This is my first fanfiction and I hope you all like it. There is some modern language dialogue but this is a regency fic. There are lot of twists and turns but hopefully you'll like the story. The story that is about half way done and I don't have a strict posting schedule I will post as much as I can as soon as I can. Please let me know what you think.
Blurb: The lonely Duke of Devonshire finds a battered beauty on a country lane. When this overlooked 'country nobody' turns out to be anything but, the ton is in for a surprise!
WARINING: THIS STORY CONTAINS DESCRIPTIONS OF PHYSICAL ABUSE.
"WHAT THE DEVIL?!" Fitzwilliam Darcy, Duke of Devonshire & Derbyshire, Marquess of Pemberley, Earl of Lambton, & Viscount Devon cried as his luxurious carriage careened across the road throwing his sister, Lady Georgina, across the bench toward him and her companion, Mrs. Annesley, to the floor before coming to a tumultuous halt amongst shouts and curses of his drivers and outriders. He quickly assessed his beloved sister and her companion to make sure they had not been harmed before discreetly pulling his pistol out of the hidden compartment on the side of his carriage.
He was afraid they may have been stopped by highwaymen on this backward country road and wanted to be prepared to protect them. As he was checking the weapon for readiness his most fearsome 'footman', Davies yanked open the door with a look of fright on his usually unshakable countenance.
Davies was a big bear of an ex-military man that he trusted with his life and that of his most precious jewel, his baby sister. He had been with his family along with his equally massive cousin, Travis since he came out into the Ton as heir apparent to some 5 titles which are the richest in the land. His father stressed the importance of his inheritance and protecting himself and his family legacy against the evils of society and the things people were willing to do to get to his fortune and status, from compromises to kidnapping.
Safety was of the upmost importance in his world and his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, introduced him to the cousins after Davies valiantly saved his life on the battle field, ending his own promising military career. His cousin trusted him with his life and guaranteed him of his loyalty before he added them to his personal security team.
Where he went Travis always followed and where his sister went without him, went Davies. The cousins proved themselves time and again and were unflappable when it came to their duties, so when he spotted the unruffable Davies clearly…ruffled. He was immediately on his guard. This must be bad indeed!
"Your Grace, Milady, are you all well?" Davies asked as he donned his mask of inscrutability once again.
"Aye Davies! What has happened?" the Duke asked in a voice of calm that belied his inner turmoil.
He was trying not to alarm his sister by giving into panic.
"A woman, Your Grace. Fell in front of the carriage out of nowhere before collapsing on the ground."
The Duke let down his guard and put away his pistol as the two women gasped in shock and concern. Now that he knew they were not in any immediate danger he took a moment to gather his thoughts.
"Out of nowhere? What do you mean? What is her condition?"
"Not certain, Your Grace. My first thought was to make sure you were all well" said Davies as he looked the Duke in the eye before shifting his eyes toward the ladies nervously.
The Duke knew instantly there was more to the story and Davies did not want to discuss it in front of the ladies.
"Georgie, please stay put while I go assess the situation. I am sure all is well" he told her with a reassuring squeeze to her hand.
He glanced at Mrs. Annesley and she gave him a discreet nod letting him know she would look after her charge. He got down from the carriage and closed the door behind him. He walked several feet away before turning to Davies and the rest of his staff that gathered to make sure he was well and to get orders of what to do next.
"Davies? What are you not telling me?" he asked calmly.
The shocked look of his men told him not only was it not good, they were at a complete loss as to what to do next; a first for his staff.
"Well, sir…we think the lady deliberately ran in front of the carriage. I saw her as we approached and she was leaning heavily on the tree like it was the only thing holding her up. Her head jerked up as she heard the carriage and she pushed off the tree and dashed in front of us right before she collapsed. I ain't never saw anything like it, Your Grace," the obviously still ruffled Davies replied while glancing down the road at the prone figure.
"Are you absolutely sure, Davies?" the Duke asked as he made his way to the figure.
Travis was bent over the woman shaking his head and trying to gain his composure. The Duke bent next to him and gasped as he looked upon a battered and bruised woman. Nothing could have prepared him for this horror!
He got on his knees and pushed the hair out of her face and could not believe what he saw. She had cuts and bruises all over her lovely face and neck, a gaping hole at the top of her hairline that was bleeding profusely, her arms were equally covered in bruises, fresh and older ones that looked to be fading, and more gashes that were bleeding all over what was left of her tattered dress.
He went to withdraw his hand from her hair when a hand shot out and limply grabbed his arm. He looked into her face as her eyes fluttered open, well one opened and the other one was barely more than a slit due to it being black and blue and almost swollen shut. The greenest, purest eyes he had ever seen looked up at him with unmistakable pain and fear.
