Reunited- Chapter Four

reunited 2Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

Salt from Elizabeth’s tears mingled with the taste of Will’s mouth. How she had craved this for five years and feared she would never experience it again. They had much they still needed to say, but Elizabeth gave herself up to their passions. Years ago, they had been young, and while passionate, timid. Now, time had heightened their feelings. Will groaned when their lips first met and then deepened the kiss. His tongue dueled with hers. With each stroke, Elizabeth believed she could never quench her desire for more. Muscular arms held her against him, first wrapped around her back, then settling on her hips. Of their own accord, Elizabeth’s arms settled around his neck and her body sagged against him. A whimper of relief bordering on pain escaped her mouth. Her hands knocked his hat off and her fingers tangled in his hair.

Suddenly, Will tore at her bonnet ribbons and wrenched his lips from hers so he could draw back and see his work. Wordlessly, Elizabeth pushed his hands aside and deftly untied the bow. Will chuckled as he all but tore it from her head and sent it sailing to the ground. Although her favorite bonnet, at the moment she could not care less. Will was here, kissing her. He might disappear again just as suddenly as he came. If she had only this moment with him, she would enjoy it without regret.

Will cupped her face before kissing every inch. His mouth trailed lower as he laved his hot tongue over her skin. Goose pimples erupted on her flesh and moans and gasps fell from her throat. Elizabeth arched her neck to allow him greater access. He bent her backward and supported her with one hand even as the other explored the space above her neckline and her arms. She squirmed against him and clutched his back, wishing they could be closer still. If only she could remove his cravat and return the exquisite sensation he now evoked in her. Will’s kisses returned up to her throat and he nibbled at her earlobe. Elizabeth’s legs buckled, and he pulled her in even closer.

“Mine,” he whispered.

A shiver ran up Elizabeth’s spine. “I am yours,” Elizabeth heard tumbling from her lips without conscious thought.

“Mine now and always,” he said fervently and brought her head to his chest.

Hearing his heart pound in her ear, Elizabeth felt Will rest his chin atop her head and rub her back.

“Perfect,” he pressed a kiss to her hair. “Just as I always knew it would be.”

Elizabeth pulled back, needing to see his eyes and judge his earnestness by their expression. No longer drunk on passion, she feared for her heart as much as ever. Instead of seeing an affectionate gaze, his blue eyes were wide in horror. Her heart pounded in her ears, but no—no, that was hoofbeats.

Will pushed Elizabeth on the ground and threw himself atop her as a horse trampled around them. She thought she heard Will shouting at it, but it was so hard to hear as its feet pounded around them and it screamed  in alarm. For a moment longer than eternity, Elizabeth lay still as Will protected her with his own body. She had no fear for herself but prayed as she never had before that the man she loved would be spared any pain or injury. Pulse racing and heart pounding, she did not recognise at first when the white terror had left them.

“Elizabeth!” Will called loudly from her side. “Speak, love. Tell me you are unharmed. If Apollo injured you, I will never—”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Blinking, she rose to a sitting position.

“Slowly, now,” Will soothed and rubbed her back. “Do you feel any pain?”

Words still stuck in her throat, she shook her head.

“Thank God!” He crushed her in a tight embrace, his head resting on her shoulder.

“That was your horse?” Elizabeth asked in a breathy voice.

“Yes—I cannot imagine what may have spooked him. He is usually quite docile.” He pulled back and held her by the shoulders. “You are certain you are uninjured?”

“I am,” she said in a stronger tone. Emotion, she perceived, had strangled her voice. Now safe, she recovered quickly. Her eyes scanned over Will. “But you are not!”

“No, I am well,” he said then perceiving where her eyes rested, pulled his arms away from her.

Will had a few bruises and a scrape on his cheek that might lend distinction to his face upon healing but otherwise appeared unscathed—except where his sleeve had torn and revealed to Elizabeth scarred, angry flesh on his forearms. She had not known he was injured in the fire as her father had been. Why was she never informed?

“Will,” she reached out a hand.

“If you are recovered,” he said coldly, “I will escort you home. I would like to speak with Mr. Bennet.”

“What of your horse?”

“I will send a servant to fetch him later. Apollo is a good horse and will not wander far. What I need to discuss with your father is far more important.”

Elizabeth blushed, believing he referenced their old engagement. After the events of this morning, she could little doubt his affection and wishes remained unchanged. Will stretched out a hand and assisted Elizabeth to her feet. Collecting her bonnet, she then restored her appearance as best she could for there was no hiding the dirt. Wrapping her hand around his “good” arm, she squeezed it a little as they set off on the path to Longbourn.

