Treasured– Update

treasured finalI want to thank everyone that has read the Loving Elizabeth trilogy. I loved each of your comments! A lot of people requested for an epilogue. A few others liked the idea of a spin-off series. I did try writing an epilgoue one a few different times. The same thing kept happening. Instead of feeling like an ending, it felt like a beginning. Will and Elizabeth are happily married. Their enemies are dead. All of that is wrapped up in the last chapter. I might expand it a bit in edits but there’s not enough material for me to write something new. I’d also point out that a story ends at the end of the last chapter. An epilogue is not for tying up lose ends to the plot, which I was careful to do. However, I totally agree that I’m not willing to end this peek into Will and Elizabeth’s lives. So, I will start a new series in the same “universe.” Will and Lizzy will be central characters, we will see their marriage which will remain relatively problem free. However, the other people in their lives will get a story. People like sisters and brothers.

And brothers?!

Oh, yes!

This is just a little teaser since I had asked about an epilogue and have no other way of letting people know. There WILL be a new story, hopefully in 2019, with these folks. The series will be called Friends and Follies and the first book is titled Restored. Can you guess who is the main character?


Restored

Three Years Later

Elizabeth and Will stared at the markers in the ground. In between them with his tiny, chubby hands in one of their own stood their two-year-old son Bennet. Another child now grew in Elizabeth’s belly. Jane and Bingley had married a few months after them and now had two girls. According to Mr. Bennet’s will, the next Longbourn heir would be his first grandson who would not inherit an estate. Elizabeth placed her hand where the babe in her now kicked.

“We should name him after Sam,” she said.

Will nodded. “I agree.” He knelt to arrange the flowers she had brought. Upon standing, he lifted Bennet in one arm and wrapped the other around Elizabeth. “It is as we always planned.”

“Not quite,” Elizabeth sniffed.

Her eyes wandered to the patch of land next to her mother’s grave. The physicians warned them Mr. Bennet would likely leave them before the year’s end.

“I had thought they would be older,” she said.

“True, but he is fortunate that his family may be near as his time comes.”

Jane and Bingley had talked of giving up Netherfield and purchasing an estate closer to Pemberley, but at the news of Mr. Bennet’s ailing health, they chose to stay.

“If it were many years from now,” Will added, “your sisters might be married and living far away.”

It mattered little that Pemberley was such a distance from Longbourn. Will took care of everything so they could be near the Bennets at this time. The thought always made Elizabeth’s heart swell in love for him even more.

“We have been blessed,” he murmured into her hair. “Bennet is healthy and strong. We have another little one on the way. We have had nothing to trouble or vex us since our wedding day.”

Elizabeth nodded. When she considered that time in her life, she could scarcely remember any particulars. She only recalled the constant anxiety. For over two years, they had lived blissfully happy at Pemberley with visits to Hertfordshire and London.

The first Christmas was celebrated at their estate with everyone present. The next year, the Bingleys hosted. This year would be a subdued affair at Longbourn as Mr. Bennet could barely leave his bed.

London had been nothing for Elizabeth to worry about. They spent a few weeks enjoying the theatre and shops before retiring to Pemberley with Georgiana. When they returned in the Spring, the new Mrs. Bingley was making a splash. Who could dislike Mrs. Darcy when her sister was so angelic? Elizabeth knew, of course, they had not met with universal approval. However, they had experienced the ton without any extreme censure.

In time, even Lady Catherine had written to make amends with her nephew. At first, he was unwilling to accept any apology. However, Elizabeth advocated for peace in the family. He could not stomach visiting Rosings or seeing her face yet, but he replied civilly to her letters. For a time, Anne had visited them, and Elizabeth was happy to see for herself that the lady had no attachment to Will.

Mary continued to reside mostly with the Darcys. She and Georgiana were fast friends, spending the majority of the day at their pianofortes and clustered together in the evening. If they should dare to attend a ball with the Darcys, one never danced if the other was unattended. As such, both ladies were still unwed. They were only twenty, however, and had many years before they needed to worry about being on the shelf. On the whole, Elizabeth was pleased with how each lady brought out the best in the other. Although not sisters by birth, they were as close as Elizabeth and Jane.

Through the many seasons of the last three years, Will had provided Elizabeth with the support she always knew he would. She rejoiced to see his growth from friend and lover to devoted husband and father.

“Lizzy,” Jane’s voice interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts. “Charlotte is here and wishes to see Bennet.”

“I will take him,” Will said, and he kissed his wife on the cheek. “Do not stay out too long.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. “I love you.”

“Lub you,” Bennet cooed.

“Aw, I love you too,” Elizabeth laughed as she tickled the boy. His laughter lifted her spirits.

Before leaving, Will whispered in Elizabeth’s ear. “These trials make us stronger, never forget that. I learned to love you during one, and it strengthened through another. Everything we now have we owe to them. I would not trade our love for anything.”

“Nor would I,” Elizabeth agreed. Will placed a soothing kiss on her forehead and departed with Bennet in tow.

Elizabeth sighed as she looked at the graves again. “I wish you were here, Sam. I think Papa would be more at ease if he knew the matter of the estate was settled before he went. There is so much I wish you could have known and seen. You would be the very best uncle to Bennet and Jane’s girls! However, I have learned to accept what I cannot change. I have determined to find happiness no matter what life tosses me. Soon, you will have Papa with you just as you are with our mother and sister. I know he has missed you every day. Take care of him for us.”

Elizabeth turned to leave, a feeling of peace settling in her heart. It was as Will had said. These trials would make her stronger. They had been very fortunate, and unfortunately, the demise of one’s parents was a natural occurrence. Like the tress who lost their leaves in the Autumn and bloomed again with new life in the Spring, Elizabeth would accept this change.

She was so calm at the idea that she nearly missed a rasping voice say her name.

“Lizzy,” she heard again.

Turning, Elizabeth found herself looking into the unmistakable eyes of her brother.


What are you thinking?! I couldn’t actually let Sam be dead! We’ll learn all about what happened to him and where he’s been-why he’s not contacted anyone in the Bennet family and ALLLLL the feelings they have in the next story. Again, Will and Lizzy will be important characters in it, so if nothing else, come and read for them! I hope to see you around the review threads in my other stories!

Sunday Digest– Nov. 5-11

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Here’s another weekly roundup of posts from November 5-11. You didn’t miss as much because all I did was post Treasured! I am working on a Christmas novelette, How Darcy Stole Christmas. I am undecided about posting it on the blog simply because I hope to publish it by the end of the month. Do you want to read it? As soon as I finish with that, it’s back to the other stories. The last time I asked, Mr. Darcy’s Compassion got the most votes on which story to focus more of my time on. Which do you prefer? Mr. Darcy’s Compassion or Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club (Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride sequel)?

 

Mansfield Monday: Frozen Fanny

Treasured 8

Treasured 9

Treasured 10

Treasured 11

Treasured 12

Treasured 13

Treasured– Chapter Thirteen

treasured finalHere’s our last chapter! Poor Will and Elizabeth have gone through so much but finally get their happily ever after! I will add that this story is still being edited, so please give me your final thoughts. I can’t promise that I will take everything into consideration. For example, I will not write five new chapters of post married life. 🙂 However…I might be willing to do ONE.

Also, Will and Lizzy’s story is over but there are others I could tell. What do you think of Charlotte and Richard (who were almost a thing in this chapter but it didn’t seem to fit right and got cut)? Or I have this really BIG idea but I don’t want to give it away. Will and Lizzy would show up but it would be mostly about others. Should I continue the series/give it a spin-off? If I do, do you want Will and Lizzy to remain center stage or can other people be the main hero and heroine?

 

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven / Twelve

 

Chapter Thirteen

Over the next few days, Will determined he had not been followed to the inn. Likewise, Elizabeth was able to pass along information via Charles. In the long days of loneliness and isolation at the Ware inn, Will wondered about Harcourt’s intelligence. Then again, perhaps he knew that Jane and Charles were headed to the altar and Will and Elizabeth would always be in each other’s orbit. It would add to Will’s pain all the more if he would easily hear of Elizabeth but not have her for himself. Still, he did not appear to have other accomplices. Wickham must have only been designed as a distraction.

When Will read his name in a gossip column, he knew they had succeeded. Harcourt must have crowed to someone that Elizabeth jilted Will. If he had said that much, he might have said more. Will waited a few more days before returning to Netherfield. Harcourt needed to feel secure in his victory. Correspondence from Mr. Walker of the Rose and Crown in Ware to Mr. Bennet of Longbourn increased. A new wedding date was planned. The rector graciously agreed to their plans.

All in all, less than a week since becoming husband and wife, Will and Elizabeth were reunited. The night before the nuptials, the Bennet ladies dined at Netherfield. Will’s London relations had arrived, but Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle were to come in the evening. Mr. Bennet had gone to London to retrieve them. Will remained on unfriendly terms with Lady Catherine, and she was not invited to the wedding.

When the ladies separated after the meal, Richard laughingly queried Will about how it felt to be a married man. Although it was meant to be a secret, Will explained the situation to his uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, and another cousin, a viscount named Francis.

“Harcourt has an awful reputation,” Francis observed.

“People fear his ruthlessness,” the Earl countered. “Unfortunately, it gets him what he most wants: respect—or something very close to it.” He shook his head. “I never would have guessed the son of a butcher could have such authority.”

“He is the son of a butcher?” Will asked. “I thought his father was the last earl.”

“He was,” the Earl nodded. “However, it was one of those unexpected and distant relative inheritances. The blasted war took all the closer relations.”

“But a butcher?” Richard asked.

“Oh, the family had not fallen that much. His father had been a respectable clergyman, although he did marry a bit low. His wife was the niece of a rich butcher. Harcourt’s father could have entered the church as well, but chose to take over his uncle’s business. The war had inflated prices, and he could not resist the money.”

Will furrowed his brow. There had been a certain roughness about Harcourt at Eton. He must have terrorized the other boys lest they do the same to him given his background.

“When his father unexpectedly inherited, it thrust the boy, Peter, into a new world,” the Earl continued. “I once thought he might have been a friend for you, Will.”

