Treasured–Chapter Four

treasured finalI’m sorry this is a bit tardy this week. My husband has been home sick today with flu like symptoms, I had a migraine most of the day, and I was ill all last weekend so I didn’t get things scheduled ahead of time. The plot thickens with this chapter!

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

 

The following morning, Elizabeth, Jane, and Mary awaited Georgiana’s arrival at Longhorn. When, at last, the carriage arrived no one got out.

After waiting several minutes, Jane broke the silence. “Perhaps she does not wish to leave the coach.”

“This most unusual,” Elizabeth said. “For I know Will desired her to come in and meet the family.”

“I can hardly blame her for not wanting to meet any of us,” Mary interjected. “What are we to the Darcy’s? We should go to her.”

“I suppose so,” said Elizabeth. “Although, Will had wanted her to come and greet the family.”

“I daresay if your Will truly wanted that to happen, he would have ridden with her,” Mary observed.

Elizabeth forced herself not to reply to her sister’s rather annoying opinion. “She was very shy as a young girl. Perhaps once we have shopped and chatted and gotten to know one other again, she shall be more willing to come inside.”

“Yes, I think you are right, Lizzy,” said Jane.

The girls collected their outerwear and walked to the coach. Once inside, conversation was nearly nonexistent. Thankfully, the journey to Meryton was a quick one. It was so short the girls often choose to walk. Elizabeth sighed to herself. This must be part of becoming Mrs. Darcy. She could not expect to have the freedom to walk to so many places any longer. As she observed Miss Darcy, it appeared to Elizabeth that an additional reason for the carriage was likely due to the younger girl’s shopping habits. They would need the space for all of her purchases.

“Here we are,” Elizabeth chirped.

“How quaint,” Georgiana said in a disapproving tone.

“I am sure it is not as sophisticated as London,” Mary said. “But it does have its charms.”

“Indeed, Elizabeth said with a smile. “I recall from Sam’s letters that the area around Pemberley was not as large and did not have as new styles. For a country town, I imagine Meryton might have more to offer in the way of shopping and people to meet than many others.”

“I hope you will not miss it too much, Miss Elizabeth. You should know that my brother does not favor town, so on your marriage, you will be spending much time in the country with far fewer shops and people to meet. I know many people are aghast when they learn my brother does not host lavish parties or run up bills at all the local shops.”

Elizabeth glanced at Jane, confused Georgiana’s annoyed tone. “I assure you, Georgiana, I quite love the country and look forward to seeing my new home.”

“I do wish for you to call me Miss Darcy. Additionally, you should know there is much more to running an estate as large as Pemberley than merely seeing all of its grand rooms and expensive furnishings.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth said. “I did not mean to make it sound like anything else. I know Pemberley is larger than Longbourn, but I believe I am up to the task of managing it. Of course, with the help of you and the housekeeper.”

Georgiana laughed. “I am afraid I will of be no help. I shall spend most of my time in London. I take my lessons very seriously. Perhaps, I might teach you various accomplishments.” Georgiana’s eyes lingered on Mary and Jane. “If you ever invite your sisters, that his if  Will ever believes they are worthy of my company, I should be happy to assist them as well.”

Elizabeth was saved from having to reply further to Georgianna by the footmen opening the door. One by one, he handed the ladies down. Once outside, Georgiana surveyed the square with a critical eye. If Elizabeth had thought Will was proud when they first met all those years ago, it was nothing compared to the expression of his sister.

“Where would you like to start, Miss Darcy?” asked Jane. “We have a milliner, a dressmaker, even a bookseller who sometimes gets music.”

“Lizzy must go to the dressmaker and milliner, and Jane prefers those as well. However,” said Mary, “if you would prefer the bookshop, I always came to visit it. I would welcome your opinion of our offerings compared to London’s shops.”

“What? Have you never been to town?

“No,” Mary answered looking at her shoes. “I have just come out, and my relations have only ever invited Jane and Lizzy.”

“You must not feel left out, Mary.” Jane put her arm around her sister. “You are out, and now that Lizzy is getting married there will be additional space in their home for you. Nor must you make it sound as though we were always visiting. There many years we could not as Aunt was too busy with the children.”

“I know,” Mary sighed.

“In that case,” Georgiana said with a smile, “I do like your suggestion, Miss Mary.”

“Really?” Mary asked in surprise.

“Indeed! Music is my greatest joy in life, and the instrument at Netherfield is quite nice. It does not compare to the one at Pemberley or even Darcy house, but it will do. However,” Georgiana rolled her eyes, “I cannot abide by Miss Bingley’s taste. I do not know that we shall find anything suitable here, but it is worth a look.”

“I also greatly enjoy playing.” Mary gave Georgiana a timid smile. “I am sure my talent is nothing to yours after training with Masters in town. If you desire to teach me, I very much would like to learn.”

“Excellent!” Georgiana linked her arm through Mary’s. “We should go to the bookshop and then meet your sisters at the dressmaker’s.” They began to step away.

Mary looked over her shoulder. “You do not mind, Lizzy, do you?

“Of course not,” Elizabeth shook her head. “It is very appropriate for you to spend time together especially as you have such similar interests. I also enjoy playing but lack the passion Mary has for it. I would love to hear you play again, Miss Darcy. I have very fond memories of it from years ago. You must be even more improved since then.”

As Elizabeth and Jane made their way to the dressmaker and the milliner, Elizabeth could not help but wonder at Georgiana changing from the girl she had known five years ago. This Elizabeth could explain to herself. Georgiana was now at the most trying years of a young lady’s life, and some alteration in mood and temperament would be expected. Her kindness to Mary would be proof that her ill-nature was not a permanent change, except that Elizabeth did not trust Georgiana was genuinely interested in Mary.

