Elizabeth awoke to the unusual sensation of a finger running up and down her arm. Momentarily confused as to why Jane would do such a thing, she abruptly remembered that it was no longer her sister who shared her bed. Turning her head, she beheld her husband propped up on an arm looking at her.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to wake.”
“Good morning,” she said groggily.
“For a woman who professes to enjoy early morning constitutionals, you certainly slept later than I would have supposed.”
“I was under the impression that a bride was given the benefit of the doubt as to how late she could sleep.”
“Only when the groom awakens after she does. Did you sleep well?”
“Mmmm, yes. This is a very comfortable bed.”
Elizabeth’s stomach rumbled. “Is that a sign that we should get dressed and break our fast?” Darcy enquired.
Elizabeth laughed softly. “I think it is a good idea.” Darcy made no effort to move. “Fitzwilliam, I thought you said you wanted breakfast.”
“I did say that.” He rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head. “Just as I was beginning to anticipate relaxing in bed for the rest of the morning.”
Seeing that he was not going to leave, Elizabeth was compelled to gain his attention.
“You need to go to your chambers to dress, and I need my maid.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “I need to refresh myself.”
“Oh… Then I shall leave you. Let me ring for your maid. Shall I order extra water be made ready?”
“Yes, please, on both counts.”
Almost immediately after Darcy left, Marie entered Elizabeth’s chambers. Elizabeth guessed that the maid had been at the ready for her summons, since she, too, had anticipated Elizabeth’s needs and had already requested that water be prepared for her mistress’s use.
Refreshed and dressed, Elizabeth had a few minutes to herself before Darcy came to escort her downstairs. She knew she needed time to reflect on the astonishing discovery of her altered feelings. There was a part of her that rejoiced in her newfound love; how much richer her life suddenly seemed! How could it be a bad thing to be in love with one’s husband? But another part of her — the dispassionate, logical Elizabeth who had accepted Darcy’s proposal — sounded a warning. Her romantic love for her husband was a complication entirely unexpected; it could directly affect her marriage. Darcy could be displeased, or even reject her love. It was not part of their agreement; their union was to be built on friendship and compatibility. If she told him of her feelings, would their friendship survive? Could she spend the rest of her life loving a man, being daily at his side, with no assurance that he would, or even could, reciprocate?
With such thoughts floating through her mind, she decided that, for now, it would be prudent to say nothing until she could better ascertain the potential ramifications to their relationship. To do that, she needed to learn whether Darcy himself had considered whether love might play a part in their marriage. She believed she understood her husband’s character in general, but admitted she knew little of him in the specific. She had time to become better acquainted with him and with her new situation – as his wife and in her love for him – before she would tell him how dear he had become. It was better that she understood what he thought and what she felt, so that when the time came, she would be better prepared to confess all — and to accept the consequences.
At breakfast, Elizabeth asked Darcy what he had planned for the day.
“I hoped that you would accompany me on an excursion this morning.”
“I ordered something made for you. I wanted it to be delivered before the wedding, but it was not finished. However, a note came yesterday to say that it was ready for inspection today.”
“What is it?”
“That, Mrs Darcy, is a surprise.”
No matter how hard Elizabeth tried, she was unable to compel Darcy to reveal where they were bound. It was only when their carriage stopped at its destination that Darcy explained their errand.
“This is a furniture maker’s shop, one of the most fashionable in Town. Before I returned to Hertfordshire for the wedding, I commissioned a piece for you – and that is all I will tell you until we see it.”
Once inside, the Darcys were shown a large, exquisitely rendered writing desk. Elizabeth was delighted with its subtle and sophisticated lines.
“Do you like it?” Darcy asked, though there was little doubt of Elizabeth’s affirmation present in his voice.
“Yes, it is a lovely piece. Thank you.”
“I believe it will be perfect for your rooms.”
“I was thinking the same. You anticipated my tastes very well.”
“Good. Then I will have them proceed with the rest of the order.”
“You ordered more?”
“Yes, of course. You said that you wished to redecorate your rooms. I assumed you meant furnishings for your sitting room as well as your bedchamber. I noted which pieces seemed to delight you most when you toured the house and I considered what would compliment what we already have. The owner here is a much sought-after craftsman. I felt it important to initiate an order so your rooms would be complete when we return for the season. Indeed, part of my reason for bringing you here today is to finalize the selection of pieces for your sitting room.”
Elizabeth was not entirely certain she was pleased with her husband’s presumptions in proceeding without her participation. However, she did admit his tastes matched hers, and she would most likely have picked what he had, or at least something very similar. Deciding it was prudent to graciously accept his initiative on her behalf, she pushed her annoyance to the back of her mind, and with Darcy’s help, decided on the pieces to complete the order.
The skies were clear and the air brisk as they journeyed back to their townhouse. Inside the carriage, Darcy told Elizabeth of his plans for the next few days.
“I know we talked of going to Brighton on Thursday, but we will delay our departure until Monday.”
“Is there a reason for the change?”
To Elizabeth’s amazement, her husband appeared to be blushing. “I, err … I had hoped that our first time together as husband and wife would be in our own house. You said you would be able to… I believe a week is sufficient for that purpose?”
She knew she should take pity on her clearly disconcerted husband, but Elizabeth enjoyed watching his discomfort too much to rescue him just yet.
“Is a week’s time enough?”
“Enough time for what?” she asked, not quite innocently.
She laughed merrily. “Yes, unless this is the second time this week my body decides to be uncooperative.”
“Thank you. Are you finished teasing me?”
“For now, Fitzwilliam.”
He answered with a groan.
