It is always a pleasure to introduce a new book by a treasured author. Many of Monica Fairview’s Pride and Prejudice sequels: The Other Mr. Darcy and The Darcy Cousins, are among my favorite Austenesque novels. Her latest, Mr. Darcy’s Challenge, is the second book in The Darcy Novels series of “what if” variations. Here is a preview and exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.
In this humorous Pride and Prejudice Variation, Mr. Darcy is determined to win Elizabeth Bennet’s hand in spite of her rejection and he has a strategy worked out. He will rescue Lydia Bennet from Wickham and will return to Longbourn to convince Elizabeth to marry him. But when a chance encounter prompts Darcy to propose once again to Elizabeth before he has rescued Lydia, his plans go horribly wrong.
Broken hearted, disillusioned and bitterly regretting his impulsive action, Darcy sees no point in assisting Miss Bennet. After all, rescuing Lydia might save Elizabeth’s reputation, but why should he care when they have no future together? His code of gentlemanly conduct, however, demands that he fulfill the terms of his promise to her. Once again, Darcy finds himself faced with impossible choices: helping Elizabeth when she is certain to marry someone else, or holding onto his dignity by turning his back on the Bennets once and for all.
Pride and love are at loggerheads as he struggles to choose between his mind … and his heart.
Volume Two of The Darcy Novels continues the story began in Mr. Darcy’s Pledge but can be read as an independent book as well.
The situation was exactly as Darcy had feared. The white incriminating pieces of paper lay on the path, clearly visible, and Elizabeth was bending down to pick them up and fitting the pieces together. Darcy prayed for a sudden downpour that would wash away the ink, but the heavens did not oblige. It was vexing to think that he had just come from a muddy field, while the bridleway was perfectly dry. Meanwhile, Elizabeth bent down to pick up several pieces of the paper and held them together.
He raced towards her in a desperate effort to prevent her from reading them.
“Why, Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth, looking up, her cheeks dimpling as he approached. “You appear to be riding in the opposite direction from London. Have you perchance lost your way?”
She put her bonnet on her head and shielded her eyes from the sun to look at him.
He had been so intent on reaching her that he had not thought of a possible response to that question. The sight of Elizabeth after all his recollections was in itself enough to make him tongue-tied. Having to come up with an explanation for riding towards Longbourn rather than away from it proved entirely beyond his ability. He tried to sort out his jumbled thoughts but his mind refused to assist him.
“Erm,” he said. It was as much as he could say.
“I did not mean to challenge you, sir. I was merely curious,” said Elizabeth, laughing. “Your secrets are your own to keep. I will not attempt to ferret them out.”
Secrets? Why was she speaking of secrets when he was doing what he can to prevent her from discovering the list? Did she already suspect something? If so, he had to distract her.
This sense of purpose enabled him to find his tongue – as well as a creditable explanation.
“I have no secrets,” he said. “I was on the verge of taking the London road when I recalled that I had not asked for your uncle’s address. I intend to call on the Gardiners when in town.”
He felt guilty for lying, but he could think of nothing better. Of course, he knew exactly where the Gardiners resided. He had paced outside their house on Gracechurch Street and even knocked on their door.
A shadow came over her face and the laughter disappeared.
“That is very kind of you, sir,” she said, looking pained, but as you know, my aunt and uncle are very preoccupied with— the whole business, and will very likely not be receiving anyone until the matter is resolved.”
Now he had unintentionally upset her. He felt an irresistible impulse to alight from the horse and draw Elizabeth to him to comfort her. He struggled to bring the impulse under control.
“I am much obliged to you, sir,” said Elizabeth, bending down once again to pick up the bits of paper. “However, I cannot write the address for you. We have plenty of paper; it seems, but no quill.” She took up one of the larger pieces and peered at the handwriting. “I wonder what such fine paper is doing here.”
Flustered, Darcy sought desperately for a way to distract her from reading what he had written.
“I need to be on my way,” he said, abruptly. “I cannot delay any further. If you will ride with me, we could go back to the house where we could obtain one.”
The moment he said it, he wished it unsaid. Had he really suggested taking her up in front of him? The prospect of having her so close put him in agony of anticipation. He waited tensely, hoping she would say yes.
