Music Monday- Lose My Mind

Certain songs just remind me of characters and various scenes I put them in. The following song comes on my writing playlist regularly and I think perfectly fits how the young Fitzwilliam Darcy of Loving Elizabeth feels when he meets his best friend’s little sister, Elizabeth.

Will’s lips left hers, desperate for the taste of her skin. Elizabeth moaned, bringing some of his mind back to the present. Still, he trailed down her neck, pressing kisses on the sensitive flesh until he found her pulse point and could feel her heart’s rapid beats for him. Elizabeth shuddered against him and he dropped his head to her shoulder.

“Elizabeth,” Will rasped as both of their chests rose and fell in quick spurts. “You drive me out of my mind.”

“You make me crazy and I kinda like it.” That’s the epitome of their early relationship. This young Darcy is far less well-regulated than the man we know from Jane Austen’s story. He and Elizabeth butt heads but he sure enjoys it.

I’m hoping to start posting Loving Elizabeth in a few weeks!

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Ten

I haven’t really put any comments before the chapters on my blog but I will on this one. Things get very angsty and seem hopeless. Hang on.

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

Chapter Ten

March 15, 1837

 

Darcy left his study in search of his family. There were matters to arrange before they journeyed to London for the Season. Now that their eldest daughter had married, they should not need to spend so long a time in Town. Will did not need them and Ben would be busy with Cambridge much of the time. Their younger daughter, Betsy, would not be coming out until next year.

“Now, practice like this,” Elizabeth said, and laughter ensued.

“Did you really have to do this, Ellie?” Darcy heard Betsy ask her cousin as he stood outside the door.

Jane and some of her daughters were visiting. The Bingleys had moved to an estate only thirty miles from Pemberley within a year of their marriage. Darcy smiled as he knew the joy the cousins found in each other.

“No, silly, watch again,” Ellie said with oohs and ahhs following. “You had better learn fast for you only have a few weeks.”

Darcy opened the door with a scowl on his face. The occupants of the room immediately froze, clearly caught in the act. “Betsy will not be presented at court until next year.”

Jane quickly looked between husband and wife and stood. “My dears, let us take a walk after spending all morning in here with these dusty garments.” She curtsied to Darcy. “Come, you too, Betsy.”

Darcy did not watch them leave as his eyes remained locked with Elizabeth’s. Hearing the door close, he raised a brow.

“We have discussed this,” he folded his arms across his chest. “You know I want her to wait. Anne did not enter Society until she was nearly nineteen.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “They have very different dispositions and Anne’s birthday is in the summer. It was either enter at seventeen or wait until nearly nineteen.”

“Georgiana chose the same.”

“Again, you are not considering the difference in their personalities,” Elizabeth said and began shaking out the old court dress she had unpacked to practice curtseys with.

“She loves it too much,” Darcy said. “She loves frivolity and London.”

“That is not a crime,” Elizabeth sighed.

Darcy closed his eyes. After all these years, he still had not explained about his mother. He saw that same liveliness in Betsy. Between her beauty and her fortune, she would capture the eye of many suitors and probably make an impulsive choice. In her blood were the errors of a grandmother and two aunts.

“She will be eighteen next week,” Elizabeth said. “You cannot keep her a child forever. If we do not allow her these freedoms, she will take them anyway.”

“Why will you not bow to me in this, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked and took a step forward. “I had thought you, at least, respected me.”

“What do you mean?” she asked and lifted her chin defiantly. “Do not turn this around on me. I have been a good wife, but I will not sit by as you attempt to impose your selfish disdain for the feelings of others! Think beyond your arrogance and conceit and see that you may be wrong.”

Darcy stepped backward. Where had such a thing come from? This was the Elizabeth from his Hunsford proposal. Her eyes flashed in the same anger, which he had only seen glimpses of in their marriage. She had thought that of him, had she? All these years while he thought she cared for him, she had been concealing her implacable hate.

Grasping for his anger, just as he had lo those many years ago, he took a step forward. Elizabeth gasped and looked away, but he would not allow it.

“Look at me,” he demanded, and she obeyed. “I know you have never loved me. I know you never could in all these years, but I will not tolerate public mockery. Now, say you will tell Betsy to wait. We must be united in this no matter how much you hate me.”

A sob came from Elizabeth’s mouth, and she pulled a hand up to cover it while doubling over. Darcy stepped forward in concern, but she held her other hand up to keep him away. Straightening, she exhaled, but pain and regret lingered in her eyes.

“I cannot speak of this at present, Fitzwilliam. I am going for a walk.”

Before Darcy could say anything else, she darted from the room.

Believing it just another argument, he returned to his study and did not emerge when Jane and her daughters left. He had assumed Elizabeth returned inside with them. At tea time, she did not join him. Despite a desire to seek her out, he did not move. They did not argue frequently, but when they did, he had learned Elizabeth needed time to overcome her anger. Often, she would not intend to join him, but he would find her and apologise, earning one from her as well. Not this time. No, this time he would remain firm. He was right, and he knew it. She would come to him with her apologies first.

As he attempted to enjoy his tea and biscuits without her by his side for the first time in five and twenty years, he mulled over the services he had done her and her family. Kitty had married a Derbyshire gentleman with a small estate and Mary wed the vicar of Kympton. Only Lydia lived far away, and she visited once or twice a year. He could not stand to see Wickham, but the man had had held true to his contract. In return, Darcy assisted him in his career. Believing it better to have the man employed and in something as rigid as the army than free to make his own fortune, Darcy secured Wickham a position as adjutant to a general. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet often visited Pemberley before they passed.

Was it too much to ask that she do one thing for him? Just allow him one more year with his little girl. Scowling at the thought which proved her point, he returned to his desk. After another hour or two, his work was completed, and he rang for the butler to take the stack of letters. Half went in the mail and the other half to the land steward.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” young Reynolds, who had taken over for his father a few years before, said, “but Mrs. Darcy has not returned from her walk, and the sun will set soon.”

Darcy’s eyes slid to the clock. She had been gone six hours! It was no secret she was their favourite and no secret she was an exemplary mistress. Despite her humble origins, she managed the estate with more grace, generosity and good sense than the ladies in most of London’s oldest families. Mrs. Bennet had taught her to be an excellent hostess, and Mr. Bennet taught her insight and wisdom. Darcy knew that now, but learning to value her relations came too late in their marriage to make a difference. Elizabeth remained forever sensitive over their positions in life.

Belatedly, he realised that she must have been hurt when he insisted Betsy not come out. She must have thought he believed her as inept as her own mother was on the subject. However, it was his mother he had worried about. Shaking his head, he realised the long overdue conversation with Elizabeth could be put off no longer. He stood, pulling on his coat and forming an apology in his mind.

“I will find her. If I do not return in an hour, send others,” Darcy said as he exited the house.

After an hour, dread filled his heart. It was unlike Elizabeth to stay out after dark. He was just beginning to convince himself that she must have returned a different route when he heard a gardener calling for Mrs. Darcy and the gleam of a lantern. He jogged over.

Hearing that she had not come to the house felt like a knife in his heart. “I have not yet checked this path. Over here,” he motioned to the gardener, and they walked for several minutes before making out a figure of something in the road.

Darcy inhaled sharply as he considered it too big to be a sheep or deer. The gardener did likewise but said nothing.

“I will go,” Darcy said and held out his hand for the lantern.

A cloud rolled by, bathing the path in moonlight and Darcy screamed, then ran.

“Lizzy!”

A woman’s lifeless figure laid before him. He reached her in seconds and set the lantern down.

“Lizzy, Elizabeth, where are you hurt?”

He touched her shoulder, and her head rolled. Lifeless eyes stared up at him.

“Oh God!” Darcy sobbed and scooped her into his arms. “No, anything but this. No!”

He pressed his ear to her chest, hoping to hear a beat or feel respiration. Instead, he felt the stickiness where her blood had trickled down her head from a gash.

Tears flew from his eyes as an anguished sob roared from his throat. “Lizzy, wake up, love. Just wake up,” he cried over and over again rocking her as he clutched her tightly.

“Sir,” the gardener placed a hand on his shoulder, causing Darcy to jump and return from something near insanity.

Turning his head, he saw others slowly approach with their lanterns at their side and hats covering their chest.

“May I?” Jack, the strongest footman asked and held out his arms.

“No!” Darcy yelled and held Elizabeth closer. “No, I will take her.”

“Sir, it is some distance,” Jack said.

“She will be returned to her—” Darcy paused as his voice broke, “her home, to her bed, by me and me alone.”

He managed to stand without letting go of his precious cargo. He and the entourage walked slowly, there was no hurry to rush her into the house or seek medical attention. She was well past that. From time to time, others asked to share his load, but he refused. His arms felt no pain. His entire being was numb.

As he laid Elizabeth on her bed, he fleetingly registered Betsy screaming from the doorway where others worked to hold her back. A good man, a good father, would have strength to offer his daughter in such a situation. He was neither. He was selfish and a bastard. And while Betsy had need of him and Elizabeth could no longer draw comfort from his attention, he refused to leave her bedside. It gave him comfort.

In the morning, the housekeeper ordered him from his wife’s chamber. Jack and another footman, forcibly removed him and delivered him into the hands of his valet who shoved wine mixed with laudanum into his hands. Against his will, he slept. Charging to Elizabeth’s room, relief flooded him when her bed was empty. She lived! It had been naught but a nightmare. But no, items were covered in white linen, protected from dust until he could bear the thought of discarding them.

Never, he vowed.

He crumpled to the ground, sitting in her doorway and wept like a child. Tears he had suppressed since he was removed from his mother at the age of eight sprang forward. What had life given him but grief? Unloved by the man he called father, abandoned by the real one, rejected by the woman he had built his life with, they had all seen him for what he was. Nothing. A fraud. Not worth existing.

If he had never been born everyone’s life would have been better. Lady Anne might have learned to love the country or George Darcy to abide the city. The elder brother Darcy never knew would have lived. Georgiana would never have nearly eloped with Wickham—a fact that cost her everything. Although it remained a secret, she never trusted another man and remained unwed. She established her own home in Town. Elizabeth’s life would have been infinitely better. She would have lived.

There had been excessive amounts of rain that washed the road away some, leaving the occasional unexpected rock. Had she been walking she would have seen them, but Darcy surmised she must have been running. She clearly tripped over one rock and as she fell, struck her head on another larger one. He could not forget her lifeless eyes. Her mesmerizing eyes that always held so much emotion, all the light snuffed out. He had done this. He had driven her to vexation, pushed her to need the exercise in what she must have already viewed as more a prison sentence than a life worth living. Had she felt pain?  Had she suffered?

He was confident it was the last time he would feel anything again. As the day wore on, he was proven wrong. Servants came to him asking about funeral arrangements. Betsy pleaded with him to eat and sleep. Jane and Bingley arrived to take over decisions. Elizabeth’s other sisters and their families filled the house. Still, he remained to stare at her empty bed.

The day of the funeral, he was guided to a bath and groomed. He looked the perfect gentleman, with new mourning arm band, but in his heart he knew the truth. He was a murderer. The day he married Elizabeth he sealed her fate. Nay, the day he had kissed her.

