Chapter 1

"You are the last man in the world I could be prevailed upon to marry!"

Elizabeth's face burned as she recalled the cruel words she had spoken to Mr. Darcy last evening. Mr. Darcy had looked shocked, almost stricken, at her words. Had she been familiar with the events described in the letter he had presented to her just an hour ago, she would have been kinder in her refusal of his marriage proposal. Her totally mistaken assessment of Mr. Darcy's history with Wickham was an embarrassment to Elizabeth, who had always prided herself on being an astute judge of character.

She wanted to make amends, but she knew not how to go about it. Although she had misjudged Mr. Darcy, she most assuredly did not love him, and she feared any endeavour to bring about a rapprochement on her part might be interpreted by Mr. Darcy as an attempt to bring on the renewal of his addresses, and the last thing she desired was the necessity of refusing him yet again!

No, for now, no apology would be forthcoming from her. Better that they return to their respective homes, she to Longbourn, he to Pemberley, where they could each reflect upon the events at Rosings in a rational, unemotional manner. Should their paths cross again, she would try to offer him her friendship with no encouragement of romantic overtures on his part.

Soon Elizabeth's life at Longbourn settled into its familiar patterns. Some 3 months passed, and it was well into the summer when one afternoon, Kitty came to her excitedly in the drawing room.

"Lizzy! There is a fine carriage outside, and a young lady is here requesting to see you."

Elizabeth stood, waiting for the visitor to appear. When she did, it was a woman, some years younger than herself, of fair coloring and quiet demeanor. She spoke almost in a whisper.

"Miss Bennet? Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" she asked seriously.
"Yes," said Elizabeth, with a questioning smile.

"I apologize for imposing on you without an invitation, Miss Bennet, but it is on a matter of the utmost import that I come to you."

Elizabeth waited.

"I believe you are acquainted with my brother Fitzwilliam, Miss Bennet. I am Georgiana Darcy, and I am here to ask you, to beg you, really..."

And with these words, the girl covered her face with her hands and began to sob.

Elizabeth, awash with compassion at Miss Darcy's obvious distress, took her arm gently and led her to a chair.

"Hill! A glass of water for Miss Darcy, please!"

Miss Darcy looked up, her cheeks tear-streaked, an expression of utter misery in her eyes.

"Miss Bennet, I cannot bear to see my brother as he is now. So sad, so distraught, so disgusted with himself since he returned from Rosings. He loves you so, Miss Bennet, although he couldn't bring himself to tell me about you until just a fortnight ago, and then only under the influence of considerable spirits. And now, now, Miss Bennet..."

Miss Darcy lost control of herself and her shoulders heaved, wracked with sobs. Elizabeth patted her shoulders, desperate to comfort the younger girl.

"What, Miss Darcy? Tell me what distresses you so."

"He is ill, Miss Bennet. The doctor can find no logical reason why he should be so, with fevers that come and go, and a general malaise that he can not seem to dispel. He seems to have lost interest in everything he once loved. I have tried and tried to coax him out of his depressed state, but to no avail."

She looked up with the saddest eyes Elizabeth had ever seen.

"I believe he suffers from a broken heart, Miss Bennet, and you are the only cure."

"Miss Darcy, just how much did your brother tell you of what occurred between us?"

"That he loved and admired you, and arrogantly assumed you had similar feelings for him. That he made his addresses to you in a manner that hurt and insulted you, and that he will reproach himself for it for the rest of his life. And worst of all, Miss Bennet, that the depth of his love for you was exceeded by the hatred you have for him."

"I cannot deny that I was insulted by the manner in which your brother addressed me, Miss Darcy. But "hatred" is a very strong word, and while I was very angry with your brother, I do not hate him. In fact, very soon after our last meeting, I was deeply regretful for the cruel manner in which I rejected him, but had no way in which to convey my regret without putting both your brother and myself in a very awkward situation."

"I understand, Miss Bennet. But could you...would you...possibly be so kind as to come with me to Pemberley to tell my brother that?"

Elizabeth hesitated, then looked levelly at Miss Darcy.

"If I agree to come with you, please do not think it means I have any feelings for your brother beyond a desire to make amends for my unfair treatment of him."

"I understand, Miss Bennet. My brother himself has said he has no hope of ever gaining your heart. But he thinks you despise him, and from what you have said today, I do not believe this is true. If you could just convey this to him, I think it would go a long way toward lifting him out of his current state of despair."

"Alright, Miss Darcy. I will accompany you to Pemberley tomorrow. Please spend the evening here with my family, and we will depart early in the morning."

Miss Darcy smiled, and for a brief instant, her countenance reminded Elizabeth of a softer version of her brother.

"You are so kind, Miss Bennet. It isn't difficult to see why my brother holds you in such high regard."

She hesitated.

"Please do not judge him harshly, Miss Bennet, by the demeanour he sometimes presents when in company. He is the best of men, the best of brothers. He is unaccustomed...both of us are, society outside of our immediate circle. I avoid such society when possible, his discomfort is manifested with an aloofness that is often thought to be haughtiness or conceit by others."

"Does he know of your coming here, Miss Darcy?"

Georgiana Darcy looked shocked.

"Oh, no! In fact, I am fearful he may be angry when he discovers what I have been up to."

She lifted her chin.

"But I do not care if he is angry," she declared defiantly. "I could not idly stand by and watch him in such misery without attempting to remedy it in whatever manner I could."

"He is fortunate to have such a sister," Elizabeth said softly. Although Georgiana was just four years her junior, she evoked oddly maternal sentiments in Elizabeth. She recalled that Georgiana had been left motherless at a very early age, and that Mr. Darcy's letter had mentioned that after the death of their father, her brother had been the sole parent figure in her life.

Now that she thought about it, she realized Darcy's aloofness might well be due, at least in part, to the tragedy and early responsibilities that had befallen him. And no matter the inappropriateness of his manner of expression, Elizabeth had to believe that the sentiments Darcy expressed were genuine, especially in light of Georgiana's revelations of his decline since her refusal.

She regretted her harshness, she questioned her judgment, she wanted to make amends.

Chapter 2

Elizabeth realized that evening that she would have to think of some plausible excuse for leaving Longbourn on the morrow with Georgiana Darcy. She decided her best option would be to play upon Mrs. Bennet's desire to see her daughters well situated, and with this in mind, requested a private audience with her mother.

"Mother," she began, "I am sure you are wondering what brings Miss Darcy to Longbourn this afternoon."

"Such a delightful young woman," gushed Mrs. Bennet. "So finely dressed, although not half so beautiful as Jane, for all her wealth and fine garments!"

Elizabeth pursed her lips. Remonstrating with her mother would serve no useful purpose, she told herself.

"She was passing through the neighborhood on her way home from Brighton and decided to stop at Longbourn to extend her regards to me and Jane, after hearing of us from Mr. Bingley at Pemberley."

"Oh, she was in Brighton, was she? We must remember to ask her if she had occasion to see our Lydia while she was there," replied Mrs. Bennet.

Elizabeth, determined to ask her nothing of the kind, continued.

"And imagine, Mother, she has extended us an invitation to Pemberley for a fortnight and offered to take us with her when she returns tomorrow."

Elizabeth was careful to make no mention of Mr. Darcy.

Mrs. Bennet wrestled with the choice before her: the somewhat improper notion of allowing her daughters to leave Longbourn with a relative stranger, accompanied by only a driver, versus the lure of their being thrown into the paths, as she had once said, of rich young men!

For Mrs. Bennet, the choice was an easy one. Propriety be damned, Lizzy and Jane would be on their way to Pemberley tomorrow morning!

After speaking with her mother, Elizabeth related a considerably more truthful version of the day's events to Jane. Jane had always held a higher opinion of Mr. Darcy than Elizabeth had, which Elizabeth had attributed to Jane's tendency to hold a higher opinion of just about everyone! Elizabeth believed that, even if she had told Jane of how Darcy's interference had led to Jane's estrangement from Mr. Bingley, Jane would not think ill of Darcy even then.

"Poor Mr. Darcy," Jane said softly, echoing her remark in April when she had heard of Darcy's ill-fated proposal of marriage to Elizabeth. "How he must suffer, Lizzy, and how good of you to try to relieve him."

"Now, Jane, please do not wish a 'happy ending' to all this!" Lizzy exclaimed. "I am going to Pemberley to rectify my own errors, not to gratify your notions of a romantic reunion with Mr. Darcy!"

Jane just smiled sweetly. Lizzy doth protest too much, she thought!

That evening, after supper, Georgiana sat on the divan in the Bennet parlor, quietly basking in the family scene before her. Elizabeth needn't have worried that her sometimes boisterous family would be offensive to Georgiana; rather, Georgiana envied Elizabeth her sisters and her parents, the family she herself had never known.

