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The Austen Variations Semi-Annual Sale is on!

Books by Elizabeth Adams, Jennifer Altman, Jack Caldwell, Nicole Clarkson, L.L. Diamond, Maria Grace, Kara Louise, Abigail Reynolds, Melanie Stanford, Joana Starnes, and Shannon Winslow!

Also featured is the magnificent group work – Persuasion: Behind the Scenes!
Sale runs May 31 – June 2, 2019
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A Gift for Mother’s Day!

Here in the US, we are celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday. I am wildly blessed to be able to say that both my mom and my mom-in-love are amazing women, and I look up to them with mad respect.

Mother’s Day around our house is easy. My mom picked out her gift on Amazon two months ago. My mother-in-law always asks for a hanging flower basket for her patio, but this year, she found one she liked on her own, and just asked me to mail her the cheque! 😂 I’ll be laughing about that one for weeks. As for me, my only request of my family was, “Please don’t make me go clothes shopping again this year.” Really.

How about you? Any fun ideas or plans? And what about those for whom Mother’s Day is actually sad or stressful? My heart goes out to you.

I hope I have something fun for everyone. Nefarious is in the homestretch, so watch the Austen Variations blog this week for more updates. Today, though, I’m posting the very next scene after Unlucky Thirteen, the chapter that left you hanging. Darcy has been kicked to the curb by his bestest bud, and now it’s time to bring in the big guns. That’s right, our favorite Colonel gets his share in the conversation. 💕

Happy Mother’s Day and happy reading!


London

Two Weeks Later

“Darcy, is this where you have been hiding out? In the name of all that is decent, man, put on some candles.”

I did not bother turning round when Richard invaded my library, but I did wonder precisely how he had bribed Hodges to let him in. Had I not told my butler I was not at home to anyone? I slowly sipped again from my brandy, ignoring my cousin’s muttered oaths and imprecations when he stumbled over the pile of books I had been attempting to read.

Buggar,” Richard breathed when he reached my chair. “On second thought, forget the candles until you have seen your valet.”

“Leave off, Richard.”

“Perhaps an apothecary, too. What the devil are you doing here? And what is this… where are all the maids?”

“Leaving me be, which is precisely where I wish you were.” I raised my snifter again, and Richard whisked it deftly from my fingers. “What is the meaning of this?” I snapped.

“Someone must do it, before you make a bigger ass of yourself,” he reasoned, and finished the drink himself before I could reclaim it. “From what I hear, the only company you see all day is that stack of books and a bottle.”

“A glass of brandy in the afternoon does not make a man a drunkard. I am not in my cups, and I have not been.”

“Aye, if an afternoon glass is all you have consumed, but I challenge you to prove you were not intoxicated by some other means.”

I snatched my glass away from him before he could accidentally swipe my head with it—the fool was gesticulating at me just as his father had always done to both of us whenever the impetuousness of youth brought down the earl’s wrath—and banged it down on the side table. “Since when is a man to be condemned for improv—”

“Improving your mind through extensive reading? If a man’s mind could be improved so much, you would have built a flying machine by now, or composed a volume of poetry, or perhaps even discovered a way to defeat Boney. You, sir, are a man with a demon, and I have come to cast it out.”

I snorted. “If, by ‘demon,’ you mean a snarl of business frustrations and social obligations, I wish you would get on with it.”

Richard took the snifter back and poured a measure of brandy for himself. “Business frustrations? How so?”

I sighed, and contemplated ejecting him from the house, but relented. “Last spring, I changed solicitors. I changed my bank, too, and also sold off certain shares to buy other investments.”

Richard lowered himself to the chair opposite me. “I remember that. You were trying to make a clean break of things.”

“Five days ago, I received a letter of resignation from Daniels, my present solicitor. The day after that, a letter came from the board at my bank, ‘offering’ me the opportunity to sell some of my holdings with them and pursue other investments.”

“Indeed! Curious. Any notion of why?”

“A notion, of course, but nothing I can prove.”

