I had my MRI on Tuesday and I’m scheduled for an appointment with my neurologist tomorrow but I have the flu and might not make it. I’ve been working on this manuscript even though I’ve been sick most of the week. Just in small doses. I think I’m down to the last chapter or two (ending in chapter 17 or 18).
I bet this chapter will shock all of you. The letter is not entirely forgotten about and will be discussed later, but for now, Elizabeth has more important matters to attend to.
Elizabeth waited behind the folding screen in the room of the Jester’s Inn. She focused on taking deep breaths despite the hammering in her chest. A crack in the window let in a faint breeze. Salt air filled her nostrils calming and tantalizing in equal measures. Soon she would begin on a journey crossing the sea, and she knew her heart had just started its journey in loving Darcy.
How had she not seen it all earlier? This week must have been torturous for Darcy as she kept him at arm’s length. It was only testament to how hurt she had been when they met again that she feared she could love no one, even him. Now, that she realised it, she could barely wait to tell him and launch herself into his arms. Nervously, she shifted her weight from foot to foot waiting for him to appear.
In due time, Darcy knocked on the door, and Elizabeth called for him to enter. She could hear him come into the chamber then shut and lock the entrance. Unable to see, her ears were more alert than ever to the now familiar sounds of her beloved readying for the evening. There was a gentle scraping sound as he placed his cufflinks on a table. Next, he sat and tugged off his boots before removing his coat and waistcoat.
The noises of Darcy removing clothing sent goose pimples over her skin and made her breath catch in her lungs. In the silence, she could even hear the fabric of his cravat thread through his fingers. He had been without his valet since they left London. At first, Elizabeth was too timid to watch Darcy disrobe. He came to bed in his shirtsleeves and breeches which seemed unbearably intimate. The first night without his valet, Elizabeth had hidden her face while he discarded his garments. In recent days, she had grown bolder, sneaking peeks at him now and then. She could imagine him now although she could not see him.
Finally, he stood, and the moment of truth had arrived.
She could hear the confusion in his voice.
“Where are you?”
“I—I am here,” she said from behind the screen. Her voice shook.
“Is anything wrong? Do you need assistance?” He stepped toward the screen.
“I am perfectly well. Stay where you are.”
Hearing his obedience, Elizabeth exhaled and emerged from behind the screen. She stared at her feet until Darcy’s quick exhale brought her eyes to his. Quickly, he averted them.
“Forgive me—I—I—I thought you were ready for me to enter.”
“Fitzwilliam, look at me.”
“Pardon, you are—you are—”
What she could see of one cheek was bright red. His embarrassment and shyness at her nudity were so endearing. She took a bold step forward. The sound of her movement made him begin to turn his head before he snapped it away again. At the closer proximity, she could see how rapidly his chest rose and fell. His hands tensed at his side as though he were forcing them to remain there. His posture was taut, reminding her of a string pulled to its maximum and about to snap.
“I want you to look at me.”
Again, his head began to move, but he would not turn it all the way. A muscle in his neck twitched. “You do?”
“Very much,” Elizabeth said as she took another step. She was close enough to touch him now.
Slowly, he turned his head. His eyes widened, and a look of utter fascination and delight filled them. She stood as he perused her body, his eyes dropping over specific contours and curves before returning to her gaze. The tension in his body remained.
She ought to feel timid or ashamed. However, she could see his appreciation. She had never felt more beautiful not because this honourable man loved her or looked at her with undeniable desire in his eyes. She felt beautiful for she finally loved herself. She accepted her flaws and could see her strengths. What more could she ask to be in life than a woman who fiercely loved? Judging it the right time to speak, after a long moment of unspoken communication, she broke their silence.
“I want you to see me now, bare before you, as you have always seen my heart.” She reached for one of his hands and pressed it to her heart, and Darcy let out a shuddery exhale. “I love you, Fitzwilliam. I love you with my whole heart, and you have shown me that it is not absent or numb or shattered. It finally knows what it is to love and be loved because of you.”
She raised his hand to her lips and tried to pour all of her love into her gaze as their eyes remained connected. “I have nothing to my name. According to Society, my future would be desolate and as exposed as my body now is. However, if you will have me, I offer my heart for as long as you or I shall live.”
“You love me?”
Elizabeth nodded as Darcy’s hopeful look turned to disbelief before being replaced entirely by joy. “I love you.”
