Tempting Scandal– Chapter Four

Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 2.1 / 2.2 / 3

Chapter Four


Sylvia sighed as she watched the Duke of Russell and other gentlemen leave. Clara did not usually sequester the ladies away from the men when they wanted to talk about business or politics, but there was a greater diversity than usual at this house party. Sylvia’s close friend, Penelope, was occupied speaking to someone else, so she approached Lady Hannah.

“I am surprised to see you, Sylvia,” the lady said after the usual greetings.

“Surely I am not such a stranger to these gatherings.”

“Indeed, you are!” Lady Hannah cried. “Cecilia just said it has been years since she has seen you.”

“I have been busy with the estate,” Sylvia shrugged.

“With your brother’s estate.”

“Are you going to scold me for not being ladylike enough? I do not recall any of our lessons about proper decorum mentioning ladies who wrote novels.”

“Shh,” Hannah said after she stole a look around. “I do not go around announcing that you keep your brother’s books and make all the decisions.”

“Forgive me. I did not mean to expose your secret. Although,” she also looked around the room, “I believe most of the occupants know of your pursuit.”

“You never know who may be listening,” Hannah shrugged. “Or so all the other novels proclaim. If it is so prevalent in fiction, it must be true at some point in reality.”

Sylvia was uncertain she agreed. “As it happens,” she leaned closer as she changed the subject, “I need your assistance. I desire to wed but scare every suitor off. Teach me your ways of pretending to be the docile, empty-headed female.”

Hannah looked at her askance. “I would not act that way with a suitor. It would be awful form for a man to think he was getting a certain type of lady only to realize after the wedding that he did not.”

“That is the beauty of my plan,” Sylvia said. “I shall pick one too stupid to notice the difference.”

“Then why pretend at all?”

“Well, I would not expose it overnight,” Sylvia said. “I need a husband who is not looking for a love match or desires a certain standard of fashion from his wife. He could not be the sort that was always hosting the greatest fetes.”

“How am I to know if they are searching for love or convenience?”

Sylvia laughed. “I did not ask you, my dear. For that, I shall rely upon Clara. Although, if you did not know, the Duke of Gordon most assuredly is not looking for a love match.”

“I could not care less if he were!” Hannah sighed. “He is so stiff and formal. There is no animation about him. I think if he ever found himself in love, he would be so angry with himself he would probably leap from the nearest cliff.”

“Hannah,” Sylvia said seriously, “not everyone is as nonsensical as the heroes in your books. Somehow, I think he would learn to live with the disappointment.”

“I am sure you are correct,” Hannah pouted. “However, it is far more fun to indulge my imagination. Now, the trick to making everyone believe you are the perfect female is to never give your own opinion.”

“Oh, that might be impossible.”

“Bite your tongue if you have to. The added perk to this is that it will be too sore to eat much and then you will have a very fashionable appetite while looking slimmer.”

“Surely it is not worth that!” Sylvia loved eating! She believed in hearty meals to support her work with the tenants.

“How badly do you want this? You did not tell me what has turned your mind toward matrimony.”

“Owen,” Sylvia dropped her voice. “He means to marry, and I will be in the way.”

“He would not think that! He is the kindest of brothers.”

“I would feel in the way. I hate to be of no use. This is the better route.”

“You do not think he would marry a lady who would accept his sister?”

“Not if she is the one who he has selected.”

“He already fancies a lady! Who is she?”

“I shall divulge nothing. Those are his private affairs. Please believe me, living with her would be intolerable and my present reputation will likely hinder his suit.”

Hannah began to nod. “You need a transformation.”


“Meet me before dinner, and I shall have a list drawn up.” She glanced at her friend. “On second thought, I will come to you. The first priority will be your attire and hair. Followed by walking and way of talking.”

Hannah soon scurried off to attend to her list-making, leaving Sylvia alone with her thoughts once more. Eventually, she mingled with some of the other guests before retiring to her chamber to dress for dinner. Hannah met her outside.

“Where have you been?” She tapped her foot. “I have been waiting for you for nearly half an hour! How shall we get you ready in such a short time?”

“One hour is far more than I have ever spent on my toilette before—”

“Before you were hoping to ensnare a gentleman.” Hannah pushed Sylvia into her room and settled her into the chair at the dressing table. She unpinned Sylvia’s blonde hair. “Your hair is like your crowning beauty. You should display it to more advantage.”

“It is just hair,” Sylvia shrugged.

“Stay right here,” Hannah insisted. “I am calling in reinforcements.”

“You make it sound like a battle.”

“Oh, it is. It is!”

Hannah scurried off and pulled the cord. A servant promptly arrived, and they whispered for a moment before Hannah returned. She brushed through Sylvia’s tangles with gusto while humming a happy tune. Sylvia attempted to hold her head still as bidden. A knock sounded at the door just as Sylvia’s maid came through the servant’s entrance.

“Who could that be?” Sylvia asked nervously.

“I asked Penelope to assist as soon as she could.”

Letting out a sigh, Sylvia relaxed in the care of her friends. Under so many helpful hands her hair was soon managed and styled in a way which complimented her square looking face. The sharp angles of her cheekbones no longer seemed so severe. Her hair was gathered in loose curls at the crown of her head, giving height, then several long tendrils fell on either side of her cheeks ending at various lengths. Sylvia felt she had never looked so beautiful.

“Now, what are you wearing?” Penelope asked, then gasped when Sylvia pointed at a dress hanging up. “Oh, absolutely not. It is all wrong for you.”

Sylvia’s friends nodded at one another and then her maid who stepped forward with a blue petticoat with a thin white gown of delicate muslin and lace created an overlay. Next, a long white satin bodice in the tunic style with sleeves nearly off her shoulder completed the ensemble. Hannah produced a string of pearls to wear with her usual coral as well as new pearl eardrops.

“Should she add a bracelet?” Penelope asked.

“No, allow her arms to be free of ornament besides her gloves,” Hannah said. “They are one of her best features.”

Sylvia took in the completed look. The high waist dipped in and gave the illusion of more shape than she generally had. She felt nearly naked with so much of her chest and arms bared. The satin tunic laying over the thinner petticoats made them cling to her legs, drawing the outline of them when she moved. It was not indecent, of course. However, for the first time in her life, she looked alluring. At the same time, it was all her. She hated feeling constricted or overly decorated. There was no embroidery, belts, or long sleeves. She could move nearly as freely as she would in one of her brother’s old breeches and shirtsleeves which she favored when doing dirty work around the estate.

Blinking, she realised the real difference she saw in the mirror. She wore it all with confidence. She was not attempting to be someone else. She was not copying a model from a fashion magazine or the advice of a modiste wishing for a massive bill.

“You will dazzle them tonight!” Penelope exclaimed.

“I have amazed myself!” Sylvia laughed.

“Do you truly like it?” Hannah asked? “I had three maids working on that tunic for the last two hours!”

“How did you know my measurements? It fits perfectly!”

“Your maid, of course,” Hannah remarked with a nod to the servant.

Sylvia expressed her thanks to each of the ladies. “I have never felt so comfortable and entirely me since my come out!” She tilted her head in thought before a rueful grin emerged. “To think that all I had to do was decide to be someone I am not!”

“Oh, my dear,” Penelope soothed. “All the gentlemen will fall immediately in love with you. They will not care if you are not the shallow debutantes they have always courted.”

“I would say that I would wish to be loved for my mind, but I suppose that is the opposite of my intent as well.”

“Are you certain you wish to do this?” Penelope asked. “Hannah told me your plan. Surely Owen would make a place for you.”

Sylvia sighed. “I am sure.”

“But to marry someone you do not love—”

“I do not require anyone but myself to form my happiness. I will be able to care for our tenants, and that will be enough for me.”

“What about your promise?”

“Our promise,” Sylvia corrected her friend. “What did we know about the world? We were silly girls then. Clara probably hated our stupidity. I have seen the world since leaving school. My head is no longer full of dreams. Now, enough. My nerves cannot stand waiting any longer. Let us go downstairs.”

