New Release – Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride

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NEW RELEASE
Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride!

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Compromised. Married. Whole?

Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride: After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride, Book 2 of 4 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words where love truly does conquer all.

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I recently wrote a review lamenting the lack of appropriate punishment for those of the aristocracy. In the first book of this series, an underling was hanged but the Lord and Lady responsible were free. In Part 2, retribution is in the works at last.

Darcy confronts his Uncle, Lord Matlock, with his suspicions about Lady Catherine.

Quote from the book: “She intended worse for Elizabeth.”

“Darcy! Quiet.” Richard stepped to the desk, leaning over it to interpose himself between Darcy and the earl. “We do not mean to have Aunt Catherine shipped off in shackles or anything so punitive.”

Richard didn’t? Darcy certainly did.”

Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride:

Chapter 1

Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

“Our uncle has the connections. His blood should be enough. I do not want Elizabeth to face the censure of Lord Braithwaite’s supporters, not to mention the gawkers. This business is already all over the gossip columns.” Secrets that were anything but secret: the names cited as initials with just enough information for all to know about whom they were writing.

Richard sighed. “A nasty business, this.”

“Elizabeth would need to remain in Town at least another fortnight to be married by Common license at a local parish. And she cannot abide strangers, now.”

It hurt Darcy to see Elizabeth so fearful. This same woman who had led him a merry chase through Hunsford, who had teased him and even climbed a tree to surprise him, now startled by the slightest sound. She refused excursions beyond the garden and, fingers clasped at her back, eyes lowered, she paced slow steps along the same narrow path, circling a fountain, potted flowers, and the spindly, sun-starved sapling that provided meager shade to the one, small bench where she sometimes sat.

Elizabeth put a good face on it. Her smile crinkled the corners of her eyes when he visited, and she told him small things of her days: the chattering sparrows that gossiped in the tree and the squirrel with a scar along his side that she had taken to feeding crusts of stale bread from the kitchens. Elizabeth was healing. Slowly. Darcy had to believe that. He had to believe that one day she would not flinch from his touching her shoulder and that the smudge of sleeplessness beneath her eyes might one day fade, bringing back the young, vibrant woman he had fallen in love with a month and a seeming decade ago.

And then there was the matter of Lord Thomas Braithwaite. Darcy burned to find the man and deliver on him the suffering he had on Elizabeth. But first, they had to find him. Securing his uncle’s support before speaking with Lady Catherine would give Darcy the edge he needed to wring every scrap of information his aunt had about Lord Braithwaite.

The carriage jerked to a halt, and outside a footman yelled at a dirty figure in a heavy coat who dashed past Darcy’s window and elbowed into the throng. It was early summer and too blasted hot. Even through the sachet of lavender Elizabeth had sewn for him, the stench of bodies, progress, and horse droppings filled the air.

“We should not speak to him of Aunt Catherine,” Richard said.

“He cannot defend her.” Edward Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Matlock, was one of the most honorable men Darcy had ever known. Rigid in his principles, much like Aunt Catherine except he at least had the sense to know which topics his knowledge lacked and even listened to those who might be better informed as opposed to forcing those around him to his opinions, no matter how ill-formed they might be.

“She is his sister.”

“And you are his son. He will not dispute your evidence.”

“Perhaps.”

Darcy was not reassured. “Do you believe he would ignore this?”

“If it were Georgiana, would you be so quick to believe?”

“If the evidence were there.” But Richard’s question had shaken Darcy’s confidence. Darcy could not imagine Georgiana forcing a woman, no matter how despised, into the clutches of one like Lord Braithwaite. And Aunt Catherine had always had her ways and rigid beliefs. But perhaps it had not always been such. Had her husband’s death hardened her? Darcy had no way of knowing Aunt Catherine as the girl his uncle remembered.

These troubling thoughts occupied Darcy for the rest of the ride to the Earl of Matlock’s townhouse. The House of Lords remained in session until late July, though some departed for their summer homes before the term was complete, if they attended at all. Thankfully, Darcy’s uncle was dedicated to his duties and still in Town, else Darcy would have been forced to write the entire sordid affair in a letter and put aside all hopes to acquire the special license to marry his love in peace.

A footman led Darcy and his cousin to the earl’s study. Edward Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock, sat behind a large writing desk, a tray with the remains of a breakfast at the edge. Two piles of papers lay on the desk. The earl sat behind it on a wide, heavy piece of chair that looked at least as old as he and upholstered in dark brown leather.

The earl himself was a stocky man, face long and round with a thick gray moustache matched by a thatch of gray hair, now thinning at the temples. His lips, like Richard’s, were thin with a determined set, and the lines about his mouth, eyes, and forehead showed a man often mired in the difficulties of managing his large estate. When Darcy and Richard were announced, he looked up, and his expression was grim.

“What is this business with Lord Braithwaite?” he asked. “And how is it I learn of it from the papers and not my own blood?”

Richard said, “I wrote a letter.”

“Eight lines long, accusing a peer of the realm of something this scandalous! Lord Thomas Braithwaite is a gilded cockroach, make no mistake, scurrying about in the dark and rummaging through a man’s larder when he believes no one is aware, but abducting women and branding them?”

“It is exactly that, father,” Richard said. “He has been at this for some time, long enough to have gained property and ruffians trained to this task.”

Darcy said, “He did it to the woman I love.”

“Miss Bennet?”

Darcy nodded.

Col. Fitzwilliam said, “We believe others of the Ton who took liberties with their servants contracted him.”

“Miss Bennet was no servant?”

“She was inconvenient to Aunt Catherine,” Darcy said.

His cousin shot him a glare.

“My sister could not have known, and I will not have you drag her, and all of us further into this mess.”

“It was her carriage that brought Miss Elizabeth to Lord Braithwaite’s thugs.”

“We do not know that Catherine arranged it. Nor that she knew what Braithwaite intended.”

“Aunt Catherine had my fiancée abducted! Elizabeth deserves justice.”

“So, you intend to drag your aunt in front of the House of Lords, and do what, have her shipped in shackles to the colonies?”

“She intended worse for Elizabeth.”

“Darcy! Quiet.” Richard stepped to the desk, leaning over it to interpose himself between Darcy and the earl. “We do not mean to have Aunt Catherine shipped off in shackles or anything so punitive.”

Richard didn’t? Darcy certainly did. Aunt Catherine could have accepted his decision to marry Elizabeth. Instead, she had committed a grievous crime and subjected an innocent to barbaric treatment.

And what other unfortunates had Lady Catherine sent to Lord Braithwaite? If Elizabeth were not gentry, and if Darcy had not loved her enough to do everything in his power to see her returned to him, then she too would have disappeared to India. It was only Miss Elizabeth’s status as the daughter of a baronet that allowed her to bring a charge against Lord Braithwaite. Darcy tried to remember if any other young women had disappeared from his aunt’s service, but what attention had he paid to his aunt’s maids?

Richard continued, “We need to find out all she knows of Lord Braithwaite to flush him out and bring him to justice. We only mean to speak with her.”

What game was Richard playing? They had said nothing of excusing Lady Catherine for her crimes.

“But if she admits to her involvement?” Darcy cut in. “Are we to continue on as if none of this happened?”

The earl sighed. “Darcy, son. You are young and full of fire. I envy that. I do. You wish those who have hurt your fiancée, the woman you love, to suffer. But what then? If you implicate Lady Catherine in this vile business, it stains us all. You wish to marry this woman?”

“Yes. I love her.”

“Then spare her. Give her a family whole, not torn to pieces. What good will you accomplish by making such an accusation? Against your own blood!”

“I was there.” Darcy swallowed. “Lord Braithwaite starved Miss Elizabeth, drugged her, and burned his brand upon her skin. If my aunt knows how to find him, she will tell me. Aunt Catherine is just as responsible as Lord Braithwaite for what happened to Elizabeth, and I will not forgive her nor give her quarter.” It was a matter of honor. “I love Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“If you love her, you will not pursue this path of harming your family. Miss Bennet deserves a life. Your children deserve a life without the blemish of this scandal defining their every moment.”

“I cannot forgive Aunt Catherine.”

“Have you spoken with her? How do you know she was not as deceived as the rest of us by Lord Braithwaite?”

Darcy doubted it. How could his aunt have sent Elizabeth away and fabricated the story of her returning to London to be with her family while instead driving Elizabeth into Lord Braithwaite’s clutches without having some understanding of the man’s plans? Aunt Catherine had expected Elizabeth to disappear. She must have known something. She might know something now of Lord Braithwaite’s whereabouts. Darcy had hoped to secure his uncle’s aid in acquiring the special license and his support in the upcoming trial. He had thought his uncle would be as revolted by his sister’s actions as Darcy was. Instead, Edward Fitzwilliam defended Aunt Catherine.

An icy coal of rage burned in Darcy’s gut. He could not speak. He stood, fists clenched at his sides. A family whole with the woman who had sold Elizabeth to a monster?

Richard said, “We will speak with Aunt Catherine. Find out what she knows of Lord Braithwaite. Better us than the parish constable. Or an investigator from Town.”

The Earl of Matlock nodded. “You will keep it quiet. Best we keep Catherine’s name out of this altogether.”

“No,” Darcy said. How could he face Elizabeth while covering up Aunt Catherine’s crimes?

“I know you are hurting, Darcy, and angry. Heaven knows I would be. But don’t let your anger rule you. And do not compound harm with further harm.”

“If she did this—”

“Catherine may not have known.”

Darcy doubted it down to his soul, but he could also see the pain in his uncle’s eyes. He and Aunt Catherine were siblings. She, the elder who had cared for his hurts and wiped his tears as Darcy had done with Georgiana. In acknowledgement of that pain, Darcy said, “I will not judge her before we have spoken.” It was the best he could manage.

His uncle, the earl, nodded.

“There is a matter of a special license,” Richard suggested. His expression has softened, and Darcy realized his cousin had feared the outcome of this discussion. It explained his taciturnity in the carriage and the question of Georgiana, an inkling planted in Darcy’s mind with the deftness of a well-plotted stratagem. Darcy expected no less from his cousin.

The earl agreed to make the request, and after a few more pleasantries, enough to maintain the fiction that something of this was salvageable, Darcy and Richard left.

In the carriage, Richard stared out the window as Darcy brooded. The noise, heat and stench of Town faded to a background concern, one that troubled him far less than his own thoughts.

