One month to find a wife he can live with forever.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is desperate. If he doesn’t marry within 33 days, he loses guardianship of his sister to his cantankerous aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh. His diligent search within the town was in vain, so he heads to the country with his mind filled with determination and his heart hoping for love.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet is desperate. Her father’s disinterest in their estate has resulted in concern for the future of her family. When circumstances become precarious, Elizabeth accepts an offer from the last man on earth she suspected would be interested in marriage to her.
Will the hero and heroine of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice find their happily-ever-after when the odds and the wickedest of enemies are against them?
Follow Elizabeth and Darcy in this novel-length Regency romance as J. Dawn King takes them through a sweet adventure where their happiness comes only if they obey The Letter of the Law.
By the author of Amazon bestsellers Compromised! and The Abominable Mr. Darcy.
Available for purchase at:
“How in the world could either of us forget something this 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 eleventh of November, which gives us over a month for one of us to find a bride, court her, and marry her.”
“Thirty-three and a half days.” Fitzwilliam Darcy watched his cousin from his perch behind his desk. He was equally as disappointed with himself, although, as was his usual wont, he kept negative emotions tucked away behind his stoic exterior. “One month, Rich. No more.”
The summons from Mr. Samuel Haggerston, the family’s long-time solicitor, had been a shock. The reminder of the codicil in his father’s Last Will and Testament had jarred him from head to toe. If neither Darcy nor Richard were wed by the sixteenth anniversary of her birth, Georgiana’s guardianship would automatically be transferred to their aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh—an entirely horrifying thought.
“Why would your father have done 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. You have a sterling reputation for protecting the Darcy name and assets. What could have possibly motivated him to add this to his final testament? And how could we both have forgotten about this?”
“Georgiana was still in her tenth year.” Darcy cupped his hand over his mouth as he pondered his error. “The date of her becoming sixteen seemed distant then. I put the codicil out of my mind to deal with at a later time. How could five years have passed so quickly?”
No answer was needed. Both men were feeling the frustration at having been caught unawares.
Regarding his father’s reasoning, it 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 fashion and gossip, 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 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. Lady Catherine de Bourgh intimidated sweet Georgiana Darcy. She intimidated most people. Their aunt was a hurricane force dressed in the latest fashion 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 herself permission to poke her fingers into the Darcys’ lives. Her quest to unite her estate, Rosings, with the much more substantial property at Pemberley was legendary in the family.
“Remember, Cousin, Aunt Catherine was much more restrained in her conduct while Father was still alive. It was only after his death when she exposed her demanding and domineering ways. Father never saw her as she is today.”
The colonel started to speak, but Darcy stopped him. He continued, “Before my mother had been gone one week, our widowed aunt left me in no doubt 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 question 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 had arrived in Derbyshire to attend Lady Anne during the last month of her confinement. His aunt had taken charge of her younger sister, banishing both Darcy males from the mistress’s chambers as if the rooms were her own domain. Darcy had been forced to sneak in to his 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 the Matlock family estate. Typically, his eldest sister, Catherine de Bourgh, née Fitzwilliam, was 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.
“This explains why Aunt Catherine started pushing you and our cousin Anne together soon after your father died. What she failed in with one Darcy, our aunt attempted to do with the other.” Each word from the colonel’s mouth dripped with disgust.
“Which will never happen. Despite being frail of body, 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 milk maid 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 Major-General Wellesley in Spain.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
“Oh, Lord, no.” Darcy’s chest hurt. He wanted to 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 classes, caring for the men under his command as if they were his own kin. He gave the same level of attention 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.
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 milk maid would have me with only a fortnight before I leave.” His snort 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 George Darcy’s death, the colonel had been one of the few men 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. 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.
Darcy would do nothing to discourage his cousin, so he 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. 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 at Ramsgate.”
“Wickham!” Darcy hissed. The reprobate, 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 to live the life to which he aspired, had been stopped cold. Darcy had arrived in Ramsgate, the locale of his sister’s holiday, a day earlier than expected. When Georgiana overheard the rogue demanding her portion in exchange for his silence about her agreement to run off to Scotland with him, it had almost broken her spirit to comprehend the resulting destruction 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 future would have been had he been in the room. Neither would mourn if Wickham 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 Bingley left Cambridge, there had been nine young ladies who had been deemed worthy of his hand, only for him to find someone else more beautiful to capture his heart at the next ball.
