Carrie Bebris

Suspense and Sensibility

or, The First Impressions Revisited

For my sister, Dorothy,

and my grandfather, James Diliberti


Many people have contributed to the creation of this book in ways large and small. I particularly wish to thank:

My family, as always, for not only understanding my need to sequester myself away to invent conversations with imaginary people in faraway times and places, but also for encouraging me to do so.

Eliza Diliberti, Victoria Hinshaw, Anne Klemm, and Dorothy Stephenson, for criticism in various stages of the book’s development. James Lowder, for Latin translations and other shared wisdom. My editor, Brian Thomsen, for his insight and guidance. And Natasha Panza, his extraordinary assistant, for her adept attention to a thousand details.

Members of the Beau Monde chapter of Romance Writers of America, for generously sharing their knowledge of Regency England. Also, my fellow members of the Jane Austen Society of North America, for their continued support.

Jane Austen, for creating Harry Dashwood, Kitty Bennet, and the Darcys. William Shakespeare, for quotes used in Sir Francis’s dialogue.

Finally, my readers, for their praise, questions, and feedback. And for their wanting, like me, to spend just a little more time with the Darcys.

'My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.'

Darcy to Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

— Robert Burns


'There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.'

Darcy to Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter II


'Damn this mortal coil.'

Sir Francis Dashwood muttered the words under his breath, though he had no audience. He sat alone in his bedchamber, surrounded by the opulence he’d enjoyed all his life but experiencing the poverty every man knows when his years on earth run out. Time was no longer his to command. Once he’d had it in abundance, spent it as liberally and recklessly as any other commodity in his possession. Now it was in dreadfully short supply.

Servants had leit a simple meal on the bedside table. The sandwich went untouched, but the glass of brimstone he drained in two swallows, relishing the familiar taste of the sulfur-laced brandy.

He stared at his reflection in the ornate gilded mirror across from his bed, resenting every wrinkle that etched his ruddy face. Where had that faded hair come from? The liver spots on his hands? The slight tremble that seized his fingers? Eyes watery with age stared back.

As a young man, he’d reveled in his vitality. He’d mocked mortality along with morality, dared death and the devil to catch him if they could. He’d lived each moment to its fullest, leaving no desire unindulged, no curiosity unexplored. And he harbored no regrets. If he had his life to live over again, he would change nothing. It had been a good run.

But it was not enough.

Fiery orange light slanted through the window to stripe the floor. Sunset might claim the bleak late autumn landscape of West Wycombe Park, but it would not claim him so easily. No, he would not go quietly into the darkness. His spirit was too strong to meekly concede the battle his body waged with time.

He gazed beyond his own image in the glass, to the reflection of the portrait that hung behind him. That, too, was an image of himself, but at one-and-twenty. The painter had captured him in the full vigor of youth. Just as the adventure that had been his life was beginning.

Inside, he was still I hat young man. Yet now he scarcely had the strength to even rise from his bed.

He twisted the sheets with arthritic hands, cursing his physical weakness, cursing the corporeal shell that could no longer keep up with him. He cursed the mirror that bore witness to his frailty. He’d paid handsomely for the artifact, one of many treasures that he’d acquired in his lifetime. He’d been drawn to it by the images of ancient Greek champions that adorned its frame, but now they seemed to taunt him with their puissance. Tonight, he would gladly trade the mirror — nay, his whole estate — to inhabit once more the body of a young man, to again take health and strength for granted.

He could not tear his gaze away from the reflections: Two images of the same man, separated by mere inches but a gulf of more than fifty years. Dawn and twilight.

He wanted another sunrise.

His vision grew cloudy, as it often did now at the end of the day. The dual images of himself became less distinct, fading at their edges and drifting toward each other. He blinked rapidly and rubbed his eyes, trying to stabilize the view, but in vain. His eyesight, like the rest of his body, was failing him.

This last failure, however, was welcome, for after another minute, the two images merged completely. Despair fled, replaced by satisfaction.

Slowly, a smile spread across his face. He was a young man once more.

If only in the mirror.


'If any young men come for Mary or Kitty,

send them in, for I am quite at leisure.'

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