Reunited- Chapter Nine

reunited 2Chapter Nine

 

Rage coursed through Will’s body as the name fell from Elizabeth’s lips. He had been so careful to not mention him to her.

“Will?”

Elizabeth’s words drew him back to the present. Concern clouded her features. “Might we walk now?”

“Is there something you do not wish for my father to know?”

Will shook his head. “No, I will speak with him later. I know myself only too well on this subject. I can relay the facts coldly which I believe would wound you, or I might become overly-emotional. I do not know if it makes any sense to you.”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment before nodding her head. “Sam and I once found a pup who had lost his mother. When we found him he was hurt but when we attempted to help him he gnashed his teeth. Sam bundled him up in his coat and carried him home. We thought to keep him in a pen so he would be safe but he only became more belligerent, attempting to bite anyone who came near him, even with food in hand. Finally, we believed he might do better on his own—his wound had healed. We opened the pen but he never left sight of us. That night, we left the door open and he willingly slept in there. The next morning, we visited again and instead of growls and angry barks, we were met with a wagging tail. He would follow Sam everywhere after that. We were both heartbroken when he went away to school.”

“I recall Sam talking of his pet. He does not still live does he?”

“No,” Elizabeth sighed sadly. “Jasper passed the autumn after Sam did.”

“I am sorry,” Will touched her hand. “It sounds as though he was a great comfort to you in the absence of your brother and then…”

“All is well,” Elizabeth answered. “I told the story to explain that I understand your feelings. Jasper was not a bad-natured animal. He only needed his freedom and space. Feeling caged heightened his anxieties.”

“That is it exactly,” he closed his eyes in relief at her perception and understanding. How had he ever been so fortunate as to meet her? “Shall we?”

Standing, Will asked for Mr. Bennet’s permission for the walk. Having received it, they set off.

“I have always regretted that you ever met Mr. Wickham,” Will began once they were some distance from the house. “He should never have been in a house full of ladies.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded and squeezed his arm.

“You know!” he repeated in amazement. “But how? Did he importune you? I ought to have killed him!”

“No, not me—” Elizabeth hastened to say and tugged on his arm to cease his movement. “Miss Graves told me she had explained it to you. I thought you knew.”

“She did indeed,” Will nodded, “but I did not know she had informed you as well.”

“It was…” Elizabeth sighed. “She found me distraught on the stairs and had assumed the worse.”

“Why were you upset?” Will cast his mind back to the week he had known Elizabeth. His memory was clouded by distance and through layers of regret, pain, and anger. He could barely recall any particulars but only knew that his heart could not deceive him. He had really loved Elizabeth.

“It was after we hid in the cupboard,” Elizabeth answered as she blushed.

Instantly, Will remembered the moment. She had sent him away after he kissed her senseless. He had believed at the time that she had believed he was ungentlemanly. She spent some time avoiding him, but when he came to her to apologise, she had nothing but sweet words and tempting looks for him. “Is she why you had calmed by the time I spoke with you next? What did she say?”

Elizabeth began walking again, nervous energy filling her. “I had built all sorts of ideas in my head. I had thought you only meant to use me—you said nothing about love or courtship, and at the theatre, you had said nothing could exist between us. She allowed me to see the differences between you and a vile abuser like Wickham.”

“I have always liked Miss Graves,” Will grinned for a moment. “She is Mrs. Annesley now—widowed to a footman we had at Darcy House. She has returned to her post as Georgiana’s governess.”

“Governess?” Elizabeth wondered. “Is she not getting quite old for that?”

“It was necessary,” Will bit out. “Come, let us sit here,” he motioned to a bench under a currently bare tree.

“Unbeknownst to me until only a few days ago, Wickham would often visit with Georgiana as a child. Even after my father died—no, I must explain matters first.”

Elizabeth listened patiently as Will paced before her and explained the situation of his father’s will. He had left a valuable living for Wickham but the young man refused all claim to it. He requested instead funds to study law—claiming that Will had given him the idea from one of their arguments—and Will had supposed that would be the end of his acquaintance with the man. Instead, like a bad cold, he came back again and again, abusing Will’s name far and wide whenever he denied him money.

“It seems while I was away from Pemberley, he would visit Georgiana. After Mrs. Annesley married, I decided to send her to a school in London. She has perceived this as me tearing her from her only friend—as she told me in today’s letter. Last summer, my cousin and I removed her from school and allowed her to travel to Ramsgate with a companion. It turns out this woman had a connection to Wickham, who arrived at Mrs. Younge’s invitation. There, he convinced Georgiana to an elopement, and it is only my unexpected arrival that put an end to the scheme.”

“An elopement!” Elizabeth cried. “And to such a man! Thank goodness you arrived in time to prevent it.”

“I saw the packed bags and confronted both her and Mrs. Younge, but the confession was most unwilling. I wrote to Wickham—he renounced all interest and intention in Georgiana, and so she blames me now for separating her from her lover.”

“How could she be so deceived in his character? How could she not believe you given your history?”

“I am afraid it is my fault,” Will said as anguish seized his heart. “I concealed the truth from her as I did not wish to wound her impression of our father. He was much to blame in permitting Wickham’s behavior. By now, you must suppose Mrs. Annesley was not the only Darcy servant to be importuned by him.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he continued, “I failed her.”

Shame gripped him. It ought to have been him to die in the fire. How many lives had he destroyed? Elizabeth’s, Georgiana’s, if he had been in his room, he might have saved Sam or his father. Mr. Bennet never would have been hurt. Instead, he selfishly drank himself near to oblivion at the tavern below.

“You did not.”

Elizabeth placed her hands on his cheeks, wiping away tears he did not realise had spilled from his eyes.

An anguished sob tore from his throat as he buried his face in her hair. “She was but fifteen—what did she know of the world? I was her only family—”

“I was only sixteen when we met and I never would have consented to an elopement. Do you remember? We discussed it.”

“I remember,” he gripped her tightly.

“And you never would have suggested it. Georgiana must face some responsibility for her choice, but most of it resides in the schemes of one man. How long have you blamed yourself for his every evil deed?”

Elizabeth’s words struck him. He had never realised before that was exactly what he had always done. “What would I do without you?”

“What did you do without me? You wrote in your letter—the one I was fortunate enough to receive—that you continued to write to me even after Sam died and all hope died. If you have kept them, I would like to read them.”

“It would do me no good in your view, I fear. I poured my anger out on the page.”

“Might I help heal those wounds? If I can understand the pain, I may better nurse them.”

“I burnt them all before coming to Hertfordshire. I had wanted to let go of the past. I never expected that you still loved me—I had convinced myself you never did. I wished only to prove that I no longer would be your fool.”

“I do not fully understand why you would believe that of me. If you recall, we did not talk very much a few days ago.”

“Oh, I remember,” he chuckled. “I would tell you of the sweetness of your lips,” he whispered in her ear, “but I do believe you said you would rather be shown love than told of it.”

Elizabeth whimpered and arched her neck as his lips inched down the column of her throat. “Yes, but I spoke of fidelity too.”

Will met her lips for one delicious moment, then pulled back. “And I will show you that as well.” He placed her hand on his arm, laughing as she returned from her daze. “I am capable of some restraint, although I do not think you can blame a man after desiring a woman for so many years and so sure he would never have her again to act as I did.”