Penelope gave Sylvia a long look but said nothing else. The friends walked arm in arm to the drawing room. They were among the first to arrive, and Clara came directly to them. She greeted each with a gentle embrace and a kiss to the cheek.

“My dears, I apologize for not spending more time with you today. How was your journey, Sylvia? You look stunning!”

“Thank you,” Sylvia blushed. “Hannah and Penelope assisted me this afternoon. Our journey was as enjoyable as ever; which is to say not very.”

Clara laughed. “You always preferred walking or riding.

Sylvia dipped her head in acknowledgment. If she had been a man, then it would be acceptable for her to ride the distance from Ashwood to the Clifford estate.

“Penelope, do you mind if I steal Sylvia away for a few minutes?”

“Not at all,” the young lady answered. “I see Lord Blithfield is looking at me as to say he has found something to criticize about me so I should allow him to vent his spleen.” Penelope laughed. “My sister would wish me to keep him company. I am certain I will see you both later.”

Penelope left them, and Clara looped her arm through Sylvia’s as she led her to a more secluded area of the drawing room. “This is a new look for you. You look sensational, but how do you feel about it?”

Sylvia squared her shoulders. “I never knew I could look so lovely. I had brought the most fashionable gowns I owned and intended to dress well. Hannah and Penelope’s assistance suits me very well. I had hoped to impress this evening.”

“Indeed you have!” Clara’s eyes covertly scanned the room. “I will tell you that I saw several gentlemen take note of you when you entered.”

“Oh, I am sure they were only admiring Penelope.”

“Their eyes are on you now, and she has left your side.”

“Then it is your beauty which attracts them.”

“Sylvia, you flatter me, but you know it is not true. I am a dozen years older than you. My dear Stephen finds me beautiful, which is all I need, but I know no other young men look at me. Why would they? An old married lady and a mother?” She shook her head, tossing shiny curls to and fro.

Sylvia laughed to herself. Her friend had eyes only for her husband, and he for her, but many gentlemen did appreciate Clara’s gentle beauty. She just could not conceive of men hoping in vain she would be untrue to her husband.

“Now,” Clara whispered furtively as she tilted her head closer. “Tell me who you fancy, and we shall make a match. I have waited years for this!”

“Who says I am interested in finding a husband?”

“Your hair and gown say it as well as your presence at my house party. Come, you know what you are about. What do you require?”

Sylvia demurely covered her chuckle with a gloved hand. She usually preferred to laugh freely and openly, but it would not suit the persona she wanted to erect.

“See!” Clara hissed. “The usual Sylvia would not hide her laughter. Beware, my dear. Do not alter yourself to find a suitor.”

“I thought you had advice on who I could match with?” Sylvia said, impatient to avoid more advice on her tactics.

“If you are interested in continuing certain pursuits,” Clara said with a meaningful look and raised brows, “then I would suggest Lord Brandon. He is more interested in politics in Parliament and situating himself in a high cabinet position than in anything related to his estate. It is rumored he would like to be Prime Minister one day.”

Sylvia frowned. “I do not know that I would enjoy such a public life.”

“No one says a wife must be as interested in politics as her husband. It is perfectly acceptable for her to prefer a private and country life. It will be said you have a frail constitution and conversation will immediately turn to something more salacious.”

Sylvia considered her friend’s words. As a duchess, she would certainly know the London circle far better than Sylvia. “What is he like?”

“Stephen says he can have a hard edge to him. He is ambitious and wants to meet his goals. He has little patience for things which interfere. It reminded me of you and all your lists. As he is so driven, he often does not others around him. I have inquired in his household, though. He is a fair and just master who pays well. His servants respect him. I invited him entirely for you.”

Sylvia looked over Clara’s shoulder again at the gentleman in question and nearly jumped when she saw that he approached.

“Pardon me, Duchess, could you introduce me to your friend?”

Sylvia’s mouth dried and her heart hammered during the subsequent introduction. “I am pleased to meet with you,” she said with a graceful curtsy.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Lord Brandon said as he brought Sylvia’s knuckles to his lips.

Butterflies filled her stomach at his actions. His brown eyes met hers over her gloved hand, and blood rushed in her veins. For the next few minutes, the three fell into easy conversation about Essex and London. Clara slowly extracted herself from the discussion.

“I believe you recently accompanied the Duchess on a visit to the British Museum.”

“Indeed,” Sylvia smiled. “It is a favorite of mine, although I do not visit as often as I would like. It seems there are so many things to do in town and our visits are never for very long.”

“Do you prefer the country to town then? I believe I heard your estate is in ___?”

“It is, and I do prefer the country. I enjoy my visits to town but would not wish to spend the entire season there.”

“That would explain why I have not seen you before.”

Swallowing her pride, Sylvia smiled demurely. Were all men so fickle and shallow? She did not need to love or respect her husband, she reminded herself. “How about yourself? Do you prefer London or the country?”

“I do not know a man of action who does not prefer town. There is no shortage of activity to entertain. I am very active in Parliament—of course, you may not have heard since you are a lady. However, your brother has surely heard of me.”

“Would you tell me about it?” Lord Brandon frowned, and Sylvia hastened to add, “I would much prefer to hear it from you than my brother.”

Dinner was called just then. Brandon extended an arm. “I would be most pleased to educate you if you would be my dinner partner.”

“I would enjoy nothing more,” she said with fluttering lashes. If it were not so effortless to impress the man, Sylvia would take some enjoyment from her ability to enthrall him.

In the dining room, she listened as Brandon droned on and on about his seat in Parliament. He would soon be appointed to an important Cabinet position, he was sure. He took the responsibilities very seriously, he said. However, from all Sylvia heard him say, he only wished to be praised and have his name revered before men. He had no sincere opinions on any of the weighty subjects discussed in session—although she did not venture to ask more than twice given his apparent displeasure. He could just as easily be a Whig as he was a Tory. It only mattered to him as to who held the most power.

Fortunately for Sylvia, he asked next to nothing about her. All she had to do was smile and nod to please him. Something concerned her as the evening wore on. Surely any number of ladies would be willing to do the same as her for a title and money. What was it about her that captured his attention? Was it all a new gown? Perhaps he had not had a mind to marry until recently. She determined to inquire.

“I have often heard it said,” with a glance at her brother to disguise the intentions of her words, “that a gentleman might spend more time at his estate after he weds.”

“I suppose that depends on the man,” he answered, then followed her eyes. “Your brother is quite young. I would doubt he has any serious intention to marry. I have only just turned my mind to it, and I have several years on him.”

“You have mentioned preferring many activities while in town, but you have also said you are very devoted to your work in Parliament. Is this your first house party of the Season?”

“Indeed,” he nodded. “I have had many offers, of course, but could not justify the time. However, the Cliffords are close to town, and I can be reached in hours should an important vote be called.” He paused and looked intently at Sylvia. “Clifford assured me there was a very particular reason why I should attend. His wife seems to be something of a notorious matchmaker. I confess, I doubted the reports of her skill until I met you.”

Sylvia did not need to affect the blush which overspread her features. She reached for her wine to offer her something to do rather than reply.

Brandon leaned his head toward hers and said in a whisper. “Some might call me forward, but I have never sat back and waited when I saw something I wanted. I intend to court you during this party with the hope of speaking with your brother before we leave.”

Sylvia had been mid-sip during his words, and they shocked her they threw her into a coughing fit. She drew the attention of the entire table and in the end could only be thankful that she had not spewed her wine all over the place. When she finally recovered from the unladylike incident, Brandon smiled at her.

“Never fear, I will not hold that display against you, my dear. It is only natural, after all, to be in such surprise and awe that a man like me would approach you. Your modesty only makes you more attractive.”

Sylvia attempted to smile and remained silent as the meal finished. As the ladies separated from the gentlemen, she felt as though a pair of eyes followed her. Glancing around, she was unsurprised to see Lord Brandon’s leer. However, for a fleeting moment, her eyes connected with the Duke of Russell’s. Why should he be watching her?

Writing Prompt Wednesday

I’m going to try a new theme on my blog. Wacky Wednesday is hard to keep up with so I’m swapping it for Writing Prompt Wednesday. It’s not really a thing. It just is in my head. 

