I’m so pleased to be reviewing Regina’s latest book, and am also delighted that she is offering readers of ESCD not only an excerpt but also a very generous giveaway!
Blurbing the book:
The reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.
Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again.
A Dance with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
“IT IS SHE,” HE MURMURED as his gaze settled upon her back. Even without viewing her countenance, Darcy’s body recognized the woman some thirty feet removed. If it were not for the biting wind stinging his cheeks, he might think himself asleep, for not a night had passed since he was last in her company—and all the previous nights of their acquaintance—that he did not dream of her; yet, she was not a dream, but rather flesh and blood. His breathing hitched higher.
During the daylight hours, he had prided himself upon not permitting his mind to conjure up her memory more than a half dozen times per day, but he always welcomed her into slumber’s embrace each night. Even during the fourteen months he had claimed Miss Amelia Davenport to wife, it had been Elizabeth Bennet in his arms. Often, Darcy had felt guilty for closing his eyes and pretending that his sweet, docile Amelia was the enticing maid from Hertfordshire who had stolen his heart long before Lady Matlock had arranged a joining between him and her niece.
“What is Elizabeth doing some twenty miles northwest of the Scottish border?” he whispered as he watched her checking the shutters of the small, but tidy-looking, inn in preparation for the storm. “And where is her husband?”
The word “husband” left a bitter taste in Darcy’s mouth. It was some six months after her marriage before he learned of Elizabeth’s joining, and by then there was little he could do but to continue with his life, such as it was at the time. It was only the realization that her marriage was forever that permitted him to accept his Aunt Matlock’s matchmaking schemes.
“Should I ask within if the innkeeper has accommodations available, Mr. Darcy?” His footman waited several feet off Darcy’s shoulder.
“No, that is not necessary, Jasper. Even if we must sleep upon the floor, we can travel no further with the coach having a broken crank neck.” He glanced again across the busy inn yard. If he were a sane man, he would continue to the next village, which was reportedly fewer than three miles removed, according to his coachman. Walking would not be the best choice, considering the condition of his left ankle and the knowledge of the approaching storm; however, he had long ago accepted his obsession with the woman shaking out her skirts and admiring her work. Sanity and Elizabeth Bennet were in opposition. “I will speak to the lady; you speak to the ostler in preparation for Mr. Farrin and my coach’s arrival.”
Darcy paused before making his way across the inn yard. What type of welcome would he receive? They had so often been at odds, but he assumed they had reached a better understanding when they had been together at Pemberley. Yet, the debacle with her youngest sister’s elopement had proven nearly more than he could manage. Nevertheless, he thought he had carved a path to a happy joining between him and Elizabeth, but G0d had a way of laughing in a man’s face when said man attempted to take control of another’s future.
“Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb,” he chastised and began picking his way across the yard. The cane he had always carried for fashion and for protection from footpads now assisted in supporting his weight. “Could not dance at the Meryton assembly now,” he repeated in ironic tones. “No matter how tolerable I might find the lady.”
He did not step up to the wooden walkway; instead, Darcy remained in the inn yard where he might enjoy the hitch of her skirt to expose a trim ankle as she stepped upon a low stool to reach the upper shutter. He cleared his throat before saying, “Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth.”
Her shoulders stiffened, and he noted that her fingers clutched at the wooden shutter for support. After a long pause, she stepped down and slowly turned to face him. If he thought he might receive a warm greeting, he was sadly mistaken. “Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy. However, I must insist that you no longer refer to me as ‘Miss Elizabeth.’ I have been Mrs. McCaffney for nearly four years.”
“I fear I never knew the gentleman’s name,” Darcy said in apology.
She pulled her shawl tighter about her as if to ward off his words as much as to brace against the wind that had kicked up. “I assure you Mr. McCaffney could never be accused of being a gentleman. All he owned was this fine establishment.” She gestured wildly, which was quite uncharacteristic of the lady he knew. Elizabeth Bennet always displaed confidence, even when she had erred miserably.
“Nevertheless, I would know pleasure in having Mr. McCaffney’s acquaintance,” he said in strained politeness. He thought he would go mad when he had learned of her marriage. Bingley had encountered Sir William Lucas in Town, and Sir William had shared the news of the marriages of both Miss Bennet and of Miss Elizabeth. While Bingley had ranted and raved against the injustice, all Darcy could do was to bite hard upon his tongue and swallow the cry of anguish ripping through him. The torment had been worse than any pain he had ever suffered, including the one that never disappeared from his left leg.
