Sorry, I missed chapter two earlier! I thought I had posted it already!
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.
Following breakfast, the young people gathered in the drawing room until the remaining ladies joined them. Despite Caroline and Louisa suggesting they meet for their outing at eleven, they did not descend the stairs until half past the hour. Will rolled his eyes. They claimed they did not want to seem too eager and miss the greatest of personages to be seen during the fashionable hour in Hyde Park. Fortunately, the Bennet sisters seemed entirely unaffected by the notion.
Jane had come downstairs a few minutes early, looking well-rested and fresh. Charles made his way to her and offered himself as an escort. Elizabeth had been down the entire time, and Will had finally screwed up enough courage to ask to be her escort when Charles’ detested sisters showed up and plastered themselves to Will’s side. Once again, Elizabeth was left with Sam as company. As much as she appeared to like her brother, Will would guess most young ladies would want more attention from other males.
Caroline and Louisa chirped nonsense in his ear all the while he attempted to listen to Sam and Elizabeth’s conversation behind him. They greeted many acquaintances on the path and Will was pleased to see the pride in which Sam introduced his sisters. They appeared welcoming but modest whereas Charles’ sisters always acted as though they expected more praise from their brother and instant fawning from whoever they met. It was no different when Lord Harcourt approached them.
Harcourt had attended Eton and Cambridge the same years as Will and Sam but their careers as students diverted there. Harcourt embraced the harsh lifestyle favored by some boys as a way of exerting some semblance of power and authority. Wickham soon became acquainted with Harcourt and his ilk. What surprised Will was when the young earl stopped Sam by name.
“Bennet, we are overdue a conversation, are we not?” Harcourt drawled, stopping their entire party.
Will raised his brows at his friend who did not signal back he needed assistance.
“And who do we have here?” the Lord smiled at Elizabeth and then examined her head to toe the way he would his nightly courtesan.
Will watched as Sam pulled Elizabeth slightly closer and covered her hand with his. “My sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy, meet Lord Harcourt.”
“My lord,” Elizabeth curtseyed.
“You have not been in London before, have you? I would recall you.”
His words were beyond impertinent and Will noted he did not confine himself to a more acceptable, although still too forward in his imagination, compliment of saying he would recall her face.
“I have only been to visit my aunt and uncle, my lord.”
“Yes, this is Eliza’s first time out in Society,” Caroline pushed forward then cleared her throat.
Bingley sighed. “My younger sister Caroline and my elder sister Louisa. Girls, as you heard, Lord Harcourt.”
“That would be the Seventh Earl of Harcourt, correct?” Caroline asked.
“Indeed.” Harcourt looked bored as the sisters attempted to rein in their enthusiasm. His interest returned to Elizabeth, and he eyed her with unconcealed lust.
“And on Bingley’s arm is one of my other sisters, Jane,” Sam said.
Harcourt barely spared her a glance and Elizabeth began to shrink from his gaze. Her cheeks were red, and she stared at her feet.
“Come, no need to be shy,” Harcourt said and moved forward.
Primal jealousy stirred in Will’s chest, and he had to contain a growl.
“We will soon be excellent friends, I am sure.”
“My lord?” Elizabeth lifted her face, confusion in her eyes.
“I believe you wished to speak with me, my lord,” Sam said. “Darcy and Bingley, would you continue to escort the ladies?”
Caroline stammered out that she wished to remain and Louisa echoed her.
“Perhaps we might wait while you discuss whatever your business is a few steps away,” Charles suggested.
Harcourt shrugged, and Sam led him several feet away.
Will shook his head. He did not like how Harcourt continued to eye Elizabeth. “Come, Miss Elizabeth. I believe you would enjoy continuing forward,” he offered his arm.
Elizabeth hesitated but placed her hand around his arm. Will thought he felt a slight tremor.
“Are you well?” he asked.
“That man…I do not trust him.” A shudder racked her frame.
“You are correct not to trust him.”
“What has he done?”
“I should not say,” Will answered. “I wish I could warn every man and woman in creation.”
“Is he so wicked?”
“He is among the worst of men, but I do not wish to speak of such things.”
“Do you think it distresses me?” Elizabeth paused to look at a specific visage.
“I would not do you the dishonour. I am merely loathed to talk about such a reprobate before a beautiful young lady.”
Elizabeth smirked. “Oh, you have charming words when alone with a young lady, but before your peers, you must malign the same lady sight unseen.”
“Based on your behaviour last night, I had thought you heard. Pray, forgive me and allow me to thank you for not displaying my shame to my friends and father.”
