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
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.