to the first giveaway celebrating my new book, due to be released in a fortnight.
'The Falmouth Connection'
is rather a more daring 'what-if' story that takes Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy out of their comfort zones of tame, reasonably peaceful lives in England and brings them into a world of secrets, on the windswept coasts of Cornwall. No swash-buckling pirates, but plenty of mysteries, some smugglers and a troublesome ‘French Connection’ thrown in for good measure!
As you might have come to expect from my stories, Mr. Darcy's peaceful life gets complicated from the outset: just as he decides to follow his heart and propose to the enticing Miss Elizabeth Bennet, she is summoned to Falmouth to make the acquaintance of a great-aunt she never knew she had.
Of course, he has no idea that anything derailing the Hunsford proposal is a VERY good thing (come to think of it, he has no reason to know what 'derailing' is either!) But, as the blurb says, "before he could even begin to understand his luck, adverse circumstances hasten to conspire against him and Fitzwilliam Darcy is compelled to follow the woman he loves to the far reaches of Cornwall, into a world of deceit and peril, where few – if any – are what they seem to be…"
So there is trouble ahead - BIG TROUBLE! But I thought that at least in this opening post I should allow Mr. Darcy to be happy.
He is now travelling from Hunsford to Basingstoke with his cousin, Miss Bennet and her maid because, despite his arrogance, conceit and all sorts of faults and foibles, he is too much of a gentleman to let the woman of his dreams travel post unattended by a man-servant, to meet up with her relations.
He is happy because he has made up his mind to propose at last, rather than deny his heart for the sake of duty, and has no doubts of his reception. Colonel Fitzwilliam has no doubts about that either - after all, his cousin is handsome and a man of means! And even though Darcy had specifically asked him not to, he is not averse to pretending to be asleep to give them a moment. The maid, Sarah, hasn't got the energy to pretend anything. She is exhausted after the long trek from Longbourn to Hunsford to attend Elizabeth on her travels, and she is fast asleep.
But what is Elizabeth thinking? Read the following excerpt to find out and, for the chance to be entered in the first giveaway of the season, please leave a comment here or on the book's Facebook page (you can find it under 'The Falmouth Connection').
The giveaway if for three ebooks available internationally. Every comment here or on the Facebook page of this book counts! The giveaway ends on the 29th of October and the winners will be announced then. Many thanks for taking part and I hope you'll like what you see!
(Excerpt from Chapter 3)
With great caution, Elizabeth stole a glance towards the Colonel and pursed her lips. Now that was a fine to-do! He was utterly lost to his surroundings, his chest rising and falling with the slow breath of peaceful slumber, and was showing no signs of rousing himself either.
‘Aye, rest, why not indeed,’ she inwardly grumbled at the unsettling notion that no one was awake in the speeding carriage, apart from herself – and Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth barely suppressed a huff as she pondered the wisdom to feign having succumbed to tiredness again. But it would not do. The nervous excitement that held her in its grip would certainly ensure that she would fool no one. There was no hope for her to lay convincingly still for any length of time.
She stole another glance, this time to the gentleman seated right before her. She could not see him well, not from the corner of her eye. A short while earlier, she had almost suspected him to be doing precisely the same – surreptitiously watching her – but she was swift to see sense and discard the foolish notion. From the very beginning of their vexing acquaintance, he had displayed very little interest in her and her pursuits and she could not imagine why this should alter now.
Having said that, it had been disconcerting to find herself a few minutes ago at the receiving end of something very much like considerate attention to her comfort. Not to mention the open, almost friendly turn of countenance. Elizabeth could not doubt she must have stared at that – so very unexpected, especially of late, when he had uniformly chosen to present nothing but a stern façade to the world around him.
She heard, nay, sensed him move, and stole another glance towards him, only to note, with some satisfaction, that he seemed to have produced a book from a light travelling case. She gave a silent thanks for the small mercy, for this removed the unpleasant notion that she should, at some point, make some vague attempt at conversation.
He did not seem engrossed in his employment though. Had she not known better, she would have been inclined to think that he was watching her, over the top of his leather-bound volume.
She briefly thought of looking, if only to reassure herself that she was mistaken, but then rather cowardly settled for the corner of her eye again. And now he did look up, she could scarce doubt it – but he appeared more interested in his cousin than herself.
She turned her head, by the smallest fraction. Aye. He was insistently regarding his cousin; seemed even to lightly prod his knee with his own, as though to ascertain that he was indeed sleeping – or aiming to wake him, presumably as tired as herself of this extended tête-à-tête.
She pursed her lips again, wishing – for the eleventh time at least – that she was not indebted to him of all people for conveying her to Basingstoke to rendezvous with her relations. She wondered once more at his willingness to do so, as the countryside scrolled at speed before the carriage window.
