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!
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!