“An Unexpected Harvest”

Welcome, and thanks for stopping by! Chapter 9 of An Unexpected Harvest is posted below for your reading pleasure. This is the FINAL chapter to be posted here. ALL chapters will be deleted from my website on Saturday, May 15. I hope you’ve enjoyed the preview! For more information about AUH, such as release dates, blog tour stops, and the soundtrack, please check out my most recent blog post here. And just a reminder that Sanctuary is on sale for the month of May (eBook and paperback)! Get your copies here.

Happy reading!

***

Chapter 9

The ride back to Longbourn was mostly quiet; what little conversation there was between the Bennet sisters was stilted at best. Each was preoccupied with the events of the afternoon, and Elizabeth thought it oddly funny that even though so little had happened, it seemed things had shifted dramatically.

She wasn’t sure what to expect when she walked into the Darcy home. The outside was beautiful, if slightly worn, and so she thought the inside might reflect that. Instead, the living room was bright and cheery, with sunlight streaming through the large windows. A massive Christmas tree took up one entire corner, and a fire crackled in the brick fireplace.

The mantle was crowded with pictures of Will and two other men she assumed were his brothers; they looked too much alike to be anything but, although one had blond hair.

She’d studied one picture in particular of the three of them dressed in suits, ties loosened, cigars in their laughing mouths and arms looped around each other’s shoulders. It was clearly a moment of celebration, and her eyes were continually drawn to Will’s clean-shaven face and twinkling eyes, his huge smile…and those dimples. His brothers were handsome, but he was simply gorgeous.

If the pictures were anything to go by, they were a happy family. Elizabeth wondered how it must have been for Mrs. Darcy, raising three boys. Certainly different from growing up at Longbourn.

Her curiosity was piqued when she’d spotted the chess board. She could tell by the arrangement of the pieces that two players were mid-match, and she wondered if Will was one of them. She’d loved playing chess with her father when she was younger, but those friendly, competitive games became a thing of the past when their relationship fell apart.

When Will had descended the stairs with his father, all traces of the man she’d talked to while standing at that beautiful spot in the woods were gone. His expression was blank and he remained silent, but his body language spoke volumes. His back and shoulders were rigid and he’d positioned himself a good distance from his father, arms crossed, clearly indicating he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

It was at that precise moment when she thought she might have fixed on a deeper understanding of him. She’d already admitted to seeing glimpses of his vulnerability, but now… despite having his family close, he seemed solitary. Not truly on his own or completely alone, but possibly a bit lonely, and the discovery made her heart soften just a little bit more.

She’d done absolutely nothing to help when Mr. Darcy spilled his coffee, and felt ridiculous standing there, gawking, while everyone else sprang into action.

Will must think I’m useless.

Feeling self-conscious and in the way, she’d moved to the window again, and when she heard Mrs. Darcy apologize for her husband’s clumsiness, she frowned. She wasn’t sure what illness Mr. Darcy suffered from, but for his wife to make him out to be a klutz seemed unfair.

She watched the way Will gently held his father’s arm, guiding him toward the stairs, and heard the reassurance in his voice. It touched her, and she couldn’t help but think of her own father and whether they would have mended things if they’d been given more time. The thought made her throat constrict, and at that exact moment, Will’s eyes met hers.

She turned away, knowing her emotions—sadness and longing, but admiration and esteem as well—were clearly written on her face. She focused her gaze on the forest in the distance and allowed her mind to wander back to their ride on the snowmobile.

She’d relished the thrill of the wind rushing past her and had pushed her hands into Will’s coat pockets, tucking them in deep and settling more comfortably against him. His hips fit perfectly into the cradle of her thighs, and she’d had the fleeting thought that it was something she could get used to.

When Mr. Darcy returned downstairs, Will helped him to get comfortable in the chair once again. Elizabeth rejoined her sister and Charlie on the couch, and when Mr. Darcy apologized for the upset, Charlie insisted no apology was necessary and the sisters quickly concurred.

