Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

Due to the controversy regarding Baby, It’s Cold Outside (which I think is harmless so here’s the link to my favorite version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rpg7-ab_F7s), I can’t get the song out of my head. Mr. Darcy told me that he had a story to tell, but then Elizabeth wanted it all through her point of view. From your favorite hero who can’t make words happen, here’s what might happen if Darcy and Lizzy were singing the song. 

Elizabeth Bennet rubbed her gloved hands together in her fur muff. It was no use, however. It was simply too cold. She glanced up at the sky. And too snowy. The winter storm rolled in quickly since she left had Longbourn.

She had only intended to enjoy a walk. She needed time to herself after all the noise of Christmas the day before. Mrs. Bennet had crowed non-stop about how grand it was to have her eldest daughter established as the mistress of Netherfield Park. Elizabeth lost count after hearing it for the one hundredth time. God bless Mr. Bingley, but he did not seem to care. Indeed, his joy of having Jane as his wife was so much that nothing Mrs. Bennet could do would offend him. There was a time when Elizabeth would have applauded his amiability and think of it as the sort of behaviour which would most appeal to her in a suitor. However, that was before she met Mr. Darcy.

The Mr. Darcy who had separated Jane from her Mr. Bingley. The same Mr. Darcy who proposed to Elizabeth last Spring. A proposal she spitefully refused. Next, he wrote her a letter, illuminating all of the reasons for his insufficient manners. Over time, Elizabeth had learned to accept his words. However, she had never done any looking into her heart over the matter. She had thought him the worst man in the world when he proposed and while his character improved after she read his letter, she never expected to meet him again. 

Alas, Elizabeth visited Mr. Darcy’s estate over the summer. Confronted with all things Darcy, she soon realized hearts are treacherous things. If ever there was a man she could have loved and rejoiced in marrying, it would have been him. Her only complaint about him was that he was not friendly enough to her relations. No sooner had she made such an observation than did the master of the estate appear before her. 

Even more shocking, Mr. Darcy not only asked for an introduction to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle who were in trade, but he called on them the next day with his sister–and Mr. Bingley. He invited them all to Pemberley to dine. However, before such a thing could occur, Elizabeth received a letter that her youngest sister had eloped with Darcy’s sworn enemy. 

How Elizabeth had grieved her chance with Darcy then! If not for Lydia’s stupidity, their second chance might have grown to more. When Elizabeth later learned that Darcy had arranged for the reckless couple to marry, she finally admitted the truth to herself. She was madly in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

It could never be, however. He could never become brother-in-law to Mr. Wickham. A few weeks after Lydia’s marriage, Darcy returned to Hertfordshire with his friend Bingley. Of course, Darcy disappeared just as suddenly. Bingley made quick work of his courtship this time and proposed to Jane within days of his return. 

Elizabeth counted the days to the wedding, hoping to see Darcy once more. She knew it was likely vain to hope for his continued affections or wishes. She only wished to see him, to hear his voice. Most of all, she wished she could thank him for his service to her family. Only her aunt and uncle knew the truth of Darcy’s character and what he did for the Bennets.

He came, of course. He had amended his view of Bingley’s marriage and appeared the delighted friend. However, he avoided Elizabeth’s eyes and conversation. He never approached her. He always seemed surrounded by others.

He left the next day and Elizabeth had not seen him since. Jane said he had been invited to Netherfield for Christmas but declined. Instead, the new Mr. and Mrs. Bingley spent the day at Longbourn with the Bennets, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their four noisy children, Elizabeth’s other aunt and uncle who were vulgar, and Mary’s suitor.

Mrs. Bennet’s victory was complete with Mary having a beau. It also made Elizabeth a target for her displeasure more than ever. Was it any wonder that Elizabeth needed a few moments to herself? Deciding that a visit with Jane was precisely what she needed, she determined to continue on to Netherfield. A broken heart cannot heal amidst the laughter and gaeity of others, but Jane and Bingley’s gentle company could restore her mood.

