Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Fourteen

The babysitter asked to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese today so I am getting some work done! I’ve been able to resume writing some and you get rewarded with a post!

I’ve said a few times the conflict here is Elizabeth and her head. She’s going to face another test. What do you think she’ll do? Panic or stay?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven  / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Over the next few days, Elizabeth thought much about Jane’s letter. She had replied the following day. Uncertain how to approach Jane’s presentation of her illness, Elizabeth avoided addressing the past at Longbourn. Instead, she congratulated Jane on her marriage and reiterated her blossoming feelings for Darcy.

Soon, she would need to explain to Jane the change in her understanding not about Darcy, but about herself and her family. That would be best suited to do in person, however, so Elizabeth decided to bide her time. She wished for Jane to know that Elizabeth had no doubts regarding Darcy’s character, but more importantly that Elizabeth knew she would have a healthy future for she chose to heal. Jane’s insistence in pushing away her mental strain and redefining her feelings and actions worried Elizabeth. She knew it was impossible for Jane to merely wake up entirely new and healed the next morning and skip down the sunny lanes of Meryton and into the arms of a Prince Charming. Happily ever after was possible, of course, but the dragons must be defeated first. Judging from her letter, Jane acted as though there was nothing to vanquish.

The days and nights with Darcy furthered their intimacy. Elizabeth still wished for moments of greater privacy and a greater variety of activities. She was ever so tired of carriages and inns. Darcy had kept his promise, however, of arranging for her to have time to walk in the middle of the day. They would have a light repast and then walk about whatever village or town they in before returning to the carriage.

Her time with Darcy did bring to mind her own deficiencies. It was allowable that she not have any other pursuit while travelling, but Elizabeth noticed she had no activity to occupy her when they stopped in the evenings. She had always thought she used her time wisely and her parents were sensible in not pushing their daughters to learn things which did not appeal to them. However, now she saw how ill-prepared she was for anything beyond being the daughter of a gentleman of middle means. She believed she could speak with the housekeeper and handle her tasks for the estate fine enough. If the rest of her life was merely attempting witty conversation at dinner parties, she could perform those duties well. What she sorely lacked, though, was knowledge in how to exist in quiet moments with a reserved man.

She did not mind the silence, of course. She was curious enough to read about current affairs and intelligent enough to converse with her betrothed about them. It was the other times that she did not know what to do. At Longbourn, there had always been a sister to talk or argue with. There was always some conflict to ignore, watch, or attempt to stop. The lack of distress and crisis made Elizabeth decidedly restless and nervous. Perhaps if she embroidered or painted fireplace screens, she would have some activity to take her mind off such things.

Darcy did not seem to mind. In fact, he appeared inordinately pleased merely to be in the same room as her even if they were silent for much of it and occupied in separate pursuits. Elizabeth supposed much of her life at Pemberley would be this way. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. At Longbourn, she acted as she did out of a need for survival. She did not enjoy those mindless accomplishments thrust upon most ladies, but even if she did, she would not have been able to study them to mastery. There was too much conflict in her home. Indeed, much of her character relied on who she had to be for her family. She must direct her sisters. She must share in her father’s jokes. She must not cringe at her mother’s vulgarness. She must not partake of her sisters’ frivolity too much but not be as severe as Mary. She should not be as kind as Jane, who was easily taken advantage of.

Who was Elizabeth Bennet without her family? The thought which used to anger or terrify her suddenly felt like great freedom. She could be absolutely anyone she wanted. And what was more, she knew that Darcy would love her unconditionally.

He looked up from his book just as the realization of that struck her. She was saved from having to explain the queer expression in her eyes by the carriage jostling over a rock.

“We should make it to Holyhead before nightfall,” he said.

Excitement brimmed in Elizabeth. At Holyhead, they would board a ship to ferry them to Scotland. They would marry at Portpatrick and, Darcy had promised, a quick journey to Ireland after before they returned to Pemberley.

Despite Elizabeth’s desire to arrive in time to tour the coastal town, they reached the inn as darkness blanketed the sky. The road the last several miles was rough and required a slower pace. Even then, the carriage was stuck in a rut twice and required the men to push it out. Elizabeth let out a sigh that her first view of the seaside was not during daylight or even the romance of the sunset. Clouds covered much of the sky meaning there were very few visible stars to reflect on the water and it was not safe to walk on the promenade. Darcy had promised, however, that they could rise early the next day. Elizabeth supposed seeing the sunrise was fair enough compensation.

When they entered the coaching inn, he needed to speak with the inn’s proprietor about a few matters. Elizabeth was shown to their room by a maid. Unexpectedly, she returned a few moments later with a letter in hand. Elizabeth thought she made out Jane’s new address, but the writing was not as neat as usual. Tearing it open, Elizabeth stumbled into a chair as she read the words.

Dearest Lizzy,

I have directed this letter to Holyhead in hopes that it will reach you before you board your ship for Scotland. I have just come from Longbourn and have been urged to send for you.

About a week ago, Papa was injured riding over the fields. He had fallen from his horse, and it was many hours before anyone found him. He sustained a head injury and a severe break to the leg. His pain was acute but more troubling was the amount of blood he lost. It was evident too, to the men who found him, that his leg would most likely be lost. The apothecary and surgeon were sent for. They agreed an amputation was necessary.

They had hoped for a quick recovery, but Papa was too weak from the blood loss. After several days of fever, a physician has been sent for. He arrived earlier today and has observed Papa all day. He has given us no reason to hope.

I know your differences with our parents. I can even understand you blaming them for Kitty and Lydia’s elopements. However, no matter their faults, they are our parents. If you hasten, you might have some time with Papa before he passes. Either way, your presence will be a balm to our mother. They have lost two daughters already. Will you make them lose another?

–Jane

Elizabeth’s mind raced with thought. She could be ready in an instant. They could be on the road again in less than an hour. Surely Darcy could arrange for them to travel overnight and they might arrive at Longbourn in less time than it took for them on the first journey. He would support her.

As soon as the thought crept in, she dismissed it. Darcy had every reason to think ill of the Bennets. He would never condone Elizabeth cancelling their plans to see to her wayward parents. Indeed, he never would conscience to see them again. He had admitted only to a willingness to write to Mr. Bennet about how to help find Lydia. He had made no promises to visit Longbourn or to personally search for Lydia. Mr. Bennet would soon die, and she doubted he would be willing to communicate with Mrs. Bennet. Even more, he would not get a sensible reply. Darcy surely esteemed Mr. Gardiner even less between his lower rank and the greater pain the Gardiners had given to Elizabeth.

There was the continued issue of propriety. It was one matter to elope. It was another to spend weeks together unchaperoned and in inns without marriage. She would be no better than Lydia at that point. Gossip could hardly be avoided if she arrived at Longbourn unmarried. If he accompanied her, it would taint him and possibly even his sister who had been through enough.

Besides all this, he would feel any request to alter their plans to be an abandonment of him. He would feel jilted. He had sacrificed so much for her, and she would be just as well leaving him behind. Oh, he would be too honourable and selfless to say anything. He might even accompany her all the way to Longbourn. However, it would burn in their relationship. Once there, she would be at the mercy of her mother’s grief. All the expectations would weigh on her.

Jane and Mary had become ill once before and might again under stress. What would happen if they succumbed again and Elizabeth was not there to assist them? She could hardly hope they—or even herself—would be able to behave perfectly. Something would invariably happen that would separate her from Darcy. He would see why she was so unsuitable and come to his senses at last.

Elizabeth understood if she desired to return to Longbourn, she would be as good as ending her relationship with Darcy. As such, she should finish it rather than prolong the pain. She would need to rescind her agreement to marry him and flee. The heartbreak was impossible to avoid, and it was better to face it on her own terms.

Two choices were before her. Return to her family or marry Darcy.

****

“Here we are, my love,” Darcy said as he opened the door.

Elizabeth hastily shoved the letter under the folds of her gown. Two servants walked in behind him carrying trays of refreshments and tea. He motioned for them to set them down on the table near Elizabeth. He sat in the chair opposite her. After the servants left, he inquired which items she would prefer and served her.

Elizabeth found she had little appetite. Her mind considered how she might do what needed to be done. Could she bear to see the heartbreak in his eyes as she chose her family over him? Could she bear knowing that she was forever separating herself from perhaps the only person in the world that could love and respect her so unconditionally?

“You are quiet this evening,” Darcy observed after Elizabeth had either not heard or delayed in answering three or four of his questions.

A knock sounded at the door, and Darcy bade them enter. A maid appeared with wine and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. Yes, if Darcy would imbibe enough, she could leave while he slept. She would leave a note for him to find in the morning.

Elizabeth jumped when he placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him in surprise. When had he left his chair?

“Are you well, Elizabeth?”

“I suppose it was the journey today. I am more tired than usual.”

“I am not surprised,” he said. “I ordered the wine in case you required it.”

He handed her a glass, and she took it with a tense smile.

“You have barely touched your food,” he frowned at her plate. “Perhaps you need rest more than anything else.”

Elizabeth leaned forward to take a biscuit so he might fret over her less. She had never deserved his goodness. The movement caused the letter to crinkle underneath her gown.

Darcy eyed her curiously and then his eyes fell on a scrap that she had torn in her hasty opening. It had dropped on the floor.

“Did you get a letter?”

Elizabeth nodded and held her breath, searching to find something to say.

“From Jane again? What did she have to say so soon? I would be surprised if she even got your reply yet.”

“I would prefer not to speak about it at present,” Elizabeth said with an exhale.

