Mr. Darcy’s Bride/s: Review, excerpt, guest post, and Giveaway!

Full disclosure: I enjoy the JAFF stories produced by many authors, altho’ I have two favourite authors. One of them is Regina Jeffers. When I pick up one of her books I know it will be a well-written and well-thought-out story, properly edited, and well-researched. I always look forward to learning at least one, if not several, new points of Regency or British history from each of her books. Not to mention that they are always fun to read.

And so it is with Mr Darcy’s Brides.

Blurbing the book:

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

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Click here to order.

ELIZABETH BENNET is determined that she will put a stop to her mother’s plans to marry off the eldest Bennet daughter to Mr. Collins, the Longbourn heir, but a man that Mr. Bennet considers an annoying dimwit. Hence, Elizabeth disguises herself as Jane and repeats her vows to the supercilious rector as if she is her sister, thereby voiding the nuptials and saving Jane from a life of drudgery. Yet, even the “best laid plans” can often go awry.

FITZWILLIAM DARCY is desperate to find a woman who will assist him in leading his sister back to Society after Georgiana’s failed elopement with Darcy’s old enemy George Wickham. He is so desperate that he agrees to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s suggestion that Darcy marry her ladyship’s “sickly” daughter Anne. Unfortunately, as he waits for his bride to join him at the altar, he realizes he has made a terrible error in judgement, but there is no means to right the wrong without ruining his cousin’s reputation. Yet, even as he weighs his options, the touch of “Anne’s” hand upon his sends an unusual “zing” of awareness shooting up Darcy’s arm. It is only when he realizes the “zing” has arrived at the hand of a stranger, who has disrupted his nuptials, that he breathes both a sigh of relief and a groan of frustration, for the question remains: Is Darcy’s marriage to the woman legal?

What if Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met under different circumstances than those we know from Jane Austen’s classic tale: Circumstances that did not include the voices of vanity and pride and prejudice and doubt that we find in the original story? Their road to happily ever after may not, even then, be an easy one, but with the expectations of others removed from their relationship, can they learn to trust each other long enough to carve out a path to true happiness?

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Regina was good enough to write up a guest post on a most fascinating topic, Criminal Conversation, for Every Savage Can Dance readers:

regina-jeffersSeveral years back, I did a series for my blog, Every Woman Dreams, entitled “Eccentrics of the Regency.” One of the pieces I wrote was on Edward Hughes Ball Hughes. In it, I wrote: “Hughes’ older sister Catherine Ball was a socialite, journalist, and novelist who eventually styled herself the “Baroness de Calabrella” after acquiring property in Italy. She married an older man, Rev. Francis Lee, at the age of 16 in 1804, without her mother’s permission, and was separated from him in 1810 on charges of adultery; her lover, Captain George de Blaquiere, was successfully sued by Reverend Lee for criminal conversation.” When I read this, I wondered whether “criminal conversation” was anything like “alienation of affection.” So, I was determined to find out.

Criminal conversation is commonly known as crim. con. It is a tort arising from adultery.  For those of you who do not understand “legal speak,” tort law involves a situation where a person’s actions unfairly causes another to suffer harm or loss. The case is not based around an “illegal” action, but rather one of not thinking of the other person and causing some sort of harm. The law allows the harmed individual to recover his loss, generally by awarding monetary compensation. To prevail (win) in a tort law case the plaintiff (person suing) must show the actions or lack of action was the most likely cause of the harm.

Criminal Conversation is similar to breach of promise, a former tort involving a broken engagement against the betrothed, or alienation of affections, a tort action brought by a deserted spouse against a third party.

In 18th– and 19th-century England, criminal conversation cases were common. It was not unheard of for the plaintiff to be awarded sums as high as £20,000. These cases were seen at the Court of King’s Bench in Westminster Hall. Not only did the plaintiff make money on the proceedings, but so did publishers such as Edmund Curll, whose name became synonymous, through the attacks on him by Alexander Pope, with unscrupulous publication and publicity.

Although neither the plaintiff, the defendant, nor the wife accused of the adultery were permitted to take the stand, evidence of the adulterous behavior was presented by servants or observers. Awards of damages were based upon compensation for the husband’s loss of property rights in his wife, the wife being regarded as his chattel. Historically a wife could not sue her husband for adultery, as he could not be her chattel if she was already his. The criminal conversation tort was abolished in England in 1857, and the Republic of Ireland in 1976. It still exists in parts of the United States, although the application has changed. At least 29 states have abolished the tort by statute and another 4 have abolished it by common law.

A number of very sensational cases were heard in the second half of the 18th century, including Grosvenor v. Cumberland in 1769, where Lord Grosvenor sued the King’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland, for crim con with his wife, being awarded damages of £10,000; and Worsley v. Bisset in 1782, where Sir Richard Worsley lost his case against George Bisset, after it had been found that Sir Richard had colluded in his own dishonour by showing his friend his wife Seymour Dorothy Fleming naked in a bath house. In 1796, the Earl of Westmeath was awarded £10,000 against his wife’s lover, Augustus Bradshaw.

The tort has seen particular use in North Carolina (my current home state). Criminal Conversation is one of the “Heart-Balm” Laws, which include breach of promise, wrongful seduction, and alienation of affection.” ‘Criminal conversation,’ in turn, was a civil cause of action that dated back at least to the seventeenth century in England. The name is oddly inappropriate, since there was nothing criminal about the claim, and it certainly was not about conversation. Rather, “Crim. Con.” allowed a man to bring suit against another man who had sex with his wife. It was a remedy for loss of the wife’s “consortium” (that is, of the companionship and sex she had provided before being seduced by another). Proof of a valid marriage and extramarital sex were all that was required for the husband to make out a successful claim against the interloper.” [Find Law citation] Our most famous Crim Con case in North Carolina in many years was when the late Elizabeth Edwards sued her husband, John Edwards’s, former Presidential candidate, “mistress,” Rielle Hunter.

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The excerpt:

Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5 of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs in which Elizabeth first learns of Lady Catherine’s idea of having Anne sue Elizabeth for drawing off Darcy’s attentions.

