From the Author
As the story goes in To Have His Cake (and Eat It Too) and its sequel, What He Would Not Do, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam enjoyed making light of his younger cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy’s deep affection for Miss Elizabeth Bennet in what seemed destined to be an unrequited love. After Darcy won Elizabeth’s heart and made her his wife, Richard continued his wont of taunting his love-sick friend.
Now, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. It’s Darcy’s turn to make light of Richard’s struggles to prove himself worthy of pleasing the woman in his life. Can Richard stay true to his purpose or will the worrisome winds of ill fate intervene?
Past is Prologue …
After his father threatened to cut him off financially for what the Earl of Matlock deemed his son’s debauched, heedless way of life, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam set his cap at young Lady Harriette Middleton. A second son whose habits of taste demanded he marry a woman of substantial means, Richard’s sole intention was securing her dowry. Having entered her bedchamber under the cover of darkness, he set upon his course. He promised to court her, to win her heart, to marry her.
Lady Harriette, the only daughter of one of the wealthiest peers in England, never accustomed herself to accept 'no' for an answer. Richard meant to change all that. She likened his declaration to win her heart as more of a challenge than a promise. By the end of their whirlwind courtship, it was unclear who was pursuing who.
The Continuing Story Unfolds …
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lady Harriette’s hasty courtship and subsequent marriage notwithstanding, Richard finds himself deeply in love with his beautiful wife. However, having seduced his innocent young bride, a single question haunts him—does he truly deserve his happiness?
Her husband’s lack of fortune never concerned Lady Harriette— she loves him. Young, spirited, and beautiful, she has always enjoyed a charmed life. When Richard’s past lands on their doorstep, suspicion soon rears its head, and Harriette’s questions go unanswered. Seeking explanations on her own is her only recourse. Will she uncover more than she bargained for?
READ AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1
(Reprinted with Author’s Permission. All Rights Reserved.)
Derbyshire, 1815 Beaconwood Park Estate
Large leather-bound ledgers, littered with randomly scribbled notes and figures, laid scattered about the rich mahogany desk. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam drummed a disinterested beat on his wing chair’s arm. The makings of a long, tedious day loomed large when his best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose expression riddled with worry, leaned forward and placed both hands on the only uncluttered spot he could find.
“Tell me more about the tempest brewing amongst the tenants on the lower east side of the estate. I understand you have spent a prodigious amount of time attending them this past week.”
Disquieted, Richard nodded. “Indeed, but to no avail.” In truth, the endeavour had been a complete waste of his time. Now retired to the life of the landed gentry, he considered being a landowner and the master of a large estate as having its advantages. Huddling over ledgers on such a fine day as this did not figure amongst them.
“I would much rather have spent my time otherwise engaged. If only the steward had not abruptly taken off, I might enjoy more leisure.”
Lightly tapping his fingers in rhythm on the desk, Darcy said, “I confess there is no substitute for a good steward. However, some things are best attended personally. From what you have confided in me, this is one of them. Beaconwood now belongs to you. Who better than you to understand its inner workings? Besides, I suspect your former steward was part of the problem. It is a good thing he is gone.”
“A good thing it may be; however, the situation leaves me with the tiresome task of hiring a new one.” Richard puffed his cigar. “The sooner I find someone to take over the everyday management of the estate, the better. My dear wife is eager to spend much of the Season in town. With a bride as young and lively as Harriette, I hardly relish the prospect of not joining her. In fact, I am particularly keen on accompanying her.”
Averting his gaze to a painting on the wall, Darcy settled back in his chair. He said nothing.
Richard arched his brow. “I take it from your silence you second my opinion.”
“Far be it from me to interfere in a husband’s relationship with his wife. I leave such unsolicited manner of officiousness to you, my friend.”
Richard cleared his throat. “You are determined to make me suffer for everything I have ever said about you and your tortuous devotion to Elizabeth during the earlier months of your—courtship.” Richard laughed. “I only did what I did and said what I said out of genuine concern for you and your reputation as a man’s man. It does not do to give the fellows cause to pity you a love-sick puppy.”
“I must keep your gallant generosity in mind the next time I observe you behaving thus.”
“Oh, you shall never witness such a pathetic spectacle from me.” Richard stood and stretched his long legs. “At any rate, I truly appreciate that you and Elizabeth are here. Whilst Beaconwood does not offer the finer conveniences of Pemberley, at least not on as grand a scale, I say it is well on its way in getting there.” Richard was proud of the many changes since his cousin’s last visit.
