J. Dawn King

Bestselling author of Jane Austen variations

Author: J "Joy" Dawn King (page 1 of 9)

Letter of the Law – Chapter 19

We are almost to the end. I’ve several loose ends to tie up. Since the story is moving fast, it won’t be a long drawn-out process. Imagine Darcy’s reunion with Elizabeth. Sigh! Ok, I’m off to type. Enjoy! Please do not forget I will be taking this down one week after I finish to ready it for publication. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 19

 

As twilight settled over the countryside, Fitzwilliam Darcy sought shelter. The constant discouragement from not overtaking Wickham was a living, breathing enemy. He was weary beyond measure. If he continued his brutal pace, he would reach Pemberley the next afternoon.

Giving the groom extra money to indulge Richard’s mare, Darcy first checked the interior of each carriage in the yard before slogging into the busy inn. Surveying the patrons, he found no one resembling his former friend. Again, he was denied the slim hope he could rescue his sister.

Darcy had been wrong. The motivation of gaining a fortune must have moved Wickham to exert himself beyond his usual habits.

Poor Georgiana. Darcy’s heart hung heavy in his chest. No innocent girl should be attached to a man who would rob her blind and toss her away like refuse. Darcy knew Wickham’s past, the many times he had ill-used women, making promises he had no intentions of keeping, then abandoning them without a blink of an eye or a twinge to his own conscience.

Did he have a conscience? At one time he did. When they were children, George played fair. It was only after Eton that he learned to lie and cheat for his own advantage.

And this was to be the man Georgiana would be bound to? He wanted to vomit. And sob.

“Wake me before daylight.” Darcy handed the proprietor some coins before heading directly to his room. He cared not that the bed felt like stone. He cared not that his dusty clothing would soil the blankets. He cared about his sister. He cared about Richard. He even cared about Richard’s horse, Earl. Mostly, he cared about a slip of a woman with a gleam in her eye and compassion in her heart. He missed Elizabeth. His last thought was of her attempting to capture three squirming puppies when sleep finally caught up with him, his eyes firmly closed and a smile on his face.

***

Elizabeth’s first sensation was a panicked need to breathe. When her mind cleared her hysteria subsided. She was, indeed, inhaling and exhaling with regularity.

The rock-hard floor beneath where she lay was filthy. The room’s furnishings draped with covers coated in dust. Surveying her surroundings, Elizabeth recognized nothing. However, she observed a water pitcher, a porcelain pot, and some bread resting upon a piece of unwashed linen covering a spot on the fireplace hearth. Two ropes extending from a metal ring embedded in the stones surrounding the gaping hole of the potential source of heat hung down. Her eyes followed the hemp to intricate knots and loops tightly surrounding each of her wrists.

Good Lord! Mr. Wickham had tied her to the wall.

Stretching her arms up and back as she rose to a sitting position, she estimated her range was approximately five feet. Standing and pulling on her bindings, she walked the semi-circle from one wall to the other.

Peeking inside the pitcher, she found it to be half full. Her hands were dirty, and her wrists already chaffed under the bindings. Wishing to wash her hands and cool the burn from the ropes, Elizabeth declined to pursue her desires. She had no idea how long she would be kept at this location so did not want to waste the few resources she had. One thing she did do was to move the chamber pot to the other end of the hearth, away from the food and drink. Pouring a few drops of precious liquid over her fingers, she wiped them on her skirt to dry. Her clothing appeared to be the only relatively clean surface available.

Cobwebs draped from the corners of each window while the moth-eaten fabric of the draperies hung like tattered lace. Faded rectangles on the walls indicated where paintings had once hung. The only bookshelf was lonely in its emptiness.

Wherever she was, the place had been long ago abandoned.

Brisk footsteps sounded upon the wood. She was not caught unawares when Mr. Wickham brashly entered the room.

“Miss Elizabeth, you are awake.”

Badly, she wanted to assure him she was having a nightmare of immense proportions. “I am.”

“Pray, be seated, we have much to discuss.” He pulled a chair close to her sphere of movement but wisely remained out of reach. “Do not be distressed. I cannot believe I shall have to keep you here for more than four days, five at most.”

“Why?” she demanded. “Why have you done this vile act?”

“How much do you know?” He was equally demanding.

“I know of your evil plans with Lady Catherine. I know of your resentment against Mr. Darcy. I know of your intent to ruin Miss Darcy for the sole purpose of stealing her dowry. I know you have flirted shamelessly with Lydia to gain information about the goings-on of the residents of Netherfield Park.” Elizabeth stood with her bound hands at her hips, her chin tipped up. She was angry! “What I want to know is how much you know, Mr. Wickham?”

