Hello readers! I’m very excited to be participating in the Miss Darcy’s Companion Blog Tour and welcoming back the lovely Joana Starnes to Austenesque Reviews today! Back in May you may remember we participated in a cover reveal for Ms. Starnes’s new release, Miss Darcy’s Companion, and it was a lot of fun to speculate about how the difference in Elizabeth’s position will alter their relationship and feelings towards each other. Today Joana shares with us a riveting excerpt that reveals how and when Darcy learns the leanings of his heart!
Please let me begin with a huge ‘Thank You’, Meredith, for hosting the cover reveal for ‘Miss Darcy’s Companion’ two months ago, and also thank your readers for the amazing response to it, so wonderfully warm and welcoming beyond my wildest dreams!
I love how the blog tour went full circle, and it finishes where it started, on your beautiful site. I was pondering for quite some time how it should end and was tempted to include a certain sizzling ‘Elizabeth – Darcy’ moment, when hidden truths are very nearly disclosed by accident, with a very telling and exquisitely poignant Italian aria about sparkling eyes that might reveal one’s feelings even when lips are sealed. But why end the blog tour with Mr Darcy questioning whether he should follow his head or his heart? All of us JAFF fanatics know there can only be one answer 🙂 So instead I chose an excerpt that, rather like the blog tour, goes full circle and answers the questions that snippets included in the other posts might have hinted at. Why was Mr Darcy so endearingly clueless about his feelings? What brought about his overdue epiphany? What was his reaction to it? And what about that Kissing Bough?
To me, the added bonus is that the following excerpt revolves around a character I love almost as much as Elizabeth and Darcy. I mean the dear Colonel of course. I know I had a funny way of showing my love for him in ‘The Unthinkable Triangle’ where he was cruelly portrayed as his cousin’s rival. In that novel it was very compelling to sound the depths of his character, so to speak. To see him as far more than a plot device that pushes Darcy’s courtship forward. To see how both gentlemen would rise to the occasion – as rise they must – if their closeness is threatened, and act as honourably as we know they would, both in good times and in times of trouble.
But in ‘Miss Darcy’s Companion’ it was a joy to revert to seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam in a happy light again. As the brother Darcy never had. The one who fights his corner without any hesitation. Who readily offers a helping hand and plenty of nudges in the right direction (and sometimes hefty shoves). The one who in a way acts as Darcy’s conscience and, with his kind heart and common sense, encourages his cousin to stay true to himself rather than follow other people’s expectations. And last but by no means least, I love the Colonel because of the way we see Darcy through his eyes. Not as the solemn and infallible master of Pemberley, but as a young man who can laugh, play, tease and be occasionally wrong, only to be taken to task for it with energy and humour. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the dear Colonel doing exactly that, and also rise to the occasion and offer clear-headed and staunch support in times of crisis.
* * * *
~ Excerpt ~
For a few treasured moments, Elizabeth could imagine herself as his equal – and could dream. She looked up at the tall ceiling and her troubled countenance softened into a smile. Arms tightly wrapped around herself she stood under the kissing bough and, eyes closed, she indulged the dreams a little longer. But the hand that clasped her shoulder to spin her around was not Darcy’s. Nor were his the lips that crushed on hers.
* * * *
The smell of brandy was overpowering. Nauseating. As was the terrifying inability to fend off the assault of gripping hands – of hard, searching lips forcibly parting hers. Struggles and a muffled cry of protest had no effect at all, but she cried again, vainly striving to free herself from her aggressor. When, blessedly, assistance came at last and he was dragged from her, she staggered back, almost losing her balance. And so did her preserver, when the other shoved him viciously aside.
“The insolence! You dare lay hands on me? Leave us!” he barked, but the command was disdainfully ignored.
“You should be the one to leave, my lord,” Mr Bradden retorted crisply, only to find himself violently shoved again. This time he returned measure for measure, and with sufficient force to send the other crashing to the ground. His head hit the marble floor with a resounding thud and he groaned, then went limp and still.
The parson barely spared him a glance before reaching for Elizabeth’s hand.
“Miss Bennet? Were you harmed?”
“Yes – no – I am well… I am well. I thank you, Sir. I beg you would excuse me,” she faltered, then turned around and fled up the great staircase without stopping for breath. Nor did she stop when Mr Darcy’s voice thundered below.
