At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
In case you missed it: Prologue, Chapter 1A, Chapter 1B, Chapter 2A, Chapter 2B, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16
After half a week in London, one day in Hertfordshire, and two more on the road, Richard and Bingley finally returned to Derbyshire. Wickham had been delivered to Portsmouth and set sail. Mr. Bennet had been called upon, and, with a minimum of teasing from the man, permission for Bingley to marry Jane had been granted. All that remained to be done was for Richard to give Harris his new documents and instructions, and that would be accomplished within the next two days.
Harris was not who either gentleman desired to see first upon their return. However, that is exactly whom they encountered upon their arrival at Willow Hall. He was just departing and met them on the road.
“I was just sharing my news.” He glanced nervously back at Willow Hall. “I have located Priscilla. My parents are well-pleased to hear that she is well and has been caring for her cousin, who was orphaned not long after she arrived to live at her aunt’s home. I did surprise them, however, by not waiting to marry as one should but impulsively snatching her away to Gretna Green.”
Richard tipped his head and studied Harris’s face. The captain’s expression appeared to be open and honest if a tad bit uneasy. “And have you informed any of them about your desire to sail to Canada?”
Harris swallowed. “Is it still necessary?”
Richard nodded. “I have the paperwork in my satchel. The arrangements have been made. Your signature is all that remains to be added.”
“But Canada?” asked Harris. “Could I not be sent to Newcastle?”
Richard blew out a breath. “You sullied Bingley’s name as well as all the Bennets’ and your own cousin.”
Harris nodded slowly. “Yes, I know. It was wrong, but I had a reason for part of it — not that it makes it right or more acceptable even, but surely you can understand the need to protect a person you love.” Harris looked down at the reins he held in his hand. “Would it not be worse for me to be here where I can feel the full weight of my sin?” He looked up at Richard. “I shall always be reminded of my error if I must face the ones I have wronged.”
Richard’s brows drew together, and his lips puckered slightly. Harris had a point. Richard very much doubted that Marcus, Darcy, or Bingley would ever let Harris forget what he had done. A small smile pulled at one side of Richard’s mouth. If any of those men did soften towards Harris, there was always Lydia to take up the cause. Yes, perhaps Harris was correct. It might be best if the man were exactly where he could constantly be reminded of his failing. Richard’s brows flicked upward. “It is an idea that is not without merit. However, it was not just I who was offended. I must discuss this option with all whose names you dishonored.” He gave a tip of his head in dismissal. “I will contact you after I have had all the necessary discussions.”
“I thank you, Colonel,” said Harris.
Richard watched him go. “Was I too easy on him?” he asked Bingley.
Bingley chuckled as they started up the drive. “I think not. He had a good argument.”
Richard sighed. “Aye, but was he being honest?”
Bingley shrugged. “There is no way of truly knowing, I suppose.”
“True,” Richard agreed.
“But there will be many around to keep him on the straight and narrow.” Bingley turned toward Richard with a smirk. “And I do have access to a ship or two if we should need.”
Richard laughed as he slid from his horse and tossed the reins to a waiting groom. “It was a heady time sending one scoundrel packing.” He clapped Bingley on the shoulder. “I would gladly do so again with you if needed.”
Bingley nodded his thanks but whispered as the door to Willow Hall opened, revealing Darcy coming to greet them, “Just do not tell Darcy that.”
Richard chuckled. “Have no fear, my friend. That is one lecture I do not wish to hear.”
“Nor do I,” said Bingley. “Darcy! Have you missed us so much that you must be the first to greet us?”
Darcy laughed. “No, I just know, since your ladies are within, that as soon as you are in their presence, I will not be able to get the information from you that I need.”
“And what information is that?” asked Richard. He knew precisely what it was that Darcy wished to know, but giving the information without at least a small amount of taunting seemed rather a dull method.
“Was your trip a success?” Darcy asked.
“Indeed it was,” Bingley replied. “Wickham set sail for India, Mr. Bennet gave me his blessing, and Harris — well, he seems repentant. Oh!” Bingley patted his pocket. “I have also secured a special license. All I need now is a home for my bride.”
“You saw Harris?” Darcy asked.
“We did. Just at the road,” said Bingley. “He said he is married.”
Darcy nodded. “Will you not be keeping Netherfield?” He turned and began walking toward the house with them.
“I shall allow Jane to decide. If she wishes to be near her parents, then I will keep Netherfield, but if she prefers to remain close to Elizabeth, then we will search for an estate within a day’s drive of Pemberley.”
“That seems reasonable.” Darcy turned toward Richard. “Your father found Elizabeth to be delightful and has returned to Matlock to tell your mother that you are betrothed. I had to produce Mary Ellen and allow her to confirm the fact before he was willing to accept it.” Darcy chuckled. “I believe he had come to the conclusion that you would never marry. He wishes to know your intentions regarding your inheritance and your commission. I told him that I would mention it and that you would answer as soon as you were able.”
Richard drew in a breath and released it. “I am certain Mother will have given him my answer for me before I have even thought of it.”
Darcy chuckled. “So you will also be within a day’s drive.”
“Soon,” said Richard. “But not immediately. I cannot just leave my men to anyone.” He stepped into the house behind Darcy. A smile wiped away any arguments that might have followed, for there, standing in the entryway next to Jane was Mary Ellen. “Miss Dobney,” he said, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips.
“Mrs. Abbot thought you and Mr. Bingley might wish to stretch your legs in the garden before sitting for a cup of tea,” explained Mary Ellen.