Mary was a year older, but Georgiana appeared the elder in many ways. Although she was the younger lady, Georgiana had gone to London and been in the world. She had already made the mistake of trusting George Wickham and now believed brother tore her apart from a constant lover. Mary, by contrast, was quiet. The only common interests or experiences they could have would be the pianoforte. While Mary counted it as an accomplishment, she played mostly for enjoyment and did not have the skills at seventeen that Georgiana had at twelve. Georgiana had many years worth of music masters. Mary did not usually separate from Jane and Elizabeth on their trips to Meryton, and it concerned Elizabeth how quickly Georgiana manipulated everyone around her.

Elizabeth concerns seemed for not, however, when Mary and Georgiana arrived at the dressmaker’s in due time, none the worse for the wear. “How did you find the bookshop, Miss Darcy?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mary was quite correct. It is nothing compared to the sophisticated shops of London. However, it will do, and I did find this,” she held up a package, “It is not as new as the pieces I find in Town but far better than what Miss Bingley has at Netherfield.”

“She bought me some pieces as well,” Mary said with a blush.

“That was not necessary, Miss Darcy,” Jane said. “We would have lent Mary the money if she did not have enough.”

“Think nothing of it. There is nothing I would not do for my friend.”

The expression Miss Darcy wore almost fooled Elizabeth. It likely would have convinced anyone else of her good intentions. Elizabeth wondered if Will knew how Georgiana spent her money. He was no spendthrift, and he would not approve of his sister becoming one. However, she did do something kind, and it was only music, so there is little reason to criticize.

“We wished to show you around the square, now,” Jane said.

Elizabeth had expected Georgiana to refuse, but so few could ever decline anything Jane offered. Georgiana’s lips turned up in a fake smile, and she linked her arm through Mary’s. “I see no harm. Perhaps we will meet with some new acquaintances as you seem so fond of doing Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth thought she saw a look pass between Georgiana and Mary but then decided it was merely due to her annoyance at Georgiana’s behavior. They ambled along the square for some time for seeing Charlotte. Charlotte acknowledged them with a curtsy and a light blush. She looked as though she were on the verge of hastening away, but Jane called out her.

“Charlotte, how are you?” Jane asked.

“Tolerably well. I hope you and your family are you good health.” She glanced at Elizabeth. “How do the wedding plans come?”

“We are all very well. Thank you for asking. Mama is making such a fuss about the wedding, but after having to wait for so long, I fear I quite like it.”

Charlotte looked at Miss Darcy, and her eyes asked the unspoken question. Good manners dictated that Elizabeth must wait for Georgiana to request an introduction, but she doubted the girl would ask for one. The Bennet ladies continue to speak with Charlotte in stilted conversation as Elizabeth and Charlotte had not entirely repaired their friendship. At length, Charlotte turned to go and resume her activity when her eyes widened, and a new blush came to cheeks. The others could not help glancing at whatever she had seen. The only thing Elizabeth could see a note was a young man in an officer’s uniform, but he was not of the militia. He rode his mount quite well. He was no Fitzwilliam Darcy, and yet something about him reminded Elizabeth of her betrothed.

“Richard,” Georgiana said surprised.

Elizabeth looked at the man with more interest as she now understood him to be Will’s cousin. He directed his horse to their position.

“How do you do, Georgiana? Have you enjoyed your shop?”

“I have found some music that meets my standards and the ladies are showing me around the square.”

“Indeed, if I were a lady that sounds like an enjoyable morning. Would you introduce me to your new friends?”

Georgiana introduced Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary, but stumbled for a moment when she got Charlotte.

“I will introduce who I can,” Georgiana said.

One by one she introduced the Bennet sisters. After the usual civil replies, Georgiana looked expectantly at Elizabeth. The older girl sighed. She ought to have expected such behaviour from Will’s sister given her age and circumstances in life. She had built fairy tales in her head about her future with Will, and they might never become a reality. Well, difficult sisters were not the worst of her worries. Elizabeth drew her shoulders back.

“And this is our good friend Miss Charlotte Lucas.” Elizabeth felt a twinge of remorse as the statement no longer felt true. “Her father is our local knight. You are certain to meet Sir William soon and see for yourself how very friendly he is.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Lucas,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a twinkle in his eye men usually held only for Jane. His words seemed to have stirred Charlotte from a blushing stupor.

“For me as well,” she said while directing her eyes past him.

“A friend to Miss Elizabeth is a friend to my cousin Will and therefore a friend to me.”

Charlotte frowned at the further mention of Will. “Likewise. Pardon me, I have forgotten that Mama needed me home by now.”

Elizabeth watched as the woman who used to be her friend scurried away but peeked over her shoulder for one more look at them. How very curious.

“If you ladies are finished shopping, I would escort you to the carriage. I could follow Georgiana back from Longbourn and then she will not have to ride unchaperoned.”

Georgiana looked displeased with the notion but took her cousin’s arm when he offered it. Between Elizabeth and Jane, they managed to chat with the Colonel until they reached the carriage. Georgiana remained resentfully silent while Mary appeared more pensive.

Gallantly, the Colonel handed each lady in. When Elizabeth placed her hand in his, she felt an object slide into her fingers. Sneaking a peek at it once in the carriage, she saw a tightly folded piece of paper with a snippet of Will’s handwriting. Her heart fluttered in her chest. How she loved notes from her betrothed. However, why did he not bring it to Longbourn? Or if he could not call, then he might have sought her out in Meryton rather than sending his cousin.

The thoughts swirled in Elizabeth’s head as the carriage began to pull away and its occupants were in discussion describing Longbourn to the Colonel. Elizabeth turned her head to view the passing scenery, and her heart nearly stuttered to a stop at what she saw. There, on the streets of Meryton, was George Wickham.

