“An Unexpected Harvest”

Happy Saturday! Chapter 8 is below, but first…if you didn’t see my most recent blog post, head that way now (or after you read chapter 8) to find out how you can win an eBook or paperback of An Unexpected Harvest when it’s released! And also, a quick reminder that I’ve been regularly posting pictures of Stockbridge, West Stockbridge, and Boston on my Instagram story, if you’d like to take a peek.

My chapter postings here are winding down…just one more chapter to go, and then the story will be pulled from here around mid-May. I appreciate you coming along for the ride!

And here we go…

Chapter 8

Elizabeth bit back a grin as she watched the goats vie for Will’s attention. They pranced and frolicked, following him around the outdoor pen as if he were the Pied Piper, and she laughed softly.

Well, he is the most eligible bachelor in Stockbridge.

He glanced at her and grinned sheepishly. “They like me.”

When she dissolved into laughter, his smile grew. “Want to come in?”

The goats jumped around him, trampling his boots, and she shook her head. “I’ll pass.”

He chuckled. “I thought so.”

“What do they do, exactly? Do they have a purpose?”

He came out of the pen and locked it behind him. “They’re dairy goats. We sell a little of the milk and donate some to the food bank. My mother uses it for baking and cooking. It’s healthier than cow milk, it has more whey protein…” He cleared his throat. “Um, its good stuff.”

“Interesting. And they must be easier to take care of than cows, right?”

“Yes. I don’t have the space for cows. Goats are enough.”

They stood in silence, and she looked out over the snow-covered fields that stretched to the woods in the distance. The mountains rose up over the tops of the trees, but standing here, they were mostly surrounded by open land.

“You must love it here. It’s so peaceful.”

He nodded. “Its home.”

Her eyes caught his and in the bright sunlight, she noticed their deep, chocolate brown color was enhanced by lighter flecks of gold. She held his gaze but once again, they were interrupted by Jane and Charlie as they came out of the barn.

“The horses are beautiful, Will,” Jane said. “Although Barnum didn’t give us the time of day.”

“Yeah, well, that’s Barnum.” Will caught Elizabeth’s eye and grinned. “Do you want to go out on the snowmobiles? There’s a trail through the woods that leads to a great view, it won’t take long to get there.”

“Sounds like fun. Lizzy?” Jane asked.

“Ready when you are.”

They stopped at a small shed so Will could grab extra helmets, and then walked back to where the snowmobiles were parked at the front of the house. The men climbed on and fired up the loud machines and the sisters got situated behind them, Jane with Charlie and Elizabeth with Will.

Elizabeth poked Will on the shoulder and yelled over the roar of the engines. “How fast are you going to go?”

He turned slightly. “How fast do you want me to go?”

Her eyebrows rose at his suggestive tone, but her gaze was drawn to Charlie and Jane as they took off. She watched as their speed increased until they were flying toward the woods, and her stomach rolled again.

“Well…I guess we have to catch up to them, right?”

He shrugged. “I’ll go slow if you want me to.”

Again the tone. “No, just–just go. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded, feeling the weight of the helmet as it bobbed slightly on her head. “Yes.”

He hesitated, and she spoke again before her courage deserted her entirely.

“I’m sure. Come on, let’s go.”

“Okay. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Just hold on tight.”

Soon enough they were chasing after Jane and Charlie. Her arms were wrapped tightly around Will’s middle, her thighs gripped his hips and her head, helmet and all, was tucked against his back. She inhaled the scent of his coat, the smell of barn and woods and fresh winter air. It was masculine and natural and suited him perfectly.

Will handled the machine expertly, following the path already carved by Charlie. The two couples met at the entrance to the woods, and the snowmobiles idled as the men discussed which route to take.

“We should take the longer trail, it’s wider,” Will shouted.

Charlie nodded. “Lead the way.”

Will maneuvered them around Charlie and turned to Elizabeth. “I won’t go too fast. I haven’t been on this trail in a while, and I don’t want any surprises. You ready?”

She nodded, now completely at ease. “Yes! Let’s go.”

True to his word, he went slower than he did on the open fields. Within a few minutes they were at a bend in the trail that opened up on one side. The men parked and turned off the snowmobiles and everyone climbed off and removed their helmets.

Elizabeth was rendered speechless by the view. Growing up with the Berkshires outside her bedroom window was one thing, but this was spectacular. The valley below seemed to stretch endlessly, covered in a pristine layer of fresh snow, and beyond that the perfectly white peaks of the Taconic Mountains reached up into a cloudless blue sky. It was like an image from a post card.

“Wow, this is just beautiful,” Jane murmured. “Look, there must be houses down there.”