“Perhaps he knows—or maybe he is the guilty party—who intercepted my letters and how they never reached you.”

In all that had followed, Elizabeth nearly forgot to wonder what happened. “No, I do not think Papa knew anything about it. When he mentioned your coming here—he did not reveal your name but neither did he seem anxious to conceal it. I hate to think it, but might it have been Sam—or even your father?”

Will frowned. “Either might be true, but I cannot question dead men. In our last conversation on the topic, Father said he would yield to my wishes. Sam—” His brow furrowed.

“What is it?”

“I do not wish to speak ill of your brother or make his memory less sacred to you.”

“I always wish to know the truth,” Elizabeth encouraged.

“He was in debt to Lord Harcourt.”

Elizabeth could not repress her shudder at the memory of the young earl who made her skin crawl.

“There were other matters too. He did not approve of our affection, and feared for your future especially.” Will shook his head. “He had set off on a doomed path, but I believe if he had lived he would have seen to the correction of his failings. I mourn the loss of his potential even more than I mourn the loss of his friendship. I do not know that he would be so deceitful as to steal my letters.”

“Forgive me,” Elizabeth whispered. “I have not considered your feelings enough. Losing your father and your friend in one evening…”

“Yes,” he squeezed her hand. “However, it is in the past, and I have made it through. Charles became an invaluable support to me. If you recall my cousin, Richard, he was as well.”

They had just entered the Longbourn gate. “I do recall him. I trust he has been well. And your sister? I have thought of my little friend many times over the years.”

Elizabeth watched as Will’s expression changed. He appeared more mournful as she asked after his sister than he had even when speaking of his deceased father and friend.

“I would be most pleased if you corresponded with her. Perhaps soon she may visit Netherfield and renew your acquaintance in person.”

“I would like that,” Elizabeth said as a strange nervousness filled her. “Will.” She tugged on his arm to stay his movements.

“What is it?”

“I…I…there is no need to tell my father everything.”

He nodded. “Of course, I guard your reputation with my life—even from your father.”

“No…of…of…anything recent.”

“I do not understand what you mean.”

Elizabeth waved her hand between them. “Us—anything about us. We barely knew each other then and have only seen each other twice. There is much left unsaid.”

“I had thought we found the heart of the matter. I believed you did not love me because you never replied to my letters. A correspondence which you never received. Therefore, I would like to know how that came to be.”

“Yes, I agree that was the situation and if solving the mystery is important to you, then, by all means, question him. But we might say it was only intent at an imprudent correspondence. Or, at least, not hint at any continued feelings or expectations.”

Will’s jaw tightened, and his shoulder straightened. “You do not wish for me to inform him of our long-standing betrothal? Or you do not wish to continue it? Speak plainly, madam.”

Elizabeth blinked at his transformation. No longer her Will, suddenly, the master of Pemberley stood before her. “Do not order me about!” She said with more offense than she felt. “I do not know what I wish. You return after years away, dripping charm, and smothering me with kisses before death-defying acts of saving my life. I was never courted properly. I will not be whisked away as your bride before I even know who you now are.”

“Elizabeth Bennet, you may be the only woman in creation to make me feel so many contradictory emotions in such a short span! I am certain no one else has ever called me charming. Then you somehow insinuate making love to you and potentially sacrificing my life as a terrible thing all before demanding courtship. If it is courtship and understanding me that you desire, then come, at once. I will promise you both, and we will begin with speaking to your father.”

Will returned her hand to his arm and led them to Longbourn. There, he asked for an audience with Mr. Bennet, and they separated in the hall.

 

*****

 

Will entered Mr. Bennet’s study with determination. Elizabeth was his, and whoever had caused them the pain they had experienced for five years—and the source of her current timidity—would pay dearly for their meddling.

“Will, I did not expect to see you this morning,” Mr. Bennet greeted him and motioned for him to sit. “I trust you do not mind my calling you such. It is difficult to think of you as Mr. Darcy although I see how much you have grown to look like your father.”

