Love is being in the wrong place at the right time!
Mistaken for someone else, Elizabeth and Darcy are kidnapped from a ballroom in Hertfordshire, England. Their only hope for freedom is to overcome their deeply set opinions of each other—to work as a team.
Against all odds, they each make extraordinary sacrifices to discover a love for the ages and find their way home.
The Long Journey Home is a perilous tale of adventure where Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Austen’s beloved heroes of Pride & Prejudice are forced to rely on each other for survival.
This full-length Regency novel is written by bestselling author, J Dawn King, who also writes as Christie Capps. The Long Journey Home is appropriate for all ages.
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Elizabeth Bennet woke to utter darkness. Her immediate surroundings dipped and rose in an irregular rhythm unlike anything she had experienced in her nearly twenty-one years. Holding her breath, she listened carefully for clues to her circumstances since her vision was completely ineffective.
Distant sounds of men yelling indistinct commands, what sounded like bed sheets flapping in a strong wind, and the creak of wood paneling being pulled taut, then let go, warred with a quiet trickle of air flowing in and out above where she lay on her side. Her mouth tasted and felt like it had been filled with threads of dusty cotton. She swallowed the nonexistent saliva at the back of her throat, desperate for a hint of moisture. Her shoulders screamed in agony. Flexing her fingers, Elizabeth attempted to move to a more comfortable position, only to discover she had been bound tightly at the wrists with her palms together, her hands behind her back. Another quick movement verified her ankles were tied as well. Her nose and chin were pressed up against a stone wall that smelled of salty air and … sandalwood?
While those scents were inoffensive, unpleasant odors insulted her sensibilities as they wafted into her nostrils from the surface upon which she lay: that of unwashed bodies and the dampness of mildew.
Where was she? What in the world had happened to her? Who had done this to her? Panic at the unknown flooded her body. She quivered from head to toe.
“No! Dear God, no.” Tears threatened.
Swallowing them back, she shook her head quickly to dispel the remnants of thick fog swirling in her skull. Elizabeth immediately became aware of three facts. First, she had to have been drugged. She had read enough from her father’s library to understand the effects. Second, the sounds, smells, and movement indicated she was no longer in her home shire of Hertford. Where she was exactly, she could not determine. Third, after rubbing the end of her nose against the “stone wall” that felt remarkably like intricately woven fabric, Elizabeth’s head cleared of most of her confusion. A man, not a wall. It was his breathing she had heard amidst the other noises.
Her inclination was to scream at the top of her lungs in hopes that someone would come to her salvation. Fear at waking the beast next to her kept her silent. Horror filled her; terror nipped at its heels.
In vain she attempted to roll away.
“Trapped,” she gasped, registering a solid surface behind her and that rigid manin front.
Her pulse pounded as her breath quickened. Never had she been in such close proximity to a grown male who was not her father.
Had she been violated?
Her breath caught in her throat.
Had this man tied her up to restrain her from fighting his forced attentions? The pressure in her skull grew until she worried her brain would explode with the intensity of her anger.
No, she was far beyond angry. The bitter brew of ire blended with unrestrained fear threatened to consume her.
Slowing her breath to better tame the pounding of her heart, Elizabeth frantically considered her options.
“Escape. I need out—now!”
Scrambling into a different position with the goal of freedom, Elizabeth pulled and contorted until she sat upright. Sweeping her eyes from side to side, she surveyed her surroundings. Nothing! Not one hint of light appeared in her line of vision. She and the unknown man pressed against her side were in a world entirely encased in black.
Pulling her knees towards her, she felt them with her chin. Lace slid over the cotton below. Relief coursed through her at the discovery of being modestly covered. The man, too. was still clothed, she realized, or it would have been his skin or the soft cloth of a nightshirt against her nose when she woke, not the silken garment she had felt.
Who was this man? He had not moved. The only evidence he lived was the slight rise and fall of his chest as he inhaled and exhaled. Whatever had been given her to render her senseless had to have been given him as well.
Powerful emotions surged through her, pounding out the necessity for a frantic bid for freedom. Ignoring the pain and the cold filtering through the thinness of her gown, she dug her heels into the lumpy mattress upon which she lay, using the slickness of the cloth under the overskirt of lace to propel herself backwards until she was practically sitting upon her fists. Thinking she could slide her form in reverse through the loop between her distended elbows, Elizabeth wiggled and squirmed until she was made to stop from the misery— clamping her lips together to keep from crying out. The strain against the muscles holding her arms in their joints forced an unnatural arch to her back. Panting, she gulped in a huge breath then expelled it from her lungs. Hunching into a tight ball while pulling her knees up to her chest, she lowered her shoulders as far as humanly possible and pushed the heels of her feet with all of her might.