Treasured–Chapter Three

treasured finalIs Will going to break the engagement?

Previous Chapters: One / Two

 

Chapter Three

 

Will kissed Elizabeth once more. After facing the truth of their loved one’s demise and all the emotion it brought on, their lips frantically met, drawing a different sort of comfort from one another. They were here, they were alive, they had this moment together.

Will tore his lips from hers and dropped his forehead to her shoulder. “How can I ask it of you? How can I bear it again?”

Suddenly, Elizabeth understood what Will had meant earlier. He was speaking of giving her up! Or at the very least, of postponing their marriage. Did she mean so little to him? Registering dampness on her gown, she realized Will cried at the thought of their separation. No, it was not that he desired this.

As though she had asked her question aloud, he spoke. “I would do anything to keep you safe, Elizabeth. Perhaps we are not meant to…”

Elizabeth pressed a finger to Will’s lips to silence him. “Do not say it! We are meant to be together. I have no intention of giving you up now or ever. You are mine Will Darcy!”

She threw her arms around his neck. The unexpected movement tackled him to the ground. She leaned over Will and did not let go. In this position, they shared breath, and she could feel his heartbeat. Meeting his eyes, she considered her next words carefully. “I am not afraid at all for me. It is you that I worry about. It is you Wickham has targeted. If by some extreme misfortune, I am injured because I am with you or loved by you, it is something I will gladly bear. I would rather have one moment on this earth as your wife than live for one hundred years without you.”

Will leaned up slightly and met her lips then managed to reposition them so he had more dominance. After several minutes, Elizabeth pulled back, panting. “Love me, Will. Love me. Make me yours! No one can separate us once I am yours.”

Will groaned and rolled away from Elizabeth. The distance returned Elizabeth’s senses to her. What had she done? She had just thrown herself at Will and begged for him to defile her in the woods. She was worse than some common harlot!

Shame slapped her cheeks, but curiosity made her glace at her betrothed. He did not appear angry or displeased.

“Forgive me,” Elizabeth reached forward and touched Will’s arm.

His body jumped in response. “Leave me be, Elizabeth. Do not touch me just now.”

The last time he had spoken so coldly to her was after Apollo had nearly trampled them and she asked after the scarred flesh on his arm. She had demurred then but would not this time. She made her choice not the least because if Will deserved her anger, she had no room for feeling ashamed of her behaviour.

“Do not shut me out,” she said as she sat up. “You were willing to break our engagement—again! Are you still and that is why you do not desire my affections?”

Will rolled to face her and propped his head up with a bent arm. “I desire your touch and affection far too much. What you asked for a moment ago has been in my mind nearly unceasing since shortly after I met you. I will not take your virtue until our wedding night. I am not the rake you thought I was.”

Elizabeth huffed out a sigh and folded her arms tightly against her chest. “So we will have a wedding after all? Pray, sir, will it be before I am fifty? How shall I ever bear you a son at that age?”

“If it were legal at all, I would marry you this very minute. I would declare us wed with nothing but these trees as our witnesses. I did not want to break the engagement.”

“May I know the stupid reason you had rationalized in your head that was worth giving me up? You were very incoherent just now.”

Mischief lighted in Will’s eyes. “I think you are proof at how eloquent I was.”

His eyes raked over her and Elizabeth realised the damage to her gown and hair. She blushed and glanced around for hairpins but would not let him avoid the point. Rolling her hair up, she glared at him. “You know of what I speak!”

“You know already what thoughts were in my mind for you already argued against them. You were in the carriage! I cannot be so selfish!”

Elizabeth reached for Will’s hand, and this time he did not shake her off. “There are times when I can perceive your thoughts or emotions and times when I cannot. Either way, I think it is best for us to talk about them openly and to each other. We should not presume to know the other’s mind on such matters. It has only brought heartache too many times.”

Will stood and reached for Elizabeth’s hands, assisting her to her feet. “You are correct, Elizabeth. I will try to remember in the future. Can you forgive me?”

Elizabeth smirked as she tied the ribbons to her bonnet and dusted off her gown. “Only if you continue to kiss me like that and call me Lizzy.”

Desire flashed in Will’s eyes, and Elizabeth fought back a giggle. She had asked for him to be more open and he seemed quite willing to comply.

“Careful, minx,” he said. “Too much temptation might send me to an early grave, and you seem to want me to survive for many years.”

“For that, your penance will be—”

Will interrupted her saucy reply with more delicious kisses before tucking her hand on his arm. “We must return now, Lizzy,” he whispered in her ear before directing her to the path.

They found Mary on a stump with her book. Jane and Charles were returning from further ahead on the path, and both wore enormous smiles. Mary raised her brows at each of them but held her chastisement. In the world of sisters, secrets were closely guarded, and Elizabeth felt she would have some recompense to pay for Mary’s silence.

 

*****

 

Will and Charles sat with the Bennets for another quarter of an hour after returning to the house. However, Will was hoping to hear from Richard and needed to be at Netherfield. Soon after they had arrived, he heard a noise on the gravel. It was not the sound of a lone express rider as he had expected. Instead, Will heard the unmistakable sound of a chaise and four. Although curious, he had determined it could not be for him and continued to focus on the work at hand. The butler disturbing his solitude in the library with the announcement of his cousin, sister, and her companion exceedingly shocked him.

“Richard! Georgiana!” Will said as he glanced between the two. “I did not expect you for several days.”

“Indeed,” Richard said as he helped himself to Charles’ port. “Soon after I wrote to you, I also sent a note to your housekeeper in Town and informed her of when we would arrive. Imagine my surprise when she replied stating Georgiana had just arrived from Pemberley.”

