Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Three

Road in dark forest

The following morning, after the food had been cleared from the breakfast table and Mrs. Bennet ordered the school things brought out for the little ones, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kate made their way to Mr. Bennet’s library. He had been asked by the steward to pay a call on a tenant, and so the girls occupied themselves in his absence.

“Did any of you suspect we were witches or that they even existed?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth vehemently shook her head. “No, never! I am not known for a sweet temper, but I had never guessed that I was secretly a pyrotechnic!”

Kate chewed her lip. “I had forgotten entirely about the dreams I used to have until yesterday. In fact, I haven’t dreamt at all in years until last night. I suppose that is why it seemed so unusual to me.”

Elizabeth surveyed her sisters. Like her, Jane seemed to feel no apprehension about their new powers, but Kate appeared less content. Elizabeth wondered if Jane could use her empath powers on Kate. Jane had always been very conscientious of the feelings of others. Perhaps she had retained a bit of her powers all these years. Elizabeth gasped at a sudden memory. “Jane, do you remember that time when Lydia took my ribbon and would not give it back? I singed her hair when I ripped it out of her braid and Mother scolded me like never before.”

Jane laughed. “Now that you mention it, I do. What about when my favorite barn cat disappeared for days, and I was inconsolable? I cried so much I made myself sick!”

Elizabeth smiled. “Then the dratted thing turned up a few days later with six kittens?”

“I named them “happy” in different languages.”

Kate’s eyes grew wide. “How old were you?”

“Seven or eight?” Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded, for confirmation. “Tell us a story, Kate.”

Elizabeth smiled at Jane’s thoughtfulness and hoped it might make Kate feel more at ease. Elizabeth and Jane had immediately accepted Kate, and all the others, into their family but in the last few months, their relationship with Kate had changed. She always wished to tag after them, but being nearly four years younger than Elizabeth, was not in company until only a few weeks ago. Now, it was difficult for Elizabeth to see Kate as a young woman and not as a child. No matter the differences in their ages, it seemed like now there were constant reminders that Kate was a step-sister and not blood. She was now formally “Miss Morland” rather than “Miss Catherine” when in public.

Kate screwed up her face as though she was trying very hard to remember something…anything. “Besides the dreams I told you about last night, I always knew when my brother James would prank us on April Fool Day.”

Elizabeth exchanged glances with Jane. For as long as she had known James he could never keep a secret. He would drop hints about his plans, and in the end, only a true fool would be left unaware.

“Lizzy!” Jane scolded although Elizabeth had said nothing.

Elizabeth tried to look apologetic as she realized Jane must have sensed her thoughts. However, she would not apologize for the truth. Besides, she felt proud of her sister’s abilities and could not hide an expression of pride.

“What?” Kate looked between the two.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said too quickly, and Kate raised her eyebrows expectantly. “I had a sarcastic thought — but did not say it — and Jane must have sensed it. Well done, Jane!” Lizzy beamed.

“I hardly see why you need to be so excited over being sarcastic at my expense,” Kate frowned.

“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy to see how quickly Jane is learning to use her powers. At least you two can practice and learn without potentially harming someone. I hope Father returns soon so he might begin teaching me.”

Jane nodded. “Let us forget about magic for a few minutes. What did you think of the ball?”

Inwardly, Elizabeth smiled as Jane was once again the peacemaker. Kate immediately filled with nervous fluttering like a butterfly. The blush on her cheeks confirmed what Elizabeth guessed. Catherine was infatuated with her dance partner from the night before. Elizabeth wished the blush she felt rise in her was from such pleasant thoughts.  As thunderous thoughts filled her mind, her skin grew hot.

“Lizzy!” Jane quickly grabbed wine from her father’s cabinet and thrust a glass into her sister’s hand. “Lizzy, calm yourself.”

Steam rose from the glass as Elizabeth brought the drink to her lips.

“That’s it,” Jane encouraged another sip. “Now take a deep breath.”

Elizabeth complied.

“There. Better?”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking. “I did not expect… I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said quietly.

“Kate,” Jane said in a voice that was higher than normal. “Tell us about Mr. Henry Tilney. I did not speak with him last night, but I saw you two dancing.”

“I do not quite know what to think of him.”

“He’s very handsome,” Elizabeth said still more subdued than usual.

“He is,” Kate beamed.

“And I thought I saw you laughing?” Jane asked.

Kate giggled and then pressed her hand to her lips in an attempt to muffle the unladylike reaction. “We were having a genuine conversation, and he interrupted it for silly nonsense about if I like music and the theater. Things like that.”

Skepticism flared in Elizabeth, and hot tingles returned. “Does he think that such things are nonsense—”

“It was the way he said things,” Kate spoke over her sister. “The tone and expression… He was making a joke of things.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth calmed and smiled.

“I believe I am indebted to him for bringing up more usual topics of conversation for new acquaintances,” Kate said with a frown. “I quite forgot them and am afraid I was nearly impertinent.”

On the subject of impertinence, Elizabeth had to tell her younger sister what Mr. Darcy had said. Surprisingly, Jane’s expression turned dazed, and soon she closed her eyes as though concentrating. It reminded Elizabeth of attempting to make out a noise in the distance.

“Jane?” Lizzy called sharply.

Jane opened her eyes as Kate waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you ill? Did you hear us?”

“I’m perfectly well,” she smiled at them. “I was only lost in thought. What did you say?”

Elizabeth’s dark feelings returned, but not as unchecked as before. “I told Kate what I heard Mr. Darcy say.”

“Do attempt to forget it,” Jane said. She took Elizabeth’s’s hand in hers. “Do not judge him by one evening.”

Elizabeth’s nostrils flared. “Is not one evening more than fair when he judged me with a mere glance?”

“It was very wrong of him to say such things, and if you were merely finding his looks at fault, I would not reproach you. But you attack his character when you do not truly know it.”

“He attacked mine too. It is not only beauty that attracts dance partners. He supposed I did not make good conversation or was not a good dancer — ”

“You are leaping to conclusions!” Jane interrupted.

“Besides,” said Kate, “how does poor dancing mean bad character?”

“Perhaps — perhaps it would mean I was unintelligent or too arrogant to pay attention during my lessons or lazy or —” Elizabeth broke out in laughter and defeat as she recognized the ridiculousness of her claims.

“What has my girls in such a good mood?” Mr. Bennet said as he came into the room.

The sisters said nothing but grinned at him, and he sat behind his desk.

“I suppose you have many questions,” the ladies nodded their heads in unison. “I have worked up a schedule for each of you. You will have time to learn magical theory as well as practical application. I must warn you,” he gave them each a stern look, “most of Meryton does not know about our magical heritage or of the wizarding world at all. It is imperative they do not learn of it. As of now, everyone in our community is cleared with the High Council and the Quorum as trustworthy, but jobbards are not screened. You must guard your secret.”

The smiles slipped from the girls’ faces, and Elizabeth did not need empathic or telepathic abilities to know the thoughts and feelings of her sisters. Someone had killed their parents. They understood the high cost.

Elizabeth was the first to break the silence. “Only say we will not need to go shopping for funny hats and brooms.”

Mr. Bennet shook his head and chuckled. “You have much to learn,” he said and handed out their schedules.

Later that day, Lady Lucas and Charlotte visited. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her best friend’s family were magical. They did not have demonstrative powers. Instead, they were proficient in medicines and cookery. Elizabeth smiled at the pride Lady Lucas had as she talked about Charlotte’s abilities with tonics.

Charlotte grinned and then turned to Elizabeth. “Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza. However, now that you know the truth would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!”

Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along last night when you suggested one for his eyesight! I confess many things in the past now make sense. Mrs. Long was once an oracle was she not?”

“Yes, but now you know her predictions are usually wrong.”

“Why would that be?”

“The Council told us by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters,” Mrs. Bennet explained, “it might affect the strength of magic for the entire area.”

“Like a cloaking,” Elizabeth suggested, and the elder ladies agreed. “Now there ought to be an increase of magical abilities for everyone,” she concluded.

“In that case, I shall turn Mr. Darcy into a hawk. His eyesight does need improving,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth laughed again. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”

The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. It was revealed that although she was not magical at all, her mother had been. She had the opportunity to learn spells and potions but chose not to. Elizabeth sighed in relief that they did not need to hide their abilities from so many of their close friends.

