I am back with a new story. In this story, the Bennet and Gardiner family have a secret. To share the secret could endanger Elizabeth. She thinks that she is the daughter of Thomas and Fanny Bennet, but she is not. The Gardiners had four children. One of their daughters had secretly been married to the brother of the queen. As the royal family did not approve of Amelia Gardiner, the marriage was kept from them. Problem was, with them unknowing that the duke was married, they insisted on him marrying the niece of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. When the duke refused, the young lady committed suicide. Her death drove her brother to a thirst for revenge. He attempted to have the duke killed on the battlefield. Loyal members of the duke’s troops allowed the world to believe the duke was dead, as they spirited him to England, to his beloved wife. They shared several years before the brother, a baron, learned the truth. The baron sent men to England, where they killed the duke. Devastated by her husband’s death, Amelia dies in childbirth. The Bennets had arrived at the cottage before Amelia gives birth, Fanny Bennet having just miscarried just prior. The Bennets decide to take Elizabeth into their family to protect her. The world was led to believe that Amelia and her baby died. They then discover that the baron is determined to find Elizabeth, as he feels that she should be the daughter of his beloved sister. The Darcy family is all alive, Gerald and Lady Anne, as well as their three children, and Fitzwilliam meets Elizabeth when he visits Bingley at Netherfield. Can her family protect her from the baron?

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Chapter 1

            The Bennet family of Longbourn was a small family who lived on their estate of Longbourn, in the county of Hertfordshire. Thomas Bennet was the head of the family. He had inherited the estate when his father died nearly five and ten years previously. The estate was not the grandest, its income was near three thousand pounds per annum, but the Bennets were a happy family for the most part.

            Mr Bennet had become a widower when his wife died from a fever, leaving him to raise their four children. Their eldest, Jane, was the sweetest person anyone could have imagined. Jane always tried to find the good in everyone, no matter what they had done. She was considered the most beautiful of all the Bennet children, with her golden blonde hair and green eyes, and a smile that made most young men fall in love with her.

            After Jane came Elizabeth. She was completely opposite of her elder sister, with her auburn hair and dark chocolate eyes that had flecks of gold sparkling through them. In her own way, Elizabeth was just as beautiful as Jane, though Lizzy, as her family referred to her, was always into mischief. Jane was the perfect child, never allowing her gown or shoes to become dirty and always doing as she was told. On the other hand, Lizzy was adventurous and had a mind of her own. Rarely a week went by that Lizzy did not have a torn gown or scuffed shoes, climbing in trees while Jane learned to sew.

            When Lizzy was three and Jane was almost five, their mother gave birth to a set of twins. Much to the delight of their family, Master Thomas Edward Bennet followed his sister, Mary, during their birth. The birth of Tommy was  VcxAze blessing Mrs Bennet had prayed for, as it broke the entail on the estate. Mr Bennet’s grandfather had placed the entail on the estate so that only male heirs could inherit. With Tommy’s birth, the entail would be broken and the future would be brighter for the Bennet females, if they were still living at Longbourn when Mr Bennet died.

            Unfortunately, Fanny Bennet did not live long enough to enjoy her son and his sister, as she took a fever after the birth and died days after the arrival of the twins.

            After Fanny Bennet’s death, her mother, Amy Gardiner, came to live with the Bennets, assisting in the care of her grandchildren. Mrs Gardiner had been a widow for a nearly a year when her daughter died and had been living in London with her son and his new wife, so Mrs Gardiner decided it was time she moved, thus allowing the newlyweds to have time to themselves.

            Amy Gardiner loved her grandchildren dearly. Like Fanny, she had given birth to four children, three daughters and one son. Her eldest daughter, Edith, was a good natured girl, and was a mother hen with her siblings.

            Next came Amelia, Mrs Gardiner’s most cherished daughter. Amelia was most like Mrs Gardiner, with her strength and similar character. Amelia had been a joy to her parents, though she had unfortunately died when she was in her early twenties.

            Fanny Bennet, nee Gardiner, had arrived two years after Amelia, followed a year later by Edwin.

            The Bennets were a happy family, though they had a deep secret. Very few people knew the truth, but Elizabeth was not the daughter of Fanny and Thomas Bennet.

            The truth was, Elizabeth was the daughter of Amelia and her husband, Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg. The duke was the brother of Charlotte, wife of King George III of England. The marriage had been kept secret, as his family did not approve of Amelia. The duke had been in the Royal Navy, after learning the English language. When illness forced him to abandon his life at sea, he became a Doctor of Laws. It was while he studied in England that he met and fell in love with Amelia, who was visiting a cousin living in London. Shortly after their meeting, Duke George Augustus entered into service of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. He quickly rose through the ranks to become brigadier general of her armies.  Whenever he could take leave, he would meet with Amelia in London.