I took a creative writing class in college. We were sometimes given newspaper headings and told to write a story. No pressure or anything. Geez! It was hard! However, I hadn’t really written before then. I just thought I might some day kind of sort of like to try it. 

Now, a lot of my stories start off with prompts. I have a list of prompts I came up with and will look at it when I need to start a new story. It will (hopefully) trigger a flood of ideas. 

I also like to write flash fiction when I’m practicing new things. It seems less intimidating in a way because it’s shorter. It still hones the craft because you have to be very precise with your word choice and what you are putting into the story. If you have a bloated manuscript, I suggest trying some flash fiction. Take one element, focus on that for 500 words. Repeat doing that until you feel confident with it. Then go back to your manuscript and be merciless. 

I found this prompt from Pinterest. I’ll probably keep going there for other inspiration rather than using my long story list. My goal with these is to write flash fiction of Regency Romance so maybe not every character will start in my head as Darcy and Elizabeth. I’m trying to retrain my brain!

Here goes nothing!

Octavia attempted to blend into the mass of passersby on the busy London street. If she were bolting down it, then it would appear unusual and her father would more easily find her. She would not be another woman that he sacrificed on his quest for wealth and status.

As the eighth daughter, there had been seven others before her, and then her mother paid the biggest price of all. However, with any luck, Octavia would not be another casualty of his schemes. She had slipped out the door during a shopping trip to the milliner. The busy Cheapside area provided the perfect area for her to disappear.

With heart pounding, she ducked out while someone else had opened the door so there would not be an extra ring of the bell. Octavia had no further plan than to escape her father. 

A gentleman was just emerging from a hack and she ran over to it. “Stop him! I will take your carriage.”

The young man obliged but his shock was obvious on his face. He glanced around her, undoubtedly looking for an escort. “Are you riding alone?”

“Yes, and I have not a moment to lose.” She climbed inside.

“What is your destination, madam?” He climbed in as well.

“As far as six pence can take me. Pardon me, I thought you had completed your journey.”

He frowned at her words. “That will not carry you very far.”

“It is all I have. Might I ride with you as far as you deem that a fair exchange?”

The gentleman looked at her for a moment before leaving the carriage and speaking with the driver. Octavia feared he was telling the driver to remove her, but just as quickly as he left, he returned. He sat across from her and then beat his walking stick on the ceiling of the coach to signal the driver. 

At first, they remained silent as the carriage jostled them over the cobbled streets of London. Eventually, they seemed to be leaving the city behind. 

“Where are we going?” Octavia asked the stranger. He had said nothing but had not ceased to stare at her. 

He flushed. “You said you needed to leave London but had no destination. We can change carriages and continue North all night if need be. In fact, I can convey you all the way to Scotland.”

Octavia felt her eyes widen and she gulped. “Scotland!”

“Only if you wish it,” he rushed to say. “I could find you employment or assist you in other ways much easier once we reach there.”

“Why were you in London? Why would you turn and leave just as quickly as you came?” She ought to view the man with skepticism, but the fluttering in her heart had not ceased since meeting him. 

“I am returning to Scotland because I cannot bear to finish the task laid before me and the reason I came to London.”

“May I know your name, at least?”

“Cripsin Harrington,” he reached for Octavia’s hand and bent forward as though in a bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”

“Octavia Lamb.” She smiled as he bowed once more. “Why are you helping, Mr. Harrington?”

“Call me Crispin.” 

Octavia nodded her acquiescence. “Very well, Crispin. You may call me Octavia. Why are you helping me?”

He looked at her for a long moment before replying. “Do you want the truth?”

“I think that is generally preferable,” she smiled to encourage him. Something about him was utterly endearing. 

“A gentleman always wishes to help a damsel in distress. It is most curious because I have lived a very orderly life and have never done something so spontaneous before. There was something about you, the moment I saw you…”

Taking a shaky breath, Octavia nodded. She had felt it too. There were any number of hacks she could have hired or people she could have approached and yet, she went directly to him.  “Thank you for helping me,” she murmured.

“Thank you for trusting me,” Crispin said and squeezed the hand he still held. “I have a book with me. Would you care for me to read aloud?”

Octavia agreed and enjoyed hearing his baritone voice. As he read, she could not keep from stealing glances at him. She had never been so attracted to a gentleman before. After a period of time, she took a turn. Soon, it grew too dark to read. They changed carriages and horses several times and although he suggested she sleep, they talked until late in the night. Finally, she could not help yawning. 

“Rest,” he urged. 

She murmured a good night and attempted to find a comfortable way to lean her head against the carriage wall. Nothing seemed to suit. Additionally, the darkness had brought a chill. She pulled her pelisse closer but could not warm. Attempting to hide her shivering was no use.

“You are too cold,” Crispin said. 

“I will manage.” Octavia gave him a weak smile. If it were not for him, who knew where she would be spending the night. She probably would be far colder.

“Nonsense,” he said before slipping to her bench. 

He immediately radiated warmth and Octavia practically sighed at his presence. 

“Here…” he wrapped an arm around her and brought her head to his shoulder. “I will keep you warm. Rest now.”

It made no sense to Octavia at all, but she was sure Crispin Harrington would hold her heart forever after that moment. She had nearly lost all faith in humans to be so selfless and caring. How did she have the fortune to stumble upon such a good man?

When she awoke with the early dawn, he was smiling down at her. “I am glad you managed to sleep.” 

“You are a very comfortable pillow.”

“Are you warm enough?”

“Yes,” Octavia said as she attempted to raise her head from his shoudldr. 

Crispin nudged it back down. “You do not need to sit up for my sake. I quite like this position.”

Octavia blushed but could not deny her mutual feeling. “Did you sleep at all?”

“A little,” he half-shrugged. “I confess I was mesmerized watching you. You looked so beautiful and peaceful. It was as though I had an angel in my arms.” He lowered his face to hers.

“Crispin…” she whispered. After sleeping on his shoulder all night, it did not seem strange at all that she should wish for his kiss more than she wished for her next breath. 

When his lips met hers, Octavia knew there was no turning back. She would follow him to his estate in Scotland or to the ends of the Earth. By the time they arrived at Crispin’s estate beyond Gretna Green, they were blissfully in love and married. 

“Welcome home, Lady Grantley,” he whispered as he scooped her into his arms and carried her over the threshold.

Octavia had marveled at the new title when her husband had told her that he was actually an heir to an earldom. The estate he went to was inherited from his mother’s side and could not be revoked by his father–who would be angry as he had not married a stranger to settle a gambling debt of his. 

“Did you even know her name?” she had asked, as he held her tightly the morning after their wedding night.

“No, I never desired to know. I was determined to do my duty and have a cold, loveless union as my parents had. Knowing her name was unnecessary. However, the instant I saw you, I knew I could not do it. You looked alone in the world and I wanted to make you mine.”

“How curious. I was in the same position. My father wished for me to marry a Lord Grantley without ever seeing him or knowing anything about him. He had done similar things with all my sisters.”

Crispin gaped at her. “Darling, are you sure that was the name he said?”

“Yes,” she shuddered. “I heard it in my nightmares for weeks. I would not be bought and sold like a horse. I fled without a plan, but the moment I approached you I knew I could trust you.”

“Love, I do not know how to tell you this but…but, I am Lord Grantley.”

“We were on our way to each other even then?” she asked.

“I suppose so, but I do not think that would have suited us well. Would you have been predisposed to like me if you had forced to marry me?”

“Certainly not!”

“And I was not expecting to ever love the bride my father had selected.” He kissed her. “Do you know that I was so dumbstruck by your beauty and the feelings in my heart that I could not speak to you the first hour?”

“Is that why you were so grave and silent.”

“Yes, although that is not unusual for me. I told you before that you caused my spontaneity. You also give me great joy. My heart feels lighter with you than it ever has before.”

