When he lost his heart to her, he found happiness.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet is missing—vanishing without a trace from the library at Rosings Park.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy feels duty-bound to find the most frustrating young lady of his acquaintance. He is Elizabeth’s sworn enemy. Yet, when he comes to her rescue, she is forced to rethink her opinion.
Trapped together for hours, each layer of their character is revealed until their masks are gone, and their worst fears are shared. Will Mr. Darcy’s arrogant pride keep him from finding tender affection and happiness? Will her prejudice withstand trials so a man worthy of her affection will not be lost?
In this sweet, angst-filled Regency variation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, our dear couple overcome all odds to find a love for the ages…or do they?
Lost and Found is about 100 pages in length and is appropriate for all readers.
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Fitzwilliam Darcy could not keep his mind from wandering. Each spring when he traveled to Rosings Park in Kent, his exposure to the mundane topics and outlandish opinions of his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh bored him almost to tears. This year was no exception.
As the subject matter of her latest discourse changed from table linens to planting potatoes, Darcy glanced about the room to see how the other occupants fared.
His cousin Anne, the only child of Lady Catherine, sat quietly next to her mother. Rarely did she look up from where her hands were clasped tightly in her lap. Occasionally, his cousin’s companion would inquire as to her health. Not one word was exchanged as Anne either nodded or shook her head.
From his youth, Darcy had not been able to imagine a worse fate than to be the child of the mistress of Rosings Park. Prior to the loss of her father when she was ten years of age, there had been occasional spurts of gaiety in the house during Darcy’s annual stay at the estate. Since then, he could recall none.
Instead, each day passed with stifling regularity. Lady Catherine enjoyed nothing more than to hold court in her garishly decorated drawing room. Her guests were expected to enjoy each day’s performance.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the second son of Lady Catherine’s brother, was his favorite relative. He had left Rosings earlier that morning to see to repairs needed on two of the cottages occupied by his aunt’s tenants.
If only Darcy had thought to make the same excuse. He could have been gone from the tedium inflicted by his aunt.
Darcy had no doubt Richard’s quick mind would conjure up delightful jokes at the expense of his aunt when the two men later earned the privacy of the library. They would laugh, then shamefully admit it was bad form to make a mockery of the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh in her own house. Darcy would have no lingering regrets and he was confident Richard would feel the same.
His aunt’s sycophantic parson, Mr. Collins, was accompanied this day by his wife, his wife’s young sister, and a guest in their home, a young lady who had completely unsettled him when he had earlier visited Hertfordshire, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Elizabeth was…she was…argh! He would think of her no more.
Mrs. Collins, the former Miss Charlotte Lucas, hailed from a small farming village called Meryton. Prior to her recent marriage, she was often in company with her neighbor and friend, Miss Elizabeth.
His aunt now expounded on the vitally important topic of dairy cow management. Darcy shook his head slightly enough not to gain notice. His aunt had no dairy herd on her estate, so why she deemed herself an authority puzzled him exceedingly.
Darcy surveyed the two friends, deciding to admire the one and ignore the other.
Where Mrs. Collins’ countenance was calm, Miss Elizabeth’s was vibrant. Although she sat still, Darcy could see her eyes flash and knew her mind had wandered as his had done.
Of what was she thinking? Was she imagining all sorts of activities she would currently rather be engaged in than sitting on an uncomfortable sofa listening to the puffed-up opinions of a woman wholly unrelated to her?
Mrs. Collins’ brown hair was hidden beneath a hat with one feather sticking up. Miss Elizabeth’s rich chocolate locks were pulled back into some sort of a knot at the back of her neck. A few tendrils had escaped their confines when she had removed her bonnet. Darcy was eternally grateful they had broken loose from the pins. One curl draped itself down the right side of her neck. Darcy’s fingers itched to put it back into place.
Mrs. Collins’ eyes were a…well he was unsure if he ever had noticed their color. Miss Elizabeth’s were a stunning blue, the color of the sapphire necklace his mother wore when she sat for the family portrait currently hanging at his estate in Derbyshire, Pemberley. Lady Anne Darcy’s eyes had been brown, like his. Miss Elizabeth’s were rimmed with thick dark lashes that looked too heavy for a mere mortal female. Like his own dearly departed mother’s had done, the young lady’s eyes easily revealed their owner’s every thought and feeling.
In the month he had stayed in Hertfordshire the autumn prior, Darcy had been exposed to the full range of Miss Elizabeth’s emotions. Concern—the time when she had walked three miles from her home of Longbourn to his friend’s estate to care for her eldest sister when she was ill. Kindness—as she tenderly saw to Miss Bennet’s every need. Humor—when she engaged in playful banter with either himself or his host at Netherfield Park, Charles Bingley. Wit—each time she skillfully avoided Miss Caroline Bingley’s jealous barbs and bitter anger.
Darcy quietly sighed at the memory. So much for ignoring her!
