Writing Prompt Wednesday

I’m going to try a new theme on my blog. Wacky Wednesday is hard to keep up with so I’m swapping it for Writing Prompt Wednesday. It’s not really a thing. It just is in my head. 

I took a creative writing class in college. We were sometimes given newspaper headings and told to write a story. No pressure or anything. Geez! It was hard! However, I hadn’t really written before then. I just thought I might some day kind of sort of like to try it. 

Now, a lot of my stories start off with prompts. I have a list of prompts I came up with and will look at it when I need to start a new story. It will (hopefully) trigger a flood of ideas. 

I also like to write flash fiction when I’m practicing new things. It seems less intimidating in a way because it’s shorter. It still hones the craft because you have to be very precise with your word choice and what you are putting into the story. If you have a bloated manuscript, I suggest trying some flash fiction. Take one element, focus on that for 500 words. Repeat doing that until you feel confident with it. Then go back to your manuscript and be merciless. 

I found this prompt from Pinterest. I’ll probably keep going there for other inspiration rather than using my long story list. My goal with these is to write flash fiction of Regency Romance so maybe not every character will start in my head as Darcy and Elizabeth. I’m trying to retrain my brain!

Here goes nothing!

Octavia attempted to blend into the mass of passersby on the busy London street. If she were bolting down it, then it would appear unusual and her father would more easily find her. She would not be another woman that he sacrificed on his quest for wealth and status.

As the eighth daughter, there had been seven others before her, and then her mother paid the biggest price of all. However, with any luck, Octavia would not be another casualty of his schemes. She had slipped out the door during a shopping trip to the milliner. The busy Cheapside area provided the perfect area for her to disappear.

With heart pounding, she ducked out while someone else had opened the door so there would not be an extra ring of the bell. Octavia had no further plan than to escape her father. 

A gentleman was just emerging from a hack and she ran over to it. “Stop him! I will take your carriage.”

The young man obliged but his shock was obvious on his face. He glanced around her, undoubtedly looking for an escort. “Are you riding alone?”

“Yes, and I have not a moment to lose.” She climbed inside.

“What is your destination, madam?” He climbed in as well.

“As far as six pence can take me. Pardon me, I thought you had completed your journey.”

He frowned at her words. “That will not carry you very far.”

“It is all I have. Might I ride with you as far as you deem that a fair exchange?”

The gentleman looked at her for a moment before leaving the carriage and speaking with the driver. Octavia feared he was telling the driver to remove her, but just as quickly as he left, he returned. He sat across from her and then beat his walking stick on the ceiling of the coach to signal the driver. 

At first, they remained silent as the carriage jostled them over the cobbled streets of London. Eventually, they seemed to be leaving the city behind. 

“Where are we going?” Octavia asked the stranger. He had said nothing but had not ceased to stare at her. 

He flushed. “You said you needed to leave London but had no destination. We can change carriages and continue North all night if need be. In fact, I can convey you all the way to Scotland.”

Octavia felt her eyes widen and she gulped. “Scotland!”

“Only if you wish it,” he rushed to say. “I could find you employment or assist you in other ways much easier once we reach there.”

“Why were you in London? Why would you turn and leave just as quickly as you came?” She ought to view the man with skepticism, but the fluttering in her heart had not ceased since meeting him. 

“I am returning to Scotland because I cannot bear to finish the task laid before me and the reason I came to London.”

“May I know your name, at least?”

“Cripsin Harrington,” he reached for Octavia’s hand and bent forward as though in a bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”

“Octavia Lamb.” She smiled as he bowed once more. “Why are you helping, Mr. Harrington?”

“Call me Crispin.” 

Octavia nodded her acquiescence. “Very well, Crispin. You may call me Octavia. Why are you helping me?”

He looked at her for a long moment before replying. “Do you want the truth?”

“I think that is generally preferable,” she smiled to encourage him. Something about him was utterly endearing. 

“A gentleman always wishes to help a damsel in distress. It is most curious because I have lived a very orderly life and have never done something so spontaneous before. There was something about you, the moment I saw you…”

Taking a shaky breath, Octavia nodded. She had felt it too. There were any number of hacks she could have hired or people she could have approached and yet, she went directly to him.  “Thank you for helping me,” she murmured.

“Thank you for trusting me,” Crispin said and squeezed the hand he still held. “I have a book with me. Would you care for me to read aloud?”

Octavia agreed and enjoyed hearing his baritone voice. As he read, she could not keep from stealing glances at him. She had never been so attracted to a gentleman before. After a period of time, she took a turn. Soon, it grew too dark to read. They changed carriages and horses several times and although he suggested she sleep, they talked until late in the night. Finally, she could not help yawning. 

“Rest,” he urged. 

She murmured a good night and attempted to find a comfortable way to lean her head against the carriage wall. Nothing seemed to suit. Additionally, the darkness had brought a chill. She pulled her pelisse closer but could not warm. Attempting to hide her shivering was no use.

“You are too cold,” Crispin said. 

“I will manage.” Octavia gave him a weak smile. If it were not for him, who knew where she would be spending the night. She probably would be far colder.

“Nonsense,” he said before slipping to her bench. 

He immediately radiated warmth and Octavia practically sighed at his presence. 

“Here…” he wrapped an arm around her and brought her head to his shoulder. “I will keep you warm. Rest now.”

It made no sense to Octavia at all, but she was sure Crispin Harrington would hold her heart forever after that moment. She had nearly lost all faith in humans to be so selfless and caring. How did she have the fortune to stumble upon such a good man?

When she awoke with the early dawn, he was smiling down at her. “I am glad you managed to sleep.” 

“You are a very comfortable pillow.”

“Are you warm enough?”

“Yes,” Octavia said as she attempted to raise her head from his shoudldr. 

Crispin nudged it back down. “You do not need to sit up for my sake. I quite like this position.”

Octavia blushed but could not deny her mutual feeling. “Did you sleep at all?”

“A little,” he half-shrugged. “I confess I was mesmerized watching you. You looked so beautiful and peaceful. It was as though I had an angel in my arms.” He lowered his face to hers.

“Crispin…” she whispered. After sleeping on his shoulder all night, it did not seem strange at all that she should wish for his kiss more than she wished for her next breath. 

When his lips met hers, Octavia knew there was no turning back. She would follow him to his estate in Scotland or to the ends of the Earth. By the time they arrived at Crispin’s estate beyond Gretna Green, they were blissfully in love and married. 

“Welcome home, Lady Grantley,” he whispered as he scooped her into his arms and carried her over the threshold.

Octavia had marveled at the new title when her husband had told her that he was actually an heir to an earldom. The estate he went to was inherited from his mother’s side and could not be revoked by his father–who would be angry as he had not married a stranger to settle a gambling debt of his. 

“Did you even know her name?” she had asked, as he held her tightly the morning after their wedding night.

“No, I never desired to know. I was determined to do my duty and have a cold, loveless union as my parents had. Knowing her name was unnecessary. However, the instant I saw you, I knew I could not do it. You looked alone in the world and I wanted to make you mine.”

