available by Excessively Diverted Press
Will an exchange of secret valentines lead to love?
After her aunt notices her partiality for Mr Wickham, Elizabeth Bennet is invited to town for the winter along with her sister Jane, and February in London gives Elizabeth the chance to become better acquainted with the Gardiners' young and single friend.
When Mr Darcy and Elizabeth meet by chance, Darcy must account for how Bingley left Hertfordshire as he considers his deepening feelings for Elizabeth. Bingley is determined to renew his attentions to Jane, and an evening's diversion of writing valentines leads to disastrous results for Darcy. Darcy doubts he has a reason to hope but, as she comes to know Darcy better, Elizabeth has to consider who is best suited to make her happy.
When Valentine's Day arrives, who will Elizabeth want to receive a valentine from: the lively man she just met or the man whose proposal she already refused?
This is a 52,000 word kisses-only Pride and Prejudice variation
Below is an excerpt that sets up the valentine game that puts everything in motion. The Gardiners are at Darcy's house in town with Bingley, his sisters, and Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana. What could go wrong with a harmless little game?
When they had as much privacy as the large drawing room would allow, Bingley said, “I want to write a valentine to Miss Bennet.”
Fitzwilliam gave him a blank look and said, “What, do you need our blessing? Valentine’s Day is in a week; try to write neatly, and godspeed.” He turned to leave, but Bingley called him to wait.
“I wanted to flirt with her a little tonight, but I can hardly get a moment alone with her. The Gardiners care much more about propriety than–well, I cannot freely talk with her in Gracechurch Street, and I would never humiliate her by drawing too much notice to her here, and in front of my sisters.”
Darcy sighed. “I thought you had decided that your burning affection for Jane Bennet was unsuppressed.”
“It is! I am certain of my own mind. I just. . . ” Bingley looked to where Miss Bennet was playing cards with the other ladies. “I want to see if she would be pleased by the idea of marrying me before I present myself at Gracechurch Street and ask for a private audience.” He turned back to the men and asked, “Shall you help me?”
Darcy narrowed his eyes. “What is it that you want us to do?”
“We write the names of the unmarried ladies separately upon little bits of paper, put them into a hat and shake them about, and when each of us draws one, we write a kind of poetical epistle to the girl who was his valentine–”
“You mean lot, not valentine,” Fitzwilliam interrupted. “I can guarantee that no lady in this room shall be my lover. One loves you, one loves him”–he pointed at Darcy–“and one I just met.”
“Miss Bingley does not love me,” Darcy said quickly.
“She loves your fortune and connexions. That is enough for some people.”
Darcy waved his hand, pushing away the unpleasant idea that he marry Miss Bingley. “Regardless, the meaning of this is extremely strange to me, as I cannot see anything in it useful or entertaining.”
“I will hint strongly that I want to marry my valentine,” Bingley said, “and if Miss Bennet smiles and blushes and is happy to read it, then I will present myself tomorrow and ask for her hand. If not. . . ”
Darcy exchanged a look with his cousin as if to say there was no way that Miss Bennet would not give a favourable reply. Still, Bingley was diffident, so unsure of his own judgment, and Darcy had contributed to his unease about her feelings. If Bingley needed some final measure of assurance, so be it.
“Since they are typically anonymous, how shall she know it is from you, and not either of us?” Fitzwilliam asked, pointing to Darcy and himself.
Bingley frowned, but Darcy said, “I think a significant look and smile from Bingley, and our complete avoidance, will be all the answer Miss Bennet needs. How shall you prearrange the lottery? It does not work if Bingley draws Miss Elizabeth or his own sister.” This brought to mind another complication. “Wait, what about Georgiana?”
With her, the number of single ladies outnumbered the men by one. Fitzwilliam said, “We shall have to abandon the scheme.”
“What if I ask her to perform for us?” Bingley said eagerly. “She would be just there in the other drawing room where she can see us and we can hear her, but she would not be in the game. Or do you think she would feel neglected?” Bingley laughed. “I sometimes forget that she is nearly sixteen and not a child.”
Darcy and Fitzwilliam exchanged a look. No longer a child, but so far from being fully grown, and certainly not of a manner to playfully send valentines even if there were enough single men present. “You may ask her to open the instrument,” Darcy said, “but she is shy, and you cannot press her if she refuses.”
“I can arrange the lottery, then,” Fitzwilliam said. “I shall tell the ladies what we are doing and watch them write their own names. There are only three, and it will be easy enough with a look to tell you which one to choose.”
“That is all well for him,” Darcy said, gesturing to Bingley, “but I cannot draw Miss Bingley.”
Fitzwilliam’s shoulders fell. “And how amusing will this be for me to draw her and write flowery lines for such a–” With an embarrassed look at Bingley, Fitzwilliam winced and said, “That was exceedingly rude of me.”
Bingley shrugged. “Rude, but true. We are decided? You shall draw my sister and you”–he pointed to Darcy–“can write to Miss Elizabeth. Neither of you need worry that you will raise the expectations of the lady you draw. It shall only be an evening’s diversion as far as they are concerned.”
It could be a way to learn how warmly Elizabeth thinks of an alliance between us. She might blush prettily, or wonder if she could be so fortunate. Or she might realise it was only a game, and it would be cruel of him to distress her by raising expectations.
Do I love her? He had admired her from early in their acquaintance. He had thought of her more often than he wanted to admit since leaving Hertfordshire. Elizabeth was lively, kind, accomplished, and had bewitched him from nearly the first moment he attended to her conversations. She was lovely in her person and in her manner, and he wanted to hear all of her opinions and her joyful laughter.
I love her. I am attached to her in a way that I never was to any woman before.
She would naturally say yes if he asked, but did she have an equal love for him? A little love to begin with, along with a great deal of esteem, might be enough of a beginning. Perhaps she was simply as guarded as was her eldest sister, and once assured of his affections and wishes, she would admit to all the amorous feelings of her heart.
But Elizabeth might not display her emotions upon reading his valentine, and he certainly could not give the same emphatic smiles the way Bingley intended to do with Miss Bennet. He would have to do all he could to show that he was in earnest, but how long would he have to wait for her to show him how happy his valentine had made her?
“We can encourage them to reply,” Darcy said quickly before the others moved away. “It would be as though it were a modern valentine received in the post. Then Miss Bennet could give you an answer now.”
“I would not mind having more than a hint as to her wishes. . . ” Bingley nodded. “Very well. We are in agreement? I shall encourage the game, Fitzwilliam will arrange the lottery and encourage them to answer. He shall write to Caroline–”
“I promise not to weep when she rejects me.”
“–and Darcy shall write to Miss Elizabeth, and I shall write to Miss Bennet.” Bingley smiled and clapped his hands once. “Shall we begin?” Without waiting for an answer, Bingley walked to where the ladies were sitting.
Fitzwilliam shook his head. “Damned fool, but if it helps him be secure of his choice, so be it. Ready?”
Darcy saw Elizabeth smiling at Georgiana and encouraging her to bid higher. She seemed to be leading the way in conversation. She was amiable and obliging without being deferential or insipid. The only thing more satisfying than gazing on Elizabeth’s beauty would be to sit by her and hear some of her sparkling intelligence.
She would likely argue with me, but so much the better. He smiled at the thought of evenings at home with his wife, a pleasing scene of domestic comfort interspersed with lively debate, playful teasing, and affectionate embraces. I love her dearly.
“Darcy? I asked if you are ready to waste a few poetic lines on a woman you do not love?”