            Their marriage was a love match, a rare thing amongst the royals. It took place in a little village outside London, with only Mr and Mrs Gardiner as witnesses, on a beautiful summer’s day in June of the year seventeen hundred and eighty five. The couple spent a month at a cottage near Ramsgate, the most joyous time in either’s life. It would be the last bit of joy they would know for some time. The duke returned to his duties, only to die in November of the same year, in the kingdom of Hungary. Or at least, that was the official version. Believed to be mortally wounded on the battlefield, the duke was removed from Hungary and secretly taken to England. There, he was with his beloved wife, who spent her time nursing him. Though weak, Duke George Augustus recovered some of his health. He lived for nearly six years in obscurity, hidden away with his dearest love in their cottage.

            During the years, first Edith married James Phillips. Their marriage was more of convenience, as James had just become a clerk for Mr Gardiner in his solicitor office. Then Thomas and Fanny Bennet had married. Edwin Gardiner married after the duke’s death.

            One day, while he was visiting Ramsgate, the duke was killed by an unknown man, who was an expert with a knife.  The man threw the knife from across a street and disappeared before anyone noticed him. In the duke’s coat pocket was found the reason he had gone to the town, as he had ordered a gift for his beloved as her birthday was fast approaching. Inside a velvet pouch was a delicate necklace of the most beautiful pearls.

            By the time Amelia was told of her husband’s death, she was heavy with his child. Devastated by the news, Amelia slipped into melancholy. Her labors were difficult and long, and at the end, once her child was delivered, Amelia slipped from the world to rejoin her husband.

            As Amelia had remained living in the cottage she had shared with her husband, which he had purchased for her, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, as well as the Bennets had made the journey to be with her during the final months of her confinement. Mrs Bennet had miscarried the child she was carrying at the time, though she had told no one other than her husband and her parents. She was too frightened of what others might say of her being able to produce an heir.

            When the tiny baby girl was placed in Fanny Bennet’s arms, she knew that she and her husband would raise the child, protecting her as they would their own. So, they remained at the cottage for more than two months before they returned to Longbourn, with two year old Jane and newborn Elizabeth.

            Jane and Elizabeth were close, best friends as well as sisters. No one at Longbourn were told of Elizabeth’s birth parents, as it was feared that there would be some difficulties if the royal family was to learn of her existence. Fanny loved both of her girls dearly, as she could see her cherished elder sister in Elizabeth’s appearance and demeanor.

            Several years later, when Fanny died, after giving birth to twins, it was devastating to the entire family. The neighbors all praised the late Mrs Bennet, speaking highly of her devotion to her family. To aid in providing for her children’s futures, Mrs Bennet economized to save all she could towards dowries for the girls. Everything in her life was for her children, as they were everything important to her.

            Mrs Gardiner was heartbroken to see a second of her daughters had died before her. Poor Elizabeth had lost two mothers, though the girl was unaware of her birth mother.

            Shortly after the Bennets had taken Elizabeth as their own child, Mrs Gardiner had informed her son and eldest daughter of what had happened with regards to their sister, Amelia. They were amongst the small group of people to know the truth of her marriage and daughter.

            As the children grew, Amy Gardiner was thrilled to be there with them. She could see her beloved daughters in their children, grateful they were all happy and healthy. Elizabeth was raised as a Bennet, never knowing the truth about her parents.

            Elizabeth was also unaware that she had a legacy from her parents. The duke had left his wife with not only the cottage, but also fifty thousand pounds in their marriage settlement. Only the Gardiners and Bennets knew of the legacy, as Mr Gardiner had written the settlement papers for the duke. When Amelia learned of her being with child, she had her father write a will, so that the babe would be protected.

            Mr Bennet had been named as the executor of the will, and he was the guardian of Elizabeth. He placed some of the fifty thousand in investments with Edwin Gardiner, which had increased Elizabeth’s wealth. It was decided that Elizabeth would be told the truth when she was twenty. Then she could determine how she wished to use her legacy. Her twentieth birthday was only weeks away and Mr Bennet was not looking forward to the discussion.

            “Thomas, you know it is the right thing. Lizzy deserves to know the truth.” Mrs Gardiner stated.

            “How do I tell my dear girl that nothing she knew was true? The only mother she has ever known was not her mother, but her aunt. It will be the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Telling the girls of Fanny’s death was easier to accept, as there was nothing I could do to change what happened. Telling Lizzy that she is not my daughter and that she has a secret family history which I have purposely kept from her is far more difficult.”