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “You think Benedict’s rumour campaign is truly influencing matters?”

I frowned, and traced the glass of the brandy bottle with the edge of my index finger. “I think it must be more than rumours. How many personal scandals have been suffered without so much as a ripple in a man’s financial interests?”

“You know how it is, though, Darcy. A fellow discovers that his friend is at odds with such and such other fellow, and they sever ties. It is likely for the best—you would not want some coterie loyal to a man who hates you to have their fingers in all your interests.”

“So I have reasoned, but it is damned puzzling.”

“I imagine it must be. Well, what have you done about it?”

“What could I do? I am withdrawing my assets from the bank and transferring my business, and I am seeking another solicitor. I wrote to Gerald Smythe—I suppose you remember him? He enquired after Georgiana and our winter plans, and when I replied, I asked if he could give a good character on his own man.”

“A reasonable notion. What of Georgiana?”

“What do you mean?”

Richard gestured with the now-empty glass. “You bring her to London with nary a word of your expected arrival, then leave her with Mother and scarcely call to visit her.”

“The countess asked her to stay! It only made sense, for your mother was the better one to supervise a new wardrobe and morning calls. You know how quickly Georgiana tires with too much coming and going, so we all deemed it wiser for her to stay in one place.”

Richard scoffed. “And when was the last time you called?”

I sighed and rubbed the corner of my eye, which had begun to sting for some odd reason. “Three or four days ago. The earl and Lady Catherine did not welcome me when last I was there, and I chose not to trouble Geor—”

“Bollocks! You, Fitzwilliam Darcy, are in hiding. What the devil for? I have never in my life seen you back down from either my father or our aunt, and I cannot think why you would start now.”

“Can you not? What good would I do Georgiana to bring constant strife to the house whenever I am in company there? Besides, as you have said yourself, perhaps it is best to let your father and Lady Catherine believe that I intentionally crushed Anne’s marital hopes, that I purposefully sought out and then executed the most insulting reversal of faith in our long family history. Let them believe I am a blackguard and a reprobate who dashed old alliances and family interest on a whim. No doubt the earl thinks me a libertine as well, such a slave to base desires that I sold off my good sense for a pittance. I would disabuse him of those misconceptions if I could, but we both know why I cannot.”

“But that is in the past!” Richard objected. “Why, it is what… over a year and a half ago now!”

“And I am yet again a free man who has no intentions of satisfying their wishes. Once, I could have couched my refusal to marry Anne in a reasonable, respectful declaration of my preferences, without blasting my uncle’s political ambitions. But not after all that has occurred, and the reprehensible manner of my ‘betrayal,’ as they consider it. Nothing short of a full capitulation will restore me to their good graces. As I have no intention of rendering it, I must remain at odds with them.”

“To what end? You need a wife, Anne needs a husband. You are not holding out for some sentimental notion, are you? Pure folly, I say. No man remains infatuated with his wife after twenty years of marriage, so why limit your choices to start with? Besides, I cannot think of a woman in all creation who would think tenderly on you at this moment. Good heavens, Darcy, when was the last time you made yourself presentable?”

“Two weeks ago,” I retorted, and reached to reclaim the brandy snifter. “Much good it did me,” I muttered.

“What was that?”

I poured myself another finger full and reclined again in my chair. “Nothing. Pray, continue with your lecture.”

“Well, as I was saying, at least with Anne, you know where her interests lie. And she is not an objectionable woman, after all—save for her teeth, I suppose.”

“Not objectionable! What a sterling recommendation for a man to consider her as his wife! No, Richard, I married once where the bride was not of my choosing. I will not do it a second time. If that means Georgiana and her children will inherit Pemberley, so be it.”

“Darcy! You would not leave that to her! Lose Pemberley to her husband’s family? Be reasonable. No one said you must marry right away, or even that you must marry my father’s choice, but there must be some decent way to go about it. Surely, you can find someone who will suit… if you trouble yourself to leave the house now and again.”

