J. Dawn King

Bestselling author of Jane Austen variations

Blame the Muse!!!

Nicole Clarkston called me NAUGHTY and said she was going to smack me. Why? Accidentally/inadvertently/fortuitously a second Christie Capps story took over my fingers. I’m going to have to pause “Letter of the Law” for another week. Honestly, I don’t have any other stories trying to sink my boat. Just these last two, I promise.

“Elizabeth” was released in eBook form on Amazon yesterday. Here is the link: Elizabeth

The response has been really good and the reviews wonderful. Thank you very much.

As to the newest story I’m writing? It’s called Hide & Seek. I’ll see if I can get the cover to post. It’s a Regency tale with Darcy and Elizabeth at Rosings. In truth, I had so much fun writing “Elizabeth” because the colonel kept trying to interfere with our dear couple. In this tale? Oh my goodness! Colonel Fitzwilliam is up to his knees in mischief. He loves and respects Darcy but has made a tease go too far. I’m not sure how this one is going to develop yet but I am confident Darcy and Lizzy will both be pleased by the end. I’m hoping to have this done and to the editor sometime next week. OK, let’s give the cover a try. Here it is—maybe.

This tiny excerpt is Mr. Darcy describing her to himself. “Her rich brown hair reminded him of his favorite colt, a bay his father had named Croesus. Her eyes were a stunning blue rimmed with thick dark lashes and beautifully curved brows. Her lips, the color of his mother’s favorite pink tulip invited the touch of his own, but only in his dreams.” A colt? I guess it was good it wasn’t an old, tired nag from the stables. Poor Darcy is half parts insulting and romantic. Will he ever learn? I sure hope not.

Okay, I’m off to type. I have books to write and FINISH.

Thank you for your patience!

UPDATE: John and I continue to go back and forth to doctors appointments for me and my Mom. John did some volunteer yard clean-up and ended up with poison oak from nose to toes. Poor man!

I’ve not been writing and was suffering from not getting anything done. Then, I woke last Saturday morning to a story idea that I couldn’t let go. Eight days and 20,000 words later my latest Christie Capps tale is born. It’s called “Elizabeth”. Would you like a peek at the blurb and the cover? Here it is:

He could have anything he wanted…except her.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy finds himself in the unusual position of chasing a woman rather than being chased.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is exasperated as Mr. Darcy, the rudest man of her acquaintance, is being nice—to her! How can she continue to despise a man who apologizes so well?

Based on Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy’s arrogance and pride are equally matched by Miss Elizabeth’s prejudice. In this fast-paced novella set in Regency England, can they both overcome strongly entrenched personalities to discover peace and happiness? Of course, they can. This is Mr. Darcy and his Elizabeth, he hopes.

Elizabeth is appropriate for all readers. This story can be read in about an hour and is around 100 pages.

It goes to the formatters first thing in the morning. I hope to have it available in eBook this week. Print will take a few weeks longer and audio will be a while.

What about “Letter of the Law”? I start sprinting with Nicole Clarkston and an author from Germany, Marion Kummerow, first thing in the morning. I’m so excited. The muse is being kind—finally! So hold onto your hats, you should have a chapter soon.

As always, I thank you for your patience and willingness to understand life’s interferences.

Big HUGS to you all!!!

Back from Ecuador – Hello Rain!!!

John and I had a lovely group of flights home from South America. It was painful to say goodbye. Seeing the tears on the faces of our grandchildren broke my heart. Sigh!!! We will possibly return in August – we hope.

Unfortunately, we returned to find my Mom having a medical emergency. It’s been trips back and forth between the hospital and doctor’s office. She is still undergoing tests but things are looking much, much better. However, I have zero ability to focus on my story. I’m sorry. I hope you will be patient.

In the meantime, please enjoy the spring weather (unless you are in the path of the many storms hitting various parts of the world). If you are in the southern hemisphere, happy autumn. And, as always, happy reading!!!

Letter of the Law – Chapter 16

Chapter 16

 

“Officers!” Kitty and Lydia swooned in tandem, completely ignoring Lady Matlock’s fine counsel.

“Welcome to Netherfield Park, gentlemen.” Bingley moved forward with his arm outstretched, intending to welcome Colonel Forster and his men to his home.

“Wickham, you scoundrel. What are you doing with the militia?” Lord Matlock had finally looked closer at those newly arrived and identified the rascal who had caused his nephew and son a lifetime of grief and misery. “The last I heard you were hiding from debt collectors and several angry fathers who would see you dead or, even worse, married to their ruined daughters.” To the butler, he demanded, “Have footmen bring my son downstairs—now!”

“Colonel Forster,” Mrs. Bennet, slyly added her voice to the fray. “Did you bring your wife to Hertfordshire?”

“Richard is here? At Netherfield Park?” Wickham retreated quickly. “Excuse me, Colonel Forster. I suddenly recalled a pressing matter needing completion before I am free to enlist in the militia. If you do not mind, I will make my own way back to Meryton.” Bowing to the room in general, he fled.

“Well, I never…,” Colonel Forster huffed to no one in particular.

In the confusion, Elizabeth first felt Darcy’s tension radiating from his person and then sweet relief once Mr. Wickham left the room. As the others settled, she turned her attention to Jane and Mary. Jane was trying to ignore Mr. Bingley’s presence while surreptitiously studying his every gesture and expression, while Mary separated herself from Kitty and Lydia, moving to a distant part of the room.

When the footmen arrived with the Colonel, the mood of the room briskly transformed into order. No introductions were needed between the two colonels as they had known each other for almost a decade. Mr. Bingley provided the necessary protocol for the rest of the men. At Kitty and Lydia arguing over who would tend the needs of the wounded soldier, Mr. Bennet finally roused himself to act.

“Kitty, Lydia, do leave the poor man alone.” Their father looked at his wife. “Come, Mrs. Bennet, let us take these two misfits to the nursery where they belong.”

With three complaining females in tow, he retired upstairs, reducing the noise level exponentially.

“Well, well, well, who have we here?”

Elizabeth recalled a similar greeting when she met Colonel Fitzwilliam upon his arrival in Hertfordshire. She glanced to see who had captured his attention and was surprised to find, not Jane, but Mary as the focus of his address.

Her sister’s hesitant blushes were appealing as Mary wavered between basking in the unexpected attentions of a worthy gentleman and the reticence inherent to her nature.

Richard Fitzwilliam had the skills of a soldier determined to gather necessary information. Ignoring the other men in the room, he asked, “Miss Mary, by chance do you read German?”

“I do.” Closing her eyes and dipping her head, Elizabeth sensed her sister’s discomfort. Yet, she overcame her shyness long enough to have given a reply. Good for Mary!

“Might I have someone fetch the book Miss Elizabeth left on my side table carefully wrapped in a leather portfolio? If so, would you be willing to read a chapter to me? I would deeply appreciate the entertainment.”

The Colonel’s eyes pleaded for…for what, exactly? Whatever it was, Elizabeth was pleased for Mary. Already, Elizabeth knew him to be a good and honorable man.

Der Schweizerische Robinson! Relief rushed from Elizabeth’s head to her slipper-covered toes. When the maid entered the room to hand the book to the Colonel, Elizabeth almost burst into tears. Something precious survived the carnage at Longbourn.

“Are you well, Elizabeth?” Mr. Darcy whispered.

“I am merely overcome with the notion of what surprisingly had the strength to survive and grow and what I had assumed to be strong turning out to be weak.”

“You are speaking of people, not the book?” He asked.

Elizabeth looked at him, truly gazed upon the man who would soon be her husband. Weary lines and dark circles surrounded his eyes. His furrowed brow revealed his concerns, the utmost of which was her. That he endeavored to discern her meaning was worth more to her than diamonds.

“I am, sir.” Turning slightly towards him, their conversation would be unheard by others. “Mary is a mystery to most outside the family as she is, by far, the most complex of all of the Bennet girls. She can appear inconsequential as her tendency is to hide from a conversation. Yet, at a moment’s notice from your cousin, I see her step outside her inclination. I am very proud of her.”

“As you should be.” He agreed. “And the one who turned out to be weak?”

“Mr. Collins.” Elizabeth had no reason not to reveal her disapprobation. “He had everything to gain by helping quench the fire at Longbourn, yet he chose to pace under the tree, complain about the efforts of others to save his future house, and flap his worthless arms as he berated his lot in life. My sex could not possibly respect a man who does nothing for himself. For, how would we expect him to put himself forward on behalf of others if he does not do so for himself? I cannot imagine he would be a good spiritual shepherd to the flock under his care at Hunsford, can you?”

“Unfortunately, he is exactly as you have described. Nonetheless, you should know my aunt would expect him to be no different. It speaks to the negative aspects of her character that she willingly chose to gift him with the living and thus, the care for the needs of those in the parish.”

“Do you fear her coming to Hertfordshire?” The woman sounded as if she would be as uncaring of common sense as either Lydia or Kitty. The thought of having them all under one roof caused a shudder to race through her body.

“I am my own man, Elizabeth, and am beholden to no one on earth other than my sister and now you. Should she make the fifty-mile journey she shall meet with an immovable brick wall in the form of my uncle, my cousin, and myself.”

“Me too, I suppose.” Grinning at the metaphor, she knew where her position would be—at his side.

“Yes, dearest. You too.”

Her breath caught while inhaling. “I am your dearest?”

“You are.” His corresponding grin left her breathless. Where she had thought him handsome before, the glimpse of a dimple to the side of his mouth on his right cheek was endearing.

“You two need to recall there are others in the room.” Lady Matlock had approached unseen. Her whispered remonstration was well-deserved.

Time had passed while Elizabeth was enraptured by the man alongside her. Tea had been procured and served, Mr. Bingley and Jane were in cautious conversation, Lord Matlock and his son were sharing tales with the militia, and Mary was quietly sitting next to Mr. Darcy’s cousin, the retrieved book clutched to her chest. After Colonel Forster and his men departed, it was agreed to reconvene in the Colonel’s bedchamber for the reading of chapter three of Swiss Family Robinson.

***

By week’s end, Mr. Bennet had Darcy’s agreement he would establish the two youngest Bennets with the same headmistress used by several young ladies known to Lady Matlock who had gone into school as rebellious girls and departed the same classrooms as accomplished debutantes.

