Elizabeth had always believed that Will would read her letter and agree to her plan. She supposed he would find a way to communicate with her. When she was called to her father’s library a few days after she had refused to see Will, her heart skipped a beat. Sitting in her usual chair in the book-filled room, Elizabeth watched her father with anxious curiosity.
“Would you like to know what that Will of yours has suggested now?”
Elizabeth nodded. She had told only her father of her plans.
“He suggests you marry before Harcourt leaves the area.”
“What?” Elizabeth had not thought he would reject her ideas entirely.
“In secret, of course,” Mr. Bennet smirked as Elizabeth’s affront eased.
“Would that be possible?”
“If it is first thing in the morning, and you arrive at separate times then it might work. There are not generally people in the church or the surrounding area then.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Mama will be unhappy. She had wanted a big wedding and was just warming to the idea of my marrying Will at all.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet said and thought for a moment. “Why not marry in secret now and continue to seem separated? Then, after Harcourt leaves, you might announce an intention to marry again. At this large wedding, he will come storming in to collect his price, and we will have guards in attendance.”
Elizabeth slowly nodded. They would need witnesses. “Who can we trust to know?”
“Will suggests Charles and Jane.”
“You do not think they are trustworthy?”
“I worry that they will say something too transparent. We may be called upon to lie.”
“You could keep it a secret and merely have Jane walk with you and surprise her once there.”
“And after? She would not be able to contain her joy.”
“I will go,” Mr. Bennet said. “It would not appear unusual for me to have to speak with the rector. Surely, Will could trust his manservant.”
“Very well. Does he suggest a day?”
Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow!” Elizabeth could hardly breathe.
“You had best go,” Mr. Bennet said as he pulled out writing supplies.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she bent to kiss his cheek.
In her room, Elizabeth blushed to consider that at this time tomorrow she would be a married lady. She cast her eyes around the room. She had felt so grown up to join Jane in this room when she left the nursery behind. Now, it was fairly bursting having to contain the accruements of two grown ladies. Soon, very soon, she hoped, she would be leaving it forever. She would not get to live as a typical bride and yet just knowing she would be joined with Will in Holy Matrimony filled her with contentment.
After a night of little sleep, Elizabeth awoke at dawn and treated herself to a slow ramble in the morning mist. A few minutes before the appointed time, she approached Longbourn’s church. None of the villagers seemed to be around. Most would be working in the house or at the estate. Mothers would be busy with their children. There was only old Mrs. Shaw that might be peeking out her window to see any comings and goings. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the small house the woman kept. She could see no one at the window. Even still, she affected a mournful countenance and posture. Any witnesses would think she approached the church for spiritual assistance. After all, she had broken an engagement and when the rumors of such circulated many would consider her a fallen woman. They might as well carry her to the church themselves!
Inside, the pastor looked up from where he sat near the door to his office. He beckoned Elizabeth to approach.
“The others are in here,” he whispered. “My curate will wait here to lend assistance or diversion should we need it. Are you certain you wish for it this way, my child?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded and smiled shyly.
“Then let us continue.”
Elizabeth followed him into the little room, and instantly her eyes focused on Will. They would be crowded anyway, but his presence seemed to take up most of the space. He smiled at her entrance and did not take his eyes off of her the entire time, even when introducing his valet.
Throughout the ceremony, Elizabeth’s hands trembled. After all the wait, all the fear, she was marrying Will! She could scarcely believe it! In a matter of minutes, the legal ceremony was over.
“We will keep the register in here. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will have any other marriage applications for quite some time. Now, let us allow the Bride and Groom some privacy.”
Mr. Bennet kissed Elizabeth on the cheek and joked that he would see her at home. Mr. Matthews said he would return to Netherfield.
Once alone, Will turned to Elizabeth. “I would kiss you, but I fear it too irreverent in such a place.”
Elizabeth smiled and could agree with the sentiment entirely.
“I regret that this is not the ceremony you deserve.”
“Think nothing of it. I surely regret more that I cannot live with you as a wife ought.”
Will smiled so brightly it reached his eyes, fine lines formed around them. “How did you spend your morning?” He stroked her cheeks.
“I left early for a walk.”
Will nodded. “I thought so. Your eyes are always brighter when you have been walking.”