Tensing, Will nodded in acceptance. In the past five years, he had felt the weight of his father’s burdens. While he once had believed he would easily slip into the old master’s shoes, he had far too soon learned the truth. George Darcy managed far more than Will had ever known. His father died before his instruction on how to run Pemberley had really begun. He had hoped to rely on his steward, but Mr. Wickham did not long outlive the master. At least his illness had allowed Will the appropriate time to find a replacement and Will’s uncle, the earl, had loaned his steward to assist the young man. For the residents of Pemberley and the nearby town of Lambton, George Darcy was a saint who could do no wrong and Will felt he had much to measure up to. What he had needed for all those years was the indefatigable support of his beloved.

“You did not tell Elizabeth very much about the fire, did you?” Will began.

Mr. Bennet coloured and shuffled some papers on his desk. “It was a subject which naturally upset her nor was it any more comfortable for me to explain.”

“I do not mean to reprimand, but I have only just now discovered that she had never been informed of the injuries I sustained during the event.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyes scanned Will, and he raised his brows when he noticed the torn sleeve.

“I came upon Elizabeth while out walking. I had tied my horse off while we talked but something spooked Apollo. We were nearly trampled.”

Mr. Bennet stiffened and clutched the arms of his chair. His body thrummed with energy as though he would shoot out of it at any moment. “Lizzy is well?”

“She is unharmed. I would never allow anything to hurt her.” Will spoke with sincere conviction, and his voice cracked as he considered what might have been. If Mr. Bennet had been the one to conceal their correspondence, he would have some reckoning.

The older gentleman relaxed and then cocked his head. “You speak of her both passionately and familiarly. Additionally, you seem to think your well-being would have been of interest to my Lizzy.”

Straightening his shoulders, Will met the man’s gaze. “We were betrothed—are betrothed.” Pride bloomed in his heart. It was the first time he had admitted such a thing to another. How had he concealed it so long? “I believe she would have desired to know. Did she ask after me?”

Will watched as Mr. Bennet paled, coloured, and blinked in confusion. “What did you just say?”

“Before our last parting,” Will answered, “I proposed marriage to Elizabeth, and she accepted.”

Now, Bennet shot out of his chair, pushing it aside. Slamming his hands on his desk, he leaned over it with a wild look in his eye.

Will gulped. “Elizabeth and I are in love and have been for the past five summers. We have been betrothed for years.”

“Young man!” Mr. Bennet boomed. “Take care of what you say next for I have a strong mind to request pistols at dawn since you are too old for me to paddle and too large for me to thrash. Take yourself to a corner and be silent.”

Hesitating, Will slowly stood and bowed. “I will abide by your wishes and agree some space is sensible.” Taking a post by the window with his back turned to the older man, he waited several minutes until he was summoned once more to sit.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Bennet said in something closer to his usual tone. “I am not often given to such displays of emotion, but you must admit your information was shocking.”

“I did not mean for it to be so,” Will answered. He had thought his forthright manner would be an asset. It seemed that was not appreciated on Elizabeth’s father. “Allow me to apologise for the upset. I suppose you probably have many questions for me.”

Bennet pinched the bridge of his nose. “As a father and close friend of yours, I have many conflicting feelings. What I know of you, or what you were half a decade ago, would have been everything I desired in a husband for Lizzy. However, I do not appreciate that it was not done openly or when she was so young. The more I consider it, she did ask about you when I returned after the fire. I did not think much of it as our thoughts were full of Sam and our loss. She slipped into a deep melancholy which has not entirely left her. Yesterday, I found her weeping at his grave. If even a shred of that emotion is related to your prolonged absence, I have half a mind to banish you from my house. I pray that you never live to see the day that your offspring are treated so horribly.”

“I, too, regret the pain Elizabeth experienced, and I intend to make up for lost time. Allow me to add, that the separation devastated me as well.”

“I suppose you might have an explanation?”

“Nothing that does me much credit,” Will frowned. “I had already heard arguments against the attachment. When she did not reply to my letters, I believed the worst. She had changed her mind—or perhaps never cared for me at all, as George Wickham had argued at the time.”

“I would not have thought you would have listened to him.” Bennet folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “I recall you attempting to tell your father many times that the young man was no good.”

Will shook his head. “I can only claim the insecurity of youth. After my father died…” He trailed off. Lacking the proper words to explain his sentiments, Will waved his hands. “I was lost. My mind was too consumed with grief and the weight of my burdens to consider matters. I will never forgive myself, even still, I do not think it is most logical to conclude that someone must have tampered with our mail. I ought to have asked Elizabeth directly, but I could not bear to see her.”

“Do I understand you correctly? You believe she gave you up?”

“Yes,” Will answered and for a terrible moment relived the days of uncertainty and yearning as well as the nights of constant self-reproach.