During Elizabeth’s walk, it had begun to flurry. Undeterred, Elizabeth pressed on to Netherfield. She needed quiet and sweet Jane to soothe her mind. A mile later, and the snow fell in earnest. As she was closer to Netherfield than Longbourn, she continued to her destination. By the time she reached it, however, her teeth chattered and the snow was above her ankles. There would be no returning to Longbourn today. She would be lucky if even a servant could be sent to inform her family where she was. 

Elizabeth rang the bell and waited several minutes but no butler opened the door. Confused, Elizabeth pushed it open herself and was stomping off the snow on her boots in the dark entry when an unexpected voice startled her. 

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth quickly ducked her head to hide her blush. “I did not know you were visiting.”

“It was supposed to be a surprise,” he said as he hastened to her side and assisted with unwrapping her scarf.

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

Darcy furrowed his brow. “When did I say that?”

“Here above a year ago. You decried Bingley’s penchant for changing his plan on a whim.”

“That is hardly the same thing. Surprising others is not the same as it being a sudden change of plans on my part.” He took her elbow and began directing her to the drawing room. “However, I am the fool after all for Bingley seems to have given the entire staff the day off and I presume has left to spend it at Longbourn.”

Elizabeth chuckled and shook her head. That was just the sort of thing he would do. He rewarded his own house while unintentionally straining another’s. Still, Elizabeth could not fault him too much–or perhaps she could not focus on it too much as Darcy’s nearness made her heart race.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “If we are alone, I really cannot stay.” 

“Nonsense,” Darcy frowned. “The snow is coming far too rapidly for you to return now. I have not checked all the servant’s quarters but surely someone has remained.”

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

“They are not in their rooms. However, I have a fire lit in here,” Darcy said as they entered the drawing room. “You must warm yourself, at the very least.” He motioned to a chair and then took her hand to assist her in sitting. “Your hands are like ice!”

Darcy rubbed his hands over hers while staring intently into her eyes. Elizabeth felt she could say nothing. His tender care of her was everything she had ever wanted and yet it could never mean what she most desired. She both hated and loved his attention.

After a minute or two, he placed her hands on his chest. “I was hoping I would see you, Elizabeth.”

She sucked in a deep breath. He could not mean what she hoped. “I really should leave,” she murmured.

“You are still nearly frozen,” he said as he let go of her hands and led her nearer the fire. Next, he dragged the nearby settee closer. 

Unable to resist the heat’s temptation, Elizabeth sat. It felt inexplicably nice to warm herself after the freezing walk. Darcy busied himself with a decanter of wine and returned with two glasses. 

“This will help warm you,” he said when he offered one to her.

Elizabeth drank it rapidly, enjoying the flush that came to her body. Darcy reached for her glass and their fingers grazed. “I really should not have more.”

“I have seen you drink more during a dinner.” Sitting beside her, he sipped on his own glass. 

He must have seen her drinking wine while dining at Lady Catherine’s. Heaven knew one needed it there. And when alone with the man they hopelessly loved, apparently. Nervous with the silence and his nearness, Elizabeth lightly smiled. “Well, maybe just a bit more.” 

The only sound was the crackling of logs and while Elizabeth avoided looking at him, she could feel Darcy’s eyes upon her. A thousand memories washed over her. He had always watched her. At first, she had thought it was with criticism. Too late, she had realized it was in love. Now, she did not know what she would find in his eyes if she were brave enough to look upon them. After a few minutes of silence, Darcy began humming a tune. She finally turned her head to him, still averting her eyes.

“Do you recognize it?” he asked. “I believe you played it when you stayed here while your sister was ill.”

She had. Did his remembering that signify anything? Did it mean he still loved her? Or was it a reminder of the odds they were at during that time? She had thought she hated him and he had thought she was unworthy of his hand. Or maybe it all meant nothing. He never was very good at small talk.

