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!
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?”
“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.
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?”