Okay, I admit it… I love birthdays! I’d rather not count the years that are passing, to be honest, but the celebrating part is pretty cool. Especially cake! And presents!! Yeah, I am quite the child when it comes to birthdays. Perhaps the glass of wine with dinner before the cake lends a bit of maturity.
I am not sure what my husband has up his creative sleeve for my birthday tomorrow. I will report back on that later. For now, even though I am the one who is supposed to receive presents, I am giving one to all of you. Actually, two presents! Or, really, it is FIVE if you count each chance for a novel giveaway… and you should!
So the first present from me is a 4-in-1 giveaway. Who doesn’t LOVE a giveaway? This time the present is four eBooks to four lucky winners. Each winner can choose from any of my eight titles. Follow the basic guidelines on the Rafflecopter form below, entering as many of the options as wanted to earn extra points with the random.org selections. The deadline is at the end of the day October 31, 2013.
As awesome as a chance to win one of my novels is for a present, I have something else! Many have asked what I am working on now. The answer is, as I term it tongue-in-cheek, my “prequel to my sequel.” It is simple, really. I decided a while back to write a novel covering the weeks between Elizabeth Bennet accepting Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal, and their wedding. The engagement period. I have been working in bits and pieces in between moving and other life events, and I still have a way to go before I can publish for your complete reading pleasure. In the mean time, I can share updates, and, as today, an excerpt.
Yes, this is my second birthday gift to you! An excerpt from my next novel. I am not one-hundred-percent sure on the final title, but my working title is~~
A Season of Courtship for Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth
Here is a small sample, and I do hope you enjoy. Feedback, of course, is always welcome.
Jane and Lizzy were waiting on the Longbourn porch when their two gentlemen rode into the yard. With bonnets, shawls, and gloves donned, their purpose was evident. After a rushed greeting, and brief allotment of time for the men to pay respects to Mrs. Bennet, arms were secured and they were steered down a winding path west of the house. It was a trail Darcy had never walked, and as such he normally would have paid keen attention to the ground and passing terrain. Instead, he was completely at the mercy of the women, trusting their familiarity and awareness of any hazards.
What man of sound mind would inspect trees or flowers when the beautiful woman he loved was holding onto his arm and positioned inches away from his body?
“You and Miss Bennet appeared most anxious to begin your walk. Dare I presume our company was a significant factor? Or were you merely anticipating the delight of escaping the confines of Longbourn?”
“It is true that I prefer being out-of-doors rather than within, so I do look for any excuse, no matter how implausible, to escape. Today you gave me a decent enough reason.”
“Decent enough? Well, I shall have to be satisfied with that!”
Darcy smiled at Lizzy’s gay laughter.
“Will you be scandalized, William, to hear that I walk at my own pleasure, braving the elements if necessary, and facing the censure of others upon occasion for my wild ways?”
“I am not scandalized. I vividly recall your appearance after one such wild walk in the elements, and confess I appreciated the picture far too much to censure.”
“Did you?” Lizzy halted and glanced up at his face. She looked genuinely amazed at his confession.
“Indeed. Exercise becomes you, Elizabeth. Your eyes were bright and cheeks rosy. A soft sheen bathed your skin, making your face glow. Several tendrils of your hair escaped your bonnet, dancing across your forehead and neck. You were… exceedingly fetching.” To state it mildly.
“I recall only surprise and what I interpreted as contempt. Granted, you were silent and grave rather than openly incredulous like Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, but I did not guess appreciation. I apologize for misinterpreting.”
“An apology is not needed. I was surprised, Elizabeth, for I had never met a woman who would think of walking so far, let alone do it. I questioned your judgement in traversing muddy fields unescorted, in the early morning while the mist remained, and under the threat of further rain. I still believe it an unwise course under most circumstances, and hope in the future you will appeal to me before setting out in such a manner. Nevertheless, I soon comprehended your level of comfort in the countryside, and that I was wrong to question your capability. Most touching to me was the devotion to your sister. This I can readily understand.”
