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Pride, Prejudice, and Peril

Pride, Prejudice, and Peril

by Katie Oliver

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Overview

"Like a modern-day Agatha Christie bestowed with a hefty dollop of Jane Austen."Laura Childs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jane Austen meets reality TV and murder in this quirky cozy mystery—the first in a new series!

Phaedra Brighton is perfectly content with her life of lecturing college students, gossiping with her best friends, and dreaming of Mr. Darcy. As a young, respected (if somewhat peculiar) English professor, her expertise lies in all things Jane Austen—but she knows that the closest she'll ever get to being a real-life Elizabeth Bennet is in her dreams.

When Who Wants to Marry Mr. Darcy, a new reality TV show, starts filming at her best friend Charlene's estate, Phaedra is intrigued. And when the producer asks her to lend her Austenian knowledge as a consultant on the show, she's over the moon. But on the first day of filming, when Charlene's new husband is found electrocuted and Charlene herself is accused of the crime, Phaedra comes crashing back to reality.

With murder on the syllabus and her best friend in dire straits, there's no Mr. Darcy around to help Phaedra—she'll have to get to the bottom of this mystery herself.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593337615
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/07/2021
Series: A Jane Austen Tea Society Mystery , #1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 91,330
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Katie Oliver is known internationally as a writer of Jane Austen rom-coms with a hint of mystery. In the U.S. and the U.K., she's the bestselling author of the Dating Mr. Darcy and Marrying Mr. Darcy series (HQ Digital).

Read an Excerpt

One

 

Spend the night with Mr. Darcy again, Phaedra?"

 

Professor Phaedra Brighton ignored the comment as she entered the faculty lounge. Not only because she was in imminent danger of dropping the briefcase and umbrella thrust under her arm, but because she no longer found Darcy jokes particularly funny.

 

"I know I'm late," she acknowledged, dumping her briefcase on the conference table. "And yes, before you ask, I stayed up to finish rereading Pride and Prejudice."

 

"There are other books out there, you know." Lucy Liang, professor of modern and postmodernist literature, barely looked up from texting. Black hair framed her face in a short, angular style that, on anyone else, would've looked severe, but suited her sharp edges perfectly. "Admit it. You're obsessed with Mr. Darcy."

 

Phaedra touched her hair, pinned up in a dark blond topknot. She'd spent ten minutes in front of the bathroom mirror with a curling iron to create a cluster of ringlets on each side of her face, with debatable success. "What can I say? I like socially awkward older men."

 

"The ringlets look great, by the way. Very Carey Mulligan in Northanger Abbey."

 

"Thanks." Phaedra glanced down at her Empire waist gown. She'd made it years ago for a summer job as a docent at Monticello, former president Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dressing in historically appropriate clothing was important to her.

 

Even now, her students at Somerset University enjoyed seeing her deliver lectures in full Regency attire.

 

She gave her umbrella a brisk shake and set it aside. "At least I won't miss the Thursday morning staff meeting."

 

"You say that like it's a good thing." Lucy glanced at the clock. "Ten minutes more, and you'd have avoided Dean Carmichael's justification for slashing the Humanities budget yet again. Not to mention finding out how much, or more to the point, how little he's giving the English department for the Jane Austen lit fest."

 

Removing her soggy sneakers, Phaedra retrieved a pair of ballet flats from her briefcase, slipped them on, and withdrew a reticule, lecture notes, and a Moleskine planner. "I can still leave. You can pretend you never saw me."

 

"No deal. If I have to suffer, you have to suffer." Lucy laid her cell phone aside as Phaedra sat next to her. "When are you joining the rest of us and going electronic? I mean, I get the reticule-a Regency lady can't be without her tiny drawstring purse-but no one uses notepads or planners anymore."

 

"I do. And the reticule not only lends authenticity to my outfit, it's practical. I keep my cell phone in there."

