Hello, it’s good to be back at My Jane Austen Book Club!
I am so excited to share an excerpt with you from my new release, A Sister’s Curse. The story is another high-angst tale, with Elizabeth meeting Fitzwilliam Darcy – and his entire extended family – much earlier on. In fact, she finds herself a part of his extended family long before they ever fall in love – it’s complicated!
I get a lot of feedback about my habit of weaving elements from other Austen tales into my story telling, and there are a few subtle nods to my person favorite Austen work, Sense & Sensibility, in this P&P variation. However, I wanted to point out one scene in A Sister’s Curse that pays homage to one of my favorite moments in Mansfield Park. The novel references the starling more innocuously, but in the 1999 film, the scene where Mr. Crawford reads to Fanny Price has always been one of my favorite parts of the adaptation. It’s low-key spicy, right?
I couldn’t resist the temptation, as I felt the passage lent itself well to the situation dearly Lizzy finds herself in, facing marital pressure from her uncle (and no, I do not mean her uncle Gardiner….)
The scene take place at a masquerade ball, as once again the Twelfth Night makes it’s mark on one of my tales. It is not Darcy & Lizzy’s first meeting, but their dance sets in motion a rather controversial chain of events in the Fitzwilliam family….
As the earl steered him back toward the ballroom, Darcy happened to glance around and caught sight of a breathtakingly beautiful woman. She had been seated on the other side of a large marble pillar that had obstructed her from his view, else he might have stared at her through the entirety of the meal. He watched as she left the ballroom, visibly eager to detach herself from her dinner partner. Without realizing what he was about, he broke away from his uncle and drifted toward the beauty in black.No, it was not black, not entirely. Her form fitting silk gown was covered with an iridescent gossamer netting, embroidered with gold and violet, making the black gown shine brilliant blue and purple in the candlelight as she moved into the ballroom. She wore an elaborate black wig, her curls held up by little gold and silver pins shaped like stars, and there were delicate white stars adorning the bodice of her gown and her black feathered mask as well.As Darcy drew nearer, she had just managed to extricate herself from Lord Chawton, a rake of the first order who had only been invited because he was a political ally of the earl. He was also more than ten years older than Darcy, and the way he clutched the young lady’s hand as he kissed it was revolting in the extreme.“Fare thee well, for now, my fair lady raven,” Chawton said to the woman before moving away. She abruptly turned and moved the opposite way, putting her into Darcy’s path, and as she moved past him she muttered, “I am not a raven.”“You are a starling,” Darcy blurted out as she walked his way, and she looked up at him with surprise before breaking into a smile.“Yes,” she breathed. “Nobody has noticed it, and I thought it was so clever of me.”Darcy smiled and stepped closer as the delightful creature began to laugh at herself. “It is a delightful costume, and plain to me what you had intended.”“That is kind of you to say, sir.”“Perhaps, as I am the first to guess it correctly, you might favor me with a dance, Miss…?”Her eyes sparkled, and though the beautiful starling did not volunteer her name, she offered him her little white hand. As he led the radiant starling to the set, he could not keep his eyes off of her. The elaborate mask shielded much of her face, but for her remarkably expressive eyes and a delicate pair of rosy lips. It did not matter to him – he was already convinced that under the mask she was very likely the most beautiful woman in the room – she was certainly very shapely, and her dressmaker must have known what they were about.“You said you felt rather clever about your costume,” he prompted her as they began to move through the steps of the dance.“Oh,” she said, twisting her lips into a mischievous smile. “I suppose it is something of a rebellious impulse on my part.”“Rebellion?” Darcy grinned, though it was hidden by his medieval helmet. “You seem rather satisfied with yourself.”“In my family, one must claim what victories they can. They are... difficult, at times.”He laughed. “I know just what you mean. So, your costume is a triumph. I suppose you mean you have outshined all your sisters?”