Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chapter One of A Battle of Wills: Elizabeth, Darcy, and Me - Book 2

Here's a sample from A Battle of Wills. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter One


I suppose it is because baby Will has passed one year of age now that Lady Catherine (or That Woman as I call her) has finally decided to acknowledge my existence. You would have thought his birth itself would have been occasion for that, but perhaps she was waiting to see if he were indeed a hale and hearty child and would survive his first year—a valid concern given that her own daughter, Anne, was so sickly that every birthday until her present age was to be greatly celebrated. Oh dear, that was very ungenerous of me. Let me get to the point: Mr. Darcy and I have received notice from Lady Catherine that she wishes to throw a ball at Rosings in order to “Introduce me into polite society,” as she puts it. What a miracle! I am officially a Darcy in her eyes. The truth is, we haven’t heard a peep from her since Fitzwilliam and I married almost three years ago! Oh, we occasionally receive a petulant letter from her lapdog, Mr. Collins, keeping us up-to-date with the latest goings on at Rosings: who has visited; of whom Lady Catherine has approved and whom she hasn’t;  how Miss de Bourgh came close to executing a beautiful painting or piece of needlework, but was too “indisposed” to actually finish it; who has put himself forward as her suitor and been systematically rejected by the mother; and how many times Mr. Collins and Charlotte have been invited to dine since he last wrote. Fortunately, Charlotte’s affectionate letters tell me all I really want to know about their two sweet children, how the chickens are doing, the difficulties in raising prize hogs, and the yield of their garden.
The letter I received from her just today was of a different bent, however, because she hinted to me that Lady Catherine had already spoken to them of the impending ball, assuming, I suppose, that Fitzwilliam and I will attend without objection. The letter from Lady Catherine to Fitzwilliam (of course it wasn’t addressed to me), demanding our attendance at this prodigious event, arrived in the same post as Charlotte’s, but as Fitzwilliam saw it before I did, he came to tell me of it with Charlotte’s letter in his hand. Thus, I knew of That Woman’s plan before I had to undergo the surprise of hearing it from Charlotte.
Fitzwilliam was sweet enough to ask me if would consider attending, given how his aunt had offended me those three years ago. I know he has not been happy about this estrangement from Lady Catherine, and I could see by the look in his eye that he hoped I would assent. I did. He then handed me the letter so I could glance over the lengthy guest list that she included, and merely glance I did as it was so long, and I know very few of the people on it. I did note that Jane and Charles were there, as were, surprisingly, Mother and Father, and Georgiana of course. Colonel Fitzwilliam was included, but named as The Earl of Rochester, his new title. His elder brother passed away around a year ago without leaving an heir, so Colonel Fitzwilliam is now Lord Edward Fitzwilliam, or, of course, Lord Rochester. It was difficult for me to call him anything other than Colonel Fitzwilliam for the longest time, but now he is, affectionately, merely Edward.
At any rate, in the midst of looking the list over, I was called away by Nanny as little Will had awoken from his morning nap, and I wanted to oversee his mealtime. How I adore feeding him with the tiny silver spoon, and watching as his little hands grasp his cup of milk. Fitzwilliam is shocked that I take this task upon myself rather than leaving it to Nanny, but I don’t care. I can’t get enough of my sweet boy, my miniature Fitzwilliam, who is so very like his father.
We went for a walk with the pram around the grounds, after his lunch, just the two of us, no nanny in tow. I lifted him out and let him crawl upon the green—he is very close to walking. He is such a clever boy. He already knows the words, tree, bug, horse, mama, papa, and nana. I don’t like the idea of leaving him for the few days that we will be expected to be at Rosings, but That Woman would never tolerate the noise and mess of a baby, and, besides that, I don’t want to take him away from home at such a young age and expose him to the jostling of road, the terribly long ride, and the contagion we might meet with along the way, so he will stay at Pemberley with Nanny while we are gone. I will miss horribly his little fair head, his big brown eyes, and the tiny lips that I love to kiss. I will suggest to Jane that she bring Eliza to stay at Pemberley with Will while we are all gone so the cousins can keep each other company. Jane is longing for another child but has not yet been blessed. I am content for now with my little man, but if God sees fit to bless us with another, whenever that might occur, I shall welcome it. I hope it is a little girl whom I will name Maryjane. 
Returning to my parlour after relinquishing Will to Nanny, I sat down to peruse the guest list from Lady Catherine with more scrutiny. It was no surprise that Lydia and Wickham were not on it. Kitty was included with Mother and Father, and Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, which was very nice, but then I realized I did not see Mary and her husband Christopher upon the list. Surely this must be an oversight. If Lady Catherine saw fit to include the rest of my family, why not Mary and Christopher? Maybe she does not know of their existence. After all, she has never met them. Yet surely Charlotte and Mr. Collins helped her assemble the list. All of Charlotte’s immediate relations were there.
I summoned Fitzwilliam, who appeared in just a few minutes, to get his opinion.
He came to my side, where I sat before my desk, and bent to kiss me on the lips. “Yes, my darling,” he said to me, with a wry grin. “Do not trouble yourself that I was in the middle of important business correspondences. I am your humble servant.”
“This is important business, too, my love,” I responded with mock strictness. “Your aunt has neglected to invite Mary and Christopher to her ball.”
His aspect clouded. “I wonder if ‘neglect’ is an apt word.”
“Are you saying she might have left them out on purpose? Why would she do such a thing? She must have simply overlooked them.”
“My aunt does nothing by accident. She is most meticulous as you know. I fear she might have thought Christopher’s position too low to mix with her high society friends.”
I bristled at the thought. “Mary is my sister! I will not go where she and her husband are not wanted.”
“Now, now, my dear, do not upset yourself.” He took my hand and kissed it. “I will write to my aunt presently and mention it. I will tell her it is important to you to have your sister and her husband included in the invitation. After all, the ball is in your honor.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Let us not deceive ourselves, darling. It is in your honor. She wants you back in the bosom of her regard. You were always her favorite nephew.”
Still holding my hand, he pulled me to my feet and embraced me. I still feel the same weakness in my knees when Fitzwilliam holds me close as I did the very first time he took me in his arms and kissed me: the day he expressed to me that he had reason to hope I would accept his proposal—the very thing that started this row with his aunt in the first place. I have never been happier to stand up to anyone in my life than the day I told Lady Catherine I would not agree not to marry her nephew.
He pressed his soft lips to mine. On that wonderful day of our engagement those three years ago, with that first kiss, I somehow sensed he was holding back his passion, keeping it in abeyance so as to not overwhelm us both with desire before we could appropriately give into it as man and wife. But today, there was no reason for him to keep his passion in check and did not. We drank each other in fully, our mouths joined hungrily, our bodies pressed together urgently. I ran my hands up his muscular arms and across his broad back.
He broke away for a moment. “Has Nanny taken Will for his afternoon nap?” He whispered into my ear.
“Yes,” I replied breathlessly.
“Then will you accompany me to my bed?”
I gazed into his deep, brown eyes. He is even more handsome to me now than he was the day we married because now I know him fully, and know he is as beautiful a man on the inside as out. I couldn’t possibly be more in love with him.
“Yes,” I repeated in a whisper. I took his offered hand and followed him through the house, and up the stairs. I went into my chamber, and he into his, so we wouldn’t scandalize the servants. Our rooms adjoin by an inner door and so, after removing my gown, I slipped into his chamber in only my chemise, anticipating the delights that awaited me.


