At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
In case you missed it: Prologue, Chapter 1A, Chapter 1B, Chapter 2A, Chapter 2B, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17
Having the connections Bingley did to Darcy, the Dobneys, and Mr. Williams, two days proved to be sufficient time for Bingley and Jane to acquire a house in Kympton. It was not a grand house, but it was not tiny either. There were three rooms for sleeping, a fine, though not spacious, dining room, a study, and two small sitting rooms — the larger one for entertaining and the other for quiet evenings at home.
Aunt Tess saw to the staffing, and Cecily and Aunt Gardiner made certain that the house itself was ready to receive its new master and mistress, while Mary Ellen and Lucy helped Jane alter one of her dresses to make it more fitting of a wedding ceremony. So, it was on the third day after Bingley and Richard had returned from town that Jane found herself standing at the front of the church next to Bingley and Darcy and Elizabeth. Philip conducted the ceremony, and then, they all travelled to Pemberley for the wedding breakfast.
The feast was set out in the garden, and after they had eaten, many guests and the happy couples enjoyed a stroll along the garden paths. Eventually, Bingley and Darcy relinquished their holds on their ladies as others claimed them for a few moments. Darcy wandered to a quiet corner, while Bingley ventured further down the path toward the middle of the garden. There were two guests in particular with whom he wished to have a conversation.
Richard must have seen him, for Bingley was not many steps into his pursuit when the colonel fell in step with him.
“You have not yet told Harris of your decision, have you?” Bingley asked.
“No, I had thought to call on him tomorrow.” He tipped his head and looked at Bingley. “Am I correct in assuming that my call will be unnecessary after this.”
Bingley smiled. “You may still call. I am certain there are papers that require signatures.”
“There are, but not quite yet. The ones I had, I have sent back with my regrets in being unable to secure a man for the position.” It had not been something he had wanted to do, but after consulting with all the injured parties, it had become clear that it might be the best course of action. If it were not for a slight uneasiness that Harris might still be playing a role, he would have been happy to send the papers back, but that uneasiness was still there.
“Mrs. Harris,” Bingley greeted the lady in front of him with a bow. “I am pleased to finally have a chance to speak to you beyond a how do you do.”
Mrs. Priscilla Harris dipped a curtsey.
“Might we take this path?” Bingley extended an arm to Mrs. Harris and motioned to his left. Harris looked nervously at Bingley but allowed his wife to take Bingley’s arm. They walked along for a few feet commenting on the weather and the flowers as well as extending words of congratulations to each other regarding their marriages.
Then, when they were far enough away from any other guests, Bingley began his true purpose for seeking out the Harrises. “I am not normally an unpleasant man, Mrs. Harris, but I find I must be slightly so. I do apologize for any discomfort my words may give, but they are necessary.”
Mrs. Harris looked at Bingley and then over her shoulder at her husband. “Of…of course,” she stammered.
Bingley led her to a grouping of benches tucked under a tree with a sprawling canopy. “There is no easy way to ask this, I am afraid, but you should know that your answer will go no further than this spot. I am not the sort to spread tales.” He gave a significant look to Harris. “Do not answer for her.” There was a gentle warning in his voice.
“Mrs. Harris, I have been led to believe that your cousin, who is in your care, is not truly your cousin. Oh, there is a family resemblance, to be certain. She looks very much like you.” He was watching Priscilla’s face closely and did not miss the fear in her eyes before she dropped her gaze. “The story I was told was most horrific, and I will not repeat it. However, I must verify that it is true and not a tale invented to garner sympathy and avoid just punishment.” He paused for just a moment. “Is the child yours?” he asked softly and then waited until she responded with a small nod. “Who is the father?”
She shook her head.
“Forgive me, but I must know. It is important in regards to your husband’s future.”
Large questioning eyes looked from Bingley to Harris and back, then flicked away to look down the path as she whispered, “my father.”
“Forgive me,” Bingley said once again. “Was the child conceived through force on the day your father died?”
Mrs. Harris covered her face and nodded.