“I see,” Will said as he considered Richard’s information. Mrs. Annesley would have requested to change the plans. Only Georgiana’s stubborn insistence would lead to the older woman disregarding his orders. However, it was unusual that she did not send a message as the journey from Pemberley to London took three days.

“You did not receive my express?” Mrs. Annesley asked.

“No. I am afraid not.”

“How curious!” Georgiana said and pulled Will’s eyes to her.

Indeed. How curious that yet another letter to him did not arrive. “And why were you in London?”

“Miss Bingley wrote that she was bored at Netherfield and expected to soon be in Town. I had messages from many friends that they were already there.”

“Did you?” Will met Mrs. Annesley’s eyes. In his correspondence with her, she had expressed concern that her charge was receiving more letters than she considered regular and Georgiana was very evasive in answering questions about them. She guarded her privacy about the letters. “I fail to see how simply because others were in one area it meant you also needed to be present.”

“Come, you cannot refuse me entrance to my own home.”

Will raised his brows. “I suppose that means if they were all in Bath or elsewhere you would not choose to go there?”

“The countryside is so dull,” Georgiana played with lint on her gown. “Although, I did come here as bidden like a good little girl.” She made a face at her final words as though she had sucked on a lemon.

“Regardless of your feelings about where you are set to reside, you should remember that you are not of age to make such decisions nor do you have access to your funds. You broke my trust at Ramsgate and again by leaving Pemberley—”

“No one has said that I left. You blame me for everything!”

“No, my dear,” Will said sternly. “It is that I know Mrs. Annesley would not leave so recklessly.”

“You trust a servant more than your sister!”

“Yes, I do!” Will stood and walked to his sister. “She has shown herself to have more honour than you at this moment.”

“Will,” Charles’ red hair emerged in the doorway. “Wilson said that—” He entered and caught sight of the ladies. “Miss Darcy! You are here!”

“Charles,” Richard raised his glass to his host.

“And Richard too! Well, now I truly feel like a host! Good day to you all,” he bowed to the room. “Welcome! If you are comfortable here for now, then I will alert the housekeeper, and we shall have rooms readied for you. Miss Darcy, I know my sisters will enjoy your visit and—”

“Thank you, Charles,” Will interrupted. “Georgiana was just saying how tired she is and so I know she will appreciate a room as quickly as possible.”

“Indeed!” Charles glanced between Will and the others and seemed to suddenly perceive the tension that had gone unnoticed before. “I will see to it immediately.”

After he left the room and the door was shut, assuring some privacy, Will turned to his sister again.

Georgiana met Will’s eyes with a mocking expression. Where was the sweet girl he once knew? Where had he gone wrong with her? What choice in his past did he make which led to this? Sighing, he decided to tell her the truth. “Georgiana, I have not asked you here to ruin any plans of yours. If you had desired to come to London, then I could have responsibly arranged such things. As it happens, I believe you must have insisted you would go without an escort, but we will address that later. First, I desired you here so you might become reacquainted with your future sister-in-law.”

Georgiana gasped, “Sister-In-Law! I had thought you never meant to marry.”

“It is true, for years I thought I never would. But I have become reacquainted with the lady that I have admired since our first meeting five years ago.”

“Who do you mean? Not Miss Bingley!”

“I should say not! Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn has accepted my proposal, and we are to wed in a fortnight.”

Will watched in consternation as Georgiana’s expression changed from repugnance to shock to something entirely unreadable. It was not the reaction had expected from sister. “I believe you quite enjoyed your time with her while she stayed at Darcy house.”

“Enjoy would be a stretch. I was a child confined to the nursery. Papa only brought me down to impress his friends. Nor could I control who came and went in my room. Yes, the Miss Bennets frequented the nursery, but do not imagine we became friends.” Georgiana raised her chin in defiance.

Will furrowed his brows and looked at Mrs. Annesley then Richard for clues as to why Georgiana would react this way. Their expressions seemed as clueless as his. “I am sorry to hear that, but I know you will not allow experiences from so long ago to cloud your vision.”

“Like you did yours? Once a fortune hunter always a fortune hunter.”

Georgiana sniffed, and her expression was far too much like Caroline Bingley for Will’s taste. “That is enough,” he said but did not raise his voice. Then, glaring at his sister, he continued, “Elizabeth Bennet was never a fortune hunter, and I have never mentioned that fear to you. I can think of only one who could have, and I wonder why he would. Georgiana, ask yourself why your friend Wickham would need to slander the name of a guest in your father’s house and a lady of whom your brother thought well.”

Georgiana looked at her nails distractedly. “I am sure he told me so I could see how your judgment is not always perfect. The blinders are off now, dear brother. You may order me about as you legally can. However, you will longer influence my mind.”

Anger clouded Will’s vision. “Mrs. Annesley, Richard, I trust you will see my sister to her room when it is provided. I have said all that is necessary and now must return to my business. Georgiana,” he looked at her. “If you can show yourself to be civil at dinner, you may accompany the Miss Bennets and Miss Bingley to the shops in Meryton tomorrow.” Will stiffly bowed and had just reached the door when Richard called after him.

“Have you not forgotten to tell her of a rather critical development?”

“Ah, yes.” Will glanced over his shoulder at his sister. “You should perhaps be forewarned that we have every reason to believe that the man who was willing to seduce you has also murdered our father, as well as Mr. Bingley’s father, and Miss Elizabeth’s brother. The fire was arson and witnesses describe a man like Wickham. There have been strange and dangerous incidents since I have been at Netherfield targeting myself and Miss Elizabeth. Besides my desire for you to reacquaint yourself my betrothed, there is a genuine fear that Wickham might try to harm you, or contact you in some way.”