Will had remained silent and stone-faced, contributing little to the awkward conversation between his parents and their three guests. They each ate a slice of pie, out of politeness more than anything, and then Will thanked Jane and Elizabeth for stopping by—a not-so-subtle hint their visit was over. It prompted the women to rise from the couch and thank the Darcys for their hospitality before heading to the front door.

Will and Charlie walked them out, and Elizabeth heard Charlie tell Jane he’d call her later. He took a gift from his truck and gave it to Jane before giving her a lingering kiss on the cheek, and Elizabeth hoped it was a good sign. 

Will held the car door open for her, and after she slid in behind the wheel, she looked up at him.

“Thank you for having us. I really enjoyed it.”

His impassive expression and flat voice as he responded with a brisk you’re welcome and goodbye had thrown her off. Before she could think of something else to say, the door slammed shut and he moved away from the car.

Since then, she’d replayed their conversations over and over, trying to figure out where things went wrong. She tried to be friendly and open when they talked, hoping to show him she was not the horrible person who said all those mean-spirited things weeks ago, and felt an overwhelming disappointment in the way they parted.

Once back at Longbourn, the sisters changed into comfortable clothing and met in the kitchen. Jane checked on dinner as it simmered in the crockpot, while Elizabeth reached for a bottle of wine. She held it up in front of her sister, and Jane sighed.

“Yes, please. Screw the hot chocolate.”

Elizabeth took two glasses from a cabinet and filled them generously. “Should we make a toast?”

“Yes. To men, and how much they suck.”

Elizabeth chuckled. “I’ll drink to that.”

They each took a long sip, and once Jane was satisfied that dinner was coming along, they went into the living room.

“Do you need to do more work today?” Jane asked.

“No, not really. I got a lot done this morning, and it’s slow between the holidays.” Elizabeth spied the small gift Charlie had given Jane, still wrapped in festive paper with a bright red bow on top. “Are you going to open that?”

Jane shrugged, so Elizabeth let it go. She settled on the couch while her sister lit the fire, and when they were both seated comfortably, Elizabeth noticed Jane’s faraway expression as she stared into the flames.

“I don’t want to pry,” she said tentatively, “but if you want to talk about anything…”

Jane sighed and turned to her. “You’re not prying. I decided to ask Charlie, straight out, what we’re doing. Are we building a friendship? Or is there more to it?”

“And?”

“He said he had some things to figure out, and that he wasn’t sure if he liked the person he became when he was in a relationship. What the hell does that mean?”

“I have no idea. He seems like a nice, sincere person.”

“He is nice, he is sincere. He’s probably the sweetest guy I’ve ever known. But what if he turns into someone not so nice? Someone selfish? Maybe that’s why his other relationships didn’t work out.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“He still wants us to see each other. He just asked me to be patient with him, and that it was him, not me.” Jane’s eyes dropped to her wine glass. “I told him that was a line you use when you’re dumping someone. But…I might have called it a fucking line.”

“Oh, Jane.”

“What? ‘It’s not you, it’s me’? Give me a break!”

“What did he say?”

“He got upset and told me he was only trying to be honest.” Jane’s voice softened. “He told me if I was tired of this, tired of him, he’d understand and we could just forget about everything and move on. I told him I had to think about it, and he looked so sad. But I didn’t know what else to say. Did I do the right thing?”

“I think you did.”

As nice and sincere as Charlie seemed, Elizabeth’s greater concern was for Jane, and she wondered again about Charlie’s motives for pursuing her.

She eyed Jane cautiously. “Have you ever wondered if this is all just business for Charlie?”

Jane frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Could he be saying he feels a particular way, just to ensure he stays employed?”

Surprisingly, Jane grinned. “Oh, you mean is he dating me for my money? Are you implying I’m a sugar momma?”

“I’m not implying that at all, but you’re far from destitute and you have a lot of work that needs to be done here. Any contractor would love to have a job like this to get them through the winter.”

