Thursday Three Hundred– Hidden Hearts

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Last month, I started an on-going story for Thursday Three Hundred. I was inspired by Scott’s Grotto in Ware, Hertfordshire and noticed that Pride and Prejudice is the only story where the characters have no day trips planned. In the last post, Darcy accidentally accosted Elizabeth’s person while attempting to hide from the shrill voices of the younger Bennet daughters. Let’s see what happens next!


The loud cracking sound echoed off the walls of the cave at the same moment his face registered pain from a slap. Good Lord, he might be bruised, and she likely sprained her wrist.

“It was an accident,” he ground out.

“I am sure it was,” Elizabeth hissed in an angry whisper, “for we all know I am not tempting enough for you.”

“What?” Had she hit him harder than he thought? She made no sense just now.

“At the assembly. You said that of me to Mr. Bingley. I plainly heard it, and so did anyone else sitting nearby.”

Darcy blinked in astonishment, his brain still feeling rattled. Had she struck him only out of his…ahem, mishap, or was there some long-standing anger for the duration of their acquaintance?

“A fool I might be but blind I am not,” he said. “Had Mr. Bingley suggested I dance with you, then I would have been forced to acknowledge his good sense.”

Elizabeth huffed. “I already know what you think of Mr. Bingley’s sense. Do you delight in mocking everyone you know?”

“I never mock.” He ought to turn and leave. He had made his apology, but she always held him in thrall. “Are you well? You did not injure anything when I knocked into you?”

“My hand hurts,” she acknowledged.

Darcy’s had adjusted to the light a little and could see she tilted her chin in what he presumed was defiance. She was proud of her defense, as she should be he acknowledged. “May I see?”

She nodded, and Darcy lifted her hand, cradling it in his. “I will have to remove the glove.” He paused for assent before pulling back the soft leather. He focused his mind on ascertaining if she were hurt for the act of revealing her flesh to him was one of the more erotic encounters he had in life and awoke dormant fantasies of seeing far more of her.

“Who did you think Mr. Bingley was suggesting you dance with?”

Elizabeth’s voice was a welcome intrusion to his dangerous mindset. He had been holding his breath, his eyes eager to see more of her inch by inch. Grateful that she had not discerned his interest, he answered after having to clear his throat. “Another lady sitting beyond you.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow, and Darcy tested the movement of each digit before turning her hand back and forth and side to side. She did not seem in pain. Next, he stroked his fingers over her palm, where he knew her skin would be most sensitive to pain. Instead of a wince, he saw her shiver.

“I cannot recall who sat near me.” Her breath came in quicker pants. “When I recall that evening, all I remember is you.”

Darcy exhaled. “Elizabeth,” he murmured before pulling her closer.

His head lowered drawn to the irresistible pull of her lips. Just before he reached heaven, there was a rumbling sound and the ground shook. They drew back and looked to their rock ceiling as rocks began to tumble down. Elizabeth burrowed into his side, and Darcy enveloped his arms around her. When the dust settled, the entrance to their chamber was blocked by large boulders.

Wisdom Wednesday– Happiness

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I think this is one of the most important life lessons out there. If you fill your mind with regrets of the past and/or with anxiety of the future then you miss out on this moment. I doubt there have ever been any truly perfect moments on Earth. If all you focus on is the imperfections of life, then you will never feel content or happy. People search their whole lives for happiness. They can make some really awful choices looking for it. It’s right in front of you all along. It’s not found with a different partner or career or location. Those things might enhance it, but you can also change all those things and still be miserable if you’re choosing to be miserable. Look for happiness in every day. Be the reason for someone else’s happiness. It’s all about mindset.

Tilney Tuesday– Knight in Shining Armor

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Jane Austen pokes fun of the Gothic tropes common for her day in Northanger Abbey. Storms rage and mysterious chests might contain secrets. The abbey might have hidden passageways. General Tilney is a domineering father who oppresses his children. However, Catherine is the heroine, not Elinor Tilney. Catherine has no such terrifying background to overcome. Indeed, the narrator acknowledges there’s very little that’s heroine-like about her.

However, she has also known great distress. I mean, of course, when she was hiding from Mr. Thorpe and not wishing to dance with him.

As soon as they were joined by the Thorpes, Catherine’s agony began; she fidgeted about if John Thorpe came towards her, hid herself as much as possible from his view, and when he spoke to her pretended not to hear him.

In this instance, the narrator goes on to explain that every female has been in this position. (Side Note: I first considered my husband as a potential love interest when he saved me from a boy who would not take a hint that I wasn’t interested. See, the narrator was correct.) All the while, Catherine is despairing of seeing Mr. Tilney again.

Then, what should happen but he appears!

Did the crowd part? Did she feel her heart skip a beat or the hair on her arm stand up as she sensed his presence signaling their souls were entwined? No.

a self-condemnation for her folly, in supposing that among such a crowd they should even meet with the Tilneys in any reasonable time, had just passed through her mind, when she suddenly found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself.