And what did he expect? He took the name Darcy and acted like lord of the manor. In truth, he was probably nothing more than the son of a footman who might have had questionable paternity himself. Jack grew up in Newgate, where his father had been sentenced before he was even born. All the years Darcy had hated Wickham when he had done far worse.

Brought to Elizabeth’s grave, he remained rooted in front of it. The sun blinded him so he could not make out the words. What would be said? That her husband drove her to her death? That his arrogance and false conceit ruined her?

“I am sorry I was never the man you deserved,” Darcy said.

His throat aching after days of unused and parched from lack of hydration. He welcomed the sting. Would that it was a noose around his throat as he deserved.

The sun shifted, and Darcy was reminded of a day when he was still a young man and admiring Elizabeth walking in the grove at Rosings. Perhaps now she was at peace as she had been that day.

His name was called, and before turning away, he cast one long glance at the marker as he was uncertain he could ever look upon again and read it:

Elizabeth Darcy

1792-1837

Beloved wife and mother.

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Two

secrets of pemberley mask

Previous Chapters: Chapter One

Chapter Two

“Fitzwilliam, Darcy,” Lady Catherine nodded as they entered her drawing room. “Kiss your cousin.”

Anne barely lifted her head for Richard to peck on her cheek but offered more of her face for Darcy. His heart sank. Had he not made his preferences regarding any possibility of their marriage clear? Perhaps she merely meant to please her mother. Darcy stifled a groan at the thought of having to discuss the matter with mother or daughter again.

“Where is Georgiana?” Lady Catherine asked.

“Do you not recall? I wrote to you over a week ago. She is recovering from a cold and preferred to remain at home.”

“I do not see why she could not come,” she frowned at him. “It is only a cold.”

“I confess I spoil her and did not wish to discomfort her with the ride.” Darcy slid his eyes to Richard. He had been correct that Lady Catherine would insist on asking about his sister.

“I should scold you for being so indulgent,” her ladyship said with a censure-less smile.

“I also considered Anne, of course.”

“That is just like you,” Lady Catherine beamed. “You think of everyone and everything.”

Darcy lightly shook his head but refrained from blushing at his aunt’s praise. Richard was correct. Aunt Catherine never saw fault in him. He could say he intended to dance barefoot on the dining table and she would find a way to praise him. Was it any wonder that all her servants were as complimentary? Take her parson, for example. How he was related to Elizabeth, Darcy could never understand.

Elizabeth.

No. No more thoughts of Elizabeth.

“Did you hear me, Darcy?” Lady Catherine, thankfully, interrupted his thoughts. “I asked how your sister liked Ramsgate. I have thought of taking Anne. Or if you still have the house perhaps we might stay with you this summer.”

“I have already told you she did not care for it, Aunt,” Richard said with a subtle nudge to Darcy’s knee.

“I do not want to hear it from you. What do you know? You spend months in mud and on horses in a Godless country.”

Darcy’s brows rose. Lady Catherine’s insults were particularly barbed today. “Thank you for your inquiry,” he attempted to smooth the situation. “Richard is correct. Georgiana did not care for Ramsgate. She mentioned the house was insufficient so I did not retain it. If you would like, I could suggest a solicitor in the area who might assist you.”

Said solicitor did not ask intrusive questions or gossip when Darcy unexpectedly showed up and whisked his sister away after firing her governess on the spot. Darcy clenched his hands at his side. Would that all men in his employ could have been so loyal. No, some attempted to seduce his sister and blackmail him for the misfortune of his birth.

“Perhaps,” Lady Catherine pursed her lips. “If Georgiana did not care for it then it may not be the best place to send Anne. I am very selective about where to spend my holidays. So is Anne.”

Darcy nodded. One reason he did favour his aunt, aside from being happy to finally have any family at all, was that she never required much input from him. His mind was free to wander and merely nod now and then. Richard, who was a regular magpie, could not conceive remaining quiet for much of an hour let alone an entire day.

“And so Georgiana has spent all her time in London since then?”

“We went to Pemberley first, but she has been in Town since September.”

“I wish you had followed my advice and kept a governess for her. They transition to companion quite nicely, as you see with Anne.” Lady Catherine nodded to her daughter.

“If she had been brought up with a governess all along, I am sure you would have been correct,” Darcy answered. “I have recently hired a companion.”

“I do not see why you needed to hire one specifically just to sit with her when she has female relations,” her ladyship frowned.

Darcy glanced at Richard. Was there any pleasing the woman? He began to understand what his cousins always complained about.

“I am feeling rather slighted, Aunt,” Richard interrupted. “You have not asked after my family or me at all.”

“I hear from the Earl often enough. What do you have to say that will interest me? I know you prefer to shock me.”

Lady Catherine shook her finger at the colonel as if she were scolding a much younger boy. Darcy bit back a chuckle.

“It is not my fault I have been deployed to the Continent a few times and have lived to tell the tale.” Richard winked, and Anne smiled. “One would think you are ungrateful that I live.”

“Ungrateful! Me?” Lady Catherine thumped her cane. “Your jesting seriously displeases me.”

“Pardon me,” Richard smirked. “I had thought it would delight you.”

Lady Catherine sniffed and cast her eyes about the room.

“You did not tell them about Mr. Collins,” Anne spoke softly.

Mention of Collins made Darcy walk to a window and look out it. Too many memories of Hertfordshire were associated with the name.

“Quite right, Anne. I have got a new parson. Old Dr. Montague retired.”

“Riveting,” Richard said in a wry voice.

“Well, he is newly married. Is that not news enough for you?”

Richard chuckled. “News of a marriage does not titillate men the way it does for women.”

“He is just the sort of rector we need in this parish. He is heir to an estate entailed on him away from five daughters. For Anne’s sake, I am glad such things were not thought necessary in Sir Lewis’ family.” Lady Catherine paused for a moment and went on. “Well, I convinced him to visit the family. There had been some kind of breach, and it was his Christian duty to heal it and marry one of the cousins.”

Dread filled Darcy’s heart. It could not be.

“Well, he did even better than I had commanded,” Lady Catherine said. Without seeing her, Darcy knew she smiled. “His cousins, judging by the one visiting, are impertinent and falsely superior. No, he did much better than marry one of them and brought back a meek and humble wife.”

Darcy let go of the breath he had been holding.

“Miss Charlotte Lucas as was. Daughter of a tradesman who was knighted. Just the sort of woman to know her place. Not too low and not too high. She manages the household and her husband perfectly. Her sister and one of his cousins are now visiting.”

Richard laughed again. “I like the image of her managing her husband. You say relatives are visiting?”

“Yes, one was a particular friend to his wife. A few weeks ago, Mrs. Collins’ father visited. He brought with them a sister and her friend, Miss Bennet. They will remain for several weeks.”

A buzzing sound filled Darcy’s ears.

“What are these young ladies like?” Richard asked.

Darcy wanted to punch his cousin. Whether it was Elizabeth or not, Richard should not take such pleasure in idle flirtation.

“Miss Lucas never speaks. She is in awe of Rosings, of course. Miss Bennet,” Lady Catherine said with a bit of contempt mixed with amusement in her voice, “has far more courage. Wit and impertinence combined. If she knew how to treat her betters, she would be perfectly charming.”

Darcy’s heart began beating loud and fast. He felt as though he were in a ring at Gentleman Jackson’s. Each word his aunt uttered was a new blow to his heart.

“She sounds like an excellent addition to our small party,” Richard said.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane. “I heard that you already know the occupants of the Parsonage.”

Darcy turned to face them, hoping he could hide his state. “I met Mr. Collins while visiting a friend in Hertfordshire. I had to good fortune to also know his wife and the family he was visiting.”

“What did you think of Miss Bennet?” she asked. “I cannot put my finger on her. Sometimes I believe she might be mocking me.”

“You?” Richard feigned disbelief. “Never!”

If it was the Miss Bennet which Darcy feared then the correct answer was “always.”

“As you say, there were five Miss Bennets, and they came with a wide variety of personalities.”

“Ah,” Richard nodded. “You must describe her—for Darcy’s sake, of course.”

So help him, if Richard would sit there and envision Elizabeth’s loveliness and fantasize about her and right in front of him!

“She has brown hair,” Lady Catherine answered.

Four of the five daughters had brown hair. Of course, Darcy would describe Elizabeth’s as mahogany. The way sun would shine on it had always fascinated him.

Lady Catherine continued, “She is medium height, I would say. Around Georgiana’s size.”

That could be three of the five. Anticipation built as his aunt continued.

“Brown eyes.”

They were down to two, although Darcy knew from the description of her personality there could only be one. His heart beat a staccato rhythm.

“Anne, do you recall what her name was?”

“Elizabeth,” her daughter replied.

Elizabeth, Darcy’s mind repeated. It felt like a cannon blast had sounded, and he fought to stay upright from the shock of it all. Elizabeth, here at Rosings. So very close. All his arguments about why she would not suit began to crumble in the face of her nearness. Lady Catherine had not been repulsed by her. She even seemed to respect and like her. She praised her.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine called and banged her cane.

“Pardon me, ma’am, I was woolgathering.”

“Hertfordshire was quite unkind to him, we are to understand,” Richard chuckled. “It seems London does not lay claim to all the match-making mamas.”

“They dare to think their daughters worthy of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley? Of the son of Lady Anne Fitzwilliam?”

“You cannot blame a mother for believing her daughter worthy of anything,” Darcy said. “Perhaps if it seems unrealistic it is only a mark of the ferocity of her love for the child.”

Had he just defended Mrs. Bennet?

“What you describe is grasping,” Lady Catherine frowned. “Rank ought to marry like rank, or it is a recipe for distrust and disaster. Your own parents—”

“I will thank you to not mention anything about my parents!”

Darcy fumed. He could not take more of these vacillating emotions. He needed an escape. A fast ride to the Parsonage and banging on the door, grabbing Elizabeth in his arms and kissing her senseless came to mind. He settled for retiring to his chambers.

In the calm and quiet of his room, he acknowledged that his aunt had a considerable point. His mother had been born the daughter of an earl, and she married a country gentleman. Although the Darcys were wealthy, they did not favour Town. She used to tell Darcy of her debutante days of dancing set after set in London. The faraway look in her eyes and sadness in her voice had demonstrated how much she longed for such a time again. Although he had not meant to be cruel, sending her to Scotland was the worst kind of punishment her husband could render.

Their temperaments had been too different. Mr. Darcy was lively and amiable. He welcomed everyone and counted his steward as his closest friend. Lady Anne resented it all. She longed for the aloofness of London. She enjoyed the balls and soirees where she could be above others and did not have to rub shoulders with all ranks. She had been taken from everything she knew and asked to behave differently.

If Darcy married Elizabeth, it would be much the same. Elizabeth was content and happy in her country life. Had she not defended it to him? He did not doubt she could learn, but as he had been forced into playing the role twenty years ago, he long knew there was a difference between learning the steps to the dance and enjoying it. Elizabeth was made for laughter and love. Taking her from the life she cherished would snuff the light from her eyes and he could not live with himself if he did that.

While every fibre of his body longed to race to her door and carry her away, his head cautioned to avoid the Parsonage. Lady Catherine always invited him to look over the books while he visited. He would spend as much time as he could on it. There was no need to call on the Parsonage. None at all. He could conquer this.