“I know. Honestly, I’ve wondered about that myself, but I don’t think that’s who Charlie is. He’s never lacking for work, and he’s not broke. I don’t think that’s it.”

Elizabeth stared at her sister for a moment. “Okay, but will you promise me one thing?”

“I already know what you’re going to say, and it’s too late. I’m falling in love with him. I think I already am in love with him. But I know I need to be careful, so I’ll pull back and let him figure himself out.”

Jane’s gaze traveled to the coffee table, and she set her wine down and picked up the brightly covered gift. She unwrapped it and smiled softly when she saw all the soaps in the small basket, and held a bar up to her nose.

“This is so thoughtful. He really is very sweet.”

Elizabeth saw her sister was close to tears, so she set her wine glass down and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. “It’ll work out, Janey.”

Jane nodded against her shoulder. “I hope you’re right.”

***

It was clear to Will that whatever happened between Charles and Jane wasn’t going to be discussed right now. The moment the Bennet sisters left, Charles pulled the greenhouse plans from his truck and began walking toward the garage.

“Let’s go. I’ll show you these quick, and then I have to get going.”

“Hey, we don’t have to do this right now. I’m not in a rush.”

Charles abruptly turned around and hobbled back toward his truck. “Fine, I’ll show them to you later.”

“Charles, wait. What the hell is going on? Do you need to talk?”

Charles shook his head. “I have stuff to do. I probably shouldn’t have spent so much time screwing around today.”

Will sighed. “All right. Let me know if you’re up for a beer or something later. I’ll be around.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Will watched Charles’s truck barrel down the driveway, and then went into the house through the back door to grab a thick pair of gloves and a warmer coat.

His mother walked into the kitchen and spied him in the entryway. “Your friends are very nice, Fitzwilliam. Charles and his Jane make a lovely couple.”

Will zipped his coat. “Yeah, well, I’m not so sure Charles has his Jane. Not yet.”

“Her sister was off in her own world. I think she might have our entire living room memorized. Did you see the way she looked everything over so closely? That chess board is a disaster with all that dust. Isn’t it about time you put it away?”

No, it isn’t. Leave it alone.”

“Fine. You don’t need to take that tone.”

“I’m sorry, I just want it left the way it is. I’ll dust the board and the pieces, okay?”

“I would hate for that young lady to think I can’t keep a clean house.”

“This house is spotless, Mom. You won’t be seeing her again anyway, so don’t worry about what she thinks.”

“She’s very pretty, even if she was a little inconsiderate. What was she doing, staring out the window like that? It’s such a shame. The four of you could have had such fun going out on double dates.”

He closed his eyes and counted to three. “I’m going for a ride on Barnum. I need to check some fences on the west side of the property.”

“Why don’t you take the snowmobile? It’s safer than riding that horse. And it looked like the girls enjoyed it. Pinked up their cheeks a little bit, hm?”

He wasn’t about to admit that the girls’ cheeks weren’t the only ones turning pink on that ride, and the last thing he needed was to relive it. “Um, Dad gave me the okay to hire someone.”

Her eyes widened. “He did?”

“Yes. So whatever you said to him, it worked. I don’t know what havoc you wreaked the last time you drove a tractor, but it scared him into giving me the green light.”

She laughed loudly, and despite his sour mood, he grinned.

“The last time I drove a tractor around Pemberley… Oh, it was a long time ago. Your father and I had been drinking some of that Boone’s Farm wine, and we were being silly…” Her expression softened. “Those were the days, let me tell you.”

“Where’s Dad now?”

“He went upstairs to lie down. He’s tired.” She paused. “You know, Charles mentioned something about changing the back parlor into a bedroom. Do you think it’s a good idea?”

“I don’t see why not. It’s big enough, and we could put in a couple of windows to brighten it up.”

“I’ll talk about it with your father. I don’t know how much longer he’ll manage those stairs.”

Her eyes fell from his and she turned away, making herself busy at the sink. Will dropped a kiss on the top of her head and gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze.