“How curious. I was in the same position. My father wished for me to marry a Lord Grantley without ever seeing him or knowing anything about him. He had done similar things with all my sisters.”

Crispin gaped at her. “Darling, are you sure that was the name he said?”

“Yes,” she shuddered. “I heard it in my nightmares for weeks. I would not be bought and sold like a horse. I fled without a plan, but the moment I approached you I knew I could trust you.”

“Love, I do not know how to tell you this but…but, I am Lord Grantley.”

“We were on our way to each other even then?” she asked.

“I suppose so, but I do not think that would have suited us well. Would you have been predisposed to like me if you had forced to marry me?”

“Certainly not!”

“And I was not expecting to ever love the bride my father had selected.” He kissed her. “Do you know that I was so dumbstruck by your beauty and the feelings in my heart that I could not speak to you the first hour?”

“Is that why you were so grave and silent.”

“Yes, although that is not unusual for me. I told you before that you caused my spontaneity. You also give me great joy. My heart feels lighter with you than it ever has before.”

Octavia clung to Crispin’s words in their first days of marriage and when they both received letters from their fathers condemning their actions. Crispin might have bankrupted the earldom by not marrying as he should. It was only Octavia’s pleading that since she had married him after all, her father considered the debt settled. In the years that passed during their long, happy marriage, she could only rejoice that she had met Crispin on a crowded London street. 

Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

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

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

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will regret it forever–“

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

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

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

Thursday Three Hundred- Just to See Her Smile

Rose Letter

My Music Monday post was the song “Just to See You Smile” by Tim McGraw. I’ve always wanted to give him a happy ending in that song so it’s inspired this story. I actually think the song would go more naturally with Emma and Knightley but I got told with the Jane & Bingley story that readers just want Darcy and Elizabeth. 🙂 Maybe one day, I’ll explore minor characters and other Austen books more. I hope you enjoy my Regency-Happily-Ever-After-ified version of this song.

 

Just to See Her Smile

 

“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy frowned as he saw the face of the most beautiful woman in the world crumple in tears at his entrance. “What has upset you so?”

They had met at a ball in London three months ago. He had called on her today with the intention to propose. Her uncle knew and so he had consented to this private encounter.

Elizabeth dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and her fist tightened around a letter. “A letter from my father. He is ill and requests I return to Longbourn immediately. I do not even have time to say farewell to my friends. If you had not arrived at just this moment…” Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears again.

“I am very sorry to hear of Mr. Bennet’s illness. Is it serious?”

“No,” her voice shook. “I do not believe so, but I cannot deny him the comfort of having his favourite daughter as a nurse. I seldom come to London more than once a year and with my aunt’s situation I do not think I would receive another invitation until the following Season.” She wiped her eyes. “I am such a selfish creature! I confess I do not want to leave London so soon. Please, tell your sister and Mr. Bingley how much I regret not getting to say goodbye. You cannot conceive how glad I am to have the opportunity to speak with you.”

Understanding that the life of Elizabeth’s father was not in imminent peril, Darcy allowed himself a moment of joy at seeing proof of her affection for him. “In that case, I have good news. Mr. Bingley has signed a lease at Netherfield. He has invited my sister and I to visit and we will be there within a fortnight.”

Elizabeth smiled so wide, Darcy felt as though the sun broke through the overcast sky. She was radiant and resplendent, and he would go anywhere for her, just to see that smile.

“Oh! That is the very best news!” Elizabeth stood and clapped. “Now, I may leave without any remorse. I do beg your pardon, but I must rush to pack now. My aunt has sent a notice to my uncle and I expect we will go on the one o’clock stage.”

“I am happy to give you such joy,” Darcy murmured. “Until we meet again.” He bowed over her hand, raising it to his lips and rejoicing in her blush.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bennet did not quickly recover from his illness. As the weeks in Hertfordshire progressed, Elizabeth withdrew more and more from Darcy’s company. As Mr. Bennet’s health continued to deteriorate, his heir presumptive arrived to visit and, allegedly, console his previously estranged relations. The only positive thing Darcy could see out of the experience was his friend Bingley seemed very much in love with Elizabeth’s eldest sister. When Elizabeth would see the two sitting together, a soft smile came to her face, making Darcy’s heart skip a beat.

One morning, as Mr. Bennet’s time to depart the earth drew nearer, Elizabeth met Darcy in the hall. Bingley and Georgiana had already entered the drawing room. Elizabeth twisted her hands and looked more tired than Darcy had ever seen her before.

“Mr. Darcy, I am relieved I have the opportunity to speak with you.”

“I always wish to give you a respite from any worry. Tell me how I may be of assistance,” he said, furrowing his brow. Dread knotted his stomach.

“My father does so poorly now. It will not be long until…” She trailed off and squeezed her eyes shut. “My mother has taken to her chambers and cannot abide visitors. Any reminder that we might soon have to relocate sends her into fits of anxiety and despair. I am exceedingly sorry to say this, but my sisters and I feel it is best to not entertain friends.”

“It is very understandable. When my father was ill, I was in no mood for entertaining, but I had thought we were on much better terms of friendship than that. If you wish, however, I will explain your feelings to Bingley and my sister.”

“I-I-I do not wish to send Mr. Bingley away,” Elizabeth stuttered. “Jane finds such solace in his company and my sisters can scarcely go a day without seeing Georgiana. They love her as a sister. However…”

Ice trailed down Darcy’s spine as he understood what she meant. It was only him that she wished away. “I apologise if my presence and visits were not welcome. I had thought…”

“Please do not misunderstand,” Elizabeth whispered while looking at her feet. “In the coming weeks, there will be many decisions to be made. I must have a clear head.”

The voice of the detested heir asking after Darcy’s absence rose from the drawing room door. He understood that Elizabeth might receive an offer from Mr. Collins and that she would consider taking it to keep her family at Longbourn. However, why did she not see that Darcy was willing, nay desiring, to offer marriage as well?

“Elizabeth,” he stepped forward. “I must tell you—”

She took several steps backward, tears streaming down her face. “Papa needs me. Good bye, Mr. Darcy. You have always been a dear friend and I hope we meet again under more pleasant circumstances.”

Those tears crushed Darcy’s heart. He could not understand her choice but he could not force an explanation. She had made her decision and it was not to spend her life with him. The greatest thing he could now do for her was to abide by her wishes.

“Yes, I believe I have urgent business in London. I will take my leave of the others.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth managed a shaky smile before fleeing down the hall.

Six months later, Darcy scanned the ballroom in which he found himself. Since leaving Hertfordshire, he only went through the motions of life. Once, he would have rejected the continual offers of dining and the pompous balls he detested. Now, he needed the busyness. Bingley had proposed to Jane just before Mr. Bennet died. They waited now only for her mourning period to end before they could marry. Georgiana wrote copious amounts to all the Bennet sisters but Darcy had made it clear he did not want to hear about it.

A familiar figure appeared in a doorway, and Darcy’s heart stopped. “Elizabeth,” he whispered.

