At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
Harris’ heart raced as his carriage drove away from Pemberley. How fortunate to have come to a solution to his problem in such a convenient way! He had thought he would have to draw Bingley out — causing him to act rashly and thereby exposing himself as less than a gentleman to one and all in the hopes that Darcy would have little choice but to break ties with his friend. However, try as he might to provoke Bingley to irrational jealousy — and he could clearly see that Bingley was jealous — the man had proven to be more controlled than expected. Harris smiled. Not that playing the part of a smitten lover of Jane Bennet was a hardship. That lady was beautiful!
Indeed, until his present trouble had come upon him, Harris had hoped he might convince Jane to marry him. She would do justice as mistress of his estate — he mentally ticked off the reasons for why he had chosen to favour her with his attentions — everyone seemed to adore her, and she was so trusting that she would never suspect his true reason for occasionally travelling to ___. Yes, Miss Bennet would have made a fabulous Mrs. Harris — not that she was his first choice, no, that choice had been snatched away three years ago. But, that mattered not now, save in keeping the reason for the disappearance of that lady a secret, which Miss Bingley’s intelligence should guarantee.
Harris continued to thank his good fortunes all the way to a small pub tucked away around the corner of a street in Lambton. It was not on the familiar path, but it was always busy with a particular shade of customer. He jumped down from his carriage and with a few words to his driver, went in search of his quarry.
“Fisher,” Harris greeted a man of middling age as he took a chair at the table where the man sat.
“Harris,” Fisher seemed surprised to see him. “You’ve got all your teeth and eyes and not a tinge of blood on ye.” He raised a brow as he lifted his glass. “Not coming to break off our arrangement now are ye? Wickham will not be pleased to hear it — and you know what he will do if he is not pleased.”
Harris leaned back in his chair and drummed the fingers of his right hand on the edge of the table as a smile spread slowly across his face. “I have come to collect my papers.”
“It is done?” Fisher’s eyes grew wide in surprise.
“Nearly,” said Harris. “I will give you what you need to spread about as soon as I have seen the papers.”
“You don’t expect me to have them with me now do ye?” Fisher’s empty glass clunked heavily on the table.
“I’m quite certain you do since Wickham charged you with them in a rather threatening fashion.” At their last meeting, Wickham had shoved Fisher against the wall in the room where they had met, holding him in place with a forearm pressed firmly against Fisher’s throat. Wickham had only released Fisher to gasp for air after extracting an assurance that the papers would be seen by no one besides himself, Fisher, and Harris until the three week period of time had been completed. Then, if Harris had not done his best to meet his end of the bargain, the papers were to make their way secretly to Mr. Williams.
Fisher’s eyes narrowed, and after waving with his hand to the barkeep for a refill of his drink, he pulled the papers out of a pocket inside his coat and placed them on the table in front of him. “Tell me why I should give these to you?”
Harris’ eyes fell on the papers that stood between a particular lady and a potential noose or transportation and then lifted his gaze to Fisher with a raised brow.
Fisher flipped the papers over so that Wickham’s seal could be seen.
Satisfied that these were the papers he needed, Harris leaned forward, and after a glance around him, he began sharing all that Miss Bingley had said about Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth and then added all he knew of how Miss Lydia had come to Derbyshire.
Fisher laughed. “Wickham did not mention being bamboozled by some pretty skirt.”
“Do you blame him?” Harris replied with a smirk. “To meet her one would not think she could string two ideas together in a cohesive fashion…but she is a flirt.” His brows flicked. “And from what I hear, her skirts are not precisely heavy.” Although they had not been light enough to favour him with any of her attentions. He gritted his teeth — no she kept those for Wickham and his lot.
“Aye, seems a family trait.” Fisher slid the papers across the table.
Harris placed a hand on his freedom. “I expect Bingley will be in Miss Bennet’s company now that I am stepping away. He will not wait to take up his place next to her, and I imagine hearing her ill-spoken of with bring out an uncharacteristic burst of anger.” He stared hard into Fisher’s eyes. “He is not to know that the information you received came from me, or I will tell one and all about your connection to Wickham.”
Fisher nodded. “He’ll only know of his sister being a source. I keeps myself to myself.”
“See that you do.” Harris took the papers and left. His part was done. Not that he would not add to a story about Miss Lydia should he hear one. He would gladly see her shunned as she had done him in Brighton even if it meant hurting his cousin.
Hopefully, Miss Bingley would have the opportunity to share such a tale about Miss Lydia with her friends at the house party she was to attend. He smiled. That would surely bring raised brows and whispers behind fans whenever Miss Lydia was introduced to finer society — and she would have to be introduced. Darcy was marrying her sister, and there were gatherings even in Derbyshire and Matlock to which his cousin, Marcus, and Lydia as Mrs. Dobney would be invited.
Ah — there was one small pang of regret — Colonel Fitzwilliam was more a brother to Darcy than a cousin, and anything that grieved his cousin would necessarily bring sorrow to the colonel as well. Harris blew out a breath and patted the papers in his pocket. It could not be helped. He must keep his sweet Priscilla safe.
“Was not Captain Harris with you?” Mrs. Abbot stood near the hedge that bordered the garden at Willow Hall to greet Jane and Elizabeth. Her sons played happily on the grass behind her, carefully watched over by Mrs. Gardiner and their nurse.
“He had to leave early for another commitment,” Jane explained.
Cecily’s head tipped to the side, and her lips pulled into a small smile. “You do not appear distressed by this development.”