Mrs. Allen had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Kate quickly agreed. Elizabeth had no desire to stay in the house lest Mr. Bingley and his friend call on them.

“I should like to stay home, Mama,” Jane said.

“You do not wish to stay home as well, Kate?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.

“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.

“Have you had a premonition?” her mother asked.

“I do not think so. Not like before, that is. I did not see a scene unfold. Perhaps before I regain the ability to see I have the talent to sense?”

The other ladies looked at each other, hoping one may have the answer. Lady Lucas, at last, suggested, “It may be impossible to know since powers come to most as children, and they likely could not express it so well if it began in such a way.”

“I know before the ceremony last night I awoke to a burning feeling in my limbs, but I have yet to create fire,” Elizabeth said then sipped her tea. “Not that I have tried or would know how if I wished it.”

Mr. Bennet spoke from the doorway. “Go on with Mrs. Allen, Kate. When you return, if we do not have visitors, we will begin your lessons. You are all bright enough girls and had your powers for many years before the binding, so I have no doubts you shall catch on fast. Elizabeth, I request that you stay here.”

The ladies all agreed, and Kate set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. Elizabeth wondered why her father had asked her to remain at home, but her father did not stay in the room. Determined to enjoy herself while she could, she returned her attention to their guests.

Reunited- Chapter Nine

reunited 2Chapter Nine

 

Rage coursed through Will’s body as the name fell from Elizabeth’s lips. He had been so careful to not mention him to her.

“Will?”

Elizabeth’s words drew him back to the present. Concern clouded her features. “Might we walk now?”

“Is there something you do not wish for my father to know?”

Will shook his head. “No, I will speak with him later. I know myself only too well on this subject. I can relay the facts coldly which I believe would wound you, or I might become overly-emotional. I do not know if it makes any sense to you.”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment before nodding her head. “Sam and I once found a pup who had lost his mother. When we found him he was hurt but when we attempted to help him he gnashed his teeth. Sam bundled him up in his coat and carried him home. We thought to keep him in a pen so he would be safe but he only became more belligerent, attempting to bite anyone who came near him, even with food in hand. Finally, we believed he might do better on his own—his wound had healed. We opened the pen but he never left sight of us. That night, we left the door open and he willingly slept in there. The next morning, we visited again and instead of growls and angry barks, we were met with a wagging tail. He would follow Sam everywhere after that. We were both heartbroken when he went away to school.”

“I recall Sam talking of his pet. He does not still live does he?”

“No,” Elizabeth sighed sadly. “Jasper passed the autumn after Sam did.”

“I am sorry,” Will touched her hand. “It sounds as though he was a great comfort to you in the absence of your brother and then…”

“All is well,” Elizabeth answered. “I told the story to explain that I understand your feelings. Jasper was not a bad-natured animal. He only needed his freedom and space. Feeling caged heightened his anxieties.”

“That is it exactly,” he closed his eyes in relief at her perception and understanding. How had he ever been so fortunate as to meet her? “Shall we?”

Standing, Will asked for Mr. Bennet’s permission for the walk. Having received it, they set off.

“I have always regretted that you ever met Mr. Wickham,” Will began once they were some distance from the house. “He should never have been in a house full of ladies.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded and squeezed his arm.

“You know!” he repeated in amazement. “But how? Did he importune you? I ought to have killed him!”

“No, not me—” Elizabeth hastened to say and tugged on his arm to cease his movement. “Miss Graves told me she had explained it to you. I thought you knew.”

“She did indeed,” Will nodded, “but I did not know she had informed you as well.”

“It was…” Elizabeth sighed. “She found me distraught on the stairs and had assumed the worse.”

“Why were you upset?” Will cast his mind back to the week he had known Elizabeth. His memory was clouded by distance and through layers of regret, pain, and anger. He could barely recall any particulars but only knew that his heart could not deceive him. He had really loved Elizabeth.

“It was after we hid in the cupboard,” Elizabeth answered as she blushed.

Instantly, Will remembered the moment. She had sent him away after he kissed her senseless. He had believed at the time that she had believed he was ungentlemanly. She spent some time avoiding him, but when he came to her to apologise, she had nothing but sweet words and tempting looks for him. “Is she why you had calmed by the time I spoke with you next? What did she say?”

Elizabeth began walking again, nervous energy filling her. “I had built all sorts of ideas in my head. I had thought you only meant to use me—you said nothing about love or courtship, and at the theatre, you had said nothing could exist between us. She allowed me to see the differences between you and a vile abuser like Wickham.”

“I have always liked Miss Graves,” Will grinned for a moment. “She is Mrs. Annesley now—widowed to a footman we had at Darcy House. She has returned to her post as Georgiana’s governess.”

“Governess?” Elizabeth wondered. “Is she not getting quite old for that?”

“It was necessary,” Will bit out. “Come, let us sit here,” he motioned to a bench under a currently bare tree.

“Unbeknownst to me until only a few days ago, Wickham would often visit with Georgiana as a child. Even after my father died—no, I must explain matters first.”

Elizabeth listened patiently as Will paced before her and explained the situation of his father’s will. He had left a valuable living for Wickham but the young man refused all claim to it. He requested instead funds to study law—claiming that Will had given him the idea from one of their arguments—and Will had supposed that would be the end of his acquaintance with the man. Instead, like a bad cold, he came back again and again, abusing Will’s name far and wide whenever he denied him money.

“It seems while I was away from Pemberley, he would visit Georgiana. After Mrs. Annesley married, I decided to send her to a school in London. She has perceived this as me tearing her from her only friend—as she told me in today’s letter. Last summer, my cousin and I removed her from school and allowed her to travel to Ramsgate with a companion. It turns out this woman had a connection to Wickham, who arrived at Mrs. Younge’s invitation. There, he convinced Georgiana to an elopement, and it is only my unexpected arrival that put an end to the scheme.”

“An elopement!” Elizabeth cried. “And to such a man! Thank goodness you arrived in time to prevent it.”

“I saw the packed bags and confronted both her and Mrs. Younge, but the confession was most unwilling. I wrote to Wickham—he renounced all interest and intention in Georgiana, and so she blames me now for separating her from her lover.”

“How could she be so deceived in his character? How could she not believe you given your history?”

“I am afraid it is my fault,” Will said as anguish seized his heart. “I concealed the truth from her as I did not wish to wound her impression of our father. He was much to blame in permitting Wickham’s behavior. By now, you must suppose Mrs. Annesley was not the only Darcy servant to be importuned by him.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he continued, “I failed her.”

Shame gripped him. It ought to have been him to die in the fire. How many lives had he destroyed? Elizabeth’s, Georgiana’s, if he had been in his room, he might have saved Sam or his father. Mr. Bennet never would have been hurt. Instead, he selfishly drank himself near to oblivion at the tavern below.

“You did not.”

Elizabeth placed her hands on his cheeks, wiping away tears he did not realise had spilled from his eyes.

An anguished sob tore from his throat as he buried his face in her hair. “She was but fifteen—what did she know of the world? I was her only family—”

“I was only sixteen when we met and I never would have consented to an elopement. Do you remember? We discussed it.”

“I remember,” he gripped her tightly.

“And you never would have suggested it. Georgiana must face some responsibility for her choice, but most of it resides in the schemes of one man. How long have you blamed yourself for his every evil deed?”

Elizabeth’s words struck him. He had never realised before that was exactly what he had always done. “What would I do without you?”

“What did you do without me? You wrote in your letter—the one I was fortunate enough to receive—that you continued to write to me even after Sam died and all hope died. If you have kept them, I would like to read them.”

“It would do me no good in your view, I fear. I poured my anger out on the page.”

“Might I help heal those wounds? If I can understand the pain, I may better nurse them.”

“I burnt them all before coming to Hertfordshire. I had wanted to let go of the past. I never expected that you still loved me—I had convinced myself you never did. I wished only to prove that I no longer would be your fool.”

“I do not fully understand why you would believe that of me. If you recall, we did not talk very much a few days ago.”

“Oh, I remember,” he chuckled. “I would tell you of the sweetness of your lips,” he whispered in her ear, “but I do believe you said you would rather be shown love than told of it.”

