So, yeah things have been pretty intense the last few months. Chatting with a friend the other day I realized that since mid-May my middle son graduated university, we attended my brother-in-law’s wedding, I seriously sprained my ankle, our grandson was born, son #2 moved to another city to attend graduate school, my other brother-in-law’s partner died and we flew out for the funeral, and my youngest started his senior year of high school. Oh, and I published my twelfth book. So, yeah, no stress there at all.
None, nope. We’re all good.
Needless to say, I needed something fun and fluffy to lift the spirits a bit. So I pulled out all the stops and dove into something totally different, entirely light and easy, harkening back to my love of fantasy and Jane Austen of course.
I’ll be posting a month-long preview of the book in October. But since today is the 30th anniversary of my husband’s and my first date, I feel like celebrating. So I’m posting a sneak peek at the new book.
Have you guessed what it’s about yet? Here’s another hint. This is one of the main characters of the new series…oops did I say series. Guess that’s another cat out of the bag. Right now it’s looking like this is going to be a three book series by the time all is said and done.
This is Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s dragon.
Yep, you read that right. Apparently Regency England is teeming with dragons, but only a select few are actually aware they are about. Naturally, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are among the elite members of the Blue Order, charged with maintaining the dragon-human peace established by the Pendragon treaty. A nice simple directive, right? What could go wrong?
What indeed… Come join me on this ride and find out!
Jane Austen’s Dragons, Book 1
Pemberley: A Dragon Hatching
A great many people only hear what is comfortable and convenient for them to hear. Far oftener than might be expected, that is a very good thing indeed.
Twilight was Elizabeth’s second favorite time of day, just slightly less appealing than dawn and almost as interesting. She settled into her customary spot in the sitting room, in the little faded chair near the window. The setting sun cast long shadows across the worn rose-patterned carpet. Waning sunlight warmed the cozy parlor to soporific levels, leaving the children yawning even as they protested they were not tired.
Mrs. Bennet sat back into the faded sofa cushions and grumbled under her breath. “Children ought to mind the first time they are told a thing. Sister Gardiner is far too lenient on with them.”
Neither Jane nor Kitty gave any sign of having heard. No doubt Mama did not intend to be heard, so Elizabeth chose to ignore her.
Sometimes preternatural hearing was more bane than blessing.
Papa and Uncle Gardiner exchanged raised eyebrows over the card table. The long suffering expression in Papa’s eyes suggested he would like to have words with her, but was unlikely to expend the effort.
Daniel Gardiner bounded up to Elizabeth, hands clasped before him, an unruly shock of blond hair falling over his eyes. “Please Lizzy, Mama says we must go to bed. Will you tell us a story?”
Samuel scurried up beside him, blinking up at Elizabeth, “Pwease, Lizzy, pwease.”
The child was far too adorable for his own good. Elizabeth scooped him into her arms. “If your Mama agrees, then of course, I will tell you a story.”
Joshua and Anna rushed to their mother and tugged at her skirts. “Mama, pray let us have a story.”
Aunt Gardiner took their hands and smiled at Elizabeth. “Are you certain you want to? I do not expect they will allow you to stop at only one.”
“I should be delighted. There is hardly anything I enjoy more than telling stories—”
“With dragons?” Daniel grabbed her hand and squeezed.
“Yes, dwagons!” Samuel bounced in her arms.
Mama huffed and muttered something under her breath, something that it was best Elizabeth pretend not to hear.
“Of course, what other kind of story is worth telling?” Elizabeth chuckled and ushered the children upstairs.
With Aunt Gardiner’s assistance, the children settled into the nursery and dressed for bed. The room was awkwardly tucked into a gable, all odd angles and shadows. Had it been drafty and dusty, it would have been a frightening, unfriendly place. But with bright yellow moiré paper on the walls and crisp green curtains at the window, it was snug, comfortable and playful. Exactly what a nursery should be.
“Climb into bed, and I shall return in a moment.” Elizabeth looked directly at Joshua, the middle of the three boys, who was most adept at avoiding bedtime.
He hung his head and pouted as his mother placed a firm hand between his shoulders and propelled him to the little bed beside his brothers.
Elizabeth hurried to her room, collected her birdcage and returned.
“Is that her?” Anna asked, pointing at the cage. Her sweet little face peeked up above the little coverlet.
“Yes it is. If you promise to be very quiet and not startle her, I will uncover the cage and you may watch her whilst I tell you the story. Perhaps if you are all very good, she might sing for you afterwards.”
“We will be very, very quiet, we promise.” Anna glanced at her brothers with a pleading look. With her wide, dark eyes and silky hair, Anna reminded everyone of Jane, but her personality was far more like Elizabeth’s.
“Boys, do you agree?” Aunt Gardiner folded her arms and cast a stern look at her sons.
