone, had robbed Elizabeth of her sense of wonder. Her eyelids were stiff, her hair itched, and she stank.

Across from Elizabeth sat a white-haired, plump woman with spectacles on her nose and a book in her lap. She traced the text with her index finger as she read, pausing occasionally to take a sip from her hip flask or glance out the window at the patchwork fields.

Elizabeth glanced over at her, and then, fearing rudeness, turned her attention back to the pillow on her lap. Gripping the needle between her thumb and forefinger, she sewed. Beside her on the bench, the maid turned chaperone, Adelaide, slept with her head tipped back, mouth parted and snoring like an angry cricket.

“Is it your first time in a public coach?” the woman across from her asked.

Was it so obvious? Elizabeth stabbed the needle into the pillow. “Yes.”

“It is not so terrible.” The woman closed her book and placed it on the bench beside her. She lifted her hip flask and took a sip. “Have you and your… friend,” she glanced at Adelaide. “Come up all the way from London?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Long journey. You must be exhausted.” The woman held out her hip flask. “Have a taste. It will warm your bones.”

Elizabeth hesitated. She was not in the habit of accepting refreshments from strangers. “What is it?”

“My special mix for long trips. Go on, then.”

Elizabeth glanced over at Adelaide, but the maid did not stir. A fine protector. But Elizabeth was thirsty, and she appreciated the offer of friendship. She took the flask and sipped cautiously.

Liquid fire burned down her throat. Elizabeth coughed, blinking rapidly.

The old woman chuckled. “My specialty. Tea with a touch of lavender and a healthy dollop of gin.”

“It is bracing,” Elizabeth said, handing the flask back. Now that the initial burn had passed, the drink had warmed her, or at least distracted her from the chill, damp air and Elizabeth’s own nerves.

“Are you visiting family up north?”

“In Lambton. And I am hoping to find work as a governess or a lady’s companion.”

Elizabeth’s hands shook. She was really doing this, putting her life and her prospects behind her and seeking work.

After rejecting Mr. Collins’ proposal, life at Longbourn had become intolerable. If her aunt and uncle had not visited and yielded to Elizabeth’s entreaties to take her with them to Town, she might have buckled, not to Mr. Collins, who had already wed Charlotte, but to another fool with a good income whom Elizabeth did not admire.

No, it was better she left. The life of a governess was uncertain, and for many unhappy, but if Elizabeth could not marry for love, she would not marry at all. And if she was not to marry, then she needed to provide for herself. She refused to be a burden to her family.

“Lambton! Why, that is my destination. My niece is with child, and I wished to give her some aid, what with her husband being away with Wellington’s men. Have you any brothers on the front? We might pray, together.”

Elizabeth was touched. “I have no brothers, but if you wish to pray…” Elizabeth had prayed enough this past month for guidance or at least comfort. Perhaps God had guided her here.

“In a bit, perhaps. You are not so fond of embroidery, are you, Miss—?”

Elizabeth bit the inside of her cheek. As tired and sore as she was from the days of travel, once she left this coach, her future became even more uncertain. “Elizabeth,” she said.

The maid snorted and rubbed her hand over her cheek. Drool glistened from the corner of her mouth.

“Elizabeth Ben—” No. Once she left this coach, Miss Elizabeth Bennet would disappear. Best to begin now.

 “Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson,” Elizabeth declared. Wilson was her aunt’s maiden name and the one she had chosen to begin her new life.  

The old woman’s eyebrow twitched. “Mrs. Wilson,” she said, smiling with one missing tooth. “Evelyn. Mrs. Evelyn Johnson. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

The carriage jerked.

“Huh?” Adelaide rubbed her eyes. The carriage jerked again. Elizabeth gripped the seat as ahead, the driver, astride one of the heavy draft horses, pulled back on the reins, shouting. The horses turned left, slowing beside a carriage which appeared to have tipped onto its side. The horses were gone.

“Goodness! I had not believed the rumors!” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed.

“Rumors?”

“Highwaymen.”

Elizabeth swallowed. She peered out the side window. A footman hopped down from the coach. He held a coach gun in hand as he approached the downed carriage.