Coward his heart whispered to him. All his arguments against Elizabeth were not just vain pretensions but a protective choice. Marrying Elizabeth would set his love aflame, there would be no containing it. No distant and appropriate English marriage for them with separate chambers and separate lives. No, he could not bear to have her away from him for so many hours. Her passionate nature would be just the same.

Then, like his mother’s love for her husband, one day it would end. Or perhaps she could die. Then what would happen to him? He had, at last, found someone to love and love him in return. His heart would be crushed. He would become a shell of a man, unable to go on and see to his duties. Georgiana and Pemberley would be in disarray. Darcys of the future would mock his existence and laugh at his portrait in the gallery. Then, one day, one would find the truth. He was never a real Darcy. And then they would know why he had been the weak link in the family legacy. His blood would find him out.

No, marrying Elizabeth would be the ruin of him.


I’ve had to take down chapters as the book is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. You can download it here.

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter One

IMG_6301.JPGBlurb: To the world, Fitzwilliam Darcy has it all. He’s the young master to one of the kingdom’s oldest and wealthiest Norman families. Through his mother, he is related to a powerful line of earls. Beneath the perfect façade lies the truth: he’s the product of his mother’s affair and the heir George Darcy never wanted.

At twenty-eight, Darcy has fought hard to put to rest the pains of the past and earn his place in Society. But can he resist the allure of ending his loneliness with the unsuitable woman who has tugged at his heartstrings? Will he tell her his secret and if he does, will she keep it? Or will someone else from the past destroy everything Darcy has worked for?

Chapter One

“You have done this, Anne, and I will never forgive you.”

A large, stern man hovered over Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sobbing mother. Her cries awoke the boy of eight from his nighttime slumber in the small Scottish cottage where he and his mother shared a room. The only light was a lantern in the man’s hand. Outside the open window, the world remained quiet except for the sound of horses snorting and stamping impatiently. A coachman attempted to calm them.

“But do not take him away from me! Do not take my boy!”

Fitzwilliam attempted to hide behind his mother who now sat on his bed.

“You have taken mine!” the man roared. “Have you no words of regret on the passing of your firstborn? My son! My heir! He needed his mother — but no, you were here.”

Lady Anne Darcy remained mute and continued her sobs. Her son peered curiously at the angry man. Mother had another child? He had a brother?

“Do not fret,” the man glared and had no sympathy for the tears he saw. “I kept your affair a secret, and he has my name. He will be accepted.”

“But he will not be loved!” Lady Anne sobbed anew, and she hugged Fitzwilliam.

“You should have thought of that before you played the harlot.”

“If you would allow me to come with you,” she pleaded.

“Absolutely not. You will remain here for your “health.” Now, pass the boy over.”

The man looked at the Fitzwilliam. He looked strange, unfamiliar and in clothing that showed no signs of wear. Mother had always said one day his father would come for him one day, but looking at this man, Fitzwilliam did not want to go.

“No, anything but that please,” Mother cried.

Large hands tried to snatch Fitzwilliam’s arm, and she threw herself in front of the child. He darted to the other side of the room.

“Anne,” George said in a warning tone. “The law is on my side.”

He sounded angry, and Fitzwilliam flinched at the voice, but his mother did not cower. Either Mother was very brave, or perhaps there was no reason to fear violence from the man.

“Allow me to say goodbye,” Mother pleaded.

At last, the towering man relented.

“Fitzwilliam, my darling son,” Mother choked out and embraced him.

He wrapped his hands tightly around her waist and pressed his head to her chest. “Mama, please do not send me away. Do not make me go with that man.” Tears streaked down his face, and he trembled in fear. Other than Cook and the maid, he had seldom known other people. He was even too shy to greet the minister they saw every Sunday.

“He is your father,” Mama said.

The man snorted, and Fitzwilliam lifted his head.

Mother turned her head to face Father. “What else is there to tell him, George?”

“Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he said through gritted teeth. “Am I not lying enough as it is?”

“Please,” Mother asked as her chin trembled and tears fell down her cheeks. “Please.”

“Blast it. You always knew how to get your way,” Father whispered. “I will tell him when he is old enough.”

Fitzwilliam felt relief in his mother’s frame, and she exhaled the breath she had been holding.

“Thank you.”

Turning back to her son, she ran comforting hands over his hair and face. “Now, you will go with your Papa and learn everything you can about running a big estate. So many people will look up to you and will count on you. Do you think you can do that?”

Fitzwilliam shook his head.

“Our son was never afraid of anything,” Father said sadly. “Did you ever wonder?”

Pain and anguish flooded Mother’s eyes, and she squeezed them shut. Upon opening, determination filled them.

“You can do this! I know you can! Do you remember the name of the estate?”

“Pember…Pemberley?”

“Yes! See how smart you are already?”

Fitzwilliam did not care about praise at this moment. Why did he have to leave Mother behind? “When will I see you again?”

“Do not worry about that,” she answered with a quavering voice. “I must remain here and get healthy.”

Mother often said they lived here because of her health. She never seemed ill to him, only sad. However, he would never wish to hurt her. “Must I go?”

“Yes, it is your duty to be the heir of Pemberley.” She pulled him into a crushing hug. “Now, never forget how I love you. No one will ever love you as your mother.”

“Boy, it is time,” Father called.

After another minute, Mother released him and gave him a kiss on each cheek. He reluctantly walked to his father’s side.

“I am pleased to meet you, Father,” he said.

George Darcy harrumphed and left the sparse room. Fitzwilliam cast a parting look at his mother, who tried to smile and waved goodbye. Then, he trailed down the stairs and maintained silence until they were in the carriage. As they pulled away from the cottage which been his only home, Fitzwilliam cried.

“See here, boy,” George said sternly. “You are a Darcy. Darcy men do not cry.”

“I am sorry, Father.”

“And we never apologise for being ourselves. Hold your chin up high.”

“Like this?” his voice warbled as he held back more tears.

Father did not praise him but nodded. After a few moments, Fitzwilliam managed to control his emotions. Seeking his father’s approval, he asked about his new home.

“Mother told me so much about Pemberley. She told me about the horses. I like horses. Do you?”

Father said nothing and only looked out the carriage window. Fitzwilliam tried again.

“I like reading too. Mother says you will teach me how to run Pemberley. I am a very good student.”

“Boy, a Darcy does not chatter. I am not interested in your interests, and you are not interested in mine. Be silent until I speak to you.”

Father’s command was so harsh it rattled off the walls of the carriage, and he followed it with a harsh glare. Fitzwilliam’s lip trembled, and he sank back in his seat, remaining silent until they reached the gigantic house.

“Mr. Darcy.”

“Yes?” the now adult Fitzwilliam Darcy asked without opening his eyes as the images of his long-ago past settled into the recesses of his mind.

“You wished to arise early for your journey to Rosings.”

“Yes, thank you,” Darcy said, dismissing the valet.

The master of Pemberley rose and swung his legs out of bed. As he went through his morning ablutions, he pushed aside the thoughts of his past. The man he had thought was his father was not his father at all, of course. He was the product of an affair, and there was not one drop of Darcy blood in his veins. However, of all their worth he was now master.

His mother had told the truth on one score. She was the only one to ever love him. When his foolish heart brought up the memory of a pair of fine, dancing eyes and free laughter, he closed his eyes and gripped the dresser before him.

“Think with your head, not your heart,” he muttered through grit teeth. The mantra had been pounded into him from the man who raised him, and he would not see all that he worked for to be a true Darcy come to an end through wayward thoughts of the beguiling Elizabeth Bennet.

 

*****

“Will this be the year, Darcy?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam asked his cousin.

“Pardon?” The question pulled Darcy from his brooding.

“Do not play dumb. You well know Aunt Catherine has wanted you to marry Anne.”

“If I were at all likely to do that, why would I have waited so long?”

“Because you are Fitzwilliam Darcy and brood over everything and take your time with your decisions?”

“It would be ungentlemanly to make Anne wait so long.”

“She has already waited.”

“Her mother has waited. It does not follow that Anne has been left in the dark about my feelings.”

“Ah, I see,” Richard grinned. “This is the first I have heard you ever criticize Aunt Catherine.”

“It is not my fault that I am the son of her long-lost sister,” Darcy murmured.

He had not been allowed to meet his mother’s family until after George Darcy’s death. While many saw Lady Catherine de Bourgh as proud and intrusive, she had a soft spot for her youngest nephew.

“I happened to spend time in an area this autumn with a woman whose matchmaking attempts rival Aunt’s.”

“Never say you were nearly caught in her web. I thought there was not a miss alive who could ensnare you!”

“No, no. I was not her target.”

Darcy grew quiet as he recalled a ball at his friend’s house in Hertfordshire. The woman he was thinking of had five daughters, and she had selected her eldest for his friend. She had loudly extolled to any guest within earshot that she expected a wedding before the New Year.

“A friend then?”

Darcy nodded. He did not meet with Richard more than once or twice a year, and so there was always much to catch up on. Darcy would not reveal his friend’s identity, but it would take little imagination to make the correct guess. He never had made many friends.

“I had to separate him from a young lady.”

“Grasping wench, was she?”

“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not think so bad as that, but she was not the type to fall in love off a short acquaintance. All advantage of the match would be on her side, and she was a very dutiful daughter.”

“And so we return to Anne,” Richard said.

“There certainly were similarities,” Darcy agreed.

“And so this woman was looking for helpless, foolish sots seduced by a pretty face for her penniless but dutiful and complacent daughters. Did she have any sisters?”

Darcy laughed at the picture Richard painted. “Certainly not all complacent.” Elizabeth’s teasing words came to mind.

“Ah,” Richard smirked. “So, was this an act of friendship or self-preservation? If the eldest miss was out of the way, the mother might foist her next upon you!”

Darcy’s heart pounded at the thought. So Richard would not think him affected by the idea, Darcy chose to tease. “You sound jealous,” Darcy raised a brow. “Perhaps you would like an introduction?”

“No, no,” He waved a hand. “Harmless flirtations only for me.”

“Beware. A lady’s imagination is very rapid,” Darcy cautioned.

“I’m no green boy.” Richard then leaned forward, “She will ask about Georgiana. She will ask about your summer.”

Darcy sighed and swiped his brow. Some four years after Darcy had been separated from his mother, she had born a daughter. Once again, George Darcy concealed his wife’s adultery and paid for the child’s care and education. When he died, he named his wife’s son and her nephew as guardian rather than any Darcy relatives.

Darcy had been delighted to finally get to know his sister. She remained at school, but he visited often. When she turned sixteen, he withdrew her from the seminary and put her in the care of a companion who was meant to oversee her transition to womanhood and presentation into society. Instead, disaster struck. Missing her friends and feeling no great affection for her brother, Georgiana readily believed herself in love with an old friend and planned to elope. The merest chance interrupted their plans: Darcy had unexpectedly arrived, and Georgiana confessed all.

Even now, nearly a year later, what hurt Darcy the most was that his sister had not loved him enough to consider his feelings. Of course, that was his sentimental Fitzwilliam side talking. The man George Darcy raised him to be would worry first about the family reputation.

“She has no way of finding out the particulars. If we make it seem uninteresting, she will not care. Georgiana went to the seaside, and I was at a house party.”

