Aston has found a following in readers who are devoted fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, using the Darcy name to full effect in her fanciful novels set in Regency England, with all its social pretensions and class-consciousness. The second Mrs. Darcy is Octavia, widow of Christopher Darcy, who made his fortune in India on the high seas. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy succumbed only a few years after his marriage, his property entailed because of financial obligations.
The season for matchmaking has arrived in London, the young, available women anxious to appear in society in hopes of advantageous marriages. Leaving India to return to England, Octavia is reluctant to say goodbye to the lush continent, with its lack of social artifice and exotic markets. Daughter of a second wife long-deceased, Octavia, the black sheep of the family, was sent to India as part of the “fishing fleet” - available ladies who sail to the faraway location in hopes of matches that would not otherwise be available to them in England. Such women might otherwise spend their best years languishing as old maids in a world intolerant of the single state, the male being the barometer of worth in society.
Preparing to meet George Warren, to whom Darcy’s estate is entailed, Octavia’s prospects are dim. Warren is known as a man who cares not for the comfort of the widow, planning to offer her no funds to support even a meager existence. Before she sails, Octavia learns of an amazing change of circumstances: she has inherited a great fortune by a distant relative on her mother’s side, an elderly aunt who was judicious in her investments and has left Octavia as the only heir: “I am a woman of independent means… not in the least in want of a husband.”
Electing to keep this wonderful news to herself lest her step-siblings try to interfere with her plans for independence, Octavia agrees to reside with her half-sister temporarily, planning to establish separate residence as soon as her affairs are properly in order. True to form, the stepsister greets the returning voyager with a barrage of criticism, the duty to marry the widow off suitably a burden to the whole family.
Packed off almost immediately to Yorkshire, where she is to stay with country cousins, Octavia uses the opportunity to tour her new property and settle her estate with the lawyers, as she intended. In Yorkshire, Octavia is pleased to make the acquaintance of many friendly neighbors, not the least of whom is a much-admired bachelor, Sholto Rutherford. Still, the widow has no intention of pursuing a romance at this time of her life, content to remain on the sidelines.
The gossip travels to London, and as soon as Octavia’s changed fortune becomes known, her step-relatives are incensed, their greed awakened as they hasten to take over her affairs. But Octavia is well-settled in her new environment, with an admiring social circle, a schedule filled with events, and an attraction she has not yet admitted. The only cloud over her happiness is the threat of a suit brought by George Warren, who seeks to attach Octavia’s fortune through his entailment of Darcy’s estate.
Aston writes these quirky characters with a wry touch and with a great deal of humor, proving that Octavia is not an exception and sometimes love trumps circumstance.