As I said before, this was written as an after-thought a few weeks ago, a what-if of my own what-if, and I just couldn't help myself. Really, I could write a hundred of these if you consider all the places in my story where Lizzy could have either told the truth or been discovered. This one, however, was my favorite because, as my Beta pointed out to me today, I have a slight obsession with the results of nipping character misunderstandings in the bud. Misery based on poor communication is so angsty (even in my own stuff), but the longer it festers, the more impatient I become. Thus the reason I hate Romeo and Juliet. And most soap operas or TV shows that run longer than one season. Heh. So enjoy, and again, thanks for reading.
And before you ask, no, this tangent will not be continued. If you want to know what happens, use your imagination. That's the glory of one-shots.
Me no Jane.
Havenswood, Extra Chapter
The first thing Elizabeth Bennet noticed upon attempting to open her eyes that morning was that her mouth was incredibly dry, as if she had not had anything to drink in several months. She tried to swallow, but it took two or three attempts to wet her mouth enough for her to succeed. She should never have agreed to take some of Jane's medicine last night. As a child, taking laudanum had always left her feeling rather worse than better, but Jane had been so sweetly insistent that she had acquiesced.
The second thing she noticed, once she had rubbed her eyes gently for a few seconds, was that the clock on the mantel had a large enough face that she was just able to make out the time – five o'clock – despite the minimal light from the dying fire in the grate. Had she gone to bed with the fire lit? She was never so incautious!
The third thing she noticed was that she was perfectly, wonderfully warm, which was impressive considering the low fire and the drafty nature of her particular Netherfield guest room. Had the maids put another blanket on her bed last night? She hadn't complained to anyone, so how had they known?
It took another several seconds for the cause of her warmth to occur to her. It probably had something to do with the long, bare arm that was lolling over her torso and the body curled up behind her, pressed against her back.
Elizabeth stiffened and stifled a gasp, horror sweeping over her. Her automatic inclination was to shriek and jump from the bed, but reality quickly descended upon her, and she stayed very still, holding her breath to avoid awakening her bedfellow. Ever so carefully, so slowly that she was sure at least a quarter-of-an-hour passed between each movement, she lifted the well-muscled arm off of her middle and lowered it to the mattress gently, then shifted her way to the edge of the bed and tiptoed a few steps away.
Then, after drawing in a deep, fortifying breath, she turned to face the bed. This time was unable to entirely stifle the gasp. Mr. Darcy!
Without warning, broken, jumbled-up memories of the previous night opened in her mind. Elizabeth had taken the medicine, and within only a few minutes, she had begun to feel extremely relaxed and then extremely sleepy. She had left Jane, who had drifted off, and moved down the hallway toward her own chamber, where she had flung her robe to the chair and collapsed into bed, only barely bothering to cover herself with the blankets.
Sometime later, long enough that she thought she might have had some strange, hazy dreams, she was awakened by an odd sensation. She had opened her eyes to find Mr. Darcy, the man who lay shirtless and peaceful before her now, hovering over her body in the bed, kissing her neck, her jaw, her face. He had smelled strongly of alcohol, but he had seemed quite lucid as he had kissed her mouth and whispered, "My darling, my Elizabeth, I know not what brought you to me tonight, but it is a gift I shall not forsake."
Why had she not pushed him away and demanded an explanation for his behavior? Why had she not jumped for the poker and jabbed at him until he had sworn to tell no one and gone back to his own room?
Her mind had been sluggish and still filled with the euphoria of the medicine, she realized after a few moments, and all of her coherence had gone straight into noticing the excruciatingly pleasurable sensations he was creating within her. It was only now, the laudanum gone from her system, that she remembered its typical effects, which included lethargy and a sharpening of sensation.
