“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brilliant idea, conceived and executed by a clever young woman, must be claimed by a man.” Hello and yes, we were obsessed with Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price from the very first line of the book! This retelling has everything we love about the Jane Austen classic (like Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s hate-to-love romance ) but now with a heroine defying gender norms and way more murder! Honestly, what could be more fun that?!
When a scandalous murder shocks London high society, seventeen-year-old aspiring lawyer Lizzie Bennet seizes the opportunity to prove herself, despite the interference of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the stern young heir to the prestigious firm Pemberley Associates.
Convinced the authorities have imprisoned the wrong person, Lizzie vows to solve the murder on her own. But as the case—and her feelings for Darcy—become more complicated, Lizzie discovers that her dream job could make her happy, but it might also get her killed.
Read the sneak peek of Pride and Premeditation below to find out about the messy situation a certain Mr. Bingley finds himself in—and how Lizzie and Mr. Darcy intend to come to his rescue!
In Which Lizzie Forms a Plan
Lizzie’s mind was tumbling through possibilities. A murder case! This could be just the thing she needed. . . .
“All right, tell me everything.”
“A gentleman by the name of Charles Bingley was taken to a magistrate this morning, at quarter to twelve. He was covered in blood.”
“The charge?” Lizzie asked.
“Stabbin’ his brother-in-law. A bloke by the name of George Hurst, apparently Bingley’s sister is his wife. The way Bingley told it, he called on Hurst this morning but didn’t wait for Hurst to come down. Went straight into his bedchamber, then he started hollering, and the valet rushed in to discover Hurst’s body, and Bingley hunched over it.”
Lizzie held up a hand to stop Fred from continuing.
“They believe Bingley killed him right then and there? Were there any witnesses?”
“The butler and valet are saying he must have done it, miss, but they didn’t witness the murder themselves. It was all chaos at the magistrate’s. I did hear Hurst was stabbed with a fine penknife, and they’re saying it must be Bingley’s. Mr. Bingley claims Hurst was already dead and he tried to revive him, and that’s why he was covered in blood. But let me tell you, he made for a frightful sight.”
“I can only imagine,” Lizzie murmured, but she was already mentally working through the case. “What did the magistrate have to say?”
“He didn’t believe Bingley for a second. Ordered him to Newgate and declared there’d need to be a hearing.”
“Excellent,” Lizzie said, although of course it was not excellent for Mr. Bingley. “And Bingley—do you recognize the name, Fred? I have heard it socially, but what is his business?”
“Shipping,” Fred noted. “He owns all of Netherfield Shipping. A fellow in the court said that Hurst worked for Bingley.”
Interesting. Perhaps a business deal gone wrong? A family dispute? The facts were scant.
“You did very well, Fred,” Lizzie said, and extracted a sixpence from her reticule. She gave it to him and said, “There will be more of that if you can provide me any further details on the case—gossip, even. Anything will help.”
“Cheers, miss.” Fred exited the office with a grin stretched across his small face.
Lizzie made a hasty departure herself, and once out on the busy street, she turned toward home. Her mother would prefer to hire a carriage to ferry her about town, but Lizzie relished the two-mile walk and the weak spring sunshine warming her face. The offices of Longbourn and the Bennets’ home were both in Cheapside, a bustling neighborhood full of shops, merchants, and bankers, where there was always someone Lizzie knew ducking into a coffee shop or stepping out into the street. The atmosphere was overall pleasant and industrious, although it was the sort of neighborhood that the rich chose merely to visit but not to live in. Mr. Bennet would not hear of taking up residence in a quieter, more fashionable neighborhood, although Mrs. Bennet regularly begged him to consider it. The proximity to London’s Central Criminal Court and his bookseller was too convenient.
As Lizzie walked the familiar route, she pondered. She got her best thinking done while walking the streets, muddy and messy as they were, and this case was puzzling. The law of the land declared that innocence had to be proven, but Lizzie often found herself needing to be convinced of wrongdoing. She longed to know the context of this case—what was so urgent that Bingley had entered Hurst’s bedchamber? Where had Mrs. Hurst been? What was the family relationship like? What was their standing in society?
Lizzie did not balk at these questions. Her father told her to convince him she was worthy of a real job by using logic, but Lizzie knew that if men allowed themselves to be swayed by pure logic, women would be in Parliament! No, Lizzie would have to show not only that it made logical sense for her to fulfill the position but that she was more capable than any man.
