Darcy and Elizabeth What If? Collection 1

BOOK: Darcy and Elizabeth What If? Collection 1
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The Darcy and Elizabeth What If? Collection Volume 1

Includes

#1 Elizabeth’s Mistake

#2 Mr Darcy’s Rescue

#3 A Pair of Fine Eyes

 

JENNIFER   LANG

**

*SPECIAL OFFER*

Collection 2 is now available at the low price of $0.99 / £0.99

Until the end of October 2015

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Collection 2 contains the next 3 standalone clean Darcy and Elizabeth novellas

#4 Mr Darcy’s Hallowe’en (with new epilogue)

#5 Twelve Days of Christmas

#6 Winter at Netherfield Park

© Jennifer Lang 2015

The moral right of the author has been asserted

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. Nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any real person or incident is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Chapter One

 

‘You look very happy this evening, Wickham!’ said Denny, one of Wickham’s oldest friends.

The two men were drinking together in a London coaching inn. It was a respectable place and it was expensive. Denny was surprised Wickham had suggested it, as it was usually above Wickham’s touch. The guests were genteel, composed mainly of families who were travelling and who needed somewhere to stay for the night.

‘I
am
happy,’ said George Wickham, lolling in his chair and raising a glass to his lips.

‘Come into a fortune?’ asked Denny with a laugh.

‘No, but I am about to,’ said Wickham.

‘Oh? How so?’ asked Denny, taking a drink of brandy.

Wickham gave a smug smile, like a cat with the cream. ‘I have decided to marry Georgiana Darcy!’ he said.

Denny spluttered so hard his drink went all over his red coat and his pantaloons, and he had to wipe them off with his handkerchief.

‘What?!!!’ asked Denny, when he could speak. ‘You must be mad! Darcy will never let you marry his sister. Why, you haven’t a penny to fly with! She is a great heiress and not for the likes of you. When Georgiana marries, she will marry someone as rich as Darcy himself, and someone who has an old family name, too, not a steward’s son!’

Denny spoke lightly but the point rankled with Wickham nonetheless. Wickham was indeed the son of Mr Darcy’s steward and beneath Mr Darcy in social rank. He was also a pauper, having squandered the money Darcy gave him in place of a valuable living. But he did not like either fact and he did not thank Denny for reminding him of them.

‘If Darcy is allowed to choose her husband then you are right,’ said George. ‘But if Georgiana chooses her own husband the result will be very different. Georgian is too rich to care about money and too young to care about her position in the world.’

‘Even so, she will not marry you,’ said Denny practically, stretching out his long legs and crossing one booted foot over another. ‘Darcy will never allow you anywhere near her. He does not like you, even though you grew up together. He thinks you are a wastrel.’

‘Darcy is a pompous, arrogant fool and he will not have any say in the matter,’ said Wickham, helping himself to another glass of brandy. ‘He has sent Georgiana down to Ramsgate for the summer and she has only a small household with her. Her companion, Mrs Younge, is known to me and is already speaking well of me to Georgiana, preparing her for a visit from me.’

‘Won’t the servants deny you entrance to the house?’

‘Not they. None of them are Pemberley servants, they have all been newly hired to look after Georgiana at the seaside. They will see only what I want them to see, and what Mrs Younge wants them to see, which is a handsome gentleman who is a friend of the Darcy family.’

‘Paying her a visit and getting her to marry you are two different things,’ cautioned Denny with a frown.

‘I disagree,’ said Wickham with a lazy smile. He leaned back in his chair and its front two feet left the floor. He put one hand in his waistcoat pocket and lifted his glass to his lips again with the other. ‘For a man of my charm, they are one and the same.’

‘Now who is being arrogant?’ asked Denny.

‘No use in pretending,’ said Wickham. ‘Women love me and you know it. I’m handsome and charming and I can have any woman I want – as long as her family don’t interfere.’

‘But not Georgiana Darcy. Oh, I grant you are popular enough with the fairer sex, but you will never marry Georgiana. She is only fifteen and she needs her brother’s consent to marry. Which he will never give, if the bridegroom is you.’

‘Which is why I intend to elope with her,’ said George.