“That may work,” Richard agreed. “I only have to be myself to irritate her in some way and distract her attention from you.”

“You have my thanks for that,” Darcy chuckled. Too soon, the lightness faded, and heavy loneliness weighed on him again.

“You should marry,” Richard said suddenly.

“What?” Darcy asked. Surely he hallucinated.

“A wife would ease your burdens. If you marry well, she might make you laugh and ease those worry lines on your brow. She could help with your sister since you will not allow my mother or Aunt to take her—”

“Georgiana is my responsibility,” Darcy said firmly.

Richard held his hands up again. “I only wished to express my concern.”

“Of course,” Darcy said and exhaled. Never having felt he was a true Darcy, he neither fit in with the Fitzwilliams. His insecurity over acceptance often made him push loved ones away rather than rely on anyone else. “Thank you.”

Richard stared at him for a moment and opened his mouth but then shook his head and closed it again. Whatever he was going to say, he had thought better of uttering. He turned his head to look out the window, and Darcy did likewise.

“Here we are again,” Richard sighed. “The palings of Rosings.”

“Another year older,” Darcy said. “Another year wiser.” Another year lonelier, he added to himself.

 

 

(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know (One-shot)

This is “officially” a one-shot but I do have a habit of coming back to old stories. So no promises that I won’t continue it one day. This is all due to Leenie Brown and Zoe Burton demanding I write a fluffy piece. The novella I’m working on does not count as fluff, so I thought I’d try a one-shot to appease them. 🙂


(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know

 

Elizabeth Bennet sighed in frustration and told herself for the thousandth time to quit recalling the events of the day and simply go to sleep. Staying in an unfamiliar room did not help matters. Her chamber at Netherfield was very comfortable, but it was not home. Now that she had seen Jane was in no real danger with her cold, Elizabeth regretted visiting and the civility which prompted her to stay. No one besides Jane and Mr. Bingley enjoyed her presence. The Bingley sisters would never be rude to Jane, and so Elizabeth felt reasonably sure her sister would have been well tended to whether she had arrived or not.

As for Mr. Darcy… All he chose to do was stare or argue with her.

Or ask you to dance.

Annoyed, Elizabeth sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. After sliding her feet into slippers, she donned a dressing gown and tied it firmly around her waist. Lighting a candle, she left her room and returned to the drawing room. She had left some embroidery behind. Not that she typically enjoyed the activity, but it might be sleep inducing.

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After rummaging through the different work tables, Elizabeth looked through the drawers of the desk that Mr. Darcy had been seated at earlier in the evening. Finally, finding her needlework and wondering what maid would have put it away there and how aghast Miss Bingley would be at the idea of an inferior servant, Elizabeth picked it up only to see her name on a piece of paper.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is quite the wit. She has somehow construed my words praising Bingley’s amiability into an insult which resulted in an argument about the persuasion of friends.

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned as she read Mr. Darcy’s words. She had no idea that he would include her in his letter and she blushed to consider that his sister, of whom she had heard a great deal, would know her character without ever having the benefit of meeting her. Glancing around to assure she was indeed alone, Elizabeth snatched up the letter to read more. She held it close to the dim light from her candle and although Darcy’s handwriting was quite clear the darkness made her go slowly.

The beginning of the letter contained only information about his stay at Netherfield since he last wrote and then recorded Jane and Elizabeth’s arrival. What a kind brother to include details which must be of little interest to him, but apparently interested his sister. He even described Jane and Elizabeth so Miss Darcy might have a clear image of them. Here, Elizabeth blushed again, for she did not expect Darcy calling her lovely with very fine eyes. Additionally, he praised her cleverness and abilities on the pianoforte.

Shaking her head to dispel the thoughts and strange feeling diffusing through her body, Elizabeth returned her attention to the letter. Darcy also added snippets of other conversations and gave commentary on them directed to his sister. Heat slapped her face again as mortification swept through her at the recounting of her mother and sisters’ visit. However, Darcy was kinder than she had expected and only counselled his sister to be more discreet than demanding a ball. He seemed to dwell quite some time on the need to curb one’s impulses. Elizabeth rolled her eyes considering he needed to learn the lesson as well.

At last, she reached the recounting of the evening. After the section regarding Bingley and his humility came an unexpected passage of deep reflection.

You have asked me how you should know next time when you are truly in love. Beware, my sweet sister, for you have the Darcy spirit of stubbornness. You swear now that you will never trust again and never marry. One day, however, you will find the gentleman you never thought you would.

Real, genuine love is an entirely new sensation. It steals your breath and leaves you feeling like you just ran down Thompson Hill at breakneck speed. All the while you feel a thrill and yet, in the distance lingers disaster. You will fight to keep control. In short, nothing like your feelings with W.

Soon, you will spend all your time wondering how he ever worked his way into your heart. Your pride will demand walls of defense. For example, you might think him too low. You may scrutinize his family and find them lacking all the while dismissing the prick of your conscience that others like our Aunt Catherine are no better. The harder you cling to our noble lineage the more you will know you have fallen hard.

Then, after you have pushed him away due to all your own fears and insecurities, he will hate you, and you will see how lonely your life is.

Do not ask me how I know.

I will tell you what I wish I were brave enough to do myself. Embrace this sort of love, do not fight it.

Elizabeth heard a step in the hall dropped the letter, retreated to a corner and blew out her candle. A moment later, Mr. Darcy entered with a candelabra and began rifling through the desk. Dropping to one knee, he discovered the letter on the floor. Belatedly, Elizabeth realized her snuffed candle would surely tell him someone had recently been in the room. If she could just keep quiet, she might fool him into thinking he was alone.

Darcy bent his head over the letter, rereading his lines. Elizabeth’s mind wandered. Was his gruff nature due to his tormented feelings? It was all a pretense while he fought his attraction to some lady? Could he be in love with Miss Bingley? And yet, he was never less than civil to her. The only one he had truly seemed unkind to was herself.

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said with so much anguish it tore her heart. “What am I to do without you?”

A gasp escaped her and immediately, he swung his head in her direction.

“Who is there?”

Elizabeth tried to hold her breath, but it did no good when he picked up the lamp and came nearer. She blushed and stared at her feet, unable to meet his eyes.

“Here,” he said and reached for her candle.

When his fingers brushed hers, sparks of fire shot up her arm. Her heart began to pound suddenly she felt as though she had just run down a hill. It brought her head up.

Darcy stared at her imperiously. “You should leave. It would not do to be found here with me.”

Elizabeth mutely nodded. Her throat too dry to speak.

“Be careful on the stairs,” he murmured.

“I will,” she stammered.

As she left the room, she felt his intense blue eyes watching her. When she reached her chamber, Elizabeth conceded that perhaps all the time he had seemed too unkind, he was expressing his love. The times he seemed too cold, he was attempting to restrain his feelings.

valentine invitation with hearts and red roses

All night, she thought over his words. She well understood pride and walls of defense. She understood being hyper critical. She perceived how she felt out of control the minute she had first seen Mr. Darcy’s face and tried and failed countless times to reassert dominance over her feelings.

But did danger truly lurk in the distance? What could be so very terrible about Mr. Darcy loving her or Elizabeth loving him? After reading his letter, she was persuaded she was well on her way. It had not been a sweet, gentle emotion as natural as the lapping of the tide at a beach like Jane felt for Bingley–but then she and Darcy had very different temperaments from Jane and Bingley.

If Elizabeth and Darcy acted on their attraction, would anyone be harmed? She could bring him little fortune — but he had enough for both of them. By his own pen, they both had ridiculous relatives. He had admitted to needing only more courage. Well, Elizabeth had never been accused of lacking that.

Tossing aside the counterpane for the second time that night, Elizabeth approached the small writing desk in her room.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

As you know, I stumbled across your letter to your sister. Feeling certain that although I do not know the lady, I might know more about ladies than you, I have impertinently determined to lend some assistance.

Some women know they are in love when the world stands still and they look in their beloved’s eyes. For others, it is during their first dance or unexpected touch. Still, for some, like me, it is only after they have told themselves a thousand times that they hate the man do they recognize the signs.

Yes, some women are headstrong and as bullheaded as any man. They may judge a man’s character due to prejudice and irrational beliefs. Their vanity and pride might be wounded all the while masking a heart that is afraid to trust and love.

Then, something will change. She will see the man beneath the exterior that is hidden from so many others. His every word, look, and action becomes clear in the new framework. In the face of such overwhelming love and devotion, only a cold-hearted woman could remain unmoved. Feeling assured of the secret object of her affections’ admiration, she will no longer insist on hiding them from herself.

Do not ask me how I know.

The only question remaining will be if she dares have enough courage for them both?

The sun was just beginning to rise when Elizabeth snuck out of her chamber and slid the note under Darcy’s door. As she managed to be the first to breakfast, she stayed just long enough to inform Bingley and the others that she intended to walk this morning.

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Pacing the garden, Elizabeth wondered if she made the correct choice. At last, she heard a crunching noise and turned to see Darcy walking toward her in bold strides. He reached her in a matter of seconds.

“Elizabeth,” he said breathing as heavily as if he had run to her. “Tell me how you know.” He pulled her letter from his pocket. “You said not to ask, but I must know.”

A slow smile crept across Elizabeth’s face, but she shook her head. “Is it not obvious?”

Darcy gathered her hands in his. “I will be brave enough for both of us,” he kissed each knuckle. “I love you. Will you take my hand in marriage?”

Rather enjoying his large hands wrapped around hers and thinking of the night before, her mouth went dry. Finally, she managed a nod and a weak, “I will.”

Instantly, Darcy grinned, restoring her to playfulness.

“I believe your letter said something about embracing now,” she teased.

“That it did. That it did.” Darcy pulled her into his arms and expressed himself even better with his kisses than he did in letter form.

The End

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapters 11 & 12

It’s release day!! Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is now available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo.

I’m still waiting on iBooks and the paperback will be a few more days. I’ll post a few more chapters here but am also working on creating a page where you can read the chapters in a more streamlined way.

One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten 

MDBB4Dear C—

Thank you ever so much for your miniature of my beloved B. I do miss him terribly at times. Have you recently heard from your friend, Lord Cathcart’s daughter? I have read of plague in Moscow and worry for the Hamiltons as well as the Queen. It would be devastating for Russia to lose their enlightened monarch. She should serve as an example to our own King and Queen of German blood.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Monday after Easter, Elizabeth awoke determined to walk. Fresh air would clear her mind of the excruciating evening spent at Rosings the night before. It was their first invitation to the house since the arrival of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and Mr. Collins was beside himself in both pleasure and anxiety. Elizabeth shook her head. It seemed more likely that her cousin was related to her mother rather than her father given they both thrived on feelings of anxiousness.

The night was only tolerably better than previous visits to Rosings. Lady Catherine invited Elizabeth to play the pianoforte and seemed to take pleasure whenever she erred. In the course of one sonata, she referenced Anne’s imaginary but undoubtedly superior abilities at least a dozen times. Occasionally, Darcy would glance in Elizabeth’s direction. His blue eyes burned with intensity, likely with his disapproval of her. She was saved conversation with him, however, for Lady Catherine frequently called his attention back to herself. Elizabeth was not sorry for it. She had often heard of Miss Darcy’s superior abilities, and while the girl was everything sweet, the brother must be in the habit of hearing only the best performers — his aunt said as much.