“If Aunt Catherine is responsible, which you and I blasted well know she is, we cannot allow her to escape justice.”

Richard’s gaze remained fixed through the tin carriage window on the crowded street. “I know,” he said. “It is easier on the battlefield, when one’s enemies are obvious and one’s duties clear.”

“I have no experience of battle, Richard.”

“I fear you will soon, Darcy. In one form or another.”

Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 3

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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride - Chapter 3

While Darcy had often found Rosings Park tedious, with his aunt’s incessant and ridiculous attempts to force himself and Anne into matrimony, it had not before felt sinister. Which of the servants had known Elizabeth’s fate? Which had suffered it? And what other secrets did his aunt hide?

“Hold your temper,” Col. Fitzwilliam reminded Darcy as the carriage approached the expansive entrance with wide, oak double-doors framed by large, curtained windows. The door’s frame was carved with stone figures, the impressions of impish angelic figures staring down in a mimicry of plasterwork.

Darcy said, “You have a worse temper than I.”

“I am not in love.”

Fair enough. And Darcy wanted his aunt to suffer at least as much as she had made Elizabeth. Lord Braithwaite had harmed her, but Aunt Catherine had delivered Elizabeth into Lord Braithwaite’s hands. How long had she planned this? How could she not have known?

They arrived at the front entrance and alighted from the carriage. A footman led them to the breakfast nook where Lady Catherine, in her afternoon dress, sat, her fingers resting on a piece of toast.

Aunt Catherine looked up as they were announced. “Fitzwilliam. Richard.” She nodded to them. “Sit. You must be hungry. I will have a maid bring you some breakfast. Eggs, ham, and a delightful strawberry jam—”

“We are not hungry,” Darcy said. His stomach churned.

“Then sit. I suppose this is about the business with Miss Bennet. I assure you; I knew nothing of Lord Braithwaite’s intentions.”

Darcy’s fist clenched. He was a gentleman, and a gentleman did not engage in fisticuffs with one’s aunt. And yet, Darcy wanted her to hurt. “So, you admit you sent her to him.”

“To pay her off, not to—” Lady Catherine’s nose wrinkled. “You cannot imagine I would condone abducting young women and selling them in savage lands? If that is even what Lord Braithwaite intended. The papers are often full of nonsense. Gossip and innuendo.”

“It is exactly what he intended,” Darcy said.

“Perhaps the lady exaggerated?”

Darcy stepped towards his aunt, rage boiling in his gut. Richard put an arm out, blocking him. “Darcy, sit down.”

“Richard, no need for such a show. My nephew Fitzwilliam would never harm me.”

Aunt Catherine could not be so ignorant. Darcy shook with rage. It had to be a ruse, though Aunt Catherine had never had much ability to hide her thoughts. Neither ability nor practice. “You sent her to him,” Darcy said. “He branded her.”

Aunt Catherine’s eyes widened. “Lord Braithwaite—! No!” She gasped, shaking her head. The mug of tea in her hand sloshed onto her gown. “Impossible! We have been friends since we were children. Your father too.”

“Do not bring my father into this.” Had Darcy’s father known? The other abducted young women had been servants. Maids and such. Darcy would not have noticed if one ran off. The comings and goings of lower servants were not his affair. “My father would never have condoned this,” Darcy insisted. But how could he be sure?

It must have been his aunt’s plan to make Darcy doubt himself.

And blast the woman, he doubted the breadth of his aunt’s knowledge of Braithwaite’s intentions. Her ignorance, if it was ignorance, did not change what she had done. “Did you know?” Darcy said. “What he intended.”

“He was to make her leave. I assumed he would pay her the sum I had offered and set her up in a household. Scotland as like as not. That is what I know. You cannot believe—” Her hands shook as she stared down at them. 

Aunt Catherine seemed genuine in her distress, but how could Darcy believe her? She had lied just as easily to Elizabeth. 

“I will see you stand with Lord Braithwaite at the trial,” Darcy said.

“Fitzwilliam! You are mad. Distraught! This would ruin our family.”

“You are not my family,” Darcy said.

Aunt Catherine flinched as though he had slapped her. She deserved a slap, but Darcy would not hit a woman, not even one who had subjected his future wife to such evil. He was a gentleman. He turned, without bowing, from her.

“Darcy!” Richard called after him, but Darcy could not stand to spend another moment in his aunt’s — no, Lady Catherine’s — home. His rage was such that he could not control himself or his actions. Best to step outside into the open air. He walked out onto the grounds.

The day was warm and green with flowers blooming. The beauty did little to salve his fury. His aunt deserved all she had wrought delivered upon her tenfold.

Darcy paced away from the entrance. Footmen had watered and stabled the horses, offering a respite to the beasts for their service, bringing him and his cousin here at a brisk pace. Darcy’s steps meandered him towards the stables. The company of horses, the openness of their affection at the promise of a treat, might dull his rage enough for him to think.

Darcy had been foolish to threaten his aunt before she had told them what she knew of Lord Braithwaite’s location. Darcy only hoped his cousin could pry the information from her despite Darcy’s mistake.

Halfway to the stable, his path crossed with Anne, who walked arm and arm with her companion. Darcy and Anne were not close, a mutual agreement as neither bowed to Lady Catherine’s matchmaking. Darcy suspected Anne had a secret interest in someone else of lower station or income, something she dare not reveal to her mother.

“Cousin!” Anne called out. Her expression was grim. “Please, will you speak with me for a moment?”

Reluctantly, Darcy approached. Had Anne known of her mother’s plan? His eyes narrowed as he studied her expression for signs of guilt. Anne’s expression, if possible, was paler than usual, her hair hanging limply and a red cast to her eyes, which were also puffy and irritated at the lids. Had she been weeping?

Darcy bowed. “Anne.”

Anne swallowed, squeezing her gloved hands together. “You must believe me; I did not know Mama’s intentions. Had I known, I would have insisted she stop. I do not even wish to marry you, Fitz. That is all Mama’s doing. You must— I suppose—” She breathed in again, the air whistling through her lips as she swallowed and rubbed a gloved hand beneath her eyes, which were again wet.

Anne’s misery was obvious. As she spoke, her companion rubbed her back, murmuring, “It is not your fault, love.”

“Is it true, what the paper said, about the branding?”

Darcy nodded.

Anne raised her fingers to her mouth, smothering a gasp. “How could Mama do such a thing? And what will happen to her? To us?”

Darcy had not the courage to tell his cousin he intended Aunt Catherine to stand trial with Lord Braithwaite as a coconspirator, so he stood silent as tears rolled down Anne’s face.

Anne swayed, and her companion grabbed her. “Miss Anne!”

Darcy ran to the pair of them, trying to steady them as Anne’s eyes rolled back and her body shook. Anne was prone to such spells, though they had eased some since her childhood. It was one reason Lady Catherine had kept Anne from a coming out and season in Town.

Anne’s companion, with the calm and deft movements of experience, helped Darcy settle Anne on the ground, on her side, taking measures to keep her charge from further injury.

Heavens, if Darcy put Lady Catherine before the House of Lords, and they stripped her of her title and monies, what would happen to Miss Anne de Bourgh? Darcy had no interest in marrying the woman, but he did not wish to see his cousin, an innocent in this, come to harm. Without the protection of her mother’s title and wealth, Anne’s spells would come under further scrutiny, used as proof that she had inherited Lady Catherine’s evil ways.

From behind him, his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam shouted, “Anne!” He knelt at Anne’s side, brushing limp hair from the young lady’s forehead.

Darcy had always wondered at Col. Fitzwilliam’s uncommon fondness for Anne. As relations, the strictures of propriety did not lay so heavily upon them. Had they written to each other while Richard was away on the front? He had hinted at it in an offhand manner that was nothing like Richard’s general demeanor.

Richard asked, “Mrs. Jenkinson, Is Miss Anne taken ill again?”

Anne’s companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, ignored Darcy, her gaze resting with entreaty upon Col. Fitzwilliam. “Miss Anne has been weeping herself to bed every night with worry for…”

“Tell her to calm herself. I will let nothing happen to her. To either of you.”

A pair of footmen approached at a jog.

If Richard’s feelings were more than cousin-like for Anne, Darcy could not force him to put Anne in danger. At the same time, if Lady Catherine had known what Lord Braithwaite intended, they could not allow her to escape with no punishment for her crime. Richard’s sense of honor would also insist upon the same… wouldn’t it?

And could Darcy ask such a thing of him, if it did not? Darcy would not dare take an action that put Elizabeth in danger.

What a tangle!

Darcy sighed. Anne’s spell of shaking passed, and she groaned. Once Mrs. Jenkinson determined Anne safe to move, the footmen gathered Anne up and hustled her inside, her companion following.

Darcy and the colonel returned to the carriage.

“What did Lady Catherine say, after I left?” Darcy asked.

“Our aunt shows genuine remorse. She told us what she knew of Braithwaite, what she knew of his holdings, and how she made the request. One cannot ask for this service in plain writing. There is a code.”

“And she knew it. I wonder how often she used his services.”

“Never. She made that clear. Lord Braithwaite had offered, but her husband did not have improper relations with the servants. She was most insistent.”

“And you believed her?”

“Yes.”

Ordinarily, Richard was an excellent judge of character, but his closeness to Anne and his desire to protect her might skew the man’s judgement.

“Have we any means to find this cottage?”

“It does not appear they stopped at any posting inns, so this cottage cannot be further than a day’s ride. And one of the stable hands heard them mention the name of a village, Hastingleigh.”

“Hastingleigh!” Hope bloomed in Darcy. “How far is it? Elizabeth said she had fallen asleep and arrived near dark, so it could not have been more than a few hours away.”

“The local constable should have access to maps of the area. Hopefully, this village is listed. If so, we shall travel there either this afternoon or at first light, depending.”

Darcy nodded. They rode a while longer in silence.

Richard broke it. “I suppose you saw…”

Darcy nodded. “I had suspected, but…” He brushed a leaf from the thigh of his breeches. “How long?”

“Too long. I do not have the means to marry a lady of Miss Anne’s stature.”

“If it is money, I have more than enough—                  ”

“I cannot accept your charity, Darcy.”

