Way back in early 2010, my editor asked me to write a Pride and Prejudice themed novella centered on Christmas. The plan was for my novella to accompany two other short stories for a release that upcoming holiday season. I was given the freedom to write whatever I wanted, meaning I did not have to keep to The Darcy Saga, which was at that time three novels published with the fourth to be released in October. I was tempted to go a different direction and I did bat around a few possible story ideas. However, in the end, I decided to stay within the world I had created for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. In part that was because none of those vague ideas solidified or captured my interest. Yet the main reason is that I had a better idea, and when I shared this with my editor, she loved it too.
Rather than writing a single story centered on one Christmas with the Darcys, I saw the opportunity to present a mini-saga… so to speak. My concept was a series of vignettes, each one set on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, giving brief glimpses into the over-arching life of the many characters I’d already created (and adding a few new ones as well) that would be in keeping with my personal desire to show “happily ever after” for the Darcys. I wanted to be sure that my faithful readers would KNOW these beloved characters DID live a long life with a joyous marriage and many children.
As an idea it was terrific. Bringing it to reality presented a unique challenge. For one, I was not just writing for fans of The Darcy Saga. In all likelihood, readers would pick up the anthology who may have never heard of me! My novella had to stand alone as an enjoyable Austenesque read. Secondly, I was limited to under 30,000 words. Those who have read my novels know I am anything but minimal in my word count! When I turned the final draft into my editor, it was 29,995 words. No lie!
The final result, in my not-so-humble opinion, is perfect. Not everyone has agreed, as is typical with any written work, but the overwhelming majority of reviews and feedback have been excellent. Click to the novel page for the editorial reviews, reader reviews, purchasing links, and other information about A Darcy Christmas.
The anthology was released in October 2010. It includes Christmas Present by Amanda Grange, Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart, and my novella A Darcy Christmas, from which the book gets its title. The full book with all three novellas remains in print, and is also in ebook format. In 2012, Sourcebooks released each of the three novellas separately, in ebook only.
For the Austen lover, I highly recommend all three novellas. Naturally I think mine the best, but that may be due to a wee bit of pride and prejudice! Below are short excerpts from the Prologue and each of the nine vignettes. Just a tasty treat to inspire the holiday spirit and entice to buy!
He set the painting onto the sofa, assuring it was well supported before stepping away. He gazed at the canvas, a smile spreading as he looked upon his family. His family. The family created by him and his wife, just as he had dreamt for so many lonely years. They stood on the portico of Pemberley flanked by their precious children on the steps. All of them were smiling at the artist. A sentimental man by nature, he silently examined the newest portrait of his family and lost himself in happy memories. Unsurprisingly, since it was Christmas Day, his reminiscences focused on holiday celebrations of the past. So lost was he in quiet contemplations that he did not hear his study door opening. But he did smell the lavender water habitually worn by his wife and extended his arm without averting his attention from the painting. She slipped under his arm, nestling against his side as naturally as a bird takes to its nest, her arms encompassing his waist.
“I plan to hang it there,” he nodded toward the wall above the settee. “As much as I love Gainsborough’s landscape, I would prefer to have you and our children watching over me as I work. Someday it can join the others in the Portrait Gallery, but not yet.”
She nodded in agreement. “I concur. We look wonderful here. It is an amazing portrait, arriving at a perfect time.”
“How true. It induced me to reflect on Christmases past. All of them have been wonderful since you came into my life.” He looked at his wife then, his blue eyes tender and inundated with love.
“All of them?” she repeated, teasing and meeting his eyes with the same intense emotion.
“Even those Christmases that were sad or difficult were special, my heart. My life is complete since we married and I would change nothing. This Christmas is the most recent in a long line of incredible memories.”
“It is not over yet!” she reminded him, both of them laughing as they returned their gazes to the painting.
“Christmas Loneliness” Excerpt
Darcy watched Georgiana gracefully exit the parlor, his heart surging with happiness as it always did when considering his sister. But as soon as she left, seemingly taking the light and music and laughter with her, the pensiveness drenched him once again. It was late and he felt simultaneously weary and jittery. He stared at the faint light beyond the doorway, imagined the shadowy corridors between this chamber and his suite of cold and empty rooms— Where did that thought come from?—and actually shuddered.
