September 8, 2015 - The recent thefts of stories here at has led some authors to pull their stories from this website. I do not plan to do so at this time, however, I do feel the need to include the following: This story is protected by copyright law and may not be used, copied or republished without the expressed written consent of the author. My work has been available online elsewhere for many years so establishing my ownership will not be an issue for me. Don't go ruining it for others. This story is also published and has been for several years. Enough said.

This story will not be new to many of you, but I decided it was time to give it a new audience.

For those of you who have never read it, or my any of my work before, I can assure you that I always bring a happy ending to Darcy and Elizabeth. I do not, however, promise that it will be a smooth road getting there.

The idea for this story came when I started imagining what would have happened if Fitzwilliam Darcy had come to Hertfordshire and met Elizabeth Bennet without a concern about her merger dowry and without insulting her the night they met at the assembly. Things took off from there and No More Tears is the result. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter One

London, September 1810

Fitzwilliam Darcy, having completed a most pleasant outing on a beautiful late summer's day, dismounted from his horse and made ready for his return to Derbyshire. As soon as he received word that his sister and her companion, Mrs. Younge, had arrived safely in Kent, he would leave for Pemberley. Shortly after he had entered the house, his butler delivered the awaited express, bowed, and discreetly left his young master alone in the study. Darcy noted the direction on the envelope and became uneasy; it was not in Georgiana's hand.

Moments later, the household was startled by cries of anguish emanating from the master's room. The butler and footman, hurrying to render aid, found a most unnerving sight – Darcy, sobbing as if his heart were breaking. As, indeed, it was.

"Mr. Darcy?" No response. "Sir?" the butler tried again. Still, no response.

In an action the man knew could cost him his position, the loyal butler surreptitiously scanned the open letter. He blanched and caught his breath as he read:

… I have been charged with relating to you the most distressing of news. There was an accident just outside the village of Leves Green. All within the carriage – your sister, her maid, and her companion – were instantly killed.

Georgiana Darcy, just fifteen years of age, was dead. Fitzwilliam Darcy was alone, the last of the Darcys of Pemberley.

London, One Year Later

Charles Bingley, having recently taken possession of a delightful Hertfordshire manor called Netherfield, was at present in London to collect a party to return with him.

Prodigiously pleased with the society of his new neighbours, he looked forward to an upcoming assembly ball in the nearby village of Meryton and desired that his two sisters and brother-in-law, Miss Caroline Bingley and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, accompany him. He was eager to convince his friend Darcy to come with him as well.

Bingley both desired Darcy's company and was concerned about his friend's low spirits. Even now, six months after the proscribed formal mourning, Darcy was rarely seen in company. There were whispers about Town regarding his mental state. Those few who had seen him were surprised that a man known for his reserve could have withdrawn that much deeper into himself. He was thin and looked ill. Bingley was convinced that were it not for the scruples of Darcy's valet, his normally fastidious friend would have paid little heed to his appearance. Speculation was rife about the disposition of Pemberley should the worst befall the current master. Darcy had no wife, no son, and no family closer than his Fitzwilliam and de Bourgh cousins. Hopeful matrons, dusting off their as-yet-unmarried daughters, were confident that one of the richest bachelors in all of England would be compelled to take a wife. And soon.

Charles Bingley knew what was being said of his friend and had determined to take him away from it all, even for a little while; away from the gossip, away from the rapacious matchmaking mamas, away from the London house too filled with the spectre of Georgiana.

"There is nothing for me in Hertfordshire. Indeed, there is nothing for me anywhere."

"Good God, man! Listen to yourself. I know you still feel Georgiana's passing deeply, but you must begin to look to the future."

"You do not understand. I failed her. I should have taken her to Kent myself. She would be alive if I had."

Bingley saw Darcy's anguish and spoke gently to him. "You take too much upon yourself. There is no guarantee that your presence would have changed anything. Indeed, you might have been killed as well. It was an accident. You are not to blame."

"Bingley, I have not the heart to argue with you. I shall always hold myself responsible. Nothing you say can change that."

"Then we disagree. Still, it is insufficient reason not to travel with me to Netherfield. Hertfordshire holds no unpleasant memories for you. Darcy, I must insist."

Darcy looked at his friend. Bingley was unaffectedly modest and had relied on Darcy's reasoning in many things, until Darcy's grief and withdrawal from society had forced Bingley to make his own decisions, to trust his own judgment. Darcy saw the look of determination on his friend's face and allowed himself to be swayed.

