Sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was fighting a migraine all day. Here’s 2 chapters to make up for it!
There’s still a few more hiccups before Happily Ever After.
Darcy sat in his study, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his male cousins and uncle. They had dined together at the Earl’s house the night before in celebration of the dual engagements of his sons. Despite the celebratory atmosphere and the numerous other guests, it was immediately evident to Darcy that the Countess was in a nervous mood. Her husband and sons soon took notice as well. The lady was well-known for being composed and nothing less than utterly charming, regardless of circumstances.
The gentlemen of the house agreed to tell Darcy should there be a serious reason for her behaviour. The evening’s meal sat like lead in Darcy’s stomach and the feeling of dread only grew as the evening went on. He had thought Wickham had his revenge when he revealed Elizabeth had plotted against him. Whether or not she had, Darcy knew Wickham enjoyed inflicting the torture he had. Until last night, Darcy had not considered Wickham had any further plot or motive.
This morning, a note awaited him at breakfast. His uncle and cousins would be calling this afternoon. The matter concerned him directly. Shortly afterwards, the morning post arrived including an envelope from Meryton. Darcy read Wickham’s vile words with increased agitation.
At last, Darcy heard the knock at the front door and soon his relations were shown into the room. A stranger with a dark complexion named Jacob Truman was introduced as Richard’s friend and current batman. Darcy recalled the name from Richard’s correspondence. The man had displayed considerable bravery on the battlefield.
“We will need fortification, William,” the Earl said.
Darcy handed round glasses of port and sat, awaiting their news. He would share his own afterward.
“Your aunt is being blackmailed,” said the Earl.
“By whom?” Darcy asked.
“The man who delivered the note is not the author.” His lordship passed Darcy the paper to read.
It would be a shame for the House of Matlock to befall victim of scandal from her ladyship’s gambling debts.
Darcy’s grip tightened on the paper. As he had suspected, his aunt’s behaviour and his letter this morning were no coincidence. “Her ladyship does not gamble,” Darcy said.
“Not any longer,” the Earl shook his head. “There was a time when she had made some serious debts—caught up in the behaviour of many of our class. They were settled years ago.”
“Then how could a scandal be formed now?”
“They were owed to the Duke of Somerset…” Arlington said.
Darcy closed his eyes. “Any chance they were to the current Duke?”
“No,” the Earl said quietly. “They were to Jack Rutland, not his nephew. Her former betrothed.”
The Earl and Countess set London on its heel when they eloped thirty-five years ago. Miss Eleanor Manners, daughter of a minor but shrewd baron, was arranged to marry the heir to a dukedom but eloped with a mere viscount. Arlington was born only seven months after the marriage. Angry at being thrown over for a viscount, Rutland declared he had enjoyed the favours of his betrothed and the child she bore was his. The rumours were not widely believed but made for salacious gossip nonetheless. Rutland soon inherited the dukedom and with his nearly unlimited funds lived a lifestyle without restraint. He took many mistresses from wives of the Quality but never married. A genius at cards, his reputation for accepting the favours of women in lieu of either their or their husband’s debts was well-known. Having the name of the Countess of Matlock and the Duke of Somerset intertwined again would be irresistible to the gossips of Town.
“It is not true,” his lordship said. “I paid him myself and Eleanor vowed to never play again.”
“But he is not alive to confirm it,” Darcy supplied.
“He likely would not, even if were living,” Richard said sadly.
Realizing they could do nothing about that concern, Darcy instead focused on Wickham’s angle. “I am rather sure it is from my father’s godson, George Wickham.”
“He lists no demands,” Richard observed. “Once again we are uncertain if it is money or revenge he desires most.”
“Revenge,” Darcy and Arlington said simultaneously.
Arlington looked at Darcy in surprise and allowed him to explain. “I have had a letter from the rat.” He handed it around to the others to view. “As you can see he blames me for his Regiment being ordered to the North. He is to marry…” he trailed off, incapable of saying Elizabeth’s name in conjunction with Wickham’s. “In addition to believing I would wish to see her well-settled rather than suffer with a poor militia officer facing action, he owes her father’s debts. I do not understand why he would seek to harm the House of Matlock, but at this point, nothing should surprise me.”