She looked around nervously and then their eyes met. The corners of her mouth tipped up and she nodded at him. A minute later, she walked toward him with a gentleman in tow.

“Mr. Darcy,” she smiled as she curtseyed. “I admit I hoped we would see you here. Mr. Bingley seemed uncertain, although he says you have become quite sociable!”

Darcy bowed, basking in her presence once more. “I am pleased you have found me.” He looked at her lavender gown. “I wrote my condolences but allow me to give them in person.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth muttered.

“My dear, perhaps you would enjoy some punch while I speak with Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Collins said and placed a hand over Elizabeth’s, giving it a squeeze. “Lady Catherine has told me there is no one better to seek advice from on estate matters.”

The presence of Collins set Darcy’s teeth on edge. His voice and way of directing Elizabeth had his hand curling in a fist. When the man claimed the affection of a betrothed, Darcy saw black. Taking a calming breath to avoid fisticuffs in a ballroom, he turned his attention to the gentleman.

“Pardon me,” Elizabeth said and she approached Bingley who was in conversation with Jane and a few others at the moment.

“I do not think I am impertinent to ask for congratulations,” Mr. Collins said. “Such a bright jewel to be mine! However, it is not to be wondered at. I can offer her family very much and as Lady Catherine’s condescension proves, I am a gentleman worthy of much respect and distinction. I have always felt we were kindred in that way.”

Darcy had been prepared for such news, yet a vise gripped his heart at the news all the same. “Is it settled, then? You have asked Miss Elizabeth to be your wife?”

Mr. Collins waved a hand. “Such a formality. I have told her to name the day in which I will be the happiest of men. She mourns her father but I suspect after her sister weds, she will select a date. She would not wish to outshine Jane. Such impeccable manners! Lady Catherine quite approves of her judgement.”

Darcy listened in silence as Mr. Collins continued to praise Lady Catherine and asked inane details about estate management. During the time, Elizabeth danced. Her most recent partner, Bingley, was walking her back toward to Mr. Collins.

“Do you not mean to dance?” Darcy interrupted Collins as Elizabeth approached.

“I wish I could,” he sighed. “Riding for so long in the carriage this afternoon has cramped my leg. Poor Miss Elizabeth seemed quite dejected when she heard I could not display my lightness of foot. I think it will put a damper on her enjoyment of the evening.”

“If I may,” Darcy said. “I would offer myself as a partner for a few sets. You can be assured she will feel comfortable with an old friend moreso than a new acquaintance.”

“Indeed!” Collins bounced on his toes and then grimaced. “She should feel the compliment of your offer. Lady Catherine’s nephew! I do feel fatigued and have been wondering if we might sit but did not wish to insult such a high personage as yourself.”

Darcy managed to keep his eyes from rolling. “I would be pleased to do you the service. Please, do not inconvenience yourself for me. Seek refreshment and a seat.”

“Thank you!” Mr. Collins ambled off as fast as he could.

“What did you say to make him scamper off?” Elizabeth laughed as she and Bingley arrived a moment later.

“I have visited Longbourn every day for months and that is the first time I have seen him move so fast. Oh, he is going to the supper room,” Bingley observed. “Yes, that will motivate him every time.”

Darcy chuckled. “As it happens, he has entrusted me with your care for the evening, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Oh?” she chewed her bottom lip.

“Might I start with requesting the honour of a set?”

Elizabeth nodded and held out her wrist. Her next dance was free and Darcy wrote his name on her card, then claimed two others. Elizabeth’s eyes widened when she reviewed his work.

“Shall we?” He took her hand in his and led her to the floor. “Mr. Collins tells me congratulations are in order.”

Elizabeth raised a brow. “That is not the same as giving congratulations or best wishes. Ought you not to say how happy you are for me?”

Although he hated deceit, when Elizabeth did not denounce an engagement, Darcy lied. “I am exceedingly happy for you.” Instead of a gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach, happiness diffused him as Elizabeth smiled.

“That is much better,” she grinned.

The dance pulled them apart for a few moments and when they returned, he could not resist gripping her hand a little tighter than usual and pulling her a little closer. “I would say or do anything to make you smile, Elizabeth. Do you not know this by now?”

The dance pulled them apart again. When they returned, Elizabeth’s lip was caught between her teeth once more. “I had hoped that was the case but I think you must not understand the easiest way to make me smile.”

“What is that?”

Separated once more, Darcy looked over his shoulder. Collins was no where in sight. What a fool he was to let another claim time with his treasure. As much as Darcy wished to make this his last time seeing Elizabeth as separating all ties with her would be easiest on his heart, he could not. That bumbling idiot could never make Elizabeth happy. He saw the lines of fatigue and anxiety on her face. Shadows under her eyes that had appeared during her father’s illness had not disappeared. Darcy would have to return to Netherfield with Bingley with the sole purpose to give her a reason to smile every day. Her favourite flowers ought to be brought from the hot house. A new copy of her favourite book would be acquired. Courting her would be impossible but allowing her to find a shred of happiness in each day was required of him.

As Darcy considered other ways he might offer Elizabeth said happiness and how best to manage his affairs from Netherfield, the steps of the dance returned them to each other.

“You asked me the easiest way to make me smile,” Elizabeth reminded him.

“I did.”

“You,” she whispered as the dance ended and they faced one another. “It has always been you.”

“What are you saying?” Darcy asked as he stepped closer to escort her off the floor.

“We must speak plainly.”

Darcy agreed and carefully directed her toward the balcony overlooking the house’s garden. “I would give anything to make you happy, Elizabeth, but I will not break my principles. You cannot choose us both—”

“I choose you,” Elizabeth gathered Darcy’s hands in hers. “I needed time and distance to firm in my mind what my heart had always known. I cannot sacrifice my happiness for the sake of others. Mama will adjust to living elsewhere. I know you will be kind to us and take care of my family. She need not fear the hedgerows.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy breathed and raised her hands to his mouth. “I love you and ask that you accept my hand in matrimony. Will you have me?”

“Yes!” Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “I love you. Will you forgive me for being stupid and trying to be noble?”

“You should already know the answer to that,” he murmured as he pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I will never be parted from you again. Wherever you want to call home will be mine as well. Whatever will ease your mind regarding your family will be done. I wish only to make you happy.”

“You do, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said, shyly. “You do.”

“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!” Darcy bent to kiss her and seal their love.

When they returned from the balcony, Elizabeth and Darcy could not conceal their smiles for the remainder of the evening. Upon announcing their betrothal to their friends and family, despite the protestations and screams of others, the smiles never left their faces. Years later, Darcy descendants would show each new generation the portrait of Darcy and Elizabeth, in which the artist perfectly captured their joyous grins, and tell of their ancestor who would do anything to make his beloved smile.