His heart wrenched in his chest as he connected instantly to this bruised beauty. Even in her misshapen appearance she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever beheld and he was immediately lost.
"Kill me" she said a raspy voice, her eyes full of pleading. His head jerked back as she confirmed his men's suspicions.
What or who in the world has happened to this woman that could have put her in this condition and make her wish for her death?! He looked down at what was left of her dress and saw that she was dressed too well to be a waif or street urchin, or even a servant or shop girl. The material and cut spoke of her being a gentlewoman but beyond that nothing else gave a clue to who she could possibly be.
"Jim," the Duke called over his shoulder to his driver, "where are we? How much longer until we get to Netherfield?"
Suddenly the hand that still held onto his coat tightened. He looked back down at the woman and saw pure, unadulterated fear in her eyes as she briskly shook her head from side to side, crying out in pain as fresh tears rolled down her face.
"NO, NO, NO" she croaked "Kill me, kill me, kill me"
Such anguish poured out of her that he was left momentarily speechless.
"No, not Netherfield, No, NEVER. Kill me!"
By now she was holding onto him for dear life with strength that belied her injuries.
'Good God, what has happened to her?' the Duke wondered. 'And what in the world does Bingley's leased estate have to do with it?'
Her breathing became more labored and shallow as she was caught in the grips of pain and fear. He had to calm her and move her as soon as possible to get her to a doctor. But what was he to do? Where would he take her? Would she survive a carriage ride to London?
He could still hear her whispering the word no and Netherfield along with what sounded like another estate's name Long…wood? He bent closer to hear what she was saying hoping to find more clues to her identity but he could not clearly make out the name of the other estate.
She was weakening and her grasp grew limp but her eyes were still pinned to his in fear as she begged him to kill her but never Netherfield or Long…something. Desperately trying to calm her and stop her trashing before she harmed herself further he grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze and looked her in the eye.
"No, never Netherfield, no. Relax, calm yourself. I will not take you to Netherfield. Can you tell me your name?"
"Lizzzzy" she slurred as her eyes drooped.
"What is your surname, madam?" he asked calmly, hoping she could tell him who she was before losing conscious again.
At that question panic filled her eyes again as she shook her head back and forth.
"Please calm yourself. All will be well, Lizzy?" he asked to clarify at least her first name.
"Yes" she managed to squeak out "But please do not call me that."
"I will not" he said trying to keep her calm.
"Elizabeth? Is Lizzy short for Elizabeth?" she shook her head in the affirmative.
"May I call you Miss Elizabeth?" again she nodded.
"Thank you, Miss Elizabeth. My friend, Mr. Charles Bingley, is leasing Netherfield and it should be close by. We need to get you help immediately. Bingley is a gentleman and would never hurt..." he was cut off by the violent shake of her head and pleading in her eyes.
"Just kill me and leave me or leave me until I die. Never again, please never again" she begged.
He had to lean closer to hear her as her voice grew fainter. He had no idea what happened to her but obviously Netherfield was no longer an option. He had to calm her and get her help.
"If that is what you wish, Miss Elizabeth" he said as her squeezed her hand gently.
"We will not take you anywhere near Netherfield but we must get you out of the road and to a doctor. Trust me. No further harm will come to you. I promise!"
She stared at him for a long moment as if she was trying to sketch his character. He patiently held her gaze and hoped his open manner would make her trust him enough to see to her safety. After long, agonizing minutes that felt like hours she finally nodded her head.
"I trust you" she whispered with what looked like a smile on her beautiful face before finally losing conscious.
"Miss Elizabeth" the Duke shouted panicked.
"Miss Elizabeth, open your eyes. Miss Elizabeth!" he shook her as hard as he dared without trying to cause her further injury.
He did not know the state of her injuries but what he could see was heartbreaking. Who was this beautiful creature and who in the world would treat her so harshly? He called out to her over and over not knowing why his heart felt like it was breaking. How was he already so invested in her? No one had ever made him feel the way she did when she looked into his eyes. Maybe it was his sense of duty that cried out to take care of this broken beauty but in the depths of his heart, he doubted it.
"Davies, Travis help me" he yelled as he took off his greatcoat and wrapped it around her prone body. Travis bent to pick her up but the Duke suddenly changed his mind and waved him off.
'No other man will ever touch her again' he thought as he and scooped her into his arms.
As he turned to carry her to the carriage he suddenly remembered he was not alone.
'Dear Lord, how did I forget about my precious Georgie? Her generous heart will break if she saw her in this condition.'