Darcy’s hand left her shoulder. He caressed up her neck before lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “No wonder you seem downcast this evening.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.

Elizabeth nearly whimpered at the gesture. “My stomach is unsettled. I do not think I should have the wine,” she said and glanced at the carafe. “You must be exhausted from helping with the carriage. Please, drink as you please.”

“I would not wish for you to think I am a drunkard.”

“I will worry about you otherwise,” she said, and it was not the lie she had intended.

Darcy’s affectionate and grateful look pulled on her heart more than anything else. He looked so pleased to see a sign of her regard. What was she doing? Why was she willing to leave the man she loved?

The realization of her thoughts made her still as Darcy refilled his glass. She loved him as she had never loved another. She loved him without reserve and without fear. She was not entirely sure what he would say or do regarding her sister’s request, but Elizabeth realized her thoughts had been flawed. He would not condemn her for wishing to be with her family. He would not reject her or even make her choose between them. She thought even if all the worse would be said about them and it taint his good name, he would still stand by her. The man practically lived to make her happy and had sacrificed so much for her.

No, it was not Darcy that would make her choose between him and her family. How had it not occurred to Jane that requesting she return unmarried would likely forever ruin the possibilities of it? Perhaps Jane supposed that mattered little to Elizabeth after the months she spent away from Longbourn, but a woman with a botched elopement could not be Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth thought too highly of the Darcy name and loved him too much to make him live with a tarnished legacy. Once rumours started, who knew what they would contain. Before too long they would hit upon something so close to the truth it would remind someone of a memory. Some passing traveller would have seen her at the inn. From there it would be easy to assume she had prostituted herself and then all their efforts to conceal her identity would be ruined. Marrying Darcy only worked if she could do so honourably and without destroying his name.

“Come,” Darcy said as he put his glass down. He walked to Elizabeth and took her hands in his, raising them up to assist her in standing. “I will leave so you may get ready for bed. We want an early start tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said with a tremulous smile. “For the ship.”

“Yes, I would not want to miss that. It is not every day I plan to sail to Scotland to marry my love. However, I meant so you may view the sunrise over the sea.” He kissed her forehead again before departing.

The kiss sealed it. She could not forsake him. She loved him too much. Lord forgive her, but she could not choose her family over Darcy; over them; over her. She had genuine love and happiness before her, and she would take hold of it with both hands.

Friday Feature– A Sense of Obligation

Last time, I featured No Cause to Repine. You can also catch up on all my other features here: Friday Features

Today’s feature is A Sense of Obligation. I wrote this story after reading a solitary chapter of a work in progress on a fan forum site. The story was later taken down for violating board rules and I never heard about it again but maybe it exists out there somewhere. I can’t even remember it’s name or the author’s name. The story started with Darcy proposing to Elizabeth in Mrs. Collins’ drawing room. However, he’s even less coherent than in Canon. He tries to explain the burning desire he has for Elizabeth. He says some things like she would understand if he showed her. So he does.

Against her will.

Yep. Elizabeth is raped.

Oh, but she enjoys it!

And, of course, so did Darcy.

In the post #me-too age, I can hear everyone gasp. This was a few years before #metoo but I was repulsed just the same. It’s never okay for Darcy or any hero to force himself on a woman. While we’re talking about it, there’s no accident to rape. A man raping a woman doesn’t get confused. Even if she’s incapable of saying no for some reason, there is a host of other forms of communication which a fully functioning adult male or woman should understand. Good men don’t just accidentally rape women and then have to be sorry for it later. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s not about healthy sexual desire. It’s about power. It’s about wanting to have dominance over something. And yes, that pleases them sexually, but it has nothing to do with even the mechanics and hormones of lust. A woman might be dressed in revealing clothing and it turn on lots of men. They’re not all going to rape her because they have healthy boundaries. She’s not asking to be raped. She might very well be asking for consensual sex, of course. But don’t you dare victim shame.

End rant.

How can I condemn a story that also gave me some inspiration? I was intrigued by the psychological spot the author left the characters at. Darcy did something shameful but he enjoyed it and is going to get his way out of it: Elizabeth is going to marry him. Elizabeth is disgusted that she had an intimate encounter with a man she hates and yet she enjoyed it. Removing the rape scenario, it’s interesting psychology. I had to fix what I thought the author did wrong, which was the lack of consent. #sorrynotsorry, some of my first works were because I thought I could do it better than someone else. Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of humble pie since.

While I wrote A Sense of Obligation, I was convinced I could never publish it. I didn’t think anyone would tolerate a story where Darcy seduced Elizabeth. I use the word seduction in the 21st century vernacular. Again, the author of the inspiration story used it as a 19th century term. Darcy “seduced” Elizabeth. In that era, a woman might have consented to have sex and the man was simply charming. Or she might have been forced. Either way, they said she was seduced.

Fortunately, during the posting process, I learned that many people loved the story and I also decided no story was unworthy of publication. Since it’s publication, A Sense of Obligation is my third highest grossing book and fourth highest selling. It was my fifth book published. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one that liked it and it was publishable after all!

In my scenario, Darcy thinks he charmed Elizabeth out of her virginity. The irony of that statement is intentional. We all know him to be about the least charming man alive. We also know at this moment in the story (it begins at Netherfield), Elizabeth is uninterested in Darcy and doesn’t think well of him.

Throughout the story, there are humorous situations. However, it’s continually dealing with darker subjects. I turn a few tropes on their heads. Rather than Elizabeth losing her inhibitions due to drinking too much, it’s Darcy that has lowered his guard. Instead of Elizabeth losing her memory of their encounter, it’s Darcy. No real compromise occurred nor were there any witnesses to their encounter. It’s a forced marriage only in their own minds.

Darcy and Elizabeth also discuss the nature of monogamy and the hypocrisy Society had in its demand that women remain virginal and virtuous while men were encouraged to take lovers. However, unwilling to entirely leave behind Society’s dictates, the two talk in circles about their encounter throughout the book, leaving them both with very flawed understandings of what passed between them.

I’m not quite sure if readers ever got the deeper issues. I don’t recall there being any comments or reviews about it. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that the majority of JAFF readers read stories purely for the Romance and don’t want to think too much about things. However, I loved writing A Sense of Obligation.

True to Darcy and Elizabeth’s miscommunication and unspoken subtext throughout the novel, the following scene is one of my favorites. They are talking about Greek gods and goddesses which would be common knowledge for the educated gentry of the era. However, they’re really trying to say so much more.

Elizabeth arched her brow. “You mean not even the master of Pemberley can control the weather or get his demands of the Lord?”

Darcy grinned. Elizabeth was clearly feeling better. “Nay, my dear. For I have it on good authority that an angel in Longbourn prayed for the sun as well, and if the Lord did not listen to her, then why should He listen to me, a mere mortal?”

She blushed again but replied, “I did not say I prayed for sunshine.”

“And I did not say I meant you! All Bingley can ever speak of is his angel!”

Elizabeth scoffed in disbelief at his tease. She playfully shoved him. “William!”

Darcy captured her hand and pulled her closer. Stroking her cheek, he said, “I cannot call you an angel, my alluring temptress, my lovely wood nymph. You are very much a flesh and blood woman, to my immense pleasure.”

He smirked, and Elizabeth could not help but notice his strange fascination with the word.

“No, I would not have you be an angel. You are a goddess…with all the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Aphrodite, and the love of nature of Artemis. You will be my Demeter and help Pemberley’s harvest, my Hestia and make Pemberley a home, and my Hera, the goddess of goddesses, woman above all other women.”

Elizabeth could scarcely breathe. But soon enough she gathered her wits to reply, “Very well, sir. Now we cannot have you be Zeus, for you have admitted to not being able to control the weather. Nor could you be Poseidon, as floods and droughts are not conducive to farming. Might you be Dionysus as you have asked to give more parties? Certainly you are Apollo…god of knowledge.”

Darcy had to control the urge to cease her teasing lips. Dionysus was also the god of ecstasy and Apollo, the god of manly beauty. Was she saying what he hoped? Oh, that he could be her Eros, her god of love. And she would be his Psyche, his very Breath of Life.

Elizabeth was pleased with herself. She knew Darcy was not given to drunkenness, but there was no denying he had been half in his cups the night she walked into the library, and calling him Dionysus was quite fitting. And although he was intelligent, she poked fun at his singing with her, too. Apollo was also the god of music. If she were truthful, however, she would call him Adonis, the god of beauty…and desire.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy smiled at Elizabeth and placed her hand on his arm again. “Come, Elizabeth. I believe some of your relatives are to arrive this afternoon. On that note, I must beg you excuse me from calling as I must send an express to my own relatives about our wedding.”

The first cover for A Sense of Obligation. It’s not era-appropriate but I fell in love with that dress and the black backdrop. A forced marriage story is not all sunshine after all.

And here is the scene which definitely sold the book. I put it in the back of No Cause to Repine and had it on pre-order when NCTR released. A Sense of Obligation had 645 pre-orders in a little more than 60 days. I don’t know how that would compare these days in Amazon, but in 2015 that was pretty impressive–at least compared to my experiences at the time.

The first rays of sunlight filtered through the flimsy, but fashionable, curtains of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s bedchamber at Netherfield Park. Darcy groaned a little at the light and tried to ignore the signs of dawn in hopes of returning to his dream. It had been the most erotic and satisfying dream of his life; it nearly felt real.

“The best feeling ever,” he muttered to himself, only to have his sleep-addled mind reply, nothing could feel better than last night with Elizabeth Bennet.

The thought made him suddenly sit up in alarm, which made his head swell in pain. With a sinking feeling, he noticed his tangled bedclothes and felt a familiar sticky substance between his…bare…legs.

