In less than one month, Miss Bingley and the Baron will be available!
This story is a companion to my Pride and Prejudice variation Not In Want of a Wife, but can also be enjoyed as a standalone.
I love Regency romances where somebody falls in love under false pretenses or under some sort of disguise. So when I had the idea to make Caroline Bingley fall in love with somebody who she thought was a gardener, but was actually a baron in disguise, I thought to myself “this is exactly the sort of story I would gobble up!” My hope is that you will too.
This tale takes place in the spring and summer of 1812. Caroline goes up to Scarborough with Mr. and Mrs. Hurst just after Bingley and Jane’s wedding. Almost immediately, she sets her sights on capturing the wealthy baron next door. She meets a man on the baron’s estate whom she presumes to be one of his gardeners, not knowing that he is actually the baron himself.
Lord Theodore Connally has been leery of fortune hunters ever since an overzealous lady tried to trap him into marriage. Worried that Miss Bingley will be the same, Theo decides to test her by trading places with his best friend, the gardener’s son, who is to become a clergyman.
Here is an excerpt of the story to whet your appetite:
Caroline awoke sore from sleeping in a strange bed. She glanced at the small clock atop the bureau. The hour was still early. Her sister was likely still asleep. Caroline would normally be asleep at this hour too, but she tossed and turned, unable to fall back asleep.
I suppose a walk could do me some good.
Rising, she summoned her maid, who dressed her in one of her favorite morning gowns, a butter yellow with green ribbons that she had copied from an issue of La Belle Assemblée. It had a matching cap that tied snugly over her hair and would prevent the wind from destroying her coif. She wrapped a lace shawl over the gown and tied it with the sash so that it too would not blow away in the wind. Then she set off.
As she suspected, the rest of her family were still asleep. She declined her maid’s offer to accompany her. There is no need for a chaperone at this hour. Besides, I will only be promenading on the grounds.
She had spied the gardens the day before and thought that would be the perfect place to begin her self-guided tour of her new surroundings. The path from the house led directly to a magnificent walled garden. Perfectly sculpted geometric shapes glistened in the morning dew. Beds of brightly-colored crocuses, daffodils, and hyacinths brightened the lush greenery leading to a circular parterre with a statue in the center. Caroline chose the path to the right of the parterre which led to a shaded grove of manicured lime trees. The path dead-ended at a small reflecting pool guarded by cylindrical shrubs spaced evenly around it. She turned and took the other pathway, which led her to the kitchen gardens where several gardeners were already hard at work weeding a vegetable patch near a large, glass conservatory. She was about to return to the house when she spied a small gate at the far corner of the garden. Curious, Caroline decided to investigate.
The gate, covered with ivy, looked like the doorway to a fairy kingdom. She opened it, and found herself in a charming rock garden. Here the pathway rambled amidst scattered boulders and smaller rocks of various colors and sizes. Flowers dotted the scene, poking out from the rocks almost as if they had no business being there at all. Where order and perfection ruled the walled garden, here, everything seemed wild and unplanned. Caroline felt drawn to continue, as if some mystical force were pulling her further in. She heard the call of seagulls hunting for their breakfast and the faint sound of the ocean lapping at the shore. The rock garden had no fence at the border of it, instead blending straight into the short, coastal grasses and shrubs that gradually sloped towards the sea. One could hardly tell where the garden ended and the wild plants began. As she wandered towards the sound of the sea, suddenly, the water came into view and the sunrise with it, lifting slowly over the horizon.
Caroline found her breath suddenly taken away at the splendor before her. The cultivated elegance of the gardens behind her could not compare with the natural glories on display here. Vibrant pinks, purples, oranges and blues lit up the sky, reflected on the water below. The same force that drew her before led her to climb the rocky path down the cliffs to the sand.
The beach was deserted. Caroline thought for a moment of the dangers of walking alone on the shore, and contemplated whether she ought to turn back. But the sea looked so calm and beautiful and the sandy path beneath the cliffs so inviting, she decided there couldn’t be any harm in walking just a short ways. Besides, she was sure to return long before anyone could miss her.
The sea reminded her again of her childhood in Blackpool, before the days of lessons and lectures on the art of refinement at the seminary. Before the days of being restricted to “feminine” pursuits: perfecting and displaying her accomplishments in music, drawing, singing, needlework, and the like. Before it became her singular goal to secure a husband and a good future.
