Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Fifteen

I had my MRI on Tuesday and I’m scheduled for an appointment with my neurologist tomorrow but I have the flu and might not make it. I’ve been working on this manuscript even though I’ve been sick most of the week. Just in small doses. I think I’m down to the last chapter or two (ending in chapter 17 or 18).

I bet this chapter will shock all of you. The letter is not entirely forgotten about and will be discussed later, but for now, Elizabeth has more important matters to attend to.

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

Chapter Fifteen

Elizabeth waited behind the folding screen in the room of the Jester’s Inn. She focused on taking deep breaths despite the hammering in her chest. A crack in the window let in a faint breeze. Salt air filled her nostrils calming and tantalizing in equal measures. Soon she would begin on a journey crossing the sea, and she knew her heart had just started its journey in loving Darcy.

How had she not seen it all earlier? This week must have been torturous for Darcy as she kept him at arm’s length. It was only testament to how hurt she had been when they met again that she feared she could love no one, even him. Now, that she realised it, she could barely wait to tell him and launch herself into his arms. Nervously, she shifted her weight from foot to foot waiting for him to appear.

In due time, Darcy knocked on the door, and Elizabeth called for him to enter. She could hear him come into the chamber then shut and lock the entrance. Unable to see, her ears were more alert than ever to the now familiar sounds of her beloved readying for the evening. There was a gentle scraping sound as he placed his cufflinks on a table. Next, he sat and tugged off his boots before removing his coat and waistcoat.

The noises of Darcy removing clothing sent goose pimples over her skin and made her breath catch in her lungs. In the silence, she could even hear the fabric of his cravat thread through his fingers. He had been without his valet since they left London. At first, Elizabeth was too timid to watch Darcy disrobe. He came to bed in his shirtsleeves and breeches which seemed unbearably intimate. The first night without his valet, Elizabeth had hidden her face while he discarded his garments. In recent days, she had grown bolder, sneaking peeks at him now and then. She could imagine him now although she could not see him.

Finally, he stood, and the moment of truth had arrived.

“Elizabeth?”

She could hear the confusion in his voice.

“Where are you?”

“I—I am here,” she said from behind the screen. Her voice shook.

“Is anything wrong? Do you need assistance?” He stepped toward the screen.

“I am perfectly well. Stay where you are.”

Hearing his obedience, Elizabeth exhaled and emerged from behind the screen. She stared at her feet until Darcy’s quick exhale brought her eyes to his. Quickly, he averted them.

“Forgive me—I—I—I thought you were ready for me to enter.”

“Fitzwilliam, look at me.”

“Pardon, you are—you are—”

What she could see of one cheek was bright red. His embarrassment and shyness at her nudity were so endearing. She took a bold step forward. The sound of her movement made him begin to turn his head before he snapped it away again. At the closer proximity, she could see how rapidly his chest rose and fell. His hands tensed at his side as though he were forcing them to remain there. His posture was taut, reminding her of a string pulled to its maximum and about to snap.

“I want you to look at me.”

Again, his head began to move, but he would not turn it all the way. A muscle in his neck twitched. “You do?”

“Very much,” Elizabeth said as she took another step. She was close enough to touch him now.

Slowly, he turned his head. His eyes widened, and a look of utter fascination and delight filled them. She stood as he perused her body, his eyes dropping over specific contours and curves before returning to her gaze. The tension in his body remained.

She ought to feel timid or ashamed. However, she could see his appreciation. She had never felt more beautiful not because this honourable man loved her or looked at her with undeniable desire in his eyes. She felt beautiful for she finally loved herself. She accepted her flaws and could see her strengths. What more could she ask to be in life than a woman who fiercely loved? Judging it the right time to speak, after a long moment of unspoken communication, she broke their silence.

“I want you to see me now, bare before you, as you have always seen my heart.” She reached for one of his hands and pressed it to her heart, and Darcy let out a shuddery exhale. “I love you, Fitzwilliam. I love you with my whole heart, and you have shown me that it is not absent or numb or shattered. It finally knows what it is to love and be loved because of you.”

She raised his hand to her lips and tried to pour all of her love into her gaze as their eyes remained connected. “I have nothing to my name. According to Society, my future would be desolate and as exposed as my body now is. However, if you will have me, I offer my heart for as long as you or I shall live.”

“You love me?”

Elizabeth nodded as Darcy’s hopeful look turned to disbelief before being replaced entirely by joy. “I love you.”

Darcy’s restraint was gone. He pulled her into his arms for a sizzling kiss and held her so close she could feel his heart beat against her skin. His hands roamed over her body. “We will wed tomorrow,” Darcy panted between breaths when he broke their kiss. “There is no rush to—”

“I trust you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself further against him.

Darcy let out a strangled moan as his lips fell to her neck. Feeling her legs buckle as glorious sensation swept over her body, Darcy caught her in his arms and carried her to their bed.

Darcy murmured words of love into Elizabeth’s ear causing her mind to empty of everything but this moment. When he kissed down her neck, and his fingers began gentle caresses over her body, she grew dizzy on the heady sensation of pleasure coursing through her. Settled against the pillows, she opened her arms and welcomed Darcy into her heart and placed her body into his loving care.

****

Darcy awoke to the feeling of Elizabeth’s exploratory and inviting touch as she caressed the thick patch of hair at the top of his chest. She seemed entirely fascinated with what he had always considered a rather unremarkable part of his anatomy. He feigned sleep to see how far her curiosity would take her.

The evening before, his wildest fantasies came true. Elizabeth loved him and displayed her trust in him with more courage than he thought likely found in most men. A night of spine-tingling pleasure ensued and yet this evening promised even more, as he had shocked even himself by withholding full consummation of their love until their marriage could be legally condoned.

However, Elizabeth began pressing kisses to his chest, her head trailing lower, and his resolve was quickly vanishing.

“If you continue that, we will not only miss the sunrise but our ship as well. I might never let you out of this bed again,” he said to her in a husky voice as he opened one eye.

She moved her head to look at him, her curls trailing over his skin, make him tense at the pleasure. Elizabeth blushed but her eyes danced with merriment.

“We already missed the sunrise.”

“Did we?” Darcy leaned up on his elbows to see the window on the other side of the room. “I am sorry. I had wanted your first glimpse of the sea to be spectacular.”

Elizabeth’s lips turned up in a pleased smile before she kissed his stomach, allowing her tongue to briefly lave over the skin. Darcy slumped back in the bed. “Lizzy.” He did not know if he were warning her or begging her.

