Bespelling Jane Austen

Blood and Justice
Harlequin (September 28, 2010)
ISBN-13: 9780373775019  ♦ ISBN-10: 0373775016

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But even if the whole world was against them, it would not matter. They were together—again. And this time they would remain together. Until death do them part and, of course, long after that.

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Read an Excerpt

Blood and Justice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every decent straight guy who isn’t dead broke is in want of a good woman.

As my dear Grandpa Bennet used to say … Bull.

I should know. Not that I’ve been looking, mind you. My two youngest sisters make up for the rest of us ten times over. But Jane … why no one has snapped her up yet is incomprehensible. Of course no ordinary guy will deserve her. Not my sweet, adorable Jane.

I was thinking about the perfect husband for my big sister when the family gathered for Dad’s annual office birthday party at Bennet Laboratories. Dad, BL’s president and founder; Jane, head of Personnel; and Mary, assistant accountant, were already at the office. Mom had come in from my parents’ house in Branford, Kitty and Lydia from their “closet” in Manhattan, and I put up my “out to lunch” sign at Longbourn Books and walked the six blocks to BL’s modest headquarters and research facility.

Not that I’d lose many customers; Dad said it was only my natural stubbornness that kept me firmly planted in the struggling independent bookstore business. The same way he kept fighting to preserve some small bit of pride as he watched Bennet Laboratories facing a complete takeover by a company that didn’t give a damn about what he’d accomplished.

But I was thinking about Jane that early afternoon, wondering what would happen to her if BL went under. Not that she couldn’t find another job … at least so long as she stuck up for herself a little. Of course I was worried about Dad, and Mom, and Mary, too. I couldn’t imagine a world without BL—my world, at least. It had been at the center of my family for almost as long as I could remember.

If Dad hadn’t been so reckless with his investments, if he hadn’t taken a few too many risks in his eternal quest for new discoveries…

I tried to put BL’s problems out of my mind as I took the stairs to the second floor. The employees were standing around in nervous groups, trying to appear cheerful for Dad’s sake. Jane was beaming at everyone; even if she were nervous, she wouldn’t show it. She’d put up balloons and streamers and had laid out a feast of finger foods, sandwiches and drinks. Mary looked as if she’d much rather be at her desk buried in her account books, though that couldn’t be a very pleasant job these days.

As for Mom, she was chattering at an unfortunate lab tech who had wandered a little too close to her web. His face collapsed in pathetic gratitude when Mom saw me.

“Lizzy!” She held out her hands, grabbed mine and kissed me noisily on the cheek. “Have you heard? Mr. Bingley is coming!”

I was so surprised by her announcement that I was momentarily speechless. Mom didn’t waste any time filling the silence.

“Can you imagine?” she went on in a tone made up of one part indignation and two parts satisfaction. “Your father invited him. Mr. Bennet said that we should show that we’re not worried about the acquisition.”

“He’s right,” I said, though my thoughts were anything but calm. “So much of this depends on how you play the game. Putting up a confident front is–”

“I know that very well, Lizzy,” she said irritably. “She leaned closer, as if the whole room couldn’t already hear her. “I haven’t met Mr. Bingley … you know how your father refuses to tell me anything that’s going on here … but I’ve been told that he’s a very handsome man. And extraordinarily rich.”

Trust Mom to think that was the most important thing, not the fact that BL was on the verge of going under. “What does that have to do with anything, Mom?” I asked.

“It must be obvious even to you, Lizzy. I’m counting on him marrying one of you girls. Then, if Mr. Bingley does take over, we won’t have anything to worry about!”

I’d been annoyed at Mom plenty of times in my life, but I’d learned how to hide it at a very young age. “Who did you have in mind?” I asked dryly.

“Well, Jane is the oldest, and she really ought to have first shot.”

“Did I hear my name?” Jane said, coming to join us. She smiled at Mom and at me with that unfeigned warmth I’d never been able to match.

“You’ve heard that Mr. Bingley is coming to the party?” Mom asked.

Blood and Justice

“No, I didn’t. But it seems like a good idea.”

“Why?” I asked bluntly.

“Well, he only inherited BP a few months ago. He’s never attended the negotiations himself, but I’ve heard good things about him. I’m sure he’ll want to reconsider some of his representatives’ more stringent demands when he really knows us.”

I shook my head. “Your faith in people never ceases to amaze me, Jane.”

“Oh, Izba,” she said, using the nickname she’d given me when I was a baby. “You only have to look a little harder. The good is always there.”

“How right you are, darling,” Mom said. “I’m sure that Mr. Bingley will be perfectly charming.”

I rolled my eyes. “Where’s Dad?”

Jane’s forehead wrinkled. “He had some last-minute call. I don’t think it was good news.”

Is it ever? I thought. But I smiled and squeezed her hand. “This is supposed to be a celebration, remember?”

She brightened. No one could keep Jane down for long. “Yes. Everything is ready. I have the champagne on ice, and–”

The absolute quiet in the room was so sudden that Jane stopped in mid-sentence. Mom turned around. Everyone was staring toward the door to the hallway as two men walked in, and I knew that Mr. Bingley had arrived.

Handsome. Okay, I’d give him that, though he wasn’t my type. Blond, blue-eyed, average height, and smiling in a way that seemed almost as sincere as Jane on one of her happy-binges. His suit was a little rumpled, as if he didn’t much care if he looked like the extremely rich President of a major pharmaceutical company.

He held my attention for about five seconds before his friend stalked in.

Now, I’m not the girly type. I don’t fall all over myself when a good-looking guy looks my way. But this time I held my breath and just stared.

Tall, dark and handsome. Check, check and check. He moved like a dancer, or maybe just a guy who was used to being noticed wherever he went. His athletic build and broad shoulders were admirably displayed in his impeccable custom-made suit, as faultlessly pressed as Bingley’s was rumpled.

And there was something else about him. Something dangerous. It radiated from him, casting everyone and everything else in shadow. When he glanced in my direction, I saw more than arrogance and self-assurance in his eyes. There was a glint to them that reminded me of a wolf strolling in to a pen full of fat sheep.

Mom rushed over to Bingley and his looming shadow with a grin that would have frightened any man with brains. “Mr. Bingley! How very delightful!”

Jane sidled up next to me. “I didn’t expect Mr. Bingley to be so…” She trailed off and bit her lip, but I noticed that her eyes were very bright. “I mean, doesn’t he look like a nice person?”

My poor, naïve Jane. He did look “nice,” our Mr. Bingley. Just the kind of guy who’d let others do his dirty work so that he could maintain his facade of “niceness.”

But maybe Jane was right. She often was. And if I’d had to pick the guy most likely to eliminate the competition by tossing out a life raft with a slow leak in it, it would be Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome.

Blood and Justice

“Who is the guy with Bingley?” I asked Jane.

“Oh, that must be Mr. Darcy. He’s on the Bingley Pharmaceuticals Board of Directors.”

Figured. “He looks like Bingley’s bodyguard.”

“I’ve heard they’re good friends.”

Well, I thought, they do say opposites attract.

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