Back then, she lived without a care in the world. Free to run and play. Free to enjoy nature. Free to be whomever she wanted, instead of the carefully molded creature who fit into society’s picture of a lady and who could attract the sort of gentleman her mother, and later her sister, expected her to marry.
A crab poked his head from a hole and scuttled along. Caroline followed it, watching as it ducked down into another hole, then reappeared with a second crab. A gull swooped down and began chasing them. The pair of crabs continued running from the gull, while Caroline followed with interest, until at last, they turned and darted into the water and the gull flew off in search of other prey. The strip of smooth, sandy beach gradually gave way to a more rocky, rugged shoreline. Caroline continued on, lost in her thoughts, enjoying the sea breeze and the sounds around her, not noticing the waves gradually creeping closer to her as the sea cliff loomed to her right. Suddenly, she felt water splash her ankles and looked down. The tide was coming in! She looked back the way she had come. The water was already at the cliffs. There was no way to return. Ahead, a short stretch of beach still remained, leading up to another sloping path and a man-made staircase cut into the cliff.
Caroline picked up her skirts and hurried as the incoming waves splashed her gown and soaked her boots. She climbed the slope, which was more difficult than it had been going down, but she kept climbing until she reached high ground. The land at the top of these cliffs was rocky and grassy and uneven. A high stone wall that reminded her of a fortress ran the length of the ridge. As she approached the wall a tall castle-like dwelling came into view, and Caroline realized where she was.
I have wandered all the way to Raven’s Cliff.
The castle looked different from this angle than it had from the lane, more imposing, and far older.
It is as if I have stepped into a medieval kingdom.
By luck, or perhaps by design, the gate had been left open. Caroline entered, and found herself in a terraced garden. The garden was in a state of serious neglect, as if the owners had not cared for it in a long time. Climbing past the brambles and overgrowth, Caroline soon found herself in a wide orchard. Knowing the sea was to her right, the way to Fairclough must be ahead somewhere. If she could just reach the lane, she could find her way back. She turned left in what she thought must be the direction of the lane. Her soggy boots squished when she walked and the hem of her dress felt heavy with surf and sand. She grumbled aloud at having her favorite dress in such a state. A memory rolled past her mind of Elizabeth Bennet appearing in a similar state at Netherfield Park on a muddy day and Louisa’s remark about it.
I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain. And her hair- so blousy! Caroline had laughed with her sister over Elizabeth’s unfortunate appearance at the time. Now, she wondered whether she would become the object of similar scorn. The trees of the orchard were overgrown. They snagged at her lace shawl, and at one point, her cap became caught on a branch, and she had to untie it in order to free herself. Her hair came loose in the process, several red curls dangling down her back and blowing freely in the wind.
Walking for miles and getting one’s attire ruined. This is the sort of thing Elizabeth Bennet would do, not you! She scolded herself. She really had not meant to walk so far. She should have remained in the gardens at Fairclough and not gone down to the sea. What would Louisa say when she returned?
So distracted by these thoughts, she did not notice when she passed by a man on a ladder.
“I say there, what are you doing here?” His voice called out.
The sun was still low when Theo began work on the pear orchard. He knew that his two under gardeners ought to be doing this sort of thing, but as usual, they were slacking off, nowhere to be seen on the grounds, and he had no inclination to bang on their cottage doors and wake them. He meant to replace Bill and Jack soon, and hire additional men to assist Mr. Hodge with the restorations to the grounds. He had plans to design an Italianate garden like those he had seen in Tuscany and Verona, and to add a Roman folly and some type of water feature. Additionally, he hoped to manage the orchard and harvest a good crop this year. Too long had it lain overgrown, bearing almost no fruit, and what little fruit it bore left to rot on the trees. With proper care, he knew he could make it beautiful and fruitful again. This was the first order of business, to ready the trees for a summer harvest before they blossomed.
Theo was up on a ladder, pruning a pear tree, when he spotted a glimpse of yellow coming towards him. The lady seemed exhausted and wet.
Did she come from the beach?
