“What has you looking like you ate a piece of bad fish?” asked Richard as he took a seat in Pemberley’s game room next to Bingley.
Bingley shrugged and gulped the last of his drink. “You did not stay at Matlock?”
Richard sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands. “My sister is the center of a house party, and although her friends seem to enjoy my company, I do not enjoy theirs. The last of the guest should leave by week’s end. I shall visit for a longer period of time after that. As it was, yesterday and this morning were long enough for my mother to begin speaking of my marrying.”
“It is a sad lot for us men,” muttered Bingley.
“Marriage?” Richard unbuttoned his waistcoat.
Bingley’s head bobbed up and down slowly. “I suppose it is not only a sad business for men.” He rose on shaky legs to refill his glass. “It is only a happy business if you can persuade the lady you love to accept you, but if you cannot.” He made a slashing motion in front of his throat. “All the pleasures of life are at an end, for there is little joy in a marriage of convenience.” Port sloshed back and forth nearly spilling over the rim of the glass that Bingley handed to Richard. “You have seen it. I have seen it. All those sad men drinking and gambling in the clubs or trotting off in closed carriages and entertaining who knows what disease in an attempt to feel some joy.” He huffed and shook his head. “It never works. Have you ever met one that was happy?” He sloshed another glass of port to the table next to his chair before taking a seat. “And the ladies — not any happier. It’s a sorry business marriage is.” He heaved a great sigh and rested his head against the back of the chair. “And yet, we must do our duty.”
As he drank, Richard studied Bingley. “Miss Bennet is still not warming to your presence?”
Bingley scowled and huffed. “As warm as a pond in January.” He turned angry eyes toward Richard. “Not that you would know, she is all that is pleasant around you and that blasted Harris.”
“I have only meant to be civil,” retorted Richard.
“Harris, however, seems enamoured,” Richard admitted, “although, I do not see Miss Bennet returning his affections in equal measure.”
Bingley laughed bitterly. “Yes, but that does not mean they are not returned.” He shook his head. Why had he listened to his sister and Darcy? He had been nearly certain Jane favoured him. He sighed. That was why he had listened. He had been nearly but not completely certain, and he had been wrong before. “What of your prospects for marriage? Besides the debutantes at your parent’s estate that is. Any who might settle for an almost gentleman such as myself?”
“I admit to having no particular prospects in mind,” said Richard, rising to refill his glass. “My lot is not all that much rosier than yours. I am a second son, after all.”
“Of an earl,” Bingley scoffed. “That alone makes you valuable. Your brother could die.”
“A pleasant thought,” Richard said dryly. “I have no desire to claim the title.”
“Your inheritance cannot be nothing,” said Bingley. “What will you have on the completion of your career? A small estate? A piece of land?”
“Aye,” said Richard. “A small estate. Are you not going to purchase an estate?”
Bingley shrugged. “Perhaps, once Caroline is married, so I can guarantee it is not too close to her.” He held his glass a few inches from his lips. “She has twenty thousand pounds you know.”
“I have met her, Bingley, and as much as I like you, I do not wish to be tied you by marrying her.”
Bingley nodded. “Wise choice. She is disagreeable and spoiled. I blame our aunt for it — filling her head with impossible dreams of grandeur.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You know she does not wish to marry for love?” His voice was filled with incredulity. “She only wishes to marry for money and position.”
Richard shrugged. “That is not an uncommon desire.”
“Well,” said Bingley, falling back in his chair, “I find it disturbing. Louisa wished for a fondness of affections, but Caroline does not even care for that! She followed Darcy around like a lost puppy only for his estate. It is so grand and well-situated, and the staff is impressive — or so she has said. But Darcy? She thought him handsome — she is not blind or entirely stupid — but,” he shook his head and frowned, “she thought him too grave. She cares for him little beyond the connections he possessed.” His chuckle was humourless. “The way she fawned over his every word and deed — empty, hollow praise. That’s all it was. I do not know how she can be so very shallow. It is not as if our parents did not instill good principles in us.” He shrugged. “Again, I blame our aunt and that school Caroline attended. She was too young to be left without a mother.” He lapsed into silence. It had been ten years since his mother had passed away and three since his father had joined her, but still the thought of their departure left an unsettled feeling in his chest. It was a void that he had at one time thought Jane would fill.
Bingley sighed. His happiness would never be complete without Miss Bennet. “How do I do it?”
“Pardon?” asked Richard in surprise.
“See myself happily married to Miss Bennet,” Bingley clarified.
“I cannot say I have ever pursued any lady in particular, so I might not be the best person to ask for advice.”
Bingley rolled his head, which was resting on the back of his chair, so that he could see Richard. “But you are skilled in developing strategies to win a battle, are you not?”
Richard shrugged. “I know a thing or two, yes.”
“Then how do I win this battle?”
Richard steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them as he thought. “Ladies are unpredictable.”
Bingley nodded. “That they are.”
Richard took another drink of his port. “They often want what they cannot have, do they not? I mean my sister will whine more about some dress she cannot have and claim it is the latest in fashion and better than anything she already possesses.”
“True!” said Bingley. “Caroline is the same. So is Louisa.”
“Then, you must be the dress she cannot have,” said Richard with finality.
Bingley’s brows furrowed. “How am I to be a dress?”
“If my sister sees that dress — the one she was denied on another lady — ” Richard rolled his eyes and let out a low whistle.
“Ah,” said Bingley, a smile curving his lips. “I must pay attention to another lady.”
Richard tapped his nose. “Precisely. But you must do it with care. You do not wish to be obligated to marry this other lady.”
Bingley nodded. A small amount of hope began to grow in his mind. “Who?” he asked, turning again to Richard. “I only know Miss Darcy and Miss Dobney.”
“Miss Darcy will not do,” said Richard sharply. “She is too young, and Wickham has left her heart fragile.”
“Then,” Bingley lifted his nearly empty glass in salute, “Miss Dobney it shall be.” He paused with the glass nearly at his lips. “Do we tell Miss Dobney of our scheme?”
“Only if necessary. Ladies tend to talk,” he drained the remaining liquid from his glass. The plan had seemed a good one as he spoke it, but now — his brows furrowed — he was not entirely certain.
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 of this book is expected to be February 2017.