Mr. Darcy was an enigma… until he spoke. Then, he was the enemy.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s eyes are instantly drawn towards a handsome, mysterious guest who arrives at the Meryton Assembly with the Bingley party. The gentleman destroys her illusions by delivering an insult that turns him from Mr. Divinely Attractive to the Abominable Mr. Darcy.
While Elizabeth sets in motion her strategy for retaliation, Darcy plans to win the campaign being waged in the genteel drawing rooms of Hertfordshire. As more players from Jane Austen’s beloved cast of characters enter the fray, complications arise–some with irreversible consequences. Can a truce be called before their hearts become casualties as well? How many times can two people go from enemies to friends and back again before it’s too late?
A Regency romance from bestselling author, J. Dawn King, inspired by Pride and Prejudice.
BONUS: Read the first chapter of Elizabeth Ann West’s full-length novel To Capture Mr. Darcy. It is now available.
Available for purchase at
Wednesday, 2 October 1811
He was by far the handsomest man she had ever seen—tall and broad-shouldered with dark, wavy hair, curls flirting at the back of his collar, and sapphire eyes that sparkled in the myriads of candles lighting the assembly. Elizabeth Bennet, like the others in attendance, watched his progress as his party entered the room. His clothes were of the finest materials, and the fit was excellent. She wondered whether he was a fastidious man. He looked the part.
Elizabeth glanced to her sister Jane to determine where her eyes rested. The red-haired gentleman. Good! She loved her sister dearly. If Jane was interested in the taller man—who the whispers of the assembly announced was Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire—Elizabeth would gaze at him no more. Since this was not the case, her eyes again drifted his way as the group walked through the crowd.
Besides Mr. Divinely Attractive and the red-haired man, two other men and two women accompanied the party. It was simple to surmise one of the pairs was married by their deliberate movements to ignore each other.
“Eliza, I believe you will have to restrain your two youngest siblings when they spy the officer’s red coat.” Charlotte Lucas, who was seated on the other side of Elizabeth, had a practical mind. They were long-time friends in spite of the seven-year difference in age. She too was surreptitiously studying the newcomers. Any unmarried man would be ideal prey for the abundance of maidens in attendance.
Elizabeth’s eyes alighted to the officer behind Mr. Heavenly Visage. He had a pleasant, welcoming smile with a touch of the sardonic. Like Mr. Stately Sculpted, his brow was furrowed. Elizabeth could not help but wonder whether he had seen action on the continent. The colonel was ruggedly handsome with bronzed skin, indicating many hours spent out of doors. He was not as tall as Mr. Overtly Gorgeous, yet the shoulders of his uniform were just as broad. Neither man looked as if they needed padding to enhance their physique. Elizabeth watched the officer’s easy smile as his eyebrows rose at something Mr. Sublimely Appealing said. She immediately judged him as a man whom she might find muchdelight in knowing. Was he a second son to have chosen the military as a career?
“Yes, Charlotte, I believe you are correct,” she said sighing. Her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were uncontrolled, ill-mannered, and far too young to be out in public. Nonetheless, their mother insisted they be let loose at age fifteen to hunt down and capture a husband. The girls had long been fond of a man in uniform. The colonel would undoubtedly become the object of their attention.
Elizabeth turned to look closely at her friend, only to find Charlotte’s eyes lingering on the colonel. She smiled to herself. It was as she had hoped! No interest in Mr. Fabulously Elegant. Sweeping her eyes around the room, she spied Charlotte’s father headed in their direction, most likely to retrieve his daughter for an introduction to the new arrivals.
“I believe you are about to be summoned, Charlotte. Now, as Mama would say, ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back.’” Both young women chuckled. Yet, both knew with clarity why their mothers acted so. Only if their daughters married or sought work as a governess or companion would their families be relieved of their support.
As her friend walked away, Elizabeth again looked around the room. An interesting drama unfolded. The set had ended so the noise had diminished as the dancing couples moved to find refreshment or their next partner. Voices carried across the room.
“Come, Kitty and Lydia. Jane, smile, he’s looking your way. Mary, oh where is that Mary?” said a flustered and frantic Mrs. Bennet. “Lizzy can meet them later. Girls! Come! Our neighbours from Netherfield Park have arrived. Come!”
“The lack of fashion and good taste is appalling,” said the young lady in the puce dress to the woman who was endeavouring to keep up with her. They were two of the new arrivals. “How could Charles possibly want to settle in Hertfordshire? There is no one here of quality. Even a moment of time spent in their company would be a hardship.”
“Unless our brother and his friends stand up with us, I fear I shall not dance this evening as Gilbert has gone to the card room. I shall not be able to roust him out.”The speaker had features similar enough to the young woman in puce and the red-headed man to identify them as brother and sisters. They must be the Bingleys.