“Ha!” he scoffed. “You have no power. Like I have been all my life, you have no authority, no position of superiority to elevate you to lofty heights. You cannot make demands of me.”

Elizabeth answered, “I hear your bitterness and shall have none of it, Mr. Wickham. Colonel Fitzwilliam told me details of your upbringing and of your fortune in being chosen as Mr. Gerald Darcy’s godson. You were given a gentleman’s education with the opportunities that came with Eton and Cambridge. You, who have been blessed, have no cause to repine.” Elizabeth turned her body away from him. She would rather look at the wall.

“You know nothing, Elizabeth Bennet.” He spat. “I have not spoken with or seen Lady Catherine in almost twenty years. My resentment of Darcy is pure and true. He is an evil man who patronizes all those below him and torments those who most would benefit from his benevolence, should he have any to give. Georgiana Darcy is like her brother—her only redeeming value is the money she brings to a marriage. Colonel Fitzwilliam is, under his spotless military cloak, a coward and a wastrel. Your sister, Miss Lydia, has been an easy conquest. A few kisses and she has told me everything I needed to hear.”

He sneered. “For example, I know of Richard’s crippling infirmity—bless the hole in the ground that finally humbled His Majesty, the second son of the Earl of Matlock. I know of Bingley’s lack of character which will besmirch Darcy’s name for having association with him. I am a flirt, Miss Elizabeth. I have no regrets nor any difficulty acknowledging my practices. That young man is blind to his own weaknesses. He will pay dearly for his misjudgment in thinking he can buy his way into Darcy’s sphere.” He rose up on his toes and dropped back to his heels. “I know of your family’s finances and Darcy’s offer to buy your loyalty. And I know you secretly abhor the man you have promised to marry. So, do not judge me. You know nothing.”

She was livid. How dare he presume to know her heart. He spoke lies.

“Mr. Wickham, you gain nothing with your charges. Nothing at all.” Turning her back on him, Elizabeth sought the least untidy spot on the hearth before sitting down. Flexing her fingers, she relaxed them one-by-one. Breathing slowly, she calmed her heart, so her voice lost the acidic quality she was inclined to spout. She would no longer allow him to believe he was in control. “Then I ask, what is your purpose? You apparently wanted Mr. Darcy gone. He is gone. Nevertheless, he will quickly return when he realizes his sister is unharmed. Therefore, how long shall I be kept here in unimportant. I am curious, while in captivity, will I be required to tolerate your company, or shall I be left alone?”

Elizabeth assumed he would not reply so was surprised when he responded.

“I am overcome by a sense of power at being able to have Darcy dance a jig to the tune I am playing,” he bragged. “You should worry that in your marriage you will always be second to Georgiana. I cannot imagine a worse life for a strong-willed female like you.”

At the lift of her brow he clarified, “Oh, you are surprised I have sketched your character accurately? Your youngest sister opens her mouth and everything she knows, including her opinions, spills out.” He chortled. “She views you as quite domineering and demanding, the most fearsome of her sisters, do you know?”

Elizabeth chose not to reply. Her words would be wasted on him.

“My dear, two items have been accomplished by sending Darcy on a wild goose chase. First, you were much easier to carry off without him constantly lurking around you. Second, I will let him know we spent both the days and nights together. He will be tortured at the thought of me having first go at you.”

“You will not touch me!” she spat each word at him.

“Of course, I will not.” He laughed. “What a perfect revenge. You will go back to him proclaiming your innocence, which will be the truth. However, the mental image he will carry his whole life will be one of you and me together, alone. Having a taste of you would not satisfy me nearly as much as knowing I hold power over his mind and his emotions for the rest of his miserable years.”

“You are mad!”

“Not at all, Miss Elizabeth.” He posed as if an attorney standing in a court of law or a vain man in front of a looking glass. “I am merely the judge and executioner of a lifetime sentence of doubt and despair. I find I am well-qualified for the task.”

“You are despicable!” Unable to contain her temper, she jumped up and approached him, drawing to a stop when the ropes came taut. “Then know this, George Wickham, you will suffer for a lifetime with the inherent knowledge that you will forever be the lesser man. You, who claim wisdom and justice, are nothing more than a little man of even littler worth. Your plan has no hope of success.”

“Ha! That is where you are wrong. I doubt not that he will bring his sister with him when he returns. He will not want her out of his sight. I cannot see him offering her in exchange for his betrothed. So, I suffer no loss, I will charge interest on the amount of her dowry by requiring forty-thousand for your return. He will pay. Oh yes, he will. His love for you will see to your safety and my prosperity.” His snicker was evil. “However, once you are in his arms, he will recall you left me to go to him.”

She opened her mouth to speak. He stopped her.