“Did you believe her so mercenary?” Bennet asked sharply. “Your best friend’s sister!”

Will pushed a hand through his curls. “Again, I can only point to the foolishness of youth and the reckless pace of our romance. I allowed my insecurities and the prejudices of my father to plague me. However, Sam had recently gotten into considerable debt and was hiding from a creditor. I had known him for years. At the same time, my father refused to hear my concerns regarding Wickham. I felt there was no one I could trust and all the world mercenary.”

“As you claim you are still betrothed to her, and she loves you, I presume you have spoken with her on the subject.”

“Yes,” Will nodded. Well, actually…no. They had not discussed how to regard their betrothal. If he understood her words, Elizabeth wished for a courtship. Neither one had intended to form a breach and there had been no subsequent attachments—of that Will was sure. Elizabeth would not kiss him and confess to love him if she had ever hoped to marry another. “Ah, we could clarify matters more. After the incident with the horse, I desired to see her safely returned home.”

“I commend you for, finally, doing the proper thing and speaking to her father.”

Will coloured. He had never asked for Mr. Bennet’s blessing, and even now he told more than asked. Elizabeth was not of age. Surely her father would not make them wait longer than they already had. Pride for his station and security of Elizabeth’s feelings mingled with the knowledge that Mr. Bennet deserved his respect. Swallowing his conceit, Will met his potential father-in-law’s eyes. “I humbly submit a request for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

 

Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Three, Part Two

Road in dark forest

Previous Parts: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1

“Powers? Gifts? Magic?” Elizabeth spoke. It appeared her sisters could not utter a word through their terror. “Good witches? What of the stories of evil?” She shook her head and rushed on before her father could answer. “No, this is nonsense. It defies logic. Science proves magic does not exist.”

Mr. Bennet smirked. “Does this seem real?”

He held out his hand, and a flame appeared. Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. Her sisters gasped.

“You may touch it.” He motioned for his wife to hold her hand over it for a moment. She then displayed her unblemished hand. “Try it,” he suggested to his daughters.

Tentatively, Elizabeth reached out a hand. She felt no heat or discomfort. Giving her father a skeptical look, she pulled away from her sisters and walked a few steps until she had gathered some sticks and leaves. Placing them over the flame in her father’s hand, Elizabeth marveled that the fire consumed them but had not harmed flesh.

“You can do it too, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said. “Hold out your hand and focus. Think about unleashing the burning you feel under your skin.”

Surprised to hear her father had known the sensations she had been feeling, Elizabeth met his eyes. Unclenching a palm, she extended her hand out and thought about forcing the fiery prickles coursing through her body outward. A flame jumped from her hand, reaching over a foot high. Startled, Elizabeth and her sisters shrieked. The flame sputtered out.

“And that is somehow used for good?” Elizabeth asked.

Mr. Bennet nodded. “You have always had a fiery temper, Lizzy. Our powers are harder to control when our emotions are overwrought. Likewise, Kate often feels she has experienced things before, and Jane can sympathize with nearly anyone.

“There is good and evil in this world, tended to by witches fighting for either side. It was a curse from the dark side which brought illness here five years ago. A family of great female witches had been prophesied about. Three sisters would have the powers of empathy, fire, and premonition.”

Mr. Morland, who Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about, floated around to stand beside his earthly wife, confirmed what Elizabeth knew instinctively. “That family was the Bennets of Longbourn.”

Mr. Bennet paused at his daughters’ gasp. Seeing none had fainted, he continued the tale. “We did not know how the prophecy would be fulfilled. No family name was included in the prophecy.”

Elizabeth’s dead mother joined them. “I grew nervous as each successive daughter exhibited more traits to fulfill the prophecy. When Mary began having premonitions, we advocated the High Council of Witches for protection. A traitor was amongst them. Instead of having protection, your youngest sisters and I met our demise.”

The two Mrs. Bennets stood next to each other now, hand in hand. The former Mrs. Morland spoke. “Kate was so upset over her powers that her father and I bound them just before we visited Hertfordshire. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters succumbed to their sickness, we were visited by the High Minister. She said Kate’s powers were not well known in the community and were sufficiently cloaked from Caligo  — that is the name of the evil warlock who wishes to kill the Bewitched Sisters. The power of the gift lies in the three women forming bonds of sisterly love and unity, not in a bloodline. It was suggested Kate could take Mary Bennet’s place.”

