Today I welcome Beau North who is here to share an excerpt of her short story “Fitzwilliam’s Folly” from the anthology: Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentleman Rogues.
I think lots of us have a soft spot for Colonel Fitzwilliam, so it’s always good to read about him. I’ve never considered him as a bad boy or a rake, but according to the Cambridge Dictionary he just might be one. 🙂 Beau North did justice to the character and he is even more appealing with all his faults than before. And then there is Miss Campbell, who is simply brilliant! I have mentioned in my review that she is one of my two favourite new characters in the anthology. I would totally love to read a book about her… [Just sayin’]
Hello, Readers! I’d like to thank Mira for being a part of the blog tour for ‘Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues,’ and for giving me a chance to share a bit of my story ‘Fitzwilliam’s Folly,’ wherein Colonel Fitzwilliam agrees to a rather…unusual request from an American Heiress. It’s no secret that I’ve had a major crush on Colonel Fitzwilliam over the years—anyone who’s read my first novel ‘Longbourn’s Songbird’ can attest to that. So when Christina Boyd offered me the opportunity to revisit my favorite not-quite-leading man, I jumped at the chance. How could I not?
‘Fitzwilliam’s Folly’ runs concurrently to the events of ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ taking place over the months following Darcy’s failed proposal at Hunsford. Idle and perhaps a little bored, our colonel comes to the aid of one Miss Campbell. And with that I leave you where I’d like to end every narrative. With dancing.
For the first time in his life, Fitzwilliam wished Darcy away. The man was hovering as Fitzwilliam watched for Miss Campbell’s entrance.
He had not expected his cousin’s company that evening, but he sensed that Darcy had passed some critical point in his lovelorn state. He was now turned out as immaculately as was expected from his fastidious valet. His eyes were no longer rimmed in red from drink and lack of sleep. There seemed to be a newfound determination about him, for which Fitzwilliam could only be grateful, but while the thoughtful silence that seemed to envelop Darcy might be an improvement over drunken misery, it was no good at a party.
“Oh, good lord,” Darcy muttered, stepping behind a nearby column.
Fitzwilliam followed his cousin’s gaze, grinning when he saw Charles Bingley enter with his sister.
“I know you don’t favor Miss Bingley’s company, cuz, but it is not like you to hide from the woman.”
Darcy looked mightily embarrassed. “It is not Miss Bingley I am hiding from.”
Fitzwilliam was about to reply when the Misses Campbell and Lady Morgan were announced. He looked past the Bingleys, now approaching him, towards the door where the trio of ladies were just stepping through.
His breath caught. She entered the room swathed in the thinnest shimmering gold crepe covered by a whisper of lace set with sparkling beads. That gown…that neckline, by the gods! The room seemed to brighten at her entry, as if the candles themselves snapped to attention. Her dauntless gaze skimmed the room, from the enormous sprays of flowers to ladies in their finery, until her eyes found his. Their secret burned in that look. He realized that, in a strange way, they were now bound to one another.
“Halloo, Colonel. What a pleasant surprise!”
Fitzwilliam looked at the Bingleys as if he had never seen them before. He liked Charles Bingley well enough, but when in the presence of a goddess, it did not do to hobnob with the other mere mortals before honoring the divine. Such an insult would surely be paid in blood. He bowed briefly to the Bingleys.
“Bingley, Miss Bingley, please excuse me. Darcy is just behind that column.” And with that he walked away. He knew it was abominable manners on his part, but he could not resist the pull of the line that tethered him to her. To Calliope. A line of Dante flitted through his mind: “Here rise to life again, dead poetry! Let it, O holy Muses, for I am yours.” As if hearing his thoughts, she offered him a welcoming smile, and Fitzwilliam felt a piece of the farce begin to crumble. Would he be pretending to woo this woman? He could not say. He only knew he wanted to make her feel what he was feeling. He wanted her to know the simmering pleasure he felt when she looked at him like that. He stopped and bowed.
“Lady Morgan. Miss Campbell, Miss Clio.”
They curtsied in unison, their movements fluid and graceful. Indeed, they were everything proper. It seemed astonishing to Fitzwilliam that the young ladies were so scorned simply for their American origins. They made polite chatter for a few moments until a tall, elegantly dressed shadow fell across the group. Darcy was there, his face unreadable. Charles Bingley, as ever, was attached to Darcy. Caroline Bingley was nowhere to be seen, doubtless she would have objected to her brother making himself known to the Campbells.
“Fitzwilliam, would you do me the honor of introducing me to your friends?”
Fitzwilliam felt his brows rise in disbelief. Darcy knew perfectly well who the Miss Campbells were and had never had a kind word for them before. Nor an unkind one, he allowed. He had simply shown them the same cool disdain he showed for everyone when not in smaller, more familiar company.
“Certainly. This is Lady Morgan and her nieces Miss Calliope Campbell, Miss Clio Campbell. Ladies, this is my cousin Mr. Darcy, and this smiling fellow is Mr. Bingley.”