The 2007 film makes an interesting observation at this encounter. Mr. Tilney teases that Thorpe is his rival and Catherine says he isn’t before realizing it was all a joke.

This would suggest that Mr. Tilney is far more aware of Thorpe’s intentions than even Catherine is. Honestly, that sounds pretty reasonable since she was surprised by Thorpe’s proposal and also clueless enough to believe the General murdered his wife and got away with it.

This might even shed more light on the troublesome quote at the end of the book about how Henry came to love Catherine.

Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.

Did Henry see that she was bothered by Thorpe? That she needed rescuing from his attentions at this particular dance? He surely noticed that she preferred him. That he did not feel the same attachment to Catherine, actually makes him all the more noble. Each time he talks to her, it’s to ease her distress over something. Again and again he approaches her at a moment of annoyance. We know from Emma how easily such actions can be seen as heroic.

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This is all the more interesting as Henry is a clergyman. In many Gothic stories, the clergymen harbor dark desires. One, The Monk, is even listed in NA as a story read by Thorpe. I am sure he planted that name to make her reconsider her interest in Tilney–who he would have already heard about from Isabella.

Henry Tilney appears the sarcastic, even irreverent, jokester who doesn’t think very deeply or sensitively about things, and yet, he’s really Catherine’s knight in shining armor whether it’s safety from John Thorpe on the dance floor or from her own perilous imagination and subsequent self-hatred.

Have you had a Mr. Tilney in your life?

 

 

 

Motivational Monday– Slow Progress

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A lot of writers spend November manically trying to write 50,000 words in a month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo). It’s really not so unattainable for the average full-time writer. It averages out to 1667 words a day, which I can do in about an hour. As long as I know what I’m writing… And the hardest part is always the consistency–doing it every day. If you miss a day, then you’re playing catch up and trying to add to it. Miss more than one and it’s even harder etc.

November is a hard month for me. The first time I tried NaNo was in 2014. I had two published stories (well, one was on pre-order). I had completed several other stories before but had never tried to do an entire novel in one month. I got sooo close! If memory serves, I got to 45,000 words and had one day left. I could have made it. However, I was moving literally the next day and my kids–only 4 and 1 at the time–needed a return to normalcy. My son has Autism Spectrum Disorder the fall wreaks havoc on his routine. He shifts from waking up at 6 am to waking up at 5 am. He just turned 8 and by now, I have accepted this. In 2014, I was far less prepared to accept the reality of more 5 am (or earlier) wakeups.

I’m mentioning my history with NaNo because the other day I saw a Facebook status which upset me. It was a memory of one of my status from 2014. I was working on a story in which Darcy was to inherit Longbourn and Lady Catherine’s rector. Essentially, he was Mr. Collins. How would Elizabeth react? About 20,000 words into it, I realized this should just be an original story. I had already started writing the story before November began, so I realized that within a few days of the month. I spent the remainder of the month working on that story and changed all the names and tried to make it not like Pride and Prejudice. Then November ended and I froze. The almost completed manuscript is still on my hard drive.

I didn’t stop there though. I did turn my attention to other things but for the last four years, I have dusted off that manuscript every few months. I’ve sent it to beta readers and asked if it should really be an original. I’ve even thought that I could do both–make an original and keep the premise of Darcy in Collins’ place and write two different stories. In 2016, I came up with a series theme focusing on one real-life event from the Regency era per book. I had a few other non-JAFF stories that would work perfectly in the series. However, I had the most words on this story and it would have been the last one in the series. So I started on what was supposed to be Book One. Last year, I realized that book is really a prequel and they don’t do well until the rest of the series is out. I abandoned that story. Earlier this year, I realized that I should just round out the books and make it the full Regency. I started on the new Book One of the series and gave everything new titles. The Baronet’s Heart is now Tempting Scandal. I began posting but then got caught up with other things.

Can you see why I’m disappointed in myself? So much start and stop. So little progress. But is it really? I have learned a lot about myself, writing, my goals and so much more during each of these stops.

Oh, there’s more that I could be disappointed about. Things never go according to plan. I’m working on 2019 goals right now and know I won’t reach half of them. Sigh. However, this pic has reminded me that forward is forward and looking back at my supposed “failings” doesn’t help a thing!

When is a time you had to focus on just moving forward and not worrying about the timing? Or is there something in your life right now that this could apply to? Oh, and in case you were curious, my goal this November is to write at least 500 words every day! I did miss one, but instead of despairing I just said, “The whole point is to learn to do better and be more consistent. I will make mistakes at the beginning, but hopefully, by the end of the month I will be doing better.” That’s MAJOR progress for me, a perfectionist in recovery!

Sunday Digest– Nov. 5-11

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Here’s another weekly roundup of posts from November 5-11. You didn’t miss as much because all I did was post Treasured! I am working on a Christmas novelette, How Darcy Stole Christmas. I am undecided about posting it on the blog simply because I hope to publish it by the end of the month. Do you want to read it? As soon as I finish with that, it’s back to the other stories. The last time I asked, Mr. Darcy’s Compassion got the most votes on which story to focus more of my time on. Which do you prefer? Mr. Darcy’s Compassion or Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club (Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride sequel)?

