Guest Post and Giveaway: Handsome, Clever, & Rich by Jayne Bamber

Today, Jayne Bamber is back with a guest post and excerpt from her new novel, Handsome, Clever & Rich.

Let’s check out a little bit about this tale:

What if Elizabeth is not a Bennet by birth, but by marriage?

When Netherfield Park is let at last, the village of Meryton is inveigled in romance, intrigue, and a few less-than-happy reunions. The Bingley siblings return to the home of their youth, an estate purchased just before the death of their father. The neighborhood, especially the Bennet family, is ready to welcome them back with open arms, but Mr. Bingley’s attempt to make a good impression on his community backfires so badly that it is his awkward friend Mr. Darcy who is obliged to salvage the situation in the aftermath of Mr. Bingley insulting Jane Bennet at the Assembly.

Young widow Elizabeth Bennet begins her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy on amiable terms, but the reckless folly of his friend and the regrets from her own past create a bumpy path to Happily Ever After for them.

Not long after an injury obliges Elizabeth to recover at Netherfield Park, her estranged sister finally discovers Elizabeth’s whereabouts, and journeys from Highbury to Meryton in all haste, suitors in tow.

When one unexpected betrothal arises out of necessity, Jane Austen’s most notorious matchmaker is inspired to work her magic at Longbourn, Netherfield, and Lucas Lodge – but she, too, will have met her match in matters of meddling & mischief.

Please give Jayne Bamber a warm welcome:

It’s great to be back at Savvy Verse and Wit! Today I am here to share another excerpt of my new release, Handsome, Clever & Rich, which is now available on Kindle Unlimited.

As you may guess from the title, this Pride & Prejudice variation features appearances from several characters from Emma, including the titular heroine herself! That’s not the only big change you’ll see in Meryton in this variation. The Assembly at the beginning of the novel takes a very different turn when that notorious insult, “She is tolerable, I suppose…” is spoken not by Mr. Darcy, but by Mr. Bingley – in reference to Jane Bennet! This moment of bad judgement plagues Mr. Bingley for much of the book, and sets Mr. Darcy on an unlikely course of being better liked than his friend in Meryton.

Darcy first rescues Jane from the mortification on Mr. Bingley’s insult, and later he rescues Elizabeth in a much more significant way. Today I am sharing an excerpt from the novel; this scene takes place at the Meryton Assembly, just after Mr. Bingley insults Jane. While Darcy stands up with Jane, he witnesses Elizabeth “accidentally” spill her wine on Mr. Bingley. Now, he has asked Elizabeth to dance as well.


A rosy blush spread across Elizabeth’s cheeks as she realized he had seen her little act of revenge.

“It was childish of me – I ought not to have done it.”

“I have done worse in defense of my own sister, and would do so again without hesitation,” Darcy replied.

“What age is your sister, sir?”

“Just lately sixteen.”

A trace of something deeply sorrowful flashed in her eyes, before Elizabeth looked away. “It is a difficult age for any young lady.”

Darcy quietly considered her words. Elizabeth looked to be about twenty years of age; she would have been about sixteen at the time of Benjamin Bennet’s death, which their mother indicated had been four years ago. A difficult age indeed for the beautiful creature before him. He knew better than to speak of it, for Miss Bennet had gone silent and sullen at his attempt to relate to her through a loss of such magnitude.

Before Darcy could manage to say something profound enough to convey that he understood her sentiments, Elizabeth turned the conversation with a pert smile and a twinkle in her eye. “Am I to understand, sir, that you do not begrudge me my lapse in civility toward your friend?”

“The first offense was all his – even Bingley would surely admit as much,” Darcy replied.

“How magnanimous of him,” she drawled.

Again Darcy paused to consider how best to word his response. Unwilling to give voice to the other sentiments Bingley had expressed, which must constitute a betrayal of his friend, Darcy could only wish the words of affection had been spoken as loud as those of censure. And yet, he knew that there was no amount of praise or affection that could justify the comments Bingley had made so publicly, for the lady herself as well as her entire community to hear. Darcy was still pondering the best way to assuage his friend’s dilemma, when an arch look from Elizabeth captured his attention.

“You say you would do far worse in defense of your own sister, Mr. Darcy – what would you have done if you had heard your nearest neighbor speak of Miss Darcy in such a way?”

Darcy did her the justice of genuinely considering the question, and replied with a wry smile, “You can hardly duel him at dawn.”

