My husband is, at last, feeling well enough to return to work! Hooray! Honestly, though, he is seldom sick beyond a day so while it was not a serious illness, it affected him strongly. I am pleased he’s feeling better for selfish and unselfish reasons. 🙂
On the upside for this story, however, is that I’ve accepted the fact that it’s probably going to reach novel length. I typically can guess a general range in how long a story will be based on my plans for it. However, this one has taken me by surprise. I am still hoping to finish writing by the end of the month and get it to the editor in early November. What does this mean to you, the reader? Well, it means more chapters and a slower build to the end.
Now, to see what Darcy does!
For a moment, Darcy remained rooted in place. When he had heard Elizabeth was out walking, he had not guessed it was to think over a marriage proposal from her cousin whom she had only just met. Indeed, he had no idea that Mr. Bennet was so ill. Miss Bennet certainly hid the facts from him and Bingley.
Darcy had only just decided that he wished to court and eventually marry Elizabeth. However, he had hoped they would form a mutual attachment over several weeks. He had never claimed to believe in love being necessary for marriage, but he had always known respect and admiration were vital. He knew, too, that Elizabeth hardly knew him. She had been far opener in their conversations at various places. Even with the relative intimacy which her visit at Netherfield afforded, Darcy had not revealed much about his character. Once they were courting, he would allow that freedom, but not before. Now, she needed an immediate alternative to Mr. Collins and a solution to her anxieties regarding her family. All of Darcy’s plans were of no use. He must act now or lose her forever to the most ridiculous man he had ever met!
Elizabeth had begun her descent and passed by Darcy unaware. He came out from behind the tree he had used to conceal himself.
“Miss Elizabeth!” he hailed. “Forgive me,” he said when she startled at his voice. “I was out riding when I saw you a few minutes ago. You appeared agitated, and I stopped to be sure all was well. As I approached, I overheard your discussion with Miss Lucas and did not feel as though I should interrupt.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow and folded her arms across her chest. “You listened to my conversation with Charlotte?”
Darcy could see she was displeased at his admittance. Was it not better to confess the truth? Would she rather he lie? “I was not attempting to spy on you, but I did linger because I wished to speak with you.”
“You wished to speak with me?” Elizabeth blinked in confusion.
“Yes. You see, Bingley and I have just called at Longbourn. I am grieved to hear the sad news of your father.”
“Thank you,” she said with a sigh. “Yes, we are all quite consumed with grief at the prospect…” her voice began to crack.
Darcy’s heart broke as her eyes welled with tears. Seeing the tears streak down her cheeks and wishing he had the right to comfort her and ease her grief, destroyed any last fragment of reserve in his offer. “Miss Elizabeth, I would speak to you. I believe I have an offer that would solve the dilemma you face.”
“Oh?” Elizabeth glanced up with a hint of hope in her voice, “Do you require a new companion for Miss Darcy?”
“No. I am quite satisfied with Mrs. Annesley. Come, is there a place for us to sit?”
Elizabeth nodded and led him to a grassy area, not too distant from the path. He was beginning to lay his greatcoat down to protect her gown when he noticed her shivers. She had left Longbourn without her outer clothes. She must have been greatly agitated to do so!
“Here, Miss Bennet, you do not have proper outdoor attire. Wear my greatcoat.”
She raised her chin in defiance. “Despite what you must think of me, as it is not the first time I have appeared untidy before you, I do not usually leave the house so heedlessly.”
Darcy smiled at Elizabeth’s reference to her arrival at Netherfield. She had walked on muddy paths to care for her ill sister. Bingley’s sisters were scandalised at her appearance, but Darcy had never admired her more. “I do not mean to criticise. I fully recall my own feelings during the deaths of my parents. You are gracious to be speaking with me.” He held out his coat, and she finally put it on. The image of her small form swallowed in his coat made her more endearing than ever.
“I had forgotten that you lost both your parents at a young age. How old were you?”
“Almost exactly your age when my father passed. I was finishing my studies at Cambridge and managed my duties remotely. Shortly after, our steward, Mr. Wickham, passed as well.” As he said the name of Wickham, he paused and unconsciously flexed and unflexed his hands. “It was a difficult time. I had so many responsibilities; I felt that I was not even allowed to grieve.” That was putting it mildly as his relatives flung debutantes at him and attempted to matchmake for him. He could not take on marriage and the estate at once. However, he now wished to marry and desired a wife of his own choosing.
