J. Dawn King

Bestselling author of Jane Austen variations

Author: J "Joy" Dawn King (page 1 of 8)

Letter of the Law – Chapter 13

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

Chapter 13

 

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

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

What a curious fellow.

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

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

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

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

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

***

“Lizzy, what has happened?”

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

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

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

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

“And, Mr. Darcy?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Worrying?”

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

“Did anyone witness your first kiss?”

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

“Oh, no. Will he claim compromise?”

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

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

“Thus, speaks a beloved sister!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Sulking, most likely.”

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

Darcy marveled at her discernment.

“Richard, please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I kissed Elizabeth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darcy still said nothing.

“Did she willingly return the kiss?”

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

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

Nothing.

Finally, he could stand the silence no more.

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

“You would, would you?”

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

“What plans?” The Colonel interrupted his movement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am not.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss Elizabeth!”

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

Before she finished he was rushing inside Longbourn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What on earth was she supposed to do?

Letter of the Law – Chapter 12

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

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

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

Chapter 12

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard grinned, aware of his plight.

“You stay, Darce, if you would.”

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

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

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

“I cannot.” He left.

***

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

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

***

“What are your intentions, Darcy.”

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

“Has Richard spoke to you, then?”

“He has.”

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

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

“She did not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“With you?”

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

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

“She will not.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You will offer for her?”

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

“Cannot or will not?”

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

“Landowner?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She smelled like heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gripping the handle, he stepped inside.

New Release – Friends and Enemies on Audiobook

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

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

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

Letter of the Law – Chapter 11

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

Chapter 11

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I fail to understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh!” Miss Bingley did not look pleased.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“I am well-aware of that fact, Rich.”

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

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

***

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

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

“I am aware.”

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

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

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

“You would be correct.”

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

Darcy felt the tension leech from his bones.

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

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

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

“Just be cautious, William.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you ride out this morning?”

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

***

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

Dismounting quickly, he waited for her to approach.

“Miss Elizabeth.”

“Mr. Darcy.”

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

“You are upset with me.” He concluded.

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

“Are you not?”

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

“I am sorely vexed.”

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

“Not at all.”

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

“I know this man. He is a buffoon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That I am.”

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

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

“Does he have prospects for marriage?”

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

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

***

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

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

Letter of the Law – Chapter 10

I am having a ball playing with the grandkids. On Saturday, we went to the jungle (yes, the Amazon jungle). It was warm and lovely and the altitude was much easier for me. I get light-headed in our apartment because we are so high up. Good man that he is, John moved my desk into our room so I can get up and type for a while and then lay down to get my body’s bearings again. It’s still worth it.

Here is chapter 10. I think you may be surprised by what happens. From now until the end each chapter will be jam-packed with action. If you just started reading, here is the link to chapter one: Chapter One

Chapter 10

 

“She is delightful.” Dr. Stevenson shared with the two men remaining in Richard’s chambers. “Her translation was magnificent and the voices she gave the characters made the parents and their sons come alive, almost as if they were in the room reciting their own story.”

Easily, Darcy could imagine quiet evenings at Pemberley with her entertaining a house full of young children. The hallways would ring with laughter. The thought brought comfort and peace to a life constantly in turmoil since inheriting from his father. He smiled.

“She would be an asset to any man’s home.” Richard agreed to his musings.

“Have you been introduced to the eldest Miss Bennet?” The doctor queried. “She is a lovely woman of exceptional beauty. Why, even with a red nose and a fevered brow, her elegant good looks almost robbed me of my breath.” He paused in contemplation of Miss Jane Bennet.

“I have not had the privilege.” Richard turned to his cousin. “Do you find Miss Elizabeth’s sister to be superior in appearance to Miss Elizabeth?”

“Not at all!” There was no hesitation. “Although Miss Bennet has the fair coloring of the classic style claimed by the ton as being the epitome of charm and desirability, I find she pales next to her sister.”

Darcy then directed his focus on Dr. Stevenson. “You are inclined to pursue the elder sister then?” He hoped.

“No, I am not.” The surgeon sighed. “Bingley’s interest is apparent, and I would not risk the loss of a pleasant acquaintance by giving pursuit to a lady he holds in esteem.”

“Yet, you feel no such compulsion to expressing interest in Miss Elizabeth when the both of us have clearly expressed our intentions.” Richard pointed at his chest and then at Darcy. His brow lifted. Darcy knew that look. It was his cousin’s way of getting a man to rethink his position, to come to the conclusion Richard wanted him to reach.

“I apologize, sirs.” The doctor tipped his head to them both. “I assumed you were speaking of a friendly competition and were joking when you shared your intentions.” He looked from one man to the other. “You were not in jest?”

“Not at all.” Darcy’s firm reply would have left no misunderstanding in the doctor’s mind.

“Then I will bow out of the competition and wish both of you gentlemen well in your pursuit. As mentioned before, she is a remarkable young woman who would enhance your happiness, I have no doubt.” At that, he rose to join the company downstairs, leaving the cousins alone.

When the door closed behind the surgeon, Richard inquired, “Was Stevenson correct about Miss Bennet?”

“Bingley believes so.”

“Is she as lovely as his other ‘angels’?

“More so, I believe.”

“Hmmm.” The Colonel pondered, then shook his head slowly.

Darcy’s hopes in his cousin’s lack of attachment to one Bennet sister in possible favor of the other burst with Richard’s next comment.

“Then I am pleased for Bingley.”

Blast!

***

Within an hour the drawing room of Netherfield Park started filling. The first arrivals were his aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Matlock. Aunt Helen had barely greeted her hosts before moving quickly up the stairs to attend Richard. Uncle Hugh received a report from both Darcy and Dr. Stevenson. The news was a heavy burden for a father who loved his son.

The next to arrive was Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her three youngest daughters. Upon their entrance into the room, the noise level increased exponentially.

While Miss Bingley ignored the Bennet females, she fawned over his uncle.

Darcy had no clue who disgusted him more. His hostess, who placed rank over manners, or Mrs. Bennet, who declared her youngest, Miss Lydia, to be the perfect match for a military man, especially one who was the son of an earl.

When Sir William and his eldest, Charlotte, joined the fray, Darcy invited his uncle to join Richard and Aunt Helen in the upstairs bedchamber, far away from the noise.

***

“Charlotte,” Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised to see her good friend outside Jane’s doorway. “Welcome.” She stepped back to allow Charlotte to enter. Before the door closed, she easily heard her mother’s loud exclamations of glee at having two daughters already ensconced at Netherfield with an offer of leaving Lydia to care for Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Turning back to the room, Jane asked, “Are you well, Lizzy?”

“I am well.” Elizabeth felt the warmth of humiliation rise from her chest. She only hoped the gentlemen were not witnesses to her mother and youngest sister’s inappropriate conduct. They had little to recommend themselves…Elizabeth shuttered upon realizing how many times over the past week the same thought had crossed her mind, always in reference to herself and Mr. Darcy. Get control of yourself, Lizzy Bennet!

“Charlotte, I am pleased you have come.” Jane, flushed with the remnants of a fever, graciously offered the chair next to the bed to Miss Lucas.

“How could I not come, Jane? I have such happy news to share.”

At this, Elizabeth pulled another chair close. “Do tell, my friend.”

A becoming blush covered Charlotte’s cheeks. “As you are aware, Mr. Bingley paid particular attention to me both at the assembly and the evening we hosted the Netherfield party at Lucas Lodge. My father is downstairs inquiring as to the gentleman’s intentions. Holding my hand and embracing me surely means Mr. Bingley has decided to pursue me for a courtship and marriage. I have never been this pleased.”

How could this be?

Elizabeth could not speak. Jane said not one word. The red hue to Jane’s face and neck was replaced with a pasty white color. Elizabeth was distraught and angry at the truth of her words. Mr. Bingley had done exactly as she stated. However, both sister’s assumed it was a reflection of his friendly nature rather than genuine interest.

“Did you not notice how he gave equal attention to Jane?” Elizabeth had to ask. Her beloved sister’s heart was breaking in front of them both.

“Indeed, I did, at the assembly.” Charlotte nodded. “Nonetheless, he singled me out for particular notice during the treasure hunt. A gentleman of good reputation would not have done so unless his affections were engaged.”

Jane whimpered, cupping her hand over her mouth to stop the noise.

Immediately distressed, Charlotte begged for understanding. “I am exceedingly sorry, Jane. I had no idea your heart was fully engaged. I saw nothing in your approach to indicate you were in any way helping Mr. Bingley along.”

Covering her eyes, Jane swallowed. Inhaling deeply, she dropped her hand to her side and looked directly at her friend.

“I am pleased for you.” Her smile was tremulous. “There is no one other than Lizzy I would wish more joy than you, dear Charlotte. I am not at all surprised at Mr. Bingley finding you to be anything other than what you are, an exceedingly lovely woman who would grace his home.”

“I thank you for your kindness, Jane.” Charlotte admitted, “I will confess to being surprised at his attention. In looks, I pale to your beauty and I am far more pragmatic than kind. I am also, I believe, Mr. Bingley’s elder by several years. In this, I find I would be far more qualified to marry Mr. Darcy than his friend as we are closer in age and character.”

What? Marry Mr. Darcy? How could this be? Elizabeth fretted. Surely not!

“Yet, Mr. Darcy has shown no interest at all to any of the young ladies here in Hertfordshire,” Charlotte continued. “I fear he will soon depart for greener pastures where the company meets his exalted standards. He would have no interest in the likes of us.”

Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who turned her head away.

“You will accept Mr. Bingley then?” Jane whispered.

“I would be foolish if I did not.” Charlotte harrumphed. “And, I doubt my father would ever forgive me if I refused him. He has, not so gently, been pushing me to put myself out there for any man’s notice. He even suggested I flirt with Mr. Martin within weeks of him losing his wife in childbirth. He would be impossible to live with if I chose not to become Mistress of Netherfield Park.”

Elizabeth nodded. Sir William was a jovial man who thrilled to repetitiously boast of his short time at St. James Court in London. Having a daughter residing in the grandest house in Hertfordshire, especially one exceeding the influence of Longbourn, would be a topic he could brag upon for decades to come. He was not a malicious man, at all. He was a father who wanted the best for his children, especially if it reflected well upon himself.

“But, do you love him?” Elizabeth was moved to ask.

Charlotte pondered at length. Finally, she responded.

“I do not believe so, Lizzy. I have never been romantic, nor can I imagine my becoming so. I should think I have as good a chance of happiness as if I studied his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always contrive to grow sufficiently unlike afterward to have their share of vexation. And, it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”

“Charlotte! You cannot believe this to be true.”

“I can, Lizzy.” Clasping her hands together on her lap, Charlotte continued, “You see, I have studied the disparate relationship between each of your parents and mine. Both husbands and wives have little in common after several decades together, yet they continue on as contented as they can be under their circumstances. With Mr. Bingley’s amiability and the evidence that he easily bends to his sister’s will, I have no reason to doubt we will have a measure of upbuilding interchange during our marriage.”