“How so?”

“He inherited not long before you did. He was connected with the family—although, perhaps not as much as he would have liked.”

“Pardon?” Will knew of nothing connecting him to Harcourt.

“The father knew the de Bourghs.” Lord Fitzwilliam sipped his wine. “Sir Lewis’ father had been a merchant in the same town as the Harcourt family. He was rewarded with a baronetcy at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Blasted French.” The men raised their glasses in agreement.

Will and Richard exchanged a look. “Father,” Richard said, “tell us more about how the Harcourts knew the de Bourghs.”

“Jacob Harcourt, your Lord Harcourt’s father, and Sir Lewis were born in the same year. They grew up together in Ramsgate.”

At the name of the seaside town, Will took more interest in the story.

“And you know Sir Lewis did not inherit until Anne was nearly ten.” The Earl shrugged. “Anne and Peter were playmates until she moved to Rosings and his father inherited the earldom.”

“Was not there talk of a marriage between them?” Francis asked.

Lord Fitzwilliam nodded. “Yes, but by the time Peter inherited and was of age, Lady Catherine had fixated on Anne marrying Will. She did not approve of Peter’s background.”

“Fine talk, that,” Francis grumbled. “Anne is only one generation more removed from trade, and surely an earl trumps a baronet.”

“Not to mention the Harcourts must have been rich enough from the money they made on selling during the war,” Richard added.

The Earl furrowed his brow as though he searched his memory for something on the topic. Before he could say anything more, the clock chimed the top of the hour.

Will had heard enough. Harcourt might hate him because the man had not won Anne’s hand but why target Will’s father? If killing Will was the real aim all those years before, then why wait so long to make a second attempt. It mattered not. Elizabeth was already Will’s wife by law and the church, and on the morrow, all the world would know it. He was tired of waiting and at that moment, tired of conversation with anyone other than his wife.

“We should join the ladies,” Will said while standing.

The other gentlemen followed suit after some good-natured teasing on the subject of Will’s lovestruck ways. In the drawing room, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Mary took turns performing on the pianoforte. Will allowed their joined voices to wash over him. Soon, he hoped, Harcourt would make his move. He had once questioned his father about why he was on such friendly terms with Harcourt. Will now supposed it was not so strange if Harcourt was close friends to the de Bourgh family.

As the Gardiners were expected at Longbourn by seven, the Bennets soon left Netherfield. Will pulled Elizabeth away for a private farewell. They would be recognised by all as man and wife after tomorrow. Charles had offered for them to stay at Netherfield, but Will had enough of sharing Elizabeth with others. They would travel to London after the wedding breakfast. Georgiana would stay with the Earl and Countess for a week or two. She had made many amends for her behaviour but sometimes glanced anxiously at Will. He assumed she worried for his welfare or wished for his approval. He had made it clear to her upon his return to Netherfield that she was not permanently banished to their relations, providing she continue to behave well she could join them in a few weeks. He even offered the possibility of inviting Mary to town—an idea which all the ladies favoured and Bennet laughed at him for suggesting.

As he headed for his chamber for the evening, the Earl pulled him aside. “I could not remember earlier, but Lady Catherine says that Harcourt recently tried to pay court to Anne again. She was too angry to admit defeat at losing you. She also objected to Harcourt’s finances.”

“Harcourt is known for winning at the tables and even acting as a moneylender. What happened to all the money?”

“I could not say,” Lord Fitzwilliam answered. “Catherine was insulted by Harcourt’s application.”

Will thanked his uncle for the information and said goodnight. The pieces of information rolled in his brain as he attempted to sleep. His dreams bounced from Harcourt to Anne to Wickham to a smoke-filled Scottish inn. He awoke to a throbbing head, aching heart, and empty arms.

*****

“Are you worried, Lizzy?” Jane asked as the sisters prepared for the ceremony.

“No,” Elizabeth said more to herself than Jane. “He has already begun to behave as we predicted.”

“What can be his motive? What about Wickham?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. However, Will and I refuse to continue hiding. It is time to begin our life together. If it is cut short, then I trust it was meant to be. We have already lost so much time…” Elizabeth trailed off as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. She refused to give into painful memories or anxious fears. This was to be the happiest day of her life!

“I know one thing for certain,” Jane said as she put the finishing touches on her sister’s hair.

“What is that?”

“Will would never let any harm come to you.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement. It was a risk she was too selfish to take. She could not relinquish her right to Will and be done with the whole thing. If anything ever happened to him, she might spend the rest of her life wondering if only she had given into Harcourt’s demands how life might have been different. She pushed the worries aside. If she did as he wanted, who knew if he would keep his agreement.

There was a knock on the door and Mary entered. “Lizzy, it’s time,” she said. “Oh! You look lovely!”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.

“Will sent the carriage,” Mary said. “It only seats six, so I will walk.”

“Surely, that is not necessary,” Jane said. “Papa can walk or take the horse. Or Lydia may sit on my lap.”

Mary shook her head. “I would not want to wrinkle your gown and Papa should be there for Lizzy. It is no matter. I will leave directly.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth said before leaving her seat to embrace her sister. “We shall see you soon at Darcy House.”

“I look forward to it!” Mary grinned. After a moment’s hesitance, she left.

“Now, let us get you married—again,” Jane teased as she and Elizabeth walked downstairs arm in arm.

It was just as well that Mary walked to the church for Mrs. Bennet made them load and unload the carriage several times before they at last left Longbourn. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the entire thing. Many brides walked to the church—indeed, she had on the day they legally wed! Longbourn’s church was less than a quarter of a mile away. Taking the carriage only made things take longer.

Entering the church, the family began to take their places. However, Elizabeth soon noted a disturbance at the front. Mrs. Bennet shrilly cried for her husband and swooned into the arms of her sisters. After a moment of conversation, Mr. Gardiner and Will approached Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet at the back of the church.

“What is wrong?” Bennet asked.

“It is Mary,” Mr. Gardiner shook his head. “She has not arrived. We have already searched the path.”

“Georgiana,” Will’s voice cracked, “is also missing.”

“Could they be together?” Elizabeth asked, beginning to tremble.

Will nodded. “That is a possibility. She had wanted to walk this morning, but I wanted to arrive early. Mrs. Annesley was to go with her, but when the others arrived, they informed me Mrs. Annesley awoke ill and was unable to accompany Georgiana.”

“Mary never mentioned wishing to meet Georgiana, nor did she leave early enough which would suggest her intention.”

“She was very adamant about walking though,” Mr. Bennet reminded her.

“I have sent the guards, my valet, and Richard to search for them,” Will said as he took Elizabeth’s hands in his. “They probably merely lost track of time.”

Elizabeth nodded even as uneasiness simmered in her. Behind them, they heard a slamming sound at the door. With widened eyes, Elizabeth watched as the three gentlemen rushed to the entrance. They could not get the door the budge. Outside of the church, Elizabeth heard shouts and women crying.

“Peter?” Elizabeth heard Mary’s horrified voice. “Why are you doing this?”

Elizabeth ran to a window hoping she could see the scene outside. Mary flung herself at Lord Harcourt. He pushed her aside, and she landed on the ground with a thud.

“No!” Georgiana rushed to her friend’s side. While there, she did not see Wickham approach from the forest. He quickly subdued her and had her bound by rope.

Will had come to Elizabeth’s side and watched with her. “I must save her!”

“You do not know what they mean to do,” Elizabeth said as the stench of kerosene filled her nostrils.

Will’s eyes turned dark. He ran back to the door and shouted through it. “It is me you have a quarrel with, Harcourt. Let the others out!”

Elizabeth heard Harcourt’s sickening laugh. “Oh, this is so much better than anything I could have planned. You will die with your love but know that your sister is now in my control. Tell me, how does Mrs. Wickham sound to you? I think your father might have enjoyed the idea of Wickham blood running Pemberley.”

“I will never marry him! Never!” Georgiana screamed.

“Silence her!” Harcourt commanded. A smacking sound reverberated through the church.

In a cry of rage, Will charged at the door. By now, everyone was gathered at the front. Charles and the other gentlemen assisted Will, but it was useless. Elizabeth looked toward the window. They were small, and it would take far too long to break through the lead cames—if someone could even slip through.

Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet took equal turns wailing at their predicament. Elizabeth could no longer see anyone. Wickham had carried Mary and Georgiana away. Soon, smoke filled the air. Elizabeth tried to not despair as Will and the men continued to fatigue themselves as they beat upon the door.

Suddenly, a shot rang out. Then four more. Silence reigned—even Elizabeth’s sisters and mother were too terrified to continue their tears. Soon, there were voices and shouting again. Elizabeth heard the splashing of water as the villagers who were nearby ran to put out the flames. At the door, there was a scratching sound accompanied by masculine groans. Finally, the door flung open, flooding the church with light and much needed fresh air. On the other side was a heaving Richard.

Will pushed past the crowd to come to Elizabeth’s side. Will lead her outside then released her arm to go back in and help the others.

Outside, Elizabeth saw the bodies of Wickham and Harcourt. Mary and Georgiana hugged each other under a tree. Mr. Bennet had gathered his wife and other daughters under another. Charles held a sobbing Jane. Elizabeth wondered if this was what battlefields felt like the fighting ended. Casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw Will and his cousin assisting his aunt out of the church. His uncle helped the elderly rector.

Approaching Georgiana and Mary, Elizabeth wondered how they would ever know the reasons behind Harcourt’s actions. She was only happy it was over.

“Mary,” Elizabeth choked out. “I am so happy you are well! You too, Georgiana.”

The girls held their arms open to her, and she fell into them. They were bruised but would survive. It could have been much worse.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked her sisters through tears.

“I was to meet Georgiana and Peter for the wedding.”

“Peter?”

“I believe Will called him Harcourt, but I only knew him as an errand boy named Peter who I had met in the bookshop. He charmed me when I first met him.”

“You told him about the wedding?” Elizabeth asked.

Mary nodded as tears streaked down her face. “Yes. I had not seen him in days and was excited to introduce him to my family.”

