I’m honored to be here at My Jane Austen Book Club to discuss my latest book. Thank you so much, Maria Grazia! I’ve been looking forward to sharing this story with Jane Austen fan fiction readers for quite a while. It’s very different from anything I have written thus far and that’s what makes it so near and dear to my heart.
Lady Elizabeth is a story full of twists and turns, the greatest being Elizabeth’s true identity. Heartrending at times, this Pride and Prejudice ‘what-if’ story has its fair share of heart-warming sentiments as well.
The first of two books in the Everything Will Change Series, Lady Elizabeth promises a happy for now ending. The second book in the series is titled So Far Away. It will be available in late winter 2015.
P. O. Dixon
Lady Elizabeth: Everything Will Change (Book One)
Elizabeth lives a charmed life ... or so it seems. Despite her noble relations and all the wealth and privileges entailed, there's something missing.
During his stay at Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire, Darcy learns of a tragedy that befell the Bennets, a family from a neighboring estate, over a decade prior. One of the Bennet daughters vanished in broad daylight from the streets of Lambton.
Will Darcy unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the second-born Bennet daughter? What if it means losing the one woman who has captured his heart?
Newsletter: Such Happy News
(Reprinted with Author’s Permission. All Rights Reserved)
The brown-eyed little girl sprang to the window. Peering outside, she spoke barely above a whisper. “Where am I?” She spun around and faced the elderly man who found her what must have been days ago. “You said you were bringing me home.” Tears threatened to burst from her weary eyes. “This isn’t my home. I want to go home.”
A tall, proud man, with a noble mien, the Duke of Dunsmore looked down at the elegant woman standing next to him and responded to her questioning stare with the utmost compassion. “My dear,” he began, “the child is a bit overwhelmed. We must give her time to grow accustomed to her new circumstances.”
Now sobbing feverishly, the little girl tumbled to her knees. She wailed in protest of this unfamiliar place, these unfamiliar people.
“Your Grace, she is more than a little overwhelmed. She’s frightened,” said the beautiful lady with rich golden hair. Crossing the room, she lowered herself to the child’s eye level. She pulled a dainty handkerchief from her sleeve and gently dabbed the little girl’s tears. “There, there, my child. Do not be afraid.”
“Where’s my papa? Where’s my mama?” She tore her eyes from the kind woman’s eyes and threw a glance about the room. “Where’s Jane?”
“Oh, my precious child, it pains me to see you so saddened. Pray, what is your name?”
The forlorn child’s spiritless gaze fell to the floor. “My name is Lizzy.”
“Lizzy—what a beautiful name you have. I suppose it is short for Elizabeth. My own mother’s name was Elizabeth. Lady Elizabeth. As I am to be your mother, thanks to the kindheartedness of my excellent father, I think I shall use your given name. I believe that we shall call you, Lady Elizabeth—Lady Elizabeth Montlake.”
The child shook her head furiously. “No! I have a mother, and a father, and a beautiful sister Jane. She looks just like an angel! And we have a little baby … Mary!”
Her countenance riddled with concern, the elegant lady looked at the tall man. He shrugged. “The poor child does not yet realize what has befallen the family who cared for her. We must give her time.”
Another woman came into the room. “There you are, Miss Pruitt. Please take the child—young Elizabeth—up to her room.”
Her desire to comfort and protect the sweet innocent child evident, the elegant lady held out her hand. “I will come too, Miss Pruitt.”
A highly esteemed man, whose greatest purpose in life was protecting his family, the duke said, “No, my dear, I would have a word with you.”
Lady Sophia Montlake, the widow of the duke’s recently deceased son, objected. “Your Grace, I ask if that will wait. You must certainly see that little Elizabeth is upset. My presence is what I think she needs.”
“Very well, but do return to see me soon, for I have a matter of grave importance to discuss with you concerning the particulars of young Elizabeth’s coming to be here. There are certain arrangements that must be made.”
Lady Sophia took young Elizabeth’s hand and silently signaled her readiness to part to the young maid.