Elizabeth whimpered and arched her neck as his lips inched down the column of her throat. “Yes, but I spoke of fidelity too.”

Will met her lips for one delicious moment, then pulled back. “And I will show you that as well.” He placed her hand on his arm, laughing as she returned from her daze. “I am capable of some restraint, although I do not think you can blame a man after desiring a woman for so many years and so sure he would never have her again to act as I did.”

Elizabeth agreed, and they meandered through the Netherfield gardens.

“I was a fool,” Will admitted. “Sam hinted a bit too strongly one evening about my being in love with you and Wickham heard. He taunted me for the entire trip. How would I know how to court a lady? I was too stupid to please one. She must only desire my money. I could only interest one as young and poor as you.” He shook his head. “I have little doubt that I appeared the epitome of an arrogant heir to you, but the truth was that I felt intensely insecure in my own value. I had often experienced friends who desired only to use me. Wickham is the primary example. He knew more than any other how a person could appear interested in me only to desire the Darcy name and wealth. He always knew how to make me feel most vulnerable. I do not know why I persisted in listening to him and believing him—I suppose I could not believe myself so worthy of deserving you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”

Elizabeth leaned her head against Will’s arm, and they walked in silence for a few moments. He dared not look at her face. The fact that she had not pushed him away was more than he had dared to hope for.

“I do not like that you were so easily deceived, but I do forgive you, and I can understand it. I had only my inner voice saying the same sorts of things about you.”

“Have you put those feelings to rest?” he asked as they arrived near the stable.

“I hope so,” Elizabeth answered honestly and sighed. “I suppose I will be going home soon.”

Just then, the coachman emerged. Wearing a stern face, he stomped in anger toward the house. Will called out to him.

“What is the matter?”

“Yesterday, we had supposed the carriage was stuck in the mud. I apologise, miss,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “for the dirty walk you faced in the rain.”

“As you see, I am no worse for the excursion.”

“You sound as though the problem was not the mud?” Will asked.

“The axle is broken. A nearly clean break.”

Dread knotted in Will’s stomach. “Do you suspect someone tampered with it?”

“One of our saws is missing,” he said. “I believe it must have been cut down so it might appear intact but very weak once in motion. If we had not been going so slow due to the rain, it would have been dangerous—perhaps deadly—when it broke.”

Will turned to Elizabeth, her face appearing as snow and her hands feeling like ice even through the thickness of his coat and her gloves.

“Who would do such a thing?” she asked in a trembling voice.

 

*****

 

A terrified shudder wracked Elizabeth’s body while Will and his coachman stared at one another. An unspoken conversation occurred, and although Elizabeth could not say she shared in it, in the pit of her stomach, she knew the logical culprit.

“Come, dearest,” Will led her to a stool in the stable and withdrew a flask, pressing it into her hands.

Elizabeth murmured her thanks and took a few small sips until she felt warmth and vitality rush through her. No one could have known ahead of time that it would be Elizabeth who rode in Will’s carriage next. No, he was the target. She had little difficulty believing Wickham hated Will and was capable of evil—but to attempt murder? Even worse—did this mean he was here? Near Netherfield? Near Meryton? Her eyes scanned the trees as though she would see his menacing visage. How had she ever found him handsome? In her memory, now, he was akin to a monster.

“Let us walk back, we have much to discuss with your father,” Will said and assisted her in standing.

“What will you do?” Elizabeth asked Will as they approached the house.

“I will speak with your father and also Charles. I do not believe he or any of his family is a target, but they should be careful at any rate.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Fear not. You will be returned home safely.”

“It is not me that I worry for!” Elizabeth cried, bringing them to a stop. She threw herself into Will’s arms, clutching him tightly. “Why when we have just found one another again must this happen?”

Will whispered soothing words of love in her ear and rubbed her back until the spell of emotion passed. “We do not know that anything intentional happened. I know your intelligent mind. I know you can perceive what Davis and I did not say—but if he is to blame, then you can be sure he will not be showing his face again any time soon. He thrives on lulling me into a sense of security and is too clever to push his luck and be caught. I would hazard a guess even if we found proof that he had been here he is now far away.”

Elizabeth wiped her tears with the handkerchief Will offered and nodded. London was a very convenient distance, and he easily could hide there.

“I will write to my cousin and inquire about Wickham’s whereabouts, but if I know Wickham, he would much rather have me alive than dead. You cannot blackmail a dead man.”

Elizabeth was not at all proud of the fact that for a fleeting moment, amidst the gut-wrenching pain of imagining Will dead, she considered that his heir must be his sister. Would Georgiana want him dead so she might marry Wickham? Or would he put a plan into action without her knowledge to remove her guardian? Biting her tongue, Elizabeth chose not to voice her concerns. Will knew both far better than she did and if he did not entertain the possibility of them then more than likely she would only pain him with such wild possibilities.

Had she learned nothing in recent days? She should put her most fevered ideas behind her and not give into her imagination. There were no clues to lead to her recent thoughts. Good heavens! Was she turning into her step-mother?

Upon reaching the house, Mr. Bennet greeted them. “I am feeling much recovered, and your mother has sent a missive begging our return on the morrow. My cousin arrives the following day and she says the master of the house is required to be in residence.”

“Your cousin?” Will asked.

“He is the son of the man who was heir before Sam was born. We have never met Mr. Collins before, but he seems quite ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” her father laughed. “His letter contained more compliments to his patroness—a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he mentioned as though I should know her name—than it did to my wife or daughters—of which there were many although he has never seen them.”

Will started at Mr. Bennet’s words. “Pardon me, did you say Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Upon confirmation, Will looked between father and daughter, and said in an amazed one, “She is my mother’s sister. How came he to know her?”

“He did not say,” Mr. Bennet answered. “I had thought you might return with certain news you wished to share?” He glanced between Will and Elizabeth. “Will told me you would soon be selecting a wedding date?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth answered and looked at her feet. Yes, she had told Will she would compromise and settle a date but must she decide just now? Her stepmother must have opinions about such things and still as far as the rest of the world knew they had never spent much time together. They could not announce it right away.

“Unfortunately, we did not have a moment to discuss the date,” Will hastily intervened. “On that subject, I do request an audience with you but not on the topic of the wedding.”

“Certainly,” Mr. Bennet agreed and followed Will to the library.

Sighing, Elizabeth determined to join the others in the drawing room. Her mind could not focus on any of the conversations at hand. Caroline must have delighted in seeing what looked like evidence of her stupidity. Elizabeth’s mind worked again and again. Why would Wickham wish to kill Will? Was Wickham as harmless as Will believed?

Elizabeth and Will had no more opportunity to talk and the afternoon and evening were filled with Caroline’s insistence upon music and cards, gently scolding Will for writing letters when he had requested the music. Elizabeth stole glances at him during her time at the pianoforte. He rarely looked up from his page, but often his pen did not move as though he were lost in the music. A few times their eyes locked and Elizabeth almost believed then that love was a tangible thing. She could feel his caress with his eyes. His arms were around her once more and the safe, secure feeling she always felt in his presence filled her.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. After describing the house to her sisters and her mother, Elizabeth retreated to her room for solitude. A half hour later, she was not surprised when there was a knock at her door, and Jane entered.

“Are you very jealous of me for getting to spend time at Netherfield?” Elizabeth teased.

“I am very thankful that Papa recovered so quickly and you were there to help. Was it an agreeable visit?”

Very agreeable,” Elizabeth beamed. “Will and I managed to have many conversations, and I think we understand one another much more now.”

“Do you trust him now? Do you have peace about the past?”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, I will tell you that Mr. Bingley asked about you several times a day and always seemed to work you into the conversation.”

“He did not,” Jane blushed. “Do not tease me so.”

“I am telling the utter truth!” Elizabeth grinned and hugged her sister. “Perhaps when I next visit the house you will be its mistress.” She could not contain a set of giggles as she used her best Fanny Bennet impression.

“Lizzy!” Jane pretended to scold but smiled at Elizabeth’s words.

Suddenly, Elizabeth sobered and squeezed her sister again. “Thank you for always being so selfless. I am sure you listened to me cry over Will far more than you ever wished.”

“I would say so! I would never wish for your heart to be broken.”