Adelaide said, “Cor! Mrs. Gardiner said no such thing of us being robbed.”

“Perhaps there was an accident,” Elizabeth suggested.

“Humph! What accident run off with the horses?”

Adelaide made an excellent point.

The footman returned, shaking his head as he walked back. He spoke briefly to the driver and then walked towards the back of the coach. Elizabeth stood.

“What are you doing?” Adelaide said as Elizabeth opened the stagecoach door.

“Finding out what is going on,” Elizabeth said. A cold wind swept into the carriage. “Excuse me,” Elizabeth shouted to the footman as he passed. “What happened?”

“Nothing to concern yourself with, Miss.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“No. It is empty.”

An empty carriage, no horses, and rumors of highwaymen. Elizabeth shivered.

“We’ll be on our way again, Miss, if you would like to get settled in.”

Elizabeth thanked him and pulled the door shut.

“Cor,” Adelaide said again as the coach rumbled forward. “They gon’ report it at the next station?”

“I suppose,” Elizabeth said, seating herself again on the bench. As the driver guided the horses, Elizabeth reached up to the shawl around her shoulders and clasped it around her.

Mrs. Johnson took another swig from her flask. “Lambton is a quiet town. You were looking for work as a governess, you said?”

Elizabeth nodded. Thoughts of the empty carriage had driven away fears about her future employment.

“Try the Darcy house,” Mrs. Johnson advised, holding the flask out again.

“Darcy?” It could not be the same odious Darcy who had mocked her and then danced with her with all the warmth of a plasterwork. Though Jane, or perhaps their mother, had mentioned Mr. Darcy’s estate was in the North.

“At Pemberley. The youngest Darcy girl has been quite the terror since their father’s passing, my niece says. She is just eleven and since last summer has driven away three young governesses on her own.”

Pemberley. That was the name of Mr. Darcy’s estate. Elizabeth had little doubt Mr. Darcy’s sister was a terror. She would be following in the family tradition.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, resolving to find work elsewhere. Highwaymen. Monster children, and now this.

“I would not have suggested it, love, but you were so fierce just then with the footman.” Mrs. Johnson held the flask out again, and Elizabeth took it. Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson needed a taste of courage.  

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Mr. Darcy's Cipher Cover

A secret letter brings them together. Will an assassin tear them apart?

For Miss Elizabeth Bennet, love is the cipher she cannot crack.

Outside the Longbourn house, Elizabeth Bennet is an ordinary country miss. But in secret, she and her father crack codes to foil Napoleon’s schemes against England. More than anything, Elizabeth wants to be loved for herself, but how can she when she lives a double life?

For Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a coded letter hides the key to his heart.

After Fitzwilliam Darcy’s brother is killed in France, a coded letter carries his final words and a dangerous secret. Mr. Darcy brings the letter to the Bennets for answers. But soon the code is the least of Mr. Darcy’s conundrums as he finds himself falling for Elizabeth Bennet. Caught between an assassin and an old enemy, can Mr. Darcy accept his feelings and win Miss Elizabeth’s heart before it is too late?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Cipher, Book 1 of the Spies and Prejudice series. Mr. Darcy’s Cipher is a Pride and Prejudice variation with heaps of romance, humor, suspense, code-cracking, and two sometimes bullheaded but lovable leads who struggle to save a nation while falling in love. 

If you love Pride and Prejudice variations with a twist of espionage, start reading Mr. Darcy’s Cipher now!

Chapter One

It was a truth universally acknowledged within the Longbourn House, that of Mr. Bennet’s five daughters, Lizzie was the only one who had inherited her father’s love of puzzles.

At first, humoring Elizabeth was a matter of pride. One autumn afternoon, when Elizabeth was nine years of age, she slipped beside him on the chaise and pointed at a large stack of papers from a missive he had received that morning from London.  

“What an odd script!” Elizabeth exclaimed at the seemingly nonsensical symbols. “Is it Greek?”

“It is a cipher.” Mr. Bennet leaned closer to his daughter, and the ghost of a smile teased his lips. “A secret.”

“What kind of secret?”

“To discover that, one must unwind the code.”

Lizzie nodded, her dark eyes shining. “Show me!”

