Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of my new P&P variation, Chaos Comes to Longbourn. It’s going to the editor today, so hopefully it’ll be out the beginning of June. The excerpt is a bit long, but it’s worth it. 🙂
It takes place the night of the Netherfield ball in the library.
“You came to be alone with my half-dressed sister in a dimly lit library by accident?” Elizabeth scoffed. Darcy could not prevent a wince; of all the women at the ball, why was she the one to have discovered him in this ridiculous situation?
Darcy drew himself up and straightened his cravat. “Well, yes.” He was aware how absurd the claim sounded, but it was the truth. “When I arrived, Miss Lydia was lying in the corner. I wanted to help her, but I tripped and fell on top…” Darcy’s voice petered out. Anything he details he might add at this point would only make the situation worse.
It did not help that Lydia chose that moment to burst into tears.
“I never thought very highly of you, Mr. Darcy—” Elizabeth intoned as she put a comforting arm around her sister’s shoulders.
Wait, she did not?
“—But I at least thought you too honorable to take advantage of girl who is but fifteen!”
Oh, Good Lord! The girl was fifteen? Georgiana was barely older. Elizabeth’s family would think him scarcely better than Wickham. No, it was intolerable!
Darcy rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I do not molest children!” His voice sounded shrill and strained to his own ears. “Another man was present. He escaped through the door to the gardens! Lydia was already dishabille when I arrived—”
“How convenient for you,” Elizabeth sneered. Her words were punctuated by a sob from her sister.
“Ask her!” Darcy demanded. “Ask Miss Lydia. No doubt she arrived her with the man.”
Just as the words left his mouth Darcy realized how badly he had miscalculated. Lydia’s hands fell from her tear-streaked face, her eyes wide with horror. She would never admit she had willingly accompanied a man into a darkened room.
Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth stared at Lydia. “Lydia, what happened?” Elizabeth asked gently.
For a moment Darcy entertained the hope that Lydia would tell the truth, but then she shook her head vigorously. “No! There was never anyone else. I am not that sort of girl!” She dabbed her eyes theatrically with a handkerchief.
Some man had undoubtedly lured her away from the dance with promises and flattery she was too naïve to question. If she were not seeking to tarnish his reputation, Darcy would feel more than a fleeting moment of sympathy.
Mrs. Bennet’s shrieks had brought a throng of guests crowding around the library’s doorway, including—much to Darcy’s horror—Bingley and Mr. Bennet. Behind them stood that fool of a cleric, Elizabeth’s cousin. Darcy’s stomach clenched and roiled at the sight of so many eyes observing and judging him.
Pushing his way into the room, Bingley shot Darcy a sympathetic glance. “Mrs. Bennet, I am sure it is all a misunderstanding.”
“No! No, there is no misunderstanding!” Mrs. Bennet’s voice climbed into higher and higher registers. “He has taken advantage of my poor girl! He has ruined her reputation. Everyone will know.”
Darcy refrained from observing that the situation could have been concealed were it not for Mrs. Bennet’s shrieks.
Mr. Bennet stepped into the room, his face a grim mask. “I believe there is only one honorable course of action open to you, Mr. Darcy.”
A herd of horses was galloping through his stomach and his heart threatened to pound out of his chest. Oh merciful heavens! Lydia’s father expected him to offer marriage. Let this be some horrible dream! Darcy paused. Unfortunately he did not awaken.
Darcy stared at Lydia Bennet: silly, sobbing, foxed, and willing to leave a ball unchaperoned with some unknown man. Without any family position, good understanding, or clever conversation, she met none of his criteria for a wife. In fact, she was the exact opposite in almost every way. If he had wanted a young, empty-headed chit, the ton could supply many with impeccable pedigrees.
His eyes brushed past Elizabeth, who was glaring at him implacably. Asking her to dance was the least of his concerns now. The thought struck him as darkly humorous.
However, he was troubled by the thought that she would think ill of him—she would see him as capable of seducing and abandoning her sister. She had already declared her low opinion of him; he would hate to confirm it.