Arlington paled upon reading the note. “This is my fault.” He turned anguished eyes on Darcy. “After learning of his interference with you and Miss Eliza, I asked Cavendish if he could send some troops to deal with the disturbances and recommended Colonel Forster’s regiment. I only wanted him to be away from her for your sake.”
Darcy gritted his teeth and counted to five before replying lest he be too intemperate. “This is precisely why I always said we should not use the privileges extended to our positions to deal with him.” Arlington blushed but nodded his head in acceptance of the reprimand.
Lord Matlock intervened. “My militia is wintering in Cornwall. I would have requested Cavendish’s assistance in any case.”
“It would not have been linked so directly to someone who had just been in the area, though,” Darcy said in exasperation and then took another deep breath. “This is my fault. I refused to see Wickham’s motives as anything more than mercenary and I always fed his desire for more.”
“He is counting on you feeling guilty,” Richard said. “Ten thousand pounds? That is incredible!”
Darcy shook his head. “He is counting on more than my feeling guilty. He knows I would never leave the Bennets in such a condition. He has studied me better than I have studied him I am afraid.” He took a gulp of port. “I intend to have my solicitor send the funds. If we are lucky that will end his threats against Aunt Eleanor as well,” Darcy said and looked at his uncle.
“Pardon me, Sir,” said Mr. Truman. “That may not be necessary. Last night I was able to trace the man who delivered the note to Edward Street, staying in a house run by a Mrs. Younge.”
He stopped and looked at Richard, who interjected. “I gave him permission to go and address the man. I worried Mrs. Younge would recall me and not allow me to enter.”
Mr. Truman continued his tale. “It was a Mr. Denny, who serves with Mr. Wickham. It seems they are all old friends. Once he had some drink in him, he became quite talkative. He expected to be coming into five thousand pounds shortly. Clearly he thinks Mr. Wickham will split his payment.”
“And you think Wickham will not?” Darcy asked.
Mr. Truman shook his head. “In my experience, people with that sort of selfishness will choose to cross even their closest friends.”
Darcy nodded in agreement. Nor did he wonder that the man had seen cruelty in his life. Britain was not near as bad as America, as he understood it, but many people were still harsh to the freed blacks and mixed-race individuals. He turned his mind back to Wickham. “At the very least we can prove extortion and blackmail with Denny’s testimony. It is a minor offence, but it would secure the loss of any honour still attached to Wickham’s name. He will cease his claims in order to keep that and we shall reach a more reasonable demand.” The other men nodded in agreement. “Retrieve Mr. Denny if you would, Mr. Truman.”
The gentlemen were gathering in the hall to exit when Bingley was shown down. “Jacob Truman!” Bingley cried in astonishment.
The other man smiled, showing perfectly white teeth. “Charles Bingley. I would know you anywhere!” He stretched forward his hand and the two men shook.
“You know my batman, Bingley?” Richard asked.
Bingley tore his gaze from his old acquaintance to answer Richard. “Indeed. The last time I saw him, I was a lad about to enter my second year in Eton. Mr. Truman was about to enter the army and was good friends with my cousin, whom my family was staying with. Caroline would…”
He trailed off and Darcy noticed Bingley wince and the well-known look of haunted pain enter Truman’s eyes.
“How are your sisters?” Truman asked.
“Louisa married a few years ago. Her husband is heir to a small estate.” Bingley looked between Truman and Arlington, clearly uncomfortable. “Caroline is still unwed.”
Darcy saw Arlington observe the encounter with dawning understanding. He reached to shake Bingley’s hand. “It is good to see you again, Bingley. You will have to pardon us. We were just leaving. Do not be too hard on Darcy if he is grumpy this afternoon. My mother dragged him to a dinner to celebrate mine and Richard’s engagements last night.”
“My congratulations!” Bingley exclaimed. “I had not heard!”
“Yes, it seems Richard has finally decided to take Lady Belinda Crenshaw off the market, to my mother’s delight.” Richard smiled at the tease. Darcy chuckled at the besotted look on his cousin’s face. “I will be wedding my cousin Anne, finally fulfilling the wishes of our family.”
“Ah, I see,” Bingley said nervously.
“All is well,” Arlington said with a smile.