Elizabeth watched as Sir William Lucas, accompanied by his wife, two daughters, and two sons, approached the Netherfield party. His voice boomed to the far corners of the assembly hall. “Mr. Bingley, might I introduce you to my family?”
As he brought forward his wife and children, Elizabeth spied her mother herding Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia to a spot behind Sir William, a position where she would be noticed. Elizabeth edged back into her seat, wishing she was in any other location to avoid witnessing her mother’s antics to promote her own daughters to the gentlemen. Furthermore, she detected regret on the faces of Mrs. Long and Mrs. Goulding that they had been outmaneuvered.
As Elizabeth anticipated, both of Mr. Bingley’s sisters acknowledged the Lucas and Bennet ladies with barely a nod and then looked away with practiced ennui. In fact, the two were twittering behind their fans. Elizabeth’s ire grew as she saw the embarrassed blush creeping up her eldest sister’s neck at the supercilious sisters’ slight. Jane Bennet was above reproach and therefore, in Elizabeth’s opinion, entirely undeserving of their condescension.
Elizabeth’s anger was lessened as she realised Mr. Bingley’s attention was solely for Jane. However, Mr. Sublimely Appealing looked straight ahead to the opposite wall, giving a trifling bow once all the individuals had been presented. Was he above the present company? Was he shy? Perhaps he is mute, or has he difficulty with his tongue? A stutter maybe? He was an interesting riddle to be puzzled out in her own mind.
Once the social niceties were concluded, Mr. Bingley led Jane to the dance floor as the colonel did the same with Charlotte. Conversation flowed between the latter couple, while the former gazed at each other with infant feelings of admiration.
Before Elizabeth could return her own gaze to the handsome gentleman, she heard her mother’s voice with a dread that made her quiver.
“Mr. Darcy, I have another daughter who is not presently dancing. I am sure you would not neglect the young ladies who are without a partner?”
Sure enough, Elizabeth realised Kitty and Lydia had been claimed for the next set and her quiet sister Mary had returned to her book on a bench in the corner. Her mother had turned and was pointing in her direction, wagging her handkerchief at her. Elizabeth was seated with three other young women who had not been claimed by a dancing partner for the current set. She felt the heat as her face flushed. Why? Oh, why does my mother have to embarrass me so? Possibly the man would not realise which of the four ladies Mrs. Bennet was attempting to draw his attention to. She could only hope.
Elizabeth glanced up at the gentleman and gratefully realised his eyes had not moved from the point he had focussed on since he had entered the room. Curious to determine what had captured his interest, she looked behind. Bare panels of wood! There was not even an unusual knot or burl in the planking to attract the eye.
Elizabeth knew in her heart that his reaction to the matriarch of the Bennet family would be telling as to the type of man he was. Therefore, when he offered her mother a bow and walked away without saying a word, Elizabeth suspected he had been repulsed by her mother’s blatant attempt to coerce him to favour one of her daughters. From Elizabeth’s vantage point, it was not a flaw. Even she knew her mother’s conduct had been vulgar.
Elizabeth foretold what was coming next as if she had written a script for their actions. As soon as Mr. Practically Perfect decamped, Miss Bingley followed. Where she went, her married sister followed; two shadows attempting to move in harmony with the reality.
As Elizabeth turned her attention back to the dance, she heard Charlotte’s laughter and realised the colonel was exactly as she expected him to be—pleasant company. Mr. Bingley’s grin radiated satisfaction with his partner, and Jane’s pink cheeks were now from joy, not embarrassment. They made a lovely pair, all smiles and blushes. Watching them made Elizabeth smile as well.
Elizabeth had no way of knowing how the candlelight danced in her eyes as she appeared to find pleasure in the interest Mr. Bingley was showing his partner. However, Mr. Darcy noticed. To him, she was a mystery, and he wondered to which family she belonged. He appreciated that she was seated regally, overseeing her little kingdom. Rich, golden highlights from the chandelier above danced in her dark hair, leaving her in a pool of brilliance—as if the heavens were nodding their approval.
Darcy drew in a breath, wondering how his attention had been caught so quickly by a country miss. Yet he assured himself he would soon discover her to be as inane and superficial as almost every other unmarried, young woman he met—more concerned for his estate and his family name than himself. The company thus far gave credence to his thoughts. He shook his head at the conduct of the last woman who had approached him. Mrs. Bennet’s insistence that he favour one of her daughters with a dance was obscene. Most likely her progeny were merely younger versions of herself. It would not do for him to condescend to partner anyone from that family.