She looked at the horse uncertainly.
“Do you ride, Miss Bennet?”
“I am a poor rider,” she said, “I prefer to walk.”
The sense of disappointment was intense, but he acknowledged to himself that it would have been madness to have her so close. It would have stretched his self-discipline too far.
“Then I shall walk with you,” he said, sliding down from the saddle.
“I see you have already been walking,” she remarked with smile, indicating his mud-splattered boots.
Darcy hoped she would not wonder why he had been walking about instead of riding off to London.
“I found the lavender fields irresistible.”
“Did you, indeed?” she asked, looking pleased. “They are my favorite place to visit. I have a particular tree that I like to go to. I often sit with my back against the tree trunk and read, while the bees drone on around me and the delicious scent fills my head. It is my secret hideaway when I need to escape from home. I am glad that you liked the fields as well.”
For now, they were in perfect accord. He cherished this moment in which Elizabeth spoke to him freely, her expression unguarded.
“Perhaps one day I shall come back and we could visit the field together,” he said, envisioning a holding of hands or even a kiss.
“Then you shall have to bring a book to read, for I shall insist on silence.”
The vision dissipated.
“As you may recall, we both share a love of books.”
Now that he was on the ground, he took the opportunity to pick up several of the papers closest to him.
She observed him in astonishment. “There is no call for you to do this, Mr. Darcy.”
“I noticed them from a distance. They are an ugly blot on a pristine landscape.”
“I did not realize you were so particular. Allow me to assist you, in that case.”
She moved to help, but he shooed her away. “Miss Bennet, I beg you, leave this to me.”
She did not insist, but took out the pieces in her hand and smoothed them out.
“Your mother seems to be taking the situation ill,” he said, seeking to draw her attention away.
“Very ill indeed. And she is likely to make us all ill.” She kicked an acorn with her foot and watched it as it skidded down the path. “Though in truth I can hardly blame her. The situation is very grave indeed, and I do not think anything can be made of it.”
“You must not be too hasty to reach that conclusion,” he said, “I am sure a solution will be found that will enable her to be married.”
“What, and have Wickham be forever a part of this family?” She paused to consider it. “Yet that could be the best possible outcome to an impossible situation. My foolish sister can have no idea of the pain she has caused.”
He thought of Georgiana and her near-brush with Wickham.
“She is but fifteen. She does not think of the consequences,” said Darcy, consolingly.
“She is more like a child of two – heedless of others and free with her tantrums.” She gave him a quick look. “But I must not burden you with what is, after all, a family affair. Let us talk of better things. These pieces of paper, for example.”
As she peered closely at them, his palms grew slick.
“You happened upon me when I was reading someone else’s writing. I am afraid I am guilty of being wickedly inquisitive. However, I cannot repent because I am too excessively diverted,” she said. “This person has itemized his requirements for a wife. Can you conceive of such a thing? Quite as if he meant to prepare a plum pudding or a blancmange!” She laughed. “I cannot conceive what kind of person would do such a thing!”
Any moment now, she would put two and two together and produce Fitzwilliam Darcy. If she did, all would be lost.
Monica Fairview is a longtime admirer of Jane Austen and likes to write down her fantasies about living in the Regency period. She has written two traditional Jane Austen sequels, The Other Mr. Darcy and The Darcy Cousins and has contributed to Laurel Ann Nattress’ anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Her new series consists of traditional Pride and Prejudice ‘what-if’ variations which started with Mr. Darcy’s Pledge and continues with Mr. Darcy’s Challenge, the second in the series.
Monica’s real claim to fame is that she lived in Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester as a teenager, when it was crumbling and neglected, so you could say she has the smog of North & South in her blood. After that, Monica lived in the USA for many years, where she taught literature to captive victims (not necessarily captivated). She now lives in Surrey within the Greater London area and loves visiting historical properties when it isn’t raining.
Mr. Darcy’s Challenge: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (The Darcy Novels Book 2), by Monica Fairview
White Soup Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (248) pages
Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2014; excerpt Monica Fairview © 2014, Austenprose.com