 

Mansfield Monday: Frozen Fanny

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Treasured– Chapter Thirteen

treasured finalHere’s our last chapter! Poor Will and Elizabeth have gone through so much but finally get their happily ever after! I will add that this story is still being edited, so please give me your final thoughts. I can’t promise that I will take everything into consideration. For example, I will not write five new chapters of post married life. 🙂 However…I might be willing to do ONE.

Also, Will and Lizzy’s story is over but there are others I could tell. What do you think of Charlotte and Richard (who were almost a thing in this chapter but it didn’t seem to fit right and got cut)? Or I have this really BIG idea but I don’t want to give it away. Will and Lizzy would show up but it would be mostly about others. Should I continue the series/give it a spin-off? If I do, do you want Will and Lizzy to remain center stage or can other people be the main hero and heroine?

 

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven / Twelve

 

Chapter Thirteen

Over the next few days, Will determined he had not been followed to the inn. Likewise, Elizabeth was able to pass along information via Charles. In the long days of loneliness and isolation at the Ware inn, Will wondered about Harcourt’s intelligence. Then again, perhaps he knew that Jane and Charles were headed to the altar and Will and Elizabeth would always be in each other’s orbit. It would add to Will’s pain all the more if he would easily hear of Elizabeth but not have her for himself. Still, he did not appear to have other accomplices. Wickham must have only been designed as a distraction.

When Will read his name in a gossip column, he knew they had succeeded. Harcourt must have crowed to someone that Elizabeth jilted Will. If he had said that much, he might have said more. Will waited a few more days before returning to Netherfield. Harcourt needed to feel secure in his victory. Correspondence from Mr. Walker of the Rose and Crown in Ware to Mr. Bennet of Longbourn increased. A new wedding date was planned. The rector graciously agreed to their plans.

All in all, less than a week since becoming husband and wife, Will and Elizabeth were reunited. The night before the nuptials, the Bennet ladies dined at Netherfield. Will’s London relations had arrived, but Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle were to come in the evening. Mr. Bennet had gone to London to retrieve them. Will remained on unfriendly terms with Lady Catherine, and she was not invited to the wedding.

When the ladies separated after the meal, Richard laughingly queried Will about how it felt to be a married man. Although it was meant to be a secret, Will explained the situation to his uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, and another cousin, a viscount named Francis.

“Harcourt has an awful reputation,” Francis observed.

“People fear his ruthlessness,” the Earl countered. “Unfortunately, it gets him what he most wants: respect—or something very close to it.” He shook his head. “I never would have guessed the son of a butcher could have such authority.”

“He is the son of a butcher?” Will asked. “I thought his father was the last earl.”

“He was,” the Earl nodded. “However, it was one of those unexpected and distant relative inheritances. The blasted war took all the closer relations.”

“But a butcher?” Richard asked.

“Oh, the family had not fallen that much. His father had been a respectable clergyman, although he did marry a bit low. His wife was the niece of a rich butcher. Harcourt’s father could have entered the church as well, but chose to take over his uncle’s business. The war had inflated prices, and he could not resist the money.”

Will furrowed his brow. There had been a certain roughness about Harcourt at Eton. He must have terrorized the other boys lest they do the same to him given his background.

“When his father unexpectedly inherited, it thrust the boy, Peter, into a new world,” the Earl continued. “I once thought he might have been a friend for you, Will.”

“How so?”

“He inherited not long before you did. He was connected with the family—although, perhaps not as much as he would have liked.”

“Pardon?” Will knew of nothing connecting him to Harcourt.

“The father knew the de Bourghs.” Lord Fitzwilliam sipped his wine. “Sir Lewis’ father had been a merchant in the same town as the Harcourt family. He was rewarded with a baronetcy at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Blasted French.” The men raised their glasses in agreement.

Will and Richard exchanged a look. “Father,” Richard said, “tell us more about how the Harcourts knew the de Bourghs.”

“Jacob Harcourt, your Lord Harcourt’s father, and Sir Lewis were born in the same year. They grew up together in Ramsgate.”

At the name of the seaside town, Will took more interest in the story.

“And you know Sir Lewis did not inherit until Anne was nearly ten.” The Earl shrugged. “Anne and Peter were playmates until she moved to Rosings and his father inherited the earldom.”

“Was not there talk of a marriage between them?” Francis asked.

Lord Fitzwilliam nodded. “Yes, but by the time Peter inherited and was of age, Lady Catherine had fixated on Anne marrying Will. She did not approve of Peter’s background.”

“Fine talk, that,” Francis grumbled. “Anne is only one generation more removed from trade, and surely an earl trumps a baronet.”

“Not to mention the Harcourts must have been rich enough from the money they made on selling during the war,” Richard added.

The Earl furrowed his brow as though he searched his memory for something on the topic. Before he could say anything more, the clock chimed the top of the hour.