Octavia clung to Crispin’s words in their first days of marriage and when they both received letters from their fathers condemning their actions. Crispin might have bankrupted the earldom by not marrying as he should. It was only Octavia’s pleading that since she had married him after all, her father considered the debt settled. In the years that passed during their long, happy marriage, she could only rejoice that she had met Crispin on a crowded London street. 

Tempting Scandal– Chapter Three

Previous Chapters: 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2

Chapter Three


Nate sat in the drawing room at Stephen’s country estate and forced himself to focus on his book. He had been unsettled since learning that Clara had invited the Linwoods. He did not miss his sister’s pleased smile. She was in a fair way of losing her heart to the young master. It would never do. She must marry far higher than a mere mister to remove the stain in their family tree. Marriage for love was not a possibility for either one of them. He had thought she understood that, but he should have known her tender and naïve heart could not comprehend such coldness. He dreaded the conversation he would soon have to have with her.

Since the first night he awoke dreaming of Sylvia Linwood, it had occurred three more times. It made no sense to him, and he adamantly refused to be bewitched by a lady with such poor manners and grace. If only the young heiress whom Clara had selected for him and now sat to his right would appeal near as much.

“I love nothing so good as a novel,” Lady Hannah said.

“They are diverting,” Nate replied as he infused as much disapproval as possible into his tone.

“What? Do you not like them?”

Nate did not answer at first and attempted to make a great show of turning the page to his own volume. “When one seeks entertainment they are immensely useful.”

“I see,” Lady Hannah said. “What do you seek then, Duke?”

At the moment, he sought solitude and silence. He craved peace for he knew any minute, it would be entirely cut up with Sylvia under the same roof as him. No, he mentally chastised himself. He was in no danger of her. He could control himself better than his father had. He was not doomed to repeat his predecessor’s errors.

“One reads a historical account to gain knowledge, I presume,” he answered.

Lady Hannah sighed and returned to her book. He ought to try harder to woo her. She had blonde hair as he had said he desired, but it did not seem as radiant as he had seen on another lady. Her eyes were blue, but they lacked the various colors one found in the sea.

Nate mentally shook himself. It did not matter what she looked like. She came from an old, well-respected family. On her father’s side, they were a line of marquesses, and her mother descended from an earl. She was rumored to have twenty-thousand pounds. She and her twin sister were heiresses to a massive fortune and large estate. The title would go to her uncle or a male cousin. The Edgecumbes had been of no importance in Parliament, but that only ensured there were no known scandals and they managed to keep their heads during shifting political climates.

Lady Hannah herself was accomplished. She could embroider, draw, play pianoforte and harp, sing, speak French and Italian, dance, move gracefully. He had conversed with her at a few other occasions, and she was always perfectly polite. He thought he had seen a sign of wit once or twice and she seemed capable of directing conversation and putting people at ease.

She was the perfect candidate for his wife. If only he could abide to be near her for more than five minutes at a time. There were worse things, he reminded himself. At least she understood when he tired of talking and did not stubbornly continue to force him to speak. Nor did she encourage the others in the room to break his peace. Surely that would bode well for a marriage.

Soon, Nate heard the noise of a carriage on the gravel drive. He steadfastly resisted looking out the window. He did glance at the clock. Linwood was exactly at his promised time. Well, that was in favor of him.

Lady Hannah stirred beside him and went to the window, a few others followed. “Oh, it’s Sylvia!” Hannah cried.

Another young lady laughed. “Do you remember the time she climbed the great oak tree in the square at the school? Goodness! That was nearly ten years ago! I do not know that I have seen her in four or five years, at least.”

Miss Linwood was climbing trees while at school? He would have to ask Clara about it, but he was surprised the school allowed it. Certainly, it was forbidden by the time Laura attended.

Amongst the crowd at the window was his sister. Laura smiled with the rest of them, but there was something more in her eyes when she turned and looked toward the door as the others did. Nate thought it was affection. She cared far too much for the young baron. If his sister climbed trees at such an age, then what other inelegant, indecorous things was she up to? For that matter, did she cease them? If the sister could not behave properly, then the brother would never be an appropriate match for Laura.

The housekeeper arrived with the Linwoods in tow. Clara made introductions to those that that did not already know one another. Sylvia met with the approval of several young men, and Nate could see why. There was something different about her today than he had noticed at their first encounter. Although they had been traveling, her dress seemed more fashionable, her hair was arranged in a more becoming way. Rather than sharp looks, she greeted the others with pleasant smiles. A coral necklace played off the hue of her complexion. She looked five times prettier than he had recalled and she was difficult enough to forget at the time.

When they met, she seemed like an angry kitten, hissing and clawing unable to do any damage. Now, she sat amidst a group of young men and bestowed encouraging expressions indiscriminately. He was worth ten times as much of most of the men in this room and yet she would not look his way. After a quarter of an hour surrounded by swains and dandies, Sylvia excused herself to her chamber. It was nearly time to dress for dinner.

Beside him, Lady Hannah remarked, “I see history could not hold your attention, after all, sir.”

Nate nearly started at the voice. He had not noticed when she returned to her seat beside him. A sly glance to his left showed the lady smirked as she flipped a page. He recovered in time to hear Linwood offer to walk with Laura in the garden. He ought to have been paying more attention to them, or at least Lady Hannah, and worrying less about Sylvia. He was on the verge of inviting himself to accompany the couple when a Lord Blithfield approached him. Several men were withdrawing to the library to discuss political matters and the recent unrest in the factories in the North. As he had inherited many, he knew more than many the trials the manufacturers faced. Relieved for an excuse to leave Lady Hannah behind, even if he could not scare Linwood off from his sister, he happily accepted the offer.

In the library with the other gentlemen, Nate shoved all thoughts of courtship aside. His father had jilted an earl’s daughter and eloped with a manufacturing heiress. As such, Nate inherited a dozen mills, some of notable size.

“Lord Blithfield and the Duke of Russell are the only ones present who have any stake in the unrest, I believe,” Clifford said after he had poured a round of drinks.

“If they pass a movement through the house, then it will affect us all,” a voice came from the door.

Nate turned to see a gentleman he knew all too well enter. They were close in age, but Lord Brandon appeared more noble, elegant. More like what a peer should look like whereas Nate’s blood had been mixed with the hardy stock of the middling class. He towered over other men, and his shoulders were far broader. In his opinion, he looked like a clumsy oaf rather than a graceful courtier.

Nate knew the young earl well. He had been his constant tormentor at school, not the least because Brandon’s aunt was the lady Nate’s father jilted. The entire Brandon family hated the Russells. Nate had been taunted by many of his classmates because his mother came from trade, but Brandon was the ringleader, the strongest, and the most vicious. Nate glanced at Clifford who mouthed an apology.

“Of course, those of us from trade like Russell will feel it more keenly,” Brandon continued. “Although, they are conditioned and born to such lot. The cost of industry, I suppose.”

“Brandon,” Clifford nearly growled, “they are speaking of killing owners. That is far more serious than a poor return due to market changes. That is not so different than when tenants cannot pay their rents.”

Brandon sat and crossed his legs. “Those sorts of things never affect me.” He shrugged. “It is my right to obtain their rent. Even when evicted, the law upholds they must pay the debt. If they did not set aside the monies for it, then it is not my concern. Perhaps they could spend less time at the tavern and more time in the field.”

Nate clenched his fists and forced himself to breathe slowly. Was there no mercy or kindness in Brandon? Every winter tenants often had to choose between starvation and making rent. The war affected them all. Every other peer Nate knew had adjusted their rents. “Could not the same be said that we can moderate our spending and lifestyle and allow for a lower rent?”

Brandon threw his head back in laughter. “Moderate our lifestyle? Oh, Russell, if ever I could forget that you do not come from our ranks, talk like that would remind me. You always were too tender-hearted and preaching of moderation. I would have thought all my beatings might have taught you to leave such dreams behind.”

Brandon looked around the room, taunting the others to stand up to him. No one ever did. Still, Nate would not avert his eyes or humble himself before the bully.

“You will find, Brandon, that we left the schoolroom days long behind us,” Nate said. “You would insist on showing no humanity to the poor and hungry. Ask yourself how well that turned out for France. If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have matters of business to address.”

