Have you read Nefarious yet? Did you follow along when Nicole was posting the first few chapters at Austen Variations? I did, and I couldn't wait for the next one. Everything about this book is fantastic - from the way it was conceived to the way it concluded, and everything in between! What a great read, and it is getting rave reviews! If you haven't read it, I hope you get to soon. It is not to be missed.
He hates everything about her.
She despises him even more.
So why is his heart so determined to belong to her?
Once trapped by marriage to a woman he loathed, Fitzwilliam Darcy is finally free again. Resentful, bewildered, and angry, he is eager to begin his life over—preferably with a woman who is the exact opposite of his wife.
He never imagined a short stay in Hertfordshire would bring him face to face with his worst nightmare; a woman similar in face, form, and name. He certainly never expected her to be so impossible to ignore.
Torn between what he believes he wants and what his heart cannot live without, his dignity begins to unravel. Will his desperation to escape his past drive a wedge into his closest friendship and destroy any hope of a future?
Will Miss Elizabeth Bennet prove to be as nefarious as his wife? Or, will the last woman in the world be his only chance at happiness?
I counted to ten, very slowly. And then, I counted ten more… and still, I felt like erupting. Or, at least, throwing something heavy and expensive.
He was staring over the dinner table at me again. That dark, brooding fellow—the one who had so fascinated me when he first appeared at the Assembly with his thoughtful brow, his regal stature, and the clean, almost severe lines of his face.
But then, there was that mouth. Never had anyone mortified me so thoroughly, nor had so little reason to do so! It was not as if I had trod on his toes or uttered some impertinent remark—though, Heaven knew, I did that quite often enough. But this boor, he required no assistance whatsoever in making himself the most disagreeable, offensive, and arrogant specimen ever to grace the humble halls of Meryton’s Assembly rooms. Ah! Yes, they were humble, and he made certain we all knew it, proclaiming his disdain for the room, the people, the musicians, and most of all, for me.
“Can there be a more unfortunate name in all Christendom?” he had said of me. Yes! In fact, there was a more unfortunate name, and it was Fitzwilliam Darcy. What celestial injustice had endowed such a striking-looking man with a sharp mind, worldly possessions to spare, a voice that could melt wax and eyes that could look right through a woman, and then besmirched it all with such a contemptible, sour character?
Miss Bingley certainly did not seem to mind his manner. If I did not miss my guess, Mr Bingley’s sister was only waiting for the wine to pour freely enough to dull the man’s tongue into making her an offer, or even an off-handed compliment. What a fine match she would make for him! He seemed not at all averse to peppering his company with ill-tempered quips, and she provided him with ample cause to display his prowess.
I wondered if he even noticed how desperately pathetic the woman was, as she tried to lean farther over the table so that her feminine assets might be the more readily displayed. Probably not. Most men were clueless in that way.
I tried to focus my energies on making myself agreeable to the man I hoped would be my brother. I liked Mr Bingley for his own sake, not merely for Jane’s. Who could not like the man? Mr Bingley was genial, open, and solicitous—the perfect opposite of his sister and his friend. How he could suffer their company, I did not understand, but their very presence in the house proved one thing beyond any doubt: if Mr Bingley could tolerate their incivilities with good humour, my own family would seem a pleasant diversion in comparison.
“Upon my word!” Miss Bingley cried, fluttering her hand near her breast and making certain to catch Mr Darcy’s eye as she did so. “I should not have thought it possible! Can you really have an aunt and uncle in trade? No, my dear, I shall not believe you. You are the very picture of everything cultured and refined.”
Hah! As if she did not sneer down her nose at me every time she glanced my way! I laughed back, trying not to insult my hostess, for her brother’s sake. “I am afraid my arrival this morning was anything but elegant.”
I saw Mr Darcy’s rigid brow dimple in agreement with my own assessment, but he kept his eyes carefully averted. Provoking, vexing man! Either he stared in challenge or refused to look my way altogether. It made him wretchedly difficult to engage… not that I wished to engage him, or to have him become engaged with me, or… oh botheration!
Miss Bingley laughed, an annoying sound that made my shoulders clench and my spine shiver in revulsion. I might have noticed a faint roll of Mr Darcy’s eyes, had I been looking at him. A jolly good thing I was not, for he certainly deserved no notice from me.