No, no, no. This is impossible, he thought. He was a gentleman; he did not importune innocent ladies, daughters of gentlemen, and Elizabeth Bennet had too much sense to succumb to any man’s seduction, let alone his. She did not seem to court his good opinion like most other ladies he knew. Darcy did not think she would attempt a scheme to entrap him, but neither did he think her in love with him or wanton.

He felt certain his earlier thought was the mark of a befuddled mind, caused by too much brandy from the night before if his headache was any sign. However, as he slowly disentangled himself from his bedclothes, he spied a red stain on the white bed linens.

Impossible! He told himself again. Surely, it was from an injury he unknowingly acquired. And then he saw it. A lady’s handkerchief embroidered with wildflowers, monogrammed ERB, with another blood stain.

He quickly checked himself for any sign of injury and found none. His senses became more alert as he recognised the lingering scent of lavender on his person.

“Dear Lord, forgive me!” he cried out in despair.

In the years since publication, I’ve had ideas of a sequel. Domestic Felicity should debut this summer. We will visit Darcy and Elizabeth, and their family and friends, several years into their marriage. The tagline for the book is: Love under fire. I’m so excited! Are you?

Blurb

One night changes everything.

After weeks of fighting his attraction, Fitzwilliam Darcy makes an irreparable move leaving no choice but to wed Elizabeth Bennet. Charmed by a gentler side of the haughty man, Elizabeth nurtures her growing affection for him. Unfortunately, Darcy’s faulty memory may destroy their marriage just as swiftly as it begins.

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Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eight

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

Chapter Eight

A gasp tore from Elizabeth’s mouth, and she raised up on an elbow. “Do you mean he—but she was a child! Why would he?”

“Some men have such vile hearts. I have learned we are not alone in this. It took years for him to develop a deep enough bond with Georgiana for him to…to consummate their relationship.”

The first time he spoke the words aloud, Darcy thought he might pass out. This was only the second time, and it was hardly better. Bile rose in his throat, and he bit his tongue to replace the taste in his mouth with blood.

“And your father never knew? No one knew? How could no one have knowledge of this?”

“Georgiana says it began when she was ten and ended when she started her courses. She started them late—for a time the physician was greatly worried for her. Apparently, that is not unusual in these cases.”

“I suppose by that age she would not be under a very watchful eye of a governess or bound to the nursery as much.”

“No, and he was always welcome to walk about with her. Do you understand? Most of the time she endured this hell was after my father died. When I ought to have protected her! I was too busy with everything else in life to notice. In the year after her courses began, he visited less and less. I had thought it was due to his aging. Georgiana’s moods varied wildly, and I believed sending her to school would be for the best. She needed the company of other girls her age.”

Darcy could feel the dampness from Elizabeth’s tears, his own fell on her hair. For several minutes, they said nothing to one another. Darcy allowed Elizabeth time to wrap her mind around what he had shared and consider any questions if she had them. He could not imagine revealing the truth to any other lady he knew. Something he had learned in the last several weeks was very few people could accept such scenarios as he had just described. He was told that people often did not mean to be cruel, but they simply could not accept a reality in which children were harmed in this way.

“Is your sister well? I can only imagine…” Elizabeth choked back a sob. “I can only imagine such things would wound deeply.”

“She is healing, at last,” Darcy said. “I cling to the proof of her improvement. Experiences with her abuser confused her greatly. She hated him but loved him. She loathed herself. She said nothing of this to me until recently. It was all too easy on a visit to Pemberley to transfer her feelings to memories of another man who gave her attention but had more promise of returning. I had not seen Wickham in nearly three years when he came asking for the living which was intended for him. He had voluntarily given it up after the deaths of our fathers as he intended to study the law. I gave him three thousand pounds in exchange for his agreement to give up any claim to the church. He spent two or three days in the area before seeking his request, as though two days of good behaviour would make up for my ill opinion of him for the better part of a decade.”

Disgust filled Darcy anew. “I did not know about the abuse. It was inconceivable to me that our friend would be so evil or that such atrocity even existed. Wickham, however, I knew and distrusted. Still, I did not enlighten my sister about him. About a year later, she completed her schooling, and I hired a companion for her. They asked to holiday in Ramsgate. I did not know the companion had previously known Wickham, who arrived soon after them. I unexpectedly arrived a day or two before their intended elopement.”

Elizabeth shook in his arms as sobs racked her.

“I am very sorry, my love. If I had exposed Wickham’s actions against my family, I could have prevented his wounding yours.”

“No,” Elizabeth cried. “No, you could not. Kitty eloped with another man. Lydia would have been just as eager to marry anyone—or especially any soldier. She was desperate to take precedence and get away.”

“Perhaps,” Darcy said as he stroked Elizabeth’s back. “However, she probably would have chosen a man who would actually marry her. I mean no insult, but Wickham would not be tempted to the altar by a woman with less than twenty thousand pounds, I would wager. If I had any way of supposing she had a tendre for him—”

“Exactly,” Elizabeth said. “You never would have suspected it. You cannot be held responsible for the thoughts of a silly girl.” She searched his eyes. “How did you know about this?”

“Georgiana grew sick in the same way your sister Jane did after the situation at Ramsgate. She had told me in happiness and had not supposed I would be so vehemently against their union. It seems nearly impossible for me to consider what she could have been thinking. I can only believe that her rationale was damaged so severely that she was incapable of proper thought.”

“Did she attempt to take her life?”

“No.” Sadness filled Darcy’s heart as he considered the painful loneliness Georgiana must have experienced. “I wrote to Wickham, and he immediately left the area. She was heartbroken that he did not even try to persuade me. After we returned to London, she grew morose, as I said. One day, I came to her chamber unexpectedly and found her cutting herself. I could scarcely believe it, but she had scars up and down her legs where she had been self-abusing for years.”

“But you got her help,” Elizabeth said in a sad voice which made Darcy realise she was comparing his actions with her parents.

“I hardly knew where to begin. I sought our rector, and he suggested religious training. I found physicians and more clergymen. One of them recommended a woman named Mrs. Annesley who had once worked in a hospital for the mad. Her husband had been a vicar. She combined her understanding of treating the ill with her faith.

All the others had told Georgiana she was lazy or faithless. They prescribed medications and stern treatment. I was not to coddle her. I must be harsh and blame her, let her know her errors, the potential shame she could bring to the family. She rarely spoke, but unless it was apologetic, I should not indulge it. Mrs. Annesley suggested allowing Georgiana time and space. We should be supportive and let her come to us in time. After a few weeks, she seemed to improve, but Mrs. Annesley told me it would not last. After a period of forced cheerfulness and what looked like a return to her usual self, we found her bleeding and curled up in a ball in her closet.”

Darcy took a deep breath, aware of Elizabeth now stroking his back as he had done for her. “When she recovered from that episode, she finally broke down and talked about the abuse. She did not see what was wrong with eloping with Wickham when they loved each other. She was certain he loved her because of the intimacies he took. Intimacies which she thought were perfectly natural since she had been taught them so young. She had been taught correct principles from others, but they came too late and had only confused her.”

A shudder racked through Darcy’s frame as he considered the next part. They were coming to the betrayal which stung the most. “My hatred for high society comes from this situation. I approached my uncle, an earl, who knew the gentleman very well. I asked what we could do. The man is also a peer, and I knew suits against them do not fare well and was uncertain if there had ever been such an allegation. I also did not wish for Georgiana to have to testify or for her name to be brought up at all. My uncle, at first, refused to believe Georgiana’s claim. After speaking with her, he accepted her story but said we should do nothing. He said these things happened, and they were unfortunate, but it would be much worse to discuss them. He went so far as to say that if I sought justice or spoke of it to anyone else, he would deny it all and cast aspersions upon her and me.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I would say I cannot believe family would treat you in such a way but I, too, know that pain. I am proud of you, though. When denied the opportunity to seek legal redress, others would find the man and give their own justice by the sword or a gun. However, I do not think that sort of revenge gives the peace one desires. It would create a scandal, and you could even be hanged for it. You have been exceedingly strong, sensible, and honourable when others would not be.” She pressed a kiss where her head lay over his heart.

Darcy could not hardly see the merit of her words. He did not feel as though he had done anything heroic. He simply loved his sister and would not give up on her, just as he would not give up on Elizabeth. That is what one did when they loved. Exhausted, they spoke no more, and Darcy fell into a restful sleep for the first time in months.

*****

Elizabeth awoke with her back pressed against Darcy’s check. He wrapped his sore arm around her waist, and his breath tickled the back of her neck. She had lain awake for a considerable time the night before as she thought about all Darcy had said. She had been so sheltered before leaving Longbourn. She knew leaving was the right decision and yet she had supposed it was the harshest life a gentlewoman could have ever had. She knew there were whisperings of very young prostitutes.

One time while visiting the Gardiners when she was fourteen, she saw an excessively pretty girl who could not be much older than she was standing outside a tavern. A man approached her and put a coin in her hand before they walked around the alley and out of view. Elizabeth had seen such things in passing many times. It was a fact of living in London and not in the Mayfair district. Gracechurch Street was not a dangerous area, but you could buy all manner of things in Cheapside and the flesh was one of the best selling commodities. Ladies such as her were often run off. Shopkeepers in the district did not want them offending families or well-to-do ladies, but Mrs. Gardiner had explained it would be worth the risk if they had even one client who paid more. Elizabeth recalled the scene only because of the girl’s youth. She had very few of the womanly looks about her. For years, Elizabeth held it in her mind as an acknowledgment that at least her life was better than that girl’s. She had never considered that such things could have happened to her sisters or neighbours, under the noses of their parents and guardians.