Then, just as abruptly as the sadness, he was jolted by a flare of anger. He muttered a harsh curse, strode briskly to the low table where the tea and snacks sat, and placed the drained mug onto the silver tray with a plunk. He squared his shoulders, straightening to his full and considerable height, and marched purposefully from the room.
His thoughts were darker than the illuminated hallways. What was it about Elizabeth Bennet that had bewitched him so? He truly felt as if under a spell that consumed him and made no sense whatsoever. She was so completely unsuitable! She was infatuated by George Wickham, for goodness sake. That spoke volumes. And her family? He shuddered anew.
Oh, but she was beautiful. Indeed, so very beautiful.
He paused outside his dressing room door, one hand on the knob as his throat constricted and heart lurched with longing. He cursed again, a habit that was quite unlike him normally but lately seemed to be occurring frequently, and reached to loosen the cravat that was strangely now choking off his air supply. He pivoted and entered his bedchamber. For tonight, he would manage to undress himself. Facing the calmly professional presence of his valet Samuel while he was in what could only be termed “a mood” was intolerable!
Yet as he resisted slamming the door violently behind him with tremendous restraint, he discovered his steps slowing. He halted in the middle of his room. He gazed at the comforting surroundings, savored the warmth of the crackling fire as it seeped into his chilled skin, and awaited the peaceful relaxation that inevitably washed over him when alone in his sanctuary.
It did not come.
“Christmas Honeymoon” Excerpt
Darcy read aloud from Lord Byron’s The Corsair, the melodramatic poem of love and pirates additionally thrilling when rendered in his resonant, storytelling voice. Lizzy, absently toying with the bookmark that had kept their place since last evening’s reading, was mesmerized by his surprisingly expressive face.
She stayed her fidgeting fingers, holding the bookmark in question up for close inspection. The wide strip of fine silk with a quilt backing had been a gift from Lizzy to her then fiancé upon his twenty-ninth birthday. She had embroidered two linked hearts bearing their names with a verse from Genesis above. The promise of their future as one soul was a treasured possession that Darcy kept in whatever book he was reading.
“It is undamaged, but I apologize. Of course, you know that it cannot endure forever?”
“I intend to ensure it does,” he countered stubbornly, ignoring Lizzy’s chuckle and reaching under a nearby pillow. “Speaking of gifts, I have an early Christmas present for you.”
He handed her a small, ribbon-tied box contained a key that belonged to a locked cabinet filled with his personal journals and mementoes. Lizzy laughed when she saw the key, because also hidden behind the secured doors was a collection of sexually instructive books that were a source of continual jesting between them.
Elizabeth, of course and to his never-ending delight, had to tease.
“Books? How sweet of you, William. Always desiring to improve my mind. I promise I shall apply myself diligently and will practice as often as feasible.”
He drew her against his chest, reclined onto the warmed fur, and opened her robe all in one smooth motion. They kissed and caressed, enjoying the tactile sensations and hearts beating in time while the longcase clock in the corner ticked a regular rhythm.
“Christmas Toys” Excerpt
“Papa! Papa, see?” Alexander grabbed the top two, one in each fist, swinging them directly into Darcy’s face.
“Yes, son, I see them. No need to hit me. Let me look.”
Georgiana leaned forward. “This is a grandfather and this a grandmother. She is the pretty blonde shepherd girl and here is her sheep. This is a footman in livery, perhaps Phillips or Watson. And the soldier like Uncle Richard.” She inserted her hand into the latter, her pinkie bringing the puppet’s arm up for a salute.
“Most impressive, Georgie. A judge, a frog, an elegant lady, and a horse. Well done.” George slipped his bony hands into the frog and horse, “hopping” and “galloping” around Alexander’s head while the infant laughed and wiggled.
“These are very thick, woolen socks. Where did you get them?” Darcy asked, one arm firm about his son’s squirming body while examining the shepherd girl with his free hand.
