At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
Bingley paced the length of Pemberley’s great hall. From one of the rooms at the far end, a clock chimed out the hour. Georgiana would be preparing for dinner, now. Richard would be finding a glass of port and setting up the billiard table in anticipation of a game before bed, and Darcy would be busily tucking papers and ledgers back in their proper places before dashing up to dress. At least that is what they would be doing if this were a normal day; however, today, things were different. Georgiana was preparing for dinner. Richard was probably longing for a glass of port, and Darcy was accompanying his coach to Willow Hall to gather his guests. At the end of yesterday’s picnic, it had been decided that the whole lot of them — the Dobneys, save for Mr. Dobney, the Bennets, the Abbots, the Gardiners, and the Darcys including Bingley and Richard — would gather for dinner at Pemberley. The ladies would perform. They would walk in the garden. It would be a most delightful time.
Bingley paused in his circuit to look out the window across the front lawn toward the road that led to Pemberley. His bags were packed. He was ready to leave as soon as the sun rose in the morning. He would have left earlier, but he could not — would not — leave without seeing Jane first. His letters had been sent. One to his associate in town and another to Hurst. All that was left now was to meet with the scoundrel responsible for this mess and see him off to a foreign port. He turned and resumed his walking. And Richard would see to the other blackguard with the flapping jaws. Harris. Bingley scowled even at the thought of his name.
“May I join you on your walk?” Richard asked.
Bingley gave a sharp nod of his head.
“I have written the necessary letters and had them posted. I will proceed as if the response is favourable.”
Bingley nodded again. “And you do not expect any trouble?”
“He will be gone,” Richard assured Bingley. “It is simply a question of where he will go.” He stopped at the window again with Bingley. “I could go with you.”
Bingley shook his head. “No, you must not delay your discussion with Harris.”
“I will not receive word for a few days, and if I am in town, I might receive it faster.”
Bingley leaned against the window frame. “They are here,” he said as a carriage could just be seen beyond the stand of trees at the beginning of the park.
“My bags are ready,” said Richard.
“I must be the one to follow through on my word.” Bingley’s face was grave. “He does not think me a serious threat.” Not that anyone ever had. His classmates had not until he had sent one or more of them sprawling. Caroline, obviously, did not think him capable of anything unpleasant. And to be honest, as he thought of it now, he had been much too pleasant where she was concerned — but she was a girl and his sister. It was not as if he could punch her in the nose, even if he wished to do so.
Richard clapped Bingley on the shoulder. “He would be wrong, and I would not interfere — unless you requested my help. He’s a slippery louse.”
Bingley nodded. It could be helpful to have Richard as a companion.
“And you can attend me when I see Harris.”
Bingley’s brows rose. “You would trust me to not level him?”
Richard smiled. “No, I would expect you to give him his due, and I would not interfere. He should also know that he has underestimated you.”
The corners of Bingley’s mouth curled slightly as he pushed away from the window. “Then be ready to leave at dawn.”
Grinning, Richard gave him a salute.
Bingley shook his head and chuckled as he went to meet the carriage.
Darcy had explained about his uncle to Elizabeth on the drive to Pemberley, and though she was not happy to have the wedding postponed, she was understanding of the need. So it was that when they entered the drawing room to await the arrival of the others, it was the topic of discussion. Things could easily be shifted. Philip would have to be informed, of course.
“And Bingley should be returned by then,” said Darcy.
“Mr. Bingley is leaving?” asked Elizabeth in surprise.
Darcy grimaced. “My apologies, Bingley. That was your news to share.”
“No harm done,” said Bingley as cheerfully as he could. “I have a bit of business to attend to in town. It is rather a sudden thing and truly cannot be delayed. I would be sorry to not stand with Darcy, so it is fortunate that Lord Matlock is insistent on this pause in plans.”
“You will return?” Jane asked softly.
“Always,” Bingley said, grasping her hand. “I will always return to you as long as you will allow it.” No one batted an eye or made a motion of any sort other than to smile when he tucked Jane’s hand in his elbow and excused himself from the room. He led her down the hall to the library. “I wrote to your father. I have not sent it, for I need your consent.” He turned and took both of her hands. “Jane, I cannot be patient. I will not lose you again. This time you will know my heart before I leave.”
Jane smiled brightly at him. “I believe I already know it.”
“I should hope that you do, but there will be no misunderstanding me this time. I love you, Jane Bennet. From the moment we met, I knew there was no other lady so well suited to me. I would have sworn my undying love to you last November had I not been persuaded to do otherwise. I have been a fool. I am not even a true gentleman. I do not deserve someone as good as you, but I would beg you to allow me to spend the rest of my life proving to you that I am not completely unworthy. Marry me.”
Jane’s heart fluttered, and tears stung her eyes. How had she been so fortunate to receive a second chance at such happiness? Had she been more forthcoming with her admiration, he would not have been persuaded away. This time, she would leave him without one shadow of doubt as to her feelings. She pulled one hand free of his grasp and laid it gently on his cheek. “You are no fool,” she began. “Nor are you unworthy of my love. What must one do to earn love? Is it not freely given?” She brushed her thumb against the fine stubble on his cheek. “Must I earn your love?”