Lord Matlock had been silent during the exchange but finally spoke. “Bingley, if you intend to be in Town long, you should call with Darcy soon. For now, we will let you two talk.” The gentlemen said their farewells and Darcy did not miss the feeling of tension of such a strange meeting.
“One of these days you will work up the nerve to speak to my uncle,” Darcy said.
Bingley laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “It would be easier if he did not peer at me so oddly.”
“He means nothing by it,” Darcy said. “So…Truman?”
Bingley relayed his sister’s account. “Caroline really used to have no pretensions. Truman’s grandfather had been a freed slave. He returned from America with the officer who bought him in Fifty-Eight. He served as the butler and his son became a shopkeeper. He bought his cloth from my grandfather. My cousin Fred became such good friends with Truman, my father assisted in sending him to Eton. When the French broke the peace, Truman wanted to join up instead of running the shop with his father.”
Darcy was stunned to hear of a Caroline Bingley, who cared so little for Society that she entertained an elopement with a mixed race shopkeeper’s son intent on entering the army. But then he knew how starry eyed fifteen-year-old girls who lost their fathers could be. “Tell her he is here,” Darcy urged Bingley. “She deserves to know.”
Bingley nodded his head. “Now, to my business with you. I am ready to knock you on your arse if you do not come back to Netherfield with me and sort out whatever is between you and Lizzy.”
Darcy grimaced. “She does not want me.”
“She intends to marry Wickham. It was all an act so I would not hie off with you in tow and separate you from Jane.”
Bingley opened his mouth, clearly planning to refute it but then closed it without speaking.
“Wickham wrote me,” Darcy handed the note to his friend. Upon seeing Bingley’s alarmed face, he explained the plan he came to with his relations.
“There is nothing for you to do,” he concluded. “The dispute between me and Wickham will come to a close at last. He knows he will have sufficient revenge on me for a lifetime.”
“Do not give him the satisfaction,” Bingley said.
“It is too late for that. They both know I would do anything for her sake.”
Realizing he was useless, Bingley took his leave. Darcy stared blankly at the fire with a wine glass in one hand. In the other he held Elizabeth’s tatted bookmark he found at Netherfield in what seemed like a lifetime ago. Asking why she favoured Wickham over himself was useless. Love was anything but logical and he fully accepted that he was undeserving of Elizabeth as well. Not even the note from Richard declaring Denny had been apprehended and taken to Arlington’s apartments brought him peace of mind.
Elizabeth arrived at Netherfield’s doorstep shivering. Her gown was hopelessly crumpled and stained. Wickham’s blood marred her skirt, but she was thankful it was not her own. Recognizing her but alarmed at her appearance, the butler immediately took her to the drawing room. Miss Bingley immediately stood and cried out at Elizabeth’s appearance. Caroline motioned for Elizabeth to sit and began calling for a chamber to be made up. In a short time, Elizabeth was settled in a borrowed nightgown and in the chamber that Jane stayed in while ill.
Once the servants were dismissed, Caroline sat in the chair nearest the bed. “What happened, Eliza?”
Elizabeth blushed. She had not considered the horror of retelling the events. “I must go to London. Has your brother left?”
Caroline nodded. “Yesterday morning. But you cannot expect me to not insist on knowing what befell you on your journey here. Why did you come on foot, or at all? A note could have been sent.”
“I did not come from Longbourn,” Elizabeth replied. She considered telling them the truth but could not bear it. She leaned forward and hid her tears in her hands, not caring that the neckline of her gown slipped over her shoulder.
“Eliza!” Mrs. Hurst cried out.
Raising her head, she looked at the exposed flesh the ladies stared at with a horrified expression. An ugly bruise in the outline of Wickham’s fingers was forming.
Mrs. Hurst made her way to the bed and sat on the edge. “Who?” she asked gently.
Elizabeth shook her head.
“We shall call for the physician,” the older lady determined.
“No!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “No, there is no other damage. My ankle will recover after some rest.”
“You are near exhaustion,” Caroline agreed. “Shall we send for your mother?”
“We ought to, at least, tell your father,” Mrs. Hurst suggested.
“No, please do not send for either of them.” She bit her lip. “If you will send for anyone, ask for Mary.”
“Very well,” Louisa said. “We will let you rest.”