Elizabeth agreed, and they meandered through the Netherfield gardens.

“I was a fool,” Will admitted. “Sam hinted a bit too strongly one evening about my being in love with you and Wickham heard. He taunted me for the entire trip. How would I know how to court a lady? I was too stupid to please one. She must only desire my money. I could only interest one as young and poor as you.” He shook his head. “I have little doubt that I appeared the epitome of an arrogant heir to you, but the truth was that I felt intensely insecure in my own value. I had often experienced friends who desired only to use me. Wickham is the primary example. He knew more than any other how a person could appear interested in me only to desire the Darcy name and wealth. He always knew how to make me feel most vulnerable. I do not know why I persisted in listening to him and believing him—I suppose I could not believe myself so worthy of deserving you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”

Elizabeth leaned her head against Will’s arm, and they walked in silence for a few moments. He dared not look at her face. The fact that she had not pushed him away was more than he had dared to hope for.

“I do not like that you were so easily deceived, but I do forgive you, and I can understand it. I had only my inner voice saying the same sorts of things about you.”

“Have you put those feelings to rest?” he asked as they arrived near the stable.

“I hope so,” Elizabeth answered honestly and sighed. “I suppose I will be going home soon.”

Just then, the coachman emerged. Wearing a stern face, he stomped in anger toward the house. Will called out to him.

“What is the matter?”

“Yesterday, we had supposed the carriage was stuck in the mud. I apologise, miss,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “for the dirty walk you faced in the rain.”

“As you see, I am no worse for the excursion.”

“You sound as though the problem was not the mud?” Will asked.

“The axle is broken. A nearly clean break.”

Dread knotted in Will’s stomach. “Do you suspect someone tampered with it?”

“One of our saws is missing,” he said. “I believe it must have been cut down so it might appear intact but very weak once in motion. If we had not been going so slow due to the rain, it would have been dangerous—perhaps deadly—when it broke.”

Will turned to Elizabeth, her face appearing as snow and her hands feeling like ice even through the thickness of his coat and her gloves.

“Who would do such a thing?” she asked in a trembling voice.

 

*****

 

A terrified shudder wracked Elizabeth’s body while Will and his coachman stared at one another. An unspoken conversation occurred, and although Elizabeth could not say she shared in it, in the pit of her stomach, she knew the logical culprit.

“Come, dearest,” Will led her to a stool in the stable and withdrew a flask, pressing it into her hands.

Elizabeth murmured her thanks and took a few small sips until she felt warmth and vitality rush through her. No one could have known ahead of time that it would be Elizabeth who rode in Will’s carriage next. No, he was the target. She had little difficulty believing Wickham hated Will and was capable of evil—but to attempt murder? Even worse—did this mean he was here? Near Netherfield? Near Meryton? Her eyes scanned the trees as though she would see his menacing visage. How had she ever found him handsome? In her memory, now, he was akin to a monster.

“Let us walk back, we have much to discuss with your father,” Will said and assisted her in standing.

“What will you do?” Elizabeth asked Will as they approached the house.

“I will speak with your father and also Charles. I do not believe he or any of his family is a target, but they should be careful at any rate.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Fear not. You will be returned home safely.”

“It is not me that I worry for!” Elizabeth cried, bringing them to a stop. She threw herself into Will’s arms, clutching him tightly. “Why when we have just found one another again must this happen?”

Will whispered soothing words of love in her ear and rubbed her back until the spell of emotion passed. “We do not know that anything intentional happened. I know your intelligent mind. I know you can perceive what Davis and I did not say—but if he is to blame, then you can be sure he will not be showing his face again any time soon. He thrives on lulling me into a sense of security and is too clever to push his luck and be caught. I would hazard a guess even if we found proof that he had been here he is now far away.”

Elizabeth wiped her tears with the handkerchief Will offered and nodded. London was a very convenient distance, and he easily could hide there.

“I will write to my cousin and inquire about Wickham’s whereabouts, but if I know Wickham, he would much rather have me alive than dead. You cannot blackmail a dead man.”

Elizabeth was not at all proud of the fact that for a fleeting moment, amidst the gut-wrenching pain of imagining Will dead, she considered that his heir must be his sister. Would Georgiana want him dead so she might marry Wickham? Or would he put a plan into action without her knowledge to remove her guardian? Biting her tongue, Elizabeth chose not to voice her concerns. Will knew both far better than she did and if he did not entertain the possibility of them then more than likely she would only pain him with such wild possibilities.

Had she learned nothing in recent days? She should put her most fevered ideas behind her and not give into her imagination. There were no clues to lead to her recent thoughts. Good heavens! Was she turning into her step-mother?

Upon reaching the house, Mr. Bennet greeted them. “I am feeling much recovered, and your mother has sent a missive begging our return on the morrow. My cousin arrives the following day and she says the master of the house is required to be in residence.”

“Your cousin?” Will asked.

“He is the son of the man who was heir before Sam was born. We have never met Mr. Collins before, but he seems quite ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” her father laughed. “His letter contained more compliments to his patroness—a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he mentioned as though I should know her name—than it did to my wife or daughters—of which there were many although he has never seen them.”

Will started at Mr. Bennet’s words. “Pardon me, did you say Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Upon confirmation, Will looked between father and daughter, and said in an amazed one, “She is my mother’s sister. How came he to know her?”

“He did not say,” Mr. Bennet answered. “I had thought you might return with certain news you wished to share?” He glanced between Will and Elizabeth. “Will told me you would soon be selecting a wedding date?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth answered and looked at her feet. Yes, she had told Will she would compromise and settle a date but must she decide just now? Her stepmother must have opinions about such things and still as far as the rest of the world knew they had never spent much time together. They could not announce it right away.

“Unfortunately, we did not have a moment to discuss the date,” Will hastily intervened. “On that subject, I do request an audience with you but not on the topic of the wedding.”

“Certainly,” Mr. Bennet agreed and followed Will to the library.

Sighing, Elizabeth determined to join the others in the drawing room. Her mind could not focus on any of the conversations at hand. Caroline must have delighted in seeing what looked like evidence of her stupidity. Elizabeth’s mind worked again and again. Why would Wickham wish to kill Will? Was Wickham as harmless as Will believed?

Elizabeth and Will had no more opportunity to talk and the afternoon and evening were filled with Caroline’s insistence upon music and cards, gently scolding Will for writing letters when he had requested the music. Elizabeth stole glances at him during her time at the pianoforte. He rarely looked up from his page, but often his pen did not move as though he were lost in the music. A few times their eyes locked and Elizabeth almost believed then that love was a tangible thing. She could feel his caress with his eyes. His arms were around her once more and the safe, secure feeling she always felt in his presence filled her.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. After describing the house to her sisters and her mother, Elizabeth retreated to her room for solitude. A half hour later, she was not surprised when there was a knock at her door, and Jane entered.

“Are you very jealous of me for getting to spend time at Netherfield?” Elizabeth teased.

“I am very thankful that Papa recovered so quickly and you were there to help. Was it an agreeable visit?”

Very agreeable,” Elizabeth beamed. “Will and I managed to have many conversations, and I think we understand one another much more now.”

“Do you trust him now? Do you have peace about the past?”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, I will tell you that Mr. Bingley asked about you several times a day and always seemed to work you into the conversation.”