Mr. Bennet put in front of her a sheet of paper and explain to her how to go about decoding a simple Caesar cipher. He expected Lizzie to grow weary of the exercise, as her older sister Jane had done a year before, but Elizabeth was tenacious. Before a half an hour had passed, she handed back the code, deciphered in small, precise script.

And so father and daughter began a lifelong pattern of instruction. And as Mr. Bennet’s eyesight failed him, it was Lizzie who read the missives sent from the prime minister’s office to foil Bonaparte’s designs on conquering England.

Had Elizabeth been born a man, Mr. Bennet might have informed others of her skills, but codebreaking wasn’t an appropriate vocation for a young lady, and worse, he had grown dependent on her abilities as his eyesight rendered the world around him a cipher that became increasingly difficult to navigate. So he kept Lizzie’s abilities, and his own deficiencies, from being discovered outside the walls of his own home.

The relationship between father and daughter at points quite irritated Mrs. Bennet who had no interest in puzzles or faculty for solving them, but she humored her husband at the same time entreating her daughter to stay silent with potential suitors about her oddities. And Lizzie, being a good-natured, lighthearted, and dutiful young woman of twenty years, yielded to her mother in this, not wanting her own eccentricities to stand in the way of her finding a loving match.

Father and daughter sat, head bowed over what appeared to be a Caesar Cipher when Mrs. Bennet noisily entered her husband’s study. “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said the lady to him. She bustled across the room to the window and flung it open. “How long have the pair of you been cooped up in this room without even the slightest hint of a breeze to liven the air?” The papers on Mr. Bennet’s desk fluttered beneath twin paperweights a damp autumn breeze blew over the room.

Mr. Bennet leaned back on his chair. The clock said half three, too early for luncheon or tea. His wife rarely ventured into his domain at this point of the day. “It is half three,” returned Mr. Bennet. “What is the matter?”

Mrs. Bennet glanced over at Elizabeth, who despite her best efforts had speckles of black ink on her fingers and speckling the dull walnut colored fabric of her linen mitts, as, lips moving, she tapped at a paper, scrawled all over in code, with the back of her pen.

“Lizzie! Your hands! My heavens, you must wash these immediately and change into something more suitable!”

Elizabeth looked up. “Mother?”

“Suitable for what?” Mr. Bennet asked. “She hasn’t any balls or visits planned at this time of the day, has she?”

“No! It is even better.” Mrs. Bennet brought her hands up to her chest with a delighted intake of breath. “Your guest, a young, handsome and unmarried gentleman by the name of Mr. Darcy is here in our parlor! Why did you not inform me he was calling? He is in every manner proper, from his waistcoat to his Hessians. I would have had the cook prepare a special lunch so he might feel more welcome and have a more pleasant opportunity to meet and converse with our daughters.”

“Mr. Darcy…,” Mr. Bennet mused. “Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Yes. I had quite forgotten the date. Mr. Darcy is not here for lunch. His deceased brother sent a letter, presumably in code, and he wished it deciphered. As the younger Mr. Darcy was stationed in France, I felt it imperative to assess the cipher myself to make certain it had nothing to do with our affairs abroad. Now, why have you abandoned the elder Mr. Darcy in our parlor?”

“For Lizzie’s sake!” Mrs. Bennet responded. “Elizabeth, my nerves cannot bear the thought of your bluestocking tendencies being revealed to such esteemed company. You may never marry! I fear I might faint. Mr. Bennet, how is it you allowed your daughter to come to such a state? Have you no eyes?”

“I fear I still am in possession of both, however poorly they serve me.”

“Well, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet said, skimming over the distasteful fact of her husband’s failing eyesight as it, to some extent, negated his periodic compliments of her remaining beauty. “It would behoove you both for Lizzie scrub her hands at the very least. We may not have time to change her into a more flattering dress, but–”

“Lizzie, stay put,” Mr. Bennet said. “My dear,” he continued. “This gentleman is here converse with me?”

“His manners are exquisite, and with such a serious air, and elder Mr. Darcy you say? Perhaps eldest,” Mrs. Bennet added hopefully. “He is certainly of fine breeding. I had thought he might be but a second or third son commissioned with the militia or army though he gave no rank and he does not wear regimentals–”

“Elder? Eldest? It does not answer the question of why is he remains idling in our parlor.”