Kate gasped. “Father, you were never ill? You sacrificed yourself so Mama could marry Mr. Bennet?” Kate exclaimed. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“It was for the greater good. I have never been too far from our family. I did not die from what took Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, but I did suffer from a lingering illness with no known cure. We merely sped up my demise.”

Kate continued to blubber. The young ladies stood still, shocked in wonder.

Elizabeth seemed to be the first to gain her equilibrium. Her mind was racing, and she was the first to speak. “Why are we being told this now?”

“Because now,” her mother said, “it is necessary for you three to use your powers to defeat the darkness returning to Hertfordshire. General Tilney’s return to Netherfield was the signal that Caligo  has returned to complete his mission.”

“What is that?” Elizabeth asked. She was eager to know everything she could about this new world.

Mr. Bennet was the most knowledgeable and therefore answered. “We do not know entirely. The Bewitching Sisters were prophesied as guardians of the Kingdom of Magic and of Great Britain. He must mean harm to one or both of them.”

“And he dwells in General Tilney?” Kate asked in a trembling voice and huddled closer to Jane as her eyes searched the woods.

Elizabeth guessed she was wondering how far they were from Netherfield and if he might be overhearing all of this.

Mr. Bennet answered again, “No, the General is a trusted council member. It is he who put the enchantment on Netherfield, as Longbourn’s closest neighbors. Should the spirit of darkness return, the house will be readied for occupancy again.”

“What has changed? What would trigger such a thing?” Elizabeth questioned.

“We do not know,” said Mr. Morland. “We have limited time for visitation this night. We could only appear long enough to explain the history to you and join your living parents in unbinding your powers.” The parents soon surrounded the girls and said a chant returning their powers and memories of magic.

“We must go, but I would caution you girls that enemies often enjoy hiding behind a friendly face. Now, we trust the love which has brought you this far will last as you work together to vanquish this evil,” the deceased Mrs. Bennet said. “Know you have our love.”

After tender embraces, the ghostly parents vanished, and Mr. Bennet led his family back to the house.

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

reunited 2

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

Road in dark forest

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.”

Loving Elizabeth #2 Reunited- Chapter One

reunited 2Chapter One

September 26, 1811

 

Sitting at the desk in his London townhouse, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s hand shook as he attempted to read Bingley’s note. Determined to not display his anxieties, Darcy paced around the room. Finally, he sat in a chair and browsed an agricultural report until his friend arrived.

Ten minutes past the correct time, the butler announced Bingley’s arrival. Darcy stood to greet him.

“Darcy, it has been an age. I was sorry to hear Georgiana felt poorly the whole summer and we could not meet. How does she fare now?”

Darcy managed a small smile as both men sat. “It is always good to see you. My sister is much recovered, thank you. Tell me about this estate you have leased. Hertfordshire, is it?”

Bingley gave Darcy a curious look. “If you know that much, then you have read my note and know it is called Netherfield. You also know it is quite close to Longbourn, which you should recall…”

“Yes, as the Bennet estate.” Darcy paused. Tumultuous emotions rioted in his body. As his heart pounded a blistering headache formed. “You cannot blame me for not being able to read through all these blots.”

Bingley smiled at the tease. “Will you come and visit? I know your feelings on the Bennets, but it has been five years.”

Darcy closed his eyes as painful memories threatened to intrude. Shaking his head to clear the thoughts, he opened his eyes and met Bingley’s. “Yes, of course. We must all move forward with our lives.”

Bingley gave an ebullient smile and waxed long on the house and its situation. “Louisa and Hurst will come, and Caroline will be my hostess. Will you bring Georgiana?”

Fear and rage temporarily clouded Darcy’s vision. Regaining control, he answered, “I…I will leave it to her to determine.”

Bingley openly gaped at his friend. “You will allow her to decide?”

Darcy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Of course. She is growing older and must have some independence. I cannot order her life forever.”

Bingley nodded approvingly, then turned serious. “I have attempted to keep in contact with the Bennets over the years, did I ever tell you?”

Darcy shook his head. “No, you have not. You must have worried about bringing up such a painful subject.”

Bingley agreed.

Darcy picked at imaginary lint on his breeches. “What news have you heard?”

“Scarcely a thing. Mr. Bennet only replies around twice a year. In October and then usually in June…” Bingley trailed off for a moment. “They are all quite well.”

Darcy smiled a little. “I can imagine he enjoys telling tales of his grandchildren.”