“He did not,” Jane blushed. “Do not tease me so.”

“I am telling the utter truth!” Elizabeth grinned and hugged her sister. “Perhaps when I next visit the house you will be its mistress.” She could not contain a set of giggles as she used her best Fanny Bennet impression.

“Lizzy!” Jane pretended to scold but smiled at Elizabeth’s words.

Suddenly, Elizabeth sobered and squeezed her sister again. “Thank you for always being so selfless. I am sure you listened to me cry over Will far more than you ever wished.”

“I would say so! I would never wish for your heart to be broken.”

“I did not mean it in that way. I am certain if the positions were reversed, I would have lost patience with you in a matter of weeks.”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “You are my dearest friend and can be excessively protective. If the situations were reversed, you would have girded your loins and marched to London to demand explanation and retribution. I am weak compared to you.”

“Never say such a thing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Your strength is, perhaps, different than mine. It is quieter, but I see it and so must all who call you friend.”

Jane smiled, and the sisters sat in companionable solitude for a few moments until there was shouting from the hallway. “Lizzy! Jane!” Lydia yelled. “Mama says to come downstairs!”

Sharing a smile, they left their chamber and rejoined the family below.

Reunited- Chapter Six

reunited 2Reunited is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks,  Kobo, and paperback!

 

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

Chapter Six

 

Elizabeth’s heart pounded as she read Will’s letter. He had written with such tenderness and feeling. She had waited five years to see such words. She read and reread, lingering over every line until tears welled in her eyes. Reverently, she touched her fingers over the page noticing where it appeared his pen stopped as he paused over his words.

Will understood Elizabeth’s concerns. When she had tried to express them before he talked with her father, she had thought Will angry at her request. She did not wish to break their engagement, but so much had changed. They had changed. Who was the Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley now? When she had fallen in love with him, he was only the heir and very young at that. Now, he was master.

Five years ago, Elizabeth had believed herself inadequate to become the eventual Mrs. Darcy and Mistress of Pemberley. She can hardly fathom Will’s notice of her. Upon meeting him again and his declarations, she had determined that he must have felt honour bound to her. It was obvious she had not accepted any other suitor in the years they were apart. That he still had passion for her was obvious, but that did not mean he loved or respected her still. It did not mean he had not given his heart to others.

Elizabeth reread the words one more time. Just like when the man spoke, she had to understand the hidden meaning of his words. Will was reassuring her. He validated her concerns. He had also perceived her unsaid questions regarding his fidelity and loyalty. Well, they did not answer everything she wondered about. However, the most important part regarding his fidelity was answered. Now that they had found each other again, he intended to stay true.

Many moons had passed since Elizabeth was the naïve girl at sixteen confused about her brother’s attentions to the young woman at the theatre. Elizabeth had grown in the ways of the world and had overheard enough conversations to understand the matter better now. Whatever Sam’s business with that woman had been, it had not been marriage on his mind when he gazed at her. He had even tried to confess such a thing to Elizabeth when she had encountered him drunk later that evening. Of course, such a thing he would hardly want to tell his sister if sober. Still, Elizabeth understood that, for men, hearts were sometimes at odds with their carnal desires. Perhaps Sam had always loved Charlotte, and would have married her if he had lived, but enjoyed his time with the courtesan just as much. Elizabeth would be foolish if she thought that Will had not had similar liaisons while they were separated. She refused to ever be that foolish girl again. However, it now seemed he vowed to have only her in his affection. It was a bittersweet consolation, but she would take it. She would rather be Will’s last lover then never have him at all.

Next, her mind turned to focus on the words he wrote about his torment and imagining her with another man. It seemed they equally tortured themselves as the years passed. Each time a new gossip article turned up in the papers of Will’s attachment with other women, the hole in Elizabeth’s heart grew. However, he claimed to have written letters, even after he’d given her up. Did he still have them still? Would he let her read them? Perhaps she had no right to know his thoughts. Although unconsciously done, she had severely wounded him. Perhaps if she read the letters, she could help heal his wounds.

Finally, she opened the package and pulled out a small miniature of Will. It looked to be painted when he was about two and twenty. In fact, Elizabeth realised, it was probably done on his holiday after they had met. Elizabeth lovingly ran her fingers over the face of the young man she once knew. She could still see pieces of the young man in the visage of who he now was. Now, Will bore great burdens. It had aged him with fine lines forming around his eyes. When he smiled, they crinkled, and Elizabeth had found them more attractive and endearing than all his youthful grins.

Turning the miniature over, she read the inscription on the back. It read, “To Elizabeth with all my love.” As she had expected, the date included his holiday to Scotland. What astonished her was seeing a second inscription. “Yours, past, present and future, Will.” The date was from last week.

Lost in her thoughts, Elizabeth and did not hear Jane approach.

“Lizzy,” Jane’s gentle voice called out. “Mama asking about you.” Jane came closer, and her eyes widened when they fell upon the items in Elizabeth’s lap and the tears on her sister’s cheeks. “Whatever is the matter?”

Elizabeth let out a heavy sigh. “Will wrote me a letter.”

“After all this time, he finally wrote? My dear Lizzy, I had wondered how you felt after seeing him last night, but we’ve not had a moment to discuss it.

Elizabeth let out a laugh. “It feels as if my life turned upside down again. It was this way five years ago when we met. If I were wiser, perhaps I would be afraid.”

“Afraid? Why should you be afraid?”

“Any sane person would go running in the opposite direction of a man who turned everything on its head every time she saw him. Last night, I was so angry with him. This morning – –”

“This morning!” Jane took Elizabeth’s hands. “Did you see him before he called on Papa?”

“I had walked to Oakham Mount, and he came on horseback. Oh!” Elizabeth touched her head. “Speaking of his horse, while we were…” Elizabeth hesitated for she did not wish to share about Will’s embraces and kisses. “While we were attempting to discuss our separation and the matter of our betrothal, his horse nearly killed us.”

“Goodness,” Jane threw a hand to her heart after Elizabeth told her tale. “But do not put me off. I am sure whatever happened with the horse must have been distressing. However, both of you appeared to be in one piece at Longhorn. Tell me what you spoke of. What did he have to say for himself?”

A small smile played out Elizabeth’s lips. Jane so rarely expressed disapproval and anybody. Through the years she had often had a more charitable opinion of Will than Elizabeth had. However, Elizabeth had to admit it was amusing to see Jane so protective. “He says he considers us engaged.”

“Engaged! If he had honored the betrothal years ago, then he would have come and called on you. There would have been a courtship. Our Father’s permission would have been applied to. Instead, he left you alone!”

Elizabeth threw her hand her arms around Jane. “Please, my dear sister. I am well his, and his return does not distress me. He had much to say about his about our separation. I will tell you all only calm yourself.”

Jane gave Elizabeth a tight squeeze before pulling back and wiping her eyes. Finally, she said, “I will listen to what you have to say. I will reserve my judgment until I hear his defense.”

Jane listened in silence as Elizabeth explained her encounters with Will and their belief that someone intercepted his letters. Then, she read the one Elizabeth had just received. When Jane had finished, she folded it up and handed it back to Elizabeth. “He does seem to love you very much,” she said gently. “And I daresay he appropriately grieves the pain he has inflicted. Do you really believe someone would go to such lengths to have stopped his letters to you?”