“Did she?” Richard lifted a quizzical brow; a spark of mischief gleamed in his eye. “Can I not just kiss you here?”
Mary Ellen blushed. “You may kiss me here and in the garden.” She lifted onto her toes and placed her lips on his. “I have missed you.”
He smiled and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her firmly against his chest. “And I have missed you,” he said before kissing her in return. It was just a brief kiss — nowhere near the sort of kiss he wished to give her, but with his cousin, as well as Bingley and Jane as an audience, a proper greeting that told her exactly how much he had missed her would have to wait. “Shall we?” he asked as he released her and offered her his arm.
“There is a lovely path through the woods,” Darcy offered with a chuckle before ducking into the sitting room.
“Your journey was good?” Jane asked as she and Bingley followed Richard and Mary Ellen from the house and around to the garden.
“It was. Everything has been settled,” Bingley answered with a smile. “I stopped at Longbourn. Your mother was pleased to see me.”
“Just my mother?” Jane asked in surprise.
Bingley chuckled. “Your father was welcoming as well. In fact, he has given me permission to marry his eldest daughter.”
Jane wrapped both arms around Bingley’s and laid her head on his shoulder. “That is very good news.”
He looked down to see her looking up at him. There was a happiness in her eyes that outshone her lovely smile. “You will still have me, then?”
The sense of being fortunate beyond what he deserved nearly overwhelmed him, and he said as much to Jane. She, of course, did not agree. It was not he who was fortunate but herself.
“My darling Jane,” he began as they circled the large tree at the far end of the garden and stopped just where it stood between them and the house. “I shall not always be disagreeable,” he turned to face her, taking her hands in his, “but on this one point, I must be. You, dearest, deserve better than a man who was so easily persuaded to desert you.” He placed a finger on her lip to prevent her protest. “But I will be hanged if I am going to allow you the opportunity to find such a man. You are mine.”
“Indeed, I am,” Jane agreed.
Bingley lifted her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles. “I have a special license.” The way her eyes grew wide in surprise was delightful. He was certain he would never get tired of watching her face.
“How do you do that?” he asked. “There is a peace and serenity about your expression even when you are startled, happy, or even hurt. It is as if nothing stirs your composure.”
Her cheeks flushed, and she ducked her head. “It is my nature, I suppose, as well as years of practice.” She peeked up at him, a mischievous smile on her lips. “You have met my mother, have you not?”
Bingley laughed. “I have.”
“If I were to become distressed and out of sorts every time she did or said something shocking,” she shrugged, “it would be frowned on more greatly than it is, and my father would be spoken of as lacking. It is easier to calm the waters with a smile than a frown.” She laughed lightly. “But, I assure you, I possess a temper and am quite capable of being in a bad humor. You may ask Lizzy. She has borne the brunt of it; however, compared to Lydia or Kitty or even Lizzy, my temper is mild.”
“I believe your temper to be perfect,” Bingley said with a smile, “for if you were not so gentle and forgiving, I would not be so happily attached to such a wonderful lady, which once again proves how very fortunate I am.” He chuckled at the way her delightful lips pursed in displeasure briefly, and then, unable to resist the urge any longer, he gathered her into his arms and kissed her.
“I do not wish to wait to marry you,” said Jane when Bingley finally allowed her to speak.
Bingley smiled. “We are of the same mind then. It is why I obtained the license, after all.” He held her close and rested his chin on the top of her head. “But there are matters to consider. I would not have our wedding be a patched up affair — especially with the rumors that are circulating.”
Jane squeezed him tightly. “I do not care about the rumors. Those who matter know the truth, and everyone else will soon figure out that they have been duped. You are an honorable man.”
“And you a virtuous woman.” He kissed the top of her head. However, he was not as certain as she that the rumors would die so easily.
“We could marry with Lizzy and Mr. Darcy,” Jane suggested. “I know Lizzy would not mind.”
He leaned against the trunk of the tree, pulling her with him. It did feel good to have her here in his arms. A bit of hurry and a few rumors seemed small prices to pay for this pleasure. “I am certain Darcy would be happy to share his day as well, but where are we to live. There is Netherfield…” He felt her head shake against his chest. “Or we could find something in Derbyshire.” Her contented sigh told him that Derbyshire was her favoured location. “It will take time to find an estate.”
“Philip may know of a place that could be rented,” Jane suggested hopefully, “if it would not be too great an expense,” she added. His chuckle rumbled through his chest below her ear. “You already have the expense of Netherfield,” she argued.
“Are you attempting to persuade me to stay in Derbyshire or return to Netherfield, my sweet.”
She pulled away slightly so that she could look at him. “I am merely attempting to be wise. Just because one has money does not mean one should spend it without careful consideration.”
“My accounts will not run dry. I believe we can afford a to rent a place and still purchase an estate even with the upkeep of Netherfield until such time as the lease ends.”
Her brows furrowed. “You are certain?”
“Have you so little faith in me?”
Her eyes grew wide. “No, it is not that. I trust you completely, but my mother has always spent without thought, and I do not wish to be my mother.”
He kissed her forehead. “You could never be your mother.”
“Thank you,” she said as she placed her head back on his chest. “I love you,” she said softly.
“And I love you,” he replied. They stood just as they were discussing what each might wish for in an estate and then, finally, as Richard and Mary Ellen appeared from the woods, Bingley pushed off the tree, gave Jane one more kiss, and tucked her hand in the crook of his arm. “We should let Darcy and Elizabeth know of our plans.”
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.