“I did not mean it in that way. I am certain if the positions were reversed, I would have lost patience with you in a matter of weeks.”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “You are my dearest friend and can be excessively protective. If the situations were reversed, you would have girded your loins and marched to London to demand explanation and retribution. I am weak compared to you.”

“Never say such a thing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Your strength is, perhaps, different than mine. It is quieter, but I see it and so must all who call you friend.”

Jane smiled, and the sisters sat in companionable solitude for a few moments until there was shouting from the hallway. “Lizzy! Jane!” Lydia yelled. “Mama says to come downstairs!”

Sharing a smile, they left their chamber and rejoined the family below.

Thursday Three Hundred–Greater than Friends

 

Rose Letter

On Monday, I posted the song Friends Don’t by Maddie and Tae. I wrote that it reminded me of Emma and Knightley. I could have written from a few other locations in the book, but chose the scene where Harriet Smith acknowledges that she loves Mr. Knightley–and believes he loves her in return. I generously use some lines straight from Miss Austen. I don’t think she would mind. 🙂

cd4fab69d19e6c58bb41e5fe62b0bcaeGreater than Friends

“Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of—Mr. Knightley?”

“To Be sure I am.”

Harriet continued speaking, and Emma vaguely registered the girl’s words, managing somehow to talk while all her mind worked on Harriet’s strange series of utterances. Harriet Smith in love with her good friend Mr. Knightley? But no, that was not the correct word for Mr. Knightley.

Did friends mean to one another what Mr. Knightley and Emma meant to one another? How often had they made plans around the feeling of the other? How many silent conversations had they had with nothing but their eyes? If Mr. Knightley were only a friend, should she not be able to hear Mrs. Elton speak of him with familiarity without possessive irritation?

For months, years, even he had often visited Hartfield. His visits began shortly, but now they seemed to linger. He found any excuse to come and the purpose seemed just as much to visit Emma as to sit with her father. A hundred tender memories of conversations and Knightley’s nearness flashed like lightning in Emma’s mind and swelled her heart.

However, unfortunate recollections also recollected. She had pushed him aside. He probably believed—just as everyone else did, it seemed—that she loved Frank Churchill. His low opinion of her was very plain and Harriet—sweet, simple, pretty Harriet—he had confessed to think well of.

No, no, no! It would not do! “Good God!” cried Emma, “this has been a most unfortunate—most deplorable mistake!—What is to be done?”

Again, Harriet chattered on. Emma could not speak. Mr. Knightley would never linger at Hartfield again. No, he would have his dear Harriet to think about. They would visit together, and Emma would have to find a way to send them off. No more chats after supper while the stars shone. No more daily walks from Donwell Abbey.

No, no. Mr. Knightley was not merely her friend. “Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley’s returning your affection?”

“Yes,” replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully—”I must say that I have.”

Emma sat in silence while a thunderclap sounded in her mind—nay, her heart. With the speed of an arrow, she acknowledged Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

On and on, Harriet continued explaining and rationalizing—with merit, Emma detested to admit—that Knightley did care for her.

Feeling her heart die and her soul weep, Emma acknowledged, “I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does.”

Finally, Harriet left, and Emma sat in dejected spirits wishing she had never met the girl. This much she knew, no one would love Mr. Knightley as she did. How she wished she had the opportunity to tell him before he made a choice that would forever separate them.

 

Reunited- Chapter Three

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Chapter Three

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

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

“Thank you, sir,” Will said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He spoke quietly, but Elizabeth nervously glanced around.

“Fear not, we are alone.”

Oh, she should fear that very, very much.

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

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

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

“Jealous?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have not loved any of them?”

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth turned to walk away. Will caught her wrist.

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

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

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

 

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

She started, and he chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I forget them?” Elizabeth nearly screeched.

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

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

“I gave my condolences in person.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters, Chapter Three Part One

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Chapter Three

 

Instead of dreaming of gentlemen as might be supposed after a ball, each lady dreamed of their deceased parent. Mr. Morland came to Kate bathed in a white glow and bade her go to the woods behind the east garden. The deceased Mrs. Bennet ordered her daughters there as well. Jane obeyed readily enough, although she trembled at the strangeness of her mother’s ghost appearing before her. Elizabeth, however, was too sensible even in her dreams. At length, as she felt as though her limbs were on fire, she determined the cool autumn air would bring relief.

The sisters stood around a neglected fountain currently covered in overgrown ivy. They looked at each other in confusion.

“How strange that we are all here,” Jane said.

“Yes,” Kate agreed. “I do not recall leaving my bed. I have never roamed about when asleep before.”

“Nor I,” said Elizabeth. “However, now that I am here, I feel like I ought to remain. That is ridiculousness, is it not? Leaving feels somehow wrong.”

Jane looked around the area with dawning comprehension. “Lizzy, do you remember how we used to play here? I think I was about eleven when we stopped coming.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They had not visited this fountain in many years, long before her mother and sisters died. Playing here was one of her first memories. “Yes, we would dance around it with Mary. I don’t think Kitty was born yet. I used to pretend the most fantastical things happened. The trees and flowers would dance with us and sing a special song.”

“Why did you stop coming?” Kate questioned.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Mary had a nightmare, and then we were not allowed to come here anymore.”

“They frightened her so much,” Jane murmured. She had always been very sensitive to the feelings of others.

“I used to have bad dreams,” Kate said. “Sometimes it seemed like they came true.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked while Jane gasped in alarm. Why had Kate never mentioned that before? Is that what had happened with Mary? Elizabeth could not remember.

“It started with small things. I dreamed my cat had kittens and the next day she did.”

“That is rather explainable,” said Elizabeth dubiously. “Someone probably told you she would soon have them.”

Kate nodded. “I dreamed of a man in a carriage during a terrible storm one night. There was a large rut in the ground, and it broke the carriage wheel. The man came to no harm, but one of the horses went lame.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Did that come to be as well?”

“Yes, my uncle came to visit us the next day, and the exact scenario had happened to him.”

“What else?” Elizabeth asked as her curiosity grew. Jane trembled beside her.

“The last dream I had was of my grandmother dying. She sang some strange song to me as she held my hand.”

Words lodged in Elizabeth’s throat. She felt as though she were on the cusp of something, like looking over the edge of a cliff and deciding to jump. “Did…did…that come true?”

“Yes. I was so upset and terrified. I wept at her side, and I remember thinking that I had caused her death because of my dream.”

“Surely that was not so!” Jane cried, tears shimmered in her eyes as though she could now feel the despair Kate must have experienced.

“It was my last dream,” Kate whispered.

“How old were you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Eleven. We soon came to Hertfordshire and…”

Kate trailed off as each girl knew what happened afterward. An illness swept the county and claimed their parents.

“Sometimes, I still feel as though I have seen something in a dream. The ball this evening, for example, seemed eerily familiar.”

Recalling her strange dream of her dead mother earlier this night, Elizabeth looked at Kate intently and asked, “Did you dream tonight?”

Kate slowly nodded. “Yes. My father told me to come here.”

Jane spoke up. “I have never had such strange dreams before, but tonight my mother appeared clothed in white and asked me to come to the fountain.”

Elizabeth laughed. “How strange that I should dream the same thing. I am sure you obediently went, even while still asleep, whereas I argued with her!”

“What made you leave your bed then?” asked Jane.

“I suddenly felt so hot. It was as if I held my hand over a fire too closely.” A breeze rustled in the nearby trees, and Elizabeth shuddered. “Now I feel cold.”

“Come, share my wrap,” Jane said.

Their youngest sister suddenly looked in need of comforting. She held out her other arm to Kate.

“You too, Kate.”

The three sisters huddled together before the fountain when a great rush of wind parted the sky. The moon shone so brightly they had to cover their eyes.

“Look up, children.”

Elizabeth and Jane gasped in unison when they saw their deceased mother bathed in white and floating like an angel.

“Kate, all is well.”

A ghostly gentleman said next to Elizabeth’s mother, and she presumed it was Mr. Morland.

“This cannot be!” cried Elizabeth.

“It is real,” Mr. Bennet said from behind them.

The sisters spun on their heel to see their living parents standing hand in hand and with no expressions of shock.

“Have no fear,”

“Are we dead?” Kate asked in confusion.