Darcy gazed about the room. “I agree. Her ladyship’s hand is evident in many of the improvements to the house and the rooms.”
“I shall tell her ladyship you approve.”
“Perhaps we might pore over the ledgers. I agree. The sooner a new steward is engaged, the better. However, a healthy knowledge of the entirety of estate affairs will serve you well before turning such matters over to another.”
“Must we examine the ledgers at this moment, old fellow? I would much rather we ride out and talk with the tenants than spend our time poring over accounts.”
“I am well aware of your preferences. Nevertheless, as master, you must attend all matters, not simply the ones that suit your temperament.”
“I declare, you remind me more of my father each time we meet.”
“Your father is a fine upstanding gentleman amongst his peers. I shall consider your assertion a compliment, Richard. Speaking of your father, I believe you said he had lined up a few candidates for steward. Has he provided their names and credentials?”
“Yes, the information is around here—somewhere. I barely went over it.”
Darcy examined the untidy desks with piled-high stacks of papers. “Let us start with the list. Afterwards, we shall enjoy a ride out.”
“If you insist, I suppose I am obliged to do as you recommend.”
“I do. This matter warrants far more attention than you allow. You would not want a tenant uprising on your hands. Then you might well forget about the joys of the London season with your lovely wife.”
“I daresay things would never come to that. Goodness, old man, I would not be as fastidious as you for a kingdom.”
* * *
The view afforded by the large double windows was exceedingly pleasing. Her ladyship favoured this apartment above all the other rooms in the house, save her own. She had taken great efforts in ensuring that it was amongst the most comfortable, on par with the mistress and the master suites. It and the adjacent apartment were the rooms in which her parents, Lord and Lady Stafford, resided during their brief visit. Otherwise, they were reserved for the Darcys. The rooms were well-suited for her in-laws, Lord and Lady Matlock, as well; however, they had never spent more than a few hours at a time at Beaconwood, what with the Matlock estate being such an easy distance away. Were it not for the long hours her husband and his cousin spent huddled together of late, Harriette was sure she would not enjoy the privilege of half as much time with her friend Elizabeth.
A rather irritable baby commanded his mother, Elizabeth, and Harriette’s undivided attention.
“What is my little godson complaining about?” she said, maintaining a respectable distance from Elizabeth and the baby. Now that Little William was getting older and rather less delicate, her ladyship was growing more at ease in his presence.
“This little fellow is getting his first tooth. He is not too happy about it, I am afraid.”
Her ladyship drew a quick breath. “His first tooth? How do you know these things, Elizabeth?”
“Harriette, one need only look in his mouth.”
Her eyes widened. She leaned a tiny bit closer. “May I see?” Elizabeth obliged her curious friend’s request. It was all rather unspectacular as far as Harriette was concerned. She endeavoured to mask her disappointment. An instant later, she resumed her former posture. Harriette frowned. What is that odour?
Elizabeth merely regarded her friend in that same manner she always did when Harriette’s lack of maternal instincts manifested itself. “Little William needs a fresh change. Would you like to help?”
Her ladyship sprang from her seat. “Heaven forbid! Is that not the task of a servant? Where is his nurse?”
“Harriette, you know full well I do not assign such tasks to his nurse out of habit—not when I am quite capable of attending him.”
“Perhaps you should, Elizabeth. I, for one, would never attempt such a thing.”
“One never knows. You might surprise yourself.”
“Indeed, I shall not! I believe it is one thing to eschew social mores as regards ballroom etiquette and the like. It is quite another to discard those tenets when it comes to rearing a child. In that respect, you will find me quite amiable to do just as my mother did when rearing Harry and me.”
“And what exactly was that?”
“Harry and I were packed up and sent off to reside with our nurses until we were fit for polite society. I am quite content that any children that Richard and I beget will enjoy the same lot.”
“You surprise me, dear Harriette. This is the first you have ever spoken of your own children.”
“Indeed. I am in no particular hurry to suffer the pleasure of bearing a child. I prefer not speaking of such things because I see no point in tempting fate.”
Elizabeth reached out and placed her hand on Harriette’s. “You were with me throughout my entire ordeal. It would be pointless for me to argue it was not arduous, but you must admit the reward was worth every ounce of the pain. I would gladly suffer all that and more just for the pleasure of this moment with my child.”