“I am pleased to find you from your bed,” he said politely while eyeing her with interest.

Elizabeth did not address his attempt at consideration. Instead, she asked, “Could you explain to me, sir, how you thought it acceptable to remove my person from your home to your yacht without my permission?” She watched as a muscle along his jaw line twitched, but otherwise, his expression of indifference remained in place.

“It was necessary for you to depart Darcy House, and as you were in no condition to make that decision, I made it for you. As part of my wedding plans, I was set to sail on the day of our departure; therefore, I took advantage of the ship’s preparedness.”

“And why was it necessary for me to leave Darcy House? Could you not have sailed alone? I would have been up and moving about in a day or two, and then I could be gone from your society. No one would have known the difference.”

Other than a slight lift of his eyebrow, he displayed no reaction to her tight-lipped accusations. “My aunt learned of your presence under my roof. She planned to send a magistrate to my home to arrest you. I thought it best if we were removed from England until this matter can be settled.”

“Arrest me?” Elizabeth demanded. “Upon what charges? Certainly what I did was unconventional, but it was not a crime. It was a mistake. I have no desire to remain with you, and you, sir, should be glad to observe my exit. I have caused you nothing but grief and inconvenience. Needless to say, Miss De Bourgh would still accept a man of your consequence. Marry your cousin. Lady Catherine will be mollified, and I will return to my life in the country. All will be forgiven.”

“If you think my aunt will forgive or forget your perceived insult, you are sadly mistaken. Lady Catherine will make your life and the lives of your loved ones miserable. Only with my protection will you remain safe,” he argued.

Elizabeth swallowed hard against the trepidation filling her chest. “I shall…I shall assume my chances, sir. Surely a woman of Lady Catherine’s stature will extend her forgiveness once I explain the situation.” She lifted her chin in defiance.

“More likely she will force Anne to sue you for criminal conversation. I know my aunt, she will not be happy until she leaves you and your family in penury. Not only did you forestall her aspirations of having Anne at Pemberley, but you treated her cleric as if he were insignificant. She sees Mr. Collins’s character as a reflection of her condescension.”

Elizabeth fought the anxiety rising in her stomach. “Nevertheless, I insist that you set me down in the next port and provide me enough coins to claim passage home. I will have Mr. Bennet reimburse you as quickly as I make my way to Hertfordshire.”

“That might be difficult,” he said with a wry twist of his lips, “for you to make your way to Mr. Bennet’s estate in what you are wearing.”

Despite her best efforts, despair pooled in her eyes. “So you mean to keep me a prisoner by refusing me proper dress?” she accused. “I demand the return of the dress I wore for the wedding!”

He shrugged in indifference. “On the morning of our departure, Mrs. Guthrie and a maid dressed in your gown made a great show of leaving Darcy House. I am certain my neighbors will have taken notice of your exodus. My servants have been instructed that if anyone asks after me to tell them that I was so upset after the wedding that I departed for my estate. The servants will also inform those who wish to be apprised of my comings and goings that the poor soul I saw into my house was a distant relation who had been injured at the wedding, and that I instructed my staff to tend the young lady in my absence. When the magistrate calls upon Darcy House he will learn of your leave-taking from more than Mrs. Guthrie, who is to explain that you fell into the street before Lord Haverton’s coach and was treated by Doctor Nott. Both my housekeeper and the good physician will confirm the story of your departure. They will tell the official that you asked to be returned to your home in Bath, and before I left Town upon personal business, I made the necessary arrangements.”

“No one will believe such a convoluted tale,” she argued.

“On the contrary, my dear. The ton is quite gullible. They will believe any tale that smacks of gossip, and they will add their own tidbits to it to make it more outrageous.”

“Then what am I to wear?” she insisted, although she wished her voice had not cracked upon the word “wear.” She suddenly felt like Mr. Darcy’s mistress, for she was dressed for the role.

His expression softened, as if he could read her thoughts. “We had little time to prepare, but Hannah, the maid you met earlier, has altered several of my sister’s gowns. Miss Darcy has sprouted up in the last year, but some of her former gowns will do nicely until we can have something specifically designed for you. Mrs. Guthrie suggests those items ordered as part of Anne’s trousseau, but I rejected the idea, for my Aunt Catherine could then label you a thief. It is best to do over some of my sister’s gowns, rather than to provide her ladyship with a reason to see you behind bars.”

Elizabeth wished to acknowledge his sensible actions, but it was her life in which he dabbled, and all of his decisions were simply too personal. She gritted out the words, “As I am at your disposal, how are we to proceed?”

“If you are agreeable, I thought we might have supper. I tire of eating alone.”

Got you hooked, right? It only gets more complicated, and exciting, from here!

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And now for my review:

In this variation we see Elizabeth and Jane hatching a desperate hare-brained scheme to foil Mr. Collins’, and Mrs. Bennet’s, plans for him to marry Jane. Mr. Bennet has recently been injured and is barely clinging to life, so his wife determines that one of their daughters must marry Mr. Collins – Mr. Bennet’s heir – to prevent their eviction from Longbourn on Mr. Bennet’s passing.

Altho’ the Bennets have never met Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s opinion of the man renders the thought of marriage to him absolutely abhorrent to his daughters. Undeterred, Mrs. Bennet offers up their most beautiful and compliant daughter so he will not refuse the match. Jane, being Jane, agrees to comply with her mother’s wishes. When second thoughts plague Jane and she wishes to be released from her acceptance, Elizabeth comes up with her scheme, which she and Jane believe will void the nascent marriage.

A misunderstanding sends Elizabeth to the wrong church, where she speaks her vows and ends up married to another man, who just moments before had realized the mistake he was making in marrying a woman he did not love and even praying for a way out of taking his vows with her. After a madcap chase scene, Elizabeth and Darcy end up married to each other. Maybe. The legality of the marriage must be investigated, and the vindictiveness of Lady Catherine must be dispelled. Because Darcy, you see, has determined that Elizabeth would make him the perfect wife …

So are they or aren’t they? The answer, it seems, is no, yes, and maybe. The story, and our dear couple, must decide whether an accidental, or rather fateful, encounter should determine their futures.