Bingley’s brow furrowed. “Darcy…all the girls are still at home.”

Darcy’s head jerked up.

Bingley continued as though he noticed nothing. “I cannot imagine why. I have never met a more angelic creature than Miss Bennet, and Miss Elizabeth was quite pretty as well. The men in Hertfordshire must be blind or stupid.” Then he paused, and a solemn look crossed his face. “Or perhaps five years has been slow to heal their pains as well as ours.”

Darcy could only nod his head. The two men, now masters of their homes, sat in silence for several minutes.

Bingley stood and clapped a hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “I will be escorting Caroline and the others on the Fourteenth after the house is ready for visitors. Will you ride with us then?”

Darcy flinched and then agreed, “Certainly. Apollo could use a good stretch.”

The men said their farewells and Bingley departed. Darcy walked back to his desk and picked up Bingley’s note again, this time with determination. “It is time.”


Don’t kill me! The title should give the theme away. Darcy and Elizabeth are reunited after years of separation. What happened to them? Why has so much time passed? We’ll get answers next time but what are your guesses?

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Two part two

Road in dark forest

What does Elizabeth think of the Assembly and Darcy? Can they get along better in this magical world?


While Jane and Bingley danced, Elizabeth sat out due to the absence of partners. She had not minded and was busy watching the new neighbors. Mr. Darcy had caught her eye early in the evening, and she now amused herself imagining his inner thoughts as he circled about the room with an expression of disdain. His strong jaw was firmly set. Now and then someone bumped into him and his face contorted. She was busy wondering if the spasm was an expression of revulsion or pain when Mr. Bingley left his second dance with Jane to approach his friend.

“Darcy! I must have you dance!” Mr. Bingley’s face was flushed from the heat of the ballroom and the exertion of dancing.

Mr. Darcy looked amongst the crowd. The baker and his wife promenaded past, and Elizabeth thought she saw his lip curl.

“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”

Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.

“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley and he turned his whole body to look at Jane.

Darcy loosened his cravat and then stared at his gloved hand while responding. “You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”

Bingley grinned but shook his head. “No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught. The last thing she desired was to be inspected by Mr. Darcy. She reminded herself she had no reason to want his good opinion, all the same, she wished she had worn a different gown or spent more time on her hair.

“Which do you mean?”

Darcy looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away.

“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. The minute Darcy walked on to find fault with another dancer, she promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.

Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth’s description of the haughty interchange. Once calmed, she whispered into Elizabeth’s ear, “His eyesight must be weak for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”

Elizabeth sincerely doubted such a specimen of a man could have any fault so mundane as weak eyesight but laughed at the image provoked. She imagined Darcy with a quizzing glass which magnified objects tenfold and yet he still needed to bring items close. Perhaps he might mistake a dirty stocking for a posy and sniff it.

“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”

Charlotte’s sharp eyes met her friend’s. “Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”

Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”

“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”

Elizabeth shook her head. Her dark curls dancing at the movement. “You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”

Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.

“I cannot believe he meant it in that way!” Jane’s blue eyes went wide in shock and disbelief. “Mr. Bingley is the friendliest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.

Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted. As the evening wore on, however, it seemed Mr. Darcy was always watching her. Finding more fault with her, she assumed. She did not care about his close inspection.

At one point, Mr. Bingley’s younger sister was led to the dance floor by Darcy. Her orange silk gown floated around her in an almost magical quality. At first, Elizabeth admired the dress but believed it did not flatter Miss Bingley’s complexion. Additionally, her nose quite literally stuck in the air lest she suffer from the aroma of her fellow dancers. Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley cringe before touching every other partner. If Mr. Darcy’s eyes wandered, Miss Bingley would say some joke, judging by the way she laughed at her words, and Mr. Darcy’s lips tilted up in a small smile. Elizabeth suspected snide comments being made and hoped someone in Miss Bingley’s set would trample on her train. Elizabeth grinned at the possibility then immediately felt guilty about what Jane’s reaction would be.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she turned her attention to her sisters. Kate danced with Henry Tilney, and Elizabeth smiled to herself as the gentleman made her younger sister laugh. Kate had just come out a few weeks earlier, and Elizabeth applauded her parents for allowing their other daughters of close age out even while the eldest remained unmarried. Elizabeth happily saw her sister’s first ball must be everything a lady needed. For once, Elizabeth did not even regret Kate’s fanciful imagination. Growing too warm, she stationed herself near an open window until Mr. Bingley collected her for their set.