When my dearest Christopher is away, doing his duties as Doctor of the Veterinary Arts, I miss him terribly. At the moment, he has been called to Jane and Charles’s home, Waterston, which is twenty miles north of us. A journey of that distance would require him to stay overnight even if it were a simple case he has gone to see about, but this time it is not, and he may be needed for several days. Charles’s beloved mare, Camilla, is about to foal and Christopher has gone in anticipation of the event because he would not want her to begin her labor without his supervision. She is a most valuable animal, and Charles has bred her with a stallion of equally high pedigree, and so the foal that is to come will be as precious as the both the mother and father. Therefore, I must do without him until Camilla is safely through her ordeal and the foal is deemed to be doing well. It could be just a few days, or a fortnight.
I think about how natural it is for animals to reproduce. I am sure no mare, or cow, or sow ever worry about conceiving, yet it is at the forefront of my concerns. Christopher and I have been married more than a year and I am still not with child. I know that it takes some women time, yet all three of my married sisters have been blessed with little ones—why Lydia already has two! True, they have been married longer than I, but having spent as much time with Jane’s and Lizzy’s babies as I have, I want nothing more than to have my own child, and love and nurture it with all my heart. I know Christopher feels the same way though he tells me to be patient and let nature take its course. What choice do I have?
As I sit writing at my desk, I look up at the small, framed portrait of Christopher that he gave me for our first Christmas together. The artist captured his likeness so well, even the hint of mischievousness in his dark eyes. The curve of his lips, the arch of his brow, the strong bones of his face are all there. Even the way his hair tends to hang slightly over one eye. The only thing missing from the picture is the expression of love with which he regards me. I will always be amazed at how I was so lucky as to find the adoration of such a sweet and clever man.
Very well, enough of my musings. I will now spend an hour working on my latest story, and then an hour practicing upon the lovely pianoforte that was a wedding gift from Jane and Charles. After that, a half an hour studying French, a half an hour with German, and then it will be time to feed the chickens, and check on the cows in their stall, once our young cowherd has brought them in for the evening. I love the warmth of the barn, the smell of the hay, and the gentle, kind presence of the cattle. I can feel that they expect me every evening to give them an extra caress, and an assurance of my affection.
After supper, I will read a little for education, and more for pleasure, before I retire to my bed which will be cold without the body of my love, my life. I do not complain though. He told me to be strong while he is gone, and so I will. Yet nothing can stop me from smelling his pillow as I drift off into sleep.