Will examined his sister for a long moment. “Has he?”

“No,” she answered.

Will found he could not believe her words.

“Surely what you say is impossible. Wickham would never be—”

“He would. He would indeed” Will turned and left for his chamber.

Treasured–Chapter Two

treasured finalAll the comments to Chapter One were begging for Will to talk to Elizabeth and not to leave. Well, we have an answer to part of that…

Previous Chapter: One

Chapter Two

 

Elizabeth smiled as she rose for the day and went through her morning ablutions. Since the incident with Collins several weeks ago, she and Will had never been closer. The time of their wedding was rapidly approaching, and soon his family would arrive. Will had been circumspect regarding his sister. He had told Elizabeth about Georgiana’s intended elopement and that she continued to hold Wickham in high regard. What they had barely discussed was how Will felt about it all and how his relationship with his sister stood. From what Elizabeth gathered, however, it was very strained. Just after the incident, Georgiana spent time at Pemberley, and Will stayed in London. Then, he came to Hertfordshire. It seemed there had been no time for the two to mend broken bridges and address old hurts.

It was hardly surprising. After all, there were more than ten years between the two. There had been only seven years between Elizabeth and Sam, but he would not reveal much to her either. In the same way, Elizabeth was no more open to her youngest sisters. Even Mary, so newly out in society, she did not spend much time with.

Tying her hair up with cheerful ribbons, Elizabeth pushed worries about Georgiana’s arrival aside. Will would be calling soon, and the weather looked very fine. She hoped they would have some time to walk in privacy. In the weeks of their courtship, there was much they discussed which had never been canvassed before. Excitement filled her heart at the idea of learning more and more about Will Darcy for the rest of her life.

Elizabeth entered the breakfast room and greeted her family. Upon sitting, she and Jane immediately began whispering about possible contrivances for solitude with their suitors.

Mary peered at them from across the table. “I hope you are not expecting me to chaperone you forever.” She slathered jam on her toast.

“Forever?” Elizabeth laughed. “Certainly not! I will soon wed.” She looked at Jane with dancing eyes. “It is Jane who will need the chaperone.”

“I thank you not to tease your sister, Miss Lizzy,” Mrs. Bennet said. “You may work the fastest at ensnaring a husband, but we will see if he can come to the point at last. Mark my words, Jane has a far better chance of catching Mr. Bingley than you do of getting Mr. Darcy to the altar.”

Elizabeth repressed the urge to roll her eyes. Her mother and Charlotte had not relented in their opinion that Will should not be trusted and would find some way to throw her over before the wedding. How they thought that would be possible when the settlement had been signed in addition to the engagement being announced and well known in the neighborhood, she did not know.

As often was the case with her step-mother’s anxieties, Elizabeth pretended they did not exist. There was no use in arguing about it. She no longer barred Will from entry into the house and once they were married, her argument would have no legs to stand on. As it was, she did everything a mother should when their daughter was engaged. Despite Mrs. Bennet’s rejection of her future son, Elizabeth did not feel slighted in the least.

“This afternoon, after the gentlemen have called, we must go into Meryton and begin shopping for your wedding clothes. Jane and Mary shall accompany us.”

“Mama,” Mary whined. “I will come, but only because I desired to stop at the bookstore as well.”

“Of course, you may select a new book, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet answered. “However, you will join us at the dressmakers and the milliner. It is good for you to be seen with your betrothed sister and for you to witness the goings-on before a lady marries. Your sisters accompanied and Charlotte Lucas when she was selecting her things for Sam.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Elizabeth had shared with Jane the truth about Sam’s behavior towards Charlotte. No one had told Mary. However, she was deeply her reflective, and so Elizabeth would not be surprised to hear that the girl suspected much of the truth.

Breakfast passed in the usual way. Then Mrs. Bennet went upstairs to see to Kitty and Lydia’s lessons. Mary took the pianoforte, leaving Jane Elizabeth to each other.

“Mr. Bingley has been calling at Longhorn nearly as much as Will,” Elizabeth said while sneaking a slight glance at Jane. “I wonder why?”

“Lizzy, do not tease me so.” Jane blushed, but she smiled. “You must know my hopes by now.”

“How can I know them when you have never said them?” Elizabeth batted her eyes at her elder sister, hoping she would fully and openly state her feelings.

“I never met such a man…that is no one else has seemed…” Jane trailed off before gripping her hands and shaking her head. “Oh, how do you do this so much?”

“Do what?”

“Speak of your feelings so freely!”

Elizabeth straightened in her seat. She had not thought that she spoke so freely of her feelings. It is not as though she told anybody but Jane that she loved Will. She informed Mr. Collins that she was engaged to Will only as the most desperate measure.

Jane looked at her. “I do not mean only about Will. You speak freely about any number of things.”

Elizabeth nodded in understanding. “I suppose it is that I have a very irreverent attitude towards the world in general. I do not care what they think of me very much.” Troubled lines threatened to mar her countenance and Elizabeth struggled to keep her face neutral. The fact was she worried very much that her attitude would not be welcomed in London society as Mrs. Darcy.

“It is not as though I fear what people will think. I simply hate for them to know.”

“Dearest Jane, that is not a wrong sentiment. You are reserved, and I am not.”

“I wish I could be more open,” Jane said while staring at her hands. “I sense Mr. Bingley waits for some sign for me. It is as though he is dependent upon me declaring myself. I question how to reassure him of my interest.”

“Perhaps all you need is time.” Elizabeth laughed. “I know I should hardly be the one giving such advice given the nature of my romance. However, it may be that Mr. Bingley needs time to know his own feelings and to be sure that he sees yours. Trust me, words come very easily to some and actions are much harder to prove.”

