I don’t have a blurb for this story yet. I’ll be working on it in between other projects and hope to publish it in January 2019. I think it will be novel length but I never really know until the story is done. I’ll try to post once a week.
Mr. Darcy meets Elizabeth on his way to Pemberley. This takes place just before Easter.
Darcy peered out his carriage window as the conveyance rolled to a stop before the usual coaching inn. To the east about twenty miles lay the town of Meryton, Hertfordshire. As often as he had traversed the roads between London and Pemberley he had never before considered what lay beyond them. His mind had only considered the path before him and the duties attached to the destination. Whether at his estate or his London home, his responsibilities to family and legacy did not cease. And so, despite knowing Meryton lay only a few hours away, and with it the woman he loved, he would cling to his usual route.
Inside the tavern portion of the inn, Darcy grimaced when told that the private dining areas were full and his usual suites unavailable. His decision to leave London for Pemberley was formed suddenly only hours ago. Easter in his ancestral home was a convenient excuse. He would journey first, and his sister, Georgiana, and her companion would follow on the next day. Waving off the proprietor’s concern for his offense, Darcy sat in the loud common room.
He glanced around the area, unsurprised to see he had no acquaintances in the crowded chamber. A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his notice. The maid moved with too much grace, her gown seemed too fine to be the usual sort. Some fancy piece trying to sell her wares? It was unlike Cuthbert to allow such but who was Darcy to interfere with a man’s business? As the lady’s movements and figure continued to interest him—and invariably remind him of a lady mere miles away—he cursed under his breath for the fact that he now compared every woman born high or low to Elizabeth Bennet.
What would his family and friends say if they knew of his obsession? The Earl would glare, Lady Catherine would lecture and throw her daughter at him. Bingley would laugh and Richard, his cousin, would suggest he enjoy the bar maid’s enticements and be free of his physical longing and possibly mental torment as well. Darcy had too much honour for such, however, and so when he waved her over it was only with the intent to order refreshment. Never mind the fact that her laugh at the table next to him reminded him too much of Elizabeth’s and he had relished the warm sound when it washed over him.
“What would you like?” she asked.
Her voice was very like Elizabeth’s. Darcy kicked himself again for allowing her to make such a slave of him that his imagination could go so far as to hear her voice. Looking up from his hands, their eyes met, and Darcy’s breath caught.
Elizabeth gasped. “Mr. Darcy!”
“Par-pardon me!” Elizabeth laid her tray of ale down in a clatter and ran from the room.
Darcy stared after her. Why on earth was she serving in a tavern twenty miles from her home? The Bennets had not been as wealthy as he or Bingley, but their estate was prosperous enough. Only financial hardship or extreme love could drive her to such a situation. Darcy knew the owner and knew the Bennets had no relationship to him which left only the financial motive. Before he could think better of it, he was in front of Cuthbert and tossing several pounds at him.
“That maid—the one that just ran out of the room—”
“Lizzy? Pretty with big, brown eyes?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” Darcy nodded. “I’m paying her wages for the week. Find another maid.”
Several men around him broke into laughter and raised an obscene toast in his honour, but he cared not one whit. As he dodged puddles of ale and urine, he followed the door where Elizabeth exited. Hearing sobbing down the hall, he turned and then crept up the stairs. His heart beat in his throat with every step. There was another reason she could be here, one which lay heavily on his mind. Wickham might have ruined her. He ought to have openly declared to the world that man’s character. He ought to have told her the truth and warned her. Instead, his pride demanded he keep his failings private. If Wickham had not ruined Elizabeth, she might have been raped by any man down below. He did not think she would willingly sell herself, but many men took no heed of a negative answer.
Elizabeth sat on the top of the stairs, with her head buried in her hands as she was bent almost in half. The sounds of despair and agony split through him. Darcy bent at the knee and placed a hand on her shoulder, intent on offering her a handkerchief and escort her to the safety of a room.