Elizabeth blushed deeply and covered her face as she remembered the shamelessness of her response to him, her easy acceptance of all his attentions. He had certainly had no cause to believe she was unwilling. As punishment for her stupidity she forced herself to be honest: as their time together had progressed, her thoughts had clarified, which probably meant that she had sobered, but she had seemed just as incapable of refusing him. She had become entirely engrossed by the thoroughly enjoyable novelty of the experience, which had only been compounded by the words of love he had whispered and moaned a thousand times during that night.
Words of love? She drew in a quick breath, covering her mouth. He had spoken of love, whispered promises of a future. She gazed down at him, softening a little as she looked at his face.
She might have been able to refuse him near the end, but by then she had not wished to do so.
But now, oh now, in the shock of awakening, she could no longer feel the warmth of the previous night. Instead all that was left inside her was the cold of fear and uncertainty. Yes, Mr. Darcy had been more than delighted to enjoy her, particularly in his less-inhibited state, but what would he do upon awakening and finding her still present. Would his professions prove true? Could he possibly care about her in such a way? Or would he discover that he had not quite meant what he had said and that he would prefer nothing more than to forget the entire experience?
Of course, if such a thing happened, she could scream and awaken the household, which would force him to repair her honor and marry her. But there was no way that was what she wanted. She had sworn she would marry for nothing but love, and although now the circumstance was significantly muddier, she still refused to begin a marriage with a man who hated her for entrapping him. No, she would be happier remaining unwed forever and fulfilling her own dark prophecy about ending up caring for all of Jane's thirteen children.
Elizabeth looked uncertainly toward the bed again. Mr. Darcy was still curled on his side, his face calm and far more youthful than when awake. It was difficult to think of him as "Mr. Darcy" when he lay before her so unassuming, just as it had felt strange to call him such a formal name in the midst of their previous night's activities.
"What is your given name?" she had asked him as they had lain side-by-side, catching their breath.
He had rolled up onto his side and smirked at her. "Why do you wish to know?"
"Because if you call me Elizabeth, then I should not have to call you 'Mr. Darcy.'"
He had laughed, a deep, rolling of thunder that had sprung from inside his chest. "You are right, it is unfair. My name is Fitzwilliam, but since I am named after my mother's family, my family calls me William."
Elizabeth had stared up at the long scarlet curtains that framed the two tall windows on the near wall, her drugged gaze drawn to the richness of the color. "What about Will?"
His reply had been hesitant, so quiet that she had turned her head to watch his lips. "Not since I was a boy."
"May I call you Will?"
He had leaned forward and pressed his forehead against hers, closing his eyes tightly. "When we are alone together like this, my love, you may call me anything you wish."
Elizabeth blushed anew at the memory and turned away, snatching her robe and moving toward the window. After tugging aside the red curtain, it was obvious that although dawn was still a long time away, there would be light soon on the horizon. She would have to awaken him and ask him to leave before the servants came to start the fire.
Suddenly, what she had just seen registered in her mind. She took a single step back and reached out to finger the heavy red curtain. She felt a knot form in her stomach as she very slowly turned to face the room. It was hard to tell in the dimness, but now that she had thought of it, the truth of the situation was obvious. There was no clock on the mantel in her room. The curtains on her window were gold and green, and there was a small dressing table against the far wall rather than a chest of drawers. This was not her room!
In her drug-induced haze, she had left Jane's bedchamber and turned the wrong direction, which had carried her down the opposite hallway to Mr. Darcy's room rather than her own. She could not help but moan. He was at least tipsy already, if not fully drunk, and he had arrived in his bedroom to find her sleeping in his bed like a common strumpet! No wonder he had not questioned her desire for him.
Oh, it was all her fault. How could she face him now, each of them with far more clarity, and explain her presence and the mistake that had been made? What was she to say?
Nothing—that was the answer. She needed time to think, and she could not face him yet, not before she had thought of how to explain without sounding desperately foolish. She spun quickly toward the door and moved forward, practically running, but as she passed in front of the fire, she misjudged the path behind the armchair and caught her toe on the bedpost.