“I’ll talk to Dad, too. If he’s okay with it, I’ll ask Charles how soon he can get started.”

“Okay.” She smiled at him with wet eyes. “Be careful riding that beast. We’ll never find you if you get tossed into the snow.”

***

“Fuck. Fuck!” Will picked himself up off the ground and wiped the snow from his clothes. “Fucking horse.”

Barnum stood not ten feet away, breathing heavily and glaring at him as if to say that’s what you get.

Will had no business riding the horse so hard in the snow, but he felt like being reckless. The moment he’d dug his heels into Barnum’s sides, the horse had taken off like a shot and headed straight for the woods. Will reined him in, sending him instead toward the fences he’d caught a glimpse of earlier. Two sections were down, and he grabbed some rope out of the saddle bag, fitting the posts back into their slots and working the rope around them. It wasn’t perfect, but would hold for now.

When he’d turned Barnum for the woods again, he let the horse go. They headed toward Will’s usual trail and were only about fifty feet in when Will spied a tree blocking the path. Part of it was about two feet off the ground, propped up crookedly by its stump, and he urged Barnum to pick up speed. But when it came time to make the easy leap, the stubborn mule had slammed on the brakes, tossing Will out of the saddle and into the snow.

He faced the horse as he finished brushing himself off and felt icy tendrils of wetness drip down into the collar of his shirt. “You can be a real piece of shit sometimes, you know that?”

Despite the harshness of the words, they were said with grudging respect. Barnum only flicked his ears, seemingly unperturbed.

Deciding to play it safe, he flipped the reins over Barnum’s head and led him down the rest of the trail to the overlook. Once there he stood quietly, staring at the mountains in the distance, now shrouded by encroaching clouds.

For the first time, it felt like the wrong place to be. Instead of calming him as it usually did, he felt more agitated. There was no chance of finding any peace here today, and possibly for many days to come; Elizabeth Bennet had pretty much guaranteed that.

How could one woman turn him so completely inside out? How could she make him feel so twisted up that he didn’t know his ass from his elbow?

The beginning of the afternoon had been a weird, dream-like experience. Talking with her about the horses, laughing at the goats, flying through the fields on the snowmobile, and then standing here at this spot, his spot, sharing things with her… It had given him an odd feeling in his stomach and made his heart pound.

Until. 

Until she frowned at him, obviously not very thrilled at the thought of spending time with the matriarch of Pemberley. That was his first reality check.

And then at the house, she’d wandered over to the chess board and had shared with him, and again, he felt like he was being pulled into some kind of alternate universe where the Elizabeth Bennet he’d met at the barn dance didn’t exist. Instead this funny, vulnerable girl had taken her place.

Until.

Until she turned away from his father and took cover at the window, clearly embarrassed that a grown man had spilled his coffee. And the thing that pissed him off the most was that it made him feel embarrassed as well—only for a moment, but long enough to make him feel lousy about it. There was nothing worse than hearing his father apologize for something he had no control over.

Until. That was the word. He knew it would come up eventually. It was just too good to be true, she had been too good to be true, just for a little while. Too sweet, and way, way too sexy, smiling up at him with those big green eyes and making him laugh. Making him forget who and what she really was.

He didn’t even want to think about the snowmobile ride, the way she’d clung to him. Charles had joked about it, how it would be a great way to blow off steam, having two hot women holding onto them for dear life. 

Pfft. That turned out really well for both of us, huh, buddy?

He could still feel her legs gripping him, as if they’d left an imprint on his hips and thighs, and he yanked off his watch cap and released a groan of frustration.

I need to get laid, that’s the problem. That’s all this is. 

It had been too long—ten excruciatingly celibate months, to be exact—and he’d been in too close proximity to Elizabeth for the better part of almost three weeks. The fact that she made his blood run hot, while simultaneously making him want to pitch her into the nearest snowbank, was a sure sign he needed some relief.