“No indeed, that is quite unlikely to ever happen, nor would I wish it,” she replied. “I meant to say that there is a hidden meaning to my costume, intended for my own private amusement.”As Darcy turned in time with the other dancers, he smiled to himself at the impertinent candor of his partner – he had never undertaken such banter with a beautiful woman, and could only marvel at her artless charm. He considered her words – secret rebellion against her difficult family, perhaps not something a gentleman should condone… and yet her poise rendered her quite flawless. And then it struck him.“I believe I must venture a guess,” he said. “Are you a great reader?”“I should think I am,” she said with a wide smile.“Laurence Sterne?”She gave a single breathless laugh and then nodded, as if embarrassed. “The Hotel at Paris. It is one of my favorites.”Keeping time with the music, Darcy and the starling placed their hands together as they spun. “‘I can’t get out, said the starling.’”She locked eyes with him as she recited, “‘I can’t get out, I can’t get out.’”“‘God help thee said I, but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will,’” he said, completing the quote. Darcy held her gaze for a moment, feeling as though he was seeing her for the first time. She was witty and magnificent, but there was something almost sorrowful about her.She was the first to turn away, seeming suddenly embarrassed. “Oh, my goodness, I am being rather too maudlin for a ballroom, am I not?”“Certainly more honest than one usually finds in such places.”Darcy considered. He did not know her identity, nor she his, and yet she had spoken forthrightly. Perhaps because she did not know him, she had spoken so openly. It occurred to him that he might do likewise, and for once simply enjoy the company of a pretty woman without being known as nothing more than Darcy of Pemberley with ten thousand a year. He might be anyone, to her; yet she seemed to like him on his own merit alone. It was not something he frequently experienced in London society.He was suddenly overcome with a desire to really make himself agreeable to her, to discover if he might be able to exert his full powers of pleasing a woman who knew nothing of his wealth, and he was fascinated enough by his partner to want to know more about her as well.Still feeling all the intensity of what she had said before, Darcy asked, “Do you really feel trapped by your family?”“I ought not to have said it.”“I do not know you, nor you me – why should we not speak freely?”“Do you speak as a general rule while dancing?”“In fact, I do not. I have never been thus intrigued. I should like to hear whatever you wish to say.”She laughed nervously. “Do you seek to gratify my feelings, or your own?”He braved a little wink. “Both, I should imagine.”The starling looked down as they spun to the music again, and he suspected she might be blushing under her mask. “To answer your question, I suppose I have felt trapped. I know every family has its own particular complications. Mine are... as Mr. Sterne would say, ‘twisted and double twisted.’ Being thrust out onto the marriage mart is....”“A ghastly business. Oh yes, I do understand you.”She looked probingly at him. “Do you? Hmm. I had always imagined it different for gentlemen. You have all the freedom.”“And a great deal of responsibility.”She playfully rolled her eyes at him. Little minx! “Such as directing the lives of others?”“I hope I would never do such a thing. You mentioned having sisters. I have two, and I hope they never feel trapped, or that they have been put in any kind of cage.”“Then you are far kinder than anyone in my family. That is – they are not unkind. They do their best, but now that there is so much expectation upon me, I find myself rather recalcitrant. You must be wishing you had chosen a more pliable partner,” she said with a smirk.Darcy could not imagine taking pleasure in partnering with any other woman in the room, and said so, eliciting another gentle laugh from her as she turned her face away.“I confess,” said she, “you are the pleasantest partner I have had all evening. The first of my own choosing, in fact.”“And the first to see you are clearly a starling, and not a common raven.” A very spirited starling.“The first to see me at all, really. All night I have listened to dull men talk about themselves.”“Foolish dull men,” he replied, finding the teasing coming easily to him. “They ought to have asked more about you.”She bit her lip for a moment as she considered. “As you said yourself, sir, I do not know your name, nor you mine – for now we might say what we like....”“And if you speak of your family, or anything too personal, I may guess your identity? Oh yes, that would take all the mystery out of it.”“Yes, it would,” she said, looking up at him with intensity as the steps of the dance brought them together.
I hoped you enjoyed the excerpt! Thanks for stopping by for this glimpse into A Sister’s Curse, coming August 27th!
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