Fitzwilliam has received a response from That Woman about Mary and Christopher. He came to share it with me this morning as soon as the post had arrived, finding me still lingering with my coffee at the breakfast table.
“My beautiful Lizzy!” he cried when he came into the room. He often tells me I’m beautiful, but something about his tone told me he was trying to soften his news.
“My love?” I replied.
“I have got a letter from Aunt Catherine.”
He sat down. “Her neglect of including your sister and her husband in the invitation for the ball was not an oversight. She did it,” he hesitated, “purposefully.”
I could feel my blood start to heat, but I forced myself to stay calm. “Go on.” I pressed my lips together. “What was her reason?”
“She said that when Mr. Collins gave her the list of your family members, it only included Jane, Charles, your parents, and Kitty. She said she remembered you telling her you had three younger sisters. She asked him why only Jane and Kitty were on the list, knowing of course, that Lydia would never be mentioned. He explained Mary and Christopher’s circumstances to her, I suppose never having spoken of them to her before, and she agreed they could not be included among the guests. She said she could not very well introduce an animal doctor and his wife among society.”
Now my blood was boiling. Still, I remained outwardly calm. “Then I shall not attend either.” I rose to go, afraid of really losing my temper.
He took my hand. “Lizzy, don’t be unreasonable. I am sure Mary and Christopher will understand. You know yourself that Mary doesn’t really like balls, nor dancing.”
“That is not the point. The point is, your aunt still does not accept my family for who they are. And as result, she does not accept me.”
“My darling. Aunt Catherine has been this way her entire life. There is nothing we can do to change her.”
“I am not suggesting trying to change her. I simply will not go to the ball. You certainly may if you like.”
He stood now too. “Elizabeth.”
He only calls me that when he’s being very serious.
He continued, “Please, listen to reason. You know that I was very angry with my aunt for coming to you as she did and trying to wrench from you a promise that you would not marry me.” He smiled in spite of himself. “You also know that when I heard from her about your refusal to make that promise, I finally had real reason to hope you would accept me.”
I smiled too. “I have to admit I relish that particular part of our history.”
His face grew serious again. “I was offended by Lady Catherine’s actions too then, and I am still irked that she was so meddlesome and rude. However, I do feel that now she is trying to make amends for her behavior then, and attempting to mend this rift in our family. I feel we should seriously consider taking her offered olive branch.”
“She may be offering an olive branch, but it is rife with thorns. She is doing it with conditions. Conditions she knows would offend me. I do not consider this a genuine attempt to make amends.”
He took a deep breath. “She is my mother’s only sister, Lizzy. She is difficult, yes, but she is among the little that is left of my family. I have her and my cousin Anne, my cousin Edward, and Georgiana. You have a wonderful abundance of sisters, as well as aunts and uncles, little cousins, and, God be praised, both of your parents still alive. I need you to understand that it is important to me that I reestablish this family connection. We have an heir now. It means much to her to be able to bring us back into the fold and honor you as the mother of that heir.”
“Is that all I am to her? William’s mother? A dam to carry on the family bloodline?”
“I feel you are being unreasonable, Lizzy.” His voice had grown stern.
It was my turn to inhale deeply. “Perhaps if it were possible for Mary and Christopher to not be made aware of the ball, so we could attend and not tell them, I would consider that option. I’d feel terrible about it, but I would consider it. But with my mother being invited, and Kitty, it will be impossible to keep it quiet. I feel there is no situation here that does not involve Mary and Christopher being hurt. I beg you to write back and explain that to her.”
“She has made up her mind, Lizzy.” He threw up his hands in frustration. “I cannot change it.”
“Then perhaps I can.” I turned to go to my writing desk in my parlour.
“Lizzy, this is not a good idea,” he said softly to my back. “I beg you not to.”
I felt my resolve begin to wane, and turned to face him once again, but then the thought of That Woman’s superciliousness rekindled my ire. “I will be gentle in my wording.” I moved back to stand directly in front of him and put my hand on his arm. “I will explain to her kindly, and with great respect why I cannot allow my sister to be slighted in this way. I will tell her that I cannot accept her invitation under these conditions. Surely she will understand,” though, in truth, I had little faith she would.
“Very well, Lizzy,” he sighed resignedly. “I will not tell you how to act. Perhaps you can convince her to rethink her position. If anyone can do it, you can. But please tell me that, even if she says no, you will still consider going. It is important to me.” He smiled hopefully.
“Let us cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said. Before he could respond, I kissed him on the cheek and rushed out of the room.

Purchase Book 1, Elizabeth, Darcy and Me, on Amazon
Purchase Book 2, A Battle of Wills, on Amazon

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