Will had heard enough. Harcourt might hate him because the man had not won Anne’s hand but why target Will’s father? If killing Will was the real aim all those years before, then why wait so long to make a second attempt. It mattered not. Elizabeth was already Will’s wife by law and the church, and on the morrow, all the world would know it. He was tired of waiting and at that moment, tired of conversation with anyone other than his wife.

“We should join the ladies,” Will said while standing.

The other gentlemen followed suit after some good-natured teasing on the subject of Will’s lovestruck ways. In the drawing room, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Mary took turns performing on the pianoforte. Will allowed their joined voices to wash over him. Soon, he hoped, Harcourt would make his move. He had once questioned his father about why he was on such friendly terms with Harcourt. Will now supposed it was not so strange if Harcourt was close friends to the de Bourgh family.

As the Gardiners were expected at Longbourn by seven, the Bennets soon left Netherfield. Will pulled Elizabeth away for a private farewell. They would be recognised by all as man and wife after tomorrow. Charles had offered for them to stay at Netherfield, but Will had enough of sharing Elizabeth with others. They would travel to London after the wedding breakfast. Georgiana would stay with the Earl and Countess for a week or two. She had made many amends for her behaviour but sometimes glanced anxiously at Will. He assumed she worried for his welfare or wished for his approval. He had made it clear to her upon his return to Netherfield that she was not permanently banished to their relations, providing she continue to behave well she could join them in a few weeks. He even offered the possibility of inviting Mary to town—an idea which all the ladies favoured and Bennet laughed at him for suggesting.

As he headed for his chamber for the evening, the Earl pulled him aside. “I could not remember earlier, but Lady Catherine says that Harcourt recently tried to pay court to Anne again. She was too angry to admit defeat at losing you. She also objected to Harcourt’s finances.”

“Harcourt is known for winning at the tables and even acting as a moneylender. What happened to all the money?”

“I could not say,” Lord Fitzwilliam answered. “Catherine was insulted by Harcourt’s application.”

Will thanked his uncle for the information and said goodnight. The pieces of information rolled in his brain as he attempted to sleep. His dreams bounced from Harcourt to Anne to Wickham to a smoke-filled Scottish inn. He awoke to a throbbing head, aching heart, and empty arms.

*****

“Are you worried, Lizzy?” Jane asked as the sisters prepared for the ceremony.

“No,” Elizabeth said more to herself than Jane. “He has already begun to behave as we predicted.”

“What can be his motive? What about Wickham?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. However, Will and I refuse to continue hiding. It is time to begin our life together. If it is cut short, then I trust it was meant to be. We have already lost so much time…” Elizabeth trailed off as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. She refused to give into painful memories or anxious fears. This was to be the happiest day of her life!

“I know one thing for certain,” Jane said as she put the finishing touches on her sister’s hair.

“What is that?”

“Will would never let any harm come to you.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement. It was a risk she was too selfish to take. She could not relinquish her right to Will and be done with the whole thing. If anything ever happened to him, she might spend the rest of her life wondering if only she had given into Harcourt’s demands how life might have been different. She pushed the worries aside. If she did as he wanted, who knew if he would keep his agreement.

There was a knock on the door and Mary entered. “Lizzy, it’s time,” she said. “Oh! You look lovely!”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.

“Will sent the carriage,” Mary said. “It only seats six, so I will walk.”

“Surely, that is not necessary,” Jane said. “Papa can walk or take the horse. Or Lydia may sit on my lap.”

Mary shook her head. “I would not want to wrinkle your gown and Papa should be there for Lizzy. It is no matter. I will leave directly.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth said before leaving her seat to embrace her sister. “We shall see you soon at Darcy House.”

“I look forward to it!” Mary grinned. After a moment’s hesitance, she left.

“Now, let us get you married—again,” Jane teased as she and Elizabeth walked downstairs arm in arm.

It was just as well that Mary walked to the church for Mrs. Bennet made them load and unload the carriage several times before they at last left Longbourn. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the entire thing. Many brides walked to the church—indeed, she had on the day they legally wed! Longbourn’s church was less than a quarter of a mile away. Taking the carriage only made things take longer.

Entering the church, the family began to take their places. However, Elizabeth soon noted a disturbance at the front. Mrs. Bennet shrilly cried for her husband and swooned into the arms of her sisters. After a moment of conversation, Mr. Gardiner and Will approached Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet at the back of the church.

“What is wrong?” Bennet asked.

“It is Mary,” Mr. Gardiner shook his head. “She has not arrived. We have already searched the path.”

“Georgiana,” Will’s voice cracked, “is also missing.”

“Could they be together?” Elizabeth asked, beginning to tremble.

Will nodded. “That is a possibility. She had wanted to walk this morning, but I wanted to arrive early. Mrs. Annesley was to go with her, but when the others arrived, they informed me Mrs. Annesley awoke ill and was unable to accompany Georgiana.”

“Mary never mentioned wishing to meet Georgiana, nor did she leave early enough which would suggest her intention.”

“She was very adamant about walking though,” Mr. Bennet reminded her.

“I have sent the guards, my valet, and Richard to search for them,” Will said as he took Elizabeth’s hands in his. “They probably merely lost track of time.”

