Hello! I hope you have been healthy and happy during my absence. My newly replaced hip is doing remarkably well so I am FINALLY able to sit in a chair long enough to get some words down on paper. I’ve been so anxious to get back to writing something new. I will be entirely honest, there are multiple stories begging to be written. I chose “The Letter of the Law” to write first. Here’s a basic description:
Upon his father’s death, Fitzwilliam Darcy had been overwhelmed with the responsibility of becoming Master of Pemberley and guardian to his young sister. Thinking he had plenty of time before his ten-year-old sister turned sixteen, he pushed to the background the codicil in his father’s will that either he or his co-guardian, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, be wed by the time Miss Georgiana Darcy started preparations for her debut into society. Now, the date loomed in front of the two gentlemen like an ax ready to fall. Rather than lose her care to his cantankerous aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy decides to accept an invitation to help his friend manage his new estate close to the farm community of Meryton in Hertfordshire in hopes of finding a country-bred lady to become the Mistress of his heart.
Elizabeth Bennet was not impressed with the gentleman. His stoic demeanor and harsh criticisms of herself and her loved ones set him as the most despised man of her acquaintance. When he continues to seek her out, she wonders at his purpose. Will they ever be able to move past their rocky start? Can love grow from such horrible beginnings? Will they both end up desiring to follow the letter of the law?
I’m attaching the cover and the first chapter and will post succeeding chapters here. Although I’m planning to give my full attention to this story, it may take a bit to get back into the swing of things. I will not be posting on any of the fan fiction sites. Nor will there be a password you need to access the chapters. As always, I’d love your opinion on what you read here. Please do keep in mind that this is unedited and has not seen the eyes of a proofreader. This is my writing in its most natural state. I sure do hope you enjoy this tale of Darcy and Lizzy. Like all my stories, they will find their happily-ever-after. Guaranteed!
“How in the world could either of us forget something so important to Georgiana’s future?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam paced from one end of Darcy’s study to the other. His hands were fisted, and his stride was almost a stomp. “She will be sixteen years old on the fourth of January which gives us about four months for one of us to find a bride, court her, and marry her.”
“Ninety-seven days.” Fitzwilliam Darcy watched his cousin from his perch behind his desk. He was equally as livid, although, as was his usual want, he kept negative emotions tucked away behind his stoic exterior. “Barely over three months, Rich.”
His visit that morning with Mr. Samuel Haggerston, the Darcy family’s long-time solicitor, had been exceedingly unpleasant. The reminder of the codicil in his father’s Last Will and Testament had jarred him from head to toe. If neither of his sister’s guardians were wed by the sixteenth anniversary of her birth, her guardianship would automatically be transferred to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh—an entirely horrifying thought.
“Why would your father do something like this, William?” The colonel ran his hands through his hair. “His confidence in our abilities to care for his youngest child was unquestionable. He knew the sort of men we would become. My commission had been purchased and you had received a lifetime of training to become the Master of Pemberley who already had a reputation for protecting the Darcy name and assets. What could have possibly motivated him to add this to his Will?”
Darcy had wondered the same. Nonetheless, the older man’s reasoning had been made clear by Mr. Haggerston. Miss Georgiana Darcy would require female guidance through her presentation to the Queen and her debut season. On paper, it was a sensible requirement. Both of her current guardians loathed the petty details required by female society, discussions of silks and lace, and the thought of endless hours of practicing the moves necessary to be successful at court. He cringed at the thought and inherently knew his cousin would do the same. Richard could navigate a battlefield and the tenuous position of being caught in the middle between two opposing superior officers with ease. Darcy could do the same in matters of negotiating difficult legal contracts and all aspects of estate management. Yet, to ready his sister for her debut? Neither man felt qualified.
“But, Aunt Catherine?”
Both men shuddered at Richard’s question. Lady Catherine de Bourgh intimidated sweet Georgiana Darcy. She was a hurricane force bent on gaining her way, leaving behind those who would not bend to her will, uncaring whether they were left broken or damaged. As the older sister of the long-deceased Lady Anne Darcy, her claim to be the closest living relative to Fitzwilliam and Georgiana had given her permission to poke her fingers into the Darcy’s lives. Her quest to unite her estate, Rosings, with the much more substantial property at Pemberley was legendary in the family.