They both stood. Caroline paused before leaving. “I have had a letter from Charles this morning and we intend to leave for London in the morning. If you are recovered, you are welcome to join us. I hope…” she paused. “I hope you will use your time in London wisely, Eliza.”
Elizabeth easily understood that Caroline meant she should apologise to Will. Elizabeth wondered if Caroline could comprehend how truly sorry she was for doubting Will’s character and trusting Wickham at all. Warm and tired, she fell into a restless sleep, awaking when Mary arrived.
“Lizzy,” she heard Mary murmur over her before descending into prayer. Feeling comforted by it, she allowed Mary to finish before alerting her to being awake.
“I am not ill,” she told her younger sister.
“No, I did not think so. Will you tell me what happened? Papa grew concerned when you did not return. He was upset to hear you were hurt and at Netherfield.”
Elizabeth was quiet a long time. “We have been very mistaken to trust Wickham.” Mary gasped and Elizabeth nodded her head. “I know Papa must have been taken in as much as any of us, but I do not know if I can ever forgive him for thinking I should marry any man in exchange for clearing his debts.”
She could not tell Mary all that she had suffered. She could not find words for it at all, but she was able to explain their father’s failure.
“So you will not come home?” Mary asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. She had not been predisposed to think well of the male sex, but she had thought well of her father. She had thought he thought well of her as too. “I will go with the others to London tomorrow. Could you write our aunt and ask that it be sent out before the night’s post?”
“Of course,” Mary agreed.
While she wrote, Elizabeth fell asleep again. She awoke gasping and flinging her arms wide. Mary was at her side in an instant.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as her sister offered a handkerchief to dry the sweat that pricked her brow. “I am surprised you do not lecture me to return home.”
“Scripture says that we must honour our father and mother. You did enough fighting for your own honour today and you never would have needed to had our mother or father been better and more attentive.”
It was the closest to outright disrespect for her elders Mary had ever displayed. “I am sorry I have not been a better sister to you,” Elizabeth told her. “I have been too much like Papa and content to laugh at others. You deserved better from us both.” She hung her head.
“Thank you, but I do not mind your teasing or encouragement to be more outgoing. I think you do not care for her, but I have been making friends with Miss Bingley. It is nice to have another lady to talk to who favours the pianoforte. Well, I thought I had that with Georgie but…” Mary trailed off. “I will speak with Miss Bingley about sending a dinner tray for you. And would you like to read?”
Elizabeth agreed and the two sisters passed the day in relative quiet. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst sat with them for some time and Mary ate with them. Elizabeth spent as much time as she could feigning sleep. She did not trust herself to slumber, for each time the same nightmare began. First she would see Will’s anguished look at her refusal. Next she would be searching for him in the woods and see his outline in the distance, just for Wickham to find her. The more she ran, the further away Will appeared and the closer Wickham came.
The next morning arrived and Mary was to return to Longbourn. Elizabeth hobbled into the Hurst carriage grateful to leave the environs of Hertfordshire behind.
Wickham winced as he washed out his hair. Eliza had struck him better than many a man he had fought. It was the perfect position to slow his ability to follow her as well. It was several hours before he recovered from the dizziness he experienced from the wound. The nausea had not lessened, but that was not due to his injury.
For the first time in nigh on twenty years, Wickham passed by his mirror without looking into it. He could not bear to see his reflection now. He had nearly forced himself on the one woman he had ever loved.
Wickham knew he was a man of few scruples. He had courted a life of dissipation and anger, intent on claiming as much Darcy money as he could. Marrying Eliza after she refused Darcy—all while living on his money—would have been his greatest triumph of all, but he had not intended to actually fall in love with the lady.
If she would not have him and was so intent on having Darcy, then Wickham would give her the desire of her heart. She could not go without penalty, of course, but he would not have her and know she longed for Darcy the whole time. Throwing his coat on, he left his chambers and walked toward the coaching inn where Denny should be arriving.
“Ah, Wickham,” Captain Carter called to him from across the street. Wickham waited for the gentleman to reach him. “I have just had a note from Denny. He is delayed in London. I am making arrangements for him to meet us in West Riding of Yorkshire.
Wickham attempted to conceal his internal panic. “What delays him?”
Carter smiled. “He was to pay my compliments to our lofty benefactor, and was asked to remain for some wedding festivity.”