“Mr. McCaffney met his end one summer night some two years back when he thought to take a boat out to meet a group of smugglers off the Scottish coast,” she stated without emotions in her expression or in her voice.
“Then who is the inn’s proprietor?” Darcy demanded in incredulity.
She spoke in clipped tones. “I own McCaffney’s Coaching House.” She nodded to his coach as it limped into the yard. “I see you require assistance. I suppose you desire accommodations also.”
There was something in her tone that stifled any hope he might have experienced with the news of her husband’s death. “If it would not be an imposition,” he replied in contrition.
“I am accustomed to those who practice impositions.” Gathering her skirts about her, she turned on her heels to lead the way. “I fear with the approaching storm, I am already quite full. I have but one small room at the back of the third story passageway. It is nothing of the nature of which you are accustomed, but it is clean and dry.”
He expelled a long sigh of exhaustion. The walk had claimed more from him than he had expected. And now he was to revisit his emotional connection to the woman entering the inn door without a glance in his direction to see if he followed. Perhaps G0d meant for him to confront his ghosts, so he might carve out a fresh path and perhaps come to know a bit of peace, at last. Darcy had long ago given up on the possibility of happiness. With a soft grunt signaling the stiffness in his step, he lurched forward to enter the darkened common room. She waited for him behind a high-legged table about three feet long and covered with a white linen cloth.
“What brings you to Scotland, Mr. Darcy?” she asked as she handed him a sharpened pen to sign the register. Meanwhile, she retrieved a ring of keys from a locked box and selected the one he would require.
“I inherited a small property some five and twenty miles north of here,” he said cautiously. “It is near the larger Fitzwilliam estate. I planned to stay at Lord Matlock’s manor house while inspecting the inherited land.”
“Most would do so in the spring, rather than in January,” she remarked without looking upon him.
“Which is exactly why I chose this time of year. No one will have made preparations or renovations to impress me. I mean to know whether the property can sustain the livings that depend upon it.”
She turned to lead the way up the stairs. “Follow me.”
Since his accident, stairs were his least favorite architectural element of any structure, but he could customarily manage; however, on this particular day, his leg was slow to respond to more exercise. Nonetheless, he gritted his teeth to persevere, for he did not wish for the woman slowly climbing the stairs ahead of him to view him to be as weak as he sometimes felt.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Is the Fitzwilliam estate of which you speak the colonel’s family? How fares your cousin?”
Darcy slowed to keep his balance upon the narrow stairs. “Fitzwilliam is more than my cousin. He is my brother, for he is Georgiana’s husband.”
An ironic smile turned up the corners of her lips. “Then the colonel claimed his heiress. It gladdens me to hear it.”
“I assure you, convenience was not the reason for their joining,” he snapped.
Her chin rose in predictable defiance. “I never thought a marriage between Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would be anything but a happy occasion for your family. My brief acquaintance with your sister said she would never settle for less than a comfortable marriage. I simply recalled something the colonel shared while we were all at Rosings Park.”
A familiar pain of regret caught Darcy’s good sense. “I imagine you would have accepted Fitzwilliam’s proposal if my cousin had been in a position to utter one.”
“I thought I knew something of the colonel’s character,” she said in defensive tones.
“And nothing of mine,” he charged.
Before she could respond, a familiar countenance appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Lizzy,” she called, but halted when she spotted him on the stairs. “Well, look who the cat—“
Elizabeth interrupted in impatient tones, “What is amiss, Lydia?”
The chit smiled knowingly at him before she answered her sister. “Mr. Simpson and the mail coach have arrived with three passengers. He says the roads are quickly becoming impassable. He means to stay the night and perhaps longer. I told him we were full, but he insists.”
Darcy noted the girl’s “we,” and he wondered if he were also to encounter his long-time foe, Mr. Wickham.
“Tell Simpson we can put him and the others on mattresses in the private room. If more arrive, we may need to ask some of our regulars to share rooms. We always manage somehow, do we not, Lyddie?”
