WARNING: This is only a preview, as the book was completed and is on its way to amazon and nook. Search for the author Lorraine Hetschel and you ought to find it by August 20th, as it takes some time to go through. Sorry if you wanted links. FF does not allow them.

I will not remove this preview, as it serves as copyright proof that I am the original author. I debated leaving it as "complete" as it is not complete versus "in progress" as it is no longer going to be updated. There are reasons for both, and I have had arguments from reviewers for both being the "proper" method. I am choosing to leave it "in progress" so that people searching for completed, free stories are not bothered by my preview.

For those of you who say this is a violation of ff rules and is an advertisement for my for purchase book, it is not. I post here for the encouragement that my readers give me. During the journey, the complete story was posted here and remained here for a couple weeks for all to read for free. Removing the majority for publication after the fact is not a violation of the FF rules, which is why those who have reported me have not gotten anywhere. If you are too late to read the free version, I am sorry. Keep an eye on the new stories I am writing so that you can catch the next free one. I am a slow writer, as this is part time on top of full time teaching high school marine biology, motherhood, and (currently) a house remodel. Time is precious.

Here is the preview:

Introduction

Their visit did not continue long after the question and answer above mentioned; and while Mr. Darcy was attending them to their carriage Miss Bingley was venting her feelings in criticisms on Elizabeth's person, behaviour, and dress. But Georgiana would not join her. Her brother's recommendation was enough to ensure her favour; his judgement could not err. And he had spoken in such terms of Elizabeth as to leave Georgiana without the power of finding her otherwise than lovely and amiable. When Darcy returned to the saloon, Miss Bingley could not help repeating to him some part of what she had been saying to his sister.

"How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."

However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather tanned, no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer.

"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character— there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I could never see anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."

Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth, this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise; and in seeing him at last look somewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected. He was resolutely silent, however, and, from a determination of making him speak, she continued:

"I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, 'She a beauty! — I should as soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."

"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first saw her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."

He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.

Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth talked of all that had occurred during their visit, as they returned, except what had particularly interested them both. The look and behaviour of everybody they had seen were discussed, except of the person who had mostly engaged their attention. They talked of his sister, his friends, his house, his fruit— of everything but himself; yet Elizabeth was longing to know what Mrs. Gardiner thought of him, and Mrs. Gardiner would have been highly gratified by her niece's beginning the subject.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice (Kindle Locations 3399-3421). Kindle Edition.

Chapter 1: Declaration

Elizabeth stepped out of the inn and moved to the side as a light wind drifted about her and tickled her nose. The Derbyshire air was certainly stronger and denser than the air in Hertfordshire. Even the village air smelt full of life. The sound of a horse riding up the lane caught her attention. She blushed as she recognized Mr. Darcy's fine figure. She would not admit to admiring his person now, nor would she admit that he had been filling her thoughts and dreams for at least the previous two days.

While she watched him approach, she guessed he meant to stop in front of her. He did. His descent was rapid and surefooted, and within moments, he was before her, bowing and greeting her and her company. She could not speak, so she curtseyed her greeting.

Mrs. Gardiner took the lead in the conversation. She had seen enough the previous day to know that Mr. Darcy admired her niece. She also sensed that Elizabeth felt confused as to her own feelings for the gentleman. "We have a few moments before we are expected at a friend's home, so we are heading to the church to pay our respects. I remember my time here so fondly. It has been such a pleasure reacquainting myself with the country."

Mr. Darcy offered to accompany them, and Mrs. Gardiner accepted with alacrity. She then quickly took her husband's arm to force Mr. Darcy to escort Elizabeth, not that he seemed to mind. The two couples walked too closely for intimate conversations, so silence reigned.

Elizabeth scolded herself for not being more in control of her person. This was very much the first time she had ever felt so confused. The feeling of her arm on his sent her heart fluttering, and it did not help her concentrate. Surely Mr. Darcy's presence indicated his continued regard. He must love her still, but would he propose or continue the acquaintance even? She had no right to hope he would still love her enough to overcome his previous objections.