Nate bowed and exited the room. It was not the first time he had seen Brandon since Eton. He was surprised he had been invited to Clifford’s, but Nate assumed there were reasons for it.

Instead of returning to his chamber to look over his correspondence as he had said, he left for the stables. With each stamp of hoofbeats, he recalled the merciless punches and kicks of Brandon. He remembered the other boys circling around and calling him names, cheering his tormentor on.

He grew strong from it, however, and before he left the school, he was able to thrash Brandon. For a time, he thought that was all he had wanted in life. All he needed to feel free would be to attack his abuser, and he would find justice. It had brought him no lasting peace, however. As he left Eton for University and later the House of Lords and high society balls, the taunting never ended. His high rank gained him admittance, but his mother’s low birth status made rumors follow him wherever he went.

In a meeting like they just had, he was one of the few who owned mills. He had not invested in them as an adult. Nor had his father. No, he inherited them from his mother. His maternal grandfather had amassed quite a fortune from his mills in the North of England. He personally oversaw the running of each one. He purposefully opened them near each other so he could visit every week. Nate might be a Duke, but he was no more removed from trade than a shopkeeper’s daughter.

Calming, he forced himself to take deep breaths and slow the horse. He had not been alone in that schoolyard. He had made friends. Blithfield often came to his aid. Nor was he still at school. His rank afforded him far more protection than when he was merely the heir.

He had a plan, and he would see it come to fruition. The first step was to marry well and to someone politically important. Before too long, the world would know the Duke of Russell’s name as a politician, not from a long-ago scandal. He alone controlled his destiny, and his past would no longer define him.

Tuesday Trivia– Match Austen the quote with the book

Can you match these quotes from Jane Austen’s works with the right book? I did have to guess on two but managed to get a perfect score. I would say the description it gave afterward is spot on, but it did get one detail wrong. Don’t worry. I fixed it. I’ll let you guess if you can see where I had to change it. Tell me your score in the comments!

You practically belong at Pemberley, drinking afternoon tea and planning what you will wear to the ball this evening. Though you fancy yourself an Elizabeth Bennet, truthfully you might be more like Lydia than you’d like to imagine. You likely have strong feelings about Pride & Prejudice and favor the Colin Firth Matthew MacFadyen version above all others. While casual fans may only dip into the well-known Austen books, you’ve read them all several times and can quickly tell an Elinor Dashwood from a Mary Crawford.

Can You Match the Jane Austen Quote to the Book?


Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Ten

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven  / Eight / Nine

Chapter Ten


Elizabeth’s anger mellowed to a simmer by the time darkness fell. She had still not spoken to Darcy again, despite a few attempts on his side. If her ankle had permitted it, she would have left hours ago. However, as she was bound to the bed with not even a book to read—that would have required asking Darcy for assistance—she had nothing but her thoughts.

When she had left Longbourn, it was because there was no other way. Indeed, she had not intended to leave it forever or leave her sisters permanently behind. Her aunt and uncle had chosen to betray her rather than help. Elizabeth thought she learned her lesson on trusting others. Yet, here she was, entirely dependent upon Darcy. He had rescued her as much as any knight in shining armour had a damsel in distress. She had not been locked in a tower, and there was no fire-breathing dragon, but she was trapped just the same. Fleetingly, Elizabeth wondered if the other damsels feared to let go of their past and all they had known—even if it was imprisonment with fear of death—rather than face an unknown life and trust a stranger.

It was not the unknown which made Elizabeth so uncomfortable. She had faced that before. For her own sake, she could choose it again. However, she had come to rely on Darcy. She thought him incapable of disappointing her or of showing that selfishness which invaded every aspect of her life before.

Attached to the fact that she had not learned her lesson regarding trusting others, Elizabeth knew she had acted too rashly. Since leaving Longbourn, it seemed as though every decision required an answer that very instant. More than once she had to decipher if a man meant to harm her or if a hallway was safe to enter. The work in the tavern itself required fast thinking and hearing orders amidst the loud noise. She needed to be mindful of Cuthbert’s demands and attuned to the moods of the other maids. She quickly learned it did not do to earn the patronage of too many tables lest the other ladies have none. In such an atmosphere it was better to focus on cooperative work and keep her head down. Perhaps that is when she began agreeing with everything anyone said. The very decision to come to this town and this inn was decided upon the spur of the moment. Elizabeth had prided herself that it would be all the better then. The Gardiners and Bennets could hardly guess in which direction she fled, and they did not have the resources to search everywhere indefinitely.

The evening wore on and eventually, Darcy excused himself. Molly entered, and seemingly perceiving Elizabeth’s mood, did not chatter as usual. By the time Darcy returned, Elizabeth was in bed feigning sleep. He murmured a good night and laid on the settee.

Rest did not find her that night. Judging by how long it took for her to hear Darcy’s deep breathing and eventual snores, sleep took a long time to find him as well. Elizabeth wrestled with her thoughts until just before dawn. Instinctively, she knew all of this went far deeper than anything Darcy had said or done.

The Elizabeth who trusted Wickham had trusted too easily. Since Darcy left Hertfordshire, there had been blow after blow in Elizabeth’s life, all teaching her to not think well of others. Everyone had their own motive, and it had nothing to do with her well-being. If she did not wish to be trampled by life, she should take care of herself first. Indeed, she was powerless to do anything else. If she could not save Jane, she could not save anyone. The piece of old Elizabeth who could see the good in people and make some allowance for their character—the part that had been influenced by Jane, Elizabeth mused—whispered to allow Darcy time to explain his actions. The new Elizabeth screamed loudly in her mind. She should not trust Darcy or anyone else. Their actions always proved them.

When at last she fell asleep, she dreamed of two versions of herself on a battlefield. Instead of fighting with guns, they grasped opposite ends of a rope and tugged with all their might. She recognised the Elizabeth of her present thoughts: she wore dirty, ragged clothes. Soot smeared on her face, and she wore a mean expression. The other Elizabeth looked as though she had no real care in the world. Her gown was soft and spotless. Her countenance held no regrets, only smiles, and laughter. Throughout the night, they battled, and when Elizabeth awoke more exhausted than if she had not slept, there was no definite winner.

The dream faded in the stark reality. She was cold and alone in the big bed of the chamber. Hating that she had grown accustomed to waking in Darcy’s arms, she mentally scolded herself. Glancing around, she did not see him. Fear replaced the irritation. Where had he gone? Had he left her?

“Why should I care?” Elizabeth asked in frustration as she buried her head in her hands. No tears came but her head ached, and her mind was exhausted from warring with itself.

Darcy knocked and asked if he could enter, his voice immediately calming Elizabeth. She timidly answered. He entered bearing a tray of tea and breakfast things, taking in her expression.

“I thought you might want to eat. You did not yesterday.”

Elizabeth’s stomach loudly rumbled in agreement. She had been too angry to think of food. Should she take his offering? Her stomach growled again, her body telling her she was a fool even if her mind would not. Did she think she was independent and could survive without him? He was gone a matter of minutes, and she worried he had left her forever. She could not even acquire food without his assistance!

Determined to at least rectify that, she tossed her legs over the bed and tested the strength of her ankle. Darcy was tinkering with the tea things, and she was halfway to him when he looked up.

“Elizabeth! I would have helped you!” He began to move to her side.

“No. It is gaining strength. It can never heal if I do not test it.” As Elizabeth said the words, she realised she might be speaking about more than the swollen joint.

She reached the settee and practically leaped into it, sighing when her weight was off her feet. It had been painful and challenging, but she had done it, and with more practice, it would grow easier. Darcy handed her a teacup, and their fingers grazed. Instead of the usual shock and tingles, she felt relief and comfort at his touch. He was still here, despite her behaviour and actions.

“I apologise for my words about your sister. You were correct, I was very hurt and not thinking clearly. I should allow you to explain.”

Darcy ceased stirring his tea and met her eyes. “I am exceedingly sorry to have wounded you. I would be happy to explain, but I do not understand what great sin I committed.”