"Very well. I will go."

All eyes were drawn to the heretofore unseen Netherfield party as three gentlemen and two ladies entered the Meryton assembly rooms. Equal in intensity to the general air of approval was the sigh of relief that the party did not consist of the seven gentlemen and twelve ladies that, rumour had it, would attend. Two of the gentlemen soon drew the attention of the room: Mr. Bingley for his air of amiability and the report of his five thousand a year; Mr. Darcy for his fine, tall person, noble mien, and the report of an income twice that of his friend. That they were single men in possession of good fortunes was sufficient to recommend them to the local residents; that each must be in want of a wife was universally understood. That both were handsome and appeared to be men of sense and education caused many of the ladies to become quite breathless. Even Mr. Bennet, who had accompanied his distaff flock only under threat of a fortnight's invasion of his sacrosanct library by his youngest daughters, was favourably impressed. Bingley spied Mr. Bennet and Sir William Lucas, both of whom had earlier called at Netherfield to welcome him to the neighbourhood and made his way towards them, Darcy at his side.

"Gentlemen, what a delightful assembly!"

"If you like to dance, I suppose it is delightful enough," Mr. Bennet quipped. Darcy suppressed a smile.

"This is my friend, Mr. Darcy of Pemberley."

"An honour, sir. Will you stay long in Hertfordshire?" Sir William asked.

"My plans are not yet fixed."

"Do you plan to dance tonight, as does your friend?" Sir William continued. "As you can see, sir, we are graced with the presence of many fine young ladies, any of whom, I am certain, would be honoured to stand up with you."

"No, sir, I shall not." Even Sir William could see that Darcy would speak no further upon the subject. Mr. Bennet took it upon himself to redirect the conversation.

"Mr. Bingley, at least, has come for such an amusement and is in want of partners. This will not do. I must introduce you, sir, to some of the fine young ladies of whom Sir William spoke."

Mr. Bennet and Sir William nodded to their wives, who had been impatiently awaiting the signal to approach.

"May I present Mrs. Bennet and my three eldest girls, Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary. Our two youngest daughters are dancing."

"Mr. Bingley, allow me to introduce Lady Lucas, my eldest daughter, Charlotte, and my other daughter, Maria."

"A pleasure, ladies. I hope you will oblige me this evening."

Mr. Bingley's invitation was quickly and happily accepted by each of the young women. At that moment, he recalled Darcy, standing a step behind him.

"Where are my manners? May I introduce my friend, Mr. Darcy?"

Elizabeth, second of the Bennet daughters, often indulged in the practice of observing men as they were introduced to her elder sister, Jane, a woman of classic beauty upon whom few men could look without admiration. She was, therefore, surprised to witness an entirely unexpected reaction in Mr. Darcy. Was she mistaken, or did she see sadness, a despondency the lines of his bearing could not disguise, briefly overshadow his handsome features?

Before much else could be said, the music resumed, and Bingley led out Charlotte Lucas. Darcy made his way to the windows, seeking to avoid conversation, especially with Miss Bingley. In that, at least, he was unsuccessful.

Bingley claimed Elizabeth for the third set. His partner after Miss Lucas had been Miss Bennet, and he had been immediately captivated by her beauty and serene countenance. He was sorely disappointed when that dance ended, but Elizabeth's high spirits soon restored his normal good humour.

"Mr. Bingley, you dance very well."

He laughed. "Thank you, Miss Bennet. I must return the compliment. You are very accomplished at the art."

"You flatter me, sir. Well done! I cannot be cross with you any more."

"Dare I ask how I have earned your displeasure?"

"You have brought with you a gentleman who declines to dance."

"Darcy? He will not. He is still mourning his sister."

Elizabeth felt all the pain and mortification of her ill-founded wit. "I beg forgiveness, sir, I did not know. I am surprised that he comes into society at all."

"You have no need to apologize, Miss Bennet, it was impossible for you to have known. Miss Darcy did not survive a carriage accident one year ago. She was the last of his immediate family and Darcy still feels it keenly. But the truth is, he was never much for balls and assemblies."

Bingley hesitated, then asked, "Miss Bennet, would you grant me a request?"

"That depends upon the request."

"Well spoken. Miss Bennet, would you come with me to talk to my friend? Your wit and liveliness would be most welcome to him, I think."

