Elizabeth Bennet is drawn to a handsome, mysterious man she meets at a masquerade ball. However, she gives up all hope for a future with him when she learns he is the son of George Darcy, the man who ruined her father’s life. Despite her father’s demand that she avoid the younger Darcy, when he appears in Hertfordshire Elizabeth cannot stop thinking about him, or seeking him out, or welcoming his kisses….
Fitzwilliam Darcy has struggled to carve out a life independent from his father’s vindictive temperament and domineering ways, although the elder Darcy still controls the purse strings. After meeting Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy cannot imagine marrying anyone else, even though his father despises her family. More than anything he wants to make her his wife, but doing so would mean sacrificing everything else….
She was biting her lower lip, and Darcy wanted more than anything to alleviate her anxiety. “I was looking for my friend.” His surge of jealousy was instantly assuaged by her next words. “She is blonde and wears a blue dress.”
“Ah, I believe she has accompanied my friend onto the veranda for a dance.”
“Oh. So I have been abandoned.” Her lips quirked into a half smile. She sees her friend’s abandonment as a cause for amusement rather than resentment, Darcy noted.
“As have I. Perhaps we may be abandoned together.” How did such flirtatious language emerge from his mouth? Usually he had no facility with words. Perhaps the mask offered him some kind of license? But her clear blue eyes held his in a captive gaze. No, it was her. Something about this woman stirred deep feelings so all he saw—all he could see—was her. The rest of the world simply fell away.
Her eyebrows tipped upward doubtfully. Was he being too forward with a woman he had just met? Darcy almost did not care. He would do anything, break any rules of propriety to stay with this enchanting creature. “Would you do me the honor of the next dance?”
She blinked rapidly and blushed, her gaze not meeting his. Was the request such a surprise to her? Of course, they had not been introduced, but a masquerade should allow them to dispense with such formalities. Then she gave him an arch look. “A stranger in a mask has just asked me to dance. What would my mother say I should do in this situation?”
Was she teasing him? He had seen other men engage in such banter, but it never happened to him. He cleared his throat. “I believe your mother would advise you to accept under the circumstances.” He found himself smiling at her. “I assure you, miss, I am not a highwayman despite the mask.”
She tapped her lips thoughtfully with her forefinger. “So you would have me believe you are a respectable gentleman? I would expect a highwayman to say so.”
Darcy could not prevent a laugh from bursting forth. At the beginning of their conversation he had suspected she might be unaware of his identity, but now he was sure of it. No woman ever dared to banter with Fitzwilliam Darcy in such a way; they were too eager to compliment his figure, his features, his clothing, his horse…and anything else he possessed. Every exchange with a marriageable woman was colored by awareness of his fortune—except this one, and it was delightful. How had such a woman found her way into the Berwicks’ masquerade?
He restrained an impulse to take the woman’s hand; he did not know her. “Very well, will you promise to dance with me if I promise not to purloin your reticule or jewelry?” As he said this, he realized she possessed neither. How odd.
She laughed, a bright, silvery sound. He had made her laugh! “Yes, I thank you. But this set has just begun.”
He glanced at the veranda where the couples had just begun their set. “Then perhaps we may take a stroll in the gardens before the next one commences.” Where had he discovered this new fount of gallantry and ease? Robert often teased Darcy about being stiff and formal in company.
The woman took his proffered arm, and they slowly walked toward the formal gardens, which were less crowded than in the area around the court. He had so many questions about this enchanting woman that his throat felt clogged with them. “I pray you, tell me your name,” he finally managed.
She slid him a sidelong glance. “It is a masquerade. Should not my identity remain hidden?”
He shrugged. “I do not wish to think of you as ‘that woman in yellow’ for the entire evening.”
Her laugh was genuine, not the polite tittering allowed for a lady of the ton. “Very well, my name is Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth. Darcy savored the taste of the name in his mind. It suited her: elegant but lively. She did not give her surname, but he supposed that was consistent with the spirit of a masquerade.
“And I am William,” he responded.
She gave no sign of recognition although he was the only William at the masquerade. “I am pleased to meet you, William.” Her smile illuminated the surrounding darkness.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Darcy said, and he meant it.
The garden paths were lit by torches at regular intervals, but many areas remained swathed in shadows. In one such patch of darkness, a couple stood rather close as if they were about to kiss. A swift glance at Elizabeth showed her blushing at the sight, so he rushed them past it. Fortunately, Georgiana is up in her bedchamber under the eye of Mrs. Younge!
Darcy ceased worrying about Elizabeth’s offended sensibilities when he heard her laugh. “Wearing a mask may sometimes become a license to behave more freely than one might ordinarily,” she said.
This struck him as a rather astute observation. “Indeed. A mask gives the illusion of anonymity—as if you can be someone else.” Perhaps that is why I may approach this woman so boldly.
“Are you saying you are not ordinarily a pleasant, gentlemanly fellow?” Elizabeth asked with an arch smile.
She was teasing him, and surprisingly, he loved it. “Indeed not!” He smiled. “As you have guessed, I am a highwayman—and usually quite proud and churlish. What think you of my thespian skills?”
Her laugh was warm and throaty. “You had me completely fooled, sir! You could rival the greatest actor in Covent Garden.”
“And what of you, Miss Elizabeth? Are you also playing a role?”
“Oh, most definitely.” Her smile was enigmatic.
“And will you tell me what it is?”
“Perhaps you may figure it out.”
“I see.” He smiled. “So you are playing the part of a conundrum.”
He was thrilled to have provoked more laughter. “Yes, that is me.”
“My mother would say so; I puzzle her exceedingly.”
“In what way?” Darcy asked.
She shrugged and blushed faintly. “I read all the books in my father’s library and prefer to take long walks rather than remain inside to discuss fashion with the other ladies.”
Darcy experienced a jolt of something akin to recognition. He had not known it until that moment, but were those not qualities he would seek in an ideal wife?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author of best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she is a freelance writer/editor who teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.
She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, two children who are learning how much fun Austen’s characters can be, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.