Fitzwilliam was all the family she had, and now she felt that even he was being taken from her. Since he had returned from Rosings, he had been, in his best moments, distracted and unresponsive to Georgiana, and in his worst moments, in the depths of melancholy. He had barely questioned her when she told him of her plans to visit Lady Catherine and her cousin Anne, nor had he confirmed the arrangements with their relations. And while she rejoiced in her easy success at obscuring her true plan, to call upon Miss Bennet, she paradoxically mourned the loss of her caring, sometimes overprotective elder brother.

When it was time to retire, Georgiana was almost childlike in her delight at partaking in the nightly rituals of the Bennet sisters. In her nightdress and robe, she sat on the bed in Lizzy's room along with Jane, her eyes aglow at being included in their sisterly chat. She said little, but she listened, and the more she saw and heard of the sisters' interaction, the more she wished they were her sisters, as well.

She had thought, when she first came to Longbourne, that all she wanted was for Fitzwilliam to know that Elizabeth did not despise him. But now she knew she wanted more.

For if Fitzwilliam were to win Miss Bennet as his bride, she, Georgiana, would have a sister to love, and the delights her extended family would bring. She knew not how she could set about accomplishing this. Fitzwilliam was hardly capable of carrying on a civil conversation these days, let alone wooing the lovely Elizabeth.

Georgiana's last thoughts before falling asleep were of her brother. His handsome face was before her. His dark brown eyes, once so observant and engaging, were dull and disinterested in life. It was almost as if he had stopped living when he lost the hope of being loved by Elizabeth. She was determined to bring Elizabeth to him, and to jolt him out of his self-pity and inertia so that he could do whatever was necessary to win her love.

Perhaps it was her thinking of her brother's loss of enthusiasm for life that provoked the terrifying dream that awakened her in the middle of the night. "He's dead, he's dead," she cried aloud, twisting in the bed and sobbing.

She was trembling and sweating when she awakened in Elizabeth's arms.

"Shhhh, Georgiana, all is well," Elizabeth comforted her.

"He was sitting in his chair by the fire, so still, not answering me," Georgiana wept. "I called his name, he didn't answer."

"I am so fearful, Elizabeth. I cannot bear the thought of losing him."

Elizabeth stroked her hair.

"You won't lose him, Georgiana. He is young and strong."

"Promise me, Elizabeth!"

Elizabeth smiled in the dark at Georgiana's childish demand, but she gave her promise, nonetheless. Later, after Georgiana had gone back to sleep, she wondered just what she had promised and what would be required of her to fulfill it.

The next morning Jane, Elizabeth and Georgiana set off early for Pemberley. How different were all of their thoughts.

I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Bingley will be there, and if so, if it will be awkward for us.

This is a mission of mercy, nothing more, and if either of them thinks otherwise, they are sorely mistaken.

I am beginning to realize that both my brother and I require exactly the same person in our lives. Now, just how will I go about bringing my plans to fruition?

Fitzwilliam Darcy sat in the dark in the drawing room at Pemberley, a glass of brandy in his hand. The formerly fastidious Darcy was almost unrecognizable as the man Elizabeth Bennet had known in Hertfordshire and at Rosings. His face hadn't felt a razor's edge in several days, despite his valet's gentle hints, and he wore no coat, just a white cotton shirt, open at the throat. He had no desire to impress anyone, least of all himself.

He chided himself from time to time, urging himself to do something, anything. But the truth of the matter was Darcy was a gentleman, and a very rich gentleman at that, and if all he was inclined to do was languish in self-pity, he was quite at liberty to do so.

Whenever Elizabeth's face appeared before him, which it did incessantly, he consciously tried to will her to be still, because when her mouth began to move, he heard her voice repeating the cruel words which had fractured his heart in April. To block her out, he had to block out everything and everyone, it seemed, and if it hurt his sister, he cared not. His life was suspended, as he saw it, and whatever happened to him at this juncture of his life would be precipitated by the actions of others. He was incapable of rousing himself from the passive stupor that had overcome him.

He ate what was needed to sustain life, taking no pleasure in it. He'd lost less weight than may have been expected in view of his reduced appetite, as his level of physical activity had diminished accordingly. He was impatient with the doctors Georgiana insisted he see, because he knew what ailed him was beyond their area of expertise. He didn't want to recover. He wasn't the man he was prior to meeting Elizabeth and never would be again.

A carriage, outside. His mind registered the sound of it, but he gave no thought to its meaning. He had no curiosity, no desire to see anyone or anything. He wanted to see himself through another day and go to sleep, his only respite from the wretchedness of his life.

When Georgiana entered, he gave her a perfunctory nod, not thinking to inquire as to why her trip to Rosings had been so brief. She approached him, and he shrunk from her when she leaned down to kiss his cheek.

"I am not alone, brother," she said, and Darcy, sighing, turned in his chair to look at the doorway, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. Bingley, he thought wearily, but there were two shadowy figures where he looked, both of them unmistakeably female in form.

Chapter 3

Had Darcy been sufficiently interested to venture a guess as to the identity of Georgiana's guests, not even in his most fanciful thoughts would he have expected them to be the two Miss Bennets.

He glared at Georgiana. "What were you thinking," he hissed between clenched teeth, even as he forced himself to his feet to face them.

"Good evening, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth said evenly, trying not to betray her shock at his altered appearance.

Darcy had never before felt such a spectrum of conflicting emotions as he did at this moment upon seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley. His dreams of seeing her there had effectively ended that disastrous evening at Hunsford, after which it seemed not even the remotest possibility that she would ever set foot upon its grounds. During those few brief days that intervened between his decision to ask for her hand in marriage and her adamant refusal, his fantasies of Elizabeth as the mistress of Pemberley had occupied his mind constantly: Elizabeth at the breakfast table, Elizabeth sweetly teasing him, taking his arm as they strolled in the park, and most graphically, Elizabeth in his bed, loving him so thoroughly and expressively.

He had swept those fantasies from his mind these last three months, but all it took was one glimpse of her dear face, and they came back with a rush that he felt almost physically. The careful mask that had so completely concealed his emotions cracked; his eyes filled, the deep blush that colored his face thankfully obscured by four days' growth of whiskers.

Elizabeth was more affected by Darcy's haggard appearance than she cared to admit to herself, and her disturbance of mind, if she examined it more closely, was due in large part to what she saw as her personal culpability for his condition. She had long ago admitted to herself that the words she used to refuse his proposal were chosen deliberately, to wound him as he had wounded her, and she had clearly succeeded in her object. Her eyes swept the length of his tall body, and to her mind came the unbidden thought that, even in his present disheveled state, he was still the most maddeningly handsome man of her acquaintance.

Darcy cast his eyes downward and swallowed hard, just as Elizabeth was gazing upon his neck, exposed by the open collar of his shirt. As she watched his muscles work, for some unfathomable reason, she wanted to put her arms around him, to comfort him, and had they not the troubled history they did, she might have done just that.

Darcy nodded twice, in rapid succession, barely looking at them.

"Miss Bennet…Miss Bennet," he muttered, and desperate to escape, began to make his way past them so he could mount the stairs to his bedchamber, but Elizabeth stopped him, laying a hand on his arm.

"Mr. Darcy, your sister tells me you have not been well. May I inquire…"

He rudely interrupted her.

"You needn't concern yourself, Miss Bennet," he replied, pushing past her to leave. "You will excuse me."

He proceeded into the hallway and up the staircase to the sanctuary of his chambers.

Georgiana, scandalized by his rudeness, attempted to apologize to Jane and Elizabeth.

"Please, you must excuse my brother, he is not himself, I must go to him," she said imploringly, and she turned for the stairs, even as they all heard the door slamming above them.

"Poor Mr. Darcy," Jane said sorrowfully. "And Georgiana, that dear child, she is in such anguish over him."

Elizabeth's sentiments were similar to Jane's, except that her sympathy for Mr. Darcy was tempered by her anger at him because of his treatment of Georgiana. He was the elder brother, by more than a decade, and he should conduct himself as such, she thought.

Still…his eyes had been so desolate. Elizabeth shouldn't have been surprised at her sparring emotions as they pertained to Mr. Darcy, for had their relationship not long been one of conflict and contradiction?

Georgiana stood outside her brother's chamber and knocked on the door.

"Leave me," he shouted. "Haven't you done enough?"

Georgiana, her patience stretched to the limit, began to pound on the door more forcefully.

"You WILL open this door, this instant, Fitzwilliam Darcy! I have tolerated your rudeness long enough!"

Darcy, sitting on the edge of his bed, covered his ears to muffle the sound of her incessant pounding, but Georgiana would not cease, creating such a ruckus that he finally capitulated and opened the door.

"Fitzwilliam!" Georgiana snapped, forcing him to look at her as she closed and locked the door behind her.

He pounded the wall with both fists.