“Yes mama,” they murmured, eyes fixed on the bird cage.
Elizabeth nodded and unbuttoned the quilted cover surrounding the cage. The candlelight glinted off iridescent blue and green feathers. Tiny wings buzzed and the creature hovered above the perch.
“You remember April from the last time you were here. April, these are my cousins, the Gardiner children.” Elizabeth gestured at the children.
April looked up at Elizabeth with something resembling annoyance.
Anna propped up on her elbows. “She is so beautiful. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life!”
April buzzed closer to the side of the cage nearest Anna and poked her little beak between the bars.
“Oh, she likes me! Lizzy, she likes me!”
“Indeed she does, but don’t startle her. Here, I will set her cage on the table nearest you if you promise to be very still.”
“I will, I will!” Anna tucked back under the coverlet and held herself very stiff.
Elizabeth sat on the little bed beside her. “So you wish to hear a story about dragons? Then I will tell you, but I do not think you will believe it.”
“But we will, surely we will.” Daniel flipped to his belly and propped up on his elbows.
“You think so now, but very few can believe the tale I will tell. It is not one for the faint of heart.”
“We’re not, we’re not!” Joshua cried in hushed tones.
“But perhaps you will be to learn that England is full of….” Her eyes grew wide as she pressed a finger to her lips. “…dragons.” She leaned close and whispered the word.
“Where are they Lizzy? I have never seen one.” Anna’s big eyes darted from April to Lizzy and back again.
“Everywhere, they are all around.”
“But we can’t see them.” Daniel huffed.
“Children, if you do not allow your cousin to tell you the story, then I shall put out the candle, and we shall leave.” Aunt Gardiner tapped her foot, and the children ducked a little farther under the covers.
“You see them all the time, but you do not recognize them for what they are, for dragons are very good at hiding in plain sight. They speak spells of great persuasive power, convincing you that they are anything but a dragon, but most people cannot hear them directly. They think the dragon speech is their own thought, and they go about never questioning those ideas.”
“Is there a dwagon in the rwoom now?” Samuel’s eyes bulged and he cast about the nursery.
“If there was, it could not be a large one, could it? The room is very small. Any dragon in this room would be so small there would be nothing to fear from it.”
“There are small dragons?” Joshua asked, his brow furrowed as he worked over the idea. He was such a perceptive, thoughtful, mischievous child.
“Small ones, medium size ones and very large ones indeed. One of the largest is the monster Saint Columba encountered in the river Ness in Scotland.”
“River dragons? That monster drowned a man! If there are dragons here, aren’t you afraid they will eat you?” Daniel’s world tumbled out almost all at once.
“I am glad you have asked, for that is exactly the story I wish to tell. Now lay back on your pillows, and I will tell you why I am not afraid of dragons.” Elizabeth waited until the children complied.
April buzzed around her cage twice and settled on her perch, looking at Elizabeth as if to listen to the story herself.
“Long ago, back in the age of Saint Columba, dragons ravaged our land. For hundreds of years, man and beast were at war, man against man, dragon against dragon, dragon against man. Chaos reigned. In the year nine hundred, it seemed very much as though the dragons would wipe out the race of man in the British Isles.”
“Was it like the war in France?” Joshua whispered from behind his blanket.
“As bad as Napoleon is, this was far worse. But Uther Pendragon rose to the throne. He was unlike any man born before him, for he was able to hear the dragons.”
“The dragons’ roar was silent before Uther?” Daniel asked.
“No, it was loud and terrifying. Everyone heard that. But what Uther heard was different. He heard them speak. Some spoke in very high, shrill notes that sounded like the whine of a hummingbird’s wings.”
“Like April?” Anna whispered.
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose and she glanced at Aunt Gardiner. “Yes, just like that. And others spoke in a voice so deep it felt like the deep rumble of thunder. Uther could hear those voices, not just the fearsome noises. He suddenly understood what the dragons had been saying all along.”
“What did they say?” Samuel pulled the blanket up to his chin and chewed on the edge.
“The dragons were weary of war and they wanted peace as much as men did. So, the wise king Uther invited them to meet with him in a large, deep cave. His advisors warned him not to go into the cave, for he would never come out again. The dragons would devour him, leaving the race of man without a king, and the war would surely be lost.”
“Did the dragons eat him?” Daniel asked.
“Of course not,” Joshua hissed, “Lizzy would not be telling the story if they had.”
Aunt cleared her throat and raised her eyebrow toward the older boys.
“Uther treated them with respect and the dragons welcomed him as a foreign king. At the end of a fortnight, Uther emerged from the cave carrying a red shield emblazoned with a gold dragon. A mighty falcon with feathers that shimmered like polished steel rode on his shoulder, a gift from the dragon king. Some say a dragon peace treaty was written on that shield, but none could tell for certain, for no one could read the dragon language then.”
