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Excerpt & Giveaway: Outmatched by Jayne Bamber

Today’s guest is Jayne Bamber and her new book, Outmatched, which is a mash up of Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility. New alliances are formed in this novel, and there are elements of self-discovery, redemption, and conspiracy.

Before we get to today’s post, check out the book synopsis below:

When Sir Thomas Bertram returns home to Mansfield after his year in Antigua, he expects respite from his many troubles, in the bosom of his family. Instead he is met with blackmail, collusion, and the ominous threat of scandal.

When Mrs. Margaret Dashwood takes her daughters from Norland to Barton Park, she carries with her a secret hope that they might someday return, though she is not yet ready to pay the price for it.

A mutual connection bent on manipulation and revenge sets the stage for heartbreak, intrigue, and plenty of surprises as the worlds of Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park collide. Alliances shift along the way as familiar characters, bound by family ties, descend on Norland Park. There everyone has their own agenda, and constant peril looms as a large party of relations all scheme to outwit, out-maneuver, and outmatch their opponents.

Please welcome, Jayne Bamber:

Hello, readers! It is a pleasure to be welcomed here at Savvy Verse & Wit. It is Release Day for my fifth novel, Outmatched, a fusion of Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility, and I am particularly excited about the excerpt I am sharing today!

I have never wanted to admit how very much I like Mary Crawford, but I am sure readers will detect it over the course of the story. She has all the wit and sparkle of Elizabeth Bennet, though with sharper edges to be sure, but I cannot think her indefensible. She cares for her roguish brother, perhaps to a fault, but I am willing to argue her loyalty does her some credit. I cannot completely fault her in her dealings with Edmund Bertram, either – she knows what she wants, and bristles at the prospect of having to compromise. In truth, I think it brave of her, and quite right – she knows she does not wish to be a parson’s wife, and no community would be served by the parson’s wife not fulfilling the obligations of her position begrudgingly. Even at the end, when Tom is very ill, perhaps she ought not to speak as she does, but come on, we were all thinking it!

If my attempt at vindication has not entirely put you off, I do hope you will enjoy this little glimpse at my rendition of Mary Crawford. This scene takes place a few days after the large cast of characters converges at Norland, with one fairly logical friendship for Mary, and another that, though far from obvious, hold some promise….

***

Edmund was not amongst them in the drawing room, but Mary was determined neither to notice nor mind his absence; she played her harp for herself, and for her new friend Marianne. After a few minutes it was not such an effort. She had always loved playing, loved the feelings of peaceful pride that came with willing the strings to do her bidding. She played a piece she knew by heart and closed her eyes, shutting out her audience to lose herself in the music.

The effect might have been too engrossing, for when she opened her eyes at the end of her song, she was almost startled at the applause from more than a dozen people.

Marianne, who had been most insistent on the use of Christian names, rushed toward Mary at once. “Come, you must play a duet with me at the pianoforte,” she cried. She caught Mary by the hand and led her to the instrument, where she assaulted Mary with a tremendous quantity of sheet music to look over. The conversation in the room started up as Mary looked over the music; with so many people, it was all just a strange, euphoric buzzing in her ears.

All this had transpired within but a moment of Mary’s song, and she was still nearly in a trance from the emotion of her performance. This tranquility was now abruptly cut through by the voice of Mrs. Jennings, an old widow who had shown a peculiar obsession with the Dashwood sisters, and a delightful degree of conversational indiscretion.

“Colonel Brandon,” she cried, and every head in the room turned toward the doorway.

Mary felt the sheet music she was holding fall through her fingers, and looked down, watching the handful of papers slowly float toward the carpet until they were strewn at her feet, and then her head snapped back up. Had she conjured this man into existence with her silliness before?

Beside Mary, Marianne let out a low squeak, and behind the cover of the pianoforte Mr. Willoughby, looking rather startled himself, placed his hand atop Marianne’s.

Mary could not take her eyes off the handsome newcomer, and felt instinctively that he had been watching her for some time. John Dashwood was beside him, and now led the colonel into the room. “Yes, well, sisters, here is your friend from Devonshire come to call. What a fine thing for you girls! I have invited him to stay and dine with us.”

Mary glanced over at Marianne with some astonishment. How could the girl have an acquaintance such as this and not spoken of it during their fanciful conversation before? She looked back at Colonel Brandon, savoring the expression upon his countenance, pensive and enigmatic, sorrowful and yet hopeful – and such intelligence about the eyes. What a man! He made his introductions to those of their party he did not know, and spoke to the other Dashwoods – but now he was coming toward them.

Marianne moved away from Mr. Willoughby and linked her arm through Mary’s, as Mary continued to wonder why her friend could look so unhappy to see such a man as this seeking them out. He was on the wrong

side of five-and-thirty, perhaps an ill thing for a girl so young, and yet he wore his silvery hair so well. His stride was graceful, the curl of his lips almost outrageously sensual, his attire very fine but not ostentatious, and his voice, when he spoke, was deep and sonorous. 