Once home, they retreated to the familiar setting of the library. She and Darcy had discussed the need to become better acquainted with each other during this less pressured time, and Elizabeth was determined to make the most of the few weeks they would have together in relative privacy.
“Fitzwilliam, will you tell me some of the memories you have of this room? I would like to know more of your past.”
“Hmmm. Let me see. A fond memory?”
“As you like.”
“I remember when I was a lad of about eleven. We were in Town for the season. I came in search of a book my father had spoken to me about the previous evening and discovered my mother sitting where you are now. She asked what I was looking for and then told me where to find it. When I had the book in hand, she invited me to sit with her whilst we both read.
“Of course, I was more than happy to accede. Before I knew it, my eyes grew heavy, and I lay down with my head in her lap. She would let me do that from time to time. I noticed a change in her, her belly was much larger than I remembered, and I asked her about it. That was when she told me she was with child. I do not think I have a happier memory of my mother than that day.”
Elizabeth looked affectionately at her husband. He was far away, lost in his thoughts.
“Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Darcy gave her a small smile. “And what of you? Tell me, what memories does a library bring to mind?”
“A room like this will always remind me of my father. Other than our meals together, I think I saw my father most in the company of his books. What education we were given beyond the rudimentaries of reading, writing and maths, came at the direction of Papa. He encouraged the honest pursuit of knowledge, never discouraging my desire to learn.”
“He was your teacher, then?”
“More my advisor. He pointed out books he thought I might find beneficial, but he always left it to me to apply myself.” Elizabeth thought better of her statement. “No, that is not entirely true. He did teach me French. He decided the study of another language required active participation on his part, if I were to learn how to speak it and not just to read it.”
“Do you know any other languages besides English and French?”
“I can muddle my way through some German and Italian, but I can hardly be described as a proficient.”
“Would you like to learn either better?”
“Yes, but I fear I have little time to properly apply myself to that study. Just learning to be your wife is more than enough of a challenge for me at present. After the season, perhaps?”
“I will secure masters for any subject you wish.”
“You are most generous. I thank you.” Elizabeth was touched by her husband’s solicitude, but was yet again amazed at how easily all things were settled by the very rich. She had vaguely understood that she would never want for anything as Darcy’s wife, but that understanding had not included the knowledge that whatever she desired could be hers as well, with little more thought than she had previously given to buying ribbons.
“It is nothing. You are Mrs Darcy, after all.”
After dinner, they retired to the music room, where Elizabeth played for her husband.
“I can assure you that one thing I will do to prepare for the Season is apply myself to practice!” Elizabeth exclaimed after a mistake-filled rendition of a Mozart sonata.
“I was prepared to censor the pianoforte, not the pianist. It must be a year since I last had it tuned.”
“You are being very gallant. Whilst I will concede that the pianoforte is in need of some attention, that in no way excuses my failure to practice. I think it prudent that I forgo improving my German until I can better demonstrate on this instrument.”
“Very well,” Darcy laughed, “but I reserve the right to enjoy the fruits of your efforts as well as occasionally indulging myself by listening to your ‘creative’ fingerings.” Elizabeth laughed back and began to play another piece, this time purposefully making mistakes.
Unable to hide his amusement and his reactions to the discordant notes, Darcy cried, “You have proven your point, madam.”
Elizabeth smiled and finished the song without error.
“Do you intend to often torment me like that?”
“Only when you provoke me.”
Darcy abruptly changed the subjects. “Elizabeth, tomorrow the decorators will bring fabrics for your rooms and the furniture you selected today.”
“We will not be in Town long.”
“When did you arrange this? We have hardly been out of each other’s company.”
“Before the wedding, of course. You did tell me you wished to redecorate. Are you displeased?”
Elizabeth paused, willing her annoyance with his presumption to subside.
“Not at all. I am only surprised that you took the trouble.”
“You will quickly discover that I am a man of action. Once I come to a decision, I waste little time. I asked you to marry me the day after I decided to do so.”
“I begin to comprehend that, sir. Still…”
“Still?” There was a trace of annoyance in his voice.
“You are my husband and I recognize that you have authority over me. I ask only that on matters directly affecting me that you demonstrate your respect by asking my opinion on the subject before you make a decision.”
“Ordering furniture without your knowledge was not meant to demonstrate my newly granted position, Elizabeth. I only wanted to please you. I thought it would be a pleasant surprise.” Darcy seemed genuinely puzzled.
“Yes, in many ways it was.” Elizabeth paused, choosing her words carefully. She wanted her husband to understand. “It was very considerate of you to attend to my needs in this manner. Do not mistake me, Fitzwilliam, I very much approve of your choices and will be perfectly content with them in my rooms. Every day I reside in this house, I will see what we ordered this morning. I would have preferred to have a say in the original decision, as a matter of principle. Can you comprehend why something that affects me so intimately is my concern as well as yours?”
Darcy considered Elizabeth’s words. “I have answered to no one since my father died. Your request is reasonable, and I will consult you, as I am able. However, I cannot promise to always oblige you. Situations might arise that make it impractical or even impossible. The habit is deeply ingrained and will not be discarded overnight.”
“I understand, and I appreciate your assurances. I fully expect your memory will fail you from time to time, and I must learn to accept that, just as I must learn to accept many other things now that I am your wife.” Elizabeth smiled, to remove any sting that her words might imply. “I am, perhaps, as unaccustomed to someone making decisions on my behalf, however benignly, as you are in having someone question yours.”
“Then tomorrow is acceptable for the decorators?”
“You do not give in easily, sir.” Elizabeth laughed. “I will do my best to graciously accept your arrangements for expediting the improvement of my chambers.”
