Welcome back to my blog!
This post is brought to you by Promises Kept.
In case you missed last week, I’m re-editing this book, which is the sequel to my first book and the last one I posted here on my blog. This is actually my third published book and my first novel. It’s also one of my longest books, at just over 62,000 words. And, it contains a scene that’s not only one of the best I’ve ever written, it’s my favorite. <3
There won’t be any huge changes, just as there weren’t with I Promise To …; my goal is to simply improve the flow of the words and remove the British spellings.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters? You can find the first one here.
Hours later, Elizabeth was nervous. The ball she was dressing for was her first as a married woman. All the days spent shopping, endless hours standing for fittings with the modiste, countless hours practicing her curtsey, and interminable mornings spent making visits with her new aunt came down to this one night. Of course, she had not yet met all of the most important members of her new society. There had not been time for that. She would make their acquaintance tonight. First impressions were important, and she knew that she must make a good one this night if she wished to be accepted by her husband’s peers and to make him proud. She started to wipe her sweaty hands down the beautiful white and purple ball gown and then, suddenly realizing what she was about, stopped and reached instead for a towel that was laying on her dressing table.
Behind her came the sound of a door opening. Glancing in the mirror, she saw her husband enter. The young couple shared this dressing room, as well as a sitting room and bed chamber. They had not taken a wedding trip, but had instead spent a week cloistered together in this suite. They had known each other for years before marrying; they spent their wedding week learning about each other on an entirely different level. As a result, they made the decision to keep this chamber as their own.
Elizabeth turned and held her hands out to her Fitzwilliam. “You look quite dashing, my darling,” she said with a smile.
Her spouse took her hands as he leaned in to kiss her cheek, a smile gracing his features. “Thank you.”
Leaning away again, he continued, “You, my beloved wife, are the most gorgeous creature I have ever beheld. You will outshine every woman in the room tonight. I am blessed to be the man escorting you.”
Elizabeth blushed. “You are quite the charmer when you wish to be! I will be happy if no one else notices me, to be honest.” She breathed in deeply, letting it out in a sigh.
She looked earnestly up at his face, “I want you to be proud of me; but I am anxious about the gentlemen that will be in attendance.”
Fitzwilliam knew that what she was really asking for was reassurance that Lord Regis was not going to be there. His father had warned the man off, but Regis was sly, and as a result, their investigator had men following him at all times.
Holding her close again, Fitzwilliam laid his cheek on the top of her head and reassured her, “Do not worry, sweetheart. Remember, Lord Regis is being watched and has to this point not emerged from his home except for attending to his duties as a legislator. Father has ordered extra footmen to ride on the carriage, and has armed them, and he hired guards to watch the entrances of Matlock House. If the man was to attempt anything, and I do not believe that he will, he would not be successful. I promised to protect you, and I will.” Giving her a squeeze, he asked, “Do you trust me?”
Elizabeth tightened her hold on his middle. “Yes, Fitzwilliam, I do trust you.” Smiling up at him from her position cradled in his arms, she softly said, “I love you.”
Her husband could not resist her when she was so close and smiling at him. He groaned quietly and bent his head to kiss her thoroughly. A few minutes later, after reassuring her of his equally ardent feelings, he let go of her, drew her arm up under his, and escorted her out of the room and down the stairs.
Matlock House was situated only a couple streets away from Darcy House. On a fine day, it was a short walk, and the families often chose to travel the distance in that manner. However, at night and in ball attire, this was not a possibility, and so the Darcys boarded their carriage and were soon disembarking at their destination. Being the guests of honor, they were the first to arrive, thus avoiding the crippling traffic that would soon clog the lane. Their hosts greeted them in the foyer.
“Elizabeth,” Lady Matlock exclaimed, grabbing hold of her hands as soon as the maid had taken her cloak and bonnet. “You look stunning! I knew when I saw the drawing that this was the dress for you.” She leaned in and kissed her niece’s cheek. “How are you feeling? You are not frightened, are you? You know we would let nothing happen to you here.”
“I know you would not.” Elizabeth sighed. “I used to say that my courage rose with every attempt to intimidate me, but right now that courage is sadly lacking. However, I have my Fitzwilliam by my side along with you and the rest of my new family. I know all will be well. I promise that I will not let anyone know of my unease.”
Squeezing the hands she still held, Lady Matlock smiled. “I know you will not, my dear. I have every confidence in you,” she stated as she released Elizabeth and turned to her brother and nephew. “You have taken the steps Henry spoke to you about, have you not?”
Lord Matlock answered, “Yes, my dear; George and I interviewed the guards and extra footmen together. All is in place to guarantee the safety of everyone in attendance tonight.”
“Good. Come then, I hear a carriage pulling up. We must receive our guests.” And so saying, she lined the five of them up and turned toward the door.