Elizabeth arched an eyebrow at him, as she had done from across the room when she had caught him staring. “I am sure Benjamin left a pair of pistols somewhere in the house. Jane might even make a fine second, unless she was obliged to face a man who had been so kind to her.”

There was a tone of challenge in her voice, which only strengthened Darcy’s rapidly increasing admiration of the headstrong enchantress. “I would not second any man so unequivocally in the wrong, even if I understood the deeper reasons behind his grievous blunder.”

He could see at once that he had made a misstep in his address, and a moment later, in the movement of the dance. Elizabeth clenched her jaw in righteous indignation. “I am sure I understand the reason behind his blunder perfectly, sir. Nothing could be plainer.”

“I beg you would not base your estimation of his character solely upon his behavior this evening,” Darcy said with a sigh. “I fear the endeavor would reflect no credit on either of you.”

“If I do not take his likeness now, sir, I may never have another opportunity. He ought not expect a warm welcome at Longbourn, any more than I should presume my own family to be received at Netherfield, such as things are.”

“I shudder to think what your estimation must be of myself,” Darcy said, testing his luck from another angle.

Elizabeth was momentarily taken aback by such a direct statement, and she bubbled with startled laughter. “I had always supposed it a woman’s prerogative to fish for compliments in such a way –  though I can hardly do such slander to my own sex at such a time, given the prevailing weaknesses of the men this evening. But you need not fear for yourself, Mr. Darcy, so long as you do not take to the field, should it really come to pistols at dawn with your friend. The key to securing a place in my esteem is and always shall be Jane, and all my family at Longbourn – therefore, you are quite safe at present.”

“At present,” Darcy replied, suppressing a surge of admiration for the diminutive but ferocious woman before him. He could hardly account for how either of them managed to move in time to the music, amidst such a conversation as this – it was nearly too intense to bear, yet he wished to press on still. “I suppose by this you mean that your opinion, however favorable, might be altered by some future offense?”

“Have you any particular assault on my regard planned, sir?”

“No indeed – I merely mean to make out your character in turn.”

Elizabeth grinned at him. “Very well – but of course my good opinion, so newly formed, might rise or fall, depending on subsequent revelations. I am sure anybody might say the same. That is generally how first impressions work, Mr. Darcy.”

“I am quite in agreement. But does it not follow that the reverse must also be true – that an unfavorable impression might also rise or fall? Or is your resentment, once created, unappeasable? Is such implacable animosity not a shade in character?”

Laughing heartily, Elizabeth missed a step of the dance as she wagged her finger playfully at him. “You tease me into praising you, only to repay me by finding fault in my reasoning? Pistols at dawn, Mr. Darcy.”

“If your good opinion, once lost, is lost forever, I should call that a failing indeed. But in cases where one is blinded by a strength of affection that is, by itself, a charming virtue, this faulty reasoning may be forgiven. Your attachment to your sister does you great credit.”

Elizabeth smiled at him still, but now there was steel in her voice. “And yours to Mr. Bingley does not.” “Has Miss Bennet not ever accidentally given offense to anyone?”

“Not once, in the whole course of her life, I am sure,” Elizabeth said cheerfully. “As the Bingleys have
known her for much of it, you might apply to them for confirmation of the fact.”

She was dancing circles around him in more ways than one; it was frustrating, and tantalizing in a way Darcy had never before experienced. The movement of the dance required them to move closer and spin in time together, and for a moment his desire to defend Bingley’s character was lost to other impulses. Darcy was attracted to Elizabeth Bennet, despite their brief acquaintance, the vast difference in their situations in life, and a thousand other obstacles – but for a brief, blissful minute he managed to push past his pragmatism and simply bask in her mesmerizing company.

Finally, Darcy recovered what little of his equanimity he could – he was here for Bingley’s sake, and not his own. He furrowed his brow as he tried to pick up the thread of conversation and salvage the situation before he was utterly lost. “Do you credit their opinion so well? You would still suppose the Bingleys might be honest about that aspect of Miss Bennet’s character, despite what you have heard them say tonight – despite your own unshakable certainty that they are pretentious, ill-mannered, standoffish, inconsiderate snobs?”