On the last evening of the year, the Darcys marked the end of one year and the beginning of another with little fanfare. They sat, as usual, in the music room after dinner.
“At Longbourn tonight, Papa will gather all the household around the hearth and instruct them to hold hands. Just before midnight, he will stand next to the front door. When the clock begins to chime, he will open the door and hold it open until the last of the hour has struck.”
“I have heard of others who do the same, though my father never did so at Pemberley.”
“My father always complains of the cold draft. Each year he swears that the next year we would have a clock with a faster chime.”
“Somehow I doubt he will follow through on his threats.”
“Of course not. My mother has her nerves, he has a slowly chiming clock.”
Darcy cocked his eyebrow. “It does not seem a fair comparison.”
Elizabeth laughed. “You forget Papa that has the compensation of a thick library door. I assure you that when Mama suffers from her nervous complaints, my father demands his solitude with his books.”
As Elizabeth softly laughed, she fingered the pearl necklace her husband had given her at Christmas.
“Fitzwilliam, you promised to tell me more about this necklace and why you wished that I wear it for our wedding.”
“They were my mother’s and my grandmother’s before her. For the last five – now six — generations, every Darcy bride and every Darcy daughter has worn those pearls on her wedding day. One day, God willing, our daughters and the brides of our sons will wear them for their own weddings.” Elizabeth put her hand on his. “But the pearls belong to the Mistress of Pemberley. When we are at home there, I will show you the portraits of your predecessors. Each of the previous five chatelaines are wearing that necklace.”
Then Darcy fingered the necklace nestled against Elizabeth’s throat. “I have many memories of my mother wearing it. She told me that as she held me, I was quite fond of playing with the pearls when I was small. Actually, the necklace had to be restrung after I pulled too hard and broke it. We had quite a time hunting for all the loose beads. I remember laughing as I watched a hugely tall, immensely dignified footman crawling around on his hands and knees. Needless to say, Mother was not nearly as amused.”
Darcy’s mood became pensive. “It was the last time Mother allowed me to touch the necklace. Elizabeth, promise me that the pearls will grace your neck when you sit for your first portrait.”
“I would not have it any other way.”
The clock struck midnight, breaking the silence that had fallen. Darcy poured them each a glass of champagne.
“What is past is prologue.* To new beginnings.”
The next days were a flurry of fabrics, colours, samples, and drawings. Elizabeth chose, with her husband’s counsel, a green colour scheme for her rooms. The covering for the walls and for the sitting room furniture was selected, and Darcy proposed several paintings from the family’s collection that could be hung.
The days were filled with improvements – to her rooms, and in the newlyweds’ understanding of each other – but the nights continued to be chaste encounters. Once in her chambers, husband and wife did little more than share a glass of wine, talk, and then share a bed — but only to sleep.
Once again Elizabeth awoke in the middle of the night, enveloped in her husband’s arms. Each night he asked to come to her, knowing that her time was not yet finished. Each night, they shared nothing more than a glass of wine and a quick, chaste kiss before snuggling against each other and falling asleep. Elizabeth was perplexed by her husband’s seemingly passionless response to this most intimate position; it was such a contrast to his increasingly passionate kisses and caresses stolen at odd moments of the day.
As she lay enjoying the still-novel feeling of his embrace, it dawned on her that his indifferent demeanour in their bed was more a function of self-control rather than a lack of desire. She knew he preferred to wait to consummate their marriage until all traces of her courses had disappeared. The ride in the carriage after the wedding should have shown her how quickly the physical need could build between them. Just thinking about the effect of his touch caused her to tremble. The excitement of the unknown and, until now, the forbidden, along with her husband’s kisses, made her impatient, and she once again cursed her body for making them wait. Still, the delay had given her time, for which she was now exceedingly grateful – time to re-evaluate her state of mind and her emotions.
Elizabeth had come to some decisions regarding her more intimate duties as a wife. Her mother had engaged her in a frank discussion about what to expect, and although thankful for her mother’s candour, Elizabeth was not sure she would make the same choices as her mother. Elizabeth Darcy would not be a woman who turned her husband away from her bed, as she believed her mother eventually had, when there was no longer hope that Harriet Bennet would conceive a son.
Elizabeth believed that her physical relationship with her husband should not be defined solely by the need for a Darcy heir. She had the feeling, more intuition than experience, that it would be in the marriage bed where the two would forge and strengthen the bond without which they could not be true partners in life. Passion, certainly, would play its part; but what Elizabeth sought was intimacy of the mind as well as of the body, and she reasoned that could be achieved only when each opened completely to the other. Darcy may not wish to share all the burdens he carried, but she would help when and where he would allow it. Her relationship with Jane had taught her the value of a confidante. She would rely on her husband, and hope that her husband would rely on her.
Had her opinion been all drawn from her own family, she knew she would not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. But she also was privy to the excellent example of her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, whose happiness and contentment in the marital state was undeniable. What she sought was not unobtainable, where respect, esteem, and confidence existed between partners.
But what of love?
Should it make any difference?
A good question. Darcy had never spoken of love; he had not changed his expectations of her. She was to be his companion, his wife, and the means by which the Darcy line would continue. How she approached him in the privacy of her own chambers would not affect that, whether she loved him or not. She was prepared to abandon the dictates of polite society when it came to being his lover. Should not her love for him be an even stronger inducement to overcome her maidenly modesty for his, their, pleasure?
Elizabeth decided that it was. She knew she loved him, and intrinsic to that love was a desire for his happiness. She only hoped that she had properly discerned what it was he wanted. Otherwise, in a few nights, she would be a very embarrassed bride, standing before her bridegroom.
