Excerpt-Meryton Matchmakers Book 3: Lydia Wins Wickham

Chapter One Excerpt

Chapter  One:

Who asks a woman to marry them before they even have a date?

Socially inept imbeciles like him, that’s who.

He’d gotten carried away. An irrefutable fact. The effect Elizabeth Bennet had on him, mind boggling as it was, disrupted all his sensory systems. Beyond riddling him tongue tied when she was around, or even if he thought of her, he experienced something so foreign and surreal he could not put words to it other than to say it was a wind sweep of the body settling into a gut-churning emotion.

William Darcy stood bleakly atop Mt. Rainer. He wasn’t afraid of tumbling off the mountainside, the result of one misstep on the narrow ledge. He wasn't even overcome with exhilaration from his strenuous climb and achievement. Instead, he felt nothing.

That wasn’t entirely true. Inside, a low whooshing sound pulsed through him, much like the sound from a large conch shell, the sound of the ocean's waves breaking over and over. This angst was not what he expected to be feeling. No.

He called the vast emptiness inside him mortification. Henry, his cousin, called it heartbreak.

All his life he’d tried to do right—treat people well, make purposeful, well-thought-out decisions, and move forward with light footsteps, knowing his actions changed the lives of others. His personal actions impacted his sister, Georgiana. His business arrangements affected people he didn’t know but were dependent on him.

This mindfulness of others was a great responsibility he took seriously.

The one time he had given into impulse and emotion, such as it was, was to propose to Elizabeth Bennet. Overwhelmed by the unfamiliar distress that was paired with the understanding he might never see Elizabeth again. The thought of leaving Meryton had been unbearable knowing he might not bask in the warmth of her fine eyes and feel the life in her quick and happy laugh. So he'd given in to his desires and vaulted right over dating and went straight for marriage.

His first hint of her reproof should have been that neither her easy laughter nor her warm gaze was ever for him. No, he’d been a bystander to those pleasant gifts, but he'd often been the recipient of her angry stare and thin-pressed lips. Why ever had he thought she’d want to spend a lifetime with him if she couldn’t stand to spend a full day?

He knew why. Darcy moved to sit on a large boulder then drank from his Camelback.

When they’d gone into the city. For a small blip in time, she’d not turned her scorn on him, but had been…well…something else. Something more enchanting than she already was.

Then he’d seen her having lunch with Wickham. At first he hadn’t been concerned because Elizabeth was a great judge of character. It was her business, after all, to know the falsities people spun. But she hadn’t seemed to notice the dark blight on Wickham’s soul. When she had laughed and touched his arm, Darcy had to get away from them. From her. Needed time to regroup and strategize. From those quiet moments had come the idea to propose.

Hm. Perhaps he should have waited longer before acting on his desires, but his gut rarely led him astray, and his gut told him Elizabeth Bennet was perfect for him.

Only Darcy had underestimated the depth in which she despised him. But it had become crystal clear after she turned him down. Enter gaping hole where his heart used to be.

He picked up a pebble and tossed it over the edge. It soared, unbridled for a brief moment before beginning its free fall, an echo of where he was in life. Once he hit bottom, he would pick himself up and move on. He’d given into the silly notion of a perfect partner and had his own beliefs thrown back at him. All by a woman who he’d kissed exactly once, had never dated, and knew very little about. Come on, who asked a girl to marry them before they’d even gone on a date? What year was this? But he’d looked into her eyes and knew categorically one date with her would never be enough.

He should have tried asking her out, gone about getting to know her better. Let her get to know him, too.

Darcy huffed. He knew enough. He knew she was loyal, brave, and a fighter. She had a clever business mind yet could admit defeat and ask for help. She was courageous where he was not. Trouble was, she knew nothing about him. True to his character, he’d held as much from her, from all of them, as he always did.

And now he didn’t know how to fix it or if it could be fixed. Affairs of the heart were over his head.

The satellite phone in his jacket pocket rang, startling him from his self-loathing.

It had better be an emergency for someone to call his satphone after he had explicitly stated to the few who had the number he did not want to be interrupted.

Turning in an effort to block the wind, he pressed the phone to his ear while pulling his jacket over his head. “This better be good,” he barked into the phone.