They reached the church before Elizabeth had worked out what she would say. Once inside, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy moved along the edge of the building to admire the stonework while the Gardiners moved forward to greet the curate. Elizabeth moved slowly, wondering how long before she would be able to speak.

They reached a small alcove where they were afforded some privacy, and Elizabeth was saved from having to come up with conversation because Mr. Darcy spoke almost as soon as they were out of earshot. "I am delighted to have encountered you this morning."

Elizabeth smiled her teasing smile as her wit returned, pleased to have this inkling as to his sentiments. "It would seem you met me by design."

"Is my design unwelcome?" He stepped closer cautiously, eager for her answer but not wanting to startle her. He knew he must act. She had responded pleasingly to his advances over the previous two days, and he needed to know if he had a chance. She would travel on soon, so it was now or never.

A blush creeping over her cheeks gave him the answer he desired, as did her softly spoken words a minute later. "I enjoy your company." It was not precisely the answer he wanted, but he could not expect much more in such a public setting. This was an opportunity he would grab with both hands.

"Then, would you accompany me to the milliner's shop across the street when we are done here? I intend to purchase a new bonnet for Miss Darcy, and I would welcome your opinion. You have seen her fair complexion and will know better how to grace it with the best bonnet."

"You overrate my talents, Sir. I have no notion of hats. I merely wear what is comfortable. Almost any other lady would be better at this."

"I have no desire for any other lady's opinion. You have a natural beauty and your bonnets always compliment your features."

The arch smile reappeared, and Darcy could not imagine a better sight. "What would Miss Bingley say to that? She will be heartbroken."

"I doubt her heart can break, or she would have wearied long before now. Her suffering is inevitable and of her own making. That does not change my intentions." He closed his eyes when he realized what he had said and hoped this was for the best.

"You have intentions." Elizabeth's voice squeaked.

"Indeed, I do." Mr. Darcy stepped closer. If he reached out his hand, he could touch her, but he did not dare. "I only wait for more confirmation that my endeavor would be followed by a favorable answer. I could not survive otherwise."

He stared at her, hoping for more than he felt he deserved. She paled. What could that mean? She was not angry, but it did not appear to be happiness either. Dread and fear crept up his spine, and he desperately tried to keep his complexion neutral.

Finally, she spoke, though not very fluently. "Allow me to assure you that… you have no need for caution." She smiled shyly to reinforce her statement. Her blush returned. While she was not certain that she loved him, she felt that he was the only man who could make her happy.

Relieved beyond measure, he claimed one of her gloved hands and said, "I have tried to change according to your reproofs. You will see how I have become a better man through your teachings, a man worthy of your love and esteem. My love has only grown stronger these three months apart. My world is not complete without you in it. My dearest Elizabeth, would you do me the greatest honor of accepting my hand?"

Elizabeth attempted to respond, but no words came out. In her confusion, she looked around and saw her aunt and uncle approaching. She must get her answer out before they arrive. She swallowed hard and replied, "The honor would be mine, Mr. Darcy. I find that I have thought about you often since we met in Kent. I had hoped that you still cared for me, but I could not be certain."

While not a declaration of love, it would do for him at present. He beamed brighter than Elizabeth had ever seen. She was certain that if they were alone, he would have been more forward, such was the intensity of his expression. Instead, he only squeezed her small hand gently.

Mrs. Gardiner interrupted their moment all too soon, ignorant of what she had walked into. "I am ready to return to the inn, Lizzy. It is almost time for us to meet the Buxtons."

Elizabeth nodded and stepped away from Mr. Darcy, but it was too late for secrecy. She felt the loss when Mr. Darcy released her hand, as did he. Both faces belied a giddiness that neither could completely mask as they turned to face Mrs. Gardiner. When they exited the church, Mrs. Gardiner requested her niece's arm for support. Elizabeth could not refuse, but it was a hard choice.