“No, dearest,” Mrs. Bennet explained. “The time is now right for your powers to be returned. You are descendants from great lines of witches.”

Still in each other’s arms, Elizabeth could feel Kate and Jane tremble at such news.

“No,” Jane whispered and vehemently shook her head. “I would never want to harm a soul.”

Elizabeth squeezed her older sister’s hand. “Of course not, Janie. You are the sweetest person in the world!”

“We must be fevered or going mad!” Kate exclaimed.

“I see your fear,” Mr. Bennet said and raised his hands to silence them. “You do not recall for we bound your powers and erased the memories. However, you were born with gifts and for many years knew of the magical world. Contrary to the contemporary representation, we come from good witches.”

Thursday Three Hundred- The Balm of Kellynch Hall

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My song for Music Monday this week was Mercy by Brett Young. For the first time, I considered how cruel a woman could be during a break-up. Naturally, it made me consider how kind Anne Elliot had been–or tried to be. What follows is about one thousand words of torturing Captain Wentworth.

The Balm of Kellynch Hall

He had been invited to dine at Kellynch for the evening. Along with his brother, the curate at Monkford, neighbors from Uppercross, and the esteemed guest Lady Russell, it was a sizable dinner party. Still, the air in the room changed when she walked in. Despite having his back turned, Frederick Wentworth felt the presence of his beloved Anne.

Turning, he took in her expression. His heart stopped at her gentle beauty. The soft colors of pink and lavender suited her complexion and coloring. Anne’s smile did not reach her face. She nervously glanced around, looking everywhere but at him. On their walk yesterday, she had brought up arguments about their engagement. He had asked for her hand in marriage not a week ago, but when it came time for him to approach her father, she hesitated. She had shared her news with her confidante, her mother’s old friend, Lady Russell. Instead of felicitations, Lady Russell had counseled Anne against keeping the engagement. 

Wentworth could not bear the memory of the unshed tears in Anne’s eyes. She had been so distressed. It had not occurred to either of them, before, that Sir Walter would be displeased with the match. Still, Wentworth believed Anne loved him enough to marry without her father’s blessing and with her friend’s disapproval. Her loved ones would come around in time.

Finally, Anne meandered to him. “Father will see you now but should we not wait?”

“No,” Wentworth shook his head. “I have asked for your hand, Anne. I will not subject you to secrecy. I am not ashamed of who I am.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you?”

“No,” she licked her lips. “No…”

“Mr. Wentworth,” Sir Walter interrupted from the doorway to his study. 

Wentworth nodded at the father and gave Anne a smile. This was a mere formality. He did not expect Sir Walter to be very pleased with the idea, but it would be borne with so no one could claim they had been slighted. 

Once in the room, Sir Walter’s face turned stony. He did not withhold his consent but said he would add nothing to Anne’s fortune to supplement Wentworth’s own state. Confident that he could earn his way in the world, luck had always been on his side, Wentworth shook off the arguments. The matter settled and each gentleman understanding where the other stood, he left to find his beloved.

Anne stood with Lady Russell, the other lady speaking fervently and sorrow emanating from Anne. He approached.

“Lady Russell, would you allow me to intrude and speak with Miss Anne?”

The lady sniffed and then glanced at her conversation partner. A knowing smile lit her face. “Indeed, I think Anne has much to say to you.”

“The task is completed, my dearest,” he whispered to Anne. “He did not refuse. You may name your day.”

“Oh, Frederick,” Anne whispered and shook her head. “It cannot be–it should not be.”

“What do you mean?” Not ten minutes ago, Wentworth felt assured of his victory. Not a woman in this world compared to Anne Elliot and he had been so fortunate as to find her and she loved him in return. Her father consented and what should separate them now? What foe must he now vanquish?

Dinner was called before Anne could reply. During the meal, Wentworth watched her from afar. Lady Russell and Sir Walter both glared at him. He did not give a fig about their disapproval. Anne held all of his attention. She avoided his eyes. When no one spoke to her, she looked miserable and as though she would rather die than stay a moment longer at the table. 

As the night wore on, he knew it would happen. Anne intended to break his heart. All he desired now was to get it over with. If she would end it, then end it. None of this talk of prolonging the engagement. If she did not want him now and without the favor of her friends, then there was no recourse. If she had ever loved him, she would make it fast.

Finally, Wentworth saw his opportunity. He came to Anne’s side as she looked through music books. “We must speak,” he whispered.

“We cannot talk openly–not here.”

“Then tomorrow, meet me for a walk.”

“That would be improper,” Anne blushed. “I cannot.”

“It is not improper to walk with your betrothed nor has it stopped you any other time.”

“Sir,” Anne said, and her throat rippled with effort. “I will not meet you without a chaperone again.”

“Do you mean what you imply?” Wentworth asked with urgency and stepped closer. “But what has changed–why?” He gripped the edge of the pianoforte.

“Lady Russell helped me see how imprudent our match is. Your position in life–a wife is such a burden. I should not be so selfish.”

“Selfish!” Anne was the least selfish being he had ever met.

“Nor could I forgive myself for displeasing my father or Lady Russell so. I owe them everything. I had thought–but I thought wrongly. What kind of life would we have with you away so much and me without family or support?”

“We would have love!” He had never pried into Anne’s feelings for her family, but he had seen enough to know that they did not appreciate her. She certainly had not had the loving parents and siblings he had been fortunate enough to have.

“Pray, moderate your voice,” Anne cast a nervous look around. “I can say no more,” a soft sob tore from her throat. “Please excuse me, sir. I have selected my song.”

“Anne–please.” Tears pricked his eyes. How could she do this? How could she end the happiness of both of them? 

“Good evening, Mr. Wentworth.” She bobbed a curtsy and rushed to the seat, daintily stomping on his heart on her way. 

Anne touched the keys with such force it made Wentworth jump. Casting one last look at her, he left the instrument to find his brother and make his excuses to leave early. He had much to do before the morrow. He could not stay in Somersetshire another day. There must be a ship somewhere he could have. He would take anything to have activity just now.

As he left the room and Kellynch–indeed his heart–behind, he heard Anne’s beautiful playing and acknowledged she, at least, had mercy.

 

 

Cover reveal & Excerpt to Pledged

Retro curtain with stageLong time readers of my works (like Ginna) will remember a story I began in 2013 called The Bennet Brother. Elizabeth Bennet has an older brother who is friends with Darcy. They meet when much younger and the story changes from there. It was never far from my mind and I’ve worked on it a few times but it’s taken all these years to come to fruition. Last year, I retitled it to Loving Elizabeth. When working on it this year, I realized what I had (and why I didn’t make much progress on it for years) was three distinct plot lines that should be three separate stories. They are novella length and while I know some would argue I could combine them to make one long novel, I disagree. Conflicts arise and are resolved. Good story telling and structuring means I need to end the book, not create new conflicts. If you are not a novella reader, this series may not be for you but I suggest you try it!

I’ve named the series Loving Elizabeth. The first book is Pledged. The following in the series are Reunited and Consecrated. I hope to have both out Summer 2018.

I’m hoping to publish within a few days but still wanted to share on my blog. This is the unedited draft so there will be some changes and any grammar errors and typos will be corrected by publication. Let me know what you think!

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She was everything he ever wanted…if only she was not his best friend’s sister.

As any honourable gentleman knows, a friend’s sister is untouchable. It is a code that Fitzwilliam Darcy has never had an issue with until now. However, Elizabeth Bennet might be enticing enough to risk not only disinheritance from his father and the displeasure of his entire family but also the loss of his best friend’s trust.

 To Elizabeth, her brother’s friend, Will, is as pompous as the day is long. However, he is also enigmatic, and soon, she finds herself drawn to his complexities. Unexpectedly, she falls hard and fast for this young heir of a vast estate, but at sixteen, she has never been in London society before and is new to all its deceptions and games. Will she be able to decipher who to trust or will her heart pay the ultimate price?

 

Chapter One

June 20, 1806

“I would prefer to stay home this evening,” Will Darcy grumbled.

“Are you such an old man now that an evening at the theatre is too much?” Will’s older cousin, Captain Richard Fitzwilliam teased.

“Hardly,” Will said dryly. He had just turned two and twenty. “Do not forget that you are older than me, Richard.”

