Reunited- Chapter Six

reunited 2Reunited is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks,  Kobo, and paperback!

 

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five

Chapter Six

 

Elizabeth’s heart pounded as she read Will’s letter. He had written with such tenderness and feeling. She had waited five years to see such words. She read and reread, lingering over every line until tears welled in her eyes. Reverently, she touched her fingers over the page noticing where it appeared his pen stopped as he paused over his words.

Will understood Elizabeth’s concerns. When she had tried to express them before he talked with her father, she had thought Will angry at her request. She did not wish to break their engagement, but so much had changed. They had changed. Who was the Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley now? When she had fallen in love with him, he was only the heir and very young at that. Now, he was master.

Five years ago, Elizabeth had believed herself inadequate to become the eventual Mrs. Darcy and Mistress of Pemberley. She can hardly fathom Will’s notice of her. Upon meeting him again and his declarations, she had determined that he must have felt honour bound to her. It was obvious she had not accepted any other suitor in the years they were apart. That he still had passion for her was obvious, but that did not mean he loved or respected her still. It did not mean he had not given his heart to others.

Elizabeth reread the words one more time. Just like when the man spoke, she had to understand the hidden meaning of his words. Will was reassuring her. He validated her concerns. He had also perceived her unsaid questions regarding his fidelity and loyalty. Well, they did not answer everything she wondered about. However, the most important part regarding his fidelity was answered. Now that they had found each other again, he intended to stay true.

Many moons had passed since Elizabeth was the naïve girl at sixteen confused about her brother’s attentions to the young woman at the theatre. Elizabeth had grown in the ways of the world and had overheard enough conversations to understand the matter better now. Whatever Sam’s business with that woman had been, it had not been marriage on his mind when he gazed at her. He had even tried to confess such a thing to Elizabeth when she had encountered him drunk later that evening. Of course, such a thing he would hardly want to tell his sister if sober. Still, Elizabeth understood that, for men, hearts were sometimes at odds with their carnal desires. Perhaps Sam had always loved Charlotte, and would have married her if he had lived, but enjoyed his time with the courtesan just as much. Elizabeth would be foolish if she thought that Will had not had similar liaisons while they were separated. She refused to ever be that foolish girl again. However, it now seemed he vowed to have only her in his affection. It was a bittersweet consolation, but she would take it. She would rather be Will’s last lover then never have him at all.

Next, her mind turned to focus on the words he wrote about his torment and imagining her with another man. It seemed they equally tortured themselves as the years passed. Each time a new gossip article turned up in the papers of Will’s attachment with other women, the hole in Elizabeth’s heart grew. However, he claimed to have written letters, even after he’d given her up. Did he still have them still? Would he let her read them? Perhaps she had no right to know his thoughts. Although unconsciously done, she had severely wounded him. Perhaps if she read the letters, she could help heal his wounds.

Finally, she opened the package and pulled out a small miniature of Will. It looked to be painted when he was about two and twenty. In fact, Elizabeth realised, it was probably done on his holiday after they had met. Elizabeth lovingly ran her fingers over the face of the young man she once knew. She could still see pieces of the young man in the visage of who he now was. Now, Will bore great burdens. It had aged him with fine lines forming around his eyes. When he smiled, they crinkled, and Elizabeth had found them more attractive and endearing than all his youthful grins.

Turning the miniature over, she read the inscription on the back. It read, “To Elizabeth with all my love.” As she had expected, the date included his holiday to Scotland. What astonished her was seeing a second inscription. “Yours, past, present and future, Will.” The date was from last week.

Lost in her thoughts, Elizabeth and did not hear Jane approach.

“Lizzy,” Jane’s gentle voice called out. “Mama asking about you.” Jane came closer, and her eyes widened when they fell upon the items in Elizabeth’s lap and the tears on her sister’s cheeks. “Whatever is the matter?”

Elizabeth let out a heavy sigh. “Will wrote me a letter.”

“After all this time, he finally wrote? My dear Lizzy, I had wondered how you felt after seeing him last night, but we’ve not had a moment to discuss it.

Elizabeth let out a laugh. “It feels as if my life turned upside down again. It was this way five years ago when we met. If I were wiser, perhaps I would be afraid.”

“Afraid? Why should you be afraid?”

“Any sane person would go running in the opposite direction of a man who turned everything on its head every time she saw him. Last night, I was so angry with him. This morning – –”

“This morning!” Jane took Elizabeth’s hands. “Did you see him before he called on Papa?”

“I had walked to Oakham Mount, and he came on horseback. Oh!” Elizabeth touched her head. “Speaking of his horse, while we were…” Elizabeth hesitated for she did not wish to share about Will’s embraces and kisses. “While we were attempting to discuss our separation and the matter of our betrothal, his horse nearly killed us.”

“Goodness,” Jane threw a hand to her heart after Elizabeth told her tale. “But do not put me off. I am sure whatever happened with the horse must have been distressing. However, both of you appeared to be in one piece at Longhorn. Tell me what you spoke of. What did he have to say for himself?”

A small smile played out Elizabeth’s lips. Jane so rarely expressed disapproval and anybody. Through the years she had often had a more charitable opinion of Will than Elizabeth had. However, Elizabeth had to admit it was amusing to see Jane so protective. “He says he considers us engaged.”

“Engaged! If he had honored the betrothal years ago, then he would have come and called on you. There would have been a courtship. Our Father’s permission would have been applied to. Instead, he left you alone!”

Elizabeth threw her hand her arms around Jane. “Please, my dear sister. I am well his, and his return does not distress me. He had much to say about his about our separation. I will tell you all only calm yourself.”

Jane gave Elizabeth a tight squeeze before pulling back and wiping her eyes. Finally, she said, “I will listen to what you have to say. I will reserve my judgment until I hear his defense.”

Jane listened in silence as Elizabeth explained her encounters with Will and their belief that someone intercepted his letters. Then, she read the one Elizabeth had just received. When Jane had finished, she folded it up and handed it back to Elizabeth. “He does seem to love you very much,” she said gently. “And I daresay he appropriately grieves the pain he has inflicted. Do you really believe someone would go to such lengths to have stopped his letters to you?”

“It is an astonishing thought, but I find that more likely than Will never having written and lying entirely. You know how I rationalized it. I tried to say that he must have found me unworthy or that he is simply toying with me.”

“Yes,” Jane said. “You would repeat that argument over and over again as though trying to convince yourself.”

“That is it entirely!” Elizabeth vigorously nodded. “We were so in love. He withstood the arguments from his father and from Sam. I may have been very young in the ways of the world, but I could not be confused about something as natural and intuitive as love. I do not mean the passion we shared. It would not be unusual for a young man to give in to such ardent displays. No. I reference the conversations we had which bared our souls. When I felt as though he and I were alone in the whole world and he was the only one who truly understood me.”

Jane straightened and looked offended.

“Jane!” Elizabeth hastened to say. “I do not mean that you did not understand me, but you do not have the same feelings yourself. Will and I differ on many things, but there are others that we are of very similar mind. You are so apt to see the good in everyone. I appreciate your friendship and your wise soul, but I do not know you can perceive how it feels to me. It is impossible for me to see the world from your sunny outlook.” Elizabeth shrugged. “I could be myself and was accepted for what I was with Will. I did not always have to try and be better than I am.”

“I do not mean to make you feel inadequate,” Jane said. After a pause, she added, “I believe the best loves are ones which make both partners stronger. Is that what you felt with Will?”

“Yes! Somehow, even as I would call it a flaw myself, Will turned every attribute into a strength.”

Jane stood, then gathered Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “We should return to the house. Mama sent me out here ages ago.”

“What has put her in a tizzy now?” Elizabeth laughed as she stood. “Or is she still angry at Will’s visit. It is as though she blames him for Sam’s death. Nothing could be more senseless. Not only were they the greatest of friends, but he lost his father that fire.”

“I cannot say how mama feels about your Will. However, Papa has received a letter from Mr. Collins. He asked to visit.”

“Our cousin? The one Papa has not talked to in years?”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “No, he has died. It is his son who wrote. Apparently, he is now the rector of a substantial living and Kent.”

“Why does he wish to visit? What could his intention be?” Elizabeth wondered.

“I am uncertain. Perhaps if you read the letter, you will be able to deduce it. Papa found it most amusing.”

Elizabeth did find Mr. Collins’ letter amusing. Unlike her father, however, she also thought it unusual. The older man broke ties with Mr. Bennet soon after Sam’s birth. With the birth of a Bennet heir, his residual claim disappeared. After Sam’s death, the old Mr. Collins wrote to Bennet offering his son as the new heir. Sam had lived long enough to sign the papers which broke the entail. Mr. Bennet could now we leave Longbourn to whoever he wished. To that effect, he chose to leave it to his eldest grandson who would not otherwise inherit an estate.

As the eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Jane had become the target of many suitors in the area. However, despite Mrs. Bennet’s matchmaking tendencies, she counseled her daughters to only accept gentlemen of means. There was no urgency or fear for the girls to marry. Although she put Jane and Elizabeth out into society at the age of 16, that was while the entail remained unbroken. The moment the ink dried on the papers, many of Mrs. Bennet’s anxieties gave away. The next youngest sister, Mary, now age seventeen, still waited for her turn to enter Society. As she seemed in no hurry, it created no distress between the sisters.

Elizabeth had half-vowed to never marry after losing Will. She had always assumed it would be Jane’s second son who would inherit Longbourn. Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip as she continued to think about the ramifications of their cousin’s visit. Eventually, if Will could prove himself faithful—or even if he could not as news of their engagement and their passionate embraces would certainly ruin her reputation and require marriage—Elizabeth would marry Will. However, Jane’s head had not been turned by any suitors. Years ago, Elizabeth believed Jane had a tender regard for Mr. Bingley. Now that he was in the area again, Elizabeth hoped the two could resume where they left off. Would Jane feel the pull to marry a relation? Whatever living Mr. Collins had contracted it could be nothing compared to Mr. Bingley’s fortune. However, that did not allow for other concerns which might influence a daughter as obedient and docile as Jane.

 

*****

 

It was two days before Will saw Elizabeth. Then it was at Lucas large. While there, Darcy had the pleasure of seeing Charles dance with the elder Miss Bennet. While they had never discussed the unselect Bennet girls after the fire, Will was not surprised to see signs that Charles had continued to admire Jane Bennet just as he had continue to admire Elizabeth. One of Elizabeth’s younger sisters was there as well. She was invited to the pianoforte by Miss Lucas. Mrs. Bennet bustled over to Mary’s side.

“Pray, Mary,” she said.” “You must play the new sonata you have been practicing.”

“I had planned to play a few jigs,” Mary said.

“Nonsense!”

Mary rifled through the music books and selected one. With chagrin, Will noted it was indeed a Mozart sonata rather than something the young people could dance to. Elizabeth approached Charles and Miss Bennet. Will perceived his opportunity to speak with her. Just before reaching her side, Sir William appeared.

“Mr. Darcy,” he said. “You honor us with your presence. Mrs. Bennet told me, just now, how long you had been friends with their family.”

“Samuel Bennet was one of my dearest friends.”

“Indeed? But I should not be so surprised. I have often heard of the liberality of the Darcy family and know from my experiences at St. James’s how kind people of great rank can be.”

“I assure you, sir, the kindness was all on Sam’s end. Many mistake my disposition and I am certain I if not for Sam, I might have offended the whole of Eton and Cambridge.”

“Ah, you do your friend great justice, but I will not allow it to be so far I have seen your good nature. You danced at our assembly.”

“It is a civility one can hardly avoid.”

“I saw a great deal more than civility, Mr. Darcy. Did you not dance with Miss Eliza? And her sister, Miss Mary, as well?”

“As an old friend of the family, it was the least I could do.”

“Yes, we miss Sam acutely. My Charlotte, well she learned to get on well enough. Do you know that when we got news of Sam’s passing, she did not shed a tear? She bore it all with such strength that if my own dear wife could be as brave as she in the face of my demise, I would not be unhappy.”

Will glanced at Charlotte as he thought over her father’s words while he babbled on about his visits to St. James. Will had never supposed that what Sam and Charlotte shared was anything like his passionate feelings for Elizabeth. In that regard, he could understand Sam’s dilemma in choosing between Lucy and Charlotte. He could not excuse his friend’s decision to entangle himself. However, Will could comprehend the difficulty of his choice. Charlotte, on the other hand, he previously believed, truly loved his friend. How could she have borne the news of Sam’s passing with such sanguine? True, Will’s impression of Charlotte was that she was not of a sensational nature. Surely some tears at the death of her betrothed would be human nature. Will himself cried much over the death of his friend and his father. The belief that he lost Elizabeth forever wounded him more than he would ever care to admit. And he had dampened more handkerchiefs at the thought of never seeing her again than any man could countenance. Now, Will observed Miss Lucas and started at the hardness he saw emanating from her eyes. Why, she despised Will and Charles! Jane smiled at something Charles said, and Charlotte stepped forward. Mary’s sonata ended and, thinking quickly, Will return Sir William to the discussion of dancing.