During the one occasion Miss Elizabeth had accepted his offer for a dance, at a ball Bingley held for the neighborhood, their discourse had rapidly changed from a proper discussion of the weather to a confrontation about his former childhood friend, George Wickham. Her eyes had shot fire at Darcy as she called him to account for his rumored actions against the errant lieutenant.
By the end of the evening, Darcy concluded his care and concern for her had grown to an interest he never before had for an unattached female. He despised himself for his weakness. Her lack of connections and the poor coffers of her family’s estate made it a degradation to continue his association. Thus, he ran back to London the next morning, dragging Bingley with him, hoping to put her out of sight and out of his mind.
An impossible dream.
Unexpectedly, he arrived in Kent to find her happily ensconced in her the parsonage. The shock to his senses at seeing her once again had disturbed his equilibrium until the cousin traveling with him, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, had noticed.
Denial of any attachment was imperative, or Richard would tease and taunt until Darcy needed to resort to extreme measures. For example, he could banish his cousin from his wine cellar, forcing him to drink weak tea or water when he refused to return to his barracks and stayed at Darcy House. Or, he could have Cook serve beets. Richard detested them.
During the week since their arrival, Darcy made it a game to distract his cousin from turning his unwanted attention towards him. He also determined to effectively hide his interest in Miss Elizabeth—for, in truth, cursedly interested he remained.
His aunt’s tone changed, catching his attention.
“I will not be thwarted,” Lady Catherine barked. “You shall walk to the folly when next you stroll the grounds, Miss Elizabeth. I will have it no other way.”
The folly? Darcy was perplexed. Why should his aunt demand a guest in someone else’s house make the four-mile trek to an overgrown monstrosity he and Richard had termed “the tomb”?
“While I thank you for your recommendation, I cannot imagine doing so until the rains cease and the ground dries.” Miss Elizabeth’s voice, opposite of his aunt’s, was light and pleasing.
Like her figure.
“Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. What is your age?”
“I am not yet one and twenty,” Miss Elizabeth admitted with a slight smile.
Again, Darcy wondered at her imagination. Was she seeing his aunt as a matron of elevated rank? Somehow, Darcy thought not.
“Does Colonel Fitzwilliam travel in this weather, or do you think he was able to find shelter?” the young lady inquired.
Why was Miss Elizabeth asking about the colonel? Jealousy speared him in the heart. If Darcy could not wed her, surely neither could Richard. As the second son of an earl, he needed to see to his fortune. The portion the five Bennet daughters shared was meager. It would never do.
But, was she attracted to his cousin? Richard Malcolm Fitzwilliam was the best man he knew. Loyal, courageous, and amiable, the colonel was a manly person of many skills. He could navigate a battlefield as easily as he did a ballroom.
“My nephew has withstood more than a little sprinkle of rain.” Lady Catherine lifted her nose until her chin pointed directly at Miss Elizabeth. In Darcy’s opinion, it was not her most attractive pose. “He cares for nothing more than seeing to the needs of my tenants. No sacrifice is too large for the colonel. As a matter of record, both my nephews are devoted to me. In particular, Darcy’s attachment to Anne is most admirable.”
He now found himself the recipient of Lady Catherine’s focus.
“My sister’s fondest wish was for the marriage of our children to join our two estates into one ownership that would set the Darcy name equal to the Cavendish’s.” Lady Catherine continued, much to his chagrin. She addressed no one in particular. “Anne was named for my sister. My daughter was born for the role of mistress of a grand estate. Pemberley will do.”
At her mother’s comment, the daughter barely showed a reaction.
Darcy knew Anne’s poor health would never permit her to do anything other than her current activities. For years, when they had a few moments of private conversation, Anne had expressed her desire to remain at Rosings. She had no interest in relocating to Derbyshire, in marriage, or in bearing his heir.
Darcy shuddered at the thought. He loved his cousin as he did all of his family. But marry Anne? Take her to his bed to create a child? Ugh! Never.
His aunt’s voice interrupted his pondering, and for once he was grateful.
“I do believe Mr. and Mrs. Collins and their guests shall not have too much difficulty strolling back to the parsonage. I am conscious of all matters pertaining to the care of those under my influence. They shall not suffer from the exercise.”
Darcy’s mouth dropped open. He was appalled at her comment. Where she would not deign to step outside in the inclement weather, her guests would be turned out for a good soaking? Rivulets of rain streaked down the windows of the drawing room as a brisk wind whipped branches from nearby shrubs into a tangle.
His aunt was preposterous! The little conversation he had shared with Mr. Collins, while in Hertfordshire, found the parson bragging about how often his aunt had made her carriage available to him. Apparently, he had overstated the situation to elevate his own importance.
Darcy would order his own carriage be prepared when the party from the parsonage returned to their cottage. Good manners, which should have come with his aunt’s privileged upbringing, would not permit anything less.