Elizabeth nodded even as uneasiness simmered in her. Behind them, they heard a slamming sound at the door. With widened eyes, Elizabeth watched as the three gentlemen rushed to the entrance. They could not get the door the budge. Outside of the church, Elizabeth heard shouts and women crying.

“Peter?” Elizabeth heard Mary’s horrified voice. “Why are you doing this?”

Elizabeth ran to a window hoping she could see the scene outside. Mary flung herself at Lord Harcourt. He pushed her aside, and she landed on the ground with a thud.

“No!” Georgiana rushed to her friend’s side. While there, she did not see Wickham approach from the forest. He quickly subdued her and had her bound by rope.

Will had come to Elizabeth’s side and watched with her. “I must save her!”

“You do not know what they mean to do,” Elizabeth said as the stench of kerosene filled her nostrils.

Will’s eyes turned dark. He ran back to the door and shouted through it. “It is me you have a quarrel with, Harcourt. Let the others out!”

Elizabeth heard Harcourt’s sickening laugh. “Oh, this is so much better than anything I could have planned. You will die with your love but know that your sister is now in my control. Tell me, how does Mrs. Wickham sound to you? I think your father might have enjoyed the idea of Wickham blood running Pemberley.”

“I will never marry him! Never!” Georgiana screamed.

“Silence her!” Harcourt commanded. A smacking sound reverberated through the church.

In a cry of rage, Will charged at the door. By now, everyone was gathered at the front. Charles and the other gentlemen assisted Will, but it was useless. Elizabeth looked toward the window. They were small, and it would take far too long to break through the lead cames—if someone could even slip through.

Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet took equal turns wailing at their predicament. Elizabeth could no longer see anyone. Wickham had carried Mary and Georgiana away. Soon, smoke filled the air. Elizabeth tried to not despair as Will and the men continued to fatigue themselves as they beat upon the door.

Suddenly, a shot rang out. Then four more. Silence reigned—even Elizabeth’s sisters and mother were too terrified to continue their tears. Soon, there were voices and shouting again. Elizabeth heard the splashing of water as the villagers who were nearby ran to put out the flames. At the door, there was a scratching sound accompanied by masculine groans. Finally, the door flung open, flooding the church with light and much needed fresh air. On the other side was a heaving Richard.

Will pushed past the crowd to come to Elizabeth’s side. Will lead her outside then released her arm to go back in and help the others.

Outside, Elizabeth saw the bodies of Wickham and Harcourt. Mary and Georgiana hugged each other under a tree. Mr. Bennet had gathered his wife and other daughters under another. Charles held a sobbing Jane. Elizabeth wondered if this was what battlefields felt like the fighting ended. Casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw Will and his cousin assisting his aunt out of the church. His uncle helped the elderly rector.

Approaching Georgiana and Mary, Elizabeth wondered how they would ever know the reasons behind Harcourt’s actions. She was only happy it was over.

“Mary,” Elizabeth choked out. “I am so happy you are well! You too, Georgiana.”

The girls held their arms open to her, and she fell into them. They were bruised but would survive. It could have been much worse.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked her sisters through tears.

“I was to meet Georgiana and Peter for the wedding.”

“Peter?”

“I believe Will called him Harcourt, but I only knew him as an errand boy named Peter who I had met in the bookshop. He charmed me when I first met him.”

“You told him about the wedding?” Elizabeth asked.

Mary nodded as tears streaked down her face. “Yes. I had not seen him in days and was excited to introduce him to my family.”

Elizabeth sighed. What had Mary been thinking? An errand boy? “Mary, surely you knew…”

“I liked his attention,” Mary sighed. “You and Jane had your serious suitors. I only wanted a flirtation.”

The sound of hoofbeats drew Elizabeth’s notice. The magistrate, Colonel Forster, and the apothecary had arrived. Wickham and Harcourt were brought into a cottage. Elizabeth clutched her heart as she saw Harcourt begin to raise his head. He lived!

As if sensing her fear, Will approached. He lead Elizabeth away from their sisters. “It is over now,” he murmured as he held her close.

“He lives,” Elizabeth forced out as sobs began to rack her body. She was no longer afraid, but her body released the tension in the only way it knew how.

“He will stand trial for attempted murder of many people—including an earl. He will hang if he survives. We are free.”

Elizabeth nodded against his chest. They were finally free.

Eventually, the fright of the morning wore off, and as the sun continued to rise, Mrs. Bennet’s nerves fluttered forward. It was nearly noon, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had not yet wed! When her husband explained that they were already legally married, she actually clapped in delight and called everyone to the wedding breakfast—even the villagers.

The breakfast was a subdued affair and not as light-hearted as Elizabeth had expected, but filled with even more joy than anticipated. In due time, Will and Elizabeth hugged their loved ones goodbye and departed for London.

During the ride, Will explained what he had learned about the events of the morning. The magistrate had managed to procure a confession from Harcourt before he died. He did not hate Will based on Lady Catherine’s rejection alone. Anne had refused him as well. She did not like his character as a gambler and a rake. She preferred an upstanding man like Will.