Darcy’s restraint was gone. He pulled her into his arms for a sizzling kiss and held her so close she could feel his heart beat against her skin. His hands roamed over her body. “We will wed tomorrow,” Darcy panted between breaths when he broke their kiss. “There is no rush to—”
“I trust you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself further against him.
Darcy let out a strangled moan as his lips fell to her neck. Feeling her legs buckle as glorious sensation swept over her body, Darcy caught her in his arms and carried her to their bed.
Darcy murmured words of love into Elizabeth’s ear causing her mind to empty of everything but this moment. When he kissed down her neck, and his fingers began gentle caresses over her body, she grew dizzy on the heady sensation of pleasure coursing through her. Settled against the pillows, she opened her arms and welcomed Darcy into her heart and placed her body into his loving care.
Darcy awoke to the feeling of Elizabeth’s exploratory and inviting touch as she caressed the thick patch of hair at the top of his chest. She seemed entirely fascinated with what he had always considered a rather unremarkable part of his anatomy. He feigned sleep to see how far her curiosity would take her.
The evening before, his wildest fantasies came true. Elizabeth loved him and displayed her trust in him with more courage than he thought likely found in most men. A night of spine-tingling pleasure ensued and yet this evening promised even more, as he had shocked even himself by withholding full consummation of their love until their marriage could be legally condoned.
However, Elizabeth began pressing kisses to his chest, her head trailing lower, and his resolve was quickly vanishing.
“If you continue that, we will not only miss the sunrise but our ship as well. I might never let you out of this bed again,” he said to her in a husky voice as he opened one eye.
She moved her head to look at him, her curls trailing over his skin, make him tense at the pleasure. Elizabeth blushed but her eyes danced with merriment.
“We already missed the sunrise.”
“Did we?” Darcy leaned up on his elbows to see the window on the other side of the room. “I am sorry. I had wanted your first glimpse of the sea to be spectacular.”
Elizabeth’s lips turned up in a pleased smile before she kissed his stomach, allowing her tongue to briefly lave over the skin. Darcy slumped back in the bed. “Lizzy.” He did not know if he were warning her or begging her.
The head popped back up. “As it happens, I cannot complain about my morning. I can view the sea at sunrise some other time. I would not trade this moment with you for the world’s most splendid vista.”
Darcy tugged on Elizabeth’s arm, bringing her lips to his. She cut the kiss far shorter than he would have preferred.
“Let us ready for the day, Fitzwilliam,” she said. “I am most eager to become Mrs. Darcy.”
While Darcy could think of a hundred pleasurable things that would keep them in bed for a week, he could think of nothing better than making her his wife this very day. “And so, the ordering about begins already?”
“Of course,” Elizabeth smirked as she climbed out of bed. “I plan to be a most proper wife.”
Darcy frowned, and Elizabeth laughed at his expression. “Have your laugh now, but you will see that I rule my household firmly. I will not be nagged by my wife into every all her bidding.” He got out of bed and immediately reached for her.
Elizabeth laughingly danced away from his reach. “Dearest Fitzwilliam. I have a much better plan than to nag you to death.”
“Do you?” he asked as he followed after her. She was all playful movements, and he moved more like a cat on the prowl. “What will you do?” He asked as Elizabeth reached a wall and Darcy leaned both arms on either side of her head.
“Oh, I will convince you with sweetness instead.”
“I am not so easily swayed,” he murmured against her ear, smiling at her shiver in response. “Now, perhaps a kiss…”
“A kiss?” Elizabeth’s tone belied astonishment. She pulled his head down to her level and whispered in his ear. “I had planned on seduction.”
Before Darcy could reward her bold impertinence, she ducked out from under his arms and chuckled as she danced away again.
“Why are you over there if that is your intention?” Darcy asked, the pout on his lips very real.
“I have to be your wife first, silly.” Elizabeth grinned. “Come, we must make haste. I am afraid our lovemaking last night tired us out.”
As she slipped behind the screen to dress, Darcy marvelled not only at her lingering modesty but that he had never heard so many statements which could lighten his heart in such a short time. Elizabeth loved him, she could not wait to marry him, and she delighted in making love. By the time they had left their room, he could not stop grinning. He reckoned no man who saw Elizabeth would need to wonder at the cause of his joy.