“I have no doubt your mind has conjured a multitude of insults to my character, perhaps even my parentage. Nonetheless, I AM IN CONTROL!” His shout bounced against the walls. “I will see Darcy and Richard suffer in repayment for the injury they have caused by withholding Georgiana’s dowry from me.”

“Humph!” Folding her arms in front of her, Elizabeth stepped back to the hearth. “I find I am weary of you, Mr. Wickham. You may now leave.”

The ploy garnered a painful response. The bite of his palm across her cheek stung. Despite this, his words showed he was not unaffected. “You cannot tell me what to do. You can do nothing to change the course I have set in motion. I will succeed where I have failed before. You shall see.” He turned and walked away from her. Before leaving the room, he looked back. “Just as I am weary of Lydia, I am weary of you, Elizabeth Bennet. I find you are barely tolerable as Darcy earlier proclaimed to the neighborhood. He is welcome to you, for all I care.”

The adrenaline pumping through her receded as soon as he left the room. Poor William. Poor Georgiana. As she again looked at her surroundings and the crude provisions left her she could not help but think, poor her.

 

Letter of the Law – Chapter 18

Chapter 18

 

Darcy’s eyes slammed shut with the first eastern bend in the road after daybreak. The glare of the sun combined with the grit stemming from the dirt surface and tiredness hurt.  The long night had been fruitless, and he felt the disappointment with his whole body.

Earl had performed as expected. Like Darcy, the horse refused to quit despite not a hint of George Wickham.

If Wickham stayed with his habits, he should be rising soon to break his fast before beginning his travel on the road north. Once Darcy finds him…

All night Darcy considered what he would do when confronting the rogue. His response ranged from shooting him before Wickham could open his mouth to shooting him once he gave a full explanation.

When he was not thinking of him, Darcy’s mind automatically veered towards Elizabeth. Now, that was a pleasant thought. She was his bright light of hope and he missed her more than he could have imagined.

She would have teased him into a calmness he would not be capable of finding on his own. He chortled, startling Earl. Yes, they were both weary.

Uncle Hugh comparing Elizabeth with Anne Darcy had been a revelation. Upon reflection, he should not have been caught unawares. Easily recalled were the many times his father had spoken of his courtship and marriage.

His father, Mr. Gerald Darcy, Esquire, had at first overlooked the former Anne Fitzwilliam, grouping her with the other unattached fortune-hunters on the prowl for a wealthy mate. How he paid for his inattention later! Darcy could not contain his smile.

Uncle Hugh had been correct. His youngest sister snubbed her nose at Gerald Darcy, not because he was untitled, but because she believed him to be the most boring man on the planet. However, the second time they were in company, they began to look at each other quite differently. According to his father, it took less than a quarter-hour of conversation on that second occasion before his eyes could look nowhere else. Lady Anne filled the room, his vision, and his heart. He was captured, willingly surrendering to a love that never faded during the almost fifteen years they had together before her death.

Admitting he was more like his father than he had thought, Darcy relished the dreams of having Elizabeth permanently by his side. Without effort, images of them saying their vows in a stylishly decorated chapel, hovering over their first child’s cradle as he or she slept, fighting tears when their eldest son left for Eton, and becoming grey with advancing age passed through his mind.

Earl stopped, catching Darcy by surprise.

Darcy shook the pictures out of his head as he scanned their location. They had reached the White Stag Inn, one of his normal stopping places between London and Derbyshire. The activity in the yard bespoke of busy travelers hurrying to unknown locations. Checking a group emerging from the heavy wooden door, he hoped to find his nemesis. None of them were Wickham.

Dismounting, he handed Earl to a waiting groom and stepped inside. The questions were the same, did you see a man matching George Wickham’s appearance? Did he stop here or, by chance, stay here? The answers were always the same. No one had seen the man.

Confused at Wickham not stopping throughout the course of the night, Darcy’s tired mind filtered the possibilities until he settled on the only situation that could have explained Wickham’s invisibility—Lady Catherine de Bourgh had supplied him with a carriage where a footman saw to the needs of the traveler while George remained comfortably ensconced inside the coach, protecting his anonymity.

Growling his frustration, Darcy stepped back outside. The chill of the morning bled through his coat until he shivered. Fighting disappointment, he mounted Earl and took off. Wickham could not be that far ahead of him, could he?

***

By morning, Elizabeth was ready to stuff a dirty sock into the opened mouth of her youngest sister. Lydia Bennet was incorrigible.

“I will not tell you any of my private conversations with George.” Lydia folded her arms over her chest while her chin jutted forward. “You are lying about his intentions to elope with Miss Darcy for he has told me what a silly girl she is with little to attract him other than her money.”

“Mr. Wickham would be most impressed with that very thing, Lydia Bennet. What she has thirty-thousand of you have a mere fifty.”