“It is an astonishing thought, but I find that more likely than Will never having written and lying entirely. You know how I rationalized it. I tried to say that he must have found me unworthy or that he is simply toying with me.”

“Yes,” Jane said. “You would repeat that argument over and over again as though trying to convince yourself.”

“That is it entirely!” Elizabeth vigorously nodded. “We were so in love. He withstood the arguments from his father and from Sam. I may have been very young in the ways of the world, but I could not be confused about something as natural and intuitive as love. I do not mean the passion we shared. It would not be unusual for a young man to give in to such ardent displays. No. I reference the conversations we had which bared our souls. When I felt as though he and I were alone in the whole world and he was the only one who truly understood me.”

Jane straightened and looked offended.

“Jane!” Elizabeth hastened to say. “I do not mean that you did not understand me, but you do not have the same feelings yourself. Will and I differ on many things, but there are others that we are of very similar mind. You are so apt to see the good in everyone. I appreciate your friendship and your wise soul, but I do not know you can perceive how it feels to me. It is impossible for me to see the world from your sunny outlook.” Elizabeth shrugged. “I could be myself and was accepted for what I was with Will. I did not always have to try and be better than I am.”

“I do not mean to make you feel inadequate,” Jane said. After a pause, she added, “I believe the best loves are ones which make both partners stronger. Is that what you felt with Will?”

“Yes! Somehow, even as I would call it a flaw myself, Will turned every attribute into a strength.”

Jane stood, then gathered Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “We should return to the house. Mama sent me out here ages ago.”

“What has put her in a tizzy now?” Elizabeth laughed as she stood. “Or is she still angry at Will’s visit. It is as though she blames him for Sam’s death. Nothing could be more senseless. Not only were they the greatest of friends, but he lost his father that fire.”

“I cannot say how mama feels about your Will. However, Papa has received a letter from Mr. Collins. He asked to visit.”

“Our cousin? The one Papa has not talked to in years?”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “No, he has died. It is his son who wrote. Apparently, he is now the rector of a substantial living and Kent.”

“Why does he wish to visit? What could his intention be?” Elizabeth wondered.

“I am uncertain. Perhaps if you read the letter, you will be able to deduce it. Papa found it most amusing.”

Elizabeth did find Mr. Collins’ letter amusing. Unlike her father, however, she also thought it unusual. The older man broke ties with Mr. Bennet soon after Sam’s birth. With the birth of a Bennet heir, his residual claim disappeared. After Sam’s death, the old Mr. Collins wrote to Bennet offering his son as the new heir. Sam had lived long enough to sign the papers which broke the entail. Mr. Bennet could now we leave Longbourn to whoever he wished. To that effect, he chose to leave it to his eldest grandson who would not otherwise inherit an estate.

As the eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Jane had become the target of many suitors in the area. However, despite Mrs. Bennet’s matchmaking tendencies, she counseled her daughters to only accept gentlemen of means. There was no urgency or fear for the girls to marry. Although she put Jane and Elizabeth out into society at the age of 16, that was while the entail remained unbroken. The moment the ink dried on the papers, many of Mrs. Bennet’s anxieties gave away. The next youngest sister, Mary, now age seventeen, still waited for her turn to enter Society. As she seemed in no hurry, it created no distress between the sisters.

Elizabeth had half-vowed to never marry after losing Will. She had always assumed it would be Jane’s second son who would inherit Longbourn. Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip as she continued to think about the ramifications of their cousin’s visit. Eventually, if Will could prove himself faithful—or even if he could not as news of their engagement and their passionate embraces would certainly ruin her reputation and require marriage—Elizabeth would marry Will. However, Jane’s head had not been turned by any suitors. Years ago, Elizabeth believed Jane had a tender regard for Mr. Bingley. Now that he was in the area again, Elizabeth hoped the two could resume where they left off. Would Jane feel the pull to marry a relation? Whatever living Mr. Collins had contracted it could be nothing compared to Mr. Bingley’s fortune. However, that did not allow for other concerns which might influence a daughter as obedient and docile as Jane.

 

*****

 

It was two days before Will saw Elizabeth. Then it was at Lucas large. While there, Darcy had the pleasure of seeing Charles dance with the elder Miss Bennet. While they had never discussed the unselect Bennet girls after the fire, Will was not surprised to see signs that Charles had continued to admire Jane Bennet just as he had continue to admire Elizabeth. One of Elizabeth’s younger sisters was there as well. She was invited to the pianoforte by Miss Lucas. Mrs. Bennet bustled over to Mary’s side.

“Pray, Mary,” she said.” “You must play the new sonata you have been practicing.”

“I had planned to play a few jigs,” Mary said.

“Nonsense!”

Mary rifled through the music books and selected one. With chagrin, Will noted it was indeed a Mozart sonata rather than something the young people could dance to. Elizabeth approached Charles and Miss Bennet. Will perceived his opportunity to speak with her. Just before reaching her side, Sir William appeared.

“Mr. Darcy,” he said. “You honor us with your presence. Mrs. Bennet told me, just now, how long you had been friends with their family.”

“Samuel Bennet was one of my dearest friends.”

“Indeed? But I should not be so surprised. I have often heard of the liberality of the Darcy family and know from my experiences at St. James’s how kind people of great rank can be.”

“I assure you, sir, the kindness was all on Sam’s end. Many mistake my disposition and I am certain I if not for Sam, I might have offended the whole of Eton and Cambridge.”

“Ah, you do your friend great justice, but I will not allow it to be so far I have seen your good nature. You danced at our assembly.”

“It is a civility one can hardly avoid.”

“I saw a great deal more than civility, Mr. Darcy. Did you not dance with Miss Eliza? And her sister, Miss Mary, as well?”

“As an old friend of the family, it was the least I could do.”

“Yes, we miss Sam acutely. My Charlotte, well she learned to get on well enough. Do you know that when we got news of Sam’s passing, she did not shed a tear? She bore it all with such strength that if my own dear wife could be as brave as she in the face of my demise, I would not be unhappy.”

Will glanced at Charlotte as he thought over her father’s words while he babbled on about his visits to St. James. Will had never supposed that what Sam and Charlotte shared was anything like his passionate feelings for Elizabeth. In that regard, he could understand Sam’s dilemma in choosing between Lucy and Charlotte. He could not excuse his friend’s decision to entangle himself. However, Will could comprehend the difficulty of his choice. Charlotte, on the other hand, he previously believed, truly loved his friend. How could she have borne the news of Sam’s passing with such sanguine? True, Will’s impression of Charlotte was that she was not of a sensational nature. Surely some tears at the death of her betrothed would be human nature. Will himself cried much over the death of his friend and his father. The belief that he lost Elizabeth forever wounded him more than he would ever care to admit. And he had dampened more handkerchiefs at the thought of never seeing her again than any man could countenance. Now, Will observed Miss Lucas and started at the hardness he saw emanating from her eyes. Why, she despised Will and Charles! Jane smiled at something Charles said, and Charlotte stepped forward. Mary’s sonata ended and, thinking quickly, Will return Sir William to the discussion of dancing.

“I am surprised a man as jolly as you has not arranged for dancing this evening.”

“Quite right. You are quite right Mr. Darcy.” Sir William Lucas ran off to invite his daughter to entertain his guests.

Now, Will made his way without interference. Elizabeth saw him approach and blushed.