Elizabeth sighed. What had Mary been thinking? An errand boy? “Mary, surely you knew…”

“I liked his attention,” Mary sighed. “You and Jane had your serious suitors. I only wanted a flirtation.”

The sound of hoofbeats drew Elizabeth’s notice. The magistrate, Colonel Forster, and the apothecary had arrived. Wickham and Harcourt were brought into a cottage. Elizabeth clutched her heart as she saw Harcourt begin to raise his head. He lived!

As if sensing her fear, Will approached. He lead Elizabeth away from their sisters. “It is over now,” he murmured as he held her close.

“He lives,” Elizabeth forced out as sobs began to rack her body. She was no longer afraid, but her body released the tension in the only way it knew how.

“He will stand trial for attempted murder of many people—including an earl. He will hang if he survives. We are free.”

Elizabeth nodded against his chest. They were finally free.

Eventually, the fright of the morning wore off, and as the sun continued to rise, Mrs. Bennet’s nerves fluttered forward. It was nearly noon, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had not yet wed! When her husband explained that they were already legally married, she actually clapped in delight and called everyone to the wedding breakfast—even the villagers.

The breakfast was a subdued affair and not as light-hearted as Elizabeth had expected, but filled with even more joy than anticipated. In due time, Will and Elizabeth hugged their loved ones goodbye and departed for London.

During the ride, Will explained what he had learned about the events of the morning. The magistrate had managed to procure a confession from Harcourt before he died. He did not hate Will based on Lady Catherine’s rejection alone. Anne had refused him as well. She did not like his character as a gambler and a rake. She preferred an upstanding man like Will.

Harcourt had hoped to kill Will in the fire in Scotland. Wickham had only been his means of information about their location and useful in stealing Will’s letters. He had not known of Harcourt’s intentions, believing he just meant to extract his debt from Sam and harass Will. However, Harcourt soon blackmailed Wickham afterward, threatening to provide proof of his guilt in the arson. Believing Will suffered at the loss of Elizabeth, even if he had not died, provided a balm for Harcourt.

Before the Darcys left for Scotland, Harcourt approached George Darcy. He hoped to bribe the man to ensure his son would never marry Anne. Disgusted, Mr. Darcy had begun to expose Harcourt for the man he truly was, resulting in loss of status and income for Harcourt who continued to live above his means, desperate to appear the wealthy nobleman and not the lowly butcher’s son. As his income diminished, his contempt for Will increased.

While attempting to court Anne a second time, Harcourt learned that Will had arrived at Longbourn. His hatred rekindled, he posed as a hired hand in Meryton and had bought Wickham his commission in the Militia. Wickham had continued courting Georgiana, but she proved unable to provide any information. Meeting Mary was merely chance and yet allowed Harcourt the possibility of learning about Elizabeth. He had returned to Meryton to continue the flirtation.

“No more,” Elizabeth silenced Will’s lips. “I do not care to hear any more about Lord Harcourt or Mr. Wickham. In fact, I do not wish to think about them ever again.”

“Shall we think only of the past as its remembrance brings us pleasure?” Will asked.

“Yes,” Elizabeth smiled as Will kissed her lips. “And we will dream of the future while never taking a moment for granted.”

“I like the sound of that Mrs. Darcy,” Will said.

“And I am happy to officially be Mrs. Darcy instead of Mrs. Walker! Whatever made you choose that name?”

“Do you remember, love? Miss Bingley described you as an excellent walker just before I saw you for the first time. I think I lost my heart to you at just that moment.”

Elizabeth laughed. “It must have been for the first thing I ever said to you was to reprimand. Oh, the conceit I had then!”

“As if I was any better,” Will laughed.

“We are best together,” Elizabeth observed.

“I am nothing without you, Elizabeth,” Will said before drawing her into a kiss.

As it deepened, and more vows of love were murmured mixed with gentle teases and laughter, Elizabeth felt more treasured than ever before in her life. As she had promised, she thought of the future and, at last free of the past, she only grinned to consider what it held for them. Together, they would conquer anything.

Treasured– Chapter Twelve

treasured finalPrevious Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth had always believed that Will would read her letter and agree to her plan. She supposed he would find a way to communicate with her. When she was called to her father’s library a few days after she had refused to see Will, her heart skipped a beat. Sitting in her usual chair in the book-filled room, Elizabeth watched her father with anxious curiosity.

“Would you like to know what that Will of yours has suggested now?”

Elizabeth nodded. She had told only her father of her plans.

“He suggests you marry before Harcourt leaves the area.”

“What?” Elizabeth had not thought he would reject her ideas entirely.

“In secret, of course,” Mr. Bennet smirked as Elizabeth’s affront eased.

“Would that be possible?”

“If it is first thing in the morning, and you arrive at separate times then it might work. There are not generally people in the church or the surrounding area then.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Mama will be unhappy. She had wanted a big wedding and was just warming to the idea of my marrying Will at all.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet said and thought for a moment. “Why not marry in secret now and continue to seem separated? Then, after Harcourt leaves, you might announce an intention to marry again. At this large wedding, he will come storming in to collect his price, and we will have guards in attendance.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They would need witnesses. “Who can we trust to know?”

“Will suggests Charles and Jane.”

Elizabeth frowned.

“You do not think they are trustworthy?”

“I worry that they will say something too transparent. We may be called upon to lie.”

“You could keep it a secret and merely have Jane walk with you and surprise her once there.”

“And after? She would not be able to contain her joy.”

“I will go,” Mr. Bennet said. “It would not appear unusual for me to have to speak with the rector. Surely, Will could trust his manservant.”

“Very well. Does he suggest a day?”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow!” Elizabeth could hardly breathe.

“You had best go,” Mr. Bennet said as he pulled out writing supplies.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she bent to kiss his cheek.

In her room, Elizabeth blushed to consider that at this time tomorrow she would be a married lady. She cast her eyes around the room. She had felt so grown up to join Jane in this room when she left the nursery behind. Now, it was fairly bursting having to contain the accruements of two grown ladies. Soon, very soon, she hoped, she would be leaving it forever. She would not get to live as a typical bride and yet just knowing she would be joined with Will in Holy Matrimony filled her with contentment.

After a night of little sleep, Elizabeth awoke at dawn and treated herself to a slow ramble in the morning mist. A few minutes before the appointed time, she approached Longbourn’s church. None of the villagers seemed to be around. Most would be working in the house or at the estate. Mothers would be busy with their children. There was only old Mrs. Shaw that might be peeking out her window to see any comings and goings. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the small house the woman kept. She could see no one at the window. Even still, she affected a mournful countenance and posture. Any witnesses would think she approached the church for spiritual assistance. After all, she had broken an engagement and when the rumors of such circulated many would consider her a fallen woman. They might as well carry her to the church themselves!

Inside, the pastor looked up from where he sat near the door to his office. He beckoned Elizabeth to approach.

“The others are in here,” he whispered. “My curate will wait here to lend assistance or diversion should we need it. Are you certain you wish for it this way, my child?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded and smiled shyly.

“Then let us continue.”

Elizabeth followed him into the little room, and instantly her eyes focused on Will. They would be crowded anyway, but his presence seemed to take up most of the space. He smiled at her entrance and did not take his eyes off of her the entire time, even when introducing his valet.

Throughout the ceremony, Elizabeth’s hands trembled. After all the wait, all the fear, she was marrying Will! She could scarcely believe it! In a matter of minutes, the legal ceremony was over.

“We will keep the register in here. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will have any other marriage applications for quite some time. Now, let us allow the Bride and Groom some privacy.”

Mr. Bennet kissed Elizabeth on the cheek and joked that he would see her at home. Mr. Matthews said he would return to Netherfield.

Once alone, Will turned to Elizabeth. “I would kiss you, but I fear it too irreverent in such a place.”

Elizabeth smiled and could agree with the sentiment entirely.

“I regret that this is not the ceremony you deserve.”

“Think nothing of it. I surely regret more that I cannot live with you as a wife ought.”

Will smiled so brightly it reached his eyes, fine lines formed around them. “How did you spend your morning?” He stroked her cheeks.

“I left early for a walk.”

Will nodded. “I thought so. Your eyes are always brighter when you have been walking.”

Elizabeth blushed and shook her head. “Where is the arrogant young man I knew? You do not think my eyes are brighter simply because you are around?”

Will suddenly started and frowned. He looked her up and down. “How long did you walk?”

“For several hours but the distance was not too far. I was too anxious to be far from the church. Why?”

“I thought to invite you to an establishment in Ware.”

“In Ware!”

“It is not too far—scarcely more than the three miles you walked to Netherfield.”

“What kind of establishment?” Elizabeth raised a brow. Her heart fluttered to consider what he would mean.

“Elizabeth,” Will said in a low growl. “Can we not have some part of being husband and wife?”

Will’s blue eyes stared intently at Elizabeth. The need in his eyes called on Elizabeth’s heart. She shyly nodded her assent.

“The Rose and Crown. Do you know it?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “W—when?”

“I will go very soon. My valet and carriage will soon leave for London.”

“You are leaving?”

“No,” Will hastened to interrupt her. “No, I will only look as though I am leaving. I will actually be in Ware. Harcourt should feel as though he won.”

Elizabeth nodded. She should have considered that. What man would remain so near the woman who had rejected him?

“You will come?”

“I will. I suppose if I walk then I shall arrive around the same time you do.”

“We should part,” Will sighed and consulted his watch. “Soon, my love. Soon we will not have to separate.”

Elizabeth nodded and watched as he left, her heart hammering in her chest as she considered the changes this day would bring. A few minutes later, the rector brought her to a less commonly used exit.

She walked first in the opposite direction of Ware, in case anyone had seen her at the church or was following her movements. Avoiding the main road, Elizabeth knew which paths would lead her to her destination. About an hour later, she stood outside of the Rose and Crown.