“Mr Bradden! What the devil is the meaning of all this?”
* * * *
In her state of shock, it never occurred to Elizabeth that her defender might be blamed for the fracas, but Mr Bradden was left with no such illusions at the sight of his patron storming towards him.
“Calm yourself,” Colonel Fitzwilliam quietly entreated, laying a quelling hand on his cousin’s arm, but Darcy shook it off and did not break his stride until he had rounded past the foot of the stairs, when he stopped short at the sight of Lord Fenton’s prostrate form.
“Ah,” said the Colonel upon noticing him too, while Darcy’s eyes shot from Fenton to the top of the staircase, whence Elizabeth’s footsteps could now barely be heard.
He moved as though to follow, yet stopped and drew a hand over his face, then turned to Bradden.
“Pray forgive me,” he offered quietly. “I seem to have mistaken the matter.”
“I say, Sir!” Bradden shot back in barely mollified outrage, and Darcy sighed.
“I beg your forgiveness once again. May I know what happened?”
Bradden swallowed his ire and made to answer, but Colonel Fitzwilliam raised a hand.
“Not here. We should take Fenton to your study. Mr Bradden, would you be so kind?”
With a nod, the reverend came to assist him, and between them they hauled Fenton up to promptly spirit him away before any straying guests could spot him lying there. Darcy strode past them to walk ahead. He opened the door into his study, then pressed it shut as the others let Fenton slump into a wingchair. And then he asked again:
Bradden was brief and to the point.
“Lord Fenton imposed himself upon Miss Bennet. Kissed her against her will.”
The few words were enough to send Darcy’s blood boiling. He turned and left the room, but did not get far. Fitzwilliam caught up with him in mere moments and stopped him mid-stride with a hand on his arm.
“I trust you have not lost your senses to go to her bedchamber,” he urgently whispered. This time his hand was not shaken off, and Fitzwilliam dropped it of his own accord. Darcy forcefully ran his fingers through his hair.
“I suppose it would do more harm than good just now…” he finally conceded, then burst out, “Still, I–… Did you not hear? Coerced – molested – in her own home!”
“My home. This house. Where she lives. Blast it, Cousin, you know what I am saying!”
“Not entirely, but this is neither here not there. The point is– ”
But Darcy would not let him finish.
“I need to know how she is! You must understand.”
“Oh, I do! Send Mrs Reynolds then. Ask her to go up with a cup of tea. And a few drops of Laudanum, if you ask me. Upon reflection I should go find her, you are not fit to be seen. Can you be trusted to be in the same room as Fenton and not do him further harm, much as he deserves it?”
Darcy could promise nothing of the sort, but did not say so. There was no need to, and Fitzwilliam spoke again.
“Wait here then. I will send a footman with a bowl of water and some cloths. There is blood in his hair. I hope he has not cracked his skull.”
Darcy hoped he had, but again said nothing. Instead, he folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the panelling. This, Fitzwilliam took as an indication that he was prepared to do as bid and wait for him there so, as promised, he took himself off in search of a footman to send him to fetch cloths and summon Mrs Reynolds. He muttered as he vanished round the corner:
“Damme! I never thought the parson had it in him.”
* * * *
Far from the bustle of the forgotten ball, the corridor was very quiet but for the sound of footsteps. Darcy had long relinquished his spot by the dark panelling and was pacing up and down on the old floorboards, sending them creaking and ringing with his heavy footfalls. Up and down he went, over and over. Where the devil was Fitzwilliam? Had he found Mrs Reynolds? Had she gone up already? She was a good choice, and he inwardly thanked his cousin for it. Her discretion was impeccable, her loyalty to this house unwavering, and besides there was every reason to believe that at this point in time her kind wisdom would be of greater assistance to Elizabeth than his possessive rage. It served them ill, all of them, yet he could not help it. The very thought that the woman he loved–
The shock stunned him, and he remained frozen on the spot. He loved her. Staggering yet indisputable, the truth sunk in, and every fibre of his being accepted it as absolute. He loved her. This was why everything about her touched a chord. This was why her lengthy debates with Bradden had displeased him. This was why he had warned Fitzwilliam against paying her too much attention, and why he had been incensed by his cousin’s antics under the kissing bough. This was why he wished to tear Fenton limb from limb for forcibly taking a liberty he had denied himself.