“That is quite correct,” Jane agreed. “Here they come now.” She nodded to the window as they heard horses arrive on the drive.

Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley were announced into the room and Mary came to sit with them. After the usual pleasantries, Charles asked if they could go on a walk.

Mary let out a long-suffering sigh. “If you will wait in the hall and allow me time together a book I would be most happy.”

Elizabeth gave her sister a guilty smile. She could hardly suppose Mary very much enjoyed chaperoning her older sisters. It disrupted her usual routine, and with two couples she was nearly always excluded. At least when Elizabeth would chaperone Charlotte and her brother, Jane would go with her.

At first, the five young people walked together. Soon Will whispered to Elizabeth. He needed to speak with her in private. Elizabeth signaled to Jane, and their previously thought out plan was put into place. Mary had brought a book with her and did not seem to care or notice that her charges were dividing up in addition to putting considerable distance between her and them.

Will slowed his walk and nodded to a copse of trees next to the path. Elizabeth grinned in response and soon Will lead them to the privacy of the forest.

Elizabeth could feel, however, that something weighed on Will’s mind. He did not appear at ease when he had spoken earlier. More than this, he held her hand tighter than usual and pulled them to greater isolation than he usually would.

“Will, Elizabeth said as she tugged on his hand.

Will look back at her, taking in her flushed cheeks and how she panted from the exertion. He suddenly stopped and pulled Elizabeth into his arms in a crushing embrace.

Elizabeth said nothing. She merely allowed Will to draw the comfort he so obviously needed from her. He tugged on her bonnet strings. In the last several weeks, had become more adept at untying them. Elizabeth removed the hat from her head, and it tumbled from her hands when he captured her lips.

The kiss was not as passionate or crazed as she had expected from his demeanour. However, there appeared to be a desperation about him. He tenderly kissed every inch of her face and seemed to memorize the shape and feel of her lips before letting go and resting his head atop hers.

“I love you,” Elizabeth sighed, and Will’s arms tightened around her further. She pulled back to look at him, for he said nothing return. She heard a crinkling sound from his pocket.

“Tell me what worries you,” Elizabeth said, and pushed a stray lock out of Will’s eye. For a fleeting moment, it looked as though her movement brought Will pain. She pulled her hand back in concern and confusion.

“I cannot do it, Lizzy. I cannot. Not again.” He squeezed her tightly once more.

Elizabeth hardly knew what think. He had never called her Lizzy before, but now was not the correct time to worry about it. “I would counsel you if that is what you desire. However, I do not know what concerns afflict you.”

Will remained mute, but his expression spoke for him. Everything about him appeared more rigid and austere. She recognized it as the same expression he wore when his father had reminded him of his duty all those years ago. He was afraid of something; he was scared of failing. He was torn and conflicted. She hardly why, but felt her own anxiety rise in response to his. “Was it a letter? Is that what it is in your pocket?”

Will nodded and squeezed his eyes shut in what looked like resignation. Withdrawing the letter, he held it out to her. Elizabeth took it with trembling hands. What could it say that would upset him so? Dread filled her as she unfolded the paper. Whatever it was, it would likely affect them both.

Her eyes fell on the paper, as she greedily read every line. There were many which required multiple viewings. Her voice caught in her throat and tears welled in her eyes. “Do I do understand this correctly? Sam did not die in an accident? He was killed!”

“Yes,” Will answered and his voice broke.

Elizabeth looked up to see tears in his eyes as well. “Your father, Mr. Bingley’s father, and Sam. They were…they were killed! Why? Who would do such a thing?”

Elizabeth crumpled in a heap on the ground. Will dropped to his knees and held her to his chest as she sobbed. Since Will’s return, Elizabeth had not missed Sam as much. However, she had kept her grief for his death so firmly over the years, mere weeks could not reset it. Now, the pain came back with a vengeance.

Will said nothing as Elizabeth cried and took consolation. As she did, a part of her healed unexpectedly. This was what she had needed when she had first heard of Sam’s death. She had long for Will’s embrace and expected his support. When they met again, she never thought she would have a chance to relive those feelings once more. However, that did not mean she was thankful he finally fulfilled the role of comforter.

Beginning to calm, she thought over the letter once more. Will’s reaction was different from hers. It was not a concern of reliving the anguish of losing his father and friend that brought him pain. Unable to discern his feelings, Elizabeth turned her mind to other matters.

The post office clerk mentioned witnesses had seen a man with sandy blonde hair. Could it have been Wickham? He had traveled with them, and they already knew that he took Will’s letters. They could discern no motive for him to steal the mail. However, Elizabeth could not understand why he would want to kill Mr. Darcy.

In the weeks since the incident, Elizabeth had not forgotten about the carriage axle which broke her way to Netherfield. Someone had designed to kill Will. Was this related? If so, why wait so long before attempting to murder the son?

Elizabeth drew back and met Will’s eyes, brushing away the tears that had fallen on his cheeks. “Do you have a suspect?”

Will’s arms tightened around Elizabeth. “Wickham,” Will said the word and a dark expression crossed face. “Who else? Who else is been such a bane to my very existence?”

“I am scared,” Elizabeth admitted. Throughout her life, she had relied on her courage. She could confess her fears only to Will.

“I am very sorry, love. I do not wish it…” His voice broke, and after a moment he attempted to speak again. “Perhaps it would be for the best…” He trailed off.

Treasured–Chapter One

treasured finalChapter One

November 1, 1811

Three weeks after Reunited ends

Will arrived at Netherfield’s stables and tossed the reins of Apollo at the ready hands of a boy. Charles arrived just after him—he had lost another race. Both gentlemen had smiles on their faces from their visit at Longbourn, but Will had an extra bounce in his step that made him feel lighter than air as he walked to the house.

