I have yet to find a more romantic place than Cornwall. Romance hangs in the air on secluded beaches that make you think of smugglers and dark deeds, or on deserted woodland paths where ivy trails from the surrounding trees fashioning ghostly shapes in the witching hour. There is exquisite romance in the overgrown garden of old country houses, with their granite walls glistening in the damp and salty air. Which is why I had chosen Cornwall for the setting of one of my Pride and Prejudice alternate stories, ‘The Falmouth Connection’.
I love writing Pride and Prejudice what-ifs and designing various scenarios for our favourite couple. And why is it that so many of us simply cannot leave Elizabeth and Mr Darcy well alone? Because they are the perfect couple, little as they know it to begin with, and we want – we need – so much more of them. Because it’s reassuring to believe that there is such a thing as destiny; that there is a red thread guiding us through trails and tribulations towards the happily ever after. Because it’s wonderful to think that no matter what heartless obstacles are set before them, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy would still be together, and everything is well in the world.
Let me take you today to beautiful Cornwall, to the secluded gardens of Cotehele, my inspiration for Landennis Manor in ‘The Falmouth Connection’. This is a variation that begins at Hunsford around the time when Mr. Darcy decides to go ahead and make his disastrous first proposal. He does not get the opportunity – and we all know that it’s for the best. But he has no inkling and is severely disappointed when Elizabeth is suddenly summoned to Falmouth to meet a great-aunt she never knew she had. Little does Mr. Darcy know that as a result they would both become embroiled in a tale of deceit and peril. There would be smugglers involved, of course – it is 18th century Cornwall after all. But smugglers are the least of Mr. Darcy’s worries as he finds himself forced to question other people’s motives and especially Lord Trevellyan’s, a landowner of great consequence whom he suspects to be a dangerous man and, worse still, a rival. And then there is a troublesome French connection and all manner of secrets and lies, in a land that feels alien to Mr. Darcy. A land where few – if any – are what they seem to be…
So much for the ‘cloak and dagger’.
And the romance?
Do read on and see.
Do read on and see.
The scene is set in a garden very much like this one:
But you will have to imagine it in the middle of the night. It’s very late and there is no moon, not anymore. It’s very dark, much darker than in this nighttime picture. Too dark, in fact, to see what is before your very eyes. A few hours earlier, Elizabeth had been obliged to venture out – and she had found more than she had bargained for in the woods surrounding her great-aunt’s gardens. And now she is returning to the house after a series of troublesome encounters, only to discover that the eventful night is not over yet!
Breathless with the swift trek uphill and with the terrors of the night, Elizabeth hurried to the house. The garden door would not be open, surely. Would they hear her if she knocked? Perhaps not. Perhaps she should walk around to the main entrance.
She rushed forth noiselessly over the damp grass – and stumbled into something or someone in the darkness, only to find herself caught and held tightly in strong arms that would not let her fall, yet at the same time prevented all escape!
Before the cry of utter horror could leave her lips, a deep voice, warm and earnest, stilled her struggles and set her thoroughly at ease – for she would have recognised that voice anywhere.
“Sshh. You are safe. You are safe. You need not fear me. Forgive me for startling you thus! You have nothing to fear. Thank goodness, you are safe!”
The words did not sink in. Not yet. Not quite. But their fervent cadence reached her, along with the overwhelming certainty that this was not some unknown aggressor. It was Mr. Darcy – and she clung to the folds of his cloak with all her might, shaking like a leaf. Not for fear, though. The fear vanished as though it never was, to be replaced by the strangest weakness. Had he not held her, she might have collapsed, for her knees felt useless, about to give way, and her head was swimming.
‘It must be the shock,’ some wispy threads of reason sensibly claimed, but at this point she could barely heed them.
Still shaking, and still gripping the folds of his cloak with trembling fingers, she could not think straight. She could only feel. And the only feeling she could readily identify, from the tumult and confusion that seemed to reign inside her, was unspeakable relief that at long last this was someone she could fully trust. Someone who came from her own safe, sane world, and not from this terrifying other, where one could not tell one’s friends from one’s foes!
She was not cold – at least she did not think she was – and yet she felt herself shaking from head to foot with a violent shiver. Or was it a sob? Or both? Most certainly a sob this time, and then another, deep and wracking. She could not control them, which was terrifying in itself. She struggled for breath – and yet did not withdraw from the tight clasp of those arms, but unconsciously drew nearer.
Support and succour and safe haven. How strange that she had never felt as safe before. It was the oddest certainty that nothing could harm her now, and the relief made her positively dizzy, after the events of this long night, without a doubt the most frightful she had experienced in her entire tame existence.
The sobs subsided, tempered by the novel thought, and no less by the equally novel, barely perceptible sensations. A light touch of warm lips on her brow, sliding to her temple. Cold fingertips brushing against her cheek – and yet the trail of their caress was not cold at all. It was hot. And tingling. Another touch of a cold fingertip on her lower lip, in a light stroke, so light that she could barely feel it.
Her senses, previously dulled by the dizzying weakness, came suddenly alive, like hissing candles lit in very quick succession. She felt his breath upon her cheek, warm, rapid and uneven, and her own breath turned fast and shallow, as though to match the pace of his – then grew faster still when the narrow gap was closed, and his lips touched her cheekbone. They lingered there, dropping light, feathery kisses, and the cold fingertips were on her chin now, tilting her face upwards – or perhaps she had already done so of her own accord; she truly could not tell.
“Elizabeth…” she heard him whisper, his lips still trailing a soft line on her cheek, and then the whisper gave way to a harsh intake of breath – and his lips were on hers. No longer soft and tentative, but searching. Deepening the kiss, over a length of time that seemed to be measured in thundering heartbeats. Her eyes flew open, yet she could barely see his face. The moon had long since hidden behind clouds and they were in the deepest shadows. She reached up, her hands seeking blindly until her fingertips encountered the hard jaw, the cheeks, ever so slightly rough, not perfectly clean-shaven any longer, and she explored their shape, strangely glad of the darkness as she stroked their contours, never before touched, yet ever so familiar just the same.
Under her touch, the jaw tensed, and she could hear his breath becoming ragged as the kiss deepened even further into something her thoughts could not encompass. In truth, there was no room for thoughts, not anymore – otherwise she might as well begin to wonder what on earth was she doing in the gardens of Landennis in the middle of the night, kissed breathless by none other than Mr. Darcy, whose offer of marriage she had refused a few hours ago!
There was no sense, no reason, just the exquisite kiss and the night that suddenly felt warm and gloriously perfect, after the reign of fear and of doubt. Come to think of doubt though, she might as well begin to doubt her sanity for allowing this to happen – but as his hands roamed across her back, clasping her so fiercely that she could barely breathe, she closed her eyes again, relishing the madness and the bewildering sensation of homecoming, into strong arms that would keep her safe.
If this sufficiently romantic ;) ? If so, I hope you'd like the rest. Thanks for visiting and I would love to hear from you.
Amazon links: Books by Joana Starnes on Amazon.com