“I am surprised a man as jolly as you has not arranged for dancing this evening.”

“Quite right. You are quite right Mr. Darcy.” Sir William Lucas ran off to invite his daughter to entertain his guests.

Now, Will made his way without interference. Elizabeth saw him approach and blushed.

“I hope, you came all this way with that smile on your face to dance with me?”

“I believe I made my sentiments on that quite known to you, Elizabeth,” Will bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and brought it to his lips.

She blushed again and glanced around nervously. “Sir,” she scolded

“I am courting you, as you deserve. Your neighbors and friends should acknowledge my interest, and I shall make it quite worth remarking upon, I assure you.” He smirked. At two-and-twenty, he gave little thought about how to court a woman. After five years of blaming himself for her supposed abandonment, Will had imagined all the ways to court Elizabeth in and out of drawing rooms. Will nodded to the dance floor where several of the young Lucases had rolled up the carpet. “May I have the honor of a dance, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I believe the honor is mine,” she said.

Will have been used to thinking that he would rather have his head on display in the Tower of London then engage in inane pleasantries. However, he would suffer all that and more to spend even one second in Elizabeth’s company. He beamed with pride when she placed her hand on his arm. Not to be outdone, Charles requested Jane’s hand for a set. Soon other couples also joined the dance as well.

“I believe we must have some conversation,” Elizabeth acknowledged.

“I will speak on anything you desire, my love.” The endearments fell from Will’s mouth without second thought. “Might I suggest a date for our marriage to begin?”

Elizabeth frowned. “I thought you understood,” she said. “I need more time.”

The dance separated them for a moment. When they returned, Will took a deep breath before speaking. “I understand your request, my dearest. Do you understand mine? After all the years of separation and pain, I believe we have been engaged long enough. Yes, there is much we need to learn about each other, but I have no intention to give you up. Nothing I could learn would shake my determination to marry you.” He dropped his voice. “Please, I cannot bear to lose you again. Have we not learned how quickly everything we think we have imagined for our lives may change?”

Elizabeth met his eyes, and they glittered with tears. The dance separated them for several minutes, and Will watched Elizabeth as closely as he could. He did not mean to pressure her into anything she was uncomfortable with, but the courtship was a mere formality, was it not?

Reunited- Chapter Five

reunited 2We left with Will, finally, asking Mr. Bennet for his blessing on marrying Elizabeth. What will Mr. Bennet say?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

“I accept.”

As Mr. Bennet spoke, relief and peace washed over Will. He could breathe easier than he had a moment before and his racing pulse calmed.

“However, I have conditions.”

The flash of hope that swelled Will’s heart evaporated. Would he ever have Elizabeth as his wife? Perhaps stealing away to Scotland would be necessary after all these years. “What are they?” Will asked through grit teeth, his patience wearing thin.

“You must court her openly for several weeks. No one else knew of this secret betrothal from so many years ago. I will not have you swooping in and acting the ever-constant lover who deserves liberties with his betrothed. She deserves far more than that, and her reputation requires it.”

“Must we conceal our attachment and act as new acquaintances, then?”

Mr. Bennet paused before answering. “I will allow you two to consider the best method. Everyone knows you were friends with Sam and that you had met previously. That you had both held a torch for one another will be hard enough for most to credit.”

Will blew out a breath, and his muscles relaxed. “Very well. I will accept those terms. For what it is worth, I do know what Elizabeth is worth, and I know she deserves more from me than I have given her in the past.”

“See that you do not forget it again,” Mr. Bennet added with raised brows. “Did your father know of the betrothal?”

“No,” Will sighed. “He knew of my attachment and the direction of my thoughts. He had attempted to dissuade me but ultimately said he trusted me. Of course, he probably believed my interest would wane during our holiday. Why do you ask?”

“I am considering the fact that you claim someone stole your letters. Do you think he would go so far as that to discourage matters?”

“I do not think so…” Will trailed off. “I had come today with the purpose of if you had.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “I assure you, son, I was oblivious to any romance between you and my daughter. While I would have been of your father’s mind, if Sam ever told you anything about me then you should know that I am far too lackadaisical to go to such measures.”

Will blinked. “You would not have approved of our attachment?”

“For all the reasons I am sure your father put forth. It was formed too quickly, you were both too young. You were raised to other expectations and Elizabeth could offer you nothing in the way of fortune or connection. She could hardly be a credit to you as Mrs. Darcy.”

“I strongly disagree, sir.” Will straightened and his jaw set tightly. “Elizabeth is exactly what I need as a Mrs. Darcy. Whatever she has experienced in our years apart will only continue to be an asset.”

“Well,” Mr. Bennet smirked. “You may go and visit with your future sisters and mother-in-law. Send Elizabeth to me. Your courtship may begin tomorrow in Mrs. Bennet’s drawing-room.”

Understanding his dismissal, Will stood and bowed. He had not discovered who had separated him from Elizabeth but had made something of an ally of her father regarding his courtship. It was as much of a good start as he had a right to expect.

Will left Longbourn disappointed he had not had more time with Elizabeth. All he had heard about Mrs. Bennet had prepared him to find a matchmaking mama. Instead, she seemed protective of Elizabeth and wanted to keep her away from Will. She filled any silence with her voice and, if the confused looks on her daughters’ faces were any sign, acted more ridiculous than usual. It seemed designed to put him off, but Will had no intention of leaving Hertfordshire without Elizabeth as his wife. He may have been delayed five years, but he would see his goal met. All those years ago, step one of his plan had been to rent Netherfield and court Elizabeth from there. The situation had changed, but the ends could still be claimed.

“Will,” Charles said with surprise when they passed one another on the stairs. “You have already been out? I am calling on Longbourn as soon as I finish breakfast. Go and change. I will wait for you.”

Will shook his head. “I have already been to Longbourn and in any case, have a servant looking for Apollo.”

Charles’ eyes widened. “There is a story there.”

“Indeed.” Will looked at their surroundings first. “Follow me, and I will tell you all.”

The men walked in silence to Will’s chamber. Upon shutting the door, he relaxed. One never knew which Bingley sister might be listening to a conversation in the hall. “Something spooked Apollo, and he nearly trampled us.”

“Us?”

Will explained the happy surprise of finding Elizabeth at Oakham Mount.

“So you talked and have it all settled now, do you?” Charles grinned.

“What would there be to settle?” Will peered at his friend. He had never told Charles of his proposal. He had barely hinted at the time of his admiration for Elizabeth. Since the fire, he took all pains to never mention her name.

“I know what love and courtship look like far more than you do,” Charles laughed. “Do not look so surprised. You could not act before because of Sam. I never saw you behave around another lady the way you did around Miss Elizabeth. Now that we are here, I assume you have wasted no time in staking your claim, at last. Was she very relieved to finally hear the words?”

Will’s head spun in circles at Charles’ speech. He presumed that Will had proposed already to Elizabeth and would have no way of knowing they had, in fact, been engaged for half a decade. Will had not uttered anything that came close to a second proposal. In fact, his first proposal was rather terrible. A small smile came to his lips as he recalled Elizabeth’s teasing until he actually asked rather than demand her hand. More than anything though, Elizabeth must have longed to hear the words he had waited so long to hear. When Elizabeth confessed she still loved him and always had, a dam broke in Will’s heart. He was as defenseless against his net actions of taking her into his arms as a ___. He acted on instinct. Words were too inadequate to explain his depth of feeling and had failed him years ago. It had been a time of action. Only…did Elizabeth not understand his continued love?

Years ago, she had briefly thought he used and discarded women. Last night on the balcony, she mentioned the gossip rags and their false tales of his exploits with ladies. She must very well understand his continued passion for her, but she had never been courted. She did not understand how he loved and needed her.

“Will!” Charles exclaimed.

“Pardon me. I was wool-gathering.”

“I could see that. You may keep your thoughts to yourself about Miss Elizabeth, but I asked if you would accompany my family and me to Longbourn.”

“Ah. As I said, I have already visited today. I will go tomorrow as Mr. Bennet invited me to begin my courtship with Elizabeth then.”

“A courtship already! I only teased before, but I knew you would not wait long to come to your point.”

Will chuckled. No, he had not waited long at all. Bingley excused himself, and after withdrawing writing utensils, Will settled in. While his friend was away, Will intended to woo his lady from afar. When he had finished, he reread each line, praying they would convey a shred of his regard to Elizabeth. Pleased with the final product, he sanded and sealed it before ringing for his valet.

“Please send this to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, along with the blue box,” Will instructed. “Choose a servant you trust to discharge the duty discreetly and ___. I want no one but Miss Elizabeth to handle them. Should that be impossible, he is to return here, and I will see to it myself.”

“Yes, sir,” Matthews answered.

“Oh, and Matthews, I must inquire about your time with my father.”

Will watched his valet tense. He and his father had shared a man since Will had not required one while at University. His father died before Will hired a manservant of his own—a task intended for after the summer holiday. Not wishing to sack Matthews and feeling comfort in a familiar face, Will kept on the older gentleman. Through the years, they had built a rapport and he hoped he could trust the man.

“Before Mr. Darcy passed, did he ever ask you to intercept letters of mine?”

“No, sir.” Matthews shook his head. “May I speak freely?”

“Of course,” Will waved him on.

“If the old master would have asked that of me, I would have resigned. It was on my minds much during his final days. Many of us were displeased with his favouring young Wickham. However, I do not wish to speak ill of your father.”

“Nothing you can say will disturb me. I am aware of all he was, both good and bad.”

“Indeed, sir. And do not think me ungrateful. To all the staff and me, Mr. Darcy was the greatest master—except you, sir—that ever lived. You are very like him in that regard. Only…it did not seem right the way he favoured George Wickham so much.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I do not mean from a servant’s perspective. Many a steward’s son is groomed in such a way. I do not know how aware you were with dealings below stairs, sir. There was considerable trouble between Wickham and the maids—even Miss Darcy’s governesses. I feared for Miss Graves until Annesley, God rest him, was appointed to accompany her whenever she left the house. Of course, he took it a step further and became her shadow even in the home and well, I suppose, that is how they decided to marry.”

“It does you credit that you worried so much. I did know of Wickham’s wicked ways and approached my father many times on the matter. However, you make it sound as though you continued to worry for Mrs. Annesley even after we went on holiday that summer.”

“I did not believe Wickham would be above sending someone to exact his revenge upon her. Additionally, he often visited Pemberley while you were away.”

“Pardon me?” Will’s every muscle tensed. “What reason did he have and why was I never informed.”

“I did not know you had not been informed. I apologise for the lapse—I can only plead there must have been some misunderstanding. It is not like Mrs. Reynolds to not inform you of these matters and you know she was no supporter of him. As for a reason…”

Matthews looked away for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Out with it, man,” Will commanded.

“He always claimed to want to visit Miss Darcy and indeed he spent hours with her.”

Will swore and his valet blanched. “No wonder she believed the fiend so easily! Her father died and her brother seemingly abandoned her, but Wickham had been her friend for years.”

“You must not blame yourself,” Matthews said consolingly.

“Who is to blame then? It was my duty!” A vice gripped Will’s heart. Who had he not disappointed? He had falsely abandoned Elizabeth, allowed a rake to importune his sister and break her heart.

“You are responsible for no one’s decisions but your own,” Matthews placed a bracing hand on his master’s shoulder. “Besides, you do not think Wickham is so wicked to have intentionally created a friendship with Miss Darcy all to enact later?”

Colour drained from Will’s face. He had not considered such a thing but could he rule it out? Matthews shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. “I will send these to Longbourn. It is good to see such an address on your correspondence again.” He briefly smiled.

“Yes, very good,” Will dismissed his valet.

He had been prepared, even expected, to learn of interference from either his father or Elizabeth’s. He had thought he put the pain of Georgiana’s seduction behind him. Now, he wondered if she deserved any of his scolding and ire. A few minutes later, Matthews returned informing Will who he had selected for the task and with a bundle of mail.

Leafing through the envelopes, Will sighed. Georgiana’s felt incredibly light—probably only a few lines with nothing more than a nod to civility and written under duress and threats of no privileges per his plan with Mrs. Annesley. Richard’s felt the usual weight and Mrs. Reynolds’ heavier than ever before. Arranging his supplies once more, Will bent over the desk. He had much to read and even more to write.

 

*****

 

After Will left Longbourn, Elizabeth went for a walk just within the garden. Upon his leaving, her stepmother had begun telling her how unworthy Will was for their attention. Fanny Bennet had never seemed to understand Elizabeth, but she also never seem to desire to purposely wound the girl. Elizabeth knew none, but Jane could understand the pain that her mother’s words against Will brought to Elizabeth’s heart.