The instant her posterior landed on top of her fists; Elizabeth pushed harder. Grunting from effort and agony, she gripped a handful of wisp-thin embroidered netting and the heavier printed fabric of the gown bunched beneath her. Beads of moisture dampened her temples; her stomach churned from the misery. Swallowing the bile threatening the back of her throat, Elizabeth bent to the task, pushing and sliding until the fabric ripped to shreds under her slippers. Finally, her bottom bounced down off her fists where they currently rested under her thighs. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she wiggled her tortured hands out from underneath of her.
She stretched her arms in front of her as far as the ropes at her wrist allowed. Blessed relief made her sigh when the tendons and muscles surrounding her shoulders and neck relaxed. Despite wiggling her fingers in front of her face and not seeing them, Elizabeth wanted to crow her victory. Instead, she breathed in and out until the nausea passed and the galloping of her heart calmed.
In an attitude suspiciously mirroring something her mother and two silliest sisters would have done; she mourned the ruin of her gown. It was the finest garment she had ever worn. Hours upon hours had been spent forming the Van Dyke points at the hem of her skirt, sleeves, and bodice. In an oddity of mind, Elizabeth mourned the waste of days of intense labor more than her present situation. Briefly.
Shaking off the thought, and uncaring whether her unknown companion witnessed her unladylike actions, she lifted her shredded hem until she could reach the knots binding her ankles. Her tied hands and the movement of their mode of transport increased the difficulty of the task. As she tugged and twisted the hemp rope, several factors settled in her mind. There were no bumps typical of a ride in a carriage which indicated the rocking back and forth meant they were on a boat of some sort. She had no pelisse. Cautiously touching the fine heavily woven silk of the garment worn by the man alongside her, she discovered he wore no greatcoat as well. She had on her dancing slippers not her walking boots. Her stockings were intricately woven, unlike the knitted wool she typically wore at the approach of December. The only gown she owned with an overlay was newly made and worn once, at the ball their new neighbor, Mr. Charles Bingley, had given at his estate, Netherfield Park.
Oh, good Lord! As the events of that night clarified, Elizabeth recalled where she had last worn that gown and smelled sandalwood. Mr. Darcy! She was sharing what she concluded was a ship’s bunk with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. Aghast, Elizabeth intensified her efforts to free her lower limbs. A million unanswerable questions flooded her brain, all beginning with how, who, what, where, when, and why.
Her family had been at the Netherfield ball. Elizabeth and her sisters had looked forward to attending for two whole weeks since Mr. Bingley and his supercilious sisters had personally traveled the three miles between their estates to hand-deliver the invitation. New gowns had been procured, along with matching ribbons and shoe roses for all five Bennet daughters. Their mother had even convinced her spouse of the necessity of a new garment. Thus, it was a polished group who had ascended the steps under the front portico of the grand edifice on the twenty-sixth day of November in the year of our Lord, 1811—a Tuesday.
Elizabeth had arrived at Netherfield Park half excited and half in dread. Her ungainly cousin, Mr. William Collins, had earlier requested her company for the first set. She suspected his uncoordinated movements on the dance floor would mirror his uneven gait. Before the first notes of the chorus began, she was proven correct as her toes sorely testified.
Her only hope for salvaging her evening rested on the broad shoulders of Mr. George Wickham. A charming man with a handsome presence, he had sought out her company at every gathering they had attended in the month since the militia’s arrival in Hertfordshire. She knew he would be in attendance; he had promised her the supper dance the day prior to the ball. Smiling his beatific smile and moving with skill and finesse at the small gatherings they had already attended, Elizabeth dreamed of how they would glide across the floor of a splendidly decorated ballroom. Thus, she had given special attention to her looks in hopes of capturing and holding Mr. Wickham’s notice for the entire evening. Perhaps they would dance more than once. She sighed.
Such a disappointment! Stuffy, antagonistic Mr. Darcy’s being at Netherfield Park made it too difficult for his sworn enemy, Mr. Wickham, to attend.
Worse yet, was Mr. Darcy’s request; Elizabeth was unable to escape dancing with him for a full thirty minutes. He was a terrible man, a veritable monster dressed in fine clothing. Where he was bereft of pleasant personality traits, he possessed an abundance of wealth and status—an unequal exchange in her opinion. Despite being the most attractive man of her acquaintance on a purely physical level, his assets failed to appeal or impress Elizabeth at all. She loathed him—despised him with a vigor she had never felt towards another human being. In truth, he was the last man on earth with whom she wanted to stand up. Nonetheless, the rules of propriety and common manners were clear. To refuse him would have kept her from enjoying the rest of the evening. How much she resented Mr. Darcy!