“This is not sound,” Elizabeth exclaimed, ever aware of her sister’s pained countenance. “I will confess to having reservations after seeing Mr. Bingley’s conduct towards you both at the assembly. He acted the flirt. Nevertheless, I was willing to overlook his attitude since it appeared to come to no harm. Now? I wish I had said something to you and to Jane.” She rubbed her palms on the fabric covering her legs, knowing this was dangerous territory to venture into. “Can you trust a man to remain loyal? What if you wed and he continues his overly friendly overtures to other females? Could you keep from resentment should you witness his familiarity with a woman who is everything lovely? What happens when you have birthed your fifth child, you are closer to five and thirty than the days of your youth, you have softened around the middle, and no longer give evidence of the vitality of youth? At that point, Mr. Bingley continues his habits of holding a young woman’s hand, embracing her in front of your friends and family, and paying particular attention to a debutante who is fresh on the marriage mart with more accomplishments than the three of us added together? How contented would you be then?”

Before Charlotte could respond, a maid rapped on the door requesting Charlotte’s presence in Mr. Bingley’s study for a private audience.

Shrugging her shoulders, their friend walked from the room, not looking back.

Jane burst into tears.

Moving into the chair closest to her sister, Elizabeth sought to provide comfort. When the sobbing finally abated, Elizabeth was shocked at the first words from her sister’s mouth.

“I would not accept Mr. Bingley if he had offered and I pray Charlotte does not as well.”

“What? How could you…?” Perplexed, Elizabeth sought to understand.

“Lizzy, I allowed myself to be blinded by his smile to a flaw I despise. Charm with no honor is false and will only lead to far more pain than I am feeling now.”

“Will you be well, dearest?”

“I would far rather find out now when my feelings are new than to discover later when I have no way out of a terrible marriage.” Jane swallowed. “Pray request a carriage for our immediate removal.” She threw back the bed clothes and moved to stand. “Despite what our mother desires, I am done with Netherfield Park.”

Elizabeth wanted to cheer. Pieces had fallen into place and she now understood what had made her uncomfortable from the beginning of their acquaintance with the Netherfield occupants. They would return to Longbourn where she would continue to nurse Jane. This would keep them from company until, hopefully, Mr. Bingley’s future with Charlotte was sealed.

Netherfield was a leased property. Possibly, Mr. Darcy or his family would encourage Mr. Bingley to take a more permanent estate in the north. The far north.

Stepping outside the room, Elizabeth called to the maid to deliver a message to her mother to await her two eldest daughters. She could take all five of her children home with her when she departed.

Elizabeth could not help thinking of Miss Bingley’s shear delight at having them gone.

***

By the time Elizabeth and Jane reached the bottom of the stairs, Charlotte entered the hallway from Mr. Bingley’s study. Her countenance was solemn, opposite of what it had been when she had first arrived in Jane’s chambers. Mr. Bingley remained at his desk, a stunned look upon his face.

“I refused him.”

With those three words, Charlotte determined her fate as well as Mr. Bingley’s. She would be the spinster who foolishly turned down an amazing offer of marriage, and he would be proclaimed a flirt in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation.

“Are you well, my friend?” whispered Elizabeth.

Leaning closer, she spoke softly so only Elizabeth could hear. “While I am pleased to have been asked, I could not choose a future with a dishonorable man.” Charlotte took Elizabeth’s hand. “Although my father will be displeased, I find myself standing a little taller than when I marched into his study. I am a worthy woman.”

“Absolutely!”

With as much bustle as when they had arrived, the Bennets and Lucas’s departed the company of Mr. Bingley, his family, and his friends. None of the females looked back as the carriage made its way towards Meryton. As far as they were all concerned, though it remained unspoken, they were finished with their newest neighbors.

Except, the deep, black void settling in the pit of Elizabeth’s stomach ached with unfulfilled yearning. Yearning for what, she wondered.

Dark eyes, wavy dark curls, broad shoulders, and gleaming white teeth when he smiled.

She sighed. It was too bad, she would not be able to complete her task. With his time taken by his care for his cousin and no desire to again be in the company of his hosts, Elizabeth decided her best course was to put him out of her mind. Far, far away.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 9

I’m having a ball with the grandchildren. They are so awesome that I’m not typing as much as I should or as much as my daughter demands. However, as soon as I post this I’m going to start on Chapter 10. This chapter is a bit of filler but it sets the scene for what’s to come. Caroline Bingley is a stinker. Ack!!! But I need her to be this way for later. Without further ado, here’s the chapter.

If you are starting at the beginning, here is the link to Chapter 1: Chapter One

Chapter 9

 

While Jane continued to sleep peacefully, Elizabeth felt anything but peace. Mr. Darcy could stir her ire faster than any man alive. One moment he acted the gentleman and she was pleased with his company, finding much to desire in this persona. When his words became presumptuous and his manner arrogant, she despised the ground he walked upon. How one man could inspire such disparate feelings puzzled her exceedingly.

The colonel? He was exceptionally brave. And, extremely creative with his use of invectives. She chuckled to herself. Never before had she seen a man’s bare leg and feet. Upon reflection, she could not recall ever spying her father without stockings. Why were they so hairy? The colonel even had a patch of the dark sprigs on the top of his big toe. His feet were long and narrow. His toes were long and jointed, similar to an old man’s fingers. Truly, they were not a thing of beauty. Yet, overall, the pleasantness of his character made her easily overlook any physical flaws. Of course, perhaps all men had long, skinny, hairy feet.

She stuck her own stockinged foot in front of her. Certainly, it was much shorter than the Colonel’s. It was wider as well. Should the fabric be suddenly removed, as his had been, there would be no thick dark hairs on her toes.

Chuckling to herself so as to not wake her sister, she contemplated the difference in the appendages of her sisters. Jane, Mary, and Lydia were all taller than she. Each had longer slimmer feet, with Lydia’s being the longest. The other sisters had all rejoiced as this kept their youngest sister from ‘borrowing’ their shoes without asking. Elizabeth and Kitty were about the same height. Where her curves were rounded, and her legs were more muscled, Kitty’s feet were wider, giving her the impression of being more solidly founded. Of them all, it was their mother who had the tiniest feet, giving a clue as to her petite form prior to having given birth to five healthy daughters.

Unable to contain her laughter, Elizabeth promised to study the boots of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Would they be longer or shorter than the Colonel’s? Skinnier or fatter? Would Mr. Bingley have red hair on his legs to match his head? Perhaps not, as the colonel’s hair was a much lighter color than on his legs.

What a silly subject to consider, Elizabeth Bennet!

Jane stirred at the unexpected noise in the bedchamber.

“Lizzy?” Her voice sounded like the bullfrogs around the rim of Longbourn’s pond. “Are you well?”

Elizabeth smiled. How like Jane to be concerned over someone’s health other than her own.

“Do not be concerned, sister. I was pondering the differences in male and female feet, which caused my burst of humor.”

“Feet?” Jane’s brow furrowed. “What could possibly have happened to have caused this particular line of thought?”

“Jane,” she whispered. “I witnessed something scandalous today.” Both girls looked at the corners of the room as if there was someone in hiding eager to hear their conversation. “Mr. Darcy pulled off his cousin’s stocking after removing his boot. I will tell you now, the sight of his barefoot has been the subject of my contemplation since. Are you shocked at my lack of decorum for letting my eyes travel to such a place?”

Jane giggled. “Only you, Lizzy dear.” She lay back on the mattress, resting the back of her hand against her forehead. “Oh, no! Now, I am curious. What sort of feet does a man have?”

Elizabeth’s mirth could not be contained. “Be prepared to be surprised. If you will drink this cool water to soothe your throat, I will tell you every aspect of the gentleman’s lowest portion in specific detail.”

Jane’s eagerness to drink from the glass gave Elizabeth no clue as to her motive. Was it thirst or curiosity? Her blush provided the answer Elizabeth sought. Smiling from ear to ear at her shy sister’s burning desire to know, she began her narrative.

***

With eagerness, Darcy descended the stairs to break his fast. He could not recall sleeping even one wink the whole of the night. It was not hunger causing him to move his valet along, but the need to see Miss Elizabeth.

Some females were drawn to an injured man, their sympathetic heartstrings pulled by being needed to provide care. He also understood some ladies were drawn to a uniform. None looked finer in a blue or red coat of the military than his cousin. Blast the man!

Meeting Bingley at the foot of the staircase, they entered the room together, stunned to be met with Miss Elizabeth’s noisy hiccup.

Slapping her hand over her mouth, she raised her eyes from her brief perusal of the gentlemen’s Hessians to look slightly behind their shoulders. Both Darcy and Bingley looked to the floor to see if they had inadvertently stepped into something that should not have been inside Netherfield Park. No, the floor was bare. What was she about?

“Miss Elizabeth,” Bingley greeted his guest with his typical enthusiasm. “I hope your being downstairs is an indication of Miss Bennet’s improved health?”

As his friend and host moved to fill his plate, Darcy listened carefully to her reply. It would not do for the Bennet sisters to remove themselves to Longbourn while he was glued to his cousin’s side. Of course, should they do so, he would have the advantage as Richard would not be leaving his bed for a long while.

“I thank you for your inquiry, sir.” She patted her lips with her napkin before placing it back on her lap. “I was hoping to request the presence of the apothecary or surgeon when they came to examine the Colonel. Jane’s cough has not abated, and her throat is raw.”

“Good. Good.” Bingley distractedly proclaimed as he took the seat across from her. At their glances, he quickly amended his response. “No, I do not mean her being ill is good, for that could never be so. What I mean, or rather, what I meant, was that it was good I can be of service by contacting Mr. Jones. Dr. Stevenson is already upstairs with the colonel.”

Unknown to the other dining companions, Darcy had initially responded the same as Bingley. It was good the Miss Bennets would be remaining at Netherfield for his own purposes to bear fruition—as long as he could keep her away from Richard.

“I would ask, if I may, that a note be delivered to Longbourn. With the Colonel needing intensive care, I think the wise course for Jane and me would be to remove ourselves to our home. She could recover in a familiar room with familiar company, while you tend to a more important guest.”

“No!” Darcy could not wait for Bingley to respond. What if he agreed with Miss Elizabeth? That simply would not do.

Now, it was both eyes staring at him.

“Pray, do not think my cousin would wish Miss Bennet’s removal at the expense of his own care,” he said. “Richard would feel worse, and so would we, should your sister get a chill from the three-mile journey. My belief is that you both should remain until she has improved considerably.”

“Was anyone going to ask my opinion?” Caroline Bingley stood just inside the doorway, her sister and brother-in-law shadowing behind her.

Darcy could hear the venom in her voice. Bingley really needed to take control of his sister. She acted a fishwife, only better dressed.

“Caroline, I only stated what I knew you would offer should you have been in the room.” Her brother responded.

“Really, Charles.” With a target in mind, she approached the table. Turning her attention to the only female already seated, she maliciously purred, “Miss Elizabeth, you are still here? I am all astonishment.”

“Caroline!” It was all the warning Miss Bingley got for not minding her tongue. Bingley’s countenance was more embarrassed than furious, which disappointed Darcy.

“Why, Charles.” Her tone changed but not the vitriol of her words. “With the dear Colonel above stairs on the brink of death, you cannot expect the staff to care for someone with a paltry illness who would be better off at home, would you? After all, our newest patient is family to our invited guest, is he not?”

“Miss Bingley, I apologize for my sister and me being a burden by stretching your limits as hostess of your brother’s home. We shall leave as soon as Mr. Jones declares Jane fit for travel.” Setting her fork aside, Miss Elizabeth stood, causing Darcy and Bingley to stand at attention as well. “Pray, excuse me.”

