Is Will going to break the engagement?
Will kissed Elizabeth once more. After facing the truth of their loved one’s demise and all the emotion it brought on, their lips frantically met, drawing a different sort of comfort from one another. They were here, they were alive, they had this moment together.
Will tore his lips from hers and dropped his forehead to her shoulder. “How can I ask it of you? How can I bear it again?”
Suddenly, Elizabeth understood what Will had meant earlier. He was speaking of giving her up! Or at the very least, of postponing their marriage. Did she mean so little to him? Registering dampness on her gown, she realized Will cried at the thought of their separation. No, it was not that he desired this.
As though she had asked her question aloud, he spoke. “I would do anything to keep you safe, Elizabeth. Perhaps we are not meant to…”
Elizabeth pressed a finger to Will’s lips to silence him. “Do not say it! We are meant to be together. I have no intention of giving you up now or ever. You are mine Will Darcy!”
She threw her arms around his neck. The unexpected movement tackled him to the ground. She leaned over Will and did not let go. In this position, they shared breath, and she could feel his heartbeat. Meeting his eyes, she considered her next words carefully. “I am not afraid at all for me. It is you that I worry about. It is you Wickham has targeted. If by some extreme misfortune, I am injured because I am with you or loved by you, it is something I will gladly bear. I would rather have one moment on this earth as your wife than live for one hundred years without you.”
Will leaned up slightly and met her lips then managed to reposition them so he had more dominance. After several minutes, Elizabeth pulled back, panting. “Love me, Will. Love me. Make me yours! No one can separate us once I am yours.”
Will groaned and rolled away from Elizabeth. The distance returned Elizabeth’s senses to her. What had she done? She had just thrown herself at Will and begged for him to defile her in the woods. She was worse than some common harlot!
Shame slapped her cheeks, but curiosity made her glace at her betrothed. He did not appear angry or displeased.
“Forgive me,” Elizabeth reached forward and touched Will’s arm.
His body jumped in response. “Leave me be, Elizabeth. Do not touch me just now.”
The last time he had spoken so coldly to her was after Apollo had nearly trampled them and she asked after the scarred flesh on his arm. She had demurred then but would not this time. She made her choice not the least because if Will deserved her anger, she had no room for feeling ashamed of her behaviour.
“Do not shut me out,” she said as she sat up. “You were willing to break our engagement—again! Are you still and that is why you do not desire my affections?”
Will rolled to face her and propped his head up with a bent arm. “I desire your touch and affection far too much. What you asked for a moment ago has been in my mind nearly unceasing since shortly after I met you. I will not take your virtue until our wedding night. I am not the rake you thought I was.”
Elizabeth huffed out a sigh and folded her arms tightly against her chest. “So we will have a wedding after all? Pray, sir, will it be before I am fifty? How shall I ever bear you a son at that age?”
“If it were legal at all, I would marry you this very minute. I would declare us wed with nothing but these trees as our witnesses. I did not want to break the engagement.”
“May I know the stupid reason you had rationalized in your head that was worth giving me up? You were very incoherent just now.”
Mischief lighted in Will’s eyes. “I think you are proof at how eloquent I was.”
His eyes raked over her and Elizabeth realised the damage to her gown and hair. She blushed and glanced around for hairpins but would not let him avoid the point. Rolling her hair up, she glared at him. “You know of what I speak!”
“You know already what thoughts were in my mind for you already argued against them. You were in the carriage! I cannot be so selfish!”
Elizabeth reached for Will’s hand, and this time he did not shake her off. “There are times when I can perceive your thoughts or emotions and times when I cannot. Either way, I think it is best for us to talk about them openly and to each other. We should not presume to know the other’s mind on such matters. It has only brought heartache too many times.”
Will stood and reached for Elizabeth’s hands, assisting her to her feet. “You are correct, Elizabeth. I will try to remember in the future. Can you forgive me?”
Elizabeth smirked as she tied the ribbons to her bonnet and dusted off her gown. “Only if you continue to kiss me like that and call me Lizzy.”
Desire flashed in Will’s eyes, and Elizabeth fought back a giggle. She had asked for him to be more open and he seemed quite willing to comply.
“Careful, minx,” he said. “Too much temptation might send me to an early grave, and you seem to want me to survive for many years.”
“For that, your penance will be—”
Will interrupted her saucy reply with more delicious kisses before tucking her hand on his arm. “We must return now, Lizzy,” he whispered in her ear before directing her to the path.
They found Mary on a stump with her book. Jane and Charles were returning from further ahead on the path, and both wore enormous smiles. Mary raised her brows at each of them but held her chastisement. In the world of sisters, secrets were closely guarded, and Elizabeth felt she would have some recompense to pay for Mary’s silence.
Will and Charles sat with the Bennets for another quarter of an hour after returning to the house. However, Will was hoping to hear from Richard and needed to be at Netherfield. Soon after they had arrived, he heard a noise on the gravel. It was not the sound of a lone express rider as he had expected. Instead, Will heard the unmistakable sound of a chaise and four. Although curious, he had determined it could not be for him and continued to focus on the work at hand. The butler disturbing his solitude in the library with the announcement of his cousin, sister, and her companion exceedingly shocked him.
“Richard! Georgiana!” Will said as he glanced between the two. “I did not expect you for several days.”
“Indeed,” Richard said as he helped himself to Charles’ port. “Soon after I wrote to you, I also sent a note to your housekeeper in Town and informed her of when we would arrive. Imagine my surprise when she replied stating Georgiana had just arrived from Pemberley.”
“I see,” Will said as he considered Richard’s information. Mrs. Annesley would have requested to change the plans. Only Georgiana’s stubborn insistence would lead to the older woman disregarding his orders. However, it was unusual that she did not send a message as the journey from Pemberley to London took three days.