“Thank you for the fire and the wine,” she nodded at each, “however, I must leave.” She hated the thought of leaving. Who knew when she would see him again?

“It is far too cold to be walking in all that.”

Despite her desire to stay, she felt compelled to search for every alternative. “I do not suppose you know how to prepare a carriage or drive it?”

Darcy peered at the window behind them. “Even if I did, it would not be safe.”

“Then I must walk or the neighbors might think…” 

Darcy wrapped his hand around Elizabeth’s as he took her empty wine glass. A shiver went up her spine. When had she drunk the whole glass? Her nerves must have needed the sweet wine more than she had thought.

He returned with another glass. “This wine is very good, do you not think? I was enjoying a glass when you arrived.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement as she took another sip. Had Darcy sat closer to her this time? He felt closer. His thigh nearly touched hers. Looking up from peering at her glass, she found his eyes upon her and his head leaning down toward hers. 

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

Elizabeth tried to breathe normally. She attempted to hide the shudder that coursed through her body at his words. They were unchaperoned and the worst would be thought of them. As it was, he might not have meant that he still loved her. Surely her looks had not changed very much even if everything else between them had. It would be no great thing to still admire her beauty but not wish for her hand in marriage. 

Why did she still sit here while the snow grew another inch every five minutes? Had he bewitched her somehow? Never before had she felt so incapable of doing what she had determined to do. She had determined to leave, had she not? She was almost certain she had thought it was the best decision only a few moments ago, but now…

Darcy reached forward and rubbed a curl between his thumb and forefinger. The lock grazed her cheek and his hand was so near her face that she grew dizzy. 

“I always thought you had beautiful hair. I wondered if it would feel like silk to touch.”

Was this truly happening? Perhaps she was hallucinating. A snow-induced dream. Did one dream before freezing to death? Of course, she did not feel cold. She felt warm, very warm. Had Darcy come even closer? His leg now pressed against hers.

The wind howled, causing Elizabeth to look at the window. It was useless to leave now. She should have turned back in Meryton. The most she could explain to others now was that she had gone to Netherfield in good faith and at least discussed returning to Longbourn once she realized only Darcy was in residence. 

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said and gulped as his eyes met hers. “Surely—surely you see that I cannot stay here.”

“It would be far worse for you to go.”

Was there a note of pleading in his voice? Did she wish for her to stay? He did not appear to be shunning her company and her heart rejoiced at that but to stay would tie his hands. She would be considered ruined and he would be forced to marry her or be worse than even Mr. Wickham. 

“No,” her voice faltered. “No, I cannot stay.” She would hate to be married to Darcy if he only regretted her and hated the connections she brought. “Thank you, again, for allowing me to warm myself. However, I must go.”

“I am not in control of the weather,” he said. “You can see for yourself. It is too dangerous for you to go.”

“Jane will worry and Bingley might even attempt to look for me himself.”

“They will know you had enough sense to seek shelter.”

“You may recall my aunt, Mrs. Phillips, and her unguarded tongue. It can be quite vicious…” Elizabeth took another sip of wine, willing it to give her strength and courage. 

Darcy released her tendril then took Elizabeth’s glass and took a sip from where she had placed her lips. “I believe this is the most delicious wine I have tasted.”

The action was unbearably intimate. However, he must have consumed too much for he was not thinking clearly. If she stayed much longer or indulged in what appeared to be their mutual desire, he would be attached to Wickham for the rest of his life. Deciding this might be as close to kissing Darcy as she would ever get, she retrieved her glass and copied his actions. “Just after we finish this glass, I will go.”

Darcy’s eyes never left hers as they continued to sip and exchange the glass. His free hand crept over the one which lay in her lap. He drew lazy circles before turning her hand over and repeating the action on her palm. Every touch of his skin made more her shudder. 

