|Available on Amazon|
Dear Readers, we have a treat today! I've been looking forward to this post for weeks! This is my stop for Joana Starnes and the Mr. Bennet's Dutiful Daughter Blog Tour. We are most fortunate in that we get an exclusive vignette for our visit! Isn't that wonderful! Oh my! Be still my heart! Wait until you read it!
Not only do we have this touching and heartfelt vignette, but Mrs. Starnes gives us some enlightening background for it, too.
Goodness, Joana Starnes, I do love your writing! Thank you for sharing your talent with us and welcome, once again to More Agreeably Engaged. It's always so nice to have to pop in. (The painting for your cover is so fitting and you know how I love for covers to help tell the story!)
Thank you, Janet, for your ever so kind welcome at More Agreeably Engaged on the blog tour for my latest book, Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter. As the title suggests, this is an ‘early marriage’ scenario, where Elizabeth accepts Mr Darcy’s first proposal on account of her father’s sudden illness. There are no heated exchanges in the Hunsford parsonage and no explanatory letter either, so Elizabeth and Mr Darcy begin their life together with the full baggage of prejudices on both sides, as well as his unchecked pride. The differences they did not get the chance to reconcile before the wedding gradually come to light in the first months of their marriage. One of them is centred on Darcy’s views of Mr and Mrs Gardiner. He had brought himself to just about endure the Bennets with minimal grumbles, but he draws the line at Elizabeth flaunting relations in trade. Lady Catherine and several others have already demonstrated that it would be a great challenge for Elizabeth to be accepted into the highest circles and, as he bluntly puts it, “With added millstones, it would be insurmountable.”
Needless to say, Elizabeth is horrified. Ever since their marriage she had grown to discover a number of encouraging facts: that he is much kinder and considerate than she had originally thought; that he is very much in love with her, however self-absorbed and flawed the sentiment; that he had already done a great deal for her family and is prepared to do more. But that does not extend to welcoming relations in trade.
The revelations that emerge after Mrs Gardiner’s visit to the Darcy townhouse spark open conflict, and Elizabeth can barely contain her shock:
“But my Gracechurch Street relations are not welcome?” she incredulously asked. “When Mr Bingley’s own fortune was made in trade?”
Darcy gave a gesture of impatience.
“His grandfather was the last of the Bingleys to live within sight of his own warehouses.”
Elizabeth gripped her hands together in her lap, overcome with anger at the hopelessness of the situation.
“So in the face of that, affection, loyalty, family, they count for nothing!” she bitterly exclaimed.
“You have daily proof it is not so,” Darcy retorted, just as bitterly. “You have my affection, my loyalty and everything that is in my power to give. But it is not in my power to give you safe passage in the world if you persist in hampering your own progress by every means possible! Elizabeth, we have had this discussion once before, and I will not endure it again,” he cut her short, when she opened her lips to harshly comment on how much she valued the progress he was speaking of. “Against my better judgement I have conceded to having your mother and younger sisters visit us in town on occasion, although goodness knows why you should wish it when you could spend more than enough time with them at Netherfield and Pemberley. At least they have some claim to gentility, in name if not in substance. Must you expose yourself to further censure by flaunting connections in trade?”
Predictably, this does not go down well. The shock is so much greater for Elizabeth because she had tentatively begun to warm up to her husband as she had discovered some of his well-hidden good qualities and witnessed his kindness to her. But this makes her feel they are poles apart, each unable to understand the other as they heatedly debate the issue over a couple of days – when her husband is at home, that is. He had taken himself away after their first bitter disagreement, and the pattern keeps repeating itself.
Mr Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is very much from Elizabeth’s point of view as she tries to make sense of her new life and understand her husband. She can barely guess what he is thinking, and she often guesses wrong. When Claudine suggested that one of the blog tour posts could be an exclusive vignette from Darcy’s point of view, I leapt at the opportunity. So here he is, the gentleman himself (if you have already read the book, this belongs at the end of Chapter 16). Mr Darcy has just spent another evening away from home rather than repeatedly arguing with his wife. He is as distressed as she about their disagreement, even though he can’t see any flaws in his reasoning. But his head and his heart have agreed to disagree a long time ago…
* * * *
‘In His Head – In His Heart’
His raised hand, poised to knock, fell away from the polished wood and Darcy rubbed his mouth and chin instead, in a half-nervous, half-frustrated gesture.