 

 

(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know (One-shot)

This is “officially” a one-shot but I do have a habit of coming back to old stories. So no promises that I won’t continue it one day. This is all due to Leenie Brown and Zoe Burton demanding I write a fluffy piece. The novella I’m working on does not count as fluff, so I thought I’d try a one-shot to appease them. 🙂


(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know

 

Elizabeth Bennet sighed in frustration and told herself for the thousandth time to quit recalling the events of the day and simply go to sleep. Staying in an unfamiliar room did not help matters. Her chamber at Netherfield was very comfortable, but it was not home. Now that she had seen Jane was in no real danger with her cold, Elizabeth regretted visiting and the civility which prompted her to stay. No one besides Jane and Mr. Bingley enjoyed her presence. The Bingley sisters would never be rude to Jane, and so Elizabeth felt reasonably sure her sister would have been well tended to whether she had arrived or not.

As for Mr. Darcy… All he chose to do was stare or argue with her.

Or ask you to dance.

Annoyed, Elizabeth sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. After sliding her feet into slippers, she donned a dressing gown and tied it firmly around her waist. Lighting a candle, she left her room and returned to the drawing room. She had left some embroidery behind. Not that she typically enjoyed the activity, but it might be sleep inducing.

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After rummaging through the different work tables, Elizabeth looked through the drawers of the desk that Mr. Darcy had been seated at earlier in the evening. Finally, finding her needlework and wondering what maid would have put it away there and how aghast Miss Bingley would be at the idea of an inferior servant, Elizabeth picked it up only to see her name on a piece of paper.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is quite the wit. She has somehow construed my words praising Bingley’s amiability into an insult which resulted in an argument about the persuasion of friends.

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned as she read Mr. Darcy’s words. She had no idea that he would include her in his letter and she blushed to consider that his sister, of whom she had heard a great deal, would know her character without ever having the benefit of meeting her. Glancing around to assure she was indeed alone, Elizabeth snatched up the letter to read more. She held it close to the dim light from her candle and although Darcy’s handwriting was quite clear the darkness made her go slowly.

The beginning of the letter contained only information about his stay at Netherfield since he last wrote and then recorded Jane and Elizabeth’s arrival. What a kind brother to include details which must be of little interest to him, but apparently interested his sister. He even described Jane and Elizabeth so Miss Darcy might have a clear image of them. Here, Elizabeth blushed again, for she did not expect Darcy calling her lovely with very fine eyes. Additionally, he praised her cleverness and abilities on the pianoforte.

Shaking her head to dispel the thoughts and strange feeling diffusing through her body, Elizabeth returned her attention to the letter. Darcy also added snippets of other conversations and gave commentary on them directed to his sister. Heat slapped her face again as mortification swept through her at the recounting of her mother and sisters’ visit. However, Darcy was kinder than she had expected and only counselled his sister to be more discreet than demanding a ball. He seemed to dwell quite some time on the need to curb one’s impulses. Elizabeth rolled her eyes considering he needed to learn the lesson as well.

At last, she reached the recounting of the evening. After the section regarding Bingley and his humility came an unexpected passage of deep reflection.

You have asked me how you should know next time when you are truly in love. Beware, my sweet sister, for you have the Darcy spirit of stubbornness. You swear now that you will never trust again and never marry. One day, however, you will find the gentleman you never thought you would.

Real, genuine love is an entirely new sensation. It steals your breath and leaves you feeling like you just ran down Thompson Hill at breakneck speed. All the while you feel a thrill and yet, in the distance lingers disaster. You will fight to keep control. In short, nothing like your feelings with W.

Soon, you will spend all your time wondering how he ever worked his way into your heart. Your pride will demand walls of defense. For example, you might think him too low. You may scrutinize his family and find them lacking all the while dismissing the prick of your conscience that others like our Aunt Catherine are no better. The harder you cling to our noble lineage the more you will know you have fallen hard.

Then, after you have pushed him away due to all your own fears and insecurities, he will hate you, and you will see how lonely your life is.

Do not ask me how I know.

I will tell you what I wish I were brave enough to do myself. Embrace this sort of love, do not fight it.

Elizabeth heard a step in the hall dropped the letter, retreated to a corner and blew out her candle. A moment later, Mr. Darcy entered with a candelabra and began rifling through the desk. Dropping to one knee, he discovered the letter on the floor. Belatedly, Elizabeth realized her snuffed candle would surely tell him someone had recently been in the room. If she could just keep quiet, she might fool him into thinking he was alone.

Darcy bent his head over the letter, rereading his lines. Elizabeth’s mind wandered. Was his gruff nature due to his tormented feelings? It was all a pretense while he fought his attraction to some lady? Could he be in love with Miss Bingley? And yet, he was never less than civil to her. The only one he had truly seemed unkind to was herself.

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said with so much anguish it tore her heart. “What am I to do without you?”

A gasp escaped her and immediately, he swung his head in her direction.

“Who is there?”

Elizabeth tried to hold her breath, but it did no good when he picked up the lamp and came nearer. She blushed and stared at her feet, unable to meet his eyes.

“Here,” he said and reached for her candle.

When his fingers brushed hers, sparks of fire shot up her arm. Her heart began to pound suddenly she felt as though she had just run down a hill. It brought her head up.

Darcy stared at her imperiously. “You should leave. It would not do to be found here with me.”

Elizabeth mutely nodded. Her throat too dry to speak.

“Be careful on the stairs,” he murmured.

“I will,” she stammered.

As she left the room, she felt his intense blue eyes watching her. When she reached her chamber, Elizabeth conceded that perhaps all the time he had seemed too unkind, he was expressing his love. The times he seemed too cold, he was attempting to restrain his feelings.

valentine invitation with hearts and red roses

All night, she thought over his words. She well understood pride and walls of defense. She understood being hyper critical. She perceived how she felt out of control the minute she had first seen Mr. Darcy’s face and tried and failed countless times to reassert dominance over her feelings.

But did danger truly lurk in the distance? What could be so very terrible about Mr. Darcy loving her or Elizabeth loving him? After reading his letter, she was persuaded she was well on her way. It had not been a sweet, gentle emotion as natural as the lapping of the tide at a beach like Jane felt for Bingley–but then she and Darcy had very different temperaments from Jane and Bingley.

If Elizabeth and Darcy acted on their attraction, would anyone be harmed? She could bring him little fortune — but he had enough for both of them. By his own pen, they both had ridiculous relatives. He had admitted to needing only more courage. Well, Elizabeth had never been accused of lacking that.

Tossing aside the counterpane for the second time that night, Elizabeth approached the small writing desk in her room.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

As you know, I stumbled across your letter to your sister. Feeling certain that although I do not know the lady, I might know more about ladies than you, I have impertinently determined to lend some assistance.

Some women know they are in love when the world stands still and they look in their beloved’s eyes. For others, it is during their first dance or unexpected touch. Still, for some, like me, it is only after they have told themselves a thousand times that they hate the man do they recognize the signs.

Yes, some women are headstrong and as bullheaded as any man. They may judge a man’s character due to prejudice and irrational beliefs. Their vanity and pride might be wounded all the while masking a heart that is afraid to trust and love.