He leant forward, setting all four feet of his chair back on the floor with a snap. His eyes glittered and they showed his naked ambition.

‘Elope!’ Denny looked dumbfounded. Then he shook his head. ‘A girl of Georgiana’s delicate upbringing will not elope with you.’

Wickham smirked. ‘Would you care to place a wager on it?’

Denny reached into his pocket out of habit, about to accept the challenge, and then withdrew it.

‘Oh, no, I know better than to bet against you, George.’

‘Because you know I can do it.’

Denny hesitated.

‘Just a small wager, to make life interesting,’ said Wickham, tempting him.

Denny wrestled with himself but then said, with firmness, ‘No.’

Wickham laughed.

‘I am going down to Ramsgate tomorrow,’ he said. ‘I will spend a few weeks courting her and then at the end of that time I will talk her into an elopement. She will see it as romantic and agree to go with me, you’ll see. And then, with one stroke, I will make myself the master of her fabulous dowry and I will be revenged on Darcy for every wrong he has ever done me.’

He scowled as he said the last words and Denny felt sorry for Darcy. Wickham was handsome and charming on the outside, but on the inside it was another matter. He was a vengeful person who bore a grudge and he hated Darcy because Darcy was rich and he was poor.

‘I think you are making a mistake,’ said Denny. ‘Darcy is a powerful man, it would not be a good idea to make an enemy of him. And if you run away with his sister, he will be your committed enemy for life. He loves her dearly and he will do everything in his power to save her from you.’

‘He will not be able to save her, and as for being my enemy, what do I care? Once I have Georgiana’s fortune then I need not fear him. I need not fear anyone.’

Denny did not look convinced but said no more. It was Wickham’s neck, after all.

‘Then I wish you luck. But now I must be going.’

Denny threw back the last of his brandy and stood up.

‘Are you staying in London for the summer?’ asked Wickham.

‘No, the militia are moving to Meryton and so I will be going with them. Come and visit me when you are rich!’ said Denny with a laugh.

‘I will,’ said Wickham.

He watched Denny go and then went out to the stables, where his horse was being cared for so that he could leave for Ramsgate first thing in the morning. But as he crossed the yard he was troubled. He had pretended he was confident to Denny, but some of Denny’s words had hit home. Darcy was indeed a powerful man and he would make a powerful enemy. Once Wickham had married Georgiana he would be safe, but if Darcy should happen to find out about the elopement and chase them, and if he should happen to catch them, then Wickham would lose everything: his chance for wealth, his reputation, and his safety. For Darcy would pursue him and break him, in revenge.

It was in this mood that George saw a coach arriving. It was a splendid affair, pulled by four horses, but it was driven by a young man who looked more like a stable hand than a coachman and who was not a liveried servant. There were no footmen guarding the coach. As it rolled past him, he saw that, inside, there seemed to be only one occupant, a beautiful young woman.

Wickham was at once alert. His instincts told him that this was worth investigating. He waited for the coach to stop but the young woman did not get out. The coach had stopped for the horses to be changed, but not for anything else. The young woman, whoever she was, must be in a hurry.

Wickham thought quickly. He went over to the coach and boldly opened the door, while the coachman was busy speaking to the ostlers.

The young woman shrank back against the seat. Wickham noticed that she was dressed in the first stare of fashion and that the coach was upholstered in the finest material.

‘Forgive me, I did not mean to frighten you,’ he said in a gentle voice. ‘I noticed your coach and your unprotected state and I wondered if I might render you any assistance. I have a sister who is not much younger than you,’ he lied glibly, ‘and I would not like her to find herself alone in a strange place. If I can be of any service to you, please let me know.’

She shook her head, but she did not shrink quite so much and Wickham felt a sense of satisfaction growing inside him. His charm was already beginning to work.

‘It will take some time for the ostlers to change the horses. Do you not think it would be a good idea for you to take some refreshment?’ he asked. ‘The inn does a very good ordinary and it would not take you long to eat it. You will feel better for a hot meal, I assure you.’

‘No, thank you, I cannot,’ she said. She was growing in confidence as she saw he did not mean to harm her. She seemed to argue with herself and then she said, ‘You see, I am running away.’