“He loves me.” Her sister stomped her foot. “He said so right before he kissed me the first time. And the second time. And the third.” Lydia giggled. “Oh, Lizzy. He is everything I have ever dreamed of. When his secret missions are ended he will wear a red coat with style. I will be the envy of all my friends.”

“You are a fool. He only loves himself.” When her sister shook her head in response, Elizabeth demanded, “wait here. I shall retrieve the note he had you deliver to Mr. Darcy and you can read his intentions with your own eyes.”

“Ha!” Lydia’s chuckle quickly turned to laughter. “He told me yesterday morning when we met at the stile how his message would throw Mr. Darcy off his trail. Although, I did think his intention was to write to me as well. But, never mind. He is the most intelligent man I know so I cannot begin to question his decisions.”

“What?” Stepping closer, Elizabeth grabbed her sister’s arm, holding tightly when Lydia attempted to pull away. “What do you mean, he wanted to throw Mr. Darcy off his trail?”

A sick feeling started in Elizabeth’s stomach. Why would Mr. Wickham want William gone from Netherfield Park? What was his plan?

Needing to speak with Richard, Elizabeth released Lydia and stepped back.

“Do not think I will not tell Mama and Papa that you have engaged in improper behavior with a man completely unattached to you, Lydia. Your actions have endangered your reputation and that of ours if it becomes known. You act the child.” Elizabeth’s disgust was evident in her tone. Stupid, stupid girl.

“I will have my way,” Lydia yelled as Elizabeth quickly moved to the part of the house where the Fitzwilliams were staying. How could Lydia be such a fool for a man of little value? Shaking her head, she needed to worry about her sister later. Right now, Elizabeth desperately required the good counsel of Richard Fitzwilliam and his father.

As she entered his chamber after being summoned, she pondered at not running to her father. Mr. Thomas Bennet had always been her touchstone, the one person in the world she bounced new thoughts and ideas off, so she could see the rationale behind the best direction to take. This time? It did not occur to her to consult with him. How things were changing.

Both Lord Matlock and his son immediately recognized the futility of sending someone after William. A rider could not catch Darcy before he reached Pemberley.

“I cannot think Wickham is smart enough nor does he have the resources to come up with a successful strategy.” The Earl appeared relaxed in the chair next to Richard’s bed, his legs crossed and his elbow resting on the padded arm of the wooden rocker. When his fingers tapped against his chin and his foot bounced, Elizabeth realized he was as upset as the two others in the room. “My sister, however, is fully capable of seeing to the task.”

“You cannot believe Lady Catherine would willfully harm her niece?” Elizabeth was appalled at the idea. “From what I have discerned, Miss Darcy is sweet of disposition and shy of nature.”

“She is that,” agreed Richard. “However, my aunt is motivated by the want of power. She would do anything to exert authority over Darcy.”

“But, why? Pray help me understand.” Elizabeth sat across from the earl.

Richard sat up a little straighter when a soft knock on the outside of his door was heard. When he smoothed back his hair and rubbed his hands over his bare cheeks to cover the blush rising from his throat to his eye sockets, Elizabeth suspected the visitor was Mary. She was correct.

Once seated, Richard’s attention to the conversation was lost. Therefore, Lord Matlock continued. “my sister has two desires. The first is to have a reason for others to look up to and admire her. The other is to make William suffer for not marrying Anne. She would think nothing of sacrificing Georgiana’s happiness to reach her goal.”

“But…”

Hugh Fitzwilliam lifted one hand. “I know. I know. It is a sad little family unit we have here. Rather, I should say a selfish family unit.” He shook his head. “Like Wickham, she thinks of her own desires and would think nothing of stepping on or over anyone to achieve what she wants. Also, like Wickham, they have a personal vendetta against William.”

“What has he done?” asked Mary.

“Why would you believe he has done anything?” Elizabeth jumped to his defense. She had taken on one unthinking sister that morning and would not hesitate to do the same to another.

Richard was the first to respond. “Miss Mary, from your reading and study can you tell me why the man, Jesus, was killed. Was he guilty of all he was charged?”

“Not at all.”

“Nonetheless, he died for sins he did not commit. Who was at fault?” Richard probed.

“The selfish men who despised all he represented.” Looking down at her clutched hands, Mary then glanced up to settle her gaze on the man in the bedclothes. “You are saying a person does not need to bear guilt to be wrongly accused and persecuted. Mr. Darcy is such a man?”

“He is,” Elizabeth quickly reassured.

“This is not just!” Mary stood, her fervor making her unable to sit still. “Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.”