“Remember, cousin, that Aunt Catherine was much more restrained in her conduct while Father was still alive. It was only after his death that she became demanding and domineering. Father never saw her as she is today.” When the colonel started to speak, Darcy held up his hand. He continued, “Before my mother had been gone one week, our widowed aunt left me in no doubt that she saw herself as the next Mistress of Pemberley, replacing the sister she claimed to love, as wife to George Darcy. Her ambitions were made clear to me then. I have no doubt that she hid this from father. Instead, she would have done everything within her means to garner his sympathy and his affections.”
“Which she failed to do.” Richard stopped his pacing and dropped into one of the leather chairs facing his cousin.
A cold chill raced up Darcy’s spine, making the hairs on his arms stand on end. He had been twelve years of age when his mother had died giving birth to Georgiana. Lady Catherine and her sickly daughter, Anne, had arrived in Derbyshire to attend Lady Anne during the last month of her confinement. She had taken charge of her sister, banishing both Darcy males from the mistress’s chambers as if the rooms were her own domain. Darcy had been forced to sneak into her private chambers to see his mother late at night. He would sit by her bedside, reading to her or simply gazing at the most important female of his acquaintance with love in his heart, grateful she was his mother and not his Aunt Catherine.
Richard’s father, Hugh Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock, used to tell the boys scary stories when they camped outside in the woods surrounding Briarwood, the Matlock family estate. Typically, his eldest sister, Catherine de Bourgh, nee’ Fitzwilliam, was most often the evil villain, inspiring sheer terror in the pre-adolescent males. It appeared everyone other than George Darcy knew what she had always been, selfish and mean.
“Which explains why Aunt Catherine started pushing you and Anne together soon after your father died. What she failed in with one Darcy, she attempted to do with the other.” Each word from the colonel’s mouth dripped with disgust.
“Which will never happen. Anne is a younger version of her mother and I will not be manipulated into offering for her to retain guardianship of my sister.” Darcy stated matter-of-factly. “I would sooner marry the milkmaid than bring either viper into my home.”
“Then I suggest you chose the comeliest of the dairy workers because time is short.”
“Me?” Darcy slapped his large hands on the surface of the desk. “Why not you?”
“Ha!” Richard’s laugh was bitter. “Not only do I not have the inclination to marry, I do not have the circumstances.”
“If you are speaking of money, I could…” Darcy could not complete his offer before he was interrupted.
“Enough!” The colonel stood to resume his pacing, his countenance completely unsettled. When he stopped at the window overlooking the garden, his chin dropped to his chest as his shoulders drooped, a loud sigh coming from the depths of his soul. Without looking at Darcy, he spoke. “I received my orders this morning. I leave on the tides in fourteen days.”
“Where?” Darcy forgot to breathe.
“I will meet General Wellesley in Spain.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
Darcy wanted to both sob and crush the life of the military decision-makers in the palms of his hands. His cousin, Colonel Richard Malcolm Fitzwilliam, was the best man he knew. Working himself up through the ranks, rather than relying on his father to purchase his current position, he fought loyally alongside the lowest ranks, caring for the men under his command as if they were his own kin. He gave the same level of care to Georgiana, although it was much more tender than he showed anyone else.
The battles on the continent were fierce and the risk of losing his closest friend was real.
“Oh, Lord, no.” His chest hurt.
After a moment, Richard stood erect and turned back towards him.
“Yes, these are my orders. So, you see, I cannot bear the responsibility of finding a wife. Not even a milkmaid would have me with only a fortnight before I leave.” His chuckle reeked of bitterness.
“I am sorry, Richard.” Darcy could think of nothing else to say. This assignment was a heavy blow. He relied on his cousin for far more than sharing guardianship. After his father’s death, the colonel had been the only man who had sought Darcy’s advantage, not his own. He had offered sage advice and a listening ear, rather than grasping hands and manipulative schemes.