‘Dear me,’ he said. ‘May I ask what you are running from?’

‘It is too hateful!’ she burst out. ‘Mama is forcing me to marry Lord Rantrum, just because he is an earl and she wants to be able to tell all her friends that her daughter is a countess.’

‘I take it that Lord Rantrum is not to your liking?’ asked Wickham.

She shuddered. ‘He is fifty years old and running to fat. But worse . . . ’ She swallowed . . . ‘He looks at me as if I am a lamb chop, something tasty he would like to eat and swallow whole.’

‘How revolting,’ said Wickham with feeling. ‘I would not usually advise any young lady to run away from her family, but in your case I cannot help feeling that it is justified. Someone as young and beautiful as you should not be forced into a loveless marriage. Only love is good enough for someone as special as you.’

The moon came out from behind a cloud as he said it, and its silvery light shone down on the coach and the coach yard, giving the whole scene a magical, romantic air. The young lady unfurled like a flower and Wickham felt exultation swelling inside him. He had said just the right thing at just the right time, for the moonlight had not only lit the scene, it had also lit up his handsome features and good figure.

This heiress is ripe for the plucking
, he thought.

And heiress she was, for as soon as she mentioned Lord Rantrum he knew who she was: Miss Aintree. All of London had been buzzing with the gossip that she was destined for Lord Rantrum, a notable bachelor. But gossip had not said how lovely she was, because her mother had kept her in the country and no one had seen her.

She was not quite as wealthy as Georgiana Darcy, but she still had a dowry of twenty-five thousand pounds, and what was more she was over age. She would inherit on her marriage, and her lucky husband would find himself in possession of her fortune, as well as a good, biddable wife. For, present circumstances notwithstanding, she had lived in the country for years without ever showing any signs of rebellion. As long as she was not pushed too far, she would make an excellent wife.

All this went through his head in a moment, and more besides. If he pursued Georgiana Darcy, there were a number of things that could go wrong. He ticked them off in his head.

There was as a chance her brother would find out about it before Wickham had a chance to win Georgiana’s affections.

There was a chance she would not consent to elope.

There was a chance that Darcy would chase them and catch them before they reached Gretna Green.

There was a chance that Darcy would ruin him afterwards.

A swift calculation of the risks and the rewards for both scenarios was accomplished in seconds. George Wickham smiled at Miss Aintree and brought all the force of his considerable charm to bear.

‘If you can bring yourself to trust me, I will do everything in my power to help you. Do you have anywhere to go?’

Her face fell and she shook her head, setting her golden curls dancing.

‘No. I went to my nurse, but she had been ill for some time and by the time I arrived at her house she had died. I did not know what to do. I could not go back to Mama and the horses needed changing before I could go any further, so I came here.’

Wickham glanced at the coachman.

‘That is not your family coachman, I collect?’

‘No,’ she said sadly. ‘All the family servants are loyal to Mama. Tom is one of the stable boys at the local inn. He was sorry for me. He helped me escape by harnessing the coach and driving me to my nurse’s house himself. But he has to return or he will be missed and he cannot afford to lose his position. He agreed to bring me to this inn so that he could see to the horses being changed and then hire me a coachman, but I had no idea where to go.’

‘If you will be guided by me, you will put up here for the night. It is late and you are tired. Things will seem better in the morning. Perhaps a new idea might present itself.’

He smiled his most charming smile, and she blushed and looked down, but she did it through shyness and not through aversion.

‘I could not stay here,’ she whispered. ‘Not on my own. It would ruin me.’

‘That is easy enough,’ said Wickham. ‘I will say you are my sister.’

‘Your sister would not arrive here at this time of night, to meet you in a coaching house,’ she said, although it was clear she was willing to be persuaded if only the practical problems could be solved.

‘I will say that our father has been taken ill, and that our mother sent you to fetch me as there was no one else to hand. Do not fear, the story will be believed and you will be able to pass the night in comfort. Then, in the morning, we will decide – together – what you should do.’

BOOK: Darcy and Elizabeth What If? Collection 1
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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