“It is not charity! You have helped me rescue the woman I love. Without you, Elizabeth would be on the seas now to heaven knows what fate, and Lord Braithwaite would face no censure for his actions. We would not know that he was responsible for Elizabeth’s disappearance. And I would never have stopped looking.” It would have driven Darcy mad, searching. He might never have found her. “It is not charity,” he repeated.

“Hmmm.”

“If you marry Anne, you will be able to protect her from this.”

“Will I?” Richard sighed. Another minute passed as they rode from Rosings into the countryside. “I do not think our aunt knew the extent of Lord Braithwaite’s depravity.”

“She should wish to convince you of that.”

“She has always been severe and a bit ridiculous, but…” Richard shook his head. “Lady Catherine wrote out a list of others who had used Lord Braithwaite’s ‘services’.”

“How many of the Ton?”

“Most. They have little interest in seeing his operations exposed. It may benefit us. A quick trial and quick execution will expunge their crimes, with his, upon the gallows.”

Hardly justice. It angered Darcy to see this rot so permeate the root and stem of his class. It meant something to be a gentleman or a Lord. Or it ought to mean something beyond leave to harm all those considered beneath you.

Lord Braithwaite was depraved, but what of those who delivered his victims? Those who brokered his services? Were they all as willfully blind as Lady Catherine?

“What do you think she knew?”

“Aunt Catherine wept, Darcy. She insisted she had asked him to send her out of the country, north, to Scotland, and the money she provided would set Elizabeth up in a small cottage of her own. A household. And from there, she would use a portion of the money Aunt Catherine had paid Lord Braithwaite, less his portion for organizing the affair.”

“A fine tale,” Darcy scoffed. While it was marginally less offensive that his aunt may not have intended to see Elizabeth brutalized, it did not erase that she had paid to have Elizabeth abducted and sent away. Torn away from her family and home, vanished, never to return.

“Lady Catherine cannot go unpunished.”

“I know,” Richard said. “Our uncle is right though, if we drag her through this, it will hurt our family. Matlock, Anne, and even your Elizabeth, who will have to deal with being the one who had her sent away.”

“It is not Elizabeth’s fault!”

“Calm down, Darcy.” Richard, facing backwards, leaned into the gap between them. They sat at opposite sides of the carriage. “First, we have to find the man, or enough evidence at least of his crimes to connect him to them. If we can spare Miss Elizabeth having to testify, all the better.”

Darcy nodded. “Yes.”

“But before that, you must marry. The earl will have gotten the special license by the morrow.”

Darcy nodded and forced a smile, but he was torn. He wanted Elizabeth as his wife. She would be safe, and nobody would doubt his claim on her. At the same time, he was uncertain how even to bring up the subject of their wedding night. Mrs. Gardiner had assured Darcy, with great discretion, that Elizabeth had suffered no intimate violation. But Lord Braithwaite had hurt her terribly, and she still flinched when caught by surprise. And she was still ashamed of her appearance: her shorn hair, thinness, and the bruises. Elizabeth had responded to his kisses, before. But now, how could he be sure she was ready now?

“All will be well, Darcy,” Richard said, leaning and tapping Darcy on the knee. “Yours is a trial love has overcome.” Richard’s gaze unfocused, and Darcy realized he must be thinking of Anne.

“Whatever you need of me, Richard,” Darcy said. “You have but to ask.”

With only the occasional break for small talk, both men’s thoughts occupied them until they returned to London.

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Compromised. Married. Whole?

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride, Book 2 of 4 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words where love truly does conquer all.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 1

Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 3

While Darcy had often found Rosings Park tedious, with his aunt’s incessant and ridiculous attempts to force himself and Anne into matrimony, it had not before felt sinister. Which of the servants had known Elizabeth’s fate? Which had suffered it? And what other secrets did his aunt hide?

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New Release – Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

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An Unsuitable Governess – 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.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 2-3

After settling herself and Adelaide at the Rose and Crown Inn, Elizabeth ordered them both the luxury of a hip bath and changed into a fresh frock. The Gardiners’ had given her coin for her troubles, but Elizabeth wished to find work as quickly as possible. She would not impose herself further upon their charity by writing to ask for assistance.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 4-5

“Highwaymen you say?”

Mr. Darcy did not like the glint in his cousin’s eye. Col. Richard Fitzwilliam had been given leave from the front at the behest of his father the Earl. Richard had explained neither the reason, nor how long he would be on English soil. He attended to his duties, but Darcy could tell his cousin itched to return to battle, and anything that promised excitement was enough to send him charging forward.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 2

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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride - Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

Darcy and Mr. Bennet had agreed, much without Elizabeth’s involvement, it best for the couple to marry before returning to Hertfordshire. As Lord Braithwaite’s crimes came to light, the gossip rags flitted between sympathy for the abducted women and arguments that the situation had been exaggerated to spare the women the consequences of their own loose morals. Jane had attempted to shield Elizabeth from the worst of it, but Elizabeth woke earlier and read the papers before the others woke, preferring uncomfortable truth to misty ignorance, no matter how comfortable the latter.

“Can you smile just a little, Lizzy? You are to be wed! And we shall have months together without our mother lamenting that you will never find a gentleman to match our cousin.” Jane smiled, her expression hopeful and vaguely entreating, as if by being cheerful enough, she might pull Elizabeth from the nightmares that woke her, clutching her duvet and swallowing screams as Jane slept on beside her, breaths even and soothing until Elizabeth’s eyes shut and the nightmares returned.

Elizabeth smiled. “I am sorry, Jane. I do not wish to worry you.”

“Do not apologize. All you have suffered; most would have broken.”

“I broke,” Elizabeth whispered.

“No. Never think that.” Jane put an arm around her sister, and Elizabeth leaned into her sister’s embrace.

The air smelled of flowers, manure, and distant fish. Once, Elizabeth might have found the approaching London summer off-putting. Elizabeth preferred the fresh smells of country spring to the increasing pungency of late spring London. Now, the smell hardly warranted her attention. She was clean and in the air, however London’s shroud diluted the sun.

In the thin branches of the tree behind them, a pair of starlings chirped at each other. A cheerful conversation that at one time would have had Elizabeth putting words to it. Or making some jest to make Jane laugh. Now, Elizabeth could not imagine a single story. They were birds, nothing more.

Jane said, “And Mr. Darcy loves you.”

“And I him.” Elizabeth could not doubt her love. It had seen her through the darkness and out of the mist to his arms. But would love be enough? Elizabeth had feared before trapping Mr. Darcy into a marriage he might regret. What if she could not perform her duties as a wife?

Last night, Jane, asleep, had flung her arm over Elizabeth at night, and she had startled awake, the smell of burning flesh in her throat. Lord Braithwaite’s men had drugged her, and their voices whispered in her dreams, their fingers on her arms, back, and hips as they walked her to the ship with promises of future pleasures she doubted were anything of the like.

Why could she not forget? If she could not put this behind her, she could not move forward with Mr. Darcy into a loving marriage.

Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam, would see Lord Braithwaite hanged. And when they did, there would be a trial in the House of Lords, and Elizabeth, as daughter of a baronet, was the only of the abducted women who could make charges against a Lord. She would have to give her testimony, share her shame with so many strangers. Elizabeth could not bear it.

Elizabeth said, “I always wished to marry for love.”

“You are. And so you must be happy.”

Elizabeth forced a smile. Jane was right. Elizabeth had to be a fit wife for the man she loved. She could not share with him her fears. She had burdened him so much already.

With that thought, Elizabeth lifted her chin. The birds still told no stories, but it was of no matter. “Did Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam say when they would return?”

“Before dinner.” Jane cocked her head, her teeth worrying a moment at her lower lip. “I…I should not ask, but Aunt Gardiner said it might be good for you to get out.”

“Where?” Elizabeth was caught between desire and fear. She felt trapped in her aunt and uncle’s home, but even the thought of leaving, stepping into a carriage, being exposed where anyone could take her…the fear made her mouth dry and hands shake. She looked down at them, willing them still.

At the far end of the garden, her niece and nephew played a game with changeable rules, one chasing the other and eliciting different effects depending on whether the recipient was tagged on the shoulder, hand, back, or head. They had a rule about points, which Elizabeth also did not understand, but it calmed her to see them laughing.

Lucy dashed over to Jane and Elizabeth, ducking between the pair of them under the bench, her brother in hot pursuit. “Save me!”

“Lucy!” Jane rarely raised her voice at the two children, who adored her, and Elizabeth knew herself to be at fault for her sister’s temper.

Elizabeth forced another smile and stood. She would not let her lethargy and memories rob her of her family and life. What purpose would Mr. Darcy’s rescue serve if she could not be the woman he had fallen in love with?

“What is this game?” she asked, placing herself between her niece and nephew, who, upon Elizabeth’s standing up, had tried to skirt around Elizabeth’s side towards his sister.

“Hide and Go Plague,” the boy, Hugh, explained. “We made it up. Lucy tagged me, so I have the Plague, and if I touch you, you’ve got it too.”

“Gruesome,” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “What happens when everyone has it?”

“We start over with different rules. Play with us?”

“Lizzy is still recovering,” Jane cut in.

“I will play.”

“You will!” Jane’s smile widened and the tension about her neck and eyes eased. That alone made Elizabeth’s agreement to play worth it. 

They restarted the game, meeting at the fountain as the two children ran through a dizzying series of rules.

“So, I am an angel?” Elizabeth asked. “Or the monster?” With her shorn hair and horrid memories, Elizabeth felt far more the monster than the angel, but Jane said, “I shall be the monster. Lizzy makes a right lovely angel, does she not?”

Lucy nodded and Hugh shrugged. “‘Suppose,” he said. “Jane, count to twenty. We will hide. When Jane gets one of us, Lizzy, you bless the plague out before we can infect the other one. Do you understand?”

Lizzy smiled. “I think so.”

They dashed around, chasing each other, and the London air seemed in that time lighter. The small garden, at first limiting, again held possibilities. Elizabeth’s lungs filled, her legs pumping as she ran for Lucy who had been infected and was making haste to grab her brother.

Back to the door, her ears filled with the delighted shrieks and laughter of her family, Elizabeth did not recognize Mr. Darcy’s entrance until she whirled around and dashed right into his chest.

Startled, her breath caught.

“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy said, placing his hands on her shoulders to steady her.

Elizabeth’s heart pounded and the blood rushed from her face, leaving her caught between flight and collapse. She was a captive again.

