Or the smitten potential of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
We JAFF writers love Colonel Fitzwilliam–and what’s not to love? He has Darcy’s friendship and Lizzy’s stamp of approval. Jane Austen makes clear he is a bona fide Good GuyTM and a good catch.
The only fly in the ointment? He needs a lady with some money! Hahaha, we writers chortle, we can work with that. Preferably we can find him a lady that has given up on gentlemen and love, only to have her heart won by the kindness, humor, and (low-key) hotness of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
At least, that is where my thoughts have been dwelling this summer!
(As a confession, I have actually written two such novels this year featuring Colonel Fitzwilliam. They are in different series with different heroines and different circumstances, but I’m afraid it’ll be confusing for my readers! Please absolve me. Somehow the writing of those two aligned, even though I intended for the books not to come out near each other.)
Anyway, as I listen to the muted pops of neighborhood fireworks and watch my glass of ice water create a puddle of condensation in the Appalachian humidity, join me in an exclusive excerpt of my next novel: From Pemberley with Luck.
Excerpt from Chapter 11, page 115
When the ballroom door opened only half an hour later, as the midafternoon sun bounced weakly from the gray snow to the windows, Colonel Fitzwilliam thought it was Georgiana again.
He didn’t step down from the stool he was using to reach the top of the boards. He narrowly avoided dripping a bit of the brown paint on the cloth Georgiana had spread below the backdrop. “Georgie, is this an adequate color for your theatrical background?—Oh, Miss Crawford.”
Mary Crawford always looked beautiful, but now she was pale and there were faint shadows under her eyes. She must still be worn from her tumble down the snowy hill yesterday.
“Excuse me, I just came to collect my script for the theatrical.” She fetched her papers which had been put to one side when he and Georgiana rearranged.
But when she went back to the door of the ballroom, he heard her twist, pull, and even jerk at the door. She said something under her breath.
Fitz finished the last of the paint and set the brush down across the pail of murky brown that Darcy’s housekeeper had unearthed from who knows where. “Something wrong?”
“The door seems to be locked.”
He frowned. “I don’t see how it could be. You just entered.”
“Yes, I know.” She tried the door again. “Yet it will not open.”
Fitz used the linen towel to rub his hands free of brown paint before joining her. “Darcy’s servants would usually handle a door that sticks before it gets this bad, but perhaps the cold and moisture…” He tried the door several times, even giving it a smart thump with his boot. “It does seem to be locked, but that’s ridiculous.”
She looked at him. “Yes. Also, you have paint on your forehead.”
Fitz huffed. “Do I? Excuse me.” He went back to the stage and attempted to rub it off. Probably he just made it worse, based on the twist to her lips.
“What next?” Miss Crawford asked.
Fitz worked on the door a bit longer. “A very strange thing. Georgiana did mention to Mrs. Gardiner that she didn’t want the children to come in here with the wet paint. Perhaps Mrs. Gardiner locked the door to be safe?”
“Without checking whether anyone was in here?”
It did seem odd, but he did not have another explanation. “I’m sure someone will realize you’re missing and come to check on you.” He immediately pictured that rake, Mr. Van Allen, but he pressed the uncharitable thought away.
“No, they won’t. I took leave to lie down before dinner. I came in here to retrieve this before going to my room.” She waved the script.
“Oh. They may miss me, then.”
Her forehead furrowed. “You absented yourself most of the day. As Darcy’s cousin, you can do as you please at Pemberley without explanation.”
“That is so.”
Mary shifted her weight and stared at the offending door. Her head ached, her muscles quivered, and several bruises on her shoulders and backside smarted. She only wanted to lie down on the comfortable bed in her room, perhaps curl up under the soft wool blankets, and close her eyes.
Her nose was filled with the smell of paint and a little of Colonel Fitzwilliam, as she and he both crowded near the door, listening. It was perfectly silent in the room, except for the faint ticking of a clock. The thick snow outside seemed to muffle all normal noises.
Very faint laughter came from the drawing room.
“Perhaps you could yell?” asked Miss Crawford.
“A fine figure I should cut.”
“Looking a little ridiculous is a small price to pay for escape.”
“If we wait a little longer—”
Mary sagged at the idea; her bruises nagged at her.
“Oh, you should sit. Are you feeling unwell?”
“I have the headache and I am—” bruised, aching, frustrated… “tired,” she said.