“I hope, you came all this way with that smile on your face to dance with me?”

“I believe I made my sentiments on that quite known to you, Elizabeth,” Will bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and brought it to his lips.

She blushed again and glanced around nervously. “Sir,” she scolded

“I am courting you, as you deserve. Your neighbors and friends should acknowledge my interest, and I shall make it quite worth remarking upon, I assure you.” He smirked. At two-and-twenty, he gave little thought about how to court a woman. After five years of blaming himself for her supposed abandonment, Will had imagined all the ways to court Elizabeth in and out of drawing rooms. Will nodded to the dance floor where several of the young Lucases had rolled up the carpet. “May I have the honor of a dance, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I believe the honor is mine,” she said.

Will have been used to thinking that he would rather have his head on display in the Tower of London then engage in inane pleasantries. However, he would suffer all that and more to spend even one second in Elizabeth’s company. He beamed with pride when she placed her hand on his arm. Not to be outdone, Charles requested Jane’s hand for a set. Soon other couples also joined the dance as well.

“I believe we must have some conversation,” Elizabeth acknowledged.

“I will speak on anything you desire, my love.” The endearments fell from Will’s mouth without second thought. “Might I suggest a date for our marriage to begin?”

Elizabeth frowned. “I thought you understood,” she said. “I need more time.”

The dance separated them for a moment. When they returned, Will took a deep breath before speaking. “I understand your request, my dearest. Do you understand mine? After all the years of separation and pain, I believe we have been engaged long enough. Yes, there is much we need to learn about each other, but I have no intention to give you up. Nothing I could learn would shake my determination to marry you.” He dropped his voice. “Please, I cannot bear to lose you again. Have we not learned how quickly everything we think we have imagined for our lives may change?”

Elizabeth met his eyes, and they glittered with tears. The dance separated them for several minutes, and Will watched Elizabeth as closely as he could. He did not mean to pressure her into anything she was uncomfortable with, but the courtship was a mere formality, was it not?

Reunited- Chapter Five

reunited 2We left with Will, finally, asking Mr. Bennet for his blessing on marrying Elizabeth. What will Mr. Bennet say?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

“I accept.”

As Mr. Bennet spoke, relief and peace washed over Will. He could breathe easier than he had a moment before and his racing pulse calmed.

“However, I have conditions.”

The flash of hope that swelled Will’s heart evaporated. Would he ever have Elizabeth as his wife? Perhaps stealing away to Scotland would be necessary after all these years. “What are they?” Will asked through grit teeth, his patience wearing thin.

“You must court her openly for several weeks. No one else knew of this secret betrothal from so many years ago. I will not have you swooping in and acting the ever-constant lover who deserves liberties with his betrothed. She deserves far more than that, and her reputation requires it.”

“Must we conceal our attachment and act as new acquaintances, then?”

Mr. Bennet paused before answering. “I will allow you two to consider the best method. Everyone knows you were friends with Sam and that you had met previously. That you had both held a torch for one another will be hard enough for most to credit.”

Will blew out a breath, and his muscles relaxed. “Very well. I will accept those terms. For what it is worth, I do know what Elizabeth is worth, and I know she deserves more from me than I have given her in the past.”

“See that you do not forget it again,” Mr. Bennet added with raised brows. “Did your father know of the betrothal?”

“No,” Will sighed. “He knew of my attachment and the direction of my thoughts. He had attempted to dissuade me but ultimately said he trusted me. Of course, he probably believed my interest would wane during our holiday. Why do you ask?”

“I am considering the fact that you claim someone stole your letters. Do you think he would go so far as that to discourage matters?”

“I do not think so…” Will trailed off. “I had come today with the purpose of if you had.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “I assure you, son, I was oblivious to any romance between you and my daughter. While I would have been of your father’s mind, if Sam ever told you anything about me then you should know that I am far too lackadaisical to go to such measures.”

Will blinked. “You would not have approved of our attachment?”

“For all the reasons I am sure your father put forth. It was formed too quickly, you were both too young. You were raised to other expectations and Elizabeth could offer you nothing in the way of fortune or connection. She could hardly be a credit to you as Mrs. Darcy.”

“I strongly disagree, sir.” Will straightened and his jaw set tightly. “Elizabeth is exactly what I need as a Mrs. Darcy. Whatever she has experienced in our years apart will only continue to be an asset.”

“Well,” Mr. Bennet smirked. “You may go and visit with your future sisters and mother-in-law. Send Elizabeth to me. Your courtship may begin tomorrow in Mrs. Bennet’s drawing-room.”

Understanding his dismissal, Will stood and bowed. He had not discovered who had separated him from Elizabeth but had made something of an ally of her father regarding his courtship. It was as much of a good start as he had a right to expect.

Will left Longbourn disappointed he had not had more time with Elizabeth. All he had heard about Mrs. Bennet had prepared him to find a matchmaking mama. Instead, she seemed protective of Elizabeth and wanted to keep her away from Will. She filled any silence with her voice and, if the confused looks on her daughters’ faces were any sign, acted more ridiculous than usual. It seemed designed to put him off, but Will had no intention of leaving Hertfordshire without Elizabeth as his wife. He may have been delayed five years, but he would see his goal met. All those years ago, step one of his plan had been to rent Netherfield and court Elizabeth from there. The situation had changed, but the ends could still be claimed.

“Will,” Charles said with surprise when they passed one another on the stairs. “You have already been out? I am calling on Longbourn as soon as I finish breakfast. Go and change. I will wait for you.”

Will shook his head. “I have already been to Longbourn and in any case, have a servant looking for Apollo.”

Charles’ eyes widened. “There is a story there.”

“Indeed.” Will looked at their surroundings first. “Follow me, and I will tell you all.”

The men walked in silence to Will’s chamber. Upon shutting the door, he relaxed. One never knew which Bingley sister might be listening to a conversation in the hall. “Something spooked Apollo, and he nearly trampled us.”

“Us?”

Will explained the happy surprise of finding Elizabeth at Oakham Mount.

“So you talked and have it all settled now, do you?” Charles grinned.

“What would there be to settle?” Will peered at his friend. He had never told Charles of his proposal. He had barely hinted at the time of his admiration for Elizabeth. Since the fire, he took all pains to never mention her name.

“I know what love and courtship look like far more than you do,” Charles laughed. “Do not look so surprised. You could not act before because of Sam. I never saw you behave around another lady the way you did around Miss Elizabeth. Now that we are here, I assume you have wasted no time in staking your claim, at last. Was she very relieved to finally hear the words?”

Will’s head spun in circles at Charles’ speech. He presumed that Will had proposed already to Elizabeth and would have no way of knowing they had, in fact, been engaged for half a decade. Will had not uttered anything that came close to a second proposal. In fact, his first proposal was rather terrible. A small smile came to his lips as he recalled Elizabeth’s teasing until he actually asked rather than demand her hand. More than anything though, Elizabeth must have longed to hear the words he had waited so long to hear. When Elizabeth confessed she still loved him and always had, a dam broke in Will’s heart. He was as defenseless against his net actions of taking her into his arms as a ___. He acted on instinct. Words were too inadequate to explain his depth of feeling and had failed him years ago. It had been a time of action. Only…did Elizabeth not understand his continued love?