“Elizabeth!” Darcy released her, and Elizabeth stepped back. She blinked. No. She would not run away from her love. She clasped her hands together, rubbing her right thumb over the joint of her left.

“Well—” Elizabeth took a breath. “I am well.” As terrible as it was to fear him, worse would be to tell him she was afraid.

Col. Fitzwilliam stood behind Mr. Darcy, his expression grim. “Darcy, the Gardiners await us in the parlor.”

Elizabeth forced a smile. “Let us join you. Was your uncle very upset?” About Darcy marrying a nobody, a ruined woman, and asking a special license to do it? Elizabeth suspected the gentleman, the Earl of Matlock, was furious. And he had more power to cause her and her family harm than even Lady Catherine.

Why had Elizabeth agreed to the special license? She loved Mr. Darcy with all of her soul and will, but was that enough? And if it was not, what harm would she do to shackle Mr. Darcy to a woman who flinched when he touched her intimately?

“Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy said, “Are you well?”

“Quite.” Elizabeth forced a smile. They were back to formality again. He, Mr. Darcy, she Miss Elizabeth. She hated the distance between them and how it was all her fault.

Jane knelt before the children. “We must speak with your parents. Do you mind if we play again another time?”

“It is about the bad man, the one who hurt Aunt Elizabeth?” Lucy asked, pulling at a tendril of hair that had escaped its braid.

“We will make certain he hurts no one again,” Mr. Darcy declared.

Elizabeth valued his confidence even as she mourned the fact her niece and nephew knew of Lord Braithwaite. They must have overheard their parents or someone else in the house speaking of him.

Jane nodded. “Yes, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam are determined. They will see things turn out right.”

“Good,” the boy, Hugh, said. “And if that Braithwaite comes ‘round here, I’ll stick him with the fire poker. Gut him like a fish!”

“It will not come to that,” Mr. Darcy said. “Though the ladies of the household appreciate your protection. It is a gentleman’s duty to protect the ladies of his house.”

Hugh nodded, and though Elizabeth should have found the entire conversation ridiculous, it touched her. She nodded to her nephew. “Thank you.”

Elizabeth and Jane followed Mr. Darcy and the colonel to the parlor. The Gardiners and Mr. Bennet were there. Thankfully, Mrs. Bennet was still out.

On the main table sat a tray of cold meats, seasonal fruit and tea.

Though not hungry, Elizabeth made herself a plate. She took a strawberry, under ripe and tart, and chewed it slowly.

“Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner remarked, “I heard laughter through the window. The children pulled the pair of you into one of their games?”

Elizabeth nodded and her smile came naturally, thinking of the moment of fun she had had with her niece and nephew. “The rules are…complex.”

“That is a word for it,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“I found it lovely,” Jane said. “It was good to see my sister enjoy herself.”

The relief and pain in Jane’s voice at Elizabeth’s suffering was obvious to Elizabeth, though others might be mistaken by Jane’s polite tone and serene features.

Across the table, seated next to Mr. Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam tapped his index finger against the side of his teacup in time with his feet, crossed at the ankles in front of him.

The colonel, Elizabeth had learned, preferred action to words. He likely found this small-talk tedious, though he was gentleman enough to maintain his manners. Best cut to the chase. Elizabeth asked, “You bring news? Have they found Lord Braithwaite?”

Mr. Darcy shook his head. “Lord Braithwaite is gone to ground for now, though he will not stay hidden for long. It will be an admission of guilt if he refuses a summons to appear before the House of Lords in this matter.”

If Lord Braithwaite refused to appear before the House of Lords, then Elizabeth would not have to relive her shame in giving her testimony. Was it so terrible she wished he would just vanish? Except, if he fled to India or the Continent with his ill-gotten gains, nothing would stop him from restarting his trade in young women like herself.

Elizabeth tried again to imagine herself telling her story to the House of Lords. Her mouth went dry and her skin cold. She shivered. She could not even tell her fiancé of her fears. How could she tell a group of strangers of her ruin?  

Maybe Lord Braithwaite would fall in a ditch and die. It was sinful to pray for a man’s death, but considering Lord Braithwaite’s actions, Elizabeth hoped God would understand.

“Are you and my sister to marry here, in Town?” Jane asked.

“For her reputation, it is best we marry as soon as possible,” Mr. Darcy said. “But I wish to have a more formal celebration in Hertfordshire when this is settled.”

Settled. Would it ever be settled?

“We should have the special license in hand the day after tomorrow, when I return.”

“Where are you going?” Elizabeth hated how weak her voice sounded. She swallowed.

“We have to speak with our aunt,” Col. Fitzwilliam said. “If she can give us more information about Lord Braithwaite, we can use that to find him. Or to gather evidence against him. And the cabin you told us of, if we can find this Willow, Bart, and her son, it will make things much easier.”

“Perhaps I can help?”

“It would be best if you not confront Lady Catherine,” Mr. Darcy said.

Reluctantly, Elizabeth had to agree to the logic of this. “So, I will not see you tomorrow?”

“I do not intend to stay the night, but I will need to visit my uncle for the license. And then we will marry. That will put an end to all the talk.”

Elizabeth nodded. She had hoped her marriage would be more than a means to quell gossip, but things were so different now than when she had made her girlish dreams. At least she and Mr. Darcy loved each other. That was all that mattered.

Though their lives were to be joined in two days’ time, Elizabeth feared Mr. Darcy was slipping away. Or maybe her own fears put him at a distance.

I will do better when we are wed, Elizabeth vowed.

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Compromised. Married. Whole?

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride, Book 2 of 4 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words where love truly does conquer all.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 1

Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 3

While Darcy had often found Rosings Park tedious, with his aunt’s incessant and ridiculous attempts to force himself and Anne into matrimony, it had not before felt sinister. Which of the servants had known Elizabeth’s fate? Which had suffered it? And what other secrets did his aunt hide?

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New Release – Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

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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!

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An Unsuitable Governess – 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.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 2-3

After settling herself and Adelaide at the Rose and Crown Inn, Elizabeth ordered them both the luxury of a hip bath and changed into a fresh frock. The Gardiners’ had given her coin for her troubles, but Elizabeth wished to find work as quickly as possible. She would not impose herself further upon their charity by writing to ask for assistance.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 4-5

“Highwaymen you say?”

Mr. Darcy did not like the glint in his cousin’s eye. Col. Richard Fitzwilliam had been given leave from the front at the behest of his father the Earl. Richard had explained neither the reason, nor how long he would be on English soil. He attended to his duties, but Darcy could tell his cousin itched to return to battle, and anything that promised excitement was enough to send him charging forward.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 1

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Days
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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Graphic

Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride - Chapter 1

Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

“Our uncle has the connections. His blood should be enough. I do not want Elizabeth to face the censure of Lord Braithwaite’s supporters, not to mention the gawkers. This business is already all over the gossip columns.” Secrets that were anything but secret: the names cited as initials with just enough information for all to know about whom they were writing.

Richard sighed. “A nasty business, this.”

“Elizabeth would need to remain in Town at least another fortnight to be married by Common license at a local parish. And she cannot abide strangers, now.”

It hurt Darcy to see Elizabeth so fearful. This same woman who had led him a merry chase through Hunsford, who had teased him and even climbed a tree to surprise him, now startled by the slightest sound. She refused excursions beyond the garden and, fingers clasped at her back, eyes lowered, she paced slow steps along the same narrow path, circling a fountain, potted flowers, and the spindly, sun-starved sapling that provided meager shade to the one, small bench where she sometimes sat.

Elizabeth put a good face on it. Her smile crinkled the corners of her eyes when he visited, and she told him small things of her days: the chattering sparrows that gossiped in the tree and the squirrel with a scar along his side that she had taken to feeding crusts of stale bread from the kitchens. Elizabeth was healing. Slowly. Darcy had to believe that. He had to believe that one day she would not flinch from his touching her shoulder and that the smudge of sleeplessness beneath her eyes might one day fade, bringing back the young, vibrant woman he had fallen in love with a month and a seeming decade ago.

And then there was the matter of Lord Thomas Braithwaite. Darcy burned to find the man and deliver on him the suffering he had on Elizabeth. But first, they had to find him. Securing his uncle’s support before speaking with Lady Catherine would give Darcy the edge he needed to wring every scrap of information his aunt had about Lord Braithwaite.

The carriage jerked to a halt, and outside a footman yelled at a dirty figure in a heavy coat who dashed past Darcy’s window and elbowed into the throng. It was early summer and too blasted hot. Even through the sachet of lavender Elizabeth had sewn for him, the stench of bodies, progress, and horse droppings filled the air.

“We should not speak to him of Aunt Catherine,” Richard said.

“He cannot defend her.” Edward Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Matlock, was one of the most honorable men Darcy had ever known. Rigid in his principles, much like Aunt Catherine except he at least had the sense to know which topics his knowledge lacked and even listened to those who might be better informed as opposed to forcing those around him to his opinions, no matter how ill-formed they might be.

“She is his sister.”

“And you are his son. He will not dispute your evidence.”

“Perhaps.”

Darcy was not reassured. “Do you believe he would ignore this?”

“If it were Georgiana, would you be so quick to believe?”

“If the evidence were there.” But Richard’s question had shaken Darcy’s confidence. Darcy could not imagine Georgiana forcing a woman, no matter how despised, into the clutches of one like Lord Braithwaite. And Aunt Catherine had always had her ways and rigid beliefs. But perhaps it had not always been such. Had her husband’s death hardened her? Darcy had no way of knowing Aunt Catherine as the girl his uncle remembered.

These troubling thoughts occupied Darcy for the rest of the ride to the Earl of Matlock’s townhouse. The House of Lords remained in session until late July, though some departed for their summer homes before the term was complete, if they attended at all. Thankfully, Darcy’s uncle was dedicated to his duties and still in Town, else Darcy would have been forced to write the entire sordid affair in a letter and put aside all hopes to acquire the special license to marry his love in peace.

A footman led Darcy and his cousin to the earl’s study. Edward Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock, sat behind a large writing desk, a tray with the remains of a breakfast at the edge. Two piles of papers lay on the desk. The earl sat behind it on a wide, heavy piece of chair that looked at least as old as he and upholstered in dark brown leather.