They packed the few items they had needed for the evening and were on their way. Despite Elizabeth’s anxiety, they had arrived with enough time to allow them a brief excursion along the promenade. Darcy smiled hearing Elizabeth’s oohs and ahhs at the sights. The morning son dazzled on the sea, the clouds of the night before had vanished. She relished the breeze on her face and the smell of the salt air. He could hardly contain his mirth at her expression when they approached the harbour.
“They are much larger than I had expected.”
“This is good,” Darcy chuckled. He would hardly like to cross the sea with his bride on nothing sturdier than a fishing vessel. “Had you never seen the docks in London?”
Elizabeth replied that she had not, and he considered again how sheltered her life had been. He relished the opportunity to give her new experiences.
“Are you scared at all?” He whispered as they boarded the ship and he thought he detected a tremor in her hand as it rested on his arm.
“Not with you here,” she said, and she squeezed his arm.
Despite her brave words, Darcy believed she carried some anxiety and knew it was perfectly ordinary. The journey to Portpatrick was only a few hours, and the ship had no cabins for the passengers. The few vessels which attempted longer sea travel due, always a dangerous venture made worse by Napoleon, offered places to sleep. Their ship offered only a large common room, leaving the cabins for the crew and much of the area for cargo.
As the ship set sail, Darcy and Elizabeth stood on the deck and watched as Holyhead’s harbour grew smaller and smaller. Having been on a ship a few times to travel to Scotland and Ireland, Darcy adjusted to the rolling sensation of the ship. A glance at Elizabeth assured him she did not fare as well. Escorting her to the common area, he found a seat for her and offered some refreshment, which she refused.
“Is it her first time on a ship?” a friendly voice said to Darcy’s right.
Elizabeth nodded, a bit shyly, Darcy thought, at the lady.
“Ah, I remember my first time. The sickness always hits me but not nearly so bad as the first time. All I can promise you is that you don’t die from it and we are in safe hands with Captain Harvey. It will all be worth it in the end,” she said as only the old and wise can. “Scotland is a beauty. It’s proof that God can paint as well as any Master.”
“No one said she had never been to Scotland before,” the gentleman next to her harrumphed.
“Oh! I suppose you are correct, my dear,” the lady bubbled. “Well, have you been to Scotland before, Misses? What brings you to journey there?”
Darcy and Elizabeth glanced at each other and blushed. They had not rehearsed what to say if asked such a thing. Darcy had not thought it likely to be approached in such a fashion.
“Harriet, mind your tongue,” the man said. “You have embarrassed them. Why do you think two young people are going to Scotland?”
“Goodness!” She glanced at them, eyeing the way Elizabeth’s hand rested in Darcy’s as she nearly leaned on him for support as the long bench provided none for her back. “Pray, forgive me. I am not usually so chattery. My nerves get the best of me on a ship, you see. However, I had thought you must be a married couple of some years. She seems to rely on you so and trust you implicitly.”
With such an observation, Darcy and Elizabeth blushed again, but he could not be displeased.
The woman’s husband leaned forward and spoke in softer tones. “Do not mind us. We do not judge you in the least. We ran away together thirty years ago, and it has been the best decision I ever made.”
“I should say so, Mr. Scott!” the woman chuckled. “We go back now to visit our daughter. She has married a clergyman who resides in Glasgow. We could sail all the way there, but I prefer to spend the least amount of time on a ship as possible. Of course, it will all be worth it to see the baby.”
“My congratulations,” Elizabeth offered with a smile.
The two couples chatted amiably for the course of the journey, Darcy noting that Elizabeth seemed to perk up from the conversation.
“Oh, I wish my Agnes could meet you,” Mrs. Scott said to Elizabeth as the ship docked. “If ever you two are in Glasgow, you must visit Mr. and Mrs. David Russell in Parkhead. I am sure you both would just adore little Johnny. What a bright one he is already!”
Darcy smiled as the lady affectionately continued on about her grandson as her husband added his own pieces until they had to depart from the ship. The couple seemed lower in status than him and were far more outgoing than he typically preferred, but they were amiable and kind. Additionally, he could see the enduring love between the two, and it was impossible for him to not wish that thirty years hence, he and Elizabeth might be just as in love and enamoured of a grandchild.
Directing a young man to send their trunks to the appropriate inn, Darcy and Elizabeth walked to the nearest church, although not required by law, and pledged their troth. Assured of a legal and consecrated marriage, they ended the day in each other’s arms finally one in body and soul.