“It took years to feel confident in my management, and still now I rarely have time for leisure. This time with Bingley and a trip to visit my Aunt in Kent each spring for a fortnight is the most I ever take. Even now, I am to help Bingley decide if Netherfield is the situation he is looking for.” Pausing again, Darcy wondered why he felt the need to unburden himself with that to her, especially at such a time. He would tell her more about his life and wishes later. For now, he should finish answering her question.
Clearing his throat, he added, “Mother died when I was twelve, just after Georgiana was born. I went away for school for the first time, mere weeks after her passing. At the time, I was exceedingly shy and had been very close to my mother. Additionally, my father seemed to withdraw from me after her death. I was too reserved and serious to easily make friends. The other boys were all lively and playful. To tell the truth, not much has changed. I am still uncomfortable with strangers and am still too serious for most.”
“How horrible for you. I had not considered that you were uncomfortable with strangers and had so many reasons to be melancholy. She had gently touched his arm, a look of gentleness and caring in her eyes.
“Miss Bennet, do you realise that you are consoling me about long ago hurts while you are in such a mournful position? You have a truly generous heart!” Pausing, he looked at her intently and gently took her hand in his. “It is this reason as well as your intelligence, your lively wit, playful manners, and perfect loveliness that I find myself captivated by you.”
Darcy searched Elizabeth’s face for a sign of encouragement. Her eyes had widened when he first reached for her hand, and she seemed to be in a state of disbelief as he continued his speech. He supposed that she had felt unworthy of his notice. “It may surprise you to hear that I have decided to end my bachelor’s existence. I determined to do so just before arriving at Netherfield and had planned to devote time in the upcoming season to find a wife. My estate needs heirs, and I wish to end the schemes of my relations once and for all.”
Elizabeth stared blankly at him. Deciding it was best to illustrate just how much he admired her, he brought her knuckle to his lips before continuing his unexpected proposal. “Why should I wait for London when a pleasing alternative is before me? Instead of offering for a titled miss, I find myself needing to be in your presence, to experience your joy for life.”
Once he had begun, he found he did not wish to stop speaking of his feelings. Indeed, they surprised even him, but he meant every word. “I have a very deep affection and regard for you and hold you in an admiration I have never felt for another woman before. Please, be my wife. I am convinced you are the only one who can be the perfect mistress for my home and sister for my dear Georgiana. Let me care for you and your family. Please, be my companion for life.”
Darcy waited with bated breath. He proposed only a marriage of convenience. He admired Elizabeth but would not call it anything more. Still, his heart raced, and he felt the same anticipation one feels before pushing their horse to jump over a fence for the first time. He was part dread, part elation.
Elizabeth threw his hand away and she turned her head. The pain he felt at her rejection was far more than disappointment. His body viscerally reacted as much as if she had struck him. Why should she refuse him? He had much to offer and she had nothing that could add to his material comfort!
“You refuse me, madam?” His voice was cold, and he was glad to hear it. If she perceived the unaccountable torment he now felt, his shame would be complete.
“Yes!” She said vehemently and turned her face to him. Her face was red with fury. Then, all colour drained. She dropped her eyes. “No.”
“I do not understand your meaning.” Darcy hated the traitorous skip of his heart when she intimated her acceptance. If she refused him, he could find one hundred women to take her place. Why should he thrill at the thought of her reluctant acceptance?
Elizabeth took a deep breath and then met Darcy’s eyes. Her face looked as passive as stone. “I wish to reject you, but I cannot. I accept your offer with many thanks.”
“And do you suppose I would want you this way? What man wishes for an unwilling bride?”
“I understand a man with as much pride as you would feel the blow of my hesitance. However, it would be dishonourable for you to rescind your offer despite the honesty of my feelings. I trust you have too much pride in your name for that. Whatever wound to your ego I have supplied, will soon be soothed. After all, you have only offered a marriage of the merest convenience, and you do have my gratitude.”
Her gratitude! He had never wanted that! “I did offer a marriage out of necessity for both of us. That does not mean that I proposed a marriage of separate lives. I will not tolerate a wife who takes lovers.”
The loud crack against his cheek rang in Darcy’s ears only a second before the sting overspread it. He had never seen her hand move. Still, it was nothing to the reaction he had to her initial rejection.
“How dare you? I may be lower than you, but I am a gentlewoman and a Christian. I know what a woman’s lot is when she marries—even if it is not for love. What do you promise me? Do you think I care at all for your riches and carriages?”
“I offer accommodation for your family!”
“And the price of fidelity is too much? Perhaps if my dowry were more, I would be worth it.”