"Why? Why, Georgiana? Why did you bring her here, to flaunt herself before me, when I know she can never be mine? Have I not suffered enough?"

Georgiana shook her head in disgust. "Your suffering has been of your own doing, Fitzwilliam, and only you can end it."

"End it? END it? Perhaps you can enlighten me as to how I might go about ending my suffering!"

"I've done my part, now it's time for you to do yours. Take a look at yourself, brother, and tell me if you like what you see! Take a long, hard look, and decide if it's what you want Miss Bennet to see."

Darcy held his head in his hands, fighting tears.

"Georgiana, please, have pity on me."

"You don't need my pity, Fitzwilliam. The pity you have for yourself is more than sufficient."

Georgiana surprised even herself with her steely resolve, but when Darcy, deeply ashamed at her censure, began to shake with stifled sobs, she softened and put her arms around him.

"Fitzwilliam, last summer, when you thwarted my elopement with Wickham, you were my hero. You will always be my hero, my dearest brother, and I cannot bear to see you like this. Please, take hold of yourself, not for the sake of winning Miss Bennet, but for your own dignity. When she sees the man I know you are, she cannot fail to respect you, William, but first you must come to respect yourself again."

"No," he said regretfully, shaking his head. "She despises me, Georgiana, she made that clear at Rosings."

"Do you think I would have brought her here if she hated you, William? She told me herself she did not hate you and that she regretted the cruel words she spoke to you at Hunsford."

For the first time in weeks, Darcy appeared vitally interested in what Georgiana had to say.

"She regretted...?"

"No, Fitzwilliam," Georgiana said, reaching up to gently stroke his cheek. "She did not regret her refusal, just her manner of expressing it. Just as perhaps you do not regret expressing your love for her, but your own manner of expression?"

Darcy sighed.

"When did you become so wise, Georgiana? No, I shall never regret having loved Miss Bennet, nor do I regret loving her still."

Georgiana put her hands on her brother's shoulders. "Then DO something about it, Fitzwilliam! I have never known you to be so easily defeated."

"But I am at a loss, Georgiana. I do not know what to do. There is so much for which I need to obtain her forgiveness."

"You might want to start by making yourself presentable, Fitzwilliam," Georgiana said with a smile. "Your appearance is fearsome!"

Darcy laughed ruefully, and the unfamiliar sound was salve to Georgiana's aching heart.

"You may be right about that. Perhaps it is time for my valet to begin earning his keep once again."

"Excellent," Georgiana replied. "Sleep well, Fitzwilliam, and I will expect you at breakfast tomorrow morning, looking like the handsome brother I remember. Agreed?" she asked, extending her hand.

He took her hand and brought it to his lips to be kissed.

"You have grown up too quickly," he said sadly, "and I fear it is my doing."

"Fitzwilliam," she said. "You have always been here for me, you have always cared for me, you have never judged me. How could I not do likewise for you?"

Darcy hugged his sister and kissed her forehead. "Whatever the outcome, my dearest, thank you for bringing Elizabeth Bennet back to me."

"I've brought her back, William. Now it is up to you to convince her to stay!"

Chapter 4

Darcy lay in bed, unable to sleep. In one of the bedchambers along the length of the corridor, just steps away, slept Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

He rose, lit a candle, and stepped outside his room. He peered carefully down the hallway, first one way, then the other, to ensure no one would observe him, then walked to the right, toward the direction of Georgiana's bedchamber. The sound of girlish whispers and giggles came to his ears, and with some embarrassment but little hesitation, he pressed his ear against the door.

He was disappointed that he could hear no details of the conversation, but had no doubt that Georgiana and both Bennet sisters were behind the door, sharing confidences (About him? Dare he hope?). He had a mad impulse to open the door and join in the merriment, or to shock them with a scolding ("Young ladies! You are disturbing my rest!"), but of course, he did the proper thing and went quietly back to his own chamber, where he found sleep at last.

It was Christmas Eve at Pemberley. Darcy, flushed with the effects of good company and some excellent sherry, threw open the door to his sister's bedchamber where, clustered on the bed, were Georgiana, Jane and Elizabeth.

"Georgiana! Miss Bennet! Your have held my wife captive long enough!"

He bent over the bed, lifted Elizabeth into his arms and hoisted her easily over his shoulder.

"Come, madam! Your rightful owner has come to reclaim you!"

All three ladies, including the one ineffectively pounding her fists against his back, laughed merrily.

"My owner? Sir, how shocking!" Elizabeth exclaimed, as Darcy, kicking the door closed behind them, carried her down the corridor into their bedroom, where he lay her upon the bed.

Her eyes, aflame with love and longing, rested on his face as he reached down to untie the laces of her nightdress.

"I believe I will unwrap my Christmas gift now, Mrs. Darcy," he said, opening her gown and, after directing her to lift her arms, pulling it up over her head.

Elizabeth pouted. "First you are my 'owner,' and now I am a 'gift,' sir?"

"You are a gift, Elizabeth, one I've longed for, and worked for, and plan to keep close to my heart for as long as I live," he whispered, kissing her open lips and mingling his tongue with her own.

"May I unwrap my gift as well, William?" she responded, her eyes resting hungrily on the bulge in the front of his breeches.

He nodded mutely as she reached for him, first stroking him over his breeches, then unbuttoning them and stripping them down and off his body.

"Oh Lizzy, Lizzy," he murmured, lifting her legs to wrap them around his waist so she could pull him into her.

His dream had been so realistic (and arousing!) that Darcy's first thought upon awakening was that it seemed unseasonably warm for Christmas Day. He turned to glance at the pillow next to him, where no sign of Elizabeth Bennet could be found, before he regretfully accepted the fact that last night's pleasant activities were but a dream.

Even so, he felt encouraged. It was a new day, the woman he loved most in the world would be at his breakfast table, and his dream had given him a glimpse into what his life might be should he be so fortunate as to win her affections. He lay in bed, where he took matters into his own hands to ease his discomfort. The time required to do so was brief!

With a deep breath, he rose and looked into the mirror. What greeted him was not a pretty sight, and with a grimace, he rang for his valet.

It took but a half hour for Darcy to bathe, shave and dress, so anxious was he to go down to breakfast. So gratified was his valet for the return of his master's spirit and purpose, that he minded not Darcy's urging that he hasten his preparations and dressing. He shaved him so quickly that the razor nicked Darcy's chin, but Darcy seemed not to care, saying "Never mind, it is nothing. Go on, hurry!"

Once dressed and impeccably groomed, Darcy, his handkerchief pressed in his hand against the cut on his chin, bounded down the stairs.

"Good morning, Mrs. Reynolds," he said cheerfully to the housekeeper.

"Oh, thank the Lord !" Mrs. Reynolds thought as she greeted him in return. "The Master seems himself again ."

Darcy stopped for a moment at the door to the dining room to collect his thoughts. His contact with Elizabeth Bennet last evening had been so brief and unexpected, that he truly had no idea what her sentiments were. But he had a most valuable ally in Georgiana, and Miss Bennet had apparently been persuaded to accompany her to Pemberley more easily than Darcy would have ever imagined. He had to conclude that Georgiana was correct in her assertion that Miss Bennet did not hate him and decided he would seize the opportunity he had been given to win her good opinion. (He dared not say, even to himself, the word "love.")

Georgiana, facing the door, saw him first when he entered the room. She caught his eye, and smiled broadly in approval of his appearance as she rose to greet him.

"Good morning, Fitzwilliam," she said, pulling his head down to whisper in his ear, "You are looking wonderfully well this morning, brother.

Darcy smiled and squeezed her hand in thanks.

"Fearsome no longer, Georgiana?"

Elizabeth turned in her chair, looking up at Mr. Darcy. He was bent over whispering to his sister, and she noted that his dark curls were still damp from his bath. As he lifted his head, her eyes rested on his cut chin, still red with blood, and then on his lips, curved in a smile so that his dimples were displayed.

Darcy stared at her, and she blushed, embarrassed at being caught looking so intently at him.

He crossed the room to stand before her.

"Good morning, Miss Bennet."

"Good morning, Mr. Darcy."

"Miss Bennet, I must apologize for not greeting you properly last evening. I fear I was unprepared for guests, and I was unforgivably rude."

"I understand, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth answered, and the compassion in her eyes convinced him that she did, indeed, understand.

"Your family is well, I hope?"

"Yes. Jane is very well, as I am sure you can see for yourself," Elizabeth said, gesturing to her across the table with a smile.

Is she teasing me? Darcy hoped.

Darcy bowed to Jane Bennet. "Good morning, Miss Bennet. I trust you slept well?"

"Very well, thank you, Mr. Darcy," Jane responded, thinking that if Elizabeth could not see how much this man adored her, she was a fool indeed!