The earl himself was a stocky man, face long and round with a thick gray moustache matched by a thatch of gray hair, now thinning at the temples. His lips, like Richard’s, were thin with a determined set, and the lines about his mouth, eyes, and forehead showed a man often mired in the difficulties of managing his large estate. When Darcy and Richard were announced, he looked up, and his expression was grim.

“What is this business with Lord Braithwaite?” he asked. “And how is it I learn of it from the papers and not my own blood?”

Richard said, “I wrote a letter.”

“Eight lines long, accusing a peer of the realm of something this scandalous! Lord Thomas Braithwaite is a gilded cockroach, make no mistake, scurrying about in the dark and rummaging through a man’s larder when he believes no one is aware, but abducting women and branding them?”

“It is exactly that, father,” Richard said. “He has been at this for some time, long enough to have gained property and ruffians trained to this task.”

Darcy said, “He did it to the woman I love.”

“Miss Bennet?”

Darcy nodded.

Col. Fitzwilliam said, “We believe others of the Ton who took liberties with their servants contracted him.”

“Miss Bennet was no servant?”

“She was inconvenient to Aunt Catherine,” Darcy said.

His cousin shot him a glare.

“My sister could not have known, and I will not have you drag her, and all of us further into this mess.”

“It was her carriage that brought Miss Elizabeth to Lord Braithwaite’s thugs.”

“We do not know that Catherine arranged it. Nor that she knew what Braithwaite intended.”

“Aunt Catherine had my fiancée abducted! Elizabeth deserves justice.”

“So, you intend to drag your aunt in front of the House of Lords, and do what, have her shipped in shackles to the colonies?”

“She intended worse for Elizabeth.”

“Darcy! Quiet.” Richard stepped to the desk, leaning over it to interpose himself between Darcy and the earl. “We do not mean to have Aunt Catherine shipped off in shackles or anything so punitive.”

Richard didn’t? Darcy certainly did. Aunt Catherine could have accepted his decision to marry Elizabeth. Instead, she had committed a grievous crime and subjected an innocent to barbaric treatment.

And what other unfortunates had Lady Catherine sent to Lord Braithwaite? If Elizabeth were not gentry, and if Darcy had not loved her enough to do everything in his power to see her returned to him, then she too would have disappeared to India. It was only Miss Elizabeth’s status as the daughter of a baronet that allowed her to bring a charge against Lord Braithwaite. Darcy tried to remember if any other young women had disappeared from his aunt’s service, but what attention had he paid to his aunt’s maids?

Richard continued, “We need to find out all she knows of Lord Braithwaite to flush him out and bring him to justice. We only mean to speak with her.”

What game was Richard playing? They had said nothing of excusing Lady Catherine for her crimes.

“But if she admits to her involvement?” Darcy cut in. “Are we to continue on as if none of this happened?”

The earl sighed. “Darcy, son. You are young and full of fire. I envy that. I do. You wish those who have hurt your fiancée, the woman you love, to suffer. But what then? If you implicate Lady Catherine in this vile business, it stains us all. You wish to marry this woman?”

“Yes. I love her.”

“Then spare her. Give her a family whole, not torn to pieces. What good will you accomplish by making such an accusation? Against your own blood!”

“I was there.” Darcy swallowed. “Lord Braithwaite starved Miss Elizabeth, drugged her, and burned his brand upon her skin. If my aunt knows how to find him, she will tell me. Aunt Catherine is just as responsible as Lord Braithwaite for what happened to Elizabeth, and I will not forgive her nor give her quarter.” It was a matter of honor. “I love Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“If you love her, you will not pursue this path of harming your family. Miss Bennet deserves a life. Your children deserve a life without the blemish of this scandal defining their every moment.”

“I cannot forgive Aunt Catherine.”

“Have you spoken with her? How do you know she was not as deceived as the rest of us by Lord Braithwaite?”

Darcy doubted it. How could his aunt have sent Elizabeth away and fabricated the story of her returning to London to be with her family while instead driving Elizabeth into Lord Braithwaite’s clutches without having some understanding of the man’s plans? Aunt Catherine had expected Elizabeth to disappear. She must have known something. She might know something now of Lord Braithwaite’s whereabouts. Darcy had hoped to secure his uncle’s aid in acquiring the special license and his support in the upcoming trial. He had thought his uncle would be as revolted by his sister’s actions as Darcy was. Instead, Edward Fitzwilliam defended Aunt Catherine.

An icy coal of rage burned in Darcy’s gut. He could not speak. He stood, fists clenched at his sides. A family whole with the woman who had sold Elizabeth to a monster?

Richard said, “We will speak with Aunt Catherine. Find out what she knows of Lord Braithwaite. Better us than the parish constable. Or an investigator from Town.”

The Earl of Matlock nodded. “You will keep it quiet. Best we keep Catherine’s name out of this altogether.”

“No,” Darcy said. How could he face Elizabeth while covering up Aunt Catherine’s crimes?

“I know you are hurting, Darcy, and angry. Heaven knows I would be. But don’t let your anger rule you. And do not compound harm with further harm.”

“If she did this—”

“Catherine may not have known.”

Darcy doubted it down to his soul, but he could also see the pain in his uncle’s eyes. He and Aunt Catherine were siblings. She, the elder who had cared for his hurts and wiped his tears as Darcy had done with Georgiana. In acknowledgement of that pain, Darcy said, “I will not judge her before we have spoken.” It was the best he could manage.

His uncle, the earl, nodded.

“There is a matter of a special license,” Richard suggested. His expression has softened, and Darcy realized his cousin had feared the outcome of this discussion. It explained his taciturnity in the carriage and the question of Georgiana, an inkling planted in Darcy’s mind with the deftness of a well-plotted stratagem. Darcy expected no less from his cousin.

The earl agreed to make the request, and after a few more pleasantries, enough to maintain the fiction that something of this was salvageable, Darcy and Richard left.

In the carriage, Richard stared out the window as Darcy brooded. The noise, heat and stench of Town faded to a background concern, one that troubled him far less than his own thoughts.

“If Aunt Catherine is responsible, which you and I blasted well know she is, we cannot allow her to escape justice.”

Richard’s gaze remained fixed through the tin carriage window on the crowded street. “I know,” he said. “It is easier on the battlefield, when one’s enemies are obvious and one’s duties clear.”

“I have no experience of battle, Richard.”

“I fear you will soon, Darcy. In one form or another.”

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Compromised. Married. Whole?

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride, Book 2 of 4 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words where love truly does conquer all.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 1

Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 3

While Darcy had often found Rosings Park tedious, with his aunt’s incessant and ridiculous attempts to force himself and Anne into matrimony, it had not before felt sinister. Which of the servants had known Elizabeth’s fate? Which had suffered it? And what other secrets did his aunt hide?

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New Release – Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

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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!

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An Unsuitable Governess – 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.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 2-3

After settling herself and Adelaide at the Rose and Crown Inn, Elizabeth ordered them both the luxury of a hip bath and changed into a fresh frock. The Gardiners’ had given her coin for her troubles, but Elizabeth wished to find work as quickly as possible. She would not impose herself further upon their charity by writing to ask for assistance.

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An Unsuitable Governess – Chapters 4-5

“Highwaymen you say?”

Mr. Darcy did not like the glint in his cousin’s eye. Col. Richard Fitzwilliam had been given leave from the front at the behest of his father the Earl. Richard had explained neither the reason, nor how long he would be on English soil. He attended to his duties, but Darcy could tell his cousin itched to return to battle, and anything that promised excitement was enough to send him charging forward.

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Darcy’s Winter Delight – Chapter 1

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Days
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One snowed-in night reveals the depth of Elizabeth’s desire and all Mr. Darcy will do to fulfill it…

When Lady Catherine’s misguided marital advice leads Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy to flee Rosings, the loving couple find themselves in a cottage, snowed in, together. One night will reveal the depths of Elizabeth’s desire and all Mr. Darcy will do to fulfill it. But what of Elizabeth’s secret?

Find out in Darcy’s Winter Delight, a steamy Pride and Prejudice variation guaranteed to keep you hot and bothered, turning pages, to a very happy ending.

If you love steamy Pride and Prejudice variations, start reading Darcy’s Winter Delight now!

Chapter 1

This gets very steamy after this chapter. Enjoy!

Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy sat across from Lady Catherine, cradling a cup of lukewarm tea as she shifted on the finely upholstered yet unyielding chair of the lady’s ostentatious drawing room. Portraits stared down in flat-eyed judgment. Every surface was covered in finery: elaborate plaster molding along the ceiling, lace clothes over the tables scattered with statuary that seemed caught in a perpetual state of flight. Elizabeth wished to flee with them, but marriage required certain niceties; honoring her husband’s family – now her family – amongst the height of them.

“One cannot doubt the propriety of your courtship, considering it is nearly spring, and you have shared no indication that you might be with child, Mrs. Darcy.” Lady Catherine took a sip from her tea.

Elizabeth clenched her teacup and tried, without success, not to imagine it was Lady Catherine’s neck.

“Aunt Catherine,” Elizabeth said, smiling with all of her teeth. “I cannot imagine how any might suspect the slightest impropriety of my husband.”

Lady Catherine pressed her lips together as she always did when Elizabeth acknowledged their current relation. It was one of the few pleasures Elizabeth could claim of this visit.

If Elizabeth had been given leave to do as she wished, she would have stayed with Charlotte. While Mr. Collins had only grown more obsequious since Elizabeth’s marriage, his mingled awe at Elizabeth’s rise and his gratitude at how her elevation affected his own status made it easier to dismiss him in short order. Elizabeth did not have the same freedom to dismiss Lady Catherine. Aunt Catherine.

Where was Fitzwilliam? He had left the previous afternoon for Town on an affair of business with the promise to return straightaway.

“I do so wish to hear the laughter of babes again, soon, I hope. Your mother certainly was blessed with a fecund womb. You are aware of the process—?”

“Well aware.” The last thing Elizabeth wanted was an explanation of the process from Lady Catherine.

“And you are facing your heads to the north when you perform the act? I was certain to have the headboards of your rooms placed in the correct direction, you understand, considering the favoring of your mother’s womb for female offspring.”

Elizabeth shut her eyes. It explained why hers and Mr. Darcy’s beds in the guest rooms were placed at an odd slant. “We shall be happy with any child with which God graces us,” Elizabeth said, smothering a sigh. How much longer must she endure this visit? Triple drat on Fitzwilliam for abandoning her here to make small talk with Lady Catherine.