“I have never seen such a blizzard,” he muttered before taking the last sip of their shared glass of wine. 

“Yes, but all the same I must go,” she whispered. Her resolve had all but evaporated. She hesitated now only in deference to his feelings.

“I know what you once believed me ungentlemanly but I flatter myself that I am too much of a gentleman to allow you out in that. You would freeze before you reached Meryton.”

“If you do not need it, then I can wear your coat as well.” 

Darcy chuckled. “It would be far too large. Besides, look,” he pointed at the window. “It is likely to your knees by now.”

Elizabeth dropped her eyes to their hands. He had linked them. If he had really wanted to marry her still, he could have said so at any point. He had no reason to fear her acceptance. Why else would she have stayed unchaperoned with a bachelor for so long? Elizabeth took the interlude for all it could be. He still loved her, perhaps more than ever, but he could not marry her.

She must tell him something of what she felt. “I have enjoyed seeing you again, Mr. Darcy.” She squeezed his hand as she searched for her next words. Darcy shaprly inhaled and returned the pressure. 

“Do you know what you do to me, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked as he touched his forehead to hers.

She did know, or at least she thought she did. It was the same effect he had on hers. And it was a miserable prison of her own making. “But do you not see? There would be a world of gossip…”

Words were becoming even harder for her. She attempted to slip her hand from his. 

“I will regret it forever–“

She spoke over him. “So much would be implied.” Her heart leapt when she realized the beginning of his statement. She held her breath for him to continue.

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

Deflated, Elizabeth shrugged. She had hoped he would say something more. She would willingly stay if only he asked. “I am too healthy to catch such a thing. I must go…”

“You will have to think of something better to say,” Darcy laughed. “You are usually so witty.”

“I fear I have no humor about this. I cannot force your hand in such a way.”

“Is that what you are worried about?” Darcy asked with raised brows. 

“No one can know I was here with you. The expectations would be–“

“Everything I wish for,” he rushed to say. “I think you can guess that my affections are unchanged from last April but my attempts at wooing you might be as inept as my conversation. I thought the wine would ease your reserve and allow me to find the right words. Alas, it has not and I am left stumbling as best I can.” He sighed. “My wishes have not changed.”

“You cannot mean you still wish to marry me. You could never be related to Wickham, and if you still loved me you might have spoken with me at the wedding. You were so silent and grave–” Elizabeth could not continue and choked back a sob. 

Darcy placed both hands on Elizabeth’s cheeks. “I thought you did not care for me. Only a man who felt less could have risked another refusal. I will never–can never–stop loving you.”

“I would not refuse you,” Elizabeth blinked back tears. 

“I have never been so thankful for a bloody snowstorm in my life,” Darcy chuckled. “You will marry me?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

Darcy responded with a kiss. Despite the dropping temperature and piling snow, he and Elizabeth were able to keep very warm until discovered by Netherfield’s returning servants two days later. Naturally, they used only one chamber to conserve resources. Many things were implied and Mrs. Phillips’ tongue did wag, but the couple had no mind for it at all. A couple as violently in love as they will always find a way to stay warm on a winter’s day. 

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Nine

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

Thanks for all the support and comments on Georgiana’s experiences. There were a few questions in the last two chapters and I just want to clarify in case anyone missed something but doesn’t want to go back to double check. The abuser began grooming Georgiana when she was five or six. The assault didn’t start happening until she was ten, a few years before her father died. It continued for a few years until she entered puberty, which was a bit delayed due to the trauma. I was thinking fourteen but I never explicitly state it. Her father never knew. He never would have guessed such a thing was possible for probably anyone let alone his dear friend. We usually have certain impressions of the evil people who do these things. Unfortunately, they look as normal as anyone else. I do think that if she had come forward and told him, he would have believed her. My intention is not to portray Mr. Darcy as a bad man or parent. Most survivors (not victims!) who do come forward, until many years afterward. Instead, they develop other coping mechanisms. In Georgiana’s case, it was eventually self-harm. I used this situation as a catalyst for her relationship with George Wickham.