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What I liked most:

Seeing how their relationship played out. The tale follows canon to a certain extent in that Darcy is high-handed and haughty, and completely besotted with Elizabeth, while Elizabeth needs some convincing before she can return his affections.  The situations, however, are quite different from those in canon. Of course it all works out in the end, but as they say getting there is half the fun. Or in this case, even more than half! I found myself smiling often as I read this story.

And the epilogue. Yes, it’s an idea that’s been done before, but never with the poignancy of this version.

What I liked least:

Well, I guess I have to come up with something. How about this: Regina likes to use the word mayhap, a word that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck! Sorry, it was the best I could do.

In short:

A fun read that will keep you guessing from beginning to end. I give it

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 And now a terrific GIVEAWAY!

Regina has two (2) ebook copies of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs available to those who comment on this post. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST on Saturday, August 19.

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Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Yes, even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway.)

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desp-hearts-coverAndif you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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All things matrimonial

martrimonial ladderCatherine Kullman, the author who brought you the Matrimonial Map, now introduces you to the Matrimonial Ladder. This rare Regency-era “comic book” is absolutely delightful and most charmingly illustrated.

Do stop by Catherine’s home on the Web and take a look.  While you’re there, you might want to see what other goodies you can find on her website. It’s one of my very favourites; one reason why is her Regency stories, like this one that I reviewed a while ago.

Apologies to my ESCD readers for being out of touch for so long … I went through a bout of ill health, including a (blessedly!) brief hospital stay, and am just catching up now. I have some wonderful reviews and other “stuff” — including giveaways — coming up soon, so please stop by again. G0d bless you, and wishing you all good health and happiness!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Tea in the time of Jane Austen

Tea-cup-tilneyWhile I enjoy watching film versions of Jane’s novels, especially Pride and Prejudice, and reading JAFF stories, I do have to admit that I cringe a little each time the characters “have tea.” Because “having tea” as we know it simply did not exist in Jane’s time.

Most people in the upper classes in England (and, to some extent, America) partook of two meals each day: breakfast, which was generally served mid-morning, and then dinner in the late afternoon. By the early 19th century breakfasts were evolving from heavy meat-laden meals – often left over from the previous day’s dinner – to a lighter repast. As there was no formal mid-day meal served, during the rest of the day people did a good bit of snacking when they were hungry, or when they received callers. Wine and cake was a popular offering, as was bread and butter with tea, coffee, or chocolate, depending on what was available.

Some hours after dinner there might be a light supper, mostly consisting of soup or leftovers from dinner as well as cakes, bread and butter (which was quite popular at any time of day), and various beverages. There might be tea, altho’ it was just as likely that coffee, ale, wine, or hard liquor would be served. (Alcoholic beverages were quite popular too!) People would generally retire shortly after supper.

When gaslight was later introduced in England in the mid-19th century, people had more opportunities to engage in social events in the evenings. The upper classes had gas laid on at their homes too, and could thereby entertain until later hours.  Dinner would be served later and later, and if a supper was served it would be quite late in the evening. This was, however, well after Jane’s time.

teapot-bw-clipartIn the late 18th and early 19th centuries, tea was still relatively costly and, due to political problems with China, was at times difficult to obtain as well as outrageously expensive. While tea was still served in the finest houses – because they could afford it and wanted everyone to know it – if coffee or chocolate was better available then these beverages might be served instead. And of course wine, ale, liquor, or punch.

Additionally, during this time tea was often adulterated to “improve” it so it could be sold for more profit, or it was sold and re-used – or both. Here is a list of some of the rather disgusting substances used to adulterate tea. Mrs. Reynolds, like many housekeepers of her time and station, likely saved spent tea leaves and sold them to tea brokers to be dried and sold for re-use. Used tea was generally purchased by the lower and working classes. At the same time, housekeepers in upper-class houses had to be careful that the tea they purchased for their employers’ use was unused and unadulterated. Serving tea could be a rather dicey affair in Jane’s time.

There was no actual tea meal during this period. If you read carefully, tea as a meal is not mentioned in Pride and Prejudice. Altho’ Lady Catherine invites the Collinses and thereby Elizabeth Bennet to Rosings to “drink tea,” she never invites them “to tea” as we would think of it. Tea and coffee, along with dessert, would be served after dinner in the drawing room. This was not an actual meal but part of the dinner meal. In Sense and Sensibility, when Sir John invites the Dashwoods to drink tea in the evening, he is inviting them not to a meal but to visit after the evening meal for beverages and dessert.

afternoon tea.jpgOn receiving days, callers might be served tea with bread and butter but were just as likely to be served other refreshments such as wine and cake. If an upper-class hostess wished to particularly serve tea to her guests, she issued formal invitations several days or even weeks ahead of time. These “teas” tended to be rather special occasions.

Today, one finds several tea “meals:” Cream tea, or elevenses, consists of tea with scones or crumpets served with clotted cream and jam. Afternoon tea, also called low tea, is an elegant afternoon snack of scones, small savouries, and bite-sized cakes and pastries. All of us who enjoy afternoon tea know the story of its origins. Lady Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, in 1840 declared that due to the length of time that elapsed between breakfast and dinner, she had a “sinking feeling” of hunger and asked that a pot of tea and some cakes be brought to her chambers at around 4pm. She enjoyed this light snack and began to invite friends – including Queen Victoria – to join her. Tradition has it that this evolved into what we now know as afternoon tea. It became an important upper-class social event in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Supper chili.jpg

At the time of Austen, the evening meal, especially for labourers, was called high tea, meat tea (whether meat was actually served or not), or simply tea. It was a hearty meal consumed by working-class people, and while it was usually accompanied by tea it may just as likely have been served with ale or other beverages. This tradition continues to this day. I know women whose husbands and children ask not “what’s for supper” but “what’s for tea?”

I would like to thank Judith Krall-Russo, Food Historian and Certified Tea Specialist, for her graciousness in sharing some of her extensive knowledge with me for this article.