Elizabeth nodded, now noticing the tiny columns of smoke that rose up in different places, presumably from chimneys. It was picture-perfect, and she realized that as much as she’d wanted to leave West Stockbridge when she finished high school, she missed having the mountains and the woods and the smell of fresh air and pine trees just outside her door.

She felt the strange weight of longing settle into her chest and for a moment, she felt on the verge of tears. 

Charlie asked Jane if she wanted to venture to another scenic spot further down the trail, and after they wandered off, Will walked over to join her.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Nice? I don’t think that does it justice. It’s breathtaking. Do you come here a lot?”

“If I go out for a walk or a ride, this is usually where I end up.” He squinted, his eyes traveling over the land below them. “I couldn’t even begin to guess how many times I’ve stood here and looked at this view, but it never gets old.”

“This would be my hiding place if I lived here, I think. My escape. It feels like the kind of place you’d visit to unwind or decompress. A place to take a deep breath and put things in perspective.”

He nodded but remained silent, and she stole a look at him. He was staring at her, his head cocked slightly. Lord, those eyes.

“I bet Barnum knows the way by heart, right?” she went on. “You just give him his head and he brings you here.”

His eyes widened slightly. “Yeah, that’s–that’s just what he does. I think he likes coming here as much as I do.” He paused. “Do you have one of those places?”

“I don’t, actually.” She laughed lightly. “Wait, does curling up in the fetal position on my couch count as a place?”

Her cheeks heated in mortification. TMI, Lizzy.

She realized then that it was the perfect time to apologize, and glanced down the trail; the last thing she wanted was to be interrupted by Jane and Charlie again. But Will spoke first, thwarting her plans.

~~*~~

“Um, when we get back to the house… My mother has this thing about people visiting the farm. She likes to meet them and say hello.”

It was a load of bullshit, and he knew it. What he should have said was she has a thing about single young women coming to visit the farm, because it never happens, and she wants to check out your girlfriend potential.

Elizabeth grinned. “She’s the matriarch, right? I bet she rules the roost.”

He laughed, although he couldn’t tell if she was joking or being condescending. “Yeah, well… She asked me to introduce you and Jane, so I told her I’d ask if it was okay.”

“It’s fine with me, and I’m sure Jane won’t mind.”

Charles and Jane could be heard coming back down the trail, and Will suddenly saw Elizabeth’s expression sour.

Damn it.

He knew he shouldn’t have said anything to his mother; it was clear Elizabeth had no desire to meet the matriarch.

Jane and Charlie were a welcome interruption, and Will noticed that they looked a bit flustered. He caught Charles’s eye, and his friend discreetly shook his head. 

Uh oh.

“How was the view from the other spot?” Elizabeth asked Jane.

“Oh, it–it was nice. Pretty much the same, but the clearing is smaller.”

Without saying a word, Charles walked over to the snowmobile and handed Jane her helmet, then picked up his own and turned to Will. “Ready to go?”

They were back to the house a short time later, and after the snowmobiles were put away, he heard Elizabeth quietly telling Jane that they were going into the house to meet his mother. He sighed and offered a lackluster smile to his guests.

“Um, we can go in through the front.”

As they walked around the house, his thoughts wandered to the way Elizabeth had held onto him on the ride back to the farm. Her legs gripped him tightly and she’d jammed her gloved hands into his coat pockets. Her fingers spanned the sides of his stomach, and he’d swear he felt the warmth of them right through his clothing, branding his skin. He’d felt a tug down low in his groin, and momentarily envisioned what it would be like to have her hands on his bare skin, sliding down…

He gave himself a mental shake and as they climbed the steps to the porch, he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She was staring at the house, and when he tried to see it as she might be seeing it, it was hard not to notice every cracked piece of siding and patch of peeling paint.

One more thing for her to judge.

And now he had his mother to worry about. He was hoping she really listened to him this morning when he’d stressed that this was strictly business, though his body clearly hadn’t listened; his heart pounded and he felt like a teenager bringing his first girlfriend home. As much as he told himself over and over that this situation wasn’t remotely similar, the frantic beating wouldn’t slow.

He watched Elizabeth as they walked in and saw her expression brighten as she took in the massive Christmas tree, which occupied an entire corner of the living room. Her gaze traveled to the many pictures of him and his brothers that graced the mantle above the stone fireplace, and it lingered there until she noticed the chess board situated on a small table beyond the hearth.

She stared at it for a long moment, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. An expression he couldn’t identify flitted across her features, but before he could think on it further she turned away. 

It seemed he couldn’t stop himself from examining every look on her face and every word she uttered, his mind scrambling to decipher hidden meanings in both.

His mother walked into the living room then, and her eyes lit up. “Oh, here you are! I was wondering when you were going to come inside. How are you, Charles? How was your Christmas?”

“I’m fine Mrs. D, thanks. Christmas was great. Thanks again for the pie, it was delicious.”