Miss Bingley was still talking, trying to amuse us all with some tale from her youth… however long ago that had been. Was it kindness or condescension that made her observe—again—how my hems had been stained that morning, and how I must have very agreeable relatives living in Cheapside? I fixed her with a glassy stare and silently counted again. I made it to ten before I had to start over due to some newly outrageous remark.
Well, she was what she was, I supposed. If my hopes were to bear fruit, I would one day be related to the woman, so I had best not offend her all at once. And truly, I could bear her, far more easily than I could tolerate the man across the table. With any luck, he would see just what a stellar match she might make him, and take her away to wherever his estate was. Far away, I hoped.
I smiled at my hostess’ blistering superciliousness and praised her hospitality, all while trying not to look like I was stretching the truth until its seams would break. At least Mr Bingley was everything charming and generous, and I did so covet him for dear Jane. What a fine, understanding husband he would make for her! And he was smitten already, that much was plain—just as his friend’s interest was also obvious.
Poor Jane! She had been so uncomfortable dancing with Mr Darcy at the Assembly, with the way he stared at her and prowled about the room after her. I still congratulated myself with stepping into his path at Lucas Lodge, keeping him from seeking her out, and I fairly gloated when I recalled my triumph in forcing him to ask Miss Bingley to dance. The look he had shot me—part passionate indignation, and part dumbfounded awe—would forever stand as one of the grandest prizes I had ever won.
He was glaring at me again, a curious furrow between his eyes that he had not displayed with any of his previous scowls. It was almost as if something I had said puzzled him, and he was even more cross because he could not make sense of it. That was when a shaft of wicked inspiration struck.
I could not confront him directly—not only would it be an insult to my father and my family if I were to condescend so, but I would surely come off the loser. But I could needle him… irritate, exasperate, and cause him to fret in impotence. What could he do but fulminate in silence? And so, when we adjourned to the drawing room that evening, I made straight for the book on the side table.
I knew very well whose book it was. As if Mr Bingley would moon about for hours reading essays on morality and human nature! And certainly, it would never have belonged to Miss Bingley or Mrs Hurst—a fact evidenced when Miss Bingley claimed a different book for herself and held it upside-down for the first ten minutes. No one else from this house would have such a book in his possession, nor so proudly display the Cambridge ribbon as a marker.
How fortunate for me that I already enjoyed Samuel Johnson! It made my own pursuit so much more satisfying, particularly when I deliberately twirled that ridiculous ribbon through my fingers. How red his face turned! I thought he would leap from his chair and snatch it out of my hands that very instant, but he only turned and tried to write a letter to someone. Probably some count or some-such, and no doubt his letter contained a series of laments about the backwards Hertfordshire set among whom he found himself trapped. The scoundrel. He would make little progress on his letter, for every other moment he was glancing over his shoulder at me.
I drew a luxuriant sigh and turned the page. There, marked with a bold stroke in the margin, was a passage that made me stop and read it over.
“Men know that women are an overmatch for them, and therefore they choose the weakest or the most ignorant. If they did not think so, they never could be afraid of women knowing as much as themselves.”
What could he have meant by marking that? Either he appreciated Johnson’s satire—perhaps had seen the practice played out in reality—or he had taken it as serious advice for a man on the hunt for a bride. I narrowed my eyes and read the words again. Only a fool would misunderstand it… and whatever else he was, Mr Darcy did not appear to be a fool. A cynic, a misanthrope, and a bit of a peacock, in all his elevated opinions of himself, but not a fool.
That left only the possibility that at some point in his life, Mr Darcy, the disdainful and irascible one, must have possessed a glimmer of good sense, and possibly even humour. I could not help seeking his face again, hoping to trace some semblance of whimsy or wit in those marble features—a face that could have been sculpted by Michelangelo—but he was slanting a bold and confrontational look back at me. I felt almost like he was willing me to despise him… as if I needed any help in that regard! His cheek twitched and I could see his jaw shift in challenge.
I stole my gaze quickly away, vowing never to repeat that mistake. Handsome as he was, intelligent as he might be, I would not permit myself to wonder about him again. I kept my eyes studiously to the book page… but did not neglect to toy with his bookmark, just to aggravate him. Some minutes passed in silence
Miss Bingley seemed to have missed his irritation, because she kept hovering around him. She had given up on her own book, and was flitting about, trying to make him acknowledge her existence. “How fast you write, Mr Darcy!” she praised him.