And what better way to do that than by taking on a murder case?
The Bennets lived on Gracechurch Street, and when Lizzie arrived home she was met at the front door by Jane, who took her bonnet and gloves and asked, “Well? How did it turn out?”
It took Lizzie a dizzying moment to realize that her sister was asking about the Davis case. Lizzie was already well beyond that, but she collected her thoughts and said, “Papa will take my evidence before the judge this afternoon.”
“Splendid,” Jane said, smiling with satisfaction.
“Although it won’t be my evidence.”
Understanding dawned slowly. “Mr. Collins?”
Lizzie nodded and quickly explained before concluding, “I shouldn’t have breathed a single word to him.”
“You had no other choice. A man’s life was at stake, and Collins was doing what he does best—bungling everything.”
Lizzie smiled. “Why, Jane! How very unladylike of you to say so.”
“A lady never lies,” Jane stated with a faux haughty tone she shared only with her sister, which made Lizzie grin, albeit briefly.
“Papa knows the truth,” Lizzie said, then sighed. “And I suppose that should be all that matters. Except, oh, Jane! There’s news. A murder!”
“Good Lord!” Jane cried in horror. “Who? Someone we know?”
“No, a Mr. Hurst,” Lizzie said, and quickly shared what she knew of the case.
“That’s positively horrendous,” Jane said. “That poor family.”
“Yes, the poor family,” Lizzie agreed, feeling a stab of guilt that her first reaction had been excitement, not sorrow. It was rather easy to forget, in the flurry of the moment, that a murder meant more than questions unanswered and a case to be solved and collected upon. It meant grief, funeral arrangements, and lives upended.
So Lizzie tried to temper her tone when she said, “However . . . a case such as this will definitely demand legal advice,” and proceeded to tell her sister about their father’s agreement to consider Lizzie for the job if she could prove herself capable of the challenge, with the caveat of finding her own case.
“And naturally you decided to find a murder case?” Jane asked, incredulous. “How does one even go about investigating such a matter as this?”
“By collecting information,” Lizzie said with a determination that surprised even herself.
She did not wait long to begin her reconnaissance—just until dinner. In true dramatic fashion, Mrs. Bennet had kept to her room for the afternoon, emerging only in time for the family to be seated.
“No Mr. Collins tonight?” she said when she entered the dining room. “Mr. Bennet, are you not passing along my invitations?”
“No, my dear,” he replied from the head of the table. “I spend my entire day with the man. I don’t need to suffer his presence at home.”
“Have you no compassion for your daughters?” Mrs. Bennet gestured broadly. Jane’s face was turned down so that no one could see her amused smile, but Lizzie had no such concerns. Mary looked rather bored, and Kitty and Lydia were whispering, ignoring their mother completely.
“Come now. I love my daughters. That’s precisely why I do not want to inflict Mr. Collins’s presence upon them.”
“Oh, he’s not all that bad,” Mary disputed. “I enjoy watching him trying to puzzle out which fork is which.”
Lizzie let out an unladylike snort, drawing her mother’s attention. “You, my dear, should be working to earn his admiration,” Mrs. Bennet said.
“With all due respect, Mother, I don’t wish to earn Mr. Collins’s admiration, nor the admiration of any other man.”
“Do you wish to be turned out onto the streets when your father dies?” Mrs. Bennet bellowed, causing Lydia and Kitty to cover their ears and burst into giggles.
“Girls,” Mr. Bennet said sternly, but didn’t bother looking up to see if Kitty and Lydia paid him any attention.
“Papa, do you plan to die anytime soon?” Lizzie asked.
“Not unless this conversation continues,” he replied.
“There you are, Mama. Papa promises not to die if we promise not to speak of any of us marrying Mr. Collins.”
“Lizzie can’t marry Mr. Collins,” Lydia said while chewing, “until Jane marries.”
As the oldest, prettiest, and most well-mannered Bennet, Jane was quite the catch, and Mrs. Bennet had set her sights rather high for her eldest daughter. No young man with a fortune less than five thousand a year would be considered. He must own land, maintain a house in town, and preferably be a member of nobility, not to mention handsome. It was quite a lot for one young man to live up to, and Mr. Collins did not stand a chance.