“Do not be. This is why I chose military life.” Richard smirked. “I mean, honestly, Darce. Could you see me preaching sermons or arguing law?”
“I have no difficulty at all seeing you arguing anything, cousin.” Darcy smiled. Just as Lady Catherine was a force to be reckoned with, so was Richard Fitzwilliam—although his approach to family was much gentler.
He would do nothing to discourage his cousin, so kept his desire to rage against these orders to himself.
“Thus, you will need to wed, and you will need to do it soon. The thought of having Georgie in Aunt Catherine’s hands is untenable. You will need to find someone who will care for you and my young cousin who is trustworthy and who will not judge your sister adversely for her actions this summer with Wickham.”
“Wickham!” Darcy hissed. The miscreant, who had grown up at Pemberley as the son of George Darcy’s steward, was a gambler and a rake. His attempts to convince innocent Georgiana Darcy to elope in order to gain her dowry of thirty-thousand-pounds to stave off loan collectors and live the life he aspired to, had been stopped cold when Darcy had arrived in Ramsgate a day earlier than expected. When Georgiana realized the rogue had played on the tender affections she held for her bother’s former playmate, it had almost broken her spirit to comprehend the destruction that could have been wrought had she acted on her desires.
When Richard grabbed for the sword he usually wore at his side, Darcy clearly understood they were in complete agreement as to what George Wickham’s fate would be had he been in the room. Neither would mourn as he drew his final breath.
The colonel growled, then looked directly at his cousin. “I could always ask Mother for a list of young females who she felt would qualify as your wife. Or, you could check with Bingley for those he deemed worthy of his love. Surely, he has a pile of rejected ‘angels’, one of whom might please you enough to take as a wife.”
Darcy scoffed. Charles Bingley’s ability to quickly fall in and out of love was legendary. In the two years since he left Cambridge, there had been nine young ladies who had been deemed worthy of his hand, only to find someone else more beautiful to capture his heart.
“He has a discerning eye, you have to admit,” Richard smirked.
“Where his eyes land, his heart soon follows.” Darcy found Bingley’s amiability appealing. However, his propensity to engage the attention of one lady after another was a character weakness he endeavored to caution his friend against. Increasing expectations without an offer of a courtship were unkind. Nevertheless, it was not maliciously done. Bingley’s intentions were noble.
Rubbing his hands over his face, Darcy harrumphed into the silence of the room. In the three hours since he had returned form the solicitor’s office, his mind had considered one option after another to resolve the current catastrophe.
“Cecily Hargrove.” The colonel blurted.
“Recently engaged to Lord Winston.”
“Suddenly removed from society almost four months ago whereupon no one has heard from the family since.” Darcy rolled his eyes. “If rumours are to be believed, it would seem we will not see her or her family in society again until after the babe is born and placed in some farmer’s household.”
“Apparently, she has knowledge of only one topic of conversation—lace.”
Both men shuddered.
“Her father approached me for a loan to provide her dowry, which he had gambled away, so I could marry her and be repaid my own money. Never! I easily refused him both the loan and his offer of his daughter.”
Richard threw his hands into the air. “Then, who?”
“I do not know, cousin.” Darcy ran his hands through his hair. “I have mentally reviewed every family of the first circles with an unattached daughter currently seeking a husband.”
“Were none agreeable?”
Richard shifted in his chair at the same time Darcy did in his.
“Then, you will need to look outside of London, which might be just the ticket.” Sliding up, he sat erect, grabbing the arms of the chair with his beefy hands. “Since you prefer the country, you would do well to find a country born and bred gentleman’s daughter who would love Pemberley as much as you do.”
“But, will she love me?” Darcy had not meant to speak his concerns aloud.
“Ah, now that is a sticky subject for consideration, Darce.” The colonel pondered before he spoke. “You know it to be a truth that there are few love matches in our society. Not even my own parents have deep affection in their marriage, although they appear to respect each other’s place in the home.” He shook his head. “No, I would not even begin to call it love.”
