While attempting to suppress his own desire to dance with Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy flees the Netherfield ballroom only to stumble upon a half-dressed Lydia Bennet in the library. After being discovered with her in a compromising position, Darcy is forced to make her an offer of marriage.
Fearing the Bennets will attempt a similar “trick” with their brother, Mr. Bingley’s sisters convince him to leave Hertfordshire without any intention of returning. After Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins, a heartbroken Jane Bennet accepts his proposal.
Having resolved to propose to Jane, Bingley returns to Longbourn; but when he learns of her betrothal, he makes an offer to Elizabeth instead. She accepts, with the hope that Jane will change her mind if Bingley remains at Netherfield.
Meanwhile, Sir William Lucas is aware that Wickham had actually compromised Lydia in the Netherfield library and blackmails him into proposing to Charlotte Lucas, who is in danger of becoming an old maid.
Hertfordshire has become a tangled web of misbegotten betrothals.
Although Darcy yearns for Elizabeth, he feels honor bound by his promise. Elizabeth is also developing feelings for the master of Pemberley, but he has never seemed so far out of her reach. How can Darcy and Elizabeth unravel this tangle and reach their happily ever after?
Ceri asked me what inspired the wild plot bunnies in Chaos Comes to Longbourn. I remember the precise spark. Last summer I was reading a Facebook post by fellow JAFF author Joana Starnes about playing a game of Marrying Mr. Darcy with some friends. It resulted in Mr. Darcy being married to Lydia, among other preposterous results.
This got me thinking about writing a P&P variation in which Darcy was engaged to Lydia, an outrageous and hilarious idea. Then it occurred to me that it would be amusing if other characters were engaged to the wrong people. Soon I had a plot in which Jane—having despaired of Bingley—had agreed to marry Mr. Collins after Elizabeth rejected him. Then Bingley decides he will propose to Jane; but when he arrives in Hertfordshire to find her taken, he proposes to Elizabeth instead. She accepts in the hopes that she can re-unite Jane and Bingley.
This left me with finding a plausible way for Wickham to be engaged to Charlotte Lucas. That was a tough plot point to crack. I couldn’t imagine either of them finding the other attractive. However, earlier in the story, Wickham had fooled around with Lydia at the Netherfield Ball. He didn’t want anyone to know because then he’d be forced to propose to her. It turns out Sir William Lucas knew about the incident, and he uses it to blackmail Wickham into proposing to his daughter, who is in danger of becoming an old maid.
That fixed the plot point, but I found that my Charlotte still wasn’t attracted to Wickham. She accepted his offer reluctantly since she wants a home and family. But this Charlotte didn’t find Wickham at all handsome or charming, which is quite a blow to his ego. And then she encounters Mr. Collins and discovers that nothing (in her opinion) becomes a man so well as clerical garb….
I had great fun tangling everyone up in misbegotten betrothals and then figuring out how to untangle them. Hopefully readers will have as much fun reading about it!
Tilting her head to the side, Charlotte frowned at Wickham as if he presented a puzzle to be solved. After a moment, she shook her head. “I am not sure you would make a good husband.”
What? Wickham’s pride was pricked. Women always wanted him! He was charming. Charming is what he did! Well, and attractive. How could she be so blind?
I shall show her.
Suppressing a premature grin, Wickham slid from his seat and settled next to Charlotte on the settee. She did not lay down her damn needlework, and he did not like playing second fiddle to embroidery.
He inspected her gown. A serviceable muslin, it was more modest than most dresses he encountered—which unfortunately meant less skin was available. But he could rise to this challenge. He leaned close enough to smell her faint honeysuckle scent and kissed his way down her neck.
She paused her needlework.
And then resumed.
Aside from a small furrow in her brow, his actions did not appear to have attracted her notice at all.
Damnation! What was wrong with the woman? That maneuver should have earned him a shiver, a deep sigh, and perhaps some kisses in return.
He ran a finger under the edge of her neckline, right on the top of her shoulder. Perhaps she needed verbal seduction. “You are very beautiful.”
This provoked a reaction but not quite the one he expected. She turned toward him, frowning. “No, I am not. Why would you say so?”
Wickham blinked and allowed his hand to drop. Every woman loved being told she was beautiful, did she not? He swallowed, attempting to reestablish his equilibrium. “You are beautiful to me,” he murmured.
She pursed her lips. “I sincerely doubt that, Mr. Wickham. You are acquainted with many prettier women.” She moved the position of her embroidery to get better light.
Very well. It was time for heavy artillery. He leaned forward until his lips nearly touched her ear. “I love you.”
She snorted. “Do not be absurd. You barely know me.”
* * *
I can just imagine the priceless expression on George Wickham's face, meeting this dose of unromantic Charlotte! So funny :)