At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
Bingley was relieved when his sisters were finally driving away from Pemberley. He stood and watched the carriage until it could no longer be seen from the front of the house. Then, he went in search of Darcy, who had gone to check on his sister’s progress. Bingley smiled. He doubted that Georgiana was little more than a passing thought. Darcy would no doubt be more interested in Elizabeth, but that was as it should be. He sighed. How he longed to be so besotted! He nearly was — indeed, he would be just as smitten if Jane would accept him.
“Would you be willing to see the ladies returned to Willow Hall?” Harris was asking Darcy as Bingley approached the music room. “I had not thought we would be so long in our call, or I would have allowed another to escort them.”
“You are leaving?” asked Bingley in surprise.
“I have another commitment,” Harris darted a nervous glance toward the music room, “and I would hate to be the cause of snatching Miss Elizabeth away, for Miss Bennet will not wish to leave without her.”
“I can see them home,” said Darcy. “It will be no trouble.”
“Thank you.” Harris took a step away. “If you will make my excuses, I shall be on my way. I truly should not delay another minute.” He turned and walked away — nearly trotting down the stairs — before anyone could either agree or disagree to do as he asked.
“I am not sorry to see him gone,” Bingley said to Darcy once Harris was out of sight.
Darcy laughed. “I can imagine you are not.” He slapped Bingley on the shoulder. “It has been a trying afternoon for you first with Harris arriving and then your sisters.”
“Indeed,” agreed Bingley.
Richard, who had just joined them, chuckled. “Should Darcy have toast and tea delivered to your room in the morning so that you will not have to watch us eat?”
Bingley scowled. “I have learned my lesson on that front and expect to eat a hearty breakfast — unless my sister returns, then I shall not emerge from my room until she gone.”
“You are not pleased with her, I take it,” said Richard, holding open the door to the music room so that Bingley could pass through ahead of him.
“No, I am not. The sooner I can be rid of her the better.” He smiled and nodded a greeting to the ladies who were gathered near the piano –Elizabeth and Jane on a couch and Georgiana on the piano bench. The music they held was quickly gathered and returned to a tidy stack on the instrument.
“Was that Miss Bingley who was here?” asked Elizabeth when Darcy took his place next to her.
“Was she not supposed to join Mr. Bingley for a time at Pemberley?”
Bingley thought he saw Elizabeth squeeze Jane’s hand before releasing it. “Our plans have changed,” he said. “Caroline has been invited to a house party, and I will be returning to town next Saturday.” He took a seat in a chair that was next to the couch and at Darcy’s left elbow but turned in such a way as to allow the person resting in it to converse easily with those on the couch. “There was no wedding planned when the original arrangements were made.”
“I am sorry,” said Elizabeth.
“Oh, do not apologize for such a joyful event.” Bingley smiled reassuringly.
“Then, you will come to visit at another time?” Elizabeth asked.
With some effort, Bingley kept his smile in place and gave a small shrug of his shoulders. “I am uncertain.” He could not keep from glancing meaningfully at Jane. “However, if events allow me to return, I will.”
Jane did not miss the look Bingley gave her. Was he saying that her acceptance of him was the hinge on which his plans swung? “It would be a travesty to never return to such a lovely place as this,” she answered.
Bingley’s smile faded slightly as he looked at her. “Undoubtedly, it would be.”
Jane’s cheeks reddened, and she dropped her gaze for a moment.
Richard cleared his throat and looked at Bingley uneasily. “Can we discuss plans for visits and whatever else you are not saying after Georgiana plays? I have heard enough chatter for one afternoon, and we are not allowed to eat or drink until the performance has ended, and I am hungry.” As if it had been prompted by the words, his stomach rumbled.
“You do not have to wait for me to finish,” said Georgiana with a giggle. “We would not want you to perish from hunger — or worse become bearish because of it.”
“I say,” Richard began with a feigned look of displeasure, “I should like to protest such a comment, but if it will gain me a biscuit or two earlier than I might have gotten them, I shall be content to be thought of in such a disagreeable way.” He winked and waved his hand to indicate she should begin her performance, which she did after sending one last teasing smile in his direction.
Bingley tapped his fingers silently on the arm of his chair while Georgiana played. He was not keeping time to the music. In fact, he was not paying attention to the music in any particular detail. He was merely enjoying it as it washed around him and filled the room so that he could think without having to attempt to keep track of any conversation.
Jane had seemed to welcome him just now. That was what she was doing, was it not? He darted a look in her direction and smiled as her eyes flicked away from watching him. Yes, it did seem he was welcome. He rose and quietly made his way to the tea tray to retrieve a cake. Then, he walked behind the others and took up a place leaning next to the window. Here, he could enjoy the breeze and watch Jane without being obvious — or he would have been able to had she not thought to bring him a cup of tea.
“Are you well?” he asked softly as he accepted the cup.
“I am recovered.” She pulled her lip between her teeth and looked briefly at where the others were seated. Then, deciding she was indeed brave enough to do so, she smiled and leaned against the wall across the window from Bingley. “However, I suspect a bit more fresh air might be beneficial.”
“Indeed, it might,” he agreed.
“I have spent a good deal of my time recovering here.” She motioned to the bench that was between them and in front of the window.
Bingley’s brows rose as he looked out the window to where he and Caroline had spoken earlier that day.
