After five books in her Darcy Saga, Sharon Lathan has changed tactics and given us a look at the younger sister of the very intimidating but lovable Fitzwilliam Darcy, Georgiana. Named for her Uncle George, she’s a quiet, shy young lady, but her in own book, Miss Darcy Falls in Love, Georgiana blossoms into a beautiful woman and brilliant musician on the journey of a lifetime.
But don’t think for a moment that Georgiana will have an easy time of it. As women our emotions and feelings are always front and center, and Miss Darcy is no different, as we find out when she’s faced with not just one but two handsome gentlemen who vie for her affections. Some problem, you say? Well, maybe, maybe not. You have to meet them all to find out who she chooses and all the whys and wherefores that go along with such circumstances.
Noble young ladies were expected to play an instrument, but Georgiana Darcy is an accomplished musician who hungers to pursue her talents. She embarks upon a tour of Europe, ending in Paris where two very different men will ignite her heart in entirely different ways and begin a bitter rivalry to win her. But only one holds the key to her happiness.
Set in post-Napoleonic Empire France, Miss Darcy Falls in Love is a riveting love story that enters a world of passion where gentlemen know exactly how to please and a young woman learns to direct her destiny and understand her heart.
Chapter 1 – Overture in Lyon
Miss Georgiana Darcy was written on the outside flap of the folded parchment envelope in fine calligraphy. The addressee fingered the dried ink before turning the envelope and noting the imprinted, wax seal. A bold M circled by what appeared to be holly.
Interesting, Georgiana thought.
Not too long ago the concept of receiving what was undoubtedly an invitation addressed directly to her by people unknown would have flabbergasted her. Half a year of traveling through Europe had altered her expectations and such invitations were so common an occurrence that she barely noted the absurdity of it. Furthermore she was actually rather surprised that this was the first as yet conveyed since she had arrived in Lyon three days ago.
Her smile deepened, a low chuckle escaping as she shook her head. How Fitzwilliam would laugh at me, she mused, the thought rising unbidden and causing a sharp pang that pierced her heart. The smile faded, but she rapidly smothered her homesickness, walking to the wide, cushioned seat recessed into the window alcove where the stunning view would lift her spirits. She sat, taking a moment to gaze over the perfectly symmetrical rows of grapevines that stretched in an unbroken sweep to the distant river. All were currently barren of growth and she fleetingly wished it were spring or summer rather than deep winter, but then she squelched that ridiculous notion, thankful that her excursion abroad would encompass all four season ere her return to England in April.
Yes, I am a little homesick. The smile returned as her attention was given to the missive held in her hand.The Marquis and Douairière-Marquise de Marcov request the presence of Miss Georgiana Darcy for dîner de gala at the Château la Rochebelin on 21, January of 1820 at hour seven.
As she suspected, the Marcovs were unknown to her. She shrugged, certain that her aunt and uncle would be familiar with the family. She was under their jurisdiction for this leg of the journey and trusted them explicitly. Thus far, there had been no cause for doubt or dismay, every partaken entertainment delightful. She rested her head against the cold wall, her thick plaited coil of golden hair acting as a cushion. Her reflection shimmered on the polished surface of the glass, her densely lashed large eyes so vividly blue that they mocked the dull sky of winter. Not the tiniest wrinkle of unhappiness marred the smooth perfection of her high forehead, honeyed brows arching delicately over the round eyes that surveyed the landscape stretching before her. The chilled air infused rosiness in her cheeks, it the only hint of color on her creamy skin, and she drew the wrap closer about her arms.
The Château Plessis-Rhône, home of the Vicomte de Valday, sat on a gentle rise surrounded by fertile fields. Even in the winter the countryside was verdant with enormous evergreen trees and bushes randomly distributed amongst the dormant vines, leafless trees, and dulled lawns. The waters of the Saône glittered turquoise in the muted daylight of what was a typically sullen day, the residuals of misty fog lingering in places. The intermittent rain from the day before continued to threaten, lurking darkly in the patchy clouds that obscured the sun. Georgiana much preferred the warmth and brightness of a summer day, but the play of grays and shadows amid the nimbostratus clouds mixing with the colors on the ground was beautiful in its own way.
Sunshine or gloom, the joy of being stationary and surrounded by stout walls was priceless.