“Caroline Bingley!” Charles hissed. “Your insult to our guest was poorly done.”

“Humph!” Taking her seat, Miss Bingley ignored her brother. Instead, she nodded to the footman to prepare a plate and serve her.

Darcy was appalled at her rudeness.

“Mr. Darcy, have you heard whether your aunt and uncle, the earl and countess, will be arriving today? I cannot imagine them not coming to Hertfordshire to see to their son’s care.” Miss Bingley placed a spoonful of jam on her toast. “Once we are rid of the Bennets, I can devote my full attention to them, as is their due.”

He knew what she was about. Attempting to garner favor from someone of elevated rank and title at the expense of other guests was the sign of a neglectful hostess. Darcy despised her dream of being mistress of his estates.

“I have not yet heard, Miss Bingley.” Darcy contemplated whether or not to speak his mind. What had been easily done with Miss Elizabeth was uncomfortable with his host’s sister. Swallowing, he decided to commit himself to his usual behavior. If Bingley would not remonstrate his sister, it was not his business.

“I shall have the best rooms prepared. They shall have every comfort.” She looked at her brother. “Charles, we will recommend Netherfield Park as the scion of propriety and good manners in this country hamlet. Thus, we will be well-spoken of when the Fitzwilliams return to town.”

“Somehow, I cannot consider denigrating a guest nor our place of residence as being the epitome of good manners, Caroline. Therefore, I would recommend you not speak as long as the Colonel’s family is in residence. Darcy, I know,” Bingley looked to his friend, “has learned to overlook your bad behavior. The others will not.”

“Charles Bingley! Of what are you speaking?” Miss Bingley’s affront appeared genuine. “I have been taught at the finest academy in London and regularly associate with the elite of society.” Suddenly, she pierced him with her sharp eyes. “Why are you speaking this way now? Is it the influence of those Bennets who have made you forget yourself, treating your beloved sister as an outcast? All the more reason to send them home.”

Turning to Darcy, she continued her rant. “Sir, you cannot agree with my silly brother. He knows not of what he is speaking. Surely, you have observed our superiority over local society. In fact, was it not you, yourself, who proclaimed none in Meryton were fit to stand up with at a dance? Did you not prove your point by dancing solely with me and my sister? How could you possibly find fault with my desires to remove Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth from our house before the arrival of Lord and Lady Matlock?”

It galled him to have her toss his character alongside hers. Apparently, Miss Elizabeth was not the only one to hear his horrid comments at the assembly. He was shamed. But, so should she be abashed by her own conduct.

“My mother and my Aunt Helen would never turn a guest out in favor of someone of elevated rank. Good manners would, and has, prohibited them from doing so.” Darcy set down his utensils indicating he was finished. Standing, he hovered over her, reminding Miss Bingley of her relative position in society compared to his. “I have apologized for my words and conduct at the assembly, Miss Bingley. I erred grievously. You have done the same.” Bowing to his host, he excused himself.

Rushing up the staircase, he returned to his cousin’s room. He felt in desperate need of common sense and peace. The only sources in Netherfield Park that he was aware of were either Richard or Miss Elizabeth. Since she would be caring for her sister, the Colonel would do.

“What has lit a fire under you?” His cousin asked.

Darcy was relieved to see his Richard sitting up in bed, his injured leg propped upon a carefully arranged pile of pillows. The surgeon stood from the chair next to the bed when he had burst through the doorway. He reseated himself as soon as Darcy joined them.

“I am happy you are here, Mr. Darcy.” Dr. Stevenson was a young physician who took his career choice seriously. Like Richard, he was the second son with a healthy older brother. The likelihood of either of the two men in front of him inheriting was slim to none. Nevertheless, neither man bore resentment.

“How might I help you, Doctor?” Glancing at his cousin, Darcy found him relaxed and seemingly unconcerned.

“The truth is, my patient has already expressed a desire to stand and join the company downstairs. Since you appear to know your cousin well, you will not be shocked when I opine that he will do all he can to see to his desires as soon as I turn my back. Therefore, Mr. Darcy, I am charging you with keeping him in place.”

“An impossible task.” Richard chuckled loudly at Darcy’s comment.

“Unfortunately, knowing the Colonel as I do, I had surmised this to be his attitude as soon as I heard of his injury. Because of this, I had my assistant deliver a mobility device to Lord and Lady Matlock to deliver when they arrive today. I merely require as much time to pass as possible before he starts using the crutch, that is all.”

“You are a wise man,” Darcy observed. He, personally, had never sustained such an injury. However, it was easy to speculate how frustrating Richard’s position was. Like him, Darcy would be pulling against the bit for as much freedom as was possible.

“Also,” the surgeon continued. “I asked the young lady I met yesterday who is currently caring for her sister if she would come and read to your cousin, who, I might add, was exceedingly happy at the arrangement.” Without realizing the surprised glee of both gentlemen, he continued, “She is a lovely young lady with a charming character. Do either of you know her circumstances?”

Darcy wanted to growl. Richard’s eyes twinkled in merriment.

“As I understand it,” his cousin said. “She is the second of five daughters who have little in the way of assets other than themselves to bring to a marriage. Upon observation, she is a devoted caregiver, as evidenced by her care of Miss Bennet and the fact she walked three miles to attend her.”

“Then she would be an ideal wife for a surgeon, I believe.” Dr. Stevenson mused, much to the consternation of both men. “My practice has grown to the extent I no longer am concerned about income so her small portion means nothing,” he muttered, as if to himself. Making a decision, he declared to the room at large, “I would enjoy having a helping hand in my practice who can also tend to my needs, someone bright, lively, and wise. Would this be the way either of you would describe Miss Elizabeth?”

Richard was far too quick to reply. “Absolutely! As a matter of honor, I will inform you that both my cousin and I are determined to make Miss Elizabeth our bride. What have you to say to this?” His challenge was clear. Step away, Dr. Stevenson!

However, the good doctor was undeterred.

“She will be here soon. Then we shall see.” The doctor paused. “I was surprised to find no maid had been assigned to help with their care, so I inquired of Miss Bingley as she was on her way to break her fast if one could accompany Miss Elizabeth to the sickroom.”

Darcy shook his head as Richard demanded, “what is this?”

A soft tap on the door ended their mental castigation of Miss Bingley.

Since he was closest to the entryway, Darcy answered. He was delighted to be the recipient of her smile. As she stepped inside the room, a maid followed closely.

Good! Miss Bingley finally did something right.

Curtseying to the gentlemen alongside and upon the bed, Miss Elizabeth observed, “Colonel, I am sorry to share that the selections of reading material from the Netherfield Park library is rather sparse. Knowing this, my father secreted two volumes, recently arrived from Hatchards in London, for me to devour with the small trunk they sent for our care.” Holding up the two tomes, she offered a choice. “The first is my personal favorite, Der Schweizerische Robinson by Johann David Wyss, and the second is Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron.”

“You read German?” Asked the doctor at the same time Darcy blurted, “You read Lord Byron?”

Without answering either question directly, Miss Elizabeth looked at the Colonel as she approached the two chairs on the near side of the bed. “Sir, if you do not understand the language, I will be pleased to translate.”

He laughed boisterously as Darcy and Dr. Stevenson hurried to take the remaining chair after she was seated. The doctor won.

Undeterred, Darcy requested an additional chair for himself and the maid from a footman located in the hallway.

As the servant placed a tall wooden chair in the corner for the maid, he had the man put the other directly across from Miss Elizabeth. He could observe her lovely face while the surgeon could not. He wanted to laugh aloud at the brilliance of his plan.

Then, Miss Elizabeth shifted her chair so she looked directly at Richard, placing her shoulder to Dr. Stevenson, and her profile to Darcy. He wanted to kick the bed. Apparently, he was not nearly as intelligent as he had thought he was.

Letter of the Law – Chapter Eight

The past few weeks have been hectic. We moved the contents of our house into storage, took care of some medical needs, and headed to South America. We will be in Ecuador for two months. The elevation is about 9,000 ft. so I’m still adjusting to the altitude. But, we have our grandchildren here so every breath I struggle to take is worth it.  Needless to say, Jennifer is after me to keep my focus and get busy writing so you should expect chapters fairly frequently.

I owe a huge shout of gratitude to Dr. Russell of the Urgent Care clinic in Roseburg and Dr. Susan Williams, my orthopedic surgeon. They both confirmed I was crazy for having a compound fracture in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s leg. So, you will note a change at the beginning of chapter eight. As they each graphically explained where the break should and should not be along with explicit impacts on a person’s body, I truly wanted to faint. Thus, you will read about the injury but it will not be as detailed. Phew!

Without further ado, here is chapter eight. If you are just starting to read, here is the link to the beginning: Chapter One

Chapter 8

 

Elizabeth ran as if her life depended upon it. Her house shoes provided little protection against the rocks and sticks in the field. When she approached the carnage, the sights and the sounds brought bile to her throat. She should not be here.

The stream of words erupting from the colonel, the air blowing from the horse’s nostrils, the ensuing boom of the pistol held tightly in the grip of the older groom, the motion of Mr. Darcy sawing the shaft of the colonel’s boot with a knife blade, the smell of blood and fear served to punish her impulsiveness.

Mr. Darcy looked up and caught her eye. Surprise, or was it disgust at her boldness, covered his face making her wish even more that she had remained firmly in place at Netherfield.

This was the carnage of warfare. A sight the colonel had undoubtedly witnessed on a much grander scale. A sight no lady should witness.

“Might I be of service, sir?” She asked no one in particular as her feet brought her to a stop. Elizabeth desperately wanted to look away. Her eyes refused to obey.

She had never seen death. Nor had she heard it.

The final exhale from the grey animal wrenched her gut until she feared her stomach would empty upon the ground.

Mr. Darcy ripped off the colonel’s stocking, exposing his lower leg to the cold air. Her gaze fixed upon his injured limb. Against Bingley’s declaration, there was no bone emerging through the dark hairs curling from the pale skin. The colonel’s calf did not lay straight on the ground. About mid-way up, there was an unnatural bend, evidence the leg was, indeed, broken.

Elizabeth closed her eyes as Mr. Darcy began to unknot his cravat. She knew his intent. He would wrap the leg to offer whatever stability and cushioning could be provided.

“Ye be wantin’ ‘is, sir.” It was the voice of the aged groom.

Raising her eyelids, she saw him hand a straight piece of wood to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth, grateful the cool temperatures necessitated a shawl inside the sprawling house, removed it from her shoulders and held it in front of her—a gift offering on the altar of compassion.

However, her feet refused to move her closer as her eyes again focused on the injury.

The groom approached her in the same manner as Mr. Darcy had done the wild stallion. Calm. His steps evenly paced. Without a word, he took the fabric from her hands and returned to kneel across from the gentleman.

With her view of the colonel’s leg blocked, Elizabeth came to her senses. “Pardon me, gentlemen.”

She turned to leave when the colonel’s voice stopped her.

“Miss Elizabeth, I thank you for your kindness and aid. Tis what every wounded soldier longs for.” He said through gritted teeth, his breaths coming in gasps.

Glancing first at the officer and then Mr. Darcy, she nodded. Then she returned to Netherfield Park.

