Can you believe this story is *finally* coming to a close? I’m working on edits and this story will be out in a few weeks. Thanks so much for reading and I’d love to hear your final thoughts.
Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen / Chapter Fifteen / Chapter Sixteen / Chapter Seventeen
“I hope she is not still awake,” Elizabeth murmured to her husband as their carriage left the Society ball of the season.
“Do you suppose Nanny McRae will suddenly have some control over your headstrong daughter?”
Elizabeth chuckled. “No. Perhaps if we have Lydia tell Grace how boring the balls are, she will change her mind about wanting to stay up late.”
“Lydia would have to lie to tell Grace that.”
“If only I knew a man that hated balls and socializing. He could tell Grace how horrible it is to be on display and make nice with acquaintances for an entire evening.” Elizabeth’s smiled at her tease.
“You have found out my weak spot, my love. You know that I am incapable of disappointing her.”
“I will not complain as it happens that by wrapping you around her little finger, it means you are a much more docile dance partner.”
“Well, I do promise to tell her how her Mama looks as beautiful as a princess when she dances.”
“Really? Your expression did not seem to say that I was in good looks tonight.” Elizabeth hid a smile.
“You were absolutely radiant tonight and entirely in too much demand. I cannot be expected to look on with happiness when you are dancing with other men.”
“It is a wonder your look of displeasure does not scare them all away!”
“It certainly scares off the ones that I mean to.”
“Ah, and now I know why all my partners are greying!”
“I believe you have said you adore the grey streaks in my curls.” Darcy stiffened as though affronted.
“I adore everything about you, darling.” She stroked his cheek reassuringly. “I do not mind your protective streak. I would rather not be approached by rakes and profligates. I only wish my scowl was as good as yours, and perhaps Mrs. Redding would leave you be.”
Darcy scrubbed a hand over his face. “Do not remind me of that woman. How did I ever think that when Caroline Bingley married, it would be the end of her chasing me?”
“She must think now that she has issued an heir and the spare you are fair game once more.” Elizabeth frowned.
Caroline Bingley Redding was rumoured to have taken several lovers in the last year or two. It was a practice well-accepted in the ton but always made Elizabeth despise the hypocrisy. Her first Season in London was abbreviated due to the recent birth of her first-born child. There had been scandal and gossip, and, at first, they were not welcome in the first circles—however, each year since they had received more and more invitations. Now, nearly six years after they wed, Society had seemed to have forgotten the scandalous beginning of their marriage.
“I will never be fair game to anyone but you.”
“They are at it again, Georgie,” Lydia said from across the carriage.
Although it was too dark to see, Elizabeth knew her youngest sister had rolled her eyes. Georgiana giggled in return.
Georgiana had been in no hurry to come out and spend time in London. She would have resisted it entirely if not to support Lydia. In the past five years, the Darcys had chaperoned Mary and Kitty in London for a few weeks and hosted them at Pemberley during house parties. Mary had married a small estate owner two years after Darcy and Elizabeth wed. Kitty married a friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s the year before. Major Dunmore had a small inheritance in addition to his commission. At twenty-two, Lydia was just now seeming mature enough to marry, although no one had caught her eye yet. Elizabeth suspected that Georgiana had a tendre for their neighbour, the heir to an estate a fraction the size of Pemberley. However, Darcy had promised to approve whoever his sister loved so long as he was a moral man and could provide for her.
The carriage pulled to a stop before Darcy’s Mayfair home, and a light shone in the nursery window. Elizabeth let out a sigh even as her heart squeezed. The truth was, as much as she wished her daughter would go to sleep without her on the nights they spent out of the house, she relished the cuddles. Indeed, that was why Darcy and Elizabeth always brought the children with them to Town.
After bidding Lydia and Georgiana good night, Darcy and Elizabeth climbed the stairs to the nursery. Grace always enjoyed seeing them in their formal attire, so they did not change first. Opening the door to the night nursery, they saw their three-year-old son, Thomas, sleeping peacefully. Next, they entered the day nursery, where the long-suffering nanny was doing her best to occupy Grace.
“Mama! Papa!” Grace cried when she heard the door close. She ran to them and tried to hug them both at the same time, her short arms barely wrapping around their legs.
“You are still awake,” Darcy said, after dismissing the nanny.
“I told you I would be,” Grace declared proudly. “I am a big girl, and I can stay up late!”
“You should be asleep,” her father answered sternly. “Do you remember the treat you were promised tomorrow if you went to sleep on time?”