His appetite returning with his good spirits, Darcy ate heartily, as he conversed with his sister and both Miss Bennets. Jane Bennet was so amiable in her demeanor toward him, that he knew Elizabeth must not have told her of his interference in her relationship with Mr. Bingley. Like Elizabeth, Jane Bennet was sensible and intelligent, although perhaps she lacked that little spark of impertinence which set Elizabeth apart and intrigued him so thoroughly.

Elizabeth again found herself looking at Darcy's chin.

"I see you have injured yourself, sir," she said.

He looked at her with an intense expression in his dark eyes.

"Yes, but the pain is subsiding by the minute, Miss Bennet," he replied, leaving no doubt of his meaning.

"I am glad to hear it, Mr. Darcy."

And for the first time that Darcy could remember, Elzabeth smiled at him in a manner that was neither teasing nor challenging nor mocking. It was all he could to restrain himself from falling on his knees before her to beg her forgiveness and profess his undying love, but he knew any such display would forever ruin his chances with her. So he settled for looking into her eyes and smiling in return.

Georgiana and Jane watched this display of mutual agreeableness from across the room.

"Miss Bennet," Georgiana said to Jane, "let us take a turn outside in the park, as the weather is glorious this morning."

Jane smiled to herself at Georgiana's obvious attempt to leave Elizabeth and Darcy alone.

"That would be lovely, Miss Darcy. My sister and your brother can join us when they are finished with breakfast."

Darcy, eyebrows raised, glanced at Georgiana with a vaguely threatening look, but Georgiana merely smiled innocently in return as she and Jane departed the house.

"Do you approve of Pemberley, Miss Bennet?"

"There are few who would not approve, Mr. Darcy."

"I do hope you and your sister will stay for some time? We are expecting Mr. Bingley and his sisters later in the week."

Elizabeth gave him a serious look and replied, "You would consent, then, to my sister and Mr. Bingley renewing their acquaiintance?"

Eyes downcast at Elizabeth's reference to his interference in Bingley's affairs, Darcy replied, "I realize now, Miss Bennet, that my consent is not required."

"You come to that realization rather late, Mr. Darcy, but I suppose better late than never."

Fearful that they were reverting to their old, adversarial manner of conversing, Darcy decided to be frank.

"Miss Bennet, I have come to regret many of my actions and words as they pertained to you and your family. When I think back on the letter I wrote you, attempting to justify myself, I am convinced it was written in a spirit of bitterness and disappointment. There are some passages I wish you would never have the power of reading again."

"On the contrary, Mr. Darcy, while some of your assertions angered me, there were others which caused me to regret my manner of rejecting you, in particular those regarding Mr. Wickham. And your adieu, I might add, was charity itself."

Darcy shook his head, unwilling to accept any pardon.

"You need have no regrets, Miss Bennet. Your words were justified, there was nothing you said of me that I did not deserve."

Elizabeth suddenly felt the awkwardness of their situation, as they were quite alone in the room, and Mr. Darcy was looking at her so earnestly.

She rose and said, "Perhaps we should go outside and join Jane and Miss Darcy."

"As you wish," he said softly, offering her his arm, which she promptly took.

Her gentle touch, even through the cloth of his jacket, was so affecting that Darcy found it difficult to speak. They left the house and walked out into the park, where there was no sign of Jane and Georgiana.

It was Elizabeth's first look at the sumptuous grounds of Pemberley in daylight, and she declared her delight to Mr. Darcy. His joy at her approval and pride in his home was evident on his countenance, and he pointed out the different types of vegetation and particular spots of interest as they walked. Elizabeth was surprised at this improvement in his manners and tone of voice; never had she thought she could be so at ease in his company. Her surprise must have been apparent, for Darcy said somewhat teasingly, "I believe you are astounded at my civility, Miss Bennet."

Elizabeth laughed.

"I must confess, Mr. Darcy, that your manner of expression has improved since our last meeting, when it seems you sought to recommend yourself by pointing out the deficiencies of my family and my situation!"
She immediately regretted her words when she saw his crestfallen expression.

She stopped walking and turned to face him directly.

"I am sorry, Mr. Darcy. But I do feel compelled to ask why you chose to express yourself in such a manner!"

"I do not know, Miss Bennet. I have asked myself that question countless times since April. When I think back on the events of that evening, I can only conclude that the offensive words I spoke to you were a reflection of the thoughts that had been in my head earlier in the day; indeed, for many days."

"Sometimes one's thoughts are best left to oneself, Mr. Darcy," replied Elizabeth, but there was the beginning of a smile on her lips when she spoke.

"Indeed, I have realized that is so," Darcy replied fervently

A sudden thought came to Elizabeth.

"Tell me, Mr. Darcy. How would you have felt had I accepted your proposal, but not until taking pains to inform you that I was accepting it despite the fact that I did not love you, that I found your words and manner offensive and would marry you only for the wealth and connections such a match would bring to myself and my family? Would you not have been just as insulted by such an acceptance as I was by your offer?"

Darcy, startled by Elizabeth's frankness, lowered his eyes and hesitated before replying.

When he had composed himself sufficiently to look at her, Elizabeth was discomfited by the intensity of his expression.

"Insulted or not, Miss Bennet, I would have rejoiced at your acceptance and endeavoured to win your good opinion, which I know is rarely bestowed and thus more worth the earning."

Elizabeth could not help but be touched at the humble manner of his declaration and the appeal implicit in his eyes. For the first time, she realized that, no matter how wounded she had been by Mr. Darcy's words in April, his injuries had been more grave, because the cruel words directed at him had come from the lips of someone he deeply loved.

"May I ask…that is, may I hope…that winning your good opinion is not impossible?" he finally asked.

"Yes, Mr. Darcy, you may," Elizabeth answered, thinking that Mr. Darcy was already well on his way to achieving his goal. Her opinion of Mr. Darcy was, in fact, improving by the minute!

Chapter 5

If Elizabeth had to name one thing that had so obviously changed about Darcy's outward manner, it was his way of looking at her. It was as though he were starved for the sight of her; he drank in her face as would a man dying of thirst. He feared that if he looked away, she would disappear as magically as she had come to him.

And his expression when he looked at her! He had hidden and fought his feelings for her for so long, and knew what grief that brought him, so it was as though he decided to dispense with all artifice and wear his heart on his sleeve. He would not embarrass her with words of love when he knew she could not return them, but he would no longer hide his love from her or anyone else discerning enough to interpret the adoration in his eyes.

Georgiana was grateful for Elizabeth's presence. She felt she owed her brother's life and happiness to her, but at the same time, she feared for Darcy because his need for Elizabeth was so raw and urgent, that she shuddered to imagine what another rejection would do to him. Elizabeth was undoubtedly kind, but she was not foolish enough to enter into an engagement with a man she did not love.

From her youthful vantage point (she was all of sixteen years old!), her brother was perfection itself and she was convinced her brother and Elizabeth complemented each other quite well indeed. By her ease he would be softened, she thought, and by his understanding and knowledge of the world, her consequence would be improved. If she had searched all of England, she could not have found a better sister and friend than Elizabeth Bennet.

She watched Elizabeth carefully in her interactions with Fitzwilliam, and she clearly detected a softening in her attitude. Elizabeth was flattered by his attentions, and she was more inclined to return his smiles than not. (In fact, Georgiana could not remember her brother ever smiling so much as he had during these three days of Elizabeth's visit!) She wisely refrained from interjecting herself into their conversations except when invited; she knew these two had much to resolve between themselves.

By the fourth day of the Bennet sisters' visit, a friendship had undoubtedly been forged between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. He awakened each morning eager to see her sweet face, and his sentiments were the same each day: Some day, God willing, I will awaken next to her. While Darcy regularly attended Sunday services, he was not an overly religious man, but he unashamedly began to pray each night with just a few simple words, much as he had as a child ("Dear God, show me the way to make her love me "), hoping God would forgive him for the very explicit way he loved her in his dreams!

So because they could not speak of love, they spoke of everything else: of books, of art, of poetry, of Pemberley and its environs. He treasured every word she spoke to him, but did not hesitate to contradict her when he disagreed, for he knew how dearly and with what spirit she loved to defend her opinions. Her eyes flashing, she would be forming her rejoinder in her brain even as he was still speaking and clearly had to restrain herself from interrupting! At these times, more than any other, he wanted nothing better than to pull her into his arms and kiss her passionately, until she was out of breath.

How, he thought to himself, could he ever have considered this charming, brilliant, amusing woman his inferior? She knew so much about the world and human nature, and what she did not know, she was eager to learn, and how fervently he wished to be the one to instruct her. Cambridge had educated him, but had not prepared him to engage the attention of someone like Elizabeth Bennet; this was something he would have to learn for himself.

That evening, at dinner, he broached what could be an awkward subject, but one which would have to be addressed.

"Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley and his sisters will arrive tomorrow morning."