The head popped back up. “As it happens, I cannot complain about my morning. I can view the sea at sunrise some other time. I would not trade this moment with you for the world’s most splendid vista.”

Darcy tugged on Elizabeth’s arm, bringing her lips to his. She cut the kiss far shorter than he would have preferred.

“Let us ready for the day, Fitzwilliam,” she said. “I am most eager to become Mrs. Darcy.”

While Darcy could think of a hundred pleasurable things that would keep them in bed for a week, he could think of nothing better than making her his wife this very day. “And so, the ordering about begins already?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth smirked as she climbed out of bed. “I plan to be a most proper wife.”

Darcy frowned, and Elizabeth laughed at his expression. “Have your laugh now, but you will see that I rule my household firmly. I will not be nagged by my wife into every all her bidding.” He got out of bed and immediately reached for her.

Elizabeth laughingly danced away from his reach. “Dearest Fitzwilliam. I have a much better plan than to nag you to death.”

“Do you?” he asked as he followed after her. She was all playful movements, and he moved more like a cat on the prowl. “What will you do?” He asked as Elizabeth reached a wall and Darcy leaned both arms on either side of her head.

“Oh, I will convince you with sweetness instead.”

“I am not so easily swayed,” he murmured against her ear, smiling at her shiver in response. “Now, perhaps a kiss…”

“A kiss?” Elizabeth’s tone belied astonishment. She pulled his head down to her level and whispered in his ear. “I had planned on seduction.”

Before Darcy could reward her bold impertinence, she ducked out from under his arms and chuckled as she danced away again.

“Why are you over there if that is your intention?” Darcy asked, the pout on his lips very real.

“I have to be your wife first, silly.” Elizabeth grinned. “Come, we must make haste. I am afraid our lovemaking last night tired us out.”

As she slipped behind the screen to dress, Darcy marvelled not only at her lingering modesty but that he had never heard so many statements which could lighten his heart in such a short time. Elizabeth loved him, she could not wait to marry him, and she delighted in making love. By the time they had left their room, he could not stop grinning. He reckoned no man who saw Elizabeth would need to wonder at the cause of his joy.

They packed the few items they had needed for the evening and were on their way. Despite Elizabeth’s anxiety, they had arrived with enough time to allow them a brief excursion along the promenade. Darcy smiled hearing Elizabeth’s oohs and ahhs at the sights. The morning son dazzled on the sea, the clouds of the night before had vanished. She relished the breeze on her face and the smell of the salt air. He could hardly contain his mirth at her expression when they approached the harbour.

“They are much larger than I had expected.”

“This is good,” Darcy chuckled. He would hardly like to cross the sea with his bride on nothing sturdier than a fishing vessel. “Had you never seen the docks in London?”

Elizabeth replied that she had not, and he considered again how sheltered her life had been. He relished the opportunity to give her new experiences.

“Are you scared at all?” He whispered as they boarded the ship and he thought he detected a tremor in her hand as it rested on his arm.

“Not with you here,” she said, and she squeezed his arm.

Despite her brave words, Darcy believed she carried some anxiety and knew it was perfectly ordinary. The journey to Portpatrick was only a few hours, and the ship had no cabins for the passengers. The few vessels which attempted longer sea travel due, always a dangerous venture made worse by Napoleon, offered places to sleep. Their ship offered only a large common room, leaving the cabins for the crew and much of the area for cargo.

As the ship set sail, Darcy and Elizabeth stood on the deck and watched as Holyhead’s harbour grew smaller and smaller. Having been on a ship a few times to travel to Scotland and Ireland, Darcy adjusted to the rolling sensation of the ship. A glance at Elizabeth assured him she did not fare as well. Escorting her to the common area, he found a seat for her and offered some refreshment, which she refused.

“Is it her first time on a ship?” a friendly voice said to Darcy’s right.

Elizabeth nodded, a bit shyly, Darcy thought, at the lady.

“Ah, I remember my first time. The sickness always hits me but not nearly so bad as the first time. All I can promise you is that you don’t die from it and we are in safe hands with Captain Harvey. It will all be worth it in the end,” she said as only the old and wise can. “Scotland is a beauty. It’s proof that God can paint as well as any Master.”

“No one said she had never been to Scotland before,” the gentleman next to her harrumphed.

“Oh! I suppose you are correct, my dear,” the lady bubbled. “Well, have you been to Scotland before, Misses? What brings you to journey there?”

Darcy and Elizabeth glanced at each other and blushed. They had not rehearsed what to say if asked such a thing. Darcy had not thought it likely to be approached in such a fashion.

“Harriet, mind your tongue,” the man said. “You have embarrassed them. Why do you think two young people are going to Scotland?”

“Goodness!” She glanced at them, eyeing the way Elizabeth’s hand rested in Darcy’s as she nearly leaned on him for support as the long bench provided none for her back. “Pray, forgive me. I am not usually so chattery. My nerves get the best of me on a ship, you see. However, I had thought you must be a married couple of some years. She seems to rely on you so and trust you implicitly.”

With such an observation, Darcy and Elizabeth blushed again, but he could not be displeased.

The woman’s husband leaned forward and spoke in softer tones. “Do not mind us. We do not judge you in the least. We ran away together thirty years ago, and it has been the best decision I ever made.”

“I should say so, Mr. Scott!” the woman chuckled. “We go back now to visit our daughter. She has married a clergyman who resides in Glasgow. We could sail all the way there, but I prefer to spend the least amount of time on a ship as possible. Of course, it will all be worth it to see the baby.”

“My congratulations,” Elizabeth offered with a smile.

The two couples chatted amiably for the course of the journey, Darcy noting that Elizabeth seemed to perk up from the conversation.

“Oh, I wish my Agnes could meet you,” Mrs. Scott said to Elizabeth as the ship docked. “If ever you two are in Glasgow, you must visit Mr. and Mrs. David Russell in Parkhead. I am sure you both would just adore little Johnny. What a bright one he is already!”

Darcy smiled as the lady affectionately continued on about her grandson as her husband added his own pieces until they had to depart from the ship. The couple seemed lower in status than him and were far more outgoing than he typically preferred, but they were amiable and kind. Additionally, he could see the enduring love between the two, and it was impossible for him to not wish that thirty years hence, he and Elizabeth might be just as in love and enamoured of a grandchild.