“If I were you, Jane,” Lydia continued, “I’d pay more attention to a military officer. Everyone knows that clergy are too poor to marry, barristers are too dull, and merchants too scandalous. But an officer—”
“Papa,” Lizzie interrupted, eager to steer the conversation back to sensible manners before the situation was well out of hand, “what do you know of Mr. Bingley?”
Before her father could formulate a response, Mrs. Bennet sat up straighter. “Who is Mr. Bingley? And is Lizzie acquainted with him?”
Not yet, thought Lizzie.
Mr. Bennet’s head snapped up, and his gaze pinned her in place. Ah, he knew something. “Elizabeth, this is hardly a conversation to be had at the dinner table.”
That confirmed it. After she’d left, he must have gone to court and heard the news!
“Now, he would be an ideal match for Jane,” Mrs. Bennet continued. “A young gentleman, recently come of age, involved in commerce, yes, but his uncle’s sole heir. Eventually he will inherit that house in Derbyshire. Why, he must earn at least four or five thousand a year! Mr. Bennet, why don’t you invite Mr. Bingley to dinner to meet Jane?”
Lizzie eagerly filed away her mother’s information as Mr. Bennet replied, “Mr. Bingley is engaged at the moment.”
Mrs. Bennet’s face fell. “Engaged? To whom?”
“Not to a young lady, but rather his time is engaged for the foreseeable future.”
The note of finality in her father’s voice told Lizzie he hoped that Mrs. Bennet would let the issue drop, but the one thing that Lizzie and her mother had in common was their relentless curiosity.
“Where on earth is he?” Mrs. Bennet demanded.
“He’s in Newgate Prison.” When this news did nothing to dim the excitement in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes, he added, “For murder.”
The whole table gasped, except Lizzie and Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet slammed her fork down. “You’re teasing me!”
Kitty and Lydia begged to know more, and Mary began muttering about sinful excesses. Jane slid Lizzie a look that said, Well, you’ve done it now. Grudgingly, Mr. Bennet provided the barest of details over the second course but admitted he had not heard the full account.
“If only he weren’t in prison,” Mrs. Bennet lamented, “he would be a perfect match for our Jane.”
Jane offered no opinion on the matter, choosing to pay special attention to her tart, but Mr. Bennet asked, “And what if he were a murderer, but not imprisoned? Would he be an acceptable suitor then?”
“He’d still be better than Mr. Collins,” Lizzie muttered to Jane, who hid a smile behind her napkin.
Lizzie knew that her mother’s single-minded goal of seeing her five daughters married stemmed from her own fear and unhappiness. Mrs. Bennet’s father had died suddenly, leaving his family nearly penniless. And while Mrs. Bennet’s brother was now respectably settled with his own family, he’d been a mere apprentice in a china shop at the time. Mrs. Bennet had married Mr. Bennet simply because he was the first one to ask, and his future as a barrister seemed bright. She’d been dissatisfied to find her married life consisted not of society parties and vast fortune but of an address in Cheapside, a husband who preferred books to people, five daughters, and not a single son.
Lizzie sympathized with her mother’s disappointment, but she didn’t understand why being born a girl meant that she couldn’t decide her own future. “I think Mr. Bingley’s case is interesting,” Lizzie said, addressing her indifferent father and ignoring her glaring mother. “Fred said that—”
“Lizzie, I thought you cut ties with those urchins!” her mother interrupted.
“Fred is hardly an urchin. He shares his information and makes an honest living of it. But Papa, I keep turning it over in my mind—what could Mr. Bingley’s motive possibly be?”
Lizzie was set on acquiring and working through her own case, but she still valued her father’s opinion . . . and his instruction. After all, he was the one who had taught her that asking a person’s opinion on a matter often yielded a lot more information than simply asking someone what they knew.
“It’s impossible to say to what lengths desperation may drive a man, especially when his own family is at stake,” was all her father said. Lizzie resisted the urge to scowl. Mr. Bennet would not be helpful.
“A crime of passion?” Jane asked, sending Lizzie a bemused glance.
“I hear that the union between Mr. and Mrs. Hurst was not a happy one.” Mrs. Bennet took the opening to gossip. “Just recently, Mrs. Hurst abandoned her husband!”
The other Bennet sisters gasped, while Lizzie thought rather irritably that she would like to know where her mother got her information—it was tedious listening to her endless stream of chatter, but it occasionally yielded the most fascinating tidbits. “Why, then it would have to be very foolish of Mr. Bingley to murder Mr. Hurst if such rumors are true,” Lizzie thought aloud. “He must’ve known that he would be the very first suspect.”