Then, something will change. She will see the man beneath the exterior that is hidden from so many others. His every word, look, and action becomes clear in the new framework. In the face of such overwhelming love and devotion, only a cold-hearted woman could remain unmoved. Feeling assured of the secret object of her affections’ admiration, she will no longer insist on hiding them from herself.

Do not ask me how I know.

The only question remaining will be if she dares have enough courage for them both?

The sun was just beginning to rise when Elizabeth snuck out of her chamber and slid the note under Darcy’s door. As she managed to be the first to breakfast, she stayed just long enough to inform Bingley and the others that she intended to walk this morning.

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Pacing the garden, Elizabeth wondered if she made the correct choice. At last, she heard a crunching noise and turned to see Darcy walking toward her in bold strides. He reached her in a matter of seconds.

“Elizabeth,” he said breathing as heavily as if he had run to her. “Tell me how you know.” He pulled her letter from his pocket. “You said not to ask, but I must know.”

A slow smile crept across Elizabeth’s face, but she shook her head. “Is it not obvious?”

Darcy gathered her hands in his. “I will be brave enough for both of us,” he kissed each knuckle. “I love you. Will you take my hand in marriage?”

Rather enjoying his large hands wrapped around hers and thinking of the night before, her mouth went dry. Finally, she managed a nod and a weak, “I will.”

Instantly, Darcy grinned, restoring her to playfulness.

“I believe your letter said something about embracing now,” she teased.

“That it did. That it did.” Darcy pulled her into his arms and expressed himself even better with his kisses than he did in letter form.

The End

 

Love Lasts Longest- Excerpt and Giveaway!

I’m so excited to announce the release of my latest book, a collection of short stories! They were loads of fun to write and I think you’ll enjoy reading them too! As a busy woman I’ve got so many things to do when I get a break in the day it’s not for very long. I was always the type to have a book at my side, even while waiting for the doctor, but I HATE having to put it away. I ALWAYS get interrupted at the good part!! These short stories are designed to fill those few moments of quiet time you have when instead of playing candy crush or thumbing through a left over magazine caked in germs, you can dive into the world of Darcy and Elizabeth for a quick swim of refreshing romance.

Here’s an excerpt from Tolerable Feelings.

LLL_finalBlurb for Tolerable Feelings: When Charles Bingley accidentally tears Jane Bennet’s gown at their first encounter, they must wed to save her reputation—or so Mrs. Bennet says. What can it mean for Darcy and Elizabeth if the issue of Jane and Bingley’s marriage is not a source of disagreement?

*****

March 2, 1812

Bingley residence, London

“Eliza! Are you certain you must leave Town on the morrow to spend so much time in Kent? You will be missing much of the Season, and Colonel Brandon seems quite taken with you!”

Elizabeth quelled the urge to roll her eyes at Caroline. They had both been staying with the Bingleys for several months, and Caroline assumed a false closeness with her. “I will be very happy to visit my friend and enjoy all Kent has to offer. I am certain Colonel Brandon will find other agreeable company.”

Caroline tsked. “Always so imprudent. First rejecting the parson, resulting in your mother’s insistence in your banishment from your family home, and now spurning a wealthy and agreeable suitor.”

“He is hardly a suitor. Mere dances are not the same as paying court.”

Instead of replying, Caroline declared a desire to perform on the pianoforte. After she left, Darcy took her place and spoke with Elizabeth.

“Did you enjoy the evening?” They had just returned from a ball in Town and now were having a light supper at Jane and Bingley’s house.

“It was certainly tolerable.” Darcy grinned, and Elizabeth smiled at the sight. She could not understand why he was never provoked by her teasing but was pleased she could always humour him.

“Do you truly look forward to your holiday in Kent?” He studied his hands before adding, “Or do you only desire a change in companionship?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do miss Charlotte, and I am always curious to see more of the world. As for my London companions, I find them all excessively agreeable, save one. I do not know why she dislikes me so!”

They both looked towards Caroline, who narrowed her sharp eyes at them. “Perhaps she is jealous of certain friendships you have established.”

“A friendship is hardly the sort of thing Caroline is likely to be jealous over.”

Certain friendships easily inspire jealousy,” he said gravely, and when Elizabeth turned to see his face, she was surprised to see an unmistakable look of admiration in his eyes.

She said nothing as her heart beat faster. Surely he could not be implying he cared for her! Why, they had been friends for months now, and he never said a thing!

Before she could gather her wits, Darcy spoke. “How long will you be at Hunsford?”

“I am to remain six weeks.”

Darcy grinned. “I have recently had a letter from my aunt and conferred with my cousin. We are to visit her for Easter.”

Elizabeth smiled. Darcy’s presence would be an agreeable addition to what otherwise would likely be mostly ridiculous company. They moved to the coffee table to refill their cups.

“My sister will miss your friendship in your absence.” She reached for his cup, and his hand lingered on hers for a moment. “May I hope you will miss certain friendships as well?”

Elizabeth could hardly breathe. He removed his hand, but hers now felt afire. Dropping her eyes, she managed to reply, “Yes, I will.”

She heard a quick intake of breath and gathered courage to look at him. Although he tried to hide it, she easily noticed his smile. “I wish you a very enjoyable stay then.”

Before Elizabeth could make sense of why the candles all seemed to burn brighter, the music sounded sweeter, and all the company more enjoyable, Darcy was making his apologies to his hosts. Unaware of her eagerness to catch one last glimpse of him, her eyes locked with his before he left with a slight smile on his face.

****

Ah! So sweet! But can it really be that simple for them? You’ll have to find out what happens in Kent!

Amazon is still working on linking the pages, so for now it’s separate.

Kindle

Paperback

It is in the Kindle Unlimited program, which means I can’t sell it on other vendors for 90 days.

Giveaway

I’m giving away 2 ebooks, open international. Comment below to be entered. Entries close Sunday, September 27, 9:59 pm EST. It’s not a lot of time, but I’m going to be out of town all of next week and want it taken care of before I leave.

Come What May- Modern P&P short story

So, I just tried linking this over on my facebook launch party for A Sense of Obligation page and it won’t let me load documents and it’s far too long to put in a single post. This short story will appear in my next release, which is a collection of short stories. Look for it around September!

*Please tell me if you’d like an epub or mobi file of this story.

working cover

Come What May

A Modern Pride and Prejudice Short Story

Elizabeth Bennet awoke the morning of her wedding day to her mother shrieking. Why had she decided to marry from her home? Her mother took great pride in the gardens and they were beautiful, but if they had married from anywhere else Elizabeth may have won the battle about staying in her own apartment her last night as a single woman.

“Mrs. Darcy!” her mother screamed outside her childhood bedroom she had shared with Jane. Seeing her sister still asleep, she tossed a pillow at her head.

“Hey!” Jane said, her pretty blonde hair still in place.

“Up! It will take hours and hours to get you ready! You have an appointment with the hairdresser in seventy minutes! Lord knows if you’re not perfect he will probably leave you right there at the altar and then think of what the neighbors will say? And the cost! How can you be so selfish, Lizzy? Get up now!”