The nervousness, once recognised as such, only served to fuel the frustration. Not long ago he would have scoffed at the merest intimation that he would come to this – pacing in his chambers like a schoolboy confined for some misdemeanour; loitering on this side of the wretched door in all devils of a quandary over the most ludicrous of matters: whether he should knock on his own wife’s door – or not.
His friends and foes alike would laugh themselves into a fit to see him thus – tied into knots over a slip of a girl, eight years his junior. Bewitched body and soul by this mesmerising, fiery and sometimes downright infuriating woman who just so happened to be the love of his life.
The frustrated scowl gave way to an unexpected smile. Fiery. She was that. Had always been, from the earliest days of their acquaintance. A fire that had drawn him like the hapless moth to the proverbial flame.
He sighed. Her father’s illness and subsequent demise had sadly dimmed the fire he relished and feared in equal measure, but could not extinguish it. Not in someone as vibrantly alive as her. It had sparked again in the least likely, indeed the very worst of circumstances: their bitter disagreement over her unsavoury relations. For two days the sudden discord had poisoned every moment – yet even as the most hurtful words had shot between them he had recognised the old sparks with a jolt. Had welcomed them, even!
Darcy’s lips tightened into a grimace of exasperation. What did it say of him, for goodness’ sake – and worse still, of her power over him – that he should desire her all the more when she was fiercely rebellious rather than softly spoken and amenable to reason? That, ever as she argued the most preposterous and untenable of positions, as far removed from his ingrained sense of right and wrong as it could be, he should still want nothing quite as much as to stride forth and silence her absurd suggestions with a forceful kiss?
The mental picture was doing him no favours whatsoever, and with a muted oath Darcy stepped back from the door linking his bedchamber with hers. He stood in no need of further proof that he could barely trust himself around her, and keeping his distance over the last couple of days had been the only means of not having her see him as either a savage or a fool. Yet all he had achieved was to miss their time together all the more – miss her – as he had resigned himself to spending the previous night at his club and the best part of tonight at Fanshawe’s townhouse. In both instances seeking not companionship, but sanctuary.
Even had he sought it, there was no companionship to be had among the assortment of men in various stages of inebriation. In order to escape them, on the first night he had availed himself of a bedchamber at White’s, little as he had imagined he would sleep – and he had not. He could not bear to exile himself to the soulless solitude of yet another restless night there. He needed to come home. He needed her.
The thin sliver of light under the interconnecting door had caught his eye from the very first step into his darkened chamber. It was very late – yet she had waited up. Hope swelled, and a fresh wave of tenderness threatened to undo him. She had waited up!
His valet was dismissed in no time at all. Darcy had neither the patience to be helped out of his apparel, nor any thought to spare for their habitual exchanges and arrangements for the morrow. It was all that he could do not to glance too often at the tantalising strip of light in his man’s presence, like the veriest mooncalf. And now Weston was gone – he had left as bid a quarter of an hour ago, or more. Yet here he was, still in his shirtsleeves and still battling with all manner of maddening indecisions.
Enough! Although still quiet, Darcy’s footsteps grew suddenly firmer as they brought him back to the confounding door. She had waited up. Bless her guileless heart, she never was one to hold a grudge. She always dealt fairly, as honest in her loyalties and affections as in giving voice to her displeasure. She loved him. And she must be pained by this artificial distance as much as he. Enough!
The least he could do was to assure her he did not cling to resentments either. Surely he could trust himself to walk in and bid her good night!
Darcy rapped with his knuckles – two taps, light and quick – and before he could even strain to listen for an answer the door moved away on well-oiled hinges. It had been left open – by a hair’s breadth, but open – and another surge of hope rushed to flood his heart.
The door was still moving, and the widening gap allowed him to finally grasp why his knock had yet to be answered. She was asleep. Not in her bed, but curled up in a wingchair. Waiting for him to come home to her.
