Hello, hello, hello! I finally put the story together (or what I have so far) and it is over 12,000 words! That means it is not a short story after all but more likely a novella. For those of you just joining or wanting to reread the prior posts, here are the links:
Now, we left our dear couple with Darcy about to more thoroughly explain the danger of Wickham. Shall we continue?
Darcy struggled again as he searched for the words to reveal his concerns for Elizabeth and her family. He feared she might find his warning boastful––after all, how many gentlemen have a nemesis who seeks to destroy their happiness in any manner available? He was startled from his thoughts by her hand upon his arm. She now stood at his side, her eyes met his with a softness he had not seen before. Though it held a hint of concern, there was also an emotion which caused his heart to hope for the first time since the horrendous scene at the parsonage the day before.
Laying his hand over her own, he met her gaze directly. “It might sound absurd, but George Wickham has made it his life’s mission to cause me pain. I have what he has always coveted: wealth and respect. If I am correct, he witnessed my interest in you during the brief encounter in Meryton and hoped to poison you against me.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Truly? But you barely looked at me that day.”
A smile tugged at Darcy’s lips. “I spotted you upon my approach and looked at no other until I noted Wickham standing at your side. He knows me well enough to see this as an unusual action. Normally, I would join a group without meeting any one gaze directly and find interest in something in the surrounding area.” He lowered his eyes to where their hands still rested upon his arm. “My experience in the ton has led me to be exceedingly cautious to show preference for any individual, male or female. Too much is anticipated that I am unwilling to fulfill.”
“Have you spent your entire life as prey?” The look of astonishment suffused her features. “Is there no one who seeks only to be your friend?”
“My cousin, Bingley, and a few friends from university who find themselves in similar circumstances.”
Elizabeth squeezed his arm. “Even your aunt presumes to select your bride.” A warm blush covered his countenance as she continued. “What would she say if she knew you had proposed to me?”
“I had no intention of informing her prior to our departure. She would make your stay impossible, possibly forcing the Collins to rescind their invitation.”
“She would evict me from their home?” Her jaw fell open, but she quickly recovered. “And my cousin would readily comply. Poor Charlotte. Lady Catherine will make her life miserable when you wed.”
Darcy’s heart leapt. “It will all depend upon the lady who agrees to be mine. Certainly, my aunt would not plague Mrs. Collins unless my bride were directly related to her in some manner.” He squeezed her hand. “Miss Bennet, I realize that I have not courted you as I should have done. Will you permit me to begin anew?”
It was Elizabeth’s turn to take a moment to collect her thoughts. Darcy reluctantly released her hand and she turned away from him. He watched her as she lightly dragged a finger along the folly’s railing before placing her hand upon the closest pillar.
“Perhaps you should finish telling me of the danger Mr. Wickham poses.”
“You are correct.” Darcy took a deep breath. “Though his first intention is normally to find a way of obtaining funds from me, my greatest fear is that he would find some way to separate us. If he were able to ruin you or your family, he would believe it impossible for me to pursue you. He would consider his revenge on me complete, overcoming his failure in securing Georgiana.”
She turned to meet his gaze. “But how could that benefit him? You would not pay him for bringing shame upon me or my family.”
“I would do anything for those I love.” He stepped closer to her. “You would be surprised how money can overcome most any scandal.”
Her back straightened and she raised her head in a regal manner. If her hair had tended to red, he might be standing before Queen Elizabeth herself.
“I prefer there be no scandal.” Her lips were pursed as her gaze drifted to the side. “My youngest sisters are overly fond of the militia, Mr. Wickham especially. Papa will disregard my concerns, particularly in light of my prior fondness for the man.”
She began to pace, tapping her finger against her lips as she did so, and Darcy felt a lightness overcome him. She believed all he had told her and took his concerns seriously. She had not responded to his request to court her, but he suspected she would once they had made a plan to secure her family’s respectability. He began to envision how his life might be with this force by his side.
“Mr. Darcy, are you listening to me?”
He lifted his head, removing the silly smile he was certain covered his lips as he noted her staring at him with her fists upon her hips. “Forgive me, Miss Bennet. My mind wandered for a moment.”
With a quick, amused shake of her head, she repeated, “My father will disregard my concerns, but may be convinced to listen to you or Mr. Bingley. You stated Mr. Wickham has a habit of leaving debts wherever he goes. Perhaps alerting the merchants might be beneficial.”
“Or it could cause him to act sooner.” He frowned. “Would Mr. Bennet be open to advice from me after my behaviour? Even Bingley may be found lacking after leaving Hertfordshire so abruptly.”
“There must be a way to improve his opinion of you.” Elizabeth tapped that delicate finger against her lips once more, and Darcy was again undone.
He shook off the distraction, stepping closer to her and taking her hand in his. “Is there anyone to whom he would listen?”
He felt her slight tremble just before her gaze rose from their joined hands to his countenance. “Perhaps my uncle,” she nearly whispered.
“The attorney in Meryton or the one in Cheapside?”
Her features took on a look of amusement and Darcy explained, “Miss Bingley bemoaned your connections frequently at Netherfield.”
“I am certain she did. My uncle Gardiner who resides in town. He is a prominent businessman and advises my father regarding investments.”
Darcy’s brow rose. “Your father invests?”
“Where he is able. Mamma makes it difficult for him to do much, but he tries to hide some funds from her.” Her expression became impish. “Though I would not be surprised if he spent the interest on books.”
“I would be pleased to meet your uncle, Miss Bennet.” Darcy raised her hand slowly, waiting for her to object. When she did not, he placed a kiss upon her knuckles and lowered it once more but did not relinquish it.
Elizabeth appeared flustered, but she did not pull away from him. “Yes, well, I suppose it should be sooner rather than later. I am to remain with the Collinses for another week complete. I understood you were to return to London sooner.”
“I would gladly delay my departure so that I might escort you to your uncle’s.”
“No, I believe it would be best if you went ahead. I can write a letter of introduction to my uncle, or have you deliver letters to my aunt and sister.” Her expression turned hopeful.
He smiled. “And I could request Bingley accompany me on my errand.”
A smile spread across her features, lighting her eyes and countenance with such brilliance that he was sorely challenged not to pull her into his embrace and kiss her thoroughly. Instead, he squeezed the hand he still held and raised it to his lips once more. If it were within his power, he would endeavour to be the recipient of such a look every day for the remainder of his life.
le sigh I hate to leave it here, but my time is out.
Please leave comments, and I will see you next month!