“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, 5th Century BCE
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has his world turned upside down when his character, of which he is particularly proud, is called into question by those whom he trusts.
Will he learn from his mistakes or remain his own worst enemy?
When he discovers a secret which could destroy not only the reputation of his beloved sister but threatens her very life, he can no longer hide behind his mask of social indifference. Dismaying circumstances will test the strength of his personal beliefs and convictions, as well as his devotion to family and friends, as a rival from his past determines to ruin him and take everything Darcy holds dear. Out of the flames of adversity, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, once scorned, becomes a beacon of hope.
Can love grow from adversity? Is happiness possible?
In this full-length novel set in Regency England, true friendships are made, enemies are revealed, and happily-ever-after is on the horizon. Or is it…
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“La, Mr. Darcy.” Lydia Bennet lifted the loosened curls from her neck with one hand while fanning herself with the other. “Of all the unattached men in attendance, you are the last one I hoped to find on the balcony.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy could remember few times in his life when he had been as miserable. Since he had been in Hertfordshire with his friend Charles Bingley, he had been paraded in front of a multitude of families who assaulted his sensitivities from a decided lack of decorum. Miss Lydia was one of the most offensive. In his opinion, at barely sixteen, she had no business being out of the school room. Especially should she not have been at a ball.
“Pardon me, Miss.” Darcy spun from the railing. His intention to return to the ballroom as quickly as possible came to a complete stop at her next words.
“It is no wonder Lizzy despises you. Though your coat is of fine quality and your cravat is elegantly tied, had you been in the red coat of an officer, I believe you would have presented yourself in a manner which may have attracted attention other than disdain.” Miss Lydia huffed into the silence, turning from him as if he was not the most influential man in attendance. “Or, perhaps not.”
He could not stop himself. “She despises me? Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire and Darcy House in London? Me?” He was incredulous. Nobody, certainly not some country miss from Hertfordshire far below him in rank, held him in contempt.
“Lord, you are just as she claims. Arrogant and filled with pride.” Miss Lydia scoffed at him without even the courtesy of turning and facing him. She casually strolled to the place he had vacated by the railing. “You know, Mr. Darcy, you could be an attractive man if you did not constantly have the look about you of sucking a lemon.”
“What a terrible thing to say, young lady.” He had a hard time containing his ire. She had vulgarly surveyed him from his toes to the hair on his head, and he could read in her eyes that she had found him wanting. “A gentleman does not flaunt his emotions. Simply put, so you may comprehend my meaning, it is not done.”
“Ha!” Her uncontrolled cackle followed by a hiccup spoke of the amount of punch she had imbibed. “What do you know of being a gentleman, sir? Mr. Wickham, who is a man of manners and grace, never proclaimed my sister as only ‘tolerable’ and ‘not handsome enough to tempt him.’ Quite unlike you did, Mr. Darcy.” She hiccupped again. “You, sir, are the last man on earth I would call a gentleman.”
He opened his mouth to refute her claims. How dare this crass little girl compare him to Wickham! Then her words filtered through his brain. What? His insult had been heard? He wiped his hands over his face as if he could remove the words he had indeed said at the first assembly where he had been introduced to all five of the Bennet sisters. Shaking his head in disbelief that he was having this conversation with Miss Lydia, he addressed the most pertinent fact.
“Beware of Mr. Wickham. He is not as he seems.”
“Oh, La, what a joke,” She snorted, her chin lifting in the same manner he had witnessed her second eldest sister doing when she was endeavouring to put him in his place during a debate. What had been charming on Miss Elizabeth was far less so on her youngest sister. “Who are you to tell me what to do and who…or would it be with whom…I should associate? You are not my master, and I am certainly not your servant. You mean nothing to me, Mr. High and Mighty Darcy,” she chortled.
At that, she turned her back on him.
He was livid. Darcy stiffened his spine and fisted his hands at his sides to keep from wrapping his fingers tightly around her…No! He was a gentleman.