This was madness! What was she to do? Just go inside and…ask for a room? Ask for Mr. Darcy? Did he even register under his name? She had brought no things—but she was not staying the night, was she? So she was to go upstairs with a man and then return later and just walk out—without the proprietor thinking anything amiss? She was thankful Will chose a place so near Meryton. She did not have to worry about any friends or acquaintances needing an inn mere miles from their home.

Elizabeth turned and walked away. She would send a note later. Will would have to understand. She could not act in such a way. As she rounded the milliner, a figure emerged from the shop.

“Ah, there you are,” a familiar voice said.

Elizabeth looked up in surprise.

“Should you be so surprised to see me, my love?” Will winked as a couple walked past them.

“I did not expect to find you in the milliner,” Elizabeth said with false sweetness.

“I must apologise. I realised after we parted that I had not considered how we might meet again and the difficulties you would have in finding me.”

“Well?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

Will was silent for a long moment before he began chuckling. “Ah, I see my error. Let me amend my words. I do apologise. It was thoughtless of me. Can you forgive me?”

“I suppose I must. It must be part of my vows.”

Cocking his head, Will smiled down on her. “I heard you promise to love, honour, and obey but not to forgive.”

“Well, then you must command me to forgive you,” Elizabeth said and flashed a saucy grin.

Will sucked in a quick breath before looking around. “Do you know, Mrs. Walker, I believe you now require rest.”

“Oh, indeed, I must, Mr. Walker.”

Will smirked but tucked Elizabeth’s hand into his arm and nearly dragged her into the inn. Elizabeth contained a giggle at his eagerness. When he lead her up the stairs, her legs began to tremble. Looking down at her, Will touched his forehead to hers just before opening the door.

Inside, Will drew her into his arms. Kissing her, he pulled on Elizabeth’s bonnet ribbons. Elizabeth reached to assist him, but he swatted her hands away. He pulled back to whisper in her ear. “Tonight, I shall be your maid.”

“I will stay?” Elizabeth looked around nervously. The room was furnished as most inns. She gulped at the large bed, then noticed some of her things. “What will be said of my absence from Longbourn?”

“Miss Lucas was prevailed upon to say you are staying with her.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That story could not be held for long. If anyone asked her family…”

Will settled his hands around Elizabeth’s waist. His thumbs rubbed in slow circles just above her hips. “Your father has convinced Sir William to keep his family quiet. He also knows of Lord Harcourt. The Lucases hate him almost as much as we do.” Will paused and searched Elizabeth’s eyes. “You are free to leave at any time—you are not my captive.”

Elizabeth could not speak. Will had touched her more intimately before and yet she now felt drugged and incapable of resisting anything he would ask.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” he urged. “It was a foolish plan; you resent my high handedness. Say something!”

“I think…” Elizabeth began, “you should kiss me again.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled his head to hers.

 

*****

 

Will awoke the following day to find his arms delightfully full of feminine softness. He nuzzled into the curve of Elizabeth’s neck. “Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth sighed happily and rolled over to kiss him. After many minutes in pleasurable distraction, she pulled back. “I suppose I should return now. When will I see you again?”

“Soon,” Will said. “Perhaps three or four days. Whenever Richard can confirm that Harcourt is definitely in London.”

“And then we shall have a ceremony before our family?” Elizabeth smiled.

“Yes, love. Richard’s parents are eager to meet you again.”

“Again?” Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “Oh! At the theatre. I confess I had entirely forgotten they were there that evening.”

Will chuckled. “How embarrassed my poor aunt would be to hear her illustrious rank made no impression upon you.”

“Forgive me for being too besotted and distracted to care for such lofty titles of personages that could mean nothing to me.”

Will rewarded her words with a kiss. “Well, they have not forgotten you. The Earl had originally planned to journey with us. They are very cognizant of what might have been and of what we lost that day.”

“Did they know that you and I had an attachment?”

Will paused a moment. “I think they suspected it.”

“Why?”

“I could not bear to hear Sam mentioned. Nor would I countenance any talk of a marriage for me—they thought I should consider marrying my cousin Anne more.”

“Will they not approve of me?”

“No, that was never their complaint,” Will shook his head. “They never wished me to marry without affection or would say you are too low. They were friends with your father, after all.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“It is Lady Catherine who will rail at our marriage.” Elizabeth tensed in Will’s arms, and he held her tighter. “I do not care what she has to say. I never have.”

“Did Anne wish to marry you?”

The question brought Will up short. He had never really considered it before. “I do not know.”

“She is still unwed?”

“Yes,” Will slowly said the word.

He searched his memory for interactions with Anne. Had she expected his addresses? Maybe. Had there been genuine hope or affection on her side? He doubted it. She neither sought him out nor acted embarrassed or flustered when he was near. Then again, he had never been particularly good at reading females.

“Never mind,” Elizabeth snuggled closer. “It hardly matters. You did not raise her expectations and cannot be held accountable for every lady who hoped to gain your notice. I have won you, and I do not much enjoy thinking about other ladies and you marrying them in our marriage bed.”

“Say it again,” Will whispered in her ear as his hands ran over her body. A shiver racked her frame.

“That I have won you?”

He kissed just below her ear, drawing a moan from her lips. “Indeed, you have. Will you torture me, woman?”

“Hmm…perhaps, but I believe I have a new title now.”

“Will you torture me, wife?” His lips wandered down her neck.

“I shall plague you every day, I am sure.”

“Do you know, Mrs. Darcy, I think you sometimes talk too much.” Will pulled Elizabeth’s lips to his where they were occupied until the sun reached high in the sky.

When they awoke again, Will whispered endearments in his wife’s ear. She caressed his old scars and asked to hear how he had braved the fire attempting to rescue his loved ones. He held her close as he explained how she had healed his wounds. Although he did not fixate on hating inns the way Georgiana had, he carried the burdens of the fire with him for years. Now, he was beginning a new path and forging new memories.

At last, the time came that he must rescind the comfort of his bride. In a hired hack, they rode first in the opposite direction of Meryton and changed routes several times before bringing Elizabeth back to the outskirts of Meryton. There, Miss Lucas would walk her back to Longbourn. It took some faith for Will to trust Miss Lucas, but Elizabeth had told him of her renewed friendship with Sam’s former betrothed. Jane had sent the things Elizabeth would want, determined to provide something for her sister if she could not witness the ceremony.

Will returned to his rented chamber at the inn, feeling more than ever that his heart resided outside of his chest. The only thing which eased the dull ache he felt at Elizabeth’s absence was an express from Richard explaining he had already seen Harcourt at his usual gaming tables. More than ever, he prayed Elizabeth’s suggestion would prove right. He needed his wife in his arms once more.

Treasured– Chapter Eleven

treasured finalPrevious Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten

Chapter Eleven

 

Elizabeth attempted to conceal her terror as she walked back to meet her sisters and friend. Fortunately, Charlotte needed to return to her home, and there was no need to hide from her perceptive glances. Once at Longbourn, Mary went directly to her pianoforte—in an effort to impress Miss Darcy with her improvement she was becoming quite a slave to the instrument. Elizabeth knew she could not put Jane off for long, but pleaded a headache and hid in their chamber.

Once there, her head did begin to pound. She had not wavered in her intention. She must break the engagement to save Will from Harcourt—or at least delay it. Her lips turned up in a sly smile. The disgusting lord had not said that she could not share information with Will. The smile slipped from her face once she considered Will’s reaction. He was not likely to take Harcourt’s threat seriously. Nor would he consent to delay the wedding when only his life was at stake. Stupid man!

As Elizabeth wondered how she could possibly defer her wedding, a missive from Will arrived. Guilt pricked at Elizabeth’s conscience. Had she not been angry at Will when he had suggested the same? Her hand trembled as she opened his letter, feeling unworthy of the words of love she knew she would find.

 

Dearest Elizabeth,

 

I fear I do not have the joyful news we had anticipated. Bradley could not identify Wickham as the man who had paid him for his deed. The scoundrel himself refused to speak. I was unable to make him confess. I have failed you, my love.

However, it is only a temporary setback. Even now, I have agents searching the area for a man who matches the description given by Bradley.

I came home only to learn that Georgiana had left Netherfield after I had forbidden it. I recall our conversation on the matter and have told her this is the very last chance before she is sent away. Mrs. Annesley is now to be with her day and night.

I ask for additional forgiveness. It is selfish of me to ask, but I cannot conceive facing these trials without you. Years ago, I let you go when I needed you most. I will not make the mistake again. Will you, my dearest love, marry me just as we have planned? I have little but my heart to offer you and that you may not have long, but I vow no man will treasure any woman as I will treasure you.

All my love,

Will

 

Elizabeth could hardly breathe when she had finished. Will’s love was all she had ever wanted in life. He offered her a choice with his request. She could ask for a longer engagement period. It would crush Will, though. He needed her at his side during all of this. She could not decide this on her own!

As though she felt her sister’s distress, Jane knocked on the door and entered the chamber. “Mama wondered how you were,” Jane said as she sat next to Elizabeth on the bed.

“I hardly know,” Elizabeth said tonelessly as she handed Will’s note to her sister.

Jane read and then turned her eyes on Elizabeth. “I am sorry that you do not have the answer about Wickham as we all had hoped. Is that all which makes you cry? Surely you will grant his request—you have told me many times that you would marry him regardless of danger.”

Jane’s words felt like a knife to Elizabeth’s heart. She exhaled sharply. “I would marry Will regardless of danger to myself.”

“The danger to him is as it ever has been. What would cause you to reconsider now?”

Elizabeth remained silent as tears slid down her cheeks. She dared not even tell Jane about Harcourt’s threat. Still, her words had been of use. “There is no time to explain it all just now,” Elizabeth said as she turned to hug her sister. “Thank you for coming to me. All shall be revealed in time. Now, I must reply to his letter.”

“Shall I ask the servant to continue to wait?”

“Thank you, no. You may tell him that Mr. Darcy will have his answer when he calls on the morrow.”

Jane gave Elizabeth a curious look but nodded before leaving the room. Elizabeth remained in her chamber the rest of the day and hardly slept at all that night. When Will called the following morning, she refused to come down and would only entrust her letter to Jane.