The last few weeks of his engagement to Elizabeth had never ceased to amaze him. He could not be bitter about the past and their separation if it created the sweetness they shared since their reunion. Elizabeth meant more to him now than she could have meant to him if he had never believed he lost her love and found her again. Now, after years of waiting, they were just over three weeks from their wedding day. Will’s heart could scarcely contain its joy.

“Ah, Mr. Darcy,” the butler said upon Will’s entry. “The mail has just arrived. These are for you.” He extended a handful of letters.

Will took them and thanked him and sequestered himself in the library. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley would be arriving any day, escorted by Richard. Several of his Fitzwilliam relations hoped to come for the wedding as well. Lady Catherine had not been invited after Will learned she had schemed with her parson to end their engagement. Apparently, Will’s father had written to Lady Catherine about Will’s attachment to Elizabeth years ago. When Lady Catherine learned of her parson’s relationship to the Bennets of Longbourn and also learned of Will travelling to the area, she put two and two together. Mr. Collins needed a wife, all the better if it were one who would inherit Longbourn. However, once she perceived Elizabeth Bennet as a threat once more, she commanded Collins to marry her—compromise her if he must.

Will’s letter contained the usual news from his steward and housekeepers. Mrs. Annesley reported that Georgiana continued to be alternately withdrawn and angry. Richard confirmed he would escort the ladies. Lady Catherine spewed vitriol on the page. Her daughter wrote begging not to be painted with the same brush as her mother.

Weeks ago, when Elizabeth had first suggested that Will seek out proof from the post offices which might have been the source of the interference of his letters to her, he wrote to them all. He had heard from most of them by now, which all confirmed what the very first post office had indicated. Wickham paid an employee to hand over Will’s letters to Elizabeth. Why Wickham had wanted to disrupt those letters, Will had not yet determined.

He had also suspected Wickham of sabotaging his carriage. To find him, Will hired Bow Street Runners and had Richard ask around Wickham’s favourite haunts in London. Wickham had been in Lincolnshire during the time in question. It appeared the incident with the carriage was a genuine accident.

Now, Will held in his hand a letter from the last post office in Scotland. They had never journeyed further north than this office, as planned, for the fire put an end to all those plans. Even now, Will could smell the stench of burning fabric and flesh, the thick smoke which clogged his lungs and caused his eyes to burn. Merely reading the name of the town was enough to bring him back to that awful night.

Someone knocked on the door and, to distract himself, Will called for the person to enter. Charles invited himself in—after all, it was his library—and settled in a chair near Will.

“Another letter from a post office?”

“How did you know?”

“You have a certain look about you when they arrive. Is this the one, then?”

“And how did you know that?” Will was unused to Charles being so observant.

“For starters, I believe all the others are accounted for. Secondly, it’s the only one that you would avoid and put off, and I see that the seal is unopened. Lastly, your expression was the same as it always is when the fire is mentioned.” He paused and watched his friend. “Yes, that is the look exactly!”

Although Will did not have a looking glass to see what Charles referenced, he could feel the tightness of his muscles and the way his jaw clenched. It felt like turning to stone. “Very well,” Will admitted. “It is the last dreaded reply. I do not know why I bother reading them. They all say the same thing, and there is nothing I can much do about it.”

“You have always believed there was strength in knowledge. One day, you will meet Wickham again and will have your means to prove his deeds.” Charles hesitated. While looking out a window, rather than meeting Will’s eyes, he suggested, “Would you prefer me to read it?”

For a moment, Will was offended at the suggestion. Did Charles believe Will not strong enough to live with the reminder of the worst night of his life? Then, he considered how Elizabeth would react to the news. She was showing him what It meant to have unfailing support in his life. Charles had always attempted to be there, but Will would often push him out. He was working hard to overcome his flaw. It had caused enough heartache.

“I appreciate the offer,” Will answered, at last, “but I believe I can read it. Knowledge of its likely contents makes it easier.”

Swelling his courage, Will turned the paper over and tore open the seal.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I could hardly contain my surprise at seeing a letter from you after all these years. You, undoubtedly, do not recall me, but I remember you and your traveling companions most vividly. However, I had expected a message from you many years ago.

You may ask how I can remember you so well. It is not often that our town loses its inn and its post office in one night.

Will furrowed his brows. He had forgotten in this particular town, the post office was a mere corner of the inn.

Even more so when it is a victim of arson.

Will’s grip on the paper tightened, and Charles glanced at him in concern at the crinkling noise. He could not answer his friend’s unspoken question. He had to read on.

As such, all letters would have been lost. During the investigation into the fire, we discovered an employee had been bribed into taking several letters of yours and giving them to a gentleman who he believed to be traveling with you. The employee has been cleared of starting the fire, and unfortunately, the culprit is still at large. Oil and tar were used in the fire and buckets of each were found in one of the stables. No other clues had been discovered. No motive was ever established.

The incident is still much talked about as the owner and a few others outside of your party perished. Eyewitness accounts have become a local legend and will soon fade into complete myth. It seems many believe the Greek god of fire is a lanky fellow with sandy blonde hair.

Years ago, I had expected you to be more curious about the nature of the fire or the fate of your letters, but I suppose the losses you sustained that evening and the subsequent burdens you faced were of primary concern.

I regret that I did not have pleasanter news.

All my respect,

C. Whitaker

Will’s mouth went dry as he read and reread the words. His father and Sam died in arson? Who would have cause to start the blaze? Although Will had not known any of the other guests, he supposed only one would have such a strong motive. George Darcy had just settled his will, and Wickham knew he would be amply rewarded in it. Although he had ultimately rejected the living at Kympton, he asked for a handsome sum in addition to the one thousand pound legacy left to him in Mr. Darcy’s will.