Years ago, she had briefly thought he used and discarded women. Last night on the balcony, she mentioned the gossip rags and their false tales of his exploits with ladies. She must very well understand his continued passion for her, but she had never been courted. She did not understand how he loved and needed her.

“Will!” Charles exclaimed.

“Pardon me. I was wool-gathering.”

“I could see that. You may keep your thoughts to yourself about Miss Elizabeth, but I asked if you would accompany my family and me to Longbourn.”

“Ah. As I said, I have already visited today. I will go tomorrow as Mr. Bennet invited me to begin my courtship with Elizabeth then.”

“A courtship already! I only teased before, but I knew you would not wait long to come to your point.”

Will chuckled. No, he had not waited long at all. Bingley excused himself, and after withdrawing writing utensils, Will settled in. While his friend was away, Will intended to woo his lady from afar. When he had finished, he reread each line, praying they would convey a shred of his regard to Elizabeth. Pleased with the final product, he sanded and sealed it before ringing for his valet.

“Please send this to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, along with the blue box,” Will instructed. “Choose a servant you trust to discharge the duty discreetly and ___. I want no one but Miss Elizabeth to handle them. Should that be impossible, he is to return here, and I will see to it myself.”

“Yes, sir,” Matthews answered.

“Oh, and Matthews, I must inquire about your time with my father.”

Will watched his valet tense. He and his father had shared a man since Will had not required one while at University. His father died before Will hired a manservant of his own—a task intended for after the summer holiday. Not wishing to sack Matthews and feeling comfort in a familiar face, Will kept on the older gentleman. Through the years, they had built a rapport and he hoped he could trust the man.

“Before Mr. Darcy passed, did he ever ask you to intercept letters of mine?”

“No, sir.” Matthews shook his head. “May I speak freely?”

“Of course,” Will waved him on.

“If the old master would have asked that of me, I would have resigned. It was on my minds much during his final days. Many of us were displeased with his favouring young Wickham. However, I do not wish to speak ill of your father.”

“Nothing you can say will disturb me. I am aware of all he was, both good and bad.”

“Indeed, sir. And do not think me ungrateful. To all the staff and me, Mr. Darcy was the greatest master—except you, sir—that ever lived. You are very like him in that regard. Only…it did not seem right the way he favoured George Wickham so much.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I do not mean from a servant’s perspective. Many a steward’s son is groomed in such a way. I do not know how aware you were with dealings below stairs, sir. There was considerable trouble between Wickham and the maids—even Miss Darcy’s governesses. I feared for Miss Graves until Annesley, God rest him, was appointed to accompany her whenever she left the house. Of course, he took it a step further and became her shadow even in the home and well, I suppose, that is how they decided to marry.”

“It does you credit that you worried so much. I did know of Wickham’s wicked ways and approached my father many times on the matter. However, you make it sound as though you continued to worry for Mrs. Annesley even after we went on holiday that summer.”

“I did not believe Wickham would be above sending someone to exact his revenge upon her. Additionally, he often visited Pemberley while you were away.”

“Pardon me?” Will’s every muscle tensed. “What reason did he have and why was I never informed.”

“I did not know you had not been informed. I apologise for the lapse—I can only plead there must have been some misunderstanding. It is not like Mrs. Reynolds to not inform you of these matters and you know she was no supporter of him. As for a reason…”

Matthews looked away for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Out with it, man,” Will commanded.

“He always claimed to want to visit Miss Darcy and indeed he spent hours with her.”

Will swore and his valet blanched. “No wonder she believed the fiend so easily! Her father died and her brother seemingly abandoned her, but Wickham had been her friend for years.”

“You must not blame yourself,” Matthews said consolingly.

“Who is to blame then? It was my duty!” A vice gripped Will’s heart. Who had he not disappointed? He had falsely abandoned Elizabeth, allowed a rake to importune his sister and break her heart.

“You are responsible for no one’s decisions but your own,” Matthews placed a bracing hand on his master’s shoulder. “Besides, you do not think Wickham is so wicked to have intentionally created a friendship with Miss Darcy all to enact later?”

Colour drained from Will’s face. He had not considered such a thing but could he rule it out? Matthews shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. “I will send these to Longbourn. It is good to see such an address on your correspondence again.” He briefly smiled.

“Yes, very good,” Will dismissed his valet.

He had been prepared, even expected, to learn of interference from either his father or Elizabeth’s. He had thought he put the pain of Georgiana’s seduction behind him. Now, he wondered if she deserved any of his scolding and ire. A few minutes later, Matthews returned informing Will who he had selected for the task and with a bundle of mail.

Leafing through the envelopes, Will sighed. Georgiana’s felt incredibly light—probably only a few lines with nothing more than a nod to civility and written under duress and threats of no privileges per his plan with Mrs. Annesley. Richard’s felt the usual weight and Mrs. Reynolds’ heavier than ever before. Arranging his supplies once more, Will bent over the desk. He had much to read and even more to write.

 

*****

 

After Will left Longbourn, Elizabeth went for a walk just within the garden. Upon his leaving, her stepmother had begun telling her how unworthy Will was for their attention. Fanny Bennet had never seemed to understand Elizabeth, but she also never seem to desire to purposely wound the girl. Elizabeth knew none, but Jane could understand the pain that her mother’s words against Will brought to Elizabeth’s heart.

After an hour or so in the garden picking the remains of the autumn flowers, Elizabeth returned to the house. She arrived at the door just as a footman from Netherfield, dismounted on the drive.

“Tommy,” Elizabeth said in surprise at seeing the son of one of Longbourn’s tenants who was recently hired as a footman by Mr. Bingley at her door. “Is all well with your parents?”

“Yes, they are very well. I come on business from Netherfield.”

“Netherfield?” Elizabeth scrunched her nose up in confusion.

Tommy turned and withdrew a small package and envelope from a saddlebag. Facing her again, he grinned. “Mr. Darcy’s valet selected me for the task of bringing this to you. I was instructed if I could not give it to you directly to return to the house and Mr. Darcy would come.”

Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat at Tommy’s knowing smirk. “Thank you, Tommy. I am sure that Mr. Darcy’s valet also selected you for your loyalty and ability for discretion.”

“Indeed,” he nodded with a grin. “That is exactly what Matthews said.” He hitched his leg over the horse.

“Thank you for discharging your duty. You may please tell Mr. Matthews to pass along my greetings to Mr. Darcy and my thanks.”

Tommy waved and set back toward Netherfield. Elizabeth glanced nervously around to be sure no one saw the delivery before hastening back to the garden. Choosing the bench in the furthest corner, and therefore away from prying eyes of sisters and parents, Elizabeth settled to read the note.

My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,

 

My heart is full, and my mind overwhelmed as I attempt to comprehend the depth of my love for you. The only words I can summon barely do it justice. Forgive my poor attempts at courtship. My ineptness does not reflect the esteem in which I hold you.

When we first met, I was an arrogant youth who thought only of his own worth. I loved you, but I could not set aside my fears and insecurities. If we had spent more than a week together or if I had not left on holiday, I would have learned to see past them. I was a selfish lover who did not consider your feelings although you and others attempted to explain to me the difficulties you would face as my bride. In my hurt and conceit, I abandoned you when you most needed me. I can never forget or forgive myself for failing you in such a way. I vow now, to never make you feel alone again.