“Yes, I suppose you can.” She glanced away from his eyes, her gaze falling on Jane and Mr. Bingley as they disappeared around a bend in the trail. Suddenly she released a laugh. Darcy lifted a brow questioningly when she looked back at him.
“I was comparing Jane now, walking happily with Mr. Bingley and mindless of our existence behind them,” she explained as she tugged on his arm and resumed walking, “to the Jane earlier who argued with me about waiting on the step and whisking the two of you away alone, seconds after arriving. She thought our behavior would be condemned as brazen and unladylike. I bullied her along, with help from mother, but did not successfully convince her that Mr. Bingley would be gratified to witness her enthusiasm. What say you, Mr. Darcy? Who was correct, me or Jane?”
“As I see it, Miss Elizabeth,” he emphasized her formal name as she had his, and spoke in an exaggerated, stilted manner, “there is a place and time for proper behavior, and one must take pains to never cross into vulgarity. Undue enthusiasm can be most unsettling. Nevertheless, in affairs of the heart, no one, not even a mature man of confidence, would reject an overt display of affection and – Dare I say it? – enthusiasm from the woman he loves. As illogical as it seems, the greater one’s feeling for another, the more he needs to be assured the sentiments are reciprocated.”
His kept his tone of humorously dramatic instruction, but hoped that she would detect the truthful revelation, especially in the last two sentences.
She held her teasing smile, but nodded seriously. “I shall keep your words of wisdom in mind, William.”
“Excellent!” He exclaimed in relief, and then lightened the mood with a return tease. “And I shall remember that you have now confessed to desiring this time with me rather than for the single wish for a walk.”
“Did I confess that?” She succumbed to laughter at his firm nod. “Yes, it is true. I enjoy every moment with you and intend to make the most of it. I want to know everything about you, which, of course, means that you must talk freely, and be prepared to argue with me if I disagree. Are you up to the challenge, sir?”
“I never back down from a challenge, my dear. How do you wish to proceed in this endeavor to know everything about me? A game of twenty questions?”
“I daresay I would need more than twenty! How about beginning with recounting your morning? You said you had letters to write, some announcing our engagement, I believe. Did you complete your task?”
“Nearly. I shall finish tomorrow. There are quite a number, and I am not the fastest writer.”
“Oh? I heard you write uncommonly fast.” Darcy chuckled at her reference. “Quite a number, was it? Endless possibilities to reveal the mysteries of Mr. Darcy!” The mischievous glint in her eyes was absolutely adorable, Darcy resisting the urge to kiss her with effort. Luckily, to avoid an unseemly display sure to embarrass them both, she returned her gaze to the trail. “Were they primarily business matters then, or personal? I did not think your family large.”
“My family is more extensive than you realize. Primarily the letters were personal, although I did write to my solicitor in London, Mr. Daniels, whom I am sure you shall meet someday. The Daniels’ firm has handled my family’s affairs for decades. He will begin the necessary paperwork pertaining to our betrothal settlement. I sent detailed instructions on that, and a few other matters I dropped when I rushed back to Netherfield.”
This time it was he who halted their steps, turning to Lizzy and grasping both her hands between his. For several seconds he could not breathe and forgot what he meant to say. They were not physically closer than when walking side-by-side, but the impact of facing her fully was striking.
“I have to warn you, Elizabeth, that as unappealing as it is for me, and as loath as I am to be parted during this special time, it is inevitable that I travel to London to personally discuss the specifics and formalize the legalities of the settlement. Additionally, I want to arrange estate business now, before our marriage. With proper planning, my steward and solicitor can keep Pemberley functioning after our marriage, for a time at least, with minimal input from me. Once at Pemberley for the winter I do not wish our solitude disturbed unless a drastic emergency arises.”
And since it is quite possible I’ll keep us locked in my bedchamber all winter, they better handle it!
