Book Blurb: Every great love has a beginning.
In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we meet with perhaps the most sensible, caring relatives a lovelorn young woman could hope for: Mr and Mrs Gardiner. What is their story?
Edward Gardiner has just been refused by the lovely young woman he had intended to make his wife. Heartbroken and eager for a diversion, he accepts an invitation from his brother-in-law, Thomas Bennet, to accompany him along with his two eldest daughters to the north on family business. Gardiner’s pleasure tour is interrupted, however, when his eldest niece falls ill and is unable to travel farther.
Stopping over in the scarcely remarkable village of Lambton, the men decide that Bennet must continue on, while Gardiner and the children remain. The only trouble is that Gardiner has not the least idea how he should care for one ailing niece and another who is ready to drive him to distraction… until he meets with Madeline Fairbanks.
Jane had so well recovered her strength by the next morning that Madeline felt it would do her no harm to attempt breakfast in the dining room. Accordingly, she descended with both girls, though keeping a watchful eye on the eldest as she negotiated the stairs. “Are you quite all right, Jane?” she inquired at the landing, when the child had paused out of either faintness or simple disorientation.
“Yes, Miss Fairbanks,” Jane smiled pleasantly. “I was looking for Uncle.”
“To your left,” Madeline directed. Jane looked, and Madeline allowed the children to lead. Elizabeth, calmed by her sister’s serene influence, seemed an entirely different girl on this day! Patient and gracious, she had looped her arm through Jane’s and acted to lend support, though it was not needed. She was scarcely even speaking, and had it not been for the characteristic roving of her mirthful dark eyes, Madeline might have suspected her swapped out for a changeling. Madeline only shook her head in relieved wonder. Perhaps there was a future lady to be found in her, after all!
“Jane!” Edward had stooped to greet his niece, the first time he had seen her out of bed these last days. “Dear one, are you feeling better?”
“All better, Uncle Gar’ner!” Jane answered brightly. She tipped up on her toes then, and whispered, “I am hungry, though!”
Edward laughed, teasing a blond curl at her forehead. “We shall see what can be done for that. Come, I have a bench set aside. Do not be troubled, Jane, it is rather crowded, but there is plenty of room for us. Miss Fairbanks?” he extended his elbow hopefully.
Madeline accepted it readily. He was so warm, and… well, comfortable! His affability set her so at ease, short though their acquaintance was. With greatest consideration, he assisted her to a seat at the table nearest the hearth, then turned to Jane, who had taken his other hand. Madeline watched him with almost hungry eyes, eager to catch every nuance of his interactions with his nieces. Was it possible that he truly was as generous and thoughtful as he seemed? He looked to adore children, and had ever been perfectly solicitous of her own comfort. How was such a man still unmarried?
She looked modestly to her lap when he turned back to her. “Will this suit?” he asked, gesturing to the arrangements he had secured for them.
“Quite well, sir,” she replied, and was rewarded by one of his open, honest smiles.
The foursome set in on the meal which was promptly brought- Jane more ravenously than any. Madeline looked on in satisfaction. After quite frightening her two days earlier, now the girl was mending outstandingly well- thanks, perhaps, to the fortitudes of youth rather than her own unremarkable nursing skills.
“Miss Fairbanks,” Edward ventured as they finished their meal, “how do you think Jane is getting on? I was wondering if you thought she might tolerate a short walk today. It is such a fine country, I should be sorry to see her left in her room rather than out in the fresh air.”
“Oh, Mr Gardiner, I do not feel myself the proper authority on that point,” she bit her upper lip. “She seems strong enough at present, but I should not wish to tire her. I do not know her well enough to say, I think.”
He frowned. “Of course, you are quite right. Forgive me, I ought not to have asked. Perhaps…” he cast a pensive glance at his other niece, “it might not be too much for her to remain here by the fire for an hour? Lizzy could keep her company. It would spare you the discomfort of another full day in that little room.”
She stilled, gazing through lowered lashes. “How else would you have me occupy myself, sir?”
“I was hoping perhaps I might persuade you to show me about Lambton a little,” he smiled modestly.
She gave a light chuckle. “Sir, there is little enough to be seen! The entire tour would take less than half an hour.”
“That allows us another half an hour for a picnic, does it not?”
“Why, I… I suppose,” she conceded, though a little uncertainly. “That is rather a short picnic, sir.”
“Yes,” his face fell. “Yes, of course. Perhaps we might forego the tour?”
“Or perhaps,” she laughed, “you might ask Jane herself how she is feeling. She seems a steady, sensible girl, and I believe she will answer you honestly. If she feels herself strong enough, perhaps the girls might join us for a leisurely outing?”
“Excellent! There was a charming little trap at the livery- perhaps if I hired that for the afternoon rather than walking, she might fare better? I wonder if I might even convince your father to join us.”
Madeline could not help smiling agreeably at his enthusiasm, but he had yet to enquire of Jane. She tipped her head significantly in the girl’s direction.
He nodded. “Quite right. Jane, dear?” he turned his head to speak to his niece. She did not seem to hear. “Jane?” he called a little more loudly.
Still, she did not turn her head. “Jane Bennet,” he spoke more firmly. Lizzy, seated next to her, gave her a sharp nudge, and her head finally snapped round.
“Uncle? I am so sorry, I did not hear you!”
He peered at her in renewed concern. “Why, Jane, your cheeks are flushed. Has your fever returned?”
“N-no, Uncle!” the girl stammered. Her eyes shifted guiltily to the side, but straightened back to his face before he could determine the source of her sudden awkwardness.
This was strange behaviour for placid, sweet Jane! He stared in some confusion until Elizabeth, her impish grin threatening to return, pointed surreptitiously behind herself, over her shoulder. Jane nearly melted into the long oaken table in embarrassment.
“What…? I do not understand,” he faltered, until his searching gaze caught the bright pink ears of the boy at the opposite table, who seemed to have only just turned away himself. It was the young lad he had seen last evening, arriving with his father. He glanced back to his nieces.
“Jane dropped her napkin,” Elizabeth furnished helpfully. “The boy picked it up for her, and now they keep smiling at each other.” Jane groaned in misery and covered her rosy face.
He stared hard at his eldest niece. She was only eight years of age! How was it possible a boy had already caught her eye, and she his? Gracious, he shook his head. Another Fanny! Bennet would do well to lock up his daughters until they were out!“Well,” he sighed, “I suppose I need not ask how you are feeling, Jane. Indeed, I think the sooner I take you out of this building, the better!”
Ms. Clarkston is giving away ONE copy of The Courtship of Edward Gardiner in the the format (ebook or paperback) of their choice to one lucky reader. The giveaway is open internationally from today to November 14th at 11:59 pm EST. I will announce the winner on the 15th on my facebook page which is located here. All you have to do to enter is comment below and leave a email address where you can be reached should you win.
Author Bio: Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools. She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don't ask).
Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole's books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.
Blog Tour Schedule:
10/21: Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway at More Agreeably Engaged
10/22: Review & Giveaway at Just Jane 1813
10/27: Review & Giveaway Savvy Verse & Wit
11/01: Excerpt & Giveaway at Half Agony, Half Hope
11/08: Guest Post & Giveaway So little time…
11/10: Review & Giveaway My Kids Led me Back to Pride and Prejudice
11/11: Guest Post & Giveaway at Babblings of a Bookworm
11/15: Review & Giveaway at My Vices and Weaknesses
11/17: Guest Post & Giveaway at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life
11/26: Excerpt & Giveaway at Margie’s Must Reads
11/30: Review & Giveaway at Diary of an Eccentric
12/01: Guest Post & Giveaway at From Pemberley to Milton