Just before leaving, the post arrived. It was too early for a reply from her aunt, but there was a letter from Jane. Mr. Collins was away on parsonage matters, and Mrs. Collins and Maria had gone shopping in the village, allowing Elizabeth the freedom to take the letter on her walk and read in privacy.

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

I do not know what he planned to say, if anything, for his actions in the shop or the reason for his never returning to Netherfield or calling earlier. I refused to see him.

I have waited and hoped every day since November 27th for him to arrive on my doorstep again. I will no longer wait for his explanations. The time for that is long past.

Do not imagine me angry or sad, my dear sister. I am alarmingly at peace with the matter. Some blessing will come of this.

I hope all is well in Kent. Give Charlotte and Maria my love and greet our cousin for me.

Yours,

Jane

 

Elizabeth was incensed as she left the Parsonage for a fitful walk, heedless of the rain clouds quickly gathering. She walked along the path to Rosings. As soon as she was out of open view from the main road, she intended to run.

As she walked, she muttered to herself. “I am sick of them all! Charming men who prey on the silly and vain! Other charming and amiable men who prey on the sweet and innocent! Senseless goats that rattle on about nothing! Indolent fathers who sit in their libraries! Confusing, arrogant and wealthy young men who think they can order everything to their own choosing!

As she had weeks before, Elizabeth exclaimed, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” She certainly wished she could kick a young man or two the way she kicked the rock the day she heard Wickham’s insane boast. And a mountain might be climbed and therefore vanquished. But young men would apparently always persist in deceiving and confusing her.

“Miss Bennet!” the last voice in the world she wanted to hear called out, much, much too cheerfully.

She turned as though she did not hear him, but it was for nought. His long legs had him meet with her in a moment.

“Miss Bennet, I am surprised to see you out walking. I was just about to call on the Parsonage.”

“The Collinses and Maria are out,” she replied testily. She thought she saw a hint of a smile and it angered her again. Whether he felt himself better than them or just did not want to practice his conversational abilities on them, it was nearly the same thing.

“Perhaps, I could join you on your walk before it rains?” He held out an arm.

She looked up at the sky thick with swollen clouds. She had not realised until that moment how soon it was likely to begin raining. Then why should he call now? “No, I had not realised the weather had turned so severely. It is why I turned back.” She took a step closer to the Parsonage, but he spoke again.

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

What a ridiculous thing to ask! No day was truly agreeable here. She enjoyed Charlotte’s companionship, but the presence of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine detracted from all enjoyment she could find indoors. And then her letter!

“Not especially, Mr. Darcy. I have just had the most distressing letter from Jane. Weeks ago, she saw your friend Mr. Bingley and his sister outside a shop. They did not see her, but she easily saw Mr. Bingley lavishing attention on a young lady she believes was your sister. It is evident Jane was considered not good enough, and Bingley was just toying with her feelings the entire time.”

Darcy paled at her words, but she pressed on. “This is not the first time she has been treated as such from your friends. In January, Jane called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They claimed they never received her letters announcing her presence in town, and did not seem very pleased to see her. They waited over a month to return the call!”

“That is horrible…”

“But exactly what you wished, is it not? You need not fear; your friend is now entirely free from my sister. Not only were you able to separate them in Hertfordshire, but you were able to conceal her presence in town. Jane has the gentlest soul! She does not deserve such ungentlemanly treatment! Do not worry, sir, she refused to see Bingley and will never consider him a suitor again.”

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth clenched her fists as he seemed to latch on to the least important piece of information she relayed. “Yes, nearly as soon as she arrived in town. Hardly the actions of an indifferent lady. Or do you think her forward and mercenary now?”

“It is not what I think that matters.” He took a step backwards, and she advanced toward him.

“Is it not? And then I think of another one of your good friends. George Wickham is a scoundrel, and you knew it! You grew up with him and saw his ways, yet never warned the people of Hertfordshire when he arrived.”

“Did you not explain only yesterday how little faith anyone in the area has in me? Gentlemen do not go about slandering other people without the most extreme cause of provocation.”

“You left us defenceless!” Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. How did he not see it? As a man, and a wealthy one, he simply could not understand how little freedom ladies had.

Darcy scoffed. “Hardly! You said you would judge a man by his words and actions. What truly gentlemanly behaviour has Wickham displayed? He has entered the militia, and anyone who believes all men in a red coat are upstanding is the worst kind of ignorant and silly!”

Enraged as he dismissed her concerns, Elizabeth stepped forward again. “Since nearly the first moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with an immoveable dislike. I was frequently a victim of your constant arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It is not lost on me that the common element between the ungentlemanly men I mentioned is you.”

Darcy’s jaw tightened. “What do you mean?” He spoke with extreme coldness.

Elizabeth deflated. She had done it again. She aimed to cruelly wound him to mask her own pain. He had explained, and it made a certain amount of sense, that he found it difficult to converse with strangers. She had seen enough truth in Darcy’s looks the other day to know that he would never be complicit in any of Wickham’s actions. And did he not mention his concern over Bingley’s steadfastness? No quality could be further from Darcy’s character.

Elizabeth had always thought she behaved correctly, in light of the poor example from her mother and youngest sisters, but now she saw how her own actions may have made Bingley and Darcy feel her family too improper. She should have recommended herself more to Bingley’s friend, for her sister’s sake, rather than attempt to cleverly mock him and provoke him. Her manners were at fault as well, and her spirits lead her wrong.

In her silence, he assumed a meaning of his own. “I understand your meaning entirely.” He turned to leave her.

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth pleaded and walked after him. “I am sorry I spoke in anger. I cannot claim to know you well, but I know you are nothing like Wickham and, whatever your faults are, they are certainly not the fickleness of Mr. Bingley.

“Pray, forgive me. I have only recently recognised my own behaviour, and my poor treatment of you must have contributed to your feelings of the inadequacy of my family. I am uncertain now if I would desire Mr. Bingley to return my sister’s affections if his heart is not to be trusted, but it grieves me to suspect that I cost my dearest sister, such great love.”

Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “What mean you now?”

“That your justified dislike of me motivated you to separate my sister from your friend.” She hung her head low in shame.

“I will not be accused of such again! Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to marry you!”

Immediately, Darcy paled as though he realised what he said and wished he could collect his words back. Crickets hummed, and birds chirped, proving the world went on existing, and yet Elizabeth could not fathom a sphere in which Mr. Darcy wished to marry her.

“What?” She asked, shaking her head to dispel the insanity which made her mishear him to such an extreme degree.

A look of warmth and gentleness took over Darcy’s face. “I realise you dislike me, and perhaps rightly so. I did endeavour to separate your most beloved sister from my friend, though not as you suppose. And for this, you may never forgive me.” He paused as though drawing strength. “I am acutely aware my sentiments are unwelcome to you, but I would be pleased if you accepted my hand in marriage.”

Elizabeth stared at him, quite disbelieving. “You cannot be serious.”

“I am quite convinced you are the perfect woman to be my companion in life.”

“How can you possibly think that?” She blurted out. All they did was argue! Elizabeth shook her head. It was still entirely unfathomable. “Why?”

“Why?” He started as though he never expected to be asked such a question. He raised his hands up and helplessly motioned at her. “Because of you. Because of the thousand and one unique things that make up who you are! You are kind, intelligent, witty, clever, playful, lively. I admire your stubbornness and loyalty —  even when it’s directed away from me. You are the perfect companion for me in every way.”

Elizabeth shook her head once more and held up her hands. “You are mistaken, sir. I tease, and you hate it. I am silly and outspoken, and you are silent and taciturn.”

“It does not follow that I enjoy those qualities about myself or must dislike that you are quite the opposite.”

“I have no fortune, my relatives are in trade and my family is improper.” Darcy’s initial silence spoke volumes to her.

“I will not lie and say these things did not hinder my regard. I did think marriage to you imprudent, at first, but I have conquered those objections.”

“Then why are you only now speaking of it?”

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Because of every reason I had against Bingley’s match with your sister. I needed to be sure of my regard. Six weeks is not a very long acquaintance. I could not trust my judgment in my affections.

“I knew I enjoyed your company more than any other lady’s, but what if it were mere infatuation? You deserved more than that from a spouse. And as I acknowledged with Bingley’s situation, there would be some — even in my own family — that would dislike the union. I would not put you through being slighted by spiteful members of the ton, and my aunt, if we did not have a strong foundation.

He began to pace and ran his hands through his hair. “In the last week, I attempted to ascertain your feelings. As I explained with regard to your sister, it was difficult to make out how you felt in Hertfordshire. Here I thought, I had hoped…but it must have only been my vain pretensions.”

Elizabeth trembled slightly as she considered the compliment of being his object of affection. “What is it you want from me, Mr. Darcy?” They had reached the Parsonage gate.

“I ask nothing of you. What I want most you cannot give. I hope it was not selfish of me to declare my sentiments, but I could not be accused of disliking you again. I could not allow you to think ill of yourself, or that I found you unworthy in any way.”

Thunder cracked, and the clouds unleashed their bowels at last. Darcy closed his eyes, Elizabeth believed against the pain even her face must cause him now. “Good day, Miss Bennet.” After a slight bow, he departed.

Elizabeth would have stood still in her bewilderment longer, as she stared at Darcy’s back, if not for the rain. Instead, she dashed into the house and grabbed two umbrellas stored at the entry.

“Mr. Darcy!” She yelled loudly over the rain.

He momentarily ceased walking before shaking his head, as though chiding himself, and continuing onward. She called again as she ran to him and this time he stopped. He had not walked far; he was walking rather slowly, Elizabeth thought. He turned around just as she reached him.

“Mr. Darcy, please will you wait in the Parsonage until the rain passes?”

“Your cousins are not home, it would not be appropriate. I believe the last thing you would want is gossip about a compromising situation.”

Elizabeth blanched but pressed to her secondary plan and produced the other umbrella. “I knew you would decline out of stubbornness, if nothing else. Here, take the umbrella.”

Darcy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, that part of my character you would have made out very well, of course!”

He took the umbrella and made a small bow, but they both turned as they heard a carriage followed by Mr. Collins calling. “Make haste, Mrs. Collins, Maria! Make haste!” Darcy began to walk again, but it was too late. “Mr. Darcy! You must come inside.”

“I thank you, Mr. Collins but I would not like to get your furniture damp. It is better I continue on to Rosings. Miss Bennet was kind enough to loan me an umbrella when she saw me outside.”

“Walk back to Rosings in your wet clothes? Certainly not! Why Lady Catherine would never forgive me!” Her cousin was truly panicked, but Darcy looked towards Elizabeth.

“My cousin is correct. We would not wish you to catch your death. Please come in, Mr. Darcy.” He gave her a sad smile, but acquiesced.

Darcy was quickly ushered upstairs to dry off, and a servant sent to retrieve fresh clothing for him from Rosings. By the time he returned, dinner was being served, and Mr. Collins insisted Darcy remain. He spoke little during the dinner, which Elizabeth fully understood, between the rain and their conversation, he must be desperate to leave her presence.