“Hold your tongue, madam. I do not take kindly to insults thrown at me. I do not mean to take a wife and then forsake her. You were the one who clearly abhorred the notion of marriage to me. What should I assume, but that you would take the first opportunity to find comfort in another’s arms?” His own arms itched to swoop her to him and kiss away any arguments she had.
“I will not be made a fool of, Mr. Darcy. Marriage to me will mean a financial loss and loss of esteem in the eyes of your family and friends. You may need a wife and believe I am a convenient choice, but you will regret it. I could not take the whispers and insinuations in such a situation—” she paused to wipe a tear away from her eye “—knowing as I do, that I choose this for my family’s sake and will have lost my dearest father and have a husband with no affection for me. I will not have the gossips say that I first entrapped you, and then you tired of me.” More tears streaked down her cheeks.
The desire to prove his intention of faithfulness nearly overwhelmed Darcy. He hungered to taste Elizabeth’s lips like a starved man craved bread. He needed her in his arms more than he needed his next breath. He shoved a shaky hand in his pocket, determined to overcome his instincts. Withdrawing his handkerchief, he pushed it into her hand. He longed to cup her face in his hands, to remove his gloves and feel her skin against his. He would kiss away each tear and murmur love and faithfulness into her ears.
“I have angered you,” Elizabeth’s voice was a welcome interruption to his secret thoughts.
He had at first been angry at her assumption, but as she began to cry and explained her own insecurity, he felt nothing but forgiveness. If his face appeared upset to her now, it was terror at the direction of his own passions.
“No. You honour me with your honesty.” She did not meet his eyes, fear, and sorrow replacing her earlier boldness. He tilted her face up with his thumb on her chin. For a moment, he was caught in her gaze, nearly drowning in her brown depths. “I do not believe I will ever tire of you.”
Elizabeth’s right brow lifted for half a second, and a ghost of a smile formed on her lips. “I am certain most couples believe that when they marry—even if only for convenience. Few people must be stupid enough to wed a person they know will plague them all of their days.”
Darcy stepped closer still. “I know I will never tire of you. I have enjoyed our debates and your witty rejoinders. Your intelligence and eye for observation will make you a worthy companion.”
Her lashes lowered. “I know that is not all men require in their wives. You would need an heir, and I know you do not think of me in that way.”
“Is that what holds you back? You doubt my admiration of your person?” To Darcy’s delight, Elizabeth blushed. Now, he could resist temptation no more. His hand cupped one rosy cheek, then the other. She allowed him to angle her head just right before. Then, before either of them had a moment to withdraw, his lips met hers.
A deep hunger was awoken in Darcy. Instantly, he knew she had never been kissed before. She stilled against him, but when he only increased the pressure, she finally puckered her lips, the lush softness inviting him to teach her more. Pulling back, just enough to see the approval on her face, he kissed her again. He continued with small pecks until he felt her lean forward first, wanting another. The next time their lips touched, he held firm against hers, one hand trailing down her neck. Hearing her sigh, he trailed kisses across her cheek before reaching her ear.
“Never doubt my passion for you again, my dearest,” he whispered into her ear. “I desire you very much and have so much more I want to show you.”
Elizabeth tilted her head to see him, her body fairly humming to him and tempting him far more than she could realize. “There is more to kissing?”
“So much more.” Against every instinct in his body, he stepped away from her. He only wanted her to know that he had no qualms about the happiness of their marriage bed. He did not wish to seduce her.
Now that he was at a safe distance from pulling her into his arms and teaching her the joys of intimacy, Darcy realised the flaw in his reckless plan. If she agreed to marry him now, it would be due to a passion-induced haze and one she would likely regret. In the few minutes of their discussion this morning, Elizabeth had been through a gamut of emotions. It was too much to expect her to put aside everything and think clearly.
Darcy stared at Elizabeth, unsure of what to say or do next. She stared back. Finally, after several minutes of silence, she nodded her head. “Well, I suppose that answers my doubts.”
She began to walk off and Darcy’s heart sank. He told himself to give her a few days’ time. She had not refused again, so there was hope. After the kiss they shared, he wished more than ever to make Elizabeth his wife.
“Are you coming, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth called as she walked down the hill. “I think we ought to talk to my father right away.”
Darcy could not stop the grin which split his face. Immediately turning, he quickly caught up with her. “I think you had better call me William now.”
Elizabeth merely nodded, but Darcy detected a slight blush on her cheeks. It deepened when he wrapped her arm around his.