Before he could speak, he was struck on the side of his head. The unexpected movement set him tumbling down several stairs, landing hard on one arm. Along the way, he reached for the railing and only managed to twist his arm in a painful contortion.
“How dare you!” Elizabeth cried out followed a moment later by, “Oh good Lord! What have I done? Mr. Darcy?”
“Aye,” Darcy moaned.
“I am so sorry,” she stammered. “I thought you were a stranger set on accosting me…”
The pain in Darcy’s heart upon hearing such words could be surpassed only by the pain he felt in his arm. He heard Elizabeth’s quick steps and sniffling as she wiped her tears away.
“Can you move?” she asked gently once at his side.
“I think so.” He made to roll over, and she assisted him. No longer laying on his injured arm, it throbbed even worse as blood rushed around it.
“We should get you to your room and call the surgeon,” Elizabeth held her hand out to assist him with his uninjured arm.
As his hand gripped around hers, he noted the rough nature of her palm and digits. Mere weeks ago they would have been as soft as any gentlewoman’s. What kind of life had she endured since he left Hertfordshire? She appeared to be blushing under the contact.
“We can get to the guest chambers through this way,” Elizabeth opened a door near the second-floor landing he had fallen near. “Your room must be this way.”
“I am on the third floor, actually.” Darcy winced as each step sent a jolt to his arm.
“Very well,” Elizabeth said in a confused sounding voice.
That she seemed unfamiliar with the layout brought him some comfort. “Here, room six, I believe they said.”
They knocked, and his valet opened the door. “Mr. Darcy,” Stevens eyes glanced from Darcy to Elizabeth’s rapidly before he, at last, seemed to realize that Darcy oddly held his arm. “Is all well?’
“It is not,” Darcy said as the servant stepped aside so he could enter. “I have badly sprained my arm. Please, see if the surgeon is available.”
“Of course, sir. The lady’s bag arrived a moment ago.” Stevens dashed away.
Darcy shuffled to the table and chair in the room, believing he could be treated there and staying away from his bed would likely help Elizabeth’s sensibilities.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said while blushing. “I will leave you and your…guest,” she glanced around, and her eyes fell on her bag. Immediately, she stiffened. “Just why are my things in your chamber?”
“Cuthbert must have needed the room. I suppose he has already found your replacement.”
“Well, I paid him for your wages.”
“You bought me?”
Darcy could hear in Elizabeth’s tone her anger and surprise, emotions he thought would soon fade. However, he had not expected the look of utter anguish to haunt her eyes. “No, I paid the man the trouble of hiring a new maid and secured you safe lodgings until I deliver you to Longbourn.”
“I will never go back there. Never.”
Besides the anguish, determination lit her eyes. He did not doubt her. He only wished to know how best to help her and convince her he meant to be an ally. Before he could say anything, however, Stevens arrived with the surgeon in tow.
“It is a nasty sprain,” he pronounced upon the examination. “Your wife will have to be quite the minder to make certain you do not overdo. You should not attempt the carriage for at least three or four days.” He smiled and looked at Elizabeth who had folded her arms at her chest and glared at Darcy. “It seems she is up to the challenge, sir.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said in a cold voice to mask his fatigue and pain from the experience. “Will there be anything else?”
“Yes, take this tonic twice a day.”
He handed it to Darcy, and the stench made him wrench his face away. “Is there nothing else I can take?”
“This is the best for allowing you to maintain functionality while alleviating the pain. “Shall I show your valet or your wife how to mix it?”
“Allow me,” Elizabeth stepped forward.
“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.”
Elizabeth blushed and sent Darcy an angry look, but he could only think how very well the title suited her and the feeling of rightness in his heart upon hearing it. Tavern maid…potentially ravaged…or not, he would not deny his heart or this serving of fate.
Elizabeth observed the surgeon and then escorted him from the room. Darcy noticed his valet had gone missing.
“Explain yourself,” Elizabeth said in an angry tone once alone.