Elizabeth turned to face him, her head cocked to one side, as she considered his request. “Very well, I do forgive you. Only flattery is not necessary. Thank you for relieving me of the discomfort of Lord Harcourt’s company.”
Elizabeth returned to Will’s side but did not take his arm, he noted with irrational longing. “No thanks was necessary nor did I flatter you.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, I know I am not the beautiful sister. Fortunately, my vanity has never taken that turn. I would much rather be thought clever and allow my dear Jane to have all the admiring beaus.”
Will lightly gripped Elizabeth’s wrist, staying her movements. “Your sister is lovely, but it was your eyes that captivated me last night.”
Elizabeth’s mouth hung open in an O. She looked so adorable Will felt the need to continue.
“Your smile sets my heart racing, and your voice enthralls me. Your wit and sharp mind have me inwardly chuckling and my admiration. Your face or figure alone might not meet Society’s definition of beauty but you are beautiful, and I am pleased to have your individual attention.”
Elizabeth blushed flame red, but she did not look uncomfortable as she did under Harcourt’s gaze. She met Will’s eyes, as though attempting to assess if he meant his words. She seemed at a loss of what to say.
“Shall we continue?” Will again offered his arm and this time, Elizabeth took it.
They ambled along for some time comparing the differences between Hertfordshire and Derbyshire countryside. Suddenly, Elizabeth recognized their surroundings. They had long left the fashionable path and scarcely met a passerby.
“I know this area,” Elizabeth grinned. “I come here with my aunt and uncle and their children. The little ones delight in feeding the ducks.”
Another bend in the path displayed a small (body of water) and a few children gathered near with a governess or nursemaid. Elizabeth approached one. “Can you share with my friend and me?”
The child held out a sack and Elizabeth reached her hands in and pulled out fistfuls of breadcrumbs. “Here,” she thrust some into Will’s hands.
“What am I supposed to do?” He asked, loving the amusement in Elizabeth’s eyes. Caroline was right in a way. There was a sort of youthful exuberance around Elizabeth, but she wasn’t child-like.
“You toss the crumbs out like so.” Elizabeth scattered a few pieces on the ground and ducks waddled over, quacking along the way. The children clapped and giggled.
“This is entertaining?” Will frowned and repeated her motions.
“I suppose you would rather be shooting at them with a gun,” Elizabeth murmured.
“I do enjoy hunting,” Will confessed, “but less for the sport than for the chance to be outdoors.”
“And such this is for children,” Elizabeth nodded.
“And young ladies?”
“Some ladies, of all ages, I imagine,” Elizabeth blushed.
“My mother used to put bird feeders up around the gardens of Pemberley,” Will confessed. “I did not mean to criticise.”
“It is not so different,” Elizabeth nodded. “My sisters and I do the same at Longbourn. When in London, I am often inside and find it so stifling. A long walk in the park is just what I need. This corner is rather distant from the rest of the park, and so it is a favorite.”
Will looked around. It was rather distant. “We should return. The others will be wondering where we are and they had wanted to go shopping.”
“Oh, by the time we meet them it will be too late to go shopping at any rate. We may as well enjoy ourselves here and allow them to go without us.”
“How sly you are, Miss Elizabeth!” Will chuckled. She had neatly placed them in a position where they had the perfect excuse for missing the tedious part of the morning. “You do not wish to go shopping?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I certainly do not want to go shopping with the Miss Bingleys.”
“What shall we do instead?” Will asked as he guided her to a nearby bench.
“Tell me about Scotland and Ireland. Have you visited your estates there before?”
“Yes, a few times when my mother was alive but not since. I fear my memories would be through the eyes of a child.”
“And does that make them less valuable? Do you think a child recognizes the fields as any less green or the seaside as less magnificent.”
“The opposite, I am sure,” Will said with a growing smile. “Very well.”
As Will launched into descriptions from his childhood memories of far-flung places, several more families with children came and went. Some of them fearlessly approached Elizabeth. A few she seemed to be on friendly terms with, complimenting them on how much they had grown since last year and speaking with whoever chaperoned them. They all invited her to play with them. She encouraged the fearful ones and cautioned the adventurous ones. She chased and laughed as the children squealed with joy.
Will watched with a growing warmth spreading in his chest. Hours ago, they had left the high society of London behind, and he had never been happier. He did not care for the balls of the haute ton and the matchmaking mamas or money hungry debutantes. When he considered what he desired in the future, it was what these families had. A brood of happy children, living far away from the harshness of city life. Of course, a man did not make such a blissful family on his own, and he began to think he had met the companion he desired by his side.