“You shared it with your sister, I hope?”

He laughed. “I let her have a piece. Just one.”

They all laughed, and when Mrs. Darcy looked at Will expectantly, he cleared his throat and gestured toward the Bennets. “Mom, this is Jane Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet. And this is my mother, Abigail Darcy.” 

His mother welcomed them to Pemberley and told them to make themselves comfortable. The sisters sat on the couch and Charles seated himself next to Jane, but Will remained standing.

Mrs. Darcy sat in the wingback chair across from the couch and focused on Jane. “William tells me you’re opening a bed and breakfast in West Stockbridge, is that right?”

“Yes, I hope to open in the spring.”

“That’s very exciting. Did you girls grow up there?”

“Yes. I lived in California for a while, but I moved back a few months ago. Elizabeth lives in Boston.”

“And your parents? Are they still in West Stockbridge?”

Jane shook her head. “They’re deceased.”

Mrs. Darcy’s hand went to her chest. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s actually our family estate that I’m converting to a bed and breakfast. With Charlie’s help, of course.”

“It must be quite large if it’s suitable for an inn. Oh, well, most homes in West Stockbridge are fairly large, aren’t they? They just keep building them bigger and bigger over there.”

“I think I mentioned that Jane might want to purchase the produce for the inn from Pemberley,” Will said.

“Yes! William almost has us certified as an organic farm, isn’t that right?”

Will nodded once. “Just a few more months.”

“He’s a hard worker, this one,” his mother stated proudly. “He’ll make a good husband someday.”

Charles snorted, and Will shot him a dirty look. “Thanks, Mom.”

Mrs. Darcy turned to Elizabeth. “And what do you do in Boston?”

“I’m the creative director for an advertising firm,” Elizabeth answered.

“Now that sounds important. So many young women with careers, becoming movers and shakers or what have you. No one wants to get married and have babies anymore.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’ll–I’ll do that someday. I have plenty of time, I’m only twenty-four.”

“Mark my words; before you know it, you’ll be counting the ticks of the clock.”

“Abby.” Robert’s deep, raspy voice called out from the top of the stairs.

Will sighed, beyond grateful for the interruption, although he hadn’t counted on his father joining them. He usually rested at this time of day, keeping to his room. Will walked to the stairs and looked up at him.

“You coming down?”

“Yes. Your mother said that we–we were having company today. I wanted to meet these–these young ladies she went on about.”

Will grimaced and hoped the young ladies didn’t hear that comment. “Can you make it down on your own?”

His mother came to stand next to him. “Help him, William. The stairs make me nervous.”

“I’m fine, Abigail,” Robert responded. “I have my cane. Let him get back to–to his guests.”

Although Will was always one to let his father do as much as he could independently, he noted the steady shaking of his father’s hands and the slight wobble in his legs. Will ascended the stairs and when he reached the landing, he gently grasped Robert’s free arm. “Go slow.”

To say they hadn’t spoken much lately would be a gross understatement. Whenever they’d disagreed on something in the past, Will was always able to put it aside. This time it was different; a huge stumbling block was wedged between them, and he couldn’t find his way around it.

Slowly but steadily they descended the stairs together, but as soon as they reached the bottom landing, Will released his father’s arm and moved away from him.

Charles rose from the couch. “Hey Mr. D, good to see you.”

“Nice to–to see you, Charles.”

“Um, have you thought of moving your bedroom to the first floor?” Charles asked, looking first at Mr. Darcy and then at Will. “I could help. You have that large room at the end of the hall, I could easily make some modifications to it.”

Will nodded thoughtfully. “That might not be a bad idea.”

“Oh! I put a pot of coffee on earlier, just in case you girls were in need of something warm,” Mrs. Darcy interjected. “I’ll be right back.”

Will gestured toward the chair vacated by his mother. “Have a seat, Dad.”

Will introduced Elizabeth and Jane and then Charles struck up a conversation with Robert, telling him about the work he’d soon be doing at Longbourn.

Elizabeth rose from the couch and walked over to the chess board, and Will joined her.

“It’s a lovely set,” she said.

“It’s old. It belonged to my great-grandfather.”

“It looks like someone stopped in the middle of a game.” She paused, her eyes traveling over the pieces. “I think that if I was black and it was my turn, I would have to move my rook…here.” She lightly tapped a square, disturbing little bits of dust. “But if I was white, I think I’d just move this pawn…here.” She tapped another square.

“Decent moves.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Decent?”

His lips twitched but he kept his eyes on the board. “You obviously know how to play.”

She nodded. “I used to play a lot with my father.”

“Me too. Not so much now.”

He’d been told by Charles that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were deceased, and he wondered if the chess board reminded Elizabeth of her loss. He was dealing with the loss of his own father as well, albeit in a different way; hers had been taken in one swift moment, while his was being taken slowly, over an indefinite span of time.