It was just as well that his daughter-in-law had left with the child. This gave her time to start forming an attachment with her new daughter. More importantly, it gave him extra time to rehearse the speech he had planned for her ladyship, as well as the rest of the world in general. His repeated questioning of the child had yielded quite a few findings. Included among those details that the duke was at liberty to share were her age and her birthdate. At least there was that bit of truth that would serve as the basis for her new life.
Any misgivings he suffered were owing to the fact that the remembrance of what he had done would be his constant companion for the remainder of his days. How he wanted to believe that snatching the child from the street in Lambton had been wholly unselfish and that all he had done was borne out of love for his family.
His daughter-in-law’s life had been a torment since she lost her husband – the duke’s only son and heir - and her precious little girl, young Lady Bethany Montlake. How uncanny it was that the child’s name was similar to Bethany’s name. What’s more, young Elizabeth reminded him so much of his beloved grandchild—same dark eyes and lovely brown hair.
He swept both hands over his face and took in a deep breath, wishing to block out his pain. I suppose the child’s being here will be a much-needed balm for my grief as well.
Losing his only child had been quite devastating. He could well imagine how losing both her husband and youngest child in the carriage accident affected Lady Sophia. It had closed her off completely from the rest of the world. The duke made his way across the room and poured himself a drink. With his drink in hand, he walked to the window. The sun had gone down and now rendered the window a mirror. He studied his reflection in the window pane as if looking for a more bearable reason to explain what he had done. One that showed him in a righteous, honorable light—as the decent and upstanding man he was—not some vile creature who had been the means of ruining another family’s happiness.
Surely one who did not know the pain of losing a child would be at a loss to understand his desperate act. That was indeed what he had done. He’d acted in desperation.
In that one perfect instance, he saw in one child what his family had suffered and sorely missed since young Bethany died. One simple act and the devastating effect Bethany’s loss had rendered on not just his daughter-in-law, but on his grandson and yes, even himself, would be erased. For one perfect second, there was the thought of how this child would be the means of healing all of their wounded hearts.
Thinking such thoughts was one thing. Thinking such thoughts was harmless –unsound and born out of grief, but harmless. Deep in his heart, he knew that acting upon such thoughts was unjustifiable. Nevertheless, he had done it. Without pausing to consider the consequences, he snatched the child in his arms and scurried into the alleyway.
It was cowardly. It was wrong. It was criminal.
The duke slammed his glass on the table. Part of him whispered that he stole the child with yet another scheme in mind, but that part of him was wrong. He refused to listen. He picked up his drink again. Gripping the glass tightly, he huffed and threw back another swallow. The hot sting of the liquor burned and caused his face to twist into a tight grimace.
Who allows a child to wander alone on the streets? By now, these words were his familiar refrain. In all likelihood, the child is indeed an orphan. Yet another lie he told himself, for everything about the child indicated that she was well cared for, even if she was alone. True, her clothes were not fashionable, but they were clean and the child’s hair was tidy as well. Clearly, she was not of the servant class. He never would allow the child of a servant to be reared as his own granddaughter. He surmised she was the daughter of a landed gentleman—at worst, a tradesman.
All too aware by now of the exhaustive search for the missing child, he also knew her surname—a fact he planned to take with him to his grave.
“This is what it has come to,” the duke said aloud as he made his way back across the room and poured himself another drink. There is nothing to be done now except to make the best of things. There are worse things than being raised as the granddaughter of a duke—to be raised as a proper lady with a handsome dowry and every favor that comes along with that. Young Elizabeth—Lady Elizabeth—shall have every advantage in the world.
He took another swallow of his drink. “Indeed, Lady Elizabeth’s life will be everything it ought to be, far better than the life she would have suffered had I not acted as I did in Lambton. I shall make it my life’s mission.”
Lady Sophia tapped lightly on the half-opened door, just loudly enough to beckon the duke’s attention before entering the room. “Your Grace.”
“Come, come, my dear. How is the child?”
“She is asleep—the poor little creature. She insists that her name is Lizzy and she is not to be called otherwise.”
“Lizzy. It is short for her given name, Elizabeth. She will grow accustomed to our addressing her by her proper name. We must give her time.”
“One can only imagine how difficult it will be for her to comprehend the loss she has suffered and to adjust to her new life.”
“My dear, I am afraid that I have not been entirely forthcoming with you as regards young Elizabeth’s ... family.”