He shook his head and would have spoken if she had not lain a finger on his lips.
“I love you, Charles, and I have since last autumn when we met. You are everything that I think a gentleman should be — honorable, amiable, admirable, patient, and loving. And once you have purchased your estate, you will be a gentleman to everyone else. But know this. You were my gentleman in my heart long before society deigned to grant you the title. It is I who is fortunate to have received your attentions.” And then with only a moment’s hesitation and a heart that raced at the thought of being completely improper, she rose up on her toes and, leaning forward, kissed him lightly on the lips. “I will marry you. Send your letter, my darling, and make me your wife.”
A smile split Bingley’s face. “You are certain?”
Jane laughed. “I am. I do not go around kissing gentlemen. In fact, you are the first.”
Bingley sighed and wrapped her in his embrace. “And the last.”
“And the last,” she assured him. She peeked up at him. “You could kiss me.”
He smiled at the bright flush of her cheeks. How could anyone believe this woman a wanton seductress when she blushed at the thought of a kiss? The thought almost made him pause and begin the next necessary discussion before he kissed her. It almost made him pause, but it did not. With a joy that he thought would overwhelm his heart and cause him to do something quite embarrassing like cry, he captured her mouth and granted her request with several pleasurable kisses.
“How long will you be gone?” Jane asked sometime later as she stood still wrapped in his embrace.
“No more than a week,” he said, rubbing small soothing circles on her lower back. “Less time if I can manage it.”
“Is it very pressing?”
“Mmm hmmm,” he mumbled. “I would have been gone already except that I would not go without seeing you first.”
“Oh, I should not keep you from your responsibilities,” she argued.
“You are my responsibility, Jane, my greatest responsibility.” He placed another kiss on her lips when she tipped her head up to look at him and give another argument. “You are also my greatest joy.”
She smiled. “Then, I am glad you did not leave before now. We should get back. I think I hear Lydia in the hallway.” She bit her lip and her eyes sparkled with a dash of impertinence. “She is drowning out the beautiful beat of your heart, which,” she lay her head against his chest again, “may be my favourite sound.”
“It is yours,” said Bingley, releasing her and taking her hand. “Forever and always yours.” He held open the door to the library. “There is a bit of unpleasant news that will be shared now that Lydia has arrived.”
Jane stopped and turned toward him.
He drew a deep breath and as he released it his shoulders sagged. “I should not have asked you to marry me before you knew.”
“What is it?” Jane’s heart raced with fear.
“Rumors started by my sister. They are terrible. I would not blame you if you chose to change your answer, and you may. I will not hold you to our understanding.” He kissed her lightly. “Come. It is best if it is all dealt with before we eat.”
“You are frightening me,” said Jane.
Bingley could not move another step without sharing with her the essence of what Caroline had said regarding Jane’s abrupt departure to London.
Jane’s face paled, and Bingley quickly moved her to a chair. “That is what the whispers were about this morning?”
“What whispers?” Bingley asked as he sat next to her holding her hand.
“At the shops. It was as if they did not wish to serve us.” She stood slowly. “Lydia thought they must have been about her because she said she was the only one to have done something worthy of gossip. I had forgotten that you do not have to do anything to be worthy of gossip when someone wishes to do you harm.”
“I am sorry,” said Bingley.
“It is not your fault,” said Jane firmly.
“But she is my sister,” said Bingley.
“And Lydia is mine,” said Jane. “The Lord knows I have scolded her for her behaviour, but she has not listened. Sisters are sisters. They will often do as they wish regardless of the wishes of their sisters or mothers or brothers or fathers.”
“You do not blame me?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, but I will expect you to take some action in response.”
He lifted her hand to his lips. “I am truly not worthy of such an angel.”
She blushed again.
“I have already written to Hurst. Caroline is to be married this season — I shall not pay for another. I will continue to send her pin money to her, but she will be responsible for all her bills. I will not cover even a farthing of overages.”
Jane could not help smiling at his determined, serious tone. It wrapped around her heart making her feel protected. “And if she does not marry?”
“Her funds will be transferred to the care of either Hurst or our aunt in Edinburgh. She will not be returning to my house unless she apologizes to both you and Elizabeth. And then it shall only be for brief visits until I have assessed that her behaviour is changed, and only if you wish for her to stay longer.” He paused outside the drawing room door. “Your happiness is of greatest importance to me, Jane.”
“I shall only be happy if you are,” Jane replied.
“At present, I would happily never see her again,” Bingley said with a smile.
Jane’s eyes were once again tinged with impertinence. “We seem to agree on a great many things, Mr. Bingley.”
He chuckled and then nodded to the footman to open the door, but he did not enter before giving Jane one more soft kiss. “Come, my love, let us traverse into the fray.”
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.