When the dance ended, both Mr. Bingley and the colonel escorted their ladies to where Elizabeth was seated. She stood at their approach and curtsied deeply as Charlotte and Jane introduced the gentlemen.
“Miss Elizabeth, if you are available for the next set it would be an honour for me to stand up with you.” Upon closer inspection, the colonel was older than she had first presumed, or his experiences in the military had prematurely caused lines around his eyes and mouth. Elizabeth was determined to find out.
When the music started, it was a slow country dance which would allow them to converse during much of the set. Elizabeth was pleased at the realisation.
She had not a clue she was being observed.
“Miss Elizabeth, you were not with your sisters when we were first introduced. You have yet to meet my cousin.”
“I have not had the privilege, sir.” Elizabeth’s own eyebrow lifted as she spoke. She speculated that a close bond existed between the two cousins. Her first impression suggested the two men were opposites—the colonel was pleasant and comfortable in unknown company, while Mr. Darcy was not. “You are speaking of the man with the quizzical brow?”
“I see you are a young woman who is not intimidated by my cousin’s stern manner.” The colonel chuckled. “Is that how you would describe Darcy?”
“It is all I know of him.”
“You have heard no rumours of his wealth? His status? Even I have been confronted with the loud whispers of ‘ten thousand a year with a large estate and a house in Town.’”
“For a certainty, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I have heard my neighbours.” Elizabeth paused as they moved away from each other in the dance. “‘Yet wealth stays with us a little moment, if at all. Only our characters are steadfast, not our gold.’”
“Sophocles?” A befuddled furrow crossed his brow.
“Ah, the great playwright from ancient Greece.” They both laughed as both authors were ancient and Greek. “You have quite caught me by surprise, Miss Elizabeth. I know of no woman of my acquaintance who quotes ancient writers.” In a blink, the colonel’s countenance changed from jovial to one of earnestness. “Nonetheless, my cousin is the finest, most honourable man of my acquaintance. His character is to be valued far more than the King’s coffers.”
Elizabeth could not help but mutter under her breath. “Which the Prince Regent is currently spending like water through a net.”
He heard. It caught him completely off guard. She knows politics and the events of the monarchy as well? Miss Elizabeth would have much in common with Darcy. He turned to look at his cousin and found him staring at them…at her. Ah, the young lady has his interest.
“Miss Elizabeth, I will be dancing the next with Miss Bennet—and Miss Bingley the set after. Might I introduce you to my cousin before the evening is over?”
Elizabeth had allowed her fertile imagination to mold this Mr. Darcy into the man of her dreams. To remain unknown, was to keep him perfect, a knight in shining armour, unblemished and unflawed. She spent the remainder of the dance pondering the introduction to come.
Until this night, Elizabeth felt she knew herself well. Her father was proud of her reasonable, inquisitive mind. She had been as well. Nevertheless, since the entry of the particular gentleman from Netherfield Park, her flights of romantic fancy had been reminiscent of her youngest sisters. She had best take charge of herself!
“Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I would be delighted to welcome your cousin to Meryton.” Elizabeth could see this pleased her partner, who seemed to continue the dance with a lighter step, inconsistent with his size.
Mr. Darcy danced once with Miss Bingley and once with Mrs. Hurst, the sisters of his friend. He spent the balance of the evening walking about the room or leaning against the wall, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. What motivated a gentleman to hold himself separate from company? Surely, with his rumoured wealth and stature, he was an accomplished man who could perform the steps needed to dance more than twice. Elizabeth wondered again, was he shy?
Whatever the answer, it was a disappointment to more than one young lady, as gentlemen were scarce, and several had to sit out each dance due to lack of a partner, including Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was seated with her good friend Charlotte amidst other ladies when Mr. Darcy, the colonel, and Mr. Bingley stopped adjacent to them and commenced speaking.
“Come, Darcy,” said Mr. Bingley, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. I have already danced with your sisters, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
Mr. Darcy ignored the glare from his cousin. Elizabeth easily recognised that look as her mother often directed the same towards her when she was displeased.
“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” cried Mr. Bingley. “Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet. He turned to his cousin. “You, Richard, would welcome any female as a partner as long as they have two legs.”
“Darcy!” The colonel hissed. He was appalled at his cousin’s contemptuous attitude, though he was not surprised. It was always so at large gatherings. He gave his cousin a censorious look then walked away.
Mr. Bingley failed to note the exchange between the two men. He only had eyes for Jane. “Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, Miss Elizabeth, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at the small group of young ladies sitting on either side of the woman he had noticed earlier. Focussing on the maiden whose features were somewhat similar to Miss Bennet’s, he said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Bingley longed for the floor to open up and swallow him and Darcy completely. By the pained expression on Miss Elizabeth’s face, she had heard every word uttered by his friend. He raised his eyebrows in alarm. Darcy merely stiffened and walked away.