Elizabeth also had not thought such deviants wore gentleman clothes. Even after her disillusionment with Wickham, she acknowledged he had always been merely pretending to be a gentleman. His father had been a solicitor and then a steward. Despite Wickham’s words that his father had been devoted to Darcy’s, she supposed the elder Wickham would not have become his steward if he were not offered more money. What existence did he have before if becoming a servant—albeit a high and independent servant—made more money than being a solicitor? She supposed it must have been like all the poor country curates. It was far easier to be educated at University and seek employment than it was to find a position.

Having the highest opinion, previously, of her Uncle Gardiner and many of his merchant friends, Elizabeth did not presume that good values were only found among the gentry. However, her other uncle was often given to over-indulgence of port and was as crude and vulgar as his wife. By contrast, she had never seen such displays from her Bennet relations. She had to admit to herself that the gentry were more polished. She had fooled herself into believing it meant there could be no ugliness in that world.

Poor Miss Darcy! Elizabeth could not conceive going through the trials the wealthy young miss did. To be used by George Wickham as part of his dispute with her brother and for her inheritance did not surprise Elizabeth. She had never considered it before, but the wealthy had their trials. A few weeks ago, she might have meanly even thought that it was fair compensation for all they could enjoy with their riches. However, to be attacked by a family friend…

Elizabeth knew she had never been assaulted but what of her sisters? Jane was always uncommonly beautiful. Did she hide a secret such as Miss Darcy which caused Mr. Bingley’s defection spiral her into grief? She could think of no one who visited as often as it sounded like Mr. Darcy’s friend did. Mr. Bennet did not have many friends. He was a private man and disliked Society. She did visit the Gardiners in London. Elizabeth hesitated to consider if her uncle were capable of such things but then she acknowledged the point must be that it was well-hidden. However, in Miss Darcy’s situation, the man had befriended her to the exclusion of others. Elizabeth could not recall that ever being the case with Mr. Gardiner or anyone else Jane had ever known.

Mentally shaking her head, Elizabeth resolved that Jane’s melancholy must have derived entirely from Bingley. From Bingley to his sisters, Elizabeth’s mind jumped. Did the false friends understand the cost of their actions? They made her their plaything. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had promoted a friendship with Jane and then abandoned her when they returned to London. Everyone had taken their willingness to befriend Jane as proof of Mr. Bingley’s growing attachment to her. Mrs. Bennet had declared Jane would soon be the mistress of Netherfield and only stopped short of ordering wedding clothes by Jane’s pleading and her husband’s adamant declaration that he would not pay the bill. Elizabeth had laughed at the folly of it all at the time.

She had laughed at so much. She had always chosen to laugh rather than cry. There was no shortage of heartache or grief in the world. Instead, she latched on to the fleeting moments of joy she could find. Her desire to find mirth made her excuse the behaviour of her family. She had told herself, sometimes a thousand times a day, that they meant no harm—indeed they were harmless. Mr. Bennet’s teasing criticism of his wife held no evil. When it descended to his daughters, well it was just his way of showing affection. Her mother’s anxious wailings about their future were nothing but a conscious bid for attention and distinction. With five daughters about, there was always one who could soothe her. Sharp words from her mother to Elizabeth were always well-deserved or due to the matron’s silly and ill-formed mind. Elizabeth only saw the rough edges of her family due to her proximity. Surely all others saw them only in a good light. However, if they did not, it did not bear worrying about. Elizabeth did not care for the opinion of strangers.

Then, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arrived in Hertfordshire and turned everything on its head. How she had hated Mr. Darcy! Even more, Elizabeth hated how she cared for his opinion. His rejection at the ball stung. His continual disapproval of the Bennets and Meryton bothered her far more than she wanted to admit at the time. After Lydia and Kitty eloped, Elizabeth could see that it was because she knew it was all well-deserved censure. Now, she considered that during all this time the wonderful man holding her had been through hellish trials she could barely conceive.

Even now, she felt the proof of his ardent desire against her. She suspected he was awake, but he made no move to seduce her or take advantage of his state. Elizabeth had suggested they share the bed and while they slept, their bodies had found each other. In the days since, she grew to understand the strength and comfort one could draw from the embrace of another.

Darcy loved her so much! Her heart fluttered at the thought. If she could turn back time and be the Elizabeth Bennet he had known in Hertfordshire, she was sure she would be in love with him by now. Darcy was the most honourable man she had ever met. It was not a façade he wore only when times were easy. He did not placate or charm but instead was honest and frank. He was reserved, it was true, but that was no crime. There was a time when being of good character and loving her was all she had ever wanted in a spouse. It was all it would have taken to win her heart. Maybe someday, it would be again.

Elizabeth stroked the hand that rested on her waist.

“Good morning, my love,” he whispered into her neck.

A shiver ran down Elizabeth’s spine, and goose pimples erupted over her flesh. She was beginning to love how he could affect her. “Did you sleep well?” she asked.

“I have not rested so well in months. Thank you for listening and your understanding last night.” He nuzzled his face into the space between her neck and shoulder. “Your skin is so soft,” he murmured as he kissed her exposed flesh.

Darcy’s hand around Elizabeth’s waist tightened. His palm stretched almost entirely from under breast to her hip. The single motion of reflexively clenching his fist, resulting in a moderate increase in pressure has his digits ran over her covered skin combined with his growing ardour was the headiest sensation she had ever felt. He ran a finger in lazy circles over her side, making her dizzy as she arched her neck to give him further access to explore.

She felt him take a deep inhale against her and hold it before releasing his breath. She imagined he ached in longing as she did.

“We should rise for the day,” he declared before releasing her and sitting up.

Elizabeth had never hated the idea of awakening more.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

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

Welcome to the new readers who have joined us from Fan Fiction dot net! I really appreciate your continued support!

In the last chapter, Darcy decided he needed to quit beating around the bush about Georgiana so Elizabeth would open up to him more. We finally get to it! I know there have been some guesses. There are worse things in the world than George Wickham.

In the first post, I warned that there was non-graphic background of sexual abuse against a child. If you have triggers, it might be possible to continue to read in a few chapters. This is not the primary conflict, it is an additional obstacle Darcy and Lizzy have to overcome. It didn’t happen to either one of them, so the healing of it is not something I attempt to handle in this story in detail.

I know some people will dislike that I bring up this subject. The fact is, 1 in 5 children under the age of 18 are sexually abused. That’s 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. We don’t know the stats from the early 1800s, but I doubt it would be much better than today. It is something that is only now being reported and recorded. Additionally, it’s not usually a stranger. It’s typically someone who is trusted by the family and has access to the child. They spend considerable time creating a relationship with the child. This is called grooming. Those sorts of behaviors are easily hidden and probably have been part of society for time in memoriam.

To learn more about the facts about childhood sexual abuse and how you can defend the young people in your life, I suggest looking at this site: https://defendinnocence.org/get-the-facts/

Chapter Seven

 

Darcy tensed at Elizabeth’s words. He knew he must tell her the sordid truth about Georgiana but felt incapable. The only thing Elizabeth knew of his sister was Miss Bingley’s praises for her accomplishments. He could not tell her about the very worst of humanity before she knew anything else about Georgiana. After all, the trauma did not define her.

During Darcy’s panicked thoughts, Elizabeth seemed to scrutinise his expression. He supposed it was only fair after he had done the same to her. She was also hiding something, although he was at a loss on what it could be. She had already revealed far more shocking things than probably any other lady of his acquaintance ever would.

“I did not think it would be so difficult,” Elizabeth chuckled. “Perhaps that is because I have four sisters to talk about, so there is always something to say.”

Darcy smiled. “Georgiana is in nearly all of my fondest memories. She was born when I was nearly twelve. Of course, I can recall moments before. However, they are far hazier. She was the true apple of my parents’ eyes. They had long desired a sibling for me.” He paused to laugh at the ridiculousness of his youth. “I had seldom seen a baby and was certain I would not like the imposter they were bringing into our home. I only knew they cried and smelled. What use did I have for an infant? We were too far apart in age to ever be friends.”

Elizabeth nodded. “There are only seven years between the eldest and youngest of us. I confess that it is often difficult to understand the minds of my youngest sisters and there is less than half the distance you share with Miss Darcy.”

“In hindsight, I believe I was afraid she would steal all of my parents’ attention. The morning of her birth, my father called me into the nursery for a proper introduction. I peered into her cot, my hands resting over the edge. She was sleeping but suddenly awoke. Stretching and yawning, she looked positively cherubic. Then, one of her tiny fists wrapped around one of my fingers and I was utterly lost. I laughed to myself that I had feared her entry into the world.”

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

“Oh, she was still loud and stinky.” They shared a laugh. “I would visit the nursery as often as I could, impatiently expecting her to walk or talk. The nurse had to explain a dozen times that it would take a very long time before she could do more than lay let alone catch up with me.

“Georgiana was born in July, and I began attending Eton that autumn. For many years, I only saw her on holiday. Obviously traveling the distance from Pemberley to Windsor with a young child was nearly impossible. There was another motive, too. My mother’s health was ailing. I do not know if she never recovered from Georgiana’s birth or there were attempts at another child. I know it was a slow and steady decline but not an illness. When I did return to Pemberley to visit, I was instructed to be quiet and not bother my mother. I devoted hours to entertaining my sister. This was especially beneficial to me as George Wickham grew more malicious each year at school. My father discerned none of it and instead found great joy in the boy’s charming façade to ease his troubled mind and mourning heart. I am convinced it is this closeness which resulted in Georgiana telling me about her intended elopement.”