The depression that had started to settle on Richard’s shoulders was responding well to the comfort peculiar to Miss Mary Bennet. The two spent hours together, her sitting by his bedside with either his aunt or uncle as a chaperone. Within days, progress had been made with the story of the tropical adventure and how the Robinson family overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It appeared, from casual observation, that Richard Malcolm Fitzwilliam, soon-to-be Esquire, with his constant companion, was overcoming some mountain-like obstacles of his own.

“Darcy, how did you know you loved Elizabeth?” His cousin asked him when they had a moment of privacy. “Do not tell me you do not for it is as evident as the nose on your face that you see only her when she is in a room. You hear only her words, and you care for no one’s good opinion but hers.”

“I have no reason to deny your charge.” Darcy easily agreed. “I do love her with a depth I never thought possible.” Darcy sat back in the chair. “How did I know it was love? In truth, I was completely unaware. In fact, I was in the middle before I knew I had even begun.”

“You have no doubts? No fears?”

“I do not.” Darcy suspected his cousin was developing strong feelings for the middle Bennet girl. “I will confess, only to you, that I was at first determined to be displeased with everyone in Meryton society, including Elizabeth.” He chuckled. “Especially, Elizabeth. I attempted to place her so far below my rank that she would disappear from my view and my thoughts.”

“How did that work for you, Darce?” Now, it was his cousin’s turn to mock him.

“Not well at all.” He confessed. “With only a few conversational exchanges, she intrigued me and entrapped me until I was in her web, captive. However, before you think I am accusing her of trickery or using the mean arts we know females are capable of, she innocently curried my favor until I believe I am stating the God’s honest truth, I would have rushed into her trap even if she had not pointed the direction to go. My heart is her willing slave.”

“Do you not feel weaker for giving her this level of control?”

“Not at all.” Darcy mused. “I give her my heart and devotion most willingly. In doing so, in attaching myself to her, we, together, become a force I could never accomplish on my own. Rich, she makes me feel taller, stronger. I sense a fullness of myself, a completion if you will.”

“Then, you cannot believe you will have regrets for marrying so quickly?”

“I do not.”

“Pray, do not be angered by my next questions as I mean no harm. I merely seek knowledge to help me better understand my own situation.” The Colonel seriously pleaded.

“Do ask. I will not be angry, I promise.”

Richard cleared his throat. Then he looked his cousin directly in the eye. His voice never wavered.

“There are just over seventy days left until Georgie reaches the seventeenth anniversary of her birth. Might you be rushing into this marriage to satisfy your father’s requirements that one of us marry prior to that time? Might the thought of the loss of your beloved sister to Aunt Catherine have motivated you to become emotionally tied-up with Elizabeth quicker than you would have done without the codicil? Are you rushing to the altar, blinding yourself to the areas that concerned you when you first met her? Are you truly in love with her or are you telling yourself you are because she is the means to keep Georgiana with you?”

Darcy paused to give consideration to his cousin’s concerns. He was known to be a meticulous man who, as his uncle often accused him, thought over every decision to death. Had he done this with Elizabeth?

While the Colonel waited, Darcy carefully examined his own heart in light of Richard’s concerns. Eventually, he spoke.

“I see her flaws, and when I have not she has freely pointed them out to me. Yet, I do not want her to change. I can live with and adapt as I believe she can with me. I find I want to be a better man for her, although she has not once requested I change before she can be happy. Some of her sisters are uncommonly beautiful, as I know from you and Bingley. Nevertheless, I already feel a sense of loyalty to Elizabeth and have from the earliest moments of our acquaintance. I do not see other ladies. I see her. I do not want other ladies. I want her. I do not want to listen to the opinions of other ladies. I only want hers. I long to be in her company each minute of the day, Richard. I do not want to be left alone but I would rather be alone than lose her.”

“Then this is no infatuation?”

“I love her. I believe I always will.” Convinced of his own arguments, he excused himself. Desperate to find his beloved, he rushed from the room.

This time, instead of knocking her to the floor, his momentum caused her to drop the basket she was carrying. Immediately, she dropped to the floor as wiggling, complaining masses of fur emerged from the spilled wicker container.

“Puppies?” He was so stunned he forgot his purpose. “You are…hiding a litter from Bingley or you are putting them back?”

Her eyes, so overwhelmingly beautiful, sparkled with mirth blended with concern.

“I am not pilfering pups, no matter how it appears to your jaded eyes, sir.” Attempting to corral the three squirming whelps, she smiled. “Papa’s book was not the only survivor of the fire. Kitty had brought them to her bedchamber when she found out they were destined for other estates once they were weaned. Papa was insistent while Kitty was determined the three stays together. She may be silly, but her heart has a special tenderness for anything with four legs and a tail.” Halting her efforts, she placed a plump little boy in her hands while she plopped another boy into the basket and grabbed the little girl trying to make a run for it down the hall. “Can I keep them?”

“Yes.” What? Pemberley had more dogs than they needed because his sister was very much like hers. They also had a plethora of kids, calves, and lambs who grew into adulthood bearing odd names with a guarantee they would never grace anyone’s table as the main course. Before he could clarify his need to change his mind, she threw her free arm around him and squeezed, with puppies and all.

“This is exactly why I will adore you, sir.” Briefly, she rested her head on his chest. “I see your heart clearly and I love everything I see.”

“You love? Me?” He just had to ask. The puppies in his arm, along with the one currently pressed against his middle, were forgotten.

“Yes, I love you. I would not have agreed to marry you if I did not.” Lifting the wicker container, she shifted her puppy to its interior. Dropping a quick kiss to his cheek, she plucked his puppy from him and dropped it back into the basket as well. Elizabeth gave him no more notice as she sauntered down the staircase to take their new charges to the barn.

Elizabeth loved him! She wanted puppies, she could have puppies.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 15

Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.

Tomorrow we leave for the US. My heart is bleeding profusely. Yes, we are both pleased to return to English being spoken, clean water we don’t have to boil, and food safe for eating. But, we do adore the simplicity of life here in the Andes Mountains. We had a small earthquake on Thursday that was centered very close to our apartment so we all felt it except for John. He was busy watching car races with the headphones plugged in and completely missed it. How does that happen?

If you are just starting, here’s the link to Chapter One: Chapter 1

Chapter 15

 

Her response took him by surprise.

“You are bartering for me?” She pulled her hand from his clasp then fisted it at her side, poised to strike.

He had no doubt who would be her victim.

“For what purpose, Mr. Darcy?” Her voice mimicked her father’s sarcastic tone. “Am I to be set up as mistress to watch as you marry a woman more deserving than me to grace your home? Am I to be a companion to your sister as a replacement for the four I will be losing? Tell me, sir, what gentleman of good sense would bargain with a father without first declaring your purpose to the lady in question?”

Did she question his honor? How could she impugn improper motives to him, a man who had fought the fire at her home with his whole being? A man whom she had kissed seemingly willingly and eagerly? How dare she!

He stomped towards her, his stride purposeful. Leaning over Elizabeth, he knew his position was intimidating. He cared not! She deserved his anger.

“You are quick to vilify me, Miss Elizabeth, and I am now ashamed of what my feelings have been.” He waved towards the men in the room. “In front of friends and family, you accuse me of immoral plans for your person?

“Wait! What feelings?” She demanded.

“What feelings? You truly do not know?” Flummoxed, he threw his hands into the air, then endeavored to rub the confused expression that was surely covering his face.

“Tell me.” Her words were for his ears alone.

Unable to contain himself, his tone still held the surprised annoyance threatening to overrun the emotional barriers he was trying to erect.

“I love you, Elizabeth Bennet…” Dropping his hands, he tipped his head back as if beseeching the heavens for a measure of patience he had never before received. “and I fear I always will.” Turning from her, he returned to the sofa and sat. Putting his elbows on his knees, his weary body seemed to collapse into itself. Ignoring the burns on his cheeks, he yielded to the weakness in his neck and held his face between his palms, his eyes staring unseeingly at the pattern on the carpet below. “I would never degrade a woman to make her my mistress. Never!”

She approached, giving him the boldness to continue.

“I would have asked you to be my wife, the mistress of our estates, and the mother of our children.”

“Oh!” Her hand on his shoulder was gentle. “Well then, yes.”

He glanced up in time to see her curtsey. Her eyes avoided his as she scanned the room. “Gentlemen. Papa.”

Without any other acknowledgment, she left.

What on earth had happened?

***

“She is tired, Nephew, and so are you. So are all of us.” Uncle Hugh was the first to react after Elizabeth vacated the room. He snorted. “Lord, but if she does not remind me of your mother, Darcy.”

His attention was fully engaged. His mother? Lady Anne Darcy was a paragon of womanly charm. She was a lady in every sense of the word. “How do you mean?”

“I was almost your age when Anne came to me demanding my approval for her to marry George Darcy.” Lord Matlock poured himself a brandy and took a sip before continuing. “Personally, I could not see her attachment to your father. He was, much as you are, a quiet, somber man weighed down by his responsibilities. Anne was as impertinent and lively as your Miss Elizabeth.”

His uncle shook his head. “I was wrong to think she could find a better man amongst my peers who would keep her in the society of which she was accustomed.” Sipping again, he continued, “She cared not for the trappings of the ton. Nor was Pemberley what drew her to your father. She took one look at him and saw the gold buried in the stone. Anne loved him dearly.” He sighed. “They had a wonderful union. She lightened every aspect of his life until his burdens became, not only bearable but almost refreshing. She challenged him to simplify so they could spend more time together. At the same time, he grounded her and gave her purpose.

“Your father told me almost a year after her passing what he missed more than anything was the way Anne looked at matters. She pondered situations deeply and gave her opinions freely on the human aspect of any situation. George said she enriched his life more than he thought was possible.” His uncle set his glass on a side table, then looked directly at him. “I believe Miss Elizabeth will do the same for you.”

Darcy had thought the same. Did he still?

“Ask yourself, was your parent’s union always peaceful? Did you ever doubt their love for one another? Then, when you have your answers, go to Miss Elizabeth and offer your humblest apology.”