“Oh,” Grace said. “Please, may I still have a treat?” She looked up at her father with perfectly innocent blue eyes. When he did not immediately capitulate, she turned them on her mother.
Elizabeth had to turn her head to hide a smile. “No, you may not. It will be a reward when you go to sleep on time.”
“I can’t help it!” Grace pouted. “I can’t go to sleep without you.”
Her words tugged on Elizabeth’s heart. “We could put you to sleep before we leave.”
“No! Then I would miss hearing about all the dances and the pretty ladies!”
This time, Elizabeth did not manage to hide her smile. “Ah, so you stay up so can hear about the ball?”
Grace furrowed her brow and bit her lips, not meeting either of her parents’ eyes. “Maybe…”
“What if we make a special time in the morning after the balls where we can tell you all about it.”
“And can we pretend to have our own ball?”
“Would you like that?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes! I want to dance with Papa!”
Darcy bent on one knee to meet his daughter’s eyes. “Miss Darcy, may I have the honour of a dance with you after breakfast tomorrow?”
Grace giggled. “Yes!” She looked at Elizabeth and bent on a wobbly curtsy. “Is this right?”
“Very good! Now, sit on Papa’s lap, and I will tell you about a different ball tonight.”
The family moved to a small settee, and Grace curled up on her father’s lap. She leaned her curly head against Darcy’s sturdy chest, the sight stealing Elizabeth’s breath for a moment.
“Once upon a time,” Elizabeth began, “there was a young man who did not enjoy dancing. However, his very best friend did–”
“I know this one!” Grace cried. “This is the story about how you and Papa met, and the best friend is Uncle Bingley!”
“You are correct,” Darcy said.
“Why did you not dance with Mama?” Grace asked her father.
Darcy answered as he always did. “Sometimes, people make mistakes. I should have danced with her, but I cannot say that I am sorry that I did not. How does Mama always end this story?”
“Everything turned out just as it should have, and they lived happily ever after,” she answered.
“Exactly,” Darcy and Elizabeth said in unison.
Grace settled down, allowing Elizabeth to continue telling how she and Darcy met and later fell in love. Reaching the end of the story, Grace was just awake enough to murmur the final words with her mother. Then, her father carried her to her bed and tucked her in with several dolls.
Later, after changing, Elizabeth and Darcy climbed into their large bed.
“I know Grace is at a very precocious age, and Thomas requires so much energy, but what do you think about another brother or sister for them?” Darcy asked.
“Oh, the nannies and the maids would be at their wits end!” Elizabeth laughed.
“Then we will give them a raise and hire more. Our children are five times as lovely as all the little Bingleys.”
“Just because we have exceptionally beautiful children is not a reason to have another.” Elizabeth laughed with the scold. It was true their children were uncommonly handsome, even Lady Catherine had agreed.
“Jane and Charles already have four.”
“And another on the way,” Elizabeth said.
“Really? Then we are quite behind.”
“It is not a competition, Fitzwilliam,” she said with mock sternness. “Are not your current children and I enough?”
“What did you tell Grace when you were expecting Thomas? That the heart grows to fit all the love in it? We have very big hearts, Elizabeth.” He kissed below her ear.
“No man has as much capacity to love as you do,” Elizabeth said. “I did not always know it, but I know it so very well now.”
“Do you doubt your abilities as a mother?”
“No,” Elizabeth shook her head.
Darcy gave her a searching look, and she slipped lower on the bed.
“I have a secret,” she said just before pulling Darcy in for a kiss. When they broke the kiss, she touched their foreheads together and whispered, “I am already expecting an arrival. Maybe this one will come before Christmas rather than after.”
She could feel Darcy grin. “Are you really?”
“Yes,” she giggled. “I am surprised you did not already guess it was so. You knew right away with Thomas.”
Immediately, Darcy placed his head on her belly, Elizabeth’s hand landed on his hair.
“How does this feeling of giddiness not go away? You would think I would be used to hearing that I am a father by now.”
“I do not know,” Elizabeth said. “I feel the same way. A new child to love and to watch grow. It’s a miracle and a gift.”
“I love you,” Darcy pressed a kiss to Elizabeth’s belly before returning to her mouth. “And I love you.”
Elizabeth sighed happily in her husband’s arms. “I really do believe what I tell Grace. Everything has worked out just exactly as it should.”
“And we will live happily ever after,” Darcy promised.
And they did.