How much trouble could one small baby be? Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are about to find out.
Fitzwilliam Darcy avoids unsavory characters, unattached females, and messy babies—until he meets the Bennet family from Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Something about one of the daughters and the only son intrigues him until thoughts of them fill his waking hours and his dreams.
Elizabeth Bennet despises Brussels sprouts, sewing, and men who think too highly of themselves—especially Mr. Darcy. When her brother shows a decided preference for the arrogant oaf, will she continue to hold onto her resentment or discover for herself what the baby finds so appealing?
After a valuable piece of jewelry goes missing and aspersions are cast, can two opposing forces work together to solve the crime? Will opposites attract? Can a toddler who admires them both help them to admire each other?
This fun-filled 20,000-word novella set in Regency England is written by the bestselling author of Mr. Darcy’s Bad Day and Lost & Found.
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Mrs. Francine Bennet was either the most foolish of women or the most cunning.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of Pemberley in Derbyshire, had long prided himself on being a better than average student of character. Despite his long track record of accuracy, this woman puzzled him exceedingly.
What sort of mother would bring three daughters and a baby to determine the health of her eldest, Miss Jane Bennet? What rendered the situation even more confusing was Mrs. Bennet’s knowing the competence of her second child, who had been on hand since the day prior when the family had been informed of Miss Bennet’s illness. Miss Elizabeth had well demonstrated her devotion to her sibling by walking the three miles from her home at Longbourn to Netherfield Park, where her sister had sneezed throughout the night. Upon arrival, rather than attempting to seek his or their host’s attention, as most unattached females were wont to do, Miss Elizabeth had asked after her sister, then spent the remainder of the day shut up in the sickroom.
Yet there Mrs. Bennet sat, fussing over her youngest daughters and the sleeping babe in her arms. In a move similar to the society matrons of London, whose most desirable goal was to attach their unwed daughters to wealthy gentlemen, the woman sought to ingratiate her eldest into the heart of his host.
“Mr. Bingley, I cannot imagine Jane being able to return to Longbourn before the week is out.” Mrs. Bennet sniffed inelegantly. “Why, my Jane is never ill. All in our household are brimming with life and vitality. Since her birth, Jane has been the most pleasant of all of my children.”
Miss Lydia Bennet, daughter number five, loudly blurted, “Mama, you said I was the most pleasant, I know you did. Why, only yesterday you told Mrs. Goulding how happy you were to have me as your youngest girl, for you saved the best for last. I heard you as clear as day, Mama. So, you see, Jane cannot be the most pleasant.”
Miss Kitty Bennet, daughter number four, nodded her agreement. “You did say that, Mama. I am sure you did, for I heard it myself.”
“All of God’s children are sinners so none have reason to boast.” Miss Mary, the third Bennet daughter, plopped her pious opinion right into the middle of the conversation with not one of her relatives giving her viewpoint any heed.
“Girls,” Mrs. Bennet reprimanded. “That will be enough. You will wake Thomas.”
Lydia whined, “All you ever speak about is Tommy, Mama. I was the most important until he came along.”
“Lydia Bennet, you hush now.” Mrs. Bennet covered the babe’s ear in a vain attempt to protect him from his noisy sisters. “His name is Thomas like his father.”
“Tommy. Thomas. What does it matter? How was I to know you would have a baby after so many years of trying. A woman of your age, why it is shameful if you ask me,” Lydia whispered loud enough that a deaf person in the next shire could have heard.
Mrs. Bennet hugged the baby tighter to herself, then hissed, “Quiet! Your brother’s birth has broken the entail against our home, which means we will not be thrown to the hedgerows when your father dies. Now hush or you will wake Thomas.”
It was too late. With a whimper and a wail, the lad flung his arms wide. Instantly, his eyes popped open. Surveying the room, the babe struggled to sit up. Completely uncaring of who had roused him from slumber, he quieted as soon as he noticed his surroundings. He was no longer at Longbourn.
Darcy followed the babe’s gaze as it traveled from one end of the drawing room to the other. Bright blue eyes ignored the pretentious opulence preferred by Netherfield’s hostess, Miss Caroline Bingley. Instead, it was the bear rug on the floor in front of the fireplace that first held the youngster’s interest. Then the mirror above the mantel caught his eye. The rustling of silk next became his object of study as Miss Bingley stood to call for fresh tea. The boy’s eyes quickly passed her by to pause at Mr. Charles Bingley.