 

"Sorry I'm late." Marisol Dubois, resident advisor, graduate student, and Phaedra's high-energy, part-time assistant, sailed into the lounge with a stack of essays clutched against her chest and put them on the table in front of Phaedra. "I would've been on time, but the copier jammed again."

 

"I just got here myself. And thanks for making my point," Phaedra said.

 

"Point?"

 

"Copiers jam, electronic files disappear, and when the server's down, which it invariably is, we can't access anything. Paper may be old-school, but it's dependable."

 

"Paper burns," Lucy pointed out. "Or gets lost. Ink fades."

 

"Like old love letters." Marisol ran a hand absently through her glossy, shoulder-length brown hair. "The ink may fade, but the sentiment remains forever."

 

Lucy rolled her eyes. "Spare me. Romance is a myth."

 

"Speaking of romance," Marisol said, "I swear I just saw Nick Ross in the express line at the IGA."

 

"Nick Ross." Lucy raised one dark brow skeptically. "As in, the famous Welsh actor?"

 

"Yep." Marisol sat down across from Phaedra. "He bought a candy bar and a bottle of kombucha." She frowned. "Kind of a weird combination, now that I think about it."

 

Phaedra barely looked up from her notes. "The kombucha was for himself. The candy bar was for someone else."

 

"And you know this how?" Lucy asked.

 

"The tabloids say he's fanatical about eating healthy. No sugar, no unrefined carbs. And they're filming Who Wants to Marry Mr. Darcy? nearby, which means he's on a strict diet. The candy bar was obviously for a cast member."

 

"Obviously." Marisol and Lucy exchanged glances. They were used to Phaedra's idiosyncrasies.

 

"Thank you, Sherlock Brighton, for your incisive deductive reasoning." Lucy frowned. "Isn't that Mr. Darcy thing you just mentioned a new reality show? I thought it was called something else."

 

"Filming nearby, as in where?" Marisol asked.

 

Phaedra glanced up. "Marling. You know, the historic mansion that sits on a rise halfway between Laurel Springs and Crozet. And you're right, Lu. The pilot was called Who Wants to Marry a Fortune?"

 

"I remember. But the network pulled the plug."

 

"I'm not surprised." Marisol fished out a hair elastic from her handbag and pulled her hair into a low ponytail. "Harold Fortune died a billionaire, but he left his wife and five daughters broke and gave every penny to his nephew instead. No one wants to marry a Fortune now."

 

"They still have money," Phaedra pointed out. "The papers say he left them enough to live on comfortably."

 

"Comfortably. As in, no more chauffeured Bentleys or cruises to Iceland or custom-made designer clothes." Marisol glanced at her Chanel twinset and jeans. "I prefer vintage. It's timeless. And far more budget friendly."

 

"Longbourn Pharmaceutical is worth millions," Lucy said. "It's one of the top five pharmaceuticals in the country."

 

"He must've been furious to cut them out." Marisol frowned. "I mean . . . who does that? It's cost the Fortune girls big bucks. Not to mention their TV show."

 

"Actually," Phaedra said, "the show's still happening."

 

Lucy leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. "Okay, clarification, please. You just said-"

 

"I said the network canceled the pilot. But they're producing a new version-"

 

"Who Wants to Marry Mr. Darcy?" Lucy finished.

 

"Who doesn't?" Marisol said. "After all, he's the perfect man. Brooding, handsome, fabulously rich . . . not to mention he's a real gentleman, too."

 

"And fictional," Lucy reminded her. "He doesn't exist. Besides, the 'perfect man' is an oxymoron. There is no such animal. I should know; I've dated enough losers to confirm it." Her glance returned to Phaedra. "How will this program work, exactly?"

 

"Eight bachelorettes will compete for the bachelor, Mr. Darcy, in hopes of receiving a marriage proposal by the end of the season. He'll be handsome, wealthy-"

 

"And in need of a wife?" Marisol clapped her hands together in excitement. "It's like The Bachelor meets Pride and Prejudice. Will there be lots of betrayals and backstabbing and off-camera sobbing?"