Everything about their dance was uncomfortable. Oh, surprisingly, he performed the steps with fluidity. However, their conversation was heated until bitter words were exchanged that would never be forgotten. His unfair treatment of poor Mr. Wickham made Mr. Darcy lower than low in her eyes. Her challenge and the officious man’s rebuttal satisfied neither of them, only serving to stir their ire.
Abandoning the gathering once the final notes of the second song ended, Elizabeth sought the seclusion of a small balcony with a stairway running down to a private walled garden. Breathing deeply, she gazed at the heavens in supplication for help to overcome her loathing of another human being. For yes, she hated Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy with a passion she had never felt towards another person. Not even young Johnny Lucas, who deliberately spattered mud on her first grown-up gown six years prior, had earned her anger to the extent she felt that night.
Gasping when the ship took an unnatural roll, Elizabeth bumped into what she concluded was the man’s waist. How unfortunate! Instead of walking away from him at the ball, she was now stuck with him it seemed.
Elizabeth snorted as she continued with her task.
Thinking back, she was unsettled by her sudden mental clarity.
Reviewing the night, she shockingly recalled that Mr. Darcy had followed her to the balcony. Why had he done something so foolish? Surely, he would have known it was improper to be isolated with her even for a few moments. Yet, it had appeared he was not finished with their argument. In truth, neither was she.
They were each so caught up in pressing their point that they failed to note the approach of several men from the garden below. As quickly as she was overpowered, so was Mr. Darcy. The ruffian who jabbed a pistol to her throat jerked her back to his chest, holding her in an iron grip. This immediately halted Mr. Darcy’s actions to defend her. When another man approached him from behind, covering his mouth with a thick cloth, it was a matter of moments before the gentleman crumpled to the ground.
Just before the kidnapper moved the same sickeningly sweetsmelling cloth to her mouth, Elizabeth heard the rogue whisper, “Good thing we know they’s brother an’ sister cause they fight like they was married.”
Bah! Being tied by birth or vows to Mr. Darcy would be a penalty no sensible female would desire—fortune or no fortune.
Turning her full attention to freedom, Elizabeth again pulled at the hemp.
Married or brother and sister? Harrumph! Not with Mr. Darcy. No, never!
Wait! Why ever would the man believe them to be siblings? There was absolutely no familial connection between the Bennets and the Darcys. Snobby Mr. Darcy would never allow it to be so.
Oh, her poor father. And Jane. They would be sick with worry over her being missing. With Mr. Darcy having disappeared at the same time, the rumors and speculation would be rife. How would dear Papa and Jane cope? They were both tender of heart.
This last thought refocused her thoughts on her most pressing need. Freedom.
“Come on, Elizabeth,” she muttered to herself. “You can do this.”
When the threads of the rope binding her ankles started to loosen, she celebrated far more aggressively than had been her intention. Flinging her bound hands into the air, Elizabeth wiggled her hips then again bent to her task, giving little thought to the bump she had inflicted on the man. It was not until there was a shift on the bunk and she felt cool air on the outside of her thigh that she realized she might have tilted their universe off its natural course rather abruptly. However, it was the heavy thump and moan as the man hit the floor that jolted her into feeling a figment of sympathy at his plight.
“Mr. Darcy,” she hissed. “Mr. Darcy, are you well?”
The sound of pounding footsteps approaching outside their room stole her attention away from the groans of the man lying on the floor. Without his body as a barrier, she was openly exposed to whomever was approaching. Hurriedly arranging her skirt to cover her ankles, she lay back down, hoping beyond hope that the person would not notice that her hands were in front of her instead of behind.
With a brief scrape of a key in a lock, the door to their quarters was thrust open, allowing ambient sunlight to provide Elizabeth with her first glimpse of their surroundings. Blinking rapidly to filter the shards shining in her eyeballs, what she saw was hardly reassuring. There was their one bunk, a small shelf holding a pitcher and bowl with a chamber pot underneath. No candle. No lantern. No luggage. Only a man on the floor and one at the door.
The sailor had bare feet and pants that were torn off below his knees, revealing tanned skin covered with a coating of coarse dark hairs. His once white linen shirt was open at the throat and tied at his waistband. Over that he wore a dark navy wool coat thin enough that it barely covered his muscled arms. The butt of a pistol sticking out of his waistband and the fierceness of his expression brought Elizabeth’s efforts to cover her ankles to a halt.
“What’s goin’ on here? Ye tryin’ ta escape, Miss Bingley?” The oaf glanced at Mr. Darcy, immediately disregarding the man as a potential threat. “Ye an yer brother ain’t goin’ nowheres. Cap’n Bartolomew wants ye right where ye are ‘til we reach port.”
“Miss Bingley?” Elizabeth was confused and appalled. Miss Caroline Bingley, their hostess for the ball, was equally as arrogant and boorish as Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth wanted to snort, knowing the lady would be thrilled at being elevated to the equal of the man she longed to wed, even if it was due to an unpleasant personality trait.