“Miss Marianne, I hope you are well.”

“I am.” Marianne forced a smile. “I have just been getting better acquainted with my new friend, Miss Mary Crawford. She and her brother accompanied my Bertram cousins to Norland.”

“And what a lovely destination,” said the colonel. He bowed to Mary, and she dropped into a curtsey, keeping her head low enough to conceal her blush. She suddenly recollected the sheet music scattered about her, and dropped to the floor to gather it back up. Colonel Brandon must have seen her acting quite the fool, and she was heartily embarrassed for it. 

The colonel instantly mirrored her gesture, and began to assist her, but this only heightened Mary’s mortification. She focused on not letting her hands tremble, and wondered what had come over her to be so affected by this great pillar of masculinity. “I am afraid I took you all by surprise,” he said softly.

“Indeed, I had grown rather lost in the music, and was not thinking at all – what a silly mess I have made.” Mary gathered the last of the sheet music and stood. She handed the pages off to Marianne as the colonel did the same; Marianne received the rumpled sheets with a nervous laugh. 

“Yes, I saw,” Colonel Brandon replied. “That is, I came in at the end of your performance – I did not wish to interrupt what was so delightful to so many, including myself. I hope to hear you play with Miss Marianne, if that is your intention.”

Seeming to recall Marianne, the colonel returned his attention to her with an odd look about him. “I happened to be in the area – I have been in Sussex since leaving you all last week. When I realized Norland was so near, I thought it right to pay my respects, and I have heard such praise from all your family of the place.”

“Pray, what brings you to the area?” Mr. Willoughby smiled at the colonel, but Mary sensed something hollow in it – something strange indeed. 

They were to receive no answer, for Mrs. Jennings was bustling over to them. “Well, Colonel Brandon, what a to-do! Are we not a large and cozy party here? But what a perfect addition you make! I hope you mean to stay amongst us!”

The colonel looked uneasy, though Mary supposed such a reaction must be perfectly rational. “Mr. Dashwood has invited me to stay the night and dine with you all.”

“Very good, very good,” Mrs. Jennings cried, even as Marianne and Mr. Willoughby exchanged a look betraying the opposite sentiment entirely. “It is the finest house I have ever seen, I am sure – but you must stay more than a night! We are all snug and easy here, and you will not want to be going away so soon.”

The colonel smiled wistfully, and Mary was intrigued by what dolorous sentiments might engender such an expression. “I have no doubt you get on very well. The house is most impressive – Mr. Dashwood was so kind as to show me about the public rooms. You were all out of the house when I arrived, and I had no wish to interrupt your excursion. But one night must be enough, for urgent business calls me away again tomorrow.”

“Impossible,” Mrs. Jennings cried. “Surely not the same great matter that drew you from Delaford the day of our poor picnic!”

The colonel’s lips tightened. “It is a matter that requires my immediate attention,” he said firmly. “Indeed, Mr. Willoughby, as it involves a mutual acquaintance of ours, perhaps I might speak privately with you. At once.”

Mr. Willoughby grew very pale indeed, but had not time to reply before Mrs. Jennings cut him off. “What mutual acquaintance? Oh, dear me – not Lady Allen! La, but she is so very old – I do hope she is quite well!”

He bowed again. “Mrs. Jennings, Miss Crawford. Miss Marianne. I hope we shall speak later.” Mary was inclined to agree as she watched him lead Mr. Willoughby from the room, but had little time to ruminate on the matter before Marianne latched onto her.

“Forgive me, Mrs. Jennings, but I think my cousin Maria is calling for a game of whist. I do not mean to play myself, though I know you favor the game. Mary, might we take a turn about the room?”

Mrs. Jennings laughed and fixed them with a knowing look. “Well, keep your secrets – I am sure I know them all already, or very soon shall!” At that she turned her attention to the card party that was forming, and Marianne hastened to draw Mary in the opposite direction.

“Oh, Mary,” Marianne whispered as soon as they had walked some distance. “I am sure I should have fainted dead away!” Mary arched an eyebrow and smiled – no little resemblance to her own feelings indeed! And yet she was, more than anything else, recovered enough from the oddly flustering encounter as to be intensely curious.

“Why should you do such a thing? Surely you prefer your Mr. Willoughby to the colonel, even if he is so very handsome.”

“Colonel Brandon, handsome?” Marianne laughed. “Surely you mean to tease me worse than Mrs. Jennings.”

“Certainly not! If I ever did such a thing as that you should be obliged to lock me up.”

Thank you, Jayne, for sharing this excerpt with us.  We hope you’ll all check out your own copy and enter the giveaway.

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