Elizabeth was intensely pleased to have a sibling who was both passionate and who responded with a reasonable mind. For once, she was also grateful for Mary’s propensity for righteous anger. She did not feel nearly as alone with Darcy gone with Jane and Mary understanding her attraction to the gentleman.

“We shall have to await Darcy’s instructions. After all, the likelihood of him successfully reaching Georgiana and Pemberley before Wickham is almost non-existent. Most likely, we shall be dealing with the aftereffects of a wedding nobody in the family wanted except Catherine. I shudder to think what my niece’s life will be under the thumb of my sister and a reprobate for a husband.” Lord Matlock closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the chair. Speaking to no one in particular, he continued, “I expect to see Cathy before the day has ended.”

Elizabeth felt useless. If only she had been in a position to have traveled with William, she would have been doing something other than waiting. Glimpsing the fisted hands and tight jaw of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, she realized she was, again, not alone.

***

“Charlotte, how delighted we are to see you again.” Jane welcomed their friend into the bedchamber she shared with Elizabeth. “Are you well?”

Charlotte Lucas gave an unladylike snort. “I believe the last time you greeted me, Jane, I broke your heart into a million pieces by being pleased Mr. Bingley was going to be made to offer for me. Today, I can honestly say my relief is overwhelming at standing against my father and denying Mr. Bingley’s suit.”

“Whatever has happened?” Elizabeth asked.

“I believe we should all be seated lest you faint dead away, Lizzy.” Charlotte teased. Once settled, she said, “Dr. Stevenson has asked myself and my father for a courtship to come to know me better.” She squealed in a good imitation of Mrs. Bennet and clapped her hands over her face.

“What? This is everything wonderful, Charlotte.” Jane offered.

Elizabeth went directly to the crux of the matter. “Are you happy, my friend?”

“I am exceedingly pleased. The doctor expressed himself well, explaining his reasons for seeking my company. He,” Charlotte blushed. “He thought my rejection of Mr. Bingley proved my value, that I did not selfishly seek an establishment which would elevate me when my heart was singularly unattached.”

Jane’s smile was brilliant.

Elizabeth inquired, “how does Sir William do, Charlotte?”

Dropping her hands, their former neighbor grinned. “Father is well pleased with this new arrangement. Dr. Stevenson is the son of a Baron. Mr. Bingley’s family was from trade. The connection this might bring, should the courtship be successful, pleases Father immensely.”

“And, it pleases you too,” Elizabeth teased.

Charlotte reached for Jane’s hand.

“How fares your heart?” Her inquiry was kindly made.

Jane sighed. Standing, she moved to the window before turning to address them.

“Mr. Bingley was quite contrite when he apologized to me for creating expectations indiscriminately.” She clasped her hands to her heart. “He willingly shared his reasons for his overly-friendly conduct and explained how Mr. Darcy had repeatedly endeavored to provide correction he ignored. As for his laxity with his sisters, I easily understood being the youngest and the only boy placed him in a position where he could be dominated. Nevertheless, I told him in clear terms that I was not interested in a boy. I would only give my heart to a man of good character.”

“Jane!” Elizabeth was impressed. “I believe those are the harshest words I have ever heard uttered by you in my lifetime. Well done!”

“My words hurt him, Lizzy. But his actions hurt me.” Jane shrugged. “While I still find much to admire about him, I am wary. He had not demanded his sisters correct their behavior or leave. They made the choice to retire to London. And his devotion will not be tested until we are again in company with other unattached young ladies. I will guard myself until then.”

Both Charlotte and Elizabeth nodded their agreement. What Jane was doing was bravely done. Charlotte’s actions also displayed valor. Hers? Elizabeth wished to be as bold as the two other ladies in the room. She knew the truth. Her façade was fearless. Her reality was scared. When would William return and what would they have to deal with when she saw him again. It was hard to be heroic when her hero was gone.

***

Elizabeth had been restless throughout the whole of the day. That evening, she chose to spend time in the barn with the puppies.

The turmoil of the morning had blossomed into an explosive confrontation between Lydia and their mother. Elizabeth was still shocked at the outcome.

Lady Matlock had not forgotten her nephew penning a letter to the girls’ schools for the two youngest Bennets. When a reply with an invitation for Lydia to attend immediately had been received, Darcy’s aunt knocked briskly on Mrs. Bennet’s chamber door and kept knocking until she was admitted.

“Would you rather your youngest be a blessing to your family or bring reproach and shame, Mrs. Bennet,” the Countess had demanded. “If your desire is to see her well-settled, she needs discipline and training, so you can hold your head up in the finer households once Darcy and Miss Elizabeth are wed. Or, do you not mind being shunned and forever denied access to the ton?”

As far as Mrs. Bennet was concerned, with this understanding, the matter was settled. Lydia would be taken kicking and screaming to Liverpool to attend Mrs. Peabody’s School for Young Ladies. She would leave on the morrow.