She was surprised when he cleared his throat and addressed the table. “My aunt sent a note with the servant. She invites the whole party to dine at Rosings the day after tomorrow.”

Mr. and Mrs. Collins and even Maria exclaimed in delight, for they had not been invited to Rosings with the same regularity now that Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived.

“Eliza, is this not grand news?” Charlotte asked her. Elizabeth readily saw Darcy slyly observing her.

“Oh, yes. It is always a pleasure to dine at Rosings.” She hardly knew what else to say.

It was a simple dinner of a single course and before the hour was through Darcy was returned to Rosings in Lady Catherine’s coach that was sent for him. Elizabeth wisely pleaded a headache and excused herself upstairs before her friend could question her.

 

*****

 

Darcy returned to Rosings and pleaded illness rather than join the ladies. He was surely the weak link in the Darcy line. Not only could he not even propose to a lady correctly but she had no idea that he had long admired her. His pride thanked the Lord he never confessed love to her.

He and Anne had developed a plan. Darcy would take the time at Rosings to court Elizabeth, and prove that he could treat her as an equal and listen to her concerns. He would persuade his aunt to secure an invitation for her to Knole Park. He would support her interest in architecture. All the while, Richard would work to separate Wickham from the Regiment in Meryton, thereby keeping the Bennet sisters safe from his dastardly schemes.

Darcy would confess his story to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. His pride did not like exposing himself and acknowledging he was not without fault, but he would further prove to Elizabeth he was not ashamed of her relations. While in Meryton, he could make amends to the shopkeepers of the area. Additionally, he would encourage Bingley to return to Netherfield and, if Miss Bennet wished it, resume their courtship. Once in Hertfordshire, Darcy could properly court Elizabeth. She could see his merits after he had secured the happiness and safety of so many in her life. Not that she would marry him out of gratitude: he did not think she would do such a thing. But that it might enliven her feelings toward him.

If all went as planned, he would be married by Michaelmas. They would honeymoon at Pemberley and go to London for the Season. She would be an instant success and fit in the Bluestocking Club perfectly. They would be the envy of the ton, disgustingly happy. Georgiana would become so fastidious in desiring a love match, and confident in the friendship of Elizabeth, she would not wed for many years.

Yes, Darcy had verily planned the next five years of his life. Of course, that was without even speaking to Elizabeth and discussing her desires, let alone understanding just how deep her dislike for him went.

She had been quick to apologise today but had firmly believed he disapproved of her. Overcoming her prejudice and the wound he served her pride would not be easily won. Matters were progressing nowhere with Wickham as Richard had yet to hear from his comrade about reassigning the rogue. Nor had Elizabeth received a reply from Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Gardiner yet.

And Bingley!

To hear that Bingley had cut Jane in a shop had been more than Darcy could believe. He had thought his friend too embarrassed to speak and pulled away by his sister. Darcy ought to have anticipated that Bingley might call on the Gardiners to make amends. He ought to have warned his friend or been with him. He should confess to Jane Bennet that it was he who suggested Bingley not return to Netherfield. That he alone was the cause of her heartbreak, not Bingley. From the sound of how she turned Bingley out on his ear, Darcy rather thought he also would not be welcome at the Gardiner house. How would he speak with Mr. Gardiner about Wickham?

Elizabeth could never love him now. Not when he had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her most beloved sister. At the very least, he could not expect Elizabeth to choose him, when she did not love him, over her sister whom she loved more than any other person on this earth.

A light tapping on his door broke his thoughts. “Leave it,” he cried to the maid who brought his supper tray.

The maid continued to knock. “I said leave it!” he called louder.

The rapping did not cease. Shooting from his chair, he began yelling before he pulled the door open. “Leave it before I tell your mistress you’re incapable of following simple commands!”

He wrenched the door open, and his cousin’s small frame stood before him. She held her chin high.

“Anne!”

“Am I supposed to be frightened of your bellowing?” she asked and bent her head, edging her way under his arm and into his chamber.

“Anne, what are you doing?” he hissed, scanned the hall and then quickly shut the door.

“And you should know our servants hear enough screaming from my mother that your antics will not scare them. They are far more terrified of her.”

“Anne,” Darcy pressed fingers to his temples. They had avoided each other for the better part of a decade. Since he cleared the air with her, they had slipped into the easy friendship of their youth. However, he now desired solitude.

“No, I won’t leave you alone with your mercurial thoughts,” she said and sauntered to a chair.

Darcy stared at her. He had not spoken his thoughts aloud.

“You did not have to say anything. Anyone would know you wish me gone.” She scrutinised his face. Her thin brows joining together. “What have you done?”

Darcy walked to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He considered not answering her. “Do you care for anything?” He motioned to the contents.

Anne licked her lips. “I take a glass of sherry in the evening.”

Darcy filled a tumbler and brought it to her. “You, no doubt, know that I was caught in the rain and had to stay at the Collinses. I dare anyone to be in good spirits after that.”

Anne looked dubiously at him. “Rain never hurt anyone. And the lovely Elizabeth was there, was she not?”

“She was,” he answered neutrally and took a sip of wine.

“Usually, after a morning with her you can bear anything even my mother dishes out, and tonight you are out of spirits because of Mr. Collins? No,” Anne shook her head. “Do not forget that I am Mistress of Hearts. You quarrelled with Miss Bennet.”

“When have I not quarrelled with her?” Darcy bit out in disgust. It was as Bingley had tried to say. All the times Darcy thought they were merely debating and learning about each other’s character, she was arguing with his false pride. He had been too arrogant to see it. “I have ruined everything.”

“If you frequently argue then how can this one ruin everything?”

Darcy’s heart lurched at the hope Anne offered. “You do not understand. She has so many faults against me.”

“Are they true?”

“They are…complicated,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw.

“Are they true,” Anne repeated slower and raised her brows.

“Very well,” Darcy said and put his glass down on the nearby table. He blew out a deep breath and leant forward, earnestly meeting his cousin’s eyes. “A significant number of them are. There —  I am an arrogant ass!”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Better she knows it now.”

Darcy sagged against the chair. “Where’s your sense of familial pride. Should you not be outraged?”

“Think of who I live with,” Anne said and took a sip of her sherry. “We have arrogance in abundance.”

“Perhaps, but I am attempting to reform,” Darcy said.

“Bah,” Anne cried. “Do not reform. If she cannot bear your faults, she should not marry you.”

“I unjustly accused her sister of being a fortune hunter,” Darcy levelled. “I encouraged a friend who I knew depended upon my advice to leave the house he leased without a word to the neighbourhood and not return.”

“Ah, I see. And if he had decided to marry the lady instead, would he have needed you to tell him what to say?”

Darcy stared at his drink. “If he did then I would have ruined that too, no doubt.”

“Darcy! Do you mean to say…that is… no, it’s impossible!” Anne exclaimed.

Looking up from his glass, Darcy met her gaze. “That I proposed to Elizabeth Bennet today and she refused me? Naturally. I have the grace and tact of an elephant tiptoeing on ice.” He swallowed his remaining port in a large gulp.

Anne guffawed. “An elephant tiptoeing on ice! And people find you droll!” Darcy scowled further. “Come. The lady rejected her cousin and now stays under the man’s roof.”

“For the sake of visiting her friend,” Darcy said.

“Yes, and you are assisting her with Wickham. Once you return to London, you might ease the way between her sister and your friend.”

“I do not know that she can ever forgive me,” Darcy said.

“What has changed in the last day?” Darcy related the contents of Jane’s letter. “Excellent,” Anne nodded. “She should turn him out. He should work for her admiration! As should you!”

Anne stood and paced the room. “You men think everything is owed you on a silver platter! I read it time and time again in my article.” She paused upon seeing his raised brows. “Yes, gentlemen write to me. You accepted my help.”

Darcy did not bother telling her that it was hardly the same thing as accepting the advice of a stranger. “What would you tell another?”

“Time will prove that her sister will either recover from her heartbreak or that the gentleman was never worthy. You will not be the fair-weather sort of suitor. Between previously meeting her London relatives, and then your plan to speak with them and her father regarding Wickham, you will be in her sphere of acquaintance. Stay the course.”

“What if she wishes to never see me again,” Darcy said while shaking his head.

“See how she behaves for the rest of her time here. Do not force her but you must remain constant. She has had too many men prove they are unreliable. You can be the rudder in her ship. Help steer her safe even in troubled waters.”

Darcy did not immediately reply. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as he had first considered. She had seemed to forgive him before, and in general, forgiveness was not an overnight act. It often took quite some time. And time had persuaded her to visit Kent even when she detested her cousin. A slow smile spread across his face.

“You see I am correct,” Anne said and began walking toward the door.

“Really, Anne,” Darcy gave her a false frown and shook his head. “Navy references?”

“Nautical,” Anne corrected and winked. She inched open the door and upon determining the hall clear, promptly left.


Dear C—

You have asked for my advice regarding a proposal you found repugnant. You were right to seek my counsel. Despite your mother’s worries, do not wed where your heart is not attached. You have overcome too much to be the victim of alliances and convenience. I will write her directly and speak with her when I am next in town. I have enclosed volumes by the late George Edwards. With six hundred drawings to duplicate I believe it shall keep you busy for some time.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth sat on the chair in her bedchamber at the Parsonage. Charlotte had taken care to be an excellent hostess, despite the tension in their friendship, and her favourite flowers were frequently in a vase on the table. Also on it were a small stack of books borrowed from her friend. They must be from the Rosings library because Mr. Collins did not keep such works. Elizabeth nearly snarled recalling the conduct books he thrust at her. She picked up the novel she had been reading, it held no interest to her tonight.

What would Darcy’s opinion on such a book be? Her memory flashed to their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he had asked her opinion of books then, but she was so determined to be displeased. Even during her stay at Netherfield, there was once a discussion on female accomplishments, and after Miss Bingley’s ridiculous list, Darcy added a woman should have an improved mind through extensive reading. Elizabeth had held a book in her hand at the time, although she was too preoccupied with the discussion of the room to pay any heed to the volume. She had thought then he was mocking her, but it now seemed he was genuinely interested in her opinions.

After Darcy’s insult to her, she was determined to never dance with him. At each refusal, she was quite aware she was likely the only woman in the world to do so. She thought the revenge rather complete when she was able to refuse him twice to his once.

When she could not refuse him at the Netherfield Ball, she made it quite an unpleasant dance for him. She knew the mention of Wickham would provoke him. She blindly trusted Wickham because his tales supported what she most wanted to believe about Darcy.

She had spitefully blamed him for her sister’s pain because she did not want to see anyone else’s responsibility in the matter. Bingley was fickle. Jane was too reserved and too naive to see his sisters’ machinations. Her family behaved improperly, and yet it was quite accepted among her community while they all blasted Darcy as the most disagreeable man in the world off his behaviour in less than one evening. To those outside their circle, however, her family behaved so badly it may have put off an agreeable suitor for her most deserving sister.

What a humiliation! Was nothing in the world as she thought it?

Mr. Darcy wished to marry her. He, who she had thought was proud and arrogant, who must have seen the greatest beauties of London for years, who could have fortune and rank, wanted her. It was humbling.