Harcourt had hoped to kill Will in the fire in Scotland. Wickham had only been his means of information about their location and useful in stealing Will’s letters. He had not known of Harcourt’s intentions, believing he just meant to extract his debt from Sam and harass Will. However, Harcourt soon blackmailed Wickham afterward, threatening to provide proof of his guilt in the arson. Believing Will suffered at the loss of Elizabeth, even if he had not died, provided a balm for Harcourt.

Before the Darcys left for Scotland, Harcourt approached George Darcy. He hoped to bribe the man to ensure his son would never marry Anne. Disgusted, Mr. Darcy had begun to expose Harcourt for the man he truly was, resulting in loss of status and income for Harcourt who continued to live above his means, desperate to appear the wealthy nobleman and not the lowly butcher’s son. As his income diminished, his contempt for Will increased.

While attempting to court Anne a second time, Harcourt learned that Will had arrived at Longbourn. His hatred rekindled, he posed as a hired hand in Meryton and had bought Wickham his commission in the Militia. Wickham had continued courting Georgiana, but she proved unable to provide any information. Meeting Mary was merely chance and yet allowed Harcourt the possibility of learning about Elizabeth. He had returned to Meryton to continue the flirtation.

“No more,” Elizabeth silenced Will’s lips. “I do not care to hear any more about Lord Harcourt or Mr. Wickham. In fact, I do not wish to think about them ever again.”

“Shall we think only of the past as its remembrance brings us pleasure?” Will asked.

“Yes,” Elizabeth smiled as Will kissed her lips. “And we will dream of the future while never taking a moment for granted.”

“I like the sound of that Mrs. Darcy,” Will said.

“And I am happy to officially be Mrs. Darcy instead of Mrs. Walker! Whatever made you choose that name?”

“Do you remember, love? Miss Bingley described you as an excellent walker just before I saw you for the first time. I think I lost my heart to you at just that moment.”

Elizabeth laughed. “It must have been for the first thing I ever said to you was to reprimand. Oh, the conceit I had then!”

“As if I was any better,” Will laughed.

“We are best together,” Elizabeth observed.

“I am nothing without you, Elizabeth,” Will said before drawing her into a kiss.

As it deepened, and more vows of love were murmured mixed with gentle teases and laughter, Elizabeth felt more treasured than ever before in her life. As she had promised, she thought of the future and, at last free of the past, she only grinned to consider what it held for them. Together, they would conquer anything.

Treasured– Chapter Twelve

treasured finalPrevious Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth had always believed that Will would read her letter and agree to her plan. She supposed he would find a way to communicate with her. When she was called to her father’s library a few days after she had refused to see Will, her heart skipped a beat. Sitting in her usual chair in the book-filled room, Elizabeth watched her father with anxious curiosity.

“Would you like to know what that Will of yours has suggested now?”

Elizabeth nodded. She had told only her father of her plans.

“He suggests you marry before Harcourt leaves the area.”

“What?” Elizabeth had not thought he would reject her ideas entirely.

“In secret, of course,” Mr. Bennet smirked as Elizabeth’s affront eased.

“Would that be possible?”

“If it is first thing in the morning, and you arrive at separate times then it might work. There are not generally people in the church or the surrounding area then.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Mama will be unhappy. She had wanted a big wedding and was just warming to the idea of my marrying Will at all.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet said and thought for a moment. “Why not marry in secret now and continue to seem separated? Then, after Harcourt leaves, you might announce an intention to marry again. At this large wedding, he will come storming in to collect his price, and we will have guards in attendance.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They would need witnesses. “Who can we trust to know?”

“Will suggests Charles and Jane.”

Elizabeth frowned.

“You do not think they are trustworthy?”

“I worry that they will say something too transparent. We may be called upon to lie.”

“You could keep it a secret and merely have Jane walk with you and surprise her once there.”

“And after? She would not be able to contain her joy.”

“I will go,” Mr. Bennet said. “It would not appear unusual for me to have to speak with the rector. Surely, Will could trust his manservant.”

“Very well. Does he suggest a day?”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow!” Elizabeth could hardly breathe.

“You had best go,” Mr. Bennet said as he pulled out writing supplies.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she bent to kiss his cheek.

In her room, Elizabeth blushed to consider that at this time tomorrow she would be a married lady. She cast her eyes around the room. She had felt so grown up to join Jane in this room when she left the nursery behind. Now, it was fairly bursting having to contain the accruements of two grown ladies. Soon, very soon, she hoped, she would be leaving it forever. She would not get to live as a typical bride and yet just knowing she would be joined with Will in Holy Matrimony filled her with contentment.

After a night of little sleep, Elizabeth awoke at dawn and treated herself to a slow ramble in the morning mist. A few minutes before the appointed time, she approached Longbourn’s church. None of the villagers seemed to be around. Most would be working in the house or at the estate. Mothers would be busy with their children. There was only old Mrs. Shaw that might be peeking out her window to see any comings and goings. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the small house the woman kept. She could see no one at the window. Even still, she affected a mournful countenance and posture. Any witnesses would think she approached the church for spiritual assistance. After all, she had broken an engagement and when the rumors of such circulated many would consider her a fallen woman. They might as well carry her to the church themselves!