“Mr. Clark gave me a dozen. The groundsmen wear them in the winter. They are the thickest stockings I have ever seen. Perfect for warmth and sturdy puppets, is that not so my sweet, sweet Alexander? Give your Aunt Giana kisses.”
Georgiana was nuzzling Alexander and did not notice the strange expression on her brother’s face until Lizzy began to hoarsely laugh. She glanced from Lizzy to Darcy, and then rolled her eyes. “I was not looking at the gardener’s legs, William, only their attire.”
“I was not imagining that. I am merely surprised you noticed the workers’ leg coverings as suitable for creating puppets.”
She shrugged. “I noticed the socks years ago and asked Mrs. Reynolds to get them for me to wear in winter. They are the warmest woolens in all of England, I am sure of it.”
Darcy’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You wear these ugly, roughly woven things?”
“Not in public!” She flushed but lifted her chin. “Not all Darcys are impervious to the cold of Derbyshire.” And she nodded significantly toward his muscular legs, thinly sheathed in lightweight wool breeches, silk stockings, and low soft-leather house shoes.
“Lord knows I am not,” George interjected with an excessive shiver, his thirty years in India’s kinder clime meaning the gesture was only slightly overblown.
“Christmas Addition” Excerpt
Finally, as the mantel clock chimed one o’clock, they rose to return to their bedchamber. They knew they would be woken in a mere four or five hours, Alexander catapulting onto his father with all the exuberance of a youngster anxious to open his presents.
Darcy halted her at the top of the Grand Staircase, pulling her into a firm embrace where they stood just under the enormous kissing bough that was yearly redecorated with fresh greenery and polished until gleaming.
“One kiss under the Darcy bough,” he whispered, lowering his mouth to brush over hers. “It shall bring us luck.”
“You are a superstitious man, Mr. Darcy.”
“Or simply grasping onto another opportunity to kiss my stunning wife.”
Who knows how long the kiss may have continued if not for the strange popping sensation Lizzy felt from the recesses of her loins that was followed by a gush of warm fluid streaming down her thighs into a puddle on the marble floor. She gasped, jerking out of Darcy’s arms, and exclaimed a shrill, “Oh my!”
Darcy was perplexed for about two seconds before processing the information and meeting his wife’s embarrassed and startled eyes. He was jubilant! His eyes sparkled, the grin spreading over his face reaching from ear to ear. “A Christmas baby! Ha! Once again, my dearest, I am immeasurably thrilled that you never do anything as it is expected of you!”
And with a booming laugh he swept her into his arms.
“Christmas Morning” Excerpt
“Mysteries of Pemberley aside, you two are hereby forbidden to evade your caretakers and wander the halls, understood?”
“Yes, Papa,” Michael and Noella quickly agreed, heads nodding in unison.
Lizzy chuckled under her breath and Darcy briefly closed his eyes, both knowing the admonishment would be as ignored as the promise. Prim Alexander sat on his father’s lap through the whole commentary with his lips pressed tightly together and brows knitted. Lizzy ruffled his curls, leaned for a kiss, and whispered for his ears only, “Occasional misbehaving is healthy, Alexander. You should give it a try now and again.” But he truly looked aghast at the idea, Lizzy only laughing harder and pulling her firstborn onto her lap for a snug embrace.
“Can we go now? Please!” Michael and Noella pleaded, bouncing on their knees, for once not irritating each other in their agreement over Christmas entertainments.
“I am hungry.”
“And I have Christmas presents and birthday presents and cake!”
“It’s not fair that she gets more presents,” Michael grumbled, the truce obviously over as he glared at his sister.
“It’s my birthday!” Noella smugly declared, smirking as she added, “Christmas is my special day, not yours.”
“Christmas is everybody’s special day. It’s Jesus’ day, not yours, silly!”
“Today is God’s day first,” Lizzy interrupted what promised to be full-scale war. “But we will manage to celebrate both special events. Just as Alexander’s birthday falls on mine and your papa’s anniversary and we always celebrate both.”