Mrs. Bennet wept noisily into her handkerchief while a scowling Mr. Bennet stalked toward Darcy. “Well, Darcy? What will it be?”
If he failed to propose now, Elizabeth and the other onlookers would think him without honor. But the thought of proposing was…profoundly distasteful. Of course, a proposal was not a marriage. If he proposed under duress now, Darcy might later find a way to escape the obligation. The Bennet family might settle for a monetary settlement, but they could hardly discuss such a compromise here, in front of witnesses.
Yes, he would find the means to escape the situation later. For now, he need only scrape together the remains of his dignity and live to fight another day. Devil take it!
He turned to the disheveled, red-faced, sobbing fifteen-year-old. “Miss Lydia,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Y-yes?” She granted him a quizzical smile and a hiccup.
“Would you do me the honor of being my wife?” Darcy was proud he did not choke on the words. He did not have the slightest hope the chit would reject him; his fortune was too tempting.
“M-marry you?” Lydia laughed.
Darcy failed to see any humor in the situation. “W-why would I want to marry you?” She giggled, swaying a bit on her feet.
Was the girl touched in the head?
A frowning Mr. Bennet advanced on his daughter and took her arm. “Lydia, you must accept him,” he explained in a low voice. “Your reputation has been compromised.”
“But, look at him!” She waved wildly at Darcy. “He’s so stuffy and formal and dull. And he does not even possess a red coat!” A couple of onlookers tittered. Even Mr. Bennet’s lips twitched. However, Elizabeth’s glare did not relent.
Darcy rubbed the back of his neck. This was a farce in every possible way.
“That may be true, my dear,” Mr. Bennet spoke gently to his daughter while staring daggers at Darcy. “But you must accept him anyway.”
“I don’t want to!” Lydia stamped her foot like a child denied a sweet.
“You must.” Mr. Bennet’s voice now held a hint of steel. “You would not wish to experience a decrease in your allowance for hats and gloves.”
Lydia glared at her father. “Papa, that is unfair!” He crossed his arms and regarded her sternly. Finally she stepped backward and slumped into a chair with a huff. “Very well! Yes, Mr. Darcy, I accept.” Her face arranged itself in a very unattractive pout.
Idly Darcy wondered if there had ever been a less romantic marriage proposal in the history of the world. However, if Lydia possessed that little enthusiasm, perhaps they could reach some sort of agreement which would not leave him leg shackled. Never before had he been grateful for being considered dull! Of course, he had never before encountered a woman who thought ten thousand a year was dull.
Bingley began to direct guests—all chatting excitedly—toward the library door. Lydia returned to sobbing into her hands. With a scowl at Darcy, Mrs. Bennet swept across the floor to take the chair next to Lydia’s. “It will not be so bad, my dear. Mr. Darcy is very rich.” Standing next to Lydia, Elizabeth colored at her mother’s tactlessness.
Darcy closed his eyes. This could not possibly be happening.
“Rich?” Despite being muffled, Lydia’s tone was definitely interested.
“Yes!” Mrs. Bennet trilled. “You will have many fine dresses and carriages!”
Lydia peeked through her hands. “More than my sisters?”
“I daresay. They are not liable to find wealthier husbands!”
Lydia clapped in excitement. “La!” She squealed. “How droll!” She certainly has recovered from her mortification quickly.
Darcy could almost see the hope for an agreement with Lydia slipping further away. Why would the girl accept a fraction of his fortune when she believed she was entitled to all of it?
But there was nothing he could accomplish tonight. Perhaps he could convince Lydia to break off their engagement tomorrow, once she had sobered. Darcy spun on his heel and strode toward the hallway.
He needed a brandy. Or two. Or ten.
Mrs. Bennet’s shrill tones followed him as he hurried away. “I daresay you will like being his wife. Mrs. Darcy! Oh, how well that sounds!”
“Yes, indeed!” Lydia agreed with a giggle.
Lydia might like being Mrs. Darcy, but Darcy could not conceive how he would survive Lydia.