However, instead of launching into an argument as he had expected, she nearly collapsed in the chair on the other side of the table. She looked bone weary, and all her capacity for anger had fled faster than a dashed light.
“I was breaking my journey to Pemberley when I saw a friend—” Elizabeth arched a brow at the word. “We are friends, are we not?”
“I hardly know who are my friends or who to trust anymore,” she murmured. “I had thought I had no one left.”
“Elizabeth, what has happened? How did you come to be in this place?” With his good hand, he reached forward to envelop one of hers. He sought to lend support and comfort. Instead, she burst into tears. “Come, you are overwrought. Come, rest, and we will speak later.”
Elizabeth mutely nodded when he pushed his handkerchief into her hands and allowed him to lead her to the bed without protest.
“I will sit and read while you take as long as you like.”
Indecision warred in her eyes.
“Please, Elizabeth,” Darcy said with the sort of gentleness he often used with Georgiana. “I hate to see you so distraught.”
Although more tears flowed at his words, she kicked off her worn slippers and slid beneath the counterpane. She rolled away from where he sat and while he heard the occasional sniffle she soon slept.
While Elizabeth rested, Darcy made inquiries with Cuthbert. Elizabeth had arrived here in early January with naught but a few coins to her name. She begged for lodging and was willing to work for it, although with her genteel rearing she was no natural barmaid.
After a few hours’ rest, Elizabeth awoke with a start. She sat up straight in the bed, breathing hard. She was shaking, Darcy realized. He left his chair to come to her side and jumped at his movement then reached for a pillow to fling at him.
“Elizabeth, you are safe,” Darcy cried out while blocking the projectile with his good arm.
“Mr.D-Darcy?” she asked in a quiet voice. Her tone was fear and relief mingled while her face expressed bewilderment.
“Yes. Do you recall where you are?”
“I…I…” she trailed off for a moment. “I do.” She spoke in a stronger voice. “Oh, thank heavens. When I awoke and did not recognise the room, I thought the worst had happened.”
Suddenly she stilled and her brows arched. “I do recall everything now. You–you bought me, and you intend to take me back to Longbourn!” She scrambled off the bed, this time reaching for a candlestick.
“Good God, woman! If you will pummel me, may I ask you wait until my arm heals and we are both fully able-bodied.”
“You arm?” Elizabeth’s brows drew together in confusion as she lowered her weapon. “Oh! I had forgotten—but then the doctor thought…”
“My valet has set him straight and maintained your honour.”
“How is that possible?” Her shoulders slumped. “Not that it makes any difference. Elizabeth Bennet has ceased to exist for several months now. If anyone knew the truth, my reputation would be entirely shredded. As it is Lizzy Smith, the barmaid draws no attraction or notice and hardly needs a good reputation.”
Darcy gaped at her. For one, she would always draw attraction and notice. She was too beautiful to blend into any crowd. As barmaids went, she would be the only one he ever met who bore signs of genteel life and the only one who had not offered her body for sale. “Lizzy Smith?” He raised a brow and approached her side.
“My Aunt Gardiner’s maiden name. I thought Gardiner would be too memorable, especially so near Longbourn…”
Taking the candlestick from her hand, their fingers brushed. He returned it to the position next to the bed and then led her to the sofa. “I understand you must have been through very much for me to find you in such a position. Come, I will order refreshment, and you may tell me how I might assist you.”
Elizabeth stared at him for a long moment. “It seems you must have gone through many changes in the time since our last meeting as well.”
“Why do you think so?”
“The Mr. Darcy I met in Meryton would never be so solicitous to me, and he would never take orders from me.”
“And the Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn I knew seemed to love her home and family very much. Perhaps looks were deceiving on both of our ends?”
Elizabeth dipped her head in acknowledgment and took his offered seat. He rang for tea, and they sat in silence until it arrived. Simultaneously reaching to pour, their fingers brushed again. Elizabeth blushed while Darcy realised his body craved those fleeting touches.