“Mom, William would never do that. He loves Lizzy.”

Their mother had already left the room, but Elizabeth gave Jane a hug. “Are you sure you’re okay with seeing Charles again?”

“Of course, I am.”

Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. She was less certain her sister’s fragile heart had wholly mended after the terrible breakup with her on again off again boyfriend of the last year. Jane still hadn’t told her everything that happened at the rehearsal dinner, but just when Elizabeth expected Charles to propose, Jane was saying they had broken up for good. But, he was Will’s best man and it was rather late to do anything about it. Sighing, she headed to the shower.

Seventy minutes later, Elizabeth and her four sisters arrived at the salon. After a manicure and pedicure, she sat in the chair for her hair. Being a low maintenance girl, she asked for a simple, sophisticated pony tail with shiny curls. With a sinking feeling, she saw her mother speaking with the manager and shoving a manila folder, undoubtedly full of pictures of more elegant hairstyles, into the woman’s hands. Determined to not let all the wedding fuss get to her, she resigned herself to whatever her mother ordered. The woman approached Elizabeth with trepidation.

“Miss Bennet, I’m so sorry but your mother…”

“It’s perfectly alright. Really, just as long as it fits under my grandmother’s veil, I don’t care.”

The woman let out a deep breath. “If you’re certain…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay, then…” she trailed off as the receptionist from the front called her forward. “Please excuse me for just a moment.”

Elizabeth popped in the ear buds to her ipod and was content to listen to her favorite mix until the woman returned, again with a look of trepidation.

“It seems that we have double booked the salon this morning by accident and are understaffed. The other bride’s wedding is an hour before yours…”

“Oh, it’s no problem! My mother planned on everything taking so long. I’m sure we’ve got plenty of time. We’ll just dress first.”

“Thank you for being so understanding. If you need anything, please let Kelly up front know.”

The manager left, and Elizabeth turned to tell her mother the change of plans. In a matter of minutes, her father arrived with the bridesmaids dresses and the ladies took turns popping in and out of the restroom in the back. When Lydia came out first, Elizabeth was confused.

“Lyddie…what are you wearing?”

“The rockin’ dress you picked out! Way to go Lizzy!”

“This isn’t what Jane and I agreed on.”

“Huh…well, it’s awesome. Look at my legs They’re going to look even better in these heels!”

Elizabeth sighed and was silently thankful her sister was at least over eighteen now. “Jane?” She called to her sister who was chewing her nails and trying to not look guilty. “What happened?”

“Well, you had to leave the appointment early!”

“I was taking my master’s examinations! It was kind of an important thing!”

“It’s just after you left the attendant said they couldn’t have that dress for another six weeks, but they had these, and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get bother you, and you had gone on and on about how you didn’t care about things like that. So I text Carrie and…”

“You let CAROLINE BINGLEY select the bridesmaids dresses in my wedding to the man she nearly stalked for years?”

“Come on! You know she never stalked him! She loved him. And you don’t know what loving someone who doesn’t love you back can do! You don’t know!” Jane burst into tears, and Elizabeth’s anger died. The dresses were cute. She’d wear them to a party. They would totally steal the show from her understated bridal gown, but what did she care? She got the man, and she had made her sister cry.

Jane took a deep breath and composed herself. “I’m so sorry, Lizzy! I shouldn’t be crying on your wedding day!”

“Jane, honey. It’s okay. I’m sorry for snapping at you. The dresses are beautiful. Here, you go next for your hair.”

Elizabeth was attempting to put mascara on and wondering how women didn’t poke their eyes out with the wand when her sister, Kate, began sneezing.

“Kate, you need to stop that sneezing. You’ll ruin the wedding,” her mother chided.

“I’m not doing it on purpose!” she wailed and Elizabeth saw that her eyes were puffy and redrimmed as well.

“Are you okay, Kate?”

“I was fine until the bouquets were brought in.”

“What do you mean? Why were they brought here?”

“We have to get ready for everything here!” her mother replied. “Now, Will’s sister and aunts should be arriving any minute now. The photographer is here already so we can take pictures of all the primping!”

Elizabeth began to wonder how many wedding planning movies her mother watched during her engagement. She was relishing this entire ordeal far too much. Kate began scratching at her arms. Elizabeth’s eyes went wide.

“Kate, I think you’re allergic to something.”

“Your grandma Glenda was allergic to some flowers like that.”

This is not happening, Elizabeth thought. “Do you know which kind?”

“Chrysanthemums, mostly.”

“Chrysanthemums!” Elizabeth gasped. “I picked that kind because you said they were Grandma Glenda’s favorite.”

“Why would I say that? She never cared for flowers much.”

“I asked if there were any flowers she was particularly fond of or not fond of and…” she trailed off. She had been so scatter brained planning this wedding and studying for her finals and worrying about defending her thesis. Her mother would have answered Chrysanthemums to that question, and Elizabeth would have understood only what she wished.

Mary, who had been overhearing the concern, came forward. “Well, we just won’t have bouquets then. I think this entire wedding thing is far too gaudy.”

“No bouquets!” their mother shouted. “No, we’ll think of something! And what did I tell you about that eyeliner today? Take it off!”

Mary glared before scampering off to redo her makeup. She enjoyed pretending she was somewhat “goth” and eschewed all things mainstream, but when it came down to it, Elizabeth thought Mary just liked the attention and wasn’t that committed to the philosophy. Their mother corralled the other girls to get the bouquets out of the shop.

Will’s sister, adopted aunts and cousin arrived at just that moment, followed by Elizabeth’s aunt, Meg Gardiner. “Oh, Meg!” her mother cried. “We all in an uproar. Kate has my mother’s allergies to Chrysanthemums—which Lizzy never would have ordered if she would have let me plan the whole thing but she was so headstrong—well, never mind. We can’t have a speck of them around today, and now there’s nothing for the girls to carry!”

“The wedding of William Darcy is the most talked about event this season. It is imperative it does not appear as some kind of thrown together backyard barbeque!” Will’s “Aunt” Cathy declared. Her daughter, Anne, giggled. “What are you laughing about?”

“I was looking up bouquet alternatives on my phone. Here’s one for wine corks. I think us Fitzwilliam ladies might be able to gather up enough.”

Cathy blushed. “Hush, Anne. You know the doctor even recommends a glass or two of wine at dinner each night.”

“Uh huh,” Anne said and bit back a smile.

“Elizabeth,” a hairdresser called her name. It was finally her turn. Aunt Meg walked to her.

“Go, we will find an alternative. Nothing will ruin this day. Relax!” The two women hugged, and Elizabeth took a deep breath to calm her nerves.

Upon sitting in the chair, she wished her hairdresser would do the same. The woman was young, exhausted and clearly frazzled.

“Just like in the picture?” she asked.

“Yep, that’s fine.”

“Okay, then,” and the woman set to work.

Elizabeth popped in her ear buds and tried not to notice what seemed like an inordinate amount of pulling and hairspray. When the stylist at last got her noticed so she could look at the finished product, she was speechless. There was something that was supposed to be either beehive or a victory roll protruding from the side of her head, and she had a braid wrapped around her forehead.