I heaved myself from my chair and paced away. Someone who would suit… that was precisely the problem. Whom or what was this mythical creature to suit? Myself, or my expectations? And what a mockery if the last woman in the world was the very one who could satisfy both!

“What if you look beyond the ton?” Richard asked. “Some well-dowered tradesman’s daughter, or perhaps even an American with a fortune of her own. Egad, how the cats at Almack’s would put back their heads and howl!”

I cast an oblique glance over my shoulder. “I said I do not care for their opinions. I did not say that I meant to instigate a feud at St James’s.”

“Pity. That would have been worth seeing. But I say, you are so bloody choosy, you may as well broaden your search—particularly since, as you said, you married connections once. How many gentlemen take a pretty face rather than a long pedigree for their second bride? What of it? Did you meet no one promising during your whole two months in Hertfordshire?”

“No!” I clenched my fists, my shoulders tight as I squeezed my eyes, then released the breath I had caught. I shook my head. “Forgive me, but seeking a wife is the last of my present concerns.”

Richard was whistling low when I turned round, his eyes wide and brow raised. “Well… I suppose it is no business of mine, after all. But Georgiana is, and the poor girl is nearly inconsolable whenever I see her.”

“Inconsolable?” I crossed the room urgently. “What is this? Has she been unhappy? Why have I not been told?”

“Because no one else sees it. She hides it, just as well as someone else I know. But yes, since you ask, something is troubling her. Mother thinks it is only a product of encroaching maturity and credits her with a bit of seasonal melancholy, but I have read her letters for years. The girl I see in my mother’s drawing room is diminished somehow. Low spirits, call it what you will, but something is wrong.”

I frowned in thought. “You are saying she misses my company?”

“Perhaps.” Richard sank down into his seat again and observed me carefully. “But when I asked her about Hertfordshire and the new friends she had made, it seemed only to make her the more despondent.”

I looked away. “You have some opinion on the matter, naturally.”

“Of course I do, but with only patchy information, I shall not divulge what I have, with my humble abilities, pieced together. I do not care to be laughed at. No, I believe I shall pluck at a thread, and see what unravels.”

I snorted. “Only one thread?”

He smiled. “It is rather a long one, and I expect the answer may require a couple more bottles of brandy. Have some Scotch sent up, too.”

“Shall I also ring for dinner in here? You must think there is a great deal to tell.”

“Oh—” he nodded, “I am sure of it. What happened in Hertfordshire?”


That’s all for now, folks, but more is coming soon!

-Nicole

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Rumours & Recklessness in Spanish!

I am proud to announce that I teamed up with the talented Cristina Hulsz and we are releasing a Spanish translation of Rumores e Imprudencias!


The book will be available at the following retailers, and the Universal Book Link will allow you to choose your favorite.

Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Scribd, Tolino, Streetlib, Amazon, Google Play, & Inscribe

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Austenesque Review’s Favorites of 2018!

I am over the moon to discover THREE projects of mine on Meredith’s top list for 2018! Along with them are many of my favorites, including Abigail Reynolds, Caitlin Williams, Amy D’Orazio, Jan Hahn, Jesse Lewis, Brenda Webb, and Elizabeth Adams. And a huge congratulations to Christina Boyd and all the authors of Rational Creatures for appearing on both Meredith’s lists AND the Reader’s Choice Awards! Way to go, everyone!

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2018 Year End Favorites

Rita Deodato of From Pemberley to Milton has picked both London Holiday and Nowhere But North for her “Best of 2018” list!

Present also are quite a few of my own favorites, including books by Abigail Reynolds, Joana Starnes, Caitlin Williams and Amy D’Orazio. What a list! Check out the other amazing reads on her list here!

https://frompemberleytomilton.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/from-pemberley-to-miltons-2018-favourite-books/

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A Christmas with the Gardiners

Merry Christmas everyone! I shared this story two years ago at the end of the Courtship of Edward Gardiner blog tour. I thought today would be a fun day to dust it off. I hope everyone has a beautiful Christmas and a joyful New Year.