She cried out in surprise and pain, realizing how loud she had been only too late.
"What is going on?" Mr. Darcy cried, sitting up in bed as quick as a gunshot. "Who is there?"
The nausea caused by the impact of her foot was only compounded by her sudden fear and newly-felt shame. She shrank back against the wall, praying that there was still enough darkness for him to miss her and go back to sleep.
There wasn't. "Miss Bennet?" he asked, astonished. "Is that you? What is going on…?" His voice trailed away, and she watched his eyes sweep over her rumpled nightclothes and loose hair.
He did not remember! Oh, could any moment be more wretched than this one?
"Forgive me, sir, I… I returned to the wrong room." Elizabeth felt tears coming to her eyes. She moved forward in the darkness, passing the bed and reaching out for the door handle. "I was just making my way back where I belong. I never meant…"
Although she could have sworn he was sitting in his bed only a moment before, she jumped as she felt a hand grasp her elbow and prevent her from lifting the latch. She looked toward his face and took an immediate step back, leaning against the heavy wooden door.
His eyes, which had been confused before, were suddenly very near and bright with what she knew was memories returning. "Wait! Forgive me… Elizabeth. I… last night… last night was… not a dream, was it?"
She looked down, tears still threatening, and shook her head. "No, sir. It was not a dream."
He was quiet for a moment, his hand still resting on her arm. "I do not doubt the truth of what happened—the memories are too vivid for me to have conjured—but it occurs to me now, although it should have before, that I have no explanation for what occurred. You… you were here when I came upstairs? I had too much to drink, far too much, and was feeling it. And here you were."
Elizabeth was silent, her throat too thick to answer.
"Why?" he asked slowly, his words quiet. "Why were you here?"
She just shook her head, tears flowing down her cheeks.
He stepped away, and Elizabeth glanced up at him for a single moment, long enough to see his eyes widen in concern. "It was not a ploy, was it? A purposeful attempt to get me to compromise you? Blast it all! I am normally so cautious! Imagine if it had been someone else? Would I have been so easily manipulated?"
Elizabeth's head came up again, and although the tears continued to flow, suddenly they were made of anger rather than shame. "You think I deposited myself in your bed last night so that I could tempt you into a liaison and force you to marry me? I cannot believe I thought… I cannot believe I felt even a tentative affection for the man I believed you to be last night! You are exactly all the things I knew you to be yesterday afternoon: callous, selfish, and uncaring. The man you were last night as you seduced me was only a façade, an imaginary hero designed to relax and intrigue me!"
"Seduced you?" Mr. Darcy half-roared, consciously glancing toward the door and tugging her away, to the far side of the room near the window. "I was not the one who appeared in your bed!"
"It was an accident!" she hissed through gritted teeth. "I took some of Jane's medicine last night to help me sleep, and it worked too quickly. I was already feeling strange before I left her room, and I must have walked in the wrong direction! I thought I was in my room! I never intended to offer myself to anyone, least of all you, the most disdainful, unpleasant person I know!"
Mr. Darcy's hand dropped from her arm, and he stepped back as quickly as if she had stunned him with a blow. "Your presence here—it was a mistake?"
"Of course it was! No matter how much you disapprove of me in the light of day, I am no wanton!"
Mr. Darcy stared at her for several seconds, and Elizabeth stared back with open hostility. Finally, as if suddenly exhausted, he dropped his eyes and moved to the armchair, slumping down into it and leaning back, covering his eyes with a hand.
His position of defeat reawakened all of Elizabeth's shame. Yes, he had accused her unjustly, but really, what was he to think? In all likelihood, there were hundreds of young ladies out there who would not be above tricking a man into matrimony, women just like her mother and Lydia, whose only goal in life was to catch a wealthy, handsome husband. All evidence this morning pointed to her being one of them.
