Two men with the same name. Two ladies with the same appearance. What happens when they meet? MURDER!!!
When Fitzwilliam Darcy’s life is threatened, he seeks refuge in Hertfordshire where he meets a woman who looks remarkably like the female who twice shot at him. Why was Elizabeth Bennet trying to kill him? How could he be attracted to her when he should do everything in his power to stay away?
Accidentally mistaking Mr. Darcy for someone else, Elizabeth Bennet determines to have nothing to do with him until she learns that her first impression might have been a mistake. Where she expected arrogance, he was kind. When she anticipated a lie, he proved himself trustworthy. Who was the man behind the name, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and why was she drawn to him despite knowing he was dangerous?
In this Regency romance with a hint of dark mystery written by bestselling author, J Dawn King, the true nature of the characters from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice are revealed as they search through a complex web of deceit to find hope and lasting love.
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Fitzwilliam Darcy heard the gun’s repercussion a second before his perfectly formed beaver hat flew off his head. Dismounting, he hurried to retrieve it. Less than an inch from the top was a hole on one side where the bullet entered and another opposite where it exited. Brushing the dirt from the brim, he glanced around. He saw no one. Dismissing the gunshot as being from a hunter who aimed wide of his intended target, Darcy remounted and hurried away before the person who fired the shot could reload.
That was the day prior in Kent.
The next afternoon, in the middle of the business district of London, a bullet pierced the side window and back panel of his carriage. Shards of shattered glass littered the floor. The leather squab where he normally sat now possessed a gaping hole in it, exactly where his chest should have been. Had he not positioned himself in the back-facing seat to lay the pile of papers he gathered from his man of business on the bench, Darcy’s life’s blood would be pouring from him.
His heart pounded from the sound and the implications. To be fired upon two days in a row was not an accident. Someone wanted him dead.
Yelling at his driver to hurry away, Darcy’s eyes scanned the passersby through the void where the window glass should have been. At first glance, those who stood their ground appeared harmless. One man looked to be at least eighty years of age. Likely, he was hard of hearing so was entirely unaware of what transpired.
Another appeared to be not yet old enough to shave. Both of his arms were wrapped around a younger lad and a little girl with the same sandy blonde hair. It seemed he was no more than an older brother whose first instinct was to protect his family. There was no place he could have quickly hidden a firearm with his arms engaged as they were.
It was the third and final person who caught and held Darcy’s attention. The lady was his sister’s height, or a little taller. She was dressed in a fashionable dark green traveling garment with a matching bonnet. Her headwear concealed the color of her hair. The brim shaded her face. Yet, as Darcy looked at her, she boldly tipped her chin to stare back at him—her large dark eyes as angry as he had ever seen on a person. Those eyes—he would not soon forget them.
Surely, it could not have been a female who wanted to do him harm. Perhaps, she was merely startled from the sound.
As the coach turned the corner leading to Darcy House, the young lady stepped away from the walkway into the street. Lifting her hand, she gave him a saucy salute, her fingers formed into the shape of a pistol before she slipped into an alley to be lost amongst the crowds.
Good Lord! It was her!
“Tell me everything,” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s older cousin and best friend, demanded. “From the moment you left Darcy House until you returned, I want to know where you went, who you saw, what they were wearing, and what they were doing. Who wants you dead?”
Darcy’s heart pounded fiercely until he feared Richard could hear it.
“Blast it all!” Darcy borrowed his cousin’s favorite curse with no guilt or regret.
When he turned toward the tray holding a cut crystal carafe full of France’s finest brandy, Richard stopped him before a drop touched the Baccarat stemware.
“No, Darce. You need a clear head for this. The sooner you start speaking of your experience, the more accurate your details will be. Delay will do neither of us any good.”
This was the reason why the first thing he did upon returning to Darcy House was request the immediate presence of his cousin. When they were both upset, Richard’s mind was clearer. His talents were wasted on the battlefield. Should the War Office have used him to plot strategy, the conflict with France would have been long over.
“Fine!” Darcy ran his hands through his hair. Dropping into a chair opposite his cousin, he began. “Yesterday, I was called on a fool’s errand to Kent by Aunt Catherine. She has taken it into her head to choose a wife for her parson, who happens to be an idiot.”
“I cannot imagine Aunt Catherine choosing well,” Richard mused.
“She would not. Nor would her imbecilic clergyman.” Darcy inhaled slowly, his mind going back to the day prior.
“I decided to ride. The weather was fine, and I knew I would need to clear my head after spending as little time as possible with the dreaded duo.” His already sensitized body shuddered at having been in the same room with Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. They were two peas in a very overripe pod.
“But I digress.” Waving his hand in the air to dismiss the thought, he continued, “On my return to London, I made my usual stop at the inn in Bromley to rest my mount and sample their beef stew. After my repast, I left Bromley behind. I was two or three miles west of the inn when I registered a gun firing immediately before my hat hit the ground. The sound was close. It startled my horse and myself.”