Directing a young man to send their trunks to the appropriate inn, Darcy and Elizabeth walked to the nearest church, although not required by law, and pledged their troth. Assured of a legal and consecrated marriage, they ended the day in each other’s arms finally one in body and soul.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Fourteen

The babysitter asked to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese today so I am getting some work done! I’ve been able to resume writing some and you get rewarded with a post!

I’ve said a few times the conflict here is Elizabeth and her head. She’s going to face another test. What do you think she’ll do? Panic or stay?

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

Chapter Fourteen

Over the next few days, Elizabeth thought much about Jane’s letter. She had replied the following day. Uncertain how to approach Jane’s presentation of her illness, Elizabeth avoided addressing the past at Longbourn. Instead, she congratulated Jane on her marriage and reiterated her blossoming feelings for Darcy.

Soon, she would need to explain to Jane the change in her understanding not about Darcy, but about herself and her family. That would be best suited to do in person, however, so Elizabeth decided to bide her time. She wished for Jane to know that Elizabeth had no doubts regarding Darcy’s character, but more importantly that Elizabeth knew she would have a healthy future for she chose to heal. Jane’s insistence in pushing away her mental strain and redefining her feelings and actions worried Elizabeth. She knew it was impossible for Jane to merely wake up entirely new and healed the next morning and skip down the sunny lanes of Meryton and into the arms of a Prince Charming. Happily ever after was possible, of course, but the dragons must be defeated first. Judging from her letter, Jane acted as though there was nothing to vanquish.

The days and nights with Darcy furthered their intimacy. Elizabeth still wished for moments of greater privacy and a greater variety of activities. She was ever so tired of carriages and inns. Darcy had kept his promise, however, of arranging for her to have time to walk in the middle of the day. They would have a light repast and then walk about whatever village or town they in before returning to the carriage.

Her time with Darcy did bring to mind her own deficiencies. It was allowable that she not have any other pursuit while travelling, but Elizabeth noticed she had no activity to occupy her when they stopped in the evenings. She had always thought she used her time wisely and her parents were sensible in not pushing their daughters to learn things which did not appeal to them. However, now she saw how ill-prepared she was for anything beyond being the daughter of a gentleman of middle means. She believed she could speak with the housekeeper and handle her tasks for the estate fine enough. If the rest of her life was merely attempting witty conversation at dinner parties, she could perform those duties well. What she sorely lacked, though, was knowledge in how to exist in quiet moments with a reserved man.

She did not mind the silence, of course. She was curious enough to read about current affairs and intelligent enough to converse with her betrothed about them. It was the other times that she did not know what to do. At Longbourn, there had always been a sister to talk or argue with. There was always some conflict to ignore, watch, or attempt to stop. The lack of distress and crisis made Elizabeth decidedly restless and nervous. Perhaps if she embroidered or painted fireplace screens, she would have some activity to take her mind off such things.

Darcy did not seem to mind. In fact, he appeared inordinately pleased merely to be in the same room as her even if they were silent for much of it and occupied in separate pursuits. Elizabeth supposed much of her life at Pemberley would be this way. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. At Longbourn, she acted as she did out of a need for survival. She did not enjoy those mindless accomplishments thrust upon most ladies, but even if she did, she would not have been able to study them to mastery. There was too much conflict in her home. Indeed, much of her character relied on who she had to be for her family. She must direct her sisters. She must share in her father’s jokes. She must not cringe at her mother’s vulgarness. She must not partake of her sisters’ frivolity too much but not be as severe as Mary. She should not be as kind as Jane, who was easily taken advantage of.

Who was Elizabeth Bennet without her family? The thought which used to anger or terrify her suddenly felt like great freedom. She could be absolutely anyone she wanted. And what was more, she knew that Darcy would love her unconditionally.

He looked up from his book just as the realization of that struck her. She was saved from having to explain the queer expression in her eyes by the carriage jostling over a rock.

“We should make it to Holyhead before nightfall,” he said.

Excitement brimmed in Elizabeth. At Holyhead, they would board a ship to ferry them to Scotland. They would marry at Portpatrick and, Darcy had promised, a quick journey to Ireland after before they returned to Pemberley.

Despite Elizabeth’s desire to arrive in time to tour the coastal town, they reached the inn as darkness blanketed the sky. The road the last several miles was rough and required a slower pace. Even then, the carriage was stuck in a rut twice and required the men to push it out. Elizabeth let out a sigh that her first view of the seaside was not during daylight or even the romance of the sunset. Clouds covered much of the sky meaning there were very few visible stars to reflect on the water and it was not safe to walk on the promenade. Darcy had promised, however, that they could rise early the next day. Elizabeth supposed seeing the sunrise was fair enough compensation.

When they entered the coaching inn, he needed to speak with the inn’s proprietor about a few matters. Elizabeth was shown to their room by a maid. Unexpectedly, she returned a few moments later with a letter in hand. Elizabeth thought she made out Jane’s new address, but the writing was not as neat as usual. Tearing it open, Elizabeth stumbled into a chair as she read the words.

Dearest Lizzy,

I have directed this letter to Holyhead in hopes that it will reach you before you board your ship for Scotland. I have just come from Longbourn and have been urged to send for you.

About a week ago, Papa was injured riding over the fields. He had fallen from his horse, and it was many hours before anyone found him. He sustained a head injury and a severe break to the leg. His pain was acute but more troubling was the amount of blood he lost. It was evident too, to the men who found him, that his leg would most likely be lost. The apothecary and surgeon were sent for. They agreed an amputation was necessary.

They had hoped for a quick recovery, but Papa was too weak from the blood loss. After several days of fever, a physician has been sent for. He arrived earlier today and has observed Papa all day. He has given us no reason to hope.

I know your differences with our parents. I can even understand you blaming them for Kitty and Lydia’s elopements. However, no matter their faults, they are our parents. If you hasten, you might have some time with Papa before he passes. Either way, your presence will be a balm to our mother. They have lost two daughters already. Will you make them lose another?

–Jane

Elizabeth’s mind raced with thought. She could be ready in an instant. They could be on the road again in less than an hour. Surely Darcy could arrange for them to travel overnight and they might arrive at Longbourn in less time than it took for them on the first journey. He would support her.