“All shall be well,” Richard replied. “It is one evening out before a summer in Ireland with your friends.” He motioned to their friends Samuel Bennet and Charles Bingley. “You will be appearing with us, our sisters, and our fathers not insipid debutantes and their matchmaking mamas. It is nothing compared to what the future will hold for you as the heir of Pemberley.”

The young men had all met years ago at Eton and continued the friendship to their time at Cambridge. Along the way, they learned their fathers had been acquaintances during their youth. Inspired by their sons, the older generation soon took up a correspondence. The men had all met a few times over the years, but this was the first time that any of the ladies would be present.

Will, Sam, and Charles, all snorted and rolled their eyes simultaneously.

“You forget Louisa and Caroline will be there,” Charles interjected.

“And though my mother is not present, rest assured she is scheming from afar,” Sam concurred.

Will leaned back in his chair and groaned. “Richard, your mother gives me more pressure than anyone but Aunt Catherine!”

“Mother acts out of love but let us be thankful she will not be present Besides, your father has made it clear to Aunt that you are not to bend to her will.”

“That is not the same thing as him believing I should choose my own bride.” Will’s shoulders slumped.

“Enough on Will’s marital prospects. Sam, tell us about your sisters.” Charles eagerly asked with his eyebrows raised in anticipation.

Sam grinned, “Now, Charles—and you too Richard—I know you cannot resist a pretty face but need I remind you no idle flirtations with my sisters?”

“Now, come on man!” Richard gesticulated wildly. “Charles is too young, and I am too poor to take a wife. We would never trifle with a gentleman’s daughter—especially a friend’s sister. And Will here has never ‘trifled’ with anyone. We would only like to find ourselves in the company of beautiful women tonight.”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Sam continued, “Very well. Jane is quite beautiful. Blonde, blue-eyed and willowy. She is charming and reserved in her expressions. She only sees the good in everyone, a veritable angel. Lizzy, though….she takes you by surprise. She is as dark as Jane is fair, and shorter too. She is outspoken and can even best my father in a debate. She might even be able to beat you, Will.”

“A regular bluestocking, then?” Richard‘s eyebrows slanted down in disappointment.

“No, not at all. It is true she is well-read, but she is also witty and charming. She plays pianoforte very well, and her singing captivates audiences. Lizzy loves walking and enjoys nature. If it were not for the theatre and opera, or the museums and bookshops, she would never even come to town.”

Charles’ eyes grew wide, “She does not care to shop?  Does not enjoy the balls and soirees?  That is all Louisa and Caroline live for!”

“I doubt she is out yet. Is not she thirteen?” Will complained to hide his growing interest in the young lady. “Why are we speaking so much about a little girl? I am not going on and on about Georgie!”

Through the years of his friendship with Sam, Will had yet to meet Elizabeth but was impressed with what he knew of her. However, he had always thought of her as Sam’s very young sister. Nothing could exist between them, even if he found her attractive and she was courting age, she was his best friend’s sister. If any of his friends ever fell in love with his sister, there would be pistols at dawn.

Sam shook his head. “Mary is thirteen. Lizzy is sixteen.”

Will rolled his eyes, at sixteen she would still be a silly girl with little shape. He resisted the older, experienced widows that approached him at balls and did not partake of paid affairs but his celibacy did not blind him to the beauty of a grown woman’s figure.

“She is out,” Sam continued, “thanks to my stepmother. However, now that the entail is broken, I hope Mama can feel some relief.” Sam shook his head and glared at Will. “We are speaking of her because she is a remarkable young lady and I was asked to share about her to three men who I trust. I think she could be a friend to you. Did I mention she can beat my father at chess?”

“Really?” Charles let out a low whistle. “Well, I daresay she is too much for me. I need a woman that is sweet, quiet and level.”

Winking at Charles and Richard, Sam baited Will. “Perhaps for you then, Richard?”

“She indeed sounds like a most extraordinary young lady. Will, you would have more time to bask in the attention of Bingley’s sisters. What does she look like, Sam?” Richard leant forward as though eager to hear more.

“Yes,” Will let out a derisive snort. “Since she has developed such a personality, she is probably merely tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt me at all.”

“Tempt you!” Same cried. “First of all, this is my sister!  I would like her not to tempt anyone. What beauty holds you?  You have criticised every beautiful woman of your acquaintance. Lizzy’s personality could challenge and interest you. Her beauty will speak for itself.” He paused and looked at his watch. “Enough teasing. I am thankful I can trust each of you with my sisters and need not fear you as potential suitors. Chaperoning them will turn me prematurely grey. Now, it is time to prepare for dinner; we had better get to it.”

Will exited the library blushing at the description of himself, but he could not be sorry for it. Is it too much to ask not to be bored by the woman I spend my life with?  To enjoy her company at the end of the day instead of living separate lives?  And be attracted to her as well?  However, he was only two and twenty and certainly had time to continue to look.

****

Let the horrible men find out about dinner some other way! Elizabeth thought as she returned to her bedchamber at Darcy House. Her first reaction was to show the ungentlemanly young man his place and come down for dinner in a way that would make her mother proud. However, upon reflection she realised that she was not so vain as to care to show off like that, nor did she have such a gown with her at present. No, the gown she had planned to wear would service just nicely and what did she care if it earned his admiration.

Aside from the fact that he is the most handsome young man I have ever seen and has the most pleasing voice. Such thoughts brought back memories of what he said with such a voice. Spending too long in her musings, Elizabeth came down the stairs to overhear another conversation.

“I had sent Elizabeth to remind you all of the time, but you say that you did not see her?  And she has yet to come down?”  Mr. Bennet asked his son.

“Aye. I hope she is not ill,” Sam replied.

“I doubt that. You know your sister’s constitution. All the walking keeps her quite healthy.”

“Oh, yes. We must not forget what a great walker Miss Eliza is,” Caroline Bingley’s sickly-sweet voice broke in.

She only met me this afternoon, and she acts as though she knows every intimate detail of my life!

Not caring for more abuse of herself, Elizabeth cheerfully called out from the open drawing room door. “Oh, I am here and quite well. I am afraid I merely lost track of time.”

Ignoring the gentlemen, Elizabeth focused on her sister, Jane, in conversation with an amiable young man.

“Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet called her attention away, “Sam told me that you never met him in the library. I know you cannot have forgotten where it is located. What happened?”

“Oh!  Perhaps I am such a little girl that I could not be trusted with such a task?” She raised an eyebrow and resisted the urge to look at Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Mr. Bennet gave Elizabeth a puzzled look but shrugged. Muttering about not understanding the moods of young ladies, he left the young people to their devices.

Richard inched closer to Elizabeth. “Sam, introduce us to your sister.”

“My pleasure,” Sam laughed then performed the introductions of the two young men next to him.

He continued to identify the occupants of the room. “Lizzy, you already met Miss Bingley and Miss Caroline. The gentleman mooning over Jane there is Mr. Charles Bingley. And the gentleman talking with Father and Mr. Darcy is Charles’s father, Mr. Joseph Bingley. Richard’s father, Lord Fitzwilliam, and a few other relatives will meet us at the theatre.”

Elizabeth gave them a dazzling smile that made her eyes sparkle. “Delighted to meet you.”

Richard smiled widely in return. Elizabeth’s words seemed to remind him to jolt Will to action, and he belatedly bowed. She turned her eyes on him, ready to tease him for his past words but before she could say anything dinner was called. Richard offered her an arm to escort her to the table. Caroline and Louisa Bingley immediately seized Will’s arms, claiming them for their own. Elizabeth inwardly laughed and wondered if the two sisters would fight over the pompous young man.

At the table, Elizabeth found herself situated near Will’s father and easily made conversation with the older gentleman. “Mr. Darcy, I am very much looking forward to meeting Miss Darcy. Will she be meeting us later this evening?” The Bennets had arrived during Georgiana’s lessons, and due to her shyness, it was arranged for her to wait to meet the visitors.

“She will dine in the nursery, but will join us to exhibit on the pianoforte afterwards.”

“Oh, dear Georgiana!  How I long to see her again!” Caroline cried. “She is so talented on the pianoforte for such a young age. Yes, Miss Eliza, you must be quite dismayed to dine with us instead of company better suited your age.”