“You are mistaken,” he growled. “I write rather slowly.”
Indeed, I could see the position of his hand on the notepaper, and it was still near the top. Why on earth would it take him so long to scribble out a few lines? He glanced round, as if he were only looking at his inquisitor, but he happened to catch my eye. I gazed back only briefly, then pretended to ignore him, making a great show of turning the book’s page and then toying with his blue ribbon. He turned away and bent again to his letter, but his hand was not very diligent in its task.
Miss Bingley was pacing around his chair, casting glances my way now and again. “And how does Miss Darcy do? I presume it is she to whom you write?”
I was trying to keep my eyes on the book and not credit the brute with more attention than was his due, but this caught my notice. A sister? I studied the hunched posture of his shoulders, heard the affirmative grunt as he acknowledged Miss Bingley’s assumption, and mused on this piece of intelligence. She must be a fearsome creature, indeed. I pictured a second Miss Bingley—a woman of perhaps six and twenty, burdened with far too much fortune and pride to bestow either on some unwitting earl’s son.
“And she is to come away from school soon, of course,” Miss Bingley continued. “Shall she join us for the festive season, Mr Darcy?”
“She is to arrive in less than a fortnight. I am presently writing to inform her of the final arrangements,” was his brusque answer.
Ah, so this was a much younger sister. And if Mr Darcy was her primary guardian, she must have been subjected to all manner of conceit and disdain during her formative years. The poor child! I felt a softening in my heart at once for this unknown maid—though, heaven knew, she was probably just as arrogant as her brother. However, it pleased me to conceive of some creature I might pity for her helpless relationship to such an ogre.
I continued to listen as Miss Bingley drew each unwilling bit of information from Mr Darcy. Then, she was turning to me, and declaring that Miss Darcy had not her equal for elegance and accomplishments. At this, I was forced to enter the conversation.
“Indeed, she must be a remarkable young lady to have drawn such praise,” I replied. “She is very young, I presume?”
“Not yet fifteen, is she, Mr Darcy?” Miss Bingley asked.
“She is just turned sixteen,” he answered, his head still bent over his page.
“How the years have flown!” Miss Bingley cried. “Is she much grown since I last saw her? Is she as tall as I am?”
“She is now about Miss Jane Bennet’s height, or a little taller.”
“Ah!” mused the lady, “you are so good, Mr Darcy, to recall our poor guest upstairs. How does she do this evening, Miss Eliza?”
I sighed and closed the book, for it was apparent that Miss Bingley would no longer permit me my pleasure in frustrating Mr Darcy with it. I was not at all happy to be disclosing Jane’s progress in the hearing of that she-vulture, nor that of Mr Darcy the Black Cloud, but I was somewhat gratified to see Mr Bingley sitting up to take note of my response.
“I am afraid she is not at all well, Miss Bingley,” I replied. “She was very uncomfortable this evening.”
Mr Bingley made some gallant offer of calling for the apothecary, which I politely declined, but I confess, my attention was not on him. I was sensing the other gentleman, the dark and sombre one, whose frame seemed to swell like a gathering storm from that corner of the room. How did a man possess such… such presence? Little wonder Miss Bingley was fascinated by him, for I would have been so myself, if I were not so despairing over the travesty of his woeful character.
Mr Bingley at last relented in his concerns and returned to his card game. His sister, however, did not mean to lose her chance of provoking Mr Darcy into conversation. “What a considerate sister you are, Miss Eliza,” she praised me. “I always say that family are the greatest comfort anyone could have. Do you not agree, Mr Darcy?”
What occurred next perplexed me in the extreme. Mr Darcy refused to answer. It was not as if he had not heard her—indeed, he could not have failed to do so—but he absolutely rebuffed her. From where I sat, I could even catch the hint of a shadow at his jaw, indicating that he was clenching his teeth. Then, I saw the top of his pen jerk sharply at an odd angle. He had bent it beyond repair!
I watched him as he drew two or three deep breaths and searched for another pen, ignoring Miss Bingley all the while. What could she have said to anger him so? But this was Mr Darcy, a man who seemed always to be angry over something, so I sighed and forced myself to look away again.