We might see Georgiana a little later and hear how she is doing, but it’s not the only issue our dear couple has to face. Indeed, the central conflict for the story is Elizabeth and her wounded psyche. Even the best and brightest among us can have periods of depression. Mental illness, whether it’s short-term or long-term, is no respecter of persons. I do consider what Elizabeth is going through as a mental illness. It’s not a long-lasting syndrome. However, it requires treatment all the same.

Elizabeth has experienced things which are not as outwardly abusive as Georgiana. However, people respond differently to situations. The situations are similar in the fact that they both required conditioning. I don’t think it’s fair to compare traumas and tell one person to suck it up while another’s damaged mind and fragility is considered acceptable. You do *not* have to meet a threshold of harm according to someone else’s perspective to be entitled to feel pain, ask for help, or be in need of care.

I don’t believe I can do justice to the scenario of healing from sexual abuse as I have never gone through that. However, Elizabeth’s situation? I have been there. Her thought process might not make sense to a mentally well person. Just like with any illness, the first step is she must acknowledge her signs and symptoms.

Hold onto the seat of your pants for the next two chapters. You might not always like this Elizabeth, and you’ll see she doesn’t always like herself. However, as Darcy shows us, she is always deserving of our compassion. When you are reading, do not think of this in terms of smart or stupid. Elizabeth is smart. She is also sick. This story is her recovery.

 

Chapter Nine

Throughout the day, Elizabeth would pause now and then in reading or listening to Darcy to observe him. More than once, he caught her staring, causing her to blush—something he seemed to enjoy profusely. She did not know that she could truly love him—certainly not as he deserved. However, she admired him more than ever. As a young lady of twenty, she had been infatuated with several men before. Indeed, she had even been infatuated with Wickham. It quickly faded to indifference and friendship before souring entirely. In the months apart from Darcy, she had come to see him as the best of men just because he was the opposite of Wickham in every way. Now, she knew the real strength of his character. He bore what no other man ever could!

What had she done when life grew too unbearable and hard? She had run away and left her sisters behind. Even now, the guilt tore at her. She tortured herself late at night when Darcy was asleep with thoughts of how she might have made her parents see reason. She might have found help for Jane just as Darcy had for his sister. Some rational part of her would argue back the impossibilities of it all. Darcy was a man and wealthy. He was his sister’s guardian. He had many freedoms that Elizabeth and her sisters did not have.

The thoughts did not expunge her feelings of guilt, however, for she could not forgive herself for all the years of ignoring and absolving her parents’ grievous errors. How often had Mrs. Bennet cooed about the outstanding match beautiful Jane would eventually make? Each year a deeper note of disappointment had entered Mrs. Bennet’s voice as Jane remained unwed. However, she always remained adamant that soon Jane would marry well and they would have no reason to fear Mr. Bennet’s demise. As her father never seemed to take the possibility of his death seriously, Elizabeth merely rolled her eyes at her mother’s lamenting. They had kind and loving relatives. Mr. Bennet had some money set aside for his wife and daughters per the marriage articles.

It was apparent to Elizabeth what Mrs. Bennet would most miss was the ability to be mistress of Longbourn. She feared any loss of position. The mother of a well-established daughter was not as pitiable as a widow with five spinster daughters. However, the fears were real to Mrs. Bennet and infected every aspect of her life. Family meals at Longbourn were always satisfactory but nothing special. If a single gentleman were invited, it had to be a lavish affair.

