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.

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.

 

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!

pledged 7.jpg

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.