-Nicole


First Christmas

Edward Gardiner slowly paraded down the staircase of his new home, his heart full and his spirits buoyant. This was to be his first Christmas as the master of a fine house, the first year of lavishly bestowing gifts upon so many now in his employ, and the first year of hosting his Meryton relations in London, rather than going to his sisters as he always had. Most importantly of all, it was his first year of waking with his very dearest treasure wrapped in his arms. Perhaps no other would have perceived the purpose of his motion, but he tipped his chin very slightly down and to the left as he walked, drawing a delicious breath. Madeline’s fragrance still lingered near his neck, where she had kissed and nuzzled him only moments ago.

It was with no small measure of satisfaction that he gained the bottom of the stairs to find the house still largely quiet. His sisters would remain abed at least another hour, and the Bennet children, fatigued from their journey, would likely follow suit. The only soul he expected to encounter was that of his brother, Thomas Bennet. In this, he was not disappointed, for the library had already been commandeered by that reclusive fellow. It seemed, however, that Bennet was not alone.

“Merry Christmas, Uncle!” Elizabeth chirped brightly from the window seat, where she had been flipping through one of his newest books. She set it aside carefully- for a mercy- and bounced to him with her freshly scrubbed face shining.

“And a very Merry Christmas to you, Lizzy!” he scooped her up and gave her a joyful peck on the cheek. “And to you, Thomas,” he turned, extending his greeting to his brother-in-law.

“Aye, it is that,” the other nodded agreeably, his eyes only briefly rising from his book. “For another hour or two, at least.” He lifted his brows, wetted his fingers, and turned a page.

Elizabeth peered up at her uncle with a quizzical little frown, a furrowed brow, and a teasing sparkle in her eyes. Edward sighed, shaking his head. “Come, Lizzy, have you seen all of the greens yet? Does the house not look beautiful this morning?”

She nodded. “Uncle, when may we open our presents?”

“Oh! You must wait, Elizabeth. Did you expect to open yours before your sisters are even dressed?”

“Yes,” she admitted guilelessly.

“I tell you what,” he chuckled, “I’ve a special surprise for your aunt. Would you help me to prepare it for her?”

Her brilliant eyes glittered afresh and she caught her lip between her teeth. “Oh, tell me, what is it? Did you buy her a phaeton and ponies?”

He laughed. “You must wait and see! Come, I think your father would enjoy having the library to himself anyway.”

Three hours later, Elizabeth stood beside her uncle as he welcomed the entire family to the drawing room. “Oh, brother!” cried Fanny Bennet, fluttering her fan. “I knew it would be lovely! Why, Sister, simply look at the bowers, and the ribbons, and… oh! The lace on that table, so charming! Where ever did you find such exquisite decorations?”

Edward beamed proudly at his wife, who had come to his other side. “Madeline deserves the credit. There, my dear, do you see? You feared making a poor impression, but I have never seen a lovelier home than my own this day.”

Madeline blushed prettily, catching her father’s eye as he bounced little Mary Bennet upon his knee. “My dear, I believe you would say so even if I had chosen to decorate the house in brown and yellow, instead of the proper colours!”

“It is a clever man who pays his compliments wisely,” affirmed Thomas Bennet, lifting his glass in a mock salute.

“Indeed!” Edward agreed. “And to that end, I know I am breaking somewhat with tradition, but I should like to give you the first gift, my dear. Lizzy?”

“Yes, Uncle!” Elizabeth dove for the pile of gifts, attempting to wrap her arms about an especially large one right in the middle. Three or four other boxes toppled as she dislodged the base of the stack, but she wrestled determinedly until she had dragged it free.

“Edward, you should not have!” Madeline objected. “What could possibly…?”

Edward laughed and bent to assist Elizabeth. The box was awkward rather than heavy, but even he found it more convenient to drag than to lift. “Open it, my love!”

Madeline bit her lip and tilted her head askance. The box was lovingly wrapped and decorated so beautifully that she hated to break it open. Moreover, her natural modesty objected to what was clearly a large and lavish gift from her husband. What was everyone else to think? Nonetheless, she grasped the ribbon and gave a gentle tug. Carefully she peeled away the folds of paper, taking the greatest pains that not one single corner should be ripped in her haste. Elizabeth started to bounce.