As she heard the galloping of horse hooves a minute or two later, Elizabeth prayed he would read her words and forgive her. Even more than that, she prayed he could act the part.

 

*****

 

Will forced one foot in front of the other as he walked from the stables to Netherfield. Elizabeth had refused to see him! The inexplicable pain from her first rejection, which he had thought healed, now emerged with more force than ever.

Without bringing Wickham to justice, he could never deserve Elizabeth. What man dared to ask a woman to marry him when he could only bring about her ruin? Wickham would either kill her or make her a widow. What could he do? Travel endlessly and never settle anywhere? Be subjected to Wickham’s blackmail forever? Drain his coffers on bodyguards? Arrange for the unthinkable?

No! Will’s conscience revolted. He would not stoop to what Wickham did. However, each possibility seemed more desperate than the last. Was this the course his life had been destined on since his father’s death? Nay—even before. When was it that he had earned Wickham’s hatred? What moment in time created the devil he now was?

Storming up the stairs and past the others in the drawing room, Will threw himself in a chair by the fire. He tossed Elizabeth’s letter on a nearby table. It was all there if he chose to read it. All the ways in which he had failed her; all the reasons she had for breaking the engagement. He doubted not that he deserved every censorious remark. He had put her through more than any woman could endure.

Her smooth, feminine script bearing his name on the envelope mocked him. How many times had he wished to see a letter from her? Now, one of the few notes he had from her could not contain the words of love he had so come to cherish.

He glanced at the fire. Why should he keep this note which could only bring pain? He would watch it burn and shrivel just as his heart did.

A pounding on his door interrupted his plans. “Will! Let me in!” Charles yelled.

“It is unlocked,” Will called back.

“What the devil are you doing in here?” Charles approached after opening the door. “You refused to greet your sister and Mrs. Annesley. I have never seen you so uncivil. What happened at Longbourn? We did not expect you back so early.”

“I am afraid you will have to go on your calls alone from now on.”

“What?”

“I will not be going back.”

“What do you mean? You are speaking nonsense.”

“It is all right there,” Will pointed at the letter. “She has sent me away. She can no longer deal with the uncertainty regarding Wickham and the difficulties with Georgiana.”

“She said that?” Charles inched closer. “Will! The letter is unopened.”

“What else could she say? Yesterday all was well between us. Then, I reached another dead end with Wickham, and suddenly I am unwelcomed by her.”

“Should you not at least read what she says? Did you forget how Elizabeth came up with an idea for subduing Wickham? Perhaps she has a new scheme.”

Will paused. He wanted to tell Charles to bugger off, but the man had a point. “Very well,” Will snatched the letter. “I shall read it.”

Tearing open the letter, he willed his heart to withstand the pain.

 

Dearest Will,

When you read this, it is essential that you conceal your emotions if not alone. No one can know what I have written. Your very life may depend upon it.

Forgive me for turning you away so cruelly. My love for you has never waned and never will. I still desire to be your bride. I only ask that we delay it awhile.

Yesterday, Lord Harcourt approached me on the street. He confessed to being the man who set fire to the inn all those years ago. He promised to kill you if I did not break our engagement. He would say very little but said that he wished you to suffer more than even death could give.

Courage and honour does not exist only amongst men. I promised that I would, of course. While we plan otherwise, we must pretend that our plans are ruined. Once Harcourt feels victorious, he will surely leave for London. Then, we may marry in secret. He may then act rashly and expose himself or boast and give rise to witness testimony against him.

Can you act the heartbroken and rejected lover? Let no one know the truth. I want no chance of careless words to ruin this. Burn my letter when you are finished reading. Feel your heartbeat and know that every beat of my own lives for you alone. We need only be brave for a little while longer.

All my love,

Elizabeth

 

Will crumpled the paper in his fist before saying through his teeth, “Are you satisfied now?”

“Will—I—I apologise. I thought surely you must have misunderstood.”

“Do you wish to read it?” Will held up his hand.

“No—no.” Will tossed the paper into the fire and Charles hovered for another moment. “I will leave you.”

Once Charles left the chamber, Will sighed in relief. His lips moved an imperceptible inch. He applauded her plan but could think of one improvement. She had suggested on delaying their wedding and then marrying in secret. Will rather liked the second half more than the first. They would marry in secret, only earlier than planned.

Will already had the license, and the marriage articles were now with his solicitor. He was sure he could arrange a private ceremony with Mr. Bennet. Perhaps Jane and Charles could be their witnesses.

Over the next few days, Will played the part of rejected suitor well. It did not take much effort. All he had to do was remember the days when he had thought Elizabeth did reject him. He must have performed well for Charles frequently glanced at him with an anxious expression. Even Georgiana seemed to notice.

Two or three days after he had announced that Elizabeth called off the wedding, and pointedly explained it was because of Wickham but Georgiana’s behaviour did not help, his sister came to him.

“Will,” she said with downcast eyes. “Did Lizzy really cancel the wedding because of me?”

“I thought you had decided you were not close enough friends to call her so informally,” Will said with raised brows.

Georgiana blushed. “I have spoken foolishly on many things.” She squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her hands tightly in her lap. “Please, I must know. Have I ruined things for you?”

Will sighed. “I do not wish to hurt you.” He placed one of his large hands over hers. “She is greatly put out with the difficulties we have faced. Knowing that even if Wickham is ever apprehended, she will have a sister who hates her and shows respect for no one added to her anxieties.”

“I never thought my actions would lead to such.” A tear slipped from an eye.

“Did you not? Was that not your goal?” He had not removed his hand, but his voice was not as gentle.

“It is what I said I wanted…what I thought would make me happy…but I had no hope I would succeed.”

“You did not consider the consequences to your actions?”

Georgiana shook her head as the tears began to fall in earnest.

“Why did you behave so? Even before I returned to Hertfordshire to court Elizabeth, you were hateful to me. Ever since Ramsgate—”

“Do you not see?” Georgiana cried. “I was miserable and unhappy. I could only think of making others as miserable as me.” Her lips trembled, and her breath came in shuddery gasps. “I suppose I managed that quite well.”

“And do you feel better for it?”

“No!” Georgiana sobbed. “You have been such a good brother to me, and I do not deserve any of your kindness. Even now you are not scolding me or casting me away when I have destroyed your happiness.”

Will watched as she buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook with the effort of her tears. At first, he was uncertain if she were genuine. Perhaps this was an added effort to gain information and pass it to Wickham. Will still believed Wickham was involved in some way.

“Have you been in contact with Wickham?”

Georgiana paled. “Yes,” she whispered.

“For how long?”

“I never stopped corresponding with him after Ramsgate. I have not seen him here, though. I did not know he was here! He would sometimes reply to my notes but not for the last week.”

“And it is this defection which has opened your eyes?”

Georgiana soberly nodded. “He used me just as you always said he did.”

“Did you tell him anything about Elizabeth or me?”

“No. You told me nothing. Sure enough, he lost interest when he realised he could discover nothing through me.”

“Why were you so miserable if he pretended to be the constant lover?”

Georgiana shrugged. “I knew nothing about our relationship was right. I knew I was hiding the truth from myself. I was so hurt and lost after Father died. And you…you were even more lost than me. I know now it was because of Elizabeth.”

Will squeezed her hands. “But at the time, you thought I was rejecting you.”

“You sent me to school.”

“As was always Father’s plan.”

“But things had changed! Father had died—surely the plan needed to be reconsidered. Did you know I was afraid of inns for years?”

Will exhaled and squeezed his eyes shut.

“For years it would take days of travel from Pemberley to go to London. Night after night at an inn and I had thought that if only you had let me stay at home…”

“I am sorry. I never knew.”

“And there were times I refused to have a fire in my room at school. Did they ever tell you that?”

“No. How did you not freeze?”

“I would frequently wear every petticoat and pair of stockings I owned to bed.” Georgiana chuckled at the memory. “The other girls found me peculiar, and I had no friends. Except for…”

“Except for when Wickham would visit you?”

Georgiana nodded, tears filling in her eyes once more. “I thought he was the only one who understood me.”

“And now?”

“Now, I know he has only played the charming lover. I do not even know myself.”

Will pulled his sister into an embrace. “We all lose our way sometimes. What matters is that we get back up, determined to right our wrongs, and do better.”

Georgiana nodded against his shoulder. “I would acknowledge it was as you did with Elizabeth, but then I ruined that for you!”

“Do not fear for Elizabeth or me,” Will patted his sister’s back. “We do not know what the future holds. Years ago, I thought I had lost my only chance at her and happiness in life. Who says I will only have one second chance?”

Suddenly, Georgiana pulled back. Her face looked stony and determined, but her eyes held the old affection for her brother which he had not seen in months. “You must stop him, brother. Do not rest until you do.”

A ghost of a smile appeared on Will’s face. “I thought you did not believe he was capable of hurting anyone?”

“I also thought I knew everything about him and everyone else. I am learning that I am not as wise as I thought. If you say there is proof of his misdeeds, I believe you.”

Happy at her words but conscious of what Elizabeth had cautioned about anyone knowing of their plans, he was careful with his words. “Wickham will be stopped at all costs.”

Georgiana smiled slightly and nodded. “I do hope you can forgive me. I was a selfish beast and never meant to cost you Elizabeth’s devotion.”

“You are my sister,” Will said. “I determined to forgive you long ago.”

The siblings embraced again before Georgiana left the chamber. Assured of his privacy, he wrote a missive to Mr. Bennet, stating his request. If Harcourt had a spy in one of the households or someone watching one of the houses, it should pass suspicion that Will needed to communicate with the man who was once to be his father-in-law. There were legal matters to resolve.

After sending the letter via Evans, Will sat back in his chair. Soon, he and Elizabeth would be married. Elizabeth’s notion of drawing Harcourt out was as good as any. Will allowed himself to hope that someday all their troubles would be at an end.

Treasured– Chapter Ten

treasured finalThe anxiety doesn’t wane much with this chapter!

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

Chapter Ten

Will awoke when someone called his name, and there was a pounding on the carriage door.