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Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Winners — Passages by Brenda Webb

Passages - book coverThe randomly-selected winners of an e-copy of Passages are:

Anji

and

Daniela Quadros.

I’m sorry that everybody could not win, but Congratulations to the winners! I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

I’ll be sending your details to Brenda this afternoon. If you don’t hear from her in the next few days please get back to me.

Many thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway, and better luck next time.

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Passages by Brenda J. Webb: Excerpt, review, and giveaway!

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Author Brenda J. Webb

Sometime last year when I was seriously getting into published JAFF (as opposed to fan fiction sites) I won a contest and received paperback copies of the first FOUR of Brenda Webb’s books. I was hooked! They were unlike most of the other JAFF I had been reading: Aside from being much lengthier and better-constructed than many JAFFs, they were non-canon and took our dear characters into exciting and formerly uncharted directions. They all share certain characteristics: Darcy is invariably portrayed as even more honourable, protective, and courageous when it comes to his loved ones, especially Elizabeth, so the reader ends up falling in love with him all over again. Brenda’s villains – including Wickham – are not just bad news but nefariously and fiendishly evil. I don’t know how she keeps coming up with these scenarios, but I certainly hope she continues to do so. Her stories are also appealing in that they allot plenty of face time to my favourite secondary JA character, the redoubtable Colonel Fitzwilliam, who I also end up loving even more by each book’s end.

Not to mention that there is always a happy ending for Darcy and Elizabeth, whilst the other characters get their happy endings or just deserts as they are merited.

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Buy at amazon.com

Passages does not fail on any of these counts, and I’m delighted that Brenda was kind enough to provide an intriguing excerpt, and is also offering two (2) e-book copies to two lucky Every Savage Can Dance readers!

Blurbing the book:

Passages – A Pemberley Tale is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Not a simple retelling, it is an intriguing new story that does not follow canon.

Years after her ruin at the hands of George Wickham, Georgiana Darcy is a virtual prisoner at Pemberley as a result of her brother’s good intentions. Drastic changes have taken their toll, leaving brother and sister adrift from polite society.

Faithful to his vow to prevent further harm to his sister, Fitzwilliam Darcy has retreated from the few friends and acquaintances who still acknowledge him. Lonelier than ever, Darcy’s life is swallowed up by darkness until the day a young woman is discovered close to death on the estate grounds.

Unaware of her identity, Elizabeth Bennet finds herself the recipient of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s benevolence whilst she recovers from her own encounter with Wickham. Elizabeth’s presence breathes life back into Pemberley and its occupants, until Wickham returns with a nefarious plan to regain control of both Elizabeth and Georgiana.

Will Elizabeth fulfil her destiny and rescue Darcy from a desolate life or will the mystery of her parentage take her in another direction, leaving him alone once more?

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The excerpt:

After the last of the guests had departed, Richard walked his stoic cousin to the portico to await his carriage. Knowing her brother was leaving for Pemberley the next day, Georgiana had already said her  goodbyes and returned to her bedroom, allowing Richard and William some privacy. All too soon, the carriage pulled to a stop at the bottom of the steps, and they walked towards the pavement.

“I apologise for leaving you with the vultures circling. Mother and Georgiana insisted I meet Mrs. Forrester’s son, who recently enlisted in the army. I would never have left you, however, had you not been surrounded by your university cronies.”

“I have to admit it was good to see Sanderson, Goddard and Marshall once more. Marshall and I were never close friends, but he wanted me to know he supported me, which was extremely kind.”

“So you had a pleasant evening, in spite of the . . . how shall I put it . . . the adoration of the ladies?”

The corners of William’s mouth lifted. “With your help, most of the evening was tolerable.”

Recalling of the number of ladies introduced to Darcy after he returned to the ball, Richard’s thoughts flew to his mother. She had tried; he would give her that. Single-handedly, she had introduced Darcy to a dozen women, some quite lovely, though none had succeeded in getting more than a few words from him.

“Please stay in Town a while longer,” he said at last.

“I . . . I cannot. Pemberley calls.”

“I do not think it a good idea for you to go there now. With Georgiana and Belle here, you are sure to be even lonelier than before.”

William stopped staring into the night sky and turned to grasp his cousin’s shoulder. “I appreciate your concern, Richard. You are a true friend and brother, but I have matters to attend at home. All will be well, and I will write often. If you are in the area, you can always stop in to cheer me.”

Richard locked eyes with William. “You cannot fool me, Cousin. You miss her terribly.”

Gazing into the distance as if seeing his future, William replied, “I cannot lay it down, Richard. No matter where I am, she is with me. Still, I have no alternative. I cannot sit around wishing for things to change, and I am no longer certain that Elizabeth will return.”

A heavy sigh brought Richard’s arm around his shoulder. “She will come back to you, Darcy; of that I am certain. Wait for her here.”

“I cannot,” William said softly. Climbing into his carriage, he closed the door and leaned out the open window. “I will be well. Please try not to worry.”

Unable to shake the feeling of helplessness that engulfed him, Richard watched until the carriage disappeared into the darkness.

But I shall always worry about you, Darcy.  

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And now for my review:

In order to protect his sister, and himself, from further harm at the hands of “society,” Mr Darcy and his sister live a half-life hidden away at Pemberley. Then one rainy night, Darcy is out riding on his estate and comes across a severely injured young woman. As she is unable to remember who she is or why she is at Pemberley much less in such a state, Darcy does not expect her to completely change his life and Georgiana’s. Yet little by little she does just that, as well as changing the direction of her own future.

Elizabeth Bennet has been living a miserable life of her own at the hands of her mother, who is not merely ridiculous but a hateful harridan who has been taking out all of her frustrations and resentments on Elizabeth since she was a child … resentments related to the question of who is Elizabeth’s real father.

As Darcy and Elizabeth slowly fall in love with each other, each must overcome their own issues, shed their previous misery, and accept that they are worthy of love and happiness, in order to freely give and accept that love … and to build a future together. In doing so, they also lead family members to find and accept their own happy futures.