As soon as the thought crept in, she dismissed it. Darcy had every reason to think ill of the Bennets. He would never condone Elizabeth cancelling their plans to see to her wayward parents. Indeed, he never would conscience to see them again. He had admitted only to a willingness to write to Mr. Bennet about how to help find Lydia. He had made no promises to visit Longbourn or to personally search for Lydia. Mr. Bennet would soon die, and she doubted he would be willing to communicate with Mrs. Bennet. Even more, he would not get a sensible reply. Darcy surely esteemed Mr. Gardiner even less between his lower rank and the greater pain the Gardiners had given to Elizabeth.

There was the continued issue of propriety. It was one matter to elope. It was another to spend weeks together unchaperoned and in inns without marriage. She would be no better than Lydia at that point. Gossip could hardly be avoided if she arrived at Longbourn unmarried. If he accompanied her, it would taint him and possibly even his sister who had been through enough.

Besides all this, he would feel any request to alter their plans to be an abandonment of him. He would feel jilted. He had sacrificed so much for her, and she would be just as well leaving him behind. Oh, he would be too honourable and selfless to say anything. He might even accompany her all the way to Longbourn. However, it would burn in their relationship. Once there, she would be at the mercy of her mother’s grief. All the expectations would weigh on her.

Jane and Mary had become ill once before and might again under stress. What would happen if they succumbed again and Elizabeth was not there to assist them? She could hardly hope they—or even herself—would be able to behave perfectly. Something would invariably happen that would separate her from Darcy. He would see why she was so unsuitable and come to his senses at last.

Elizabeth understood if she desired to return to Longbourn, she would be as good as ending her relationship with Darcy. As such, she should finish it rather than prolong the pain. She would need to rescind her agreement to marry him and flee. The heartbreak was impossible to avoid, and it was better to face it on her own terms.

Two choices were before her. Return to her family or marry Darcy.

****

“Here we are, my love,” Darcy said as he opened the door.

Elizabeth hastily shoved the letter under the folds of her gown. Two servants walked in behind him carrying trays of refreshments and tea. He motioned for them to set them down on the table near Elizabeth. He sat in the chair opposite her. After the servants left, he inquired which items she would prefer and served her.

Elizabeth found she had little appetite. Her mind considered how she might do what needed to be done. Could she bear to see the heartbreak in his eyes as she chose her family over him? Could she bear knowing that she was forever separating herself from perhaps the only person in the world that could love and respect her so unconditionally?

“You are quiet this evening,” Darcy observed after Elizabeth had either not heard or delayed in answering three or four of his questions.

A knock sounded at the door, and Darcy bade them enter. A maid appeared with wine and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. Yes, if Darcy would imbibe enough, she could leave while he slept. She would leave a note for him to find in the morning.

Elizabeth jumped when he placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him in surprise. When had he left his chair?

“Are you well, Elizabeth?”

“I suppose it was the journey today. I am more tired than usual.”

“I am not surprised,” he said. “I ordered the wine in case you required it.”

He handed her a glass, and she took it with a tense smile.

“You have barely touched your food,” he frowned at her plate. “Perhaps you need rest more than anything else.”

Elizabeth leaned forward to take a biscuit so he might fret over her less. She had never deserved his goodness. The movement caused the letter to crinkle underneath her gown.

Darcy eyed her curiously and then his eyes fell on a scrap that she had torn in her hasty opening. It had dropped on the floor.

“Did you get a letter?”

Elizabeth nodded and held her breath, searching to find something to say.

“From Jane again? What did she have to say so soon? I would be surprised if she even got your reply yet.”

“I would prefer not to speak about it at present,” Elizabeth said with an exhale.

Darcy’s hand left her shoulder. He caressed up her neck before lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “No wonder you seem downcast this evening.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.

Elizabeth nearly whimpered at the gesture. “My stomach is unsettled. I do not think I should have the wine,” she said and glanced at the carafe. “You must be exhausted from helping with the carriage. Please, drink as you please.”

“I would not wish for you to think I am a drunkard.”

“I will worry about you otherwise,” she said, and it was not the lie she had intended.

Darcy’s affectionate and grateful look pulled on her heart more than anything else. He looked so pleased to see a sign of her regard. What was she doing? Why was she willing to leave the man she loved?

The realization of her thoughts made her still as Darcy refilled his glass. She loved him as she had never loved another. She loved him without reserve and without fear. She was not entirely sure what he would say or do regarding her sister’s request, but Elizabeth realized her thoughts had been flawed. He would not condemn her for wishing to be with her family. He would not reject her or even make her choose between them. She thought even if all the worse would be said about them and it taint his good name, he would still stand by her. The man practically lived to make her happy and had sacrificed so much for her.

No, it was not Darcy that would make her choose between him and her family. How had it not occurred to Jane that requesting she return unmarried would likely forever ruin the possibilities of it? Perhaps Jane supposed that mattered little to Elizabeth after the months she spent away from Longbourn, but a woman with a botched elopement could not be Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth thought too highly of the Darcy name and loved him too much to make him live with a tarnished legacy. Once rumours started, who knew what they would contain. Before too long they would hit upon something so close to the truth it would remind someone of a memory. Some passing traveller would have seen her at the inn. From there it would be easy to assume she had prostituted herself and then all their efforts to conceal her identity would be ruined. Marrying Darcy only worked if she could do so honourably and without destroying his name.

“Come,” Darcy said as he put his glass down. He walked to Elizabeth and took her hands in his, raising them up to assist her in standing. “I will leave so you may get ready for bed. We want an early start tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said with a tremulous smile. “For the ship.”

“Yes, I would not want to miss that. It is not every day I plan to sail to Scotland to marry my love. However, I meant so you may view the sunrise over the sea.” He kissed her forehead again before departing.

The kiss sealed it. She could not forsake him. She loved him too much. Lord forgive her, but she could not choose her family over Darcy; over them; over her. She had genuine love and happiness before her, and she would take hold of it with both hands.

Friday Feature– A Sense of Obligation

Last time, I featured No Cause to Repine. You can also catch up on all my other features here: Friday Features

Today’s feature is A Sense of Obligation. I wrote this story after reading a solitary chapter of a work in progress on a fan forum site. The story was later taken down for violating board rules and I never heard about it again but maybe it exists out there somewhere. I can’t even remember it’s name or the author’s name. The story started with Darcy proposing to Elizabeth in Mrs. Collins’ drawing room. However, he’s even less coherent than in Canon. He tries to explain the burning desire he has for Elizabeth. He says some things like she would understand if he showed her. So he does.

Against her will.

Yep. Elizabeth is raped.