“Mr. Darcy! Mr. Darcy! Do you live, sir?”

Will grunted at the noise, the effort and the sound making his head ache. Touching his fingers to his temple, he felt the stickiness of blood oozing from his head. Forcing his eyes opened, he looked around at his surroundings. His carriage was on its side, and he had fallen with it.

What had happened? All was going according to plan. They were some miles from Meryton when he had heard it—a gunshot rang out. The horses startled and the driver lost control. The carriage toppled and threw Will hard against its side. He quickly tested his bones—nothing was broken. He ached, but nothing fatal occurred.

“Mr. Darcy!”

Will did not recognise the voice. It must be one of the hired hands who were to wait at the posts. What was the fate of his driver? Outside the carriage, he heard the shouts of several men.

“I am here,” Will called out. “I live!”

“Over here!” The man outside cried, and Will heard several men approach. “Mr. Darcy, can you move to the door? We are going to try opening it again and hoisting you out.”

“Yes,” Will answered slowly. “Yes, I think I can do that.”

His legs buckled under the exertion at first, but he forced himself up. The door finally opened, allowing much-needed sunshine and fresh air into the cabin. A large man hovered over the opening and spoke through the door. His voice was not the one who spoke a moment before.

“Just grab my hand then, sir.” The man shifted to extend his arm into the cabin.

Will heard the walls of the carriage creak over his head. His eyes scanned for a place to put his feet or pull on for it would be much better to climb out than be lifted like some dainty woman. The entrance stood a foot or two above his head making it an awkward angle to pull himself out of. Spying the handle meant for assisting passengers in and out of the carriage, Will informed the men that he would not need their help. There was a jostling as the stout man clambered back down to the ground.

Grabbing the on the side, Will pulled on it as one hand gripped the outside of the carriage door. He gave a little hop and then lifted himself out. A simple enough procedure that took untold amounts of effort as his body still shook from the experience. Once outside, the gathered men cheered.

The big fellow from earlier laughed. “We thought you was tiny like all them lords are!”

“Mind your mouth, Jem,” the man from earlier said and approached. “Sir, we caught the man.” He motioned for two other burly men to bring a trembling man forward. “He is called Bradley.”

“I had to do it! I swear! He said he’d kill me children iffin’ I didn’t!”

“Who?” Will asked.

“He never told me no name.”

“You saw his face? You would know him again?”

“Aye, sir.”

“What do you want us to do with him?” The man who seemed to be their leader asked.

“Keep him for now. We will have to call the magistrate. However,” he hastened to add when the man protested, “we will inform him of the circumstances.”

The primary hand jerked his head, and the perpetrator was lead away. Now recovered from the shock of the accident, Will’s heart sank to realize Wickham had sent another to do his bidding. He ought to have expected that.

“Thank you for your assistance, Mr. ?” Will asked with a raised brow.

“Name’s Samuels, sir. No mister.”

Will’s lips twitched. It was as though Sam had watched over him. “Well, Samuels, have you seen Mr. Bingley?”

“The minute we knew you were alive, he jumped on his horse and ran off. Said something about telling your missus. He is also sending a doctor for the coachman’s leg. ‘Tis a miracle he lives.”

Will nodded. Charles had gone to tell Elizabeth that he lived. Bless his friend!

“You’ll be needing a horse to get back home, and we got an extra for you here.”

“Thank you.” Will acknowledged his thanks with a tip of his head. There was much left to clean up the scene and deal with the would-be assassin, but all of that could wait. “I trust you to see to this. Mr. Bingley will return shortly.”

Will mounted the proffered horse and raced to Longbourn. Arriving at Longbourn, he dismounted and opened the door without knocking. He nearly tore it from the hinges. He got no more than a few steps into the hall before Elizabeth ran and threw her arms around him.

“Will!” Elizabeth whispered before pressing kisses on his face as she sobbed.

Will tightened his arms around her. “There is no need to cry, my love. I live!”

“You do! I am so pleased it is all over!”

Her words ended the spell. “We must speak, dearest.”

“May I suggest my library?” Mr. Bennet said from down the hall.

“Of course, sir,” Will said and lead Elizabeth to the library.

Once in the room, Will explained the situation to his betrothed and her father. “I came here before approaching Wickham.”

“You do not think he has fled?” Bennet asked.

“No, we had men watching their camp.”

“Will this man testify against Wickham?” Elizabeth asked.

“I believe so,” Will answered. “First, he will have to identify Wickham before the magistrate. I will leave now to see to it.”

Mr. Bennet allowed the lovers a private farewell. When Will, at last, tore his lips from his beloved, he rode to Meryton confident of his victory.

As he approached the house used Colonel Forster’s headquarters, Will’s shoulders felt lighter than they had in years. The hired men had arrived with Bradley in tow. The magistrate had also preceded him. Bradley saw Will enter and begged for mercy.

“Just tell the truth, and you shall be rewarded,” Will responded.

Colonel Forster was announced and scowled as he looked at Will. “Mr. Darcy, I understand you have a severe accusation against one of my officers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The same that you visited me about before?”

“Just so.”

Forster harrumphed. “Get on with it then.”

Will told the story of his carriage accident and the apprehension of the man who fired the shot.

“And you swear that you were paid to cause this accident?” Forster asked Bradley.

“Yes, sir,” Bradley answered.

“And you, Mr. Darcy,” Forster nodded at Will, “acknowledge that Wickham could not have done this crime.”

“I understand that he was on duty for the day. However, he must have arranged matters with this man.”

“So, then all we need is to bring Wickham forward, and he should easily be identified.”

Will nodded his agreement. Still, doubt tingled in the pit of his stomach. Could Wickham have had another man meet with Bradley?

Wickham was brought in and looked surprised to see so many people.

“Lieutenant Wickham,” the magistrate began after introductions, “did you meet with this man and give payment for the intention of killing Mr. Darcy.”

“Certainly not, sir!” Wickham recoiled in offense.

“Mr. Bradley, is this the gentleman with whom you met?”

Bradley frowned. “No, sir. You must believe me though—there was a man! I dunno Mr. Darcy and would have no cause to hurt him otherwise.”

Wickham sighed in visible relief. Will had expected a smirk or a maniacal grin.

“Describe the man you did meet, then!” Will demanded.

“Mr. Darcy, I will ask the questions,” the magistrate reprimanded. Will nodded his apology. “Could you describe the man you met?”

“He did not much look like this gentleman, sir. He seemed slight…elegant. It was strange as he was dressed roughly.”

The magistrate and Will exchanged looks.

“Do you recall anything else?” the magistrate pressed.

“He had sandy blonde hair and his eyes…they seemed lifeless.”

The magistrate jotted down some notes. “Where did this meeting take place?”

“The Tavern.”

Will whispered in the magistrate’s ear. The man nodded and turned to Bradley once more.

“You described the man as elegant. What did you witness which struck you as elegant?”

Will observed the man. If it had been something obvious about his mannerisms, then others might have noted it as well.

“I cannot say,” Bradley shrugged. “He was small, crafty looking. He thought well of himself, though.”

“He carried himself with arrogance then?”

“Confidence or arrogance—I would not know. He wore as much authority as any master I have had.”

“So, he did not seem to be a worker?”

“No,” Bradley shook his head. “His hands were not rough.”

“Can you remember anything else? Anything at all?”

“That’s all, sir.”

The magistrate frowned.

“You must believe me!” Bradley cried as the magistrate signaled for him to be carried away. “I have told the truth—I swear on the lives me children!” He continued to shout as he was carted off.

Forster looked at Will with raised brows. “It seems as though your business here is over, Mr. Darcy.”

“Might I have a word alone with Mr. Wickham?” Will asked.

“Only this last time,” Forster said, and the others left the room, leaving Will alone with his old enemy.

“Why?” Will asked.

“Why what?” Wickham returned.

“Why would you do this to me? Why do you hate me so much? What do you gain by my death?”

Wickham said nothing.

“You cannot think of marrying Georgiana. The parameters in my father’s will are very clear. She cannot marry without the consent of Richard or me. She has many years before she comes of age. Do you think you can control her for so long? And when her brother has died with suspicion of it being at your hands? I do not care how you have manipulated her—she is too intelligent and loving to wish me dead.”

Wickham only smiled.

“Say something!” Will demanded and beat his fists on the table.

The door flung open, and Forster came in. “That’s enough bullying my soldier, Darcy.”

Will grunted at the Colonel then threw a disgusted look at Wickham and left.

He left word with the magistrate that he would not press charges against Bradley before returning to Netherfield. The ride took far longer than usual. All the while, Will wondered how to explain this development to Elizabeth. Anxiety for her disappeared, however, when he was greeted with the tear-streaked face of Mrs. Annesley.

*****

Full of restless energy after Will left, Elizabeth could not resist an invitation to walk to Meryton from Jane and Mary—even as they said Charlotte Lucas would be with them. Elizabeth had not made peace with her old friend yet. She was not entirely sure she could. It was forgivable that Charlotte had erred. She was very hurt by Sam and probably very embarrassed since Will had proved faithful. What Elizabeth wanted to know, however, was if Charlotte regretted her words. Did she think differently now? There could be no going forward if they did not.

“Will you not shake hands with me, Eliza?” Charlotte said, drawing close to Elizabeth. “I would wish we could be friends like we once were.”

Elizabeth sighed. “We cannot change the past. We cannot erase what has happened.”

“What of your philosophy to think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure?”

“I do have many great memories with you, Charlotte. However, it is less certain if our friendship can continue.”

“Can you not forgive me?”

“Do you wish for it?”

Charlotte hung her head. “More than I can say. I greatly wronged you. Pray, forgive me, although I know I do not deserve it.”

Elizabeth smiled a little. “Forgiveness is never deserved, nor is it earned. I know you meant well. Can you wish me joy?”

“Indeed, I do!” Charlotte said with what seemed like genuine feeling. “Mr. Darcy seems a very worthy young man. I am happy to see that he is untouched by the behavior that afflicted S—” Charlotte gulped. “Your brother.”