Deep shame at the poor showing Lydia made in front of William’s relatives distracted Elizabeth. She did not hear the man step up behind her. She was not aware of his presence until he grabbed her arm, twisted it, and shoved it up between her shoulder blades until the pain threatened her with a loss of consciousness.

“William!” her mind screamed when his other hand covered her mouth and nose. She could not breathe. Fighting him intensified the pain.

Twisting her head from side to side in an effort to shake off his hand and gain even a slight whiff of air, the man whispered harshly in her ear.

“You will not get free until Darcy finally pays me what is owed.”

Her last thought before her world turned black? Wickham.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 17

I’m back in the saddle (my office chair) this morning after staying up late last night rereading the first 16 chapters of this story. Sweet Nicole Clarkston sprinted with me this morning so I could get chapter 17 completed. Thank you so much, Nicole.

In her news, please read her upcoming release “London Holiday” as soon as it comes out. The story is done and every single word is wonderful/magnificent/swoonworthy.

In my news, health woes continue for my family. In two days it will be two months since we returned from Ecuador. Since then, John has been at Urgent Care twice, I had an emergency CT-Scan yesterday for nasty kidney stones, and my Mom offered to sing to everyone in the operating room when she had her angiogram last Friday. She flunked her test, which disappointed her less than being told they did not want to hear her sing “I’m An Old Cowhand”. Can you imagine? We should find out tomorrow when we go back to the hospital.

So, without making you wait any longer, here is Chapter 17. (This story will be removed one week from the final post.)

Chapter 17

 

The next week passed fairly quietly with Mr. Bennet spending long hours discussing literature and the current state of British politics with Darcy, Lord Matlock, Richard, and Elizabeth. His wounds were slowly healing which pleased Elizabeth. Therefore, it pleased Darcy as well. The minutes set aside for these lively interchanges was Darcy’s second favorite time of each day.

His favorite, which also opened his eyes to Jane Bennet’s value, was when Elizabeth’s eldest sister regularly suggested they meet in a small parlor behind the library for somewhat private conversation. Often, Bingley and either Darcy’s aunt or uncle attended them. Miss Bennet was a master at distracting both his friend and the Matlocks.

Because of her subtle, though beneficial, interference, Darcy vowed to increase Miss Bennet’s portion once he married Elizabeth. He also decided, after consulting with his betrothed, that Jane could stay with the soon-to-be newlyweds at whatever house they would occupy.

Miss Mary, who joined the group when they met in Richard’s sitting room, rarely participated in the conversation. Nonetheless, the silent communication between her and his cousin was obvious to the onlookers. The glances and nods passing between the two bore testimony to a growing appreciation. Elizabeth smiled at them often. Darcy discerned her pleasure in the relationship.

Mrs. Bennet, intimidated by Aunt Helen, remained in her room with her former housekeeper, suffering the misery of losing her home and possessions. According to her moans, her life ended when Mr. Collin’s knocked over the candle, then left without engaging one of her daughters.

While Miss Kitty was allowed downstairs on occasion, Miss Lydia had dug in her heels, refusing to associate with any of Netherfield Park’s residents until they understood how poorly they had mistreated her. Darcy was confident the Bennets could remain for the next six months and he would never set eyes upon the youngest Bennet, such was her rebellion.

Richard’s frustration with his limitations was difficult to watch. Doctor Stevenson came daily to offer care. Each day without fail, Richard inquired how much longer until he could put weight on his leg. Each day, the answer was the same—not yet.

On the eighth day since the fire, the fragile peace ended.

Lydia Bennet had been caught sneaking back into Netherfield Park by none other than her father. Refusing to volunteer her whereabouts, she finally admitted to strolling the gardens to relieve her boredom when said parent outlined consequences unheard of before at their former home.

Mr. Bennet balked. “Young lady, the sky is as dark as pitch and you have no candle to light your way. The hem of your skirt is covered in mud and your bonnet is askew.” He growled, “I demand you immediately tell me where you have been.”

Darcy, who witnessed the confrontation, was impressed when Elizabeth’s father hovered over his youngest, the veins standing out on the skin above his collar. Never could he have imagined passive Mr. Bennet as aggressive. However, aggressive he was.

“Very well,” she stomped her foot. “Lord, how ashamed I would be to not be married Like Jane and Lizzy—even Mary. Thus, I have been seeing to my future, something which has been of little concern to you, Papa.”

Jutting out her chin, she stubbornly ignored the signs of growing irritation by the parent confronting her. “As I told Lady Matlock, I will be the first of my sisters wed.”