Another sigh escaped her, louder this time and, to her vexation, it appeared that Mr. Darcy heard it, for he lost interest in his cousin’s slumber and turned to look at her in earnest. A sudden jolt coursed through her at the steady glance of those dark eyes she had grown accustomed to regard as heavily disapproving. There was no disapproval now, she thought in passing, refusing to acknowledge the strange intensity in them – as well as her own extremely foolish jolt.
“Are you well, Miss Bennet?” she heard him ask, very quietly.
Had it come from any other man, Elizabeth would have been grateful. Under the circumstances, she was not. She pursed her lips again.
“I am. I thank you,” she brought herself to say, knowing that she had to.
“Is there anything you need?”
Had she not known better, Elizabeth might have suspected there was solicitude in his address. She did know better, though. It could not be. Not from Mr. Darcy!
“I thank you, no,” she instantly replied, wishing he would return to his book.
He did not. He closed it, his finger still keeping his place between the pages.
“With any luck, we should be in Guildford by noon. We are making good progress,” he assured her, and Elizabeth could only nod.
She turned to the window again, hoping to convey that she was not disposed for conversation. However, for a man who prided himself on his understanding, Mr. Darcy appeared uncommonly obtuse at the moment, for he did not resume his reading, but cleared his voice instead.
“Have your relations indicated how soon they might arrive in Basingstoke?” he asked.
“From what I gathered, they should have arrived last night,” she answered, pushing back the travelling rugs and reaching for her satchel.
She rummaged for a moment, until she found what she was seeking. If pointedly staring out of the window did not persuade Mr. Darcy to leave her to her own devices, then perhaps feigning interest in her own book would!
She opened it at random and fixed her eyes upon it. And yet, over the top of her volume, she could still see, without purposely looking, that his own remained closed in his lap. She pursed her lips again and her eyes narrowed, willing him into silence. Just as the thought occurred, she all but laughed. That she should be scheming to avoid Mr. Darcy’s chatter, of all people!
She did not laugh but – to her utter shock – he did, or rather chuckled softly, and Elizabeth involuntarily looked up, half suspecting that the rumbling of the carriage wheels must have been playing tricks on her; must have tampered with her hearing. Surely Mr. Darcy was far above something as plebeian as chuckling, she inwardly scoffed – then all but gaped at the contrary evidence before her. There he was now, his gaze fixed upon her, a half-smile playing on his lips, his proud patrician features softened into barely suppressed amusement.
She stared again, quite certain she had never seen him thus. Devoid of stern reserve, he seemed almost human – and, in truth, more than a little handsome, a fleeting, errant thought intruded. In response to both the errant thought and the disconcerting countenance before her, Elizabeth arched a brow.
“May I inquire into the source of your amusement?” she asked despite herself and the infuriating man this time smiled in earnest.
“But of course. I was merely entertained, Miss Bennet, to note that despite firm opinions to the contrary, we do seem to be reading the same books after all,” he observed, turning his own volume upright so that she could see the title.
She cast her eyes upon it, only to concede that he was in the right. Apparently, they were both reading the second volume of Mr. Southey’s ‘Letters from England’ which, for some reason of the author’s, were presented as though written not by the Englishman he was, but by a Spanish traveller to his confessor. Elizabeth still failed to see the diverting side of the coincidence however, until all of a sudden she remembered the conversation – or rather verbal fencing – that they had engaged in, during their dance at Netherfield, last autumn. Her companion must have seen her comprehension dawning, for he resumed, with the same half-smile:
“All that remains to ascertain then, is whether we read them with the same sentiments, is it not, Miss Bennet? So may I ask, what is your opinion of this fictitious Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella?”
Her brows arched again – both of them, this time. Whatever had possessed him to discard the habitual hauteur in favour of this disconcerting jesting manner? She all but shrugged – unladylike as it might have been. It was his own affair, and she refused to ponder for another moment over Mr. Darcy and his whimsies.
“I cannot deny that he describes well, with keenness of eye and vivacity of spirit,” she owned at last. “Yet, while I cannot fault him for his style, I am singularly unimpressed with the way he approached his subject matter.”
“Indeed. He does write well, but he is horribly anti-English!”
“I daresay he deserves to be – ”
“…the very man he is impersonating.”
(Author's note: That was Jane Austen's own opinion, mentioned in a letter to her sister).
“… precisely whom he claims to be,” they both said at once, and for a moment Elizabeth vacillated between laughter and vexation.
For some unknown reason, she succumbed to the first – only to veer towards the second, once Mr. Darcy chose to overstate the matter:
“I take it then that our responses are not so different either, in this case at least. Dare I ask about another, Miss Bennet, or would I be stretching my beginner’s luck?”
