Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two /Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen / Chapter Fifteen
Auld Lang Syne
December 23, 1811
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” Elizabeth asked and arched a brow.
“I’ll take a cup of kindness,” Darcy replied smiling.
“As I recall, it was your kindness that saved me.”
Darcy shook his head. “Nay, you saved me. Wickham would not have hurt you…he always meant to injure me.”
Elizabeth thought over Darcy’s words for a moment. He seemed to complacently claim Wickham would have never wounded her. However, at the time, he had desperately clung to her. More than that, he had made sure she was safe and unharmed. Even when it came to promising Wickham tens of thousands of pounds and an estate, he agreed to it without hesitation for her sake. And he would attempt to say he had done nothing heroic? That he was to blame?
Instantly, Elizabeth felt she understood more about Mr. Darcy than she would have if she had known him for a year. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the repeating days — for she recalled that as well — or the stress of being attacked by Wickham. The fact that the man before her had been abominably abused and cast aside in favour of Wickham by nearly everyone — herself included — and yet apologised for perceived weakness and inaction proved he had no improper pride. He lacked social graces. He did not know the pretty words Wickham used or all the right places to smile. Unlike Collins, he did not attempt to practice it either. He could not act differently than he was, whether the world love or despise him.
Or perhaps it was despise and love him? Were the two entirely separate? Did she not often hate her family but always love them?
“I did not mean to make you uncomfortable again,” Darcy said, beginning to approach the door. “Please forgive me.”
“Why should I?” she blurted.
He paused at the door way. “Pardon?”
“Have you said or done something to me that you regret? That you did not mean?”
Darcy paled, incredible pain filling his eyes. He approached and whispered. “Do you mean besides my ungentlemanly behaviour for weeks?
Besides my secrecy leading to Wickham attacking you? Yes, I do have other regrets. Do you not recall?” His eyes searched hers.
Elizabeth had meant his tender attention after subduing Wickham.
She had also meant his proposal — which lacked any loving words but then it seemed actions were his strong suit. “I recall, sir, but I do not have regrets.”
“How can that be? Or are you teasing me?” He shook his head. “No, you would not be so cruel. My wishes and affections are unchanged — and never will — but I grieve ever hurting you with my arrogant presumption.”
He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “When I think of the liberties I took… I am fortunate you did not slap me.”
Elizabeth’s eyes misted to hear his self-rebuke. How could he think she felt remorse for his kiss? Such tenderness and ardent desire, she had never known. At that moment, she very much needed it, and even now her lips tingled at the memory.
“Can you not imagine how grateful I am?” she asked with her voice
rising in pitch. “Can you not understand how it comforted me?”
Some of the pain in Darcy’s expression eased. “I should not have done it. I am pleased it brought you some relief, but I cannot accept your thanks.”
He was leaving again, and something in Elizabeth’s heart told her if she did not speak now she might never have another opportunity. “Pray forgive my selfishness, even as it may wound you. As we have referenced the New Year and our new beginning, should we not seal it with a kiss?”
Elizabeth repressed an urge to laugh as she could see that Darcy had never expected such words. He opened and closed his mouth without words coming several times. At last, he found his voice.
Anxiety and indecision marred his countenance. Restrained energy thrummed from his body. “By your sister’s count, it is well past New Year. It is now the fifth.”
Elizabeth gave him a saucy grin. “Then we are long overdue, do you not agree?”
All hesitation vanished, and Darcy strode to her with determined steps. He pulled her into strong arms and Elizabeth threw hers around his neck. They held each other so tightly she could feel the rapid beat of his heart through his garments.
Just before Darcy’s lips met Elizabeth’s, he rested his forehead on hers. Through laboured breaths, he said, “Will you allow me to tell you how I ardently love you?”
“Yes, but you had much better tell me more later and kiss me now,” Elizabeth demanded.
Her words were immediately heeded and none too soon for far earlier than either would have liked their bliss was interrupted by the screeching of Mrs. Bennet.