Can an Ancient Ritual Allow Darcy and Elizabeth to Find Happiness within their Worlds?
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Today I wrap up my first week of blogging, along with my first theme-based week of JAFF posts, during my “Haunted Austen” Week. I want to thank all of the authors who donated their books and time to supporting the launch of this blog. I also hope my readers know I appreciate their visits and compliments … Your comments and feedback have been music to my ears. Please stay tuned next week for more great reviews and Austen-inspired posts!
“All Hallow’s Eve” by Wendi Sotis was a fun, romantic and creative JAFF paranormal book that I really enjoyed. It was also the first book I’ve read by Wendi Sotis and I was glad to have the opportunity to finally read a book by her after reading so many great reviews about her work on Amazon and Goodreads.
This is an original story because here, the Bennet family is highly regarded within the secret society they move within, while hiding their true identities from most of the Meryton community. Within this secret society, Elizabeth is a High Priestess and Mr. Bennet is a master trainer, mentoring and leading those under his care, for the sake of future generations.
As the story unfolds, Darcy discovers Elizabeth’s identity as a High Priestess and is drawn to her as she carries out these duties during a sacred All Hallow’s Eve ceremony. During this ceremony, he also finds out that Elizabeth is destined to be his future mate and he has been selected to be her protecter. But once he finds out that she harbors ill feelings towards him, he becomes unsure of their future together. As Elizabeth learns this information, Darcy is filled with concern about whether or not he can save her from harm, even if she can never truly love him.
This is where the book takes a new direction, as everyone in Darcy and Elizabeth’s lives learn the roles that they will play in protecting Elizabeth and ending the reign of the evil Cher-nog. Working together, in a camaraderie that was amusing and endearing, the Bennet girls train Darcy, Bingley and Darcy’s cousins, so that they can be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead of them when the time comes to protect Elizabeth.
The training scenes with Darcy and Elizabeth were pure enjoyment. Naturally, I loved watching them bicker and challenge each other, trying to best each other without revealing their weaknesses to one another, while Elizabeth’s training outfits nearly drove the men (especially Darcy!) to distraction. As Bingley, Darcy and his cousins attend their first training session, they get a glimpse of the ladies in these garments, as Darcy exclaims, “None of you are allowed to even think about looking at Miss Elizabeth!”
The private trainings sessions in the vacant woods were where Darcy and Elizabeth really became more comfortable in each other’s presence. Here, they found shared interests within both their personalities and within their own interests. Eventually, the outcome of these meetings changes the course of their lives, with unforeseen and complicated consequences.
It was a pleasure to see Mr. Bennet carry such a strong sense of responsibility with him throughout this story, as both a father, and as a mentor to Darcy and the other male trainees. I found that I also really enjoyed Mrs. Bennet and her three younger daughters in this book and I loved the reasons behind their transformations. This worked so well within the plot and made for a really engaging aspect to their personalities.
Caroline Bingley is up to her typical games here, and her interactions with Elizabeth are gratifying and a pleasure to read. Caroline is manipulative and cunning, but Elizabeth gets her game early in the book and bets on this instinct in an effort to prepare Darcy for what lies ahead of them. Caroline is not to be moved, though Bingley’s attempts at her removal are as sincere and as determined as they ever can be regarding Caroline and her sneaky ways.
I love JAFF books where Darcy and Elizabeth get together sooner, rather than later and in this area, we aren’t disappointed. Though secrets must be kept and the naked eye does not reveal the whole truth, we still are indulged with a Darcy and Elizabeth relationship that is caring and passionate, while adhering to many of the mystical elements of a JAFF paranormal story. Wendi Sotis does a good job creating an original storyline that really holds it own as a fantasy story aligned with the romance and manners of Regency England.
For me, there were a few resolutions within the plot that didn’t feel as well-aligned within this story as the Darcy and Elizabeth storyline. One of these was Wickham’s storyline. For me, Wickham is always evil and filled with ill-intentions of his own will. It’s hard for me to see him differently, regardless of the surrounding storylines. I also felt that the ending was a little too coincidental for for my liking. It was sweet, but the delivery felt to be purely to too contrived. Yet, with this said, I really found myself engaged with this book and I enjoyed reading it. After I finished this book, I eagerly read “The Gypsy Blessing” by Wendi Sotis, because I knew I enjoyed her writing style, along with the way she weaves mystical elements into a “Pride and Prejudice” variation. When I finished this book, I had found that I was wasn’t wrong!
I am honored to share with you an excerpt from Wendi’s latest work, titled “A Hard Lesson Learned,” which is a work-in-progress that is being posted to http://beyondausten.com. This will eventually become a novel-length story. Also, all of her books are available to read on Kindle Unlimited, which is an Amazon feature I absolutely love. Thank you Wendi for supporting the launch of this blog!