“One cannot account for all the fools in London,” Mr. Bennet observed wryly.
“Mr. Bingley is not foolish,” Mrs. Bennet protested. “A foolish man simply cannot be as rich as he is . . . heavens, no. A man like that must be clever, and good mannered, and fashionable. Oh, Mr. Bennet! But what if you were able to prove his innocence? He might be so grateful as to marry Jane then!”
“No, thank you, my dear. I suspect Lizzie has already staked a claim on that venture.” Mr. Bennet gave her a knowing smile. “Now, I beg of you all, let me finish my meal in peace.”
“I shall have no peace,” Mrs. Bennet said sadly. “Not when my Jane is lovely and unwed, and my second daughter is determined to be a barrister.”
“Don’t be absurd, my dear,” Mr. Bennet said. “Jane shall have her pick of suitors, and Lizzie will hardly be able to get through the pack of solicitors lining up outside of Newgate to represent Mr. Bingley.”
That last comment was made with a pointed look in Lizzie’s direction. She chose to ignore both of her parents’ words. She would make an excellent barrister. In fact, she’d make an excellent solicitor, too. Any solicitor worth his (or her) salt kept their ears and eyes open, searching out potential clients while the barristers argued in court. But Mr. Bennet was right: Lizzie wouldn’t be at all surprised if the prison was swarming with earnest solicitors hoping for an audience with Mr. Bingley and a chance to earn him as a client. . . .
All at once, an idea struck.
“What are you smiling about, Lizzie?” Mrs. Bennet demanded. “Surely not our family’s ruin?”
“Surely not,” Lizzie agreed.
In Which Lizzie Makes an Unexpected Enemy
As far as schemes went, Lizzie’s plan to secure
Mr. Bingley as the newest client of Longbourn & Sons was not her most far-fetched, but it was perhaps her most daring.
It would take impersonation, bribery, and all of Lizzie’s wits.
Jane was against it, naturally.
She tried to reason with Lizzie as she made her preparations. “I know you’re as clever as any solicitor, but you aren’t a solicitor, Lizzie. You’re a young lady.”
“Why must everyone insist on reminding me?” Lizzie asked as she tied on her widest bonnet. “It’s not as if I am able to forget.”
Jane gave Lizzie her most serious look. “Lizzie.”
“Jane. I will not live my life sitting by the side while there are so many men making a mess of things.”
“You’re referring to Mr. Collins?”
“Mama thinks that I ought to marry him to secure our future, but why do that when I can secure it just as easily by myself?”
Jane kindly didn’t point out that nothing about Lizzie’s plan would be easy, but she did promise to cover for Lizzie on the slim chance that Mama went looking for her. And so Lizzie stepped out into the street with a hamper full of pilfered goods from the kitchen and set out for Newgate Prison.
It was not an overly long walk west. She smelled Newgate before she saw it, and the stench made her lift her handkerchief to her nose as she took in the grim stone building, imposing and forlorn for all the bustle of the streets around it. Gallows stood in the open courtyard, a chilling reminder of what might have been Mr. Davis’s fate if she hadn’t discovered his wife’s deception.
She couldn’t help but trace where Newgate was connected to London’s Central Criminal Court by a stone-enclosed passageway, where prisoners were ferried across to await trial. A brick wall in the shape of a half circle impeded her view into the courtroom windows, and the narrow entrance was beyond her reach. She’d never been inside, although her father had been coaxed into admitting that it was rather fine. Lizzie wanted to see for herself, and this could be the case that finally gained her entry into that building.
With that in mind, Lizzie gathered up her courage and walked past the gallows and toward Newgate’s entrance. It took a shilling to convince the man at the gate she was here to see a prisoner, and another to be escorted past the hopeful family members and solicitors seeking out loved ones and clients, into a stale, dusty office where the warden received her. He was a tall, gray man and was quite amused when she demanded to see Charles Bingley. “And who’re you?”
Lizzie drew her face into an expression of great disdain—it wasn’t very difficult—and said, “His sister. Miss Bingley.”
The warden studied her for a long moment and Lizzie struggled to keep her composure by counting the bricks above his head. One, two, three, four . . . she got up to seventeen when the warden said expectantly, “There will be a fee.”