On Saturday morning, Elizabeth knew that everything would change. Finally rid of the extra articles necessary for her modesty and comfort, Elizabeth’s mood altered. Darcy noticed an increased flirtatiousness, and when he gathered the courage to inquire of their source, Elizabeth only teased him, explaining that although she had been feeling indisposed of late, now she felt invigorated. If he understood her unspoken message, he did not let on, and since he was not very forthcoming, then neither would she be. Two could play at that game.
That afternoon, Elizabeth practiced on the pianoforte. Struggling with a particularly difficult passage, she stopped and grunted in frustration.
“Georgiana struggled with that piece, as well.”
“Fitzwilliam! I did not hear you enter.”
“I did not wish to disturb you. After your outburst, however, I thought you could use a distraction,”
Elizabeth laughed. “Come, sit by me. I take it your sister played. Little wonder you have such a fine instrument here.”
Darcy brought a chair and sat next to her, close enough to turn the pages of the music. “I enjoyed providing Georgiana with the finest of everything.”
“Did she play well?”
“Yes, very well. She devoted hours and hours to her music. I think she found her sanctuary in it. After Mother and Father died, she and I had few sources of amusement.”
“You were lonely.”
“I suppose we were. The rift between Aunt Victoria and the rest of the family too often placed my sister and me in the difficult situation of being in the middle.” Elizabeth saw the sadness that was still a part of him.
“Does my playing bring to mind memories best left forgotten?”
Darcy seemed puzzled until recognition dawned. “Oh, no! Not at all. I enjoy hearing you play. When you play the pieces that Georgiana loved, it reminds me of her as she was happiest, with her music. Georgiana is gone, but I have no desire to wipe her from my memory, or pretend she never existed. Remembering her happier times is a great comfort to me.”
“You still miss her.”
“Yes, obviously, and my parents as well — as you would miss your family if they were lost to you as mine are to me. Elizabeth, please, music brings joy and beauty to life. I want you to play whenever you wish. I want you to feel uninhibited when playing in my presence. Let us make good, new memories – to fade the unpleasant, old ones.
“We are just beginning to know and truly understand each other. I admit to you that before I came to Hertfordshire my life was increasingly lonely. I needed — wanted — someone to share it with me and it was not long after I met you that I knew you would be my choice. People may wonder at our match, but let me assure you that I am satisfied we made the right decision to marry.
“And heavens, if I decided to stop enjoying everything my family loved because those things remind me of them, I would never get out of bed in the morning!”
Elizabeth listened intently to his words. She smiled and began to play a song from memory, a sweet simple tune. It was the perfect choice. Darcy looked at his wife, marvelling anew at her uncanny ability to understand and respond to him so perfectly and so completely.
Marie laid Elizabeth’s silk nightgown on the bed and hesitated to add a cotton one.
“You are correct, Marie,” Elizabeth said, “I do not need that one tonight.”
“I will bring the matching silk robe.”
“No, not tonight. Leave a wool one.”
“Just for tonight. I must have some surprises for the master.”
Marie raised an eyebrow. It was evident she understood Elizabeth’s meaning. “Oui, madame,” she said, and smiled as she fetched the thick wool robe.
“You may go now. Goodnight, Marie.”
Marie gave Elizabeth a shy smile. “Mr Darcy will be very pleased.”
“Thank you, Marie,” came Elizabeth’s soft reply.
“Bonne nuit, madame.”
As soon as Elizabeth was alone, all the nervousness she had tried to suppress came upon her in full force. Did she have the courage to do what she planned? Would her husband be pleased? She was quite ready for the glass of wine he would bring.
The knock came.
Darcy strode in, wine and glasses in hand. Elizabeth could tell that he was a little disappointed to again find her in her heavy robe.
Ah, you expected to see something quite different, did you not? Patience.
Elizabeth fought a small smile of triumph as Darcy sat in his usual chair and offered her the usual nightcap, which she accepted with an unusual eagerness that Darcy appeared not to notice. She rather quickly finished her wine, then stood, took two steps, and stopped. Darcy could see her hands fiddling with the ties of her robe.
She turned, stood directly in front of her husband, and very deliberately opened her robe, revealing the nearly transparent silken gown underneath, a wisp of a covering that left little to his imagination. She slowly shrugged off the robe, watching as his eyes widened. Elizabeth most definitely had Darcy’s complete attention. His gaze roamed over her body, and she saw passion kindled in him.
His eyes immediately returned to her face.
“Before we married, you spoke of a desire that our marriage be different from those of your peers. You said you wanted companionship and you offered me your honesty and respect. I gladly receive them from you. You spoke of one other thing. Do you remember?”
His eyes answered her.
“I know what is expected from two people in our situation, what polite society says is proper behaviour. In the privacy of our own chambers, I do not believe that is what you want, nor is that what I wish.”
Never taking her eyes from his, Elizabeth slid first one shoulder, and then the other out of their silky covering and let the garment fall to ground at her feet. Darcy’s eyes slowly travelled down her now naked form and then back to her face.
“Are you pleased?” she asked in a near whisper. She felt as if she were blushing from her crown to her toes.
He gave her a tender smile and answered, “More than you can know.”
Elizabeth shyly stepped towards her husband, silently praying fervently that her courage would not fail her. She undid Darcy’s belt and removed his robe. He offered no resistance — although Elizabeth saw that he was trembling — as she reached for his nightshirt, then removed it. When she stepped back, she saw that he was looking at her intently, his gaze tinged with surprise and pleasure.
“Fitzwilliam, I know nothing of the arts of a woman. You must teach me. Omit nothing. I am, and will always be, yours alone to make into your ideal lover.”
