Mr. Darcy's Cipher Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 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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Read More:

Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 2-3

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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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 4-5

It was not Mr. Wickham’s first evening at the gambling hell known as “the Danny house,” but it had been, by far, his best. An excellent supper filled his belly, and his skin hummed with the pleasant warmth of first-rate whiskey while the taste of an outstanding cigar settled comfortably at the back of his tongue.

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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 6-7

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

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Mr. Darcy’s Cipher Chapters 8-9

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

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