She knew Wickham was not to be trusted for several weeks now, but still, she did not discount all of his words against Darcy. Even in the last few days, she persisted in believing he would separate Bingley from Jane only due to desiring fortune and circumstance for his friend. Her opinion of Darcy was so wrong that the entire time she had been convinced he wished to keep Bingley from her sister, he was examining her character.

The times she had been certain he had looked at her in contempt, he admired her from afar. It seemed every time she took offence to something, he had only attempted to compliment her. Now, she could even see the times he had tried to court her good opinion. All the while she had courted prejudice and willful ignorance! How blind she had been!

Elizabeth’s eyes had been opened, however, and it was a new world to her. She could not repent her words on his behaviour in Meryton, but neither could she ignore the unjust accusations she made. To compare him to Wickham, to blame him for Bingley’s defection was terribly wrong of her. She also could not forget the look of pain when he acknowledged she must refuse him or the resigned air in which he tendered his aunt’s invitation.

She must prove that no matter her silly ignorance she could behave correctly. She could hardly determine if she wished to welcome his attentions, but she would prove she was worthy of the respect and esteem he held for her. She was through acting like a spoiled child over insults, imagined or real.

Elizabeth’s pride did shirk, momentarily, at having to apologise and confess to her vanity, but her honour demanded it. Darcy deserved it, and her duty required it to ensure his help to her family. For them, she would bear any degradation. Her only hesitance was should he not wish to converse on the subject, or worse, seek to blame himself. Additionally, she admitted to a minuscule amount of concern that he had only offered his help out of thinking he helped his future family. She told herself that was merely old prejudice and he could only act out of honour. Darcy would not revoke his assistance at disgust with her incivility or hurt pride at her rejection. However, he was a mortal and who could have the strength to frequently meet with the woman who so callously spurned him?

Choosing to not ask herself why it mattered if he had already overcome his preference for her, she decided to write a brief note of apology to give him in case conversation proved impossible. She could only hope he would overlook the impropriety. She had the greatest trust he would not betray her.

Sitting at the little table in her room she drew out a sheet of paper from her writing box and began to swallow her pride.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I pray you will forgive me for the terrible breach in propriety I am making by writing this letter but, like a great many things, men do not hold a monopoly on honour and mine demands I apologise for my unforgivable words yesterday. I hope we can put our differences behind us as we work on our project.

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

Despite Anne’s words of encouragement, Darcy believed he could not treat his last argument with Elizabeth as no different than the ones before. He had not understood at the earlier times that she had specific accusations against him. He rather thought she was testing to see if he felt similarly about the world. Now, every conversation they ever had seemed to take on a new light.

At Lucas Lodge, when she declined dancing with him it was revenge for his first insult. Indeed, even at Netherfield, it was. Had she doubted ladies could have good sense and accomplishment or merely that he would deign to know them? On that score, she had been nearly correct. Not for lack of trying, he had to wade through hoards of empty-headed ladies to find the diamonds he sought. Apparently, when they argued over pride and vanity, she meant to expose him as having both.

Darcy stretched his legs out. She was not faultless, but she had apologised. Some would wonder how he would think her worthy if she disliked him and desired to only debase him, but she was not flighty or conceited. She did have pride and for her to apologise must have cost her quite a bit.

He pushed aside any residual anger he felt at Elizabeth’s complaints and assumptions and instead focused on her feelings. When Georgiana had been hurt by Wickham, it was as though Darcy’s own heart bled with her. Elizabeth now felt that for Jane and it was through his methods. Having noble intentions did not excuse the misery he caused. An apology was in order.

The maid arrived with the supper tray, and as Darcy ate, he ordered his thoughts. He had always expressed himself better in writing than with words. Once finished with his light meal, he walked to his escritoire and pushed aside letters of business. His sister and aunt had written, but he would read those letters on the morrow. Tonight, Elizabeth deserved his entire attention.

Withdrawing the writing items and arranging himself as neatly as he could, Darcy paused before he began. It was surely a silly thing to entreat the Almighty for, but he wished to infuse his regret and love into this letter so he might start again with Elizabeth.

Dearest Elizabeth

Darcy crossed it out and blew out a sigh. That was far too informal. Balling up the paper, he tossed it aside.

Dear Madam.

No, too cold and formal. How did one begin a letter to a lady he wished to wed? To one he loved but did not offer his heart? A woman with whom he had a long acquaintance, and yet, she would say they were not friends. Annoyed, he settled for the same name all the world called her.

Dear Miss Bennet,

Words can scarcely convey the regret I feel at learning for the many months of our acquaintance you have been under the misapprehension that I disapproved of you. I understand there may have been mitigating factors, and I know in your generosity you would excuse some of my behaviour, but allow me to take the blame I must. My honour demands it. Had I behaved as I ought to have, none of this would now be an issue. As such, I apologise to you, and when I meet with your relations, I shall entreat their forgiveness as well. I understand, too, that I have harmed the citizens of Meryton and when an apology is in my power, I will make amends.

On the matter of making my sentiments known to you, I ask your pardon as well. A gentleman does not force his attentions on a person and had I not been so careless and presuming, I would have known better. I hope I have given no lasting distress.

I remain your humble servant and wish to aid you should you ever need it,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s eyes scanned over the words. He hoped to give it to her on the morrow, although letters between unwed ladies and gentlemen were not entirely proper. Nor was the letter exactly genuine. Amongst the things he apologised for there were many things, he was not the least sorry for. His mortified pride hated that he had proposed to a woman who had never seen his admiration or desired his notice, but he felt freer having spoken some of his heart. All the days he had met under the guise of discussing Wickham — and he did worry about the cad — Darcy had had nervously courted Elizabeth. Now, when he met her next, there would be no deceit between them. When he was attentive to her, she would know his honourable intentions.

Of course, it might be that she never wished to speak with him again.

Tossing his pen aside, Darcy peered at the clock in his room through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. If he arose at his regular time, he would have less than six hours of sleep. Before trudging to his bed, he reached for his mail, duty calling to him. As he undressed for the evening, he paused now and then to make out words.

Georgiana was in good health and enjoyed her newest pianoforte master. Mrs. Annesley was a balm to her wounded soul. Richard visited often, and Bingley and his sister called nearly daily. Darcy wished he knew if Georgiana was forming an attachment. He did not believe for a moment that Bingley had any interest in his sister if he was so in love with Jane Bennet as to call on her at the Gardiners’ and without an introduction. Nor did he think Bingley would encourage a lady while his affection lay elsewhere. However, Georgiana was quite young still. Darcy chuckled imagining her face upon such a claim.

Boots and stockings removed, Darcy moved on to the Baroness’ letter. He told himself he would alert her and Mrs. Annesley to the possible complication of Georgiana’s attachment to Bingley, who was rather spoken for. Lady Darcy reported that she had found a new candidate for the Bluestocking Club and asked after his progress. He had come under the guise of asking the Duchess of Dorset’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Jenkinson, to join. Her father was a noted astronomer and had raised his child to appreciate the stars. Mrs. Jenkinson, in turn, relished in her father’s profession. As the wife to a very wealthy and influential politician, Mrs. Jenkinson could be a very powerful patron of science. Lady Darcy also bade him to hurry his “adventure at the Dragon’s” and choose his bride. Darcy frowned. She was not usually the aunt to wish him to the altar in a trice.

Pulling his shirt over his head, he accidentally knocked his still full glass of port and cursed. Dashing to the wash stand, he grabbed the towel to clean his mess. His aunt’s letter had fluttered to the floor, but by the time he had everything settled again, he decided to wait and finish reading his correspondence later. Sleepiness pulled all strength from his body, and he stumbled toward the bed as though he were drunk. Collapsing in it, he slept soundly until awoken with a start as his valet entered at the usual time.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Nine

MDBB4Dear C—

I am delighted to hear of you have seen our cousin’s new baby girl. A pity she would rather wish for a son. I would suggest she spend more time with her aunt as I know my mother has always wished to be closer to her brother-in-law’s children. When you marry I hope you will not think sons are the only children worth having. Your uncle loves our girls.

Your Aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Nine

As much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, Elizabeth could not mistake the look of pain and hurt in Darcy’s eyes as he left. She had done so much more than wound his vanity. Is that what she wanted all along?

Elizabeth thought over the history of her acquaintance with Darcy. She barely spoke to him without wishing to cause him pain. When had she become such a spiteful creature?

Elizabeth knew not how long she stood in place, alone and crying until she felt someone leading her off the path again.

“Miss Bennet, are you well?” Mr. Darcy had returned!

She could not answer. What must he think of her? Never before in her life had she been so cruel to a person! Always, always he provoked her past the point of civility! She allowed herself to be tugged into a sitting position.

“Please, do not cry for my sake.”

When she still did not speak, she felt something entirely unexpected. Mr. Darcy pulled her into his arms and held her! Near a public path on his aunt’s estate! All men from Derbyshire must be mad!

She pulled back from his arms and looked up at his face. “Mr. Darcy…”

“Shhh…”

This was madness! Why did he still hold her? Why did she let him?

This time she pushed against him, intent on rebuking him but something in the way he watched her stilled her tongue. She had said enough for one day. How long would she hold a grudge for one statement eight months ago?

“I cannot bear to be the cause for your tears and distress,” he said with an unfathomable gentleness.

Who was this man? Not the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, or even thus far in Kent. He let go of her and Elizabeth was nearly positive she saw regret etched on his face. Yes, he must regret speaking to her if she could not even keep a civil tongue and then resort to tears!

She said nothing as he sat beside her looking straight ahead. She was certain she had the most dumbstruck look on her face.

“Do you truly believe I dislike you and think so little of everyone around me?” His voice was quiet and uncertain.

Still not trusting herself to look at him, she fixed her gaze on the distance. “I confess it has been my firmest opinion these many months.”

Darcy was silent for many moments and Elizabeth hazarded a glance in his direction. Now his eyes remained forward, but she saw his jaw clenched tight and a muscle twitching near his eye.

Darcy plucked a blade of grass and focused on shredding it into small pieces while he spoke. “I do not mean to offend. I become nervous meeting new people. They all look at me, are judging me, estimating my income, presenting their daughters to me, approaching me with a business proposition, wanting to meet my uncle.

“More than that, with all the unwanted attention I am under constant scrutiny. I have been careful to not besmirch my family name. It is one reason I do not attempt to slander Wickham and why I have given into his financial demands before. The one time I did not, it nearly cost me dearly.”

Elizabeth thought over his words before replying. “I never thought you may be feeling that way, but did you ever think what other people might be feeling when the most powerful and richest person they have ever met enters the room, and will not even make eye contact with them? Will not speak with them? And who are you? Only a gentleman. You are not a peer or prince! We have our pride in Meryton, as anywhere.” Belatedly, Elizabeth recalled that he would one day inherit a barony.

“And I wounded yours.” Elizabeth blushed. “I never should have said it. I was in a foul mood but should have danced anyway. Truthfully, I would have danced after Bingley pointed you out but you know how I feel about Bingley’s ability to be easily persuaded. I only grasped at something to say.”

Before she could speak in reply, such as noting that it was the poorest apology she had heard in some time and she grew up with three younger sisters, he pressed on to the more important topic of discussion. “We still must decide how to warn your father. It seems he would not listen to your testimony and he will not listen to mine. Is there someone he may respect?”