 

"I'm sure there'll be plenty of drama," Phaedra assured her, and glanced at the door before lowering her voice. She'd saved the best for last. "I'm consulting on the show. I start today."

 

"Congratulations!" Marisol jumped up from her seat and threw her arms around Phaedra. Lucy remained seated.

 

"That's amazing," she said. "Truly. But what about your academic schedule?"

 

"I'll work around my classes. I'm headed for the set after the meeting. And please," Phaedra added, "don't breathe a word to anyone. This stays between the three of us. Karolina-the producer-swore me to secrecy."

 

"And we see how well that worked." Lucy set her coffee aside and stood up.

 

"What else did Karolina tell you?" Marisol asked.

 

"Only that the network loves the idea."

 

"Of course they do," Lucy said dryly as she headed for the door. "Because it's a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in search of a wife must eventually star in a reality show."

 

Two

 

An hour later, Phaedra grabbed her notepad and essays and stalked out of the conference room.

 

"Carmichael not only slashed our budget," she seethed as she and Lucy emerged into the hall, "he cut funding for the Jane Austen literary festival to the bone. Instead, big surprise, he's increasing the Economics budget."

 

Lucy shrugged. "Econ attracts more students and more financial support . . . unlike us redheaded Humanities stepchildren. That won't change anytime soon. But, hey," she added with faux brightness, "at least we'll have a new English professor. He'll be here tomorrow. The cuts to our Humanities budget are probably helping to fund his educated-at-Oxford salary."

 

"I'm sure he'll be insufferable."

 

"An Oxford fellow, a professor of English and comparative literature, and a Shakespearean scholar? Of course he'll be insufferable."

 

Phaedra didn't reply.

 

"Don't worry." Lucy stopped and touched Phaedra's arm. "You'll figure out a way to raise the money. The only other option is shelving the lit fest altogether."

 

"No." Phaedra pressed her lips together. "People come from Charlottesville and D.C. for the festival. We've always sponsored it, and this year will be no exception."

 

"So, are you headed to Marl . . ." Seeing Phaedra's frown, followed by a lip-zipping motion, she said, "The place?"

 

"Yes. I'll see you at the meeting tonight."

 

"Wouldn't miss it."

 

"Good. Because it's your turn to feed us."

 

"Then I hope you and Mari like stale chips and leftover sushi with your pinot gris."

 

"We're the Jane Austen Tea Society, Lu. As in cucumber sandwiches and Darjeeling."

 

"I'm out of both. So, wine it is. See you later."

 

She went into her office, and Phaedra returned to the teachers' lounge to retrieve her umbrella and glanced at the clock. Half-past eleven. Karolina expected her at Marling at noon, and if she didn't get a move on, she'd be late. And rumor had it that Karolina despised tardiness.

 

Thankfully, she had no lectures scheduled today. She'd be cutting it close to get to the set on time.

 

Wind whipped at her skirts and clouds lowered overhead as she emerged from the Humanities building and hurried across the parking lot. A spring storm, typical of Virginia's capricious mountain weather, promised to make for an unpleasant drive out to the Marling estate. A distant rumble of thunder confirmed it.

 

Not a promising day for an outdoor location shoot.

 

Phaedra reached her bright blue convertible Mini Cooper and took out her key fob. Would they cancel filming? Move it inside?

 

The first drops of rain began to fall. She slid behind the wheel, never easy in an Empire gown, and closed the convertible top as the shower became a deluge.

 

A glance in the rearview mirror confirmed that in her present damp, bedraggled state, she looked less like a Regency lady and more like Elizabeth Bennet after walking three miles in the rain to visit her sister at Netherfield.

 

Mr. Darcy would not approve.