Caroline had just come out at the age of seventeen. Elizabeth internally rolled her eyes. Did Caroline dislike Elizabeth’s age or did she see her as a threat for Will’s attention? She would find his opinion of me quite pleasing, I am sure.

With good breeding, Elizabeth calmly ignored Caroline’s comments. “I look forward to hearing Miss Darcy play later.”

“And do you play as well, Miss Elizabeth?”  Mr. Darcy asked.

“A very little and very ill indeed.”

“It is such a shame that we cannot all have access to the masters!” Caroline gave Elizabeth a pitying look. “However, I suppose the priorities of the country are quite different than Town.”

“I cannot speak for all of the country,” Mr. Darcy spoke with a hint of irritation in his voice, “but it is true in Derbyshire. Miss Elizabeth, I am sure you are too modest. If it does not make you too uncomfortable, I ask you to play for us this evening.”

Sam looked their way and gave his sister a puzzled look. “Lizzy plays quite well. I insist that you play for my friends.”

“You are a very strange creature by way of brother!” Elizabeth laughed. “I would rather not play in front of those that must be used to hearing the very best. Yet, you know my courage always rises in the face of every attempt of intimidation.”

“A theory as relevant for the drawing rooms of London as for his majesty’s troops!” Proclaimed Richard and thus he turned Elizabeth’s attention to himself for the remainder of the dinner.

 

Chapter Two

Will observed Elizabeth during the meal. Although trapped between the Miss Bingleys and unable to speak with his friend’s sister, he recognised his father’s look of approval. Elizabeth was shorter than average and, although Will was quite tall, he always had a soft spot for petite women. It brought out his protective instincts, and he could see that she could nestle under his chin nicely when embraced. During his mother’s life, he had often seen his parents in just such a pose, and the image invoked all things comforting to him.

Although young, Elizabeth had a well-formed figure, with more curves than he would expect for her age. She had dark curly hair and eyes that quickly flashed between light hazel brown to a bright green. More than her physical attributes, something about her spirit attracted him. She could never be called small or ordinary.

Will’s reverie ceased when his father decided to forego the usual separation of the sexes and invited everyone to the drawing room.

On their way, Richard drew closer to Will. Seeing his cousin’s eyes follow Elizabeth, he whispered, “Bewitched yet?”

Mr. Darcy welcomed the ladies to sing and play. The Miss Bingleys eagerly displayed their skills. Caroline had greater technical, but Louisa was the better singer. Elizabeth seemed to need some persuasion to play, but her performance entranced Will. Although not superior to Caroline and Louisa’s skill, Elizabeth played and sang with more emotion and obvious enjoyment.

Jane Bennet did not play or sing, but it hardly appeared to matter to Charles. Additionally, she seldom spoke. Will internally laughed at Charles’s habit of falling for the prettiest girl in the room whether she had any sense in her head or not. At least she did not behave poorly or have a shrill voice. Some men had little requirements for what attracted them to the fairer sex. Will was not one of them.

Caroline played as her father sang in a rich baritone while Louisa turned pages when Georgiana came down at last. Mr. Bennet, Sam, and Elizabeth spoke amongst each other while Will’s father and Richard laughed over something. Will sat alone. Georgiana’s governess accompanied her, but the young girl gulped when she saw the number of people in the room.

“Papa…” The girl of twelve began.

Mr. Darcy looked up from his conversation. “Come along Poppet. Play us a new jig.”

Georgiana looked around the room in distress. Will hated it when his father did this. Both Darcy siblings were shy and more like their mother, but their father could not understand their dispositions.

Will walked to his sister. “Georgie, if you play, then I will dance. You will be too busy laughing at your poor brother to feel nervous.” She bit her bottom lip, and he continued, “Everyone present is certain to be pleased by your performance. I assure you, you will hear no unkind remarks.”

At last, she nodded her head in acquiescence.

“Follow me,” he whispered, and she placed her hand in his.

The others had stood when Georgiana entered the room, and everyone made the necessary bows and curtsies after Will performed introductions. Mr. Darcy called Mr. Bennet and Sam over to him, leaving Elizabeth alone with the Darcy siblings.

Georgiana smoothed her hands over her skirts and remained mute until Elizabeth spoke. “I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy. I have heard you are very accomplished on the pianoforte.”

Georgiana blushed. “Thank you, Miss Elizabeth, but I am too young to be very accomplished at anything. I am certain you must play better than me.”

“Never assume age is a disadvantage…or an advantage. Most things in life are learned traits and not inherent abilities. I am told you practice very diligently, whereas I forsake my practice for other pursuits.”

“Yes,” Georgiana nodded. “Miss Graves tells me I play too much, and will never be a truly accomplished young lady if I do not also put effort into other tasks.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Miss Graves is undoubtedly correct, but I did not mean that I am engaged in ladylike accomplishments.” She gave Will a conspiratorial look before leaning in closer to Georgiana as though speaking in confidence. “I read everything I can get my hands on and I go on very long walks all over the countryside. I play chess with my father and delight in arguments, or as my mother would say ‘vexing her.’

“I take no enjoyment in sewing, embroidery, drawing, painting tables, or netting purses. With four sisters our house will be overflowing with tables and fireplace screens in a year or so. If playing pleases you so much, why should you not be able to enjoy it?”

She then looked toward Will as though asking him to challenge her. Caroline Bingley approached before Will could reply to Elizabeth. The Bingleys had just finished their performance.

“Oh, Miss Darcy! How nice to see you again! How well you look! And my! You must have grown. Mr. Darcy, do you think she will be as tall as me?”

Caroline stood as close to Will as was decent. He supposed she was trying to display her height, believing he would desire a woman of her attributes. She did not allow him to comment.

“Well, do come Miss Darcy. I long to hear you play again! Now, I will turn your pages.”

Caroline began to lead Georgiana to the instrument when the latter looked toward Will.

“Georgie will you play _______? I would love to dance with so many fair partners.”

Instantly, Caroline took a step closer to Will. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elizabeth turn her head to hide a smile.

“Miss Caroline,” Elizabeth said. “I am not inclined to dance this evening. May I be of service to Miss Darcy so you might be available?”

Caroline readily agreed, and although Will knew it meant he would have to dance with Caroline instead of Elizabeth, he was pleased with the way she rescued his sister.

Soon the rug was rolled up, and Georgiana played lively Scotch tunes. Elizabeth turned the pages while the other young people danced. Caroline looked incredibly smug, at first, until Will began to make some faces and dance badly, earning giggles from his sister. Before too long, another gentleman entered the room.

“George! How are you, my boy?” Mr. Darcy exclaimed. He quickly introduced George Wickham, his godson and steward’s son to the room. “George, I must see you dancing with the other young people.”

“I would be delighted to, Mr. Darcy,” Wickham flashed a smile, “but it seems all the young ladies have partners.”

“Nonsense, Miss Graves can dance with you.”

“Miss Graves?”

“Oh, you have not been introduced yet!” Mr. Darcy directed Wickham to the twenty-something lady sitting in a chair near the pianoforte and watching her charge. “George Wickham, meet Miss Laura Graves. She is Georgiana’s new governess.”

Will could easily tell Wickham found Miss Graves attractive. Although not a great beauty, she looked pretty enough. Wickham preyed on servant women who either easily succumbed to his charms, or were too embarrassed to confess anything to their masters. This was the only reason Will could believe it a good thing Wickham was to leave with the other gentlemen in a few days.

Wickham gave her an impeccable bow. “Miss Graves, would you care to dance?”

“Oh, I had not thought to dance this evening.”

Will heard her voice waver and wondered if the housekeeper had forewarned her of Wickham. Mr. Darcy frowned at her response and Will intervened. While Georgiana and Elizabeth selected the next piece, the room grew quiet. Conscious that they could all hear his conversation, he nevertheless persisted. “Miss Graves, might you allow Miss Elizabeth a respite from her duties? Or perhaps you might play, and Georgiana could rest?”

Mr. Darcy firmly broke in. “It is good for Georgie to practice and she does not need help to turn the pages for one last jig. Now, I insist all the young people dance.”

Miss Graves paled a little and Will wondered if she might beg off and claim to be ill, but he chose to try again. “Then, I insist your first dance of the night be with me, Miss Graves.” Will ignored the raised eyebrows of many people in the room as he led her to the dance floor.