***

Darcy counted the chimes from the clock on the mantle—three. The room was pitch dark except for the lone candle casting shadows over his sleeping cousin’s face. Richard had readily consumed a fair amount of Bingley’s brandy by the time the surgeon had arrived from town. The pain had been far easier to deal with than the news. Not only would the injury end his active military service, it would leave his lower leg bent for the rest of his life. Richard, whose joy had been dancing with the ladies as well as gentlemen’s activities such as boxing and fencing, would have a decided limp. According to Dr. Stevenson, it may also necessitate the permanent use of a walking cane.

Memories of the cousins romping through Pemberley or Matlock woods, running across fields, and racing to see who could climb a tree fastest flitted through Darcy’s mind as he felt Richard’s loss in his own heart. His cousin was an energetic man, always on the move. The doctor had been blunt, which had been his cousin’s request.

Dead silence had been Richard’s response until the doctor walked from the room. Only then had he allowed his devastation to show. When Bingley had stopped by the bed chamber, the colonel’s apology for the loss of a fine animal had been sincere. When it was, again, just the two of them, his elder cousin proceeded to drink himself into an inebriation that would have impressed the man had he not been so overcome.

Chuckling softly to himself, Darcy had to admit that among the sterling qualities his cousin possessed, singing well while drunk was not one of them. However, what he lacked in melody, he made up for with enthusiasm. Darcy was eternally grateful none of the women, including the maids, had witnessed Richard’s lack of skill or overheard the words to his selection of songs.

Richard was a fine man, the finest in all of Darcy’s acquaintance. His refusal of laudanum had not surprised the physician. Many patients who had witnessed the destruction caused when a person became dependent upon the drug would not touch the substance. As an officer in the army, Richard had seen his fair share.

The clock struck the half hour. Straightening in the chair positioned next to the bed, Darcy stretched his arms to the ceiling and yawned. He needed coffee—hot, strong, and black. Shaking the stiffness from his limbs as he stood, he decided that rather than disturbing a servant to provide the beverage, he could do with a walk downstairs and back. A quick glance at his cousin found him to be sleeping just as soundly as he had been the past hours.

In his shirtsleeves with no cravat, he stepped outside the room, confident he would meet none of the other residents. His confidence was severely misplaced.

Her body was warm and surprisingly solid.

Miss Elizabeth’s effort to jump back to avoid him barreling into her was in vain. Instinctively, his arms surrounded her, pulling her close as he stepped to the side to regain his footing and regain his balance.

“Sir!” Her hands automatically grabbed at his waist to keep from falling backward.

It was over in seconds. Yet, his arms tightened rather than relaxed their hold her as a hint of honeysuckle ensnared him in the moment. When she stepped back, his hands fell to his side.

“Pray, accept my apology…” They both began, their voices soft in the hallway.

“No…”

“You will not accept my apology? I would not have thought it of you, Mr. Darcy.”

He stammered. “No, you…yes, I…” Could a man be more embarrassed? “I gladly accept your apology, but you were not responsible for our collision. The fault is solely mine.”

Tilting her head, she grinned. “I see the situation clearly now. You were waiting behind the door until an unsuspecting person walked by, thereby pouncing to catch them by surprise, is that correct? Tell me, sir, since you and your cousin and my sister and I are the only residents of the guest wing, were you hoping to frighten me into revealing my choice of possible bride, so you would have to wait no longer?”

“You?”

He adored her smile. He shook off the thought. She would never be accepted by his peers or his family. However, his imagination quickly went from friendship to marriage where she was concerned. Emotions shot through him bringing clarity. He was in serious danger of falling in like with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

“No, not me.” She huffed. “My choice is Miss Mary King, a lovely young lady with a dowry of ten-thousand to bring to the marriage. She is, much as you are, reserved in company.” Again, Elizabeth tilted her head. This time she rested her finger on her cheek. “No, I should rather compare her to Jane, both in looks and character. Her quiet comportment and sweet temperament would be a lovely addition to any gentleman’s home.”

He could see she was pleased with herself. On one hand, it pleased him as well that she had taken the time to give consideration to his requirements. On the other, how in the world could she recommend someone who was the complete opposite of what he truly needed? He was quiet. Imagine having a wife who rarely spoke. The walls of Pemberley would suffer for the silence. In addition, he did not need to add to his fortune. Also, he despised sweets. Rather, he savored rich, bold flavors, brilliant colors rather than pale hues, and lively conversation rather than the mere exchange of polite inanities. No, Miss King would never do, not when Miss Elizabeth was standing less than two feet in front of him.

He shook his head, leaning closer so she could hear every word. “Although I appreciate your effort, I cannot see how Miss King would be an appropriate bride for me.”

“Why ever not?”

He knew to speak carefully when her hands flew to her hips, her shoulders went back, and her eyes flashed.

“Miss Elizabeth, in canvassing the quality of marriage I would like to achieve as we discussed in the field, I failed to mention one specific area of critical importance.”

“And that might be?”

Her eyebrow arched.

He smiled. “I favor dark hair and dark eyes.”

Her mouth formed into an ‘O’ as her eyes opened wide. Not to be outdone by his shocking claim, she rapidly recovered.

“How dark?”

He craved her impertinence. “I would say about like yours.” It was boldly done, almost a declaration of his intentions. Had he intentions? In the middle of the night after hours of worried vigil, he cared not.

“I see.” Her finger went back up to her cheek. The twinkle came back to her eyes. “Then I believe you may need to leave our corner of Hertfordshire to seek a wife elsewhere.”

“You do, do you?” He stepped closer, thinking Bingley might be on to something with his flirting. Somewhere, somehow, his common sense had left him. “Wait, pray do not answer.” He stepped back. Fitzwilliam Darcy was an honorable man. Sudden disgust at his conduct shamed him.

“You have been the model of kindness to both your sister and my cousin, Miss Elizabeth, and I am repaying you by placing you in a compromising position, something I had vowed to myself and my father I would never do to a lady.” He ran his hand over his mouth and took another step away from her, putting his back against the bedchamber door. “I beg you accept my apology and my promise that I will never dishonor you again.”

“Mr. Darcy, I am not an ignorant miss. I, too, am aware of the danger.” She stepped towards him, her hands gripping each side of her waist. “Nevertheless, might I point out that this meeting was accidental, and that we have, in fact, been standing alone for mere minutes. There has been no improper behavior, at least no more than our meeting on the pathway to Oakham Mount. Neither of our reputations were marred then and I have no doubt this impromptu meeting will be the same. With that said, sir, pray excuse me.”

He understood her ire. Accepting she had the right of it, he clasped and turned the door handle behind him, deciding he no longer had the need for coffee. Unfortunately, at that particular moment, his cousin roused enough to launch into a repeat performance of his earlier entertainment.

“Drink, my boys, and ne’er give o’er,

Drink until you can’t drink no more,

For the Frenchmen are coming for a fresh supply,

And they swear they’ll drink little England dry.

Paddie, widdie, waddle, widdie, bow, wow, wow,

Paddle, widdie, waddie, widdie, bow, wow, wow,

For the Frenchmen are coming with a fresh supply,

And they swear they’ll drink little England dry.”

In his mortification, he never lost his focus on the swaying of her hips as her skirts swished in time with the tavern shanty. Gulping at his sudden loss of composure, he hurried into the room to find Richard sitting up, sipping on the glass of water left on the table next to the bed.

“Who were you talking to, Darce? Was that a feminine voice I heard?” His cousin belched, then wiped his chin despite it being dry. “Perhaps, you were discussing my condition with the lovely Miss Elizabeth? Had she come to check on me? Such a kind woman, Darcy. And, she is beautiful, is she not?”

Darcy pressed his eyelids closed, somehow hoping his cousin was talking in his sleep and would not remember the conversation in the light of the morning.

“Oh, my Lord!” Richard proclaimed to the room. “I will not be leaving for the continent. Do you know what this means?” He finally looked directly at his cousin.

Darcy had no clue what Richard had in mind. In truth, this injury would forever change the soon-to-be former colonel. But, they had discussed this earlier, well after the doctor and Bingley left.

While his cousin had slept, Darcy pondered the ramifications of the accident. He knew his Uncle Hugh had set aside little monies for his second son. While Richard was fairly frugal, he was the son of an earl with a lifestyle that cost money to maintain. His prospects outside the military were not good.

Contemplating how he could help his cousin without offending Richard’s pride, Darcy reviewed his assets for a property easy to manage that could sustain his cousin for his lifetime. Briarwood, a small estate near Pemberley, earned two-thousand a year. The buildings were well-kempt and the ground fertile.

“I will gladly gift you Briarwood for your lifetime,” he offered.

“Do not be daft, my man.” Richard took another sip, the look on his face was entirely too smug. “Since I will be remaining in England, I can join in your pursuit of a bride.”

“You want to help me find a wife?” The idea was good. He trusted his cousin’s judgment more than any other man.

“Not at all.” Again, Richard drank from the glass. “My good man, should I marry instead, you can go back to standing in corners avoiding the active pursuit of maidens and their mothers.”

He was correct. The codicil stated that one or the other of them needed to be wed. Richard finding a bride would satisfy the terms. The lives of Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy would be relatively unchanged if his cousin succeeded.

“Do you have someone in mind? One of Bingley’s discarded ‘angels’ we discussed while we were at Darcy house?”

The smirk on Richard’s face was the first clue that Darcy was not going to like what would next come from his cousin’s mouth.

“Oh, yes, I do have someone in mind. Someone who lights up a room by her mere presence. Someone witty, passionate about those she cares for, and compassionate for all others.”

Darcy gulped again. No, it could not be.

“I will offer for Miss Elizabeth as soon as I am able. We will marry as soon as I can stand at the altar.”

“The doctor said the soonest you could hope for would be three months. We have eighty-eight days.” Relief flooded him from head to toe. Miss Elizabeth Bennet would not become Mrs. Richard Fitzwilliam.

“I can see your relief, Cousin.” Richard set the empty glass on the table. “No, you will not need to rush into matrimony. By my taking on a capable wife, my future will be settled. As far as walking to the chapel, I can apply for a special license for the ceremony to be held here, if Bingley would allow. Thus, I could be a married man within a week.”

His head was spinning. Things were moving too fast. Richard and Elizabeth? No!

“But, you do not know her.” Darcy urged his cousin to sense, while at the same time protecting his own interests. “You have had too much drink to make a decision you will have to live with for a lifetime.”

“Ah, I see what you are about.” Richard wagged his finger at him. “You disapprove because she is not of the first circles nor, I would guess, is she the daughter of a wealthy landowner who could cushion Pemberley’s coffers. Well, pray be reassured that I have no care for the opinions of others. As far as wealth is concerned, I have saved almost everything I have earned by discretely benefitting from the hospitality of both Matlock House and yours, Darcy. My mother set aside part of what she brought to their marriage for me should I ever leave the army. I am convinced she would gratefully release those funds. I can, then, set myself up as a gentleman landowner. Who better to bring to my home as a bride than a young lady raised on a country estate similar to her future husband’s?” Richard barely took in a breath before he continued. “Cannot you see that she would be perfect as a wife?”