After an hour or so in the garden picking the remains of the autumn flowers, Elizabeth returned to the house. She arrived at the door just as a footman from Netherfield, dismounted on the drive.

“Tommy,” Elizabeth said in surprise at seeing the son of one of Longbourn’s tenants who was recently hired as a footman by Mr. Bingley at her door. “Is all well with your parents?”

“Yes, they are very well. I come on business from Netherfield.”

“Netherfield?” Elizabeth scrunched her nose up in confusion.

Tommy turned and withdrew a small package and envelope from a saddlebag. Facing her again, he grinned. “Mr. Darcy’s valet selected me for the task of bringing this to you. I was instructed if I could not give it to you directly to return to the house and Mr. Darcy would come.”

Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat at Tommy’s knowing smirk. “Thank you, Tommy. I am sure that Mr. Darcy’s valet also selected you for your loyalty and ability for discretion.”

“Indeed,” he nodded with a grin. “That is exactly what Matthews said.” He hitched his leg over the horse.

“Thank you for discharging your duty. You may please tell Mr. Matthews to pass along my greetings to Mr. Darcy and my thanks.”

Tommy waved and set back toward Netherfield. Elizabeth glanced nervously around to be sure no one saw the delivery before hastening back to the garden. Choosing the bench in the furthest corner, and therefore away from prying eyes of sisters and parents, Elizabeth settled to read the note.

My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,

 

My heart is full, and my mind overwhelmed as I attempt to comprehend the depth of my love for you. The only words I can summon barely do it justice. Forgive my poor attempts at courtship. My ineptness does not reflect the esteem in which I hold you.

When we first met, I was an arrogant youth who thought only of his own worth. I loved you, but I could not set aside my fears and insecurities. If we had spent more than a week together or if I had not left on holiday, I would have learned to see past them. I was a selfish lover who did not consider your feelings although you and others attempted to explain to me the difficulties you would face as my bride. In my hurt and conceit, I abandoned you when you most needed me. I can never forget or forgive myself for failing you in such a way. I vow now, to never make you feel alone again.

Your father has invited me to begin my courtship on the morrow, but I could not wait to share my sentiments—thoughts and words which could not be said in your mother’s drawing-room.

Five years ago, I was dumb-struck at your loveliness and vivacity. Your wit fascinated me and your courage impressed me. Now, I have witnessed your strength, your determination, your capacity for love and loyalty. Each of these facets and I am sure many more, make up the wondrous woman you have become. Once more, I am rendered mute at your beauty and the incredible fortune which has turned your attention to me. I did not deserve you then and assuredly do not now.

Although we have been separated by time and distance, you have been the wind in my sails, Elizabeth. I never could meet a lady without wondering what you would say or do instead. None of them could intrigue or captivate me like you. Having a taste of incredible passion and a sliver of happiness, I could not accept anything less—even as I presumed to never have such with you. My heart was yours alone even as I had believed you moved forward with your life. Can you imagine the torturous hours I have spent imagining you with another? That any other man might know the taste of your lips, feel the heat of your blush, or hear the whispered words I so desperately longed for plagued me. I spent hours consumed in letter writing just to resign myself that you no longer cared and did not send them. Countless times, I determined to ride to Longbourn and stake my claim—announce my improprieties to your father and force yourself wed to me—only to determine I would rather never have you at all than have you hate me for life.

My dearest darling, I will not plead that you do not make me wait long to alleviate my suffering. Instead, I will assure you that I will court you until you are satisfied. Nothing will tear me from your side now. I came to Hertfordshire to see you—I had to see you—and here I will remain until I leave with you as Mrs. Darcy. I have held you in my arms for mere moments and in my dreams nightly for years. I will not rest until I have the right to embrace you for a lifetime.

Yours forevermore,

Will


What a letter! That’s two suspects knocked off the list. We still have Mrs. Bennet and Sam. Any other guesses? Reunited is finished and being edited! I think I will keep to posting on Saturdays just for my own sanity. Therefore, the story will continue to post after the book is released. I also will probably not do a pre-order this time around. However, if you subscribe to my mailing list (there’s a pop up for this blog but here is the link as well: http://eepurl.com/cXCKVT) then you have the opportunity of getting a downloadable advance reader copy. There is a limited amount and first come, first serve so I can’t promise everyone will get one. I send out the email as soon as I have a link to share. Look for an email in early August.

Reunited- Chapter Four

reunited 2Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

Salt from Elizabeth’s tears mingled with the taste of Will’s mouth. How she had craved this for five years and feared she would never experience it again. They had much they still needed to say, but Elizabeth gave herself up to their passions. Years ago, they had been young, and while passionate, timid. Now, time had heightened their feelings. Will groaned when their lips first met and then deepened the kiss. His tongue dueled with hers. With each stroke, Elizabeth believed she could never quench her desire for more. Muscular arms held her against him, first wrapped around her back, then settling on her hips. Of their own accord, Elizabeth’s arms settled around his neck and her body sagged against him. A whimper of relief bordering on pain escaped her mouth. Her hands knocked his hat off and her fingers tangled in his hair.

Suddenly, Will tore at her bonnet ribbons and wrenched his lips from hers so he could draw back and see his work. Wordlessly, Elizabeth pushed his hands aside and deftly untied the bow. Will chuckled as he all but tore it from her head and sent it sailing to the ground. Although her favorite bonnet, at the moment she could not care less. Will was here, kissing her. He might disappear again just as suddenly as he came. If she had only this moment with him, she would enjoy it without regret.

Will cupped her face before kissing every inch. His mouth trailed lower as he laved his hot tongue over her skin. Goose pimples erupted on her flesh and moans and gasps fell from her throat. Elizabeth arched her neck to allow him greater access. He bent her backward and supported her with one hand even as the other explored the space above her neckline and her arms. She squirmed against him and clutched his back, wishing they could be closer still. If only she could remove his cravat and return the exquisite sensation he now evoked in her. Will’s kisses returned up to her throat and he nibbled at her earlobe. Elizabeth’s legs buckled, and he pulled her in even closer.

“Mine,” he whispered.

A shiver ran up Elizabeth’s spine. “I am yours,” Elizabeth heard tumbling from her lips without conscious thought.

“Mine now and always,” he said fervently and brought her head to his chest.

Hearing his heart pound in her ear, Elizabeth felt Will rest his chin atop her head and rub her back.

“Perfect,” he pressed a kiss to her hair. “Just as I always knew it would be.”

Elizabeth pulled back, needing to see his eyes and judge his earnestness by their expression. No longer drunk on passion, she feared for her heart as much as ever. Instead of seeing an affectionate gaze, his blue eyes were wide in horror. Her heart pounded in her ears, but no—no, that was hoofbeats.

Will pushed Elizabeth on the ground and threw himself atop her as a horse trampled around them. She thought she heard Will shouting at it, but it was so hard to hear as its feet pounded around them and it screamed  in alarm. For a moment longer than eternity, Elizabeth lay still as Will protected her with his own body. She had no fear for herself but prayed as she never had before that the man she loved would be spared any pain or injury. Pulse racing and heart pounding, she did not recognise at first when the white terror had left them.

“Elizabeth!” Will called loudly from her side. “Speak, love. Tell me you are unharmed. If Apollo injured you, I will never—”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Blinking, she rose to a sitting position.

“Slowly, now,” Will soothed and rubbed her back. “Do you feel any pain?”

Words still stuck in her throat, she shook her head.

“Thank God!” He crushed her in a tight embrace, his head resting on her shoulder.

“That was your horse?” Elizabeth asked in a breathy voice.

“Yes—I cannot imagine what may have spooked him. He is usually quite docile.” He pulled back and held her by the shoulders. “You are certain you are uninjured?”

“I am,” she said in a stronger tone. Emotion, she perceived, had strangled her voice. Now safe, she recovered quickly. Her eyes scanned over Will. “But you are not!”

“No, I am well,” he said then perceiving where her eyes rested, pulled his arms away from her.

Will had a few bruises and a scrape on his cheek that might lend distinction to his face upon healing but otherwise appeared unscathed—except where his sleeve had torn and revealed to Elizabeth scarred, angry flesh on his forearms. She had not known he was injured in the fire as her father had been. Why was she never informed?

“Will,” she reached out a hand.

“If you are recovered,” he said coldly, “I will escort you home. I would like to speak with Mr. Bennet.”

“What of your horse?”

“I will send a servant to fetch him later. Apollo is a good horse and will not wander far. What I need to discuss with your father is far more important.”

Elizabeth blushed, believing he referenced their old engagement. After the events of this morning, she could little doubt his affection and wishes remained unchanged. Will stretched out a hand and assisted Elizabeth to her feet. Collecting her bonnet, she then restored her appearance as best she could for there was no hiding the dirt. Wrapping her hand around his “good” arm, she squeezed it a little as they set off on the path to Longbourn.

“Perhaps he knows—or maybe he is the guilty party—who intercepted my letters and how they never reached you.”

In all that had followed, Elizabeth nearly forgot to wonder what happened. “No, I do not think Papa knew anything about it. When he mentioned your coming here—he did not reveal your name but neither did he seem anxious to conceal it. I hate to think it, but might it have been Sam—or even your father?”

Will frowned. “Either might be true, but I cannot question dead men. In our last conversation on the topic, Father said he would yield to my wishes. Sam—” His brow furrowed.

“What is it?”

“I do not wish to speak ill of your brother or make his memory less sacred to you.”

“I always wish to know the truth,” Elizabeth encouraged.

“He was in debt to Lord Harcourt.”

Elizabeth could not repress her shudder at the memory of the young earl who made her skin crawl.

“There were other matters too. He did not approve of our affection, and feared for your future especially.” Will shook his head. “He had set off on a doomed path, but I believe if he had lived he would have seen to the correction of his failings. I mourn the loss of his potential even more than I mourn the loss of his friendship. I do not know that he would be so deceitful as to steal my letters.”

“Forgive me,” Elizabeth whispered. “I have not considered your feelings enough. Losing your father and your friend in one evening…”

“Yes,” he squeezed her hand. “However, it is in the past, and I have made it through. Charles became an invaluable support to me. If you recall my cousin, Richard, he was as well.”

They had just entered the Longbourn gate. “I do recall him. I trust he has been well. And your sister? I have thought of my little friend many times over the years.”

Elizabeth watched as Will’s expression changed. He appeared more mournful as she asked after his sister than he had even when speaking of his deceased father and friend.

“I would be most pleased if you corresponded with her. Perhaps soon she may visit Netherfield and renew your acquaintance in person.”

“I would like that,” Elizabeth said as a strange nervousness filled her. “Will.” She tugged on his arm to stay his movements.

“What is it?”

“I…I…there is no need to tell my father everything.”

He nodded. “Of course, I guard your reputation with my life—even from your father.”

“No…of…of…anything recent.”

“I do not understand what you mean.”

Elizabeth waved her hand between them. “Us—anything about us. We barely knew each other then and have only seen each other twice. There is much left unsaid.”

“I had thought we found the heart of the matter. I believed you did not love me because you never replied to my letters. A correspondence which you never received. Therefore, I would like to know how that came to be.”

“Yes, I agree that was the situation and if solving the mystery is important to you, then, by all means, question him. But we might say it was only intent at an imprudent correspondence. Or, at least, not hint at any continued feelings or expectations.”

Will’s jaw tightened, and his shoulder straightened. “You do not wish for me to inform him of our long-standing betrothal? Or you do not wish to continue it? Speak plainly, madam.”

Elizabeth blinked at his transformation. No longer her Will, suddenly, the master of Pemberley stood before her. “Do not order me about!” She said with more offense than she felt. “I do not know what I wish. You return after years away, dripping charm, and smothering me with kisses before death-defying acts of saving my life. I was never courted properly. I will not be whisked away as your bride before I even know who you now are.”

“Elizabeth Bennet, you may be the only woman in creation to make me feel so many contradictory emotions in such a short span! I am certain no one else has ever called me charming. Then you somehow insinuate making love to you and potentially sacrificing my life as a terrible thing all before demanding courtship. If it is courtship and understanding me that you desire, then come, at once. I will promise you both, and we will begin with speaking to your father.”

Will returned her hand to his arm and led them to Longbourn. There, he asked for an audience with Mr. Bennet, and they separated in the hall.

 

*****

 

Will entered Mr. Bennet’s study with determination. Elizabeth was his, and whoever had caused them the pain they had experienced for five years—and the source of her current timidity—would pay dearly for their meddling.

“Will, I did not expect to see you this morning,” Mr. Bennet greeted him and motioned for him to sit. “I trust you do not mind my calling you such. It is difficult to think of you as Mr. Darcy although I see how much you have grown to look like your father.”

