Here is another excerpt from my upcoming novel Mr. Darcy to the Rescue — hopefully to be released in a couple weeks. Darcy is visiting Longbourn. Elizabeth and Collins are engaged(!), and Collins has just arrived from Kent. I hope you enjoy!
Over Mr. Collins’s shoulder, Elizabeth saw Mr. Darcy’s glaring at the man’s back. Did he disapprove of the familiarity of their greeting? “Mr. Collins,” Elizabeth murmured in greeting, knowing her cheeks were turning red.
“No, Elizabeth. Your modesty does you credit, but you must call me by my given name. For we are soon to know each other on a most intimate basis.” His smile might have been intended to convey affection, but it emerged as a leer.
Elizabeth’s stomach churned sickeningly. She cast her eyes down, unwilling to meet the gaze of anyone in the room. Bad enough that her fiancé was trafficking in innuendos, but to do so before Mr. Darcy!
If only something would happen to distract everyone’s attention. Lydia rushing in with news about officers and dances. Her mother’s attack of the vapors. Oh, where was a plague of locusts when one needed it?
Mr. Collins turned to greet Jane and became aware of Mr. Darcy’s presence. “Mr. Darcy! I did not know you were here, sir!” He bowed so deeply he almost toppled over and needed to grab a chair for support. “I pray you understand I did not intend any slight.”
“No, no. Of course not.” Mr. Darcy frowned, almost as if he harbored some sort of resentment against the parson. But most likely he was simply annoyed at the man’s obsequious behavior.
Mr. Collins’ face brightened as if he were about to impart the most wonderful secret. “I have come directly from Kent. Your aunt and cousin have been enjoying wonderful health!”
“That is good to hear,” Darcy muttered.
“I do believe Lady Anne’s coughing has grown less frequent and less forceful than previously. And she has had more color in her cheeks these past weeks. I told her at dinner the other night, ‘Lady Anne, you are like a delicate English rose!’” Mr. Collins drew himself up to his full height. “I flatter myself she was well pleased with the compliment.”
“I am sure.” A fly in Mr. Darcy’s soup could not have received a colder welcome. Mr. Collins nodded enthusiastically, completely oblivious to Mr. Darcy’s tone.
Mr. Collins wasted no time in positioning himself next to Elizabeth on the loveseat, far closer than she would like. Mr. Darcy was scowling again. Did he disapprove of their closeness? Well, it was no matter. Betrothed couples were allowed some liberties, after all.
“Lady Catherine has been most condescendingly helpful in preparing the parsonage for my dear Elizabeth’s arrival. She suggested new curtains in the upstairs sitting room and shelves in the bedchamber closet! Is that not a capitol idea?”
“A masterstroke,” Darcy agreed, his face carefully neutral.
Mr. Collins took Elizabeth’s hand and held it in the crook of his arm, against his body. She keenly felt the impropriety of this position, but removing her hand would only draw more attention to his actions. Was this how the rest of her life would be?
Mr. Collins patted her hand. “My dearest Elizabeth and I seem to have been formed for each other.”
Mr. Darcy’s walking stick clattered to the floor. “Pardon me.” The man bent to retrieve it, his face an unusual shade of red. Could dropping his walking stick have cause so much embarrassment?
Undeterred, Mr. Collins gazed down on Elizabeth fondly. “We are in perfect accord in all things.”
Elizabeth began to suspect Mr. Collins of knowing a completely different Elizabeth, one made whole cloth from his imagination. Suppressing a keen urge to roll her eyes, she could do nothing but smile wanly at him.
“How fortunate.” There was an odd tone in Mr. Darcy’s voice that Elizabeth could not identify. She would understand if such a declaration had provoked stifled laughter or disbelief, but Mr. Darcy seemed almost—angry? No, she must be imagining it. If Mr. Collins irritated him too much, Mr. Darcy would simply leave for Netherfield—which would solve one of Elizabeth’s problems for the day. Elizabeth found herself silently encouraging Mr. Collins.
He remained oblivious to Mr. Darcy’s tone. “I cannot wait until that day when she will make me the happiest of men and we can begin our lives of wedded bliss.” Quickly bringing a handkerchief up to her mouth, Elizabeth pretended a cough to hide her smile. Why did he insist on speaking like a heroine in a lurid popular novel?
“But the greatest joy will be when we return to Hunsford. For, my dear—” He gave her hand another clumsy pat. “—Lady Catherine has promised to visit you upon your arrival! What an honor! What condescension!”
“That is very good of her!” Mrs. Bennet cried. “You are very fortunate in your situation.”
“I am indeed.” Mr. Collins replied. “The most fortunate man alive!” A smug smile appeared on his face.
A fit of coughing drew everyone’s attention to Mr. Darcy. “My apologies. I inhaled some tea,” he said when once again capable of speech. Elizabeth frowned; she would have sworn the man’s tea cup had been empty for twenty minutes.
Mrs. Bennet’s curt nod suggested her grudging forgiveness for interrupting a tender moment between Elizabeth and her betrothed.
Recognizing the appreciative audience he had in Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins continued directing his conversation to her. “Have I told you about the windows at Rosings?” He proceeded without awaiting a reply. “There are eighteen windows on the front of the house. The glazing of each cost fifty pounds! Can you imagine?” He turned his smarmy smile on Mr. Darcy. “I have heard that your estate at Pemberley is very grand. How many windows do you have at the front?”
The other man’s gaze could not have been colder. “I have never counted.”
Mr. Collins continued on, blithely unaware if Mr. Darcy’s contempt. “I am sure they are very grand as well.”
Tension rolled off Mr. Darcy like water rushing down a mountain. Clearly Mr. Collins irritated him almost beyond endurance. Why would Mr. Darcy not return to Netherfield? He had been at Longbourn long enough. Excessively long, in fact.
“And the draperies in her large drawing room!” Mr. Collins exclaimed. “Silk imported directly from China. 115 yards of the finest silk!”
Mrs. Bennet gasped at the extravagance.
“I would imagine it would make an excellent topic for your next sermon,” Mr. Darcy remarked dryly. “Perhaps the transience of worldly goods?”
Mr. Collins’s mouth opened and he blinked at Mr. Darcy.