He ran his hands over his face, shocked by the revelation as much as by his own former blindness. How had he not seen it? How had he not known? When had she ceased to be a mere appendage to Georgiana, and had become part of his very soul? That, he could not tell. He was in the middle before he knew he had begun. It was easier to grasp why it had taken him so long to see it. Had they met in any other circumstances, within less than a fortnight he would have recognised his growing interest in her for what it was: attraction. Unconquerable attraction.
As matters stood, he had not even considered it a possibility. The fact that she was a member of his household had served to deceive him. Or rather had made it all too easy for him to deceive himself into believing that it was natural and just to show an interest – learn as much as possible about her, her past, her troubles – task himself with her welfare, just as he did with everyone who lived at Pemberley.
A dark glare came to replace the look of shocked self-discovery at the reminder that he had failed dismally in ensuring the latter. This was not the time to dwell on himself, his shock, his feelings, but keep his thoughts on the matter at hand. Her comfort. Her good name. […]
The remainder of the night passed in a blur. Not very long after the stormy exchange in his study, Fitzwilliam found Darcy in the darkened garden to tell him that Fenton had just left and the supper dance had been announced, so supper would follow shortly.
“Damn the supper dance,” was Darcy’s curt reply, and his cousin gestured in agreement.
“Nevertheless, ‘tis time for you to show your face. You have been gone for well over an hour and you must be there for supper.”
There was wisdom in that and Darcy obeyed, much as he knew that every second would grate on his temper. Thankfully, Fitzwilliam remained at his side. Not conspicuously, but he was always there. To deflect questions about Darcy’s long absence by taking full responsibility for keeping him away with ill-timed disclosures about the last campaign. To mask his inattention to general conversation and even to remarks addressed to him. To constantly refill his glass of wine, until Darcy had to press his hand and urge him to desist with a shake of his head. Tonight of all nights was not one for inebriation.
Mercifully, the supper came to an end and, after four more dances, so did the ball itself, and the large number of exhausted but delighted guests began to disperse and make their way above stairs to their chambers.
Darcy did not even consider going up to his and, since it was far too cold to return to the garden, he walked into his study, much as he loathed any reminder of Fenton. It was little wonder that his cousin followed. For the entire night he had watched over him like a mother-hen over its only chick, Darcy thought with a ghost of a smile and a fresh surge of gratitude.
And it was only then that it occurred to him how Fitzwilliam had shown a remarkable lack of surprise at every word he said and every sign of violent distemper. This time he took the glass he was offered and let himself drop on the chair behind his desk. He looked up to meet his cousin’s stare.
“You knew,” he said.
“Of course,” the other shrugged.
* * * *
Darcy’s next question came a fair while later, when he had spent so long with his eyes closed and his head leaning against the back of his chair that his cousin might have thought he had fallen asleep.
“Our first day here,” Fitzwilliam acknowledged. “You kept watching over her as intently as over Georgiana, if not more so. Discreetly of course, but not for me. I knew you could not pay her any particular attention without making your concerns vexingly public, so I took it upon myself to do what you could not – see to her comfort and deflect my dear sister-in-law’s barbs. By the bye, I trust you will find it in your heart to forgive me for taunting you,” he added with a chuckle.
“Oh, you know. Implying that I might consider courting her myself. The… hm! The morning when the kissing bough was hung up,” he mentioned the latter with understandable reluctance, given recent events. “It was rather cruel of me, I grant you, to prod you so when I knew how you felt. But I was merely seeking to make you admit it.”
“To me,” Fitzwilliam retorted, and then stopped short as he grasped what it was that his cousin was saying. Then he burst out. “Good Lord, Darcy! What are you, fourteen, or going on eight-and-twenty? Are you telling me it was a surprise to you?”
* * * *
No, no, no!!! Don’t stop right there! I want to see what happens next! What is Elizabeth thinking? What will Darcy say to her? Gah!! Joana, you teasing, teasing author! 😉
Many thanks to all of you who followed the blog tour, your kind messages were hugely appreciated, and Meredith I’m more grateful than I could ever say for your warm welcome and wonderful support!
Connect with Joana
In conjunction with her lovely post, Joana Starnes brings with her today ONE kindle EBOOK of Miss Darcy’s Companion, for me to give away to ONE lucky reader!!!!
To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Joana!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Joana!
- This giveaway ends July 20th!
To check out the rest of the tour, click the image above.