Inside, the pastor looked up from where he sat near the door to his office. He beckoned Elizabeth to approach.

“The others are in here,” he whispered. “My curate will wait here to lend assistance or diversion should we need it. Are you certain you wish for it this way, my child?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded and smiled shyly.

“Then let us continue.”

Elizabeth followed him into the little room, and instantly her eyes focused on Will. They would be crowded anyway, but his presence seemed to take up most of the space. He smiled at her entrance and did not take his eyes off of her the entire time, even when introducing his valet.

Throughout the ceremony, Elizabeth’s hands trembled. After all the wait, all the fear, she was marrying Will! She could scarcely believe it! In a matter of minutes, the legal ceremony was over.

“We will keep the register in here. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will have any other marriage applications for quite some time. Now, let us allow the Bride and Groom some privacy.”

Mr. Bennet kissed Elizabeth on the cheek and joked that he would see her at home. Mr. Matthews said he would return to Netherfield.

Once alone, Will turned to Elizabeth. “I would kiss you, but I fear it too irreverent in such a place.”

Elizabeth smiled and could agree with the sentiment entirely.

“I regret that this is not the ceremony you deserve.”

“Think nothing of it. I surely regret more that I cannot live with you as a wife ought.”

Will smiled so brightly it reached his eyes, fine lines formed around them. “How did you spend your morning?” He stroked her cheeks.

“I left early for a walk.”

Will nodded. “I thought so. Your eyes are always brighter when you have been walking.”

Elizabeth blushed and shook her head. “Where is the arrogant young man I knew? You do not think my eyes are brighter simply because you are around?”

Will suddenly started and frowned. He looked her up and down. “How long did you walk?”

“For several hours but the distance was not too far. I was too anxious to be far from the church. Why?”

“I thought to invite you to an establishment in Ware.”

“In Ware!”

“It is not too far—scarcely more than the three miles you walked to Netherfield.”

“What kind of establishment?” Elizabeth raised a brow. Her heart fluttered to consider what he would mean.

“Elizabeth,” Will said in a low growl. “Can we not have some part of being husband and wife?”

Will’s blue eyes stared intently at Elizabeth. The need in his eyes called on Elizabeth’s heart. She shyly nodded her assent.

“The Rose and Crown. Do you know it?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “W—when?”

“I will go very soon. My valet and carriage will soon leave for London.”

“You are leaving?”

“No,” Will hastened to interrupt her. “No, I will only look as though I am leaving. I will actually be in Ware. Harcourt should feel as though he won.”

Elizabeth nodded. She should have considered that. What man would remain so near the woman who had rejected him?

“You will come?”

“I will. I suppose if I walk then I shall arrive around the same time you do.”

“We should part,” Will sighed and consulted his watch. “Soon, my love. Soon we will not have to separate.”

Elizabeth nodded and watched as he left, her heart hammering in her chest as she considered the changes this day would bring. A few minutes later, the rector brought her to a less commonly used exit.

She walked first in the opposite direction of Ware, in case anyone had seen her at the church or was following her movements. Avoiding the main road, Elizabeth knew which paths would lead her to her destination. About an hour later, she stood outside of the Rose and Crown.

This was madness! What was she to do? Just go inside and…ask for a room? Ask for Mr. Darcy? Did he even register under his name? She had brought no things—but she was not staying the night, was she? So she was to go upstairs with a man and then return later and just walk out—without the proprietor thinking anything amiss? She was thankful Will chose a place so near Meryton. She did not have to worry about any friends or acquaintances needing an inn mere miles from their home.

Elizabeth turned and walked away. She would send a note later. Will would have to understand. She could not act in such a way. As she rounded the milliner, a figure emerged from the shop.

“Ah, there you are,” a familiar voice said.

Elizabeth looked up in surprise.

“Should you be so surprised to see me, my love?” Will winked as a couple walked past them.

“I did not expect to find you in the milliner,” Elizabeth said with false sweetness.

“I must apologise. I realised after we parted that I had not considered how we might meet again and the difficulties you would have in finding me.”

“Well?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

Will was silent for a long moment before he began chuckling. “Ah, I see my error. Let me amend my words. I do apologise. It was thoughtless of me. Can you forgive me?”

“I suppose I must. It must be part of my vows.”

Cocking his head, Will smiled down on her. “I heard you promise to love, honour, and obey but not to forgive.”

“Well, then you must command me to forgive you,” Elizabeth said and flashed a saucy grin.

Will sucked in a quick breath before looking around. “Do you know, Mrs. Walker, I believe you now require rest.”

“Oh, indeed, I must, Mr. Walker.”

Will smirked but tucked Elizabeth’s hand into his arm and nearly dragged her into the inn. Elizabeth contained a giggle at his eagerness. When he lead her up the stairs, her legs began to tremble. Looking down at her, Will touched his forehead to hers just before opening the door.