“Quite delightful for him, I am sure,” Wickham said.
“I will need you to look in on Denny’s platoon then.”
“Of course,” Wickham said while seething on the inside and heading off to his new tasks.
He was betrayed! He only wondered if Denny had been so stupid as to be caught red-handed delivering the note to the Matlock residence or if they tracked him later. Realizing Darcy would not be sending the money and now had sufficient means to prosecute him along with giving him a reason for insane jealousy and anger, Wickham came to a desperate resolution. He would go on this assignment and then make his way to Scotland. Darcy had no estate there, no interest and no familial ties. His reach could not extend there. Even the Act of Union forming Great Britain did not allow for extradition to England for trials. Surely he could win some games and maybe even marry a well-dowered girl. He was not foolish enough to hope for a true heiress any longer but at this point, he would be thankful simply to keep his life and all his parts.
Elizabeth rode in near silence to Gracechurch Street. While Mr. Hurst snored, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst only made strange remarks about how they hoped “he would not resent the past.” Elizabeth did not think they meant Will. Whoever they were speaking about, Elizabeth agreed with the feeling. She hoped Will would not hate her forever. She did not doubt his honour, but she hoped he would forgive her and they could begin their lives with happiness.
She was greeted affectionately by her aunt and sister. They both asked why she desired to come to London so strongly but seemed disbelieving of Elizabeth’s reply that she missed Jane. If they suspected another reason for her arrival, Elizabeth did not care in the least. Indeed, their constant hints at hoping to see Mr. Darcy and Georgiana soon were proof enough of their approval for her errand.
Such it was Elizabeth did not feel guilty when she lied to them while shopping the day after her arrival. She left a hint with the clerk at the book shop and then hailed a hackney. The driver gave her a disapproving look for riding unescorted, but he was not prepared to turn down good payment. She only hoped the butler let her in and that Will was not so angry that he would refuse to hear her plea.
Long before she was prepared, the cab reached the correct street. She descended and walked up to Will’s door.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet to see Miss Darcy and Mrs. Darcy if she is available.” The butler raised his eyebrows and Elizabeth thrust her card into his hands before he could speak. The back of it read, “Please, I must speak with Mr. Darcy. He knows me.”
She hoped her face looked as earnest as she felt. Will was likely beset by women who wanted to trap him into marriage. She hoped by requesting to meet with the non-existent Mrs. Darcy she would give the butler enough pause to consider her request instead of being assured she was a stranger to the family. If he passed the card on to his master, perhaps Will would begin to understand her offer.
Luck was with her, the butler looked at her again after reading her note on the card and showed her to a drawing room. She was bade to wait. He did not express if he was seeking Mr. Darcy or his sister but Elizabeth felt rather sure all requests to see Miss Darcy would filter through her brother.
It had felt like an eternity before she heard steps in the hall again. The door opened and she held her breath. It was the butler again! Oh, he was going to show her out. Her whole world crumbled and she was sure it showed on her face. She was trembling by the time he came close enough to speak.
“Mr. Darcy requests you meet him in the study. Follow me.”
Still trembling and more than a little confused, she blindly followed the servant a few feet down the hall. She was too concerned and anxious to take in the size of Will’s townhouse. She could think only of her mission. They reached the door and the butler showed her in. Timidly, she entered and immediately felt it was Will’s sanctuary. She had much rather have met him in the drawing room.
The light was dim and the room was panelled with heavy wood and bookshelves. There was a great fireplace and to one side and, at last, she saw Will standing against the mantle, glass in hand.
She took a tentative step forward and he looked up. She hated what she saw in his eyes and ice gripped her heart.
“Miss Bennet,” was all he said. He motioned to a chair, but she felt she could not sit.
“Pardon the intrusion, Mr. Darcy.” She took a deep breath. They had always been so bad at mundane talk. Should she ask how he had been? No, it was very clear how he had been.
“You requested to meet with me, madam, and my imagination is entirely incapable of conjuring a reason.”
He spoke with coldness, like the first night she saw him, and then later when she refused him. It occurred to her then that she had only heard him speak in that tone on those occasions. Even when her mother was insulting him, there was a pleasant warmth in his voice. No, she could not think on things like that or she would lose her nerve. She had to at least explain.