Elizabeth looked up at her husband just as he glanced down. He saw the uneasy smile on her face and squeezed the hand on his arm and winked at her. Feeling her relax as her smile grew larger and more serene, he turned back toward the approaching guests.
First to arrive were Elizabeth’s aunt, uncle, and eldest sister. She greeted them with hugs and kisses, smiling in relief that the family members she was closest to were the first attendees she should see.
“Jane, you are lovely, as always. If fully half of the men here tonight are not in love with you before the event is ended, I shall be surprised!”
“Oh, Lizzy! How silly you are! I shall be well pleased just to have a few dances. I wish to marry for love, as you seem to have done.” She winked at her sister, glancing at Fitzwilliam, who could not keep his eyes off his wife. “Brother, is she not very well-turned-out this evening?”
Fitzwilliam startled at being addressed. He smiled, then squeezed Elizabeth’s hand on his arm before replying, “Indeed, Sister, she is very beautiful. Quite the handsomest woman I have seen in a long time.”
“Stop, the two of you.” Elizabeth laughed. “You shall turn my head, and I shall become insufferable.”
“Oh, we would never allow that, sweetheart.”
The three laughed, along with the Gardiners, who had listened to the entire conversation with delight at the happiness they saw on Elizabeth’s face. They would have liked to continue in this manner; however, more guests had arrived.
“Jane, let us move along. Lizzy, Fitzwilliam, we will speak again later.”
“Thank you, Uncle Edward.” Elizabeth squeezed his hand as he moved past her before turning to smile at the new person to whom she was being introduced.
An hour later, she sagged against her husband as the last guest turned and proceeded to the ballroom.
“Oh, my! That was certainly momentous! I have never greeted so many people at one time in my life,” she said with a laugh.
“You did very well, my dear,” Lady Matlock assured her. Turning to her husband, she continued, “Well, my lord, shall we begin the dancing?”
With a twinkle in his eye, he held out his arm for his wife and replied, “Yes, I believe we shall.” He moved them in the direction of the ballroom.
Fitzwilliam had by this time wrapped Elizabeth in his arms. “We will follow directly, Papa,” he informed his parent as he rubbed his wife’s back.
Mr. Darcy smiled. “Do not be too long. We cannot start the dancing without the guests of honor.”
With that, he followed the Matlocks into the ballroom.
Elizabeth giggled and looked up with a smile. Her Fitzwilliam, who had been watching his father walk down the hallway, looked down at her and winked before leaning down for a tender kiss. Too soon to please either, they broke away from each other, glancing regretfully down the hall. After making sure they were still presentable, they followed their family to the ballroom and made their way to the head of the line. Taking their places between the Matlocks on the left and another married couple on the right, the two looked at each other and quickly became lost to everything happening around them. They were caught unaware when the dance began, quickly catching their places in the movements with blushes spreading over their faces. When they moved close enough to speak, Fitzwilliam leaned toward her and said, “You do realize this is our first dance?”
Elizabeth caught her breath. He was correct! They had never even practiced together before. This was the very first time the two of them had danced. She smiled her delight. The remainder of that set was enchanting. They performed as one, their movements matching perfectly. When the dance brought them together, they flirted shamelessly; and when it pulled them apart, they sought each other with their eyes, often to the detriment of conversation with anyone else. When it ended and he had bowed and she had curtseyed, they made their way to the refreshment table. Whispers surrounded them.
“Besotted. Utterly besotted, the pair of them!”
“Did you see the way he looked at her? Oh, to have my Robert gaze at me, just once, in that manner!”
“… Mr. Darcy engaged them when they were children.”
“No! But Lady Catherine has always said …”
“Really! The way he was fawning over the niece of a tradesman! You would think his father would have raised him better!”
“Ah, but you see, his father is quite friendly with said tradesman. I am not at all surprised to see the match. Why, the families spent every summer together at Pemberley, if I am not mistaken. And I was told …”
Elizabeth leaned close to Fitzwilliam and quietly said, “Well, it would seem the word Lady Matlock and I put out only added fuel to an already raging fire. I heard a variation of it whispered as we walked this way, but some of the other stories … oh my!”
Fitzwilliam chuckled before replying, “Indeed, sweetheart. It seems we have set high society on its ear. Did you not hear any of this when you and my aunt went on your visits in the last couple of weeks?”
“Well, yes, but we disseminated our own version of events, and I assumed it would be believed and would replace the gossip that already prevailed. It sounds to me as though few have actually heard the tale!”
At this point, they reached the table, Fitzwilliam taking two cups of punch and handing one to his wife before offering his arm to her again and leading her to a pair of seats off to the side of the room, near where the Gardiners were seated. They sat together for a time, chatting with her aunt and uncle, unmolested by the other guests. It was not long, however, before their peace was invaded.
“Mr. Darcy, how good it is to see you here this evening.”