"I am not engaged for the next. I will talk to your friend if he desires it."

"Thank you. I do not believe Darcy wishes to spend the rest of the night in the company of my sister Caroline."

When the dance ended, Bingley escorted Elizabeth through the press of the assembly to the edge of the room by the windows, where stood Darcy and Caroline Bingley.

Bingley introduced Elizabeth to his sister and then addressed his friend.

"Darcy, I say, you are not dancing, but I hate to see you stand around. Miss Bennet is not engaged for the next set and has humoured me by agreeing to keep company with you while I introduce Caroline to some of our new neighbours."

Bingley held out his hand to his sister. "Shall we, Caroline?"

Caroline Bingley cast a disdainful look over her shoulder, helpless as her brother led her to another part of the room. Elizabeth saw it and was amused by the undisguised wariness on that woman's face. She turned to the source of Miss Bingley's attentions – Mr. Darcy. The poor man looked adrift, plainly wanting to be any place other than an assembly in Hertfordshire.

"Mr. Darcy, would you be so kind as to fetch me some punch? I am afraid that the copious amount of conversation required when standing up with your friend has left me quite thirsty."

Darcy bowed and left to obtain the desired refreshment. When he offered the glass to Elizabeth, she quietly thanked him and waited for him to speak. Several minutes passed without conversation as Darcy's thoughts once again turned inward. It was only after hearing raucous laughter from some nearby revealers that his attention was drawn back to Elizabeth.

"Please forgive me, Miss Bennet. I fear that my thoughts are not present in this room tonight, and neither are my manners."

Elizabeth looked at the man before her and felt compassion for him.

"Mr. Darcy, I believe I understand your distraction. Mr. Bingley told me of your loss. Allow me to offer my deepest sympathies." Darcy bowed in acknowledgment. "You were thinking of her just now, were you not? And I believe you were thinking of her when you were introduced to my sister Jane and me."

"Why do you say that?" he asked in astonishment.

"There was a look of sadness about you, sir. You are the first man I have seen respond to my sister, Jane, in that manner. I wondered, then, what could have caused it."

"Very perceptive, Miss Bennet. Do you always study people so intently?"

"Only young men when they meet Jane. She is a beautiful woman, and is as beautiful of character as she is of face." Elizabeth momentarily caught his gaze, then made a brief curtsy. "I have fulfilled my pledge to Mr. Bingley. I shall take leave of you now, sir."

"Please, Miss Bennet. Do not leave. I have enjoyed your company."

Elizabeth hesitated, unsure why Mr. Darcy would seek to extend the tête-à-tête. When she saw the pain in his eyes, however, and realized that he was sincere in his request, she consented to remain.

"Mr. Darcy, forgive my impertinence, but I must ask what brought you to an assembly such as this if you had neither plans to dance nor an inclination to socialize?"

"Friendship and courtesy, Miss Bennet. When Bingley asked me to come with him tonight, I could not refuse. I am his guest at Netherfield and I am fortunate to call him my friend. Thus, here I am, at a country assembly, with no intention of dancing and little desire for society.

"I am surprised, then, that Mr. Bingley asked you to come tonight. But your presence is welcome, sir." Elizabeth smiled. "My father would enjoy your company, I believe. He is in another room with some of the gentlemen. May I direct you to them?"

"Yes, I would like that. Lead the way, Miss Bennet."

As Elizabeth crossed the room towards the next, Darcy noticed that the balcony was unoccupied.

"Miss Bennet, I would like a breath of air before joining the other gentlemen. Would you come outside with me for a few minutes?" Darcy saw Elizabeth hesitate. "We would be in full view of the assembly if that is your concern."

"Yes, so we would. Very well, it is a pleasant evening."

As they walked to the railing, Elizabeth continued, "The heat of the rooms can become somewhat stifling."


"How do you find Hertfordshire, sir?"

"From the little I have seen, it appears a pleasant enough place. We are a convenient distance from Town. Bingley is very pleased so far."

"He has made a good impression on the neighbourhood. He is well on the way to becoming a favourite."

"As he is wherever he goes. I often envy him."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I have not the ease in conversing with strangers that Bingley does."

"You appear at ease with me, Mr. Darcy."

"You are most kind. I was quite rude earlier. You came to converse with me as a favour to my friend, and I did not attend you."

"I have forgiven your lapse. Truly, sir, you are now performing quite admirably."