“Pardon me,” Elizabeth laughed. “I am used to taking on the office of the hostess. Since this is your domain, perhaps you ought to serve.”
“All that I have is yours, Elizabeth.” The words tumbled from his lips before he could recall them. How he wished he could leave them as they were or fully explain his desires but the shocked look on Elizabeth’s face combined with her earlier words meant she was not ready to hear his proposition. “As you are my guest, of course.”
“Very well,” Elizabeth smiled and resumed the process of making tea. “Thank you, and to show that I am not as ungrateful as I am sure Miss Bingley has me marked down as, I believe I have recalled how you like your cup.”
She gave Darcy a cup with a pert smile. He was surprised to consider that she could recall how he took it. Although, he would have preferred to do it himself. He had yet to meet a lady who could get it quite right except for his housekeepers and sister. Still, he would drink it without complaint, for her, and there would be time later to reveal the truth. Pressing the cup to his lips, he sipped.
Elizabeth sat back with a satisfied smirk. As Darcy set the teacup down, he chuckled. “How did you know how I like it?”
“At Longbourn, you would drink it without sugar and wince. At Netherfield, Miss Bingley would give you three scoops but you never finished a cup. At Lucas Lodge, it was two, but again you had a hint of displeasure about your lips as you drank.”
Darcy listened in fascination. If she had recalled such details, she could not be as indifferent as she had seemed. “And will you enlighten me to your process?”
“I put the sugar in first,” Elizabeth smiled.
“Very good,” Darcy acknowledged. “How did you guess that would work?”
“A lady never tells,” she grinned and then took a sip of tea.
“Then I will take it for the compliment it must be to have Elizabeth Bennet know such an intimate detail about me that I have hidden from most others. I am afraid you have learned I am horribly picky about my tea.”
“Only about your tea?” she popped a treat into her mouth, her eyes closing with enjoyment.
“I do not think I am so scrupulous about other things. I never complained about Miss Bingley’s table, for example.” He raised a brow in silent charge at her.
“Oh! You remember that do you?” She laughed. “Well, I would not say I complained either. Mr. Hurst merely asked which dish I preferred, and it would hardly be right to lie.”
Darcy only smiled in response. He had missed this so much. Conversations with Elizabeth were like a breath of fresh air, a calming breeze on a hot day. One could live without it but only just barely survive. In London, he had almost suffocated from all the insipid debutantes thrust upon him.
When they had finished with their refreshments, Darcy cleared them away. “I believe we must have some conversation.”
“Must we? I would allow you to choose the topic but I can hazard a guess as to what you desire to know, and I am unsure if I want to discuss it.”
“Why is that?” he sat next to her.
“Why do I not wish to speak of it?”
“If you will not tell me how you came to be here and why you refuse to return to Longbourn, then it seems the next most reasonable thing to discuss.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “How like you! You want to be reasonable, and I wish only to laugh and avoid serious matters. Well, having acknowledged that there could be few other ways to induce me to willingly address it. Was it your design?”
“Certainly not. I can barely keep my wits around you. I could think of no design to make you speak when you are determined to be silent.”
Elizabeth looked sad for a moment. “You once accused me of only wishing to laugh my way through life. How I hated you for that charge! In my mind, I was perfectly rational. I could laugh at the follies of others–your pride, for example. But I was blind to the real evils of the world. To the evils even in my family. I was determined to ignore them and applaud myself for the effort.”
Darcy remained silent during Elizabeth’s words. He had not meant that Elizabeth was too flighty. He did dislike the conversation, but he had not intended to demean her. He would have to address that–especially as she said it made her hate him. He had not thought–he had never considered–that someone as rational and sensible as her could feel so very different about his words than he had meant them. At the moment, however, there were more pressing matters. Wordlessly, he squeezed her hand in a show of support. He did not relinquish it, and Elizabeth stared at their joined hands for a moment before continuing in a hushed voice.
“I have paid sorely for my arrogant stupidity. You will hate me forever when you hear it.”