“Lizzie must be made suitable. It is wonderful news, first Mr. Bingley taking possession of Netherfield house, and now–”

“Mr. Bingley? What has any of this to do with Mr. Bingley?”

“You do not listen at all.”  Mrs. Bennet let out a weary sigh.  “How painful is your disregard! We discussed Mr. Bingley a week ago. He is likely arrived at this point. Oh! What if this Mr. Darcy is a guest of Mr. Bingley?”

“Suppose–”

“And Mr. Bingley has taken possession of Netherfield Park. Such a fine thing for our girls, or it would be if you called upon him before some other man’s daughter snaps the young gentleman up! If you were to tear your attention for one moment from the war to tend to your duties at home–.”

“It will do no good to our daughters to be settled if Bonaparte storms over the breadth of England and seizes from them anything which they might have gained through marriage.”

“Again with Bonaparte!” Mrs. Bennet stomped her foot. “We are all doing as we ought to support our men on the front. Have not myself the other ladies sewn blankets and knitted warm items to send to our fighting men? But one must also accept that the concerns of our lives amount to more than opposing that vile man of the Continent who declares himself an emperor. I could not wish to believe you, my dear Mr. Bennet, spared no care for your daughters beyond how our Lizzie’s keen eyes assist you in your deciphering.

“This Mr. Darcy, a handsome, young gentleman who is currently lacking a wife. I have no sense yet of his assets—”

“A difficult thing to determine in a few moments of conversation, though I do not doubt you gave a valiant effort,” Mr. Bennet said with no small amount of sarcasm in his tone.

Mrs. Bennet ignored it. “This Mr. Darcy might provide an excellent match for one of our daughters. You understand this is of greater import than mere scribblings, as amusing as you both may find them. Now Lizzie, scrub your hands. Your father will be able to engage in idle conversation until you return–”

It was the wrong thing to say. Mr. Bennet’s face flushed, and his voice was low and furious as he stated, “Bonaparte may invade at any moment, and you natter on about our daughter’s hands? This gentleman, whether or not he is wed, will leave post-haste as soon as his brother’s correspondence is deciphered; and in either case, if he cannot see past a pair of ink-dappled hands, he is no use to us.”

“No use!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “In case you have forgotten, all five of your daughters are as yet unwed. And at the moment of your death, our house and all we own is entailed to your cousin.”

“I am well aware were of our difficulties, more so because you see fit to remind me of them daily.”

“Already, you refuse to call upon Mr. Bingley, stating now you do not remember the conversation we had on just this subject in this room a mere week ago. Oh, my nerves! It is as though a thousand spiders are skittering over my skin, and I cannot breathe for the fear. Oh Mr. Bennet!”

Mr. Bennet was unmoved.

“I can wash them,” Elizabeth said to mollify her mother. She hated it when her parents fought, especially when she was the cause. No matter the state of her hands though, Elizabeth doubted a talent for deciphering code would offer her entry into a young gentleman’s heart. It hardly mattered. If this Mr. Darcy was here about a code, he would depart quickly enough with his questions answered.

“No, Lizzie. We have kept Mr. Darcy waiting long enough. Send him in, Mrs. Bennet,” Mr. Bennet ordered. “The quicker we handle it, the quicker he can be on his way.”

“The point of this discussion is not to send an available young gentleman on his way––.”

“Either send him in, or you will force me to go myself to receive him.”

“No! Do not stir yourself on my behalf. I will have him brought here. Elizabeth, if you don’t wash that ink away, at least take care to hide your fingers.” Mrs. Bennet turned abruptly to the door, her skirts flaring out with the force of her spin as she strode with well-choreographed indignation from the room.

It was a truth universally acknowledged within the Longbourn House, that of Mr. Bennet’s five daughters, Lizzie was the only one who had inherited her father’s love of puzzles.

At first, humoring Elizabeth was a matter of pride. One autumn afternoon, when Elizabeth was nine years of age, she slipped beside him on the chaise and pointed at a large stack of papers from a missive he had received that morning from London.  