            “Lizzy is an intelligent young lady. She will realize that our silence all these years was to protect her. We know that she would have had a difficult life if the royals knew the truth. Most likely she would have been taken away from us. Can you imagine our dear girl having to live by the standards of the royals? They did not approve of Amelia, which makes it highly unlikely that they would accept Lizzy.”

            “I have to determine what would be the best way to tell her next month.”

            Mrs Gardiner placed a hand on her son in law’s arm. “If you wish for me to be with you when you speak with Lizzy, I will do so.”

            Mr Bennet nodded his head. “I would appreciate your assistance, Mother Gardiner.”

            “Then you shall have it.”

Chapter 2

            Fitzwilliam Darcy was preparing to leave for Hertfordshire to stay with his close friend, Charles Bingley. Bingley, the son of a wealthy tradesman, had never owned an estate, which had been his father’s dream for their family. On Darcy’s advice, Bingley had taken the lease of the estate Netherfield Park, located near the village of Meryton, in the heart of Hertfordshire.

            Darcy had been trained since his childhood how to run an estate, as he was the heir of Pemberley, one of the largest estates in Derbyshire. The son of Gerald and Lady Anne Darcy, Fitzwilliam was the grandson of the fourth earl of Matlock and nephew of the future earl. The Darcy family included a much younger sister and a younger brother. Lady Anne Darcy, nee Fitzwilliam, was a devoted and loving mother, spending as much time with her children as possible. Gerald Darcy was involved in the day to day business of their estate, as well as keeping informed on his investments, but most important was his family. From a young age, his children rode on his horse with him as they viewed the estate. His and his wife’s love for their home and the lands of Pemberley were instilled in their children.

            Fitzwilliam, or William as he was known to his family, was a shy young man of five and twenty. He had a difficult time speaking with anyone with whom he was unaccustomed. Meeting Bingley when he did was a surprise. They met at Cambridge, as both young men were entering their first year. One day, as William was walking outside, he noticed a group of older boys shoving about a skinny, red haired boy who appeared to be lost. Tears were welling up in the poor boy’s eyes as the older boys taunted him, yelling vulgarities at him, as they shoved him about.

            For the first time in his life, William stepped forward and inserted himself in the altercation. “What is happening here?”

            “Go away, Darcy. Your family is well established and is connected. This is a tradesman’s son. New money that is tainted. He needs to understand that we will never accept him.” One of the sons of an earl declared.

            “If not for tradesmen, you would not have the clothes you wear. Without tradesmen, you would not have food on your tables. If the son of a tradesman wishes to have a better education, who are we to stop them? My family has owned property for many generations, but we have had second and third sons who have had to make their way in the world of working for a living.”

            For his declaration, William earned a fist to his belly, doubling him over. Fortunately, his cousin who was a year older, Richard Fitzwilliam, came upon the scene and was never one to step down from a fight.

            “Break it up. What is going on here? Why are you attacking my cousin, Worthington?”

            “He is standing up for this worthless tradesman’s son.”

            “You realize that our uncle, the second son of the Earl of Matlock, is a tradesman. Rather than the church or military, our uncle chose to own a bookshop in London.” Richard took hold of Worthington’s arm and pulled him away from William. “Now, enough of this.”

            The group broke up, many of the boys still displeased with Bingley being in their midst.

            William held out his hand to Bingley. “Fitzwilliam Darcy. This is my cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam.”

            “Charles Bingley. Thank you for your assistance. I feared that I was going to be beaten to death.”

            “Worthington is all talk, but usually, he only picks on boys who are scrawny.” Richard explained. “You are a first year?”

            “Yes, I am. As well as the first of my family to attend the school.”

            Darcy was still holding his belly as he spoke. “If this is the sort of reception you are receiving, I hope your roommate is more understanding.”

            “One of those boys was my roommate.” Bingley shook his head. “He has already announced that he will not share the same chambers as a tradesman’s son. I was on my way to speak with someone about changing rooms.”

            “You are in luck. My cousin has no roommate, and he seems to accept you.” Richard stated. “William, you were concerned about not having any friends in your year, now you do.”

            That was the beginning of a friendship that had lasted more than eight years. The only thing William did not like about Bingley was his sisters. The eldest, Louisa, had married the previous year to a gentleman who would inherit his father’s estate. Gilbert Hurst’s family was not well known in society, as the estate was smaller, averaging three thousand pounds per annum. But he was a member of the landed gentry, which elevated Louisa in the eyes of society. The taint of trade was lessened because of her marriage.