Inhaling deeply, he stalked to where she was peering over the railing. “I would be cautious if I were you. You have been fooled by a charismatic rake. Continued company with him will bring you and your family to harm. My good conscience will not allow me to keep silent.” He stepped closer and quietly enunciated each word. “Furthermore, I am certain your mother would disapprove of your childish censure of me. My fortune would be a prize for a woman like her.”
“Your fortune?” Her laughter floated across the night air. “Why, now who is the fool? Has my mother encouraged any of her five daughters to seek you out or flirt with you? Not at all. If she was a fortune-hunter, would she not have pushed us at you, you with your ten-thousand a year?” Now it was she who stepped closer, the gaiety stripped from her voice. “I may be full young, sir, however, even I have heard the whispers of your wealth. Yet only that nasty, self-exalted Miss Bingley yearns to have your company. You, sir, are held by all my neighbours to be inferior to Mr. Bingley, no matter how much money is in your purse.”
He was stunned to realise she was entirely correct. None of the mothers of the farming town of Meryton were throwing their daughters at him as was done when he was in London society. None of the daughters sought to gain his attention. Even spinsterish Miss Lucas essentially ignored his presence.
Had his conduct been that poor? Air poured from his chest until he felt empty. Yes, it had been! He had insulted Miss Elizabeth when Bingley had been trying to encourage him to partner her for a dance. Once he truly observed her, he found a lady with sparkling eyes brimming with life and a pleasant countenance, which was all that was deemed proper. Nonetheless, whether he found her attractive or not, his actions had not been appropriate. He never should have uttered the words. He knew he never should have thought them in the first place. Darcy suddenly felt his error most grievously.
“I will no longer condemn you, for I sense your remorse.” Miss Lydia spoke softly in a tone he had never heard from her before. That alone caught his attention. She finally looked at him full in the face. “Mr. Wickham had requested the first set with me and his absence left me searching for him when I could have had another partner.” She sighed. “Even Lizzy stood up with my father’s ridiculous cousin. It is beyond the pale that she should dance when I did not.”
“I am sorry you were distressed.” He gave her a slight bow as he wondered at still being in her presence. When had her words started making sense?
“Never feel sorry for me.” She tapped him on the arm with her fan, a practised move to gain a man’s attention. “Jane may be beautiful and Lizzy may be smart, but, mark my words, Mr. Darcy, I am the Bennet daughter who will marry first.”
“Why?” he had to ask.
“Why what?” She tilted her head, puzzled.
He wondered, again, how many times she had been at the punch bowl.
“Why do you desire to marry so young?” She was barely sixteen. Upon closer inspection, when her mouth was shut tightly, she might be considered a pretty girl. For a certainty, she did not have the serene countenance of her eldest sister. Miss Jane Bennet’s looks had captured his friend’s attention immediately. Within minutes, Bingley proclaimed her his angel. Miss Elizabeth possessed a vibrant beauty, and her conversation on any subject was intelligently expressed. She had mentally run circles around Miss Caroline Bingley and had proven to be a worthy opponent against him in a battle of wits. This youngest Bennet had little other than her vanity to recommend her.
Miss Lydia waved at someone walking in the garden. “Yoo hoo, Kitty! There you are with Captain Carter. I see you.”
Darcy stepped back into the shadows, horrified at her conduct and disgusted when her next eldest sister yelled back. The two girls together were one part wise and ten parts stupid.
Before he could retreat through the doorway, it opened to admit Miss Elizabeth to the elevated patio. He stepped further into the shadows.
“Lydia Bennet!” she hissed into the darkness. “Come inside immediately. Should you be found alone by one of the officers, there could be a compromise and you would be ruined.”
“I wish.” Miss Lydia rested her hand on her hip and fluffed at her hair. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she said, “I am not alone, Lizzy. Mr. Darcy is here, though I believe he was just now leaving.”