Lizzie smiled and handed over the last of her shillings. Mr. Bingley had better be worth the trouble, as this was turning out to be quite the expensive venture, and it was not so easy for a young lady to get her hands on coin.
“He’s in the statehouse, so it will take a while to fetch him,” the warden said, and quickly pocketed the money. “We don’t usually let murderers stay in the statehouse, but we don’t usually get ones that can afford it.”
“Alleged murderer,” Lizzie corrected.
The warden gave her one last hard look before setting off.
The wait was long. Lizzie tried to pass the time by mentally practicing what she would say when Mr. Bingley arrived but faltered when she could not imagine his reaction to seeing a strange young woman impersonating his sister. She tried counting the bricks but kept losing track after thirty-five. She began pacing the small office, hoping she might see something of interest, but the desk was locked up tight and the room sparse. Finally she sat again, convinced that she had made a terrible mistake and that the warden was just outside, laughing at her and deciding to lock her up in a cell for her deception. . . .
Lizzie stood the moment the door opened, revealing the warden, a guard, and a rather ruffled-looking young man of about four and twenty. Lizzie noticed his clothing first—he was wearing a fine jacket in a sea-blue linen, covered in garish dark stains that she knew instinctively must be blood. Excitement coursed through her, overriding the pinpricks of horror.
“Brother!” Lizzie cried loudly. “I’ve come to secure your release from this wretched place!”
She stared at Mr. Bingley, scarcely breathing, praying he’d play along.
The young man’s weariness gave way to bewilderment, and Lizzie observed that although he was young, he had fine lines around his eyes that hinted at a tendency to smile. His wavy blond hair was mussed and cravat sloppily tied, but she could tell he came from money by the quality of his clothing and his perfect posture. Luckily for her, proper upbringing prevented him from contradicting her outright. “Don’t just stand there,” the warden growled. “Your sister paid a fair bit to see you, and she brought food, too.”
Bingley’s eyes darted to Lizzie’s basket, and a smile brightened his face. “Sister!”
Men. So utterly predictable.
“Release him from these shackles,” Lizzie demanded.
“I’m sorry, Miss Bingley, but we can’t.”
“My brother won’t harm me,” Lizzie declared, hoping that it was true. It was what his sister would say, but Lizzie had yet to judge Bingley’s character for herself.
“We’ve too many people comin’ an’ goin’,” the warden said. “Can’t take the chance.”
Lizzie didn’t wish to press her luck any further. “Fine. May we speak privately?”
Lizzie’s mother would positively faint if she knew her daughter was demanding a private audience with one of London’s most eligible bachelors, suspected criminal or not. But his sister would not expect to have a chaperone to their conversation, and so the warden obliged.
The moment the door closed behind them, Charles Bingley looked to Lizzie and said, “You’re not Caroline, but you play her well. Did you really bring food?”
Lizzie opened the hamper. “Scones, cheese, and strawberry preserves.”
“Bless you, Miss . . .”
“Bennet,” Lizzie replied, and got to setting out food for Bingley. It was well-known that one must pay for everything in Newgate—food, security, privileges. Bingley was wealthy enough, but she wondered how much he’d spent already and for what.
Bingley helped himself. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Miss Bennet?”
Lizzie was momentarily disarmed by Bingley’s drawing room manners. Either he had no idea how serious the situation was or he was quite guilty and possibly mad.
“Mr. Bingley, I apologize for my deception. It goes against my nature, but it was the only way I knew how to get a chance to speak with you.”
Bingley frowned around an enormous bite of scone. “And why on earth would you want to talk to me?”
“I wanted to ask you about what happened yesterday.”
Now Bingley’s gaze turned shrewd, and Lizzie felt him evaluate her more closely, although his features never wavered from politeness. Lizzie was reminded that although he was young, he was a very successful businessman, and one didn’t achieve such things idly.
“I don’t know if I should be discussing this,” he said finally, dropping his easygoing smile. “Don’t get me wrong—George was a scoundrel, a gentleman in appearance only. I can’t say I’m upset that Louisa is free of him, but . . .”
“I wouldn’t let the magistrate hear you say so,” Lizzie advised.
“What are you, a solicitor?”
“Of a sort.”
Bingley looked to Lizzie with surprise. It seemed to her that he was taking her in fully for the first time. “And what does that mean, of a sort?”
“My father is a barrister at Longbourn and Sons. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
“The firm without any actual sons?”