Georgiana had discovered during the Channel crossing from England the previous spring that sea voyages did not disturb her as they did her unfortunate brother. Therefore, as difficult as it was to say arrivederci to Italy, she had relished the complication-free voyage across the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the inclement weather that had not plagued them during the voyage had beset them once on solid terra firma. Crossing the Alps of Switzerland last June was as easy as a country stroll compared to the rigors of the overland journey from Genoa to Lyon. Incessant rains and wind-blown debris required frequent halts and accommodations in less than luxurious coaching inns. The cold was unrelenting, their sturdy carriage and piles of blankets and furs seemingly worthless against the chill. The bedraggled travelers arrived at the massive estate owned by the de Valdays never before experiencing such joy to see a house!
Simply being warm and clean had lifted Georgiana’s sagging spirits immeasurably. Now if she could only ease the ache in her heart.
Georgiana sighed, gazing at the cloud formations suspiciously. A sudden flurry of activity to the right captured her attention and brought a laugh to her lips. A dozen birds had burst forth from a copse of low bushes with dead leaves flying crazily, the agitating predator unseen but the squawks indicative of some sort of fright. It was a simple thing, of course, and nothing she may not have witnessed at Pemberley, but the landscape was so unique and served to remind her of how fortunate she was – and how amazing the journey was, in spite of the pangs of homesickness and grief.
A clamor in French from the hallway broke her reverie, seconds later the door bursting open and three figures tumbling into the parlor.
“Dearest Georgiana, finally! Hiding away already, are you? Frédéric insisted that we hunt you down and rescue from your solitary daydreams!”
The speaker was a young woman of nineteen. She was short, barely reaching Georgiana’s shoulders, with a voluptuous figure finely accentuated by an exquisitely tailored gown of purple velvet. Her lavender-tinted eyes blazed vibrantly amid a round face. Mischief and impertinence were etched upon her entire countenance from the tiny tapping foot to the mass of tightly coiled ebony curls audaciously escaping jeweled pins. She was in all ways a vision of supreme, sensual loveliness that could wrest the breath away from everyone who beheld her, male or female. Her name was Zoë, and her lush beauty was so ineffable that it was impossible to imagine that another could match it.
Yet the woman standing beside her was indeed a match.
Her twin, Yvette, was nearly a duplicate. It was only the small mole located just to the right of her upper lip that easily revealed her unique identity. The combined essence of these two extraordinary creatures was a captivating assault upon one’s senses. The blessing from the Maker in allowing the creation of two entrancing offspring would presumably then exhaust any hope of further divine favor upon their parents, but this was not the case.
Frédéric, nearly eighteen, was as stunning and forceful a presence as his elder sisters. With his curls styled foppishly about his face, his enormous deep-blue eyes, and his plump mouth, he had a slight feminine air to his look that was aided by his shorter stature and stout fleshiness. But this was only at first glance. As soon as he moved or spoke a word, the effeminate vision was swept away by a personality, voice, and bearing that exuded confident masculinity. The three de Valdays were bewitching and somewhat exhausting, but Georgiana adored them already.
Frédéric bowed gallantly, spearing Georgiana with an unconsciously sensuous gaze. “Rescuing damsels is a gentleman’s sworn duty, is it not, beautiful lady? Especially those whom are fated to be one’s love for all eternity?”
Georgiana laughed, shaking her head as he kissed her hand.
“Foolish child!” Yvette declared, shoving her brother aside. “How many women have you declared undying, passionate love to this week?” Frédéric merely shrugged, his grin brilliant and unrepentant. Yvette sniffed, turning to Georgiana and opening her mouth to speak, but Zoë beat her to it.
“I see you have your own invitation to the de Marcov’s gala. Magnifique!” She fluttered the parchment paper addressed to her in the air while performing a sequence of graceful pirouettes about the room, gleefully singing, “Dancing, dancing, dancing! Until dawn! With endless parades of handsome men!”
“Shall you save one dance for me, sweet sister?”
“I said ‘handsome men,’ dear brother, not ‘homely child.’” She continued to dance about the room, Frédéric laughing and fluidly twirling toward her, engaging in an elegant pas de deux.
Yvette sat onto the window seat beside Georgiana. She held her invitation in her hand, face alit with the same sparkling joy as her sister’s. “Is it not marvelous? You shall meet dozens upon dozens of men, the finest noble gentilshommes of the Rhône-Alpes. Perhaps you shall fall madly in love and never wish to return home!”