Elizabeth’s brows rose in surprise. “You mean he attempted to elope with your sister?”

“You should not be so shocked. You have witnessed his charisma and Darcys are mortal, after all.” His tease earned a slight smile from Elizabeth.

“What is her temperament like? You observed my sister Lydia. She did elope with Wickham. Are there any similarities between the two?”

“Other than their age and susceptibility to Wickham’s charm, I would not say so.” He hoped it would not grieve Elizabeth to hear it. He did not wish to talk about her sister’s failings. “Georgiana is shy. While she is not studious, as her preferences fixate on the pianoforte, she is well-educated in a variety of subjects and is adequate at them all. Is there anything else you wish to know about her?”

“Where is she now?”

“She is at Pemberley with her companion. I intended to visit her for Easter.”

“Now, I have ruined those plans!” Elizabeth cried.

“Nonsense,” Darcy waved away her concerns. “I have written to her and explained that I have been detained. Some of our relations may visit in my absence.”

Elizabeth nodded and fell into a momentary lapse of silence. He turned his attention to another book, as she still had the one he had read from earlier. She sighed and fidgeted in her seat.

“Are you unwell? Should I call in Molly?” Darcy asked after several minutes of the unusual behaviour.

“I am merely out of sorts with being laid up for so long. I cannot even look out the window.”

Without another word, Darcy stood, dwarfing the distance between them. Scooping her into his arms, he carried her to a window.

“Put me down!” she cried. “You will hurt your arm and have a relapse, and then we will never be able to leave.”

“Pardon me,” Darcy said as he held her close “I had expected your thanks. You did just say you wished to look outside.

“But I do not wish to be dropped!” She gripped tighter around his neck. “Yes, I see, it is a square just like any other town.”

Although she said she was through looking, she cast a wistful glance at the window.

“A chair,” Darcy said. “I can place a chair here for you to use.”

“It is not necessary,” Elizabeth said. “It is only a strange habit of mine that I would indulge if I could.”

“What is that?”

“I enjoy watching others. I consider what is going on in their lives, what are their reasons for buying a certain thing or moving a certain way. It is as entertaining as we can get in Meryton with no theatre.”

Darcy was unwilling to relinquish his hold on her and lingered at the window. “That man in yellow breeches. What story would you invent for him?”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment. “Why he is courting, of course! See how he hovers at the window display? He is thinking of giving his lady love something but does not know if it will meet with her approval.”

“Maybe he does not think he can afford it.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That is far less romantic, Fitzwilliam. Common sense such as income never figure into these scenes.”

“Do they not?” he asked. “Would you marry a man with an insufficient income?”

“No,” Elizabeth agreed. “But then I would never allow myself to be courted by a gentleman who dressed as garish as he. Perhaps he would do better with Miss Bingley!”

Darcy laughed so hard at her joke that he did not notice the fatigue of his arm, at first. When he did, he realised he had mere seconds to deposit his bundle. Striding back to the settee, Darcy almost reached it, when his arm gave out. Before he knew it, Elizabeth was in a heap on the floor.

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

“I can do it!” she hissed as she gripped the nearby table for support. Her knuckles turned white. “Now, if you could assist me to the bed, I will remain there. No,” she said leaving no room for argument when he attempted to lift her once more. “Wrap your arm around my waist and help me hop.”

Darcy did so and then arranged the pillows under her injured ankle. “I am sorry, Elizabeth.”

“You should be,” she said.

He could not wonder at the change in her mood. She had confessed to feeling short-tempered and irritated. “Is there anything else I might fetch you?”

“Perhaps you could speak with your valet or with Cuthbert about something. Do you like ale? There is always plenty downstairs.”

Darcy understood her meaning. All she wanted was for him to leave. He withdrew his watch. “I will return in a few hours. You are welcome to my books. I will arrange for Molly to check on you at two.”

He brought his stack of books and left them on the table near her side of the bed. He hesitated to leave Elizabeth’s side, but it was clear that she desired some privacy and space. He wondered if it would be different if she had loved him or if she would always need some distance between them.

Darcy spent a few hours in the tavern below, watching other men grow rowdier as they consumed Cuthbert’s beverages. Men pawed at their women or a barmaid. How had Elizabeth survived in this for months? Before that, she lived at Longbourn and with all of its noise. He tried to not take it so personally that she needed some space from him. After they married, even if she deeply loved him, there would be a period of separation. During the day they would each have their tasks. There might be a time when he had to travel without her. Indeed, that she could be so independent was an asset. He would not like a wife that senselessly clung to him.

No, what gnawed at him was the way she avoided discussing what she felt about things. She had informed him of events, and while she cried, it seemed as no more emotional than a journalist reporting the news. He could guess what everything she had gone through did to her, but Elizabeth seemed entirely reluctant to voice any of it. How he wished he could knock down the walls of her heart!

Someday, he told himself. Eventually, he would her trust. One day, she would know to draw comfort from him. All he had to do was prove his loyalty and fidelity. When put that way, he was assured of success, and it would not even be difficult for him for nothing could end his love.

The sun was slipping low in the sky and dinner was being served when Darcy returned to his chamber. He found Elizabeth waiting for him at the settee, their trays already brought in. She looked refreshed and gave him a smile. He took that as a good sign.

“I hope you enjoyed your afternoon,” he said as he sat beside her and kissed her cheek.

“Indeed. I apologise for being short with you earlier. I cannot put it into words, but I have restless. I cannot abide being cooped up in a room for so long.”

“Once we leave, we could arrange a time on each day to give you a satisfactory walk.”

“You would do that?” Elizabeth asked as she prepared Darcy’s tea.

“I would do anything for you,” he said seriously. His were not the empty words of so many suitors. “You need only ask.”

Darcy watched Elizabeth’s reaction. Did she believe him? Would she ever? Suddenly, it occurred to him that if he wanted her to be more open, he ought to show the same willingness. They talked about light things while they ate. Afterward, Elizabeth read to them from the book she had discarded earlier in the day. Supper arrived around nine, and after eating, they prepared for bed. It was there, as Darcy drew Elizabeth to his side that he would tell her of Georgiana.

“You asked earlier about my sister, but I did not tell you everything.”

“Do you fear my reaction? You should not after all I have explained to you.”

“No, I do not think you will be harsh on her. First, I did not want to tell you because I did not want to sway your opinion. Then, I did not want to tell you because we seemed to have enough battles and I did not want to add to your distress.”

“Is it so upsetting then?”

Darcy’s arms reflexively tightened. “I can scarcely imagine a grimmer subject.”

For a moment, Darcy’s thoughts were pulled back to the day when he finally heard the terrible truth from his sister. It had come after he had returned from Hertfordshire. He had left her in London after weeks of her being so crippled with depression she could not leave her chamber or eat. She had refused to speak or accept visits from her friends. She shunned any mention of the pianoforte or music. It was not the tears Darcy had expected when he told her of Wickham’s abandonment. It was as though Georgiana was empty on the inside.

“You care for her very much,” Elizabeth said as she pushed a lock away from his brow. Her hand rested at his temple, and she applied gentle pressure in a circular motion.

“Before you, she was the only person I had left in my life to love. I idolized my parents. It took no sacrifice on my part to love them. Georgiana had never known our mother, and I think that is essential to understand about this story. When our father died, I became more than a brother to her.”

“Was there no one else she could look to for a father figure? That is quite a lot of responsibility for such a young man. What did you know about raising a girl her age—or any at all—while you were not more than…?”

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

“You were not more than two and twenty. I suppose you had full guardianship over her?”

“No,” Darcy answered. “A cousin on my mother’s side was also awarded guardianship in my father’s will. However, he is currently a colonel in the Regulars and has had little time to devote to his charge. Of course, by then the damage was done. Although we did not know it. I am certain even my father did not know.”

Darcy’s throat dried as palms grew sweaty. His heart raced and his belly twisted in pain alternating between butterflies for Elizabeth’s response and the disgust such memories always provoked.

“You may tell me anything,” Elizabeth encouraged. “I have…” She trailed off as she wiped a tear, drawing Darcy’s eyes to focus on her. “Nothing can disturb me very much. I am no longer the sheltered miss you knew in Hertfordshire. I cannot explain the peace sharing my troubles with you has begun to give me. Will you not allow me to hear of your trials in exchange?”

Staring into Elizabeth’s glittering eyes, filled with remorse and pain at least partly for his sake although she did not know what it was, Darcy was more lost than ever. He could never deserve her love. He might never have it. However, she offered him this moment. A moment of reprieve and understanding. A precious, sacred moment he had prayed for in ardent longing for months. He sealed her offering with a kiss, then pulled her head to rest over his heart. For one more minute, he remained silent, drawing strength and comfort from her touch.

“Father had a friend who would visit. After Mother died, it seemed he came more often. However, he was busy with his own family in those years. When Georgiana was about five or six years old, this man became quite taken with her. I was just entering University, so I do not know how frequently he came to Pemberley. We were told his own wife had taken a lover and kept his daughter from him. He could exercise his right legally but claimed he loved her and could not dishonour her even if she did so to him. He knew, too, that it would grieve his little girl to pull her from her mother. Whatever faults the wife had, her love for their child seemed genuine. As such, he was always welcome to visit Georgiana in the nursery. He was allowed to take her on walks around the grounds. He lavished her with attention on these visits and brought gifts. I remember thinking she loved him more than us.”