Now that he was going to hire help, maybe he’d have time to go out and meet someone, like his mother was always pushing him to do. Or maybe Charlotte had a sister or a friend she could introduce him to.

His mind traveled to Caroline, but only briefly. Can’t go back there. He thought about Anne DeBourgh and how she was always trying to get his attention, and knew he only had to smile at her in just the right way and she’d come running.

The sun cast long shadows over the valley as he stood there, trying not to think of Elizabeth Bennet, trying to think of…Anne DeBourgh?…and he realized he was being an idiot, trying to push one woman out of his head by latching onto another. 

The trick of it was, it would have to happen naturally. He’d go out with his buddies and meet someone, hopefully the perfect someone, and go from there.

No problem.

***

Wednesday, December 29th

Only there was a problem, Will realized, and it was this: every attractive woman he saw, whether at the grocery store, the gas station, the Blue Seal store where he shopped for feed, anywhere—every single one had suddenly turned into potential girlfriend material.

It wasn’t intentional; he didn’t head into town to purchase chicken feed and hope he’d come home with a girlfriend. But he found he was more aware, he supposed, of any female in the immediate vicinity. Eye color, hair, smiles, flirtatious behavior…he noticed it all. What horrified him is the trait he’d always laughed at in his mother, that finely tuned “single woman radar,” had apparently been passed down to him and had only been lying dormant all these years.

So here he was on Wednesday afternoon, heading into The Book Nook for his father. Robert enjoyed reading, but now preferred large-print books. He’d used a magnifying glass for a while, but when the tremors got worse, he couldn’t hold it steady. Every once in a while, he asked Will or George to drive into town to purchase books that couldn’t be found at the library.

Will was happy to go today, as he wanted to look for a book released a year or so ago about using greenhouses without supplementary heat. He wanted to try and familiarize himself with the technique; an unheated greenhouse would save money, and he wanted to share the information with Charles.

It didn’t take long to find the two books his father requested, but the book Will wanted was nowhere to be found. He approached the cashier, who was doing paperwork, and cleared his throat. “Excuse me.”

She looked over the top of her glasses at him and smiled. “Hi, can I help you with something?”

Well. Isn’t she cute?

Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she had blue eyes and a killer smile, and he was pretty sure he’d never seen her before.

He grinned. “You sure can. I’m looking for a book, but I didn’t have any luck finding it. I was wondering if I could order it?”

“Why don’t you give me the title, and I’ll check to make sure you didn’t overlook it.”

Will gave her the information and leaned on the counter, eyeing her discreetly as she looked at the computer.

The blue sweater she wore brought out the color of her eyes, and although he was horrible at guessing ages, he thought she looked about twenty-five or so.

She scrunched her nose and looked at him. “We don’t have it, but I can definitely order it.”

“Okay, great. What do you need? From me, I mean.” He grinned crookedly. “Do you need my name?”

Her face pinked. “Um, yes. And your phone number. And payment.”

He recited his information and handed her his debit card, paying for his father’s books at the same time. Since no one else was around, he decided to gamble.

“So, now that you have my name and number, wouldn’t it be fair if I had yours?”

The moment the words left his mouth he cringed, but her smile grew and she rolled her eyes playfully.

“You’re right, I suppose it’s only fair.”

She pointed to the name tag hanging from the lanyard around her neck, and flipped it over so he could read it.

Elizabeth.

It was as if a bucket of ice water had been dumped over his head. He looked at her smiling face and all he could think was, are you fucking kidding me? Is this a joke?

She scribbled her name and number on a piece of paper, and her eyes met his as she handed it to him. “I hope to hear from you, Will Darcy.”

Not knowing what else to do, he smiled and told her to have a nice day and headed toward the door with his bag. He felt a swell of disappointment, and also felt like a total jerk because he had no intention of calling her and following through. 

As he reached for the door, it swung in forcefully and he stepped back in surprise. Those green eyes he’d been trying so hard to forget were now right in front of him, their brightness like a magnet.