Darcy hated disappointing his cousin. He answered honestly. “I cannot approve of Miss Elizabeth as a wife for you, Richard.” He held up his hand when his cousin started to object. “She is an excellent woman. I understand fully why you have chosen her. Nonetheless, you should know that I have chosen her as well.”

Not a sound was heard. Not a breath. Not a whisper. Darcy waited.

His cousin’s reply was not unexpected. “We shall allow Miss Elizabeth to choose.”

Bile shot up from his gut. If only he had not barged into her in the hallway. If only he had kept himself under good regulation. Then, she would view as an exemplary gentleman. Reviewing their short history, Darcy was aware he had a lot to repair in her opinion of his character. He vowed to himself, then and there, that he would begin immediately.

Walking to his cousin, his hand outstretched, the men shook on their gentleman’s agreement. Richard’s parting shot as he walked out of the room was, “may she choose me.”

Not while I can still draw a breath!

The door closed a bit more forcefully than he had intended. This was war. The battle was on.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 7

This story is consuming me!!! Help! I need time to do my taxes. Ha! I’ll get to them later.

If you are starting this story, here is the link to chapter one: Chapter One

Chapter 7

 

“She is a lovely young lady, Darcy. I cannot imagine you could find better should you search the whole of the Crown’s territories.” Bingley was standing vigil outside Miss Bennet’s bed chamber in hopes of getting a glimpse of his ‘angel’, so the cousins were indulging in his brandy in the privacy of his study.

“How can you be certain, cousin? You spent less than thirty minutes in her company before you removed upstairs to refresh yourself from your trip.”

“Ah, you see, that is the point, my good fellow.” The colonel appeared far too contented since he would not be the intended groom. “While Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst turned their nose up at the dust and mud on my uniform, Miss Elizabeth overlooked the debris. As well, she engaged in pleasant conversation to welcome a guest, quite unlike our hostess. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that she has been raised with good manners and is the model of gracious hospitality.”

“Humph!” Darcy scorned Richard’s opinion with one emphatic exhale. “Little do you know.”

“She is not the epitome of decorum?” His cousin raised his brows and his glass at the same time.

“For a certainty, she is. Nonetheless, her mother and two youngest sisters are ridiculously vulgar while her father sarcastically shreds their esteem by laughing at them. Her middle sister disappears behind a book as soon as any required social activity is concluded. Only her eldest sister, who is currently lying upstairs in her sick bed, is on par with Miss Elizabeth’s ladylike behavior.”

“What does her family have to do with anything? You would not be marrying any of them? You would not have to see them once you took your bride to Pemberley.” Richard flicked his hand into the air. “It is not as if you care what society thinks about yourself, Darcy. Why would you care what they think of your wife or her family?”

“I care because anyone I bring into my home will affect Georgiana. Miss Elizabeth’s younger sisters are of the same age. They would be terrible examples for a girl who is far more a follower than a leader.” Fair was fair. Darcy felt it necessary to play the Devil’s advocate to counter-balance Richard’s praise.

“I love Georgie too, cousin. Nevertheless, I would have no qualms about bringing Miss Elizabeth into my home as a wife.”

“What?” Darcy met his stare. “You would offer for her after knowing her less than an hour? Are you crazed? Or, are you making this declaration because you are safely leaving with your regiment in less than a week with no necessity tied upon you to find a bride?”

Richard clutched at his chest. “That was cruelly done.”

Darcy apologized, then spied the twinkle in the colonel’s eyes. He was being teased.

“I am serious, Rich. Did she make that much of an impression upon you or are you merely trying to determine my response to her?”

He shrugged. “I suppose a bit of both, if the truth were known. She does seem like the most pleasant female company I have met in a long while. You could do worse, I imagine.”

“She has agreed to help me find a wife.”

“What?” Richard unsuccessfully tried to cough and swallow at the same time. “However did this come about?”

“We spoke earlier today about what constitutes a good husband or wife. I am confident she knows exactly the type of lady I require to be Mistress of my estates and sister to Georgiana.”

“I cannot begin to imagine how that particular conversation took place, Darcy. You are not known for your verbosity, so I wonder at the information you actually imparted and what her understanding is of what you did share.”

“We will have to see who she conjures up from the local society, will we not? Then, and only then, will we know if I clearly delineated my desires and whether or not she is wise enough to make the correct application, would you not agree?” Darcy was smug, and he knew it. He was entirely confident in his abilities to communicate information. He also had no doubt of Miss Elizabeth’s ability to comprehend his opinions. “She will be busy tending her sister while they are in residence. Yet, I expect her to use her time wisely while she sits alongside the bed watching Miss Bennet rest. You shall see, Richard. If there is an appropriate candidate to be found in Hertfordshire, Miss Elizabeth will find her.”

“I hope so.” Richard muttered. “I dearly hope so.”

***

“Is Miss Bennet much improved?” Darcy asked the next morning when Elizabeth entered the breakfast room.

Only Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam expressed interest in her reply. The others continued devoting their attention to their meal.

“I am sorry to say she is not.” Elizabeth had been unable to do anything to remove the darkness beneath her eyes, nor did she care enough to try. Jane’s restless, sleepless night had kept her awake, running up and down the stairs to refill the water pitcher to cool her sister’s brow. Had Miss Bingley but provided a maid for assistance, they both might have received a measure of rest. Nonetheless, she determined to be a proper guest by not complaining.

“Perhaps the apothecary could be called?” Darcy suggested.

“Thank you, sir. It would be a kindness.” She placed a slice of bread and jam on a plate and carried it to the only available seat—one next to the colonel. Before she could be seated by an attending footman, Mr. Bingley had signaled a message be sent to Mr. Jones, who had seen to the Bennet family care for her lifetime.

“Miss Elizabeth,” the colonel spoke softly. “Might you enjoy a brief respite from the sickroom for a stroll in the garden outside the drawing room? Possibly the cool morning air would refresh you until help arrives. In the meantime, the servant Miss Bingley has provided can recall you to your sister’s room immediately should there be a need.”

She did not know how to reply for the only ones to know Miss Bingley had been neglectful was the two of them. She chose not to embarrass her hostess.

“I thank you for the generous invitation, Colonel. I do not think I can be gone long from Jane. In fact, pray excuse me so I can return to her.” At that she stood and left the room.

***

The next morning, Elizabeth had much better news to share. Jane peacefully slept through the night which meant that she was also able to get some rest.

As she was finishing breaking her fast, the colonel re-issued his invitation. “Miss Elizabeth, might we take advantage of her improvement to share a moment in the garden? I understand from Miss Bingley that you are a prodigious walker.”

His smirk at their hostess guaranteed Elizabeth’s agreement. Anyone who could laugh, albeit silently, at Miss Bingley’s officiousness would be a proper companion for a ramble.

By the time they had their outerwear, Mr. Darcy had joined them. Since he would be walking outside, Miss Bingley hurried to ready herself for the excursion.

The four of them sorted themselves into pairs at Miss Bingley’s direction within minutes of stepping into the chill of the morning. Within moments, a disturbance at the stables had both men’s focus.

From the sounds coming from one of the stalls, an animal was in distress. Both Darcy and the colonel rushed to see the source of the problem. Elizabeth and Miss Bingley, out of curiosity, followed behind.

Before they could reach the building, a horse burst from the stable to run frantically in circles inside the attached arena, kicking its hind legs every few steps while tossing its head back and forth. Its agitation was evident in every bulging muscle as the stallion searched for escape. A groom followed with a rope twisted in one hand and a bridle in the other.

An older man leaned on the fence, stepping back each time the horse approached his section of the structure.

“What has happened?” Darcy demanded, as if it was his estate, his stable, and his horse.

Elizabeth noted the same arrogance she had observed in him at the Meryton assembly settle back upon his wide shoulders. It saddened her to see the harsh revelation that the man she had spoken to in the glen was the anomaly. This was the true Mr. Darcy. She felt the disappointment to her toes. She would not help him find a wife for she would attach no one she knew to such an antagonist.

Turning away to return to her sister, she stopped in place when he yelled, “NO!”. Was he speaking to her? Glancing back, she witnessed the unexpected site of him vaulting over the top rail and landing inside the wooden circle—with the out-of-control animal and a frightened young servant.

At the new disturbance, the horse stopped, as far away from humans as it could get within the confinement.

“Back away.”

Elizabeth could see that Darcy looked at the animal, not the groom who was quickly leaving the area. Then, he did the unexpected. Relaxing his shoulders, he held his hands out, palms up as he moved slowly towards the horse, speaking words undistinguishable in their quiet.

The stallion’s ears twitched as he shifted his weight, swinging his head away from the approaching man. Darcy stopped and stepped back. From the tilt of his head, Elizabeth understood he was looking at the dirt rather than at the frightened eyes of the animal.

Colonel Fitzwilliam whispered, “step close, Miss Elizabeth, and watch.” His peaceful countenance and the slight grin on his face bespoke experience. He had seen this before.

The horse stood completely still. So did Mr. Darcy. While the animal’s focus volleyed between what the world offered outside the arena and Mr. Darcy, he stared at the ground somewhere at the front of the horse’s hooves.

“That’s Barnabas,” the head groom whispered to the colonel. “He’s a nasty piece of work for the stable hands but the ladies love him.” He tilted his heads towards the barn where servants were turning the mares into a field. “His get are strong and even-tempered, which is entirely against his character.”

“He has been abused, then,” the colonel offered.

“That he has.” The groom’s jaw tensed and so did the colonel’s. “He arrived in the past hour. He’s traveled far and should be worn out, but his stubbornness will not allow for his care.”

“Why did you take him?”

“Colonel, he cannot help how he has been treated. Mr. Bingley told me to do as I pleased. I pleased to offer the rascal a home.”

Darcy’s cousin nodded.

With a slight shift of its shoulders towards and a last look at Darcy, the horse dipped its head slightly. Darcy stepped closer until he could reach out and touch him. He did. He started at the withers, rubbing him as he walked around him, talking softly the whole time.

The older man softly chuckled. “That there is a horseman.”

Elizabeth had to ask, “Why do you say that?”

The man continued to watch the action inside the fencing as he replied. “An inexperienced, or uncaring man would pat the horse.” He scoffed. “Babies are to be patted, Miss. Horses? They can feel a fly land on their skin anywhere on their body. No, if you want them relaxed, you do as that man there did, you start at the spot their mother nuzzles them when they are just born, and you imitate that motion. This is a pleasant place for a horse.” He gestured towards the pair. “Look at the expression on his face. Where before there were wrinkles under the stallion’s eyes, showing his worry and distress, now they are gone. Watch his tail. See it swish? It means the pressure he felt inside the stable is released, which is the only way a horse learns.”

“I do not understand.” Elizabeth continued to watch Mr. Darcy. As she did so, a feeling of intense warmth permeated her body as she, herself, relaxed with the movement of his hands. Maybe he was not so arrogant after all.

“Horses are not like dogs, Miss, who would give up their life for their owner. A dog loves anybody with food and a scratch for their ears. Horses don’t love humans. They react to training, not emotions.” He gestured towards the animal. “If you make the right thing easy for them, they will do it. If you make the wrong thing hard work for them, they will no longer do it. That man in there knows that fact and is acting in a manner that puts a tired animal at ease. He is not asking him to move. He is not asking him to do anything contrary to his inclination. Therefore, the horse can trust him because inside, it’s what the horse wants to do.”

“Trust him?”