He stopped to contemplate what he should do. He did not want to put her in his carriage before speaking with Georgie and his heart would not allow her out of his sight long enough to put her in one of the other carriages carrying their servants and luggage. Davies, with his uncanny way of knowing what he was thinking, walked up beside him.
"Your Grace, maybe if we put her with the young miss' maid and have her look after her while you tell the ladies what is going on, you can decide then."
"Yes, Davies, thank you" he said distractedly as he looked down at Elizabeth's unmoving body with worry.
'Has she been put upon?' he wondered in dread.
He shook his head as he neared the second carriage. No, he could not think that way. He needed to get his head on straight. As the heir apparent to two dukedoms, an earldom, and various other smaller titles, Fitzwilliam Darcy was raised to an exacting standard befitting his station. He was never rattled and always prepared for anything society threw at him, but this little slip of a woman had him completely undone.
He knew not who she was or what her true station in life was but it was apparent it was decidedly beneath his own and not someone he would ever come across in his circle, but his heart, he feared, may already be hers. He was clinging to the hope that she was at least a gentleman's daughter, anything less would be unthinkable, but by God he would protect her come what may. No one deserved to be battered this way, especially not this lovely creature.
He was a powerful man in this world and not many would ever question his choices, but if he bought anyone less than a gentlewoman into his family his prestige would materially lessen. He could never do that to his precious Georgie. She was all he had left in this world and he would do nothing to harm her chances at complete happiness even at the cost of his own.
The Duke shook himself out of his stupor. What was he thinking? Marriage? He knew not even her last name. He had to stop this and concentrate on helping her at once. He gently laid her on the seat of the carriage to the confusion of his staff. They had no idea what was going on or why they had stopped so abruptly and the sight of this clearly abused woman took them all aback.
He made sure she was comfortably situated and covered and moved toward his carriage. Davies would explain the basics to the confused staff. He knew to use the upmost caution when giving an explanation, making sure no reputations where called to questions by the curious servants.
He took a deep breath and entered the carriage to a confused and frightened looking Georgiana clutching Mrs. Annesley's hand for dear life. He donned his Darcy mask to hide anything he was feeling as he thought about what to tell her.
He did not want to hurt her sensibilities but in this case it could not be help. They both needed to help Elizabeth and that required full disclosure. Georgie was growing into a strong, confident young lady and he knew she could handle this and would want to help.
"Brother," she said worriedly.
"What is it? What has happened? Is everything alright?"
"Yes Georgie, everyone in our party is fine. There was a near collision on the road that gave everyone a fright" he said as he took her hand and gave her a reassuring smile.
He took another deep breath and told her the story leaving out her cries to die but not minimizing her injuries or her fear of returning wherever it is she is from. He gently told her of her fear of Netherfield when she suggested they take Elizabeth there at once and summon a doctor.
"I am quite sure Bingley has nothing to do with her current state but, oh Georgie, something terrifying happened to her in that vicinity. I do not know the extent of her injuries but we must get her to the closest inn as soon as possible to see a doctor. Once we know all, we can make further decisions. I will not take you or Elizabeth to Netherfield until I know more, but as soon as the doctor sees her I will ride there to talk to Bingley and try get a sense of who she is and what could have happened to her."
He did not realize he called her by her Christian name but Georgiana and her companion did and eyed each other with no little surprise. He expected Georgie to be in a state of shock and to need time to process everything he had told her, but she immediately said she wanted Elizabeth in the carriage with them so she could do what she could until they reached an inn. He should have expected nothing less of his compassionate sister.
He was about to step out and give directions to his coachman when the door was flung opened and Sally, Georgie's ladies maid, stood there shaking and crying.
"Pardon me, Your Grace, but the young" she gulped and tried to hold back her tears instantly putting the Duke on alarm.
"The young miss she be thrashing and hollering. She burning up with fever master. I was trying to clean her up a little and keep her cool with the jugs of water but all of a sudden she started hollering and begging for it to stop. I swear I wasn't trying to hurt her I was only cleaning her but her eyes opened and rolled to the back and she started thrusting like. She…she…"
She could not go on and neither did the duke need to hear anymore. He tore out of the carriage and ran back to the next one. What he saw almost made his heart stop. She was sweating profusely and convulsions wracked her body as two maids tried to keep her from falling from the bench.
"Tis the fever, Your Grace." said Travis at his side.
"When it gets too high they start this. Doc calls em seizures"
The Duke climbed into the carriage and the maids scurried out to give him room. He held onto her arms and called her name to try to calm her down. He whispered her name in her ear and uttered calming words until she seemed to calm. After a few long minutes she stopped and went completely still. He desperately felt for a pulse and found a very faint one, releasing a breath he did not know he held. He gathered her in his arms and carried her to the first coach barking out orders to his staff to get to the closest inn immediately.