“Of course. But Fitzwilliam needs an heir, and a man always pines for a son.”

“We have taken all care,” Elizabeth said. She and Fitzwilliam had made love with the headboards at their heads, feet, rears, and on one occasion to the side while her husband held her against the wall and…

Elizabeth sighed, this time out loud.

“Do not despair,” Lady Catherine said. “I am certain there will be news soon. Very soon, if I am not mistaken.” Her gaze pinned Elizabeth who realized Lady Catherine’s discussion of Elizabeth’s future children was not due to fear of barrenness, but an attempt to draw a confession from Elizabeth before she had revealed her condition to her husband!

Lady Catherine continued, “If there is no news soon…” Again, the sharp gaze. Lady Catherine rivaled her statues in focused stares. “We shall have the doctor over to bleed you and—”

Under no accounts would Elizabeth allow herself to be bled. Her mother had birthed five children with neither bleeding nor limiting her food, and she had recovered far more swiftly than Lady Lucas who had endured both. If Fitzwilliam suggested such a thing, she would refuse, blast the consequences.

What if Fitzwilliam tried such things? What if he forbade her morning walks? Elizabeth did not know how his family felt towards childbirth, nor what they expected of her. She did not wish to invite disharmony into her marriage. Elizabeth swallowed. Her stomach twisted and a wave of nausea passed over her, reminiscent of this morning where she had spent half an hour spitting into the chamber pot.

“There will be a storm tonight, mark my words,” Lady Catherine said.

Sun streamed through the large window behind the lady. Above, wispy clouds floated in a sea of blue.

“A storm?”

Lady Catherine lifted her right foot from where it had been crossed over her left ankle. “I sprained it when I was a young girl. An old injury can be a blessing, they say. It has never steered me wrong regarding weather. A storm is coming,” she declared. “A large one. We shall be snowbound for three days at least.”

“How fortunate,” Elizabeth said, more to fill the silence. Miss Anne was involved with her pianoforte. Lady Catherine had promised a performance from her daughter later that afternoon, which was, to Elizabeth’s relief, one of the rare occasions where Lady Catherine stopped dispensing advice. Elizabeth looked forward to it. Unless they could get away beforehand. Her husband’s business in Town was complete, and they had stayed long enough for basic politeness.

Through the window came the welcome sight of a carriage approaching.

“Has my husband returned?” Elizabeth stood, praying it was so. If Lady Catherine was right, and a storm was coming, they should leave before it arrived. Elizabeth did not wish to spend any length of time snowed in with Lady Catherine. With good fortune, Elizabeth could convince her husband to leave first thing in the morning.

“Already?” Lady Catherine looked over her shoulder. “He will be ten minutes at least. You must not exhaust yourself. An overtired body is unwelcoming to the seed, you understand.”

Elizabeth did not, nor did she wish to. “I am well enough.”

“Mrs. Darcy!”

“I must freshen up.” Elizabeth put the tea down on the table beside the tray of seasonal fruits. “Excuse me.”

Elizabeth curtsied and fled back to her rooms. She hadn’t much freshening to do: a visit to the necessary, a splash of rose water, and a quick adjustment of her hair. She wished she could set Lady Catherine straight. Her courses were not always regular, but now three months late, a sign that she might soon have a happy announcement; but if she were mistaken or if something went wrong, an early confession would be disastrous. Besides, heaven knew what Lady Catherine would subject Elizabeth to if she were with child. Bleeding, as she had threatened, and likely worse.

Heavens, she wished to leave, sooner rather than later. A near fortnight in Lady Catherine’s home was enough to drive even Jane to madness, not that Jane was unfortunate enough to be forced to endure it.

Elizabeth rested her palm over her belly a moment before leaving the rooms to meet her husband at the front entranceway. The carriage had just pulled up. Miss Anne stood outside with her companion, and both greeted Mr. Darcy as he stepped down from the carriage.

Though Lady Catherine had been heartbroken at her nephew’s rejection of Miss Anne, the young woman herself seemed no worse for the disappointment. Elizabeth had suspected Miss Anne favored Col. Fitzwilliam, not that either acknowledged the young woman’s affection. Elizabeth was much relieved. If Miss Anne had encouraged her mother’s animosity, this visit would have been even more difficult to endure.

Fitzwilliam’s gaze caught Elizabeth’s, and her breath caught in her throat as it had every time they reunited from even a few hours apart. His dark hair was mussed, his traveling clothes rumpled, and faint stubble shadowed his jaw. Elizabeth smiled. “Mr. Darcy,” she said, walking to him and taking his hand. She wished to put her arms about his waist and draw him into a kiss, but not under Miss Anne’s gaze. 

“Mrs. Darcy.” A soft exhalation followed Fitzwilliam’s claiming of her. He squeezed her hand.

“I have missed you,” Elizabeth said. Some believed it foolish to be so forward in acknowledging how much one missed their husband, fearing too demanding an affection might drive a man to take a mistress. Elizabeth knew from the focus of her husband’s gaze and how he slipped his arm beneath hers, pulling her closer so she could smell the mix of sandalwood and faint tobacco from his clothes, he shared her affection. Desire. She should tell him soon about the child. Perhaps when they had returned to Pemberley, where Lady Catherine and her north-facing headboards and threats to drain Elizabeth’s blood were too far away to matter.

“Is your business finished?” Elizabeth asked.

Fitzwilliam smiled. “Yes. Bingley was absent, unfortunately.”

“Fitzwilliam!” A footman stepped aside from the entranceway, holding the door open for Lady Catherine to step outside. The air was chilly for spring, though not cold enough for the fur hat and muff atop the thick, heavily embroidered gown in which Lady Catherine descended the staircase towards the carriage. “Nephew, it is a relief your business in Town is finished. How awful of your steward to trouble you suddenly with such trifles. Why you might have been caught in the storm!”

“Storm?” Fitzwilliam squinted up at the sky. “I see no sign of a storm.”

“It will be a day or so, or perhaps a week, judging by the throbbing of my ankle.”

Elizabeth met her husband’s gaze. His eyes flicked upwards, a brief gesture but one Elizabeth well understood as amusement. He put little stock in the predictive powers of his aunt’s ankle. A relief. As much as she wished to leave, Elizabeth had little desire to be on the road in a spring squall. She lowered her chin, the briefest nod, and the left corner of his lips raised in the briefest acknowledgement.

Incredible how a few short months of marriage had given Elizabeth such a wealth of tools with which to know her husband’s feelings. The slightest flick of an eyebrow, the twitch of lips or fingers, and the movement of his gaze revealed a wealth of emotions. Elizabeth wondered how she had ever thought him cold.

“What was this business,” Lady Catherine asked. “Nothing too troubling, I hope.”

“Not at all.” The left side of his lips raised again. “There was a most pleasant outcome.”

“Do tell,” Lady Catherine said.

“It is a surprise.”

Lady Catherine rubbed her gloved palms together. “I love surprises.”

“For my wife.”

“I see.”  Lady Catherine’s gaze had a calculating glint.

Goosebumps rose on Elizabeth’s arms. “You must be tired, Fitzwilliam. Perhaps a rest?”

“Fitzwilliam is fine,” Lady Catherine cut in. “It is his wife he should be concerned about. Considering her delicate state.”

The harridan! “Delicate?” Elizabeth could not find words that were not blasphemous. She choked on an oath she had heard her father shout more than once, stumbling over a fallen book in the darkness.  

“Elizabeth?” Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened. “How is it—?”

Elizabeth stepped back while her husband sputtered.

“I— You kept this from me!”

“I kept nothing from you!” Elizabeth was not certain herself. And had she been, she would not have revealed herself to Lady Catherine.

“Your wife has put on at least a quarter stone since the wedding. I would have thought with so many sisters, younger sisters, she would understand the signs within herself.”

All thoughts of charity towards Lady Catherine or familial obligation fluttered from Elizabeth’s mind like dying leaves tossed up by a fierce wind. Elizabeth said, “If I was to determine myself likely with child, I would first speak with my husband before bringing such news to the attention of society.”

“Society, Lizzie?” Lady Catherine smiled with obvious relish. “We are family, are we not?”

“Aunt Catherine— Lizzie—?” Fitzwilliam’s head turned to his aunt and then his wife. Miss Anne leaned towards her companion and whispered something, her nose wrinkling as her brows lowered.

“I wish to return to Pemberley,” Elizabeth said, pulling her shoulders back and lifting her chin with as much pride as she could muster. Lady Catherine attempted to ruin everything. It was only pure luck, or perhaps Elizabeth’s own defiant nature, that had kept the old bat from robbing Elizabeth of her husband and a chance at love. Under no circumstances would Elizabeth allow Lady Catherine’s meddling to steal away the most important revelation of their marriage.

Fitzwilliam said, “Lizzie, there is no need to be rash—”

“I will not stay here, not another minute,” Elizabeth said. She would walk to Charlotte’s and send a letter to her aunt and uncle in Town for a carriage if Fitzwilliam tried to keep them in this wretched house another day. Or, if necessary, she would take a public coach.

“Mrs. Darcy is most certainly with child,” Lady Catherine declared. “It is the only explanation for this outburst.”

Elizabeth choked on fury. She could not find words through her rage, which came out as an ugly, growling cough. She took a step away from Lady Catherine, her gaze fixed on the stairs and door behind her.

“Lizzie, wait!” Fitzwilliam grabbed for Elizabeth who pulled her hand away and, skirting Lady Catherine, ran into Rosings.

A footman swung open the door as Lady Catherine shouted, “Hold her!”

The footman made a half-hearted attempt to grab for her which Elizabeth, neither softened nor slowed by marriage or a possible child, sidestepped.

The footman’s lips twitched as he paused, flicking his fingers towards the main hall before taking a slow step after.

Elizabeth thanked the man—thin and long jawed with thick, fair hair mingled with gray—in her mind. But she dared not slow until she arrived, breath heaving, in her temporary rooms and, without calling for a servant, began throwing her most important clothes onto the bed to pack.

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One snowed-in night reveals the depth of Elizabeth’s desire and all Mr. Darcy will do to fulfill it…

When Lady Catherine’s misguided marital advice leads Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy to flee Rosings, the loving couple find themselves in a cottage, snowed in, together. One night will reveal the depths of Elizabeth’s desire and all Mr. Darcy will do to fulfill it. But what of Elizabeth’s secret?