Oh, but she enjoys it!

And, of course, so did Darcy.

In the post #me-too age, I can hear everyone gasp. This was a few years before #metoo but I was repulsed just the same. It’s never okay for Darcy or any hero to force himself on a woman. While we’re talking about it, there’s no accident to rape. A man raping a woman doesn’t get confused. Even if she’s incapable of saying no for some reason, there is a host of other forms of communication which a fully functioning adult male or woman should understand. Good men don’t just accidentally rape women and then have to be sorry for it later. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s not about healthy sexual desire. It’s about power. It’s about wanting to have dominance over something. And yes, that pleases them sexually, but it has nothing to do with even the mechanics and hormones of lust. A woman might be dressed in revealing clothing and it turn on lots of men. They’re not all going to rape her because they have healthy boundaries. She’s not asking to be raped. She might very well be asking for consensual sex, of course. But don’t you dare victim shame.

End rant.

How can I condemn a story that also gave me some inspiration? I was intrigued by the psychological spot the author left the characters at. Darcy did something shameful but he enjoyed it and is going to get his way out of it: Elizabeth is going to marry him. Elizabeth is disgusted that she had an intimate encounter with a man she hates and yet she enjoyed it. Removing the rape scenario, it’s interesting psychology. I had to fix what I thought the author did wrong, which was the lack of consent. #sorrynotsorry, some of my first works were because I thought I could do it better than someone else. Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of humble pie since.

While I wrote A Sense of Obligation, I was convinced I could never publish it. I didn’t think anyone would tolerate a story where Darcy seduced Elizabeth. I use the word seduction in the 21st century vernacular. Again, the author of the inspiration story used it as a 19th century term. Darcy “seduced” Elizabeth. In that era, a woman might have consented to have sex and the man was simply charming. Or she might have been forced. Either way, they said she was seduced.

Fortunately, during the posting process, I learned that many people loved the story and I also decided no story was unworthy of publication. Since it’s publication, A Sense of Obligation is my third highest grossing book and fourth highest selling. It was my fifth book published. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one that liked it and it was publishable after all!

In my scenario, Darcy thinks he charmed Elizabeth out of her virginity. The irony of that statement is intentional. We all know him to be about the least charming man alive. We also know at this moment in the story (it begins at Netherfield), Elizabeth is uninterested in Darcy and doesn’t think well of him.

Throughout the story, there are humorous situations. However, it’s continually dealing with darker subjects. I turn a few tropes on their heads. Rather than Elizabeth losing her inhibitions due to drinking too much, it’s Darcy that has lowered his guard. Instead of Elizabeth losing her memory of their encounter, it’s Darcy. No real compromise occurred nor were there any witnesses to their encounter. It’s a forced marriage only in their own minds.

Darcy and Elizabeth also discuss the nature of monogamy and the hypocrisy Society had in its demand that women remain virginal and virtuous while men were encouraged to take lovers. However, unwilling to entirely leave behind Society’s dictates, the two talk in circles about their encounter throughout the book, leaving them both with very flawed understandings of what passed between them.

I’m not quite sure if readers ever got the deeper issues. I don’t recall there being any comments or reviews about it. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that the majority of JAFF readers read stories purely for the Romance and don’t want to think too much about things. However, I loved writing A Sense of Obligation.

True to Darcy and Elizabeth’s miscommunication and unspoken subtext throughout the novel, the following scene is one of my favorites. They are talking about Greek gods and goddesses which would be common knowledge for the educated gentry of the era. However, they’re really trying to say so much more.

Elizabeth arched her brow. “You mean not even the master of Pemberley can control the weather or get his demands of the Lord?”

Darcy grinned. Elizabeth was clearly feeling better. “Nay, my dear. For I have it on good authority that an angel in Longbourn prayed for the sun as well, and if the Lord did not listen to her, then why should He listen to me, a mere mortal?”

She blushed again but replied, “I did not say I prayed for sunshine.”

“And I did not say I meant you! All Bingley can ever speak of is his angel!”

Elizabeth scoffed in disbelief at his tease. She playfully shoved him. “William!”

Darcy captured her hand and pulled her closer. Stroking her cheek, he said, “I cannot call you an angel, my alluring temptress, my lovely wood nymph. You are very much a flesh and blood woman, to my immense pleasure.”

He smirked, and Elizabeth could not help but notice his strange fascination with the word.

“No, I would not have you be an angel. You are a goddess…with all the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Aphrodite, and the love of nature of Artemis. You will be my Demeter and help Pemberley’s harvest, my Hestia and make Pemberley a home, and my Hera, the goddess of goddesses, woman above all other women.”

Elizabeth could scarcely breathe. But soon enough she gathered her wits to reply, “Very well, sir. Now we cannot have you be Zeus, for you have admitted to not being able to control the weather. Nor could you be Poseidon, as floods and droughts are not conducive to farming. Might you be Dionysus as you have asked to give more parties? Certainly you are Apollo…god of knowledge.”

Darcy had to control the urge to cease her teasing lips. Dionysus was also the god of ecstasy and Apollo, the god of manly beauty. Was she saying what he hoped? Oh, that he could be her Eros, her god of love. And she would be his Psyche, his very Breath of Life.

Elizabeth was pleased with herself. She knew Darcy was not given to drunkenness, but there was no denying he had been half in his cups the night she walked into the library, and calling him Dionysus was quite fitting. And although he was intelligent, she poked fun at his singing with her, too. Apollo was also the god of music. If she were truthful, however, she would call him Adonis, the god of beauty…and desire.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy smiled at Elizabeth and placed her hand on his arm again. “Come, Elizabeth. I believe some of your relatives are to arrive this afternoon. On that note, I must beg you excuse me from calling as I must send an express to my own relatives about our wedding.”

The first cover for A Sense of Obligation. It’s not era-appropriate but I fell in love with that dress and the black backdrop. A forced marriage story is not all sunshine after all.

And here is the scene which definitely sold the book. I put it in the back of No Cause to Repine and had it on pre-order when NCTR released. A Sense of Obligation had 645 pre-orders in a little more than 60 days. I don’t know how that would compare these days in Amazon, but in 2015 that was pretty impressive–at least compared to my experiences at the time.

The first rays of sunlight filtered through the flimsy, but fashionable, curtains of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s bedchamber at Netherfield Park. Darcy groaned a little at the light and tried to ignore the signs of dawn in hopes of returning to his dream. It had been the most erotic and satisfying dream of his life; it nearly felt real.