“Dragons can write?” Daniel gasped.
“Some of them, just as some men can write, and read as well.”
“Is that why so many men have falcons, like Papa? To be like king Uther?” Joshua rested his chin on his fists and stared at her.
“Indeed it is. And the reason ladies keep pretty birds, like April, since ladies do not keep falcons.”
“I think April is far prettier and sweeter than a falcon. I should very much like to have one like her someday.” Anna yawned and stretched.
“Perhaps you shall, dear. But now it is time to sleep.” Elizabeth rose.
“Will you not tell us another?” Daniel sat up, but his mother waved him back down.
“It is late tonight, I will tell you another tomorrow. But perhaps, since you have listened so very well, April will sing for you. Lay back on your beds, and I will let her out so she can.”
The children obeyed and Elizabeth opened the cage. April zipped out and flew two circuits around the room, hovering over each child and inspecting them as she went. She flew to the middle of the room and hovered low over the beds. Her sweet trill filled the room.
The children yawned. One by one their breathing slowed into the soft, regular pattern of slumber.
April warbled a few more notes and landed on Elizabeth’s shoulder.
Aunt Gardiner smiled, pressed her finger to her lips and slipped out. Elizabeth picked up the cage and followed.
“Will you return to the parlor?” Aunt Gardiner asked.
“After I put the cage away.” Elizabeth turned down the corridor toward her room and slipped inside.
“You called me a bird! How dare you call me a bird!” April shrieked in her ear.
“You need not shout, I can hear you quite well.” Elizabeth held her hand over her ear.
“Then why did you call me a bird?” April launched off her shoulder and buzzed around the room. The candlelight glinted green off her feather-scales.
“You were the one telling them you were a hummingbird, not I.”
“What else should I have them believe? That I am a cat?”
Elizabeth pressed her lips hard. April did not like to be laughed at. “Certainly not! You do not look enough like one for even your persuasive powers to convince them of it.”
“It is one thing for me to tell them I am a bird, but quite another for you.” April hovered near Elizabeth’s face.
“The children are too young. We cannot know if they hear you.”
“They all do. Coming from two parents who hear, what would you expect?”
What? Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. “Aunt Gardiner does not hear you.”
“Yes, she does. Not as well as her mate, but she does, and so do the children. You must tell their father as soon as you can. They need to be trained.”
Elizabeth held her hand up for April to perch on. “There is plenty of time. It is not as though Uncle Gardiner is a landed Dragon Keeper.”
“I do not understand why you humans are so insistent upon making distinctions among us based on size. A Dragon Mate may not have a huge landed, dragon to commune with, but we of smaller ilk are just as important and just as proud. And we are far more convenient, not being tied to a plot of ground or puddle of water.” April flipped her wings to her back and thrust her dainty beak-like nose in the air.
Elizabeth stroked her throat with her index finger. April leaned into her. “There, there now, you do not need to get your feathery little scales in a flutter. You need not be jealous of Longbourn. He is a cranky old thing. Grumpy, and not nearly as pretty as you.”
“Nor as good company.”
“You are the best of company, my little friend.”
“Of course I am. Who would not rather spent their time with a fairy dragon than a dirty, smelly old wyvern.” April presented the other side of her neck for a scratch.
“I would not let Longbourn hear you say that. He does have quite the temper.”
April squeaked in that special annoying tone she saved for anything related to the resident estate dragon.
“You will wake the children.”
“Then you could begin training them.”
“They will be as cranky as Longbourn, and I will leave them to you.” Elizabeth smoothed the soft scales between April’s wings.
The fairy dragon really did resemble a hummingbird, though she was much prettier and far more nimble.
“Oh, very well. I do not like cranky anythings, not dragons, not people, not anything.” April’s head drooped.
“I must return downstairs. Do you wish to come? I know you do not like being stuck in that cage.”
“Does your uncle have his horrid cockatrice with him?”
Elizabeth chuckled. April had never met a cockatrice she approved of. “Rustle? Of course he came. But he prefers to keep company with Longbourn in the cavern. He does not favor so much female company.”
“Your mother insulted him when she called him a mangy looking falcon.” April cheeped a little laugh.
“I do not blame him for being insulted. So do you wish to come or not?”
“I do indeed. I have some very important news to share with the official Dragon Keeper of Longbourn.”
“What else have you not told me?”
“It is my news, and I will share it myself.” April launched off her finger and lit on Elizabeth’s shoulder.
No point in trying to out-stubborn a dragon, even a very small one. “Very well, I shall leave the door open though, in case you tire of mere human company and wish to return to your sanctuary.” Elizabeth propped the bedroom door open with a little iron dragon doorstop.
April nipped her earlobe. Fairy dragons did not like to be teased.