“No ‘buts’ young man,” Darcy caressed the thick brown locks so like his. “Look at it this way, son: You have a birthday all your own. A day not shared with any other holiday or person.”
“So can we open presents now?” Noella asked, ignoring Michael’s cheery expression and protruding tongue.
“Your birthday will be celebrated later today, after church and Christmas.”
“But I am three!” she wailed, tears instantly forming.
“Technically you will not be three until late this afternoon, Noella, because that is when you were born.”
“But, Papa! That is silly. Today is my birthday and today happened at midnight!”
“You cannot argue with that logic,” Lizzy murmured with a smile.
“Christmas Storytelling” Excerpt
Darcy managed to read through all four of Irving’s Christmas related essays, but with several interruptions for questions, two more arguments between Michael and Noella, and a half dozen bursts of laughter.
“I want to learn to play the guitar,” Michael declared when the instrument was mentioned, jumping up to prance about the bed while pretending to strum. He sang the stanza of Herrick’s “Night Piece to Julia” as just read by his father, dramatically and comically serenading Noella and Audrey as if a lover. Audrey gave her brother a soft kiss of thanks but Noella punched him in the knee, stating firmly that she would sooner die a spinster than allow anyone like him to woo her. Laughter rang out, minor wrestling ensued, and order was difficult to restore.
Audrey interrupted only once, her euphonious voice commenting that having peacocks running free as they were in the story would be nice. “Pemberley is stately and magnificent. Peacocks are pretty, don’t you think, Papa?”
“I think that is a marvelous idea!” Lizzy agreed. “How does one obtain peacocks, William?”
“I know several gentlemen who have them on their estates. Purchasing a few would be an easy task. I am sure Mr. Holmes or Mr. Burr would know how to care for them. If it is peafowl you wish for, princess, we can find them.”
Irving’s mention of minstrels playing during the Christmas dinner was appealing to Alexander. “A harper or violinist playing softly in the background is a nice touch. How about hiring one for next year, Father? He could play hymns and carols.”
Darcy and Lizzy nodded, sharing an approving glance, but Michael enthusiastically burst in. “Oh! I can play my guitar! I will have all year to learn, yes, Papa? Or, better yet, we can hire the fiddler who plays at the Village pub! He plays a hardingfele and is amazing…”
“When have you had occasion to hear the fiddler at the pub? And know what type of viol he plays?”
Michael paled, eyes wide as he stared into his father’s stern face.
“This will be good,” Noella murmured, her eyes glittering.
“Christmas Merrymaking” Excerpt
And thus the small company of marooned travelers walked into the shadowy farmland, thankful for the moonlight when it appeared in the cloudless sky. It was difficult to discern in the growing twilight, but as they neared the structure indicated by Audrey, it was obviously not a barn but a large assembly hall. It was also obviously the site of a gathering of merrymakers! The festive scene unfolded before their dazzled eyes, far removed from the more sedate and spiritual celebrations offered to the Pemberley tenants on a yearly basis.
Enormous three-foot logs split down the middle and crisscrossed in a stack burned within a stone ringed pit, the bonfire blazing in a clearing before the wide-open doors. The snap of fiery pitch, reek of rising smoke, and heat of hungry flames was evident from yards away, yet did not deter the bustling bodies moving in a flood of enthusiasm between the dirt expanse and inviting building. The flickering illumination of candles and fireplaces glowing from within promised additional warmth from the steadily chilling air.
Children dashed amongst the adults, laughing and chasing one another while blowing whistles, ringing bells, and banging drums. Folks of all ages circled the flames, dancing and singing in time with the rollicking music filling the air. The sound of lutes, guitars, fiddles, and assorted pipes brought an instant grin to Michael’s face, but they all unconsciously responded to the lively rhythm as they drew closer.
The scene of merrymaking outside the assembly hall was a preview to the play visible inside. From holly-draped wall to mistletoe-adorned corner, the Darcys absorbed wonders.