“The best feeling ever,” he muttered to himself, only to have his sleep-addled mind reply, nothing could feel better than last night with Elizabeth Bennet.

The thought made him suddenly sit up in alarm, which made his head swell in pain. With a sinking feeling, he noticed his tangled bedclothes and felt a familiar sticky substance between his…bare…legs.

No, no, no. This is impossible, he thought. He was a gentleman; he did not importune innocent ladies, daughters of gentlemen, and Elizabeth Bennet had too much sense to succumb to any man’s seduction, let alone his. She did not seem to court his good opinion like most other ladies he knew. Darcy did not think she would attempt a scheme to entrap him, but neither did he think her in love with him or wanton.

He felt certain his earlier thought was the mark of a befuddled mind, caused by too much brandy from the night before if his headache was any sign. However, as he slowly disentangled himself from his bedclothes, he spied a red stain on the white bed linens.

Impossible! He told himself again. Surely, it was from an injury he unknowingly acquired. And then he saw it. A lady’s handkerchief embroidered with wildflowers, monogrammed ERB, with another blood stain.

He quickly checked himself for any sign of injury and found none. His senses became more alert as he recognised the lingering scent of lavender on his person.

“Dear Lord, forgive me!” he cried out in despair.

In the years since publication, I’ve had ideas of a sequel. Domestic Felicity should debut this summer. We will visit Darcy and Elizabeth, and their family and friends, several years into their marriage. The tagline for the book is: Love under fire. I’m so excited! Are you?

Blurb

One night changes everything.

After weeks of fighting his attraction, Fitzwilliam Darcy makes an irreparable move leaving no choice but to wed Elizabeth Bennet. Charmed by a gentler side of the haughty man, Elizabeth nurtures her growing affection for him. Unfortunately, Darcy’s faulty memory may destroy their marriage just as swiftly as it begins.

Universal Buy Link

Thornton Thursday– Hottest scene ever

I’m not going to lie. I don’t only read 19th century literature. I read a lot of fiction penned in the present day (but nearly always set in the past). And a lot of it is not sex-free. However, I honestly think nothing I have read is hotter than this scene by Elizabeth Gaskell from 1855.

Her voice had cleared itself and become more steady. Mr. Thornton did not speak, and she went on looking for some paper on which were written down the proposals for security; for she was most anxious to have it all looked upon in the light of a mere business arrangement, in which the principal advantage would be on her side. While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:—

‘Margaret!’

For an instant she looked up; and then sought to veil her luminous eyes by dropping her forehead on her hands. Again, stepping nearer, he besought her with another tremulous eager call upon her name.

‘Margaret!’

Still lower went the head; more closely hidden was the face, almost resting on the table before her. He came close to her. He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:—

‘Take care.—If you do not speak—I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.—Send me away at once, if I must go;—Margaret!—’

At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length she murmured in a broken voice:

‘Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!’

‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’

After a minute or two, he gently disengaged her hands from her face, and laid her arms as they had once before been placed to protect him from the rioters.

‘Do you remember, love?’ he murmured.

Sigh. I mean I’m an old married lady with two kids and well-acquainted with bedroom activities and I’m seriously turning into a puddle of need over this. It’s not just that I can feel the chemistry between them. It’s full of actual love, not just lust. It’s the longing and fear. The acknowledgment of pain and desperation. The timid hope, the feeling of complete awe at your good fortune.

Romance authors need to take a serious number from Gaskell’s tactic here. Love is hotter than lust any day of the week. I don’t really have a lot of deep observations here. I’ll leave you with the best on-screen kiss ever which I think perfectly captures the sentiment of this scene. While it takes place in a train station, which would be beyond the pale of Victorian propriety I not only like the full circle of all the train images and the closure to the pain Thornton felt seeing Margaret with Frederick at the station, but Edith’s drawing room is only just barely more private.

If you haven’t seen this adaptation, you must and let me treat you to the best 90 seconds ever to be filmed. You’re welcome.

Wentworth Wednesday– Resentful

A few years ago, I read Persuasion for the first time. I had seen both film adaptations several times and knew the story rather well. I think I saw the humanity of Wentworth more in the films. I have Facebook posts chronicling my falling in love with him in the book. However, as we came to the end, the wheels came off the wagon.

I think it’s totally understandable that a man could be attracted to another lady in the presence of his former betrothed. Of course, the fact that he falls back in love with the same woman that broke his heart before is what makes the love story so sigh-worthy. I could quite forgive Captain Wentworth of attraction to another lady before coming back to Anne. I’m the same woman who can forgive Edmund Betram for loving Mary Crawford before realizing Fanny is the better woman.

However, what I stumble over is the much-beloved letter from Wentworth. He admits he’s never loved anyone else. We can assume that he never had a relationship with another lady that went as far as it did with Louisa Musgrove, as he was honor-bound to her and it was only her choice to marry another that kept Wentworth free for Anne. That says he intentionally went out of his way to feel more–or pretend to feel more–with Louisa simply because Anne was present. There’s a word for that.

This is Merriam-Webster’s definition of Resentment:

a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury

It’s not sweet or cute or swoon-worthy. Wentworth wished ill will toward Anne. Well, fine. He was mad and, dare I say it, entitled. But then we have this issue:

Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Captain Wentworth is telling Anne that he never stopped loving her, even when he was resentful. How is that love?

If he expressed only his loyalty, I would be fine. He had never courted another lady, if he had never considered marriage again since her then maybe he would have a point (but that smacks more of bitterness and fear than enduring love). However, he writes his love never died. There is plenty of proof in the letter and the rest of the book to argue that he wasn’t aware of his enduring love until after the debacle with Louisa. What bothers me, though, is that in this moment when he is addressing his poor actions, he says “it’s okay because I always loved you.” Perhaps this is him attempting to find some silver lining to his actions. Maybe he means fate or the luck on which his career has always rested has smiled upon him once again and despite his jerky actions toward Anne, she still loves him, and despite his trying to push her out of his mind, he still loves her. However, I am left dissatisfied since it is Jane Austen and I feel as though she can articulate it better and I don’t find Wentworth socially and romantically inept like say Darcy or Knightley.

He’s not the only one I have a problem with at the end of the book. I take more issue with Anne. However, that will be for another post.

What do you think? Can you wish someone ill and still love them? Can you be full of resentment and also full of love? Could it be, the Austen hero everyone thinks of as the emblem for mature and lasting love was actually a manipulative jerk who wouldn’t apologize for it?