“Of course you are right, and as laborious as it was, I can imagine no place else I would rather have been than by your side in the time when you needed me most.”
Elizabeth stood and set about the task of changing his soiled garment. “Are you sure you do not wish to observe how this is done?”
Harriette nearly stumbled in her haste to quit the room. Stopping in the doorway, she spoke over her shoulder. “I am quite certain. However, I would enjoy a ride about the countryside this afternoon. Will you join me?”
“As much as I would enjoy the fresh air, I believe I will remain close to little William for the rest of the day. Do ask me again tomorrow.”
“Indeed, and I shall not take no for an answer.”
Drawing the door closed, Harriette leaned against it. What is Elizabeth thinking? One would never see me performing a wet nurse’s task. She went to her apartment where she espied Becky, her lady’s maid, rearranging her wardrobe.
“Becky, I believe I shall go riding this afternoon. This is such a lovely day.”
“Indeed it is your ladyship.” Becky laid out a finely tailored brown riding habit. “Will Mrs. Darcy be joining you?”
“I am afraid not. As much as I wish Mrs. Darcy would accompany me, it seems she would rather spend the afternoon with the baby than enjoy the fresh, open air.” Her ladyship threw up her hands in frustration. “Please, if you ever detect me behaving so ridiculously over my first-born, do whatever you must do to stop me.”
Becky smiled. “I am certain your ladyship exaggerates. I wager you will be just as smitten with your first-born child as Mrs. Darcy is with hers.”
Harriette opened her mouth wide, readying sufficient protest. “Were I you, Becky, I would not stake too much on the prospect.” Both young women smiled. A silent truce was the only way to end that line of discussion, and both ladies acquiesced.
* * *
Smoke drifted lazily from the chimney of the small house just outside the village of Matlock. Inside, the atmosphere was not as serene.
“Leave my house! I never wish to lay eyes upon you again.”
Annabelle Alston lowered her head. If the sight of all her worldly possessions spread out all over the muddy yard was not confirmation enough, surely the hateful look in her husband’s eyes and the venom in his voice told her all she needed to know. The man was drunk—teetering on rage. This once kind and decent man who had accepted her and offered her a life she never dared to dream was possible now looked at her with utter contempt. The life he had given her was modest. He only asked that she keep up his home, a humble farm house, and help raise his two boys. Her situation was far better than the way of life she imagined two short years ago.
Dark, brooding eyes of the wealthy gentleman who had been the means of her present disgrace flashed in her mind. By the time she learned her new life entailed being in proximity to him, it was too late. Had she confided in her husband as soon as she knew, would it have made a difference? Would she have found in her husband the strength to resist the haughty nobleman’s temptations?
She did not wish to cause a scene—not with the boys in the adjoining room. She turned to walk away. A strong grip halted her steps. She turned to face him.
“Because of you, I am a laughing stock—a cuckold. I realised the nature of your past when I agreed to marry you. I was willing to look beyond all that—thinking you were a decent woman—a repentant woman.” John Alston gripped his strong hands around her arms, drew her closer, and stared down at her. “We might have avoided all this had you told me of your connection—such that it is—with the Matlocks. Do you suppose I would have brought you here had I known that particular aspect of your past?”
She knew she was wrong, but she did not mean to be intimidated—not after the harshness she had endured in her former life. “Do you think for one moment I would have allowed you to bring me here had I known?”
“Surely you had some indication!”
“I was never privy to such information.”
“Liar! No—you are worse than a liar. You are—you are a,” he said, struggling to come right out and speak the words that must certainly cause any decent man a great deal of pain—regardless of his inebriated state. “This is my father’s home—and his father’s before him. We have made a name for ourselves in these parts. How could you? Did you suppose I would not learn of your deceit? What have you to say for yourself?”
What might she say? General knowledge of her misdeeds had arrived at her doorstep, and now she must face the consequences. She struggled to break free of his tight grip. He released her with enough force to land her on her backside. Annabelle stood and righted herself. She had suffered at the hands of a man before. What little pride she possessed would never allow her to endure such brutal treatment again.
As it had been all those years ago, she was without a home—cast into the cold harsh world, alone as the day she was born. She forged ahead into the darkness with nary a backwards glance and gathered what little she could carry in her arms. Tears laced with contrition and sorrow traced down her face. What am I to do now?
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