The ladies answered Darcy and Bingley’s bows with curtsies, giving Fitzwilliam a chance to observe all. Lady Morgan’s countenance never lost its good-natured serenity, but the younger ladies had quite different and far more interesting reactions. Bingley seemed distracted, his smile slipping. Clio was clearly smitten with Darcy, the poor thing. A pink wash stole across her cheeks, making her look almost becoming. Calliope’s lips curved into a polite smile that did not reach her eyes. She seemed suspicious of the imposing figure that Darcy cut. Wary, even. That look did not fade when, much to the surprise of all, Darcy asked Calliope if he might secure a set with her. Fitzwilliam thought he could not be more shocked until he heard Darcy say, “The first set, perhaps.”
“Colonel Fitzwilliam has already spoken for the first set,” she said, somewhat stiffly. Darcy seemed unfazed. “You may have the second set, sir.”
He bowed again. “I should be honored.” He turned to Clio and asked if she might like to dance. She shook her head violently, looking as though she might cast up her accounts right then and there. Poor little wallflower. Fitzwilliam did not know what had gotten into Darcy but he found himself as amused as he was perplexed by the change. And, perhaps a trifle jealous. He had never competed with Darcy for the attentions of a lady and damned if he was going to start then.
“And you must allow me the third, Miss Campbell,” Bingley said, all affability. If Fitzwilliam had objected to Calliope dancing with Darcy, he was practically livid at the thought of her dancing with Charles Bingley, whose amiable nature could thaw even the coldest dislike. And they shared a connection—both had acquired wealth from trade. Both had known the cool reception of those deemed of less respectable origins. In that moment, Fitzwilliam could have given both men, men he respected and admired, bloody noses.
He was so intent on these cheerful thoughts, Calliope had to nudge him when the music began. “Should we not take our places?” she asked, cheeks flaming.
Fitzwilliam bowed, taking her hand in his and leading them to their dance. He could feel the scornful gazes of the Upper Ten Thousand in the room, hear their shocked gasps as he led that American to the ballroom. The music swelled as they approached. A waltz. It would be a waltz. He looked down at her whispered.
“Well, Miss Campbell, you did want a scandal.”
Her mouth puckered into an insouciant smile. He wanted to kiss her silly. “Do you not know this dance, Colonel?”
His smile widened into a grin. “Oh, I know it very well. We shall have every tongue in the ballroom wagging.”
She seemed unsure.
“Calliope, do you trust me?”
If she was shocked by his use of her Christian name, she did not show it. She nodded once and then she was in his arms. They flowed like water across the floor, their movements lighter than air. He focused on her glossy curls as they floated through the steps, trying to calm the quickening of his pulse.
“Cal,” she said softly.
“I beg your pardon?” He looked down at her to see her leaf-green eyes studying him.
“If we are going to be informal, please call me Cal.”
She pulled a face, making him chuckle. He pulled her closer. Scandalously, dangerously close. Fitzwilliam fancied he could hear a chorus of snapping fans. Soon the room will undoubtedly reek of smelling salts.
“Very well. Have I told you how very lovely you are tonight?”
Calliope, Cal, looked over his shoulder, not meeting his eyes. “You need not pretend when they cannot hear you.”
Fitzwilliam shook his head, twirling them around in the dance, his steps sure.
“I do not give a damn if they hear me or not. I think you know by now that I am a man who speaks his mind. When I say you look lovely, I mean it. You take my breath away, Cal.”
He was rewarded by a creeping blush that spread across her face and down, down, down past the too-tempting lace trim of her décolletage.
“My, but you are good.”
“You asked for the best.” She smiled at that. The look of her in the candlelight, her warm, graceful body so close to his, the scent of sweet jasmine—all of these things were beginning to affect him in such a way, that when they parted for the dance, he would not be able to conceal it. To distract himself, he asked what she planned to do with her spinsterhood. Think of her growing old and going on the shelf. A damn travesty, that.
“I shall do what all spinsters do, I suppose. Retire to some seaside village. Give to the poor, improve my watercolors, and spend my days in solitude.”
He lowered his voice to a silky caress. “And what do you want, Cal?”
Her chin tilted stubbornly up as she straightened her spine, her steps never faltering. They had transcended the music, become one with it. Fitzwilliam could not recall ever having a dance partner who made waltzing so effortless.
“I want to do some good in this life,” she said quietly, so that only he could hear her. “I want to leave the world better than it was when I came into it. And I want adventure. I want passion. I want to dance among the stars with a divine man. Laugh at me if you like.”
Mercy! He felt the word as a plea. His imagination ran wild at her words, picturing himself giving her everything she ever asked for. Passion. Now that I could give you, my lady.
“I would not dare laugh. A practical and a romantic.” He tutted as their dance came to an end. They clapped politely before he took her hand to escort her off of the dance floor. “’Tis a fearsome combination, Miss Campbell.”
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Grand Prize #2.
Follow our “Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s #RakesAndGentlemenRogues” Blog Tour and comment on each stop to be eligible for #RakesAndGentlemenRogues Pleasures prize pack: ‘Pride & Prejudice’ Print, autographed by Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle; Bingley’s Teas (Willoughby & The Colonel); Jane Austen playing cards; set of 6 Austen postcards; and ‘The Compleat Housewife’ notecards set. (All guest comments will be entered in drawing to win. Comment at each site to increase your odds.) Contest ends midnight, December 30, 2017. One “Grand Prize #2 winner” will be announced January 2, 2018.