Visions of Elizabeth in his bedchamber were highly pleasant, but unsettling. The thought was a fleeting one, but with her standing directly in front of him the abrupt barrage of emotions were every bit as strong as they had been yesterday evening when entering Longbourn, and again while in the starlit garden last night. Both times his desire to kiss her overwhelmed his reason. Restraint honed over nearly three decades, and the gentlemanly breeding of generations, all but disappeared. Somehow he must smother these baser impulses before his uncontrolled ardor frightened her into rethinking her choice in husband.
Your ardor did not seem unwelcome. She did not look frightened before, and looks quite willing to be kissed now.
Darcy silently concurred with the justifying voice in his mind. Then he shook his head and gulped past the lump in his throat. In matters of sexuality and romantic love, Darcy was not what anyone would label experienced. Nevertheless, he was educated on the subject – while surely Elizabeth was not – and as a man it was his job to lead and set a proper example. Despite her assurances of love and trust, Darcy knew they were new developments harshly won. As such, they were fragile things, to his way of thinking, and he refused to allow any action borne from his weakness cause either her love or trust to shatter.
“I understand that you have affairs to manage, William. I will miss you, of course, but you must not fret over my feelings. I recognize the sacrifice, and appreciate why you are making it. How soon, and for how long will you be in London?”
Her soft voice and tender touch of gloved fingertips to his left cheek broke him out of his trance, Darcy only then realizing how close he had drawn to her lips. He straightened slowly, forcing a serene smile. “I will give Mr. Daniels a week or so to prepare first. I cannot say how long, but trust me that it will be as short as possible.”
Maybe it will be beneficial to separate for a short span. The thought was sensible, but painful to contemplate, so he tucked her hand under his arm and resumed their stroll. Bingley and Jane were far ahead and had stopped to wait for them. Or perhaps they had paused for an intimate conversation of their own. Darcy waved casually, and Bingley waved back.
“We seem to have lagged behind, but at least we are in eyesight, so my promise to your father to remain as a group is not broken. Now, where was I? My letter to Daniels was complete, with assistance from my valet who has neater penmanship than mine. Fortified with coffee, I attended to the personal correspondence. First, naturally, was Georgiana.”
“Miss Darcy is such a dear! She will be pleased, will she not?”
“Pleased? Indeed not! She will be overjoyed, Elizabeth. She has longed for a sister all of her life, dreams of the intimate friendship not possible with a brother over a decade older. I have wished for Georgiana to have this as well, and it is doubly gratifying that my tremendous fortune in earning a place in your life also means fulfilling her desires.”
“If Miss Darcy were anything other than the sweet-natured creature she is, I might be daunted by the charge. As it is, my only apprehension is that my impertinence and quick temper shall frighten, or corrupt her good manners.”
“The liveliness of your mind and sportive manner will be good for her, I am certain of it.”
“And when I tease you? Or we argue, as we surely shall? Will her high opinion fade and affection cool in defense of a beloved brother?”
They had almost caught up to Jane and Bingley, so Darcy did not hesitate to once again stop walking. If not for his concern over the trace of strain amid her humorous tones, Darcy would have been gladdened to realize his improving ability to detect her emotions. At the present his only thought was to console her.
“It is in large part because of her love for me that Georgiana’s sentiments toward you spring, Elizabeth. She is one of only a handful who have known of my love for you, and have seen the affect upon me when all hope was lost. Rather than despising you as the cause of my… sadness…” Agonizing, soul-wrenching pain! “…she welcomed you to Pemberley with nearly as intense jubilation as me. She supported my decision, that is true, and trusted in my resolution that you alone could bring me happiness. Yet Georgiana drew her own conclusions, and grew to care for you because of your interactions with her. It is impossible for me to imagine your heart opening to me without my sister’s influence as a portion of the catalyst. As for the rest,” he brushed the tip of one finger over her nose playfully, “Georgiana will soon learn that the relationship between husband and wife is quite different than that of siblings.”