Darcy rubbed his hands over his face as he turned his thoughts inward. The open field surrounding him faded away as he focused, inhaling strands of power from the autumnal air. Then he drew the magical forces together and flicked his wrist.

To all appearances, a herd of cattle charged across the pasture towards them.

He eyed the illusion critically, but there were no telltale flaws, at least none that he could spot. When the nearest animal was a dozen feet away, he blew out a breath to dismiss the vision. The cows vanished.

Not a bad performance. Of course, that was the easy part.

Beside him, Bingley mopped his forehead, his eyes bulging. “By Jove, Darcy, I was certain we were about to be trampled. I could see the flecks of foam flying from the bull’s mouth!”

Darcy grimaced. “From this view, yes, but watch this.” He gathered fresh energy, plaited it into a bundle, and cast. This time, though, the cattle ran beside them instead of at them, giving a spectator’s view of the running herd.

His breath hissed between his teeth. The same problem as always. The sound of thumping hooves, the cloud of dust rising around them, the bodies of the cows bobbing as they ran, all of those were adequate. But the damned legs!

Bingley’s brow furled. “Oh, dear. I see what you mean. Too many knees, or perhaps not enough?”

“And they do not move properly, either. The cows are only convincing from the front. From any other side, it will not fool even a casual observer.” Worse, it would draw attention to the existence of the illusion, just when he needed people to believe in it.

“Perhaps it will be easier when you move on to horses,” Bingley said brightly.

Darcy snorted. “Given that the whole point of practicing with cattle is because their legs are easier than horses, I doubt it.” He bent forward, his hands on his thighs, breathing deeply. He had to find a way to do this. The price for his failure would be counted in thousands of innocent lives.

“I say, adding fire is an excellent thought!” Bingley exclaimed, pointing. “I hardly notice the legs now.”

“What are you talking about?” Darcy straightened, staring. Flames billowed in the distance ahead of the illusory cows. “That is not my work!” A tenant must have ignored the message to stay away from these fields. It would not harm his casting, but someone might be frightened by the sight of cattle charging through fire, so he pursed his lips to dispel the illusion. But the cows were already veering away.

Veering away. Impossible. Illusions had no minds of their own. He had set the herd in motion, and they should have run straight ahead unless he directed them otherwise.

Had he lost control somehow? No, the connection still pulled at him, but there was something else, something pushing at his cows.

This was unheard of. Illusions might lack strength, but nothing should be able to interfere with them. Or at least nothing he knew of.

His eyes narrowed. “Bingley, I did not tell the cows to turn away, and I can sense something out there, a presence of some sort. Is there anything in your books about a power that can alter an illusion?”

“Not a thing. Illusions are immutable, except by their creator. Are you certain? Perhaps you were just distracted.”

Darcy glared at him. There was no question he had been distracted of late. Distracted by a bewitching combination of fine eyes, sparkling wit, and lively intelligence, but that did not affect him now. Casting took every ounce of his concentration.

This was something different, and he had to discover what had interfered with his casting. Even if nothing could save his own life, so many others depended on his ability to create a convincing illusion. “Stay here,” he told Bingley brusquely.

He released the illusion, and the cows disappeared. Cloaking himself in shadows, he strode off towards the smoke.


Elizabeth Bennet took a deep, pleasurable breath as the stirrings of life underfoot woke her Talent, sending a gratifying tingle through her half-boots. Oh, it was so good to feel the power of the earth, even if it was not as strong here at Netherfield as at home!

The fields around her were empty but for a small boy playing in a pasture. He grinned at her to show an adorable space between his front teeth, proudly holding up a ragged bouquet of wildflowers for her admiration, and she waved in return.

Her spirits rose as she continued into a field where winter wheat was starting to sprout. The seedlings tugged at her Talent, begging to borrow some of her strength, and she allowed a trickle of magic to soak into the soil, the bright flow of energy shooting through her feet and leaving peace in its wake. Her father would tell her not to waste her Talent outside Longbourn lands, but he would never know, and these seedlings would feed a hungry family next harvest. Perhaps even the child she had seen.

This was what she needed after two days sitting at Jane’s bedside. Not that she minded caring for her ill sister, but it was almost painful to deny her Talent by staying indoors so long.

As she trod carefully in the center of the path to avoid trampling any of the tiny plants, the sound of distant thunder behind her made her look up in surprise. There was not a cloud in the sky.