“What an odd script!” Elizabeth exclaimed at the seemingly nonsensical symbols. “Is it Greek?”

“It is a cipher.” Mr. Bennet leaned closer to his daughter, and the ghost of a smile teased his lips. “A secret.”

“What kind of secret?”

“To discover that, one must unwind the code.”

Lizzie nodded, her dark eyes shining. “Show me!”

Mr. Bennet put in front of her a sheet of paper and explain to her how to go about decoding a simple Caesar cipher. He expected Lizzie to grow weary of the exercise, as her older sister Jane had done a year before, but Elizabeth was tenacious. Before a half an hour had passed, she handed back the code, deciphered in small, precise script.

And so father and daughter began a lifelong pattern of instruction. And as Mr. Bennet’s eyesight failed him, it was Lizzie who read the missives sent from the prime minister’s office to foil Bonaparte’s designs on conquering England.

Had Elizabeth been born a man, Mr. Bennet might have informed others of her skills, but codebreaking wasn’t an appropriate vocation for a young lady, and worse, he had grown dependent on her abilities as his eyesight rendered the world around him a cipher that became increasingly difficult to navigate. So he kept Lizzie’s abilities, and his own deficiencies, from being discovered outside the walls of his own home.

The relationship between father and daughter at points quite irritated Mrs. Bennet who had no interest in puzzles or faculty for solving them, but she humored her husband at the same time entreating her daughter to stay silent with potential suitors about her oddities. And Lizzie, being a good-natured, lighthearted, and dutiful young woman of twenty years, yielded to her mother in this, not wanting her own eccentricities to stand in the way of her finding a loving match.

Father and daughter sat, head bowed over what appeared to be a Caesar Cipher when Mrs. Bennet noisily entered her husband’s study. “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said the lady to him. She bustled across the room to the window and flung it open. “How long have the pair of you been cooped up in this room without even the slightest hint of a breeze to liven the air?” The papers on Mr. Bennet’s desk fluttered beneath twin paperweights a damp autumn breeze blew over the room.

Mr. Bennet leaned back on his chair. The clock said half three, too early for luncheon or tea. His wife rarely ventured into his domain at this point of the day. “It is half three,” returned Mr. Bennet. “What is the matter?”

Mrs. Bennet glanced over at Elizabeth, who despite her best efforts had speckles of black ink on her fingers and speckling the dull walnut colored fabric of her linen mitts, as, lips moving, she tapped at a paper, scrawled all over in code, with the back of her pen.

“Lizzie! Your hands! My heavens, you must wash these immediately and change into something more suitable!”

Elizabeth looked up. “Mother?”

“Suitable for what?” Mr. Bennet asked. “She hasn’t any balls or visits planned at this time of the day, has she?”

“No! It is even better.” Mrs. Bennet brought her hands up to her chest with a delighted intake of breath. “Your guest, a young, handsome and unmarried gentleman by the name of Mr. Darcy is here in our parlor! Why did you not inform me he was calling? He is in every manner proper, from his waistcoat to his Hessians. I would have had the cook prepare a special lunch so he might feel more welcome and have a more pleasant opportunity to meet and converse with our daughters.”

“Mr. Darcy…,” Mr. Bennet mused. “Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Yes. I had quite forgotten the date. Mr. Darcy is not here for lunch. His deceased brother sent a letter, presumably in code, and he wished it deciphered. As the younger Mr. Darcy was stationed in France, I felt it imperative to assess the cipher myself to make certain it had nothing to do with our affairs abroad. Now, why have you abandoned the elder Mr. Darcy in our parlor?”

“For Lizzie’s sake!” Mrs. Bennet responded. “Elizabeth, my nerves cannot bear the thought of your bluestocking tendencies being revealed to such esteemed company. You may never marry! I fear I might faint. Mr. Bennet, how is it you allowed your daughter to come to such a state? Have you no eyes?”

“I fear I still am in possession of both, however poorly they serve me.”

“Well, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet said, skimming over the distasteful fact of her husband’s failing eyesight as it, to some extent, negated his periodic compliments of her remaining beauty. “It would behoove you both for Lizzie scrub her hands at the very least. We may not have time to change her into a more flattering dress, but–”

“Lizzie, stay put,” Mr. Bennet said. “My dear,” he continued. “This gentleman is here converse with me?”