“Yes. I work there in a somewhat . . . veiled capacity. When I heard of your case, I was intrigued. Would you care to tell me what happened, in your own words?”
Bingley stared at Lizzie with openmouthed shock. “I thought you were with some sort of, I don’t know, ladies’ aid association, lending comfort to prisoners. But a solicitor? You are quite the unconventional young lady, Miss Bennet.”
“I shall take that as a compliment, sir.”
Bingley leaned forward, and Lizzie knew then she had hooked him. In her limited experience, people were all too happy to share when they felt important, and Bingley was no exception. “George was not on good footing; I’m not afraid to admit that. Financially, he didn’t have much—although we didn’t put it together until after he married Louisa. I did my best, giving him a position in my company, a salary, and . . . well, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say, he did not rise to the occasion.”
Lizzie would have dearly loved to be bored with the details, but she kept silent, unwilling to derail Bingley’s speech.
“This is rather delicate, but . . . three days ago, Caroline—the one you so cleverly impersonated—called upon Louisa. Louisa was utterly distraught. George had barely come home all week. He was spending most nights at his club, and when he did come home he’d either ignore her or start an argument before running out again. Louisa was certain he planned to leave her, so she returned home with Caroline. I knew there’d be no peace unless I rounded him up, and besides, with my father dead and her husband utterly useless, I’m the only one to speak for Louisa’s reputation.”
On this front, Lizzie could sympathize. He was young, but responsible for his family. Not just for their financial security, Lizzie suspected, but for how society perceived them.
“I found him at his club, hauled him home, entrusted him to his butler, and told him to sober up, for we’d have many things to discuss in the morning.”
Lizzie winced. If this was how he had framed the events to the magistrate, no wonder he had been thrown in prison. He would require a great deal of coaching if he ever went before a judge.
“I went home, and I must confess, this situation kept me up half the night. My sisters and I have been through so much, and nothing has gotten through to him. In the morning, I was prepared to cut him off completely. I’ve threatened to tighten the reins before, but I’ve always given in for Louisa’s sake. But since she refused to go back to him, I decided that he would either have to repair their relationship or I’d demand a separation. I called upon his residence, but the butler said he hadn’t risen yet. At that, I became rather angry. I went straight upstairs and . . . at first, I thought he was still drunk, and I began to yell at him. I reached over to rouse him, and that’s when I realized he was covered in blood. I tried to revive him, and got myself . . .” He gestured to the bloodstains on his clothing. “Well, it was no use. He was gone.”
“Was his body still warm?” Lizzie asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Mr. Hurst, was he warm or cold? If he was cold, then we have a good case that he was dead long before you even arrived.”
“He was . . . well, not quite cold but definitely not alive.”
Lizzie nodded. “Then he was attacked at some point after you left him the night before, but likely not very long before you called. Did anyone else see him after you brought him home?”
“Banks, the butler, let us in and helped me carry him up the stairs. We took him straight to his bedchamber, and I told Banks to not even bother waking his valet. I thought George deserved to fall asleep fully clothed. Banks let me out, and I went home.”
Lord almighty, Bingley was certainly not helping his case any! “Did you see anyone when you returned?” Lizzie asked, hopeful.
“My driver let me out at the door, but I’d told my own butler not to wait up for me, and I didn’t call for my valet,” Bingley admitted. He looked at Lizzie, and she wondered if he was realizing what she was thinking—that he could have easily turned right around and walked back to his brother-in-law’s house. “It doesn’t look good, does it?”
“No,” Lizzie agreed, because she’d not lied to Bingley when she said that deception was not in her nature. “But the facts of the case still beg a closer examination. There is the matter of confirming the whereabouts of the valet, the butler, Mr. Hurst’s entire staff. They all would have had much easier access to him than you, and an entire window of opportunity where someone else could have committed the murder. And . . . well, I’m not convinced that you killed him.”
“Because the facts don’t line up for you?”
Before yesterday, Lizzie would have said she wasn’t convinced because her instincts told her something about this was not quite right. But then she recalled her father’s challenge. I must go about this logically.
Instead of answering, she stared at Bingley’s fine jacket, now hopelessly stained with blood. “I know that this is indelicate, but how many times had Mr. Hurst been stabbed?”
Bingley’s face whitened, and the hand reaching for another scone faltered. “I beg your pardon?”
“Once? Twice? More than that?”