Her ladyship took a seat on the settee. “Oh?”
“You see, my dear ... well the truth is that young Elizabeth did not merely lose her family in a horrific fire that resulted in her being placed in an orphanage. Indeed, I did find the child in an orphanage. I am obliged to explain what led to my seeking out this particular child. I wish there were a more fitting way to tell you this, but I am afraid there is not. The fact is that young Elizabeth was ... she is a Montlake by birth.”
Her ladyship colored. She gasped. “Do you mean to say that the child is yours?”
“If only that were the case, but I am afraid it is not.”
“Then, she is a niece ... a distant cousin, perhaps.”
There was no easy way to speak the lie that lay on the tip of his tongue. “She is my granddaughter. She is my beloved Frederick’s child.”
Her ladyship grew faint and the duke immediately began to feel the pain of his lie. By God, he had besmirched his own son’s good name in an attempt to cover up his own misdeeds. There was no turning back now. “My solicitor notified me that I would find my grandchild at the orphanage. Of course I did not believe it, but upon ascertaining the truth of the matter, I would not rest until I brought her here to live with us so that she may enjoy all that she is entitled to.”
Her tongue held captive by her astonishment, Lady Sophia was silent for a long time.
The duke said, “Surely you see what a blessing this is. The house has not felt like home since my beloved Frederick - your husband - and little Bethany, your precious daughter and my only granddaughter, perished in that carriage accident last year. With young Avery away at school, young Elizabeth’s being here will be the means of this great big empty house feeling once again like a home.”
Composing herself, she placed her hand on her bosom. “For me to accept what you’re saying is tantamount to my believing my dear Frederick was an adulterer—an unfaithful husband—a betrayer. That is not the man I knew him to be.”
“Do you suppose I would be telling you any of this if there were a chance in the world that it was not true? I, who loved my son above all else?” He swallowed hard before commencing his next lie. “I have seen the proof. The people whom young Elizabeth spoke of as being her parents were paid to care for her. Once my son died and the monthly payments ceased, inquiries were made to ascertain if alternate arrangements could be put in place, but it never truly came to that because once I was convinced that young Elizabeth was indeed my grandchild, I claimed her.”
“If what you are saying is true, then why did you first say her family perished in a fire?”
“That is indeed what happened to them. Young Elizabeth was the sole survivor as she had been away from the house. She had not been in that dreadful orphanage for a week before my solicitors finally located her.”
“But what of her own mother? The woman who gave her life … my husband’s—”
Sparing her ladyship the agony of voicing what undoubtedly brought her a fair amount of pain, the duke said, “It is my understanding that she died during childbirth and that is why the child was placed in the care of another family.”
He took his daughter-in-law into his arms and gently coaxed her to rest her head on his shoulder. “Please tell me that I do not ask too much of you to love her as you would your own child—as you love Avery—as you would have loved our precious Bethany.”
“Indeed. I would not deny the child what is rightfully hers.” Her ladyship drew away from his embrace and wiped away her tears. “Young Elizabeth wants nothing but a mother’s love, and I shall love her just as if she were my own daughter. Her being here is truly a gift—one that will surely go a long way towards healing the aching sorrow I have known for the past six months. How can I thank you, Your Grace?”
“Seeing the joy return on your face is all the thanks I shall require, my dear.”
Lady Sophia was a passenger in the carriage that day. Guilt persisted in place of gratitude. What was the point in her surviving the crash that robbed her of the happiness she enjoyed as the wife of the future Duke of Dunsmore and the mother of an adorable little girl? How she wished she had died too, but for her young son. Still, her grief had made her a very inattentive mother. All that will change now. Elizabeth needs me just as much as I need her. She is so very young. Soon, she will forget the caregivers whom she considered her family.
“You have given me back my life — given me a second chance to be a mother of a beautiful young girl. I know that your grandson will love her as dearly as a brother is expected to love a younger sister. I say this shall be the means of healing his broken heart as well.”
She is a true Montlake. We are her family. Just as my Frederick was her father, I am her mother. I shall devote every day of my life to seeing that Elizabeth lives a charmed life in which she will never have cause to suffer pain again.