She stood, caught between irritation and penitence, for several seconds before finally sighing. "I am sorry, sir. I had no right to speak my mind so forcibly. I cannot blame you for your erroneous conclusions, and I cannot in good conscience hold you responsible for what occurred here last night. We were neither of us completely in control of our own behaviors, but I was the one who made the mistake that truly led to our actions. I apologize, sir, and I can only beg your pardon and plead with you to forget what happened, to be a true gentleman and promise to never speak of what has occurred here to anyone. Good day."
Elizabeth moved quickly to the doorway, but once again, a hand on her arm stopped her progress.
She turned back and was caught in the strength of his gaze. How did he move so fast? "I don't believe there is much more to say, sir."
"You took your sister's medicine. Laudanum?"
Elizabeth nodded silently.
"You did not come here purposely?"
She shook her head.
"And when I… that is…" Elizabeth was fascinated to see him blush faintly and look uncomfortable, a sight she had never expected to witness. "When I began to kiss you, you did not refuse me because…
Elizabeth colored again and had to look away. "Because the laudanum made… it never even occurred to me to leave. I just felt… so much."
He released a sigh and moved away, busying himself with stoking the fire. "And you truly believe me to be, 'callous,' 'selfish,' 'uncaring,' 'disdainful,' and 'unpleasant?'"
Elizabeth was unsure whether to deny his words or not. Finally she sat down on the trunk at the foot of the bed and sighed herself. "You have not made yourself very easy to appreciate, sir."
He barked a laugh and glanced at her. "So now you are to be polite?"
"I was no less polite than you were," she bristled, fidgeting with the edges of her robe. A part of her wanted to fret about being so immodestly clothed, but she kept reminding herself that they were far beyond that point.
"True enough." He straightened and stared at her again. "Forgive me, Elizabeth, for making such an offensive accusation. I was caught up in my own surprise and misunderstanding, and I spoke without truly thinking about my knowledge of and respect for you. I know you would never… well, you know what I mean."
"Thank you, sir." It was a gracious apology, and she decided to accept it as such. She stood again. "Now, I truly must go before the servants discover I am not in my room or Jane's."
"You cannot leave yet," he argued, stepping toward her. "There is much to discuss. You cannot seriously believe I should just pretend this never happened. Because of me, you are..." He swallowed, and his face reddened again. "You are no longer a maid. I must, in good conscience, marry you."
"But since I release you from your obligation, you may move forward guiltless."
"What can you mean? You will not be able to marry!"
Elizabeth tried to appear accepting of that, despite the painful shrinking of her heart. "I probably would not have married anyway. My portion is so little, and my connections are abysmal, as I am sure you are well aware. You yourself have pointed out how little temptation my beauty provides, and my quick tongue and indomitable will make it very unlikely any man should fall in love with me. I shall move through my life as a beloved aunt and friend, and I will make that be enough."
"I have pointed out how little temptation…?" he repeated before his eyes suddenly widened. "The assembly."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. How could he have forgotten making such a memorable comment?
"I never even looked at you before I said that, did you know?"
Elizabeth laughed derisively. "That is a lie. You met my eye just before you spoke."
He frowned miserably. "But I did not look. All I saw was a woman, and it would not have mattered if you were as beautiful as Helen of Troy, I would not have seen it. I had no desire to dance—I had much on my mind and would rather have remained at Netherfield except that Miss Bingley threatened to stay back in order to entertain me. It was not until a few minutes later when I saw you rise, cross, the room, and speak to your friend, Miss Lucas, that I truly looked at you. Your eyes were bright, and you moved with such grace and vitality, and when you began to laugh, I felt caught by your enchantment."
Elizabeth discovered she was holding her breath as his words washed over her. Could he really mean it? Could he have such a reasonable explanation for his apparent cruelty? And could he be saying what she thought he was?
"I spent many subsequent nights in your presence watching you, enjoying your fine eyes more and more each time and finding myself enraptured by your wit and good cheer."
"But," she said with an embarrassing breathlessness, "we are always arguing. The only time we speak is when you wish to disagree with me."
