Long 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!
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?
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.
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.”
“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.