“He is the very best of men,” Elizabeth sighed. “I pray one day you may meet such a man!”

Charlotte shook her head. “Nay, such girlish dreams of true love are over for me. I delight in seeing my friends happy. And are we soon to wish Jane joy as well?”

Elizabeth grinned. “Mr. Bingley has asked for an official courtship. I believe they are a fair way to being in love with one another. They met years ago when Will and I did, you know.”

“I know,” Charlotte nodded.

“Did you ever meet Will or Charles in the old days? Or Will’s cousin Richard?”

“No,” Charlotte blushed. “The other day was my first meeting with Colonel Fitzwilliam. I know your brother enjoyed the company of all of them. I suppose it was only Sam that turned out so bad…and well, maybe Mr. Wickham.”

Elizabeth started. “Whatever Sam’s faults were they were nothing like Wickham’s.”

“No? Are you certain—” Charlotte paused when Elizabeth raised her chin, and her eyes flashed a warning. “I suppose you must know more than I do.”

“Indeed.” Elizabeth now extended her hand as Charlotte had done earlier. “Now, we may shake hands, my friend.” The ladies smiled and clasped hands before quickly embracing.

“Now, you all go into the shop,” Elizabeth said as they reached the outskirts of the town and Jane and Mary had turned to discover her intentions. “I will walk up and down the promenade.” She had hoped she could catch sight of Will as he left the encampment.

“You will be well on your own?” Jane asked.

“Of course,” Elizabeth nodded. “There can be no danger in it,” she said meaningfully to Jane who subtly nodded her understanding.

Charlotte and Mary looked confused but did not question the other ladies. Elizabeth wished them happy shopping and walked along the streets of the town she had known all her life with more cheerfulness in her heart than she had felt in years. She was free to love! Their battles were now over, and soon she would be married to the man who had captured her heart so many years ago. She could hardly imagine a more blessed woman than she!

Her happiness bubbled up and shone through her face. She greeted acquaintances and strangers with a radiant smile few would ever forget. She had approached as near the encampment as she could go without risking her reputation. Intent on watching the road for some sign of Will, she was startled to hear a low voice from behind.

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet you are as fetching as ever. The passing years have done you a great deal of good.”

Immediately, Elizabeth trembled at the voice that had terrified her years ago. Whirling around, she came face to face with the dull, lifeless eyes and the predatory gaze of Lord Harcourt. Panic welled in her, but she caught herself before crying out.

“Ah, good girl,” he smirked. “I always thought you were clever. You must understand that you would not wish to draw attention to us. After all, we are having a rather intimate conversation, and you are betrothed.”

Elizabeth’s eyes darted around. The situation did not look compromising, did it? Will would surely know she felt no pleasure with this conversation. Courage rising, she attempted nonchalance. “What brings you to Meryton?”

“The collection of a debt long owed to me.”

His eyes raked down Elizabeth’s body, and she shivered in disgust. “Who—” her voice cracked. “Who could owe you money here?”

“It is not just a debt that makes Meryton appealing.”

“No?”

“As a dear friend of the bride’s brother, I thought I would be allowed certain…liberties.”

Elizabeth bit back her breakfast that threatened to re-emerge. “You were no friend to my brother.”

“Why such vehemence? Are you not curious about the arrangement we came to before his death?”

Elizabeth gasped. Sam would never do what Harcourt intimated. “You lie!” She raised her hand to slap him, and he caught it.

“Do I?”

“Let me go,” she spoke through clenched teeth as she attempted to pull free. Why had she wanted to walk so far away from the rest of the town?

“Your brother learned the consequences of not listening to my demands.”

“You show your true character, at last, my lord,” Elizabeth said. “I knew you would have some foul demand to make. I shall never capitulate.”

She did not know Lord Harcourt well, but she doubted he would force himself on her on a public street. Indeed, he was too slight to pull her away. His ego would not want that either. He would gain the greatest pleasure from her submitting to him. After she left his side, she would tell her father and Will, and they would provide protection while they searched him out. He was disgusting, but there was no reason to fear him.

“You are a feisty one,” he said as he stepped closer. “I would be most willing if what you assume was the case. No, my request is only that you do not marry Mr. Darcy. May you keep your precious virtue—unless you would rather—”

“I will never offer that to you, and I will never agree to your demand.”

“But of course,” Harcourt laughed. “Why would you? After all, I have not explained why you should.” He turned her to face the direction of the encampment. “You see, even now, your Will has learned that Mr. Wickham did not hire someone to spook his carriage horses. Indeed, the description his would-be assassin can give would match one given by townspeople of a certain village in Scotland. It would seem that George Wickham was not the man who killed your brother or Mr. Darcy’s father.”

Elizabeth’s legs almost gave out as she understood Harcourt’s meaning. She turned to look at her brother’s murderer in the eye. She recalled the night at the theatre so many years ago. The noble before her had fooled everyone he met. Even now, he looked nothing like a madman. “You would kill him?”

Harcourt’s eyes flashed, and his lips curled up, baring his teeth. “It would give me the greatest pleasure.”

“Then why strike a bargain with me?”

Harcourt laughed and tapped Elizabeth’s nose. “Yes, minx, you are uncommonly intelligent! I cannot hurt Mr. Darcy through his own death. It will only hurt others. However, separating him from his true love—well, that will wound him every day of his life. It is a pain that will only grow as the years go on—I should know.”

“You were once in love?” Elizabeth tried to sound sympathetic. Perhaps if she could get him to speak more, she could find an alternative way to thwart his plans.

“No more,” Harcourt shoved her away. “I will not tell you about my pain or more of my plan. Only know that I keep my promises. The choice is yours—protect the man you love or send him to his death.”

Without another word, Lord Harcourt stalked off. Elizabeth could not chase after him, she could not call out. She did not want to draw a spectacle, and it would be useless. A feminine crying spell would not work on his heart and change his intentions.

For weeks, Elizabeth had wondered at Will’s feelings of responsibility and reticence to share his burdens with her. In the past few days, she had resented his single-minded determination to risk his life to rid himself of Wickham. Now, Elizabeth understood her beloved’s choices. No tears came as her heart steeled with a decision. She could not—would not—marry Will.

Treasured– Chapter Nine

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

 

Chapter Nine

 

Will and Charles consumed their supper the following evening in silence. Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana had already retired to their rooms. An ungentlemanly case of nerves caused their disquiet. This evening, Charles’s footman would attempt to get Wickham drunk in the Meryton Tavern. Will had spoken to the young man, and he needed minimal coaching the play the sort of person Wickham would feel most comfortable around: an easy mark in cards and a drunken lightweight with just enough money for Wickham to win a few pounds. Will had once heard Wickham tell Sam to be careful of playing with the wealthy or titled. At the time, Will the thought that showed unusual insight on Wickham’s behalf before determining it only meant Wickham had learned those gentlemen did not always honor their debts and men such as he were powerless to call their honor into question.

It had rained all day making a visit to Longbourn impossible. Will and Charles consoled their troubled minds and lonely hearts with dull rounds of billiards. At last, the evening came, and Evans was sent on his way. It was after midnight before he returned. The servant was brought to Charles’s library.

“Well, man?” Charles asked after Evans had consumed a liberal amount of coffee to sober himself.

Will held his breath. Until this moment, he had not realized that he had begun to hope. He had not thought the plan would work. He told himself it could not so he ought not to expect it. Will wryly mused to himself that by now he ought to be used to his heart deciding whatever it wished regardless of his determination.

“He barely tasted a drop all night,” Evans said.

“What?” Charles cried.

“I suspected he could hold his liquor well,” Will said with an annoyed sigh. “I had not thought he would resist entirely.”

“It was not until the other men accused him of being a Methodist or a teetotaler that he drank more than a sip or two of his pint. At that point, I was at such a disadvantage that although he paid for several rounds, there was no getting him drunk.”

Will stroked his jaw in thought. Growing up, his father had told him never to overindulge, especially in a business meeting. Wickham had often heard same advice. Did he feel he had a reason to be on guard and keep his head clear at the Tavern? Had he suspected their plan? No one knew of it—even Georgiana. She was upstairs during the conversation and Evans was not asked until just before he left to perform the duty. Will sighed. The truth was the tactic was probably too obvious. They might have had better luck hoping to bribe one of Wickham’s usual drinking fellows. Of course, they then ran the risk of the men being loyal to Wickham and not keeping the secret. “Did you speak with any other people present? Did anyone remark on his usual habits?”

“Aye,” said Evans. “One or two of them said they never saw him drink. A few others acknowledged that he never drank to excess. Although, he would sometimes buy rounds for others when in a particularly good mood and spent much of his free time in the establishment.”

“It seemed like he was a fixture there?” Charles asked.

“More so than other officers, the footman answered.

“How curious,” Charles observed.

“Someone told me he was regarded as the most alert officer Colonel Forster had.”

“Very interesting,” Will answered. “Thank you, that will be all.”

Charles pressed a coin or two into the young man’s hand before he left the room. Charles shut the door then turned to his companion. “Well? “Do you want to try again? Perhaps we could bribe one of his cronies—”

Will interrupted, “I do not think that will work. I had considered it as well. Considering Wickham’s mission, he must think it best not to dull his senses. Unlike his colleagues, he cannot afford to relax when his shift is over. I wonder at his diligence, however. If his intention really is to wound or kill me then why must he worry about relaxing in the Tavern? I would never frequent the place. Surely he would want stealth and an alibi on his side when he perpetrates the act.”

“I do not doubt that,” Charles said. “If he were here with the intention to blackmail you, again, he would not need to be alert in the Tavern. If he were merely here on duty, he would behave as his other officers.”

Will shook his head. “I cannot make sense of it. If he wished to wound me by hurting Georgiana or Elizabeth, there would be no reason to be concerned at a tavern. In fact, he would be spending less time there and would surely attempt to meet the ladies while they were in a shop or out walking. Forster says that he is a model officer and is always present at duty. He would only have free time in the evening when they are not shopping. On the other hand, he does not go to the events other officers are invited to. It is unlike Wickham not to crave superior company.”