Elizabeth blushed and shook her head. “Where is the arrogant young man I knew? You do not think my eyes are brighter simply because you are around?”
Will suddenly started and frowned. He looked her up and down. “How long did you walk?”
“For several hours but the distance was not too far. I was too anxious to be far from the church. Why?”
“I thought to invite you to an establishment in Ware.”
“It is not too far—scarcely more than the three miles you walked to Netherfield.”
“What kind of establishment?” Elizabeth raised a brow. Her heart fluttered to consider what he would mean.
“Elizabeth,” Will said in a low growl. “Can we not have some part of being husband and wife?”
Will’s blue eyes stared intently at Elizabeth. The need in his eyes called on Elizabeth’s heart. She shyly nodded her assent.
“The Rose and Crown. Do you know it?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “W—when?”
“I will go very soon. My valet and carriage will soon leave for London.”
“You are leaving?”
“No,” Will hastened to interrupt her. “No, I will only look as though I am leaving. I will actually be in Ware. Harcourt should feel as though he won.”
Elizabeth nodded. She should have considered that. What man would remain so near the woman who had rejected him?
“You will come?”
“I will. I suppose if I walk then I shall arrive around the same time you do.”
“We should part,” Will sighed and consulted his watch. “Soon, my love. Soon we will not have to separate.”
Elizabeth nodded and watched as he left, her heart hammering in her chest as she considered the changes this day would bring. A few minutes later, the rector brought her to a less commonly used exit.
She walked first in the opposite direction of Ware, in case anyone had seen her at the church or was following her movements. Avoiding the main road, Elizabeth knew which paths would lead her to her destination. About an hour later, she stood outside of the Rose and Crown.
This was madness! What was she to do? Just go inside and…ask for a room? Ask for Mr. Darcy? Did he even register under his name? She had brought no things—but she was not staying the night, was she? So she was to go upstairs with a man and then return later and just walk out—without the proprietor thinking anything amiss? She was thankful Will chose a place so near Meryton. She did not have to worry about any friends or acquaintances needing an inn mere miles from their home.
Elizabeth turned and walked away. She would send a note later. Will would have to understand. She could not act in such a way. As she rounded the milliner, a figure emerged from the shop.
“Ah, there you are,” a familiar voice said.
Elizabeth looked up in surprise.
“Should you be so surprised to see me, my love?” Will winked as a couple walked past them.
“I did not expect to find you in the milliner,” Elizabeth said with false sweetness.
“I must apologise. I realised after we parted that I had not considered how we might meet again and the difficulties you would have in finding me.”
“Well?” Elizabeth raised her brows.
Will was silent for a long moment before he began chuckling. “Ah, I see my error. Let me amend my words. I do apologise. It was thoughtless of me. Can you forgive me?”
“I suppose I must. It must be part of my vows.”
Cocking his head, Will smiled down on her. “I heard you promise to love, honour, and obey but not to forgive.”
“Well, then you must command me to forgive you,” Elizabeth said and flashed a saucy grin.
Will sucked in a quick breath before looking around. “Do you know, Mrs. Walker, I believe you now require rest.”
“Oh, indeed, I must, Mr. Walker.”
Will smirked but tucked Elizabeth’s hand into his arm and nearly dragged her into the inn. Elizabeth contained a giggle at his eagerness. When he lead her up the stairs, her legs began to tremble. Looking down at her, Will touched his forehead to hers just before opening the door.
Inside, Will drew her into his arms. Kissing her, he pulled on Elizabeth’s bonnet ribbons. Elizabeth reached to assist him, but he swatted her hands away. He pulled back to whisper in her ear. “Tonight, I shall be your maid.”
“I will stay?” Elizabeth looked around nervously. The room was furnished as most inns. She gulped at the large bed, then noticed some of her things. “What will be said of my absence from Longbourn?”
“Miss Lucas was prevailed upon to say you are staying with her.”
Elizabeth frowned. “That story could not be held for long. If anyone asked her family…”
Will settled his hands around Elizabeth’s waist. His thumbs rubbed in slow circles just above her hips. “Your father has convinced Sir William to keep his family quiet. He also knows of Lord Harcourt. The Lucases hate him almost as much as we do.” Will paused and searched Elizabeth’s eyes. “You are free to leave at any time—you are not my captive.”