“Miss Bingley,” I said, “do you not find that family can also be a great source of enjoyment as well as comfort?”
She looked puzzled. “How so?”
“Why, perhaps it is merely because I have so many sisters, but we engage in much teasing and merriment when at home. Is it so in your family?”
Miss Bingley, the aspiring lady of class and composure, actually snorted. “Merriment! I do not understand what you can mean. Are cards and reading insufficient to such an enterprise?”
“I do not claim they are insufficient, but what of less formal enjoyment? Do you not simply tease and jest with one another for the sake of pleasure?”
She appeared to be at a loss. “Tease? Miss Eliza, surely you know that my brother cultivates enough ridicule of his own without requiring another to take note of it.”
“Mr Bingley is everything light-hearted and engaging,” I conceded, “but what of Mr Hurst? What of Mr Darcy?”
“Tease Mr Darcy? Why no, my dear, it is impossible. The very idea!”
I shook my head in mock sadness. “That is a pity, for I dearly love to laugh.”
This had the result I had expected. Mr Darcy himself spun round in his seat and fixed me with such a surly, agitated expression that I nearly giggled aloud.
“You think it proper to ridicule someone who has made it the study of his life to avoid the sort of weaknesses that would expose him? To make light of an honourable figure, purely for your own amusement?”
Ah, if he only knew how very amusing he was just then, as he tried to stand on his affronted dignity! “Not for my personal amusement, but for the enjoyment of the whole room,” I replied. “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Most of my associates take much delight in their own follies, for none regard themselves so seriously that they cannot admit to some fault. Have you no faults at all, sir?”
That nearly pushed him over the edge. I saw his eyes flame, his nostrils distend, and his teeth even flashed for a glimmer of a second. Oh, but he was so easy to infuriate!
“Faults?” Miss Bingley protested. “Mr Darcy! He is a man perfectly without fault.”
I watched Mr Darcy seethe, his fingers clenching again on another hapless pen, and I could not help but to smile in victory. “Indeed,” I congratulated him, “you are to be commended for living so long on this earth without cultivating a few aberrations. I now no longer wonder at your lack of good humour, sir, for if I were similarly cursed with perfection, I should think myself the dullest person in the world.”
Miss Bingley’s eyes popped, like one of the hens when she has just dropped an egg, and she absolutely glared at me. Mr Darcy, however, had turned quite red. His breathing had quickened, and those dark eyes were on fire with indignation.
I knew when to withdraw. I rose, adopted a sweet expression, and informed Miss Bingley that I meant to retire for the night. To Mr Darcy, I delivered his book, thereby confessing my understanding that it was his possession, and that I had knowingly co-opted it for my own purposes. I leaned low and whispered to him, “You are not so very difficult to understand, Mr Darcy.”
I distinctly heard him hiss with exasperation as I left the room.
Didn't you just love the vignette! Wow! Lizzy was not happy with Darcy! I could just see her counting to ten repeatedly! I believe they were almost shooting daggers with their eyes! Poor Darcy! He has no clue what is happening to him.At this point, it certainly doesn't seem like Lizzy and Darcy will ever have a chance at a HEA. I'm so glad there is the rest of the story! :) (and what a story it is, too!)
Nefarious Blog Stops
June 3rd - More Agreeably Engaged; Vignette, Giveaway
June 4th – From Pemberley to Milton; Guest Post and/or Excerpt, Giveaway
June 7th - Austenesque Reviews; Vignette, Giveaway
June 8th – Babblings of a Bookworm; Vignette, Giveaway
June 11th – So Little Time…; Guest Post, Giveaway
June 13th - Savvy Verse & Wit; Guest Post, Giveaway
June 15th – Diary of an Eccentric; Review, Giveaway
Now it's giveaway time, and Nicole has a great giveaway for one lucky reader!
Option 1: $10 Amazon Gift Card plus eBook or Audiobook of winner’s choice; International
Option 2: Signed Paperback of winner’s choice; US only
The giveaway will end at 11:59 P.M. on the 8th of June. Good luck to all!
Thank you, Nicole Clarkston, for stopping by and letting us read Lizzy's thoughts. She was an impertinent mess!
Thank you also for the generous giveaway for my readers. Best wishes with your new release, Nefarious.