“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 attentions of one lady after another was a character weakness Darcy endeavored to caution his friend against. Increasing expectations without an offer of a courtship was unkind.
Rubbing his hands over his face, Darcy harrumphed into the silence of the room. In the hours since he had returned from 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 two months ago, whereupon no one has heard from the family since.” Darcy rolled his eyes. “If rumors 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 little concept of the importance of bathing and washing her teeth.”
Both men shuddered.
“Her father approached me for a loan to provide her dowry, which he had gambled away. I could marry her and be repaid with my own money. Never! I easily refused him both the loan and the 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 my acquaintance with an unattached daughter currently seeking a husband.”
“Were none agreeable?”
Richard sat and shifted in his chair at the same time Darcy did in his. “Then, you will need to look outside of London, which might be exactly what is best.” Sliding up, he sat erect, grabbing the arms of the furniture with his beefy hands. “Since you prefer the countryside, you would do well to find a rural 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, this I do not know, Darce,” the colonel pondered before he spoke. “You could search the upper ten thousand and find very few love matches in our society. Not even my own parents have other than a 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 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 his 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 me loathing a country dance, Bingley shared information concerning an upcoming 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 the same.
“You might have to change your thinking and marry Anne, Darcy,” Richard mused. “Although I would be sorry to see it, better to have her in your home than Georgiana at Rosings.”
Darcy growled in frustration. “Anne would ignore me like I would ignore her. She could have Darcy House in town while I removed to Pemberley, never to leave.” He huffed. “What a life that would be.”
“Better the devil you know than the one you do not,” Richard offered.
“I cannot believe having Anne as my wife would benefit Georgiana. With Anne comes her mother, so we would be no better off than we would be if the both of us handed my sister to Lady Catherine on a platter.” Darcy rejected the idea immediately. “No, I will never marry Anne.”
“There is always Caroline Bingley,” his cousin suggested.
“Bite your tongue!”
By the time his 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 was given a list of tasks which would eat away at his final weeks in England. Business had consumed his own hours to the point he had to bring much of it with him, as he would never leave matters undone. In addition, a heartbreaking missive had arrived from Georgiana that morning where her self-loathing for her actions earlier in the summer at Ramsgate came through in every written word. She had hidden herself at Pemberley, and he feared she would never willingly leave the comfort of familiar surroundings.
Wickham! How he hated him. 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 rein, they would never need mention the name again nor think upon the harm he had caused.
Determined to put such negative thoughts behind him and focus on his purpose for being in Hertfordshire, his eyes roamed the landscape surrounding the large stone edifice sitting at the top of a rise. The soil looked rich, and the soon-to-be harvested crops appeared healthy. A stand of trees behind the house had to have been planted within the past five and twenty years, for 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 entrance was his host, the grin on his face welcoming him more than words. Immediately behind him was Bingley’s unmarried sister, Caroline, the tall feathers of her headdress, entirely inappropriate for a day at home, waving in the breeze. The predatory gleam in her eyes warned Darcy. 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. Miss Bingley would never do for a wife. She scared Georgiana nearly as much as their Aunt Catherine.
Emerging from the doorway was Bingley’s eldest sister and her husband. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst represented the middle of the road of British society. Their roots in trade were still visible despite a push to enter the rank of a gentleman and his lady. Nonetheless, both were followers and hangers-on to the two youngest Bingleys. Neither Hurst would create a ripple in Darcy’s pond unless he allowed it to happen…which he would not.
“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 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 for the rest of his life in so short a period of time?
Bingley’s chatter interrupted his thoughts. “…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 to attend the assembly. 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, unhesitatingly putting a stop to her plans. He would not remain behind with Caroline Bingley, no matter Richard’s tease. “I would never slight my friend’s hospitality by not accompanying him this evening.”
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 bath 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 evening 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 particular attention.
But he needed a wife, and he needed her quickly. He must not lose sight of his reasons for being in Hertfordshire.