Tuesday Quotes– Delighting in anything ridiculous

It’s a new year and so I am doing some new themes on the blog as others took too long and had low participation. So, we’ll see if sharing fun quotes does better!

I found this pic on Pinterest and don’t know who made it. I think it’s lovely! I’ve always liked this quote and I think it’s one of the best qualities about Elizabeth Bennet. It’s a quote very early in Pride and Prejudice and tells us so much about her character. I admit to also laughing at ridiculous things.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Thirteen

At long last! A new chapter! In case you have missed my other mentions of it, I’ve been unwell. I currently have loss of feeling in almost my entire body. Bouts of pain, especially at night, have accompanied the numbness. I am going to try to catch up with this story in the next few days as the majority of the pain has subsided during the day, but I must take care of myself as well. I’ll know more after my MRI next week.

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

Chapter Thirteen

Darcy and Elizabeth had sat in companionable silence in the carriage the following day for nearly an hour before she spoke.

“Fitzwilliam, tell me about your friends, your family, the people that make up your life.”

Darcy started at her interest. “I have already told you about my sister. You will soon get to know her better. You will meet her companion and nurse, Mrs. Annesley. She is a very genteel lady.”

“What about anyone else? You mentioned a cousin is also Miss Darcy’s guardian and relatives that might visit her while you are away. How frequently do you see Mr. Bingley?”

“Richard is often posted to the Continent. When he is not, he is busy with his Regiment in London. One day, I hope you two will meet. Aunt Katherine and Uncle Joseph live in Edinburgh, and we do not get to visit with them very often.” He frowned a little before answering her final question. “I do not see Bingley more than once or twice a year—although I would say he is my closest friend. He is always getting about—a house party here or there, a soiree in Town, a trip to Scarborough. I much prefer to visit with him at Pemberley.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “That is just what I would have expected.”

“That I hate Society so much that I have only one friend that I rarely see?”

Elizabeth shook her head as she gathered Darcy’s hand and raised it to her lips. “I have discovered you value time together free of other distractions or activities. At the assembly in Meryton, you barely spoke. However, you were talkative enough in privacy at Netherfield. You never seem at a loss for words, now, with me. You do not hate Society. You simply crave more intimate gatherings with your friends.”

Darcy felt the corners of his lips turn up. He had never known anyone else to understand him so well. Even Bingley seemed unaware of Darcy’s hatred of crowded events. He knew Bingley thought he was an amiable host by arranging activities for his guests, but Darcy much would have preferred quiet evenings at the house. A thought struck him, causing his tentative smile to slip.

“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.

“I fear after growing up in such a busy household, you will find me and Pemberley quite boring.”

“I would never find you boring,” she smiled. “Do not you know that I could not cease thinking about you and attempting to puzzle you out from our first meeting?”

“Did you really?” He knew she had not thought of him the way he thought of her but knowing that she thought of him at all pleased.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said as she turned her sparkling eyes to his. “I heard your words about me and wanted to hate you. I had to search deep and hard to find other reasons to dislike you. Not a day went by that your name was not on my tongue as I talked with a friend. Poor Jane and Charlotte must have tired of me. They must have seen through to the truth long before I ever did.”

“The truth?”

“I was utterly obsessed with you.”

“Why was that?”

“I do not know, but fortunately, I have the rest of my life to find out.”

“Do you know I was just as enchanted?” Darcy reached forward to stroke Elizabeth’s smooth cheek.

“I thought you only looked at me to criticize.”

“At first, I had hoped to find faults. The more I looked, the more attracted I became.”

“So, it was my arts and allurements after all?” Elizabeth gave a coy smile.

“No, it was the spark in your eyes, the tone of your laughter, the smoothness of your skin, the lusciousness of your lips—”

Darcy could contain himself no longer. He sampled her lips now parted in invitation. After several minutes, he pulled back. “I still find it difficult to believe that you are here with me, in my arms, and willing to marry me.” He hung his head for a moment. “I know you do not love me and I fear one day you will regret this union. I know you think that you bring nothing to this marriage, but you offer so much. Anything I can give you in return is not what you desire. My wealth and jewels mean nothing to you.”

Elizabeth sighed and nuzzled into the hand which still touched her cheek. “You offer me what I desire above all others, Fitzwilliam.”

“What is that?” Stability? A home?

“You,” she whispered. “All I want is your love.”

Darcy’s heart swelled at her words and the look in her eye. Perhaps she was too timid to say the words he longed to hear. Maybe she needed more time, but it gave him hope as he never had before. He expressed himself the only way he could, and they were locked in mutually pleasurable pursuit until they arrived at a coaching inn.

No private dining room was available, so they sat in the large, common dining area of the tavern. Darcy observed Elizabeth, to see if it brought back any bad memories of her recent employment. Instead, she encouraged them to mingle with other customers and play a singing game of who knew the most Scottish reels.

“I did not think you would know so many,” Elizabeth whispered in his ear after they won the tenth round.

“I asked you to dance while Miss Bingley played a reel, did you forget?”

“I had thought you meant to mock me.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I should have guessed differently once I began to think differently of you.”

“Dance with me now,” he said and tugged on her hand.

“What? Here?” Elizabeth looked around the room. “Before all these strangers? Has the ale gone to your head?”

“Not at all,” Darcy said as he stood. “Mr. William Smith wishes to dance with his lovely bride. Won’t you, Lizzy?”

Elizabeth blushed, but Darcy could see that he pleased her. Others soon joined in, and they had a merry time until they were forced to sit out and catch their breath. Mindful that they needed to arise early to continue their journey, they soon said goodbyes to their new friends and ascended the stairs.

“Thank you for tonight,” Elizabeth said once they were in bed and she nestled in Darcy’s arms.

“What did I do?”

“You were so carefree. You mingled with people far beneath you. Was it not for my sake?” She kissed him on the cheek.

“It was for as much my own as for you,” he answered with a grin.

“You see, you do not hate people as much as you would like to say.”

“I think it is as you said this morning. I enjoy quality time with those I love. We may have been in a group of others, but I knew your focus was entirely on me.” Darcy leaned forward to capture her lips.

“Oh, did you now?” Elizabeth ducked her head away.

“I can hardly believe it, but as I am helpless but to watch you no matter which room I am in, I know very well how often you, in turn, were watching me.”