Elizabeth bristled. She was doing more than meeting him halfway. She apologised first, and he still acted as though he were blameless! There was the pride and conceit he hid from her for the last few days. He acted as though it were all a matter of opinion or perspective. She was sure if someone had treated his sister as he had done to Jane, he would feel just as angry.

“Perhaps I ought to have concealed matters,” he said. “I should not have told you the truth. However, I do not think our relationship should be based on lies. I knew you would be unhappy for me to voice it, but I thought you understood. You had asked how I could marry you with a damaged reputation and I said I no longer cared what the ton thought. Two nights ago, I explained my reasoning for such. Although I did not outright state it, I did care what they thought. Their perceptions of me and what they held as right affected me greatly. I chose to leave Hertfordshire rather than fall in love with you. It was only after I left that I realised I had already fallen. I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.”

Elizabeth’s teacup remained halfway to her mouth during his speech. He thought she was angry on her own behalf? She had accepted that his love was inadequate to the obstacles her situation presented: relations in trade and little dowry. These realities barely troubled her. Could he be so senseless to the wound he gave Jane? Had he not just the other night blamed himself for Lydia? Lowering, her cup, she said, “I am not angry for myself. You confessed to convincing Bingley to remain in London.”

“The word convince might be a stretch,” Darcy said as he leaned back, seemingly accepting this could be a lengthy discussion. “I said nothing to him that I did not say to myself. I have no special mind control tactics or abilities. For that, you would need to speak with my cousin, the Colonel. He oversees querying captive soldiers for information.”

“What were these reasons? It did not seem to disturb Mr. Bingley before you spoke with him that we had relations in trade or little money.”

Darcy gave her a confused look. “I will admit those would have been greater evils to me than to my friend, but they were not what I discussed. You have explained your reasons for leaving Longbourn to me and have made it seem as though it was all because of a few poor decisions since November. However, you are no fool. You know it goes deeper. I would wager those are the thoughts that torment you when you think I am not looking. Will you hold me accountable for perceiving what you did not until recently?”

Air left Elizabeth’s lungs on a whoosh. Had she attempted to blame him when she really blamed herself? Yes. Yes, she certainly had. She ducked her head. “You left Hertfordshire because of my family’s behaviour?”

“It was a confluence of things. There was almost a total want of propriety from your mother, three younger sisters, and even your father. It was not one or two actions or statements. It was apparent to me that the Bennet family had many disorderly attributes and I had no hope of them improving. If they acted that way in public, what happened in private? What evil working would befall their minds and work their way into a marriage?”

“And my sisters’ elopements are a testament to that!”

“Do not forget that my sister also desired to elope. I did judge harshly when I had no right. My sister hid her misery whereas yours did not. However, Georgiana also chose to tell me about the elopement. She eventually confided in me about her abuse. However, we have left the topic at and.” He sighed. “The evening of the ball at Netherfield, Sir William Lucas made it sound as though the entire area expected a proposal from Bingley—or that he already had and they only needed to settle a date. I had often seen Bingley in love and had not previously thought anything of his attachment to your sister Jane. After Sir William’s words, however, I took careful notice of them. Bingley did display a greater preference than I had ever seen before. Your sister, however, did not. For a lady who could be so assured of Bingley’s sentiments—I would say far more assured than most ladies—she seemed to take no pleasure in his attention or the inevitable outcome. Your mother loudly crowed all evening of her intended goals for Jane—and all of you. It would not be unusual for a docile daughter to follow her mother’s choices. If my own observation of Jane had not been enough, your mother constantly declared Jane the most biddable and agreeable daughter. I believed it probable she would marry where directed without regard to her own feelings. A marriage built upon that would be nothing but disaster. Bingley would be in love, and Jane was not and might never be.”

“Do you not see you have struck the very bargain you had hoped to keep your friend from?”

“Yes! To him, I have been kinder than to myself!”

Elizabeth marvelled that he could congratulate himself on sparing his friend’s feelings until she took in his countenance. Dark circles shaded under his eyes after their argument the previous evening. The acknowledgment that she might never love him had torn at him. The anguish he had when explaining about Miss Darcy was once again evident on his face. “You did not think Jane might have learned to love him?”

“To me, it appeared that was unlikely or that she would even have the opportunity with your mother rushing them to the altar. I have seen marriages like that. They end up despising one another as neither can give what the other most wants. We cannot be other people. We can only be ourselves, no matter how much we might try otherwise.”

Was that for her? Elizabeth’s conscience niggled at her even as she would have rather thought it applied to him as his pride had re-emerged after all. Oh, he had been so arrogant and conceited to think he could decipher Jane’s feelings from his limited observation. However, one thing was clear. It was done in compassion. He intended to save his friend from the feelings now tormenting him.

“I cannot explain it any better than that, Elizabeth,” he said. “I am a human, and I made an error. However, young couples in love are often separated, and they do not resort to what Jane did. You cannot make me responsible for her feelings any more than you are responsible for them.”

Incapable of forming words immediately after such blows, Elizabeth remained silent. She chose to finish her tea and read for several hours—or rather to hold a book as the pages could not interest her—before replying.

She had thought Darcy incapable of disappointing her. Then, she felt because he had that it must have been as motivated by selfishness as her relations. She had despaired of every good thing about him. The guilt of such thoughts weighed heavily on her for had she not seen his kind heart and actions over the last several days?

The ability to err and it not be a grievous wrong, that it was not with the intention to hurt, or acknowledged later with an apology and was foreign to her. It was freeing, too. For weeks she had wondered if she had done wrong by leaving Jane and Mary at Longbourn. It was not done with that intention, but that is where the decision led. Now, she acknowledged to herself there were things outside her control. She never could direct their feelings or how they handled a crisis. Why did Jane become so melancholy over Bingley? Whether or not it was a mistake to leave Longbourn, there could be recovery. She only needed to forgive herself.

“I have been thinking,” he said after an hour or two of silence. “If you believe your ankle is healed enough to travel, you could start on the journey tomorrow. It might be better if we do not travel together. You might enjoy the privacy and freedom to keep your own hours.”

“You wish me to leave you?” Elizabeth asked as sorrow filled her heart.

“No,” Darcy sighed. “The close confines have not served us well, I think. The sleeping arrangement is not what it should be, and I feel as though I am forcing you into things you do not prefer.”

Elizabeth returned her attention to her book, forcing herself to think for several minutes before replying. While Darcy spoke earlier, she had the realisation that she no longer wished to be carried by her emotions. She had reasoned that before but as she did not understand why she had come to rely upon them, she could not end the habit. Finally, she set her book aside. “I have been thinking about everything all wrong. I had thought you rescued me, which rankled my pride, even as I welcomed the reprieve. However, I think we are saving each other and learning to work together as a proper marriage requires. I must see things from your perspective, and you must see some of mine.”

“I am very willing to listen,” he encouraged.

“I apologise for blaming you for Jane’s feelings. I can see how it appeared to you and that you meant no harm. Indeed, the harm that did befall was unlikely. Additionally, I suppose you are correct. There must be some deeper problem at work for her to feel as she did. I am beginning to recognise there are for me too. Despite Jane’s goodness, she could not be immune to the devastation our parents wreaked.”

Elizabeth paused to see if Darcy still listened. He met her eye and seemed to smile encouragingly. Elizabeth explained to him all she had recently realised. It was nothing compared to the trials his sister faced and it did not manifest in the way it had with Jane, but it crippled her all the same.

It was as though she had lived with a disease for many years and now it finally attempted to make its claim upon her life. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had never truly been the parents of Longbourn. That role fell to Jane and Elizabeth, mostly the latter as Jane was too kind-hearted to scold or anticipate deceit and poor decisions. It was not enough to merely acknowledge that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were responsible for the actions of their daughters. Elizabeth is the one who had tried to manage everything and everyone. She had believed she did a better job of it than either parent and yet her family disintegrated around her.

Somewhere in the middle of the exhausting retelling, Darcy had come to her side. He wrapped his arms around her, lending her strength and comfort. Elizabeth melted into his side.

“I fear it may take years to unlearn all the broken thinking with which I was raised.”