Elizabeth wondered how much of her father’s income was spent on entertaining possible suitors. They needed new clothing every year regardless of whether it was necessary. There were constant trips to the milliner for the latest accessories. Seeing it now through distant eyes, Elizabeth realised there was some aspect of Mrs. Bennet that did not want to appear the wretched and pitiable woman even before her husband’s demise. The more sensible it might have been to economise—as more and more daughters reached a marriageable age and yet the eldest remained unwed and therefore it likely that one or more of them might never marry—the more frenzied Mrs. Bennet became in her shopping. She grew calculating and devious in her desires to ensnare husbands for her daughters. She never once considered that the daughters she sought to protect felt perfectly content at home.

Elizabeth considered what it must have looked like to Kitty and Lydia. To them, it must have seemed that they might never marry. They would never have a moment to shine with Elizabeth and Jane still at home and Mrs. Bennet doggedly pursuing husbands for them. The incident with Mr. Collins was a prime example. He could not have Jane, for in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes she was as good as engaged to Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth was offered as a substitute without any thought about her own desires or if she would suit as a parson’s wife. It would have been much better to suggest Mary, but no, Mrs. Bennet could not give her attention and her youngest daughters were meant for greater things. Even as Kitty and Lydia were spared the attention of Mr. Collins, they must have seen that they would have had little choice in selecting their own suitor when their time came. Instead, they took matters into their own hands.

She had spent years telling herself that her family’s errors were harmless or even lovable. She was overly critical of them, but no one else seemed to notice. They were not shunned in Meryton or the surrounding area. Elizabeth now admitted to herself there were always flaws in that way of thinking. Why was Jane still unmarried? No gentleman had even proposed to her!

Meanwhile, Elizabeth attracted the attention of men she could never consider. She did not doubt that if it were not for the chance encounter with Darcy at the inn, she never would have seen him again. He loved her, but he would have been willing to live without her all his life. That did not mean she doubted his love, she merely acknowledged that life was not fair. She had liked Wickham very much, but his insufficient income was too great an obstacle for a sensible woman like herself. She could never marry a man she did not respect, such as Mr. Collins. Elizabeth had none of Jane’s reserve and while not as beautiful was very pretty. Surely men sometimes married vivacious and pretty girls with silly families and little money.

If Elizabeth’s pitiful dowry was such a hindrance, then surely her parents would have added to it. Perhaps it would not have appealed to most of the gentlemen of their acquaintance, but it might supplement a merchant’s income well enough. Why were they not brought more into that circle? Their Uncle Gardiner would have been an excellent source of acquaintances from that sphere. While Jane and Elizabeth often visited the Gardiners, they seldom entered Society, and the Gardiners entertained even less frequently. It was as if no one seriously thought about how to launch the girls into Society. Or, when she was feeling particularly uncharitable, it was as though they simply did not care or even wished them ill.

The sadder but more realistic explanation was that they were too self-absorbed to consider it. Elizabeth winced as she heard her mother’s voice echo in her ears. Everything her daughters did were an extension of herself. She boasted of Jane’s beauty and in the next breath explained that she had been considered the most handsome girl in the county in her youth. Lydia’s good-naturedness was only surpassed by her own. Even Mary’s dogged persistence at the pianoforte and obliviousness to the pleasure of her audience matched Mrs. Bennet’s drive to marry a gentleman and her lack of self-knowledge when others tired of her antics.

Elizabeth was always viewed as suspicious by Mrs. Bennet. In her second daughter, she could see nothing like herself. Elizabeth was too quick-witted, too sharp-mouthed, and too irreverent. She had beauty and liveliness but did not put them to use in the way Mrs. Bennet would have or in a way that she could put herself to the best advantage. As such, Mrs. Bennet was forever scolding Elizabeth. In the same way that her other daughters’ triumphs were her own, Elizabeth’s failures were a reflection of her.

As much as Elizabeth could acknowledge all of this and know the falsehood it presented, she could not turn off the voice in her head she had heard since birth. Although she never valued her mother or respected her opinions, she had somehow mentally adopted her words, and they were now how she talked about herself. As wrong as she knew it was, Elizabeth was helpless against the criticisms in her head. They intruded in moments of quiet, such as now, and she felt a prisoner in her own mind.