"A thing I do too rarely with other than my intimate acquaintances. Thank you for putting me at ease."

Elizabeth smiled; she was flattered that he was making an effort to continue their conversation.

"I believe your father's estate is nearby, Miss Bennet?"

"Longbourn is a mile from Meryton and some three miles from Netherfield. It has been in the Bennet family for many generations, but that is soon to end."

"Why so?"

"The estate is entailed away from the female line and I have no brothers. Longbourn will pass to my father's cousin, a Mr. Collins."

"You have four sisters, am I correct?"

"Yes, and all of us out at the same time. Heaven help my poor father!"

They stood in silence for a moment.

"Come, let me take you to the gentlemen now. I believe the card tables are out, if you are so inclined. My father rarely plays, but he is always ready for sensible conversation. He gets little enough of that at Longbourn."

Darcy found Mr. Bennet to be a pleasant, well-read man, and discovered in that gentleman an incisive, trenchant wit. When Bingley announced that it was time to leave, Darcy was amazed to realize that he had enjoyed the evening after all.

Later that evening, when the sisters were alone, Jane voiced the extent of her admiration for Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth enjoyed listening to her reserved sister speak so highly – and so warmly – of a gentleman.

"I give you leave to like him, Jane. You have liked many a stupider person."

"And Mr. Darcy? Tell me your impressions of that gentleman."

"Mr. Darcy is still mourning the loss of his sister. There is a great sadness in him."

"Poor Mr. Darcy."

"Yes. Sad he may be, but poor he most certainly is not."

"As Mama has already noted."

"He seems a sensible man. One conversation was not enough to draw many conclusions as to his character. Still, he is the friend of the amiable Mr. Bingley. He cannot be too disreputable; it would reflect poorly on your Mr. Bingley and that would never do!"

"But you like him."

"My dear Jane, I am quite aware that men such as Mr. Darcy never pay court to any woman whose condition in life is so decidedly below their own. I shall enjoy his conversation when we are in company, and that is all I dare expect. I will guard my heart from anything beyond friendship."

At Netherfield, Darcy lay awake in his bed, staring at the ceiling. Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been an unexpected and pleasant surprise. She seemed to be the kind of woman with whom he could enjoy spending many evenings. But such musings only led yet again to less pleasant if more pressing matters.

The loss of his beloved sister had turned duty into necessity. There was no getting around it; he was the last of his line. He must marry soon and quickly produce a Darcy heir. In a moment of what he later realized was sheer lunacy, he had entertained thoughts of offering for Miss Bingley. There was comfort in the idea of sealing his friendship with Bingley by becoming his brother. It took a mere quarter of an hour in Miss Bingley's company to disabuse him of that notion. Under pressure from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he had seriously considered her daughter Anne as a prospective wife; but Anne's sickly disposition raised too much uncertainty about her ability to bear children. Besides, Anne had shown a marked disinterest in Darcy, and something akin to dread about marriage in general – and motherhood in particular. He could likely bear a wife's indifference, but he needed a son.

He had always intended to marry, but the vulgarities of the marriage market offended him. He was all too aware that he was marked as a much-desired catch, not for himself, but for his fortune and position in society. He had not found a woman he felt was worthy of a lifetime among the families of his acquaintance, and of course, there would always be time; some time in the future he was sure to find a wife. As long as Georgiana lived, another Darcy was alive to carry on the family line. But now she was gone, and her death had underscored most painfully the inherent fragility of life and the foolishness of believing that there would always be time, that there would always be a future.

Truth be told, he was lonely and all too alone. Elizabeth Bennet had intrigued him, and for nearly the first time in his life, he could hope that he need not bear a wife's indifference in order to provide an heir. If a woman such as she could exist in a country town in Hertfordshire, surely he could find a more appropriate, but no less intriguing, bride hidden among the ton. Fulfilling his duty would not, perhaps, be so onerous a task after all.

The next fortnight saw the party from Netherfield meet frequently with the prominent families of the neighbourhood. The Bennets had dined with them four times between the assembly and the evening that a large party assembled at Lucas Lodge, the estate of Sir William Lucas.

Elizabeth was delighted to watch Jane's increasing preference for Mr. Bingley. She was proud of how her sister united great strength of feeling with a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner; it shielded the world in general as to her inclinations but would leave the gentleman with no question of her regard, should he seek to discover it. Elizabeth mentioned this to her good friend, Charlotte Lucas.