Elizabeth glanced quickly at Jane to see how the news affected her, and was not surprised to see Jane stiffen in her chair and look away in embarrassment.

Elizabeth did not respond. Jane's discomfort was something that did not cause her to look kindly upon Mr. Darcy, and she did not want to say something she would later regret.

It was a revelation to Elizabeth, that she did not want to hurt Mr. Darcy, even though Jane was clearly still disappointed with Bingley's desertion, and even though Elizabeth was well aware that it was Darcy who was in large part responsible for that desertion. But he was so silent and somber now, looking anxiously at Elizabeth, fearing her disapprobation after these few days of pleasant discourse that had resurrected his most ardent hopes and dreams.

As the only person in the room who had no emotional reaction to the discussion of Bingley's visit, Georgiana wisely broke the silence.

"What wonderful news, Fitzwilliam! The last time we saw Mr. Bingley, he inquired most eagerly as to whether we had any news of Jane Bennet, do you remember? He will be quite happy to see both of you, I am sure. You must be sure to play for all of us, Miss Bennet."

Her words were a relief to the three others in the room, not only because of their content, but because they neatly precluded the need for any of them to say anything else on the subject. Once again, Darcy was grateful for Georgiana's intervention; any chance he had of winning Elizabeth, he owed to her.

After dinner, coffee was served in the music room. It amused Georgiana to see Darcy play the doting host, bringing Elizabeth her coffee and personally selecting the richest pastries and sweets to place on her plate. No doubt, he would have fed her personally if he could have! It was an almost physical pleasure for him to watch her eat. When her tongue daintily licked her lips to catch a dollop of errant cream, he thought he would faint from the desire to taste her lips himself.

At a moment when he was sufficiently assured that Georgiana and Jane were out of hearing distance, he asked Elizabeth, "May I ask your opinion on a matter of some delicacy, Miss Bennet?"

She looked at him expectantly.

"Tomorrow I will confess all to Bingley, Miss Bennet. All of it: my mistaken opinion that Jane was indifferent to him, my interference in his affairs, and my concealing your sister's visit to London over the winter. I hope he will grant me his forgiveness.

"But what of your sister? Should I confess this to her as well?"

"No, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth answered quickly. "I would rather Jane not know of it. I do not want her to think ill of you."

To Elizabeth's embarrassment, both she and Mr. Darcy immediately understood the meaning of her statement and what it revealed. Her opinion of Mr. Darcy had improved to the point where she wanted her family's opinion to improve as well. Darcy hoped and prayed this meant Elizabeth was beginning to see him as a welcome presence in her life.

At Elizabeth's request, Georgiana sat at the pianoforte to play, and Darcy stood and bowed.

"Will you do me the honour of dancing with me, Miss Bennet?"

"So you are finding me more than tolerable now, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth said, but she smilingly nodded her assent to his request.

Darcy grimaced.

"I knew it. You heard. The first of many words I wish I could retract, Miss Bennet, I assure you!"

"But you would have to replace them with other words, Mr. Darcy, and we both know words do not come easily to you, particularly in a ballroom."

Darcy was filled with joy as he took her hand to begin their dance. Miss Bennet was most assuredly flirting with him now!

"Please do not assume I have no words to speak, Miss Bennet, merely because I do not speak them."

"I shall test that claim, Mr. Darcy. Pretend I am Mr. Bingley. 'Darcy, I will not have you standing around in that stupid manner. Why not dance with Miss Bennet's sister, she is ravishingly beautiful and brilliant, is she not?'"

Darcy laughed at her wit as they danced. "I believe his accolades were 'very pretty' and 'agreeable,' although upon further contemplation, I am more inclined to agree with your own assessment of your virtues than Bingley's!"

"You evade the question, sir. Prove your claims that you wish the ability to retract your words of last fall by saying those you would pronounce in their stead!"

"As you wish, Miss Bennet. 'Bingley, you know full well that my social graces are far inferior to yours, and I seek to disguise my discomfort when amongst those I do not know by being haughty and disagreeable! The second Miss Bennet is quite pretty, I grant you, but the sparkle in her fine eyes leads me to believe she does not suffer fools gladly, and I could not bear for her to think me a socially inept fool.'

"Does that satisfy you, Miss Bennet?"

His answer touched her heart. She knew that what he had just told her, supposedly in jest, was very close to the truth, and she squeezed his hand to show her understanding.

"You are very good, Mr. Darcy, to put up with my silliness. I hope you know I no longer hold your words against you, having uttered many myself that I regret."

Their dance over, he took both her hands in his.

"Thank you, Miss Bennet. I cannot tell you how much your forgiveness means to me. I will put up with your 'silliness,' I will put up with anything, just to be in your presence."

Georgiana and Jane were occupied at the pianoforte, but Darcy would not have cared if they were standing next to him. He brought both of Elizabeth's hands to his lips and kissed them, first one, then the other, then, his eyes closed, held them against his cheek. If only she were his wife, if only he could take her to his bed tonight. He could not imagine any greater happiness.

To his joy, Elizabeth seemed as affected as he by their physical closeness. When he released her hands, she immediately put her hand to his cheek, moving her eyes over his face as if seeing his features for the first time.

"Mr. Darcy, I...I..." she stuttered, as if confused, and she looked away.

He wanted to shout "Marry me, Elizabeth! Tomorrow at the latest. Stay with me, make me whole, don't ever leave me!" The words echoed so resoundingly in his head that it was almost as if had had said them aloud.

"We will talk again in the morning Miss Bennet. Will you walk with me?"

"Yes, Mr. Darcy," she answered shyly.

The three ladies, as had become their custom, retired together, and he was left to his solitary bed. Darcy felt, almost petulantly, how unfair it was that his sister should have the pleasure of conversing with Elizabeth in her bedchamber, and to see her with her hair down, in her nightclothes.

He swore to himself that those privileges would someday be his.

Elizabeth, for her part, found it hard to sleep that night. Her thoughts were of Mr. Darcy, of the way he looked at her. He still loved her, of that she had no doubt. But she was so accustomed to thinking the worst of him that she could not easily ascertain what her own feelings were.

She no longer disliked him. In fact, she liked him very well, indeed. Every word he had spoken to her since her arrival, apart from that first night, had been chosen to express his love and admiration. For even when he spoke of the most mundane matters, his eyes said "I love you."

But Elizabeth questioned her own ability to change her opinions so rapidly! She had given Mr. Darcy barely a thought since Rosings, except for the first few days following his proposal, when her emotions were in turmoil. When Georgiana arrived at Longbourn with her plea for Elizabeth to come to Pemberley and described her brother's decline, Elizabeth had felt concerned and somewhat responsible, but it wasn't until she saw him that she felt the first stirrings of something more.

That was a mere four days ago! Could her feelings have evolved so rapidly from indifference to concern to love?

And so, for the first time since her arrival, Elizabeth's final conscious thoughts before sleeping were of Mr. Darcy, of the sensation of his hands holding hers. No wonder, then, that she dreamed of him as well.

She could not find sleep, so she rose from her bed. She felt his presence behind the door even before he entered the room.

His eyes were sad. "I have lost you. Please, Elizabeth. Let me love you."

He held his arms out to her, and when she went to him, he lifted her in his arms and carried her down the stairs and out into the night.

There, under the stars that twinkled in Pemberley's sky, he set her down, barefoot in the grass, and he kissed her.

"All of this is mine, my dearest Elizabeth, and it means nothing to me if I cannot have you."

Elizabeth wanted to speak, but the words would not come.

"Tell me you love me, Elizabeth. Tell me."

His face was above hers, his voice sorrowful.

"Anything you want, Elizabeth. I am yours, all of this is yours. Just love me," and he buried his face on her shoulder and wept.

Elizabeth wanted to hold him, but she could not move. Her arms were pinned behind her back by someone she could not see, someone who tried to pull her from Darcy's grasp. She feared Fitzwilliam would think her cold and uncaring, but it was not so, she was held fast despite her struggles.

"Who are you, why do you hold me back," she demanded, twisting her head around to look, and when she saw who stood behind her, gloating at her powerlessness, she awakened with a scream.

It was Wickham!

Chapter 6

Elizabeth bolted upright in bed, gasping for breath. Her dream, which had started out so wonderfully, had ended frighteningly, and for the moment she was disoriented, looking around the room frantically, half certain she would find Wickham lurking in the shadows.

Hand to her forehead, she walked to the door and opened it, needing a wider space in which to recover than the confines of the bedchamber. Outside her door stood Mr. Darcy, in his nightclothes, looking startled and concerned.

"Miss Bennet, are you unwell? I heard you cry out and rushed to attend to you, please excuse..." and his voice trailed off, noting her own inappropriate dress.

Elizabeth insisted she was well, but her voice betrayed her.

"It is nothing, sir, just a nightmare," she said, struggling to control her tears.