“Go on,” Richard insisted.
“It actually took a few seconds before I concluded I was in danger,” Darcy admitted. “Once I realized it was likely a hunter with bad aim, I retrieved my hat, remounted my horse, and rode home a bit quicker than my normal pace.”
“Did you see anyone?”
“I did not.” Darcy closed his eyes to picture the scene. “The road was lined with trees on both sides. There were no houses or cottages visible. I scanned the area before I left.”
“Did you see any game? Where there was a gap in the trees, who or what was behind them? Were you two or three miles, Darcy?”
His eyes shot open. “It was two miles and I saw nothing. No deer. No rabbits. No birds. No humans.” Despite knowing why Richard was demanding answers, it did nothing to ease Darcy’s frustration.
“Close your eyes again, Darce.” Richard’s voice calmed. “Go back to the inn at Bromley. Were there coaches in the yard? How many animals were in the corral? Who was in the tap room? Did anyone attempt to make conversation with you?”
Relaxing as best as he was able, pictures began flashing inside his mind. “There was a well-worn black carriage with paint chipped from the edges. Inside was a lady with three young children—all girls. They were hanging outside the window trying to garner the attention of the man. The gentleman was attempting to get help with one of the horses, I believe. His clothing was plain and clean. I… I remember hearing his wife ask if there was enough to stay the night and have a meal. The man shook his head no.”
“Very good.” Richard’s praise was rare. “Did they leave before you? Which direction did they travel?”
“They were still at the inn when I left. By then, the one horse was unhitched. Before you ask, it was a rather tall Welsh Cob as old as the two of us. The blacksmith was tending the animal. It limped, favoring its foreleg. Even though the family were headed toward London, there was no possibility they could have caught up to me within those two miles.”
“I see. Anything else?”
Another image popped into his head. “A lady was seated inside the building. Her back was to the door. I did not see her face.”
“Yes? Good! Tell me everything about her.” Richard sat forward in his chair.
“Although she was mature in form, her wavy hair hung down her back like a schoolgirl’s. It was a dark shade of brown, reaching about six inches from her waist.”
Richard cleared his throat. “What was she wearing?”
“Her traveling coat was…Oh my WORD!!!” He suddenly lost the ability to swallow. “The woman who shot at me today was wearing the same garment. It was so dark a green it almost looked black. Her hat was the same color. There was one ostrich feather on the side. It was fastened with a black rose made from ribbons. The lace on her collar and sleeves was black. When she turned to see who entered the room, her eyes…” he gulped. “Her eyes were as dark as the midnight sky with bolts of lightning streaking from them. I assumed at the time that she resented her meal being disturbed.”
“Well, cousin, I am positively delighted a finely-dressed woman finally caught your attention, even if she is trying to kill you.” Richard smirked.
“Not funny, Richard!” He knew what his cousin was about. Richard often used humor to dispel tension. This time it failed.
“Do you know her?”
“I do not keep company with females who carry and know how to use pistols—especially in London.”
“Yes, well, this can be the subject of debate for another time.” Richard sat back in his chair. “I know how little you share your business. The likelihood of anyone other than your staff or Lady Catherine knowing your destination yesterday would be almost slim to none. Am I correct?”
“Then let us go back to Kent. Was there anything out of the ordinary with Aunt Catherine or Mr. Collins? Did nothing stand out?”
Darcy ran his hand over his chin. While in their presence, he tried to ignore everything spewing from the mouth of his aunt and her parson. However, bits and pieces must have pierced his cerebrum.
“Mr. Collins appeared to be having something of a difficulty. Whatever it was, concerned Lady Catherine. I assumed there was a disturbance in the parish. This was not agreeable to our aunt—although why it is her business to decide how he should act is difficult to fathom. She did heap glowing praise upon her parson for providing spiritual guidance and comfort to Anne who is, according to our aunt, ‘distressed at not yet becoming the mistress of Pemberley.’”
“Bah!” Richard scoffed. “When have we not heard the same from Aunt Catherine? If she had her way, you would have wed Anne once the both of you could toddle your way to a chapel.” He shook his head. “What else do you recall?”
“Aunt Catherine spoke at length of an entail on a small estate Mr. Collins would inherit when the current resident dies. The family has several daughters. Asserting her authority, Aunt Catherine insisted he depart for the shire to marry one of the young ladies. She has allowed a fortnight for him to complete the task and return to Rosings with his bride, despite it not being long enough to have the banns read. All I can say is ‘the poor girl’ to whichever one catches his eye.”
Richard chortled. “I daily thank the heavens that I am not the focus of Aunt Catherine’s matchmaking attempts. Having you, with your hefty purse, grand estate, and charming, good looks in her boresight is entertainment enough.”