Then she saw them. Half a dozen cows were charging across the pasture she had just passed, their heads down – directly towards the child picking flowers.

There was no time to think. She raced towards the boy, but it was clear she would not make it in time.

Her breath sobbing in her throat, she skidded to a halt and reached down to pull up a handful of weeds. If this did not work, the child would be trampled before her eyes. Biting her lip until she drew blood, she spat into the greenery.

Thank heavens she was wearing her special gloves! She peeled one off so quickly that it caught and ripped her fingernail, but she did not hesitate. Instead, she stuffed the blood-speckled weeds inside the glove and threw it towards the charging cows.

“Soar!” she cried, pouring her Talent into the flying glove. “Soar and then burn!” She could almost see it take wing, flying farther than her throw could take it, far beyond the child.

The glove exploded into a pool of fire as it struck the ground in front of the cows. “Burn, burn, burn,” Elizabeth chanted. “Burn and make them turn!”

And then, through the flames, she could see the cattle veering away, back into the open field.

She collapsed back against the stone wall, hardly able to stand now that she had poured all of her energy into the magic. But she pulled herself over a stile and limped weakly toward the child, who was sobbing in fear. “All is well,” Elizabeth told him. “You are safe.” She looked over her shoulder to make certain the cows were keeping their distance, but they were nowhere to be seen.

How had they vanished so quickly?

She stopped short. Charging cows that came from nowhere, and then disappeared? Something was very wrong. The flames she had created were dying back now without the magic in her blood to nourish them, unable to maintain themselves in the green grass.

Beyond them, a shadowy figure wearing a gentleman’s top hat strode forward through the haze of smoke. Had he been the one to startle the cows into charging? He should know to be more careful than that around livestock! Even from this distance, she could tell he was angry. And then he disappeared into the smoke.

Had he seen her using her Talent? This could be a disaster. Perhaps he was only worried about the fire, but that would burn out in a few minutes. The child leaned against her, whimpering.

She patted his head, wishing she could do more, but if she tried to pick him up after working such a feat of Talent, her legs would not hold her. She had to get him somewhere safe. “Where do you live?” she asked.

The boy did not lift his face from her skirt, but he pointed a shaking finger behind her.

“Good. Let us go there, then.” And it would take her farther from the man who might have seen her, wherever he was. She took the boy’s hand and began to walk, pretending to strength she barely possessed. But it was enough to reach the edge of the field, and somehow she raised her feet to clamber back over the stile.

At least now they would be safe from the invisible cows. Could it all have been a figment of her imagination? No, because the boy had seen them, too.

The boy tugged her towards a small cottage with a bowl of milk set outside the door for the fae. How could she explain to his mother what had happened? She might well recognize Elizabeth and ask unwelcome questions. Better to let the boy tell the story, so that magical flames and charging cattle who disappeared into thin air could be attributed to a child’s over-vivid imagination. Yes, that was the answer.

She dropped the boy’s hand. “There you go. You will be safe now.”

He tried to reach for her again, but she gave his shoulders an encouraging pat, urging him towards the cottage. “I will watch from here until you are inside.” She had to harden her heart against his pleading look, but he was in no real danger here. She needed to escape from the man who had seen her using her Talent. Reluctantly the boy trudged into the cottage, where a muffled woman’s voice greeted him.

That was one problem solved. Elizabeth hurried back down the path as quickly as her exhausted legs could manage. No, it was no use; she could not possibly outdistance the man if he truly was following her. Hiding was her only option.

The copse at the edge of the pasture would be her best bet. The man was nowhere to be seen, so she should be able to make it that far.

She took off her other glove, just in case she encountered someone who would wonder what had happened to its mate. And now she would need to make a new one. So very many hours of labor went into each of them.

A voice sounded, and nearby. Very nearby. “Wait, Miss Elizabeth!”

Startled, Elizabeth spun about, but there was no one in sight. Was she hearing things? And now the path in front of her was blurring, the air shimmering.

She must have overextended herself much more than she had thought. Usually it was only her legs that betrayed her after performing a feat of magic, but this time, even her senses were not to be trusted. She needed to get back to the house, and quickly, before someone discovered her in this condition. Gathering her strength, she strode forward.

And ran into an immovable object. A warm, breathing, immovable object, where there was nothing but an empty path before her.

Strong hands gripped her shoulders. Strong invisible hands. In desperation, she tried to push away, but to no avail. “Who are you?” she cried.