“Whatever for? She is the one who badly misjudged me.” Darcy insisted, unable to comprehend what exactly had happened.

“Nephew, you will learn, as I did with your Aunt Helen and your father did your mother, that a woman yearns to have peace while at the same time she delights in keeping her mate unsettled. It is a lady’s joy, for some odd reason.” Hugh Fitzwilliam snickered. “However, know the rewards of pleasing a woman willing to be pleased is worth begging for her approval fairly regularly. Apologizing dignifies her value in her own eyes and shows her more than actions that you value her as well. Trust me, Darcy, the first admission of wrong is the most difficult. Yet, once done and the gift received, you will soon look for opportunities to repeat yourself because there comes a rich bounty. There always does.”

Darcy did not understand and doubted he would until he had slept a day away. Nonetheless, his uncle was not a fool. He and his aunt got on fairly well.

“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet addressed him as he tried to formulate a response to Lord Matlock. “I would not have thought it after the comment you made at the assembly about my daughter’s undesirability, but I do believe you might be tempted after all.”

Bingley’s laughter bounced off each wall. “I will say so.”

“Therefore, as the father to Elizabeth, I both accept your offer of aid and extend my blessing and consent for your betrothal.” Placing both hands on the arm of the sofa, he stood and offered his hand.

Seeing the inflamed skin, Darcy adjusted his grip accordingly.

“I am betrothed?”

“You are.” At that, Mr. Bennet took a page from his daughter and left the room.

“I am betrothed.” If he repeated himself often enough he might start to believe in the truth of what he was saying. He hoped!

“Indeed, you are.” Replied his uncle and Bingley in unison.

This time it was he who retired from the library. He was betrothed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Never could he have imagined at the start of the day how it would end.

Betrothed. To Miss Elizabeth.

The world could not contain his smile.

***

Elizabeth woke to the sound of movement next to the bed. The sunlight filtering through the curtains and her eyelids indicated the day was far along. Surprised she had slept that soundly when her mind was in turmoil, she pictured the expression on Mr. Darcy’s face when she told him ‘yes’.

“You are giggling with your eyes shut, Lizzy Bennet. Would you be dreaming of your Mr. Darcy?” Jane tugged on the end of her sister’s braid. “Wake up. Lady Matlock returned from Meryton with an armload of garments that need fitted for our use. Poor Mama is beside herself to have a countess shopping for her daughters, although she did bemoan the lack of lace and ribbons.”

“I imagine so.” Elizabeth sat us and rubbed her eyes to clear the fog. “What has happened, Jane? Oh, you sound much improved.”

“I am. My throat is without pain and the stuffiness is almost gone. Perhaps standing in the cool air was more beneficial to me than I imagined.” Jane chose a yellow dress with green stripes from a small pile draped over a chair. “I believe this one will do for you.”

At that point, Elizabeth noted the details of the room. Luxuriously outfitted to reflect the beauty of a rose garden, the pink flowers on green vines creeping around the room on ivory wallpaper was lovely. Jane, in her robin’s egg blue dress with snippets of white lace at the color and the sleeves looked right at home.

“Mama was unable to contain the ire of Kitty and Lydia when they realized Lady Matlock had only procured undergarments and nightgowns for them. The Countess had been surprised to discover they were out in society so chose dresses for you, me, and Mary.” Jane’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, Lizzy, you cannot imagine how Mary looks.”

“Whatever can you mean? I am familiar with my sister from every angle.” Elizabeth teased.

“Just you wait, Lizzy Bennet.” Jane selected stockings and a new chemise from the pile. “Lady Matlock selected a dress of pale pink with petite white daisies embroidered at the collar, sleeves, waist, and hem. I swear our shy sister stood three inches taller when she was finally dressed. The Countess’ maid restyled her hair and pinched some color into her cheeks before Mary was turned to see her reflection in the mirror. Her blush was most becoming.”

Elizabeth’s chest hurt, her heart was so full. Mary was practically invisible to their parents. She often hid behind books of sermons in an effort to remain such. However, Elizabeth had long suspected she used Fordyce’s words instead of her own out of trepidation rather than piety. Perhaps, with Lady Matlock’s assistance, she could be aided to step out from behind boring tomes and antiquated opinions. We shall see!

***

The noise from the drawing room was deafening. As Elizabeth descended the stairs with Jane on one side and Mary, who indeed was captivating, on the other, they easily heard Lydia’s complaints before they had reached the ground floor.

“Lady Matlock, you simply do not understand. My own parents have allowed me to participate in society since the day I became fifteen. My Mama thinks I will be the first of her daughters to marry and I cannot think her words to be untrue. Why, how ashamed I would be to not be married by three and twenty like Jane.” Lydia was undoubtedly preening, a practiced pose she believed made her look more mature. “With the militia’s arrival, I am sure to catch the eye of many officers. I shall be wed before the holiday season, you mark my words.”

“Why on earth would an officer want you for a bride, Miss Lydia? What accomplishments have you? What experience do you have managing a home? Can you live on a much smaller income than what you are accustomed? Can you care for children?” Elizabeth could almost see Lady Matlock shaking her head, or her finger at the young girl. “What have you to recommend yourself other than your youthful vitality?”

“Why, cannot you see it?” Lydia asked, puzzled.

Oh, no! Keep your mouth shut, Lydia Marie Bennet. Elizabeth’s wish was in vain.

“Though I am the youngest, I am the tallest.” Lydia stated matter-of-factly, as if the Countess was missing the obvious.

Glancing at each of the sisters at her side, Elizabeth saw their mortification and knew her face reflected the same. While very little penetrated Jane’s mask, hearing their youngest sister express shame at being unattached at Jane’s age was brutally painful.

“Enough, Lydia.” Elizabeth marched her sisters into the fray. Disappointment with their father, who reclined in his chair with a smirk upon his face as he looked at his youngest, and their mother who saw nothing wrong with the vulgar conduct of her baby, shook her. It was agonizing to see her family as others saw them. She looked to Mr. Darcy, had been standing with his back to the group until he heard her voice.

Gratefully, his eyes were only towards her. Curtseying, she moved to stand alongside him.

“Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth,” he whispered, testing the address as if he was afraid she would object. When she did not, he continued. “you will marry me?”

She wanted to chuckle aloud, glorying in having unsettled him. “Yes, Mr. Darcy.”

“I…”

The tender moment was shattered by Lydia’s whine. Almost immediately, she was joined by Kitty.

“I have not said enough, Lizzy. This woman,” she rudely pointed to Lady Matlock, “is determined to ruin my fun and I will not have a person wholly unconnected to me changing my future on a whim. Mama said you will be able to throw me in front of rich men when you marry Mr. Darcy and I want an officer who will keep me in style, who will jealously watch me dance every dance at every society ball, and who will see I am cherished as the daughter of a gentleman. I will have my way!”

The chortle coming from the Countess said more than words. “Little Miss, should your sister throw you in front of rich men, they would simply throw you right back.” Being finished with the conversation, Lady Matlock stood and walked to where her husband was hiding himself behind a newspaper. “Hugh, would you please help this child see reason?”

Lord Matlock folded the paper carefully before looking up at his wife. Surveying the room, Elizabeth noted his eyes lingering upon her father.

“I will not.” Placing the circular upon a side table, he rose. “It is easy to see she is unreasonable as is her sister. They are lacking the firm hand and guidance of their parents. Therefore, I suspect nothing I say or do would affect them in the slightest.”

Reaching over to clasp his nephew on the shoulder, he said, “Darcy, I would insist as part of your settlement that you provide funds for schooling for those two before they cause an upset to society and embarrass the Darcy name. I also suggest they be removed to the nursery immediately. No harm will come while the militia are here.”

“But…but…” Mrs. Bennet saw her dreams of riding herself of two more children disappearing before her eyes.

Mr. Bennet, to Elizabeth’s keen shame, nodded his head, undoubtedly grateful to have someone else make his decisions for him.

“I would also suggest you marry as soon as you can obtain a license. There is no reason to wait. Miss Elizabeth’s wedding clothes can be obtained after the wedding as all of her garments will need replaced anyway.” Hugh Fitzwilliam nodded to himself. “Yes, this will also accomplish the feat of keeping Miss Lydia from being the first to the altar, or the anvil.”

Before Mr. Darcy or her father could make a reply, the butler came to the doorway of the drawing room to announce visitors.

“Mr. Bingley, I would like to present a delegation from the newly arrived militia. “Colonel Henry Forster, Captain Robert Carter, Mr. Alistair Chamberlayne, Mr. Matthew Denny, and Mr. George Wickham.”

Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, and Lydia squealed their delight. Mr. Bennet growled. Mr. Bingley smiled in welcome, Lord and Lady Matlock glared at the interruption, Jane and Mary looked at the newcomers curiously, and Mr. Darcy…well, Mr. Darcy was positively livid.

Elizabeth wondered why.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 14

I caught that nasty cold/flu going around and the medicine made my head fuzzy. I tried writing but, I’ll be honest, the results were horrible. We leave for the US one week from today. My heart is aching. These grandkids are so wonderful and we have enjoyed our time immensely.

For those who are reading along, please know that I’m only going to leave this story up for one week after I finish. The edits will be quick and I can’t have it posted anywhere so the book can be placed in Kindle Unlimited. (Amazon’s rules) So, please keep up.

If you are just starting, here’s the link to chapter one: Chapter 1

Chapter 14

 

She had waited up for him.

Standing at the foot of the grand staircase, her gaze met his as her shoulders lifted. He admired her bravery. Candlelight from the wall sconces highlighted her cheekbones but left the upper portion of her face in the shadows. He desperately needed to see her eyes—to see if they reflected welcome or disappointment at his inability to make her world right again.

Exhaustion and smoke seeped into every single pore of his weary body. The entrance hall clock chimed once to announce the change to a new day. What should have been a fresh start, a beginning, was lost to him…and to her.

Surveying her slowly from the bottom of her hem to the simple hairstyle she seemed to wear for every day, her presence, her existence soothed him, gifting him with balm for his aching heart.

He had no doubt she desperately desired hope. He had none. With one foolish gesture on the part of her father’s cousin, the Bennet family’s lives altered beyond recognition.

“I hit him.” Darcy blurted. “Mr. Collins.”

