Title: The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery
Author: Regina Jeffers
Genre: mystery, cozy mystery, Regency historical fiction, romantic suspense, historical romance, Regency romance, JAFF
A THRILLING STORY OF MURDER AND BETRAYAL FILLED WITH THE SCANDAL, WIT AND INTRIGUE CHARACTERISTIC OF AUSTEN’S CLASSIC NOVELS Fitzwilliam Darcy is devastated. The joy of his recent wedding has been cut short by the news of the sudden death of his father’s beloved cousin, Samuel Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy travel to Dorset, a popular Regency resort area, to pay their respects to the well-traveled and eccentric Samuel. But this is no summer holiday. Danger bubbles beneath Dorset’s peaceful surface as strange and foreboding events begin to occur. Several of Samuel’s ancient treasures go missing, and then his body itself disappears. As Darcy and Elizabeth investigate this mystery and unravel its tangled ties to the haunting legends of Dark Dorset, the legendary couple’s love is put to the test when sinister forces strike close to home. Some secrets should remain secrets, but Darcy will do all he can to find answers—even if it means meeting his own end in the damp depths of a newly dug grave.
Having finally excused Franklyn to his own devices, Darcy made his way quickly through Woodvine’s passages. He had hoped Elizabeth would have joined him in Samuel’s study, but his wife had yet to make an appearance. After the earlier drama, he possessed a distracted need to hold her in his embrace. Cowan’s warning clung to Darcy’s shoulders. He could not shake the foreboding the man’s words had left behind. All he had wanted since he, Cowan, and his cousin had set their sights on Woodvine was to catch Elizabeth up in his arms and bury his face in his wife’s scent. He only felt alive in her presence, and with death closing in on everything Darcy held dear, he desperately required his wife’s closeness.
He had just turned into the passageway to their quarters when the blood-leaching scream filled the ground floor and ricocheted off the high ceilings. Darcy froze in midstride. Immediately, he was on the move, skipping steps and vaulting over the landing. “Elizabeth!” he bellowed. “Elizabeth! Where are you?” He did not think the sound had been his wife’s voice, but Darcy could not shed the dread building in him.
He heard a heavy tread behind him and realized it was his cousin. Both men skidded to a halt in the front foyer as Cowan burst through a side entrance. “What is amiss?” the Runner asked in an anxious exhale.
“Not certain.” Darcy’s eyes scanned the hall. “Where are the servants?”
He motioned his cousin to search a side hallway, but before either man could take a step, Elizabeth called, “In here, Fitzwilliam!”
Darcy followed her voice to come upon a most unusual scene. “What has happened?” he asked as he knelt beside his wife. Elizabeth cradled Mrs. Ridgeway’s head in her lap. Meanwhile, one of the younger maids wrapped the housekeeper’s bloody hand with a strip of cloth that Darcy suspected had come from Elizabeth’s petticoat. Shared secrets and trust passed between them, and he breathed easier knowing she was well.
“Mrs. Ridgeway has suffered some sort of injury,” Elizabeth explained. “I have sent for Mr. Glover.”
Edward slowly circled the room’s periphery. From his eye’s corner, Darcy noted that his cousin palmed a small pistol. “Why such drama?” the colonel asked suspiciously.
“I am uncertain,” Elizabeth confessed. She directed the maid cleaning the housekeeper’s wound to fetch some water.
An older woman eyeing the proceedings from her place in the corner said, “The lady be burned when she touched the witch’s bottle.”
Darcy stood slowly. He surveyed the room. From where his wife nursed the housekeeper, soft sobs and whispers continued. “Explain,” he demanded as his eyes rested on the woman’s wrinkled countenance. Although a servant in his late cousin’s house, the woman did not act the part; she showed no signs of alarm. In fact, she appeared almost gleeful in her attitude.
“Thar be a witch’s bottle under the lose hearth stone. None of us be tuching it, but Mrs. Ridgeway said we be fools. Yet, when she grasped it, it burned her skin. Brought the blood.”
“A witch’s bottle,” Edward said with some amusement. “Why would there be a witch’s bottle in this house?”
“Protect those within,” the woman insisted. “We not be looked up’n by a witch from without. No familiar either.”
Cowan retrieved pieces of the offending item from the floor where Mrs. Ridgeway had dropped it. “Not many use such conjurings these days.” Shifting through a knotted twist of metal, he closely inspected the bottle’s contents. “Appears to be some bent iron nails. As well as thorns. Some pins.” He touched the spilled liquid with his fingertip before sniffing the fluid. “Blood. Maybe some holy water. Very likely a person’s urine.”
Darcy gave himself a mental shake. “You jest,” he said incredulously.
“No. Seen them many times in Cornwall.” The Runner stood slowly.
Darcy was uncertain whether the reference to Cornwall was part of the story the colonel and Cowan had concocted for the villagers or whether Cowan truly knew something of England’s historic shire. “I still do not understand what could have burned Mrs. Ridgeway’s hand.”
Cowan explained, “Generally, several pins are set within the stoneware. When Mrs. Ridgeway dropped the Bellarmine Jar, she was cut by the jar and the items within. Then the liquid poured over the wounds.” The Runner’s dark gaze spoke of the man’s inquisitive mind.
The old woman scowled. “Perhaps it be as you say or perhaps not. Thar be many among those who live about who believe those which the bottle burns know the worst of the arts.”
The woman’s remark annoyed Darcy with all it implied. “We will have no such talk in this house. Do you understand?”
A tangible thread of doom filled the space. The maid obediently dropped her eyes, but he did not think it was from a subservient deference to his position in this household. “Yes, Mr. Darcy.”
Elizabeth assisted Mrs. Ridgeway to a seated position. She examined the woman’s hand again. Darcy noted her frown of disapproval. “There are several lacerations.” She sighed heavily. “We have done all we can until Mr. Glover arrives. Els, would you see Mrs. Ridgeway to her quarters?”
“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.”
The housekeeper struggled to her feet. With what appeared to resemble fear, Mrs. Ridgeway glanced toward the hearth. “When Dunstan returns, I want him to check each of the fireplaces. I want no more accidents.”
After the maid had assisted Mrs. Ridgeway from the room, Darcy caught his wife’s hand, and his long fingers closed around it. Immediately, Elizabeth’s presence brought him comfort. To the remaining Woodvine staff he ordered, “I want this situation resolved before the bottle’s contents stain the floor.”
Darcy led Elizabeth from the room, but in the main foyer, he turned to speak privately with Cowan and the colonel. “Edward, if you would join Elizabeth and me in her sitting room, I would appreciate it.”
“Of course, Darcy.”
To the Runner, he said, “Please locate Mr. Franklyn and then join us also. It is odd the gentleman did not respond to the chaos.”
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With malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy will keep Austen fans and mystery readers turning the pages right up until its dramatic conclusion.
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Regina Jeffers, an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era romances, has worn many hats over her lifetime: daughter, student, military brat, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, tax preparer, journalist, choreographer, Broadway dancer, theatre director, history buff, grant writer, media literacy consultant, and author. Living outside of Charlotte, NC, Jeffers writes novels that take the ordinary and adds a bit of mayhem, while mastering tension in her own life with a bit of gardening and the exuberance of her “grand joys.”
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