Tensing, Will nodded in acceptance. In the past five years, he had felt the weight of his father’s burdens. While he once had believed he would easily slip into the old master’s shoes, he had far too soon learned the truth. George Darcy managed far more than Will had ever known. His father died before his instruction on how to run Pemberley had really begun. He had hoped to rely on his steward, but Mr. Wickham did not long outlive the master. At least his illness had allowed Will the appropriate time to find a replacement and Will’s uncle, the earl, had loaned his steward to assist the young man. For the residents of Pemberley and the nearby town of Lambton, George Darcy was a saint who could do no wrong and Will felt he had much to measure up to. What he had needed for all those years was the indefatigable support of his beloved.

“You did not tell Elizabeth very much about the fire, did you?” Will began.

Mr. Bennet coloured and shuffled some papers on his desk. “It was a subject which naturally upset her nor was it any more comfortable for me to explain.”

“I do not mean to reprimand, but I have only just now discovered that she had never been informed of the injuries I sustained during the event.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyes scanned Will, and he raised his brows when he noticed the torn sleeve.

“I came upon Elizabeth while out walking. I had tied my horse off while we talked but something spooked Apollo. We were nearly trampled.”

Mr. Bennet stiffened and clutched the arms of his chair. His body thrummed with energy as though he would shoot out of it at any moment. “Lizzy is well?”

“She is unharmed. I would never allow anything to hurt her.” Will spoke with sincere conviction, and his voice cracked as he considered what might have been. If Mr. Bennet had been the one to conceal their correspondence, he would have some reckoning.

The older gentleman relaxed and then cocked his head. “You speak of her both passionately and familiarly. Additionally, you seem to think your well-being would have been of interest to my Lizzy.”

Straightening his shoulders, Will met the man’s gaze. “We were betrothed—are betrothed.” Pride bloomed in his heart. It was the first time he had admitted such a thing to another. How had he concealed it so long? “I believe she would have desired to know. Did she ask after me?”

Will watched as Mr. Bennet paled, coloured, and blinked in confusion. “What did you just say?”

“Before our last parting,” Will answered, “I proposed marriage to Elizabeth, and she accepted.”

Now, Bennet shot out of his chair, pushing it aside. Slamming his hands on his desk, he leaned over it with a wild look in his eye.

Will gulped. “Elizabeth and I are in love and have been for the past five summers. We have been betrothed for years.”

“Young man!” Mr. Bennet boomed. “Take care of what you say next for I have a strong mind to request pistols at dawn since you are too old for me to paddle and too large for me to thrash. Take yourself to a corner and be silent.”

Hesitating, Will slowly stood and bowed. “I will abide by your wishes and agree some space is sensible.” Taking a post by the window with his back turned to the older man, he waited several minutes until he was summoned once more to sit.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Bennet said in something closer to his usual tone. “I am not often given to such displays of emotion, but you must admit your information was shocking.”

“I did not mean for it to be so,” Will answered. He had thought his forthright manner would be an asset. It seemed that was not appreciated on Elizabeth’s father. “Allow me to apologise for the upset. I suppose you probably have many questions for me.”

Bennet pinched the bridge of his nose. “As a father and close friend of yours, I have many conflicting feelings. What I know of you, or what you were half a decade ago, would have been everything I desired in a husband for Lizzy. However, I do not appreciate that it was not done openly or when she was so young. The more I consider it, she did ask about you when I returned after the fire. I did not think much of it as our thoughts were full of Sam and our loss. She slipped into a deep melancholy which has not entirely left her. Yesterday, I found her weeping at his grave. If even a shred of that emotion is related to your prolonged absence, I have half a mind to banish you from my house. I pray that you never live to see the day that your offspring are treated so horribly.”

“I, too, regret the pain Elizabeth experienced, and I intend to make up for lost time. Allow me to add, that the separation devastated me as well.”

“I suppose you might have an explanation?”

“Nothing that does me much credit,” Will frowned. “I had already heard arguments against the attachment. When she did not reply to my letters, I believed the worst. She had changed her mind—or perhaps never cared for me at all, as George Wickham had argued at the time.”

“I would not have thought you would have listened to him.” Bennet folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “I recall you attempting to tell your father many times that the young man was no good.”

Will shook his head. “I can only claim the insecurity of youth. After my father died…” He trailed off. Lacking the proper words to explain his sentiments, Will waved his hands. “I was lost. My mind was too consumed with grief and the weight of my burdens to consider matters. I will never forgive myself, even still, I do not think it is most logical to conclude that someone must have tampered with our mail. I ought to have asked Elizabeth directly, but I could not bear to see her.”

“Do I understand you correctly? You believe she gave you up?”

“Yes,” Will answered and for a terrible moment relived the days of uncertainty and yearning as well as the nights of constant self-reproach.

“Did you believe her so mercenary?” Bennet asked sharply. “Your best friend’s sister!”

Will pushed a hand through his curls. “Again, I can only point to the foolishness of youth and the reckless pace of our romance. I allowed my insecurities and the prejudices of my father to plague me. However, Sam had recently gotten into considerable debt and was hiding from a creditor. I had known him for years. At the same time, my father refused to hear my concerns regarding Wickham. I felt there was no one I could trust and all the world mercenary.”

“As you claim you are still betrothed to her, and she loves you, I presume you have spoken with her on the subject.”

“Yes,” Will nodded. Well, actually…no. They had not discussed how to regard their betrothal. If he understood her words, Elizabeth wished for a courtship. Neither one had intended to form a breach and there had been no subsequent attachments—of that Will was sure. Elizabeth would not kiss him and confess to love him if she had ever hoped to marry another. “Ah, we could clarify matters more. After the incident with the horse, I desired to see her safely returned home.”

“I commend you for, finally, doing the proper thing and speaking to her father.”

Will coloured. He had never asked for Mr. Bennet’s blessing, and even now he told more than asked. Elizabeth was not of age. Surely her father would not make them wait longer than they already had. Pride for his station and security of Elizabeth’s feelings mingled with the knowledge that Mr. Bennet deserved his respect. Swallowing his conceit, Will met his potential father-in-law’s eyes. “I humbly submit a request for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

 

Reunited- Chapter Three

reunited 2

Chapter Three

 A shiver ran up Elizabeth arm as well bent over her gloved hand and raised it to his lips. A moment later, anger wracked her body and she snatched her hand away. Did he think he could show up five years after not a word and just resume where they had last met? She would not be his plaything again. However, it would not do to draw the notice of the whole assembly. Composing self, Elizabeth allowed will to place her hand on his arm as he escorted her back father.

“How wonderful you two look together,” Mr. Bennet observed with a sly glance with.

“Thank you, sir,” Will said.

Elizabeth clenched her teeth before she could say anything rude. She had seen Will and her father talking together earlier. Then she carefully watched as Will barely uttered more than a monosyllable to anybody else. His eyes peered across the room, and he frowned at everyone. Five years as the master of Pemberley had certainly inflated his ego. Why did he come at all? If the Bennets and Meryton society were no longer good enough for Fitzwilliam Will, then why would he come?

“Lizzy!” Mrs. Bennet called from across the room.

In any other scenario, Elizabeth would be mortified at her mother’s behavior. Now, she could never thank her enough for saving her from such an awkward situation.

“Come here my child,” Mrs. Bennet said at a more moderate tone and motioned at Elizabeth.

“Pardon me,” Elizabeth dropped a curtsy. She could feel Will’s eyes follow her.

“Mr. Graham has asked your hand for a set,” Mrs. Bennet said as Elizabeth approached. “Have you not, Mr. Graham?”

Mrs. Bennet’s eyes bounced between Elizabeth, and Mr. Graham with a smile fixed on her face. “Well, go.” She pushed the two on the dance floor.

Belatedly, Mr. Graham reached for Elizabeth’s hand and clumsily led her through the motions of the dance. The conversation was as dull as it had ever been. He was a few years older than Sam, so they had never been close, but Elizabeth had known him all of her life. Tonight’s conversation, just like all of her life, the man had bored her to tears. One of Meryton’s so-called finest gentlemen was not enough for Elizabeth’s mother. For three more dances, Mrs. Bennet continued to thrust gentlemen that Elizabeth had long refused to consider as suitors upon her.

The real insult of the evening, however, happened when her last partner stomped on her foot. After the dance ended, Elizabeth excused herself and went out to the balcony. Sliding off her dancing slipper, she massaged her poor toes as she leaned on the railing.

Elizabeth’s sighed as weariness slammed into her. She had thought she put all of her feelings for Will behind her. For five years, she had mourned this day as the death of her brother. Through the years, it had come to symbolize the end of her youth and naïveté as well. She could not say precisely when, but somewhere in the hopeless weeks and months after Sam’s death as she waited for Will to arrive at Longbourn or write to console her, her heart froze over.

The time has long passed, however, to be sad over her heartbreak. Instead, she embraced her anger at Will’s dismissal of her and his actions of the night. His imitation that he had written letters she had never answered was just another way he tried to manipulate her. Furthermore, her father knew who would be arriving nothing to warn her. While Will had not approached Mr. Bennet about Elizabeth’s hand before the fire, she found it hard to believe her father who had always been a shrewd observer did not notice their growing attachment. Nor could it have escaped him, due to Mrs. Bennet’s constant nagging on the subject, that Elizabeth never encouraged a suitor. Several gentlemen had made no secret of their desire to wed her. Whenever Elizabeth heard such a rumor, she found a way to signal to the man that she was not to be had. In the course of such, she had come close to entirely ruining her reputation in Meryton.

Elizabeth did feel sorry for her sisters though. Jane also was still unwed. Elizabeth’s next sister, Mary, had just turned seventeen. Mrs. Bennet desired to have Mary out in Society, but she would rather stay home and read. Tonight was one of the few occasions she could be forced out of the house. It was just as well in Elizabeth’s mind for her younger sisters were too young to want to marry. Would that she had not had it on her mind at the same age.

She heard the door to her side open and close and turned to look at whoever interactive her solitude. She held back a gasp at the presence of Will towering over her.

“I thought I could find you out here. You always would steal away for a few quiet moments.”

Elizabeth gulped at his nearness. So had he. Well, he had always wanted more than only a few moments of solitude. Still, it had been one of the things that united them. Elizabeth shook her head to dispel thoughts of the past and hated her traitorous heart for recalling it. Elizabeth turned back to face the visage of Meryton. Will came up beside her.

“I was surprised to hear you had not married since we last met.”

He spoke quietly, but Elizabeth nervously glanced around.

“Fear not, we are alone.”

Oh, she should fear that very, very much.

“As we often were,” he added as a whisper.

Enough of this foolishness, Elizabeth thought to herself. “From what I understand, you have no shortage of ladies you encounter unchaperoned.”

Will said nothing for a moment and then turned to face her. He leaned one arm on the balcony railing.

“Jealous?”

“Of what?” Elizabeth asked in an accusatory tone, giving away, she feared far too much emotion.

“Well, you have been without suitors since our…interlude. I suppose that would make any handsome young lady jealous.”

How dare he call her handsome? How dare he presume she had no suitors or that she was jealous of his lovers. The Elizabeth he had known five years ago would have slapped him for that, just as she had tried on the dance floor. Now, that she had gotten over the shock of seeing him, she could control her emotions better. She had learned to entirely conceal them after Sam’s death and Will’s abandonment, and she would not appear weak to him now.

Elizabeth turned to face him with raised brows. “I had forgotten you understood a lady’s mind so well.” She pointedly rolled her eyes to wordlessly illustrate her sarcasm. “However, I will tell you a few secrets you may not have gleaned. A woman does not need to be handsome to be jealous of the good fortune of another. In fact, most are only jealous of other women. So, you see I would have no cause for jealousy. For not only do I know I am pleasing to look at, but you are a man, and I cannot hate you for having a superior ribbon.”

Will stared at her. It was too dark for her to see the nuances of his expression. His eyes had always told her everything.

Abandoning his leaning position, he stood up straight. “Ah, then it must be the supposed other ladies I know that make you jealous.”

Elizabeth let out a hollow, mocking laugh. “I think not. What would I have to be jealous of? That they have tried to entrap the great Master of Pemberley? That they were used and discarded?”

Will took a step closer, and Elizabeth fought to keep her breath calm. His nearness had always wrecked havoc on her before. He still smelled of soap and sandalwood. His shoulders were broader, and he appeared more muscular than when she had last seen him. True, he was of age when they had met, but now he was a fully grown man. Every inch of him exuded confidence he had lacked at two and twenty. A part of Elizabeth that would never die screamed she belonged in his arms.