The path to happily ever after is not easy, and is beset with villainy of the most horrendous kind. And a good helping of admirable characters. This book, like Brenda’s other stories, is a gripping and magnificent ride that takes the reader from the depths of appalling criminality to the uncertainty of hope to the joys of true and tender love.

Be advised that there are some scenes of marital intimacy altho’ nothing explicit or pornographic.

What I liked most:

Darcy’s tenderness towards the unknown young woman he rescues.

Elizabeth’s courage rising as she faces a pair of fiends to learn the truth of her parentage.

Darcy’s skill at the pianoforte. Who knew?

How frighteningly well the villains are drawn.

How delightfully Georgiana, and the Colonel, eventually find their own paths to joy.

Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding. Unique in JAFF as far as I know!

What I liked least:

I’ve known this point in the review was coming up and I’ve been racking my brain to find something I didn’t care for, but all I could come up with is: The book ended. I could have read on for another couple hundred pages!

In short:

Unless you’re a canon purist, you’ll love this book. If you enjoy a well-written, well-edited and exciting story featuring characters we all know and love, you’ll love this book.

I give it gold-stars-5

The giveaway:

Comment on this blog post by clicking Comments above. Two winners will be chosen at random this Friday, May 19th at 12noon. Giveaway is open internationally. Good luck!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome. (Even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway.)

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desp-hearts-coverAnd … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.

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Two sleep nights

DH and I have recently been caring for a couple of aging pets. We’d wake up in the middle of the night, either of our own accord or because some particular noise alerted us to see if either of them needed something in the night. After tending to whatever needed tending, we would go back to bed, on good nights falling asleep straight away but just as often struggling to return to our slumbers.

On those long white nights, and the following mornings when I could barely drag myself around the house, I was reminded of a custom I learned about several years ago and that has ever since fascinated me: the practice of two sleeps. And decided to go with it instead of fighting it.

two-sleeps 8 hour sleepHumans did not always spend eight (or so) hours at one stretch sleeping through the night. From ancient times our ancestors would sleep for four or five hours, wake up, spend anywhere from two to four hours in various activities, and then return to dreamland until sunrise. It was the common practice, and it lasted until about the end of the nineteenth century. So altho’ not a uniquely Regency-era practice, people certainly would have been two-sleeping during Jane Austen’s lifetime.

After waking from the first sleep, people engaged in numerous activities. These included feeding babies or the sick of the household; tending fires that would otherwise extinguish themselves during the night; checking on the welfare of farm animals to ensure they were not being set upon by predators or thieves. Many people spent the time reading or praying, and in fact there were specific prayers for this time of night. Family members might find this a convenient time for chatting with each other, while husbands and wives often engaged in sexual relations. Physicians recommended having sex after the first sleep as both parties were generally more relaxed and it was likelier to result in conception.

two-sleeps cartoon woman asleep at nightAs the practice of two sleeps was so common, visits were often made to equally wakeful neighbours. Socializing also served to remind potential nighttime thieves that their intended targets were awake and alert.

Two-sleeping faded in popularity with the advent of electricity; specifically indoor lights and outdoor street lamps. With more light available, people extended their daytime activities to the nights, and began to go to sleep later, leaving too little time for two sleeps and a wakeful period in-between. Thus our current practice of getting (or trying to get!) eight consecutive hours of sleep each night developed.

While we lost one of our pets recently – cancer ultimately claimed our beloved dog Rufus – we still tend to our elderly kitty Shana when she requires attention during the night, as well as to any other critters who might be temporarily indisposed. We two-slept for most of last weekend, for example, when our kitty Spunky chewed up a silk flower and spent the better part of the next two days puking it up at all hours. (Yes, we took him to the vet and he’s just fine now.)

two-sleeps cat and dogNext time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, don’t panic or think that you absolutely must get back to sleep right away. Take a cue from our ancestors and stay awake for a while – productively awake, that is, by engaging in one or more of the activities enumerated above, or perhaps by sketching out your next storyline or book review. Or jot down any part of your dreams that you can recall. Or catch up on your reading. In fact, this is often the time when I get most of my own reading done!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. A perfect read for your two-sleep night’s awake hours!desp-hearts-cover

 

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Perception & Illusion, a Regency romance by Catherine Kullmann — review and excerpt

One of the great pleasures of reading JAFF is that I have also discovered Regency-era romance fiction. In fact I just finished reading a book in this genre: Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann. Today I have not only a review for you but an excerpt as well … and a couple of extra treats.

Blurbing the book:

catherine-kullman

Cast out by her father for refusing the suitor of his choice, Lallie Grey accepts Hugo Tamrisk’s proposal, confident that he loves her as she loves him. But Hugo’s past throws long shadows as does his recent liaison with Sabina Albright. All too soon, Lallie must question Hugo’s reasons for marriage and wonder what he really wants of his bride.

Perception & Illusion charts Lallie’s and Hugo’s voyage through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Can they successfully negotiate the Rocks of Jealousy and the Shoals of Perplexity to arrive at the Bay of Delight or will they drift inexorably towards Cat & Dog Harbour or the Dead Lake of Indifference?

Catherine Kullmann’s skillful evocation of the Regency period rings true, as do her protagonists’ predicaments. It is a joy to step into this other world with her.

perceptionandillusioncover
Buy at amazon.com

The excerpt:

 

Perception & Illusion by Catherine Kullmann

Chapter One

The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass.

Lallie knew the instant she set foot in the house that her father was making one of his rare visits to Alwood. It was difficult to define what had changed. The house was quieter, almost unnaturally so and the atmosphere was charged with a peculiar tension.

“Excuse me, Miss Grey.”

John, their only footman, noiselessly closed the door to the servants’ quarters and carefully steadied a tray of decanters and glasses before carrying it to the library. He wore his best livery. Balancing the tray on one hand, he slowly turned the door knob so that it didn’t squeak. Everyone knew that Mr Grey would not tolerate anything less than perfection and more than one servant had been turned off immediately for failing to meet his standards. It was as if he needed to assert his position as head of the household, despite the fact that he was the most distant of husbands and fathers, Lallie reflected as she hurried to the schoolroom. Her stepmother was not inclined to stand on ceremony at home, but her father would expect his younger children to make a formal visit to the drawing-room before dinner.