That’s why the chess board sat dusty and undisturbed; it was too hard for his father to grip and move the pieces without knocking them over, so he’d given up. Will left the board as it was, hoping someday his father would want to resume the match. But as time went on, it seemed less likely.

Mrs. Darcy came back into the living room with her hands full. Will walked to her and took the tray of coffee—and freshly baked apple pie, he noted grumpily—out of her hands. He lowered it to the coffee table and after his mother thanked him, she began pouring for everyone. Will turned to offer a mug to Elizabeth, but she’d moved to a window and seemed to be lost in thought as she gazed outside.

Mrs. Darcy noticed as well. “Is your friend okay? Is she not enjoying herself?”

He shot his mother a pointed look. “She’s fine.”

“I’m sure she noticed the dust on that chess board.” She shook her head as she sliced the pie. “You asked me not to touch it—”

“Mom, stop,” he ordered quietly.

He glanced at Jane, and although she was looking elsewhere, he knew she’d heard their exchange. If there had been a large enough rock in the living room, he would have gladly crawled under it.

Mrs. Darcy refocused her attention on Jane. “Now tell me, how long have you and Charles been dating?”

Before Jane could hide her deer-in-the-headlights expression and Charlie could close his unhinged jaw, Mr. Darcy lost his tenuous grip on his coffee mug and cried out when the hot liquid spilled on his leg.

Will went to him and lifted the sopping pant leg away from his father’s skin, and then looked at his mother. “Get a cold cloth from the bathroom, please.”

Elizabeth stepped toward them. “I’ll get it.”

“No!” It came out harsher than Will intended, and he took a deep breath.  “No, thank you, Elizabeth.”

His mother looked at him oddly and then dashed off to the bathroom. Jane had already risen from the couch and was wiping the spilled coffee from the table with some napkins while Charles cleaned the floor.

Mrs. Darcy came back into the room and Will took the wet cloth, laying it over the coffee stain on his father’s pants and pressing the coldness against his leg. “You need to get changed, and I want to look at your leg.”

Will helped his father to his feet and handed him his cane. They made their way to the stairs, and his father turned to him and spoke quietly.

“I’m sorry, William. I’ve–I’ve embarrassed you, and I’m a–a mess.”

“Knock it off, Dad. Everyone spills. I’ll get you a clean pair of pants, and I want to make sure you didn’t burn yourself. Then we’ll come downstairs and start over.”

He glanced at Elizabeth, and the moment their eyes met she turned back toward the window—but not before he’d seen her undisguised pity and embarrassment.  

By the time he and his father reached the top of the stairs, Will’s anger had flared. He escorted his father to his room, and although Robert rolled his eyes when Will asked to see his thigh, he acquiesced.

The spot was red but didn’t look too bad, and once he was dressed in clean pants, Mr. Darcy caught Will’s eye.

“Hire some help.”

Will drew back. “What?”

“That–that manager, the one who worked for–for that other farm. Hire him.” Robert cocked his head. “You’re interested in–in that young lady.”

Will’s eyes widened. “What? No, I’m not.”

Mr. Darcy’s mouth turned up at one corner. “Hm. All right.”

“Dad, I’m not. And what does one have to do with the other?”

“Your–your mother says she’ll be driving the tractors if–if you don’t get help. And–and help would give you more free time, and–and more free time means time for–for girls. Like that one, downstairs. The–the quiet one.”

Will rubbed his eyes and sighed heavily. “God, you sound just like Mom. I don’t want more help so I can go off and chase girls.”

“But–but you should be off chasing girls.”

“George does enough of that for both of us.”

Mr. Darcy chuckled. “Not anymore, he’s–he’s just chasing one now.”

“Right.”

“Listen to–to me, Fitzwilliam. I’m trying to–to say you’re right, and–and I’m wrong. That’s–that’s hard for me. It’s easier to–to make light of it.”

Will held his father’s eyes and nodded. He knew that buried in the teasing was a surrender of sorts, and it was easier for Robert to disguise it.

“Pemberley is–is thriving, and that’s because of–of you. So hire your help, and–and slow down a little. Have–have some fun and–and find a girlfriend.” Mr. Darcy grinned widely. “Elizabeth is–is quite pretty, isn’t she?”

Will huffed. “You know the saying that beauty is only skin deep? That pretty girl downstairs is living, breathing proof.”

***

I hope you enjoyed Chapter 8! I’m hoping to post Chapter 9 on or around May 1. And if you’d like to find out how to win a copy of An Unexpected Harvest, please visit my blog to get all the details. And check out my Instagram story for glimpses of Western Massachusetts and Boston!

Thanks for reading and have a fabulous weekend!