If Elizabeth could sense what he was about to say, she did not react at all. Perhaps she had more innocence about her than she claimed. Perhaps her loving heart could not imagine all the horrors of the world. For a moment, Darcy hesitated. He hated having to tell her of such ugliness. However, she asked for him to be open and he now believed it a necessary part of creating trust between them.

“That man—that monster I should say—was not treating Georgiana as a daughter as we had so long believed. He treated her as a mistress.”

How Darcy Saved Christmas– Chapter Two

how darcy saved christmas 1Previous Chapters: One

Chapter Two

Fitzwilliam Darcy stomped through his woods toward the great house on the hill. It sat empty now; more like a tomb than a home. He should not have allowed the beautiful termagant to get under his skin, but he was in a foul mood this day. He could not forget that on this day three years ago, his sister died bringing a Wickham child into the world. However, the man that defiled her and brought about her death likely even now did not mourn her. He was probably too busy slaking his lust with the tavern maids to remember his departed wife.

Darcy clenched and unclenched his fists. He had been invited to Mr. Fisher’s for the evening, and he needed to calm himself. The year of Georgiana’s death, most of the area mourned with him. The following year, most people continued to remember her and did not invite him to festivities out of deference. Last year, invitations began again. This year, it was clear the rest of the world had moved on.

He knew the area depended upon him to lead in the Christmas spirit. His parents had hosted lavish balls for the gentry and gatherings for the townspeople, even the tenants. His sister had inherited their mother’s compassionate and lively character. For years she would plan each activity, insisted upon finding the yule log themselves, and showed the housemaids the best way to tie bows.

Perhaps if Darcy did not blame himself, he could more readily join the others. However, it was all his fault. He had failed her at some point, or she would not have eloped with the steward’s son. She returned to Pemberley a few weeks later, her new husband said he did not have the means to support her. Would she not allow them to live there?

Darcy had doubted the legality of the marriage. He journeyed to Gretna Green to find proof that they had actually reached the town and wed. It was a stupid custom, in his opinion, to allow anyone to marry over an anvil. However, his most significant concern was that they had never reached Scotland and George only used her for his pleasure.

He should have known better. Why would George miss an opportunity to attach himself to Darcy money, and thirty thousand pounds at that? The fact that George never asked for her money confused Darcy even more. Before anything was decided legally, she perished from pregnancy complications.

Pushing aside the memories, Darcy approached his dressing room. His valet awaited him with a bath and shaving supplies. These simple things had kept him going during the darkest days of his grief. Wearing the luxurious fabrics his wealth afforded him, the deferential murmurs and gazes of servants, having everything designed precisely to his liking all soothed him and reminded him that Pemberley, at least, he could control.

As it was, he both hated any mention of Georgiana and resented it when she was not brought up. What made him accept Mr. Fisher’s invitation, he was not sure. He had rejected offers from all the local gentry. Perhaps it was because Mr. Fisher knew his grief. His oldest daughter died at Georgiana’s age and the other married about ten years ago. As such, Mr. Fisher always knew exactly what to say—never too much and never too little.

At the appropriate time, Darcy arrived at Mr. Fisher’s house. He was shown into the drawing room and was surprised to see several faces he did not know. Mr. Fisher soon performed introductions and Darcy met his younger daughter, who had married a gentleman named Gardiner. With them was Mr. Gardiner’s niece, Elizabeth Bennet. The young lady was facing away from Darcy when he entered, but something about the way she held herself seemed familiar to him. When she finished her conversation with another guest, and Mr. Fisher went to introduce Elizabeth to Darcy, she turned to look at him.

They each visibly started, and Darcy was aware of the curious gazes of others. Why Miss Bennet was confused to see was him, Darcy did not know. Did she not believe him when he had introduced himself in the woods? For that matter, why should he be surprised to see her? She did say she was a relation to Mr. Fisher. Elizabeth’s lips turned up into an enchanting smile, and Darcy felt his pulse quicken. He had thought her exceedingly pretty in the forest with her rosy cheeks and eyes brightened by exercise and their conversation. However, he was even more annoyed by her trespassing, especially to collect holly berries.

“It is a pleasure to meet to, you Mr. Darcy,” she said and curtsied. “I have heard much about you.”

“Indeed?” What had been said about him? By now, he should know that all visitors to the area had heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Pemberley. Due to the situation of his birth, Darcy would never have the privacy other gentlemen experienced. This was nothing new, and yet he felt jealous that anyone else had spoken of him to Miss Bennet. Then again, he probably did not leave her with a very good impression of himself given their encounter in the woods.

“My Aunt and Mrs. Fisher have told me many stories of Pemberley and its Christmas celebrations. I confess I am sorry to miss them.”

What a clever minx she was! She did not tell him she had heard anything bad of him. She only acknowledged that she heard of Pemberley’s festivities and now they were gone. That she disapproved of the change was left unsaid. Darcy hardly cared whether she condoned his choices or not. What could she know of his trials?

Before he could reply, dinner was called. Mrs. Fisher had ordered a delicious meal and Darcy noted there were not too many decorations. There was one, however, the that struck him. Mrs. Fisher saw him looking at it.

“Miss Darcy embroidered that screen,” she pointed to where he was staring. “She gave it to me mere days before we heard the sad news of her demise. She had said she knew I would appreciate always having dear Harriet with us.” Mrs. Fisher wiped a tear from her eye. “She was such a sweet, loving child. I greatly miss her.”

“I am sure you do, ma’am,” was all Darcy could say lest he be given to tears as well.

“I do not cry for Harriet,” she said. “I do still miss her and always will, but a distance of twenty years eases the pain. No, I meant Miss Darcy. It seems as though she had just come back to us after her years at school only for them to be cut short. I like to think that Harriet is watching over Georgiana and teaching her the ways of Heaven.”

When she had done every eye at the table was misty and looked at Darcy with pity. Every eye, except for Elizabeth Bennet’s. Oh, he saw sympathy in them. However, he also saw curiosity. Darcy internally groaned. He had thought when they first met she would be too uncivil to mind her own business. She said she had heard of him, which he took to mean she had asked after him. Yet she did not seem to know about Georgiana’s existence let alone of her death. What was it the others had said about him? To him, Georgiana’s death made his entire world. It was his duty to protect his baby sister, and he had failed. There could be no going back from that.

Mr. Fisher quickly turned the conversation to other things and Darcy mentally think him. After the meal, the ladies went to the drawing room, but Darcy excused himself from remaining with the men under the guise of needing to check on his horse. He needed a moment to collect himself. As he slowly approached the stable, he heard the voices of young children and laughter. He was in no mood for such mirth, and thought to leave, but stepped on a twig which made a loud snapping sound. There was sudden silence then a flurry of whispering from inside the stable.

“Who goes there?” A young boy called out.

“I am Mr. Darcy,” Darcy said.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth’s voice said.

“You may enter,” the voice of the first child said. “But keep your hands where I can see them. Or else we will make you walk the plank.”

Intrigued and enjoying the idea of the distraction the children would give, Darcy chuckled and entered the stable with his hands high in the air. “I come unarmed. I mean you no harm.”

“That is for us to decide,” another boy said. “Lizzy you pat him down and see if he has weapons.”

Immediately, Darcy and Elizabeth both blushed red. She would not dare obey, would she? If she did, it would only prove what he had expected of her. She was mercenary and hoping to entrap him. Darcy had met many greedy ladies in his life. However, for some reason his heart sank at the idea of the young lady who would argue with him and had sat across from him at dinner all night without simpering and seeking his good opinion would be as shallow as nearly every other woman he had ever met.

“That will be quite unnecessary, Joshua,” Elizabeth said as she blushed and averted her eyes.

“That’s Captain!” the boy cried.

“Yes, of course.”

“Ye can stay if ye swab the deck,” Captain Joshua said and pointed to a shovel and a stable needing cleaning.

Elizabeth watched Darcy as he obediently took the shovel in hand and expertly began scooping out the stable. He could nearly feel Elizabeth’s eyes grow wide in wonder. The boys voiced their amazement.

“Who knew a stuffed shirt could shovel so well!”

“Caleb!” Elizabeth scolded.

“What?” the boy asked in a confused voice.

“It is disrespectful to call Mr. Darcy—or anyone—a stuffed shirt.”

“But he is.”

Elizabeth sighed. “If you want a position in the house when you get older like your father, then you will have to mind your manners.”

Darcy set aside the shovel for a moment and turned to watch the scene. Elizabeth stood before the boys with hands on her hips and a severe expression. The younger boy had his arms folded on his chest, and his face displayed an impressive stubbornness.

“Now, you should apologise to Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said.

“I ain’t,” Caleb said and raised his chin in defiance.

“Then, I shall tell your father.”

“Come on,” Joshua said and placed a hand on his brother. “Let’s just finish our work. Get on with it, so Papa isn’t told.”

“Fine,” Caleb stomped his foot and turned to Darcy. “I’m sorry for calling you a stuffed shirt since it looks like you’re not.”

Darcy would have chuckled, but Elizabeth continued to look displeased.

“Caleb.”

“I’m sorry for calling you a stuffed shirt.” Caleb bowed.

“You are forgiven,” Darcy said. “A lot of gentlemen do stuff their shirts after all.”

Elizabeth gasped and covered her mouth to muffle a giggle while the boys outright laughed.

“No wonder Papa likes you,” Joshua said.

Strangely, Darcy wondered if he had ever heard higher praise. He knew his own servants respected him, but to be liked by another’s staff was more remarkable. After all, he did not pay them. “Tell your father that I appreciate his good opinion. Jessop is one of the best butlers I have encountered.”