He went across to the far wall where there were several items of furniture in Holland covers. He flicked one of the cloths up off a sofa, and it seemed to hang in the air for a moment, a billowing cloud in the dim snowy light from outside. A chaise lounge was uncovered, and Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed. “At your service.”
Mary was too tired to cavil. “Yes, I don’t mind if I do.” She picked up the cloth, rolled it into a serviceable pillow, and leaned back against the lounge with the cloth behind her head. Her feet were still on the floor, but she was half-reclined. “You could still yell for help.”
He looked at her for a moment, something warm in his face. “Yes, I could.”
Mary closed her eyes as he went back to the door.
“Hey! Hey there!” He knocked loudly on the door to punctuate his words. His voice was authoritative when raised. Colonel Fitzwilliam was so affable and friendly (when he was not indirectly insulting her), that Mary sometimes forgot he had been a colonel. She imagined most officers learned to raise their voice to good effect.
In this case, he was not successful. After several tries—and his loud voice did nothing for Mary’s headache—she relented. “You may as well wait. Those in the drawing room cannot hear you, and clearly there is no one in this part of the house at present.”
In this she was wrong.
Eleanor, who had been told by her mother to leave the ballroom alone while the paint dried, had done a slight bit of investigating. On finding Uncle Fitz and Miss Crawford alone in the ballroom, she had had a rather good idea. It seemed to her that Mr. Van Allen or Mr. Knightley or someone was always interrupting promising moments between her new favorite couple. Perhaps Uncle Fitz and Miss Crawford needed time to have the moment her mother spoke of.
It was the work of an instant to shut the door and turn the key that lived unused in the lock above the doorknob. She set down the plain copper key on a funny bench in the hall, only a few feet from the door.
She paused there for a while, listening. She could hear their voices but not what they said. At least they were talking; that was good. Miss Crawford had a lovely voice.
Eleanor was tripping away happily when Colonel Fitzwilliam began to knock at the door. This gave her some pause, but Eleanor was not a child to second guess herself. Someone would be along soon enough, or she would come back herself in less than an hour. It was really quite difficult for two people to fall in love, for as her mother said, polite society “afforded very little opportunity for private conversation.”
When Eleanor passed a footman going the other direction, with a confused look on his face, Eleanor felt it was too soon. She reassured him. “No, no, it’s only Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Crawford practicing the play. They don’t wish to be disturbed just yet!”
As the knocking also stopped, he seemed to take her word for it. “Ah, yes, miss. Very good.”
Mary opened her eyes to see Colonel Fitzwilliam uncovering another chaise lounge. The Holland cover cast up a cloud of fine dust. Mary sneezed twice.
“Apologies,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said. His own nose was twitching a bit. He rolled the cloth up and sat on his own piece of furniture. “Dashed odd circumstance.”
“I suppose you are more to be pitied than me. This must lacerate your high standards of propriety.” She closed her eyes again. Her back still hurt. She moved her makeshift pillow to the end of the lounge and used a finger to pull her slippers off. She brought her feet up, curled on her side, and tucked her hands under the rough cloth. It was rather cold in here, but at least she was not aching so much now. She tucked her feet inside her skirt like a blanket.
She heard him sigh. “I’m not obsessed with propriety, ma’am.”
“You’ve played the part remarkably well.”
“I don’t care about manners; I care about… people.”
It was a good answer, she admitted to herself. She didn’t tell him that.
When Miss Crawford was silent for a long while, Fitz assumed she was still angry with him. It wasn’t until he sat up and leaned forward, bringing her back into view, that he realized she had fallen asleep.
She looked cold and small, curled in on herself. She was such a strong-willed, vibrant person, it was easy to forget that she was not larger than life, but actually a rather diminutive woman. Her shawl was bunched up around her neck and shoulders. A darkening bruise peeked from beneath her peach sleeve. Her brow was still a little furrowed.
Fitz wanted to sit next to her and spread her shawl over her properly. He wanted to warm her feet, and massage her head until her brow relaxed. He wanted…
Fitz turned away, surprised at the strength and direction of his own wishes. He strode away and then came back.
Quickly removing one of the Holland covers from a sideboard, he shook it out quietly and draped it over her. It reached from her vulnerable arched foot to her chin, offering at least one more layer of protection.
He did not think she was much used to protection.
Don’t miss Book 3 in the Highbury Variation, coming August 1. 🙂 Also–check out my gorgeous new covers! I’m so excited!
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll keep an eye out for both my love letters–ahem, novels--on Colonel Fitzwilliam in the next few months!