He hesitated only a moment before closing the distance between them and sweeping his wife into his arms.
Later, when at last they fell asleep embracing, Elizabeth Bennet was no more. That night, in her house in London, by the tender attentions of her husband, she was irrevocably ushered into womanhood. She had, truly and at last, become Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy.
* Shakespeare, The Tempest – Act 2, Scene 1
Darcy woke to the exquisite feeling of flesh against flesh. If lying with a cotton-gowned Elizabeth had been agreeable, holding a naked Elizabeth, now truly his wife, was infinitely better.
She could not know that offering herself to him had been the single most erotic moment of his life. Even the memory of it caused a frisson of delight. He wanted to ride to his uncle’s house and thank him for causing him to choose this woman as his wife. In his haste to both oblige his family by taking a wife and disoblige the Earl and Lady Catherine by choosing a woman of comparatively humble social standing, he had unwittingly chosen a treasure.
Last night as Elizabeth stood naked and willing before him, his first impulse was to carry her to the bed and immediately consummate their marriage, so lost was he in the passion she had unleashed. Fortunately, that compulsion did not have enough time to become action before her words took root in his mind.
Two simple words, one profound challenge. Even as he held her, he was at a loss about how to proceed. How could he prove himself worthy of her trust in him in this most intimate act to come? Where should he start? She had done an admirable job thus far by offering herself so unconditionally. Darcy realised then that she had unwittingly demonstrated an innate knowledge of a truth it had taken him years to understand — in the physical union of a man and a woman, it was as gratifying to impart as it was to accept. Indeed, to give pleasure could bring even greater satisfaction than to receive it.
Elizabeth’s offering was first and foremost an unselfish act, motivated by a desire to please him. He had almost selfishly taken, without thought of giving in return, and that would have been a betrayal of the absolute trust she had shown him. How could he be so insensitive? He was ashamed of himself, and it struck him so forcefully that he momentarily pulled away, confusing Elizabeth.
“What is wrong?” she asked.
Darcy could see the bewilderment on her face. He shook his head.
“Nothing. Forgive me, I was about to do something very foolish.”
“What? Have I displeased you?”
“No, no.” He kissed her again. “I am very pleased.”
Darcy recaptured her lips. “Shhh,” he said against her mouth, “It is nothing. Concentrate on what is happening now, and what is to come.”
That interlude had given him the restraint he needed to consider the task before him. The marriage bed could be something very beautiful for them and Elizabeth had asked him to make it so. The prospect was paradoxically both exciting and overwhelming.
She was a fresh canvas, ready to become a representation of the true beauty of the womanly form, and he was the unprepared artist.
He began to speak to her, urging her to talk to him, guiding her through their initial voyage of discovery. It was a slow and tender process; they had no demands on their time but their own. Before he allowed himself to finally make her his wife, he made sure she experienced the same release he knew he would soon have. Then, and only then, did he make Elizabeth his.
Sunlight was streaming through the windows when Elizabeth finally emerged from her slumber. She pulled the covers up under her chin to ward off the chill, and it was only then she discovered that she was alone. Disappointment coursed through her; she had not thought he would leave her for his own bed after all that had happened last night.
Feeling all the pain of his abandonment, she was startled when the door between their chambers opened, and her husband sauntered back into the room.
“You are finally awake! Good. I had some tea and toast brought up to us. More food will come when we call for it.”
Darcy walked over to the bed and climbed back in. When he took off his robe, Elizabeth was shocked to see that he had no clothing on under it. She got an even greater shock when he lay down beside her.
“Your hands and feet are freezing!”
“Hmm, and I can think of no better way to warm them.”
“Fitzwilliam! You are incorrigible.”
“Insufferable man! Where is the tea you spoke of?”
“In the other room.”
“Are you going to bring it to me?”
“But it is so much colder away from you.”
“The tea will warm you. Would you please bring it here?”
“If you insist. But I expect payment for my labour.”
“Your price, sir?”
“You will discover it soon enough.”
“Fitzwilliam, get the tea.”
Darcy reluctantly swung his legs out of bed. Pulling on his robe, he brought Elizabeth her tea. When they had finished, he took her cup and plate and laid the tray next to the bed.
“I believe I spoke of my wages.”
“So you did. What do you have in mind?”
Darcy pulled the counterpane partially off her, and began to explore her thoroughly with his lips.
“Fitzwilliam,” she hissed, though not at all displeased with his attentions. “It is the day time!”
“Yes, and I must admit you are even more breathtaking in the light of day.”
“But it is not done!”
“I assure you, the amount of light in the room matters not. It is as delightful in light as it is in darkness.”
“What would society think if they knew?”
“Frankly, I do not care. You did tell me last night that you did not want the expectations of our station to influence who we are — or what we do — in private.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “Yes, but I never imagined it would be during the day!”
“Elizabeth, stop thinking and feel.”
“I … I will try.”
“And let me make one thing perfectly clear, Mrs Darcy. Neither of us is going beyond our chambers today. So please disabuse yourself of any notion of the need to make an appearance downstairs. Today, you are mine, and I do not feel like sharing you with anyone. Have I made myself clear?”
“Good. And now it is time to learn another lesson.”
“What would that be?”
“Sometimes the best way to learn is by experimenting. I volunteer to be your subject.”
“Very generous of you.”
“Yes, it is. Now then, you may commence today’s assignment.”
Darcy had not been quite accurate in his prediction. He and Elizabeth did not emerge from their chambers until after noon the following day. Only their impending departure for Brighton the following morning could induce him to quit her presence, and he was sorely tempted to cancel the expedition altogether. But he had planned the trip for a reason. And so, at first light, they found themselves on the road to Brighton.