“Perhaps you are jealous of all the stories that claim I am in love with another.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught, and panic welled in her. Heart hammering, she fought to remain in control. She turned away from him once more. She could not be jealous of what he could not give. Elizabeth had no doubt that he loved any of those ladies any more than he had ever loved him. If the women were foolish enough to believe that after every rumour and year after year of his behaviour then she also had no pity for their broken hearts.

“I still have not heard anything that would give me a reason for jealousy. However, allow me to correct you on a few false presumptions. I have had many suitors.”

“You have not loved any of them?”

Did he sound closer to her? She refused to turn and look once more. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing how he still affected her.

“Love is not necessary for matrimony. None of them have appealed to me on the most basic level. I must respect and esteem my partner. I must trust him and have faith in his good character. Men doing nothing more than waving their income in front of me and expecting me to swoon into their arms will be quite disappointed.”

“Oh, I know what it is to be disappointed by Elizabeth Bennet. I pity the foolish swains.”

“I have been out here long enough and feel quite refreshed now. Good evening, Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth turned to walk away. Will caught her wrist.

“Do not believe everything you read in the papers, Elizabeth. They did not know when I loved you.”

Before Elizabeth could do something stupid such as throw herself at him, he let her go and walked off. Elizabeth stood frozen in place, gaping after him. Did he mean to throw her whole world in tumult once more? Was this more of the game he played with country misses? Or was there truth and he really had loved her?

One thing she knew for sure, however. Whatever feelings he had for her five years ago were gone. He had said so himself and used the past tense regarding his alleged affection for her. Elizabeth could only hate herself that her love for him had not waned one iota in the nearly two thousand days since she had last seen him.

 

*****

Will awoke after a night of fitful sleep. After leaving Elizabeth, seemingly stunned at his words, on the balcony, he danced every remaining set. Even as he distracted himself with other ladies, he was acutely aware of Elizabeth’s return to the ballroom. Despite the exhaustion of dancing too much, he found little rest that night. Once more, Elizabeth Bennet stole his peace and slipped into his dreams.

Sighing, Will sat up in the bed and swung his legs over the edge. His feet touched the plush carpet and memories washed over him. Years ago, he had heard about Netherfield. He had suggested that he might rent a house when he proposed to Elizabeth, although she invited him to stay at Longbourn. In the weeks of their time apart during his summer holiday, Netherfield came to Will’s notice. Even if he could stay at Longbourn while he was courting Elizabeth, they would need their own house once they married. She had a far larger family than he did and Meryton was convenient to London so Will might still visit with his sister and his father. He had envisioned residing in Netherfield as the master with Elizabeth as his wife.

Disturbed by the direction of his thoughts, Will rang for his valet and readied for a morning ride. Sam had told Will all about the Hertfordshire countryside, and he was eager to see it. Pushing aside disappointed hopes and frustrating encounters, Will let the calm of being in nature and breezing over the ground envelop him.

After galloping over meadows and meandering along trails, Will chose to climb the only hill in the area. Sam had always marvelled at the mountainous peaks of Derbyshire when he visited. All Meryton could claim was Oakham Mount, and as a man raised in the peak district, it was nothing special. Still, Will could understand for the locals, it would be a pleasing enough vista.

His horse tired and needing more exertion, Will tied Apollo off and went up on foot. As he crested the hill, he discovered another already there. From behind, most would not readily identify her. Still petite, Elizabeth’s frame could be mistaken for many ladies. A part of Will wondered if he had taken to seeing her everywhere but mere miles from her house, it only made too much sense. Just as he had discovered five years ago, there was not another lady like her. She alone would be the Meryton miss who chose to watch the sunrise from a hill, heedless of the way the wet grass stained her petticoats.

She had not changed…and yet she had. She was such a vulnerable mix of confidence and regret last night. Will turned their conversations in his head over and over as he attempted to sleep. She appeared shocked when he mentioned having sent letters. Had she never received them? Instead of jealous other ladies had tried to court him, she seemed hurt that he would bring it up.

Had he been wrong all those years ago? Had Elizabeth not rejected him? He could stand the uncertainty no longer. He had vowed to himself he would make her love him during this visit. With confidence that only the Master of Pemberley could hold, he strode to her side.

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

She started, and he chuckled.

“Good day, Mr. Darcy,” she said after recovering, then turned her head forward once more.

“You look lovely. I always liked you in green. I am pleased to see you have not given up your love of nature.”

Elizabeth whirled to face him, red-faced. “Stop this! I insist you cease all familiarities. You have no right to call me by my Christian name. Nor do you need to incessantly bring up the foolishness of my youth.”

Mesmerized by the fire in Elizabeth’s eyes, Will remained mute. He had experience dealing with an angry Elizabeth. Additionally, her ire gave him hope. It could be her behavior indicated a false assumption. Did she believe he had abandoned her?

“I believe I have every right,” he said and stepped forward. “Do you forget the promises we made to each other?”

“Did I forget them?” Elizabeth nearly screeched.

Will welcomed her vehemence, but she took a deep breath and swallowed her emotions. In the blink of an eye, she was the proper miss again and had her mask fixed in place.

“I waited to hear from you. I had expected letters or perhaps some clue via Sam. Then, after he…” she trailed off. “You never came. You never wrote, not even to my father.”

“I gave my condolences in person.”

“And was that all we should have expected from Sam’s best friend?”

“Is that all you wanted from me? Acknowledgment of my friend?”

“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You must know what I wanted. What I longed for.” A tear escaped one eye, and she brushed it away. “Are you so cruel, after all these years, to make me say it?”

A part of Will needed to hear her profess that she had loved him and had desired his comfort. “I imagine realizing you lost a wealthy suitor so soon after the death of your brother must have been a hard blow.”

Elizabeth paled, and for a moment, Will thought she might be sick. He opened his mouth to apologise and offer assistance. She held up a hand, silencing him.

Hurt flashed in her eyes. “I never sought your attention. I set no trap. No matter what poison your relatives and friends may have told you, I was guileless.”

Will could bear the facade no longer. He did not wish to wound her. “I should have believed that.”

“Yes, you should have.” She raised her chin in defiance. Then, she shook her head, and her shoulders slumped. “It is no matter. We were reckless youths who had not even known one another a week. I will not hold you to what we pledged then.”

Elizabeth turned to look at the vista once more. “We were so young and naive. We did not know how our whole world could change in an instant. We did not understand the expectations we faced.”

This was the Elizabeth he had fallen in love with. The one who shocked him with empathy and wisdom, even if as she said, their romance had been reckless. “I was not so young or naive as you,” he said. “I knew my promises, and I meant every word.”

Beside him, Elizabeth’s breath hitched. Will turned to look at her, although her bonnet hid most of her profile. A gentle breeze played at the locks of curls which framed her face. Stretching forward a hand, he caught one shiny lock between his fingers. As he stroked the silky fibers between his gloved digits, he inched closer to her, drawn by a magnetic force he had never fully understood. “I did write to you, Elizabeth. I wrote every day for weeks. I received no replies. I could hardly ask Sam directly as he still did not approve of our attachment. I knew from his reports you were well.”

Letting go of her hair, Will sighed and looked to his feet. “By the time of the fire, I confess, I had thought you did not care for me at all.”

Elizabeth gasped, drawing his head up. She wrenched her neck in his direction. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “How could you think that of me? Did you have so little faith in my constancy?”

Shaking his head, Will withdrew a handkerchief and offered it to Elizabeth. “No. I had begun to believe you never loved me at all.”

“You supposed I set out to entrap you!” Elizabeth burst into tears.

“Pray, forgive me,” Will said and attempted to soothe her.

Elizabeth violently shook her head and wiped her eyes. Turning his handkerchief over in her hand, a look of disgust and derision crossed her face before she threw it at him. “You had so little respect for me that you believed I would act like all those other debutantes. Nay! You believed me worse. Did you think I acted as a strumpet for you?”

Guilt spread through him, causing nausea to rise in his belly. He had thought that. He had supposed she had found someone better as well. “Whatever disservice I gave you in my thoughts were nothing to how I abused myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I were a better man, you would not have forsaken me. You would have really loved me and not ran off to find richer pastures.”

“Will you are as stupid as ever!” Elizabeth cried, and her chest heaved. “Find a richer man? How? When did I ever care for such things?”

She stepped forward wagging a finger at him with her other hand propped on her hip. “I did love you!” She poked him in the chest. Dropping her chin, she whispered, “I still do.”

The breeze quit blowing, and birds stopped singing. The whole world stood still, Will was sure of it. “What did you say?” The distance between them now was thinner than paper. He had heard her words but needed her to consciously speak them.

Elizabeth remained silent. Will tilted her chin up, hoping to read her gaze. A blush had spread over Elizabeth’s cheeks, and she squeezed her eyes shut.

“I thought your courage always rose,” he said to bait her.

Her eyes flew open, meeting his. “I never stopped loving you.”

Will thought he heard a cracking sound deep in the forest, but it must have only been the walls around his heart collapsing before he pulled Elizabeth into his arms and covered her mouth with his.

Reunited- Chapter Two

reunited 2Well, lots of questions from the last time! This chapter will illuminate a few things. Hang on to your bonnets!


Previous chapters: Chapter One

Chapter Two

October 15, 1811

 

Elizabeth Bennet hugged her wrap closer to herself as she stood over the marker. It did not stand alone, but she always felt it impossible to mourn the mother and elder sister she never knew.

Her eyes drifted over the inscriptions and lingered on the most recent addition to the family cemetery. “Oh, Sam!” Elizabeth cried out and fell into a heap.

After Thomas Bennet’s first wife and eldest daughter died of an illness, he remarried. Instead of a gentlewoman, he chose the daughter of his solicitor. Although Fanny Bennet desperately wished to give her husband a spare heir, she brought only three more daughters into the world. All hope of breaking the entailment on Longbourn had rested on Sam.

Despite the occasional nervous flutters of Mrs. Bennet, Sam came of age without harm and broke the entail thus securing the fates of his five sisters. The same spring, he planned to tour Ireland and Scotland with several of his friends from university. The same spring he died in a fire at an inn which forever altered four families.

Five years had passed, and it sometimes felt to Elizabeth she was the only one to grieve the loss of her beloved brother. Even Sam’s betrothed, Charlotte Lucas, had found contentment with the situation. In fact, Elizabeth’s once-upon-a-time betrothed had apparently moved on as well.

Sam’s best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, had proposed to Elizabeth shortly after they first met. With little more than a promise to court her at Longbourn, he left for a holiday with Sam and others. For weeks, Elizabeth waited to receive a letter from Will. Sam had written several times but there was not even a line about Will passing his greetings to her.

Then, one morning a messenger came with news of the fire. News that her brother had died and her father gravely injured, Elizabeth desired the support of her betrothed. Will never arrived at Longbourn, and as their engagement had been a secret to all but Jane, Elizabeth had no choice but to conceal her emotions.

Elizabeth shook herself from memories of her foolish youth. Today would have been Sam’s six and twentieth birthday. He likely would have been a father to children of his own by now. Instead of mourning her brother, Elizabeth had been ordered to attend the local Assembly this evening. How could she enjoy dancing and gaiety when her brother was gone?

“Lizzy.”

Elizabeth felt the familiar touch of her father’s hand on her shoulder.

“Here child.” Mr. Bennet placed another wrap around her. “It is growing late. Your mother will be upset to learn you have been out here crying so long. She expects you to enjoy this evening.” His voice took on a mildly amused tone. “I believe you will enjoy meeting the new arrivals to the area.”

Elizabeth finally looked up at her father. “The gentleman that leased Netherfield?”

“Yes, he will be there, and he brings family and friends.”

Elizabeth smiled through her tears. “It will be amusing to observe them. Can you imagine what Sam would say?”

“Yes, yes my dear. Now, dry your eyes.” He handed her a handkerchief.

“I am sorry Papa. Only sometimes it feels as though no one else cares. He was so young. It is so unfair!”

“I know you wish you could find some cause or meaning for the fire but we cannot understand the Lord’s ways.” Mr. Bennet squeezed Elizabeth’s shoulder. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. We should remember with pleasure the time we had with Sam, as I must think the same of your departed sister and mother. It will not do to dwell on what might have been.” Mr. Bennet winced as he stood from his crouched position.

“Does it still hurt, Father?”

Mr. Bennet looked up at the sky. “I believe it might get worse as I continue to age, and you know how the weather affects it. However, time heals all wounds though some take longer than others. Come along, dear.”

He held out his hand to help his daughter, but she managed on her own. Casting a last look at her brother’s marker, Elizabeth sighed and walked home on her father’s arm.

 

*****

 

Inevitably, Charles was delayed in taking his house. His sisters could not miss a particular event in Town, and rather than arrive in Meryton on the proposed date, they were one day later. In fact, Charles’ sisters made such a fuss about going at all that they barely had time to refresh themselves before leaving for the local assembly to which Charles had promised to go.