“Elizabeth.”

~~*~~

“Will!”

He was the last person Elizabeth expected to see. He’d haunted her thoughts since she left Pemberley on Monday, just as she knew he would. The way they parted weighed heavily, and she wondered if he felt as badly about it as she did.

She stepped back onto the sidewalk and he followed, letting the door swing closed behind him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Buying a book, I hope.” She smiled nervously and nodded to the bag in his hands. “Get anything good?”

“Um, these are for my father. They don’t have the book I need, so the clerk said she’d order it…” He cleared his throat and looked away.

“How–how is your father?”

She’d thought about Mr. Darcy as well, and when she asked Jane if she knew anything about his illness, her sister said she thought Charlie had mentioned Parkinson’s.

His eyebrows rose. “My father?”

“Yes. Um, his leg.”

“He’s fine.”

“Oh, good. I enjoyed meeting your parents. They’re very nice.”

Really?

She drew back, surprised at his tone. “Of course. Why—?”

“Come on. My mother isn’t the most discreet woman on the planet, is she? Talking about ticks of the clock and dust, and my father spilling things like a three-year-old. Did you feel safer by the window?”

Her face flushed. He was right, of course; Mrs. Darcy’s behavior had been slightly mortifying, and Elizabeth had been hiding, but not from his parents. She’d hid from him.

“It was fine.” Her voice was soft as she stared into his bottomless brown eyes. “Your mother was very gracious, and I really wasn’t uncomfortable. And your father… Obviously, you don’t need to apologize for him.”

A sharp whistle suddenly pierced the air, and they both glanced in the direction it came from. A young man jogged toward them from across the street with a wide smile on his face.

“Hey! What’s up?” He thumped Will on the shoulder and nodded toward the store. “Did you get Dad’s books?”

Will nodded. “Yeah.”

Elizabeth recognized him from the pictures on the mantle at Pemberley. She immediately noticed the way the left sleeve of his jacket hung loose and empty, and she realized he was missing part of his arm. The brother who had the accident.

“Um, I need to get going,” Will said. “I’ve got a meeting at the food bank.”

“Wait, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend? Where’re your manners, bro?”

“Elizabeth Bennet, this is my brother George. George, this is Elizabeth,” Will said flatly.

George held out his hand and Elizabeth shook it with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you, George.”

His eyes brightened. “Hey, you came out to Pemberley a couple of days ago, right? With your sister?”

“Yes.”

“She’s opening a restaurant or something?”

“A bed and breakfast in West Stockbridge.”

“Um, I thought you had lunch plans today or something?” Will interjected.

“We just ate. Charlotte should be out in a minute. She ran into a friend.”

Elizabeth’s stomach lurched. Charlotte?

“Well, tell her I said hello,” Will said. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Hold on, she’s coming out.” George glanced across the street and waved. “You can say hello yourself.”

Elizabeth’s eyes followed George’s, and she stared long and hard at the woman crossing the street toward them. Her stomach flipped and twisted into a dozen knots, and she thought she would be sick. 

“Hey, Will.” The young woman smiled as she stepped onto the sidewalk, but it faltered the moment she locked eyes with Elizabeth.

“Hi, Charlotte,” Will said. “How are you?”

“I’m–I’m good. You?”

“Great.”

“This is Elizabeth Bennet,” George said, “a friend of my brother’s. This is my girlfriend, Charlotte Lucas.”

Elizabeth saw the flush in Charlotte’s cheeks and felt her own begin to color. She nodded, unable to speak.

Charlotte smiled widely. “Hello, Elizabeth. It’s so nice to meet you.”

Elizabeth’s jaw clenched when she saw the glint in Charlotte’s eyes. She knew that what she was about to do would make her look like the worst kind of person, but there was no way she could be nice or pretend they were strangers who were meeting for the first time.

She turned to Will, only to see an almost hostile expression on his face as he stared back at her.