Again, Elizabeth gasped, and Darcy wondered why she seemed so astonished to hear him praise a servant.

“How did you get so good at shoveling manure?” Caleb asked and came closer. All his earlier defiance and anger was long gone.

“My father gave me such tasks when I was about your age,” he answered. “He thought I needed to know every facet of running an estate.”

Caleb scooted even closer. “Didn’t you hate it? It smells something awful.”

Darcy chuckled. “One becomes accustomed to it, as they do with everything.” Well, nearly everything. He had not entirely become accustomed to losing Georgiana. “Come, show me. I would wager a pence you cannot clean all this area in five minutes.”

“I sure can!” Caleb said.

In his haste to take the shovel from Darcy, the boy knocked over a pail. The noise startled a litter of puppies.

“Oh, the pups! They are why I came to the stables in the first place,” Elizabeth said. “Will you show me them now, boys?”

Joshua looked between Darcy and Elizabeth. “If I scoop out the other stall will I also get a pence?”

“Let me see,” Darcy said. “It is only fair if yours is fuller.” Darcy looked at the stall in question and nodded to the boy. “Very well.”

Joshua turned to Elizabeth. “Maybe Mr. Darcy can show you the pups. We’ve got work to do!”

Darcy had not considered staying any longer but was not averse to the suggestion. He glanced at Elizabeth whose eyes danced in joy as she watched the boys. She turned her gaze to him, and wariness flickered across her face.

“I should return to the house. It will be dark soon, and I would not wish to trouble you.” She turned to leave.

Panic welled in Darcy. She should not leave so soon. He had been wrong in his first impression and now desired to know more of the contradictory lady before him with her smart retorts but cautious looks. “It is no trouble,” he said. “I know the way quite well, and I think I might need to clean off my boots.”

Elizabeth angled her head to glance at his boots. “Very well, sir.”

Darcy gave her a small smile, and the lines between her brows returned. He grabbed a bucket and brush before they walked out and to the other edge of the stable. The dog pen opened to the outside and the furry lumps fell over each other to reach Elizabeth. Darcy sat on a stool and got to work on his boots, watching Elizabeth snuggle each pup as though they were meant for lap dogs and not hunting. Georgiana had been the same. She had such a tender heart for any living creature.

“Would you care to hold one?” Elizabeth asked.

He should not. He was scraping manure off his boots like some common man, and now he would get puppy fur on his fine blue coat. A refusal was on the tip of his tongue but one look into Elizabeth’s eyes and his resolve melted. He wordlessly held out his hands, mourning the fact that their fingers would have touched if not for the leather of their gloves.

The small bundle had no care for Darcy’s masculine dignity and proceeded to lick his face while yapping happily. Despite himself, Darcy felt his lips turn up in a smile. Soon, he was laughing at the tickling sensation.

“I knew it,” Elizabeth smiled.

“What?”

“It is impossible to be unhappy near a puppy.”

Her words made Darcy lower his handful, the puppy whined in protest. “You believed I was unhappy?”

Elizabeth gave him a shaky smile and tears shimmered in her eyes. “Anyone who has lost a sister would be.”

“Your aunt does not seem unhappy.”

“No, but as Mrs. Fisher said, it was many years ago. We lost Lydia just last year and…”

She trailed off and could not continue. Her shoulders shook. Darcy deposited his dog back in the pen and took Elizabeth’s from her hands. Leading her to the stool, she sat, and he crouched to wipe the tears from her face.

“Lydia was your sister?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth somberly nodded. “The last time I ever saw her I called her silly and stupid. How the words haunt me!”

Darcy’s heart squeezed for the young lady before him. His last words to Georgiana were not unkind, but they had spent months arguing about George. “What happened?”

He had expected to hear of some awful accident. Instead, Elizabeth told him her sister eloped with an officer from the Militia that was encamped near her estate.

“She was too young,” Elizabeth sighed. “She had just turned sixteen, and the baby was too big, we were told.”

Elizabeth’s tears turned to sobs, and at the similarities in their pain, he was helpless against drawing her to his chest and wrapping his arms around her. She soon settled and pulled back, the perplexed look upon her face again. Darcy watched as a lone tear glittered in an eye filled with remorse and pain. She blinked, and the tear escaped, streaking down her cheek. Darcy caught it with his thumb as it brushed her lips. Lips which now captivated him. He angled his head down, not thinking or caring for anything but this moment with a beautiful woman in his arms who could share his pain. Elizabeth did not protest or move a muscle. Just before their mouths met, Darcy heard the pounding sound of running feet.

He jerked back, desire making it hard to breathe or focus. Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide with terror.

“Mr. Darcy, it’s been longer than five minutes, but we finished, sir!” Joshua called.

“I finished first!” Caleb yelled.

“Just a moment.” Darcy looked over his shoulder at the boys. “Go on back, I will be right there.”

From the angle Darcy sat at, Elizabeth was shielded from their view unless they came any closer. They obeyed, and Elizabeth let out a sigh. Darcy released Elizabeth from his hold, and she practically jumped from him.

“I—I—” she stammered then shook her head. “You are not what I first thought,” she said with wrinkled brow but growing more comfortable. “Thank you.” She approached and moved to place a hand on his arm.

“Return to the house, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said coldly.

What had just happened—nay, almost happened—could never be. He knew nothing about her but that her uncle was a merchant, her aunt the daughter of a shopkeeper and the magistrate, and she had a sister who eloped. Once, he would have scoffed at the sister’s morals and maybe questioned the entire Bennet family, but he could not cast the first stone. Whether of a good family or not, Darcy was not the sort of man who would steal a kiss from an innocent maiden. He would not be inconsiderate to her expectations and feelings. He would not be like his brother-in-law! Angry at himself and the bewitching spell she had cast over him, he infused all his frustration into his tone. Even still, Elizabeth hesitated.

“Now!” He said furiously as he turned to find the boys.

Motivational Monday– Slow Progress

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A lot of writers spend November manically trying to write 50,000 words in a month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo). It’s really not so unattainable for the average full-time writer. It averages out to 1667 words a day, which I can do in about an hour. As long as I know what I’m writing… And the hardest part is always the consistency–doing it every day. If you miss a day, then you’re playing catch up and trying to add to it. Miss more than one and it’s even harder etc.

November is a hard month for me. The first time I tried NaNo was in 2014. I had two published stories (well, one was on pre-order). I had completed several other stories before but had never tried to do an entire novel in one month. I got sooo close! If memory serves, I got to 45,000 words and had one day left. I could have made it. However, I was moving literally the next day and my kids–only 4 and 1 at the time–needed a return to normalcy. My son has Autism Spectrum Disorder the fall wreaks havoc on his routine. He shifts from waking up at 6 am to waking up at 5 am. He just turned 8 and by now, I have accepted this. In 2014, I was far less prepared to accept the reality of more 5 am (or earlier) wakeups.

I’m mentioning my history with NaNo because the other day I saw a Facebook status which upset me. It was a memory of one of my status from 2014. I was working on a story in which Darcy was to inherit Longbourn and Lady Catherine’s rector. Essentially, he was Mr. Collins. How would Elizabeth react? About 20,000 words into it, I realized this should just be an original story. I had already started writing the story before November began, so I realized that within a few days of the month. I spent the remainder of the month working on that story and changed all the names and tried to make it not like Pride and Prejudice. Then November ended and I froze. The almost completed manuscript is still on my hard drive.

I didn’t stop there though. I did turn my attention to other things but for the last four years, I have dusted off that manuscript every few months. I’ve sent it to beta readers and asked if it should really be an original. I’ve even thought that I could do both–make an original and keep the premise of Darcy in Collins’ place and write two different stories. In 2016, I came up with a series theme focusing on one real-life event from the Regency era per book. I had a few other non-JAFF stories that would work perfectly in the series. However, I had the most words on this story and it would have been the last one in the series. So I started on what was supposed to be Book One. Last year, I realized that book is really a prequel and they don’t do well until the rest of the series is out. I abandoned that story. Earlier this year, I realized that I should just round out the books and make it the full Regency. I started on the new Book One of the series and gave everything new titles. The Baronet’s Heart is now Tempting Scandal. I began posting but then got caught up with other things.

Can you see why I’m disappointed in myself? So much start and stop. So little progress. But is it really? I have learned a lot about myself, writing, my goals and so much more during each of these stops.

Oh, there’s more that I could be disappointed about. Things never go according to plan. I’m working on 2019 goals right now and know I won’t reach half of them. Sigh. However, this pic has reminded me that forward is forward and looking back at my supposed “failings” doesn’t help a thing!

When is a time you had to focus on just moving forward and not worrying about the timing? Or is there something in your life right now that this could apply to? Oh, and in case you were curious, my goal this November is to write at least 500 words every day! I did miss one, but instead of despairing I just said, “The whole point is to learn to do better and be more consistent. I will make mistakes at the beginning, but hopefully, by the end of the month I will be doing better.” That’s MAJOR progress for me, a perfectionist in recovery!

Treasured– Chapter Seven

treasured finalI’m FINALLY within a few chapters of ending the story (not here…but where I am in writing) so I am hoping to post Treasured more frequently this week!

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


Chapter Seven

 

“Young man,” Mr. Bennet stood in the open doorway, bringing Will’s attention to it. “Follow me, if you please.”

Will followed the patriarch to his library, knowing the rebuke his betrothed’s father would be giving him. Will sat opposite Mr. Bennet and patiently waited for the older man to begin.

“Will, I tire of seeing my daughter with tears in her eyes because of you.” Mr. Bennet sighed.