“I am pleased to hear it, sir.” She took one step towards him.

“Horseflies from the barn would have been more welcomed at Longbourn than he was.”

Her chuckle, though soft, reached beyond his tight chest to his heart.

“I fear his inclination to increase his presence in company by waving his arms about not only knocked over a candle in your father’s library, starting the fire, it caught me unawares when I was running from the house to refill my bucket. The movement, his movement, out of the corner of my eye appeared aggressive…”

“So, you struck him?” she asked, as she stepped even closer.

He nodded, deeply embarrassed to admit his lack of self-control.

“Where?”

Elizabeth, his Elizabeth, was standing directly in front of him. A twitch of his hand would be all it took to touch her. How badly he wanted to touch her.

“Where?” In his tiredness, his confusion was understandable. “I am sorry, but where what?”

She pointed to her face. “Where did you strike him?”

He should have tapped the side of his own chin. Instead, his fingers softly brushed hers.

“Did you hit him hard?”

He nodded again, momentarily forgetting the thread of their conversation.

“With all my might,” he confessed.

Leaning forward, her lips brushed his chin. “Thank you.” Her whispered words danced across his skin, sending a shiver down his spine.

Her invitation was clear. The longing in this kiss surpassed the three the day prior. This time, I was her fingers in his hair as she rose to meet him. Succor came before passion, but when it flared, the heat rose to brand this woman into his soul.

He loved her. What had been want and need now were replaced with a desire previously unknown to him.

The acrid scent of smoke from her dress reached his nostrils, a reminder of what she had gone through. She had no clothes to replace what she had on. None of her family did. The devastation was complete.

A tendril of doubt started to waft between them, breaking the link binding them together. Could she love him when she learned he had been unable to save her family home, her cherished memories? Would she be able to leave off her care and stewardship of her sisters to someone less capable if he were to take her away? So many questions filtered into his brain, he stepped back away from her, dropping his arms to his sides. He was undeserving.

“Elizabeth. Miss Elizabeth,” he corrected himself. “The fire…”

“I know,” she tenderly reassured him. “I was in the room with Papa when Mr. Bingley and Lord Matlock returned from Longbourn almost two hours ago.”

“Then you know the extent…” he hated to say the words.

“Yes, I do.” She reached for his hand.

He could not stop the flinch when she inadvertently brushed her fingers over a burn.

“Sir, pray accept my humblest apologies for giving you injury with the pot and…” Elizabeth she caressed the back of his hand with her own. “…for the injuries you sustained on our behalf. We shall never be able to repay you for what you have done.”

When he felt her tears hit his palm, he was completely undone. “If you will thank me,” he replied, “let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owes me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.”

This kiss was gentle and sweet, born of tender affection and care.

He was exhausted and was losing control by the second. Needing to re-establish his self-control, he changed the subject quickly.

“Your father?”

“He…” Elizabeth faltered. Clearing her throat, she continued, “he is both grieving and berating himself for the position he finds himself in.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?” A masculine voice preceded the heavy steps of a man coming slowly down the staircase. “For if you do, then you are a much wiser man than I am.”

“Papa, should you be up from your bed?” Elizabeth left him to hurry to her father. “Dr. Stevenson will not be pleased.”

“I am well enough, Lizzy.” Shrugging, he asked, “Mr. Darcy, might you come into the room Mr. Bingley has christened a library?”

Darcy heard the sarcasm but overlooked it due to the stress the man had undergone. Elizabeth did not.

“Papa, our host kindly offered his home.”

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Bennet waved off his daughter’s attempts to adjust a poor attitude. “I know. I know. Your mother will not cease proclaiming the blessings of being housed in the finest estate in Hertfordshire.” Under his breath, he muttered, “as if Longbourn was a pig sty she was forced to inhabit for the past four and twenty years.”

He followed father and daughter into the room. The footman who had undoubtedly observed all that had happened in the entrance hall immediately tended the fire and offered a tray. Once his services were complete, he shut the door behind him as he left the room. Within seconds, he rapped softly and announced his uncle and Bingley.

“Lizzy, perhaps it is best you retire to your room,” her father suggested.

Darcy wanted to scoff. As little as he knew of her character, she would be most unwilling to depart the discussion they were soon to have. Her immediate denial proved him correct. When she seated herself across from the sofa where Mr. Bennet now perched, her father raised his brows but said nothing.

Darcy made his choice. When Bingley took the seat next to Elizabeth’s father, Darcy sat next to her. His uncle stood with his back to the fire. Mr. Bennet looked between his daughter and Darcy yet said nothing.

Lord Matlock broke the silence. “In the distress of the day, many decisions were made that will have an impact on the residents of Meryton and Hertfordshire. Mr. Bingley, might we start with you?”

Charles Bingley shrugged his acceptance.

“Despite the size of Netherfield Park, we had not the rooms we needed to house everyone. Thus, once Dr. Stevenson treated Mr. Bennet’s burns and tended to Colonel Fitzwilliam, he accepted the offer from Sir William to stay at Lucas Lodge.”

Darcy was grateful the man was no longer in close proximity to his Elizabeth.

“Approximately one-hour past, Mr. Collins applied to the house for a room. Since we were unable to provide according to all he seemed to require, my carriage took him to the Rose and Crown where the footman made sure he obtained a bed.”

All the men nodded with pleasure while Elizabeth could not contain a small grin. It was more than the man deserved.

“When Caroline and Louisa realized all the Bennet family would be in residence for an extended period of time, they chose to return post-haste to London, which freed enough chambers for the whole of the Bennet family plus their senior staff.”

Darcy wanted to jump up and click his heels. Caroline Bingley gone! Surely, it was the best news of the day.

“In whole unrelated news, it was reported to me by Sir William that a militia will arrive on the morrow to encamp outside Meryton. As well, Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty have requested the carriage be readied first thing to take them shopping for clothing and items needed by young ladies to replace what was lost in the fire. When told my carriage had not yet returned from delivering my sisters and Mr. Hurst to London, they were saddened to realize they would be welcoming the officers in soiled garments.”

When Bingley looked back to Lord Matlock, Darcy knew he was finished.

“Because Mr. Collins will surely run back to Rosings Park, I have no doubt my sister, Cathy, will rush to Hertfordshire to oversee restoration efforts or whatever tasks will need undertaken at this juncture.” Darcy’s Uncle Hugh scoffed. “Would she remain in Kent!”

Darcy did not doubt his assumption, both that Mr. Collins no longer felt welcome and that his Aunt Catherine would believe she alone had the knowledge and insight to determine what needed done.

“Would this be the inestimable Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Mr. Bennet inquired, the acrimony dripping from his tongue.

“Yes, it would be.” Lord Matlock confirmed. “Do not be concerned that you shall have to turn her away, Mr. Bingley. She is a hard woman to convince to bend to someone else’s will. Nonetheless, I have had decades of practice.” He turned to his host. “Bingley, Lady Matlock will act has hostess in the absence of your sister. She, too, is well qualified to see Lady Catherine does not meddle where she is not wanted or needed.”

Bingley’s relief was intense. Darcy had shared a little of his aunt’s habits and desires over the years. With his kindly nature, she would eat the younger man alive.

“Mr. Bennet,” Uncle Hugh addressed the man at the root of all the drama. “Does Longbourn have a dower house and is it ready to be inhabited?”

“I…no, the dower house has not been used for over twenty years.” The sharp edges to Elizabeth’s father melted away. Left behind was a man lost. “We are a family of seven with a household staff of six. We have no place to go, nowhere to turn.”

When Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears and her chin sank to her chest, all became clear. Visions of her standing with the estate accounts book tightly squeezed in her arms told a story that would not have a happy ending. If Darcy’s guess what correct, there would be no money to rebuild and no inclination on Mr. Bennet’s part to do so now that his golden treasure room was gone.

“Is there unused land to sell which could add to the funds needed to buy materials?” He suggested?

Elizabeth looked up sharply as her father shook his head.

“Papa, the east field bordering Netherfield Park has been dormant for as long as I can remember.” Elizabeth suggested, hopefully.

“And it will remain so unless Mr. Bingley’s steward suggests it be planted.” With one sentence, her father dashed the light in his daughter’s eyes. “The land was purchased by Mr. Morris for inclusion in the Netherfield estate two years ago, so I could purchase the complete works of the Bard when they came up for auction. Now, they are gone. All gone.”

Her hands went to her chest. Darcy was immediately concerned.

“Papa!” Her hushed whisper was pained. “That was our only…”

“Yes, Lizzy, I know.” Mr. Bennet rested his head against the back of the chair, staring at the ceiling. “I have been a selfish man, looking after my own comforts and pleasures rather than that of my family. I have not taken charge of our finances. Your worst fears, expressed only days ago have come to fruition.”

“Papa, do not…” she started, only to be interrupted.

“No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

Anger rose in Darcy’s chest until he could no longer contain his words. With his last words, Mr. Bennet willingly abdicated the future of his family to his second daughter. Easily foreseen would be his Elizabeth working herself to an early grave to provide somehow for her ungrateful parents, becoming a slave to the whims of the children who gave birth to all five children.

Never!

“Mr. Bennet, if I may be so bold, I have a solution to offer.” Darcy spoke up after clasping Elizabeth’s hand in his.

“Yes, young man? I find I am at my leisure.”

His reply served to increase Darcy’s ire. With it, the terms of his offer became crystal clear.

“Sir, I will take on the expense of purchasing a home sizeable enough for the seven Bennets and your six household servants. I will include enough funds, to be spent at the discretion of both Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth, to replace the personal items destroyed. I will hire a steward for Longbourn to oversee the crops and tenants with all funds except the minimum to be added to the portions already existing for your five daughters.” Darcy stood, pulling Elizabeth up alongside him. “Furthermore, I will hire works to raze Longbourn to the ground since all that will be left standing by morning will be the stone casing. I will not rebuild only to have that fool Collins inhabit a house he does not deserve to live in. When he inherits, he can see to the expense.”

Mr. Bennet put his hand to his chin before quickly pulling it away from the painful blisters.

“And, what do you get for your generosity, young man?”

Only what he wanted more than anything upon earth.

“Elizabeth.”

Letter of the Law – Chapter 13

Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.