Darcy used the opportunity to attempt to guess what the baby saw. A well-dressed, slender man with a large smile showing big white teeth aligned neatly in a row. Yes, the babe would no doubt find his host to be an amiable man, as most did.
It was then that the little fellow’s gaze landed upon Darcy. As the babe examined him, Darcy did the same to the boy.
He was a handsome lad, probably no more than a year in age. Rather than cry like the few babies Darcy had been around, the boy grunted his displeasure at having his nap time interrupted, his tiny nose wrinkling as if the smells surrounding him were bad.
Unexpectedly, the longer the child studied Darcy, the more unsettled the man felt. His collar suddenly tightened against his throat. His palms began to sweat. He gulped.
He knew those eyes. Although they were identical in color to his eldest sister’s, the shape, sparkle, and piercing quality belonged to Miss Elizabeth. That lady’s dark brown eyes were mirrors to her soul. Several times in their brief acquaintance he had seen firsthand both joy and ire filling her orbs. Most often with him it was ire. Yes, the boy had the penetrating, knowing stare belonging to Bennet sister number two.
Darcy blinked twice, hoping the lad would do the same. The babe stubbornly refused to budge away from his perusal.
Good heavens! How was it possible that a child of only a dozen months or so could have flummoxed him to the point of discomfort? Darcy wanted to snort. He was the one whose stare intimidated others. Yet this child…!
Darcy’s conjecture ground to a halt. It was not the lad who discomposed him. Indeed not! It was the sister with the same eyes, the same attitude of having no fear despite provocation. He was grateful Miss Elizabeth was not present in the room. Darcy had no clue how he would respond with two sets of eyes studying him like a trapped specimen under a microscope.
All three of the youngest Bennet daughters offered to comfort the lad. Instead, the mother bounced him on her knee, apparently adding to young Bennet’s irritation. Without taking his eyes off Darcy, he grunted even louder.
With each complaint, Darcy’s blood pressure jumped up a notch. The inclination to leap to his feet and rush from the room almost overwhelmed him.
At that point, apparently having been judged as worthy, the babe became silent, wiggled and squirmed until his mother set him on the floor, then set off with unsteady strides directly towards him.
Should he run? Should he hide?
Ridiculous! He was a grown man of almost twenty-eight years, well over six feet tall with muscles formed from hours spent in the saddle caring for the needs of his estate. He was not a master who was afraid to get his hands dirty. Additionally, Darcy had been twelve years old when his sister was born, old enough to hold her regularly until he left for Eton the following year. By the time he returned from university, Georgiana was old enough to insist on having her own feet kept on the ground. Needless to say, he did have some experience with children, although it had been years in the past. This little fellow was no threat. How difficult could it be to direct the child away from him anyway?
Sitting back in his chair, Darcy uncrossed his legs, placing both feet on the floor. Rubbing his palms down the fabric of his trousers, he casually rested his forearms on the sides of his chair as he waited to see what the youngster would do.
Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!
The toddler rushed towards him, approaching with more speed than finesse. Once he reached the small table to the side of Darcy, the lad pushed against the edge to steady himself. The cup and saucer filled with freshly poured tea toppled along with the furnishing. Darcy leapt to his feet and grabbed the baby to keep him from getting scalded. Pulling young Bennet into his arms, Darcy held him close, checking to see which way the liquid flew and then stepping away from the fray.
Mrs. Bennet screamed at the danger her only son and heir faced, then fainted dead away. The three Bennet girls fussed and fretted, causing an unholy cacophony to reverberate around the room. Miss Bingley yelled at the baby to stop his destruction while her brother rang for a maid to clean up the mess.
Unfazed, the Bennet son looked directly at his rescuer, cooed his pleasure, and smiled.
Six pearly teeth were revealed as the silly child ignored the turmoil around him in favor of grinning at the man holding him. Without thought, Darcy began swaying gently back and forth, a move he had not used since his sister had been an infant. When the baby tucked his forehead into the side of Darcy’s neck, unknown emotions surged through his chest. The boy sighed deeply, poked his thumb into his mouth, and closed his eyes.
Within a heartbeat, the frigid outer edges of Darcy’s heart melted into a puddle at his feet.