When the sun crept its way over the horizon, Bingley slept in a chair in the games room at Pemberley, a stiff neck and headache would be the gift of his indulgence when he awoke. At Willow Hall, Jane was also awakening with a sore head. She had spent too long last night thinking about what to do in regards to Mr. Bingley to have slept well enough to rise refreshed. Elizabeth, from the wince she made when opening her eyes, was in no better shape.
Jane rose first and tended to her needs and was sitting at the dressing table when Elizabeth got out of bed. “He is quite perfect,” she said, glancing over her shoulder to where Elizabeth was splashing cold water on her face.
“Mr. Bingley?” Elizabeth asked from behind a towel.
“Mmmhmm.” Jane unraveled the last of her braid and was about begin brushing her hair. A maid could be called to assist, but as at home, she liked to do as much of her preparations for the day on her own. There was a peacefulness to starting the day without anyone to fawn over you or tell you to sit straight or look this way or that. “He is handsome and agreeable. I do not think a life with him would be dull.”
Elizabeth could only agree with such a statement. Mr. Bingley was, after all, all that a young man should be. Jane had declared such to be true shortly after meeting him.
“He affects me as no other man has — not even Captain Harris, and I am fond of the captain in a friendly sort of way,” reasoned Jane. It was the same reasoning she had used sometime in the early morning hours while the moon still shone in the sky. “I shall give him a second chance to win my affections.” She plunked the brush down on the table and gave a sharp nod of her head in agreement with her own determination. “I will stop avoiding him. I shall even be more than civil, and I shall no longer hide my smiles from him.”
Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on her stockings. “Are you going to stop spending so much time with Captain Harris?”
Jane shook her head. “I shall not actively dissuade him, but I shall offer no encouragement either — unless I am unsuccessful with Mr. Bingley.”
“And you will encourage Mr. Bingley?”
Again, Jane shook her head. “I will not unless he is agreeable. I do not want to appear to be throwing myself at him especially if he does not, in fact, still love me.”
Elizabeth reached around Jane for the brush. “You must not be so circumspect as to leave him in doubt.”
“I shall not be,” said Jane.
And she was not. Later that day, when callers came to Willow Hall, Jane made certain to smile and openly welcome each of them as warmly as she could. However, no matter the number of times she smiled at Mr. Bingley or asked his opinion on some topic, he merely answered courteously in return before turning his attention to Mary Ellen Dobney. By the end of the visit, Jane was growing quite cross and felt her lips forming a pout equal to those produced by her youngest sister.
“That did not go as planned.” Jane sat, arms crossed and looking very disgruntled on a bench in the garden at Willow Hall.
“No.” Mary Ellen, who had stayed after the others had left so that she could spend time with Elizabeth and Jane, agreed with a sigh.
“You looked happy to be doted on.”
Elizabeth’s brows rose at the grumble from her sister. Jane was always pleasant — always, and she never grumbled — never.
“I was not,” Mary Ellen assured Jane. “I had hoped by appearing to be happy, someone would make more of an effort to claim my attention away from Mr. Bingley.” She slumped forward and, propping her elbows on her knees, rested her chin in her hands.
“Someone?” asked Elizabeth.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Mary Ellen said the name as if every frustration of the afternoon was summed up in it.
“You do not like Mr. Bingley?” asked Jane hopefully.
“He is pleasant, but no, he is not who I wish to marry,” answered Mary Ellen. “Colonel Fitzwilliam.” This time the name was spoken with a sigh, “He is just so…so…perfect. Strong, amiable, intelligent, entertaining. The only thing he lacks is the good sense to swoon at my feet.” She turned to Jane. “But what of my cousin?”
Jane’s face pinched slightly at the question. “He is pleasant, and I thought I had lost my chance with Mr. Bingley. So –”
“You were looking for a replacement,” said Mary Ellen with a knowing nod. “I have tried that. Mr. ___ was an excellent dancer and a fine conversationalist as well as possessing a great deal of manliness, but there was something he was missing.”
Jane nodded her understanding. “He was not Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“Precisely!” cried Mary Ellen. “Oh, it is good to know there is another who understands. Lucy claims she does, but she fell into her marriage without much effort.”
“I understand,” said Elizabeth. “I thought I had lost Mr. Darcy.”
“True,” agreed Jane.
“But you did not have to struggle to gain his attention,” Mary Ellen said with a smirk. “Not that you were not fortunate to be reunited, of course.”
“How did you gain his acceptance after abusing him so abominably?” asked Jane.
“You abused him?” Mary Ellen’s eyes sparkled with curiosity.
“I was not very kind in my first refusal.” Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. “And nearly everything I accused him of was not true. I prefer not to repeat any of that horrible scene.”
Mary Ellen shook her head. “I have not even been given the chance to make a refusal. Have you?” she asked Jane.
“No. Neither of us has been so fortunate.”
“I did not think it fortunate at the time,” countered Elizabeth. “The things I said were so wrong that at my first opportunity after meeting Mr. Darcy again, I apologized.”
Jane’s brows furrowed and her pout returned. That would not work for her. She had nothing for which to apologize. In fact, now that she was thinking about it, it was Mr. Bingley that owed her an apology. It was he who had played with her affections and then just disappeared. “Perhaps, you should continue to be happy to receive Mr. Bingley’s attentions,” she suggested to Mary Ellen. “The colonel did seem a bit uneasy today, perhaps that is the reason.”
“But what of you?” Mary Ellen asked.
“I shall divide my attentions between your cousin and Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Jane replied. “Perhaps, if we both appear to be of interest to another gentleman, it will make them take note.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “This sounds very much like a Lydia scheme. I cannot say I approve.”
Jane’s brows rose. “You do not have to approve. You are happily attached. We,” she waved a hand toward Mary Ellen and then back to herself, “are not.”
“But Jane,” said Elizabeth, “you have already been in Mr. Bingley’s presence and welcomed Captain Harris’ and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s attention. Surely, if this scheme was to work, it would have already.”
“And it was working, although it was not my intention at the time. Mr. Bingley looked quite dejected the last time we were all together, but today when I was willing to welcome him, he was no longer interested in gaining my approval.”
Mary Ellen nodded. “I had noticed his gloom on other calls but not today’s.”
“So we are agreed?” asked Jane.
Mary Ellen smiled and extended her hand to Jane to shake. “Yes. We shall make them jealous.”
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.