Excessively grateful for the turn in conversation, she took a moment to think. She considered suggesting Bingley return, but it did not seem like her father would be willing to take Bingley’s word for it either. “My father greatly esteems my aunt and uncle in London. You have met them and know they have good sense.”

However much Darcy accepted his eccentric and titled aunt inviting the Gardiners to her home, Elizabeth knew it would be a stretch for a man of such pride to visit a tradesman, and was astonished when he did not hesitate to answer.

“If I explain matters do you think he will keep the confidence?”

“Yes, he certainly would. He met Wickham at Christmas. My aunt, especially, enjoyed his tales of Derbyshire and Lambton as she is from there, but they would be very interested in knowing the truth of his character. As you saw, they had no prejudice against you.” Unlike me.

Darcy smiled a little, and she was pleased that he noted her non-stated apology. Then another thought struck her. “Well, they did hear of you,” she could not bear to explain it was from her own mouth, “but they are fair people and enjoyed meeting you in London. My aunt had wondered about Wickham’s sensibilities when he began to pay attentions to a young lady who recently inherited ten thousand pounds when, previously, his affections seemed to lie…elsewhere.” Realising she rambled, she suddenly ceased speaking. She attempted not to blush but could feel the heat on her face.

“I see.” He sounded angrier than she expected. He clenched his jaw again.

“My aunt is predisposed to think well of you as she knew how good your father was.” Unexpectedly, Darcy smiled a sincere smile at that. His expression changed, and Elizabeth recognised that was when he was feeling proud. It was rather becoming.

“When do you leave for London?”

“I am to stay nearly another month.”

“I cannot call on your aunt and uncle without cause.”

A sly smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. “Mr. Bingley could call on my sister, and you could accompany him. I could send a letter with you.”

He began shaking his head before she had even finished her suggestion. “I would prefer you to be present.”

Elizabeth was annoyed he did not respond to her suggestion about Bingley. Of course, Darcy knew Jane as well and could call on her without his friend’s presence, but he seemed to have rejected that idea.

“Might you leave early?” he pressed.

Elizabeth huffed. “I do not have the freedom to order my own life. Mrs. Collins expects me here for another month, and my aunt and uncle are not prepared for me.”

“Perhaps you could write and ask if you may arrive in advance? You could argue the society here is discomforting, and I think that would be rather truthful. If they reply in the positive, you could find some excuse to Mrs. Collins.”

“I suppose you will tell me it is only fifty miles of good road and I might see my friend again frequently,” she said with something nearing sorrow. With all that Charlotte and Mr. Collins had put her through, leaving them would be no hardship but she had the distinct feeling her friendship with Charlotte would suffer forever.

Darcy cast a nervous look at her. “Might we worry about this trouble with Wickham before we borrow more from the future?”

“Very well. I can see, sir that your suggestions are prudent. I will sacrifice my leisure for the benefit of my family and the community. Oh, what I do for my beloved sisters!” She said dramatically, for greater effect.

He smiled at her theatrics. “Again, you cannot be certain what the future holds.”

Darcy pulled out his watch and noticed the time. “Allow me to escort you to the parsonage.” Once they began walking again, Darcy inquired, “When will you write your aunt?”

“I will write today. Things should be arranged in less than a week.”

Darcy frowned. “We had not considered how to convey you. Surely Miss Lucas would desire to stay with her sister longer. Additionally, your relatives might wish for you to remain in Town for a time rather than send you immediately to Hertfordshire, as Miss Lucas would likely prefer.”

Elizabeth chewed her lip. Was there a hint of anxiety in Darcy’s eyes? “I had not thought of that. We were to travel by stage, but my uncle was to send a manservant for us.” Darcy looked away, but Elizabeth saw him wince at her news. Undoubtedly, he would never dream of travelling by stage.

“If I could arrange for a maid to travel with us, might you ride in Lady Catherine’s carriage while I ride on my horse?”

Elizabeth disliked having to accept so much from Darcy, but it was the only feasible way. She could not travel with only a manservant and hated to have to beg for a maid from either the Collinses or the Gardiners. “Thank you.”

They arrived at the Parsonage gate, and Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand. As he left, she sighed. Once again, she could not make him out at all. Fortunately, there were two such people just within who would rectify that feeling immediately.

*****

Darcy knocked on Anne’s sitting room door and looked up and down the hall, hoping no servant would see him.

“Yes?” she called out.

“It’s Darcy,” he said. A memory of them as young children flashed in his mind. They would play “hide from the dragon.” Richard and their other cousin would never let Darcy hide with them. Anne, as a resident of Rosings, always knew the best places to hide. How often had he knocked on a wardrobe or cover and said, “It is me,” and she knew his voice immediately? Now, because of her mother’s scheming, they had grown into mere strangers.

Anne opened the door and also scanned the hallway. “Well?” she asked.

“I need to speak with you privately. Might I come in?” Darcy watched as Anne’s nervousness increased tenfold.

“If you must,” she said and walked toward the seating area. She lowered herself slowly into a chair and motioned for Darcy to do the same. Sitting on the edge of her chair, as though prepared for flight at a moment’s notice, she stared at her hands rather than look at Darcy.

“I must ask for your assistance,” he began nervously.

Anne’s head shot up. She looked a mixture of relieved and sceptical. “You need my help? Whatever for?”

“Miss Bennet finds she must journey to London earlier than previously planned. Neither the Collinses nor her relatives in Town have a suitable conveyance. I have offered to escort her, but she will need a chaperone and use of one of your mother’s carriages.”

Anne’s eyes widened, and she placed a hand protectively over her neck. “I cannot journey so far! London? No, never!” She looked ghost white, and she clenched the arms of her chair in terror.

Darcy gently touched her arm, causing her to jump. “Forgive me,” he said and drew it back. “I did not mean to alarm you,” he said. While some might fear confined places, Anne never did. No, she feared large groups of people. The result of being nearly trampled as a child when taken to see Macbeth with her father and a riot broke out due to an increase in ticket prices.

“Wha — what did you want then?” she asked, her chest still heaving but the fear easing.

“I wondered if you could arrange for a maid to accompany us. Miss Lucas will not wish to leave so early.”

“Oh, is that all?” Anne sagged against the chair in relief and looked younger than he had seen her in ages.

“That shall be hard enough without arousing the suspicion of your mother.” Darcy stood to leave.

“And what of my suspicions?” She said, and if it were not for the fact that Anne seldom left the vicinity of Rosings, Darcy would despise the way she sounded like her mother. As it was, she could hardly help it.

Darcy raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “You will not dally with Mrs. Collins’ friend, will you?”

“I hardly need to explain myself to you,” Darcy turned to go but at the last moment thought better of it. He was striving to be a better man because of Elizabeth’s rebuke. “Forgive me,” he said and retook his seat.

Anne furrowed her brow, unaccustomed to him caring about her opinion.

“I assure you, I have nothing but honourable intentions toward Miss Bennet, but that is all there is worth saying at this moment.” He took a deep breath and pushed forward. “Anne, surely you know… That is, it can be no surprise…” Blast it. There was a reason he had never discussed the situation of her mother’s hopes before.

Anne squeezed her hands tightly and stared at her feet.

Respect. “No, I will not dictate to you as you have had done your whole life. I will not tell you how you must think or feel and will not presume to know better than you.”

Slowly, she lifted her eyes, tears misted them.

“It was wrong of me to avoid this conversation for so many years. Your mother has made her preferences quite known, and I suspect has even raised you to expect our union.”

Anne timidly nodded.

“I ask your forgiveness. I ought to have discussed my feelings long ago.”

“You love Miss Bennet,” she said with understanding.

“I do,” Darcy confirmed. “However, I had felt since my youth that I could not marry you.” She opened her mouth, but Darcy waved it off. “Please, do not disparage yourself. I do not find you wanting. Another man will be quite blessed to have you as a wife. You deserve a man who passionately adores you. I have always known I am not that man and believed I was doing you a service by not bowing to your mother’s wishes.”

Anne exhaled a long breath and tears streamed down her eyes. “Thank you,” she clapped her hands together. “Thank you! Thank you! I have lived in fear, in dread of your proposal for most of my life.”

Despite his relief that she did not resent his rejection, it stung to hear yet another lady wanted no part of his courtship. “Again, I apologise for not stating my feelings earlier.” He stood to depart.

“I can help you!” She called out as his hand reached for the doorknob. He turned back toward her. “I can assist you with Miss Bennet.”

“What makes you think I need your assistance?”

Anne laughed. “She has not the faintest clue you admire her. She would sooner expect Richard’s stallion to grow wings.”

“And you are an expert on matchmaking now?”

“Those who cannot wed, plan!” Anne exclaimed. “I will tell you a secret.”

Dutifully, Darcy returned to his seat and leaned forward as Anne motioned. “I write for a ladies’ magazine. I am Mrs. Mabel Fairweather, mistress of hearts.” She scurried off to her desk and brought correspondence for him to inspect.

Darcy turned them over, recognising her penmanship. “I do not know what to say. You are accomplished beyond my wildest thoughts.”

“Now, you have begun your courtship on the wrong foot,” Anne grinned and retrieved her letters. “However, Elizabeth is a reasonable woman. She can be convinced to let the past remain there. She is prejudiced against your rank and wealth, and it does not help that she knows my mother,” Anne groaned at the thought.

Darcy silently added that Elizabeth’s other accusations involved Wickham and Bingley. “I have already determined I must show her and her relations greater respect.”

Anne nodded. “An excellent start. And how will you demonstrate this? Just wait for them to appear? Or to be brought up in conversation?”

Indeed, that was exactly his plan. Conversation was not his strong suit. Now, if only Society allowed him to demonstrate his passion for the lady…

“Do not fret,” Anne said. “We can practice some conversation and” she waggled her eyebrows, “we can discuss the appropriate behaviour of suitors. You must not leave her in doubt of your regard.”

Darcy loosened his cravat. The ways in which he desired to show Elizabeth his affection were not suitable for a lady’s ears, or anyone really. He had long struggled with accepting that he could feel very carnal desire for Elizabeth and love her intellect and personality as well. He stood to leave.

“When do you see her again? I imagine in the morning. I have not seen her sketching as early as she used to.”

“She sketches?”

“Oh yes,” Anne nodded. “She favours the hill overlooking the village. In the distance, you can see the spires of Knole Park. It does not surprise me that she has an interest in architecture.”

Darcy grinned. A true bluestocking. Neglecting fashionable pursuits for “gentlemen’s art.” She could not be more perfect for him than if he had intended to find a wife upon his entering Hertfordshire. He might have searched for many years before finding her.

“We do often meet in the grove,” Darcy answered neutrally.

“Do not go tomorrow,” Anne said. “Leave her wishing she had seen you. Visit me, and we will discuss how to proceed.”

“Thank you,” Darcy said, uncertain he should encourage her meddling in his life.

“And where the devil did you send Richard?”

“He had business in London and is detained by an ill commander. He hopes to return soon.”

“Yes, well, Mother pesters me more about you when he is absent.” Anne waved a hand. “You may go.”

Darcy, at last, left her sitting room, marvelling how much she was like her mother, and yet, that was not an entirely bad thing.