He laughed, looking into the fire again. "Only because I know not how else to speak to you. You make me unaccountably nervous, Elizabeth."
She stared at him, and his laugh faded, leaving only his embarrassment. "I know little how to explain the effect you have on me. I can barely concentrate on anything else when you are in the room. Your every word, your every expression, your every movement hold my attention as if there were nothing else worth noticing. I am drawn to you in a way I cannot justify."
She was surprised to find that while he had been speaking, he had drawn closer to her and was now sitting beside her on the trunk.
"I thought I had become obsessed with you," he said quietly, "that because I did not think I could have you I had built you up as some kind of goddess. But after last night…" He could not finish. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, but there was no sound.
"After last night?" she prompted, suddenly desperate for him to finish.
"Every word I spoke to you last night was true, Elizabeth. I find that I am entirely, perfectly in love with you."
He reached out then and gently grasped her hands, sending a warm tingling up her arms. She had flashes of their hands, memories of his fingers trailing over hers, of their fingers knit together, and she felt breathless again.
"It is clear now to me that you despise me," he said, his voice deep and dark, "and that I have mistreated you from the very first moment of our acquaintance, but the way you spoke a moment ago… you said you felt some affection for the man I seemed to be last night. Do you think that affection is lost, or could it be found again?"
"I know not," Elizabeth answered, also quiet. "Which man are you? The one to whom Hertfordshire has been introduced, or the one who cared for me last night so tenderly?"
His face looked hopeful. "Perhaps both. I am the Master of Pemberley, and I must have a mien of control and aloofness, especially when dealing with Society, but I would like to think I am also the man for whom you thought you could care. I am not perfect," he added, smiling wryly, "but I try to be a good man. Forgive me having given you cause to believe otherwise."
Elizabeth smiled back but did not speak. She had too much to think on, too much to attempt to comprehend.
"Marry me, Elizabeth. I should spend the next several months courting you, convincing you of the man that I can be, but we haven't that much time, and I would not want there to be any question of your reputation. If I go to your father today, we can be married in just a few weeks."
Elizabeth sat back, staring at him. "Why so soon? Why rush? Papa knows my opinion of you… or rather, my prior opinion of you. He would be most suspicious of you asking for my hand right now."
"I am certain he would question me, but we cannot wait too long. Just in case of…"
"In case of what?" she prompted.
"Elizabeth, is my memory of last night complete? Did we truly… ahem… come together thrice last night?"
She blushed, mortified, but after a moment, she managed to nod.
He sighed. "Then there is a chance we may have… well, that you could be with child."
Elizabeth gasped, as surprised as if he had thrown her across the room. "What?"
He chuckled uncomfortably. "My darling, you are an innocent, but it cannot be entirely surprising to you that when a man and woman come together the way we did, a child can be created."
"I…" She almost couldn't speak. "I had not yet… I had not thought to equate that with… I always believed that creating a child required… great pain. Oh, my."
"You felt pain last night," he reminded her gently. "I remember you crying out."
She blinked. "I suppose I did. But it was only for a moment, and there was so much else…" She blushed again and looked away.
He reached up to hold her chin with his fingers, bringing her eyes back. "I hoped I was not the only one who felt… who enjoyed our time together."
"You were not," she whispered, caught in his gaze again.
His eyes lingered for several moments on her lips, but he closed them forcibly and shook his head to clear it as he dropped her chin. "If you are with child, it would be better to marry sooner, that there might be no doubt of its origin and your honor. I know very little of the timing, but I believe we have less than a month before we will know for certain. That will be the latest we can marry and have no one truly question a child's birth some months later. Unless you wish to elope to Gretna Green in three weeks…"
"I do not!" she cried, cringing. "I want to marry at Longbourn church, with all my family and friends in attendance."
"Then should we not speak to your father soon?"
Elizabeth suddenly felt a little ill. "But what if there is no child? Will you regret having married me so quickly?"