Inside, Will drew her into his arms. Kissing her, he pulled on Elizabeth’s bonnet ribbons. Elizabeth reached to assist him, but he swatted her hands away. He pulled back to whisper in her ear. “Tonight, I shall be your maid.”

“I will stay?” Elizabeth looked around nervously. The room was furnished as most inns. She gulped at the large bed, then noticed some of her things. “What will be said of my absence from Longbourn?”

“Miss Lucas was prevailed upon to say you are staying with her.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That story could not be held for long. If anyone asked her family…”

Will settled his hands around Elizabeth’s waist. His thumbs rubbed in slow circles just above her hips. “Your father has convinced Sir William to keep his family quiet. He also knows of Lord Harcourt. The Lucases hate him almost as much as we do.” Will paused and searched Elizabeth’s eyes. “You are free to leave at any time—you are not my captive.”

Elizabeth could not speak. Will had touched her more intimately before and yet she now felt drugged and incapable of resisting anything he would ask.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” he urged. “It was a foolish plan; you resent my high handedness. Say something!”

“I think…” Elizabeth began, “you should kiss me again.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled his head to hers.

 

*****

 

Will awoke the following day to find his arms delightfully full of feminine softness. He nuzzled into the curve of Elizabeth’s neck. “Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth sighed happily and rolled over to kiss him. After many minutes in pleasurable distraction, she pulled back. “I suppose I should return now. When will I see you again?”

“Soon,” Will said. “Perhaps three or four days. Whenever Richard can confirm that Harcourt is definitely in London.”

“And then we shall have a ceremony before our family?” Elizabeth smiled.

“Yes, love. Richard’s parents are eager to meet you again.”

“Again?” Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “Oh! At the theatre. I confess I had entirely forgotten they were there that evening.”

Will chuckled. “How embarrassed my poor aunt would be to hear her illustrious rank made no impression upon you.”

“Forgive me for being too besotted and distracted to care for such lofty titles of personages that could mean nothing to me.”

Will rewarded her words with a kiss. “Well, they have not forgotten you. The Earl had originally planned to journey with us. They are very cognizant of what might have been and of what we lost that day.”

“Did they know that you and I had an attachment?”

Will paused a moment. “I think they suspected it.”

“Why?”

“I could not bear to hear Sam mentioned. Nor would I countenance any talk of a marriage for me—they thought I should consider marrying my cousin Anne more.”

“Will they not approve of me?”

“No, that was never their complaint,” Will shook his head. “They never wished me to marry without affection or would say you are too low. They were friends with your father, after all.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“It is Lady Catherine who will rail at our marriage.” Elizabeth tensed in Will’s arms, and he held her tighter. “I do not care what she has to say. I never have.”

“Did Anne wish to marry you?”

The question brought Will up short. He had never really considered it before. “I do not know.”

“She is still unwed?”

“Yes,” Will slowly said the word.

He searched his memory for interactions with Anne. Had she expected his addresses? Maybe. Had there been genuine hope or affection on her side? He doubted it. She neither sought him out nor acted embarrassed or flustered when he was near. Then again, he had never been particularly good at reading females.

“Never mind,” Elizabeth snuggled closer. “It hardly matters. You did not raise her expectations and cannot be held accountable for every lady who hoped to gain your notice. I have won you, and I do not much enjoy thinking about other ladies and you marrying them in our marriage bed.”

“Say it again,” Will whispered in her ear as his hands ran over her body. A shiver racked her frame.

“That I have won you?”

He kissed just below her ear, drawing a moan from her lips. “Indeed, you have. Will you torture me, woman?”

“Hmm…perhaps, but I believe I have a new title now.”

“Will you torture me, wife?” His lips wandered down her neck.

“I shall plague you every day, I am sure.”

“Do you know, Mrs. Darcy, I think you sometimes talk too much.” Will pulled Elizabeth’s lips to his where they were occupied until the sun reached high in the sky.

When they awoke again, Will whispered endearments in his wife’s ear. She caressed his old scars and asked to hear how he had braved the fire attempting to rescue his loved ones. He held her close as he explained how she had healed his wounds. Although he did not fixate on hating inns the way Georgiana had, he carried the burdens of the fire with him for years. Now, he was beginning a new path and forging new memories.

At last, the time came that he must rescind the comfort of his bride. In a hired hack, they rode first in the opposite direction of Meryton and changed routes several times before bringing Elizabeth back to the outskirts of Meryton. There, Miss Lucas would walk her back to Longbourn. It took some faith for Will to trust Miss Lucas, but Elizabeth had told him of her renewed friendship with Sam’s former betrothed. Jane had sent the things Elizabeth would want, determined to provide something for her sister if she could not witness the ceremony.

Will returned to his rented chamber at the inn, feeling more than ever that his heart resided outside of his chest. The only thing which eased the dull ache he felt at Elizabeth’s absence was an express from Richard explaining he had already seen Harcourt at his usual gaming tables. More than ever, he prayed Elizabeth’s suggestion would prove right. He needed his wife in his arms once more.