He swallowed hard. “I don’t know, exactly. There was so much blood. All over him, all over the bed. I couldn’t even begin to see. Afterwards, it seemed foolish that I thought he was merely passed out, because even his neck . . .”
Lizzie shuddered but nodded in satisfaction. “And your jacket . . . it’s quite bloodied, but the spots are . . . smeared about. I’d venture a guess that you leaned over Mr. Hurst, shook him, perhaps?”
Bingley nodded. “Why are you asking?”
She took her time answering. “If you had stabbed him, there would be more blood on you, I should think. But the blood is only on the front of your coat.”
“How the devil do you figure?”
“I have, on occasion, gone to the market with our cook. Have you ever seen a butcher’s apron?” When Bingley shook his head, Lizzie explained. “It is covered in blood, but the patterns of blood are different. When a creature is killed, there is usually a bit more splatter.”
Bingley’s face went still. “I never thought of that. You’re awfully clever, Miss Bennet.”
Lizzie smiled at the praise, but her mind was already thinking ahead. “Here’s what I propose: We must investigate Mr. Hurst’s murder ourselves. It’s the only course of action that will lead to your complete exoneration and lift the tarnish from your good name. If Mr. Hurst was the scoundrel you claim, it shall not be difficult to discover who wanted him dead.”
“Discover the true murderer,” Bingley repeated. “You know, in all the turmoil, I had rather forgotten there was a killer on the loose.”
But Lizzie hadn’t. It was rather taxing that the burden of proving innocence fell upon the accused. It didn’t seem quite fair when, in her experience, things were hardly ever as they first appeared. But she had solved that Davis case, hadn’t she? This was just a step up from that. “Well?” she inquired. “Shall we enter into business together? My first course of action shall be to secure your release. A gentleman such as yourself should not reside here a moment longer.”
“You can do that?” he asked eagerly.
“Ah . . . my father certainly can,” Lizzie admitted. Between paying Fred for the tip and today’s bribery, her reticule was quite light. Besides, she suspected that she could offer the warden the crown jewels and he would still refuse to release Bingley to a woman. “He can be here within the hour, and once you’ve had time to . . . recover, we can discuss the matter in greater detail.”
Bingley considered her proposal, and Lizzie hardly breathed with anticipation. Despite the particular challenges of Bingley’s case, she knew she’d presented a convincing argument for Longbourn & Sons. Also, Bingley had aroused in her a stirring sense of justice and keen curiosity.
“You’re very persuasive, Miss Bennet,” Bingley admitted. “However, I’m afraid I cannot hire you.”
Lizzie had forced herself to prepare for the possibility of this response, but she had not anticipated the crushing disappointment when possibility became reality. Her confident demeanor began to wilt. “It’s because I’m a lady, isn’t it?”
“Oh, no! You’re rather clever, lady or no, but you see, I already— Darcy!”
He already Darcy? Lizzie was confused, until she turned in the direction of Bingley’s gaze and realized that Darcy was not an explanation but a person—a very tall young gentleman about Mr. Bingley’s age, perhaps a year younger, who was now standing in the doorway.
“Bingley,” Mr. Darcy acknowledged. “The warden informed me that Caroline had come to visit you, which I had told her was unnecessary as you will be at home by teatime, but clearly—” The owner of such a brisk, authoritative voice broke off when he took in Lizzie’s face and frowned spectacularly. “You’re not Caroline.”
It should have occurred to Lizzie to be embarrassed at being caught in a lie, but she was far too distracted by this person, this Darcy. He was dressed smartly, but not a dandy. His face was somewhat longer than what might be considered attractive, but his slightly crooked nose made his face interesting—like a marble statue where the artist had slipped just the tiniest bit when forming the nose. Lizzie was caught between the urge to stand and curtsy and the desire to stare back defiantly. Mr. Darcy’s dark eyes returned her bold look until Lizzie concluded that he was indeed unconventionally handsome, though she herself could not imagine admiring someone with such a forbidding frown.
“This is Miss Bennet,” Bingley informed Mr. Darcy. “Of Longbourn and Sons. Miss Bennet, my good friend Mr. Darcy.”
“I wasn’t aware that any women worked at Longbourn and Sons,” Darcy said.
Lizzie smiled politely. “I’m happy to enlighten you.”
Darcy’s expression didn’t alter as he continued. “I’m sorry to disappoint, Miss Bennet, but Mr. Bingley has already engaged legal representation.”
