A Sense of Obligation

This story is releasing for publication on July 25, 2015. You can now preorder it on Amazon. Below is a sample.

Blurb: A chance, but meaningful, encounter in Netherfield’s library changes everything between Darcy and Elizabeth. As they rush to the altar, Darcy’s faulty memory may destroy their chance at domestic comfort before they begin. Knowing their obligations and no longer resisting their attraction, they forge a foundation of trust and respect. New feelings may not be enough, however, to overcome the misunderstanding which lays between them. Exploring the juncture of sentiment and reason, A Sense of Obligation, takes Darcy and Elizabeth on a passionate, humorous and introspective path toward happiness in marriage.

dress final

Ch. 1

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.

*****

At last the birds were chirping and Elizabeth felt it was a reasonable hour to begin her day. She had not slept and her head pounded. Today she was to leave Netherfield after morning services. Not that I should walk into God’s house after last night.

Fortunately, she could claim the headache and a desire to stay with Jane as a means to miss the service. But she could not think of a way to avoid appearing at breakfast. If her headache was too intense to leave her room this morning, Mr. Bingley would likely demand she and Jane stay longer. Her mother would put up no fight at all, and then she would be residing under the same roof as Mr. Darcy even longer. And he was the last person in the world she desired to see, ever again!

No, he is not. As she looked at her stained mitt, the thought she had tried to keep locked away since last night came unbidden, and Elizabeth blushed in remembrance again.

Last night she had not been able to sleep and went to Netherfield’s library, hoping to find something dull and sleep-inducing. Instead, she found Mr. Darcy.

He had jumped up from his chair when she entered and, although she saw a glass of brandy in his hand, she had not considered him in his cups. Her eyes darted to the mostly-full decanter. He stared at her unspeaking for a long minute before Elizabeth realised she was in her dressing-gown and alone with him with her hair a wild mess, loose down her back.

She was turning to go when he grabbed her hand, bowed over it and asked, “Miss Bennet, might I have the favour of this dance?”

Elizabeth looked at him as though he was fit for Bedlam, but he persisted. “I will not be denied your hand thrice. Now, come.”

Before she could be irritated at his high-handedness he was singing “The Ash Grove” and leading her through the steps of a dance. She was quite surprised he chose the song she sang at Lucas Lodge and had to admit he sang and danced very well. He bade her to join him in song and all was well until they disagreed on the words for the last verse and dissolved into laughter. The sight of his handsome face lit up in a smile with dimples only added to her breathlessness. He seemed no less affected and nearly collapsed into his chair.

“In Derbyshire, my version is correct,” he insisted, unwilling to concede defeat.

She laughed and shook her head. “But you see we are not in Derbyshire, sir!” In truth he had slipped into “Cease Your Funning” from The Beggar’s Opera, a song with a similar tune. While Darcy’s ending was bitter about a woman’s charms, it was more pleasant than a lover’s death. Elizabeth chose not to argue with him.

His eyes took on a look she could not make out and he replied in a low voice, with sudden intensity, “Should you like to see Derbyshire, Miss Bennet?”

Elizabeth gulped, but felt certain his meaning could not be what it seemed. He had only looked at her in disapproval and argued with everything she ever said, had he not? “Aye, sir, and perhaps one day I will. My Aunt Gardiner is from Lambton, and I frequently travel with my aunt and uncle in the summer. They speak often of visiting the Northern counties and even the Lakes someday.”

“Indeed? What was her maiden name?”

“Clark. Her father was–”

“The vicar at Kympton. My father knew him well. Father was quite sorry when Mr. Clark had to relocate the family to Bath for his wife’s health. I have only recently been able to find a satisfactory replacement.” An odd expression passed across his eyes but he continued, “What a curious connection.”

“Yes.”

“And do you often stay with them?”

“Jane and I frequently do. To my mother’s dismay, I admit I prefer the bookshops and theater to balls and soirees. I would rather not go during the height of the Season.”

He gave her another odd look and grew quiet for a moment, and Elizabeth stood to leave, realising the impropriety of the entire tête-à-tête.

Darcy hastily stood to bow, but when he did he knocked his brandy glass from the table. Elizabeth immediately knelt down to pick up the broken shards and at the same time her dressing gown slipped open. Realizing she must be much too bare to Darcy’s eyes, with her shift indecently low on her bosom, she wrenched her hand back and tried to stand.

She cried out at a sharp pain in her hand, near her thumb. In her haste she had cut herself on a piece of broken glass. In an instant Darcy gathered her in his arms. Gently, he removed her lace mitt and produced a handkerchief from his pocket. Elizabeth was shocked to see it was her own. Where had he got it from? Earlier that very day she had worked on one in the library. When Darcy walked in she set it aside, reading a book to discourage conversation. She must have left it behind when she finally went back to Jane, and Darcy must have pocketed it to return to her the next day.

The wound soon stopped bleeding, leaving a large blot on the handkerchief. As they inspected her hand it was clear stitches would not be required. Fortunately, it was her left and she was right handed, she could avoid using it until entirely healed. Elizabeth wondered why Darcy treated such a minor injury so seriously. He held her bare hand in his own, even caressing it, while they stood looking in each other’s eyes. When Elizabeth discerned not disapproval but affection, and perhaps desire, in his blue eyes she nearly swooned.

“Allow me to help you to your room.” He lifted her as though she weighed nothing and carried her to her room. Later she wondered how he knew which door was hers.

When they reached the door he spoke softly. “I apologise that my actions were the cause of your pain.” He paused and she almost believed he blushed, but the lighting was poor as only a small lamp lit the hallway and she could not be sure. “And as for my display earlier, I fear the brandy may have gone to my head. Good night, Miss Elizabeth, sleep well.” Then he turned and strode away.

She stumbled into her chamber and spent the hours until dawn in deep confusion. She was filled with shame to admit she found great comfort in his touch. She had seen a playful side of him she had never known before and confessed to herself he had always been handsome, but his smile and the disappearance of his arrogance made him captivating.

If he had not announced that any sign of regard she had seen him display for her was solely due to being half-drunk, she might have concluded he was in a fair way to being in love, and think an offer was near. She could argue the sentiments she feared she now harboured, and the sensations she enjoyed, came naturally when in love. Instead, she was mortified, for she had thrilled to his touch, the touch only a husband should give. She could not even say she liked him, and they had no understanding. What did it say of her to allow him such liberty and enjoy it?

Never once did she reproach him or try to pull away. What must he think of me? She had conversed with him and danced with him late in the night, entirely alone. She arrived in only her night clothes and when her dressing gown slipped open her body was much too exposed to him. She allowed an embrace, caresses and even acquiesced as he carried her to her bedchamber door. If they were seen her reputation was ruined! She could even now still smell his scent, and the feel of his arms around her was seared into her memory and branded on her flesh. Shame at her wantonness mingled with unrepentant enjoyment of the memory.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts and readied for the day before slipping silently into Jane’s room. She still slept. Taking a deep breath Elizabeth descended the stairs and entered the breakfast room. At the sight of Darcy, who made no acknowledgement of her presence other than rising, her traitorous heart screamed out, Never yours!

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