If she truly had been better than her mother and not as self-absorbed, then she would have noticed Jane’s growing melancholy. She would have noticed Mary’s increasing dependency on alcohol. She would have seen the frenzied desire Lydia had to leave Longbourn. If she were as clever as she had always considered herself to be, then she would have foreseen Miss Bingley’s treatment of Jane. She could have cautioned her sister to not depend so much upon the possibility in that quarter. Instead, at every moment, she assured her sister of Mr. Bingley’s love—long after Jane doubted it herself. What damage she had wreaked!

Fidgeting in her seat, Elizabeth felt Darcy’s eyes upon her. She looked up.

“You are restless again,” he said.

Elizabeth merely shrugged her shoulders. There was nothing either one of them could do about it at the moment. She was attempting to stay in good humour while she desperately wished to escape the walls of the room. Now, filled with thoughts of her family and her own errors, it felt stifling—suffocating even.

“I have a deck of cards. We could play something.”

“If you wish,” she said.

Inwardly, she cringed. She had done it again. Was she subconsciously becoming her mother? Surely Mrs. Bennet had concealed much about herself to ensnare Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth was aware of her circumstances. She truly admired Mr. Darcy, and he was a human saviour to her. She should be wise to not ruin his perceptions.

As Darcy located his cards, she scolded herself. Was she too much like Mrs. Bennet or was she concealing because she always did the wrong thing? Either way, her response to him was wrong.

“What are you thinking about?” Darcy asked when he returned to his seat.

Reaching for something to say, lest he know her frenzied and confused thoughts, she answered with a deceitfully calm smile. “I just realised that I never inquired after our mutual acquaintances. How are Mr. Bingley and his sisters? I suppose you might see them often.”

“No, I do not see them very often,” Darcy said as he dealt. “I was not in London for very long before going on to Pemberley. During that visit is when I learned the truth of Georgiana’s abuse. I returned to town only for business reasons and once she had seemed to improve.”

“Miss Bingley was correct then when she had written to Jane and told her that you were anxious to see your sister?”

“Indeed. Although, she could hardly know why. It certainly added to my reasons for wishing to be away from Hertfordshire in such a hurry. Mrs. Annesley’s letters indicated Georgiana might relapse.”

Elizabeth tilted her head to one side just as Darcy’s hand slowed as though he realised he had said something he did not intend. “Your anxieties over her added to your reasons? Why else did you desire to leave?”

Darcy continued to lay out cards and avoided meeting Elizabeth’s eyes. She narrowed hers before touching one of his hands to cease his movements. “Fitzwilliam?”

Finally, he lifted his head and took in her expression. Elizabeth hoped to disarm him with an inviting smile. He frowned, apparently unimpressed. The man truly had spent too much time observing her in Hertfordshire if he knew when she was faking calm.

“I owe you the truth. It should come as no surprise given the other matters we have discussed. I felt too attracted to you and believed separation would be the best way to sever the bonds. I had argued as much to Bingley.”

“To Bingley!”

“He was determined to return to Netherfield, and I admit that I persuaded him to remain in London.”

“You!” Elizabeth could say nothing more as the room began to spin. She had fixed in her mind it was all the work of his sister. What could Mr. Darcy object to if his own family was as flawed as hers?

The thought of betrayal from yet another source she had come to rely upon filled her with a need to bolt. However, never before, had she felt so dizzy, so incapable of moving, and so close to sickness. Her throat clenched, blocking all sound and nearly choking her. She attempted to breathe but could not get enough air. Her last conscious thought was that she would rather rant and scream than faint.

*****

When Elizabeth awoke, she was in bed and the physician from a few days before waved something foul-smelling beneath her nose. “Please, no,” she said.

“You see,” the doctor turned to Darcy. “There was no reason to fear. I think I know what would cause her to faint.” He looked back at Elizabeth. “Would you like him to leave? It is not customary that men are present for the examination.”

