At long last! A new chapter! In case you have missed my other mentions of it, I’ve been unwell. I currently have loss of feeling in almost my entire body. Bouts of pain, especially at night, have accompanied the numbness. I am going to try to catch up with this story in the next few days as the majority of the pain has subsided during the day, but I must take care of myself as well. I’ll know more after my MRI next week.
Darcy and Elizabeth had sat in companionable silence in the carriage the following day for nearly an hour before she spoke.
“Fitzwilliam, tell me about your friends, your family, the people that make up your life.”
Darcy started at her interest. “I have already told you about my sister. You will soon get to know her better. You will meet her companion and nurse, Mrs. Annesley. She is a very genteel lady.”
“What about anyone else? You mentioned a cousin is also Miss Darcy’s guardian and relatives that might visit her while you are away. How frequently do you see Mr. Bingley?”
“Richard is often posted to the Continent. When he is not, he is busy with his Regiment in London. One day, I hope you two will meet. Aunt Katherine and Uncle Joseph live in Edinburgh, and we do not get to visit with them very often.” He frowned a little before answering her final question. “I do not see Bingley more than once or twice a year—although I would say he is my closest friend. He is always getting about—a house party here or there, a soiree in Town, a trip to Scarborough. I much prefer to visit with him at Pemberley.”
Elizabeth thought for a moment. “That is just what I would have expected.”
“That I hate Society so much that I have only one friend that I rarely see?”
Elizabeth shook her head as she gathered Darcy’s hand and raised it to her lips. “I have discovered you value time together free of other distractions or activities. At the assembly in Meryton, you barely spoke. However, you were talkative enough in privacy at Netherfield. You never seem at a loss for words, now, with me. You do not hate Society. You simply crave more intimate gatherings with your friends.”
Darcy felt the corners of his lips turn up. He had never known anyone else to understand him so well. Even Bingley seemed unaware of Darcy’s hatred of crowded events. He knew Bingley thought he was an amiable host by arranging activities for his guests, but Darcy much would have preferred quiet evenings at the house. A thought struck him, causing his tentative smile to slip.
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.
“I fear after growing up in such a busy household, you will find me and Pemberley quite boring.”
“I would never find you boring,” she smiled. “Do not you know that I could not cease thinking about you and attempting to puzzle you out from our first meeting?”
“Did you really?” He knew she had not thought of him the way he thought of her but knowing that she thought of him at all pleased.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said as she turned her sparkling eyes to his. “I heard your words about me and wanted to hate you. I had to search deep and hard to find other reasons to dislike you. Not a day went by that your name was not on my tongue as I talked with a friend. Poor Jane and Charlotte must have tired of me. They must have seen through to the truth long before I ever did.”
“I was utterly obsessed with you.”
“Why was that?”
“I do not know, but fortunately, I have the rest of my life to find out.”
“Do you know I was just as enchanted?” Darcy reached forward to stroke Elizabeth’s smooth cheek.
“I thought you only looked at me to criticize.”
“At first, I had hoped to find faults. The more I looked, the more attracted I became.”
“So, it was my arts and allurements after all?” Elizabeth gave a coy smile.
“No, it was the spark in your eyes, the tone of your laughter, the smoothness of your skin, the lusciousness of your lips—”
Darcy could contain himself no longer. He sampled her lips now parted in invitation. After several minutes, he pulled back. “I still find it difficult to believe that you are here with me, in my arms, and willing to marry me.” He hung his head for a moment. “I know you do not love me and I fear one day you will regret this union. I know you think that you bring nothing to this marriage, but you offer so much. Anything I can give you in return is not what you desire. My wealth and jewels mean nothing to you.”
Elizabeth sighed and nuzzled into the hand which still touched her cheek. “You offer me what I desire above all others, Fitzwilliam.”
“What is that?” Stability? A home?
“You,” she whispered. “All I want is your love.”
Darcy’s heart swelled at her words and the look in her eye. Perhaps she was too timid to say the words he longed to hear. Maybe she needed more time, but it gave him hope as he never had before. He expressed himself the only way he could, and they were locked in mutually pleasurable pursuit until they arrived at a coaching inn.