They walked slowly, as Mrs. Gardiner tired easily. Mrs. Gardiner, now perceiving what she had interrupted, asked, "Lizzy, is there something you need to tell us?"

Elizabeth would not be her saucy self if she answered straightforwardly. "I believe you have already guessed it." She smiled as she thought of the gentleman walking with her uncle ahead of her.

"You did not imply from your words before that you cared for him, Lizzy. I can see that your opinion of him has altered greatly from December, but this is a very sharp change."

"Yes, it has. I am ashamed of the things I said then. I have come to know him, both here and in Kent, where he was visiting his aunt and I was visiting Charlotte Collins. The real him, instead of the cold façade he displays when he is reserved around strangers, is exactly what I would wish for in a man."

Mrs. Gardiner laughed. "I suspected as much. I wish you joy, Lizzy. I believe you will be very happy with your choice."

Elizabeth then asked if she could forgo returning to the inn and go to the milliner with Mr. Darcy. Her request was granted, and she shrugged off Mrs. Gardiner's arm and returned to Mr. Darcy's side. "Come with me, Mr. Darcy, and I will select a perfect bonnet for your dear sister."

Mr. Darcy obeyed, and the Gardiners watched them depart with pleasure. The Gardiners then redirected their steps to the inn. Mr. Gardiner explained that Mr. Darcy had requested permission to marry their niece since Mr. Bennet was not present. Mr. Gardiner had accepted with the condition that Mr. Darcy must also obtain Mr. Bennet's consent before the month was out. They returned to the inn to find that Elizabeth had two letters from Jane, the first having been redirected. "Lizzy will be glad to finally hear from Jane. Place these in her room so that she may enjoy them when she returns."

The maid followed her directions quickly, hoping to go back to looking for the prestigious Mr. Darcy who had been spotted walking down the street.


Chapter 2: Bonnets


Mr. Darcy claimed Elizabeth's arm as they stepped out into the street and towards the milliner. "I had completely forgotten about our trip to the milliner."

"Then it is a good thing that I have a very good memory when it comes to things like this. Otherwise, we would have parted company when we reached the inn."

"I am much indebted to you, Miss Bennet. I have no wish to part from you." He placed his free hand on her arm and squeezed her gloved hand. A few other people on the street looked their way. They bowed in deference to Mr. Darcy before continuing. Mr. Darcy felt uncomfortable being the center of attention, but the woman next to him was worth these moments. Every few steps she would press her arm into his, but he could tell it was not out of exhaustion. She was enjoying the contact as much as he was. His mind drifted to future walks with her.

Elizabeth noticed his distraction and lightly squeezed his arm once again. She did not desire to talk too much about their past or future just yet. "Keep your mind on the task at hand, Mr. Darcy. The milliner is over there. Tell me what color your sister favors."

"I do not know. We have not spent much time shopping."

"But you must observe her when you are together. If there is anything I know about you, it is that you are very observant. What color is her dress most days?"

Mr. Darcy struggled to think of his sister. With his beloved Elizabeth attached to his arm, his mind refused to work correctly. "I believe she prefers blues and yellows. I know she has a blue bonnet. She wore it on the carriage ride here."

"Then you must buy her a yellow one. Yellow would complement her hair and complexion very well." She stopped talking as they entered the shop. The owner immediately rushed over to them. From her conversations with Mrs. Gardiner's friends and the servants at the inn, the Darcys rarely shopped in Lambton. It must create quite a stir for him to now enter a store with a lady who had been staying at the inn.

They were shown to a small table where two shop girls laid out their best ribbons. In the commotion, Elizabeth did her job well while Mr. Darcy only looked on and nodded in agreement when required. With the ribbons selected, they moved to the window where the bonnets were on display. Elizabeth once again took the lead.

"Mr. Darcy, I have always preferred this design because it stays on my head even when the wind is troublesome. I never liked pins. However, I fear that it would not suit Miss Darcy's face as well as this one. Does she mind pinning her bonnets in place?"