Elizabeth's tears, her hair streaming down her back in disarray, and her terrified expression affected Darcy more than he could understand, and before he thought what he was doing, he pulled her towards him and enfolded her in his arms.

Elizabeth had not the strength to resist him. She felt his warm lips brushing against her hair, and while she could not decipher his muffled whispers, she knew from his demeanour and his loving caresses that they were words of endearment. His warmth and embrace were comforting, and she felt that if only he would stay with her, she would be safe forever.

Reluctantly she pulled back and looked up at him.

"Mr. Darcy, we should not..."

"I know, Elizabeth, I know, but does it not seem fitting that we..."

And with that, Darcy leaned down to kiss her, his lips soft and hot with desire. He was mumbling her name and kissing her at the same time, and Elizabeth was so overcome that she felt faint. Her body molded into his, and she exulted in the feeling of Darcy supporting her, breathing life into her with his kisses. This feeling, of giving herself over to something more powerful than herself, was both liberating and frightening.

The hard strength of his body, easily discerned under the thin covering of his nightdress, enveloped her own, softer one, similarly clothed. Elizabeth knew little of what occurred between husband and wife, but she was quite certain it had much to do with the hardness she felp pressing against her loins! She agonized over the impropriety of such intimate contact with Mr. Darcy, but at the same time, his close embrace and passionate kisses awakened feelings in her that she had never before experienced.

In all her flirtations with men, Elizabeth Bennet had always had the upper hand. Even in her previous discourse with Mr. Darcy, she had always felt his equal, truth be told, his superior in some matters. But she felt nothing of superiority in their present situation! She felt utterly at his control and knew she had no power to resist whatever he would demand of her. She was aroused by his labored breathing, his hands roaming her body, and most of all his insistent mouth mastering hers, and she gave herself over freely to the feelings he inspired, pressing up against him and kissing him shamelessly in return.

It was fortunate for Elizabeth that Darcy, contrary to her accusations in April, was a gentleman, and he forced himself to behave as such. With a moan of agony he could not suppress, he separated himself from her, and they both felt bereft at their premature coming apart. They knew the logical culmination of their present activities, and mourned the impossibility of allowing it to happen.

"I will not have you this way, Elizabeth. I will not! I beg you, lock your door, or I cannot promise I will retain the control I have struggled to recover tonight."

Witih one final, longing look, and a kiss on her hand, Darcy bade her good night, and waited for Elizabeth to go into her room before returning to his own chamber, where he lay restless in his bed, finally falling asleep just before dawn.

Elizabeth, too, found sleep elusive. She could still feel the pressure of Mr. Darcy's body against hers, and she closed her eyes, savouring the memory.

Am I falling in love with him, she thought, or was his physical presence so commanding that she was losing all reason? She tried to think logically, but discovered that logic was of no use when it came to matters of love. She realized that even when they were first acquainted, she had never felt indifferent to Mr. Darcy; he always had aroused her in some way, even when the only sentiment he inspired was her ire! Her anger long since past, she was still profoundly affected by him, and she forced herself to think about what it was she wanted.

There was no doubt in her mind that she was attracted to him. She could imagine herself at this moment lying with him, his body entwined with hers, and loving him physically. She knew this could never be unless they were wed.

But did she want to marry Mr. Darcy, presuming he still wanted to marry her? Did she want to be tied to him forever?

This she did not know, so she resolved to keep her physical contact with him to a minimum until she knew her own heart.

Her decision made, Elizabeth slept.

Darcy anxiously awaited Elizabeth's arrival at breakfast the next morning. She bade him good morning, then sat near Jane and Georgiana with her breakfast. Her warmth of the past few days had been replaced with a polite demeanour; she was pleasant to him and responded to him when he spoke, but offered no additional conversation.

She's angry with me, Darcy thought. Idiot that I am, I assumed too much .

Elizabeth saw his disappointed expression and realized it was due to her coolness toward him, but she knew no other way of keeping a safe distance from the man.

"Excuse me, ladies, I have some business to which I must attend," Darcy said shortly, and bowing briefly, he left the room. Jane and Georgiana looked at Elizabeth quizzically; Elizabeth offered no explanation but quitted the room as well, just in time to see Mr. Darcy at the end of the hallway, about to go outside into the park.

"Mr. Darcy!" she called, and he turned around to face her.

He did not speak, but Elizabeth saw his face, and knew he had been wounded by her treatment of him at breakfast.

In a softer tone she said, "I believe that last evening we agreed to walk out together this morning, did we not, sir?"

"We did."

"Yet you are leaving without me, sir."

"I believed you wanted it thus, Miss Bennet."

"I believed that too, Mr. Darcy, but on further contemplation, I have changed my mind. A woman's perogative, as I am sure you are aware."

Darcy smiled.

"Miss Bennet, I am counting on your exercising that perogative, as it is the key to my future happiness."

Elizabeth took his arm as they went out the door. Her resolution not to touch him had not lasted an hour after seeing him.

They walked the stone path toward a grove of trees, where Darcy stopped and looked at her.

"Miss Bennet, last behavior was inexcusable."

"I did nothing to stop you, Mr. Darcy."
His eyes bored into hers.

"And why did you not, Miss Bennet?"

Elizabeth's face reddened.

"Because I was frightened, Mr. Darcy."

"Do I frighten you, Elizabeth?" Darcy asked sadly, unconsciously using her given name.

"Oh, no," Elizabeth said, shaking her head. "You were most comforting, Mr. Darcy. But when you held me, I felt frightened of the way it made me feel. Such feelings are not quite proper."

Darcy tried not to show how pleased he was by her confession and tactfully steered the conversation in another direction.

"So, Miss Bennet, was it I who gave you nightmares last night? Am I really that fearsome?"

"No, no, of course not," Elizabeth replied.

"What was it, then, that terrified the bravest young lady of my acquaintance so much that her cries awakened me and inspired my placing her in such a compromising position?" Darcy asked sternly, the kindness in his eyes belying his voice.

"I, I...I don't remember," Elizabeth lied.

"Miss Bennet, I promise I will respect whatever limitations you choose to impose upon us, for the time being. But faced with your tears, I fear I would have no choice but to put my arms around you again and face your displeasure."

Elizabeth stifled a giggle. Mr. Darcy was becoming quite skillful at their verbal interplay.

"I fear I am hungry, sir. In my haste to accompany you in your walk this morning, I neglected to eat breakfast."

"That is insupportable, Miss Bennet! We shall return to the house, make sure you are well fed, and await Mr. Bingley and his sisters."

Elizabeth remembered Darcy's promise to speak to Bingley today about his interference in his acquaintance with Jane, and her expression softened. Mr. Darcy was truly making every possible effort to raise himself in her estimation.

As though reading her mind, Darcy asked, "So tell me, Miss Bennet. Has your opinion of me improved?"
"Oh, you are tolerable, I suppose," Elizabeth quipped, but she smiled and squeezed his arm when she said it.

"Tolerable," Darcy said. "I believe I am making progress!"

Georgiana and Jane watched from behind the curtains as Darcy and Elizabeth returned to the house. By their easy gait and pleased expressions, one might easily assume they were lovers.

"Just look at them, Jane! If they haven't reached an understanding yet, I am sure they will soon."

Chapter 7

Mr. Bingley and his sister Caroline arrived at Pemberley just as tea was being served in the drawing room.

"Miss Darcy! How lovely to see you again!" Miss Bingley exclaimed. She stopped speaking abruptly, her smile frozen on her face, as her eyes rested on the pair seated opposite each other in one corner of the room: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, so engrossed in conversation with each other as they sipped tea that neither of them looked up at the sound of her voice, no small feat considering its volume!

"And both Miss Bennets. What a wonderful surprise," she added, in a tone that attested to their presence being a surprise, but not a particularly wonderful one.

Elizabeth greeted Caroline politely, but reserved a warmer welcome for Mr. Bingley, whom she observed closely. His eyes rested on Jane Bennet, and Jane, endeavouring to keep her composure, found it difficult to look at him directly.

"Good afternoon, Miss Bennet," he said softly.

Jane, seeming somewhat confused at his expression, merely looked down and replied, "Good afternoon, Mr. Bingley."

Darcy observed the exchange, and his eyes met Elizabeth's. You were right, Elizabeth, he thought. Your sister is as much in love with Bingley as he is with her.

He leaned forward to refill his teacup and whispered "You have my word that I will put things right, Miss Bennet."

He was true to his word. That very evening, on the pretense of showing Bingley a new volume he had recently acquired, they were alone in the library.

Darcy did not believe in mincing words. He knew Bingley would be justifiably angry with him and that their friendship would be in jeopardy, but he knew that nothing less than a prompt and full confession of his duplicity in keeping Bingley from Jane Bennet would suffice. It grieved him to think that, not only had he ruined his own chances for happiness with his actions, but Bingley's as well. Bingley, who had always been the best of friends to Darcy and whose easy manner endeared him to all. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Darcy realized how his behaviour had hurt others and how difficult it was to rectify the results of that behaviour.