“And you would find fault in their estimation of my sister, yet it is my own logic you assault so assiduously – I might as well inquire as to why a man of your intelligence and position, who has lived in the world, might keep such company. But if you mean to tell me that your friends will not give me an honest answer, we might ask anybody in the room to name a circumstance where Jane has been unkind, or anything short of perfection. Nobody could do it.”

Elizabeth let out a peal of confident, self-indulgent laughter and nodded her head vigorously as she spun to the music with the other dancers – Darcy nearly collided with Richard as he froze in place, watching Elizabeth’s sheer glee in utterly devastating his every argument. He forgot how to move until his cousin gave him a gentle shove and a look of curiosity that promised to plague him later.

“Then she is a lucky young woman – but this I already knew, for she has you as a sister,” Darcy replied in a desperate bid to regain the upper hand. “The material point is that everybody makes mistakes – we are none of us perfect, yet all deserving of forgiveness.”

“That can have nothing to do with you or I, sir,” Elizabeth chided him, shifting her gaze pointedly to Mr. Bingley, who still lingered at the edge of the room with his sisters.

“You are absolutely right, and I am sure he feels it most keenly.”

She smiled wolfishly at him as the music faded away. “Be sure, Mr. Darcy – be very sure that he does.”

The excitement of the other dancers ebbed around them as they all applauded the musicians and began to disperse in search of new partners, but Darcy and Elizabeth stood rooted in place, staring at one another in perfect understanding. “I can assure you I shall,” he said softly, so swept up in the moment that he caught her hand in his and began to raise it to his lips – the approach of his cousin George forestalled him from completing the gesture.

Elizabeth flinched and withdrew her hand at once. “Thank you for the dance, Mr. Darcy; it was most invigorating.”


Darcy and Lizzy are certainly off to a better start this time around! But poor Bingley has not made a good first impression on his neighbors, despite having some history in the area. Will Bingley recover his reputation in the neighborhood? Will Jane forgive him? And will Mr. Darcy continue to be more amiable than his friend? Follow my blog tour for more glimpses into the twists and turns of Handsome, Clever, & Rich – and don’t miss your chance to win a free digital copy of the book!

Thank you, Jayne, for sharing your new book with us.


About the Author:

Jayne Bamber is a life-long Austen fan, and a total sucker for costume dramas. Jayne read her first Austen variation as a teenager and has spent more than a decade devouring as many of them as she can. This of course has led her to the ultimate conclusion of her addiction, writing one herself.

Jayne’s favorite Austen work is Sense and Sensibility, though Sanditon is a strong second. Despite her love for Pride and Prejudice, Jayne realizes that she is no Lizzy Bennet, and is in fact growing up to be Mrs. Bennet more and more each day. Follow Jayne on Facebook.

Groundhound Day Guest Post & Giveaway for Madness in Meryton by Jayne Bamber

Welcome to another guest post from Jayne Bamber on today’s blog about her new book, Madness in Meryton, which has a Goundhog Day theme. Before we get to her guest post today, let’s check out a little bit about the book:

When Jane and Elizabeth Bennet return home from Netherfield, two days of heavy rain confine them indoors with their unruly younger sisters, a mother in perpetual need of smelling salts, and the tedious Mr. Collins. When the rain clears, the ladies from Longbourn and the gentlemen from Netherfield are drawn to Meryton by the excitement of Market Day, setting in motion a series of significant events.

That night, Mrs. Phillips hosts a card party for officers of the local militia, where the charming Mr. Wickham tells Elizabeth his shocking history with Mr. Darcy, a man who has only given Elizabeth offense since coming to stay with his friend Mr. Bingley at Netherfield.

The next day, the same thing happens again.

And again, the day after that – and so on, for what begins to feel like an eternity. Elizabeth takes increasingly drastic measures to further the budding romance between her beloved sister Jane and their handsome neighbor Mr. Bingley. Along the way, she arranges improvements in the lives of all of her family, in a effort to end the relentless redundancy that only she seems aware of.

As Elizabeth’s frustration turns to madness, she soon realizes that her inexplicable dilemma is somehow connected to a certain officer and a certain gentleman of her acquaintance….

Elizabeth must forge unlikely alliances and devote her considerable wit to the task of achieving a perfect day for those she holds dear, while facing familiar Fitzwilliam friends and foes, as well as all the mortification and delight of falling in love.

Please give Jayne Bamber a warm welcome.