"She will not remove her bonnet out of doors." Elizabeth attempted to determine if this was a warning to herself, and she was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she almost missed his next statement, directed at the shop owner. "We will purchase both bonnets, Mr. Gillory."

Elizabeth started when she finally registered Mr. Darcy's words. "But I said the other would not suit Miss Darcy."

"It is not for Miss Darcy." He stated simply as he handed another set of ribbons he had been holding to Mr. Gillory. Elizabeth recognized them as the ones she declared to be the prettiest not five minutes ago. She blushed as she realized he was picking out a bonnet for her.

"Mr. Darcy, I did not intend to purchase a bonnet today. My funds are limited."

"I know that. However, my funds are not limited, and I most certainly intend to purchase two bonnets today, even if that was not my design when I arrived in Lambton."

Mr. Gillory stepped away to prepare the boxes while his shop girls trimmed the ribbons for the hats. A thought entered Elizabeth's mind and she blanched. She lowered her voice to a whisper as she said, "Mr. Darcy, I did not agree to marry you for your wealth and status."

"I know, and that is what makes your acceptance all the more precious to me."

Mr. Darcy stepped away before she could respond. Mr. Gillory was ready with the bill and hat boxes. The transaction was soon completed, and Elizabeth followed Mr. Darcy out of the shop. Outside, they walked arm in arm back to the inn.

Mr. Darcy once again broke the silence. "I am used to buying trinkets that will please my sister. You cannot expect me to treat my wife any differently. I suppose you are not used to being lavished with gifts."

Elizabeth attempted to regain her composure. "My father lavishes gifts when he can, although they are usually bound with leather and remain in his library. I claimed an entire section of his library for my books."

He longed to ask if she would bring the books with her to Pemberley, but he wisely decided to forgo the subject. They would have time for that later, and he did not want to make her nervous to remind her how much her life will change upon their marriage. He returned to their previous conversation. "When I first proposed to you, I will not deny that I expected your acceptance. Women have flocked to my wealth and status for so long that I had forgotten how to please a woman. I shudder to think of your response to my vanity."

"I suppose the world at large taught you your vanity."

"Until you kicked some sense into me. I have been trying to show you that I have regretted my actions and attended to your reproofs."

The color returned to Elizabeth's cheeks. "I had not thought my words could have worked such a change as this. I have noticed the changes. I certainly did not mean to be so hurtful."

"I do not blame you. I had backed you into a corner and provoked you. I needed to hear your words, as much as I hated them at the time."

"I thought you would hate me after that evening."

"I could never hate you." He paused to kiss her hand. "I was angry at first, but my anger soon turned to its proper direction." Looking up, he realized they had arrived at the inn. "I must return to Pemberley. May I come by with Georgiana in our phaeton and give you a tour of the area this afternoon?"

"Mrs. Gardiner is expecting me to visit with her friends. Perhaps tomorrow, we can arrange the tour. I would like to see Derbyshire through your eyes." She curtseyed. "Goodbye, Mr. Darcy. I will see you at dinner."

Mr. Darcy kissed her hand once more before making his adieus. She watched him walk around to the stable until he was out of sight. Only then did she realize that she was now holding her own hat box. She stepped into the common room that was reserved for guests of the inn and found that Mrs. Gardiner was still resting from the walk to the church. She had fifteen minutes to prepare for their outing. Mr. Gardiner mentioned the letters, and Elizabeth leapt up the stairs in her eagerness for news. She longed for Jane's opinion now. If only she were not so far away.

AN: Many thanks to justmetoo, my beta reader. Please review (good or bad), for it does help encourage me quite a bit.