"This may seem so, but can be a disadvantage. She must be careful not to discourage his attentions by her caution. A woman ought to show more affection than she feels. Mr. Bingley may not realise the depth of her affection, if she does not help him along."

"If a woman is partial to a man and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find out."

"Perhaps, if he sees her enough. But they have not had many hours together and always in a large party. They cannot have had more than a few moments alone. Jane must make the most of every moment they have together. Once she secures him, there is enough time for falling in love."

"An excellent plan, if all you seek is to be well married. I would follow it myself if I were determined to get a rich husband or any husband. But these are not Jane's feelings; she is not acting by design. She is not even certain of her own regard. She has not had time to learn his character."

"I wish Jane well. If she were married to him tomorrow, I should think she would have as good a chance at happiness as if she knew him for twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."

"You make me laugh, Charlotte."

Elizabeth had become an object of interest to Mr. Darcy. He had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; upon further meetings, he discovered that her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. He came to understand that although her manners were not those of the fashionable world, their easy playfulness intrigued him. He enjoyed their conversations, and he determined to know more about her. Elizabeth was as aware of his interest as she was astonished by it. He scarce spoke to anyone from Hertfordshire except her and her father.

"What can he mean by seeking my company, Charlotte?"

"Perhaps he likes you, Eliza."

"Perhaps he is bored!"

"Why should he not wish to know you better? You are lively, where he is sombre. Considering the women in residence at Netherfield, it is no surprise that he yearns for a more challenging female as his foil."

"He is unlike any man I have ever met," she conceded.

"Do my ears deceive me or is Miss Elizabeth Bennet intrigued by a member of the opposite sex?"

"Charlotte, you assume too much."

"He is a strikingly handsome man."

"You claim not to be romantic."

"One does not need to be romantic to recognise when a man is attractive, Lizzy."

"Then we shall swoon together, dear Charlotte." Both laughed and continued to discuss the most eligible men in the neighbourhood.

On Tuesday morning, nearly a fortnight after the gathering at Lucas Lodge, Jane received an invitation to dine at Netherfield with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. The gentlemen were engaged with the officers of the regiment quartered for the winter in Meryton. Mrs. Bennet sent Jane to Netherfield on horseback, for it looked like rain. Her purpose was served when, not long after Jane departed, the skies opened and rain poured down on the countryside. It was impossible for her to return. The extent of Mrs. Bennet's success was discovered when a note from Netherfield arrived the next morning announcing that Jane had taken ill. Elizabeth determined at once to see her elder sister, and because she was no horsewoman, walked the nearly three miles to the great house.

She arrived with boots and petticoats coated with mud. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were aghast at such an exhibition, but Mr. Bingley thought it showed an affection for her sister that he found very pleasing. Darcy wholeheartedly agreed though he did not voice such opinions. He did admit that he found her features brightened by the exercise. Elizabeth did not care; she thought only of Jane.

When it came time for Elizabeth to leave, Jane professed such a desire for her sister's companionship that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of a coach to Longbourn into a request for Elizabeth to stay at Netherfield through Jane's convalescence. A note was dispatched to inform her family and to retrieve a supply of clothing.

Elizabeth's time was chiefly spent caring for her sister. She rarely left Jane's room, other than for meals. Occasionally she would join the Bingley family downstairs although it was a duty she felt more necessary than pleasant. Miss Bingley's frequent assaults on the inferiority of the females in the country – which always included no small nod to her own and Mrs. Hurst's superiority – Elizabeth met with sweetness and tact.

In contrast to the hostess's behaviour was the gracious manner of the brother. Elizabeth found Mr. Bingley's kindness and concern for the health and comfort of her sister endearing. Jane would indeed be fortunate to be the recipient of his affections.

Mr. Bingley was all that was amiable, but his friend was another matter. He was not unfriendly; on the contrary, he was in every way the perfect gentleman. The perfect gentleman, that is, who enjoyed a good debate. When she was in his company he was not averse to expressing opinions she strongly suspected were not his own to provoke their verbal fencing. She wondered at his motives, finally putting it down to a desire for entertainment not available from the other residents of Netherfield.

She could not know that her poise greatly impressed Darcy, who was careful not to engage her in wordplay unless he was willing to defend himself against what he had come to realize was a worthy and challenging opponent. He spoke not to criticize, but to test – for it occurred to Darcy that perhaps in Miss Elizabeth Bennet he had met a woman worthy to be considered his equal.