“A Hard Lesson Learned” by Wendi Sotis
…No, Mr. Darcy was not the monster she had convinced herself he was. She had wronged him so badly that she could not imagine ever making it up to him.
…No, Mr. Darcy was not the monster she had convinced herself he was. She had wronged him so badly that she could not imagine ever making it up to him.
All of these thoughts renewed themselves the moment she looked up and found him standing here on Gracechurch Street. After the way she had treated him, she had not thought they could ever be friends… not until she caught his gaze. What she saw in his eyes forced her to look away.
Was there a chance he still cared for her? A pleasant warmth spread throughout her at the thought.
How had her opinion of him changed so quickly? Had she felt something for him since the moment she had first laid eyes upon him, but his words to Mr. Bingley hurt her too badly to allow her to admit it to herself?
Had she ever really known herself until this moment?
She felt herself blush furiously and had to work to keep these thoughts from showing on her features—at least for now. There would be plenty of time to examine her feelings while on her daily walks once she arrived home.
When it seemed as if Darcy was about to make his goodbyes, panic enveloped her. Elizabeth asked if he would join them for their walk. As he accepted, he seemed pleased by her invitation.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner crossed the road first, Jane and Maria close behind them, leaving Elizabeth with Darcy. When she had made the invitation, she had not thought of how they would split up. Though this arrangement was agreeable to her, she was afraid he would think she had managed it this way on purpose. As they crossed the street, she clasped her hands behind her back and looked away from him to hide another blush. Before long, Jane and Maria were beyond hearing distance.
The two began to speak simultaneously. Darcy gestured that she should speak first.
Unable to look at him, she stared directly ahead as she spoke. “Mr. Darcy, I read…” She hesitated. Even though nobody else could hear them, she should not speak directly of his letter. “Please, allow me to apologize for the things I said the last time we met. I understand much better now.”
His step faltered and she turned slightly as he caught up. “I was about to apologize for the things I said to you, and for the tone of the—”
She turned quickly to look at him to warn him not to speak of it, and he seemed to change what he was going to say.
“I should have waited until my temper cooled before attempting to justify my opinions. It was badly done.”
She nodded. “It is possible that, at first, I did not accept your explanations, but now all is clear. I needed to hear it in exactly that way to understand myself, sir.”
“To understand yourself?”
“Yes.” She did not feel comfortable enough to elaborate.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him staring at her before he spoke again. “I must leave England—to collect my cousin from Virginia.”
She raised her eyebrows. “America?”
He nodded. “Yes. My cousin has recently married a man whose mother was American, and he took her there to meet his family. Her husband has suffered an accident, leaving my cousin stranded there. I will escort her home.”
Elizabeth was surprised at the sudden sorrow that came over her. He was leaving England just when she realized she might have made a terrible error in refusing him? But then, perhaps it was for the best that they lose touch once again. What gentleman would propose a second time after such a refusal as she had uttered?
The sudden desire for him to offer for her hand again in the future shocked her.
“Your cousin is fortunate to have you as a relation. Many would not be willing to travel such a distance, even in a time of need.”
She could have sworn he blushed slightly. She fought back a smile at his reaction.
“There is no one else who can manage it at this time. After being away from his duties in Kent for so long, Colonel Fitzwilliam cannot go quite yet. His elder brother must tend to his father’s business. The earl is very ill.”
“I am sorry to hear it. The Earl of Matlock is a very good man.”
Darcy seemed surprised. “You know my uncle?”
“Not personally, but I read my father’s newspapers whenever I can. Your uncle has supported many good causes in Parliament.”
Darcy only stared at her and said nothing in response.
She looked away from him to hide her blush. “Yes, I know it is quite shocking that a lady should follow politics.”
“On the contrary. I was just thinking how impressive it is that you do so.”
She turned quickly to examine his countenance. His expression proved his words were in earnest. To change the subject, Elizabeth asked, “Do you know the village of Lambton?”
“Yes, it is but five miles from Pemberley.”
She gestured towards where Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had stopped near the entrance to the park closest to their home. “My aunt spent most of her childhood there.”
The smile that spread across his features warmed her soul. Struck by how handsome he was, she had to look away.
“When you introduced Mrs. Gardiner, I thought she seemed familiar. I must have seen her in the village.” After a minute or two of comfortable silence, he said in an awkward tone, “Mr. Bingley is spending some time with relatives in Scarborough. I have not met with him since returning from Kent.” He hesitated. “I shall not see him again until I return to England.”
She nodded in response.