The story is moving fast. Things are about to take a drastic change (as you will see by the end of this chapter). What will it mean? I’m starting chapter 14 as soon as I post this chapter. Please remember that I’m not proofreading it. I post as soon as I finish typing. All the best to all of you!

Chapter 13

 

Grateful to see the approach to Longbourn, Elizabeth reflected on all that had happened since she left her home earlier that day. By the time the carriage pulled to a stop, she had determined not to return to Netherfield Park. Ever! Someone else could finish the story.

Before the footman could help her from the conveyance, an unknown man burst through the front door of her house, almost ripping it off the hinges. He was a heavyset man dressed completely in black with a narrow white collar pressed between the folds of his garment and his neck. His age was indeterminable as his head was tipped downward to check his steps on the cobblestones and avoid as much of the rainfall as possible.

What a curious fellow.

He passed her by as if she was invisible only to step into the carriage unassisted. Elizabeth wondered if he was an acquaintance of Mr. Darcy as it was the gentleman’s coach. Almost before she concluded her thought, the man disembarked to return to the house, completely ignoring her presence.

“Mrs. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” The man yelled, his nasal voice traveling easily through the door he had left open. “Mr. Darcy’s carriage has graced your humble home with its presence. I need to know now how this has come to pass. Mrs. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!”

As Elizabeth wandered up the pathway, she concluded the only person expected that day was her father’s cousin, Mr. Collins. In all honesty, the first impression he gave was not good. Unbeknownst to her, a fleeting desire to share her first reaction to the man with Mr. Darcy popped up and almost moved her back into the coach. She quickly squelched the yearning to share. No doubt, Mr. Darcy would believe her to be the last person on the planet he would want to encounter.

Her mother glanced through the opened doorway. “Oh, it is only you, Lizzy.” At that, she stepped back inside the house to calm their guest.

This was to be her future husband? She shuddered. Never!

***

“Lizzy, what has happened?”

Elizabeth wrung her hands as she paced back and forth from the window in their bedroom to the door and back again.

“I hardly know where to begin.” Exhaling quickly, she seated herself across from Jane. “Colonel Fitzwilliam asked for privacy to speak with me.”

“Oh, Lizzy, he is a genial man who appears to handle responsibility well.” Jane swallowed, and Elizabeth knew she was thinking of her disappointment with Mr. Bingley’s inability to take charge of his household. “Do you love him?”

“It matters not as he used the time to praise his cousin, Mr. Darcy.” At the lift of Jane’s brow in puzzlement, she continued. “Oddly enough, Mr. Darcy had done the same about his cousin when we spoke on the way to Netherfield Park. It was as if both men were attempting to convince me that the other is one I should consider. I do not know what these men are about. I do know, with confidence, that I do not love Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

“And, Mr. Darcy?”

“I do not know that what I am feeling is even closely related to love.” Elizabeth attempted to arrange her thoughts in order. “He kissed me.”

“Mr. Darcy? What did you do?” Jane leaned forward to not miss a word of her sister’s reply.

Shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly, she blandly stated, “I kissed him back.”

“Elizabeth Margaret Bennet!” Jane’s blush was as brilliant as hers surely was. “What was it like?”

“Heart-stopping. Stunning. Wonderful. Magnificent. Frightening. Worrying.”

“Worrying?”

Elizabeth dropped her chin. Speaking quietly, she said, “Jane, I do not know what he meant by it. He immediately backed away from me and apologized. He acted like he would rather forget it had happened.”

“Did anyone witness your first kiss?”

“Do you mean my first, second, and third kiss?” Elizabeth saw the humor and chuckled. “His uncle, Lord Matlock, came upon us as we were sprawled on the floor in the upstairs hallway, our mouths pressed together where not a breath could pass between us from our lips to our toes. I cannot imagine the thoughts running through the poor man’s mind. After all, his son had just requested a private conversation.”

“Oh, no. Will he claim compromise?”

“I cannot imagine he would be desirous of his nephew becoming attached to the second daughter of an insignificant landowner. He is an earl who exudes authority. I cannot see it happening.” A compromise had not occurred to her. “I am sure he has a bevy of society maidens he would rather see attached to his son and his nephew than me.”

“Do not diminish your beauty or your appeal, Lizzy. Mr. Darcy sees no one else when you are in the room. I have yet to meet the Colonel, but do not doubt he also finds your charms to be sufficient.”

“Thus, speaks a beloved sister!”

“He kissed you, Lizzy. Repeatedly.” Jane’s smile lit her face. “I cannot imagine a man being so overcome with passion he resorted to the only action crossing his mind. I certainly have never inspired strong enough feelings to move a gentleman to act…ungentlemanly. You cannot be steadfast in your claims.”

“Jane, men are strange creatures. If Mr. Darcy cared, why did he spend what little time we had alone to convince me his cousin was the better man. If the Colonel cared, why did he do the same with Mr. Darcy? And, why would Lord Matlock find humor in discovering his nephew and me entangled on the floor? And, why would Mr. Collins greet Mr. Darcy’s carriage like it was an extension of the man? I simply cannot figure out the male species. They are odd.”

Jane chuckled. “Our father’s cousin is a much different representative of their sex than the gentlemen of Netherfield Park, is he not? He spent his first minutes inside Longbourn admiring the furnishings and inquiring as to their cost. He draws out each syllable of speech until I wondered if he assumed we were simple. And, Lizzy, wait until you see him engaged in conversation. He flaps his arms in the same manner a bird does when taking flight against a strong wind.”

By then, Elizabeth had tears of mirth flowing down her cheeks.

“Oh, how I needed you, Jane dear.” Wiping her eyes, she vowed, “I believe the course of wisdom for us Bennet females is to remain unwed. After all, who could possibly appeal after what we have seen this past fortnight?”

Jane was quick to agree. “Now, tell me, did you happen to get a glimpse of Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Bingley’s feet?”

***

“I shall leave you two boys alone. This way I can enjoy the quiet of the drawing room for some reading. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst appear to be avoiding my company.” Aunt Helen grinned.

“Sulking, most likely.”

“You are undoubtedly correct, Richie.” Lady Matlock patted her son’s hand before leaving the room. Turning to her nephew, she addressed him directly, “I cannot pretend to guess what happened outside this door, but you are wearing your guilt like your best coat, Will. Do you need my attention or is the sole company of your cousin what is necessary to ease your mind?”

Darcy marveled at her discernment.

“Richard, please.”

Nodding, she turned to leave the room, stopping at the doorway long enough to note, “Whatever Hugh witnessed that stirred his humor, the footman also saw. I expect you to accept, with dignity, any accountability for what transpired, Nephew. We could hear the firm tone of Miss Elizabeth, although we did not hear the words.”

Darcy gulped, then gave a brief tip of his head in agreement. Once she was gone from the room and the door firmly closed, he realized he did not know how to begin. How do you confess to being a traitor to someone you hold in high esteem? Darcy had not a clue.

“Out with it, Darcy. Your pacing is making me nervous enough I long to jump from this bed and shake you until your tongue wags.” Richard gave him the opening he needed.

“What I have to share, Rich, will be more difficult than any conversation we have had before.” Darcy considered it a good start.

“Harder than when I had to tell you it was me who put mud in your new boots, not Wickham?” Richard smiled at the memory. “Or, that same summer, what was it, my ninth?”

“Yes. I was newly turned seven. Those boots were handmade to match my father’s. They were my first grownup apparel and I treasured them.”

“Or, harder than when I confessed it was me who hid your garments while you were swimming at the pond? What, was that the same summer?”

“It was. You were full of mischief. If I recall correctly, you first attempted to blame Wickham that time as well.”

“I did. He was an easy target for blame.”

Inhaling deeply, he took a seat next to the bed, dropping his folded hands between his legs as his chin hit his chest. Looking back to his cousin, he despised himself for the hurt he was going to cause. He knew no way to make the task any easier.

“I kissed Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth? You kissed her? That is what she was yelling about?” Richard’s mouth dropped open, such was his surprise.

“Miss Elizabeth. And, yes, I kissed her three times in fairly quick succession.” Fear gripped him as he waited for judgment. “Pray, know that it was not planned. It was the actions of a moment with no forethought.”

“You had not thought of kissing her? I have!”

Warmth flooded Darcy’s cheeks as he whispered as if to himself, “Indeed, I have.”

Then, there was silence, a quiet stillness of the room broken by the sound of his breathing ringing loudly in his ears. When Richard’s chest moved, Darcy became aware he was not the only one taking in air. He was grateful he had not stunned his cousin to the extent he should concern himself with his continued health.

“You kissed Miss Elizabeth three times?” Richard mused. “Hmmm.”

Darcy still said nothing.

“Did she willingly return the kiss?”

Clearing his throat, Darcy replied, trying to calm himself, “not the first kiss. She instigated the second and I have no idea who was responsible for the third.”

The Colonel repeated the string of words and phrases he had used upon his injury. Darcy chose not to interrupt him. He was clearly in the wrong. When his cousin ceased speaking, he glanced at him to see if he could read any clues as to his thinking.

Nothing.

Finally, he could stand the silence no more.

“Rich, if you feel the need to box my ears or run me through, I will gladly stand close enough for you to do so. I will even provide the sword.” His words sounded rushed. “Should you be willing to continue with your plans, despite knowing I took advantage of Miss Elizabeth, I will remove myself from the competition. I will pack and leave within the hour.”

“You would, would you?”

His cousin continued to refuse to look at him. Darcy felt worse with each passing second. Deciding the best move would be to leave, he stood to go.

“What plans?” The Colonel interrupted his movement.

What did he mean, what plans? Darcy looked at the decanter next to the bed. Water, not whisky or brandy. Shaking his head, he replied, “your betrothal.”

“I am betrothed?” Richard tilted his head whereupon his eyes landed on his cousin. “I think not unless my father has gone behind my back and arranged something of which I am not aware.”

“To Miss Elizabeth. You must know as you yourself requested a private conversation with her. Right after she concluded her reading. Do you not remember?”

“Oh, I clearly recall asking for the private moment and I recollect every word spoken between the two of us. However, I do not remember asking for her hand nor do I believe she gave me a reply. I have no idea at all of what you are speaking.”