Chapter 3: Resolutions


Elizabeth stared at the open pages before her. Not thirty minutes before, she had been the happiest person alive. Now, her life was in tatters. She could not continue the engagement with this news. Her sister, Lydia, had ruined everything. She had run away with Mr. Wickham, a man Mr. Darcy detested. Even if the best outcome came true and they married, could she really expect Mr. Darcy to become Mr. Wickham's brother by marriage? It was too cruel a thought. What would this do to Miss Darcy? It was too painful, and she could not ask them to go through this shame with her.

Another fact intruded, if she told Mr. Darcy, he would feel obligated to do the honorable thing and continue with the engagement. He might even help find Lydia, but to what end. Could his pride survive such dealings with Mr. Wickham? It could not be borne. She could not force this on him. She had to break her engagement. Too few people were aware of it. She would not incite gossip by breaking the engagement. All parties involved would be willing to keep quiet.

Before she could talk herself out of it, she asked to speak with the Gardiners. They were sitting in their room, so it was but a moment before they had the letters in their hands. She outlined the main events and begged Mr. Gardiner to assist her father in London. He agreed readily. However, they could not agree with her breaking her own engagement.

"Lizzy, if we find them, this can be hushed up very quickly. Surely Mr. Darcy would not wish to dissolve your engagement. The scandal cannot be so bad that you cannot have your happiness." Her uncle tried to reason with her.

Elizabeth shuddered. "He is too honorable for that, but I cannot ask it of him. You do not know how it pains him to be in company with that man. I will not make them brothers. Miss Darcy is to come out this year. The scandal would still be too fresh. She has had her own issues with Mr. Wickham. I cannot allow our connection to mar her future."

Mrs. Gardiner stared at her niece. There was no truer sign of love that could have been seen. Elizabeth was ready to risk everything to save him. But it would not do. He would want to help. She attempted to change Elizabeth's mind, but over the next quarter-hour, nothing would do. Elizabeth would not yield her decision. Instead, she claimed that she should write him a letter. Through with her tears, she left the room and sat down at her desk. They had many tasks to accomplish in order to leave quickly, but her mind refused to let her do anything else until this letter had been written.

She pondered how much she should say for only a moment. He had been honest about his past. He had trusted her. She would repay his trust with her own. She put her pen in the ink jar and began to write. "Dear Mr. Darcy." She looked at the words. This was the last time she would call him dear. Truthfully, this was the last time she would contact him ever again. She had thought that renewing her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley would make him wish to return to Hertfordshire and Jane, but even that hope was crushed. Mr. Bingley needed to protect his fragile reputation even more than Mr. Darcy. The son of a tradesman could take no risks. She continued the letter, filling three pages. She felt that he needed an explanation of her actions, so she described in detail how his letter from Kent had affected her. How all her former prejudices had been removed one by one. How seeing his home and meeting his staff and the villagers of Meryton had helped her understand who he really was. She declared him the best of men.

She wished it were not necessary. Never had she felt such hateful thoughts toward her youngest sister. Her sister's foolishness had cost her nearly everything she held dear. With the letter completed, she wrote another letter to the milliner. Before she could change her mind, she gave the letter and the hat box to a servant, asking him to return the box and send the money to Pemberley.

Nothing was left for her to do but to pack her trunks. As they had only been there a few days, it was an easy task. She left her room to find her aunt and uncle had been productive as well, and they were ready to depart. Mr. Gardiner had also written a note for Mr. Darcy, so she hid her letter inside his. That would calm any fears of discovery so long as Mr. Darcy was discreet when he opened the letter. He was such a private person, she did not even worry about the prospect. She now had to hope for the best for Lydia and her family, such as it were. If only she could forget how wonderful it felt to be close to him while they were shopping.

Half an hour later, the three of them were on the road for Hertfordshire. Elizabeth watched the scenery with mixed emotions, the strongest of which was a feeling that she had come so close to making this place her home. Now, it was unlikely she would ever see this beautiful terrain again. This place could only remind her of what she had lost.

