Accusing Mr. Darcy
Could Fitzwilliam Darcy harbour a shocking, sinister secret?
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet count themselves among the many guests of the Kendall family, whose estate lies amidst the picturesque hills, gorges, and rocky slopes of the Peak District in Derbyshire. Elizabeth’s cousin Rose Kendall believes her dashing brother-in-law, Captain James Kendall, is Elizabeth’s ideal match. Rose’s husband, Nicholas, hopes his good friend Darcy–a rich, proud, and taciturn gentleman with a spotless reputation–will fancy one of the other eligible lady guests.
News of a brutal killing at a neighbouring estate sends a wave of shock through the genial group of friends and family. When one of the Kendalls’ guests is attacked, all of the gentlemen become suspects, but the former Bow Street runner tasked with investigating the crime finds the evidence against Mr. Darcy particularly compelling.
In this romantic mystery, the beloved couple from Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” cross paths with a ruthless killer. When faced with dire warnings against Mr. Darcy, will Elizabeth heed them or follow the dictates of her heart?
An excerpt for your eyes only.
Elizabeth froze, and her contented smile evaporated. The voice was unmistakable. Of all people, of all times—why did he interfere with her walk? As his footsteps drew nearer, her promise to Rose came to the forefront of her mind. Darn! She would be polite and make her escape as soon as possible. With a controlled breath, she spun around and spoke with affected cheer. “Good morning, Mr. Darcy.”
The gentleman reached her with a few extended strides of his long legs. He had not been visible when she walked by. He must have been hidden by one of the trees along the river. “Good morning, Miss Bennet. It seems you formed the same notion as myself. I thought to walk before breakfast. Shall we proceed together?”
She floundered. Her usual adroitness at producing plausible excuses or witty repartee at a moment’s notice failed her. In the absence of a polite way to decline his offer, her jaw stiffened. “I must warn you that most people who agree to accompany me on my morning walk end by bowing out. Despite my slight stature, I prefer to move at a quick pace and can maintain it for a long time.”
Mr. Darcy’s lips edged up. “I shall take my chances. I believe I shall manage to keep up.”
She blinked at the gentleman whose smile transformed his countenance. He had never smiled so in her presence before. Despite his unpleasant disposition, his appeal could not be denied, and a contented expression rendered him remarkably handsome—the handsomest man of her acquaintance. Well, she would make the best of the situation. At least she would not be required to slow her pace, and Mr. Darcy was not apt to talk overmuch.
Precluding any further discourse that might delay the activity, Elizabeth resumed walking. Mr. Darcy’s visage revealed surprise, but he required no more than a few steps to reach her and match her velocity. While it did not surprise her that a man of his height could maintain her stride with ease, in her experience most gentlemen would much rather ride a horse.
True to form, Mr. Darcy did not engage her in much conversation although he pointed out several objects of note as they progressed. When they strode past the river, he informed her of the animal life therein and indicated several spots ideal for fishing. He even persuaded her to stop and view a group of turtles sunning themselves on a log. At her exclamation that she had never seen turtles before, he explained how they came to be there: an uncle of Mr. Duncan Kendall had been a Navy Admiral and had brought a group of them back from a trip to Spain, presenting them to the then ten-year-old Duncan Kendall as a gift. Thus, Elizabeth benefitted from Mr. Darcy’s knowledge of the estate, attained during his many previous visits.
The path took a circuitous course up a hill, and Elizabeth exerted herself to maintain her previous speed. Walks from her house at Longbourn to the top of Oakham Mount each morning had inured her to such activity. Although her breathing accelerated, she maintained an unruffled presence. More than once, Mr. Darcy directed glances at her with his eyes flared in either alarm or disbelief. Although the gentleman maintained his position at her side, the heaving of his breath became audible and a sheen of sweat appeared upon his temple.
By the time they reached the top of the hill, Elizabeth, too, perspired a bit, but she had energy to spare, having been invigorated from the exercise. She continued to a clearing that provided a prospect of the house, the gardens she had walked through with Miss Darcy the day before, and the River Wye. Although she anticipated exploring other areas of the estate in the days and weeks to come, she would return to this spot during her stay. The summit was a similar distance and elevation to Oakham Mount and provided stunning views.
Elizabeth’s gaze landed upon Mr. Darcy, standing at her side. His breathing, though still audible, had slowed. He wiped his forehead and temples with a handkerchief.
Her lips formed a wry smile. “I hope I did not tire you overmuch. Near my estate in Hertfordshire, I take a path similar to this each morning. It is an exhilarating way to start the day.”
Mr. Darcy laughed.
The euphonic sound—unexpected from such a man—made her start and set off a peculiar agitation in her empty stomach.