“It tears at my heart as well,” Will agreed. “Are you rescinding your blessing?” The papers had been signed but had not been mailed to his solicitor yet.

“And have her angry with me as well?” Bennet laughed. “No, but we must resolve this latest complication as fast as possible. What is your plan? I can assume it must be foolish and reckless to upset Lizzy so.”

Will blew out the breath he had been holding. “If Wickham wants to kill me then we have the surest chance of capturing him if he feels assured of his success. He does not know that his plan with the carriage almost worked. It is likely he will attempt such a scheme again.”

“So, you will endanger your life?”

“I see no other way.”

Suddenly, the door to the library banged open. Turning to see the intruder, Will’s heart seized to see Elizabeth standing in the doorframe with puffy eyes and tear streaks on her cheeks. She held a crumpled paper in her hand. A determined glint was in her eyes, but she gently shut the door before saying her piece. Once the door was closed, she sailed forward and demurely sat in a chair near her father’s desk before addressing them both.

“It is not the only way. This may be indelicate for me to suggest, but how does Wickham hold his liquor?”

“It was many years ago when we were last in company,” Will began to answer. “However, even when in his cups he seemed more in control of his faculties than others such as—”

“Such as Sam,” Elizabeth answered and nodded. “One night while we stayed at Darcy House, I found him in a drunken state and unable to open his chamber door. The drink had loosened his lips*. I did not understand all that he was saying then, but now I know he was explaining his regret over the engagement with Charlotte Lucas.”

“What are you suggesting?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“Ply him with drink and see if he will spill his secrets,” Elizabeth said with furrowed brows and pleading eyes.

“Do you think that will work?” Bennet asked Will.

“I doubt it,” Will shook his head. “Forgive me, love. It is very innovative, and I dare say on many another man it would work. However, I have never seen Wickham talk when he preferred to be silent.”

“Is it not worth trying?” Elizabeth approached and laid a hand on Will’s arm. Anguish filled her eyes and tears threatened to overspill once more. “At least attempt this before you risk your life.”

Will gulped and slowly nodded. “We will try it,” he murmured.

Truthfully, he had little hope of success but how could he not offer her this balm? Will had spent years wishing he had done something differently the night of the fire in Scotland. He might have saved his father and friends’ lives. If Elizabeth had an alternative, no matter how confident he was of its failure, he would allow her the opportunity to see it in motion. If anything happened to him, he did not wish for her to feel as though they had not done everything else possible.

“You will?” Elizabeth’s voice contained a mixture of disbelief and relief. Her shoulders sagged and let out a long exhale.

“How shall you manage that?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“We will have to have someone else approached him. He would be far too guarded if it were me or anyone associated with us. We can probably find somebody willing to get drunk for a few pounds.”

“Keep me apprised of your plans, please,” Mr. Bennet said, nodding at Will.

“Papa, may speak with Will privately?”

“Very well,” Bennet stood. “However, the door stays open.”

Will did not even pay attention to Elizabeth’s father as he left the room. His eyes were focused entirely on his betrothed. The minute he said they would try her plan, he became entranced. Would she always have this hold over him? He was utterly fascinating captivated by the many sides of her. At the moment, she held his gaze with softened eyes. What had he ever done to deserve the look of love he saw there? He had thrown away her love when she first offered it. Since his return into her life, they had quarreled and feared for their lives. They desperately needed a routine courtship. A part of Will knew, however, they would not get it. He would simply court her after they married.

“What changed your mind?”

Will shrugged. “I love you. This concerns you just as much as it does me. You have a stake in the matter, and your idea should be listened to.”

“Is that all?”

“I could sense how desperately you wanted to try this method. I do not wish to lie, Elizabeth. I think it unlikely that it will succeed. However, not only does it make sense to try it, I knew it would assuage some of your anxiety.” Will dropped his head for a moment and took a deep breath before bringing his eyes and back up to meet her gaze. “I know what it is to be haunted by remorse and regret, constantly feeling as though you might have done something different to prevent catastrophe.  I would not put you through that. If you have any other suggestions, I will hear them out, and we will attempt them. If this were should happen–”

“Hush, my love.” Elizabeth placed a finger on Will’s lips to silence them. “Do not speak about that. Do not even think it. We shall be victorious. I believe that with every beat of my heart. Thank you for agreeing to my suggestion.”

Elizabeth lowered her hand and turned the crumpled paper over in them for a moment. Her eyes lingered over the note before returning to Will’s. “I am very sorry to hear that you have regret and feel as though you could have prevented something happening. Do I understand that you reference the fire?”

Will could not speak, the emotions threatened to well up once more. He nodded and knew that would be enough for Elizabeth.

“Has it helped at all to know that it was arson? If you had been with your father or Sam, you could not have prevented the fire. A madman was determined to set fire to the inn that night. If you had been with them, you probably would have perished as well.”

Will blinked at what Elizabeth said. Suddenly awe and understanding flitted through him, and a weight the size of a house lifted from his shoulders. “I had not thought of that. I have been so consumed with blaming myself that I did not even consider it in that light.” Will enveloped Elizabeth’s hands in his. “Thank you, my dearest. You always know what to say.”

Elizabeth lately chuckled. “I would not go that far.” Her soft smile began to fade, and she grew serious once more. “No matter the cause of the fire, it would not have been your fault they died. Accidents happen, and there is no one to blame. However, I am pleased if what I said brought some comfort to you. I hate that you have blamed yourself and felt wretched for so long. Why do you do it? Why do you think everything is your responsibility and that if the smallest thing goes wrong, you have failed? You are only human.”

Will’s eyes shuttered close at Elizabeth’s words. “You did not see much of my father. He was a very good man, but he had high expectations for the Darcy family. The ways of charm and grace did not come naturally to me, so I often felt inexplicably flawed and doomed to failure, unable to live up to the Darcy legacy.”

“I see,” Elizabeth nodded. “So continuing to accept only perfection from yourself has eased those feelings?”

“No. I suppose not.” Will furrowed his brow. “The Darcy legacy demands the best. With me at the helm, it feels as though one blunder after another.”

“One blunder after another? I suppose your tenants are starving and their roofs caving in? Your servants are owed money or leave en masse? You have no friends and no admittance to any events wherever you go. You have debts at every shop in every town you ever visited, and no creditor would weight your entrance to his establishment.”

A small slowly crept over Will’s face. “Fair enough, clever minx. None of those things are true. I know I do very fine by the Darcy accounts. The Darcy name is as strong as ever it was my father’s lifetime and continues to command respect. However, I failed to save my father’s life, I failed you, I failed Georgiana.”

Once more, Elizabeth silenced him with a finger to his lips. “Do you not see? All those things revolve around other people’s choices. You cannot control everything, Will Darcy. I am pleased to hear that the accounts do well, you are wise with investments, and others continue to respect you. However, even those things do not rely entirely on your actions. Do not judge yourself by the success of this or that. Those things do not determine your worth.”

“Are not most people given to arrogance and conceit? Would not most people fail to inspect themselves and admit when they have done wrong?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I suppose you could say that. However, thinking you have done wrong where there is no responsibility is just as terrible.”

“How so?”

“For some, that would only be false modesty and really would be an indirect boast. I have done so terribly, and then their final say own know you have not, and inwardly the person will congratulate themselves. I know that is not your feelings. No, yours speaks to hurt and insecurity. When you continue to feed that feeling, it will infect more and more facets of your life. Right now, it is mostly centered on Wickham, but it has affected your relationship with me in the past. You admit that you never told Georgiana about the scoundrel. I know your relationship with her at the moment is not what you would like it to be and perhaps you cannot fully expose what Wickham is to her for she will not listen. Again, that relies on her as well as you. However, if you interpret everything as a failure in those situations, you will tell yourself that is all you are. You will lack the confidence you need to make wise decisions on other matters.”

“I do not think I have ever heard such things before. I certainly have never considered them. How wise and right you are, my love. Thank you. I shall try to do better.” Will looked down Elizabeth’s hands, she continued to finger the note she held. “Is that my message to you from yesterday?”

Elizabeth looked down as well.” Yes. With all the excitement of yesterday. I did not have a chance to read it. When I left you in the drawing room and ran up to my chamber, I noticed it on the table. However I garnered your attention, I do not know. I am forever grateful for it, though. Reading your words of love, your devotion to me and to the future we will build, allowed me to see the reason behind your choice. You did not suggest to bait Wickham because you have no desire to be with me or just shorten your life. You have only wanted to end this so we might have our future at last. Once my mind was clear, I recalled the situation with Sam and knew that I could suggest the idea to you. I did not know if you would agree to it. Nor do I want you to do so merely out of deference. However, I was unable to think of it in the drawing room. All was doom and gloom in my head until I read your loving words.”

Will squeezed Elizabeth’s hands again before raising them to his lips. He would have liked for much more but was conscious of the fact that they had been alone for quite a while, even if the door was open. “I meant every word. I will love you until my dying breath. Now, I believe we should join your family. There ought to be congratulations in order.”

“Do you mean he has–?” Elizabeth’s hands flew to her mouth to contain a squeal of delight. “Oh, Jane will be delighted!”

“Yes, Charles has asked your father for courtship with Jane.”

“Well, it is about time. Although,” Elizabeth slid Will a sly glance. “I suppose not everyone is as rapid to the altar as we.”

“Considering that when I proposed five years ago, I expected a marriage within months, I would say we have taken quite the adventurous route to get to it.”

“It will make us enjoy the moment all the more.”

“I know I shall.” Will raise Elizabeth hands to her his lips once more. Before allowing himself to be escorted to the drawing room.