In a complete change to his countenance, Mr. Bennet dropped his shoulders and stepped back. What Darcy assumed was defeated acquiescence turned out to be a mere ploy. Miss Lydia apparently had the same assumption.

“Married? Have you found a man willing to put up with your silliness for a lifetime? I cannot begin to imagine anyone in our neighborhood who knows your character would be willing to attach himself to you.” Mr. Bennet taunted.

“You know nothing, Papa,” she now acted the aggressor. “My George returned this morning from an important assignment for the militia that took him all the way to Kent. He had another mission for the colonel to travel quickly to Scotland but asked that I meet Mr. Denny tonight to receive a note he was leaving for me.” She sighed. “My George is handsome enough to tempt me and tells me I am the same to him.”

George? Kent? Scotland? It could not be Wickham, could it? He had been gone from Hertfordshire since shortly after Richard’s injury.

“By the by, Mr. Darcy. I was disappointed to find the note was not for me, but for you.” She pulled a folded parchment from her pocket. “Mr. Denny told me it was top secret and I needed to get it into your hands as soon as possible.” She snorted. “I believe it is possible, is it not?”

“Lydia Bennet, you will…”

Darcy no longer heard. His suspicions that George Wickham had again reared his ugly head were confirmed when he read the name on the outside of the missive. He recognized the penmanship as George’s.

Leaving the two Bennets in the hall, he ran to Richard’s room. Fortunately, he found his cousin alone.

“Good God in heaven, Darce, you look like you have seen a ghost.” Richard teased.

Holding up the paper in his hand, Darcy uttered the one word sure to cause alarm, “Wickham.”

“Read it,” the colonel demanded as Darcy ripped open the seal.

Giving the note a cursory glance, certain words jumped out at him, making his stomach churn and his heart beat faster than a galloping horse. Lady Catherine. Niece. Georgiana. Scotland.

His stomach landed at his feet as anger, unlike anything he had ever known before, shot through him like lightning bolts.

Darcy,

Your aunt, Lady Catherine, was horrified to learn you have attached yourself to a country miss from Hertfordshire. Imagine how interested she was, and I was in fact, in your marital prospects especially should they happen before your sister’s next birthday.

Deciding to aid Lady Catherine in her efforts to obtain and control the fortune of your dear sister, I humbled myself to the idea of welcoming your aunt’s authority once Georgie and I wed. We will reside at Rosings Park.

Therefore, you can release the Bennet chit from her painful attachment to you for you or Richard no longer need to marry before January. So, I am actually doing you a favor, one I expect to receive recompense from when next we are in company.

Imagine having Georgiana as Mrs. George Wickham. I am all astonished at my good fortune.”

Your devoted new brother,

George Wickham

“Find him.” Richard threw back the blankets and swung his legs around until his feet hit the floor.

“No!” Darcy rushed to his cousin’s side before he could put weight on his injury. “I will pack and leave immediately. If he is on horseback, he has a head start which will be difficult to overcome. However, I cannot see him riding through the night as I will do.”

“Yes, Wickham always looks to his own comforts. He will be tucked safely in bed trusting your reputation and habits of taking the safe course will prevail. He will not expect you to catch him until his return from Gretna Green when he will desire nothing more than to gloat over his success at thwarting you. Stop him, Darcy.” Richard’s fists pounded ineffectively on the covers. “Would that I could ride with you.”

“I would wish nothing more. I am off.” Leaving the missive in his cousin’s hands, he rushed to his room to instruct his valet and order his cousin’s horse be readied. The mare would not balk much with an unfamiliar rider once she realized the commands were the same. She could outlast any other horse in Bingley’s stable, including his own.

Not wanting to leave without saying his goodbyes to Elizabeth, he moved quickly to her room. She answered his brisk knock.

“Sir, you are not well.” Closing the door behind herself, she stepped into the hallway. “Pray, can I help?”

He adored her.

“I am leaving in chase of Wickham who is threatening Georgiana’s safety. I do not know when I will return, Elizabeth.” Looking at her closely, he impressed her lovely features into his mind’s eye. Readying herself for the night, her hair was down. He could not keep his fingers from capturing one of her curls. Soft.

“Then go. Do not tarry.”

This kiss was a promise—a confirmation or guarantee of a future together. With one final glimpse, he turned and fled down the stairs. Donning his heaviest greatcoat and gloves, Darcy mounted Richard’s horse and was off.

Conflicting emotions warred inside him. Bitter hatred and disgust with Wickham, frustration with shameless Miss Lydia Bennet, and tender appreciation for Elizabeth. Her unhesitating encouragement for him to pursue the correct course at the expense of time spent courting was a testimony to her superiority. He would be proud to have her for his bride.