“No. He wants to stand there and get a good rubdown. He wants a little peace and quiet after finding himself in a new home with new people around him. And now that he is settled, he will want the grain he knows that lad already dumped inside the stall and he will want the fresh hay covering the floor.”

“Then you expect Mr. Darcy to be able to lead that animal right back to where all of this started to go wrong?”

“I do.” The older groom puffed out his chest as if he had been the one to calm the horse. His confidence in the outcome was not misplaced when Mr. Darcy stepped towards the stables and the horse took a step forward as well.

“You admire what was done here?” She had to ask.

“No, Miss. I admire the man.”

Her admiration for Mr. Darcy was growing. She was clueless how she felt about this constant fluctuation between him being someone she despised and someone she…well, she needed to ponder on what she witnessed in the arena.

“These four-legged creatures are intuitive just as we are. He watched the man’s body as he approached the same way the man did his. Was he aggressive? Angry? Confrontational? Belligerent?”

All terms Elizabeth had applied to Mr. Darcy since the assembly.

“Or, was he approachable, friendly, kind, and most importantly, gentle?”

Seeing Mr. Darcy through the eyes of the stallion was revealing. Layers of hard feelings and disappointment in his character were falling away until she no longer knew what to think. He was a complicated human, much as she thought of herself. Glancing at the colonel, she found him looking at her—smiling.

***

Taking up her needlework, she glanced at her sister. Two hours had passed since she had left the stables, yet she could not stop thinking about the man. In reality, her temperament was far more suited to the colonel’s openness. Nevertheless, her heart thumped when she thought of his cousin. Mr. Darcy! If only…

Miss Mary King, at a year younger than her, was a lovely young lady who had recently inherited a large sum from the passing of her parents. Recently arriving in the area to reside under her uncle’s care, Elizabeth had been impressed by her timid smile and calmness amidst the hustle and bustle of the Bennet females. Of all her sisters, Miss King reminded Elizabeth most of Jane. Like them, she had been raised the daughter of a landed gentleman, which made her equal to Mr. Darcy. Certainly, with her dowry, she would be a more acceptable match than any of the Bennets, who would receive fifty-pounds a year until their mother’s death whereupon they would share her portion of five-thousand equally with five sisters. It left only her charms to recommend her, something that paled alongside the sweetness of Miss King.

Yes, the young lady would make an appropriate wife for Mr. Darcy. Sadness filled her chest at the thought.

“Stop!” Elizabeth told herself. “He is not, nor never will be, for you, Elizabeth Bennet.” Then she chuckled at herself. “Do you even want him? Mr. Darcy? How could you?”

She heard the men before she saw them. Glancing out the bedside window, the colonel took the lead as Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Hurst closely followed behind. Their mounts were already at a run as they rapidly moved down the gravel approach to Netherfield Park before veering into the field running west of the property. The sight of the men sitting comfortably in their saddles with their thighs clasped tightly…she cleared her throat only to admit, they were magnificent.

Earlier the colonel had proudly showed her what he called his most faithful companion—his horse. The bay mare had a slight limp from the journey to Hertfordshire, so the colonel chose to allow his rest. The dapple grey he currently rode was swift enough to keep his lead.

What is it about men and horses? Elizabeth reflected as their laughter filtered back to the house. Mr. Darcy laughing? At both the assembly and at Lucas Lodge, she would not have thought it possible. Yet, the unquestionable evidence was before her eyes and ears. She sighed. Would she ever be able to fully sketch his character? It would take forever, which might be the opportunity for Miss King, but not for her.

Unconsciously, she became aware of the silence. Then, the pitiful cries of a wounded animal warred with the panic of men. The sound of a horse’s pounding gait approaching the house and a man’s voice yelling for help, brought her to her feet. Quickly stepping to the window, she spied Mr. Bingley galloping at full speed towards them. Without thought, she ran out of the room to the front of the house in time to hear him barking orders.

A servant was dispatched for the apothecary while another was readying himself to speed to London. A surgeon and a rifle were needed. The colonel’s horse had stepped into a hole, falling before its rider could kick his way clear. Both had a bone sticking outside the skin of its leg. For the horse, it meant the sad end of its life. For the colonel, possibly the end of his career.

 

Letter of the Law – Chapter 6

Well, this is a surprise. I started typing this morning and could not seem to stop. Did Nicole and I sprint early today? Oh, yes.

Please understand that I am posting this raw. I have a beta reader who is reviewing the chapters but I am not waiting for her before I post. So, please forgive the errors. Without further ado here is chapter six.

If you missed the start of the story, here is the link to Chapter One: Chapter One

Chapter 6

 

The noise coming from inside Longbourn was deafening. It was the work of a moment for Elizabeth to determine its cause. Jane had received an invitation from Miss Bingley to attend tea at Netherfield Park.

Their mother was fussing over her gown, tugging the neckline down while simultaneously puffing her sleeves. Both Kitty and Lydia complained at their not having been invited, while Mary silently went about the office of ignoring all that went on around her.

The look of panic her elder sister directed at her when Elizabeth stepped into the room moved her to come to the rescue. It would be hours before the carriage would need to be readied for the three-mile trip to the Bingley residence.

“Jane, you are positively giddy.” Elizabeth giggled when Jane sighed aloud for possibly the tenth time. The sisters were finally alone in their room under the guise of repairing a slightly misaligned hem.

“Am I?” The slight dip at the bottom of her skirt had been adjusted and she was staring out the only window in their bed chamber. “Most likely you are correct, Lizzy. After all, you usually are.”

Elizabeth snorted. “I would not say so myself, sister dear. As a matter of fact, a fact you might find of interest, I will confess for your ears alone that I may have been in error as to the officiousness of Mr. Darcy’s character.”

“What is this?” Jane spun towards her, her mouth dropped open and her brows almost to her hairline. “You no longer hate the man? How could this be?”

“Perhaps I have decided to emulate my roommate and learn to think well of everyone and believe that none have a flaw they cannot justify.”

“Never!” blurted Jane. “I know you, Lizzy Bennet. You have enough of our father in you that you see the world much differently than I. Although I am pleased to hear you are not bearing the heavy weight of a grudge, what has come over you to make this dramatic change?”

Elizabeth sat on the edge of her bed, grabbed her pillow, and held it protectively to her chest.

“Mr. Darcy must have jumped the fence line between our neighbor’s property and ours as he was riding along the path to Oakham Mount. We nearly collided, or rather, I nearly collided with the massive animal he was sitting upon.” She picked at the fabric of her skirt. “I was quite surprised when he dismounted rather than ride off when he became aware of my identity, but he did not. Instead, we had a lengthy conversation that revealed certain qualities about him I did not know existed.”

“You do not seem pleased.” Jane suggested.

“I do not know that I am.” Now it was she who sighed. “My displeasure with the gentleman fit as comfortably as my old wool coat. After his ugly comment at the assembly, I had easily tossed him into the quagmire with all the other men of my acquaintance who arrogantly assumed they were superior based solely upon their sex. Into the mixture were other men who are not so blatantly proud, but who refuse to acknowledge a lady’s opinion as worthy of note.”

“That reeks of bitterness, Lizzy.”

“I will admit,” she lifted her head to look directly at Jane, “I was bitter. Here was the handsomest, wealthiest, educated man to enter our sphere and he despised me from his first glance. Were my feelings hurt? Of course, they were. I vowed to myself to never forgive his slight and concluded the fault had to be his in an effort to preserve my own self-esteem.”

“Oh, Lizzy.” Jane rushed to sit alongside her. “You are lovely from head to toe. He must not have truly looked at you or he never would have said such cruel words.”

“Thus, speaks a sister who loves me.” Elizabeth clasped her sister’s hand in her own. “No matter. He has apologized most eloquently, well, in truth, it was a simple statement that had more meaning to me than had he written a sonnet begging my forgiveness.”

At her chuckle, Jane curiously inquired, “was that all you talked about?”

“No.” She pondered how much to share. “My dearest sister, I was quite surprised to find the man equal parts stoicism and…” Elizabeth paused to consider her thoughts carefully. She had reviewed each word spoken in the glen and had been stunned at how openly he had expressed himself. A man of his stature, the grandson of an earl, owed nothing to her, especially not a slight revelation into the emotions driving his decisions. “…and friendly.”

Jane nodded knowingly, as if Mr. Darcy had been the pinnacle of amiability equaling his close friend and host.

“We spoke of marriage, family responsibilities, expectations, and hopes.”

“Lizzy!” Her sister was quite shocked, a feeling Elizabeth also bore in her chest.

“I know.” She squeezed the hand held in her own. “I have determined to aid Mr. Darcy in a personal quest. He is in need of a wife and I promised I would filter through the unattached ladies of Meryton to see if there is a gem of the highest value who could tolerate such a man. So far, the only female who comes to mind is you.”

Jane’s chin dropped. “Me? And Mr. Darcy?”

Uncontained laughter burst from Elizabeth as she tossed the pillow aside. “Yes, Jane dear. You are the only person I know, either male or female, who would meet his exacting standards.”

“But I do not think of Mr. Darcy in that way.”

“Yes, I know. Your heart is already attached to Mr. Bingley.”

“Elizabeth Margaret Bennet!” Jane stood and faced her, hands upon her hips. “My heart, is no more secured to Mr. Bingley as yours is to Mr. Darcy.” She leaned forward, her face within inches of Elizabeth’s. Again, her mouth dropped open. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Or, have you given your heart to him and you are unwilling to admit it to me, or to yourself? Are you falling under his spell? Do you love him?”

“Ha! I do not know if I yet like the man, nor if I ever will.” Elizabeth confessed, her laughter gone. “What I am entirely confident of is that Mama is the last human on the planet who needs to know Mr. Darcy is seeking a bride. Could you imagine?”

Horror covered Jane’s beautiful face, her hand clapped over her mouth. She whispered, “Let this be our secret or she will have Lydia primped and polished and stuffed into the carriage with me for Netherfield.”

Elizabeth shuddered at the thought. Lydia and Mr. Darcy? Never!

***

Charles Bingley briefly studied the billiard table before lining up his shot. In his distraction, his cue clipped the ball, so it missed his target by several inches. Setting the long wooden stick aside, he refilled his brandy glass, offering to do the same for his friend.

Darcy shook his head before taking his turn in the game. His shot was direct and true, knocking two balls into the pockets.

“Your brain and your aim is upstairs in the guest room, I suspect.” Darcy mused.

“She is an angel, I say.” Bingley had no reason to deny his thoughts were with Miss Jane Bennet, currently ensconced in a bed chamber at Netherfield Park. She had not traveled by carriage to tea. Instead, she and her horse were soaked from the pouring rain by the time they arrived. Within an hour, the eldest Miss Bennet had been stricken with a dastardly chill. “I would much rather have her here under different circumstances, wishing she was not ill, yet I am glad to have her close.”

“Bingley!” Darcy growled. “Would you feel the same if it were Miss Lucas above stairs?”

“Miss Lucas? Why would you ask about her?” Bingley seemed truly surprised. “I mean, she is a lovely girl, a woman really, who assuredly has much to offer, but she is not my angel.”

“Then why did you flirt with her during the treasure hunt? You stood too close, you clasped her hand, you even embraced.”

“What? Embraced? I certainly did not!” Bingley was flabbergasted.