Darcy sighed, admitting defeat. “There is nothing for me in town, so I will leave in the morning for Hertfordshire. Bingley is leasing an estate and has asked for my help in making the adjustment to management.” Dropping his chin into the hand he had propped on his desk, he stared at a point behind his cousin’s shoulder, focusing on nothing but his future. “Despite loathing a country dance, he shared that there would be an assembly in the small town of Meryton. I should attend in hopes of meeting someone I could have beside me for the rest of my life.” Rolling his eyes at his own ridiculousness, he again looked at his cousin to find him doing l the same.
“There is always Caroline Bingley.” His cousin suggested.
“Bite your tongue!”
By the time the Darcy carriage pulled in front of Netherfield Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s frustration had reached its limit. His cousin, who had agreed to accompany him had, instead, been called to army headquarters and given a list of tasks that would eat away at his final weeks in England. Business matters had consumed his own hours to the point that he had to bring much of it with him as he would never leave matters undone. And, a heartbreaking missive had arrived from Georgiana that morning where her self-loathing for her actions that summer came through in every written word.
Wickham! How he hated that man. Why he had restrained Richard from running him through and ending his sorry life, he would never know. Had he only allowed his cousin free reign, they would never need to mention the name again, nor think upon the harm he had caused.
Determined to put such negative thoughts behind him, his eyes roamed across the landscape surrounding the large stone edifice sitting at the top of a rise. The soil looked rich and the crops soon to be harvested appeared healthy. A stand of trees behind the house had to have been planted within the past five and twenty years as their height did not yet tower over the back of the building. The prospect was good, and he was pleased his younger friend appeared to have made a wise decision despite taking but a few moments to do so.
The heavy wooden door opened at the front of the house before his carriage came to a complete stop. Bouncing out of the doorway was his host, the grin on his face welcoming him more than words. Immediately behind him was his unmarried sister, Caroline, a white handkerchief waving in the breeze. The predatory gleam in her eyes warned Darcy that she was still on the hunt for his fortune. He would need to be extraordinarily cautious to avoid whatever traps she hoped to use to ensnare him. She would never do for a wife. She scared Georgiana nearly as much as Aunt Catherine.
“We are happy to welcome you to Netherfield Park, my friend.” Charles Bingley pumped Darcy’s hand with his typical joyous enthusiasm.
Miss Bingley shouldered her way in front of her brother, her hand extended, her intentions clear.
Grateful his leather gloves were thickly padded with fleece as hers were covered with scant pieces of lace, he barely touched the tips of his fingers to hers as he bowed over her talons. “Miss Bingley.” He stopped far short of his lips touching her skin. He would save that privilege for the woman he would wed.
Cold crept up the nerves of his spine at the thought. A wife. Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley. He wanted to run his hands through his hair. Where on earth could he find a woman he could stand having beside him in so short a period of time.”
Bingley’s chattering interrupted his intentions. “…an angel…this evening’s assembly…the woman of my dreams.”
Again? Bingley had been in residence less than a se’nnight. How does the man fall in love so quickly?
“Mr. Darcy,” Miss Bingley purred like the feral cat she was. “My brother has a responsibility to the neighborhood. However, as hostess, my responsibility is to my guests. Therefore, I will gladly remain at Netherfield with you this evening, so you can avoid a gathering of provincials lacking the social mores you are used to in town society.”
“No!” Darcy interjected. “I would never slight my friend’s hospitality by not attending.”
In truth, he despised large gatherings where he knew few in the room. He had not the gift for engaging in trite speech and rarely could catch the hidden meanings of someone he did not know well. Nevertheless, he would rather eat Hertfordshire soil for his next meal than spend an evening alone with Netherfield’s hostess. Much better for his own comfort would be soaking in a hot tub to wash the dust of the road off his person followed by an hour or two in private conversation with Bingley while sipping French brandy before a well-tended fireplace.
He harrumphed to himself. Instead, Parker, his valet, would scramble to have his dress clothes ready for tonight’s entertainment.
Darcy detested dancing with young ladies he did not know.
He despised how quickly rumors of his income would circle the gathering.
He loathed being the subject of attention.
But, he needed a wife and he needed her quickly. He must not lose sight of his reason for being in Hertfordshire.