He climbed into his large, opulent carriage and gently laid her down on the bench amidst the ladies' startled gasps at her appearance. He really wished he could spare his sister the sight no man should ever have to see, but he needed her help and he was not letting Elizabeth out of his sight again until she saw a doctor.
Gathering her courage and shrouding herself in the Darcy confidence, Georgiana asked her brother to switch seats as they started to move. She took out her handkerchief, dipped it in the cool water in the jug near her feet, and started trying to cool Miss Elizabeth down. Mrs. Annesley was immediately beside her doing the same until they reached the inn where once again Davis opened the carriage door.
"We had a man ride ahead, Your Grace. We have rooms ready for everyone with baths and meals waiting and the doctor has been sent for."
The Duke opened his mouth to ask a question but the all-knowing Davis beat him to it.
"I told em to have the best doc in the area and not an apothecary. Luckily there is also a well-known surgeon in the area as well and he should be waiting for us as we speak."
The Duke nodded his head and disembarked while reaching for Elizabeth. He expected no less from his ever efficient staff. He whisked Elizabeth into the inn where a maid had her dressed in one of Georgiana's nightgowns and the doctor was at her side in less than half an hour.
The Duke paced the large sitting room connecting their rooms as Georgiana held onto Mrs. Annesley's hands and prayed for her new friend's health. About an hour later, and one minute before the duke stormed into the room to see what was taking so long, the doctor came out with a grim look on his face.
"Your Grace, was Miss Elizabeth in some sort of carriage accident?"
At the negative reply his suppositions were confirmed.
"I did not think so but you hope for the best and wish no human could have inflicted the type of damage that young lady has. This is what looks to be the latest in long term, extensive abuse of this young lady"
Gasps were heard around the room.
"I honestly cannot fathom how she is still living and unfortunately I do not think she will be for long"
"NO!" shouted the Darcys simultaneously.
Georgiana got up and flew into her brother's arms sobbing. Elizabeth had touched both their hearts in a very short time.
"I am sorry and I do not mean to be indelicate, but I must lay out the facts. Miss Elizabeth's injuries are extensive but they could honestly heal as well as the prior ones with not much future effects, but the problem is the fever that has gripped her. It is raging and is the cause of the seizure you reported her having.
"If we cannot get the fever down and she has another one it will most likely take her life. I have not given up hope and we believe she has an excellent chance at recovery if we can break this fever in the next four and twenty hours, but please prepare yourself for the worse. Does she have any family that you could call in case the worse happened?"
"We are her family" the duke said without hesitation and Georgiana instantly nodded in agreement.
"Well the surgeon should be finishing up with her soon. Afterwards you can go in to see her. She needs around the clock care. Make sure someone is with her at all times and constantly cooling her to try and get that fever down. I will take up rooms here if you would prefer and monitor her until we know more."
"Yes, thank you doctor. May I please have a private word with you?"
"Of course, Your Grace" said the doctor as he followed him into the hall.
"What are the extent of Eliza...Miss Elizabeth's injuries" the duke asked holding a breath.
"No, Your Grace" the doctor replied shaking his head as the Duke let out a long breath.
"Her virtue is still in tack. She has multiple lacerations all over her body, some very deep and needing stitches, which is what the surgeon is now doing. She also has several fractured fingers that he is also setting. Seventy five percent of her body is covered in deep ugly bruises, she has fractured ribs, which have seen multiple fractures over time. Her left shoulder was dislocated and had to be put back in.
"She has rope burns on her wrist and ankles, your maid actually found a piece of knarled rope still attached to her right leg. She is severely underfed and malnourished. Some monster or monsters has been abusing this poor young woman for quite some time, Your Grace, and if she lives I hope you can protect her from them and call them to justice."
The duke, horrified at the doctor's accounting, could only nod his head numbly as he followed him back into the sitting room. Rage and disgust tore through his body and he knew he would not rest until he found out who did this to her.
The surgeon was done by this time and left instructions with the maid for her care. There were salves and poultices that needed to be applied regularly and medicine he left for pain. He also volunteered to stay at the inn close to his patient. Twas not every day a Duke asked you to do everything in your power to help someone and the doctors gladly obliged him.
After checking on Elizabeth, eating a little at Georgie's insistence, and changing into riding clothes, he and Travis set off for Netherfield. Although it seemed like a lifetime ago when his coach stopped, it was only midmorning and Jim guaranteed him he could get there by tea time on horseback.