Her sister chuckled with a sly look. “We do very well, Lizzy.” Mrs. Wickham gave him a long look. “Will Mr. Darcy be required to share a room?”
“As Mr. Darcy has the small corner room, I doubt sharing will be necessary or even possible,” Elizabeth explained.
“I would expect nothing less,” the girl said with a lift of her shoulders in indifference before she returned to the noisy entrance.
“I fear you must forego a private room for supper, sir,” Elizabeth said as she turned back to the task at hand.
He released a long sigh. Nothing had changed: They were still from step. Following her slow progress, he said, “If it would not be an imposition, please send a tray to my room. I am a bit weary.” He spoke the truth: His ankle throbbed from the nearly two-miles’ walk to reach the inn. He needed to remove his boot and rest his ankle and calf muscle. “If you are too busy, Jasper can carry it up.” He knew the footman would call at his room to act as Darcy’s valet for the evening. “I did not ask, but I assumed there would be rooms for Jasper and Mr. Farrin.”
“Above the stables, there are several small rooms created by low partitions. All have cots and mattresses. The animals keep the area warm with their heat.”
What more was there to say between them? She was obviously not happy to see him upon her threshold. “Then our business is settled,” Darcy announced as she handed him the room key and stepped aside.
“It is as it always was, Mr. Darcy,” she said with a snit. “Your wishes are absolutes.” She turned to shove her way past him while he was left wondering why she despised him so. Mayhap Mr. Wickham had created new lies to fill her mind. Needless to say, with Mrs. Wickham under her roof, it would be easy for Darcy’s former friend to do so. It was as if she had learned to loathe him again. “And here I thought after our time at Pemberley that we could, at least, claim a friendship,” he murmured as he closed the room door on her retreating form.
And now for my review:
All JAFF/Regency readers, I suppose, have their favourite authors. Regina Jeffers is one of mine because I know her stories will always be not only well-written and very much respectful of the original, but both make me smile and tug at my heartstrings, and I’ll learn one or two things about (Regency) history to boot. A Dance with Mr Darcy does not disappoint, and also encompasses one of my basic requirements for JAFF: I must fall even more in love with Mr Darcy by book’s end. Check, check, check, check, and double-check.
From the very first sentence I was hooked, as I am sure you were too when you read the excerpt. You can feel Darcy’s heartbreak and yearning in just these three words.
Elizabeth and Darcy have both been married and widowed. Her husband was a brutal SOB and she of course has regrets about marrying him, while he regrets taking a wife who could never be her. They come together again from some rather dark places; as Elizabeth observes, these are not the carefree young man and woman who once shared hopes that were cruelly dashed.
Both of them have had to learn to be stronger people: Darcy to accept the physical weaknesses resulting from his injuries, and Elizabeth to simply survive (and as she does so, to thrive) first the cruelty of her husband and then his death. Seeing each other again reignites the love, the passions, and the hopes for the future that they once shared. I will not say that their meeting was a coincidence because I do not believe in coincidences: everything happens for a reason. And I cannot say that their reacquaintance reignites their dreams, because they have in fact kept their dreams of each other very much alive.
This is a story about second chances, about the strength it often takes to let go of the comfort zone we have built for ourselves and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable again, and to accept that second chance. And, of course, the joy it can ultimately bring when we do.
What I liked most: Darcy and Elizabeth telling each other about their personal fears. This was for me the most heart-rending yet hopeful scene in the book.
Plenty of misunderstandings to be overcome. This is after all Darcy and Elizabeth!
The new characters. I particularly liked Sir Robert.
The “old” characters. I am very partial to stories that give plenty of face time to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Learning new stuff: I had never heard of St Agnes Eve before. Or dumb cake (really?). And who knew what a footpad was?!
What I liked least: That the end of the story sort of snuck up on me! Usually I check to see how many more pages are left in a book, and altho’ I did check periodically, and while the ending was very satisfying, I was just so disappointed that it came about sooner than I expected.
In short: Another don’t-miss five-star story by Regina Jeffers. BTW, if you are fascinated by history and love learning about arcane words and expressions, I highly recommend that you follow her blog.
And now for the giveaway. I have two eBook copies of A Dance with Mr. Darcy available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on April 3, 2017. Good luck all!