"Yes?" he answered, smiling expectantly as he looked up from his perusal of the book he held in his hands.

Darcy wondered if Bingley would still consider him a friend after his disclosure. Even in the best scenario, he knew Bingley would never think of him as the perfect, principled gentleman he did now. He was about to take himself down off that pedestal.

"Bingley," he began. "last winter, when we were in London after we returned from Hertfordshire, Miss Jane Bennet was in town as well."

"Was she? Did you just learn of this recently, Darcy, during her visit to Pemberley? I do wish we had known of her presence in town when she was there, as we assuredly would have called upon her."

"No, Bingley, I didn't learn of it recently. I saw her when she was in town."

"You saw her, Darcy? Where? And why didn't you tell me?"

Darcy forced himself to meet Bingley's eyes.

"She called upon your sister, Charles, when you were not at home."

"WHAT? Neither you nor Caroline saw fit to inform me? What were you thinking, Darcy? She must think me unforgivably rude for not acknowledging her."

Darcy hung his head. "I don't know what I was thinking. No, no...that's not true! I know exactly what I was thinking. That an alliance with the Bennet family was as undesirable for you as it was for me because of their low connections."

"Low connections, Darcy? Certainly you are aware that my father's fortune was made in trade. Am I as undesirable to you as the Bennet family?"

"No, of course not, Bingley. There is no excuse for my actions, and I beg your forgiveness."

Bingley shook his head, unbelieving.

"And what did you mean in saying it was undesirable for you, Darcy?"

"Elizabeth Bennet. I proposed to her at Hunsford, and she refused me, in part because of my actions in this affair."

"You proposed, did you, despite her undesirability? Interesting how you overlooked the Bennet family's faults for yourself, but could not do likewise for me. Do you feel better qualified to make my decisions than I, Darcy?"

"Of course not, Bingley. It was unforgivably arrogant of me, as I've been told in no uncertain terms by Elizabeth Bennet. Believe me, Bingley, I've paid dearly, and I would do anything to make amends."

"Does Jane know of this, Darcy?"

Darcy shook his head. "No. Neither Elizabeth Bennet nor I have told her. Elizabeth Bennet knows only too well how it feels to be told you are not good enough."

Bingley looked confused. "By whom?"

"By me, Bingley! Yes, you may believe it! I proposed to Miss Bennet only after thoroughly informing her as to her family's shortcomings!"

"You astound me, Darcy! You have an odd way of recommending yourself!"

"Bingley, you have been a good friend to me, and I don't want to lose your friendship. I have erred, grievously erred, and I believe nothing short of seeing you and Jane Bennet happily situated will suffice."

"If she'll have me."

"I think she will, Bingley. Fate has smiled upon both of us, thanks to Georgiana. Both Miss Bennets are here, and I have much more that must be forgiven than you do. Make the most of this opportunity! I have been endeavouring to do so myself, with some success, I hope."

"Well, I must admit I am gratified to see the change Miss Bennet's appearance has wrought in you, Darcy. We were all quite worried about you."

"Thank you, Bingley. I am humbled by your concern."

After a brief pause, Darcy spoke again, trying to keep his voice light.

"So, am I forgiven?"

Bingley replied honestly.

"I don't know, Darcy. That is the best I can offer right now. I believe I will go speak to Jane Bennet now, if you'll excuse me."

"Of course," Darcy said humbly.

After Bingley left, Darcy sat down heavily in the armchair.

Where is Elizabeth? he thought. I need Elizabeth!

Elizabeth was gratified when Bingley returned to the drawing room, nodded at her, then immediately sought out Jane. But when Darcy did not also return directly, she became concerned and excused herself to search for him.

Oh dear , Georgiana thought. They are all pairing off, and I fear that leaves me with Miss Bingley! She comforted herself that her brother's pairing with Miss Bennet would ultimately lead to greater happiness for both of them, and reconciled herself to Miss Bingley's company for the evening. Miss Bingley loved to talk, and all Georgiana had to do was reply in monosyllables now and then ("Oh?" "Do go on!"), and that won her another ten minutes of contemplation, as she blocked out Miss Bingley's prattling!

Darcy did not even look up when Elizabeth came in. Elbow on the desk, head in hand, he was deep in thought, distressed at Bingley's justifiable anger with him.

Elizabeth came up behind him and lightly laid her hand on the back of his head.

"Are you well, Mr. Darcy?" she gently asked.

"I suppose I am as well as I deserve to be, Miss Bennet," he answered bitterly.

When he finally met her eyes, Elizabeth was touched to see he was holding back tears.

"Did it not go well with Mr. Bingley?"

"Well enough, I suppose. He seemed eager to see Jane, but perhaps not so eager to continue our friendship."

"Give him some time, Mr. Darcy. He is angry and disappointed."

Darcy could not respond. He nodded, his mouth a tight thin line.

She leaned down and took both his hands in hers.

"Come, Mr. Darcy. We do not want to leave your sister at the mercy of Miss Bingley, do we?"

Darcy had to smile at that as he got to his feet. "We most assuredly do not."

"Mr. Darcy?"


"Thank you. I know what you had to do tonight must have been difficult."

And with that, Elizabeth impulsively reached up, put her arms around Darcy's neck and pulled his head down so she could kiss his cheek.

Darcy, for just a moment, buried his face on her shoulder.

"You are an angel, Miss Bennet."

"I have been called many things, Mr. Darcy, but never that!"

And with a smile Darcy knew was for him alone, she took his arm and brought him back to his guests.

Chapter 8

Elizabeth and Darcy rejoined the others in the drawing room for coffee, and both of them were gratified to see Jane and Bingley sitting together, engaged in what appeared to be a most serious conversation. Caroline Bingley and Georgiana sat across the room on the divan, Georgiana with a distant expression on her face, Caroline doing all the conversing.

Elizabeth looked up at Darcy and smiled.

"Come, sir, we must go to your sister's assistance!"

Darcy, still unaccustomed to having Elizabeth Bennet smile at him in that sweet, merry manner, felt a warmth throughout his body and a longing for her that was almost a physical sensation. He wanted to warm himself in the glow of that smile for the rest of his life.

Caroline Bingley looked up as they approached.

"Miss Eliza Bennet! I understand the militia has departed Meryton for Brighton, that must be quite a loss for your family."

"We are bearing it as best we can, " replied Elizabeth sardonically.

Observing that her pointed comments had had no effect whatsoever on the adoring glances Darcy was casting at Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Bingley spitefully continued. Looking first at Elizabeth, then Darcy, then back at Elizabeth again, she said "I understand that certain ladies are quite pained at the loss of Mr. Wickham."

From Darcy's sharp intake of breath, Miss Bingley knew she had struck a nerve. But it was Georgiana who suddenly stood, her eyes blazing.

"How dare you? How dare you insult not only Miss Bennet, but me , here in my own home?"

Even Bingley, as preoccupied as he was gazing into the eyes of Jane Bennet, looked up at her pronouncement.

"To what are you referring, Georgiana?" Miss Bingley asked. "How is my pointing out Miss Bennet's fondness (she practically spit out the word!) for George Wickham an insult to you?"

A warning glance from her brother made Georgiana realize she may have spoken too frankly.

"Miss Bennet is a guest in my home and should be accorded the respect she deserves," she stated simply.

"Thank you, Georgiana," Elizabeth said, "but perhaps I should address Miss Bingley's comments on the subject of Mr. Wickham."
She looked briefly at Darcy before continuing, noting the look of loving concern on his face.

"Perhaps at one time I gave more credence to Mr. Wickham's accounts of himself and others than was prudent. And perhaps his easy manner and charm did at one time inspire sentiments of fondness and friendship, Miss Bingley. But at no time was it anything more than that, and I hope that experience has taught me to be more careful in deciding to whom I will extend my friendship and trust.

"So, no, Miss Bingley. I feel no 'pain' at the loss of Mr. Wickham, only sorrow over any pain I may have inflicted on others due to my misplaced trust in him"

And with that last statement she deliberately looked at Darcy, who was overjoyed at her words. They stared at each other for a long moment, during which it seemed neither of them was aware that anyone else was in the room.

Caroline was stunned by both Georgiana's uncharacteristic outburst and by Elizabeth's frankness. But most of all, she was dismayed that her efforts to cause strife between Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy had had quite the opposite effect. Scarcely able to contain her anger, she turned and left the room.

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Georgiana whispered. "I am afraid I nearly revealed far too much of my history with Mr. Wickham to Miss Bingley, and no good would have come of it."

"No, thank you, Georgiana, for defending me so bravely."