The carriage ride from Netherfield to the Meryton Assembly hall was unusually tense. Will could not forget this day was his best friend’s birthday. Sam had been a God-send to him at Eton. Will was delayed a year in being sent to school by his mother’s death. He could have started in the second term of the usual year, but by then George Will had decided to send his godson, George Wickham, to school as well.

In addition to mourning the loss of his dear friend, with reminders of the loss of his father which occurred on the same day—losses he firmly believed he could have prevented—he was disturbed by the mixed feelings of fear, nervousness, and elation at seeing her again.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet had never seemed far from his thoughts in the last five years. In the time since they last met, Will became master of his ancestral home. He was too busy to make new friends or meet new ladies. Nor did he want to. In his heart, he still considered them betrothed, even if she never replied to any of his letters. Any time he considered courting another lady, it felt like a betrayal to the one he had vowed to love forever.

However, if Sam and his father had lived, Will believed he would not have become so unsocial and taciturn. He had little time to socialize until the last year or two, and no lady he met could compare to the interactions he had with Elizabeth Bennet.

Disgusted at himself for carrying a tendre for a slip of a girl he met a handful of times half a decade ago, Will shifted in his seat. His father and Sam had attempted to tell him. One week of acquaintance was too short for it to be love. Wickham had enlightened Will to the truth—even if he was a devious cad—and Elizabeth’s own actions proved her cold heart. However, Will’s heart beat wildly just the same, and he prayed his leg would allow him at least one set with her. He needed to prove, to both of them, that they could meet as indifferent acquaintances.

The Netherfield party arrived at the Assembly Hall, and Charles quickly introduced them to Sir William Lucas. That talkative gentleman happily brought them to his family and Charles secured the first dance with Miss Lucas, Sam’s former betrothed. Mr. Bennet soon reacquainted himself with the party and introduced them to his family. Will immediately noticed Elizabeth was not in attendance and again was frustrated at the ridiculous deflated feeling of his heart. Pull it together, man!

Will had chatted with Mr. Bennet for a few minutes before his wife, who glared at Will, pulled him away. As Will did not know anyone else in the room, he circled about. A few times, he was spoken to, and he answered in the barest civility. His mind refused to concentrate on anything but seeking the room for a pair of particularly fine eyes.

During the second dance, between sets, Charles approached Will. If he were in a better frame of mind, Will would have noticed Charles’ sincere concern for his friend as he left Miss Bennet’s side.

“Come, Will,” said Charles, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is only one other woman whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” It was the closest Will had come to admitting his continued admiration of Elizabeth Bennet to his friend. By unspoken agreement, they had never again mentioned their attachment to the Bennet sisters since the day of the fire; until Charles sent a letter stating he leased a house not three miles from their estate, that is.

“But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”

Fearing that the young lady had heard Charles, Will drew in closer. “I am in no humour at present to give consequence to any lady save her. She appears to not be in attendance. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Mr. Charles followed his advice. Will walked off, as did the lady Charles mentioned. Will watched her go, fearful she had overheard the whole thing and was upset. It really was bad form of Charles to act so. Will caught his breath when the line parted and allowed him to see who the lady was speaking with. Elizabeth!

She looked at him, and he could see her eyes turn the vibrant shade of green he recalled from five years before. No other lady had ever captivated him the way she had. Elizabeth returned her focus to the younger lady. A third woman, who Will recognized as Sam’s former betrothed, talked with them. The ladies passionately discussed something. Finally, Elizabeth straightened her back and met his eyes again. Then she walked toward him like a goddess on the warpath. Will did not care at all that he had earned her ire. He was old friends with it and could not say that he did not appreciate the view as her eyes snapped with fire and her anger added a flush to her cheeks. Once, he had, briefly, felt that loyalty directed toward him. What he would give to feel it again.

“Mr. Darcy,” she boldly said when she came near enough. Then she descended into a very proper curtsy.

“Miss Elizabeth,” he replied and bowed. “I regret I did not see you earlier.”

“And you might have minded your manners better?” she scoffed. “I see five years have not done you much good.”

Will smirked. “Thankfully, I cannot say the same to you.” He lowered his voice. “Five years have done you a great deal of good, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth recoiled, and derision flashed in her eyes. Her reaction drew the notice of others. She raised her hand, but Will caught it. Tugging her toward the dance floor, he said loud enough for others to hear. “I am delighted to dance with an old friend.”

For half a moment, Will felt Elizabeth plant her feet firmly on the floor. Sweat beaded on the back of his neck. He had pushed his luck, and while most ladies would demur to his intention to cover the situation, he had never known how to read Elizabeth. She might just as well call him a cad to the general public as she might follow him to the dance floor. As much as he had fondly recalled their encounters and, admittedly, idealized them, he remembered that much about her. His heart stood still for several beats until she took another step forward.

“Oh, so it is old friends you wish to dance with?”

“I never was good at making new acquaintances.”

“I suppose it is much harder on you now,” Elizabeth said as they found their positions in the set.

“I will not say I do not feel my losses acutely, but I am sure it is nothing to your pain.”

Elizabeth, who had avoided his eyes, snapped her attention to him. She gazed at him for a long minute, and Will wondered if she attempted to ascertain the truth of his words. It seemed as though she peered into his soul.

“Thank you,” she finally said and nodded.

“I have not forgotten what today is,” he said before the dance separated them.

Elizabeth’s hand had a slight tremor to it when they returned, and her voice wavered as she said, “And yet it seemed as though you did forget about him as well as the rest of us entirely for the last five years.”

“Why would I send yet another letter after a fortnight of writing daily and having no answer?”

Elizabeth paled and nearly tripped.

“Forgive me,” Will said and squeezed her hand tightly. He did not wish to wound her. He had told himself he wanted to understand why she chose to toy with his heart when he did not believe her naturally cruel. After seeing Elizabeth again, it no longer mattered. He would forgive her of anything and only wished to win her affection in truth this time.

Elizabeth had remained quiet for a few moments but finally recovered, she observed, “I suppose the distance from London to Longbourn is so inconvenient one can only make it every five years. We were foolish to ever expect you.”

“I did not judge as I ought to have.” Will lowered his voice, “I could think only of my own pain.” Abiding the physical pain from his injuries in the fire to attend Sam’s funeral would have been a torment he gladly would have borne if he had not also known Elizabeth did not care for him. Seeing her weeping at her brother’s death and having no right to comfort her—knowing she never welcomed his attention—was more than he could bear at the time.

Elizabeth’s expression softened. “I suppose it is understandable if you are not in the most cordial mood today.”

“Thank you,” he murmured before they parted again. When rejoined, he ventured, “Perhaps this evening has displayed us both to least advantage and we ought to begin again.”

Elizabeth raised a brow. “What have I done that might damage anyone’s perception of me?”

Will matched her raised brow. “You have, once again, jumped to the least flattering conclusion about me. One might think you have not learned from the lessons of the past. One might believe you lacked character growth and maturity since our last meeting.”

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed, but they were once more separated by the dance. “One might believe these things, or you believe them?”

“I speak only in generalities,” Will rushed to say. However, he could see his words did not appease the lady.

She stood across from him silently for several moments before pursing her lips. “Very well. I might have leapt to conclusions. I give you leave to exonerate yourself. Why would you not dance with my sister, Mary?”

The final steps of the dance brought them close. Tilting his head down, Will murmured, “Because I wished only to dance with you, Elizabeth.”


Well, what did you think of that?

Loving Elizabeth #2 Reunited- Chapter One

reunited 2Chapter One

September 26, 1811

 

Sitting at the desk in his London townhouse, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s hand shook as he attempted to read Bingley’s note. Determined to not display his anxieties, Darcy paced around the room. Finally, he sat in a chair and browsed an agricultural report until his friend arrived.

Ten minutes past the correct time, the butler announced Bingley’s arrival. Darcy stood to greet him.

“Darcy, it has been an age. I was sorry to hear Georgiana felt poorly the whole summer and we could not meet. How does she fare now?”

Darcy managed a small smile as both men sat. “It is always good to see you. My sister is much recovered, thank you. Tell me about this estate you have leased. Hertfordshire, is it?”

Bingley gave Darcy a curious look. “If you know that much, then you have read my note and know it is called Netherfield. You also know it is quite close to Longbourn, which you should recall…”

“Yes, as the Bennet estate.” Darcy paused. Tumultuous emotions rioted in his body. As his heart pounded a blistering headache formed. “You cannot blame me for not being able to read through all these blots.”

Bingley smiled at the tease. “Will you come and visit? I know your feelings on the Bennets, but it has been five years.”

Darcy closed his eyes as painful memories threatened to intrude. Shaking his head to clear the thoughts, he opened his eyes and met Bingley’s. “Yes, of course. We must all move forward with our lives.”

Bingley gave an ebullient smile and waxed long on the house and its situation. “Louisa and Hurst will come, and Caroline will be my hostess. Will you bring Georgiana?”

Fear and rage temporarily clouded Darcy’s vision. Regaining control, he answered, “I…I will leave it to her to determine.”

Bingley openly gaped at his friend. “You will allow her to decide?”

Darcy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Of course. She is growing older and must have some independence. I cannot order her life forever.”

Bingley nodded approvingly, then turned serious. “I have attempted to keep in contact with the Bennets over the years, did I ever tell you?”

Darcy shook his head. “No, you have not. You must have worried about bringing up such a painful subject.”

Bingley agreed.

Darcy picked at imaginary lint on his breeches. “What news have you heard?”

“Scarcely a thing. Mr. Bennet only replies around twice a year. In October and then usually in June…” Bingley trailed off for a moment. “They are all quite well.”

Darcy smiled a little. “I can imagine he enjoys telling tales of his grandchildren.”

Bingley’s brow furrowed. “Darcy…all the girls are still at home.”

Darcy’s head jerked up.

Bingley continued as though he noticed nothing. “I cannot imagine why. I have never met a more angelic creature than Miss Bennet, and Miss Elizabeth was quite pretty as well. The men in Hertfordshire must be blind or stupid.” Then he paused, and a solemn look crossed his face. “Or perhaps five years has been slow to heal their pains as well as ours.”

Darcy could only nod his head. The two men, now masters of their homes, sat in silence for several minutes.

Bingley stood and clapped a hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “I will be escorting Caroline and the others on the Fourteenth after the house is ready for visitors. Will you ride with us then?”

Darcy flinched and then agreed, “Certainly. Apollo could use a good stretch.”

The men said their farewells and Bingley departed. Darcy walked back to his desk and picked up Bingley’s note again, this time with determination. “It is time.”


Don’t kill me! The title should give the theme away. Darcy and Elizabeth are reunited after years of separation. What happened to them? Why has so much time passed? We’ll get answers next time but what are your guesses?

Pledged- Chapter Six

pledged 7Chapter Six

Will gulped and followed his friend to his chamber.

“You have precisely one minute to explain to me why I am should not pummel you for touching my sister, let alone in such a way.”

“You do not understand. It is not what it appears.”

“It looks like you were in the middle of seducing my sister right under my nose. I trusted you!”

“I love her!” Will’s widened as he realized what he had confessed. None of this was going according to his plan. He was supposed to ask Sam and Mr. Bennet for permission to court Elizabeth. Then he would ask hand. During his summer away, he would have time to consider his method of courtship. They were still so young and his father would probably not approve the match. Will had no reason to think they could marry quickly. He would have to tell her as much. A gem like Elizabeth would not wait forever. However, Will did have some independence now and if push came to shove, they could marry. He hoped both their sakes that their families would approve and not keep them waiting for too long.

“I am still waiting, Will. You say you love her. What you know of love?”

“I know I have not supported you as you would like. Given your situation and feelings for Lucy. However, now I understand. The heart what wants it wants, and no amount of logic can gainsay it.”

“Are you saying it is illogical to be in love with my sister?”

“I’m say nothing of the sort. I am not unaware of the arguments you or anyone else have against match. I told them to myself and, if you will recall, before we even met I was not predisposed to like her.”

“Oh yes, the Darcy pride. How could I forget that?” Sam said derisively.

“What does my pride have to do with this?”

“It has every with this! Did you think I did not approve of your admiration for my sister because I found your character wanting?.”

“There is a code amongst gentlemen that we will not touch one’s sister.”

“I would be more worried about that if you touched anybody.” Sam laughed.

“So, you worry that for Charles attentions toward Jane?” Will could not understand Sam’s position on the subject.

“The Darcys and Bingleys are two entirely different worlds. I do not worry for Charles because it is Charles. He might like Jane now, but next week he will move on. We are spending many months away, and Jane has a new suitor every week. She is too accustomed to men to let her heart grow attached so shortly.” Sam sighed and slumped in a chair, waving for Will to do likewise.

“And you believe that Elizabeth and I would feel too deeply?”

“I know that you would not leap into anything without thoroughly thinking it through.”