The paper fell away, Madeline lifted the lid of the box, and beheld… another box. She darted a quick look to Edward, and found his eyes dancing with mirth. This box was even more exquisitely wrapped than the first, and still quite large. Edward helped her to lift it out, and with a little laugh, she began to unwrap this box as well. Inside the second box was a third, this one wrapped in gold foil. “Oh, Edward!” she giggled in feigned exasperation.

Fanny Bennet and most of her daughters were beginning to grow restless. To cries of impatience and admiration, with not a little smattering of children clamoring to see over one another, Madeline worked her way through four more boxes. Where Edward had found such a perfect assortment of nesting boxes, she could not fathom, but his cheeks grew ever brighter as she continued to add to the mounting pile of discarded wrapping.

Inside the seventh box, Madeline discovered a nest of tawny packing material, concealing and protecting something precious within. She lifted her brows teasingly at Edward, catching Elizabeth’s bubbling delight as she did so. “For such a large box to begin, whatever is inside must be quite small!”

“It is often so, is it not, my dear? The most magnificent blessings are often in the smallest details.”

Her eyes pricked a little at the warmth in his tones, and she began to suspect that whatever lay within was some priceless treasure- something in which she would delight for the rest of her life. Blinking quickly, she began to search through the rustling packing material until her fingers found a small, humble little box. It was wrapped simply in brown paper and string, and fit within the palm of her hand. She raised her eyes to Edward and he gave her a small nod of encouragement.

Drawing breath, she pulled the string and reverently unfolded the very last of the wrapping, then lifted the lid of the box. Inside was a bright, shining key. She pinched it gingerly between her fingers and held it up with questioning eyes.

Edward came near to rest a hand upon her shoulder and spoke lowly into her ear. “It is a key to my study desk,” he told her quietly. “I know it seems a simple thing, my love, but it is yours as much as it is mine. Everything I am, every facet of my life, is as an open book to you. I want you forever by my side, Madeline, sharing in my heart, my labours, my hopes. I lay all before you, and desire you as my partner in every corner of this life.”

Her throat had tightened and her eyes burned in overpowering joy as she blinked down at his gift- that tiny little object which unlocked his entire world. “It is as you say, my love,” she whispered. “The most priceless treasures are often very small.” She looked up and caught Jane Bennet’s eye. Understanding at once, Jane leapt to the pile of gifts to find a small, soft parcel, and brought it to her aunt.

Madeline took it and gave it into Edward’s hand. “Merry Christmas, my darling!”

His brow creased, he tore silently into the folds of tissue. The item within emerged, and he held it up in some confusion. “What is it?”

Laughing lightly, Madeline took it from him and unfolded the downy material for him to examine. “It is a bonnet… for an infant.”

His face washed in wonder. “A… an infant? Madeline!” He gasped, then caught up his wife in his arms and spun her dizzily about. “Are you certain? We must speak of this at once!” Not delaying even a moment upon his resolution, the determined husband carried his surprised young wife from the drawing room and mounted the stairs. The remaining guests craned their necks to peer round the doorway in curiosity as the couple departed so unceremoniously, the echoes of their laughter sounding through the entire house.

Thomas Bennet cleared his throat. “Well,” began he, with a suspicious twinkle in his eye. “It seems we must carry on without our host and hostess. Mr Fairbanks, sir, would you care to do the honours?”

Mr Fairbanks, his eyes weak and his smile radiant, took up the invitation. He clasped Mary’s little hand ever more fervently, glorying in the knowledge that soon he might cradle his own flesh and blood once more. Before he gave out the next gift, he hesitated and his squinted gaze passed over each person in that room- his new family. Slowly, he began to nod, as if confirming to himself all that his old heart whispered. “’And it was good,’” he softly quoted the ancient line. “Very good. Merry Christmas!”