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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Graphic

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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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Cover

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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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?

Read More »
Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Graphic

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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