Elizabeth blushed, and Darcy kissed one rosy cheek. “I watched you even in Hertfordshire,” she admitted.

“I know,” Darcy nodded. “However, it is different now. I know the signs of your affection. I know the soft look your gaze takes when you are pleased with me. How I could take your expression from those months ago to mean admiration is proof enough of my arrogance and conceit.”

“Hush,” Elizabeth said. “Do not think of those times. Let us think only of now. We are here together.” She gripped him tightly. “I will always be with you.”

Darcy welcomed Elizabeth’s kisses and responded in kind. She melted at his touch and molded herself to his body. At that moment, Darcy knew that she would allow him to touch every curve of her body, every inch of her smooth skin. However, he had promised both of them, he would not claim her until she was in love with him. Until she could say the words and speak of her heart, he would have to resist. Slowing their kisses and his hands’ explorations, he laid her head on his shoulder and held her while their breathing returned to normal and they both fell asleep.

When they reached the inn on their third night of travel, a letter had arrived for Elizabeth.

“It’s from Jane,” she reverently stroked over the script. “I would know her writing anywhere, but it did not come from Longbourn. How interesting.”

“Let us hurry to our room, and you may read it there.”

“You do not wish to eat first?”

“We will have refreshments brought to us.”

Elizabeth’s smile was thanks enough. Once she was settled, she began reading aloud.

Dearest Lizzy,

Undoubtedly, you are curious about the address from which this letter was posted. This might shock you, but given your own good news about a match with Mr. Darcy, I am sure you will not resent it. I have married.

Elizabeth paused to gasp and bring her hand to her mouth. “Oh, Janie.”

“Does she say to whom she is wed?”

Elizabeth returned her eyes to the paper and began reading once more.

After you left, I met a gentleman with an estate about ten miles from Meryton. We had not met before because he has spent the last five years in Bath for his wife’s illness. She died last year, and he returned to his estate to complete his mourning. He had an acquaintance with Sir William Lucas, and we met at an evening at Lucas Lodge. Mr. Nash is exceptionally amiable, and while he had not spent much time in Hertfordshire in the last ten years, he quickly resumed his friendships in the Meryton area. We met many times for some weeks and eventually, he made me an offer.

Mama is beside herself as his income is nearly equal to Mr. Bingley’s and certainly more than Mr. Collins. I suppose you would say there is some advantage to having Mama further away than the few miles between Longbourn and Netherfield. However, I must tell you that I do believe you misunderstood my feelings. I was not nearly as overwrought as you seem to think. I resorted to the laudanum only to sleep, and due to my long fatigue, I must have taken more than I should have.

Elizabeth ceased reading and gasped. “That is not true at all!”

Darcy captured Elizabeth’s hand in his.

“She had not been sleeping, that is correct. However, she did quite intentionally take too much laudanum. She confessed it to me. She wanted it all to end.”

Elizabeth turned watery eyes on Darcy, and his heart broke for her. Jane’s desire to erase Elizabeth’s memory of an embarrassing moment for her was understandable. He did not think Jane intentionally wounded Elizabeth in her need for self-preservation, but she was injured all the same. He pulled Elizabeth into his arms. “Dearest, I believe you.”

“According to this testimony, I left Longbourn for no reason. Jane was not ill. It was not wrong of our parents to refuse her help. She makes my sacrifices into ridiculous selfishness. I am no better than Kitty and Lydia.”

“Is that what you truly think?”

Elizabeth cried quietly for several minutes on Darcy’s shoulder as he stroked her back. Finally, she lifted her head and met his gaze. “I know the facts. I can see that Jane is putting forth this version to hide her own hurt and she feels ashamed of her actions. She should not, of course. I can also see that Kitty and Lydia left not because they were wicked but as an attempt to salvage their lives somehow. I only wish we knew where Lydia was.”

“We will find her, love. As soon as we marry, we will begin our search.”

“It would require communication with my father. I did not think you would prefer that.”

Darcy frowned. “It is true that I cannot respect the man and certainly cannot understand his actions. However, I wish to find and assist your sister almost as desperately as you do.”

“You truly are the best man,” Elizabeth said with a sad smile.

“You know I am not. I have flaws, and I will not let you forget them. I could not even if I tried. Whatever good you see in my choices in helping Lydia are from knowing you.” Would he ever find the right words to convince her that she made him a better man? “What else does Jane say? Do you feel ready to continue?”

Elizabeth nodded and resumed reading aloud.

We married about a month ago, and Mary resides with us. So, you see, there is no cause to worry for Mary or me or hasten to Longbourn. We, however, fear for you.

Elizabeth blushed and ceased reading.

“What is it?” Darcy asked.

“She cites my former dislike of you. I thought I was profuse enough in my praise in the letter I sent, but perhaps I was not. I will amend that in the reply.”

Her eyes returned to the paper she held and continued to scan. “Mama and Papa were very angry at my departure. You were correct,” she met Darcy’s eyes. “They claimed I was suddenly sent to London. When the Gardiners did not find me at the inn, they returned home rather than arrive in Meryton. They were the ones who came up with the suggestion that I was with them.”

Elizabeth blinked back tears. “They had searched for Lydia and Kitty for so long. I suppose they tired of the Bennets’ follies. Or perhaps they were out of money.”

Darcy wrapped Elizabeth in an embrace. “What are you thinking, love?”

“I am worth less to them somehow. They love me less. If my own flesh and blood can do so…”

“I will silence those thoughts,” he pressed a kiss to her temple, then cheek, and finally her eyelids. “I cannot say why they gave up the search for you. I would leave no stone unturned to find you. You are more precious to me than my own heart.”

Darcy captured Elizabeth’s lips for good measure. Drawing back, he nestled her head against his shoulder and stroked her arm. “What do you wish to do?”

Unexpectedly, she turned her head and pressed a kiss to his jaw. “Can you show me what love is again, Fitzwilliam?”

Darcy pulled her to her feet and scooped her up in his arms.

“Your arm!” she cried as she wrapped her own around his neck.

“It is much recovered, like your ankle.” He laid her on the bed and brought her hand to rest over his heart. “Our injuries mended together as our hearts have. As long as I live, I will love you.”

Elizabeth kissed Darcy with a desperation which inflamed his passions. It was still three days until they reached Scotland and his honour had never been in greater danger. Judging by the pleased smile Elizabeth wore and her restful slumber, she had no complaints at all about the way he showed his love.