Mrs. Bennet made an appearance at Netherfield, found little with which to be concerned, but proceeded nonetheless to bewail Jane's illness to her hosts. She fully expected Jane to recover by Sunday; her intent was that her daughter complete a full week's residence in Mr. Bingley's house. She instantly resolved to make certain that the horses would not be available for the carriage until Monday. Mrs. Bennet had great hopes that the gentleman would soon declare himself and that her eldest would be settled in Netherfield before the spring.

Her family's visit was mortifying for Elizabeth. Had her mother and younger sisters been determined to prove to the Netherfield party that an alliance between a Bingley and a Bennet would unite families of unequal breeding, they could not have exposed themselves with greater vulgarity or lesser restraint. Elizabeth fled to the sanctuary of Jane's sick room as soon as the Longbourn ladies departed, telling her sister nothing of her family's disgrace.

On Saturday morning, Darcy escaped to the library to read his correspondence in peace; it was the one public room where he was left alone by Miss Bingley. He was in the middle of reading yet another letter from his uncle imploring him to find a wife when he heard the door open. He sat in momentary dread of the mistress of the house entering his safe haven, but was instead rewarded with an unexpected bounty: Elizabeth, in search of a book.

"Good morning, Miss Elizabeth. I hope Miss Bennet is feeling better?"

"Much, thank you. I did not expect to meet with anyone here. I came only to select a book. I will do so quickly and give you back your privacy."

"Do not hurry on my account. Although," he continued, seeming to suppress a smile, "given the small collection Bingley has here, it should not take you long to make a selection."

Elizabeth noticed the playfulness of his comment and decided to continue the teasing.

"Mr. Bingley did say he wished he had more books. I presume, were I perusing your library, I would have a much greater choice."

"Most assuredly."

Elizabeth pulled a volume off the shelf. "Nevertheless, I have found something that should amuse me. I shall leave you to your solitude."

"There is no need to leave because of me."

"Very well. Thank you. I need not return to Jane directly."

Darcy sat back down in his chair, and just in time. The sunlight streaming through the windows behind Elizabeth illuminated her figure to its advantage. He wondered what it would be like to hold her, to feel her form against his, to gently kiss her lips. His thoughts progressed at an alarming rate. He felt himself reacting to the sight before him in the most basic of ways, and hiding the evidence of her effect on him became pressing.

Elizabeth, blissfully unaware, sat down on a sofa opposite Darcy and began to read.

Darcy attempted to return his attention to his letter, but to no avail. He could not suppress the image of Elizabeth, the light shining through her dress, that he had been privileged to witness. He could think of nothing other than closing and locking the door so they would not be disturbed.

My God! It has been months without such thoughts and now they suddenly reappear? Control your baser urges, Darcy. Do not disgrace yourself. You are a gentleman, and she a gentleman's daughter.

Darcy looked again at Elizabeth. She was biting her lip in concentration, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, oblivious to his presence and her effect on him.

So unlike the other women of my acquaintance. Never throwing herself at me. Speaking kindly and considerate of my feelings. Even now she seeks to suppress a laugh to keep from disturbing me. Most singular!

It was unfortunate that a woman such as she was exiled in the country. She would never find a suitable marriage partner here. She would never be appreciated by any gentleman of this neighbourhood.

What about you, old man? You certainly find her appealing, in body and in character. She is healthy and stout; surely she would be able to provide the necessary heirs.

He glanced again at the letter in his hand. Impertinent his uncle's admonitions might be, but he was undoubtedly correct in principle: Darcy needed a legitimate heir, and for that he needed a wife. None of the ladies of the ton had captured his interest. None seemed capable of more than simpering, superficial conversation. With none could he envision spending a lifetime.

It would be months before the season began and a new slate of brides-in-waiting would debut. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was right in front of him. Now. Today.

She stirs desire in you: you appreciate her lively mind. Why not her?

Elizabeth, unaware that Darcy's thoughts were engaged in deciding her future, glanced at the mantel clock and noted that the time she had allotted to be away from Jane had come to an end. She stood to leave, bringing Darcy's focus abruptly back to the present.

"I must return to Jane now. Thank you for sharing the room with me, Mr. Darcy."

Darcy smiled. "My pleasure, as always, Miss Bennet."

Alone again, Darcy began to pace – his uncle's letter in his hand.

Why not?