There was such overwhelming joy in that simple thought that Darcy did not dwell on the wasted hours as he pushed the door open until the gap was wide enough to permit him to walk in. A couple of floorboards creaked under his footsteps, yet she did not stir. Not even when, crouched beside her, he reached for the book in her lap, to lift it and noiselessly place it on the table.
It was not the first time he had watched her sleep. It had happened before – most notably, and most blissfully too, on the first morning of their marriage – when out of habit he had awakened much earlier than she and had remained precisely where he was, cherishing the joy of waking up beside her and finding her beloved features softened in repose, rather than clouded with concern or sorrow.
More often than not he could scarce credit the good fortune that she was his wife. This was one of the occasions as he sat on the floor, elbow on one knee and chin in hand, revelling in every detail of her appearance. The tremulous light from the three low-burning candles played on her cheek, the moving shadows now and then creating the illusion of fluttering lashes. Yet it remained nothing but illusion. She was still asleep when Darcy stood to slide an arm behind her back and the other underneath her, to lift her off her seat, then straightened up with her warm weight cradled to his chest.
Her head fell on his shoulder and naturally found its place, nestling under his chin as she gave a sleepy little murmur of contentment – and he remained stock-still, his heart overflowing. She loved him. And nothing else mattered in this world.
The longstanding yet nebulous notion that he would do anything for her suddenly came into the sharpest focus. He knew then that he would relent; that he would put an end to their destructive disagreement. He would do anything to make her happy – accede to her every wish, just for the joy to see her lips curl into a smile. It should have frightened him, that certainty, yet it could not. Not now, when she was in his arms, soft, warm and trusting, nestling against him; instinctively knowing this was where she belonged. She was his, and she loved him. Everything paled before that; every concession ceased to be a sacrifice.
If it meant so much to her to maintain a close connection with the Gardiners, then so be it. Let them call. He would even go as far as dining with the man who, for all he knew, might have supplied the wine for his table or the silks for his sister’s dresses. Since Mr Gardiner was clearly able to keep command of a successful business, hopefully he had more sense than Mrs Bennet. And, to give credit where it was due, Mrs Gardiner was nothing like her sister by marriage. Surely he could survive the more decorous aunt, if he had brought himself to endure the mother!
His fashionable acquaintances had no say in this. No one – very likely not even Elizabeth herself – would expect the denizens of Mayfair to dine with her Cheapside relations, and while she was still in mourning they would not be entertaining anyway. As for his relations, should they quibble – and quibble they doubtlessly will… Darcy suppressed a shrug so as not to wake her. Let them quibble. What fool would choose to please them over her?
This was all he had ever wanted anyway: to protect her from malice, keep her safe, make her happy. It might well border on insufferable presumption to claim he knew what would make her happy better than she.
He bowed his head a fraction to press his lips into her hair as he turned to carry her to her bed. Everything about her was intoxicating. Her scent. Her warmth. The softness of her skin. And, much as he had endeavoured not to wake her a few moments earlier, claiming that he did not wish she would awaken now, as he settled her against the pillows, would have been a grievous falsehood. As would have been to claim he was not sorely tempted to slide beside her under the bedcovers. She might unthinkingly wrap her arms around him in her sleep, or awake to welcome him in the spirit of the truce she had so sweetly offered before dinner – and yet, however tantalising those prospects proved themselves to be, he knew full well that he wanted a great deal more. Not sleepy habit. Not conciliation. And, heaven forefend, not placid compliance. So for now he merely brushed his lips over her cheek and whispered, “Sleep well. I love you,” before reaching to cover her with the counterpane. Then he blew out the candles and quietly walked out.
* * * *
The pruning scissors closed across the stem with a muted snap, releasing the perfect bloom into his keeping. Walking into the orangery in the middle of the night in search of floral offerings might well have been so out of character with him as to border on the juvenile or the quixotic, yet Darcy was very far from seeing it as such as he returned to Elizabeth’s bedchamber to place the token on her nightstand. A single red rose, as beautiful as she, and as vibrant as his restless heart.
