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