“That is doubtful, my dear Yvette.”
“I shall not give up hope, my friend. Why return to dreary England?”
Georgiana laughed. “You have never been there, and should be hesitant to call any other place dreary considering the weather here.”
Yvette shrugged and then suddenly gasped, eyes wide as she grasped Georgiana’s hand. “They say the grand ball is in honor of Lord de Marcov’s betrothed, an Englishwoman! Perhaps you know her!”
“Highly unlikely. Dreary England is a vast continent. Do you know all in France?”
Yvette laughed gaily, deep dimples flashing, rising to commence her own sweeping ballet across the room. “Not as yet, mon ami, but someday I shall. Famous I will be! An actress or prima ballerina or wife to the greatest duke in the Empire!”
“Come, Georgiana! Practice the dance with us!” Zoë dragged her from the window seat, Georgiana blushing and shaking her head, but swiftly getting caught up in the frivolity of the moment. One could never maintain a dour attitude for long when surrounded by the de Valday siblings.
“I deduce the invitations have been delivered.”
The gay voice, accented English in a melodious tone, interrupted Georgiana’s silliness. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment, but the three de Valdays continued to twirl.
“Yes, mother dearest! Dancing and flirting and dancing!”
“Will there be handsome Englishmen, Mama? Men with exotic accents and clear blue eyes like Georgiana?”
“Not every man in England has blue eyes,” Georgiana explained with a laugh, but the girls ignored her.
“With luck the mysterious Englishwoman will have a dozen sisters for Frédéric to flirt and fall in love with.”
Frédéric grinned at Yvette, but declared emphatically, “My heart has been lost to the glorious Miss Darcy and I shall never gaze upon another!”
The Vicomtesse de Valday waved her hand airily, winking at Lady Matlock as the two of them entered the room and crossed to the sofa. “Of course, Frédéric,” his mother said with exaggerated conviction, sitting onto the cushion before answering her daughters. “I do not know if there shall be dozens of English men or women for you three to charm. Nevertheless, I am sure there shall be dozens and dozens of eligible French dance partners since the Marcovs never celebrate by halves.”
“Pish!” Yvette pouted, lower lip protruding becomingly. “We have charmed all the available men in Lyon. None are remotely interesting, are they, Zoë?” Her twin nodded, curls bobbing and pout as adorable. “We must travel to Paris or Vienna or London for fresh conquests.”
Zoë fell in a graceful heap at her mother’s feet. “Oh yes, Mama. Lyon is so dreadfully dull! Surely you saw hundreds of gorgeous Englishmen when you lived in England?”
“Perhaps,” Lady de Valday responded with a secretive smile, “but if you remember, silly girl, I met your father while dwelling in England, at Lady Matlock’s home, in fact, soother handsome men vanished from my memories.”
“Oh yes!” Yvette joined her sister in a pool of skirts at their mother’s feet. “Tell us the story of how you and Papa met and fell so desperately in love!”
“Oh so romantic!” Zoë added with a dramatic clutch to her heart and a feigned swoon.
The vicomtesse laughed and shook her head. “You have heard the tale a million times and yet still add your own flourishes to a mundane meeting. Silly girls!”
The chorus of pleases rose to the gilded ceiling, but it was Georgiana’s softly spoken reminder that she had not heard the story that prompted the two older women to jointly recount how they first met.
“It was in the years prior to the Revolution,” Lady de Valday began, her voice serious and sad. “My father was a loyal royalist and refused to leave as the terror grew. It would prove to be an unwise choice as there was no halting the blood thirst of the masses and his efforts to spread rationality only earned him an appointment with the guillotine.”
She paused, wiping a tear from her eye before able to put aside the endless grief. “He was not, however, completely foolish or trusting. He secured our wealth, secreting the bulk of our family heirlooms, and then he sent us away to England. My mother cried and refused to leave him, but he insisted. It saved us all.”
Her voice broke, the memories still raw. Lady Matlock squeezed her friend’s hand and took up the tale. “I was a young wife then, living at Rivallain with my husband, and we opened our home to French refugees. Inès and her family came to us, her mother and mine related distantly. They dwelt with us for nearly four years, Inès and I growing close.”
She smiled affectionately at Lady de Valday, who smiled back as long ago memories washed over them. “It was a wonderful experience,” Lady Matlock resumed, gazing at her friend. “I perfected my French, learned many new musical techniques and compositions as well as artistic talents since Inès is brilliantly accomplished. We became dearest friends.”