Find out in Darcy’s Winter Delight, a steamy Pride and Prejudice variation guaranteed to keep you hot and bothered, turning pages, to a very happy ending.

If you love steamy Pride and Prejudice variations, start reading Darcy’s Winter Delight now!

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Darcy’s Winter Delight – Chapter 1

Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy sat across from Lady Catherine, cradling a cup of lukewarm tea as she shifted on the finely upholstered yet unyielding chair of the lady’s ostentatious drawing room. Portraits stared down in flat-eyed judgment. Every surface was covered in finery: elaborate plaster molding along the ceiling, lace clothes over the tables scattered with statuary that seemed caught in a perpetual state of flight. Elizabeth wished to flee with them, but marriage required certain niceties; honoring her husband’s family – now her family – amongst the height of them.

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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.

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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 2-3

Pride and Prejudice Variations from Violet King's Pemberley Playground - Mr. Darcy's Cipher
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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!

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Chapter 2

Mrs. Bennet, a middle-aged blonde woman, her hair threaded silver, features touched with a remembered handsomeness and clothes clinging to youthful frivolity, guided Mr. Darcy into a small, well-cared for if not extravagant parlor area. “And Mrs. Darcy, how is she enjoying our fair town?”

For a moment, Darcy considered telling a falsehood, but even if he had been inclined towards lying, which he decidedly was not, an imaginary wife would be quickly disproven as he intended to stay an extended time in Hertfordshire. Still, it irked him to see the pointed curiosity and catlike hunger in Mrs. Bennet’s gaze as she fished to find out if he was wed. “I am not as yet married,” Mr. Darcy said after a pause.

“Oh! A regretful state for a man such as yourself!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed with ill-hidden delight. “A wife brings tranquility and joy to a home. I trust you will be allowed leave enough to enjoy the hospitality of our town. There are many young ladies about who might capture your interest…”

Like her daughter, or however many daughters occupied this house, which now through acquaintanceship with their father he might be obligated to offer his attention. “If I might speak with Mr. Bennet,” Darcy interjected. “I wrote to arrange this visit. It is business of the utmost urgency.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Bennet said. “I will let him know you have arrived.” And with that, she swept out.

It was odd and not at all pleasant to be abandoned in the parlor of a stranger. Though compared to Mrs. Bennet’s inquiries, Darcy’s own dark thoughts were an improvement. His brother Reginald’s final correspondence, much of it pages and pages of nonsense Latin, some blurred by water, weighed on his heart.

Reginald Darcy had died in France five months ago. The letter, water-stained and crushed at the corners where the envelope had been battered about for some time, was a voice whispering from the grave. Not that Darcy had seen his brother’s actual resting place. Water and time had too ravaged his body for transport, especially considering the relations between England and France.

Reggie, lighthearted and at points irreverent Reggie, had lost his life not by an enemy bullet or sword, but instead to a knife in the dark. Murdered by a cutpurse, stripped of his valuables, and left putrefying in the sewer until only his watch remained to identify him.

Why the thief hadn’t stolen that and his purse was another mystery Darcy found himself ill-equipped to solve.

Darcy took the watch from his pocket and flipped it open. Half three. What was taking Mrs. Bennet so long?

Darcy wondered again if accompanying Bingley to guest at his new estate was a good decision. Mr. Erasmus Bennet was reputed to be one of the finest codebreakers in England, though if that were the case, it made little sense for him to hole himself up so far from London.

It hardly mattered. The code would have been something Georgiana could decipher. It shouldn’t have required a master codebreaker, and it quite annoyed Darcy that he hadn’t worked it out on his own.

Of all the times for Reggie to be obscure in his presentation.

Reggie, like Wickham, possessed an easy charm, though unlike Wickham, Reggie’s interests lay beyond gambling and tupping unsuspecting young women. Reggie had been intelligent, kind, and daring to a fault.

He had also, apparently by the multiple pages of Latin in the letter, been eager to convince Georgiana he found solace in religion on the Continent. Or converted to Catholicism, heaven forbid! Knowing his younger brother, Darcy doubted a sudden turn towards the devout. Reggie had always been more inclined to the flesh than spirit, mischievous with an easy grin, even as a babe in swaddling clothes.

It was difficult to accept he would never see his brother smile, or frown, or throw himself with reckless abandon into the boxing ring again.

Reggie’s letter was addressed to Georgiana, but Darcy could not bear to give it to her without understanding it. First their father’s death, then Wickham’s betrayal, and now Reggie’s senseless murder. Darcy was not a man inclined towards light humor, and the crushing weight of tragedy and crisis had weighted his already serious nature.

Georgiana was fragile, though she hid it behind her manners and a brave smile. Georgiana had loved Reggie, and her mourning of his passing set her mood as black as her clothing these past five months. Reggie and Georgie, as they called each other, were close in temperament, while Darcy, aware of his responsibilities from a young age, had always felt an obligation to watch out for them and ensure they understood and followed the rules.

Darcy’s own protectiveness had led him to read his brother’s letter to Georgiana. Protectiveness and some hidden vein of jealousy he refused to acknowledge even to himself. Georgiana looked towards Darcy for protection, but there had always been a barrier between them. This was the same barrier that kept Darcy apart from the world.

The lady of the house, Mrs. Bennet, finally returned. “This way, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “How long will you be with us in Meryton? Not too short a visit, I hope?”

“A month at the least,” Mr. Darcy admitted. “I was invited to stay as a guest of Mr. Bingley.”

“Of Netherfield Park! How wonderful!”

They had arrived just yesterday evening, but the local rumor mill had likely been churning about Bingley since the news of his having leased the place reached the ears of the local solicitor’s wife. A young, single man of good fortune was always prized. Darcy was lucky in that as a late addition to Bingley’s party, the locals did not yet know of his ten thousand pounds.

Mrs. Bennet led Mr. Darcy into a small, chilly study. The windows were wide, letting in a fair amount of sunlight, and one was open, letting in a cold, unpleasant breeze. On a chaise diagonally set from the window, behind a low wooden table scattered with various papers, sat a stocky, older man. His thick, gray hair receded at the temples, and a pair of thick spectacles balanced on his nose. Presumably, this was Mr. Bennet, and beside him, the young, unmarried daughter of the house who Mrs. Bennet had likely insisted dress and rush into the study to sit as though she often spent time there.

Mr. Darcy was having none of it.

The young woman was admittedly handsome with black, lustrous curls tied up in a knot at the nape of her neck and dark eyes that were her best feature, hinting at least some intelligence as her gaze met his. Her hands, partially encased in dull-brown fingerless mitts, bunched in the skirts of her dress in her lap. It was an odd, nervous habit that Darcy did not admire.

“Mr. Bennet, our guest, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, is arrived. Mr. Darcy, may I introduce you to my husband, Mr. Bennet, and our daughter, Elizabeth.”

Mr. Bennet and his daughter stood and Mr. Darcy bowed to both. As Miss Elizabeth grasped her skirts to curtsy, Mr. Darcy looked more closely at her hands and noted a speckled discoloration on the fabric above the knuckle of her index finger.

Perhaps her presence here wasn’t a pure fabrication. Likely she performed clerical tasks for her father, though why he could not hire a secretary of his own Mr. Darcy could not determine. Was the Bennet family in such dire straits that Mr. Bennet could not afford one? Or perhaps, or likely, Mr. Bennet was cautious, considering the sensitive materials he was rumored to handle on behalf of the prime minister.

It hardly mattered. Mr. Bennet could not intend for his daughter to remain here for the entirety of their meeting.

“A pleasure, Miss Bennet,” Mr. Darcy said. “I wouldn’t expect you to bore yourself this fine afternoon entangling yourself in the complications of your father’s deciphering.”

“While I enjoy a brisk walk on an afternoon such as this one, it would be better if I remain at my father’s side, Mr. Darcy.”

Well, wasn’t Miss Bennet forward? Though she didn’t act in the slightest bit coquettish. More annoyed. Mr. Darcy was taken aback. “Surely the intricacies of codes and ciphers are not the domain of a properly raised young lady,” he protested.

“Lizzie,” Mrs. Bennet interrupted, stepping over to her daughter’s side and grabbing her by the arm. “Perhaps we should leave Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy to their conversation.”

Mrs. Bennet gave her daughter’s arm a none too subtle tug, but the younger Bennet stood firm. “If I could look over the code you have brought, we might determine the capabilities of a woman of my upbringing.”

Mr. Darcy was overcome by the sudden realization he had erred. Severely.

Miss Bennet’s dark eyes shone with indignation. “If I may,” Miss Bennet held out her hand, palm up. Having a clear view of the appendage, Mr. Darcy realized the mitts contained not merely a single discoloration, but an accumulation of ink speckles and stains that had seeped into the fabric over a long period of time.

“Are you studied in liturgical Latin?” Mr. Darcy asked with an attempt at greater politeness. Judging by the lady’s expression, the attempt was unsuccessful.

Miss Bennet’s lips tightened to a pale line that only highlighted the high color in her cheeks and flush over her forehead. She said, “I am studied enough.”

“If we might take a look,” Mr. Bennet added, the corners of his lips twitching with something like amusement. It was a more welcoming expression than his daughter’s, who was still furious. Ultimately, whatever jest the elder Bennet was enjoying, Mr. Darcy was clearly the butt of it.

“Mr. Bennet?” Mrs. Bennet tried to meet her husband’s gaze, but Mr. Bennet kept his attention fixed on Mr. Darcy.

Having no other polite option, Mr. Darcy handed the letter over.

A soft knock sounded at the door. “That must be Mrs. Hill about refreshments,” Mrs. Bennet said, referring to the housekeeper with exaggerated cheer. “I’ll just step outside to speak with her. How do you take your tea, Mr. Darcy?”

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Chapter 3

Mr. Darcy might be possessed of handsome features and fine manners, but little else recommended him. Elizabeth Bennet could not and did not wish to contain her fury as she took Mr. Darcy’s letter and opened it.

The letter began: My dearest Georgiana…

“This letter is not addressed to you,” Elizabeth remarked.

“My late brother. Reginald Darcy, sent this to our younger sister.”