Even without his aunt’s constant haranguing him to marry her fractious daughter, Darcy would never have turned to her for marital advice as the parson had done. Lady Catherine’s marriage to his uncle had been volatile and miserable. What did she know of a happy relationship between a man and a woman? She loved to argue and always insisted on having her way. Since Anne was very much like her mother, Darcy would never offer for a lady whose personality guaranteed that any peace at Pemberley prior to her arrival would vanish as soon as she stepped through the door.
Richard cleared his throat then continued, “If these gunshots are related, then someone knew you traveled to Kent. They also knew your destination today. I suggest you speak with your grooms to see if there were any innocent-looking ladies who asked after your schedule.”
Darcy’s confidence in his household staff was absolute. Nevertheless, several of the grooms were young and impressionable. If the lady caught and held his attention despite not seeing her face up close, he could only imagine her power should she turn those magnificent eyes upon a lad embroiled in those adolescent years where they first noticed how females were built differently than themselves.
“I will ask.”
“Good.” Richard stood to take his turn pacing the floor. “Another option we need to explore is that the lady, or someone she has in her employ, has been watching Darcy House, following you when you leave. Have you noticed anyone out of the ordinary lurking about?”
“I have not.” Darcy’s confidence in the security he had set up to protect himself and his sister was shaken. To have someone who meant him harm get close enough to his home or to those who worked for him for the purpose of doing away with him, was unthinkable. It was his sole responsibility to protect his sister and his staff. Should something happen to him, Georgiana, who three months earlier proved her vulnerability by agreeing to elope with the worst scoundrel of Darcy’s acquaintance, would be left as easy prey for others who would use her to gain the pearl of the Darcy fortune, Pemberley.
“Hmm…” His cousin came to a standstill, tapping his lips with his bent knuckle for the longest time. Darcy knew to not interrupt. Richard was mulling the details over and over. Silence was the best help Darcy could give him. Finally, his cousin slapped his hand on the mantel. “From the angle where the bullet entered, she would have been able to see clearly through the window. She would have known you were not in your usual seat before she fired the shot. She did not aim to kill, did she? It was your attention she wanted.”
“She achieved her goal.” Darcy thought back to the damage to his carriage. In response, his breathing quickened, his heart rate increased, and the small hairs on his forearms stood tall.
“Who is this woman?” Richard growled. “You have not kept a mistress whom you tossed out into the street. You do not flirt or increase expectations with young ladies, which irritates the women and their mothers but should not inspire violence. Darcy, according to my mother, who has given your marital prospects a fair amount of consideration, you are not a man of deep romantic passion. In fact, Mama despairs of you ever becoming emotionally attached to anything other than your sister or your estate.”
Darcy nodded. Every word his cousin spoke was the truth. His honor would not allow him to raise a lady’s hopes and dreams of becoming mistress of Pemberley when he would never have any of them as his wife. His aunt, Lady Matlock, dangled a bevy of the latest debutants in front of him every year at the beginning of each season since he inherited Pemberley—to no avail.
Dropping back into the chair, Richard tapped his fingers on the arm. “Darce, we need to get you out of London. Either go to Pemberley where any stranger would stand out or…better yet, go no farther than St. Albans, Brighton, or Oxford, which would leave little opportunity for an ambush on the road. They are, any of them, close enough. Contact with you would be swift. According to the rumors floating on the wind, very soon I will be leaving for the continent to pursue a network of spies. I could, however, supply someone from my regiment to pose as a local recruiting officer for the Regulars. My commanding officer would be well pleased to have more bodies to order about.”
Darcy immediately saw the wisdom of Richard’s suggestion. Considering his options, the best was a recent invitation from his close friend, Charles Bingley. The younger man was hosting a small party at his newly leased estate not far from St. Albans. His request to Darcy was twofold. Initially, it was in repayment for the many times Darcy welcomed Bingley and his family at Pemberley. Only later was it revealed that the invitation was also for the purpose of reassuring Bingley, who feared he made a colossal mistake in putting out so much money to lease and refurbish Netherfield Park. This was the first time Bingley was responsible for overseeing all of the details, large and small. He felt he needed Darcy’s assistance.
If Darcy left immediately, he could be at Netherfield Park within four hours.
His mind listed all he needed to take care of before he could leave. His priority was the protection of his sister. “Will you see Georgiana settled at Matlock House?”
Both men shared guardianship of Georgiana Darcy. She would be safe with Richard’s parents.
Richard nodded. “I will. Her studies with her masters could continue and Mother would have someone who actually paid attention to her to fuss over.”
Darcy nodded. His sister continued to suffer from her near elopement with the son of Pemberley’s former steward, George Wickham. She was terrified of making another mistake. Being under the tutelage of Lady Matlock would give her confidence—he hoped.
Before the October moon began lighting the night sky, Georgiana was escorted to Matlock House by none other than Richard himself and Darcy was in his largest undamaged town coach heading north.