When they caught up to the remainder of the party, Darcy asked, “Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Elizabeth tells me you hail from Lambton?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Darcy, I do. Though I have not returned to the area since my marriage, I still have many connexions there. Mr. Gardiner and I will travel to the Lake District this summer, and we plan to stop at Lambton for a visit.”
The two continued to discuss the area surrounding Lambton and Pemberley for a minute or two.
Mr. Gardiner joined in. “I hear the fishing is quite good near Lambton. It has been far too long since I have had the opportunity to cast a line. I am looking forward to spending some time there.”
“I have never experienced better sport than at Pemberley. My sister and I usually summer at our estate, but I fear this year, we will be quite late in our visit, as I will be away from England. Mr. Gardiner, you are welcome to take advantage of the lakes and streams at Pemberley. I will send a note to my groundskeeper, Mr. Jones, informing him to expect you. He can provide the proper equipment if you do not wish to carry it along with you on your journey.”
Mr. Gardiner smiled widely. “That is very kind of you, sir. It will be a pleasure.”
Jane caught Elizabeth’s gaze and raised one eyebrow almost imperceptivity. Elizabeth widened her eyes slightly and looked away. When she returned her gaze to Darcy, she realized he had been looking at her. Her cheeks burned.
Darcy made his goodbyes to everyone, ending with Elizabeth. “I wish you pleasant trip home, Miss Elizabeth.”
“And I hope you have an uneventful voyage. May you return to England safely, Mr. Darcy.”
He seemed to hesitate for a moment before holding out his hand. Taking the hint, Elizabeth placed her hand in his. He bowed over it, holding it just a moment longer than necessary. A shiver passed up her spine, but she was unsure whether it was from the slight pressure he applied to her fingers before letting go or the hunger and yearning in his eyes when he did so. She could not look away from his form as he turned and walked away towards Mr. Lynsey’s residence.
Mr. Gardiner cleared his throat. “Well, that was a very interesting stroll, Lizzy.”
“Yes…” she whispered, still staring after Darcy. At her uncle’s chuckle, Elizabeth blinked to clear her thoughts, and turned to meet his gaze. “We met Mr. Darcy last winter when he stayed at Netherfield Park with his friend, Mr. Bingley.”
Her uncle exchanged a look with his wife then held out one arm to Jane and the other to Maria. As he escorted the two young ladies across the street, her aunt threaded her arm through Elizabeth’s and held her back. The light in her aunt’s eyes danced with amusement. She gestured to a small pond and the two began to walk towards it.
“We heard all about Mr. Bingley through several letters from your mother, in which she also described Mr. Darcy as proud, indifferent, and quite unpleasant. Yet this morning, his behaviour was quite different from what we were led to expect—generous, even, offering your uncle access to his grounds for sport. We were also informed of your opinion of that gentleman, but that account was quite different from what we have just witnessed, dear.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lizzy, if that gentleman is not in love with you, I will never trust my judgment again.”
“Do you have an understanding with Mr. Darcy?”
“I…” she swallowed hard. “No, I do not.” She shook her head. “My mother was correct about my opinion of him last winter. But at Easter, he was visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is Mr. Collins’s patroness.” She hesitated.
“And you were staying with the Collinses,” her aunt observed.
Elizabeth nodded. “As a result of further… exploration of his character, I find that my opinion of him has greatly improved. He is not the man I thought he was last year.”
“If it is of any consequence, I must say your mother’s description of the gentleman puzzled me exceedingly. As you can imagine, the village of Lambton is quite dependent upon Pemberley for its livelihood. I have heard only that he is kind, generous, and fair. Everyone in the surrounding area thank God every day for his being the master of the estate. The tales I heard from Longbourn did not match any descriptions that I have ever heard from my friends. When you all first met the gentleman, even Jane was not as generous in her praise as she usually is. It was almost as if you all were writing to me of a different man. But then, sometimes people act so differently when amongst strangers… though I saw no evidence of that today.”
Elizabeth looked off into the distance for a moment, her aunt’s last words reminding her of a conversation she had had with the gentleman himself. He had said he could not speak easily with strangers, and she had, in a round-about way, told him that discomfort did not excuse him from being civil to others.
When they had first met this morning, he seemed a bit stiff and awkward, but with each phrase uttered, he became more comfortable.
She stifled a gasp. Had he taken her advice?
Elizabeth took a deep, calming breath before speaking again. “Today, his behaviour was everything that is good and right.”
Mrs. Gardiner smiled knowingly. As they rounded the pond, she gestured towards the exit, and they headed in that direction. “It seems the other girls have gone in to freshen up before departing, as should you. Mr. Gardiner is waiting for us. We shall have plenty of time to discuss this further in June, when you accompany us on our trip to the Lakes.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I am certain Father will write to uncle soon with permission for me to accompany you. I look forward to it.”