“Thank you,” Bingley said softly, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder for a moment. “I truly would not have put you through this pain if it were not necessary.” He looked at Harris. “It seems you did indeed do what you did to protect the one you love.”
“That is what I said,” Harris replied. “I would do whatever is necessary to protect her.”
“But you must understand,” said Bingley, “you have acted dishonorably, so your words and actions naturally fall under more severe scrutiny. Not only did you gossip, but you loved one while courting another.”
There was a small gasp from Mrs. Harris.
“I shall allow you to explain that last bit to your wife, Harris, but the rumors, I will address. Miss Bennet is as pure as the driven snow, as are her sisters. Not one has ever seduced a man.”
“But Miss Lydia…” Harris began.
“No.” Bingley’s voice was firm. “She is many things, but a light skirt is not one of them.” He drew a breath and released it. “She is now my sister, and I will abide no disparagement of her. What was said of me matters little to me except where it pertains to my wife.”
He leaned forward toward Harris. “You see this is where you and I are alike. I will do whatever is necessary to protect those I love — Jane, her sisters, and all attached to them. My own sister, I have effectively disowned for her role in this whole affair. And Wickham — well, he will not be able to harm either my family or yours.”
Harris’s eyes grew wide.
“He is not dead,” said Richard.
“Although by now, he probably wishes he was,” replied Bingley with a small grin. “The rolling of the sea for days on end can be unpleasant at first.”
Harris eyed Bingley cautiously. “He is no longer in England?” he asked.
Bingley shrugged. “Technically, it is still part of the empire, but no, he is not in England. However, that, just like the story about your wife’s father, goes no further than here. I will repeat. I will do whatever is necessary to protect those I love.” There was no mistaking the threat in Bingley’s voice.
“Understood,” said Harris. “He is truly gone?”
Bingley nodded. “He is.” He turned to Mrs. Harris. “Which means you are also safe.” He smiled as she looked toward him. “I do not blame you for your actions. I believe they were justified.”
He turned back to Harris. “Now, this is the bit where you find out your fate. I have convinced Colonel Fitzwilliam that there is no need for you to be transferred to any other unit. Your point of it being more effective to have you where you could be reminded of your transgression was valid. You will remain under the authority of the man betrothed to the lady you disparaged and eventually, you will return here to live among us. There will not be a day that passes where you will not be reminded of your good fortune in being allowed to live where you please with those you love.” He rose. “There is only one thing remaining. I have chosen to believe you repentant of your crimes.”
“I am,” said Harris.
Bingley smiled at Richard. “Then you will find it therapeutic for your soul to do your best to repeal the mischief you and my sister have created.”
“I will,” Harris assured him.
“Very good,” replied Bingley. “I should not like to have to deal with you as I have Wickham.” He held Harris’s gaze.
“You shall not have to,” said Harris. He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again as if unsure if he should continue. Then, obviously deciding it would be acceptable to speak, he added, “You are not what I thought. You are very gentlemanly.”
Bingley inclined his head in acceptance of the compliment and then with a smirk added, “I may have been taught good principles, but do not forget that the blood of a tradesman flows through me. And we tradesmen are a roguish lot when we need to be.” He lifted a brow, and although he spoke playfully, Harris’s expression showed that he understood the full weight of the words. “Now, I must get back to my wife. I will leave you to explain about your intentions where Miss Bennet were concerned to your wife.”
Richard chuckled as they walked away. “You could be terrifying if you ever claimed political power.”
Bingley shuddered. “There is no need to fear that. I have no desire to be bored endlessly with lectures and debate.”
“Nor do I,” said Richard. “Thankfully, you do not have an earl attempting to convince you that a seat in parliament is a thing to be desired.”
Bingley grinned. “Having a friend with political clout could be useful.”
Richard groaned. “It will not happen.”
Bingley clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, if by some stroke of ill luck you find yourself with a political position, I promise to help make it more interesting.”
“I shall hold you to that promise,” Richard said once he had finished having a good chuckle at the comment.