“We are not gambling, Mr. Darcy,” she observed, tilting her chin, and the gentleman promptly retorted, with another crooked smile.
“I should hope not, Miss Bennet, seeing as gambling is such a hazardous and objectionable pastime.”
She stared – again. Had it been any other man, she would have readily concluded he was flirting – either that, or he was in his cups! Since it was Mr. Darcy though, in all honesty she would have been more inclined to believe the latter – unlikely as that might have been, particularly at that hour in the morning – rather than imagine he would choose to flirt with her.
“So, what shall it be, Miss Bennet?” he prompted. “Dare we compare our views on yet another volume?”
She gave a dainty shrug.
“Oh, why not? There is a long journey all the way to Guildford…”
“In effect, we shall have to stop within the hour. The horses must be bated,” he casually observed.
Elizabeth pursed her lips. Of course. She was not travelling post, with a fresh team of hired horses at each stage. She had all but forgotten. Of course the noble beasts would have to be rested, fed and watered, which would imply further delay – and longer time spent with this exceedingly odd version of Mr. Darcy.
“So, may I ask, what were you reading before Don Manuel’s ‘Letters’?”
Her chin came up once more, with the same defiance.
“‘The Romance of the Forest’,” she retorted promptly – and was thoroughly amazed and, in truth, slightly provoked as well, to hear him chuckle yet again.
“Forgive me,” he offered, before she could decide between inquiring what it was that amused him, or denying him the afore-mentioned satisfaction. “I should not have laughed, and I beg you would pardon my ungentlemanly conduct. My sole excuse is that I have seen that turn of countenance before – the other time I was asked to despise you if I dared. May I assure you once again that no thought could be further from my mind.”
Her lips twitched, as again she swayed between laughter and vexation – and again, to her slight shock, settled on the first. It was an extraordinary notion to have laughed, genuinely laughed with Mr. Darcy twice, in as many minutes! Still, this jesting, boyish stranger was so far removed from the Mr. Darcy she had grown accustomed to that the notion was considerably less surprising.
The same could not be said of him though, and Elizabeth wondered what on earth possessed him to deviate so widely from the reserved manner he had uniformly given her reason to expect. Suddenly, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s intimation that he was generally different was no longer quite so laughably far-fetched.
“I daresay I have already mentioned this also,” her companion resumed, the same half-smile playing on his lips, “but I would never wish to suspend any pleasure of yours so, if you are still of a mind to scandalise me, pray continue – though I would suggest you do not use Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels for the purpose. I must confess I have found them rather pleasing.”
“How about Madame D’Arblay’s?”
“A passable read – except perhaps for ‘Pamela’.”
She arched a brow.
“How so? Do you dispute the value of the message?”
“I would not dream of it, Miss Bennet! No, I was merely bored.”
Despite herself, Elizabeth laughed again – with him rather than at him – for the third time in as many minutes. In truth, she could think of a volume or two which stood a better chance to scandalise him, but suddenly found she was not so keen to take that path today. Disconcerting as this strange shared good-humour might have been, it was still preferable to spending the entire journey at each other’s throats.
“I daresay we could move on to playwrights and poets, but you must allow me a moment to gather my wits. I am still reeling from the shock of hearing that you would read novels – and that you were bored by a moral tale,” she said with an impish smile, only to see him promptly return it.
“By all means, Miss Bennet, take all the time you need.”
She glanced out of the window, playfully pondering what should she mention next – or rather, devising tempting ways to trip him. However, before the matter was decided, a new voice, rather thick with sleep, suddenly broke her train of thought.
“Good morning, Miss – Sir. Pray forgive me, Miss Lizzy, I’ve been lost to the world. I trust you didn’t need me…?”
Having spent a long time wishing that Sarah would awaken, it was rather strange to feel disappointment now, Elizabeth thought in passing, before turning to her mother’s maid to reassure her that there was naught amiss, and nothing needed doing. Their conversation must have woken Colonel Fitzwilliam as well, for he stirred, greeted them and then groaned quietly as he readjusted his position.
“I should be glad to stretch my legs at last. I hope we stop soon,” he remarked, to no one in particular, as he cast a glance out of the window. “Ah. Not long now, if I am not mistaken,” he cheerfully added, then shifted in his seat, and groaned again.
“Are you well, Cousin?” Darcy asked, a slight edge to his voice and at that, the Colonel arched a brow.
“Well enough, I thank you. Stiff as a board, though. No mean feat, staying frozen in one attitude for ages,” he casually observed, and the other snorted, for some reason Elizabeth could not fathom.
Nor could she grasp the Colonel’s meaning some time later, when she chanced to overhear him muttering to his cousin:
“As I said before, heaven help us. I have given myself a bad back – and what for? Honestly, Darcy! Books?”