Glancing at Miss Elizabeth, he noted her struggles. Surreptitiously wiping a tear from the corner of her eye with one hand, she pressed the other ever tighter over her lips. The poor girl was attempting to control her mirth.
The gleam in her eyes danced. She was everything lovely.
Hoping to provide relief, he offered, “Have Miss Elizabeth and Miss Lucas been shown your library, Aunt?”
“My library,” Aunt Catherine mused. “I do not believe so.”
“Then I would be pleased to direct them.” He started to stand when, most unexpectedly, Anne rose to her feet.
“That will not be necessary, Darcy,” his cousin spoke at almost a whisper, as if the effort to talk was more than she could bear. “I shall retire from company and can show the ladies the room. It is barely out of my way.”
Before he could reply, saving himself from expressing his disappointment, his aunt spoke, “I cannot imagine Mrs. Collins’ sister has much interest in reading when she can learn far more in my presence. She may remain here.” Lady Catherine loved an audience, so the idea of being deprived of one attentive listener was apparently unpalatable. “You may take Miss Elizabeth, Anne. I see little interest on her part in the smooth running of a household. She will suffer for it, I tell you.”
With grace, the lovely parsonage guest stood to walk from the room with Anne.
The light dimmed. Not literally, of course. A multitude of candles burned around Lady Catherine’s throne-like chair, keeping the rest of the room in shadows.
A sour taste erupted in his mouth when he considered the decision confronting him. He needed to either end his struggle by letting Miss Elizabeth go or offer for her before much more time passed. This vacillation was unlike him.
Darcy knew his reputation of being reticent in company and having little tolerance for society. She, on the other hand, pleasantly moved from person to person, encouraging their joy and seeing to their comfort. Miss Elizabeth was as at ease in a gathering as was Richard or Darcy’s other close friend, Charles Bingley.
She would complete him.
Stunned, Darcy’s realization that he needed her, not just wanted her, jolted him. When he stood to bow the ladies out of the room, his eyes would not leave Miss Elizabeth.
How could he not have seen it before? She was perfection. Surely, her impertinence, her almost non-existent dowry, and her healthy zest for living would be found by some to be less appealing. However, he found her appealing on every level.
He, Fitzwilliam Darcy, prey to fortune-hunting mothers with their insipid daughters, had fallen irreparably in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
How could this be? He had gone from repudiation to agreement in the time it had taken him to watch her walk from the room.
Was this the impulse of a moment? He could not recall a time when a decision had hit him with the power of a mountain falling upon him like this one had done. With his next breath, he knew…he knew his life was forever altered.
Dazed, he was unaware of the conversation surrounding him. When his aunt loudly commanded all remaining in the room to look at the clock, Darcy obeyed.
Thirty minutes? She had already been in the library a half hour?
“Mr. Collins, pull the cord to summon Smyth,” his aunt insisted. “Miss Bennet needs to come back to the drawing room. Our guests can, then, remove themselves to their own house. I have a private matter to discuss with Darcy before Richard returns.”
Did his aunt’s rudeness have no limits? Apparently not.
Shaking his head at the embarrassment of having such a relative, he missed the butler reentering the room after his summons.
“I am sorry to say, Lady Catherine, that the young lady is no longer in the library. The footman on duty, who is constantly vigilant, states that while she entered the room, she did not leave.”
“How can this be?” his aunt proclaimed as Darcy jumped to his feet. “Impossible!”
“What has my cousin done now?” from Mr. Collins, who immediately moved to Lady Catherine’s side.
“Oh, no!” from Mrs. Collins and her sister, both wearing their deep concern like an outer garment.
Darcy ran from the room, down the hallway, to the library. Entering, he hoped to see Miss Elizabeth seated comfortably on the sofa in front of the burning fireplace, a book in her hand and a smile upon her face. Instead, he looked from one end of the room to the other. Empty.
Checking the two windows and the French doors tucked between shelf-lined walls, Darcy found them firmly locked from the inside. Miss Elizabeth could not have used either avenues for departure.
“How could she vanish into thin air? She is certainly not here,” he mused.
The pounding of Darcy’s heart shot to a speed unknown by him. Worry filled him as his mind raced.
Pemberley had three hidden shortcuts leading from one room to another. Might not Rosings have the same?
Going to the wall panel next to the fireplace, he pounded on the surface with his fist, yelling, “Miss Elizabeth!”
He waited. Nothing.
Moving further down the wall, he repeated his actions. Again, nothing.
By then, Smyth, apparently discerning his intent, was rounding the room in the other direction doing the same. On a signal from Darcy, they both rattled the walls with their tightly-clenched extremities. Nothing.
“Do you trust the footman?” Darcy asked the aging butler.
“With my life,” the man answered with no hesitation.
Then, she was gone—disappeared without a trace.
Darcy’s stomach sank to his toes. They needed to find Miss Elizabeth, and they needed to find her now.