“I am not,” Jane said simply, schooling her features to only smile slightly and not broadly as she wished. But her eyes shone with delight.
Cecily’s brows rose, and she turned inquisitive eyes toward Elizabeth. “It was Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy who attended you home?”
“Indeed it was.” Elizabeth clamped her lips closed.
“Oh,” Cecily’s eyes narrowed as she shook her head, “no, you are not going to hide this from me. I will know if Mr. Bingley has spoken about whether he still holds Jane in regard or not. There will be no tea and biscuits until I have heard the full tale.” She laced one arm through Elizabeth’s and the other through Jane’s. “Now, come sit with us and tell me all about your adventure at Pemberley, and you will not finish your tale until you have arrived back at Willow Hall. I must know all.”
Madeline Gardiner chuckled. “There is no use trying to deny her what she wishes. She is may smile like you, Jane, but I assure you, she is as stubborn as Lizzy.” She winked at her sister who had huffed at her description. “And I find I am quite curious to know what has transpired to make our Jane’s countenance glow as it does.”
Jane gasped and placed a hand on her cheek.
Cecily laughed. “It is quite the thing to glow when one is happy.” She took a seat on the blanket which was spread out on the lawn.
Jane took a seat next to her and pondered for a moment how to begin to share all that had happened. One thought kept coming to mind over and over as it had for the entire right back to Willow Hall, and so, she decided to begin there. “He loves me and always has. He never stopped.” This confession, of course, drew exclamations of delight and a flurry of questions.
Patiently and with more joy than she had felt in some time, Jane answered each one. No, she had never truly felt her heart engaged with regards to Captain Harris. He was a pleasant fellow, but he was not Mr. Bingley. Yes, the day had been pleasant, but she had found Captain Harris to be rather full of words and then when he had not shown proper sadness at the news of Mr. Bingley’s father’s death, well…it had been too much to bear. Her heart had ached so! She was ever so thankful to have been given the opportunity to retire to the music room. She had been shocked at the arrival of Miss Bingley and pleasantly surprised by Mr. Bingley’s harsh words to his sisters. Oh, goodness, yes! She was so thankful to not have had to speak with either Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley. She really was not certain how she could have countenanced a meeting with them after being treated so abominably. There was a pause here to consider what it would be like to have them both for sisters and then a determination that Miss Bingley must marry as soon as possible. It was the only solution, Elizabeth declared, to keep Jane from having a truly miserable life.
“I am not certain it would be so bad as that!” cried Jane. “I am more forgiving than you, Lizzy. I can abide more foolishness than you can.”
Elizabeth allowed this to be so. “Still, I think it would be hideous to have to house and feed her forever. She really must marry if anyone can be found to accept her.”
“Oh, Elizabeth,” said Cecily with a laugh, “surely she cannot be beyond finding a husband.”
“You have never met her,” said Elizabeth. “She can be very unpleasant.”
“True,” said Jane, “I had not thought so at first, but she did prove to be both unpleasant and untrustworthy.”
“Perhaps there will be a man in need of a fortune at this house party,” commented Mrs. Gardiner.
They all hoped that would be the case.
“Are we to hear three sets of Bennet wedding bells, then?” asked Cecily.
Jane could not help but smile at the question. “I hope,” she replied. “He has not asked, you see — though he would wish to and I would welcome the question. He has asked for a time to prove himself.”
Cecily sighed, and Jane nodded her agreement. Having a gentleman declaring he must show himself worthy of you was just the sort of thing to make a lady swoon a bit.
This, of course, led to an explanation of Mr. Bingley not knowing that Jane was in town or that she had called. It was his sisters who were to blame. In fact, when Elizabeth mentioned Mr. Darcy’s part, Jane could not bring it upon herself to implicate him in any of her misery. He was acting, she said, with the best interest of his friend in mind. Truly, if she had listened to Charlotte and been less circumspect, neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Bingley would have doubted her attachment. The blame lay entirely at Miss Bingley’s and Mrs. Hurst’s feet. They were the ones that made Jane feel as if she were expected to be part of their family, and they were the ones that kept her visit to town a secret. No, there was no use in trying to dissuade her. Mr. Bingley’s sisters were, without doubt, the injurious parties.
“And what of Captain Harris?” asked Mrs. Gardiner. “Has he made any overtures that he might make an offer? Have you led him to believe one might be welcomed?”
For a moment, a cloud passed across Jane’s beautiful and bright horizon. It was never easy to let down a suitor. She had done so once before and had felt the sting of his displeasure for some time afterward. Yet, Captain Harris was not someone she would often see after he returned to Brighton. Perhaps she would see him on occasion if he should visit the Dobneys at the same time she did, but that would be at a time so far in the distance, that surely he would have forgotten any disappointment she caused him. She had no reason to believe he valued her as anything more than a pretty conversationalist. He never spoke to her as if she were the only one present. He never silently smiled at her with his eyes across a room when they were separated.
“I shall be friendly, of course,” Jane said in reply to her aunt’s question. “But I shall not show him any particular attention for Mr. Bingley shall have it all. He will not doubt my feelings again.”
“And you will speak to him if the need arises?” Mrs. Gardiner knew of Jane’s propensity to avoid unpleasant conversations.
“I will. ” Jane smiled. “The prize is worth the discomfort.”
“Good girl.” Mrs. Gardiner patted Jane’s knee. “You do love Mr. Bingley, then?”
Jane nodded. “Yes. Very much.”
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.
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.
Publication: February 14, 2017