Will disagreed but kept it to himself. He did not have the self-control his friends seemed to think he did. “I imagine it is much like when you first met Lucy.”

“I thought only of my arousal when I met Lucy.” Sam glared at Will. “Would you like to try again and explain how this is not the same and how you can love Elizabeth so much within a matter of days?”

Will sighed and rested his elbows on his knees. “I recounted it to myself enough in the past day or so as I wandered how I got here so unaware. I can only think that I was in the middle before I knew I even began. Elizabeth is beautiful and I am attracted to her. However, there are one hundred other things that appeal to me and have greater weight. Every day I discover something new. I am unlimitedly fascinated by her.” Will shrugged. “For once, I do not feel like the heir of Pemberly. Elizabeth wants nothing from me. I am free to be myself with her and she makes me want to be better in ways I never thought of before.”

“That is all well and good, but you do not know what you are asking of her,” Sam placed a hand on Will shoulder. “She is only sixteen is unprepared for your world. Your father will not approve. Both of your aunts have their sights set on others for you. The very people Lizzy would need for support in your world would never approve of her.

“What are you saying?” Will thought madness within him.

“Forget about my sister. You have two very different destinies.”

Will staring at his friend in slack-jawed disbelief. He would fight for Elizabeth. He would not give her up. However, as he observed his friend, Sam’s shoulders slumped in dejection. Perhaps his words were far more about his own situation than about Will’s. “I Cannot agree with your opinion on these matters. I did want to speak to you and other subjects. Lord Harcourt seems to have Elizabeth in his sights.”

“Surely not,” Sam laughed. “I assure you, he prefers much more worldly ladies.”

“At the very least, his mode of conversation to her her is impertinent and makes her uncomfortable. I implore you, peak to him again.”

“If you wish, but I see nothing more than the jealous concern of the suitor.”

Will out a frustrated side. “Why is it you trust him at all? Confess it, you have more than a passing acquaintance with the man that all of London knows is a devious rake and a gambler.”

Sam opened and closed his mouth several times before any sound out. He held his hands and let out a dejected side. “I will tell you the truth. I needed money for Lucy’s sake. I went around banks and other creditors and Harcourt was the only one that would have mercy on me.”

“Dear God! Could you not have asked me?”

“I did not think you would approve. I was ashamed.”

“How much do you owe? You should not be in debt to such a man.”

Sam shook his head. “I cannot ask for you to pay. I would rather take my chances being debt to him than take advantage of our friendship.”

Will stared at his friend for a long time. “Is it very much?”

“It would not matter if it was a mere twenty pounds. I would not ask of you.”

“You spoke of the Darcy pride, but I perceive your pride at work here as well.”

“I made a mess of things, but it is my burden to clean it up.” Sam stood and walked to the door. “Now is time for us to join the others for dinner.”

“I will be speaking to your father soon.”

“You had better talk to your father first.” Sam shook his head. “Do not be in a hurry to seal your fate, Will. You may think you love her now, but only time will tell. Learn from my mistakes.”

As they were no longer in the privacy of Sam’s chambers, Will said no more on the subject and followed his friend downstairs. Sam said he would not accept money from him, but Will still intended to make a substantial withdraw on the morrow. Some would go to Sam if he would take it, and the rest to Wickham so he would find a life away from the Darcy family.

Throughout the meal, he could not keep his eyes from falling upon Elizabeth. She looked lovely, but more than that, she looked as though she belonged at a Darcy table. She sat near his father. Now and then, she said something to make the older gentleman laugh. George Darcy had a different temperament than his children, and the death of his wife sobered him, but he still enjoyed amusement. It was why George Wickham became his favourite. Elizabeth’s humor, however, was a different sort than Wickham. Around her, she involved others as well and remembered interests that they shared and could converse on. She had all the qualities a hostess should have.

On the previous nights, Will’s father had not encouraged the ladies to separate from the gentlemen. This evening, he maintained tradition. As it happened, Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam dined with them. Will’s aunt served as hostess and led the ladies to the drawing room. The first few minutes of the customary separation from the ladies passed in the ordinary way. Port and brandy were poured while cigars were smoked. Before too long, Mr. Darcy approach Will and asked to meet asked for them to speak privately. Will agreed, although uncertain of what would follow.

The older gentleman shut the door to his study and motioned to a chair. Will sat and father took the seat next to him rather than behind the imposing desk.

“Well, I had not thought that I had landed upon the truth so much when I mentioned that you would not enter a relationship with Sam’s sister. It appears I was mistaken.”

Will’s mind raced. Had they been seen? “There’s nothing to say on the matter because I have not asked anything of the lady. I am aware of Sam’s disapproval and attempting to overcome his arguments.”

“But you cannot doubt her answer. A girl like Elizabeth Bennet would jump at a chance to marry you. Beware, my son, for you are now of age and finished with University. Many ladies will try to capture you in their claws.”

Will shook his head. “I will not abide any criticism of her character. Miss Elizabeth is nothing of that sort. She could not care less about fortune or rank. She is not like the other young ladies I have encountered who simper and fawn. I sometimes think she has more strength of character than many a man I know, for she will not play Society’s games. She will not bend her moral compass to suit the whims of others.” As Will spoke, he clenched his fists. This man would malign his friend’s daughter without knowing her. Meanwhile, he condoned Wickham and refused to criticize him. Even Sam had bent his honor to suit his needs.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Darcy said with genuine remorse. “I did not mean to offend. You are correct. I do not know her well enough to make these assertions. Might I remind you that you also do not know her well enough?”

“I have done much more than merely dine with her in the last few days. She has awakened parts of my soul that never knew existed. There can be no doubt about her loyalty. With her beauty and charm, she would have no shortage of wealthy suitors in any circle in which she walked. At the theatre, many gentlemen peered at her with an approving eye. Lord Harcourt did not make his admiration secret at all.”

Mr. Darcy last. “Harcourt has always loved the ladies. His admiration of Miss Elizabeth does not mean an offer would be imminent.”

“That is true,” Will conceded. “But Miss Elizabeth is hardly aware of his true nature or his reputation. Many would hear his rank and see the quality of his fashionable attire and assume he would be a worthy suitor to try to entrap. I’ve seen dozens of ladies operate similarly including the Miss Bingleys.”

“Yes. Joseph’s daughters are quite cunning.”

“Indeed.” Will sighed. “I respect you, father. However, I will choose my own bride and in my own time. There are qualities I must consider for the sake of Pemberley’s future that go beyond its purse strings. We are on the cusp of a new world and a new way of running things. Merely finding a noble daughter with a hefty dowry is not the only way to keep funds afloat.”

Mr. Darcy raised his brows. “Do you mean to suggest I married your mother simply because she was a good match?”

“Whatever feelings came after the ceremony, I believe you have confessed enough for me to say with some assurance that it was an alliance and not a love match.”

“Precisely!” Mr. Darcy nodded emphatically. “Those feelings did come after the ceremony, so why do you think they would not come for you?”

“I have never argued with you about this in the past. I appreciate that you have supported me against Lady Catherine and her desire for me to marry Anne. I know now I can never marry a woman without loving her because my heart is already engaged.”

“The reasonable, Fitzwilliam. You have known her for less than a week.”

Will rose to his feet. “And yet men that I have known for many years, perhaps even all my life, I have to question their loyalty and their character. Why do you persist and annoying George Wickham’s faults? Why are you on such friendly terms with Harcourt?

Will’s father turned red. “I do not need to make any answers to you. I cannot tell you who to marry. You have some income from your mother, but even if it were in my power to completely cut you off, I would not. You have given me no reason to distrust you, but it hurts me to hear that you do not trust my judgment. Perhaps when you are older, you shall see things differently.” Mr. Darcy hung his head.

Will took a step toward his father. “Forgive me, father. I look forward to the additional responsibilities I will receive in the autumn. Your trust means the world to me, but I will not compromise my beliefs for you.”

Mr. Darcy stood and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “No, I would not wish for you to do so. I cannot say that I approve of your choice and I caution you to not be in any rush. However, I trust you, Fitzwilliam. I will support any decision you make in this matter.” Mr. Darcy’s eyes flitted to the clock in the study. “Now is time to rejoin the ladies.”

The two men separated and returned to the dining room before announcing their intention to go to the drawing room. Will looked around the chamber and noted both Miss Bennets absent.

“Sam, where are your sisters?” Will asked.

“I have been informed by your aunt that Lizzy claimed a headache and Jane went upstairs with her.”

Sam’s attention was drawn away, but Will believed the situation unusual. He scanned the room once more and noted Miss Caroline Bingley’s pleased expression as she sat next to Lady Fitzwilliam. Will came closer to hear their conversation.

“You are so charming, Miss Caroline. I regret I was not able to speak with you more at the theatre.”

“Perhaps we may be thankful after all that Miss Elizabeth became indisposed.”

“Yes,” Lady Fitzwilliam nodded. “She surely gave her opinions most decidedly, although she was charming enough during the meal.”

“Some women can only be agreeable when there are men around to impress.”

Louisa Bingley nodded. “Oh, yes. Quite true.”

Will had heard enough. One of them, or perhaps all of them, must have made Elizabeth feel uncomfortable or regret being in their company. He would need to speak with her before retiring for the evening. While listening to Lady Fitzwilliam continue her conversation with Louisa and Caroline, Will reluctantly agreed that Sam’s arguments had some merit. None in his family would be happy for Will to marry Elizabeth.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth and Jane sat on Elizabeth’s bed. Elizabeth looked around the room inside. Had Miss Graves been correct? Could she ever grow accustomed to a life like this? Lady Fitzwilliam had not been rude to Elizabeth, but she tolerated Caroline’s rudeness, which was enough to make Elizabeth desire to avoid the company. Pleading a headache came naturally to her. For as long she could remember, her stepmother had been complaining of headaches. If she ever truly needed to, Elizabeth thought she could even pretend to swoon or have an attack of nerves.

“Are you certain you feel well, Lizzy?” Jane asked Elizabeth in concern.

“I’m quite well. I merely detest Caroline Bingley.”

Jane’s blue eyes rounded. “She is Mr. Charles’s sister. She has seemed most friendly to me.”

“She is friendly to you, my dear, because you will tolerate her. She also knows no soul in creation could speak a bad word about you. To be the friend of Jane Bennet would mean something in the world.” Elizabeth shook her head. “She gains nothing by a false friendship with me.”

“Do you really think she’s only using me?”

“She would be far more foolish than I would give her credit for if she merely used you and did not enjoy your friendship. However, I do believe she’s cunning enough to see she gains nothing from me.” Elizabeth’s lips turned up and formed a wry smile as she reconsidered. “Now that I think about it. She should be grateful for my company. I surely show the world how truly ladylike and accomplished she is by comparison to my own wild behavior.”

Jane giggled. “You are not wild. You…well, you…”

“Go on. I am waiting to hear a compliment in there,” Elizabeth laughed.

“You are rusticated!” Jane cried in triumph. “Rustic beauty is all the rage. Now, that is precisely what you are. If others cannot appreciate you as you are, then it would be no different than calling a wildflower a weed merely because it looked out of sorts in a perfectly manicured garden.” Jane nodded her head as though she completely settled the idea.

“That will not work on me,” Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. “For people do call wildflower weeds.”

“Oh well, I never was the great debater.”

“It’s just as well. Mama says I am far too argumentative, and I will never catch the eye of man.”

“Oh, I think you have.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth fiddled with a tassel on her blanket.

“Mr. Fitzwilliam could not keep his eyes off you this evening. In fact, he seems to frequently desire to be in your company or you two go missing together entirely.”

“That was merely one time, and we wandered too far in the park. We were hardly alone.”

Jane nodded her head and bit back a smile. “And during the Sardines game?”

“I…I…I…” Elizabeth gulped. “I found a wonderful hiding place but fell asleep and awoke too late to return to the game.”

“And you did not see him at all?”

“What are you asking me, Jane?”

“I ask no questions. I merely make observations. I believe that Mr. Fitzwilliam is sweet on you.”

“That would seem quite the stretch for I have no fortune or rank, and hardly any beauty. The heir of Pemberley could certainly attract the notice of any lady.”

Jane raised a brow. “Does that mean he’s attracted yours?”

“That is not what I meant to say.”

“And yet it is exactly what you did say.” Jane chuckled and playfully nudged into Elizabeth’s shoulder.

“How should a lady act as a gentleman is sweet on her?” Elizabeth fiddled with the tassel on her blanket once more before looking up and searching Jane’s face for clues.

“I think most importantly you should not act any differently than you normally would.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, I would not want to appear to be trapping him.” Elizabeth sighed and covered her face with her hands. “Jane, I am in so far in over my head!”

“You need not be so mortified,” Jane said as she smoothed her fingers through Elizabeth’s hair. “Falling in love will happen to all of us.”