“That is perfectly acceptable,” Darcy said. “You are not alone in that. We all learn things from our parents and must choose to improve as adults.”

“I like how you say that. I choose to improve, although it is not easy, and I am terrified.”

“You do not have to do it alone,” he murmured against her ear. “Have you decided if you would prefer to journey ahead of me?”

As much as Elizabeth was acknowledging she needed to regain control of her impulses and emotions, she did not hesitate to squeeze Darcy tightly and kiss him before answering. “No. I do not wish to part from you. We will make our way together.”

Darcy answered with a searing kiss.



It will be a few days before I come back with the next chapter. The story is no where near finished, we are not quite at the half way mark. There is far more to come. The conflict will continue to center around Elizabeth’s psychological development but there are issues that need addressing: Wickham/Lydia, Georgiana, Jane and Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the whole barmaid secret thing. We’ll go through it all but at each stop, the conflict will be about how it affects Elizabeth’s development and the relationship with Darcy and it might not be what you have come to expect from the average JAFF (which I have certainly done before so I am not putting anyone down). I hope you stick around for the ride!

Music Monday– All I Want For Christmas Is You

All I want for Christmas Is You has been my favorite contemporary Christmas song for as long as I can remember. I just love everything about it. The lyrics, the music, the rhythm. Mariah Carey’s range is amazing and I spent most of my teenage years being very envious of her ability. Every year, my husband and I have a friendly debate over the best Christmas song and next week I’ll reveal his. However, for your listening pleasure, I offer you Mariah’s splendid rendition followed by the alto only version. It cracks me up because I was an alto in school chorus and yes, we never got the fun pretty parts. 



Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

Due to the controversy regarding Baby, It’s Cold Outside (which I think is harmless so here’s the link to my favorite version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rpg7-ab_F7s), I can’t get the song out of my head. Mr. Darcy told me that he had a story to tell, but then Elizabeth wanted it all through her point of view. From your favorite hero who can’t make words happen, here’s what might happen if Darcy and Lizzy were singing the song. 

Elizabeth Bennet rubbed her gloved hands together in her fur muff. It was no use, however. It was simply too cold. She glanced up at the sky. And too snowy. The winter storm rolled in quickly since she left had Longbourn.

She had only intended to enjoy a walk. She needed time to herself after all the noise of Christmas the day before. Mrs. Bennet had crowed non-stop about how grand it was to have her eldest daughter established as the mistress of Netherfield Park. Elizabeth lost count after hearing it for the one hundredth time. God bless Mr. Bingley, but he did not seem to care. Indeed, his joy of having Jane as his wife was so much that nothing Mrs. Bennet could do would offend him. There was a time when Elizabeth would have applauded his amiability and think of it as the sort of behaviour which would most appeal to her in a suitor. However, that was before she met Mr. Darcy.

The Mr. Darcy who had separated Jane from her Mr. Bingley. The same Mr. Darcy who proposed to Elizabeth last Spring. A proposal she spitefully refused. Next, he wrote her a letter, illuminating all of the reasons for his insufficient manners. Over time, Elizabeth had learned to accept his words. However, she had never done any looking into her heart over the matter. She had thought him the worst man in the world when he proposed and while his character improved after she read his letter, she never expected to meet him again. 

Alas, Elizabeth visited Mr. Darcy’s estate over the summer. Confronted with all things Darcy, she soon realized hearts are treacherous things. If ever there was a man she could have loved and rejoiced in marrying, it would have been him. Her only complaint about him was that he was not friendly enough to her relations. No sooner had she made such an observation than did the master of the estate appear before her. 

Even more shocking, Mr. Darcy not only asked for an introduction to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle who were in trade, but he called on them the next day with his sister–and Mr. Bingley. He invited them all to Pemberley to dine. However, before such a thing could occur, Elizabeth received a letter that her youngest sister had eloped with Darcy’s sworn enemy. 

How Elizabeth had grieved her chance with Darcy then! If not for Lydia’s stupidity, their second chance might have grown to more. When Elizabeth later learned that Darcy had arranged for the reckless couple to marry, she finally admitted the truth to herself. She was madly in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

It could never be, however. He could never become brother-in-law to Mr. Wickham. A few weeks after Lydia’s marriage, Darcy returned to Hertfordshire with his friend Bingley. Of course, Darcy disappeared just as suddenly. Bingley made quick work of his courtship this time and proposed to Jane within days of his return. 

Elizabeth counted the days to the wedding, hoping to see Darcy once more. She knew it was likely vain to hope for his continued affections or wishes. She only wished to see him, to hear his voice. Most of all, she wished she could thank him for his service to her family. Only her aunt and uncle knew the truth of Darcy’s character and what he did for the Bennets.

He came, of course. He had amended his view of Bingley’s marriage and appeared the delighted friend. However, he avoided Elizabeth’s eyes and conversation. He never approached her. He always seemed surrounded by others.

He left the next day and Elizabeth had not seen him since. Jane said he had been invited to Netherfield for Christmas but declined. Instead, the new Mr. and Mrs. Bingley spent the day at Longbourn with the Bennets, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their four noisy children, Elizabeth’s other aunt and uncle who were vulgar, and Mary’s suitor.

Mrs. Bennet’s victory was complete with Mary having a beau. It also made Elizabeth a target for her displeasure more than ever. Was it any wonder that Elizabeth needed a few moments to herself? Deciding that a visit with Jane was precisely what she needed, she determined to continue on to Netherfield. A broken heart cannot heal amidst the laughter and gaeity of others, but Jane and Bingley’s gentle company could restore her mood.

During Elizabeth’s walk, it had begun to flurry. Undeterred, Elizabeth pressed on to Netherfield. She needed quiet and sweet Jane to soothe her mind. A mile later, and the snow fell in earnest. As she was closer to Netherfield than Longbourn, she continued to her destination. By the time she reached it, however, her teeth chattered and the snow was above her ankles. There would be no returning to Longbourn today. She would be lucky if even a servant could be sent to inform her family where she was. 

Elizabeth rang the bell and waited several minutes but no butler opened the door. Confused, Elizabeth pushed it open herself and was stomping off the snow on her boots in the dark entry when an unexpected voice startled her. 

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth quickly ducked her head to hide her blush. “I did not know you were visiting.”

“It was supposed to be a surprise,” he said as he hastened to her side and assisted with unwrapping her scarf.

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

Darcy furrowed his brow. “When did I say that?”

“Here above a year ago. You decried Bingley’s penchant for changing his plan on a whim.”

“That is hardly the same thing. Surprising others is not the same as it being a sudden change of plans on my part.” He took her elbow and began directing her to the drawing room. “However, I am the fool after all for Bingley seems to have given the entire staff the day off and I presume has left to spend it at Longbourn.”

Elizabeth chuckled and shook her head. That was just the sort of thing he would do. He rewarded his own house while unintentionally straining another’s. Still, Elizabeth could not fault him too much–or perhaps she could not focus on it too much as Darcy’s nearness made her heart race.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “If we are alone, I really cannot stay.” 

“Nonsense,” Darcy frowned. “The snow is coming far too rapidly for you to return now. I have not checked all the servant’s quarters but surely someone has remained.”

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

“They are not in their rooms. However, I have a fire lit in here,” Darcy said as they entered the drawing room. “You must warm yourself, at the very least.” He motioned to a chair and then took her hand to assist her in sitting. “Your hands are like ice!”

Darcy rubbed his hands over hers while staring intently into her eyes. Elizabeth felt she could say nothing. His tender care of her was everything she had ever wanted and yet it could never mean what she most desired. She both hated and loved his attention.

After a minute or two, he placed her hands on his chest. “I was hoping I would see you, Elizabeth.”

She sucked in a deep breath. He could not mean what she hoped. “I really should leave,” she murmured.

“You are still nearly frozen,” he said as he let go of her hands and led her nearer the fire. Next, he dragged the nearby settee closer. 

Unable to resist the heat’s temptation, Elizabeth sat. It felt inexplicably nice to warm herself after the freezing walk. Darcy busied himself with a decanter of wine and returned with two glasses. 