Your father has invited me to begin my courtship on the morrow, but I could not wait to share my sentiments—thoughts and words which could not be said in your mother’s drawing-room.

Five years ago, I was dumb-struck at your loveliness and vivacity. Your wit fascinated me and your courage impressed me. Now, I have witnessed your strength, your determination, your capacity for love and loyalty. Each of these facets and I am sure many more, make up the wondrous woman you have become. Once more, I am rendered mute at your beauty and the incredible fortune which has turned your attention to me. I did not deserve you then and assuredly do not now.

Although we have been separated by time and distance, you have been the wind in my sails, Elizabeth. I never could meet a lady without wondering what you would say or do instead. None of them could intrigue or captivate me like you. Having a taste of incredible passion and a sliver of happiness, I could not accept anything less—even as I presumed to never have such with you. My heart was yours alone even as I had believed you moved forward with your life. Can you imagine the torturous hours I have spent imagining you with another? That any other man might know the taste of your lips, feel the heat of your blush, or hear the whispered words I so desperately longed for plagued me. I spent hours consumed in letter writing just to resign myself that you no longer cared and did not send them. Countless times, I determined to ride to Longbourn and stake my claim—announce my improprieties to your father and force yourself wed to me—only to determine I would rather never have you at all than have you hate me for life.

My dearest darling, I will not plead that you do not make me wait long to alleviate my suffering. Instead, I will assure you that I will court you until you are satisfied. Nothing will tear me from your side now. I came to Hertfordshire to see you—I had to see you—and here I will remain until I leave with you as Mrs. Darcy. I have held you in my arms for mere moments and in my dreams nightly for years. I will not rest until I have the right to embrace you for a lifetime.

Yours forevermore,

Will


What a letter! That’s two suspects knocked off the list. We still have Mrs. Bennet and Sam. Any other guesses? Reunited is finished and being edited! I think I will keep to posting on Saturdays just for my own sanity. Therefore, the story will continue to post after the book is released. I also will probably not do a pre-order this time around. However, if you subscribe to my mailing list (there’s a pop up for this blog but here is the link as well: http://eepurl.com/cXCKVT) then you have the opportunity of getting a downloadable advance reader copy. There is a limited amount and first come, first serve so I can’t promise everyone will get one. I send out the email as soon as I have a link to share. Look for an email in early August.

Reunited- Chapter Four

reunited 2Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

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

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

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

“Mine,” he whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will,” she reached out a hand.

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

“What of your horse?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

“He was in debt to Lord Harcourt.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

“No…of…of…anything recent.”

“I do not understand what you mean.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose you might have an explanation?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reunited- Chapter Three

reunited 2

Chapter Three

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

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

“Thank you, sir,” Will said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He spoke quietly, but Elizabeth nervously glanced around.

“Fear not, we are alone.”

Oh, she should fear that very, very much.

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

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

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

“Jealous?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have not loved any of them?”

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth turned to walk away. Will caught her wrist.

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

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

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

 

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

She started, and he chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I forget them?” Elizabeth nearly screeched.

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

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

“I gave my condolences in person.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunited- Chapter Two

reunited 2Well, lots of questions from the last time! This chapter will illuminate a few things. Hang on to your bonnets!


Previous chapters: Chapter One

Chapter Two

October 15, 1811

 

Elizabeth Bennet hugged her wrap closer to herself as she stood over the marker. It did not stand alone, but she always felt it impossible to mourn the mother and elder sister she never knew.

Her eyes drifted over the inscriptions and lingered on the most recent addition to the family cemetery. “Oh, Sam!” Elizabeth cried out and fell into a heap.

After Thomas Bennet’s first wife and eldest daughter died of an illness, he remarried. Instead of a gentlewoman, he chose the daughter of his solicitor. Although Fanny Bennet desperately wished to give her husband a spare heir, she brought only three more daughters into the world. All hope of breaking the entailment on Longbourn had rested on Sam.

Despite the occasional nervous flutters of Mrs. Bennet, Sam came of age without harm and broke the entail thus securing the fates of his five sisters. The same spring, he planned to tour Ireland and Scotland with several of his friends from university. The same spring he died in a fire at an inn which forever altered four families.

Five years had passed, and it sometimes felt to Elizabeth she was the only one to grieve the loss of her beloved brother. Even Sam’s betrothed, Charlotte Lucas, had found contentment with the situation. In fact, Elizabeth’s once-upon-a-time betrothed had apparently moved on as well.

Sam’s best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, had proposed to Elizabeth shortly after they first met. With little more than a promise to court her at Longbourn, he left for a holiday with Sam and others. For weeks, Elizabeth waited to receive a letter from Will. Sam had written several times but there was not even a line about Will passing his greetings to her.

Then, one morning a messenger came with news of the fire. News that her brother had died and her father gravely injured, Elizabeth desired the support of her betrothed. Will never arrived at Longbourn, and as their engagement had been a secret to all but Jane, Elizabeth had no choice but to conceal her emotions.

Elizabeth shook herself from memories of her foolish youth. Today would have been Sam’s six and twentieth birthday. He likely would have been a father to children of his own by now. Instead of mourning her brother, Elizabeth had been ordered to attend the local Assembly this evening. How could she enjoy dancing and gaiety when her brother was gone?

“Lizzy.”

Elizabeth felt the familiar touch of her father’s hand on her shoulder.

“Here child.” Mr. Bennet placed another wrap around her. “It is growing late. Your mother will be upset to learn you have been out here crying so long. She expects you to enjoy this evening.” His voice took on a mildly amused tone. “I believe you will enjoy meeting the new arrivals to the area.”

Elizabeth finally looked up at her father. “The gentleman that leased Netherfield?”

“Yes, he will be there, and he brings family and friends.”

Elizabeth smiled through her tears. “It will be amusing to observe them. Can you imagine what Sam would say?”

“Yes, yes my dear. Now, dry your eyes.” He handed her a handkerchief.

“I am sorry Papa. Only sometimes it feels as though no one else cares. He was so young. It is so unfair!”

“I know you wish you could find some cause or meaning for the fire but we cannot understand the Lord’s ways.” Mr. Bennet squeezed Elizabeth’s shoulder. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. We should remember with pleasure the time we had with Sam, as I must think the same of your departed sister and mother. It will not do to dwell on what might have been.” Mr. Bennet winced as he stood from his crouched position.

“Does it still hurt, Father?”

Mr. Bennet looked up at the sky. “I believe it might get worse as I continue to age, and you know how the weather affects it. However, time heals all wounds though some take longer than others. Come along, dear.”

He held out his hand to help his daughter, but she managed on her own. Casting a last look at her brother’s marker, Elizabeth sighed and walked home on her father’s arm.

 

*****

 

Inevitably, Charles was delayed in taking his house. His sisters could not miss a particular event in Town, and rather than arrive in Meryton on the proposed date, they were one day later. In fact, Charles’ sisters made such a fuss about going at all that they barely had time to refresh themselves before leaving for the local assembly to which Charles had promised to go.

The carriage ride from Netherfield to the Meryton Assembly hall was unusually tense. Will could not forget this day was his best friend’s birthday. Sam had been a God-send to him at Eton. Will was delayed a year in being sent to school by his mother’s death. He could have started in the second term of the usual year, but by then George Will had decided to send his godson, George Wickham, to school as well.