“Mama!”

The woman came dashing over. “Oh, Lizzy! You’re so beautiful!” Tears welled in her eyes. Aunt Meg came just behind her with the veil ready to pin it in place.

“You truly are lovely, Lizzy.”

“Aunt Meg…” She stopped as she looked at her mother again.

“It is just like how I pictured it.”

Elizabeth put on a fake smile, to please her mother, and was thankful she had noted to the photographer she liked a lot of silhouette poses.

“Lizzy, you’ve got to move, now.” There would have been no time to redo the hair even if she wished it. She was shoved toward the bathroom and shimmied into her proper undergarments and gown. At least this went as she had planned. Almost. First she fell in love with a short, swingy number but her mother insisted her gown needed more lace. Then, she adored an all lace sleeveless gown with a bare back. It was sleek and sexy. Will was certain to love it. Her mother declared it was too modern. In the end, Lizzy chose a classic A-line white satin gown with a v-neck front and lace sleeves. It wasn’t her first choice, but it was perfect.

She piled in the car with Jane and Will’s sister, Gina- no limo was rented since she intended to get ready at her home- and was handed a beautiful bouquet made from vintage brooches. “Anne found the idea online and then Aunt Ellen and Cathy had someone pick up some of their old ones. These here,” she pointed to several stunning pieces, “were my mother’s. Several are from your grandmother as well.”

Elizabeth blinked back tears. She couldn’t think of a more meaningful bouquet to carry, and it would last forever. The car pulled up, and she could see they were the last to arrive. Will’s cousin, Richie, greeted them.

“Glad you ladies decided to show up!”

“Very funny, Rich. Is everything set?”

“Yes, but I think if you don’t start walking down that aisle Caroline is going to usurp your place.”

Elizabeth frowned. “Someone told Will, right?”

“Yes, he knows. He looks like he’s going to pass out, but that’s just his usual ‘being in front of people’ face.”

“Well, let’s put him out of his misery, shall we? Daddy?” Elizabeth asked while searching for her father. Her mother began shooing everyone in their places, and the groomsmen appeared to seat her and Will’s aunts.

“Honey bee, I didn’t tell you last night because I didn’t want to worry you, but now I hope you can contain your reaction. Pastor Ron called last night. He’s in the hospital with food poisoning.”

“Oh no! Is he going to be okay?”

“Yes, he’s doing much better.”

“I’m glad to know it. Since the wedding is still going on, I assume you found a replacement?”

“I did…” he prevaricated and Elizabeth narrowed her eyes.

“Daddy?”

“He is…well, uh…more impressive than you might guess.”

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth shrugged. “As long as it’s legal, I don’t care.” It was beginning to be her mantra for the whole event.

The bridesmaids had gone down the aisle and the song she selected for her bridal march began. They walked arm in arm and turned the corner to go down the aisle. The attendees stood, and there was an audible gasp. Elizabeth chuckled. There was nothing else to do about it.

Her eyes met Will’s. If he could make out her unique hairstyle, he didn’t seem to care at all. And she knew he wouldn’t. All he wanted was to marry her and begin their lives. This ceremony was entirely for her own vanity and to please their family. She really ought to know better by now. Her vanity nearly cost her everything with Will. But then, he had been stupid and proud too.

At last she was in front of her love. He mouthed the words “I love you,” to her and it was only because she was so impatient to be at his side that she paid attention to the minister at all. She listened for the cue on when her father would place her hand in Will’s and give her a kiss. Suddenly she realized the minister dropped his r’s completely. Not in a Boston way…but in a very impressive clergyman way. She and Will tore their eyes from one another at the same time to take in the officiant.

He looked exactly like the pseudo-Medieval minister from the movie The Princess Bride. It had to be a joke. Priests didn’t still dress like that! Beside her, she felt her father laughing. His breathing was hard, but he didn’t let a sound escape. Just when she wanted to step on his toes for playing such a trick on her, she glanced at Will again. He had a small smile on his face, and his eyes shone with amusement. She couldn’t help but join in. Her shoulders heaved up and down and from behind she supposed it looked like she was crying, but she contained her laughter.

At last her father kissed her cheek and took his seat. Will grasped her hands and leaned in and whispered, “Do you think we could just skip to the end?”

Elizabeth had to bite her cheek to not laugh. From behind Will, she heard Richie cough but it sounded suspiciously like “Say, man and wife.”

She grinned and shook her head. Somehow, they made it through the ceremony without collapsing in laughter. After ceremony pictures went quickly but Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the number of times Lydia was called to attention from flirting with a groomsman. Jane and Charlie did their best to avoid one another, but nobody missed the awkwardness between them. Aunt Catherine knew the best poses for everyone, of course.

Finally, they made their way to the reception. They nearly chose a mash up of songs for their first dance but then decided upon “Come What May” as it seemed to capture their route to the altar; everything was worth it. She expected her new husband to be a ball of nerves, but he was nearly as calm as he had ever been.

“You’re not nervous?” she asked Will as they were alone on the floor.

“I hope you are not consulting your own feelings with that question. It wouldn’t do for a bride to feel nervous with her groom.”

Smiling at the tease, she replied, “I’m not even sure that ceremony was legal. Daddy told me the pastor got sick, and he found a replacement, but I can’t imagine how he found someone with a costume like that!”

“I’ve been told your father called Rich…who knows all kinds of people. I asked no other questions but to confirm that the ceremony was valid. But you have not answered my question.”

She laughed. “Today has been long and trying with surprises at every turn, but the only feeling I have right now is happiness and completeness. Will, when I think of what I almost threw away…”

He silenced her with a gentle kiss, their guests cheered. “You know I bear most of the blame. Today is for new beginnings.”

Elizabeth couldn’t agree more and returned the kiss. Upon breaking it, her eyes landed on an unexpected person. “Is that why you invited George Wickham?”

“We can’t keep them apart, Lizzy. If I kept George from Lydia, it would be no better than when I tried to separate Charles and Jane. We can’t decide what is best for others.”

“Yes, but she’s so young!”

“He stayed away until she turned eighteen. She has her whole life ahead of her!”

“She may not want what you want.”

“You didn’t think that was enough when it was your sister he was trying to feel up.”

“I was wrong to let my grudge get in the way for them if they could have waited until she was older. You taught me true forgiveness. But Gina is happy now.”

Elizabeth looked at the young women in question. Gina was talking with guests, something she was surprised to see. When they had first met, she was terribly shy. She also knew how excited Gina was to begin college in the fall. Lydia declared she wanted to take a year off and travel with some friends or work before trying to settle down and think about a career. She wondered too if some of Lydia’s behavior the last few months had more to do with trying to forget her feelings for George.

“I guess you’re right. It’s their lives…” She trailed off and bit her lip. “Do you know what happened with Charlie and Jane? Jane won’t tell me anything.”

Will rubbed the back of his neck. “I think maybe I had a hand in that?”

“What did you do?”