“What Madeline does not say is that she is an incredible painter who could never teach me to hold a brush the correct way, let alone actually create an image of worth, and that she soundly beat me at every sport we engaged in! Her archery skills are incomparable.”
“I shall concede the truth of that, although we were equal equestrians and a generous portion of our days were spent exploring on horseback. But of course the most memorable time was when Césaire, your father, came with his family.”
Inès blushed, much like an adolescent with her first crush, and took up the narrative. “He was so handsome. He still is, of course, but then? Ah, magnifique! His grandfather knew the previous Lord Matlock, I cannot quite recollect how the connection originated, but it did not matter. My heart was instantly captivated.”
“And Papa? Was he as captivated?” Yvette asked breathlessly, as if she had never heard the story.
“Alas, no. He was intrigued, but far too capricious to willingly settle based on a summer acquaintance.”
“But you were persistence, oui, Mama?”
“A huntress determined to capture the man of your dreams! Your will firmly set to acquire what your heart needed to survive!”
Lady de Valday laughed at her girls’ exclamations, shaking her head as she replied, “To a point, I suppose. We females can be quite tenacious. But in truth, it was our parents who finagled matters. Unbeknownst to us, they agreed the match was to be. All your father and I knew was that once the war ended, with Napoleon restoring a semblance of order so we could return to France, our families were suddenly the best of friends!”
“It took nearly a year, Inès’s letters to me filled with her romantic machinations.”
“Poor Papa never had a chance,” Frédéric declared. “How could he resist your charms, Mama?”
“How could he indeed!” Yvette agreed. “He merely needed time as all men are pathetically obtuse in matters of amour.”
Frédéric huffed derisively, Zoë speaking before he could counter that assertion. “It is a wonderful story. So full of love and longing, romance and drama.” She sighed. “And because of your friendship with Madame Countess de Matlock, forged via the fires of war and heartbreak, we now have our own refugee to harbor…”
“I am not a ref–” Georgiana began, Yvette’s breathless oui interrupting her protest.
“Oui! Thus it is our sworn duty to entertain our lost friend, and, as fate is destined to be repeated, lead her to finding her true love!”
“Oh, how delicious a tale it will be,” Zoë squealed, her curls bouncing with her emphatic nodding. “Mademoiselle Darcy’s heart succumbs to deep, passionate love while dancing in Lyon, or” –she suddenly gasped– “better yet, Paris!”
“Please!” Georgiana laughed. “I assure you my heart is perfectly safe and not intending to succumb to anyone, in Lyon or Paris.”
Frédéric groaned, pantomiming a dagger to the heart, his death taking a dreadfully long time as he staggered about the room. Georgiana merely shook her head at the dramatic display.
“Surely you do not mean you will not dance or flirt?” Yvette asked, her eyes wide with astonishment at such a bizarre concept.
“I will dance, yes, but I do not flirt.”
Yvette remained incredulous, but Zoë waved her hand dismissively. “Every girl flirts. It is natural. As is falling in love, especially in Paris where love is tangible in the very air you breathe.”
“Well, I did not fall in love while in Paris last summer, nor have I become even remotely smitten while in Austria or Italy, so I fear I shall disappoint, my dear Zoë.”
Zoë shrugged, clearly not convinced. In fact, she wore a rather devious expression that caused Georgiana no small amount of alarm!
Yvette recovered from her amazement, springing up from her knees. “I certainly shall flirt. Flirt and dance, dance, dance! We shall teach you how it is done, my friend.” She grabbed her “dead” brother, where he laid draped over a chair, and the heartbroken lover was instantly resurrected and began gaily waltzing with his sister.
Georgiana was yanked from her chair by Zoë, the latter apparently deciding that the woefully ignorant Georgiana needed lessons in coquettish behavior begun immediately. Within minutes all three de Valdays encircled their protégé, the eyelash fluttering, simpering smiles, and seductive gazes only causing Georgiana to laugh.
Lady Matlock and Lady de Valday shared a glance, the unspoken communication inherent in most long-term relationships easily comprehended. With nods of silent agreement it was decided not to share what they knew of Lord de Marcov’s fiancé, his “English Rose” as he called the lovely Lady Vivienne.
Indeed, it would be much more fun to have the connections discovered at the ball.