The gentleman sat in silence for another moment. Will continued to mull over the report, and he suspected Charles did as well. When the clock struck half past, they decided to get some sleep. Perhaps things would be more evident in the morning.

Unfortunately, the morning did not bring clarity to matters. It continued to rain, separating Will and Elizabeth. As he could not speak to her in person, he wrote a letter, knowing she would not be pleased to read his words.

 

Dear Elizabeth,

 

I wish, my darling, that I could convey better news. Not only did we not learn any crucial information from Wickham last night, but our informant also claims that he barely touched any alcohol. Further reports from his colleagues and locals make it clear that Wickham will over-indulge for no one while here. I am afraid this way of thinking is at an end. Your plan was well-thought out, and I am pleased you suggested it. I wish it had succeeded and take no enjoyment from its failure.

How I hate this rain which keeps us apart! What was I thinking of purchasing a common license? If I had spent the money on a special license we could call the minister to your house whenever we pleased—and I would be well-pleased to marry you this instant—and then we would never be separated again. However, I do not doubt that in a fortnight we will wed and a more beautiful bride there will never be on this earth. Regardless of matters with Wickham, I will meet you at that church and promise to love, honour, and cherish you. I have in thought for many years and soon will show you every day. Do you long for the day we are husband and wife as I do?

I know you must be afraid for the next plan we have considered. I see no other way. There is naught to be done but to be brave and have faith. As soon as I can, I will be acting upon it, and I trust when we next meet that all shall be over and we will triumph in victory.

Until then, remember my love for you. My memory is dotted with the exquisite torture of your gentle caresses and passionate kisses. I pray you have the same. May the remembrance of them steal your breath as you feel as though my arms are wrapped around you, and our hearts beat in unison. In the quiet moments of your day, hear the whisper of my heart: I love you until the end of my days. Always and forever, you are my only love.

-Will

 

Will looked over his letter as a nervous flutter filled his heart. He was full of bravado in his message, but he could not ignore the possibility that he might never see Elizabeth again. The acknowledgment that he might never taste her lips again nearly had him calling for his horse. Perhaps he could visit Longbourn before the carriage ride which would determine his fate.

No, he shook his head. The plan was for him to suddenly leave Netherfield in the direction of London. He and Richard had arranged for there to be scouts every few miles, hidden well off the road. They would await his arrival at a set time, and if he did not come, they would investigate. The hope was that if Wickham did attack, Will would not be without help for too long and if he were wounded there would be hope of help arriving in time.. He had not explained this portion to Elizabeth, and she had not asked. They silently agreed to not go into the details so she might worry less.

Looking at the rain falling, Will sighed to himself. There was another matter he had to deal with before he could hope to lure Wickham out. He had not spoken with Georgiana beyond the merest civilities since his visit to Longbourn the other day. If anything should happen to him, he did not want her living the rest of her life thinking he hated her and the last words they spoke were in a quarrel. He rang the bell and awaited the arrival of a servant. Then, he asked for his note to be taken to Longbourn and if his sister would like to play for him in the drawing room. Again, the fragile hope beat in his heart. He hoped she would. Perhaps not all would be lost between them.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth smiled as she took Will’s missive from the platter the servant held toward her. She knew the previous evening her plan would be enacted. It must contain good news! It simply must!

Until she began reading, the thought that scheme might fail had not entered her mind. For the alternative meant… It did not bear thinking of it! Before Elizabeth read more than the second line, tears shrouded her vision, and her grip tightened on the paper. Conscious of the watchful eyes of her family, she fled the drawing room for the privacy and solitude of her chamber.

Flinging herself on her bed, she sobbed as though she had already heard the news of Will’s demise. Her tears now envied the ones she shed upon Sam’s death. Was Will even now foolishly calling for his carriage and hurtling himself toward Wickham’s clutches?

A gentle knock interrupted Elizabeth’s anxious thoughts. Jane slipped into the room and softly rubbed Elizabeth’s back until her tears slowed.

“What does he say?” Jane asked quietly.

“Can you not guess?” Elizabeth asked as she pushed herself up on elbows before moving to a sitting position.

Jane only nodded, entirely at a loss of what to say to soothe her sister. “When?”

Elizabeth blinked at her sister’s question. She had not finished reading Will’s letter. She had leapt to the conclusion that he was now hoping to ensnare Wickham at his own game. Perhaps he had changed his mind! Maybe he saw the sense in being less courageous. After all, they had not determined what Wickham’s motive was. There were times when Elizabeth could almost convince herself this was naught but a nightmare and Will was in no danger.

Taking a deep breath and wiping at her eyes, Elizabeth readied herself to read the rest of Will’s note. She smoothed the crinkled paper, and he eyes devoured the words.

His loving words consoled but could not relieve. His ending was too much like a farewell—a final farewell! “I must go to him!” she exclaimed.

“You cannot!” Jane said and tugged on Elizabeth’s hand. She had immediately stood upon her pronouncement and was ready to fly from the house that instant.

Jane lead Elizabeth to the window where she surveyed the outside. The rain had ceased to be a constant flow and now came in drips and dribbles, but the ground was too wet for walking. She would be caked in mud. “The carriage or—or—” Elizabeth gulped, “a horse?”

“There is too much mud,” Jane said.

Slowly, Elizabeth nodded. Indeed, today it would be too dangerous for horses to brave the roads but soon—in a day or two at most—they would be driveable and then Will would hope to catch Wickham.

“How will it be done?” Jane asked as she looked over Elizabeth’s shoulder at the letter she still held.

“I do not know,” Elizabeth sighed. Wrapping her arms around herself, she walked back to the bed and sat upon it. “I did not ask for any particulars. I would rather not know the exact scenario so my mind can picture it with perfect detail.”

“You are so fatalist! It is not like you to be so defeated!”

“And you are too optimistic! Our brother died—died!—at the lunatic’s actions. How can I hope that Will is any different?”

“Do you think Wickham has some supernatural ability? Will knows his enemy’s intentions and his probable method. Indeed, he knows he has an enemy. Sam never did. Do you not see how Will’s knowledge is an asset? Do you not trust his ability to plan?”

Elizabeth’s lips quirked but she could not entirely give in to the desire to smile. “I am certain he is a brilliant landlord and master. He is a loyal friend and a devoted lover. However, what does he know about subverting the tactics of a madman? Oh! I wish we could have involved the police or Will could have hired a guard.”

“I would think that would be quite expensive. I do not think even the Prince Regent has a standing guard at all times.”

“Who would want to kill him? A brother? Who would want to be heir to the crown if they could? Is it not more trouble than it is worth? If history has taught us nothing, you are in dire jeopardy of losing your head either by the ax or from madness. No, no one can envy Prinny the way Wickham envies Will.”

Jane let out a sad sigh and squeezed her sister’s hand. “What will you do then?”

“Wait,” Elizabeth said with a determined tone as she straightened her back. “I have waited for him once, and I can wait again. I shall also pray for sunshine.”

“Do you not wish to delay his actions?”

“No!” Elizabeth said as she walked to the window and willed the clouds to break. “No, I would rather get it over with.”

“There is the fierce Lizzy that I know,” Jane wrapped her arms around her sister. “Now that you are in better humour, you should reply to his note. The servant waits for your answer.”

Elizabeth nodded and settled at the small writing desk in their chamber as Jane left her alone. Pouring all of her love into words, Elizabeth filled three sheets front and back with expressions of tenderness and affection. Will should never doubt her devotion. She added that he should carry it in his coat pocket. If she were to imagine his arms around her, then he should allow her words to surround him. They would provide protection and shelter more than any armed guard ever could. Love would prevail, she was sure of it.

The rest of the day continued in listless activities. Mary was put out with the weather and scowled every time she crossed a window. At dinner, Mrs. Bennet reported that the “little girls” were quite wild with being cooped up due to the rain. Then, she recalled that they could not have been any worse than a young Elizabeth and Sam after being ill in bed for days. The evening closed with fond memories. It was the first time Mrs. Bennet had mentioned Sam in many years, and she even mentioned Will a time or two. Elizabeth hoped that meant her step-mother was softening toward her betrothed.

Elizabeth awoke to sunny skies the next day. She nearly faced the residual mud to walk to Netherfield and Mary had offered to go as far as Meryton with her, but their father refused. Elizabeth sighed. It was true, they should not be walking about when Wickham might be on the loose. Will sent another loving note but was too busy with his plans to spare time for a visit.

During her nighttime prayers, Elizabeth fervently beseeched the Almighty for protection of her beloved. She felt akin to Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his longed-for son as a test of his faith. At every instant, Elizabeth half expected an archangel to appear and tell her she had prevailed and Will would be spared. That it did not happen made Elizabeth wonder if she should become a shepherdess. Against her will, she fell asleep that night dreaming of flocks of sheep.

She dressed the following day with trembling hands. There was no more delaying it. In the pit of her stomach, she knew this would be the day that Will would face Wickham. She could not bear to eat at breakfast. She consumed tea and watched fretfully at the window. Mary chided her lack of faith, and Jane worried about her constitution between refusing food and pacing the rooms. Mrs. Bennet, shockingly, sensibly suggested occupation instead and had spent much of her time in the drawing room rather than in the nursery giving Kitty and Lydia their lessons.

By the afternoon, exhaustion crept in. Elizabeth had been convinced to sit in a chair and sip on more tea as tempting, and flavourful biscuits were waved before her. If anyone would leave her alone for more than half a moment, she was sure she would fall asleep from the exertion of it all.

At first, she did not hear the sound of hooves on the drive. Soon, the panicked rate at which they ran drew the notice of Mary as she sat near a window and read. Within seconds there was a flurry of activity. Mary’s gasp almost muffled the sound of boots on the drive and banging on the door. Jane ran to it before a servant could answer, and Mr. Bingley’s voice was heard in the hall. Time felt as though it slowed as Elizabeth’s head turned in the direction of the door frame where he now stood with a hat in his hand, pale face, and unable to speak. Elizabeth’s cup fell from her hand and shattered on the floor in a thousand pieces.