Her half-brother James, who was entertaining his younger sisters with stories of his prowess at cricket during the recent summer half, stood awkwardly at her entrance. He had shot up since they had last seen him and was not yet comfortable in this new body. “Lallie,” he reddened at his new deep tone, “will you help me later with my neckcloth? You know how my father is.” She smiled warmly at him. “Of course I will. Beatrice and Eleanor, come with me now, if you please. Once you are ready, you may sit quietly in my room while I change my gown. I’ll come to you then, James and we may all go down together.”

Robert Grey was a slim gentleman of medium height, his clothes the epitome of restrained perfection. His curly fair hair was clipped close and brushed forward a la Caesar, a modish style that suggested a nimbus of laurel leaves crowning his high forehead. The head so embellished was habitually cocked a little to one side while the faint curve to his lips spoke of a jest that only he could appreciate.

“Good God,” he said lightly, when his son followed his sisters into the drawing-room.

“What have we here? A hobbledehoy?”

“Dear James has grown so much, hasn’t he?” Mrs Grey said fondly, ignoring the boy’s

furious blush. “It won’t be long before he’s looking down on you, Robert. He takes after my father, of course.”

Lallie bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself smiling at her father’s petulant expression but something must have betrayed her inner amusement and his gaze swung to her.

“I trust you have been behaving yourself, miss.”

He might have been addressing a recalcitrant ten-year-old instead of a lady of almost twenty-four and Lallie’s chin went up. She met his eyes calmly. “I always do, sir.” He nodded dismissively and went to pour himself a glass of madeira. He sipped, then gestured to the pianoforte. “What have you prepared for our delight this evening, Eleanor?”

The girl blanched and glanced pleadingly at her elder sister. “Come, I’ll turn the pages for you.” As they bent over the music, Lallie whispered, “You play very well and even if you make a mistake, he won’t notice unless you stop. Remember how we practised keeping going?”

At Eleanor’s nod, Lallie spread open a sonatina by Clementi and positioned herself so that she partially shielded the child from her father’s gaze. She noticed that Mrs Grey was talking quietly to her husband on the opposite side of the room.

“He’s not really paying attention,” she hissed to her sister who sighed with relief and plunged into her music.

“Well done, brat,” James exclaimed as soon as she had finished. By the time his mother had finished scolding him for his unseemly language and he had apologised to her and to Eleanor, their father had grown weary of domesticity and dismissed the schoolroom contingent. Lallie was obliged to remain and follow her parents into the dining-room. She could imagine the consternation caused in the kitchen by Mr Grey’s unexpected arrival— while she and Mrs Grey usually sat down to a simple dinner of one course each evening, he would expect two courses with removes and a dessert.

Tonight he surveyed the table critically through his quizzing glass but, apart from complimenting his wife on the Maintenon cutlets, did not comment further on the meal, apparently content to satisfy her curiosity regarding the latest on-dits. He finally launched into a description of the Prince Regent giving Beau Brummel the cut direct.

Brummel then dished himself completely,” he continued with relish. “He looked at Alvanley and, as cool as you please, asked, ‘Ah, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?’ The Prince will never forgive him. He may be unable to prevent his wife roasting a wax effigy of him in front of her fire, but he will not tolerate such public insolence from one so far beneath him.”

“Nor should he,” Mrs Grey said. “I have little patience with these dandies who give themselves airs and set themselves up as the arbiters of all taste. They have ruined many a girl’s chances by declaring her a quiz on her first appearance so that no-one will have anything to do with her. I even heard of one cub who cut his own father because his parent presented too rustic an appearance. You may imagine how wounded the old gentleman was.”

“That’s disgraceful!” Lallie exclaimed.

Her father waved away her protest. “It is the way of the fashionable world. One either sinks or swims. Of course you know nothing of that.”

“That is hardly my fault, sir,” she retorted, nettled. “If my grandmother had lived I would have made my come-out five years ago.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “To what avail, I wonder? Remember she had been completely cast off by her family. I once mentioned to her father that I had married the daughter of Lady Anna Staines. Martinborough looked down his nose and said, ‘I wish you joy, sir, but I do not know either lady’. And the Marchioness was for many years Lady of the Bedchamber to Her Majesty, so it is most unlikely that either you or your grandmother would have been received at court or awarded vouchers for Almack’s.”

Silenced, Lallie was grateful that her stepmother rose as soon as Mr Grey had finished speaking.

“We shall leave you to your port.”

“Go to bed, Lallie,” Mrs Grey instructed once the door had closed behind them. “Good night.”

“Good night, ma’am.”

“They say that young Mr Neville is betrothed,” Lallie told her maid as she prepared for bed. “Oh, who to?” Nancy carefully drew the brush through Lallie’s long, curling hair.

“A Miss Eaton. Her father is Sir William Eaton and she has seven and a half thousand pounds.”

Nancy began to braid the dark hair for the night. “That will please his parents, especially his mother. He wouldn’t have done for you, Miss Lallie. He’s too much under his mother’s thumb. What about the curate? Mrs Hersey would make a better mother-in-law.”

“I doubt if he can afford to wed, especially a penniless girl. He must support his mother and two sisters.”

Lallie liked the young clergyman, but was under no illusions about his circumstances and, if she were to be honest, did not feel that spark of attraction for him that she had felt for Lambert Neville. Still, her prospects were so bleak, she wasn’t sure she could reject an honourable gentleman whom she liked and respected, even if she did not love him.

Nancy tied a small ribbon around the end of the thick plait to hold it in place. “Any man would be proud to have you as a wife.”

Lallie looked fondly at her former nurse. As usual, she was dressed in a neat print dress in subdued shades, over which she wore a starched cotton apron and matching fichu that was pinned at her breast with a mourning brooch containing a lock of Lallie’s grandmother’s hair. To Nancy, this was the emblem of her sacred charge to care for Miss Lallie and she wore it as proudly as a soldier would a medal. Her fair hair was pulled severely back from her forehead into a tight bun which was covered by a lawn cap, but her face was still smooth and her blue eyes bright. She had looked like that as long as Lallie could remember.