She summoned her courage and began, “I have no doubt you have little wish to see me, but I desperately need your help. Georgiana arranged for me to receive your letter.”
“She should not have,” he said with that steely coldness again.
Elizabeth licked her lips. “After…after I read your letter,” here he anxiously looked up at her, “I saw my mistakes and how blind I was. I completely believed your accounting of Mr. Wickham.”
She could not bear to see the anger she was certain to find so she fixed her gaze on a particular vase near Darcy. “He hates you more than I could have ever imagined. He threatened my family…”
She still could not look at him, but she heard him, she thought he was a little closer than she expected. “Did he explain his plans?”
“He holds my father’s vowels and intended to make you pay.”
“How could he do that?”
She gulped. “He secured a promise from my father. He will forgive Papa’s debts if I marry him.”
“And so you are here to negotiate the terms? You have learned his true character and how little you will have in married life and are asking for a supplement?”
She glanced a little at him then. “You are an influential and wealthy man. If all he wants is your money, then perhaps you can arrange for him to leave his Regiment and forget about anyone named Bennet.”
“Do you believe all he wants is my money?”
She could not answer and looked away.
She heard him step closer. “Elizabeth, do you believe that is all he wants?”
A tear trickled down her face and she looked up to see him only a few feet from her. “No. His history with you is clear that he desires revenge. And now it is very clear to me as well.”
He took the final steps to her side. “Tell me what he did!”
She began to sob. “He said he would leave a mark for you to believe me.”
He grabbed her shoulders to pull her close, but she stiffened in pain. He misunderstood.
“Forgive me, of course, you are still repulsed by me.”
“No. No.” She said firmly. Then she began to pull one side of her sleeve down to expose the bruises. “You see.”
Wickham’s fingers had left ugly bruises but then lower, near her breast, was one from his kiss.
“Dear God,” Will said with true remorse.
He did not say anything else, did not move a muscle and Elizabeth continued to silently cry. She was not even half done with her piece yet.
“Elizabeth, you must tell me. Did…did he violate you?”
She shook her head vehemently. “No… not entirely, not really that is. He thought you would not have me. He was especially keen that you marry me.”
He let out a bitter laugh. “Then he does not know you as well as he thinks he does.”
“Oh, no he understands me perfectly. He knew exactly what I would do.”
“Come to you for help and…”
She met his eyes. She had once thought he was capable of wanting her dishonourably. Now, she knew he would never accept such a proposition. “I cannot be indebted to you, sir. There is only one thing I can give.”
“I will not have you only out of obligation. You do not need to repay me for finding some way to protect your family.”
“You are honourable and that is why you will not spurn my belated acceptance to your proposal.”
“I thought I was the last man in the world you could accept. Leave me in peace. I will call on your relatives when I have come up with some plan to get rid of Wickham.”
He moved to step past her, undoubtedly to open the door and escort her from his home. She reached for his arm and he paused just long enough for her to whisper, “Will.”
In an instant, he pushed her against the wall. He stood before her, breathing heavily, his eyes searching hers. A tear trickled down her cheek and he caught it with his thumb.
She whispered, “Could you, that is, would you please replace the memories of Wickham?”
His gaze had dropped to her mouth, but he appeared to not hear the words she said for he blurted out, “What?”
“Please kiss me. Kiss away the memories.” Her heart was aching for him.
He paused just for half a minute. His eyes had returned to hers and searched them again.
“Please…” she was unable to finish before his lips met hers.
Wickham’s kiss had been ugly and rough but Will’s kiss was so soft and tender, she cried. He released her mouth and kissed her eyes as his hands smoothed away her tears. He kissed her forehead and cheeks before returning to her mouth. There he applied gentle but insistent pressure and she began to respond. This was exactly what she imagined. Exactly as it should be.
He released her mouth and kissed her again and again with increasing frequency until he caught her bottom lip. She gasped and then he covered her mouth fully and almost shyly flicked his tongue in her mouth. It was heavenly and intoxicating.
She entirely forgot about Wickham and what he had done. She only felt Will. She felt his strong arms surround her and pull her close. Then his hands grazed her body, sending sparks of fire everywhere. She felt warm but only wanted to rub closer to him. She pushed further into him and wound her arms around his neck to keep her balance as her legs threatened to melt under her.