It was then Darcy spied the twinkle. To him, this was not a subject for jest.

“You are not betrothed to Miss Elizabeth?” He needed to hear the declaration with his own ears.

“I am not.”

“Thank the Lord in heaven!” With that, he fled the room yelling for his horse. He had an important question to ask the woman whose heart filled his own. He barely heard Richard’s laughter as he ran the length of the hallway to his room.

***

“No, Papa, no!” Elizabeth grabbed her father’s arm, attempting to keep him from running back inside Longbourn. “It is too late.”

Her father shook off her hands and headed back into the smoke and destruction of their beloved home. Surveying the others, family and the older servants alike standing under the heavy branches of the old oak tree situated to the side of the house, she realized, to her relief, none had been harmed. Jane was busy tending the small burns incurred from the flying embers as they all ran from the building.

How she wished she could cause harm to Mr. Collins. Despite the fire, which started in her father’s library, being the result of his actions, he offered no apology—only pithy comments about the loss of his inheritance and what a regret that was. Elizabeth wanted to take one of the buckets being filled from the pond by the rest of the staff and hit the man over the head with it. The clergyman made no offer of assistance or even a sympathetic word to those who would soon be homeless.

Grabbing a large pot that had been thrown out of the kitchen, she ran to the pond. Even with the pouring rain she knew their efforts would be in vain. With the sheer volume of books and papers in her father’s bookroom adding fuel to the flames and the fabrics draped on every surface by her lace-addicted mother, there was little hope much could be saved. Nonetheless, she needed to make an effort.

Francine Bennet wailed in chorus with her three youngest daughters. Finally, the groom had the nervous horses hitched to the carriage which would carry them to her sister’s house in Meryton. They added nothing but distress to a horrid situation. Her relief was great to have them off the estate property.

Running back and forth, she missed the arrival of Mr. Darcy. When someone strong grabbed her arms on her way by, she swung the empty pot at the person who dared to keep her from her task. His grunt let her know she had hit her target.

“Miss Elizabeth!”

Surprised at Mr. Darcy’s presence, she stopped long enough to beg him to rescue her father. Rushing her words so he could attend to the task, she beseeched him, “Pray help my father. In vain he is striving to rescue his books. Yet, the fire started in the room. I worry…please…help him.”

Before she finished he was rushing inside Longbourn.

Within minutes, although it felt like hours, he dragged a coughing Mr. Bennet from the residence. Elizabeth could see her father fighting Mr. Darcy’s efforts to save and protect him. Foolish man! Two of the estate’s tenants diverted to pour their buckets over the Master’s charred clothing. Only then did she become aware of the burns.

Large inflamed blisters covered the backs of his hands, his face, and his neck. The smell of the burnt portions of his hair and eyebrows turned her stomach. Of all that had happened, this, by far, was the most devastating.

Her Papa. Her beloved father was severely injured. Keeping him in the rain may have eased the pain of his burns, but the quaking of his shoulders and quivering of his hands motivated her to instruct the men to help him to shelter with the others under the tree.

Once relieved of his burden, Mr. Darcy, without seeking her out, quickly mounted his horse and raced towards Netherfield Park.

What? She needed him beside her? Who would help her be strong? Who would help her care for those displaced? Who would…who would…?

Salt from one of the raindrops slid down her cheek to the corner of her mouth. Only then did she acknowledge her tears. Standing alone in front of Longbourn she felt the foundation of everything she had known shift, leaving her off-balance.

What on earth was she supposed to do?

Letter of the Law – Chapter 12

Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.

I thank all of you for your patience. I am too easily distracted by my grandchildren. And, we have a young friend visiting from Oregon for two weeks. It’s her first time out of the country so her first time visiting Ecuador. Yesterday we climbed (in a taxi) to 11,741 feet to shop for leather goods in a small community called Quisapincha. She bought cute boots suitable for an 18-year-old (she is 18) and I bought wonderfully comfortable boots that fit like a glove. Then the altitude got to me so we hurried back down to a more reasonable 9,000 ft. Phew!

This chapter is about 800 words shorter than the others but I think you will agree it’s full of action and definitely moves the story forward. Did you see this coming? Chapter 13 starts with Elizabeth revealing to Jane her conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Are you curious? Me too!!!!! I’m going to rest a bit and type some more. This is getting EXCITING!!!

If you are just starting, here is the link to Chapter One: Chapter One

Chapter 12

 

“I have called my carriage for you, Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy had enjoyed her reading and translation as much as he had the day prior. Fleeting images of her in his home solidified his goal of making her his bride.

How foolish he had been to think her below him. She had kindly welcomed his aunt and uncle, in addition to Dr. Stevenson, into Richard’s chambers as if they were her own domain. She would be the queen of any castle she presided over. Any man would be proud to have her bear his name. He would be proud.

She looked out the window as the heavy mist turned into drops of rain. Tucking the book into her satchel, she curtseyed her approval of his plans.

“Miss Elizabeth,” his cousin caught her attention. “You honor me with your presence.”

“Thank you, kind sir.” Leaving the leather bundle on the table next to the door, she returned to his bedside.

Darcy was stunned when Richard reached over to clasp her hand in his. What was his cousin up to? What plans or schemes did he have in mind? Panic rushed through Darcy’s chest.

“Might I have a moment, Miss Elizabeth.” The Colonel glanced around the room. “In private?”

“No!” It was out of his mouth before he could stop it. Where was his self-control? Where was the stern Master of Pemberley who could ignore company and keep himself restrained?

All attention from the occupants of the room now focused solely on him. Clearing his throat, he blurted, “I cannot imagine her father would approve of Miss Elizabeth being alone with you here. Might one of your parents remain? Or, myself?” He heard the desperation in his voice.

Richard grinned, aware of his plight.

“You stay, Darce, if you would.”

No! Oh, no! What? Me? Stay and hear his declaration of devotion to the woman I long to have as my wife? Impossible!

“Yes, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth added. “Pray, stay.”

He looked from one to the other, their hands joined as if an offer had already been made and accepted.

“I cannot.” He left.

***

“Please, be seated.” Richard released her fingers and straightened the top blanket despite it not having moved a smidgen. “Mother, would you please attend us? I have something of vital importance to address with the young lady.”

As the ladies sat, Richard could no longer contain his smile.

***

“What are your intentions, Darcy.”

His uncle, every inch the Earl of Matlock, had captured his attention as soon as he stepped outside Richard’s bedchamber. Now ensconced in Bingley’s library where they would not be disturbed, Darcy never wavered as he endeavored to discern his Uncle Hugh’s viewpoint on the subject.

“Has Richard spoke to you, then?”

“He has.”

“What is your opinion?” Darcy was being evasive, not out of fear, but to determine how best to address matters of the heart, something he had never done before.

“Knowing a woman for, what has it been, a fortnight?” At Darcy’s nod, he continued. “What can you truly know of a woman’s character in such a short period of time? They are, at the same time, the world’s greatest treasure and the most confounding puzzle. Rules of propriety do not allow for lengthy conversations nor the privacy to engage each other so you can understand whether or not she would be a fitting mate.”

“I agree.” Nodding his head, he added, “At first, I overlooked her as being worthy of consideration. Upon my second glance, I found a lady steeped in kindness and consideration who sought, not her own pleasure, but that of others. She has done nothing to attract my attention and has, in fact, agreed to assist me in finding a wife.”

“What is this?”

Darcy chuckled at his uncle’s shock. He understood his confusion.

“When I explained the details of the codicil in my father’s will, she quickly recognized my loving concern for Georgianna and the need for not just any female to become my bride, but one who would tenderly care for a sister much younger and inexperienced than myself.”

“And, you say she did not offer herself, even knowing your desperate circumstances?”

“She did not.”

“Richard said her father is an educated gentleman with an estate nearby that has been in the family for two centuries.”

“This is true. However, you should know the property is entailed upon Aunt Catherine’s parson, Mr. Collins, who arrives today to secure Miss Elizabeth’s hand in marriage to provide a home for the Bennet ladies should Mr. Bennet die.”

“What!” Lord Matlock sputtered. “I was given to believe that you and Richard were competing for the lady’s heart and hand.”

“You are forgetting Dr. Stevenson, Uncle. Despite bowing out of the running, he still considers Miss Elizabeth the perfect wife for a physician with a growing practice.”

“Pshaw! Who are he and this Mr. Collins to you and my son?” Uncle Hugh flicked his hand as if disposing of the gentlemen as unworthy of consideration. “Hmmm.” Rubbing his chin, he considered, “Is Miss Elizabeth aware she is the object of so many men’s interest?”

“I believe she is completely unaware.” Darcy was finally on solid ground. “She scorns her father’s cousin based on the ridiculous letter of introduction he sent ahead of his arrival. When she is in the same room with Dr. Stevenson, she politely enters into discourse when appropriate, but their interchanges are based on mundane topics.”

“With you?”

“Hah!” He smiled. “Since meeting Miss Elizabeth we have engaged in a verbal battle of wills on more than one occasion. Trust me, Uncle, she is more than capable of holding her own and carrying her point. She fears not the strong opinions of others and does not hesitate to share her version of sensitive subject matter. Rather, she tends to approach a topic with reason unless the subject is someone she loves and admires, such as her eldest sister. Then, she becomes fierce, a warrior queen. I cannot imagine spending wasted minutes discussing the weather or the roads. Her mind is active, alive.”

“Hmmm.” His uncle rested his head against the back of the chair, his vision somewhere distant. “You are saying she acts appropriately in company, she is an engaging conversationalist, and loyal to her family. Will she marry this man…this Collins…to protect her family?”

“She will not.”

“How can you be sure, Darcy? I know of no woman who does not give consideration to their own future security. If offered without the hope from anyone else, which would be how she would see things if she is, as you state, truly unaware, a wise woman would leap at the chance to become the mistress of her own home. You are a fool to believe otherwise.”

“I cannot agree, Uncle.” Darcy leaned forward in his chair, his hands gripping both arms. “Twice I have asked Miss Elizabeth if she could see herself as my bride. Twice she laughed at me, believing I was in jest. Her conviction is that matters of the heart will determine whether or not she marries rather than matters of financial gain. Unless her father refuses to stand behind her, she will not accept anyone she does not admire and respect.”