“How old were you when I came to you?” she asked suddenly.

“Just sixteen, Miss Lallie. I’ll never forget that day. The house was all at sixes and sevens, with you coming so sudden and your poor mother took so bad.”

“And my father? Was he there?”

“He waited with your grandfather in the library. They called him in at the last. We had laid you in her arms, just for a moment, before the end, and she smiled faintly and was gone, poor lady. He looked down at her, said ‘my poor Louisa, lost to me, lost to me’, kissed her brow and left the room.”

Funny, Nancy thought, she had almost forgotten Mr Grey coming into the nursery the next day and standing beside the cradle. He had smiled oddly and said, ‘my daughter, o my ducats, o my daughter,’ and departed. She had thought ‘ducats’ to be a pet name, like ‘duckling’ or ‘ducky’, but Mrs Staines, who had come in behind him, had looked most strange, angry even and she had never heard him use the word again.

“But I had Grandmamma and Grandpapa and you,” Miss Lallie said. “You were younger then than I am now. Did you never want to get married, Nancy?”

“Not really, Miss Lallie. I had my offers, of course,” she said proudly, “but none that would have tempted me to leave the Rectory. Will that be all, Miss?”

“Yes, thank you, Nancy. I’ll sit and read for a while. Good night.”

“Good night, my dear Miss Lallie.” Nancy skimmed her hand over the younger woman’s hair in a familiar caress. While in public she punctiliously denoted her young mistress’s standing as the eldest daughter of the house by addressing her as Miss Grey, in private she made no secret of her devotion to the girl who had been hastily deposited in her arms as a new-born infant while more skilled attendants strove in vain to save her mother’s life.

Lallie drew her shawl more closely around her shoulders and curled up in the big, threadbare armchair. It had long since been removed to the attics but Mrs Grey had raised no objection when her stepdaughter had asked if she might have it brought to her bedroom. Now the chair was Lallie’s refuge. Here she could read or just let her thoughts drift. Her days were fully occupied; she spent the mornings in the schoolroom while the afternoons were devoted to whatever task Mrs Grey might care to allocate to her.

‘We have no place for idle hands here,’ she had said six years previously when Lallie had come to live at Alwood. ‘Your sisters may now benefit from your expensive education and otherwise you will assist me in my household duties. There is always something to be done.’

But once the evening tea-tray had been removed Lallie was excused, especially on those occasions when her father graced them with his presence.

So the squire’s heir was betrothed. She smiled ruefully, remembering how he had dazzled her at his coming of age ball. She had been in alt when he had twice requested her to stand up with him. Not only that, he had called the next day to invite her to drive out with him and his sister. But her stepmother could not spare her and not long afterwards he had departed for London to acquire some ‘town bronze’, as his father had put it. That had been the end of his interest in a provincial miss.

Lallie sighed. How different her life might have been if Grandmamma had not succumbed to that virulent attack of influenza. Her memories of those grim days were all confused. Her father had been sent for but by the time he arrived in Cornwall the funeral was over and he had insisted on leaving the next day, taking her with him. The journey to Sussex had seemed endless; her head had ached the whole time. She had no memory of arriving at Alwood, just what a relief it had been not to be jolted in the carriage. Then she had been very ill; by the time she had been allowed to leave her room, it was as if a curtain had descended, separating her from her previous life.

At least I have Nancy, Lallie thought. What would I have done if my father had not agreed to take her too? And she is so good to stay with me, even though she has to look after the others as well. She might have preferred to remain near her own family.

Downstairs, Robert Grey poured a glass of port for his wife, who had returned to the dining-room. “Otherwise, all is well here?” he asked casually.

“As well as can be. That is good news about young Neville, although his mother was just as opposed to a match between him and Lallie as we were.”

“But that was some years ago.”

“Lallie still harbours a certain tenderness for him, I think, although I warned her at the time that only a bride with a good fortune and of impeccable breeding would satisfy his mother and that she could not lay any claim to her grandmother’s family; in fact to be disowned, as Mrs Staines was, was worse than having no connection. That taint is not, of course, attached to our children,” she finished with a smug smile.

He raised his glass in appreciation. “How old is she now?”

“She’ll be twenty-four next week.”

“The devil she will!”

“Why, Robert, what is the matter?”

“Her trust comes to an end when she is twenty-five. The trustees will write to her directly then, seeking her instructions.”

“Surely you will continue to handle her affairs?”

“She would have to agree. I found her rather pert this evening.”

“She is certainly not as amenable to direction as she once was, especially since she became friendly with the Herseys. They have set up a little literary circle, as they call it, and it would have looked very odd if I had tried to forbid Lallie to join. Don’t forget I have no true authority over her, should she choose to question it. Allowing her a little independence now may help us retain her income and her services. She is sincerely attached to the girls and has proved to be an excellent governess at no expense to us. Remember her trustees also pay her maid’s wages. All in all, Lallie’s presence contributes some one hundred and forty pounds per annum to this household. I should feel it if she were to leave us. Who knows what she may decide to do once she becomes aware that she is heiress to a little competence.”

Her husband looked thoughtful but said no more.

Excerpt Perception & Illusion © Catherine Kullmann 2017

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Really leaves you wanting more, doesn’t it?

And now for my review:

There seem to be trends in historical romance fiction; recently I’ve come across no less than three stories about young ladies of little fortune or dubious parentage (or both) who come into an inheritance of fortune and title to gain a higher place in society. Perception & Illusion is amongst them, and certainly one of the better ones.

The heroine is a lovely, almost penniless young girl with bleak prospects for the future who drifts through a quiet country life … until she meets a young man who is line for a peerage. They fall in love and get married in very short order. After they are married she learns that she is in fact an heiress, and her new husband is concerned that people will think him a fortune-hunter. That is only the first of many misconceptions to which this loving couple succumb; their marriage is a series of cross-purposes that serve to prevent them from finding their true happily ever after.