Elizabeth could not speak. Will had touched her more intimately before and yet she now felt drugged and incapable of resisting anything he would ask.
“Tell me what you are thinking,” he urged. “It was a foolish plan; you resent my high handedness. Say something!”
“I think…” Elizabeth began, “you should kiss me again.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled his head to hers.
Will awoke the following day to find his arms delightfully full of feminine softness. He nuzzled into the curve of Elizabeth’s neck. “Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.”
Elizabeth sighed happily and rolled over to kiss him. After many minutes in pleasurable distraction, she pulled back. “I suppose I should return now. When will I see you again?”
“Soon,” Will said. “Perhaps three or four days. Whenever Richard can confirm that Harcourt is definitely in London.”
“And then we shall have a ceremony before our family?” Elizabeth smiled.
“Yes, love. Richard’s parents are eager to meet you again.”
“Again?” Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “Oh! At the theatre. I confess I had entirely forgotten they were there that evening.”
Will chuckled. “How embarrassed my poor aunt would be to hear her illustrious rank made no impression upon you.”
“Forgive me for being too besotted and distracted to care for such lofty titles of personages that could mean nothing to me.”
Will rewarded her words with a kiss. “Well, they have not forgotten you. The Earl had originally planned to journey with us. They are very cognizant of what might have been and of what we lost that day.”
“Did they know that you and I had an attachment?”
Will paused a moment. “I think they suspected it.”
“I could not bear to hear Sam mentioned. Nor would I countenance any talk of a marriage for me—they thought I should consider marrying my cousin Anne more.”
“Will they not approve of me?”
“No, that was never their complaint,” Will shook his head. “They never wished me to marry without affection or would say you are too low. They were friends with your father, after all.”
“It is Lady Catherine who will rail at our marriage.” Elizabeth tensed in Will’s arms, and he held her tighter. “I do not care what she has to say. I never have.”
“Did Anne wish to marry you?”
The question brought Will up short. He had never really considered it before. “I do not know.”
“She is still unwed?”
“Yes,” Will slowly said the word.
He searched his memory for interactions with Anne. Had she expected his addresses? Maybe. Had there been genuine hope or affection on her side? He doubted it. She neither sought him out nor acted embarrassed or flustered when he was near. Then again, he had never been particularly good at reading females.
“Never mind,” Elizabeth snuggled closer. “It hardly matters. You did not raise her expectations and cannot be held accountable for every lady who hoped to gain your notice. I have won you, and I do not much enjoy thinking about other ladies and you marrying them in our marriage bed.”
“Say it again,” Will whispered in her ear as his hands ran over her body. A shiver racked her frame.
“That I have won you?”
He kissed just below her ear, drawing a moan from her lips. “Indeed, you have. Will you torture me, woman?”
“Hmm…perhaps, but I believe I have a new title now.”
“Will you torture me, wife?” His lips wandered down her neck.
“I shall plague you every day, I am sure.”
“Do you know, Mrs. Darcy, I think you sometimes talk too much.” Will pulled Elizabeth’s lips to his where they were occupied until the sun reached high in the sky.
When they awoke again, Will whispered endearments in his wife’s ear. She caressed his old scars and asked to hear how he had braved the fire attempting to rescue his loved ones. He held her close as he explained how she had healed his wounds. Although he did not fixate on hating inns the way Georgiana had, he carried the burdens of the fire with him for years. Now, he was beginning a new path and forging new memories.
At last, the time came that he must rescind the comfort of his bride. In a hired hack, they rode first in the opposite direction of Meryton and changed routes several times before bringing Elizabeth back to the outskirts of Meryton. There, Miss Lucas would walk her back to Longbourn. It took some faith for Will to trust Miss Lucas, but Elizabeth had told him of her renewed friendship with Sam’s former betrothed. Jane had sent the things Elizabeth would want, determined to provide something for her sister if she could not witness the ceremony.
Will returned to his rented chamber at the inn, feeling more than ever that his heart resided outside of his chest. The only thing which eased the dull ache he felt at Elizabeth’s absence was an express from Richard explaining he had already seen Harcourt at his usual gaming tables. More than ever, he prayed Elizabeth’s suggestion would prove right. He needed his wife in his arms once more.