The laughter from the other end was as familiar to him as his own. He’d grown up hearing that laugh.

“Seriously, Anne. I hope you know I’m trying to be out of the office.”

“And since I don’t work for you any longer, you can assume this is a personal call instead.” She didn’t even sound put off by his abrupt manners. Likely she was immune to it.

“Is everyone all right?” He slid from the rock and stood, mentally evaluating the quickest way off the mountain face.

“Yes, everyone is fine.”

He slumped against the rock. “What a relief.”

“If you are asking about your immediate family, that is,” she said in a voice lower than moments before. It was then he knew Anne hadn't called simply to be a pest, a trait she embraced, but that something was going down, and it wasn't going to be good.

He lifted his backpack as he stood tall again. He took from the pack’s pocket a protein bar, which he then stuffed in his front shirt pocket while keeping the phone in place using his shoulder. “Explain, please.” He swung the pack onto his back and headed for the trail down. Maybe the pit inside him had been a warning of something sinister instead of admitting he might live an empty life without knowing love.

Anne whispered, “Guess who dropped in on Meryton Matchmakers?”

Darcy strained to hear. “Your mother? Is she there now?” His aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had washed her hands of the small matchmaking company. It was unlike her to circle back around.

“Not my mother.”

Darcy snorted with frustration. “If not your mother, then who?”

Anne spoke in a flurry of words. “George Wickham. You remember him, don’t you?”

He pressed the phone harder to his ear, afraid the wind might have played a trick on his hearing. “Come again? Did you say George was there?”

“Yes.” This time she came in loud and clear.

Darcy stopped short, forcing rocks on the path to tumble past his hiking boots much like his heart did in his chest. “What could he possibly want with Meryton?” In his mind he ran through the options, none of them good.

“He says he wants to meet a nice woman. Date people who want to know the real him and not the famous him.”

Darcy mumbled a curse. Any fame Wickham had was all due to the opportunities Darcy had purchased for him. Keeping Wickham in a job was a full-time position itself. The soap opera he was currently starring in threatened to fire him at least once a week. Of course, they made their threats to Darcy, who would then find something they needed and stave off their demands by providing it. More money for set design or advertising, good press from another one of the businesses Darcy owned, and a personal assistant to keep Wickham out of their hair had done the trick so far. Yet, Darcy couldn’t always be there to make life easier for George, or Geo as he liked to be called. The man had to step up. If he learned his lines and showed up on time, a large majority of his problems would disappear.

“A nice woman, you say?” Wickham didn’t do nice women. Not unless they came with a ton of innocence and a hefty trust fund.

“I think he has his eye on Elizabeth, to tell you the truth. He follows her everywhere.” Anne sighed into the phone. “He’s so annoying to have around.”

“Elizabeth is allowing this?” She knew about Wickham and his dirty secret. Darcy had shared it with her. A secret he’d not shared with anyone save his other cousin, Henry, and only then because he needed a second person to be his sister’s guardian should something happen to him.

“He’s here, isn’t he? And honestly, Elizabeth hasn’t been herself lately, but I attribute that to all the chaos with getting these meet-and-greet events going.”

“What do you want me to do, Anne? I’m not involved with the company anymore, and Elizabeth is a smart businesswoman. She’s not going to buy into anything Wickham has to offer.” He really hoped that was true. Wickham could be very persuasive.

“It’s not her business I’m worried about,” Anne retorted. “She seems vulnerable, and he seems ready to pounce on that.”

The path down the mountain was nothing but switchbacks, anything could be waiting around the next bend. This was also true in life, and just like he had his path, Elizabeth had hers. He sighed heavily. “I’m headed back to the city. Keep your eye on things and let me know if something shifts.”

“You aren’t coming? Come on, man. This guy is a creep. I know it. You know it. We have to tell Elizabeth and her family.” Anne sounded as exasperated as he felt.

“She knows it, Anne.”

There was a long pause before Anne responded, “Okay, if she knows, then I’ll just keep my ear to the ground and see if anything changes.”

“Yeah, please do.”

They disconnected the call without so much as a goodbye. No, Darcy didn’t like Wickham being there anymore than Anne did, but his hands were tied, were they not?

Just in case, he hurried down the path. He didn’t want to be stuck on a mountain should things at Meryton take a negative turn.