The house he had taken afforded a good view of the channel. Elizabeth could not see the water when they arrived, as it was past sundown, but she could hear the surf and smell the tang of the sea. The house had been built within the last five years and was situated in the most fashionable quarter of the town. The latter was one of its most redeeming qualities, and the main reason Darcy had chosen it.
The man himself was pleased with what he saw. He had never been to Brighton, but the seaside town had the advantage of being within a day’s journey from London, boasted elegant housing arrangements, and most importantly, offered a miniature version of the London social scene. People of fashion came to Brighton, and there would be opportunities for his wife to associate with a few of his peers without becoming overwhelmed. It was the perfect place for her first foray into the world as Mrs Darcy.
Elizabeth had been disappointed that she had not received a letter from Jane; she was convinced that her own wedding to Fitzwilliam had been the only impediment to Mr Bingley’s long anticipated proposal. But on the evening of their first full day in Brighton, her faith in her sister, and her suitor, was finally rewarded.
Elizabeth tore open the missive and eagerly began to read.
My dearest sister,
Do not be cross that I have not sent this missive by express. I was unsure of your location and decided it best to post to your house in Town with the knowledge that if you were not there, it would be forwarded with your other correspondence to Brighton.
I will not toy with you any longer. You were right about Mr Bingley; we are to be married! Oh Lizzy, this happiness is almost more than I can endure. How could anyone be as blessed as am I? What have I done to deserve such a fate? I am afraid to pinch myself lest I be dreaming.
A broad smile spread over Elizabeth face.
“Whatever the news, it must be excellent to make you so pleased.”
“Mr. Bingley has finally proposed.”
“I was wondering how much longer he would tarry.”
Elizabeth continued reading.
You will never let me rest until I reveal all, so I shall diligently recount the pertinent information.
Mr Bingley called the day after your wedding. Mama shamelessly contrived to leave us alone. I must say that although I was mortified, Mr Bingley only smiled and laughed to himself. He knew EXACTLY what Mother was doing and later confessed to taking great delight in vexing her by not proposing. We actually spent most of our time alone speaking about the weather and the condition of the roads. At the time, this made perfect sense as he had just that morning bid farewell to the last of his houseguests.
When Mama returned to the drawing room, she was none too happy to see us seated in the same places we had occupied when she left us.
Mr Bingley called again a few days later, and this time, our father joined us. Yes, I said our father! Mama was visibly unhappy with his presence. I was relieved. Even I was growing weary of her relentless matchmaking. She has no notion of how embarrassing it can be for us. You are very fortunate to be married, my dear Mrs Darcy! Needless to say, Mr Bingley left promising to call again.
Oh Lizzy, you will never guess what happened when he came. Kitty spied him first, and we heard him enter the house, but he did not come to us for a full ten minutes! Finally, I was summoned to see Papa, who was standing outside the dining room. He kissed me on the forehead and told me to wait for him inside the room, and that he would return shortly. I suppose I should not have been shocked by what happened next, but I am being truthful when I tell you I was unprepared for what I met. HE was there, waiting for me. Mr Bingley walked to where I stood, for I could not move. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear and then took my hand in his and brought it up to his lips. Oh Sister, I could barely breathe! He smiled and then dropped to his knee and said the most precious words I have ever heard.
“Miss Bennet. I was taught that when a man was ready to tell a woman that he loved her, that he should also be prepared to complete the phrase with a question. I am ready. Jane, I love you with all that I am. Will you do me the great honour of becoming my wife? Will you marry me?”
I started to cry and somehow managed to say “yes”. Oh what bliss! He told me how dear I had become to him. He told me many things I shall always treasure. He also confessed that he had been waiting to ask me for weeks, but did not wish to deflect any attention from you before your wedding, not for your sake alone, but for my new brother’s as well. Charles greatly respects your Mr Darcy. He also had granted our father’s request for a brief respite from wedding preparations. Charles told me he had first revealed his intentions to Papa many weeks ago, and had obtained his permission to court me.
That, my dearest Sister, is the sum of my news. I eagerly await your reply. I am more than curious as to the resolution of our discussion on your last night at Longbourn. Have you discovered your heart? Have you told your husband?
“It seems that Mr Bingley delayed asking Jane to marry him out of deference to his friend! I should be cross with you, Mr Darcy, for delaying the happiness of a most beloved sister.”
Darcy laughed. “You assign me too much influence over the gentleman. It was entirely his own doing. I believe he wanted your sister to glory in the undivided attentions of your mother.”
“Now I am cross with Mr Bingley! Heaven help my father. Derbyshire is becoming an even more appealing locale for the next few months, given its distance from Longbourn.”
The dancing was well underway when the Darcys arrived. The room was not overfull; this was not the season when many normally journeyed to the seaside. Still, the Assembly Room was open, offering society to those who were in town. Darcy steered Elizabeth into the room with the practiced ease of a man accustomed to being an object of interest. He recognized a passing acquaintance, a Mr Humphries, and prepared to introduce his wife.
“Mr Darcy! What an honour to meet you again. In Brighton of all places.” The man spoke to Darcy, but his gaze wandered to Elizabeth.
“Allow me to introduce you. Mrs Darcy, this is Mr Humphries. And sir, this is my wife.”
“A pleasure, Mrs. Darcy. I read of your engagement and wedding in the papers. My congratulations on your nuptials. My own wife is dancing at the moment,” Mr Humphries pointed to a woman dancing with one of the many officers in attendance. “May I introduce her later?”
“Of course,” Darcy replied, with no expression of approbation or contempt.