Hello, Janeites! It is a delight to be here at Savvy Verse & Wit to share a little about my new release, Madness in Meryton. This is my sixth Austen variation, and for those of you not following the tale on Happy Assembly, it is a Groundhog Day vagary – with a twist. If you have read any of my other novels, you will know I share Elizabeth Bennet’s fondness for human folly, and there is plenty of it to be had when dear Lizzy begins to repeat the dame day over again.

The day in question is the day that Elizabeth meets George Wickham and hears his tale of woe, and I have reimagined it as Meryton’s monthly Market Day to heighten the chaos of Elizabeth’s predicament.

The tension between Darcy and Elizabeth is unique in this story, as their predicament blurs the lines between frustration and friendship. To accompany the excerpt I am sharing today, I am also sharing one of my favorite writing playlists that has helped me set the mood for the romantic tension between our favorite couple… enjoy!


Darcy smiled as Elizabeth approached him at last. She was smirking at him, her eyes wide and bright. “You must indulge me, sir,” she said. “I have told poor Charlotte that I intend to tease you mercilessly.”

He suppressed his mirth, but leaned closer, dearly wishing she would tease him. “You are still of a mind for mischief?”

“I am, and I expected that you, of all people, would understand – and after all, I am sure your cousin is a man of odd humors and japes – you cannot be so unaccustomed to such larks.”

Darcy only nodded, silently cursing Richard’s charm and verbosity.

“Charlotte observed you staring at me,” Elizabeth said.

“You know why I stare,” Darcy replied.

Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. “I do now – before, I was never quite sure. I always supposed you disapproved of me. And that is what you must do now, Mr. Darcy. Do scowl as though I have just affronted you, and see how Charlotte shall cross her arms and shake her head.”

Darcy did so, affecting a posture of disapprobation. “How is this?”

She grinned. “Very imposing! You look truly vexed. And if I come a little closer, and point my finger just so, she may think I am really giving you the business.” Elizabeth moved near, her slender, gloved finger nearly jabbing his chest, and she twisted her face into a cheeky grimace.

Keeping his countenance stony, Darcy said, “If mischief were an accomplishment, Miss Bennet, you would have no rival.”

She rolled her eyes. “You cannot flatter me while I pretend to be so very rude.”

“Please advise me what you would most like to hear. After all, you did come to speak with me.” A smile began to spread across Darcy’s face, until a waggle of Elizabeth’s finger reminded him to look stern.

He repressed the urge to grab her finger between his teeth, rip off the glove, and kiss her from her wrist to her lips. He cast a nervous glance around the room, thinking it odd that only last night it had been so different with her; he had held her hand, even drew her closer in unguarded moments. They had been lost together on a wave of chaos, and tonight was so drastically different. It was calmer, more sedate, and it made Darcy uncomfortable. He reflexively took a step back.

Elizabeth withdrew her hand and folded her arms. “Tell me about your day – have you had any success?”

Darcy considered before he answered, and here he was sure his face looked naturally grave. “I spoke with him, yes. He made similar allusions to some future scheme, as he did with you. But he left town very willingly. It has made me wonder.”


“Well, I wonder if he is as significant in all this madness as I had originally thought. Could it be so simple, to merely send him on his way? Is it necessary that I discover what he is up to?”

Elizabeth knit her brow as she mulled this over. “I have always supposed I had some purpose, something to alter and improve, in the course of the day, and I had believed you must, as well.”

“And so I had thought,” Darcy agreed. “But I begin to wonder if it is Wickham, or perhaps something else.”

“Such as?”

Darcy involuntarily glanced over at Bingley, who was still sitting with Jane Bennet, conversing with animation as she smiled placidly at him. His heart raced. It could be that – but how could he tell her?

Elizabeth had followed his gaze, and something flashed in her eyes – hurt and anger and betrayal. And something very wild. Darcy shifted awkwardly, and caught himself reaching for her hand as if it were the most natural response. He stilled himself, watching her face as so many emotions played out there.

“I am not sure about anything, anymore,” he breathed. His fingertips twitched, brushing hers.

Elizabeth flinched, peering up at him curiously, almost fearfully. “Do not be too hasty, think it over,” she whispered. Her hand brushed his again, and she drew in a sharp breath.

It was torture for Darcy. All evening it had nagged at him, that Bingley could not be allowed to seriously consider Jane Bennet, and yet Darcy himself was in way too deep with Elizabeth. The woman who would despise him forever if she knew what he was thinking, what he was growing quite convinced he must do.