“We found you.” Jane greeted them with a brilliant smile, dropping Darcy’s arm and taking Bingley’s.
“I hope you did not think I had abandoned you,” Bingley said, covering Jane’s hand that lay on his arm with his own. He had been gone for an extended amount of time, and without telling her where he would be. “I had a small matter of business with which to deal.”
“Business?” Jane blinked in surprise.
“The rumors — or more precisely, the source of the rumors,” Bingley explained.
“You approached Harris about those rumors at our wedding breakfast?” Darcy’s brows were lifted high.
“I did,” said Bingley. “It seems a most effective place to do so. Harris was not expecting it, and so, I had the advantage.”
Darcy shook his head. “And I suppose Richard went along to scare the man into submission.” There was a playful smile on Darcy’s lips and a knowing look in his eye. Although he would not admit it aloud at this moment, Darcy was not unaware that Bingley was capable of uttering and carrying through on a threat. Neither Bingley nor Richard had been allowed to rest until Darcy had had the full story — or at least as much as Bingley was willing to share of the story — about how Wickham had been convinced to board a ship to India.
“Bingley needs no help from me,” said Richard with a wink. “A fierceness lies behind that pleasant facade.”
Bingley could feel his face flush at the compliment. “My father taught me many things, but the one he stressed more than any other was that a man must protect that which is dear to him at all costs.” He looked down at Jane. “It is a principle that I will neither forget nor ignore.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “Shall we go home, my dear?”
Her lips quivered slightly, and her eyes shimmered as she nodded.
And with a word of farewell to Darcy, Elizabeth, and Richard, they began to make their way to Bingley’s carriage that stood ready on the driveway in front of the house.
“You threatened Captain Harris for me?” Jane asked as they walked.
Bingley shrugged. “I reminded him that I would not allow him to harm the ones I love. It may have been threatening.”
“That is sweet.”
Bingley chuckled. “I have never heard a threat called sweet, but if you insist, I will allow it to be.”
Jane stopped walking. “You defended my honor. That to a lady is sweet and noble and…” she sighed, “quite worthy of a kiss.”
“I will not argue,” he said, dipping his head to kiss her.
Her face fairly glowed with happiness as they resumed walking. “Was your business in town truly business, or was it like today’s business — another attempt to defend my honor?”
Bingley shook his head.
“You will not tell me, Husband?”
He smiled at the appellation. “I cannot deny you a thing,” he answered, “but it must remain between us.” He handed her into the carriage.
“I can keep a secret,” she said as she settled into her seat. “You may tell me.”
He took his place next to her. “I will, but not until we are home.” For if threatening Harris was worthy of a kiss, then banishing Wickham was certainly worth far more.
Jane furrowed her brows, and her lips puckered slightly in displeasure before serenity once again washed over her features. His breath caught in his chest at her loveliness and his heart felt as if it would burst from the joy he felt in having won such a woman. He placed an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “How fortunate I am,” he said.
She looked up from where her head rested on his shoulder. “How fortunate we both are.”
He smiled and then dipped his head to kiss her. She was a jewel — rare and valuable, far more dear than anything could ever be, and she was his. Theirs would be a happy life. He would see to it. She would want for nothing, and she would never have reason to doubt him again, for he would see her heart protected at all costs.
More in the Willow Hall Romance Series
A Pride and Prejudice Prequel ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 1
Events from the past combined with threats in the present threaten to tear Lucy and Philip apart unless Darcy can help his friends save their blossoming love and rid Lucy of her uncle once and for all.Click cover image to find that book in your favorite store.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 2
When Fitzwilliam Darcy bought Willow Hall, he thought he was helping a friend escape an untenable situation. Little did he know he was purchasing a second chance for his own happiness.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella, Willow Hall Romance Book 3
Lydia Bennet only meant to surprise her sisters and enjoy some fun. She thought she had planned well enough to avoid any disagreeable consequence, but she did not. However, when plans go awry, the results, much like the lady who made them, can be very unexpected.