“Yes, Bingley, you did.”

“I meant nothing by it, Darcy. I was merely being friendly.” He insisted.

“We have spoken of this before, my man.” Had he been a younger relative, Darcy might have grabbed Bingley’s shoulders and shook until some sense settled into his skull. However, he breathed deeply instead, keeping his hands to himself. “You are playing a dangerous game. You are no longer at university nor do you have a father to step in to rescue you if need be. As a responsible land owner of the prominent house in the community, you should be a pillar, an exemplar of fine conduct for those reaching for your position to imitate.” At Bingley’s blank stare, he gave up. “I shall say no more.”

“But, you agree she is an angel, do you not?”

“I do not know her well enough to be able to give an honest response, Charles, and remind you that you do not know her well either.” Darcy rested the blunt end of the cue stick on the floor and leaned into it before continuing. “What I do know with confidence is that ladies are complex creatures. Any interaction we have with them needs to be well-thought-out in advance. Deciding who is the appropriate mate for us should be a matter of deep contemplation as we weigh how they personality would fit into our lives. They will not always have their youthful looks and their innocence as to marital expectations.”

“Darcy!”

“I am not speaking of the marriage bed, Bingley.” Darcy’s chin dropped to his chest. Breathing deeply to remove the frustration from his voice, he lifted his head to stare his companion in the eye and added, “Both the man and woman go into a marriage with certain…expectations of what our partnership will be. However, since we have never actually been wed, our expectations and hopes may be based on fiction rather than reality. We will only find out after spending months on end with our brides what our futures will hold.”

“You have a very cynical view of matrimony, Darcy, though I am not surprised you have given the subject considerable thought. Which might also explain why you are no closer to finding a mate then you were when we met over four years past.”

“Have you pondered what Miss Bennet hopes for in a marriage? Have you given any thought as to her expectations?”

“Why would I?” Bingley was flustered. “Is it not every girl’s dream to have a healthy, wealthy husband with a fine estate and enough funds in her reticule to purchase whatever her heart desires?”

“And this is the type of wife you are looking for?” Darcy was astounded. He should not have been surprised.

“What else is there?” Bingley’s arms stretched out from his side.

“What else? I will tell you what women truly want. They want the same as we do. A secure, comfortable home filled with happiness and joy. Good health for themselves and their family. Wealth enough to sustain them. A sense of purpose. A measure of adventure. A lifetime of learning new things and experiencing life to the full. They do not want their opinions disregarded. They know their worth and they long for someone to recognize and acknowledge the same. They want felicity and contentment, so their homes are filled with peace.”

Darcy wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. Those were Miss Elizabeth’s words, not his own.

“Opinions? I am not going to marry a woman with opinions.”  Bingley chugged his brandy, disregarding the quality and the taste. “My sister, Caroline, has enough for a lifetime so I do not need another female in my house with opinions!”

“Then you have much to learn.” Suddenly, Darcy felt old and tired.

“And you know so much about women? I cannot fathom where you have gotten your information, Darcy. You rarely speak to a female, brushing them off like dust on your collar.”

Darcy tilted his head to acknowledge the barb had struck its target. Bingley was correct. That had been his habit. Yet, Darcy had learned a thing or two from speaking with Elizabeth Bennet. He now comprehended that being ignorant of a woman’s nature was a dangerous thing.

“Bingley, you will do what you will do. I believe we have canvassed this subject to the point where we need to speak of something else. Are you agreed?”

“I agree we should speak of Jane Bennet.” Bingley chuckled at the stern look Darcy wore.

***

By the end of the day, not only was Jane Bennet established in a guest room under the care of the local apothecary, her next youngest sister had joined her. Darcy could not believe his good fortune as he needed to know if she, knowing his desires, had found someone in the locality who would measure up.

However, Miss Bingley would not give them leave for any private conversation.

“Surely, your purpose in walking to Netherfield Park is rather obvious, Miss Eliza. Despite being a fine walker, there had to be a motive other than tending to your sister. After all, nobody dies from a cold.” Caroline sneered.

“I cannot imagine what you mean.” Elizabeth kindly responded.

Darcy recognized from their hostess’s posture—elevated chin, raised brow, stiffened spine, and hands clasped so tightly the knuckles were white—that her comment was meant to intimidate, something he doubted Miss Elizabeth rarely allowed to happen.

“You and your unwed sister, who has had how many seasons so far?”

Now, it was Miss Elizabeth whose hands were tightly fisted. Rather than provide a response, Elizabeth’s own chin shot up. What was arrogance in one was righteous anger in the other.

Miss Bingley continued prodding. “You both have easily positioned yourself in a household with two of the most eligible bachelors in the Kingdom. Your mother must be overwhelmed with joy at your accomplishments.”

“Bingley!” Darcy sharply whispered to get his friend’s attention. He needed to restrain his sister’s rude comments. Of course, Darcy felt regret at his own earlier rudeness towards Miss Elizabeth, but he had apologized. Caroline would not.

“I do not know, Miss Bingley, as I did not stop to inquire as to my mother’s attitude before I started for Netherfield Park.” Miss Elizabeth’s voice was calm. Yet, the signs of turmoil were there should one choose to observe. Darcy watched her like a hawk. “You do bring up a subject I would enjoy discussing with you and that is the London season.”

“I dearly love the season and imagine, more than anything else, you long to participate.” Miss Bingley again needled her guest.

“I cannot say that I long to participate. I am curious,” she paused until Caroline leaned forward in her chair, unwilling to miss a word. “How many seasons have you had?”

Caroline sputtered.

Darcy wanted to laugh. He heard Bingley’s soft chuckle. Miss Caroline Bingley was almost four and twenty years and had six complete seasons to make a match. Had she not aspired to the highest echelons by keeping her focus on the Darcy name, she might have made a successful match. Darcy’s shoulders spasmed at the thought of having her on his arm, in his home, and in his bed. Never!

Caroline slumped into the back of her chair. She had been bested at her own game.

He was proud of the young woman with the dark chestnut curls and flashing brown eyes. Darcy yearned to clasp Miss Elizabeth to him as Bingley had done to Miss Lucas during the treasure hunt. How inappropriate!

Miss Elizabeth? He had better watch himself around her. Dormant feelings were being stirred by this impertinent miss. While her circumstances kept her unqualified from becoming a prospect for marriage, she was worming her way into his heart, one inch at a time. Deciding William Shakespeare was wise when he wrote in Henry IV that “the better part of Valour, is Discretion”, Darcy stood, excused himself, and proceeded to leave the room.

Before he could take two steps, the butler approached with a man in his shadow.

“Mr. Bingley, sir.” He bowed, irritation at having the gentleman following him rather than waiting, as was proper, in the entrance hall. “Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam to see you.”

Bold as usual, the colonel did not wait to be presented. Stepping around the servant, he approached Darcy, shaking his hand. He did the same to Bingley and Mr. Hurst, who until this point had remained asleep on a sofa placed in the far corner of the room. Bowing to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, Richard finally turned to look at the room’s final occupant.

“Well, well, well. Who do we have here?” Stepping closer to Miss Elizabeth, he gave her a full courtly bow.

As hostess, Miss Bingley would have been within her rights to greet the colonel and offer introductions. Regardless, with the interest he was showing her foe, she pressed her lips together and turned her face away.

Darcy was shocked by her bad behavior. It could only mean that Caroline thought Miss Elizabeth to be a threat to her reaching her goal of wedding Fitzwilliam Darcy. How could that be? He had no interest in Bingley’s sister and only a slight inclination toward Bennet’s second child. Jealousy was an ugly thing.

Charles Bingley jumped to his feet after shooting a glare at his sister. Expressing good manners, he performed the necessary tasks so Richard and the true beauty in the room could become acquainted.

A sharp pain flashed across his chest when Miss Elizabeth smiled at his cousin. How could that be? She had not smiled at him like that until he knew her for almost a se’nnight. He wanted to growl. Yes, jealousy was, indeed, an ugly thing.

Letter of the Law – Chapter 5

Yes, we sprinted again. 1,088 words this morning. Have you read anything by Nicole Clarkston? She’s a brilliant author. Oh, my! Wait until she is finished with the two she is currently writing. They are AMAZING!!! Her North and South adaptation will make you sob. Her Pride & Prejudice variation? I can’t quit laughing. You may think I’m sprinting to get my own book done. Nope! I’m trying to get her to finish hers so I can read the ending.

Here’s chapter five. We are sprinting again in the morning. Each of my chapters is approximately 3,000 words so, unless I get more time to write during the day, it will be a few days before the next chapter. Of course, I’m a bit anxious to see what Darcy and Lizzy will do next in my own story. Time for you to read and me to write, I think.

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

CHAPTER 5

 

Impressions filled Darcy’s mind. The comfort of books warred against the chaotic disorder of the shelves and small tables. The smell of leather and paper was tainted by dust and stale tobacco. The relaxed countenance of the Master of Longbourn clashed with that of his daughter, Miss Elizabeth. She stood fierce.

Momentarily, she had clutched the ledger to her chest, her chin slightly lifted and her eyes on fire. Darcy wanted to run his finger under his collar to loosen the sudden tightness, grateful her glare was not leveled at him. When she turned to carefully place the accounting book in its place on the shelf, he could not fail to notice how ordered that particular section of the library was. Was she responsible for their care? How peculiar!

The light seemed to dim when the door closed behind her. Darcy turned his attention to Mr. Bennet. When they left the room almost an hour later, he knew where the elder Bennet sisters gained their intelligence.

Bingley had been correct; all five daughters were an amalgam of their parents. Miss Bennet and the two youngest had the fair hair and coloring of their mother. Miss Elizabeth and Miss Mary both had the dark tresses and eyes their father would have had in his youth. While the two youngest were flighty, boldly improper, and lacked innate intelligence like their mother, the three other ladies held the quiet wit of their sire.

He had been unpleasantly shocked at the sarcastic barbs in Mr. Bennet’s conversation. Both he and Bingley had the advantage over the Master of Longbourn. A man with five unmarried daughters should have done all he could to curry favor with the gentleman present in his library. Instead, it was as if the father wished them gone so he could return to his reading.

Darcy had long entertained himself with the study of characters. He found the residents of Longbourn interesting. Speculating on what he had learned thus far, he wondered at Miss Bennet not yet being wed. With several years in society, she was either extremely picky when it came to a mate, or there was something wrong with her that forced a gentleman to cast her off despite her appearance. She was an attractive female who many a gentleman, including Bingley, would want on their arm. Yet, what had stopped men from offering for her? Was there a defect not yet apparent? With a mother who shoved her eldest in front of potential suitors, why had there been no success?

And, Miss Elizabeth, she, too, was a puzzle.

The last woman he had seen with estate books in her hands was his own mother. Her interest in every aspect of the running of Pemberley had made for delightfully rich conversations his parents had shared with Darcy. From infancy he was the recipient of two responsible adults who deeply cared for their good name, their home, the prosperity of those under their care, and their son.

What other ways was Miss Elizabeth Bennet like Lady Anne Darcy? For a certainty, she was not the daughter of an earl, but she carried herself with regal confidence while not being overbearing or filled with conceit.

He was impressed that she had so quickly made a positive impression upon him. Of course, she would never be the future Mistress of Pemberley. Ever! He would need to leave this portion of Hertfordshire if he was to find a bride with the elevated rank needed to be a fitting bride to a Darcy.