“Um, I hope to see you Friday night at Longbourn. You’ll be there?” she asked.

She focused on keeping her voice steady, despite the trembling that was slowly overtaking her body.

Will’s brows furrowed. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“It was nice of your sister to invite us too,” George said, and glanced at Charlotte. “We haven’t even met her yet, so…” He paused. “Maybe we’ll see you then.”

Elizabeth nodded, but kept her eyes focused on Will. “Maybe. Um, I should be going. Have a nice day.”

She turned away without waiting for a response, and as she hurried down the sidewalk, she realized she’d never even gone into the bookstore.

She got into her car and leaned forward, resting her head on the steering wheel, and released a long breath. When she finally felt like she’d regained her equanimity, she started the car and headed back to Longbourn.

***

After hanging her coat in the entryway, Elizabeth sought her sister and found her in the basement, kneeling on an old cushion and staining a bookshelf.

“It’s freezing down here!” She wrapped her arms around herself and noticed the walk-out door was wide open.

Jane remained focused on the piece of furniture in front of her. “Why do you think I have my jacket on? But I need the ventilation. I can’t inhale all these chemicals. Did you find the book?”

“No. I never made it into the bookstore.”

Jane turned to her with a smile, surely expecting another tale of ill-fated errands, but it quickly faded. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“Did you invite Will’s brother George to the party?”

Jane nodded. “I thought it would be polite. I mean, we’ve never met, but I like Will, so I told him to extend the invitation. Why?”

“I just met him. I bumped into Will outside the bookstore, and then George happened to show up.” Elizabeth rubbed her eyes, behind which a dull ache had started. “Can we go upstairs and sit?”

“Sure, I can finish this later.”

Jane placed the brush into a jar of paint thinner and recapped the can of stain, then removed the rubber gloves she was wearing. After locking the walk-out, she followed Elizabeth upstairs, stopping in the foyer to hang her coat before heading into the living room and making herself comfortable on the couch alongside her sister.

“What’s going on?”

Elizabeth told her what happened, though she omitted the discussion she’d had with Will before George joined them.

“Oh my God. I–I can’t believe it. Charlotte Lucas?”

“The one and only. I never thought I’d lay eyes on her again.”

“And you just walked away from them?”

“What would you have done?”

“I don’t know. I probably would have stood there like an idiot, playing nice and hating every moment of it.”

“What if she shows up with George on Friday night?”

Jane’s eyes flashed. “She wouldn’t dare. She’s crazy if she even thinks she’s setting foot in this house.”

“Part of me thinks you’re right, but…I wish you could have seen the way she looked at me when she said hello. It was like she was daring me to say something. It’s that look that makes me think she might show up.”

Jane huffed. “I’ll toss her out on her ass. I don’t care what anyone thinks, Charlie and Will included.”

It fell silent as Elizabeth replayed the scene outside the bookstore over and over again. “I can only imagine the conversation that took place after I left. What did she tell them? Certainly not the truth.”

“No, I’m sure she wouldn’t tell them that.”

Elizabeth recalled the expression on Will’s face. “I wonder what’s going through Will’s mind. He must think I’m such a bitch. That’s what I’d be thinking if I was him.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “I wish you wouldn’t say that. He’s always nice to you, and you seemed to have fun with him at Pemberley. I’m sure he’s figured out by now that there’s an explanation.”

Elizabeth frowned. Or did Charlotte fill his head with lies? 

The thought of it made her heart ache, and she had the sudden, shocking realization that what Will Darcy thought of her, how he felt about her, mattered a great deal. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as butterflies took flight in her stomach.

Everything is suddenly very black and white again.

***

Thanks for coming along on this nine-chapter ride! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of An Unexpected Harvest. And don’t forget, if you’d like to see beautiful pictures of both Boston and Stockbridge (and sometimes Portland, Maine, for a throwback to Sanctuary), please follow me on Instagram! I regularly share pictures of the “city” and the “country” to my Instagram Story.

Thanks again!

Cat