Elizabeth knew she ought to feel some charitable sentiment for a man who had recently lost a brother, but considering how dismissive Mr. Darcy had been of her and her capabilities—just the slightest hair of being outright rude—Elizabeth could not muster the emotion. “My condolences,” she said stiffly.

“Thank you,” Mr. Darcy said, his voice as flat as her own.

If this were a young man in mourning, he took care to hide such emotions from those around him. More likely, he did not possess much familial regard at all.

No. That was unfair. She hardly knew the man. Still, however Mr. Darcy mourned, or did not, stealing away his own sister’s correspondence did not incline Elizabeth to think well of him.

“If your late brother sent your sister a message in some form of code, would it not make sense to assume she had the tools to decipher it?” Elizabeth asked.

Mr. Darcy’s expression froze for the briefest moment. “It is because my sister might decipher it that I have brought it to your father’s attention first. My sister Georgiana and my brother Reginald were close. It has been five months since his passing, and she is only beginning to step out of her deep mourning. For the first month, she did not smile, and she hardly ate. As her guardian, I must see to her well-being of the body, mind, and spirit.”

Elizabeth weighed Mr. Darcy’s explanation. Devotion to family, to especially a beloved sister, was something Elizabeth understood all too well. Though her own sister was the elder, Elizabeth had always been protective of Jane’s happiness. Jane had a sweetness of temperament that brought joy to every room, but there was also a fragility to it. Like the bloom of a prize rose, subtle alterations to the soil and air could harm its petals or keep it held tight in bud until it withered and fell.

“And if this letter’s contents are something innocuous?” Elizabeth asked.

“Then I will seal it and pass along it with your father’s translations to Georgiana immediately. I do not intend to hide our brother’s last words from her, but to ensure that they do not add to her grief.”

And yet, while Elizabeth understood the urge to protect, she did not, in her heart, agree that Mr. Darcy had the right of it. Did not Georgiana have a right to her own grief?

A difficult tangle and one Elizabeth was not charged to decipher.

Thankfully, Mr. Bennet interrupted her musings with a practical question. “Is the entire letter in code?”

“No,” Mr. Darcy said. “The first page is ordinary pleasantries, and Reggie shares—” Mr. Darcy swallowed. It was the only concession in his manner to what Elizabeth was beginning to suspect was a far deeper grief than his general demeanor suggested. “He shared small ordinary details of his life in the French capital. Nothing, as far as I can ascertain, relating to the Emperor’s designs or movements. And the latter pages were wet. Some words are almost indecipherable even if they made sense before.”

Elizabeth skimmed over those pages, trying hard not to feel like a voyeur picking over the silhouette of another man’s remains. Nothing immediately caught her eye as a code key. No letters were oddly capitalized or written in a different style. Nor were other simple tricks used. The first letter of each paragraph spelled nothing; neither did the last.

Still, for Mr. Darcy’s brother to be in the French capital at all suggested something deeper at play. Through assisting her father, Elizabeth well knew that both Bonaparte and the prime minister employed at points less than honorable means of getting information about their opponents. War was far messier than what the officers in their sharp regimentals shared when flirting with young ladies. But if Reginald Darcy was doing special, secret work for the crown, it would do no good for Elizabeth to suggest such a thing to his grieving and overly constrained older brother. Not without more than a suspicion. The letter continued.

Admittedly, my dearest sister, there is more to life here than the acquisition of pastry. I have found points only the comfort of the Almighty can offer a degree of solace. Sometimes it is only the hand of the Lord who can comfort and protect us in times of trouble.

After that, it was as Mr. Darcy described. Two pages of neatly scribed Latin, formatted as though it was a prayer.

It began:

 

Piissimus dominus

Illustrator iudex

Auctor magnus

Incompraehensibilis pacificus

Optimus iudex

Omnipotens redemptor

Gloriosus immortalis

Imperator fabricator

Opifex conditor

Misericors sempiternus

Rex iudex…

 

The words were nonsense. At first, Elizabeth thought it might be a Latin Gibberish cipher, but nothing was spelled backwards with false Latin suffixes. Maybe it was an Ave Maria cipher with each letter a faux Latin word, Elizabeth surmised. But lacking the key, deciphering it would take work, not even considering the later water-damaged sections.

Elizabeth handed the letter to her father and outlined for the pair of them what she had seen, suggesting only at the end she believed it was likely there was a cipher at work, but not one easily unraveled in an afternoon.

A knock sounded at the study door. “Mr. Bennet?” Before any of the room’s occupants could respond, the door opened, and Mrs. Bennet stepped inside. “A light dinner is ready if Mr. Darcy would like to join us when you have finished your business.”

Elizabeth glanced at the clock. It was a quarter to four. They took dinner at four thirty and tea after. Mrs. Hill must have been working like a dervish to have a dinner together so early for the Bennet household.

“I could not impose,” Mr. Darcy said stiffly. They took dinner at six thirty in the city. Was Mr. Darcy looking down his nose at the Bennets for having such country hours?

Mr. Bennet nodded. “You may leave the letter in our care, Mr. Darcy, and I shall write to you when the translation is complete. I will fit it in between my other work as Bonaparte and his disciples do not wait for our convenience to make their moves.”

“Yes. I have heard your skills are in great demand from many sources. And my brother is long passed. This is for my peace, and my sister’s peace, entirely.”

“Shall I direct my missive to the address from which you wrote before?”

“For the duration of the holidays, I will stay as a guest with Mr. Charles Bingley, who has recently leased the nearby estate at Netherfield Park.” Mr. Darcy looked resigned. “It should be a simple thing to send any necessary correspondence there.”

“But that is such a short distance!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “You must return here to discuss the contents of your brother’s correspondence when my husband has finished his work.”

Another knock, and Lydia, her voice pitched higher in an attempt at flirtation, said through the door, “Mother! Are you there?”

“Yes, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet went to the door and opened it. “Lydia,” she admonished with no especial fervor in her tone. “You know better than to interrupt your father while he is working.”

Lydia had dressed speedily but with obvious attention to flirting with a young gentleman. Her hair was arranged in perfect ringlets peeking from beneath her bonnet, and her dress was a pale yellow that highlighted her light blue eyes. Unlike Elizabeth, whose mitts were dark beige speckled with ink, Lydia’s were the same white silk she wore when attending a local assembly. She smiled at Mr. Darcy and looked up at him through her lashes. “Papa, I apologize for disturbing you. And your guest.”

“We had just asked Mr. Darcy to enjoy his luncheon with us,” Mrs. Bennet said brightly. “Mr. Darcy, how do you take your tea?”

Mr. Darcy did not acknowledge Mrs. Bennet’s invitation the second time. Instead, he inclined his head towards each of them and said, “I must take my leave. Thank you, again.”

“Lydia!” Mrs. Bennet called to her daughter. “Will you show Mr. Darcy to the door?”

“Yes, Mother!” Lydia said with delight. She managed to get ahead of the taciturn gentleman. “This way. Are you fond of dancing, Mr. Darcy?”

Mrs. Bennet rubbed the thumb of her right hand along the ridge of the other as she left to follow the pair at enough of a distance as to maintain the illusion of propriety.

After they had gone, Elizabeth muttered. “I wish Lydia the best with him.”

Mr. Bennet smiled. “So you, like my wife, would wish Mr. Darcy to become a member of our family?”

“I’d rather marry his horse!” Elizabeth stated with vehemence. “And you know how I despise riding.”

“A horse can be led by the reins. A man…” Mr. Bennet laughed, and after a moment, Elizabeth joined him.

Still, Elizabeth’s mirth felt hollow. It disturbed her to have been so affected by the man. Granted, her primary emotion concerning Mr. Darcy had been dislike. She tried to tell herself it spurred from his disdain for her abilities. But others had disbelieved her skills in cracking ciphers. None had spurred such instant fury.

As the laughter died, Elizabeth took a second piece of paper and a pen for notes, but her mind was occupied with the first mystery of why Mr. Darcy had affected her so.

“Will you read that out for me?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“Yes, Father.” Elizabeth started to read, but her mind wasn’t on the code.

Mr. Darcy’s handsome features had tricked Elizabeth into expecting more from him, she concluded. That was her mistake, not his. At least his rational desire to flee had spared them all an awkward meal.

That night, in their shared bedroom, Jane sat down on the edge of Elizabeth’s bed. “So is Mr. Darcy as terrible as Lydia says?” she asked in a hushed tone.

Elizabeth initial thought was to give a quick yes, but in only the company of her favorite sister, she could not state the man had been wholly terrible. “He was cold, and at points short-tempered, and he dismissed my abilities, but…”

“Usually you are not so restrained in your opinions, Elizabeth. Did you find him handsome?” Jane added, “Lydia found him very handsome. And rude. And generally awful.”

“He was handsome.” Not that it mattered, considering the nature of their meeting and his temperament. “Like a marble statue and with about as much warmth. I doubt his lips have experienced a smile in all of his years of life. His face would likely shatter into a dozen pieces if he tried.”

“You are incorrigible,” Jane said with a laugh.

Elizabeth joined her sister in laughing. But even in her shared levity, Elizabeth could not help wondering why she couldn’t erase the intensity of Mr. Darcy’s gaze from her mind and how it might soften his features if he smiled.

 

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Mrs. Bennet, a middle-aged blonde woman, her hair threaded silver, features touched with a remembered handsomeness and clothes clinging to youthful frivolity, guided Mr. Darcy into a small, well-cared for if not extravagant parlor area. “And Mrs. Darcy, how is she enjoying our fair town?”

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Pride and Prejudice Variations from Violet King's Pemberley Playground - Mr. Darcy's Cipher
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!

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Chapter 1

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 explained 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 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. 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 nor the faculties for solving them. But she humored her husband while 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 as a damp autumn breeze blew over the room.

Mr. Bennet leaned back in 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 to 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 to 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 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 and 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 of 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 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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Pride and Prejudice Variations from Violet King's Pemberley Playground - Mr. Darcy's Cipher

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Mrs. Bennet, a middle-aged blonde woman, her hair threaded silver, features touched with a remembered handsomeness and clothes clinging to youthful frivolity, guided Mr. Darcy into a small, well-cared for if not extravagant parlor area. “And Mrs. Darcy, how is she enjoying our fair town?”

Read More »

Available Via Kindle and Kindle Unlimited