“Pardon me? I do not need an examination.”

“You could wait for the midwife once you reach your destination but the earlier you begin care, the better.”

“Midwife!” Elizabeth screeched. “Excuse me, doctor, but there is absolutely no need for a midwife. I guarantee it.”

The man turned to look at Darcy who vigorously nodded. “If you and your husband are certain—”

“He is not my husband.”

“Pardon me. I had thought given the arrangement, but it is none of my business.”

“Miss Bennet is my betrothed. We are on our way to be wed,” Darcy explained.

“Oh,” the doctor said in understanding. “And you are certain there would be no need…”

“Absolutely not,” Elizabeth said to the doctor but glared at Darcy. She thought his valet had clarified matters. “I had a shock, that is all. Thank you for your time and care.”

Effectively dismissed, and apparently understanding that an angry female was not trouble he wished to borrow, the doctor packed up quickly. After he left, Darcy hastened to Elizabeth’s side.

“Are you truly well? I have seldom been more terrified. You turned as white as snow!”

“I am confident you were more concerned when your sister, the great Miss Darcy with lofty connections and large fortune, lay bleeding in her chamber from a self-inflicted wound.”

Darcy sucked in a deep breath. “I have angered you—wounded you somehow. I know you would never say such a thing if you were not so upset.”

Immediately, remorse seared Elizabeth’s heart. She was hurting, desperately so. She had thought she was entirely incorrect in her first understanding of Darcy. However, now it seemed only too correct. He was too proud to like the Bennets or Meryton. He had poisoned Bingley against Jane. Jane, the dearest, sweetest girl who ever lived and her closest friend and confidant. The same Jane who became so depressed at Bingley’s abandonment that she wanted to take her own life. The Jane she had abandoned. All the guilt and despair that had tormented Elizabeth for weeks now laid on Darcy’s shoulders. Yes, she would cling to that anger! Miss Darcy might not have deserved Elizabeth’s censure, but her brother surely did.

She looked at him anew. Had she thought she loved him a few moments ago? She could never love a man who had been so careless in his actions that led to such awful misery. He was just like them. He proved to be just like every other selfish person she had valued. Her mother, father, aunt, uncle—they all turned their back on her and held onto vain pretensions. If they only erected a false image to the world on the outside, then all would be well on the inside. Meanwhile, even now, Jane might lay dead beneath the ground.

“Let go of me,” Elizabeth hissed as she attempted to pull her hand out from under his.

He obeyed with apparent regret and settled his hands on his knees as he sat in the chair next to her bed.

“And go over there!” she pointed at the settee.

“Can we not talk about it? I do not know why my information upset you so.”

Fire exploded in Elizabeth’s eyes. “You should know what you did upset me. If you cannot think of that, then I want nothing to do with you.”

“Surely you do not mean that. I am not a mind-reader.”

Elizabeth raised her brows and glared. After a moment, she lifted her chin and turned her face. She would not even look at him. Eventually, she heard him shuffle away.

As soon as she could walk, Elizabeth mentally vowed, she would leave the inn and Darcy. She would start over. She had done it once before, and she could do it again. This time, she would know not to rely on anyone but herself. There were no knights in shining armour. Fairy tales were only things told to children. Mr. Darcy was the cruellest man to ever exist.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is she now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

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

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

“You should be,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it so upsetting then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunited- Chapter Three

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Chapter Three

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

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

“Thank you, sir,” Will said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He spoke quietly, but Elizabeth nervously glanced around.

“Fear not, we are alone.”

Oh, she should fear that very, very much.

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

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

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

“Jealous?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have not loved any of them?”

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth turned to walk away. Will caught her wrist.

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

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

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

 

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

She started, and he chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I forget them?” Elizabeth nearly screeched.

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

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

“I gave my condolences in person.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter 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.