Elizabeth gasped at his insult. How dare he speak about me in such a manner…to be overheard by my neighbours? In her lifetime, she had never been the focus of such rudeness, disdain, or arrogance. His character was now decided. Mr. Blatantly Offensive had fallen from his white stallion and tarnished his shining armour. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody, most especially Elizabeth Bennet, hoped he would never again be in their company. She was grateful Colonel Fitzwilliam had not yet performed an introduction.
Mr. Darcy was an enigma…until he spoke. Then he was the enemy.
Covered in mortification and enraged at his disparagement, Elizabeth’s cheeks glowed a flaming red, and fire was shooting from her eyes. Charlotte reached over and put her hand on Elizabeth’s forearm when it looked like she would stand. Seeing the mixture of ire and hurt on her friend’s face and hoping to gain Elizabeth’s attention before she did something foolish, Charlotte asked, “Eliza, what do you think of our visitors now?” It would not surprise any person in attendance if Elizabeth stood toe-to-toe with the gentleman and shared her personal view of his character flaws. That was her way.
Nonetheless, what was also known about Elizabeth Bennet was her unfailing kindness and her ability to laugh at the ridiculous. Charlotte knew how best to placate her friend. Though there was a difference in their upbringing and education, they both appreciated the keen intellect of the other. Charlotte was much more practical than Elizabeth, who was a romantic at heart—though Elizabeth would not likely admit that to herself or anyone else.
“Does he not remind you of Farmer Glenn’s peacock?” Charlotte whispered.
Elizabeth spun her head to look directly at Charlotte, the sparks turning into a twinkle. “Why, Charlotte, I do believe you are correct.” Elizabeth snickered. “At any moment, he might start shaking his tail feathers and squawk. Insolent man!” The last was said with the same dour expression currently on the man’s face. Both young ladies laughed with delight.
Elizabeth cared not that he might have heard her comments. She had certainly heard his, and she only regretted they were breathing the same air in the enclosed room.
“My father gave that peacock to Farmer Glenn, Charlotte.” Elizabeth’s smile was mixed with a hint of mischief. “Papa claims they are a vain, proud bird whose only virtue is their outer appearance. I would not be surprised if Mrs. Glenn served the miserable bird for Sunday dinner.”
At that, Elizabeth looked up from where she was seated and caught his eye, refusing to look away first. He must have had the same determination. Eventually, as the music changed and the next set queued, her attention was diverted by her next partner. Mr. Darcy was off the hook—for now.
Darcy groaned to himself. She had heard, and she was the daughter of that woman. He moved with purpose through the crowds of dancers to the far wall to take up position in the corner. His mind could not contemplate how the lovely beauty could possibly be from that ridiculous family. He sought her face and found she had turned to her friend, paying him no more attention than she did any other in the room. He dropped his head and wondered why he felt such a loss. They had not yet been introduced, and he sincerely doubted she would welcome it now. He knew his actions had not been that of a gentleman, and he felt disappointed with himself—a feeling that made him most uncomfortable.
With a genuine smile, Elizabeth stood to join Mr. Bingley on the dance floor. How this man could be friends with Mr. Sour Puss was a conundrum.
“Miss Elizabeth, I am delighted you had this set free. Your sister, Miss Bennet, is a wonderful partner.” He then blushed to his ears and cleared his throat. “I meant, a wonderful dance partner.”
Elizabeth was charmed and vowed to think of Mr. Exceedingly Frustrating no more. During the dance, Mr. Bingley spoke of how much he relied on Mr. Knows Everything for guidance on estate matters. She realised that he might likely rely on him for personal matters as well. Nor did she know how easily Mr. Bingley might accept and follow such counsel.
This left Elizabeth with a dilemma. Her vow to hate Mr. Ridiculously Rude must be shelved as she did with the stacks of books she filed away in her father’s library. She wanted nothing to come between Mr. Bingley and Jane. Nothing, not even her injury.
While Elizabeth’s dance partner was distracted by Jane’s progress throughout the set, she contrived the perfect strategy. Espying Miss Bingley’s attempts to garner Mr. Proud and Prejudice’s attention, Elizabeth realised her best weapon was distraction. If she could throw Miss Bingley and Mr. Perfectly Presumptuousness together, they might be too occupied with each other to interfere with Jane’s fledgling romance.
Seconds after that decision was made, the set ended and Bingley escorted her back to Jane. The colonel stepped in front of her with an apology for his tardiness. He may wear the uniform of a soldier, however, it was Elizabeth who was headed for battle. Placing her hand on his arm, she recalled a quote on war strategy from an ancient Chinese philosopher. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.