“Charlie wanted to practice his proposal and I may have given him a nudge with certain wording. I’m not sure it came out well.”

“Will! Why would you try to help there? If you were the last man in the world, I wouldn’t ask you for speaking advice.”

His grip on her waist tightened a bit. “You’ve obviously amended some of your other ideas on what you’d do with me as the last man in the world.”

She sighed. “You’re right. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.”

He leaned his forehead against hers. “I may need that in writing.” She laughed and he kissed her forehead. “I promise to help Charlie with Jane. If they’re meant to work things out, a poor choice of words can’t stand between them.”

“I suppose you know that from experience.”

“I certainly do.”

“Hmm…I like the sound of that. I do. The best words I’ve ever said.”

“I was thinking after the speech.”

“After the speech, what?”

“After the speech you could bring Jane to a certain spot, and I could get Charlie there and then they could talk.”

“You’re going to try and patch this up during the wedding?”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Ask me that some other day. This dance is the only thing that’s gone right!” He raised his eyebrows at her. “Well, and you being there, of course.”

She worried he might be offended, but he just laughed. “I love your fierce loyalty and sense of justice, Lizzy.”

The dance ended and soon they were seated at the head table. Rich leaned over and said that it was time for the speech. Charlie wasn’t at his seat and before they could even look for him in the crowd, Aunt Cathy was taking the microphone from the DJ. Elizabeth held her breath. The woman made no secret of her dislike of all things Elizabeth Bennet, although she seemed had seemed helpful earlier today at the salon.

“Willie was just a teenager when he came to live with me,” she said and Will blushed red. “His mother was always like a sister to me and I was humbled they left Will and Gina in my care. I know there were times in life when I was hard on him. I always expected him to make his parents proud. There have been times when I’ve disagreed with how he did that, but I always wanted what was best for him. Will, I know your parents would be proud of all you’ve accomplished and very pleased with Elizabeth because she makes you so happy. Congratulations to you both.”

It was as near a blessing on their marriage as they would probably ever get from her, and when put that way, Elizabeth found a great deal of compassion for the woman. They stood in unison and walked to her, hugging her tightly until she pushed back and playfully smacked Will’s arm.

Soon, dinner was being served, and they returned to their seats. Jane and Charlie appeared hand in hand. Elizabeth immediately pulled Jane to her side. “Tell me everything now!”

Jane blushed. “I was so silly, Lizzy! He was trying to propose!”

“Of course he was! But what made you angry?”

“Well, he started off with ‘There comes a time when you realize you’re going to have to settle’ and I thought he meant he was settling for me, and I just ran away before he could say anything else!”

“He would never mean that!”

“No, that’s what he said when I finally let him talk to me tonight. You don’t mind do you?” She held up her hand to show Elizabeth her engagement ring.

“No! I’m thrilled for you!” The sisters hugged. “So what was he trying to say?”

“He said he was explaining that he was beginning to think he was going to have to settle for something less than what he hoped for in life, that he couldn’t have it all. Then he met me.”

“I knew you would work it out!” Elizabeth was soon called away to greet other guests, but she thought between marrying her best friend and her sister’s engagement, nothing could make today better.

Before she knew it, it was time to cut the cake. Her mother insisted they do the Southern tradition of a cake pull, and the single ladies all gathered around. Lydia pulled a hot air balloon, prefect for her desire to travel. Gina pulled a flower-meaning blossoming, love. She blushed before glancing at one of the guests she had been chatting with. Caroline got a star, and Elizabeth found she truly wished all of Caroline’s dreams would come true…as long as they had nothing to do with Will Darcy. Jane pulled the ring, of course, she would be the next to marry. The other charms were less symbolic- meaning things about happiness, security and longevity.

The single ladies were already gathered, so the bouquet toss was next. She hoped her friend, Charlotte would catch it but decided against aiming for her. She tossed it high, and there was a bit of a struggle, Caroline and a woman named TaNeshia knocking each other out of the way for it. Anne had just reached out her hand in response to Caroline falling over when the bouquet landed right in her arms. Elizabeth thought Anne looked mortified, but Aunt Cathy smiled as though there was more to the tradition than just an old wives’ tale on who would marry next.

The garter toss had an entirely different feeling to it. Will’s eyes never left hers as his hand slipped under her dress and seemed to travel far too high for where she had the garter directly above her knee at. His look conveyed the promise that they would be leaving very soon. As he tossed it over his shoulder, Elizabeth was struck with the awkwardness of her husband throwing her garments at other men. Strangely, the only one who seemed interested in it was her father’s junior partner, who she always found rather creepy, Bill Collins. He lunged and tripped over Rich’s feet. The garter hit him in the chest, and he caught it by reflex.

During the obligatory subsequent dance, Will whispered in Elizabeth’s ear. “Anne has been in love with Rich forever. I was sworn to secrecy, I hope she doesn’t read more into this than he means.”

Elizabeth looked at the dancing couple. “I don’t know. Rich seems to be enjoying himself. Didn’t you say earlier we have to let others live their lives?”

“I did. Will you choose now to learn of my infinite wisdom?”

“If you’re so wise then why do you keep our honeymoon destination a secret from me?”

“For the surprise, darling.”

She would argue more, but she loved it when he called her darling. The next song came on, which was to be the final one and instead of the DJ’s voice, they heard Mary’s over the microphone. “We’re closing out tonight with what I call Ode to Mainstream Mix.”

Elizabeth groaned as Lydia’s favorite dance came on, and she began twerking with George. She truly thought she might be nauseaus, but then she saw Aunt Cathy attempting it and began laughing. The entire crowd danced in tandem to other overdone songs such as the Macarena and the Electric Boogie before finishing it up with the Chicken Dance.

Finally, Will was pulling her to the door. His red, convertible mustang was just outside. Their family surged forward for hugs and kisses, they would be gone for a month. And then, it was just the two of them, driving into the night.

“Will you tell me where we’re going now?” Lizzy asked while she unpinned her hair and shook it free, letting it whip in the wind.

“No, because it’s up to you.”

“What?”

“Look in the glove box.”

She opened it up and found information for Italy and Hawaii. “Oh, Will! How am I going to choose?”

“Well, I thought we’d do one for our honeymoon and then go away again before school starts again for you.”

“It seems like too much!”

“Making you happy is never too much.” He pulled off the road and pulled into a hotel lot. “But for tonight, we will be staying here and I plan to make you very, very happy several times.”

“Will,” she scolded and blushed, but it secretly thrilled her when he talked that way.

He checked them in and led them up to their room. In the elevator, he pulled her close. The kiss started with her hand. He turned it over, he kissed her palm and then lingered on her wrist, making her pulse race. His lips had just met hers when the door opened. Without breaking the kiss, he led them to their room. When his head fell down to her neck while still in the door way, she pulled away just enough to shut the door.

Elizabeth awoke the next morning to her husband kissing her awake. Raining kisses over her face, he started with her eyelids which fluttered open to see his beaming smile and ended with her ear. It was a good thing their flight time was so flexible…