A sliver of moonlight peered from behind heavy clouds. He was fortunate the rain was not falling. Heading due north, minutes and then hours sped by. They stopped only for needed rest. As Darcy warmed himself before a fire, the horse enjoyed a rubdown by the stable’s groom. Had the night been lighter, their pace would not have been slow. Yet, with each step, they were drawing closer to their quarry. Wickham would pay for this!

***

Elizabeth tapped on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s door early the next morning, unsurprised when his Batman reported the man had been awake for hours. When she stepped into the room, the man remained.

“Sir, I cannot help but fear for the situation. Do you have information to ease my concerns?” Elizabeth sat next to him, her words cautious to protect Georgiana.

“Do not worry that Sergeant Simmons will speak freely. He knows of Wickham’s offenses against the Darcy’s and despises gossip.” Richard reassured her. Then he handed her the note.

After she read it in its entirety, she asked, “Why does he hate Mr. Darcy?”

“How much as Darcy shared with you of their past?” the Colonel inquired.

“Very little. In fact, it was only his reaction at seeing Mr. Wickham standing in the drawing room here that clued me into their strife with one another. I know no details.”

“Then, settle in comfortably for the tale is long and sordid.”

Darcy’s cousin rubbed his hand over his mouth and looked away from her. Then, he began.

By the time he finished speaking of childish rivalries and moved into their adolescence, Elizabeth had a sick feeling growing in her stomach. This would not end well. When the colonel detailed the envy possessed by the son of Pemberley’s former steward against the heir, her own ire flared against Mr. Wickham. She wanted to cry when he spoke of the interrupted elopement and the pain Georgiana was continuing to suffer from her heartbreak and embarrassment.

“Would I had your sword, Colonel Fitzwilliam. I would follow Mr. Darcy on your fastest horse and join him in his battle.” The desire for physical action burst inside her.

He chuckled. “I am confident you would be fierce.” Clearing his throat, he continued,” Since you are soon to be my cousin and I already think of you informally, pray call me Richard and your intended William as the rest of the family does. Well, with the exception of Aunt Catherine who calls him Fitzwilliam and calls me Fitzwilliam too.”

Relaxing a mite, Elizabeth agreed. “Please, share the details of the chase if you would. My mind has already imagined the worst. Anything you tell me will be a relief.”

“We are approximately one-hundred fifty miles from Pemberley. From Pemberley to Gretna Green is another one-hundred fifty miles. That is three-hundred miles of hard riding for anyone making the trip. Wickham spoke with Miss Lydia this morning and, we assume, apparently left immediately. Unless Aunt Catherine gave him the funds to hire a carriage, he will be on horseback, which means his potential for progress is greater.”

“Despite this, you have confidence in Will…William?” Elizabeth liked the feel of his name on her tongue.

“I am both confident in Darcy and Earl.” The colonel nodded.

“Earl? Did your father accompany William?” Elizabeth was puzzled. She understood from Lord Matlock’s comments when Mr. Wickham had entered Netherfield Park that he knew the man. Nonetheless, he appeared to be more a man who relished a good debate to a hard ride over the shires in the darkness.

“My father? No, he is in his room as far as I know.” Richard chortled and so did the Sergeant. “Earl is my horse.”

“She is not a mare then?” Elizabeth had not made the effort to peek underneath to determine the horse’s sex as it meant nothing to her at the time. However, she recalled clearly being introduced while in the stable to the colonel’s ‘only lady love’.

“Oh, yes. She is a female in both form and attitude. Darce will have his hands full taking control of the second stubbornest creature of my acquaintance.”

She laughed. “And, the first?”

“My father the Earl of Matlock, of course.”

 

A Gift for You!

As mentioned in my last post, the muse can be a funny thing. My quirky story “Hide & Seek” morphed into “Lost & Found” a serious look at phobias. (Think For Pemberley without the assault). Here’s the blurb:

TIMELESS ROMANCE FOR THE BUSY READER

When he lost his heart to her, he found happiness.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is missing—vanishing without a trace from the library at Rosings Park. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to find her but doing so leads to unexpected consequences for the both of them.

Mr. Darcy is her sworn enemy. Yet, when trapped with him for hours, each layer of his personality is stripped away until the man underneath the stoic countenance is revealed as one worthy of admiration.

In this sweet Regency variation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, will Mr. Darcy’s arrogant pride keep him from finding the most intriguing woman of his acquaintance? Will her prejudice withstand trials so a man worthy of her affection will not be lost?

Enjoy this sweet Regency novella of about 100 pages in length, as our dear couple overcome all odds to find a love for the ages, or do they?

Lost and Found is appropriate for all readers.

 Since this story is now available on Amazon, I needed to take it offline in case I decide to be exclusive. Here is the link: Lost & Found

Here is the newest cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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