A heavy weight draped across Elizabeth’s midsection when she awoke the morning of their departure from the inn. Darcy’s palm gently cupped a breast. Although her ankle was still weak, she looked forward to the journey. The quicker they got to Scotland the better, in her opinion.
Beside her, Darcy stirred. He pulled her closer and kissed the exposed skin of her neck. “I love waking up to you in my arms.”
Elizabeth grinned and burrowed closer against him. “You always shall, until death do us part.”
Before her upset about Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth had thought she was more than halfway to being in love with Darcy. Now, she had lost some of her restraint. Why should she not love him? He was deserving of it, and she was willing. He declared she also was worthy of love… That she found more difficult to believe.
Such thoughts evaporated from her mind, however, as Darcy’s hand proceeded to wander. His fingers grazed the skin of her collarbone and the tops of her shoulders. Elizabeth sighed at the sensation.
“Do you enjoy it when I touch you like this?”
“Yes.” Elizabeth’s answer sounded more like a breathy moan, and she arched herself, wordlessly begging him to continue.
“Roll over and face me,” Darcy said.
Elizabeth immediately obeyed. For several minutes, Darcy worshipped her lips. Slowly, one hand began to wander over her curves. His hand made lazy circles until reaching the center of one breast, he pulled at the tight bud. His hand continued its work as his mouth ceased his ministrations, uttering instead:
“While walking down yonder path one Spring day,
I espied a Summer bud wild and free.
It grew among the weeds and hay
Wind and frost rose up, I could not leave it be.
Pruning, sheltering, and nurturing
It survived and grew full height, you see,
Loudly now the church bells ring,
My wild Summer bloom ne’er fails to delight me,
As it drinks up the sunlight’s ray.”
As he recited the words, Darcy pulled open the ribbon in front of Elizabeth’s gown, gently pushing it aside. His eyes never left hers, as his hand stroked her skin. The warmth from his palm was welcome on the cool early Spring day, yet, her body shivered with each graze of his flesh against hers.
Darcy alternated pressure during his exploration, sometimes eliciting a gentle sigh, other times a long moan from her lips. Her mind could barely form a coherent thought. “Did you write that?”
“It is beautiful,” Elizabeth sighed as his hand continued to work over her body. Perhaps it was not the most laudable piece of poetry compared with the works of the greats, but it sounded infinitely superior to her ears.
“You are beautiful.” He nudged more of the fabric over, and his eyes finally left hers. “So very beautiful.”
“When did you write it?”
“I considered a few lines of it last autumn. More pieces came to me during the winter. However, the final line occurred to me just now.”
He pulled back, and Elizabeth smiled as a ray of sunshine bathed her flesh in a yellow glow. “You wrote it about me?”
Darcy answered as his eyes followed the circles of his fingers, doubling the sensations Elizabeth enjoyed.
“You are my wild summer bloom, Elizabeth. And I will care for you through the storms which would destroy you. You think you are the problem, but you have only grown too early and in a difficult position.”
Elizabeth sighed as tears pricked her eyes. This was what it felt like to be loved, to be genuinely and unconditionally loved. She pulled Darcy’s head to hers and told him all the whispers of her heart in the only way she knew.
Later, they separated to prepare for their journey. Elizabeth decided to return to her old chamber and visit with Molly and any of the other ladies who might be there as it was still early in the day.
“La! She is to leave today,” Molly’s voice rang out through the open door to the maids’ quarters.
Elizabeth stopped outside to hear more.
“You ought to have seen her preening in his room,” Molly continued, “as though she were a duchess or married to a prince.”
“But how can they be married?” One of the other barmaids asked. “Do you think she left him? I knew a girl once who did. She said she would go back as soon as he could learn to be grateful for what he had.”
“They ain’t married. She kept saying he would marry her and give her his name, but I don’t believe it for one minute. She will be Lizzy Smith forever—if that is even her real name! We know Cordelia uses a false one.”
“The men like thinking they are with a fancy piece,” the named maid sniffed. “They would much rather have Cordelia in their arms for a tryst than Nellie.”
“I thought you were going with them,” one of the maids said to Molly.
“Well, isn’t that just like her? You remember when she first came? I said she was too uppity to make friends with the likes of us.”
“But she did,” someone offered timidly.
“Like she had any choice! But you see how she really treats her friends. Said I couldn’t come with them, but I would bet she doesn’t want anyone knowing about her past.”
Elizabeth pushed open the door. “I thought you just said you doubted he would marry me at all,”
The other girls immediately gasped and blushed. A few stammered an apology.