He had already been down to the beach earlier that morning, and knew that it must be about high tide by now. He wondered what a lady might be doing all alone on such a morning, and where she could have come from. She did not seem to notice him as she pecked her way through the rows of pear trees, trying to avoid being scratched. He watched her remove her cap in frustration after it got caught on a particularly long branch. A tumble of red curls fell out of her coif. Theo felt his breath hitch.
Miss Bingley! At least, he presumed her to be Miss Bingley. He supposed it could be her sister, or perhaps even her maid- which might account for her state of dress- but it was clearly the redheaded woman he had seen in the carriage the day before. As she passed by his ladder, he called out. “I say, what are you doing here?”
Startled, the woman looked around, then up into the tree, where she finally spotted him.
“Sir! You gave me a fright. What do you mean by hiding up in that tree?”
“I am pruning it. But you have yet to answer my question. Why are you trespassing?”
She pushed her shoulders back and stuck her chin out indignantly. “I am merely passing through. I was walking along the beach, but got caught by the tide, and so was forced to seek higher ground for my safety. I had no choice but to trespass. I am sure that your master would not deny a lady safe passage through his land in such an instance.”
“Yes, the man who owns this land. Lord Conrad, or whatever his name is. The baron.”
She thinks I am a servant, Theo realized. He supposed, dressed as he was and performing a servant’s work, he should expect nothing less.
“Do you think that your master would want his gardener scaring a lady off of his land when she needed safety?”
Theo descended the ladder to face her. “Madam, you are welcome to pass through Lord Connally’s land.” He looked to see if her cheeks would redden at his correction, but her face remained as proud as ever. “You were down by the beach, you say? You must have walked a long way. Where are you headed?”
“I seek the lane, that I might find my way back to Fairclough Hall.”
“If it is Fairclough you are bound for, then that way would be more direct.” He pointed. “The lane is long and indirect. It will take you two miles to return by that route. If you cut through the orchard, you will find yourself in the moors which border Fairclough in half the time. A small gate exists between the properties, built some generations ago as a mark of friendship between the two families.” He neglected to tell her that the gate was long in disuse, had been locked, and that she would probably have to climb the wall to get over it.
“Thank you, sir. Pass on my regards to your master, and thank him for allowing me to trespass. I can assure you, it will not happen again.”
“Take care, Madam, should you find yourself walking the beach again. As you have seen, the tides here can be dangerous.”
He expected some reply, but she had already set off in the heading he had given. It was only after she was too far to see that he realized she had not even given him her name.
I realize it’s an unconventional choice to make Caroline Bingley the heroine. She isn’t exactly the most popular character in Pride and Prejudice, after all. Authors have also warned me that stories about minor characters tend not to do well, especially if the character is unlikable in the original novel.
Several months ago, I polled my readers to see what story they would like to see me write next. To my surprise, Miss Bingley’s story received a lot more votes than I had expected! So, I decided to just go for it anyways, since I had her story in my head begging to be written.
I’ve had some readers tell me that they’re tired of reading only Darcy and Elizabeth stories, and that they’re ready to read about other characters too. I’ve also had a few people tell me how much they enjoyed the way I redeemed Mr. Collins in my book Marriage and Ministry and that they would love to see my take on reforming Caroline. If you’ve read my book Not In Want of a Wife, you’ll know that this version of Caroline has a lot of reforming to do! Still, I think she’s not irredeemable, and I hope you’ll love what I’ve done to give her a happily ever after. Maybe you’ll find that there is room in your heart for Caroline and Theo too.
Now, without further ado, here is the cover reveal for Miss Bingley and the Baron!
Click the video to see the reveal
I really love how this cover turned out! The image behind Caroline and Theo represents the cliffs bordering Theo’s estate, Raven’s Cliff, and is comprised of several images, including a photo of the coastline at Ravenscar, Yorkshire (the real-life location of Raven’s Cliff).
While I’ve always loved Anna Chancellor’s interpretation of Caroline Bingley in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, my favorite is Kelly Riley’s performance in the 2005 production. She really had “something in her air and manner of walking” that made me believe her character. Therefore, I’ve chosen to make my Caroline Bingley a redhead as well, in honor of her. I hope you like the models I’ve chosen for Caroline and Theo. They look so romantic together, in my opinion!
Miss Bingley and the Baron will be available on October 17 on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Pre-order your copy now!