O.K. Deep breath. Here it goes.
I am very nervous about posting excerpts from my book and have been putting it off for weeks. At my husband suggestion, I am going to post the first few chapters in "teaser" format, a little piece at a time. It took some work for him to convince me that this is a good idea before I agreed. I'm still not totally comfortable with the notion.
Please be kind. I know once it's published anyone can read it and tear it shreds as they like but too much blatant criticism now may cause me to shove the thing in a folder and never look at it again. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is of course welcome.
So here it is: this is about a third of the first chapter, covering the point where I deviate from Austen and expose the entire premise of the story. Please don't forget about the intro, my apology, in the tool bar to your right. Enough dillydallying. Without further ado, I offer for your amusement (hopefully) the beginning of First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice.
Fitzwilliam Darcy found a quiet corner of the overcrowded assembly hall and breathed an almost silent sigh of relief. From the safety of this retreat he could watch with some degree of composure as his friend, Charles Bingley, smilingly endured the crush of new neighbors from which Darcy had just escaped. Bingley, always deemed universally charming, had somehow managed to maneuver his rather plain dance partner into introducing him to the blonde beauty whom Darcy found to be, unquestionably, the handsomest lady in the room.
Darcy tried to summon a smile in response to his friend's easy sociability but was far too unhinged to succeed in the maneuver. From the moment the Netherfield party made their entrance he could not help but be acutely aware of the familiar buzz that filled the attentive room as Meryton assessed the newcomers. Though he strove to be oblivious as rumor of his income spread through the crowd, the astute observer could clearly perceive the tinge of discomfiture that disfigured his handsome face. No deep observation was required on his part to immediately discern who amongst the strangers surrounding him was privy to the gossip and who remained in ignorance: their overly attentive demeanors told all. He cursed inside. Nothing put him more out of countenance than fawning sycophants and he was displeased to observe that this neighborhood, in which he had unaccountably found himself, had an ample supply. Almost always, except in very elite circles, Darcy felt isolated by his wealth. And when he was amongst his financial equals he felt equally isolated by his values and intelligence as, unfortunately, fortunes were frequently inherited by those of less than stellar abilities. Darcy suffered nearly perpetual discomfort in society but on the evening in question, amongst those he did not know, geniality was proving a particular trial.
Between the songs of the set Bingley sought out his visibly disconcerted friend in the kindhearted, if misguided, hope of admonishing him into ease. “Come Darcy,” he said jovially, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not,” Darcy replied emphatically. “You know how I detest it unless I'm particularly acquainted with my partner. At an assembly such as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” He suppressed a shudder at the notion.
“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” Bingley cried in amusement, both at the irony of his statement, for never was he near as fastidious as Darcy, and at his friend's predictably taciturn behavior. “Upon my honor I never saw so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” Darcy declared with a glance in her direction. Inwardly he acknowledged that she was nearly the only woman he could remember noticing at all, so preoccupied was he with his own awkward predicament.
“Oh she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning around, Darcy saw a dark haired woman, of shorter stature than her sister, just perceptively tapping her foot in time to the music as she watched the dancers. She did not possess the impressive beauty of her sister, yet his quick mind was struck by the cheerful liveliness of her appearance. This lady did not pine over sitting out the set, sulking like so many women he had observed. No indeed – rather than languishing she displayed an easy pleasure in her surroundings and a generous goodwill towards those enjoying the dance. Darcy wished he could be so content, so able to relish his chosen role of spectator. He knew it to be the safest place for him. Were he to seek an introduction at this juncture it would, undoubtedly, incite unwelcome attention and gossip while forcing him to indulge in idle conversation with a young lady whose companionship surely must be intolerable. Why should he subject himself to such atrocities? A dance was entirely unthinkable. He moved to turn back round in order to give Bingley a decidedly negative response to his proposal when the lady's eyes locked on his and he realized, with a great deal of horrified mortification, that she had obviously overheard Bingley's idiotic suggestion!
She gave him a knowing look – he could almost read her thoughts: “Well sir? Would you deem my company insupportable?” There was no denying the challenge implied in the raised brow: she was clearly calling him out. Was retreat possible for a man such as he? To not step forward now would be ungentlemanly, an insult to what he must admit to be an intriguing young lady – unthinkable! If there was anything certain to overcome Darcy's timidity it was the need to always uphold the dictates of etiquette. Why else would he have come to this unfortunate assembly in the first place? He was a Darcy of Pemberley after all, descendant of some of the oldest families in England, nephew to the Earl of _________. He had the honor of his name to uphold; it didn't matter if it meant attending an assembly with his host or preventing the infliction of an insult upon a lady, he would fulfill his duty.
“Very well Bingley. If your partner would be so kind, I would be happy to make the acquaintance of her sister.”