Chapter I

In that time a wife was to be subservient to her husband, for it was common knowledge that he was the head of the household. Her husband instructed her on the way he wanted his home, the way he wanted to dress, and the rules of the house. Among young women, though, it was also common knowledge that the wife was in fact (though most husbands would vehemently disagree) the runner of the household. For it was she that made sure the dinner was planned properly, she that instructed the servants, she that kept the man's home comfortable. The Darcy's found this to be a comfortable system, though deviating was not unwelcome.

Elizabeth Darcy stared out the window, blinking at the fog that furled around Pemberly, hiding the raindrops in its cold mists. She jumped as the book that had rested firmly in her hands slipped and thumped to the floor. For a moment she contemplated whether she should retrieve it from its unseemly resting place, but decided against it. After all, she should be sitting up primly in her chair, but she wasn't. What made slumping in a chair any different from picking a book up off the floor? The perpetual fog held her gaze and enveloped her mind in a blank haze.

Suddenly a large, dark shape lumbered out of the shapeless, gray air. It took her hazy mind a moment to register that it was a carriage that had emerged from the fog. Darcy's carriage.

She leapt up from her chair, knocking it over in her rush. As quickly as properly possible, Elizabeth hurried from the room. Her rapid footsteps echoed in quick succession through the halls as she hurried to the top of the stairs, her ears alert for the slightest sound in the hall below.

The hallway clock ticked loudly, mocking every moment that she stood statue-like, waiting breathlessly. An interminable time passed before a knock came at the door and the butler, Rensler, hurried to the door.

Elizabeth listened as she heard the door unlocked and opened. How long did it take to unlock a door?

"Good evening, Mr. Darcy, Miss Georgiana," Rensler said clearly.

She heard Darcy return Renslers's greeting and then Georgiana's higher voice as she entered behind her brother.

Darcy appeared at the foot of the steps, a slight smile on his face. Elizabeth's breath caught in her chest. She descended the steps calmly but when she reached the foot, she flung decorum aside and ran into his arms, feeling her feet lift off the floor as he swung her around.

"Did you miss me, dear one?" he murmured in her ear.

"How could I not?" She buried her head in his shoulder and inhaled the clean smell of the spices and shaving lather that clung to his clothing. How she had missed him.

He chuckled and pulled away from her. "Did you finish the last book I brought you?"

Elizabeth smiled. "Ages ago." She felt his eyes linger on her as she turned to hug Georgiana, laughing as the girl tried to kiss her cheek, shrug off her cloak, and tell her about London all at the same time.

When Georgiana finally stopped to draw breath, Elizabeth chuckled. "I see you thoroughly enjoyed your stay in London, sister. Perhaps you ought to bathe and put on dry clothing. We can discuss your trip over supper. Mrs. Parsons told me there might be pheasant."

Georgiana giggled. "You heard or instructed? No matter, I'll be down shortly."

Elizabeth felt Darcy's arm slide around her waist as they watched Georgiana hurry up the steps.

"She couldn't wait to see you," he said, drawing her close to his side.

"And do I suspect wrong that nor could you?" Elizabeth asked warmly, one eyebrow slightly raised.

He chuckled. "No, my dear Elizabeth, for you are rarely wrong." He kissed her head. "I believe I shall bathe for supper."

Elizabeth watched as he hurried up the stairs and turned the corner. She hurried off to the dining room to make sure all was in order.

Supper was an elegant affair, though there were only three diners. Darcy sat the head with his wife to his right and his sister to the left. The food before Georgiana slowly disappeared as she spent a large amount of time recounting her stay in London for Elizabeth's benefit, as Darcy had heard it all during their return carriage ride.

"The opera houses are truly magnificent," she concluded after describing several of the operas she had attended.

Elizabeth drew the young girl into discussion about the themes the operas presented and soon Darcy joined them. It was late when Georgiana finally rose from the table, claiming that she would hardly be able to make it up the stairs for her sleepiness.

When the table had been cleared, Darcy leaned over and placed his hand over hers.

"You are well, Lizzy?"

Elizabeth stared at the hand that encompassed hers, the delicate, strong, long fingers, and the strength of their grip on hers.

"Why do you ask?" she murmured.

He tilted his head. "I missed looking at you each day. I missed your company, everything." He stood and drew her hand up, making her rise from her seat.

"To our parlor?"

Elizabeth smiled up at her husband. "Need you ask?"

Darcy chuckled and led her to their usual after dinner haunt on the second floor. Inside the maids had started a delightful fire, setting the shadows of the room dancing to the crackling music of the flames. He took Elizabeth to the sofa and sat down, drawing her down beside him.

"What did you do while I was gone?" he asked as Elizabeth leaned her head against his shoulder and curled her feet up beside her.

"It's been overcast ever since you left, perhaps reflecting my mood at your departure," she started lightly. He chuckled and began to draw the pins from her hair.

"I read several books, the last three of the seven that you brought me from London."

"And did you enjoy them?"

"I was enthralled by Utopia. The idea of such a perfect place and yet questioning the very definition of perfection."

"I thought you would enjoy it," he murmured in her ear, massaging the back of her head as her freed curls tumbled down around his fingers. Elizabeth looked up and smiled at him.

"I did not enjoy the book you bought me on "a proper English lady's deportment. The very idea that a woman should not think but what her husband plants in her mind is preposterous!" She scowled at the fire as if it were responsible for the feather-brained ideas of indecisive women.

"I only wanted you to appreciate what it's like to have a husband like me." Elizabeth turned suddenly and reached up, yanking Darcy's dark curls into his eyes as he laughed. The Darcy he revealed to her and Georgiana was so different from the Mr. Darcy that glared unsociably at every social function, no matter the occasion. His stiffness was beginning to wear off as he spent more and more time with his vivacious, beautiful, young wife, but still Elizabeth appreciated the playfulness he showed only to her.

"What? A husband that scares off all the guests at his own picnics?" she chaffed good-naturedly.

"No, just one who stares down all the young men who dare to even glance at his beautiful prize."

"Oh and so I'm a prize? Is that it?" Elizabeth cried in mock anger.

"Some would say so," conceded Darcy, his chocolate brown eyes serious, "but I would say the most beautiful woman in the universe who makes me more than I would be without her."

He leaned down and his lips met hers, caressing them gently as his arms slid around her. He drew his lips from hers and rested his cheek against her warm one. "I missed you so much," he murmured in her ear.

"And I you," whispered Elizabeth, clinging to her husband. She'd always considered herself to be independent; free of the ties that bound her to a man. But as she rested in her husbands arms she realized that the man whose cheek rested against hers had bound her with the tightest rope that ever existed: unconditional love.