Jane dipped her head. “I did not mean to overhear.”
He shook his head as if it was not a big thing to have been overheard being so cross with his sister while inwardly he felt the sting.
“I did not find anything improper in what you said.” Jane looked down at her hands.
“You did not?” Bingley was not certain he had heard that correctly. He had not been kind. Was that not improper? Did it not show a man of poor character?
“No, I did not.” Jane smiled at him before lowering her gaze once again. Her fingers twisted uneasily around each other. “Did you know I was in town?”
Bingley swallowed. “No,” he whispered.
“Then you did not know I called?”
Bingley’s mouth dropped open. She had called? Why had he not been informed?
“Your sisters eventually returned my call.”
Bingley’s mouth moved as he unsuccessfully attempted to form words.
“I had hoped you would accompany them.” Jane ventured a quick peek at him.
Bingley dropped onto the bench and shook his head. “I had no knowledge of any of it. If I had, I would not have been so polite to Caroline today.”
The music from one song faded, and Georgiana began another.
This was the moment Bingley had desired — the moment when he might beg her forgiveness. He looked first at her and then at the others whose backs were to them before taking her hand and drawing her down to sit next to him. “I should never have left Netherfield and you. I acted abominably. I was nearly certain your heart was affected as much as mine. ”
“I should have been less guarded,” Jane whispered in return.
Bingley shook his head and smiled sadly at her. “No, I should have stayed until I knew the truth even if the truth would have crushed my soul, for leaving has done just that. Until this moment, I feared I was doomed to a miserable and lonely future.” He grasped her hand more firmly. “Please tell me that I have a chance to win you.”
Jane blinked against the tears that threatened. “I will, if only you will tell me that I have a chance to be won.”
Had the room been empty, Bingley might have allowed the joy that swelled in his heart to have overwhelmed his sense and drawn Jane into his arms, but knowing that they were not alone, he refrained from such overt signs of his delight. Instead, he lifted her hand, kissed it, and continued holding. They sat so for the remainder of the present song and half of the next before Bingley found the words to express what he felt. “You have made me the happiest of men, and I shall strive to show myself as worthy of you. Then, when I have proven my worth, I shall speak to your father if you desire it.”
“Must you wait?” asked Jane. “As time passes, I shall only love you more, not less.”
As Bingley searched her eyes, his smile faded slightly. “You fear I will leave you again.”
Jane blinked and shook her head, but her cheeks reddened.
“It is a natural concern,” said Bingley as calmly as his hurting heart would allow him. “That is why I must wait. I would not have my wife ever doubt my steadfastness.”
“But,” protested Jane, “you are to leave again — in one week’s time.”
Bingley blew out a breath, and his shoulders sagged. She was correct. He had planned to leave after the wedding. He could not stay at Pemberley and impose upon his friend at such a time. “I will speak with Marcus, perhaps something can be arranged.” He squeezed her hand and released it as the song began to draw to a conclusion. “I will not leave you again, and if I must travel for a time, I will always return.”
Jane smiled and nodded her acceptance of his words for she would not trust herself to speak. Her emotions were too great to be easily regulated.
Bingley stood. “I shall see you home.”
Jane’s eyes widened, and she looked around the room. “Oh, but what of Captain Harris?”
“He asked Darcy and I to give you and Miss Elizabeth his excuses.” Bingley explained. He had been so distracted by the thought of Jane when he entered the room, that all other thoughts had been forgotten. He imagined it was the same with Darcy. “It seems he had a previous engagement,” he added.
Jane laughed in surprise. “I had not even noticed he was absent. How very dreadful of me!”
Bingley grinned. “I find it to be a perfectly acceptable oversight.”
Jane laughed again. “I should not say it, for you will begin to think very ill of me, but I am glad.”
Bingley looked at her with a puzzled expression. “I thought you enjoyed his attentions.”
“Oh, he was tolerable, perhaps even obliging,” she sighed, “but his regard was not truly what I sought.” She lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
“It was not?”
She shook her head. “Oh, what will you think of me?” She sighed again and looked away. “It was a ploy to make you jealous.”
Bingley chuckled. “So, you were also being a dress,” he said as he helped a confused Jane to her feet and tucked her arm in the crook of his elbow. “You see, Richard had a theory. He had noticed that his sisters always desired a dress they could not have above any they might possess. So,” his cheeks grew warm, “we decided that I should be the dress you could not have.”
Her eyes grew wide, and a smile spread across her face. “So you have no particular fondness for Miss Dobney?”
“I do not,” he admitted.
“I am glad.”
“As is Richard,” said Bingley.
Jane halted their progress toward the door. “Colonel Fitzwilliam is fond of Miss Dobney?”
Bingley could not help but notice the excitement in her voice. “He has not admitted such, but he will not deny it either.” He tipped his head, studying her pleased expression. “I take it Miss Dobney will not be injured by my defection?”
“I cannot say.” Jane pressed her smiling lips together.
Bingley did not question her further, for though Jane had not spoken a word, the delighted twinkle in her eye gave him to know that he was indeed correct. And he was glad. He had not considered how their plan might have caused injury to Miss Dobney. He would have to be more cautious when making plans in the future, and, he thought with a wry grin, it might be best to make them without the assistance of port.
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 the plan, can be very unexpected.
Publication: February 2017