“Yes, ma’am. Yer to be our ‘guests’ til we reach port, weather permittin’, so I suggest ye not be makin’ a fuss. Cap’n Bartholomew allows fer no trouble on his ship.”
With a final sneer, the man slammed the door shut, turning a key in the lock.
At his departure, the only sounds in the room were the creaking vessel being slapped against the waves, the sails flapping in the breeze, and moans coming from the man on the floor.
THE COOLNESS of the hard surface against his cheek and temple felt good on Darcy’s battered face. At least, he assumed it was battered. The slightest movement of any of his facial muscles caused discomfort and pain. Who or what was responsible? He would have their head for this!
Awareness of present circumstances assaulted him in stages. Surprisingly, it was the smell that first penetrated his skull with a modicum of accuracy. Blood! Lifting his head slightly, a sticky dampness dripped from the corner of his mouth down to his jaw. Lord in heaven! He was lying in a puddle of his own blood. He twitched his nose, immediately sensing a drip trickle from his right nostril. Reaching for his linen handkerchief was … his attempt failed as his hands were apparently tightly bound behind him. He tugged to no effect. What was happening?
Immediately following smell was sound. A rustling of fabrics, a female voice exclaiming in whatever victory she was celebrating, and pounding footsteps assaulted his senses. Where in the world was he? And who was the lady inhabiting the same small space? At least he hoped she was a lady.
Sight immediately followed when the door not two feet in front of his face was thrust open. His eyes snapped shut against the light. When the intruder spoke, matters began to make sense.
The movement and the claim from his captor indicated they were on a ship bound for an unknown port. Where was he, and who was that rude man who had no clue how to open and close a door properly?
He groaned as the intruder’s words filtered into his fuzzy brain.
Caroline Bingley? He was trapped with her? Good Lord! He wanted to vomit.
She was a grasping, social-climbing shrew with close roots in trade who did everything within her power to attract his attention. Her single-minded goal was to become Mrs. Darcy, mistress of Pemberley. She cared not how she achieved her purpose. Yet, Darcy had to admit, if only to himself, that having him kidnapped and forced to spend possibly weeks in her close company was more than he had assumed she had the wisdom to arrange. While she was not entirely unattractive on a physical level, her mental comprehension would fill little more than her maid’s thimble.
As fast as the speed of light, Darcy realized he would be forced by his own honor to offer her his hand, no matter how unwilling the groom.
He growled. For all of his almost twenty-eight years, he had acted in a manner that allowed only his parents and then himself to determine his course. That someone else had taken the reins served to increase his anger and frustration until it loomed in front of him like a living breathing monster.
“Mr. Darcy,” came a harsh whisper from behind and above him. “Mr. Darcy, wake, I beg you.” He had had enough!
“Miss Bingley,” he hissed through sore lips, his words not sounding as clear as he had intended. “I refuse to play into your schemes. I will not marry you, despite flagrantly flaunting propri-
ety. Your brother knows my feelings on the matter.” He heard her harsh inhalation.
He felt a thump at his shoulder.
Spinning as quickly as he could, he sat up in time to receive another slight blow to the side of his head. Leaning quickly against what he assumed was a bunk, he trapped Miss Bingley’s arm against the wood.
Except it was not an arm. It was … he lowered the side of his face until he felt the texture of lace at his chin along with the firmness of …
Oh, Good Lord! It was her thigh. He inhaled sharply, wanting to erase the image of Caroline Bingley’s form from his mind’s eye.
Horrified, he scrambled back as quickly as he was able.
Their tight quarters kept him from moving far.
Had she kicked him with her foot? Surely, it was not accidental. Why ever would a woman who yearned to be bound to him cause him to suffer deliberate physical abuse at her…
Without warning, she jumped up only to trip over his outstretched legs. With his bound hands he could do nothing to help her.
An exclamation, a loud thump against the inside of the door, and an “ugh!” at the contact had him wondering at the mental stability of Miss Bingley. For someone who wanted to marry him as she did, her attempts at escape were quite unexpected.
Except … when the goon who had threatened them earlier reopened the door, it was not Miss Caroline Bingley who stared back at him with lightning bolts shooting from her eyes.
No, the lady facing him was none other than Miss Elizabeth, the second daughter of Bingley’s closest neighbor, Mr. Bennet of Longbourn in Meryton, Hertfordshire. Within a quick glance he discerned that she, too, was bound, she was still in her ballgown, her limbs were draped inelegantly over his with the hem of her skirt resting about mid-calf (her ankles were trim, her feet were small, and he was, in truth, both mortified and pleased he had caught sight of her appendages), and she was madder than a stirred-up hornet.