“You did not receive my express?” Mrs. Annesley asked.
“No. I am afraid not.”
“How curious!” Georgiana said and pulled Will’s eyes to her.
Indeed. How curious that yet another letter to him did not arrive. “And why were you in London?”
“Miss Bingley wrote that she was bored at Netherfield and expected to soon be in Town. I had messages from many friends that they were already there.”
“Did you?” Will met Mrs. Annesley’s eyes. In his correspondence with her, she had expressed concern that her charge was receiving more letters than she considered regular and Georgiana was very evasive in answering questions about them. She guarded her privacy about the letters. “I fail to see how simply because others were in one area it meant you also needed to be present.”
“Come, you cannot refuse me entrance to my own home.”
Will raised his brows. “I suppose that means if they were all in Bath or elsewhere you would not choose to go there?”
“The countryside is so dull,” Georgiana played with lint on her gown. “Although, I did come here as bidden like a good little girl.” She made a face at her final words as though she had sucked on a lemon.
“Regardless of your feelings about where you are set to reside, you should remember that you are not of age to make such decisions nor do you have access to your funds. You broke my trust at Ramsgate and again by leaving Pemberley—”
“No one has said that I left. You blame me for everything!”
“No, my dear,” Will said sternly. “It is that I know Mrs. Annesley would not leave so recklessly.”
“You trust a servant more than your sister!”
“Yes, I do!” Will stood and walked to his sister. “She has shown herself to have more honour than you at this moment.”
“Will,” Charles’ red hair emerged in the doorway. “Wilson said that—” He entered and caught sight of the ladies. “Miss Darcy! You are here!”
“Charles,” Richard raised his glass to his host.
“And Richard too! Well, now I truly feel like a host! Good day to you all,” he bowed to the room. “Welcome! If you are comfortable here for now, then I will alert the housekeeper, and we shall have rooms readied for you. Miss Darcy, I know my sisters will enjoy your visit and—”
“Thank you, Charles,” Will interrupted. “Georgiana was just saying how tired she is and so I know she will appreciate a room as quickly as possible.”
“Indeed!” Charles glanced between Will and the others and seemed to suddenly perceive the tension that had gone unnoticed before. “I will see to it immediately.”
After he left the room and the door was shut, assuring some privacy, Will turned to his sister again.
Georgiana met Will’s eyes with a mocking expression. Where was the sweet girl he once knew? Where had he gone wrong with her? What choice in his past did he make which led to this? Sighing, he decided to tell her the truth. “Georgiana, I have not asked you here to ruin any plans of yours. If you had desired to come to London, then I could have responsibly arranged such things. As it happens, I believe you must have insisted you would go without an escort, but we will address that later. First, I desired you here so you might become reacquainted with your future sister-in-law.”
Georgiana gasped, “Sister-In-Law! I had thought you never meant to marry.”
“It is true, for years I thought I never would. But I have become reacquainted with the lady that I have admired since our first meeting five years ago.”
“Who do you mean? Not Miss Bingley!”
“I should say not! Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn has accepted my proposal, and we are to wed in a fortnight.”
Will watched in consternation as Georgiana’s expression changed from repugnance to shock to something entirely unreadable. It was not the reaction had expected from sister. “I believe you quite enjoyed your time with her while she stayed at Darcy house.”
“Enjoy would be a stretch. I was a child confined to the nursery. Papa only brought me down to impress his friends. Nor could I control who came and went in my room. Yes, the Miss Bennets frequented the nursery, but do not imagine we became friends.” Georgiana raised her chin in defiance.
Will furrowed his brows and looked at Mrs. Annesley then Richard for clues as to why Georgiana would react this way. Their expressions seemed as clueless as his. “I am sorry to hear that, but I know you will not allow experiences from so long ago to cloud your vision.”
“Like you did yours? Once a fortune hunter always a fortune hunter.”
Georgiana sniffed, and her expression was far too much like Caroline Bingley for Will’s taste. “That is enough,” he said but did not raise his voice. Then, glaring at his sister, he continued, “Elizabeth Bennet was never a fortune hunter, and I have never mentioned that fear to you. I can think of only one who could have, and I wonder why he would. Georgiana, ask yourself why your friend Wickham would need to slander the name of a guest in your father’s house and a lady of whom your brother thought well.”
Georgiana looked at her nails distractedly. “I am sure he told me so I could see how your judgment is not always perfect. The blinders are off now, dear brother. You may order me about as you legally can. However, you will longer influence my mind.”
Anger clouded Will’s vision. “Mrs. Annesley, Richard, I trust you will see my sister to her room when it is provided. I have said all that is necessary and now must return to my business. Georgiana,” he looked at her. “If you can show yourself to be civil at dinner, you may accompany the Miss Bennets and Miss Bingley to the shops in Meryton tomorrow.” Will stiffly bowed and had just reached the door when Richard called after him.
“Have you not forgotten to tell her of a rather critical development?”
“Ah, yes.” Will glanced over his shoulder at his sister. “You should perhaps be forewarned that we have every reason to believe that the man who was willing to seduce you has also murdered our father, as well as Mr. Bingley’s father, and Miss Elizabeth’s brother. The fire was arson and witnesses describe a man like Wickham. There have been strange and dangerous incidents since I have been at Netherfield targeting myself and Miss Elizabeth. Besides my desire for you to reacquaint yourself my betrothed, there is a genuine fear that Wickham might try to harm you, or contact you in some way.”
Will examined his sister for a long moment. “Has he?”
“No,” she answered.
Will found he could not believe her words.
“Surely what you say is impossible. Wickham would never be—”
“He would. He would indeed” Will turned and left for his chamber.