While Caroline let out an audible huff, Will made quick eye contact with his friends, and a wordless scheme was put in place.

Caroline paired with Richard, Charles stayed with Jane, Sam partnered with Elizabeth, leaving Wickham with Louisa Bingley. The gentleman had earlier pieced together the likelihood of Wickham appearing and how they would safeguard the ladies. They believed the Bingley sisters the least likely to be susceptible to his charms as they valued wealth and connections over ideas of romance.

The four friends had focused on protection and not fairness or sensibilities. Belatedly, Will realised he made Miss Graves break propriety by dancing with him after refusing Wickham. Additionally, Elizabeth looked displeased with her brother as a partner. Her eyes continued to seek out Wickham, who she undoubtedly saw only as a handsome and agreeable young man. As the night wore on, and Will and the others continued to block Wickham’s attempts at speaking with Miss Graves, his expression turned stony.

*****

The following day, Elizabeth arose early. Always an earlier riser, she slept restlessly in unfamiliar beds and homes. Additionally, the events of the evening before circled in her mind. Why should Sam’s friend be so rude to Mr. Wickham? Mr. Darcy had been the only one friendly to Wickham. The old man’s son and his friends believed they knew better than the patriarch. Elizabeth shook her head at such disrespect.

Her father had always inspired deep respect in her. Her mother on the other hand… Elizabeth frowned. It was not that she desired to disrespect her mother. The woman merely had such different understanding and feelings of all the world than Elizabeth. When she was younger, she thought perhaps it was because Fanny Bennet was her step-mother, but Elizabeth now saw the same disconnection in temperaments between Fanny’s eldest daughter and the woman. Elizabeth’s next younger sister, Mary, was much more severe and studious than the youngest Bennet daughters. Their frivolity and love of luxuries bordered on spoilt. When Elizabeth would mention as much to her father or brother, they would laugh. Why should they moderate their spending when Sam was breaking the entail? When the sad day came that Mr. Bennet died, Sam would become master and all of his sisters and step-mother would forever be welcome at Longbourn. Additionally, Sam’s betrothed was the daughter of the local knight and Elizabeth’s close friend. Charlotte would never toss them in the hedgerows.

Yes, as much as Elizabeth respected and loved her father, she had to admit he was just a little blind when it came to the ways of his second wife. However, Elizabeth would never publicly argue with either one of her parents or disrespect their requests as Fitzwilliam Darcy had done. On the other hand, even Sam seemed to agree with his friend. Could Sam be so easily led astray?

Jane continued to sleep and Elizabeth quietly dressed for the day. Perhaps all the extra sleep is what made Jane so beautiful. Of course, all the rest in the world could not change Elizabeth’s disposition. Jane was mild and sweet-tempered whereas Elizabeth delighted in sarcasm and debates. Some, like Louisa and Caroline Bingley, would call her unladylike. Elizabeth shrugged as she ran a brush through her brown tresses. She cared not one jot for the opinion of those ladies.

With silent steps, Elizabeth crossed the spacious chamber and softly shut the door behind her. The Darcys’ London house had none of the old squeaks and groans of Longbourn. The stairs made no complaint as she descended them in favor of the Library. Pausing outside the door, Elizabeth listened for voices, hoping the room was empty. Satisfied there were no occupants, Elizabeth eased the door open and sighed at the glorious sight of so many rows of books. Undoubtedly the work of several generations, Elizabeth could not help but admire the dedication it took to amass such a stockpile of tomes.

Running her fingers over the woodgrain of the cases, Elizabeth noticed a partially hidden notch. Touching it, she felt the wood push in a little and heard a soft click. A panel on the edge of the case by a door that opened to Mr. Darcy’s dressing room eased open. Curious, Elizabeth approached and peered in the empty hidden cupboard. Suddenly, she heard a sound coming from the dressing room. Panicking, Elizabeth slid inside the closet and pulled the panel closed.

“Enough, Fitzwilliam,” Mr. Darcy said. “George will accompany us. This childish rivalry you have needs to come to an end. One day you will be master of Pemberley and George will be there to help you just as his father has assisted me.”

“I have the highest respect for Mr. Wickham, Father. As your steward, I agree he has been indispensable to you, but his son…”

“Will,” Mr. Darcy sighed. “Sometimes I see too much of your mother’s pride in you. Perhaps we ought not to have named you after her side of the family. They can be so exclusive with their lofty titles.”

“I am sorry you think so.”

Elizabeth believed it was said with a mixture of offense and regret.

“I finalized everything yesterday. He will have the living at Kympton. After this summer, he will begin his training to be rector, and you will begin learning more about Pemberley. Together, you will be the models for all of Derbyshire gentry class to aspire to be.”

“Yes, sir,” Will said. “Ah, here is the Plato I wanted.”

“Now, let us find breakfast. Bennet and Joseph ought to be down any moment. Undoubtedly the ladies will sleep until later. Will you join us at the club?”

They exited through the library door and left for the breakfast room, Elizabeth assumed. Her mind whirled with all she had heard. Even Will’s father called him proud! Elizabeth lingered in the library until she heard voices on the stairs. Hearing her father’s voice, she met him and both Mr. Bingleys in the hall.

“Lizzy,” Papa said and kissed her cheek. “I trust you well.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth smiled. After greeting the others, she placed her hand on his arm, and they walked to the breakfast room together.

“Have you been in the library long?” Mr. Bennet asked as they entered the room.

Mr. Darcy and Will stood and bowed at her entrance, but the younger man’s eyes met hers with a curious gaze.

“No, only for a moment,” she answered and fought a flush coming to her cheeks. “I must have just missed you upstairs.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “And, of course, you thought of reading before food.”

Mr. Darcy smiled. “My son is also a great reader, Miss Elizabeth.”

“I wish I could take that term as a compliment, but my mother assures me it is a very troublesome habit,” Elizabeth said with a sly smile.

The gentlemen laughed.

“I am sure she would,” Mr. Darcy said with a grin.

“What sort of books do you enjoy reading?” Will asked.

“Whatever captures my imagination,” she shrugged.

“Novels,” Will supplied.

Perceiving his disapproval, Elizabeth drew her shoulders back. “I do appreciate novels, but I read many things. Poetry, engineering, history—surely that calls for as much imagination as anything with the way the writers have imagined the thoughts and words of the world’s greatest men and women.” She raised a brow. “I even find enjoyment in philosophical treatises such as The Republic.”

Will’s mouth dropped open before he managed to speak. “You read Plato?”

“In the Greek,” Mr. Bennet grinned. “Sam taught her. They drive my wife mad with speaking in ‘foreign tongues’ as she calls it.”

“Telling of my exploits, Father?” Sam said from the doorway. With a bow to its occupants, he took a seat next to his friends.

“There would be nothing to tell,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You are the very best brother and the most gentlemanly man. Papa is far more likely to find stories to tell of me.”

Sam raised his brows and then looked between his friends before they all burst out in laughter. Elizabeth blushed in embarrassment.

“Nevermind us, Miss Elizabeth,” Will said when they had calmed. “We see a different side of your brother than perhaps you do, but I would hope one day my own sister may say the same of me.”

“Surely she will,” Mr. Darcy cut in. “Fitzwilliam knows the Darcy legacy he must live up to. He has always made me proud, and I know he will never disappoint me.”

As the older man spoke, Elizabeth thought she saw Will’s previous amusement fade. Such words ought to inspire well-deserved pride and affection. Instead, Will looked a bit like a man trying not to choke.

“Well, what are plans for the morning?” Mr. Bingley asked.

“I invited Fitzwilliam and his friends to the club, but he has declined. I suppose the young people would prefer to find other forms of amusement.”

Charles nodded. “Caroline and Louisa wanted to walk in the park during the fashionable hour and then visit a few shops.”

“Very good,” Mr. Darcy smiled at his guest. “I expect you and Fitzwilliam will accompany the ladies.”

Elizabeth saw the nearly imperceptible set of Will’s jaw tighten. Meeting his father’s eyes, he nodded. Next, he met Elizabeth’s gaze. Her breath stole as she thought she could read the young man’s feelings and found they reflected her own. Fitzwilliam Darcy was a puzzle she seemed in no danger of solving anytime soon.