“And may I claim a dance with you this evening, Mrs Darcy?” The gentleman seemed eager to secure such a prestigious and lovely partner.
“After the next, sir. I dance first with my husband.”
Darcy decided to take control of the conversation. “How long have you been in Brighton?”
“We arrived before Christmas.”
“Are there many families in town?”
“Not many more than you see here tonight. There is a regiment of soldiers, of course, but I am afraid things have been rather dull.”
Just then, Darcy spotted another familiar face. The man in question was making his way toward them.
“I say, Darcy. I would never have expected you to bring your lovely wife here. Mrs Darcy, it is a pleasure to meet you at last.”
“Thank you, sir. And whom do I have the honour of meeting?” asked a slightly confused Elizabeth.
Mr Humphries took this as a cue to leave and bowed before walking away without another word. Darcy eyed the new gentleman carefully, trying to ascertain the man’s intent.
“Mrs Darcy, may I present my cousin, Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam. His father, the Earl of ______ is my mother’s brother.”
“Ah! Mr Darcy has told me much about you, sir.”
“Should I claim innocence?”
“Hardly. He had nothing but praise.”
“Then I should thank my cousin for his tact.”
“What brings you from London?” Darcy inquired.
“A soldier goes where he is told. I am at the mercy of General Abernathy, I am afraid. His whims prevented me from attending your wedding.”
“We understand, Colonel,” Elizabeth replied.
Darcy could see that his wife sensed tension between the men.
“Yes, duty first. However, since you are here now, would you dine with Mrs Darcy and me in the next few days?”
The Colonel happily accepted. He solicited Elizabeth’s hand for a dance and before he left them, introduced another officer, a Colonel Harris, and his wife. Colonel Harris was the commanding officer of the regiment currently quartered at Brighton.
The music changed, and Darcy claimed his first dance with Elizabeth.
“You are surprised to see your cousin?”
“Quite.” She raised an eyebrow. After only one week of marriage, Darcy could easily recognize his wife’s moods. He knew they would discuss this later.
“This is only the second time we have danced together, sir. You dance very well. I believe I shall be the envy of every woman.”
“Whether they shall envy or pity you is debatable. I am afraid I would rather not dance with any woman other than you.”
“Should I be flattered, or do you simply dislike the activity?”
Darcy smiled. “My like or dislike is wholly dependent on my partner.”
“Then you admit you enjoy dancing with me?”
“I have only two experiences to draw upon, but yes, I can more easily endure the occupation when accompanied by you.”
“Fortunate for you that for once, it is the women who are in scarce quantity. You may sit by yourself, whilst I am compelled to dance.”
“Few here are worthy of your notice,” Darcy said with a tinge of disappointment. He had hoped for more superior society; so far he had recognized no one. “Then again, dancing is the order of the evening, and I suppose you must oblige the other gentlemen.”
Elizabeth responded only with a slight scowl. Darcy had no idea what he had said to displease her. He decided not to continue their conversation, instead allowing himself to take pleasure in the remainder of the dance.
While Elizabeth danced the next with Mr Humphries, Darcy stalked the sides of the room. He was disappointed not to find anyone else he knew, and acknowledged to himself that perhaps he had been overly optimistic about the quality of people who would be in Brighton at this time. Conversely, there was no one of importance present to witness any impropriety on Elizabeth’s part, should one occur. He did not anticipate any foolish action from his wife. However, this was her first exposure to a level of society higher than that to which she was accustomed, and until he saw her meet the challenge, there would be doubt lingering in the back of his mind.
The night progressed. The Darcys made many new acquaintances, though none, to Darcy’s disappointment, who could even pretend to belong to his circle in Society. To Darcy’s great relief, his qualms about his wife’s comportment were without foundation. Elizabeth displayed all the superior manners he had come to expect and respect. She may have been friendlier than he would have wished, but her liveliness was part of what had attracted him in the first place. Surely, as she became more knowledgeable about what was appropriate to her position as Mrs Darcy, she would recognise when restraint was appropriate, and more importantly, when it was allowed to be relaxed. Within limits, of course.
As they lay in bed together after again enjoying the physical bliss of lovers, Elizabeth broached a subject that had occupied her thoughts all evening.
“Did you enjoy the assembly tonight?” she enquired of her husband.
“As much as I ever do. I have never particularly enjoyed any assembly.”
“I confess that I had a lovely evening. I was very pleased with several new acquaintances, including your cousin.”
“Elizabeth, I commend your ability to strike up a conversation, but please do not become too attached to any of the people we met tonight, with the exception of my cousin, of course. I doubt we will associate with them again after we leave Brighton.”
“They are decidedly beneath us socially. I see no need for more than passing acquaintance with anyone we meet here.”
Elizabeth propped her head on her hand to better look at him. “They seem like good people, not unlike those I grew up amongst.”
“My point exactly. Society in Meryton is not the same as society in London.”
“My family is a respected part of the Hertfordshire gentry.”
“Elizabeth, your family is another matter entirely.”
“I see little difference.”
“I see great difference. They are now connected to me, and it is assuredly the best connection they possess. Even you must admit this. Your sister’s engagement to Bingley will further enhance your family’s status, although not, of course, as much as your alliance has.” Darcy was slightly frustrated with Elizabeth’s inability to see as he did. To him, it was obvious that the people they met tonight would be below their notice when those from his normal sphere were present.
“You alluded to this when I proposed. Surely you see that as my wife, you now travel in the upper sphere of the ton? None of the ladies and gentlemen we met tonight do, not even the Humphries. Whilst we are here, I have no objection to being in their company. However, after we leave, it is unlikely that we will meet any of them again. We simply do not travel in the same circles.”