He laughed and took both her hands, barely resembling the stiff, cold man she had imagined him to be. "My darling, I am the one in love with you, if you will recall. All will not be easy for us—there will be significant difficulty because of the disparity of our situations and my family's disapproval. We also have much do in terms of learning about one another, but I believe…" He thought for a moment, his eyes darting back and forth over her hands, then smiled up at her shyly. "I believe that the only true cause I will ever have to regret our marriage will be if you are unhappy. Do you think you could be happy with me? Do you think someday you could learn to love me?"
"Yes," she said. She had not thought it through, and as soon as she had spoken, she felt doubts creep in, but the word had forced itself out of her mouth, and she would not take it back now. "I think I could."
His smile shifted from hopeful to beatific in less than a second, and Elizabeth had only a moment to feel the rush of pleasure at the sight before he closed the distance between them and pressed his mouth to hers, making all else unimportant.
The drugged sensations she had experienced the night before had been so exquisite, so pleasurable as to almost seem unreal in her memory, but to kiss him with the light of the new morning appearing through the window, to feel that his lips were warm and a little chapped, that his chin was rough with the growth of a beard, and that the pads of his fingers were calloused was a heady, real kind of pleasure. She was unsure whether her soaring feelings were more affection or desire, but they were true and honest and clear, and she felt tears begin to fall again at their intensity.
"Do not cry, my love," he whispered as he pulled back just a little, just enough for her to feel how tightly his arms were wrapped around her. "This is an unconventional beginning to a love story, but that does not mean it will be an unhappy one."
"I believe, sir, that all my hopes are suddenly pinned on you being right," she sniffled, laughing a little at herself.
He laughed as well, that deep rolling sound that did strange things to her middle, and he pulled her close so she could lean her head on his shoulder as she wept. She did not cry for long, however, and as her emotions settled, Elizabeth became excruciatingly aware of his bare chest under her hands and the thinness of her nightclothes.
Apparently he was also aware of their situation because with a great sigh, he released her from his grasp and straightened, putting a respectable distance between them and scrubbing at his face with both palms. "Oh, my love, if I had any fears that after such a night my desire for you would be quenched, I am proven wrong in this moment. I suspect that treating you honorably these next weeks will be mortifyingly difficult."
Elizabeth bit her lip, still coursing with awareness of him. "It seems a bit late for that."
His eyes raised to hers, darker than normal even in the half-light from the window. "No, Elizabeth. Now is the time that it matters most. Last night was a mistake, albeit a surprisingly innocent one whose results I cannot help but regard with gratitude. But if I were to forsake all decency and act the part of a lover again now, when we are both clear-headed, not only would my soul be in danger but also your honor." He reached out and grasped her hand gently. "I love you too much to run such a risk."
"But why?" she asked, her voice a little sharper than she had intended.
He cocked his head. "Why do I care for your honor?"
"No!" she blushed, mortified. "Why do you love me so well, sir? Perhaps I am a fool, but I cannot doubt the truth of your declarations—you clearly feel very deeply for me. But I do not understand why or how. Our interactions have been so limited, and the only conversations we have ever had have all resulted in argument. What food is that for love?"
He laughed ruefully. "I have been a wretched fool, have I not? I have observed you quite closely over the past several weeks, Elizabeth, probably at the sacrifice of actually speaking to you. I am a reserved man, and I feel ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers. Instead I watched and listened. I saw how loving and kind you are, how strong and quick-witted, how earnest and loyal. You are honest but never cruel, and where you love, you love fiercely, even those who are undeserving of such devotion. Add to all this the reality of your fine eyes and handsome figure, and my darling, you are everything for which I have ever wished, everything I thought I would never find."
Elizabeth raised her hands to her face, trying to cool her burning cheeks. "You give me too much credit, sir, especially considering that I believed all that time that you were looking on me with only disapproval."