“Where I understand your confidence in the daughter, can you feel the same about the father?”

Anxiety swirled through his chest until it reached its ugly tentacles down his extremities, making his hands shake. Why had he not thought of that? He guessed Miss Elizabeth to be close to her majority but was not confident she had yet reached the age of one and twenty. Could she escape bending to her father’s will should he exercise his right to determine her future? What options would she have?

“Oh, Lord.” Now, it was Darcy rubbing his chin.

“You will offer for her?”

“I would if I could. However, I cannot.” Frustration at the situation gripped him. His love for his cousin overrode the growing affection he was feeling for Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He would do the honorable thing, despite feeling like his heart was being ripped from his chest.

“Cannot or will not?”

He sighed. “Uncle, she is a wonderful young woman full of life. While I desire her alongside me for the rest of my years, I cannot deny how these changed circumstances will require Richard to have a loyal mate who cares not for the trappings of society. She would bring happiness to a well-deserving man, one who has sacrificed for others at the risk of his own life. I know of no other female who could aid his transformation from an active officer to a sedentary landowner.”

“Landowner?”

“Yes, I have offered him Alderwood as a gift. His first instinct was refusal. Yet, it would allow him to marry quickly and have a home to take his bride.” He almost choked on the words.

“I see.” Lord Matlock pondered. “Then, what happens after they marry? They will be living close to Pemberley. How will you feel when you see them together? When you see her increasing with their first child? When you think of Richard taking her to his bed?”

“Stop!” Darcy jumped from the chair. “I will not allow my mind to travel that road, Uncle.” Closing his eyes to the words swirling in his brain, he shuddered briefly before gaining control. “Pray, excuse me. My horse is in need of a gallop.”

Ignoring the pouring rain outside the window, he left the room, rushing upstairs to changing into his riding clothes. It was a cowardly move to ride from his problems, but he was out of options.

Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, carrying Richard’s child resulting in the activities from their private bedchamber…

Taking two stairs at a time, he reached the landing at almost a run. Unable to avoid the collision when he realized he was moving too quickly and someone was just approaching the stairs to descend, he grabbed Miss Elizabeth around the waist and twisted so she fell on top of him while his back landed against the floor.

His head thumped against the carpeted hallway. Her elbow jabbed him in his side while her forehead rapped his chin. Like before, his arms instinctively wrapped around her waist. Her hands landed on his chest.

Dazed, he did the only thing filling his mind. Lifting his head from the floor, he kissed her.

She smelled like heaven.

Briefly, she pushed against him and pulled away from him. He was bereft. His eyes shot open in time to see hers close as she lowered her mouth to his. This kiss was mutual, startlingly sweet.

One hand moved from her waist to the back of her neck where he tenderly threaded his fingers into her hair. Hers caressed the sides of his face.

Their third kiss escalated past wonderful to breathtakingly magnificent. She tasted like…heaven…and sweet honey…and wonderous…something. His brain no longer functioned.

His uncle cleared his throat for the third time before the sound filtered into his consciousness. Awareness of his circumstances battled with the perfection of his situation, immediately followed by horror. He was kissing his cousin’s betrothed!

Shame filled him from head to toe. What had he done.

Scrambling to set Miss Elizabeth aside, he offered his most sincere apology.

“Forgive me, I pray you.” As Lord Matlock assisted her to stand, he backed up against the wall, his eyes unable to meet the accusation he knew he would find in hers. “I was not thinking…I only…I only…” He glanced to his uncle. “Pardon me.” Without looking back, he walked to his rooms, castigating him for his egregious error with each step.

“Mr. Darcy,” she demanded. “Do not take one more step away from me.”

He stopped in place, suddenly aware of her intense anger. Spinning, he looked at her, truly looked. Had he thought her fierce before, he had clearly understated matters. This was a woman angered beyond male comprehension.

Walking slowly towards him, uncaring of her hair cascading down her back where he had loosened her pins, she stopped within an easy hand reach of him.

“How dare you!” Her breathing was quick. Her coloring a fiery red. “How dare you kiss me and then apologize. You, sir, are no gentleman.”

With those few words she turned, walked down the hallway barely acknowledging his uncle, descended the stairs, and left Netherfield Park with such grace and command that he felt he should offer a courtly bow.

Uncle Hugh snorted. Then, he laughed. Darcy saw nothing funny in all that had happened. Disgusted with himself he, instead of going to his own room, stood outside his cousin’s chamber. Miss Elizabeth was not the only one he owed an apology. Single-handedly he had injured a man he admired, betraying his closest friend.

Blast! What a mess he had made of things. He deserved no forgiveness, no mercy.

Gripping the handle, he stepped inside.

New Release – Friends and Enemies on Audiobook

This week some exciting things happened with Audible and iTunes. I reached my 4,000+ sale of audiobooks and launched “Friends & Enemies” on audio. Stevie Zimmerman is my narrator/producer and she is AMAZING!!! Here is the link should you want to listen to a sample: Friends and Enemies

This story was particularly challenging as it is Darcy’s point-of-view and there are many, many character voices Stevie had to make come alive. She’s brilliant. Plus, the emotions Darcy goes through in this story range from the depth of despair to pure joy. I’m gobsmacked by the talent of my narrator.

I do hope you give it a listen.  (The audio sample is below the cover photo on the above link.) Enjoy!

Letter of the Law – Chapter 11

Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.

I’m typing fast and furiously. If you are just starting, here’s the link to Chapter One: Chapter One

Chapter 11

 

Darcy had no idea of the turmoil he was walking into when he descended the stairs. Richard had fallen asleep as his mother caressed his hand while his father paced and worried. Dr. Stevenson had returned to the drawing room moments before.

Six Bennet females and one Miss Lucas along with her father were being assisted by numerous maid and footmen as they sorted through coats, pelisses, scarves, and gloves. Dr. Stevenson’s full attention was devoted to Miss Jane Bennet.

Glancing back towards Bingley’s study, Darcy caught his friend’s eyes, only to observe him shake his head and shrug his shoulders.

Miss Bennet was practically swaying on her feet as she assured the physician she was more than able to make the journey home. Miss Elizabeth failed to look Darcy’s way at all. Mrs. Bennet and her other daughters hesitated as long as possible in donning their outerwear, possibly in hopes of spending more time with his aunt and uncle. However, a quick whisper from Miss Elizabeth to her mother had them scurrying outside. Sir William and Miss Lucas were right behind them.

He failed completely to understand what was happening. Neither of Bingley’s sisters had deigned to see their guests from the house. Instead, he could see Miss Bingley’s tall feathers bobbing back and forth where she sat on the sofa gesturing a good riddance, in the manner of Patroclus from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

Hoping to gain some insight, he entered Bingley’s study, closing the door behind him.

“She refused me.” Bingley dropped his head into his palms, elbows firmly planted on the desk.

“Pardon me? Who refused you? Miss Bennet?” Darcy was flummoxed. “When did you have a chance to offer for her? Has she not been in her room for the past few days?”

“No, not Miss Bennet.” Sighing, Bingley finally raised his head. “You were correct in everything you said about me. I have been a flirt.”

“I fail to understand.”

“You warned me several times about the danger of being overly friendly with ladies who were unattached. Specifically, you noted my expressions of affection to Miss Lucas.” Bingley rubbed his hand over his face. Before he set them on the desk, Darcy noted they quivered. “I have erred most grievously. Sir William asked me about my intentions. I felt like he was pressing me into a corner where the only way out was to offer for his daughter.”

“And, she said ‘no’,” Darcy surmised, saving his young friend from having to say it again.

“She did.” Slapping his palms flat on the desktop, Bingley continued, “She stood before me a dignified woman. She allowed me to say the words and told me she had never hoped to hear them so well-delivered to her. Then she explained how marrying a flirt, a man without honor and loyalty, would cause her immense pain and suffering over the lifetime of a marriage. She would rather remain a spinster…” When Darcy started to interrupt, incensed Bingley had chosen to use such a horrible word, Bingley raised his hand to stop him. “Yes, she used the word in describing herself, Darcy as she delineated why she would rather remain unwed than be joined to me. Me!”

“Charles, I do not know what to say.” Indeed, Darcy was at a loss.

“If only this was the only matter she addressed.” Bingley huffed. “Miss Lucas outlined several powerful reasons why an intelligent female would not want to remain in a house, even as the mistress, with my sisters present. Evidently, the blatant rudeness and arrogance at the assembly and upon further association have given warning to the unmarried ladies of the shire, including Miss Bennet, of my not taking Caroline to task for her poor behavior. The general opinion of my character is one of weakness.”

“I see.”

“I know. I know. You have spoken to me of this before.” Bingley sat back in his chair, gazing unseeingly at the ceiling. “The wise Miss Lucas briefly instructed me on the proper role of a man in the household. How he is to take the lead by making the tough decisions after listening to the opinion of his wife. How he should put his wife ahead of all others as they become, in the Biblical sense, one flesh.”

Darcy knew not what to say to offer comfort to his friend, nor whether it was wise to do so. These were hard lessons to be learned. “What will you do?”

Bingley threw his hands into the air. “What can I do? While I would love to blame these faults on the ignorance of youth, I cannot. I have been warned but I chose to ignore those words of caution. Where I would greatly desire to run from Netherfield Park and start anew, I have an injured man under my care who will remain here for several months. I have his family here to see to his needs and you, my closest friend, as my guest.” Again, he slammed his palms against the hardwood surface of the desk. “I cannot quit, Darcy. I, to my eternal embarrassment, will need to take myself and my sisters to task if I am ever to have any hope of being a man worthy of a woman like Miss Lucas or Miss Bennet. I will need to adjust so the good people of Hertfordshire will find a reason to respect me. I shall earn their approbation, or I will die trying.”

He was exceedingly proud of Charles Bingley. “Then, I wish you success.”

“Darcy, you should know that I am not angry with Miss Lucas. In fact, I am grateful. I will become a better man because of her.”

Thinking back to the conversation with Miss Elizabeth in the glen and how she called him to task for his ill-favored comments at the assembly, Darcy balanced the value of a wise woman and the betterment of a man with the silly, self-serving females like Caroline Bingley and what they would do to a man.