“His manners are exquisite, and with such a serious air, and elder Mr. Darcy you say? Perhaps eldest,” Mrs. Bennet added hopefully. “He is certainly of fine breeding. I had thought he might be but a second or third son commissioned with the militia or army though he gave no rank and he does not wear regimentals–”

“Elder? Eldest? It does not answer the question of why is he remains idling in our parlor.”

“Lizzie must be made suitable. It is wonderful news, first Mr. Bingley taking possession of Netherfield house, and now–”

“Mr. Bingley? What has any of this to do with Mr. Bingley?”

“You do not listen at all.”  Mrs. Bennet let out a weary sigh.  “How painful is your disregard! We discussed Mr. Bingley a week ago. He is likely arrived at this point. Oh! What if this Mr. Darcy is a guest of Mr. Bingley?”

“Suppose–”

“And Mr. Bingley has taken possession of Netherfield Park. Such a fine thing for our girls, or it would be if you called upon him before some other man’s daughter snaps the young gentleman up! If you were to tear your attention for one moment from the war to tend to your duties at home–.”

“It will do no good to our daughters to be settled if Bonaparte storms over the breadth of England and seizes from them anything which they might have gained through marriage.”

“Again with Bonaparte!” Mrs. Bennet stomped her foot. “We are all doing as we ought to support our men on the front. Have not myself the other ladies sewn blankets and knitted warm items to send to our fighting men? But one must also accept that the concerns of our lives amount to more than opposing that vile man of the Continent who declares himself an emperor. I could not wish to believe you, my dear Mr. Bennet, spared no care for your daughters beyond how our Lizzie’s keen eyes assist you in your deciphering.

“This Mr. Darcy, a handsome, young gentleman who is currently lacking a wife. I have no sense yet of his assets—”

“A difficult thing to determine in a few moments of conversation, though I do not doubt you gave a valiant effort,” Mr. Bennet said with no small amount of sarcasm in his tone.

Mrs. Bennet ignored it. “This Mr. Darcy might provide an excellent match for one of our daughters. You understand this is of greater import than mere scribblings, as amusing as you both may find them. Now Lizzie, scrub your hands. Your father will be able to engage in idle conversation until you return–”

It was the wrong thing to say. Mr. Bennet’s face flushed, and his voice was low and furious as he stated, “Bonaparte may invade at any moment, and you natter on about our daughter’s hands? This gentleman, whether or not he is wed, will leave post-haste as soon as his brother’s correspondence is deciphered; and in either case, if he cannot see past a pair of ink-dappled hands, he is no use to us.”

“No use!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “In case you have forgotten, all five of your daughters are as yet unwed. And at the moment of your death, our house and all we own is entailed to your cousin.”

“I am well aware were of our difficulties, more so because you see fit to remind me of them daily.”

“Already, you refuse to call upon Mr. Bingley, stating now you do not remember the conversation we had on just this subject in this room a mere week ago. Oh, my nerves! It is as though a thousand spiders are skittering over my skin, and I cannot breathe for the fear. Oh Mr. Bennet!”

Mr. Bennet was unmoved.

“I can wash them,” Elizabeth said to mollify her mother. She hated it when her parents fought, especially when she was the cause. No matter the state of her hands though, Elizabeth doubted a talent for deciphering code would offer her entry into a young gentleman’s heart. It hardly mattered. If this Mr. Darcy was here about a code, he would depart quickly enough with his questions answered.

“No, Lizzie. We have kept Mr. Darcy waiting long enough. Send him in, Mrs. Bennet,” Mr. Bennet ordered. “The quicker we handle it, the quicker he can be on his way.”

“The point of this discussion is not to send an available young gentleman on his way––.”

“Either send him in, or you will force me to go myself to receive him.”

“No! Do not stir yourself on my behalf. I will have him brought here. Elizabeth, if you don’t wash that ink away, at least take care to hide your fingers.” Mrs. Bennet turned abruptly to the door, her skirts flaring out with the force of her spin as she strode with well-choreographed indignation from the room.

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