No private dining room was available, so they sat in the large, common dining area of the tavern. Darcy observed Elizabeth, to see if it brought back any bad memories of her recent employment. Instead, she encouraged them to mingle with other customers and play a singing game of who knew the most Scottish reels.
“I did not think you would know so many,” Elizabeth whispered in his ear after they won the tenth round.
“I asked you to dance while Miss Bingley played a reel, did you forget?”
“I had thought you meant to mock me.” Elizabeth shook her head. “I should have guessed differently once I began to think differently of you.”
“Dance with me now,” he said and tugged on her hand.
“What? Here?” Elizabeth looked around the room. “Before all these strangers? Has the ale gone to your head?”
“Not at all,” Darcy said as he stood. “Mr. William Smith wishes to dance with his lovely bride. Won’t you, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth blushed, but Darcy could see that he pleased her. Others soon joined in, and they had a merry time until they were forced to sit out and catch their breath. Mindful that they needed to arise early to continue their journey, they soon said goodbyes to their new friends and ascended the stairs.
“Thank you for tonight,” Elizabeth said once they were in bed and she nestled in Darcy’s arms.
“What did I do?”
“You were so carefree. You mingled with people far beneath you. Was it not for my sake?” She kissed him on the cheek.
“It was for as much my own as for you,” he answered with a grin.
“You see, you do not hate people as much as you would like to say.”
“I think it is as you said this morning. I enjoy quality time with those I love. We may have been in a group of others, but I knew your focus was entirely on me.” Darcy leaned forward to capture her lips.
“Oh, did you now?” Elizabeth ducked her head away.
“I can hardly believe it, but as I am helpless but to watch you no matter which room I am in, I know very well how often you, in turn, were watching me.”
Elizabeth blushed, and Darcy kissed one rosy cheek. “I watched you even in Hertfordshire,” she admitted.
“I know,” Darcy nodded. “However, it is different now. I know the signs of your affection. I know the soft look your gaze takes when you are pleased with me. How I could take your expression from those months ago to mean admiration is proof enough of my arrogance and conceit.”
“Hush,” Elizabeth said. “Do not think of those times. Let us think only of now. We are here together.” She gripped him tightly. “I will always be with you.”
Darcy welcomed Elizabeth’s kisses and responded in kind. She melted at his touch and molded herself to his body. At that moment, Darcy knew that she would allow him to touch every curve of her body, every inch of her smooth skin. However, he had promised both of them, he would not claim her until she was in love with him. Until she could say the words and speak of her heart, he would have to resist. Slowing their kisses and his hands’ explorations, he laid her head on his shoulder and held her while their breathing returned to normal and they both fell asleep.
When they reached the inn on their third night of travel, a letter had arrived for Elizabeth.
“It’s from Jane,” she reverently stroked over the script. “I would know her writing anywhere, but it did not come from Longbourn. How interesting.”
“Let us hurry to our room, and you may read it there.”
“You do not wish to eat first?”
“We will have refreshments brought to us.”
Elizabeth’s smile was thanks enough. Once she was settled, she began reading aloud.
Undoubtedly, you are curious about the address from which this letter was posted. This might shock you, but given your own good news about a match with Mr. Darcy, I am sure you will not resent it. I have married.
Elizabeth paused to gasp and bring her hand to her mouth. “Oh, Janie.”
“Does she say to whom she is wed?”
Elizabeth returned her eyes to the paper and began reading once more.
After you left, I met a gentleman with an estate about ten miles from Meryton. We had not met before because he has spent the last five years in Bath for his wife’s illness. She died last year, and he returned to his estate to complete his mourning. He had an acquaintance with Sir William Lucas, and we met at an evening at Lucas Lodge. Mr. Nash is exceptionally amiable, and while he had not spent much time in Hertfordshire in the last ten years, he quickly resumed his friendships in the Meryton area. We met many times for some weeks and eventually, he made me an offer.