In one heart-breaking encounter after another, they misinterpret each other’s actions and seem destined to end up like all the other loveless couples of their acquaintance, until a final showdown forces them to face their own failures to understand the other. Will these revelations lead them to a closer and more loving understanding, or will it compel them to admit their marriage was a mistake and push them even further apart?

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What I liked most:

How the author charmingly relates each chapter to the Matrimonial Map.

The way the main characters are drawn as sympathetic but flawed.  My heart really ached for them to learn to better understand each other, because I very much liked both of them. It was impossible not to root for them to find the happiness they deserve.

HoundMam’selle ‘Ubertine (see photo).

Insights into Regency life, and learning some new terms from the era.

A mostly clean read with just enough spice, and with only a very occasional typo.

What I liked least:

The sheer number of characters. Each one was indispensable to the story, but I have to admit that I tend to lose track of characters when there are so many in a story – especially if they have titles and thereby essentially two names (e.g., John Jones, Earl of Smith). Eventually, however, everything fell into place.

In short:

If you like Pride and Prejudice, the ultimate story of two lovers being at cross-purposes, I am certain you will enjoy Perception & Illusion. I know I did. A definite five-star read!

gold-stars-5

Catherine’s website is a treasure trove of Regency information and fun stuff. Do stop by!

Your comments, as always, are most welcome!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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A Dance with Mr Darcy by Regina Jeffers: Review, excerpt, and giveaway

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:

regina-jeffers
Author Regina Jeffers

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.

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The excerpt:

A Dance With Mr Darcy copy 2
Buy at amazon

Chapter 1

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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.

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Wow, right?

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.

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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!

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

 

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Review and guest post: Suzan Lauder’s Alias Thomas Bennet

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As I’ve mentioned previously in various forums, I arrived late at the JAFF party and am still playing catch-up. When I enjoy an author’s newest release, I seek out their previous works. As I did in this case: after reading and enjoying Letter from Ramsgate, I searched for previous books by Suzan Lauder. And found Alias Thomas Bennet.  And I’m very glad I did.

The premise is, as far as I know, unique amongst JAFFs: it’s almost like stepping through the looking glass. The Bennet family is no longer dysfunctional, but is headed by a very engaged father who cares for his wife and daughters as well as being a successful estate manager. Mrs Bennet, recipient of the love and respect of her husband, is still concerned about getting her daughters married, but not dementedly so, and she provides loving care as well as an excellent role model for her daughters to become ladies, wives, and mothers.  The eldest two Bennet sisters are essentially unchanged (well, except for reaping the benefits of a surprise familial relationship), while the other three sisters retain their original personalities altho’ tempered into more positive and productive actions and activities. Not canon by any means, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Mr Bennet and Mr Darcy form a close friendship, and slowly tho’ ultimately Darcy and Lizzy grow into their own loving relationship. Lauder’s version of Lizzy here retains all the traits with which Austen endowed her, amplified by a greater strength and confidence. The author has created her character to reflect the modern view of an accomplished lady.

There are numerous flashbacks in the telling of the story, and to own the truth I did have a little trouble keeping the story line straight at first. Then two things happened: First, I was reading a used paperback copy of the book, and apparently whoever read the book before me was having similar difficulties and had actually drawn an interconnected timeline of events which I discovered tucked away in the pages! And then the author herself brings the story together in a series of well-crafted scenes that left me with a feeling of understanding calm; what one would call a lightbulb moment. These both occurred not too far into the story, so for most of the time I had a very clear grasp of what was going on.

As with Letter from Ramsgate, Lizzy and Darcy display rather more physical passion than their original counterparts ever did – or at least that we *saw* them do, altho’ I suspect most of us had our suspicions about them! This story gives them more leeway, and definitely has some spice to it.

The author has asked me to be sure to repeat the warning she has posted on the book’s back cover:  “This book contains one brief scene of non‑explicit sexual violence that may be concerning to sensitive readers. The sexual violence does not involve Elizabeth Bennet.” Altho’ I viewed the scene dispassionately, I did find the events a bit shocking. It is, however, integral to the plot. There are several very vague references to these events at various points in the story, so if you want to skip the scene, you won’t be left out in the cold; you’ll still get the gist of the story. (And you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll tell you the pages you might want to avoid, and the one(s) that clarify the story, in the event that you do want to avoid this trigger.)

A definite five-star rating for Alias Thomas Bennet!

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suzan-lauderSuzan Lauder kindly agreed to provide a guest post to accompany this review. When she asked me to suggest a topic, I in turn asked her what her inspiration was for this story. Here is her response:

I’m a regular contributor on the Jane Austen website A Happy Assembly. In some discussions and in AHA chat, it became evident that some readers loved Mr. Bennet for his acerbic wit and humorous evaluation of other peoples’ characters while others disliked him for his obvious lackadaisical attitude towards parenting and financial responsibilities. It showed that Mr. Bennet’s personality was a fairly important element in the direction of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Given that circumstance, I began to think to myself what the novel would be like if his flaws were erased or minimized. I began to think of the plot of P&P and what essential scenes would change.

Mr. Bennet would go meet Mr. Bingley without having to be browbeaten into it. He would attend the Meryton Assembly, let Jane have the carriage to go to lunch with the Bingley sisters, and try to modulate the behaviour of his wife and younger daughters. But I needed a mechanism to facilitate this changed personality, and that’s how the mystery part of the story fit in.

Side issues that were strong possibilities with a changed Mr. Bennet emerged: it would be fun if he were close friends with Darcy so Elizabeth and Darcy knew each other better prior to Hunsford. Mr. Bennet would be in love with his wife and would calm her when she became agitated. To show where Mrs. Bennet’s nervous personality emerged from her youth, a carriage wreck and a startling assault open the novel.

The timelines for everything that ran parallel in the story were so critical, I even mapped out Jane’s and Elizabeth’s birthdays! That’s how complicated “what if Mr. Bennet were exactly opposite of his personality in canon” becomes!

Alias Thomas Bennet is available in paperback and ebook versions at the usual outlets. And, as I have previously mentioned, as a used book.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here. desp-hearts-cover

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