“Where did you get to, Lizzy?” Jane asked when Elizabeth arrived in their shared chamber with windblown hair and rosy cheeks.
Elizabeth rushed about the room to ready herself for the theatre. “We walked too far and lost track of time. By the time we realised we had gone too far, we also noted you all would have already left for shopping. Did you enjoy yourselves?”
Jane beamed. “We did! Mr. Charles talked with me the entire time. We chatted about the weather and the condition of the roads. He is so amiable! The Miss Bingleys—Caroline and Louisa, they have asked me to call them—were kind enough to show me the most fashionable jewelry. I had thought they were too expensive, but Sam said no. In the end, he chose a surprise for both of us.”
Elizabeth’s head popped up at Jane’s last words. She had been attempting to conceal sly smiles at her sister’s description of the day. Of course, Jane limited herself to discourse with Charles about the most inane topics, but they both found the other charming. Equally predictable was his sisters’ suggestion of ostentatious accessories. What Elizabeth could not credit was Sam buying them fine jewelry. A knock on the door interrupted her musings.
“Tie me up, Jane,” Elizabeth came to her sister’s side. “Just a moment!” she called out to the person on the other side of the door.
“It is I, your anonymous gift-bearer,” Sam said theatrically.
“You may enter,” Elizabeth grinned when Jane had finished lacing the back of her gown.
“Ah, just as I thought. Jane in the blue and Lizzy in the yellow. I believe you will find the following pieces go with your attire.” Sam held out two boxes.
Jane and Elizabeth shared a smile before opening their treasures. Elizabeth gasped at hers. Sam had given her a necklace, bracelet, and earring set of amber and pearls. The necklace had a heavy amber pendant at the center then alternated with small ambers and larger pearls. The bracelet was silver around amber and mother of pearl, both in ovals. Simple earrings of round amber and teardrop pearls finished the set. Looking at Jane’s, Elizabeth marveled again. A unique necklace of sapphires arranged like feathers with silver filigree made the collection unique and stunning. Sapphires and diamonds adorned the bracelet and earrings.
“Sam, how ever did you afford this?” Elizabeth gasped. “Two sets of jewelry en suite!”
“I have saved wisely, my dear sister,” Sam tweaked Elizabeth’s nose before assisting her with the necklace clasp. “Additionally, I have made wise investments.”
“You have?” Elizabeth had never heard him mention them before. She swiftly rearranged her hair with some jeweled combs.
“Come, would you not rather enjoy an evening at the theatre and in one of the best boxes than listen to your older brother go on about boring investments?” He held out his arms for his sisters to grasp.
Elizabeth nodded and joined his side. They left the chamber, and she hesitated just before they descended the stairs. “I was so rushed; I worry I will look a disgrace.”
“You are lovely, Lizzy,” Sam said and kissed her on the cheek.
Elizabeth smoothed her gloved hand over her gown of amber crape over white sarsenet. Trimmed with pearls, it created a belt around her natural waist, and an added ruffle gave her hips more dimension. Elizabeth was of the mind that she should not fight her natural shape for the sake of fashion. She did not have Jane’s willowy figure. Instead, she chose gowns which could emphasize her curves. About halfway down the stairs, others gathered in the entry. Among them, Will. He looked up, and Elizabeth saw his jaw drop before his eyes scanned her body. They met hers, and although a smile did not form on his lips, Elizabeth saw one in his eyes all the same. They shined in admiration, causing Elizabeth’s heart to pound.
They had no time to converse. The Bennets loaded into their carriage, the Bingleys and Darcys in their own conveyances. At the theatre, Mr. Bennet escorted Jane and Elizabeth entered on Sam’s arm. Arriving with the Darcys drew the notice of most of the crowd, and it amused Elizabeth how so many scowled in her direction. She smiled back. Of course, Caroline Bingley matched the nasty looks. Caroline had also worn an amber gown with a natural waist, and she fumed in Elizabeth’s direction every chance she got. When Elizabeth had seen the strange oblong cutouts across Caroline’s bosom, exposing the white satin slip, she broke into laughter and feigned a coughing fit to conceal it.
Now, she followed as Sam led them to the Darcy theatre box. She sat on the end, next to her brother, and soon her attention was captured by the actors on stage. During the break, an unwelcome figure emerged from the shadows outside the box.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I thought I saw you,” Lord Harcourt said and bowed over her hand, bringing it to his lips.
“My lord,” Elizabeth mumbled and attempted to pry her hand from him.