“You’re a solicitor?” Lizzie demanded.
Here, Darcy hesitated and Lizzie saw his stony demeanor slip when he glanced at Bingley. It was back in place by the time he looked back at her and said, “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pemberley and Associates.”
Oh, he was one of the Pemberley Darcys! Lizzie knew the name. Judging by his youth and indirect response, Lizzie guessed that his standing in the firm—surely his father’s—was as secure as her own. “A pleasure,” she said, not quite managing to keep the sour tone out of her voice.
“Indeed,” Darcy replied flippantly, but when he turned back to Bingley he was all concern. “How are you?”
While Bingley responded, Lizzie did her best not to appear annoyed by this intrusion. So Darcy was an explanation after all. It didn’t matter how impressive Lizzie’s proposition was, not if Bingley had Mr. Darcy of Pemberley & Associates as a close personal friend. Pemberley & Associates was one of the finest, most renowned firms in all of London and, by extension, all of England.
“But Miss Bennet and I have been having the most intriguing conversation, and I say, Darcy, she has some good points about my case.” Lizzie looked up just in time to see Darcy cast a disinterested look in her direction. “Perhaps you ought to hear her theories?”
“I detest working alongside someone with whom I am not acquainted,” Darcy said.
“Why, Mr. Darcy, were we not introduced just two minutes ago?” Lizzie asked.
He blinked, and Lizzie knew she had caught him off guard. “I am in no humor to give consequence to young ladies who use . . . wiles to gain entrance to Newgate, Miss Bennet.”
Lizzie stood to face Darcy, indignant. “I don’t need to resort to wiles when I have intellect at my disposal!”
He looked momentarily taken aback at Lizzie’s response. “My apologies, Miss Bennet,” he said, and Lizzie relaxed the slightest bit—until he continued. “Allow me to rephrase. I am in no humor to give consequence to young ladies without common sense.”
If Darcy had slapped Lizzie, it wouldn’t have been more shocking. “What’s the harm in conferring? Would it be so damaging to your pride if it turned out my ideas held merit?”
Ah, that achieved a glint of passion in Darcy’s eyes. It gave Lizzie great satisfaction to see such an insufferable man ruffled.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said with an uncomfortable laugh. “Naturally, Bingley shall engage the services of whomever he likes and is confident shall handle this case.” He turned to Bingley, who was finishing his fourth scone and watching the volley of words between Darcy and Lizzie with wide-eyed fascination. “I have already secured your release on bail with the warden. Will you be leaving with me, or shall you wait for Miss Bennet to . . .”
Bingley looked sheepishly at Lizzie and said, “I’d like to leave, please.”
“Just as I thought.”
Bingley brushed the crumbs from his hands and said, “Sorry, Miss Bennet. It’s just that I know Darcy from when we were at school together, and he’s a good friend. Please do call on me at your earliest convenience. I’m indebted to you for your faith in my innocence, and the food, of course.”
Darcy cleared his throat, and Bingley added, “You really are quite clever.”
Bingley gave her a small bow and shuffled from the room, shackles clanking. Lizzie thought that Darcy would follow him, but instead the other young man paused to look back at her. Lizzie met his gaze full-on, so he’d know she could not be intimidated. He replaced his hat upon his head and his lips quirked into a small, triumphant smile. “Better luck next time, Miss Bennet.”
Words scrambled about in her head, but before she could arrange them into a witty response, Darcy swept from the room the same way he’d entered—silently and imperiously.
Lizzie struggled to maintain her composure. Oh, this was worse than standing by as Collins took credit for her work. Darcy seemed like just the sort of man that Lizzie had learned very early on to avoid. They were the first to laugh at her aspirations and the first to overlook her when a conversation turned complex. At best they were dismissive, and at worst they were cruel. It hardly seemed possible that Bingley could be associated with someone of this sort, but it was not something she could have foreseen. Therefore, it was not a personal failure.
No, not a failure. Lizzie took in a deep, calming breath and regretted it as she choked on the Newgate stench. By the time she composed herself, disappointment had strengthened into determination.
Bingley had not dismissed her—he had asked her to call on him. While Lizzie detested idle social visits on principle, this was a chance to prove that she was just as tenacious as Darcy. All she had to do was stand by her original scheme and identify Hurst’s true murderer.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy had not seen the last of Elizabeth Bennet.
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