Mama is beside herself as his income is nearly equal to Mr. Bingley’s and certainly more than Mr. Collins. I suppose you would say there is some advantage to having Mama further away than the few miles between Longbourn and Netherfield. However, I must tell you that I do believe you misunderstood my feelings. I was not nearly as overwrought as you seem to think. I resorted to the laudanum only to sleep, and due to my long fatigue, I must have taken more than I should have.
Elizabeth ceased reading and gasped. “That is not true at all!”
Darcy captured Elizabeth’s hand in his.
“She had not been sleeping, that is correct. However, she did quite intentionally take too much laudanum. She confessed it to me. She wanted it all to end.”
Elizabeth turned watery eyes on Darcy, and his heart broke for her. Jane’s desire to erase Elizabeth’s memory of an embarrassing moment for her was understandable. He did not think Jane intentionally wounded Elizabeth in her need for self-preservation, but she was injured all the same. He pulled Elizabeth into his arms. “Dearest, I believe you.”
“According to this testimony, I left Longbourn for no reason. Jane was not ill. It was not wrong of our parents to refuse her help. She makes my sacrifices into ridiculous selfishness. I am no better than Kitty and Lydia.”
“Is that what you truly think?”
Elizabeth cried quietly for several minutes on Darcy’s shoulder as he stroked her back. Finally, she lifted her head and met his gaze. “I know the facts. I can see that Jane is putting forth this version to hide her own hurt and she feels ashamed of her actions. She should not, of course. I can also see that Kitty and Lydia left not because they were wicked but as an attempt to salvage their lives somehow. I only wish we knew where Lydia was.”
“We will find her, love. As soon as we marry, we will begin our search.”
“It would require communication with my father. I did not think you would prefer that.”
Darcy frowned. “It is true that I cannot respect the man and certainly cannot understand his actions. However, I wish to find and assist your sister almost as desperately as you do.”
“You truly are the best man,” Elizabeth said with a sad smile.
“You know I am not. I have flaws, and I will not let you forget them. I could not even if I tried. Whatever good you see in my choices in helping Lydia are from knowing you.” Would he ever find the right words to convince her that she made him a better man? “What else does Jane say? Do you feel ready to continue?”
Elizabeth nodded and resumed reading aloud.
We married about a month ago, and Mary resides with us. So, you see, there is no cause to worry for Mary or me or hasten to Longbourn. We, however, fear for you.
Elizabeth blushed and ceased reading.
“What is it?” Darcy asked.
“She cites my former dislike of you. I thought I was profuse enough in my praise in the letter I sent, but perhaps I was not. I will amend that in the reply.”
Her eyes returned to the paper she held and continued to scan. “Mama and Papa were very angry at my departure. You were correct,” she met Darcy’s eyes. “They claimed I was suddenly sent to London. When the Gardiners did not find me at the inn, they returned home rather than arrive in Meryton. They were the ones who came up with the suggestion that I was with them.”
Elizabeth blinked back tears. “They had searched for Lydia and Kitty for so long. I suppose they tired of the Bennets’ follies. Or perhaps they were out of money.”
Darcy wrapped Elizabeth in an embrace. “What are you thinking, love?”
“I am worth less to them somehow. They love me less. If my own flesh and blood can do so…”
“I will silence those thoughts,” he pressed a kiss to her temple, then cheek, and finally her eyelids. “I cannot say why they gave up the search for you. I would leave no stone unturned to find you. You are more precious to me than my own heart.”
Darcy captured Elizabeth’s lips for good measure. Drawing back, he nestled her head against his shoulder and stroked her arm. “What do you wish to do?”
Unexpectedly, she turned her head and pressed a kiss to his jaw. “Can you show me what love is again, Fitzwilliam?”
Darcy pulled her to her feet and scooped her up in his arms.
“Your arm!” she cried as she wrapped her own around his neck.
“It is much recovered, like your ankle.” He laid her on the bed and brought her hand to rest over his heart. “Our injuries mended together as our hearts have. As long as I live, I will love you.”
Elizabeth kissed Darcy with a desperation which inflamed his passions. It was still three days until they reached Scotland and his honour had never been in greater danger. Judging by the pleased smile Elizabeth wore and her restful slumber, she had no complaints at all about the way he showed his love.