 

She untied her sodden bonnet and tossed it on the seat beside her when her cell phone rang. The phone, along with her laptop and car, was a reluctant concession to modernity. Although she did her best to stay in character while in costume-verisimilitude was everything, after all-her phone was a necessary evil. The bass line of Queen's "Under Pressure" filled the cabin.

 

"Mom," she said, switching the phone to speaker as she backed out of the space. "I'm just leaving."

 

"Just leaving? But you'll be late. You shouldn't be late on your first day."

 

"We had a faculty meeting." Phaedra turned out of the parking lot. "I stayed behind to answer a question from one of my first-year lit students."

 

"You're dedicated to a fault."

 

"And you're the only person I know who can make a compliment sound like a criticism."

 

"No criticism intended. I simply wanted to wish you good luck on your first day as a reality show consultant. But if you'd prefer I hang up-"

 

"No, of course not." Phaedra knew that injured tone all too well. Smoothing her mother's ruffled feathers required a diversionary tactic. "What are you up to today?"

 

"Nothing much." Mollified, Nan Prescott Brighton, former Richmond, Virginia, socialite and reigning queen of the Laurel Springs Historical Society, added, "I stopped by the carriage house to drop off your mail this morning, but you'd already gone."

 

"Sorry. I overslept and barely made it to the meeting on time."

 

"Dreaming of Mr. Darcy again, no doubt."

 

Phaedra heard the note of disapproval but chose, as she often did with her mother, to ignore it. "Did you lock the door when you left?" she asked.

 

"Of course I did. I only forgot the one time."

 

"You forget every time."

 

"The kitchen smelled divine, by the way," Nan added, adroitly changing the subject. "A new scented candle?"

 

"Bath buns. I brought some to the set." She glanced at the back seat to reassure herself that the bakery boxes, filled with several dozen sweet rolls topped with crunchy demerara sugar and studded with candied citrus, were there.

 

"Karolina will be pleased." There was a beat of silence. "I understand that Nick Ross is the bachelor."

 

"How did you know that? You're not supposed to know that."

 

"Millie Peters saw him at the IGA this morning buying kombucha and a candy bar. It's a small town. You know how it is. And just think-you're the historical consultant on the show! Lucky girl."

 

Rain lashed at the windshield as the wiper blades struggled valiantly to keep up. "Luck had nothing to do with it."

 

As a Jane Austen scholar and a professor of English literature at Somerset University, Phaedra was often sought out by educators, documentary filmmakers, and writers for her Austen expertise. Her Regency teaching attire attracted the attention of the local news station, and the piece proved so popular the affiliate network broadcast the story.

 

But none of that mattered to her mother as much as Phaedra's regrettably single status.

 

"You're eminently qualified," Nan agreed. "With Nick on board and those silly Fortune girls out of the picture, the show will attract higher ratings."

 

"That's what Karolina's banking on."

 

"Marling belongs to Harold's nephew now, doesn't it?"

 

"He inherited everything. He's allowing the Fortunes to stay in the caretaker's cottage for the time being."

 

"Kind of him." Her mother's voice dripped with sarcasm. "I do hope you can talk some sense into Charlene."

 

"It's a little too late for that."

 

"Oh, and before I forget, your father says to stop by the bookstore tonight. He put a few mysteries aside."

 

"I'll swing by after the Tea Society meeting."

 

Nan let out an impatient breath. "What do you girls do at those meetings, anyway? Besides drink tea and gossip."

 

"We discuss books, Mother. And we talk about local current events."

 

"I can't imagine there's much to discuss, then. Nothing ever happens in Laurel Springs."

 

Phaedra slowed the car to avoid a pothole and turned onto Route 250. At least the rain was letting up. "Listen, I have to go. I just got here and I see Charlene," she added, mentally crossing her fingers at the fib.

 

"Tell her I said hello, and for goodness' sake, try to find out what's going on." She paused. "I will say one thing for Charlene, though. At least she's married."

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