"Disapproval?" he cried, dismayed. "Why should I…? Ah, yes, my comment at the assembly. But I would never have spoken to a woman who disgusted me as I have spoken to you, as an equal deserving of my attention. I have never met any other woman who could stand against me in an argument. I might have married you on that strength alone."
"But your looks were all in such deadly earnest," Elizabeth argued, half-laughing. "I was certain you despised me. You never even smiled, not once."
He shook his head in frustration at himself. "Bingley has always said that my 'grave countenance' would drive people away. I never truly cared. I am far too commonly surrounded by people who seek only to curry favor or ingratiate themselves with my fortune. My gravity is normally my best protection. Forgive me for hurting you."
Elizabeth gazed at him seriously, half-awed and half-amused. "How could I have misunderstood you so, I who pride myself on my discernment?"
"As I said, I believe we have much to learn about one another. I regret…" He hesitated, sighing deeply. "Oh, Elizabeth, I so much regret that this choice has been forced upon you, that we haven't time to grow in trust or come to know one another better. None of this is as it ought to be, and it is solely my doing."
"I refuse to allow you to accept the blame for all of our misunderstanding. Had I offered you even a modicum of sympathy after you had so grievously wounded my vanity, I might have been able to see the man beneath the mask you wear. I think you are right, however: he is a good man."
"Shall you learn to be happy then, my love?" Mr. Darcy asked, taking both her hands and turning her to face him. "In time?"
"Indeed I shall." She smiled a little. "Anyway, I am not made for unhappiness."
"No," he said, returning her smile tentatively, "I believe you are not."
Before she could second-guess herself, she leaned forward and pressed her mouth against his. He hesitated for only a moment before crushing her against him and working his hands into her hair.
"My love," he murmured against her lips some moments later, "you must go now. For both our sakes."
She gave herself one final moment in his arms before moving back slowly and slipping out of his grasp, rising to her feet. He stood as well, and she had to forcibly remove her eyes from his handsome figure silhouetted in the light from the window. That he was a fine-looking man she had already known, but the fact that there was so much gentleness, so much passion and sincerity inside him, that was what drew her now, what made it so difficult to retreat to the door and lift the latch.
"I will go to your father this morning," he said quietly, following her to the door.
"No. Let me speak to him first. Jane is well enough to return home today if we borrow Mr. Bingley's carriage. It would not be appropriate for me to remain here at Netherfield anyway once our engagement is announced."
"Wait one more day to return then," he said thoughtfully. "For your sister's sake, and to enable me to plant the seeds of our relationship more publically."
"In what way?"
"Leave that to me," he said gravely.
"We shall leave tomorrow then, and you must visit my father the following morning. He is in his best mood early in the morning before breakfast. I will walk out and meet you in the lane."
Mr. Darcy nodded. "So be it."
She turned back and cracked open the door, looking out slowly to check the corridor, which was mercifully empty. She drew in a deep breath as she felt him take her hand and kiss it lingeringly. She swung around to gaze at him.
He wore a crooked smile. "Good morning, my love."
She could not help but smile in return despite her blush. "Good morning… William."
Then she tugged her hand out of his and darted down the corridor, clutching her dressing gown close around her, her mind spinning with too many thoughts and emotions and worries to sort out. It was only once she had reached her room to find all undisturbed that she allowed herself to sink down on her mattress, burrow under her chilled bedcovers, and begin to sort through all that had occurred.
It was so horrible, so unbelievable and unintended, and she could not pretend to herself that she was not carrying a load of guilt for the choices she had made the previous night, but she also somehow could not keep from smiling at the thought of Mr. Darcy's… William's face as she had left his room.
It was so confusing, so much good and bad all mixed together, and somehow she knew that a peaceful end to this mistake would take longer in coming than either of them would wish. But she also knew that just as she considered this an end, last night—or really, this morning—had been a beginning.
She believed, despite all her fears and uncertainties, that it was going to be the beginning of something beautiful.