            It was the second sister, Caroline Bingley, who truly disgusted Darcy. She was a fortune hunter of the first degree, and she had her bonnet set to capture Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. Caroline knew how important the Darcy family was, their wealth and connections were superior to anyone close to the Bingley family. It was her determination that she would marry her brother’s friend, and having him visit the estate her brother was leasing would be the perfect opportunity to show Darcy what an excellent match Caroline was to be his wife. At least, she thought she was an excellent match for him. It mattered not to her that she was everything that Darcy and his family despised.

            Fitzwilliam Darcy preferred a simple life, one of comfort over elegance. Pemberley’s manor house and Darcy House in London were decorated with quality furnishings and décor that would last. Comfort was the most important, not fancy furniture that no one could tolerate to sit or sleep upon. He had overheard Miss Bingley informing her sister that when she became mistress of his house, she would redecorate every room immediately, as she could not understand why Lady Anne had not done so when she married. Obviously, Miss Bingley did not know Darcy’s mother well, as Lady Anne was pleased with how she had decorated her homes.

            None of the Darcys were slaves to fashion, classical elegance was preferred by Lady Anne. The men usually wore a casual working attire when at Pemberley, which both Gerald and William preferred.

            The Darcy family were well respected by their servants and tenants. The local village was grateful for all the business Pemberley brought to them. No one in the area had a cross word to say about the family or Pemberley.

            William would be visiting Bingley’s leased estate of Netherfield Park for three months, giving him advice. His friend had promised his sisters would not be at the estate, that his aunt would be joining them to act as his hostess. Then, in early December, Bingley planned to accompany William to Pemberley to spend the festive season with the Darcy family, while his sisters spent the time at Hurst’s family estate. All would be enjoyable and relaxing for the young men.

Lady Anne planned the annual celebration for the tenants and servants, in thanks for all they did to make Pemberley what it was. Without them, the Darcys would not have the income they had or the comfort in their homes. This value in their people and lands was of the utmost importance and had been instilled in all three of their children. William planned to instill the same importance in his family one day.

            Gerald and Lady Anne had tried to have other children. After William’s birth, there were several miscarriages before they were fortunate enough to have a daughter. Georgiana was ten years younger than her brother. Two years after Georgiana, another son was born. Matthew Darcy was the more outgoing of the three children, as Georgiana was much like her elder brother when it came to being shy.

            William finally arrived at Netherfield Park and exited his carriage to find his friend on the steps. “Darcy, you are here. I am pleased to have you stay with me.”

            “It seems a pleasant enough place. Would you like to ride out to look over the place this afternoon or wait until tomorrow morning?” Darcy said as he shook his friend’s hand.

            “Ah, yes, well…you see…”

            “Mr Darcy, it is such a pleasure to have you join us.” Miss Caroline Bingley exclaimed as she hurried down the steps to greet the gentleman. “I told Louisa that I could not possibly leave the running of the house to my aunt. Aunt Ethel is a sweet woman, but she has never been the mistress of such a fine estate. She would have been horribly lost and make a fool of my brother in the process. We wish for Charles to be successful in his first attempt at running an estate, do we not?”

            “Of course, Miss Bingley. I will be sad not to see your aunt, as I had made her acquaintance several years ago when she visited us at Cambridge. We had quite a pleasant visit and I wished to renew our friendship.” Darcy turned to Bingley. “Would you be kind enough to show me to my rooms, as I would like to refresh after the dusty road?”

            “I can show Mr Darcy to his rooms.” Caroline offered, latching on to his arm with a vice like grip.

            “Caroline, please release Mr Darcy and allow me to escort my friend to his rooms.”

            Frustrated, Caroline reluctantly released her hold on the gentleman. “I will have refreshments brought to the drawing room in half of an hour.”

            “Thank you, Miss Bingley.” Darcy turned and walked as quickly as he could towards the house, leaving Caroline to fume as she made to follow the men.

            “Thank you, sister, but I can show Darcy without your assistance. Perhaps you should see to your duties.” Bingley was obviously angered at his sister.

            When the men were inside the rooms that Darcy was to use during the visit, Bingley closed the door behind them. “I am sorry, Darce. She showed up unexpectantly this morning, claiming she could not bear to stay at the Hurst estate. Louisa sent a letter stating that Caroline had insulted Hurst’s mother repeatedly and his mother could tolerate our sister no longer.”

            “Perhaps it would be best if I were to stay at an inn. The village we passed through; it must have lodgings available.”

            “You would not be comfortable staying at an inn. Please, I will speak to Caroline and inform her that she is to refrain from pestering you. She will never be Mrs Darcy, and it is time she come to terms with the truth.”