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Welcome back to Austen Promises!

This week’s excerpt is, like last week’s, not in consecutive order from the rest. It is part of Chapter 4. If you are a member of my Darcy Marriage Series Facebook group, you know that Caroline has an accomplice. Please welcome Miss Imogene Millicent Nicholson to Netherfield.

PS If you were my patron at Patreon, you would have been able to read two full chapters on Wednesday night, instead of this excerpt, and you may have had the chance to help me give Imogene a name.

~~~***~~~

“I guess that depends on the favor. What would you have me do?”

“I wish to purchase something—a gift, if you will—for Mr. Darcy and his bride. I would like to keep it a secret, however. I want it to be a surprise.”

Bingley sat back in his chair, eyeing his sister speculatively. Her request was spectacularly out of character. She had not behaved, in her days at Netherfield, as someone who had changed their opinions. “What might this give be?”

“I cannot tell you. You know you are a terrible secret keeper. You would forget and tell Mr. Darcy about it and then it would not be a surprise.”

Bingley had to allow that she was correct. Far too often, he had let secrets slip. Not even his parents, when they were alive, had trusted him with privileged information. He shrugged and replied, “Very well, do not tell me, but I confess that I am wary of your reasons. The letter I had from my aunt indicated that you denied Darcy’s marriage was possible, yet here you are wanting money to purchase them a gift. I do not understand you.”

“Mr. Darcy is no longer available, and I am an engaged woman. The possibility of a match between us disappeared long ago. I have accepted this and now wish to add to the Darcys’ joy. What can be wrong about that?”

“I do not know, but I am certain something is.” Bingley narrowed his eyes at his sister. “However, I can find no reason to deny your request. Do not make me regret it.”

“I would never do that, Charles.” Caroline smiled sweetly as she named her sum.

~~~***~~~

Four days later, Miss Imogene Millicent Nicholson stepped out of a coach to be greeted by Caroline Bingley. After settling the newcomer into the room she had been assigned, Caroline settled into a seldom-used parlor to await her return.

Once Miss Nicholson descended the stairs and joined her hostess, their interview was brief and to the point. Miss Nicholson had debts that needed paid and Caroline had a job that needed done.

Imogene was very fond of gambling. Not the frivolous kind of small wagers people make playing Whist. No, Imogene bet on the kinds of card games gentlemen played in their clubs. She also liked to bet on the horses and on any other type of contest she could. Of course, gambling by women, particularly gentlewomen, was frowned on by the bon ton.  It was a coarse endeavor of the kind that that gently-bred females were supposed to find abhorrent. Except—Miss Imogene Millicent Nicholson did not, and now she had more gambling debts than pin money to pay them with. Her father being deceased, she could not go to him for money, and her mother was still deep in melancholy three years after her husband’s death. The cousin who had inherited her family’s estate was a cold, controlling man with a tight fist in regards to money. She could not go to him for help.

So now she found herself at the mercy of a woman whose cruelty she had witnessed and prayed never to experience. The two ladies had attended the same school, and though they had not been bosom-friends, they had been friendly. Imogene had purposed to be so, in order to avoid the harshness of Caroline and those in her group of friends.

~~~***~~~

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