Again his eyes drifted to Bingley. The man was falling for a woman who thought of him as merely an amiable acquaintance, nothing more, no little difference from Darcy’s own situation. He would save Bingley to save himself, and if Elizabeth hated him tomorrow, at least there would be a tomorrow.

Several things happened in quick succession. Elizabeth’s countenance went cold, and he knew she was not pretending anymore. He also knew she could see what he was thinking. She looked away suddenly; Miss Lucas had apparently perceived the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth, and was moving that way as if to intervene. The music had stopped, and Mr. Collins abandoned Mary Bennet once he had Darcy in his sights.

Elizabeth gave Miss Lucas a little shake of her head, and her eyes flicked over to Mr. Collins, whose lips were moving slightly, as if rehearsing the lavish praise of Lady Catherine that he would soon bestow on Darcy. Miss Lucas quickly changed her course and intercepted the parson.

Bingley came from the opposite direction, Jane Bennet on his arm. He clapped Darcy on the shoulder. “Darcy, how are you enjoying the card party? Not quarreling with Miss Elizabeth again, I hope?” He laughed nervously, and the Bennet sisters exchanged a silent, knowing look.

“We were speaking of you,” Elizabeth replied, arching an eyebrow. She met Darcy’s eye just long enough to land her point. “I was wondering why you were not dancing. You enjoy the amusement so much more than your friend, Mr. Bingley.”

Bingley just smiled his affable, idiotic smile, nodded, and laughed. “Well,” he cried after a moment, “we have been lost to all the world in conversation!”

Miss Bennet smiled as well, and said nothing. Quite the conversationalist indeed. Poor Bingley had probably been pouring his heart and soul out to her, in exchange for diffident smiles and wide eyes hooded with long, dark lashes.

Across the room, Miss Lydia appealed to her sister, Miss Mary, to take up the instrument where Maria Lucas had left off. Darcy tried not to flinch at the girl’s grating voice, and he looked back to Elizabeth. “I fear Miss Elizabeth has not had as pleasant a partner in conversation as her sister,” Darcy replied. “Though I am not fond of dancing, I am rather better at it than speaking, when words often fail me.”

Again Elizabeth arched an eyebrow at him, her look so intent she could scarcely be aware of Bingley and her sister. There really was nothing he could say now, he knew. But he offered her his hand as the music resumed.

Bingley laughed. “Well, we shall not be outdone by Darcy here,” he told Miss Bennet before turning to Darcy. “Well done, you know, turning the table on me – it is always me, urging you to dance.” He guffawed again, “I shall not disappoint you, Jane.” He grabbed Miss Bennet’s hand and she gave a gentle laugh as he whisked her away to dance.

Darcy and Elizabeth had frozen at Bingley’s use of Miss Bennet’s christian name. Her hand hovered over his for a moment before she accepted it, and she kept her head downcast as he led her to join her sisters in the dance.

They began the movements in a heady silence before she finally looked up at him. He tried to smile, tried to convey some message of reassurance in his face, but something felt different now.

Elizabeth glanced over at her sister, and then back at him. They turned in time to the music. “Will he?” They spun again. “Disappoint her?”

Darcy placed his hand against hers as they went down the dance. He observed Bingley as they moved past him. Elizabeth stared probingly at him. Miss Mary fumbled the keys of her instrument for a moment, and Miss Lydia laughed. The dancers all attempted to recover the rhythm; they spun again. Elizabeth’s jaw tightened as he placed his hand on her back for the next movement of the dance. He knew he had not answered her, and she expected him to.

Darcy sighed. “I do not know yet.” Elizabeth averted her eyes, and did not speak for the rest of the dance.

Doesn’t this sound like a fun P&P variation? I think so. Thanks, Jayne, for stopping by. Readers please enter the giveaway below.


About the Author:

Jayne Bamber is a life-long Austen fan, and a total sucker for costume dramas. Jayne read her first Austen variation as a teenager and has spent more than a decade devouring as many of them as she can. This of course has led her to the ultimate conclusion of her addiction, writing one herself.

Jayne’s favorite Austen work is Sense and Sensibility, though Sanditon is a strong second. Despite her love for Pride and Prejudice, Jayne realizes that she is no Lizzy Bennet, and is in fact growing up to be Mrs. Bennet more and more each day.


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.