The journey was long and tedious. The Gardiner's respected her privacy and did not force her communication. She did not cry on the journey, but they could occasionally hear deep sighs of resignation. They did not know how to help, so they simply watched her silently. They did not delay at any inn except to rest for the night and to change horses. Therefore, they were in Hertfordshire at the end of the second day of traveling. Jane and Kitty greeted them at the door, and Elizabeth felt relieved to be able to distract her thoughts from her own troubles. She could not burden Jane with her own thoughts, so she kept them to herself and threw herself into helping keep the family together.

"Jane! Kitty! I am relieved to see you, if only it were under better circumstances. I must apologize for not being here to help. This is a burden you should not have had to bear."

Jane embraced her sister with such heartfelt emotion that Elizabeth began to cry anew. This brought tears to Jane's eyes as well. Elizabeth patted her back before stepping back. "There, there. I am here for you now."

Kitty stood quietly to the side. "Tea will be ready soon in the parlor." She stated calmly.

"Then I shall run upstairs to refresh myself and meet you there. Our aunt and uncle must be tired as well. Will you show them to their rooms?"

Kitty nodded and did as she was told. Elizabeth watched her warily, not used to such a tranquil attitude from her young sister. Jane noticed Elizabeth's concern and said, "Kitty has been much improved since Lydia left for Brighton, and this trouble with Lydia has made her question her loyalty to her former favorite sister. Papa has not been kind to her for keeping Lydia's secret for as long as she did."

"Tell me all that I am to know once we are in our room. Let there be no secrets from us on that score." Elizabeth said, wondering if she could reveal what had happened in Derbyshire. "I feel like I have been absent at the worst moment."

"You cannot be too hard on yourself. You did not know this would happen, Lizzy, although you did warn Papa that Lydia should not go to Brighton. We can only hope that this means Mr. Wickham really does love Lydia. We must forget what we know of his past if he is to be our brother."

"I doubt I could be so complacent as you. I cannot forgive him for what he has done to our reputations, even if Papa sees to it that they marry. What has our reception been like in Meryton?"

"The shop keepers do not look at us except to complete transactions. At first, they seemed to pity us, but now they only seem to wish not to have known us. Mrs. Phillips is our only neighbor who visits. She is a great comfort to Mama, who is keeping to her rooms. When they are married, things will get better. Now that our uncle is here, I have no doubt that they will be found and forced to marry if it is necessary. Mr. Gardiner will see to it, clever as he is, and he is also very connected in London, which is where Colonel Forster believes them to be hiding."

Elizabeth thought of this. London was a great deal larger than Jane was implying, but it would not do to hurt Jane's hopes. While Jane brushed Elizabeth's hair out, she continued talking about what was known of Lydia's escape that she had not put in the letters. Elizabeth listened attentively but could give very little advice. She did not believe her uncle to be the miracle worker they needed. She wished Mr. Darcy could lend his guidance, but she had burned that bridge for his sake. They would not know his assistance. She held back another sigh.

Returning downstairs, Elizabeth found the Gardiner's ready to depart. They still had half a day's journey to London, and Mr. Gardiner insisted that they travel while it was still light. Once they left, Elizabeth and her sisters took turns reading to their mother. Mrs. Bennet was in fine form in her bed wailing of how unjust everyone was treating her. Her precious Lydia had been neglected by the Forsters, for she was certain this could not have happened under her own guidance.

Elizabeth did not roll her eyes in Mrs. Bennet's presence, and she avoided venting her feelings to Jane who looked truly exhausted. Instead, she went running out in the fields when she was free to do so. Twilight was a magical time for her, and the wind, while hot, tickled her cheeks as it blew past her. She returned to the house physically exhausted. After a light supper, she retired early, encouraging Jane to join her. The two rested peacefully despite having no resolution to their dilemma.

AN: If you want the rest, search for Lorraine Hetschel on Amazon. Thank you for being a fabulous community that inspired me to write these stories. If you wish to follow me as an author, you will be able to read my stories as I write them on this website for free. FF is a wonderful community I am proud to be part of.