Six musicians were upon a wooden dais, some sitting and some standing, feet stomping and heads bobbing to the beat they created. The line of dancing couples only vaguely remained straight as frequent errors in the steps or exaggerated twirls led to unrestrained laughter. Other couples did not even bother with the line, dancing together in whatever free space was available. One old gentleman in well-worn breeches and shirtsleeves danced a jig all by himself, the circle of cheering observers clapping out the tempo.
“Christmas Grief” Excerpt
“Merry Christmas, Mama! Papa! Your plate is ready, Mama. Shall I dish yours, Papa?”
“Thank you, Noella, but I can manage. A hug would be appreciated,” he said with a smile, opening his arms as Noella readily embraced him. “Happy birthday, holly berry.” He kissed her head, whispering for her ears only, “I have a very special gift for you.”
“Oh! What is it, Papa! Tell me, please!”
“Christmas first. One party at a time, as we always do, and then this afternoon I will reveal. No pouting, miss,” he tugged on her protruding lower lip, “and the sad eyes shall not sway me.” He winked at his wife, Lizzy smiling and shaking her head, well aware that Darcy was pathetically vulnerable to weepy manipulation from his daughters.
Noella knew this as well, but she laughed, tossing her head and causing her black curls to bounce prettily. “Oh, very well! I shall be patient. Does not Grandpapa’s portrait cheer the room, Mama? I still feel as if he is here, and Audrey said she knows he is watching over us. Do you think that is true?”
“Only God knows for certain,” Darcy answered, “but he lives on in our hearts to be sure.”
He glanced to the table setting nearest Mr. Bennet’s easel-propped painting where Audrey sat, her lips moving in a steady stream of quiet conversation to her adored grandfather’s image, relaying the antics of his daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. Nathaniel sat beside his sister with Mary’s oldest girls across, all of them adding to the observations as had become a custom due to Mr. Bennet’s diminished far-sight. The gift of descriptiveness with colorful language and exaggerated recounting was possessed by all of them to varying degrees, their talents perfected via theatrical performances on a regular basis and later used to entertain their grandfather. It appeared to be an ingrained habit that would be slowly relinquished.
“Christmas Present” Excerpt
Silently, in sweet harmony, they admired the canvas testimonial to what they, through God’s grace, had achieved in the long years of their marriage. They studied the painted images, each beloved beyond measure. The portraitist had easily identified the individual characteristics, capturing them brilliantly. Especially manifest was the love, unswerving commitment, and supreme happiness verily shining from their faces as proud parents to the next generation of Darcys.
She broke the quiet contemplation, tugging gently on his waist. “Come, love. Our family awaits and I have a special present for you.”
“I thought we were finished exchanging gifts this year.”
“It is something special I have held in reserve.”
“Of course! It is Christmas after all!”
Lizzy squeezed his laced fingers, steering him toward the tree and the table where a handful of ornaments yet waited to be hung. She reached into a segregated box, unwrapping the tissue paper from a thin, narrow object, and handed it to her spouse.
“I saved this one for you to place,” she said softly, her eyes shining.
Darcy stared at the bookmark in his hand, swallowing past the lump in his throat as more memories washed over him: Elizabeth Bennet, his then betrothed, surprising him with a party on the occasion of his twenty-ninth birthday and gifting him with this bookmark, embroidered and sewn by her hand, tucked into a first edition copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Both were among his most cherished possessions. The bookmark maintained the placement in hundreds of books for some ten years, then was relegated to his bedside Bible for several more years, until he had finally been forced to store it in one of his many memento boxes before the frayed cloth disintegrated completely. Now here it was, restored with the embroidered silk sewn onto a new backing and edged with lace that looped, for hanging onto the tree’s branch. The meticulous stitches from so long ago were freshly reinforced, Lizzy’s delicate hand spelling out their names inside linked hearts with a scripture from Genesis scripted above: The two shall become one flesh.
He brushed his knuckles over her cheek. “And so we have, my heart.” He placed the bookmark onto a prominent front branch at eye level, turning back to his wife.
“Merry Christmas, Fitzwilliam.”
“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth.” And the kiss he gave her went on long after everyone in the room began clapping and cheering.