Fitzwilliam looked up to see the one person in the room he truly wished to never set eyes on again. He and Elizabeth rose to greet Lady Penelope Mays, a woman he was most uncomfortable with, as she had thrown herself at him in the past.
“Lady Penelope, I believe you have already met my wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy?
Lady Penelope glanced at Elizabeth, giving an obviously half-hearted and insincere smile and nod in her direction before turning her attention back to her prey. “Indeed, I believe we were introduced in the receiving line. We were all surprised at your marriage. Everyone expected you to marry … differently … than you did.”
Fitzwilliam had grown more and more rigid from the moment he recognized who was speaking to them. It was obvious to him, and to Elizabeth, and everyone within hearing range, he imagined, that the lady was cutting his wife. “Indeed,” he intoned coldly. “I am sure many people had ideas of what I would do. However, none of those people are in charge of me. It is not for them to have any feelings at all about who I married, or about any other aspect of my life. Mrs. Darcy is perfect for me; she is a lady in every way. She has manners and accomplishments other women can only dream of possessing. She is well-bred and polite, poised and serene. There is much you could learn from her. Good day, madam.” With that, he stepped away from Lady Penelope, bringing his wife along, her relatives following. The woman he had spoken to, standing with her mouth hanging open at his words of censure, did not move for many minutes. She stood, alone, collecting her thoughts and the attention of those around her. Finally, she gathered her tattered dignity together and moved to another part of the room.
Lady Penelope Mays was the younger sister of one of Darcy’s classmates at Eton and Cambridge. He had first been introduced to her the year he turned twenty, when he spent six weeks at the Mays’ family estate. Her father, Lord Peter Mays, had inherited the Earldom of Sheffield just a few months before Darcy’s visit. The brother, one Lord Paul Mays, now Viscount Westerville, had thrown the house party as a way to celebrate his ascension.
From the first sight of her brother’s handsome friend, Lady Penelope had been enamored of him. He was tall, with thick, dark hair kept just a little long. He was quiet, but she did not mind that; once they were married, she decided, if he was still quiet, she could find other ways to entertain herself. His best feature, of course, was his wealth. The lack of a title was disappointing, but everyone knew the Darcys owned half of Derbyshire. That money more than made up for any other lack.
During that house party, Lady Penelope had tried to make herself indispensable, to imprint herself on his mind so that when he was ready to take a wife, she would be his first choice. She had even tried to arrange a compromising situation a couple times, but something always occurred to prevent it. While she was frustrated when he left without more than a nod in her direction, she had not become desperate yet, knowing he still had to finish his courses at university before he could marry.
When she read in the papers, mere days after his return from his tour of the Kingdom, of his marriage to some female she had never heard of, Lady Penelope was furious. Her plans for her future were in ruins around her. She had not been appeased at meeting the new Mrs. Darcy. The woman had little beauty, and if rumors were to be believed, little dowry. What he saw in the country nobody was beyond Lady Penelope’s comprehension. There was nothing she could do about the marriage, she knew. It was done, and it would take an act of Parliament to undo it.
Now here she stood, in a ballroom, having been censured severely by the object of her matrimonial wishes. If she were a lesser woman, she would have been crushed at the severity of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s words; however, Penelope Mays was the daughter of an earl. She had power, and she knew how to use it. She had decided before the ball to ruin the new Mrs. Darcy in her husband’s eyes. The meaningless chit did not deserve her new position, and she intended to make sure the lady was more than aware of it. Nothing would please her more than to make the other woman feel her inferiority, and she was now more determined than ever to do so.
Nodding to herself, she began to pay attention to the conversations around her. Soon she was contributing, dropping little snippets of things here and there about the woman she wanted to bring down.
“She had no dowry, you know.”
“Not a penny.”
“A fortune hunter? Surely Mr. Darcy would not let his son be so taken in!” “Oh, but you see, he was, as well …”
Early the next morning, as she left the ball with her parents, Lady Penelope was pleased with what she perceived as her progress. She envisioned the gossip that would spread, and the results, with glee.
However, the lady was not as successful as she had hoped. Those who were intimate friends of the Matlocks and Darcys had already spoken with the families and in many cases had met Elizabeth previously. They were inclined to like the young woman, and to discount Lady Penelope’s hints as vitriol spread by a rejected hopeful.
Of course, she had her supporters, some who enjoyed her company, some who disliked her but tolerated her for the connection, and some who were in fear of her censure. Those young ladies and gentlemen accepted her unspoken challenge to spread her words, regardless of their belief in the truth of them.
Lady Penelope had a strong personality, never fearing to express herself. She was the only daughter, the last child following a string of four boys. Spoiled as a child, she grew up very sure of herself and her beliefs. The only difference in her now from the child she was then was that she had become more subtle in her manner of getting her way, and imposing her will on others.
To be continued …