He needed to ponder his next step without the constant interruption of Miss Caroline Bingley. Thus, upon returning to Netherfield, he requested his mare be saddled for a hard ride across the fields. Solitude and pounding speed would provide the perfect setting to meditate on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman could bestow. Not that he would ever marry her, of course.

It was too bad, he mused. She had many appealing aspects to her character. Nevertheless, her position in society was far inferior to his own. He would need to look further afield.

Rushing up the stairs to his guest room, he quickly changed and set off on his task. In just under ninety days his sister would reach her sixteenth birthday. He needed a wife and he needed her quickly.

***

Little time passed before Elizabeth was angrily striding away from the house, following the line of trees east of Longbourn. So well-trod was the trail, barely a blade of grass could be found as one of her feet was place in front of the other with a vengeance. Therefore, she was completely unaware when she rounded a corner that she was not the only person, or creature, on the footpath.

“Mr. Darcy!” He sat astride his mount.

***

“My apologies for startling you, Miss Elizabeth. I failed to anticipate anyone other than myself on this route.” He immediately glanced behind her to see if she was accompanied, tipped his hat to leave when he realized she was not, then reconsidered. Rather than retreat, which was his habit when an unattached woman was in his presence, he swung his left leg over the saddle to dismount.

What was he about? His mind screamed at him. For almost every second of every day since he inherited, he avoided unmarried women. As a whole, he found them to be nasty creatures with little moral substance, even littler intellect, and single-minded in their pursuit of a mate—in particular a wealthy one.

However, he would wed a shrew before he lost the care of his dear sister, who, in her own way, had acted as female as the rest when she foolishly agreed to an elopement. Do girls think of anything other than marriage?

“Sir?”

Darcy looked closely and discovered her hands fisted on her hips, her chin jutted out, and her lips tightly compressed together. He recognized the signs, she was livid.

Oh, Good Lord! Had he said that out loud?

“Miss Elizabeth, I…”

“Do not pretend contrition.” Her chin rose, and he felt threatened by this sprite of a young lady. As had flashed through his mind earlier, she was fierce. An Amazon woman!

He shook his head to clear his vision.

Her form was light and pleasing, the top of her head would not quite reach his chin should she stand in his embrace. He groaned aloud at the thought. Even under the stress of the moment, he knew his mind should not have gone there.

“Trust me, Miss. There is no pretence.” Whipping off the glove on his dominant hand, he rubbed his palm over his mouth, possibly to contain any other unexpected outbursts that would embarrass him further. “I offer you my sincerest apology.”

She snorted. “Sincere it may be but humble it is not.”

Her eyes blazed. She looked like his mental image of the Roman goddess Diana, the Huntress.

“I beg your pardon.” Bowing deeply, he wondered if she questioned his intellectual acuity. He would have done. Shaking his head, he decided to begin again. “My mind was not agreeably engaged and the surprise of coming upon you unexpectedly has, from all appearances, unhinged my tongue. Nevertheless, should you choose to answer my misspoken question, I would be grateful.”

During the pause, she studied his face. He felt exposed and desired nothing more than to jump back on his horse and ride like the wind to a distant location where he could hide himself from the probe of her eyes.

Finally, she spoke. “I assume, from your question, that you are often pursued as a prospective mate. Thus, you have come to view my sex as predators rather than seeing us for the individuals we are. Am I correct to this point?”

He had to admit she was spot on, so he nodded.

“Then, you have lumped all women into a mold of your own design, one that flatters your standing as superior, as if a man only can be varied in his interests. Am I still in the right?”

He knew better than to nod. In truth, he had no clue how to respond.

“Pray, Mr. Darcy, might I share with you my opinions of the male population as bluntly as you have done mine?” Before he could answer, she continued. “For I view them…you… in the same measure as you do us. I find men to be unbending, selfish, discriminatory, arrogant, prideful, callous, uncaring, and ignorant as to the affairs of their own household. Now, what have you to say for yourself, sir? Can you adequately defend yourself against my charges?”

Her countenance showed her confidence in her belief that he would fail should he try.

“I do not believe I can.” He honestly admitted. “Nonetheless, you are excessively harsh, Miss Elizabeth, as…”

She sneered, and he knew he was in trouble. “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

“What? How?” He clasped his hand over his mouth so hard he could feel the sensitive skin behind his lips press into his teeth. His humiliation was complete. “You heard. I understand why you think ill of me.”

“Those were not the words of a gentleman.” She huffed. “Do you wonder, then, why I easily lump you in with every other stubborn male of my acquaintance? A woman has little protection against the whims and opinions of the men in her household. Thus, a female with the full use of her thinking faculties will not rush into attaching herself to just anyone who comes her way. You see, sir, daily we may spend hours tending to our needlework as expected by society, receiving callers who share the news of the neighborhood. Our lives may appear, to an ignorant eye, to be stagnant and useless, yet, I know of not one female who does not long for something more.”

This must be the reason the eldest Miss Bennet was unwed.

Wait! What? Something more? He had to ask. “Such as?”

Sweeping her hands out to the side, she replied, “We want the same as you, I would imagine. A secure, comfortable home filled with happiness and joy. Good health for ourselves and our family. Wealth enough to sustain us. A sense of purpose. A measure of adventure. A lifetime of learning new things and experiencing life to the full. We do not want oppression, nor do we want to have our opinions disregarded. Like you, we know our worth and we long for someone to recognize and acknowledge the same. Are we so different?”

He studied her as intently as she had done him. To his shame, he had grouped all females into the opinion of being, in all honesty, boring. Shaking his head as he finally realized the accuracy of her words, he admitted, “No, we are much the same.”

“You are surprised, are you not?” Her head tilted as the sunlight sparkled from her irises.

“I am, indeed.” Unintentionally, he stepped closer. He wanted…no, he needed to fix this if possible—to repair her low opinion of him. “Besides my horrid comment at the assembly, which I now discern was blatantly untrue, is it your father, then, who has caused your turmoil and pain?”

His question was boldly done. Nevertheless, he cared for her answer because he knew at that moment in time that it would reveal much about her character.

She nodded.

Ah! Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. “Your father is pressuring you to act in a manner against your nature.”

Her head bobbed up and down.

“Mine, although he has been gone these five years, is doing the same.”

He had her full attention.

“According to his Last Will and Testament, I have eighty-nine and a half days to take a bride or I lose guardianship of my beloved sister to a relative who would make Georgiana’s life a constant misery.”

“Then your situation is much worse than mine, Mr. Darcy. Eventually, I will marry or take up a position to support myself. Either will change my circumstances although both would put me under the authority of another male, most likely. Yours will tie you for a lifetime to a mate who may or may not bring you happiness. I do prefer my circumstance over yours, sir. While my situation is not currently ideal, I am loved by my father.”

“Then, you are blessed.”

She turned from him, her gaze distant. “Yes, I suppose I am.” Still, she looked away. “I have witnessed marital felicity and it is a thing of immense beauty and value. My uncle and aunt are both intelligent souls who are entirely devoted to each other. My uncle works hard so his family prospers. With that said, he places his wife and children as a priority to pursuing wealth. They live together, laugh together, and love together.”

“Ah, yes. I understand.”

“Do you, sir?”

Darcy nodded. “My father was much the same. His efforts to build Pemberley’s coffers were not at the expense of time spent with my mother, my sister, and me. He was, as you described your uncle, devoted.”

“You loved your father.”

He appreciated that her comment was not in the form of a question as it indicated her comprehension of the relationship.

“I did, very much.”

“And, you have made it your goal to emulate him?”

“I try.”

“Harrumph!” Her eyes pinned him to where he stood. “Can you say that your father had the same low opinion of the female sex as you do? For, I cannot begin to imagine, if he truly valued your mother, that he thought of her as nothing but a brood mare who darned stockings and embroidered cushions.”

“Never!” He scoffed as memories flooded his vision. “My father would have felt the ire of my mother had he not cherished her.”

“Which is as it should be.” She chuckled.

Her smile was radiant, and he realized he was drawn to this slip of a girl. She unsettled him to the point he both wanted to be in her presence and wanted to remove himself quickly from in front of her.

Clearing his throat, he asked, “Do you not feel it imperative that a wife show her husband deep respect?”

“If he has earned such,” was her immediate reply.

“Ah, so you expect perfection in your mate.” He chided. “Then you will remain unwed, Miss Elizabeth, as a perfect man would expect a perfect wife, would he not?”

“Mr. Darcy, we have canvassed subjects that are typically unmentioned in polite society and neither of us have run from the topic. Therefore, I will ask you, daringly I suspect, what you look for in a bride?”

His horse snuffled, and he was grateful for the distraction. The question was critical to him. Darcy had given it much consideration over the past se’nnight.

“Miss Elizabeth, I see my future much the same as you see yours.” Taking the time to pull his glove back on, he selected his words carefully. This was no silly miss he could pass off with a trite comeback. “My mother was the daughter of an earl who well knew her position in society. My father, like me, had inherited our estate far younger than he had hoped. Both of my parents were strong-willed with even stronger opinions.” He felt the corners of his mouth lift. “I recall many times when they would clash against each other, voices raised and, in my mother’s case, arms flailing. However, as a child I never felt threatened by their disagreements as I understood they were, in their own way, trying to get their point across.” His eyes closed to better savor the memories.

“I have always assumed I would wed. Not for the sole purpose of providing an heir to my estates, although that is a consideration, but to have a lifetime companion, one to share both the joys and the heartaches of life. I see my wife as someone to take charge of my home, which would be wherever we are. We would consult together to determine where attention is needed and work together to see it done.”

“So, you do not see yourself as an autocrat?”

“An autocrat?” He was offended.

“You know, an absolute ruler of your domain?” Before he could respond, she snorted. “Sir, you appear surprised I am familiar with the word enough to use it appropriately in conversation.”

He wisely, he determined, remained quiet.

“My father’s library has several books on tsarist Russia and Byzantium.”

“As does mine. But, before we stray too far from our topic, I will resolutely confirm that I do not see myself as a tyrant over those who serve under my authority.” He was angry. Controlling his words was becoming more difficult by the second. “How dare you even use that word in reference to me. I have spent my lifetime seeing to the needs to my tenants, my servants, my sister, because they are important, not only to the welfare of my estate, but to me.” He poked his thumb at his chest, his irritation with her growing until he was forced to drop the reins and pace back and forth in front of where she stood. “When a man or a woman approaches me with a concern, I listen until I hear what it is they truly are asking of me. I would be a poor master, an ignorant man, if I arrogantly assumed I always knew what was best before comprehending the situation fully.”

He stopped in front of her, aghast. “You think this of me?”

Ignoring his question, she asked one of her own. “You listen?”

He threw his arms up in frustration. “Of course, I do!”

Her response was totally unexpected. She smiled until her cheeks bunched and her eyes…good heavens! Her eyes looked like pools of tranquility he could plunge into and be lost in forever.

“Then, sir, I will help you find a wife.”

“You?” Sudden hope filled his chest.

She laughed. Laughed! His embarrassment and disappointment were complete.

“Oh, no, never me, Mr. Darcy. After all, I am merely tolerable.”

He wanted to rip out his tongue.

 

Chapter Six

 

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