“Harcourt,” Sam said with a frown.
“What lovely jewels you wear this evening, madam,” Harcourt ran his fingers below the line of Elizabeth’s necklace.
Bile rose in her throat, and she held her breath until he removed his digits.
“I believe you asked for refreshment,” Will said from over Elizabeth’s corner. “If you will excuse us, Harcourt.” He held out his hand for Elizabeth to take.
“Harcourt, is that you, man?” Mr. Darcy asked and held a small quizzing glass to his eye.
“Good sir,” Harcourt nodded then returned his eyes to Sam.
“Miss Elizabeth,” Will said and tugged on her hand.
Elizabeth stood to leave with Will but just before going heard Harcourt speak with her brother.
“You have already spent the money, I see. Do not forget what you owe me!”
Sam looked defiantly at the bully, but Elizabeth could not hear his reply before they left the box.
“Why does Lord Harcourt need to speak with my brother again?” Elizabeth attempted to slow Will’s long strides which pulled them further away from the box. “He said something about money. Has my brother borrowed money from him?”
Will finally ceased walking and pulled them to a quiet corner. “I do not know, but I would caution you against speaking so openly about finances or Harcourt.”
Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, I had not considered the other people…”
“Think nothing of it. London is far larger than your market town. Even when you think you are having a private conversation, there is always someone nearby who might hear. By the same token, there are so many people most people are ignored.”
“Is that where you learned it from?”
“Ignoring others. Seeming to find others invisible.”
Will blinked at her. “I do not consciously ignore others. My mind is often preoccupied with matters that do not concern those around me.”
Cocking her head to one side, Elizabeth determined Will sincerely meant his words. “I suppose that is true. You are not above insults when you dislike someone.”
“Are you never going to let me forget that?”
From the corner of her eye, Elizabeth could see Will’s smirk.
“I said I forgave you, not that I could forget it. Such harsh words on such a fragile mind can wreak havoc.” Elizabeth feigned a dramatic pose, and Will chuckled.
“I would have been an even bigger idiot if I had said your mind was weak. I had not known you more than a minute before perceiving the liveliness of your mind.”
“Is that what you thought of me when you first saw me?”
Will shook his head. “Your beauty stunned me into silence.” He cast a long look over her. “Much like it did tonight.”
Elizabeth smiled at his praise before allowing it to fall and wrinkling her brow.
“What is it?” Will asked and took a step closer.
“I do not want to return to the box if he is there. I cannot abide…” Elizabeth paled and began to shiver.
Will pulled them deeper into the recess of the hallway. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms to warm her. “You are safe. No matter what Sam’s business is with Harcourt, I know on my life that he would never endanger any of his family. While you are in London, Sam has tasked his friends with watching over you and your sister.”
“Is that why you are spending so much time with me?” Elizabeth hated the thought that Will might think her in such need of protection or view her as an obligation.
Will sighed. “That should be the answer I give you, but I hate deceit. The truth is, I always wish to be in your company. When Harcourt touched you…”
He trailed off, but Elizabeth saw how Will clenched his fists at his side.
“I did not say thank you earlier not because I am ungrateful or discourteous but because I lacked the courage to reference the incident. I did notice how quickly you came to my aid. Now, please accept my thanks.”
“I cannot,” Will shook his head. “I thought only of you and your safety. I had no intentions of doing anything heroic. I neither confronted or fought him. My only aim was to get you to safety. I do not want your thanks.”
Elizabeth bit her lip before looking up at Will through her lashes. His eyes were fixed on her face. “What do you want from me then?”
Will’s eyes widened, and a low groan rippled down his throat. He squeezed his mouth shut tightly before returning to his indifferent expression. Something about the return of his lips on his face caused Elizabeth to stare. She had never considered a gentleman’s lips before.
“We should return to the box. I am certain Harcourt is gone. I saw him walk past a few moments ago.”
“Oh. Then why did you not escort me back already?”
“Why should I share you when I can have you all to myself here?”
Elizabeth blushed. “And that is what you want? I shall be your secret theatre sweetheart?”
“No,” Will answered, and his jaw momentarily tightened. A grim expression crossed his face. “That is not what I would want, but I fear none would be happy to see my admiration for you.”
“Why is that?” Elizabeth frowned.
“That is too complicated to explain at the moment.” Will sighed. “And pointless to discuss. We must return, now.”
Elizabeth said nothing as Will directed them back to the box, but his words echoed in her mind for the remainder of the evening. Why would their friends and family dislike their attachment? And why should it not be discussed between them?