Miss Elizabeth spun to face him. Even in the dim light from the torches lit in the gardens, he could see her eyes on fire.
“Sir!” Grabbing her sister tightly by the upper arm, she dragged her over to stand in front of him. “You should know better than to be alone in the dark with an unmarried female, even one as young as Lydia. If you were caught, you would be made to wed, and I would not wish that outcome for my enemy.”
“Lizzy, let me go,” Miss Lydia demanded, her tone getting louder with each word.
Miss Elizabeth released her sister’s arm only to pinch Lydia’s ear lobe, pulling her back towards the ballroom. “I will not.” Before stepping through the doorway, Miss Elizabeth stood on her toes so her face was close enough for her sister to feel her breath and muttered, “Behave!”
With that, both girls pushed their shoulders back, smoothed the fabric over their hips, and took in a deep breath. Regally, as if they had not been bordering on a cat fight, they glided into the ballroom to the time of the music. When the door closed, muting the sounds within, the only noises were the giggles of young lovers meeting clandestinely in the prettyish sort of wilderness below him.
Fitzwilliam Darcy slumped against the back wall of Netherfield Park and wondered for the thousandth time why he had come to this shire. He felt beaten—battered to the depths of his soul. How dare such common examples of the female species condemn him? They were nothing to him.
He would leave. Not the ball, as good manners required he stay until the last guest left the estate. He would request his carriage and depart for London at first light. Wounds needed licking and his study at Darcy House was the perfect place to do so.
With a purpose to his step, he swerved around Miss Bingley as she sought his attention, leaving the ballroom and going upstairs to his bed chambers.
“Pack for Darcy House, Parker. I have important business in town and will need to leave as soon as we are able.”
“Yes, sir.” His valet had served his father before him, so Darcy had no doubt his orders would be obeyed with diligence.
Returning to the ballroom, his eyes roved across the dancers until he spied Miss Elizabeth standing next to her youngest two sisters, a tight grip on both. Miss Kitty was no longer giggling in the garden with the officer.
Darcy wanted to smile in relief that someone from the family had taken control. In his heart, he was unsurprised it was Miss Elizabeth who had taken them to task. She was fearless.
“Mr. Darcy, wherever have you been?” Miss Bingley’s whine hurt his ears far more than the mediocre musicians. He felt her wrap her talons around his elbow and stepped away from her when she leaned her chest into his upper arm. How inappropriate!
“I will be returning to London in the morning and needed to make arrangements.” He owed her no explanation, though he gave her one out of politeness. She had long made her intentions of becoming the next Mistress of Pemberley evident by her agreeing with his every opinion and pandering to his preferences at mealtimes and every other occasion. Her habit of denigrating those whom she felt threatened her goals was unpalatable to him, yet he tolerated her because of his friendship with her brother.
“Sir,” she leaned closer. “Take my brother with you, I pray you. He is in danger of being caught by a woman of no consequence who would not elevate him in society. One who has shown no interest in him personally and who follows him like a shadow at the insistence of her mother. Surely, you see his error and will come to his aid?”
Darcy easily recognized she was referring to Miss Jane Bennet. While Miss Lydia had been correct about him not being the intended target for fortune-hunters, Bingley’s easy acceptance of anyone in his company left him vulnerable. Darcy glanced at Miss Bennet to see if he could detect her interest. She smiled too much.
Caroline Bingley was right. His world had turned upside down in the past thirty minutes, and the persons responsible all had the surname Bennet. He would, indeed, remove himself from Netherfield Park, and he would take his friend with him.
His decision made, he relaxed for the first time since he had stepped onto the balcony. He would be done with them. Once in town, he would return to his associates who appreciated him for the man he was—honourable, honest, and humble. What would any one of those silly girls know about the value of a man? Bah! He walked away from Miss Bingley. He would spend the rest of the ball in the library. No one would dare accost him there.