“What do you want, Lizzy? Thought you were leaving to be with your fancy mister,” Molly said with a raised chin.
“I wanted to say goodbye to people who I thought were my friends. I can see now I was mistaken. You know I never said you would leave with us. Did you ever count yourself as my friend or was it only when I had a greater opportunity than you that you became jealous and spiteful, Molly?”
“Don’t act like you wouldn’t say the same thing to any of us.”
“No, I would not.”
“Then you are stupider than I thought. Good luck with your man. He will grow tired of you just like whoever you came from before.”
Elizabeth stared at the young woman she had called a friend for months. Had Molly always been so mean and she just had not seen it before? Casting her mind back, Elizabeth did see the signs. She had done the same with her family as well. She always made excuses for people.
Elizabeth left the room and found Darcy waiting for her in their chamber. He was ready to depart. The bill was settled with Cuthbert, and the carriage waited for them. Elizabeth hated the uneasiness that was in his eyes. Had she thought she was not returning? Did he think she would argue about hiring Molly?
The start of their journey was quiet, and it took some time for Elizabeth’s mood to lighten. Just as quickly as it improved, her good humour evaporated. They were nearing London, and she could not forget her aunt and uncle and the wrong they had done her.
“Will we stay in London for the night?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, I did not think you would prefer it. My valet arranged for us to stay a few hours from here, once we are on Watling Street. We stop in Town only long enough for me to sign the final drafts with my solicitor. Did you post your letter to Jane? If not, we surely can while we are here.”
Elizabeth admitted she had not put it in the post. She had intended to do so after speaking with her friends but entirely forgot after hearing their gossip.
While Darcy spoke with his solicitor, Elizabeth waited in the coach. She watched people from the carriage window and even thought she saw Miss Bingley. She was on the arm of a wealthy looking man and looked as carefree as when Elizabeth last saw her. Had it only been five months? It felt as though it had been years to Elizabeth—lifetimes. She thought about how insufficient she had felt compared to Miss Bingley’s list of accomplished ladies in November and how much worse she would be considered now after labouring for her bread. She considered how even girls she had known closely and unguardedly for months thought she had prostituted herself. Molly’s last statement stung the most—Darcy would tire of her, just like whoever she came from did.
Leaning back against the squabs, Elizabeth closed her eyes to keep the tears at bay. She focused on breathing in and out while counting to ten in English and French. By the time Darcy returned to the carriage, she had begun to hum an Italian aria she had always liked. Not only did it remind her of the positive things about who she was as Elizabeth Bennet, but it also helped preoccupy her mind. In that vein, she found things to chatter about until they reached their first inn.
Darcy grasped Elizabeth’s hand as the carriage came to a stop. “I hate to present it in such a way, but as we will be feigning a marriage, I thought you should wear this.” He pulled a simple band from his breast pocket and held it for her inspection.
Elizabeth nodded and removed a hand from her gloves. She knew as much as he did that she had to play a role. Still…something seemed lacking. “Do you think…do you think you could say the words? We could just say our vows now, and although it is not legal, it would mean something when I wore this? It would not be as much of a lie?” She had grown ever so tired of lying.
“When we really wed, you will wear a Darcy heirloom ring. Until we reach Scotland, we shall present ourselves as Mr. and Mrs. Smith to be less conspicuous. However, no matter our name or the jewellery on your hand, I will eagerly say our vows and faithfully keep them.”
They rushed through their makeshift wedding ceremony with Elizabeth promising to love and obey Darcy. It was the first time she had said the words, and she hoped more than ever she could make them true.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” Darcy said as he slid the band over her finger then raised her hand for a kiss. Smiling, he added, “I love you.”
Elizabeth wordlessly returned the gesture although he wore no ring. She knew he loved her. He had orchestrated all of this for her. For now, that would be enough.
That night, as he held her in bed, Elizabeth confessed to her altercation with Molly. She aired the feelings which had nagged her all day.
“What upsets me the most,” she said, “was, do I not deserve genuine friends? Perhaps if I had been more open—”
“There was nothing about you that could change her. You are very worthy of friendship, and I think once you are in a larger circle of acquaintance you will find some. She provided you with companionship when you most needed it, but she is really just another weed that needs pruning.”
“I am sorry if I was in a sour mood. The day started off so well…” Elizabeth sighed with the memories of Darcy’s touch.
“I shall happily repeat my actions from this morning,” he murmured before capturing her lips.