“I understand.” And, he did. Correction at the hands of a caring, wise female was priceless.

***

Tension surrounded the table at the evening meal as Miss Bingley vied for the attention and approval of Lord and Lady Matlock. Either Bingley had said nothing to his sister, or she had chosen to ignore him.

“Like you, Lady Matlock, I take charge of my own household.” Miss Bingley boasted.

“You do? Just like me?” His Aunt Helen had played this game many times before. As the daughter of a duke, she was born knowing her position in society and well-trained to recognize parasitic leeches who sought her favor for the sole purpose of advancing their own standing. “Then I must ask, Miss Bingley, who it is within your household who directs you?”

“Directs me?” Caroline Bingley’s disdain dripped from her tongue. “Why, no one.”

“I see,” Aunt Helen sipped her wine before continuing. “This is your household then?”

Confusion settled as Miss Bingley struggled to see where she had gone wrong. It was apparent to all at the table that this was not how she had planned things to progress. “I am sure I do not know what you mean?”

“My position in the home is to elevate my husband’s status amongst his peers, Miss Bingley. In doing so, not only is he well-thought of, my own capabilities are praised. Should I strive to usurp him in his authority, he would be considered a fop by these same close associates and would be pitied for having a wife who single-handedly robbed our home of peace.” Again, she sipped. “A man with an estate has plenty to do without needing to apologize for a wife who makes them both look poorly in the eyes of those whose respect should be due them.”

“Oh!” Miss Bingley did not look pleased.

“Might I remind you, Miss Bingley, that this property is leased by your brother, not you. Although he may give you the freedom to rule this particular roost, I would remind you that the hen who makes the most noise is the one often found first in the stew pot.” At that, she suggested the ladies remove to the drawing room, so the men would be left to their own company.

He was exceedingly proud of his aunt. These were hard lessons his hosts were learning but necessary if they were to continue their climb up society’s ranks.

***

“Miss Elizabeth is gone?” Richard was stunned and slightly petulant. “Who is to finish translating the story? Dr. Stevenson said I was to be read to each day.”

“I will send to London for a copy of the book and read it to you myself.”

His cousin snorted. “While I have no doubt your German is sufficient, you could never do justice to the character voices like Miss Elizabeth. And you are far less attractive to gaze at as well.”

Now it was Darcy’s turn to snort. The night was late, and the majority of the house was already abed. After sharing the events of the day, all that happened to the Bingleys to have his cousin focus solely upon Miss Elizabeth? Pshaw!

“I am well-aware of that fact, Rich.”

“Well, this puts us both between the horns of a dilemma, does it not? How are either of us to woo our fair lady when she is not here?”

Darcy had wondered the same. He had a plan, one which did not involve his cousin. Excusing himself, he went to his own room to prepare.

***

Lord Matlock’s morning plans were in direct conflict with his own. He wanted privacy. His uncle wanted to discuss the situation at Netherfield Park.

“William, while I freely admit my son could have had an accident anywhere—God forbid it would have taken place on the field of battle—the simple fact is he was injured here in Hertfordshire.”

“I am aware.”

“This begs the question, why are you here? More specifically, why are you continuing in Bingley’s company?”

“We have had this discussion before, Uncle. Bingley is a good friend.” Ire at the subject threatened to choke him.

“I will agree he is a friendly sort of young man. Personally, I understand why his character appeals to you. If my guess is correct, he has never asked anything of you other than advice.”

“You would be correct.”

Uncle Hugh nodded. “As before, I will not demand you give up the association.”

Darcy felt the tension leech from his bones.

“However,” his uncle cleared his throat, drawing out the process until Darcy’s nerves were set on edge. The tension poured back into each cell.

“However, you must admit this friendship comes with some risks. For example,” The questions came rapidly, like gunfire. “…how does Georgiana respond when in their company. Does Bingley flirt with her? Do you and my son allow this? Does Miss Bingley overpower my niece or set an example which would hinder Georgiana’s when she enters society? Are you attracted to the woman? Do you plan to make her Mistress of Pemberley, for I have no doubt it is her greatest desire?”

“Uncle, I have given consideration to each of these questions since Bingley left university and attached himself and his family to me.” Darcy tapped his knuckles against his chin. “He is a good man who has never shown any affection towards Georgiana other than as a sister. I strive to keep Miss Bingley away from my homes. On occasion when I am unable, Georgiana is dismissed from company as she is not yet out. I have absolutely no intention of marrying Miss Bingley. As a matter of fact, I spoke with Bingley yesterday about restraining her. With this latest fiasco within their household, I will not be inviting them to Pemberley or Darcy House until Bingley takes control of himself and Caroline.” Darcy sighed. “Uncle, he is a man without guile who is honest to a fault. Orphaned at a young age, he had no male guidance. I look at him and see the potential for a great man.”

“Just be cautious, William.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you ride out this morning?”

He had been caught by his uncle on his way out the door. He was dressed in his riding clothes. “My horse has been ready these fifteen minutes.”

“The horse can wait for I need to speak with you about Richard.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

He saw her about half a mile from the house. Clutching a leather-wrapped packet, Miss Elizabeth strolled through the fields as if she was at total peace with her surroundings. Never had he known someone so at one with the natural world. It was a unique gift for a young woman as most were required by mothers to remain indoors to protect their complexion and spend hours learning skills to make them a desirable mate. Miss Elizabeth appeared to march to her own rhythm.

Dismounting quickly, he waited for her to approach.

“Miss Elizabeth.”

“Mr. Darcy.”

He waited for her smile of greeting only to suffer disappointment.

“You are upset with me.” He concluded.

“Am I?” He glimpsed a minute movement of her lips. Her full lips.

“Are you not?”

“In truth, I am not.” She huffed, then walked to a nearby stile and seated herself on the top step. “The events of yesterday were upsetting. My sweet sister, Jane, had her heart crushed by Mr. Bingley. Though she claims she only had a slight inclination towards him, her tears were vivid proof of her heart’s involvement. My closest friend outside of Jane, Charlotte, was placed in an untenable position by your friend. She showed her value by refusing Mr. Bingley, despite her father claiming, loudly I might add, that this might be the only offer she would ever receive.”

“I am sorely vexed.”

“Why? Was any of this your doing? Were you encouraging Mr. Bingley on this foolish course?”

“Not at all.”

“I thought not, Mr. Darcy.” Smoothing her skirts, Miss Elizabeth continued, “When we returned home my father announced an unexpected visitor will be arriving this afternoon. Mr. Collins holds the living at Hunsford Parsonage in Kent and is the heir to Longbourn through an entail. His purpose in calling, as stated clearly in his letter, is to extend an olive branch by marrying a Bennet daughter so the estate will remain in our family line.”

“I know this man. He is a buffoon.”

“You know him?” Elizabeth clasped her hands to her chest. “He is, then, as his letter indicated, a sycophant?”

“Very much so.” Darcy wondered how much to share. “Do you recall when I mentioned a relative who would make my sister’s life one of constant misery should Richard and I lose guardianship?” At her nod, he continued, “My aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is his patroness. She is strong of opinions and uncaring of whether they are correct or not. Rarely does she bend to anyone’s will. Therefore, she surrounds herself with toadeaters who bow and scrape to her. This accurately describes Mr. Collins. For confirmation you can ask Richard as he also has met the man.”

She flung her hands to the side. “This is everything terrible. While my mother was upset at Mr. Bingley for breaking Jane’s heart and offering for Charlotte yesterday, today she is in a much different frame of mind. Determined that your friend will come to his senses and court Jane, my Mama has decided I am to be the sacrificial Bennet to marry Mr. Collins and secure our family home.”

“What! How can she do this to you?” He was incensed.

“Sir, the love my father has for me will see him standing behind me, supporting me in whatever choice I make. I only wish…” She shook her head. “No, I will not consider what might have been.”

“Miss Elizabeth, you may share your worries with impunity. Should I have the power to help, pray believe that I am at your service.”

“I thank you, sir. I find you have enough problems of your own to take on the struggles of the Bennet family’s future.” Elizabeth considered, then spoke. “Since we have been unafraid to canvas difficult subjects, might I ask, were you at all drawn to Charlotte upon learning she wisely rejected Mr. Bingley? She is approximately your age and would make a wonderful companion for your future?”

“Not at all!” Despite Miss Lucas being a fine woman, he was repulsed at the thought. “Although I have only eighty-two days remaining to find a wife, I cannot consider Miss Lucas for the role. In spite of her hair being brown, I find it is the wrong shade to what I desire. Her eyes? If I recall properly, they are a mixture of grey and green. While pretty, they do not sparkle with life like the dark brown most appealing to me.”

Miss Elizabeth’s laughter rang across the meadows. “You, sir, are single-minded.”

“That I am.”

“You have now rejected my three greatest prospects for a bride. Jane, Miss King, and Charlotte. I am afraid you shall need to search farther afield.”

“I cannot.” Should he tell her he was unwilling to look elsewhere? Not yet. “My cousin’s recovery will be long. He is a patient man under good circumstances. Under adverse conditions? Impatience eats at him until he wants to burst. I simply cannot imagine being anywhere else until he is able to walk away from Netherfield Park.”

“Does he have prospects for marriage?”

“Why? Are you interested in him?” Darcy was stunned. Surely, she was not. Was she? Gulping, he finally admitted the truth. Miss Elizabeth would be the perfect bride for his cousin. They would have a lively house. He, himself was a quiet man. Bringing her to Pemberley might be a punishment. The isolation. The long distance from her family in Hertfordshire. His quiet demeanor.

He wanted to hit something. Instead, he spoke to her at length of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, magnificent man that he was.

***

As the stories flowed from him, Elizabeth was struck by both his honesty and his humility. Many times, the words highlighted the superiority of the Colonel in comparison to his younger cousin, Mr. Darcy. Some of the tales were told with such wit, they brought a smile to their faces. Never had she seen a more handsome, elegant man than the one standing in front of her.

When his narrative changed from concern over the Colonel’s injuries to his worries over the maturity of Mr. Bingley, she knew deep in her heart, that this man, Mr. Darcy, would not be an excellent match for Jane, Charlotte, or Mary King. He was perfect, but only for her.

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