“Pardon me?” The voice sounded annoyed, and in a familiar way. “Oh. Forgive me.” Suddenly the shimmering air coalesced into a solid form enclosed in a black greatcoat.

It was that odious Mr. Darcy. And she was pressed tightly against his chest.

Elizabeth gulped, sudden heat enveloping her where her body touched his. “How did you do that?”

“How did you interfere with my cows? I must know!”

“Your cows?” she exclaimed indignantly, taking a firm step backwards. “You started that charge? Your cows almost trampled a little boy.”

He waved his hand, as if brushing away her objection. “It would not have harmed him.”

An image of the boy’s tear-stained, terrified face flashed in her mind. “Not have hurt him? Do you think a maddened cow has the sense to avoid a child?”

“It was an illusion,” he snapped. “How did you block it?”

An illusion? She had heard of such things, but they were the province of mages. The few of those that existed were in royal service, not making illusory cows charge across a country field! But it made a sort of sense, how the cattle had appeared out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly, and how he had managed to hide himself only a few feet from her.

Could Mr. Darcy truly be a mage? That was a terrifying thought.

There was no acceptable answer she could give him, so she gave him the tiny bit of truth she could. “I stuffed some grass inside my glove to make a ball, and then I threw it at them, hoping it would startle them.”

His eyes narrowed. “The field was afire from your glove stuffed with grass. You used magic.”

“My magic, as you would call it, is only the trace of Talent that anyone in a landed family may show.” If she said it with enough conviction, perhaps he would believe her.

He shook his head. “No, you must be the landed Talent, and a strong one, if I am not mistaken. That explains why I can tolerate your sister’s presence so well. And you…” His eyes lit up, as if he were perceiving a miracle taking place before his eyes. “You do not repel me.”

Her jaw dropped, and then she laughed in shocked disbelief. “Mr. Darcy, you amaze me! First you declare me only tolerable, and now that I do not repel you! You should be careful when you bestow such fine compliments upon a lady. She might get the wrong idea about you – but she would be unlikely to mistake you for a gentleman!”

He seemed not to even hear her. “How can this be? With the Talent you have, I should not be able to stand this close to you, much less touch you.” He pulled off his glove, and, after a moment of hesitation, as if in anticipation of pain, brushed the back of his fingers lightly against her cheek. “Astonishing!”

She took another step backwards, ignoring the wave of sensation his brief touch had engendered. “You may have the physical ability to touch me, but you most certainly do not have my permission to do so!”

“What? Oh, of course,” he said absently, as if his thoughts were racing far away. “But it does not matter. If your Talent can entwine with mine, and you do not repel me, then I must rethink everything.”

She took a deep breath, trying to settle her jangled nerves. He was making no sense, and his behavior was outrageous. Clearly there was something very wrong with Mr. Darcy, in addition to the disaster of her Talent being discovered. “You may not find me repellant, but I am done with this conversation, sir. Pray excuse me.”

“No! Do not go. I must know more of this. How did you come to have your family’s Talent? Why not your elder sister?”

She had no choice but to answer that. “I have already told you I have nothing more than a trace of Talent. Jane is the heir to the family Talent.”

“How could you alter my illusion? That should be impossible for any Talent, yet you did it.”

“I fear you were mistaken. I did nothing more than throw my glove at your cows.” It sounded so weak, but she could think of nothing better. Oh, why had she not taken greater care to disguise her magic? Not that there had been much opportunity, if she wished to save the boy from the charging cattle. The cows that did not exist.

“I do not know why you are denying it, but I was not mistaken.” He moved closer to her, gazing intently into her face. “Elizabeth, this changes everything.”

Heat flushed through her at the intensity of his expression. Or had it been his use of her given name, without the formal ‘Miss’? The intimacy was at odds with everything she knew about him, and her own reaction disturbed her. “Mr. Darcy –”

He reached out once more, this time cupping her cheek with his bare hand.

She should pull away. He was acting like a madman, and she did not even like him. Why was she permitting this?

The rushing sound of wings cutting through the air was her only warning before a falcon split the air between them. Feathers filled her face briefly, and a strong muscled wing knocked her a step backwards.

Mr. Darcy gave a cry of pain.

The bird flew past, revealing blood dripping down the side of Mr. Darcy’s face from three parallel cuts. He pressed his hand to them and then took it away, staring at his red-stained fingers. “What in God’s name was that?” he demanded. He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at the torn flesh.