At last, he pulled his mouth away from her lips and travelled down her neck. He tugged at her sleeves and tenderly kissed her bruises. His lips swept across her collarbone and then lower. Suddenly he stopped, causing her to open her eyes. His were upon her again and she found now she could understand him without speaking at last.
“Yes,” she told him. Yes, match Wickham’s mark. Brand her whole body.
For several glorious moments he licked and sucked below her neckline and she ran her hands through his hair in approval. His lips travelled up her neck and to hers once more before parting from her body at last.
“I have no idea if I have kissed enough to make a mark, but I needed to taste your lips again.”
Elizabeth smiled broadly and then seemed to catch his words. “No idea? You have not done that before?”
“I kissed Sally Parker, the housekeeper’s visiting niece, on the cheek when I was eight years old. Otherwise no, honourable gentlemen do not have much reason to kiss ladies.”
Elizabeth laughed in reply.
“Have I erased the memories, Elizabeth?”
She wanted to say yes, but Wickham had chosen wisely how to leave his mark. “You will on our wedding night.”
Will’s face showed panic. “But, you said he did not violate you.”
She gulped. “I said not entirely.”
His face suddenly looked grim and hard and she turned away. “I… I understand.” She tried to move, but he still held her in his arms.
“I love you. Do you understand that?” He punctuated it with a deep kiss. “Do you?”
“Yes,” she replied breathlessly as he trailed kisses down her throat. “Yes,” she did not know if she were replying to his question or encouraging him for more.
His hands travelled over her body again, this time, unhurried and fully exploring. She pressed into him once more and ran her hands up his chest before resting them on his neck and easing her fingers under his cravat, causing him to groan. His fervent kisses slowed and he kissed up her face and paused on her forehead. When her breathing evened, she laughed.
“I would ask if it usually feels so wonderful, but I suppose you have no idea.”
He returned her laughter. “I doubt anything about you is usual, but I will say it was thrilling and everything I hoped for.”
She raised an eyebrow and wickedly asked, “Everything?”
He growled into her ear, “For now, the rest must wait for our wedding night.”
She was still in a daze. “Wedding night?”
“I believe you declared I am honour bound to you.”
She grinned. “You certainly are after all of this!”
He swiftly kissed her lips. “It would be best if we quit discussing that. I only have so much control.”
Oh, she wanted to tease! But she decided for once to not allow her spirits to lead her astray. She sobered and chose to address what needed to be said. “You still love me?”
“Did you doubt I would?”
“I thought you would hate me. I thought…I thought you would think less of me than I do of you at the moment.” She hung her head. “You should think less of me.”
“I think less of myself. You are clever. If I had not first insulted, you and then gave offence at every turn you would have seen Wickham’s lies. To know that I could make such a clever, intelligent woman believe I was so arrogant and cruel that she needed to intervene so her sister and my friend could marry is humbling.”
“I was wrong! So wrong!”
“No, I hold the greater blame.”
“Very well, we shall not quarrel over this, but only because I find you so lovely right now.”
He looked surprised. “You find me lovely?”
“Have you never been complimented on your looks?”
“Not by Elizabeth Bennet. In all the times I imagined and hoped for it, I never put those words in your mouth.”
“What words did you put in my mouth?”
He tapped her nose. “Later, minx. You shall not distract me. I nearly wish to shout on the roof top, Elizabeth Bennet finds me lovely.” She pursed her lips and he gently kissed them. “You are content to only esteem me to begin our marriage?”
“Oh, Will,” she murmured. “I more than esteem you. I do not know when it happened but all the while Wickham was…assaulting me, I could only think how I had to see you again and tell you. I love you. I loved you when you offered me marriage, but my pride was wounded. I had determined to never marry another but when he attacked me after my refusal, all I could think of is that I had to see you. I would see you and make you love me again.” She whispered the last words.
He shook his head a little and then leaned his forehead to touch hers. “My lovely Elizabeth. I could never stop loving you.”
Ah, our couple is finally together and saying I love yous in each other’s arms! It takes a few more chapters to wrap up things like Mr. Bennet and Wickham but the big scary part is now over. I’ll be back tomorrow!