Wickham—a murderer? He had killed his own godfather, a man he counted as friend and mentor. He had murdered Sam, who once had been like a brother to him. He had been the means of separating Will from Elizabeth first by the letters and then from the effects of the fire. Dear God! Elizabeth!

The incident with the carriage—which so easily could have harmed or killed her—must have been his doing even if he were out of town.

“Will!” Charles said as he attempted to pull the paper from Will’s vice grip. “Let me see, man!”

Will let go of the paper and barely registered Charles’ tones of shock and violent anger. He too had considered it must have been Wickham.

“I never thought to ask about the source of the fire,” Charles said. “It was too painful to think about. I wanted only to leave it in the past and forget about it as best I could.”

Will silently nodded. “No investigators ever contacted me. No questions were ever asked.”

“Do you see this? A lanky fellow with sandy hair. Could it have been Wickham?”

Again, Will nodded. This time, he was walking to the door when it happened. He was just about to call for his horse when Charles pulled him back into the room.

“What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“To find him!”

“You cannot do that on your own! Think!” Charles pushed Will into a seat and thrust a drink into his hand. “If he really did this—if he was behind the carriage in some way—he is too dangerous to approach. It may even be what he wants. You have always had what he wants, and he has proved he will stop at nothing to try and attain it.”

Georgiana. Wickham’s intended elopement now meant something entirely different. He not only wanted her fortune but her claim on Pemberley.

“Contact your cousin and the Runners again. Tell them to shadow Wickham closely. Report his every movement. Tell them everything!”

“Yes,” Will said, his brain beginning to work properly again. “I shall hire guards as well. Until we have him in custody and are sure he does not have a proxy. A few here and some at Longbourn as well.”

“I had not even considered Longbourn!” Colour drained from Charles’ face.

Will noted with shock. Was his friend thinking of Miss Bennet the way Will thought of Elizabeth? Now was not the time to worry about that but it would bear further consideration later.

“Can I have my sister come? It may not be safe for her.”

“She would be safer with you than away. He could more easily have access to her then.”

“Indeed,” Will said before swallowing the rest of his drink. Charles’ words were far too true.

*****

Will attempted to distract himself with other matters for the remainder of the day. All the while, he longed to return to Longbourn and sweep Elizabeth into his arms. He knew it was not true, but when he held her, he felt as though he could protect her from anything and battle any foe. As it was, his enemy was nigh on invisible.

Even if the Runners could be retained again and locate Wickham once more, it may not help. They had no real proof he had caused the fire all those years ago, and they had nothing but Will’s gut pointing the destruction of his carriage axle to the man. Wickham had an alibi, and there was little use in trying to question him. He had someone else do his bidding, and while wondering how Wickham would have been able to afford to bribe someone, it was pointless to question how he came into the funds. He always did. He was worse than a cat with nine lives.

The possibility that everyone connected with Will would be a target ran through his mind without relent. If they could not find Wickham and make him confess, Elizabeth would never be safe. For that matter, if his end goal was Pemberley, neither was Georgiana. If the fiend had been willing to kill his godfather and friend, then there was nothing he would not do. Charles, Richard, the Bennets—none of them were safe and all because they knew Will.

He pushed his chair from the desk and began pacing around the room. If he put everyone in danger, then he should leave. He should call for his horse now and return to London. His valet could bring the trunks tomorrow. Only…

He had promised Elizabeth he would not leave again. Which was the greater risk? If he left, even with promises to return once all was resolved, it would break her heart. He had vowed to never be the source of her tears again. No catastrophe would draw him away otherwise. Should the worst happen at Pemberley he would direct his steward and demand a hasty marriage from Mr. Bennet or that she accompany him. He would not leave her behind again. However, if being near him put her at risk then it would be selfish to remain.

Mentally exhausted and worried he would wear a hole in Charles’ carpet, Will threw himself in a chair. Elizabeth’s visage came to his mind as he considered how he would tell her of the development. She would cry, and each tear would sting like a dagger to his heart. Would she rant and rave? No, he thought not. She would not demand he stay when she believed his honour and affection for her should do the work for her. No, she would accept his words and a piece of her love for him would die.

He had already known what it was to lose her trust and how difficult it was to earn back. Could he do that again? Could he intentionally put them through that pain once more to apprehend Wickham?

Could he risk losing her affection and love forever, any hope of a future—to keep her alive? It would be a hollow victory indeed for Elizabeth to live but never marry him.

Will had sent an express to Richard as soon as he finished speaking with Charles earlier in the day. Before he went to bed that night, Will received a reply from his cousin. Richard was leaving that very instant—as soon his missive finished—to journey to come early and escort Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana to London. He agreed that having Georgiana near Will presented a problem. However, so did leaving her unattended and Richard could not forsake his duties for long. Richard contacted the Runners once more and set about inquiries for footmen. He also asked if they should tell the Earl.

Will was of two minds on the matter. The Earl had been a very great friend to his father and had never been too intrusive in Will’s own affairs once he became master. Lord Fitzwilliam was aging, and most of his duties were now executed by his eldest son, the Viscount. Will had no quarrel with his older cousin. However, he desired to limit something so personal as his ongoing dispute with Wickham to as few people as possible. The rest of the Fitzwilliam family did not know about Georgiana’s attempted elopement with Wickham. Even Richard did not know about her continued affection for the scoundrel.

When uncertain on who to trust, Will had always kept to his own counsel. He had thought in the future Elizabeth would support him through such times. Now, there was every possibility that there was no future for them. He could not ask her to wait on him once more.