Elizabeth blushed, and her head immediately popped up to meet James gaze. “How did you know? That is to say…I…oh!”

“It must come as a shock to you because I think you would much rather have fallen in love with a poor farmer and not until your fifty than to find yourself helplessly desiring the good opinion of such a young and powerful man.”

“Indeed. I cannot fit into his world. This is madness.”

“I would not say that. You are both full young, and there is no need to rush into anything. In time, his family and friends will see how happy you make him and will support his choice. You will both learn and grow to fit into your new positions in the world. I do not doubt that my dear Lizzy could be anything she desired, including the next Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley.”

Elizabeth cocked her head to one side looked at her sister. “I had never complained about Will’s family and friends not supporting me. I think you speak from your own feelings. I have often seen you talking with Mr. Charles.” Elizabeth playfully nudged Jane.

“He is the most amiable gentleman I have ever met.”

“And that is saying something!”

“Do not tease me so. I have not known so very many gentlemen.”

“Not from lack of desire on their part, my dear. I’ve seen more than one fellow become incoherent or flee at the thought of conversing with you or merely being in the presence of your beauty.”

“I’m sure that is not true.” Jane smoothed her gown. “I would hope it’s not. I would not wish to frighten anybody.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “It would only prove how foolish and unworthy they are. So, tell me what Mr. Charles.”

Jane immediately blushed. “There’s nothing else to report. He is excessively friendly, but he is to everybody. However, I greatly enjoy his company. I will be sad when the gentlemen leave on the morrow.”

“I do not think the impending separation would affect you so much merely because he is a kind gentleman. Do you feel more for him than any other man you have known?”

Slowly, Jane nodded. “The sensations are so new. One minute I am exhilarated and can hardly catch my breath and the next I am terrified of being laughed at or being made a fool. What if the feelings are not mutual or welcome? I am not blind to his sisters’ desires for him. I know I am not rich or important enough for them. More than this, I do not know what Mr. Bingley feels.”

“I wish I had some advice for you but is entirely without my ability.”

“Yes, I should have advice for you as I am the older sister. I do not know what to say though. When I was your age, I had a gangly youth attempting to court me, but he could not speak in my presence. Instead, he would thrust ill designed posies at me when he called at our Aunt and Uncle Gardiner’s house. I also had a portly gentleman nearing our father’s age attempt to write me poetry. He talked only of news and weather. My heart was in little danger of either them.”

“Would they have been suitable matches? Do you ever regret not encouraging them so that you might have a house of your own and children? It would have been the safer choice.”

“I think you have been speaking to Charlotte bit too much. She is ever prudent and practical. But I do not know that it will lead to great happiness in her life. I’d much rather be alone and happy than with the company of others that I might find tiresome.”

“But people change so much. Who we find pleasant now we might one day find tiresome. Think of our own parents.”

“It is true that sometimes after years of knowing a person they might annoy or differences of opinions of her. However, I think Mama and Papa would do more for each other now than they would have fifteen years ago.”

“I like that,” Elizabeth nodded. “I have been missing the girls while we have been away. It has occurred to me that although they are excessively noisy and bothersome when we are all at Longbourn together, I do love them dearly.”

Jane stifled a yawn. “As you are not ill, I think I had better leave you. Do not forget to pack, my dear. We will be going to the Gardiners’ after the gentlemen leave in the morning.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes. I am well on my way to finished.” She hugged her sister and said good night.

The next hour or so passed in solitude. When Elizabeth’s mother first passed away, Mr. Bennet quickly remarried. When the new Mrs. Bennet expected her first child, she found it difficult to get the adequate rest she needed with so many other children underfoot. Sam went to a nearby school while Jane and Elizabeth stayed in London with Mrs. Bennet’s brother and new bride. The Miss Bingleys had, more than once, mocked them for their address. Although the son of a solicitor, Mr. Gardner chose to enter a trade and owned warehouses near Cheapside. His residence was on Gracechurch Street. Elizabeth dearly loved her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and did not care where they lived.

Soon, Elizabeth heard the other occupants of the house returning to the chambers and settling in for the evening. Finally finished with her packing, but unable to sleep, Elizabeth chose a book from her luggage to read. Before too many pages, someone knocked on her door.

“Enter,” she called out. She expected to see Jane or perhaps a maid.

Without looking up, Elizabeth heard the door open and close. The shuffling of feet that did not sound like Jane, or any other lady, brought Elizabeth’s head up. She started at what she saw.

Will was in her bedchamber.

Elizabeth blushed and immediately stood.

“Pardon me, I did not mean to surprise you, or intrude.” Will stammered and had a hard time meeting her eyes.”

“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth glanced toward the bed where her dressing gown laid.

“They said you were ill and I worried about you.” Will took another step closer. Elizabeth

Elizabeth smiled. “As you see I am well. I preferred my own company to some of the other ladies.”

“I’m sorry to hear that they were unpleasant. Was anyone rude to you?”

“Not particularly. Or at least not more than usual.” Elizabeth shrugged. “Why do you ask? You must tell me what happened after Sam pulled you away.”

Will gathered Elizabeth’s hands and raised each of them to kiss. Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat, and her insides felt like jelly.

“I need to speak with you,” Will said. “But first, I need to kiss you.”

Before Elizabeth could reply, Will had gathered her in his strong arms. Thoughts of how scandalous this meeting was immediately left her mind as his lips met hers. She had never known the pleasure found in the arms of a gentleman. She also never would have thought lips could create such sheer joy or sensation. Nor had she ever expected that kissing could involve so much more than the lips.

Will’s mouth was everywhere at once, trailing down her neck to collarbone. His hands ran a frenzied path across her back and up and down her arms. The thin fabric of her night rail brushed against her skin creating goose pimples making the sensation all the more forceful. Elizabeth clung to Will, propping her arms around his neck and kneading her fingers through his hair. Will groaned and tore away from her lips. As their breathing evened, he pressed their foreheads together.

“I will never let you go. I do not care what they say. I belong with you.” To further enunciate his feelings, he squeezed her tightly.

“Will, you said that they. Has someone else spoken against us? Besides, my brother? My father?”

Will let out a low breath. He led Elizabeth to the bed and had her sit there. Then, he let go of her hand and took several steps away. “I cannot touch you and try to explain. I must think rationally. Touching you in your chamber and night rail is exceptionally dangerous to my honor right now.”

Elizabeth blushed, but secretly thrilled and knowing she could make Will come undone.

“Sam does disapprove of any match between us. However, that was not unexpected. I believe, in time, he will come around the idea. He did say he has no objection to my character. Nothing can be said for my inability to provide or to treat you well.” Will paused and frowned a moment. “My father also noted my interest in you.”

“Yes, Jane asked me about that as well.”

“Perhaps it would have been more prudent for me to conceal my affections, but I am glad others can see my obvious admiration for you. I want them to see that you are worthy of my hand.”

Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly in her chest. She could hardly credit the words she was hearing. Will had not asked, yet, everything he said indicated he intended marriage.

“My father has expressed some concerns.” Will began to pace around the room. “Among them was the short nature of our acquaintance, but he says he will support my decision in the end.”

Elizabeth nodded. Yes, their short acquaintance was a matter of concern, but she could not deny her heart. She had not known Fitzwilliam Darcy for long, but she knew he would never give her any reason to distrust him or change her opinion of his honor. She had been wrong about him before, due to her insecurities, she would not question him again.

Will stopped in front of Elizabeth and the corners of his mouth tilted up in a light smile. “When I return from my holiday, I could visit Longbourn. There must be a house nearby I could rent, or I could stay at the inn.”

“We do have a guest room.” Elizabeth smiled at Will. “You are more than welcome to stay with us.”

“Oh, in that case,” Will grinned, “I thank you for the invitation. I will be sure to take the opportunity of convenience to be very near my intended. After a suitable amount of time, we could announce our engagement. If you do not mind a modest income of five hundred pounds a year, we might marry within the year.”

Elizabeth’s hand flew to her heart. “You are speaking of things that require questions, and you have had no answers. I believe you are getting ahead of yourself, sir.”

“Allow me to rectify that.” Will drop to one knee and took Elizabeth’s hands in his. “Marry me Elizabeth Bennet not because I am the heir to Pemberley or come from a wealthy family. Marry me because you love me as I love you. Marry me because you see the man I really am. Your support makes me a stronger and better man than I had ever dared to hope I could be. Marry me because I see who you really are and appreciate every nuance. I want to discover every new thing about you every day until I draw my last breath. Marry me because I could search my entire life and never find another lady as worthy as you.” Will raised Elizabeth’s hands to his mouth.

Elizabeth shook her head and Will immediately drew back.

“Pardon me, but I believed you would hear my proposal with enthusiasm. Do you object to something about me or the limited amount of time we have known each other? “

Elizabeth intended to hold back her laughter, but a giggle escaped. “No, not that.” She stood and threw her arms around Will. After peppering his face with kisses, she drew back. “I do love you! As terrified as I am, I will happily be your wife.” She paused as Will wrapped his arms around her waist. “I only found it amusing that not once in your well-articulated speech did you make a request. Instead, it was all demands: Marry me, marry me, marry me.”

At first, Will looked affronted, but then a smile came to his lips. “I think I will enjoy being teased by you for the rest of my life.”

“And even when admonished you still will not ask the question?”

“Oh, I have many questions. How are you so beautiful? How do you fit so perfectly in my arms?” Will nuzzled his head into Elizabeth’s hair. “How do you smell so fragrant? How soon can we marry?”

Will scooped Elizabeth into his arms and she giggled. “You are the one who told me we would have to wait for a year.”

Will laid Elizabeth down gently on the bed and sat one side. Leaning across her, he stroked her cheek before meeting her lips. “I already see how my future can be improved with a wife. You are far more intelligent on these matters than I am.”

“That is the burden I believe I can bear.”

Will wrapped his arms around Elizabeth and kissed her lips once more before bringing her head to rest on his chest. For several minutes, she listened to his heartbeat.

“I offer you my hand in marriage. If I had not one penny to my name, I would still offer it. Would that be enough for you? Will you have me? Will you marry me, sweet, sweet Lizzy?”

Elizabeth smiled against Will’s chest and pulled back to meet his eyes. “I would marry you, Fitzwilliam Darcy, if I had a thousand offers from all the richest men in the world. It is you and your heart that I love. I only tremble by being selected by so great a man.”

Gathering Elizabeth into his arms, Will pulled her to sit on his lap. Once there, she placed her arms around his neck and leaned into his kiss. Will’s hands traveled similar paths to before, up and down Elizabeth arms and back. Soon, however, his fingers caressed her shoulders and slipped underneath the fabric of her night rail, causing her to shiver and gasp. Will must have enjoyed the sensation for his kiss deepened. Soon, his lips left hers and descended her throat and across her collarbone. Will pushed the strap of her night rail to the side and he pressed a lingering kiss on the exposed skin.

Elizabeth’s heart hammered in her chest and desires she had never known before coursed through her. If Will asked for more intimacy, she would never be able to tell him no. Instead, Will ceased his movements and held Elizabeth to his chest once more.

“Soon, Lizzy. Soon.” Will press a kiss into Elizabeth’s hair. “I never thought I would find this. I never thought I could combine passion and such deep respect for one woman. I’m constantly in awe of you.”

“I feel the same way,” Elizabeth said. “However, I think you can articulate it better.”

The clock in the chamber chimed the hour, and they loosen their hold on one another. Standing, Elizabeth escorted Will to her door. “I think we will have to adjust some of your plans in the future. However, coming to Longbourn and publicly courting me there is a stroke of genius.”

“So, I cannot persuade you to smuggle yourself aboard one of our carriages and elope while we are in Scotland?” Will smirked.

Elizabeth quite loved Will’s joke. Still, she answered soberly. “We would only choose that route if we felt we had no other option because we were afraid of the consequences of facing certain people’s disapproval. I have already told your father and, now, I will tell you, I always rise to every attempt of intimidating me.”

“My avenging Goddess,” Will said and kissed her forehead. “I agree, we will give our family a chance to come to the idea of our marriage before resorting to such desperate tactics.” Will pressed lingering kiss to her lips. “But I vow, I will marry you one day Elizabeth Bennet. You are imprinted on my heart, and there is room for no other.”

Elizabeth sighed as she returned his kiss. “You have my whole heart, Will Darcy. I will never give it to another. I will wait for you. When you return to me, we will plan our future.”

Will embraced Elizabeth once more before whispering in her ear. “Fear not, my love. Fitzwilliam Darcy always gets his way, and I will find a way to marry you with the blessing of our families.”

Elizabeth nodded as she fervently believed his promise. Opening the door, she made sure the hall was empty before Will left her chamber. She fell asleep that night confident of Will’s love and knowing she needed nothing else in life.

To be continued…