“This will help warm you,” he said when he offered one to her.

Elizabeth drank it rapidly, enjoying the flush that came to her body. Darcy reached for her glass and their fingers grazed. “I really should not have more.”

“I have seen you drink more during a dinner.” Sitting beside her, he sipped on his own glass. 

He must have seen her drinking wine while dining at Lady Catherine’s. Heaven knew one needed it there. And when alone with the man they hopelessly loved, apparently. Nervous with the silence and his nearness, Elizabeth lightly smiled. “Well, maybe just a bit more.” 

The only sound was the crackling of logs and while Elizabeth avoided looking at him, she could feel Darcy’s eyes upon her. A thousand memories washed over her. He had always watched her. At first, she had thought it was with criticism. Too late, she had realized it was in love. Now, she did not know what she would find in his eyes if she were brave enough to look upon them. After a few minutes of silence, Darcy began humming a tune. She finally turned her head to him, still averting her eyes.

“Do you recognize it?” he asked. “I believe you played it when you stayed here while your sister was ill.”

She had. Did his remembering that signify anything? Did it mean he still loved her? Or was it a reminder of the odds they were at during that time? She had thought she hated him and he had thought she was unworthy of his hand. Or maybe it all meant nothing. He never was very good at small talk.

“Thank you for the fire and the wine,” she nodded at each, “however, I must leave.” She hated the thought of leaving. Who knew when she would see him again?

“It is far too cold to be walking in all that.”

Despite her desire to stay, she felt compelled to search for every alternative. “I do not suppose you know how to prepare a carriage or drive it?”

Darcy peered at the window behind them. “Even if I did, it would not be safe.”

“Then I must walk or the neighbors might think…” 

Darcy wrapped his hand around Elizabeth’s as he took her empty wine glass. A shiver went up her spine. When had she drunk the whole glass? Her nerves must have needed the sweet wine more than she had thought.

He returned with another glass. “This wine is very good, do you not think? I was enjoying a glass when you arrived.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement as she took another sip. Had Darcy sat closer to her this time? He felt closer. His thigh nearly touched hers. Looking up from peering at her glass, she found his eyes upon her and his head leaning down toward hers. 

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

Elizabeth tried to breathe normally. She attempted to hide the shudder that coursed through her body at his words. They were unchaperoned and the worst would be thought of them. As it was, he might not have meant that he still loved her. Surely her looks had not changed very much even if everything else between them had. It would be no great thing to still admire her beauty but not wish for her hand in marriage. 

Why did she still sit here while the snow grew another inch every five minutes? Had he bewitched her somehow? Never before had she felt so incapable of doing what she had determined to do. She had determined to leave, had she not? She was almost certain she had thought it was the best decision only a few moments ago, but now…

Darcy reached forward and rubbed a curl between his thumb and forefinger. The lock grazed her cheek and his hand was so near her face that she grew dizzy. 

“I always thought you had beautiful hair. I wondered if it would feel like silk to touch.”

Was this truly happening? Perhaps she was hallucinating. A snow-induced dream. Did one dream before freezing to death? Of course, she did not feel cold. She felt warm, very warm. Had Darcy come even closer? His leg now pressed against hers.

The wind howled, causing Elizabeth to look at the window. It was useless to leave now. She should have turned back in Meryton. The most she could explain to others now was that she had gone to Netherfield in good faith and at least discussed returning to Longbourn once she realized only Darcy was in residence. 

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said and gulped as his eyes met hers. “Surely—surely you see that I cannot stay here.”

“It would be far worse for you to go.”

Was there a note of pleading in his voice? Did she wish for her to stay? He did not appear to be shunning her company and her heart rejoiced at that but to stay would tie his hands. She would be considered ruined and he would be forced to marry her or be worse than even Mr. Wickham. 

“No,” her voice faltered. “No, I cannot stay.” She would hate to be married to Darcy if he only regretted her and hated the connections she brought. “Thank you, again, for allowing me to warm myself. However, I must go.”

“I am not in control of the weather,” he said. “You can see for yourself. It is too dangerous for you to go.”

“Jane will worry and Bingley might even attempt to look for me himself.”

“They will know you had enough sense to seek shelter.”

“You may recall my aunt, Mrs. Phillips, and her unguarded tongue. It can be quite vicious…” Elizabeth took another sip of wine, willing it to give her strength and courage. 

Darcy released her tendril then took Elizabeth’s glass and took a sip from where she had placed her lips. “I believe this is the most delicious wine I have tasted.”

The action was unbearably intimate. However, he must have consumed too much for he was not thinking clearly. If she stayed much longer or indulged in what appeared to be their mutual desire, he would be attached to Wickham for the rest of his life. Deciding this might be as close to kissing Darcy as she would ever get, she retrieved her glass and copied his actions. “Just after we finish this glass, I will go.”

Darcy’s eyes never left hers as they continued to sip and exchange the glass. His free hand crept over the one which lay in her lap. He drew lazy circles before turning her hand over and repeating the action on her palm. Every touch of his skin made more her shudder. 

“I have never seen such a blizzard,” he muttered before taking the last sip of their shared glass of wine. 

“Yes, but all the same I must go,” she whispered. Her resolve had all but evaporated. She hesitated now only in deference to his feelings.

“I know what you once believed me ungentlemanly but I flatter myself that I am too much of a gentleman to allow you out in that. You would freeze before you reached Meryton.”

“If you do not need it, then I can wear your coat as well.” 

Darcy chuckled. “It would be far too large. Besides, look,” he pointed at the window. “It is likely to your knees by now.”

Elizabeth dropped her eyes to their hands. He had linked them. If he had really wanted to marry her still, he could have said so at any point. He had no reason to fear her acceptance. Why else would she have stayed unchaperoned with a bachelor for so long? Elizabeth took the interlude for all it could be. He still loved her, perhaps more than ever, but he could not marry her.

She must tell him something of what she felt. “I have enjoyed seeing you again, Mr. Darcy.” She squeezed his hand as she searched for her next words. Darcy shaprly inhaled and returned the pressure. 

“Do you know what you do to me, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked as he touched his forehead to hers.

She did know, or at least she thought she did. It was the same effect he had on hers. And it was a miserable prison of her own making. “But do you not see? There would be a world of gossip…”

Words were becoming even harder for her. She attempted to slip her hand from his. 

“I will regret it forever–“

She spoke over him. “So much would be implied.” Her heart leapt when she realized the beginning of his statement. She held her breath for him to continue.

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

Deflated, Elizabeth shrugged. She had hoped he would say something more. She would willingly stay if only he asked. “I am too healthy to catch such a thing. I must go…”

“You will have to think of something better to say,” Darcy laughed. “You are usually so witty.”

“I fear I have no humor about this. I cannot force your hand in such a way.”

“Is that what you are worried about?” Darcy asked with raised brows. 

“No one can know I was here with you. The expectations would be–“

“Everything I wish for,” he rushed to say. “I think you can guess that my affections are unchanged from last April but my attempts at wooing you might be as inept as my conversation. I thought the wine would ease your reserve and allow me to find the right words. Alas, it has not and I am left stumbling as best I can.” He sighed. “My wishes have not changed.”

“You cannot mean you still wish to marry me. You could never be related to Wickham, and if you still loved me you might have spoken with me at the wedding. You were so silent and grave–” Elizabeth could not continue and choked back a sob. 

Darcy placed both hands on Elizabeth’s cheeks. “I thought you did not care for me. Only a man who felt less could have risked another refusal. I will never–can never–stop loving you.”

“I would not refuse you,” Elizabeth blinked back tears. 

“I have never been so thankful for a bloody snowstorm in my life,” Darcy chuckled. “You will marry me?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

Darcy responded with a kiss. Despite the dropping temperature and piling snow, he and Elizabeth were able to keep very warm until discovered by Netherfield’s returning servants two days later. Naturally, they used only one chamber to conserve resources. Many things were implied and Mrs. Phillips’ tongue did wag, but the couple had no mind for it at all. A couple as violently in love as they will always find a way to stay warm on a winter’s day.