Elizabeth winced. Oh, dear! How could she explain this? The bird was still circling overhead, preparing to dive towards Darcy again. “No, Cerridwen!” she cried. “I am in no danger.”

If a falcon in flight could look annoyed, this one did at that moment, but she returned to circling.

Darcy stared at her. “That is your bird? It is a menace!”

“She is perfectly tame.” It was not true; Cerridwen always did whatever she chose, but she would harm no one without reason. “She was merely trying to protect me. Pray permit me to look at your cuts.” She stepped forward and pulled out her handkerchief, hoping to distract him from the bird.

The cuts were jagged, but fortunately not deep. She dabbed at the longest one with her handkerchief, reaching down through her feet to draw up the power of the earth. It did not come as readily as it would have at Longbourn, or perhaps it was because she had exhausted her abilities earlier, but the tiny lightning flashes of power flowed through her as she directed it to slow the blood flow. The edges of the lesion drew closer, but she stopped before they fully healed. She wanted them to look less serious, not to make them disappear in a way she could not explain.

He caught at her wrist, staring at her in disbelief. “Are you using Talent on me?”

How had he known? No one had ever recognized it before when she helped a healing along, but then again, she had never tried it on someone with magic of their own before. Foolish, foolish mistake! She bit her lip. “As I said, I have a trace of Talent, and it was the least I could do when my falcon injured you.”

He gingerly felt the cuts, and at his touch, the skin grew smoothly together. So he could heal, too. “I still do not understand how you could do that, but I thank you.”

At least he was gracious for once! “You are most welcome. But I have a favor to ask. It is not generally known that I have these traces of Talent, and I would prefer it to remain that way.”

With a slight frown, as if he found this incomprehensible, he said slowly, “It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but if you wish it, I will say nothing.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “I thank you.”

“If I may make a similar request, I would beg you not to mention to anyone that I can cast illusions. No one must know I am anything but a landed Talent.”

“I will tell no one.” She would agree to almost anything to end this strange conversation. Surely she could escape now.

Or perhaps not. The falcon circled lazily down around her. With a sigh, Elizabeth held out her arm. There was no denying Cerridwen when she had her mind set on something.

“Wait!” cried Darcy. “You have no falconer’s glove.”

“She is specially trained, and will not hurt me.” And indeed, Cerridwen alighted with nothing more than a slight squeeze of her wrist.

Darcy eyed the bird with suspicion, hardly surprising when she had cut his face. “I have never heard of such a thing. Falcons always use their talons.”

“Not this one,” she said lightly. “But my sister may be awake by now, so I must return to her.”

He hesitated, then seemed to recall his manners enough to bow. “I hope you will find her much improved.”

Cerridwen tilted her head, studying Darcy. Then, as if satisfied, she raised her foot to her beak and began to clean her talons.


Darcy slowly crossed the fields to where he had left Bingley. He had a great deal to consider, and none of it made sense.

“Well?” Bingley exclaimed. “What did you find?”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet, if you can believe it.” He could barely credit it himself. “She was frightened by the charging cows and somehow managed to make them run away. To alter my illusion.”

“But that should be impossible! She might have a trace of landed Talent, I suppose, but that is only useful for crops.”

“She has far more than a trace of it, based on what I saw, and that is strange enough. Still, I cannot explain how she interfered with my illusions. Even if she had a mage’s ability, she would not have that power.” The only other possibility was too embarrassingly far-fetched to mention. “What is more, despite her latent Talent, she does not repel me. I can touch her cheek with my bare hand with no discomfort at all.” It had been the furthest thing from repulsion. A surge of desire filled him, his fingers tingling at the memory of her silken skin.

“That is beyond odd,” said Bingley slowly. “Are you certain she has Talent?”

“Without a doubt. I felt her use it on me. And I think that falcon must be her familiar.”

Bingley frowned. “Well, there are a few mentions in the old books of Talents who did not experience repulsion, but it is exceedingly rare. And it still does not explain what happened to your cows.”

“No. Tomorrow I intend to speak to her further to try to find an answer.”

“Good. Because if something can halt your abilities, we have to know now, before it is too late.” His expression suddenly sobered. “Good God, I hate this mess!”

So did Darcy, but he could not afford to think about that. First he had to solve the mystery of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Spellbound at Pemberley is Book One of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mage trilogy.