Joana Starnes lives in the south of England with her family. A medical graduate, in more recent years she has developed an unrelated but enduring fascination with Georgian Britain in general and the works of Jane Austen in particular, as well as with the remarkable and flamboyant set of people who have given the Regency Period its charm and sparkle.
Joana Starnes is the author of:
* 'From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley', a 'Pride & Prejudice' sequel
* 'The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice & Persuasion'
* 'The Second Chance', a 'Pride & Prejudice' ~ 'Sense & Sensibility' variation
* 'The Falmouth Connection', a 'Pride & Prejudice' variation where Jane Austen's beloved characters are compelled to leave their tame and reasonably peaceful lives in the south of England and travel to the far reaches of Cornwall, into a world of deceit and peril, where few - if any! - are what they seem to be...
* 'The Unthinkable Triangle', a 'Pride & Prejudice' variation that dwells on the most uncomfortable love-triangle of them all. What if Mr. Darcy's rival for Miss Bennet's hand and heart is none other than his dearest, closest friend? And how can they all find their 'happily-ever-after'?
*'Miss Darcy's Companion' - a variation that explores what might have happened if the warm-hearted Miss Elizabeth Bennet were employed instead of the scheming Mrs Younge.
Twitter: Joana Starnes/Twitter
Goodreads: Joana Starnes Goodreads Author Page
Amazon: Joana Starnes Amazon Author Page
When Colonel Fitzwilliam’s disclosures are interrupted by the bearer of distressing news from Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is compelled to consider an offer she would have otherwise dismissed out of hand. An offer of marriage from the all-too-proud Mr Darcy.
Yet how is she to live with a husband she hardly knows and does not love? Would she be trapped in a marriage of convenience while events conspire to divide them? Or would love grow as, day by day and hour after hour, she learns to understand the man she married, before she loses his trust and his heart?
Purchase Link: Amazon
November 17/ My Jane Austen Book Club/Launch Post & Giveaway
November 18/Pemberley to Milton/Book Review & Giveaway
November 19/Obsessed with Mr. Darcy/ Book Review & Giveaway
November 20/ A Covent Garden Madame Gilflurt's Guide to Life/Guest Post & Giveaway
November 21/ Margie's Must Reads/ Book Review & Giveaway
November 22/ Babblings of a Bookworm/ Book Review & Giveaway
November 23/Diary of an Eccentric/Book Review & Giveaway
November 24/ Happy Thanksgiving
November 25/ So Little Time... So Much to Read/ Excerpt & Giveaway
November 26/ Just Jane 1813/Interview with Joana Starnes & Giveaway
November 27 / My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice/ Guest Post & Giveaway
November 28/ More Agreeably Engaged/ Vignette & Giveaway
December 1/ My Vices and Weaknesses/ Book Review & Giveaway
December 2/ Austenesque Reviews/ Excerpt & Giveaway
Claudine Pepe, of Just Jane 1813, thank you for organizing such a great blog tour. You always make it easy on us bloggers!
Well, everyone? What did you think of this special treat - our exclusive vignette? I sighed at the depth of feeling and the thoughts that accompanied them. delivered so beautifully by Joana Starnes. I'm not sure why but I also felt a bit of apprehension. I'm fearing for the gentleman and what might be yet to come. No, I have not read the book, but do I ever want to read it! What I wouldn't give to have the next couple of days to sit and relish this story, savoring every morsel! For those of you who have read it, what are your thought? (Please, no spoilers, though) :)
Thank you, Joana. I keep hearing people say they feel this is your best yet. As much as I have loved your other books, it is hard for me to imagine one better than any one of them! I will happily let all my readers know my thoughts once I have had the opportunity to read and decide for myself...best of all or ranking at the top with the rest!
Now I have the extreme pleasure to tell you about a giveaway for Mr. Bennet's Dutiful Daughter. Ms. Starnes is giving away one eBook to one of you, and the giveaway is international! Leave a comment below and please leave me your contact info. I don't want any of you to miss this opportunity because I find you. That would be a shame! Thank you all for visiting and a special thanks to you, Joana. I hope this book continues to be successful, (I'm sure it will), and please, keep writing! :)
The giveaway will end at 11:59 PM on the 4th of December, 2016. Good luck to all of you!