“I think I understand your reasoning, but surely you do not intend to snub them should we meet again?”
“Certainly not. That would be rude. What I mean is, we will not go out of out way to associate with them. Elizabeth, please, give them credit, too. The men and women we met tonight are older, and understand the difference in social rank. Only the most brazen and deluded of social climbers would solicit increased intimacy with us. Let us simply enjoy their company for now and leave it at that.”
“Is Derbyshire so stratified?”
“No, not at all. The differences in wealth and situation are somewhat blurred, as they are in Meryton. You will find more large landowners than you are accustomed to, as well as smaller ones like your father. However, Pemberley is one of the larger estates and we do hold a position of respect amongst our peers. Mind you, Pemberley is no Chatsworth. Very few estates in England are.”
“I look forward to seeing Pemberley with my own eyes. I have heard so much about it.”
“I think there is no finer house in the country, but I am naturally prejudiced.”
Darcy smiled and reached over to caress his wife’s face. He wanted to put an end to future discussion about who would be welcome in their home.
“Elizabeth, you may not like it, but we are prisoners of our society and class, everyone is. We cannot escape certain expectations, no matter how we may wish it.”
“I suppose you are right. Be patient with me.”
Darcy knew by the look on her face and the tone of voice that she was not reconciled with his explanations, however much she tried to hide it, but he had no intention of continuing the discussion.
“I will.” His reply conveyed that the subject was closed.
“I have one more matter I wish to discuss tonight – your cousin. Are you displeased he is in Brighton and that we are to dine with him?”
“But not pleased. I could see you were not overjoyed to see him again. Are you harbouring resentment over his failure to attend our wedding?”
“That is a difficult question to answer. I fully understand that he may not have wished to anger his father. Still, Andrew is a grown man. His excuse that he was at the mercy of the General rings false. He has never had any difficulty securing time away from his commission’s duties to travel to Rosings every Easter with me.”
“Has it occurred to you that he has come to Brighton on our account?”
“I do not follow your reasoning.”
“Fitzwilliam, I can empathize with your cousin’s reluctance to displease his parents. He cannot possibly maintain his style of living on a soldier’s stipend. Two months ago, I faced the same dilemma. I knew I needed to marry well or face a form of poverty when my father was gone.”
“Yet, I had to persuade you to marry me.”
“You were quite persuasive, too.” She grinned. “I was able to overcome the fantasy of marrying for the deepest affection by the reasoning of a respectable gentleman, willing to overlook my lack of connections and dowry. But I digress, if your cousin retains as much independence as you assert, is it not possible he decided this was the best way to meet me without incurring the wrath of his father?”
“I will concede that possibility.” Darcy frowned. “I should not be so affected by this. We have scarcely seen each other since the accident. I would not consider us to be great friends.”
“Still, you felt the sting of his absence. It must have reminded you of others who could not be there.”
“You could be correct. I cannot say.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath before continuing.
“I count myself most fortunate. I have married a man I admire, respect, and now love.”
Darcy immediately tensed.
No. She cannot mean what she said.
“You love me?” Darcy’s tone clearly conveyed that he was not pleased.
Elizabeth sighed. “I need not ask if this pleases you. Your tone speaks volumes, and I admit I am not surprised.”
Darcy rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
“If you are not surprised, then why have you told me? Have I ever asked for your love?”
“No, Fitzwilliam, you have not. Yet you have it.”
She waited for him to respond. He said nothing.
“The night before the wedding, Jane asked me if I was in love with you. I told her I did not know. She then said to me, ‘Elizabeth, when you do, tell him.’”
“Do you always do as your sister suggests?”
“Not at all, but I heed her advice when I find it sensible and wise. Fitzwilliam, I realized at the moment I vowed to honour, love, and obey you that I love you as a woman should love her husband. I have pondered long and hard at the wonder of it, and the ramifications of telling you. I know full well that you have never asked for my love. I suspected that you did not wish for me to love you, and though I cannot understand your reasoning, I cannot change what I feel for you. How can one deny the beating of their heart?
“I could have chosen not to tell you, to wait and see if you would come to love me. I did not keep silent because that would be disrespectful to the friendship we have built. You are a man of integrity, you are honest, you do not profess feelings not your own for my approbation. You have answered my questions with an openness that at times astounds me. You have never made me feel inferior. You have earned the right to hear the same truth from me.”
Darcy was silent for a long moment, and when he spoke, he could not look at her. “I do not know what to say.”
“Say nothing. I wish you to know and accept that I love you and will always seek your happiness. I ask nothing of you beyond this. I cannot deny my greatest hope that someday, you will love me as I love you. But if not, I hope that you continue to like me, to respect and esteem me … that you will always be my friend.” Elizabeth added in a shy voice, “And my lover.”
Darcy could not stop himself; her final comment made him smile. He rolled back onto his side to face her.
“Elizabeth, I cannot ask you to stop loving me, but I will ask you not to speak of it. I cannot promise what I can no longer give – to you or to anyone. But you are my life’s companion and my lover.” Darcy reached to caress her face with his finger. “As much as I hate to admit it, you were right to tell me. It will be less awkward for both of us now that it is out in the open. I would not have you harbour such deep secrets from me.”
Elizabeth leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you.”
“For accepting your kiss?”
“For listening to me. For not becoming angry or upset.”
“Elizabeth, any man would be flattered to know that he inspired such devotion without consciously encouraging it. Now, wife, come lie next to me.”
Elizabeth obeyed and soon fell asleep spooned against her beloved’s body. Darcy was not so fortunate. He lay awake replaying Elizabeth’s confession.
It could be worse. I could actually return her love. Then what heartache would befall us?