In addition to mourning the loss of his dear friend, with reminders of the loss of his father which occurred on the same day—losses he firmly believed he could have prevented—he was disturbed by the mixed feelings of fear, nervousness, and elation at seeing her again.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet had never seemed far from his thoughts in the last five years. In the time since they last met, Will became master of his ancestral home. He was too busy to make new friends or meet new ladies. Nor did he want to. In his heart, he still considered them betrothed, even if she never replied to any of his letters. Any time he considered courting another lady, it felt like a betrayal to the one he had vowed to love forever.

However, if Sam and his father had lived, Will believed he would not have become so unsocial and taciturn. He had little time to socialize until the last year or two, and no lady he met could compare to the interactions he had with Elizabeth Bennet.

Disgusted at himself for carrying a tendre for a slip of a girl he met a handful of times half a decade ago, Will shifted in his seat. His father and Sam had attempted to tell him. One week of acquaintance was too short for it to be love. Wickham had enlightened Will to the truth—even if he was a devious cad—and Elizabeth’s own actions proved her cold heart. However, Will’s heart beat wildly just the same, and he prayed his leg would allow him at least one set with her. He needed to prove, to both of them, that they could meet as indifferent acquaintances.

The Netherfield party arrived at the Assembly Hall, and Charles quickly introduced them to Sir William Lucas. That talkative gentleman happily brought them to his family and Charles secured the first dance with Miss Lucas, Sam’s former betrothed. Mr. Bennet soon reacquainted himself with the party and introduced them to his family. Will immediately noticed Elizabeth was not in attendance and again was frustrated at the ridiculous deflated feeling of his heart. Pull it together, man!

Will had chatted with Mr. Bennet for a few minutes before his wife, who glared at Will, pulled him away. As Will did not know anyone else in the room, he circled about. A few times, he was spoken to, and he answered in the barest civility. His mind refused to concentrate on anything but seeking the room for a pair of particularly fine eyes.

During the second dance, between sets, Charles approached Will. If he were in a better frame of mind, Will would have noticed Charles’ sincere concern for his friend as he left Miss Bennet’s side.

“Come, Will,” said Charles, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is only one other woman whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” It was the closest Will had come to admitting his continued admiration of Elizabeth Bennet to his friend. By unspoken agreement, they had never again mentioned their attachment to the Bennet sisters since the day of the fire; until Charles sent a letter stating he leased a house not three miles from their estate, that is.

“But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”

Fearing that the young lady had heard Charles, Will drew in closer. “I am in no humour at present to give consequence to any lady save her. She appears to not be in attendance. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Mr. Charles followed his advice. Will walked off, as did the lady Charles mentioned. Will watched her go, fearful she had overheard the whole thing and was upset. It really was bad form of Charles to act so. Will caught his breath when the line parted and allowed him to see who the lady was speaking with. Elizabeth!

She looked at him, and he could see her eyes turn the vibrant shade of green he recalled from five years before. No other lady had ever captivated him the way she had. Elizabeth returned her focus to the younger lady. A third woman, who Will recognized as Sam’s former betrothed, talked with them. The ladies passionately discussed something. Finally, Elizabeth straightened her back and met his eyes again. Then she walked toward him like a goddess on the warpath. Will did not care at all that he had earned her ire. He was old friends with it and could not say that he did not appreciate the view as her eyes snapped with fire and her anger added a flush to her cheeks. Once, he had, briefly, felt that loyalty directed toward him. What he would give to feel it again.

“Mr. Darcy,” she boldly said when she came near enough. Then she descended into a very proper curtsy.

“Miss Elizabeth,” he replied and bowed. “I regret I did not see you earlier.”

“And you might have minded your manners better?” she scoffed. “I see five years have not done you much good.”

Will smirked. “Thankfully, I cannot say the same to you.” He lowered his voice. “Five years have done you a great deal of good, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth recoiled, and derision flashed in her eyes. Her reaction drew the notice of others. She raised her hand, but Will caught it. Tugging her toward the dance floor, he said loud enough for others to hear. “I am delighted to dance with an old friend.”

For half a moment, Will felt Elizabeth plant her feet firmly on the floor. Sweat beaded on the back of his neck. He had pushed his luck, and while most ladies would demur to his intention to cover the situation, he had never known how to read Elizabeth. She might just as well call him a cad to the general public as she might follow him to the dance floor. As much as he had fondly recalled their encounters and, admittedly, idealized them, he remembered that much about her. His heart stood still for several beats until she took another step forward.

“Oh, so it is old friends you wish to dance with?”

“I never was good at making new acquaintances.”

“I suppose it is much harder on you now,” Elizabeth said as they found their positions in the set.

“I will not say I do not feel my losses acutely, but I am sure it is nothing to your pain.”

Elizabeth, who had avoided his eyes, snapped her attention to him. She gazed at him for a long minute, and Will wondered if she attempted to ascertain the truth of his words. It seemed as though she peered into his soul.

“Thank you,” she finally said and nodded.

“I have not forgotten what today is,” he said before the dance separated them.

Elizabeth’s hand had a slight tremor to it when they returned, and her voice wavered as she said, “And yet it seemed as though you did forget about him as well as the rest of us entirely for the last five years.”

“Why would I send yet another letter after a fortnight of writing daily and having no answer?”

Elizabeth paled and nearly tripped.

“Forgive me,” Will said and squeezed her hand tightly. He did not wish to wound her. He had told himself he wanted to understand why she chose to toy with his heart when he did not believe her naturally cruel. After seeing Elizabeth again, it no longer mattered. He would forgive her of anything and only wished to win her affection in truth this time.

Elizabeth had remained quiet for a few moments but finally recovered, she observed, “I suppose the distance from London to Longbourn is so inconvenient one can only make it every five years. We were foolish to ever expect you.”

“I did not judge as I ought to have.” Will lowered his voice, “I could think only of my own pain.” Abiding the physical pain from his injuries in the fire to attend Sam’s funeral would have been a torment he gladly would have borne if he had not also known Elizabeth did not care for him. Seeing her weeping at her brother’s death and having no right to comfort her—knowing she never welcomed his attention—was more than he could bear at the time.

Elizabeth’s expression softened. “I suppose it is understandable if you are not in the most cordial mood today.”

“Thank you,” he murmured before they parted again. When rejoined, he ventured, “Perhaps this evening has displayed us both to least advantage and we ought to begin again.”

Elizabeth raised a brow. “What have I done that might damage anyone’s perception of me?”

Will matched her raised brow. “You have, once again, jumped to the least flattering conclusion about me. One might think you have not learned from the lessons of the past. One might believe you lacked character growth and maturity since our last meeting.”

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed, but they were once more separated by the dance. “One might believe these things, or you believe them?”

“I speak only in generalities,” Will rushed to say. However, he could see his words did not appease the lady.

She stood across from him silently for several moments before pursing her lips. “Very well. I might have leapt to conclusions. I give you leave to exonerate yourself. Why would you not dance with my sister, Mary?”

The final steps of the dance brought them close. Tilting his head down, Will murmured, “Because I wished only to dance with you, Elizabeth.”


Well, what did you think of that?

Loving Elizabeth #2 Reunited- Chapter One

reunited 2Chapter One

September 26, 1811

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bingley agreed.

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

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

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

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

Darcy’s head jerked up.

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

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

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

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

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


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