Hello! My name is Jayne Bamber and it’s great to be back at My Jane Austen Book Club, to talk about my new release, Outmatched, a fusion of Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park – coming to Kindle May 8th. I kicked off my blog tour at AustenAuthors by discussing the first deviation from canon I entertain in the story: Maria Bertram’s rejection of Mr. Rushworth when Sir Thomas returns from Antigua. Today I would like to share a taste of the next twist to turn Mansfield Park upside down – Mrs. Rushworth is not willing to take no for an answer. I can’t give The Big Secret away, but I would like to share just a little bit of one of the most pivotal moments in the story, which ultimately inveigles the cast of Sense & Sensibility in the Bertram family fracas….
Prudence Rushworth did not wait for the butler to announce her. She strode down the hall, her heavy footfalls all righteous indignation, and when she reached the end she burst into Sir Thomas’ study.
He looked up in alarm, but when his surprise was overcome, she could see that he knew what had brought her in such a state.
“Madam,” he began, in what might have seemed a quelling tone - to a lesser woman.
Prudence did not acknowledge his protest, but held aloft the infamous letter that had broken her son’s heart. It was the latest in a series of romantic misfortunes since he had grown serious about taking a wife four years past, and if it were up to Prudence, it would be the last disappointment.
James had been inconsolable since receiving the letter the previous day, and at length he had given the vile thing over for his mother to read. It was less of a shock to Prudence than to her son, and as Maria’s fickle foolishness had the apparent sanction of Sir Thomas, Prudence resolved to confront him first thing in the morning.
She held his gaze long enough to make the old goat uncomfortable, her elegantly gloved fingers crinkling the odious missive in her fist. She let every ounce of rage she felt show plainly in her countenance; her gaze bored into him. Once she was satisfied that she had begun to unsettle him, Prudence slammed the crumpled paper down on his desk, her hand striking the oak heavily. She seated herself, her velvet gown splaying out, her spine erect; she did not break eye contact for a moment.
Sir Thomas Bertram was a man of no little importance, a man of the world, who had certainly seen more of it than she. He would not be easily cowed. But she was one thing he was not - a mother.
Her worthy opponent cleared his throat and fixed her with a steely gaze. His eyes flicked down to the letter, but he did not move to take it. Of course, he knew what treachery it contained. Sir Thomas steepled his fingers on the desk, but he made no other movement. Matching her for stoic strength, he sat up straighter as he addressed her. “Madam, I believe I can guess why you are come.”
By now the butler had caught her up, and Sir Thomas gave an authoritative wave of his hand; he waited to say more until the door to his study had been closed. “I understand you must have some questions to put to me. It is only natural, of course, that we must endure such an unpleasant conversation for the sake of clarity, but I must begin by telling you that my decision is quite final.”
Prudence Rushworth offered him a withering glare. “What I have for you, Sir Thomas, is not one single question, but merely the demand that your daughter honor her engagement to my son. Happily for you, my resolution is not yet fixed - you will find me willing to negotiate before my decision is quite final.” She paused, enjoying the trace of surprise he betrayed, and answered it with a haughty smile. “I am prepared to tell the world what I know about your son.”
Sir Thomas narrowed his eyes at her. He was a broad and imposing man, his skin nearly leathery after his travels to the West Indies, and his unshaven face only added to his powerful mien. Prudence was not afraid of him. Far from it, she was so confident in her mission that a degree of restraint was necessary, for she ought not to take pleasure in what was to follow.
“Tom is a good lad,” he said. “Oh, prone to some mishaps, I admit - whatever he is about must be dealt with as a family matter - you know how these things can go….”
“Oh - I was unclear,” Prudence replied primly. “Your namesake is a reprobate, make no mistake, but I was referring to your firstborn.”
Sir Thomas stiffened, his lips pressing into a thin, taut line. After a potent pause, he said, “You confound me, madam.”
Prudence allowed herself a moment of self-indulgent laughter. “Yes, I had expected I might. The identity of your firstborn is not common knowledge.” She absolutely had his attention now; she proceeded directly, as she had practiced her words with great care.
Thanks for tuning in to this stop on my blog tour – there will be a chance to win a free ebook and another excerpt at every stop along the way!
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