Darcy made no comment, just gazed upon these two women, both so dear to him in different ways. He marvelled at how Georgiana had evolved from a little girl into a strong young woman, in so short a time, and due in large part to Elizabeth's tutelage.

He could only nod his approval when Georgiana requested Elizabeth play and sing for them.

Elizabeth and Georgiana sat together at the pianoforte, heads together, whispering conspiratorially as they selected the music. Georgiana turned the music pages as Elizabeth played and sang, her sweet, lilting soprano filling the air of the music room.
Darcy watched, entranced, from the across the room, then found himself approaching them, inexorably drawn to Elizabeth. When her song was finished and Georgiana was not looking at him, he caught Elizabeth's eye and mouthed the words, "I love you," causing Elizabeth to blush prettily, her lips trembling.

Had they been alone, Darcy would have kissed those trembling lips, as the expression in Elizabeth's eyes told him his kisses would have been welcome. He contented himself in kissing her hand as he bade her good night, willing the night to pass speedily so he might enjoy her company again in the morning. It had become almost painful for him knowing that Miss Bennet was here under his roof, asleep in a bedchamber other than his own.
Because he was now certain that Elizabeth Bennet belonged with him. She belonged in his bed, she belonged in his arms, she belonged in his life. And he would not rest until he convinced her to joyfully accept these certainties.

That night, Elizabeth lay awake in her bed, closing her eyes so that she could replay in her mind the moment when Mr. Darcy had told her he loved her. He had looked so earnest and appealing that she had been tempted at that moment to say aloud, "I love you too, Mr. Darcy," and almost regretted now that she hadn't.

So there in her bed, in the darkness, she whispered the words that would make him the happiest man on earth, hoping that somehow, in his unconscious state, he would hear them.

When Elizabeth awakened, her first thoughts were of Mr. Darcy.

She found herself thinking of the first time he had told her he loved her. How different her reaction had been on that occasion, at Hunsford in April! His words had offended her. His disparagement of her family and their low connections had enraged her. Her knowledge of his duplicity in separating Jane from Mr. Bingley had made her feel he was the "last man in the world she could every marry."

She remembered how easily she had believed Mr. Wickham's defamatory stories of Darcy's character and how this had only added to her unfavorable opinion of him.

One by one, she mulled over her former objections to Mr. Darcy. She realized that some of his comments about her family, while offensively expressed, had some basis in truth. He had, at considerable embarrassment to himself, risked his friendship with Mr. Bingley to try to make amends for the part he had played in separating Bingley from Jane. His manner and actions toward her and Jane since they arrived at Pemberley had been so altered from what they had previously been. He had been kind, gracious and solicitous, and she was touched that he was so willing to risk his heart a second time. He, the Master of Pemberley, who could have had any woman in England, wanted her and no one else.

"He loves me," she whispered. "I love him, too."

She went down to breakfast, only to be told Mr. Darcy was in the library. Disregarding any notion of propriety, she went to find him. "I love him ," she thought, "and I want to ease the pain in his heart ."

His back was to her as he reached for a book on an upper shelf. She admired the fine figure he presented, his fitted clothing outlining his strong, toned body. She remembered how right it had felt, that night outside her bedchamber, when he held her in his arms. She felt suddenly weak at his closeness and their solitude in the room.

Darcy turned around as Elizabeth closed the door behind her. She was breathing audibly, her lips parted, and when he looked into her eyes, she just nodded and smiled.

"Oh, Lizzy...Lizzy..." he said, rapidly crossing the room and pulling her to him. But then he pulled away and shook his head.

" like this! I will do it right this time, Miss Bennet."

And with those words, he knelt at her feet and reached up to take both her hands in his.

"My dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. I adore you. I will do anything to make you happy. If you can but love me one small fraction of how much I love you, I will be the happiest man on earth.

"I was not worthy of you in April. My manner and my words at that time were unpardonable, I cannot think of them without abhorrence. I may never be worthy of you, but I will strive to be every day of my life. When you arrived here at Pemberley, I felt like the Lord had smiled upon me and given me a second chance, and all I have thought of since then is winning your love. Your every smile, your every touch, has encouraged me to go on.

"If your feelings are what they were last April, please tell me so at once. My love for you has grown, and I hope matured, since then. And if you have come to care for me, even a little, but are not yet ready to unite yourself to me, I will persevere for as long as it may require, even if it is until the end of my days.

"I told you last night, Elizabeth, but I will tell you again. I love you, and I want you for my wife, as long as we both shall live."

Elizabeth had begun to cry soon after Darcy began his impassioned speech.

"A simple 'yes' seems inadequate after such a proposal, but I will say it anyway. I love you, Fitzwilliam, and I consent to be your wife."

Hearing the words "I love you " from Elizabeth Bennet marked the happiest moment of Fitzwilliam Darcy's life. He responded in the way any young man of passionate disposition who was so violently in love might, by rising to his feet and closing the small distance between himself and the object of his passion.

"Tell me you want me, Elizabeth," he whispered.

"Oh Fitzwilliam," she answered breathlessly. "I thought you knew. I wanted you even before I loved you."

Any embarrassment Elizabeth might have felt by making such an unladylike admission was quelled by Darcy's response. He put one arm around her waist, the other behind her neck and pressed his body up against hers. His mouth descended on hers and urged it open, his tongue mingling with hers.

Elizabeth only pulled away when she could no longer breathe.

"Marry me today," Darcy demanded.

"You know that is impossible, sir," Elizabeth said with a smile.

"Tomorrow then, Lizzy, I can't wait another moment for you," Darcy responded, before he reclaimed her mouth.

Pressed up closely against his imposing figure, Elizabeth clearly felt the impressive bulge of his manliness. Almost unconsciously, her legs parted, and with a moan, Darcy swept up her skirts so that he might give her some foreknowledge of the pleasure that would await her as his wife.

"Good God, Fitzwilliam!"she exclaimed, when he lifted her to him so that he could rub against her where it would delight her most. "I will have to marry you today if we continue in this manner!"

With that, Darcy lifted her in his arms and carried her to the large overstuffed armchair facing the hearth. He sat himself down, Elizabeth facing him on his lap, her skirts about her waist so that only a thin undergarment separated her from the considerable protrusion in his breeches. Elizabeth rubbed herself against him in a frenzied manner, unable to control or understand the overwhelming sensations that were holding her body captive. Darcy himself was so gratified and stunned by her impassioned responses to him that when she reached climax and stifled her moans by biting his shoulder, he was unable to control his own spending, somewhat to his embarrassment.

Elizabeth, feeling faint from hunger and exertion, clung to him in astonishment.

"What just happened?" she whispered.

Darcy smiled at her innocence.

"Did you like it, Elizabeth?"

"I am afraid I liked it rather too much , sir!"

"Good. It is something that will happen very often after we are married, Elizabeth, in even more pleasurable a manner!"

When Elizabeth finally stood, she stared down at his lap.

"You are all wet, sir! I suppose I am responsible for that?"
Darcy laughed aloud at that as he pulled her back down into his lap for a long, gentle kiss.

"In good part, Elizabeth. But I feel I must take the greater blame in this matter."

Chapter 9

Having avoided Darcy's touch for so many days, now that she had allowed it, Elizabeth could not, it seemed, get enough of it.

For his part, Darcy was delighted at her allowing him to hold her so closely. Fearing she would slip away, he was loath to release her.

And so it was a circumstance agreeable to both, she atop his knee in the relative privacy of the library, her arms about his neck, his arms wrapped around her waist. How Darcy wished he could will the others in the house to disappear so that he could take her to his bed directly and marry her tomorrow, or the next day, assuming he could will himself to leave their bed long enough to make the necessary arrangements!

He wasn't thinking rationally, and he cared not. He was crazy with love, crazy with lust. Being conventional, worrying about society's good opinion: that was how he had operated in the past, and it had almost ruined his life.

"I love you," he whispered. "I believe I was born to love you, that I spent the first eight and twenty years of my life waiting for you, do you understand me, Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth wanted to make some witty response, but she had no opportunity, as Darcy would not allow her to speak. He seemed to want nothing more tonight than to tell her he loved her, then show her how much he loved her by kissing her so hard and for so long a time that her lips were red and swollen. She gave up trying to speak and surrendered to his will.

"Tell me," he said, during one of the rare interludes when he paused kissing her to take air into his lungs, "when did you begin to love me?"

Elizabeth looked pensive.

"I cannot be sure, sir, but I believe I must date it upon first seeing your beautiful grounds here at Pemberley."

For a moment, Darcy looked stricken, until Elizabeth, unable to contain her glee at having teased him so successfully, burst into laughter.

Darcy suppressed a grin, and shook his head at her.

"You continue to tease me mercilessly, Miss Bennet. I believe you must be silenced," and now it was Darcy who was merciless, easing her onto the floor and lying atop her, pressing the length of his body against hers as he commenced kissing her again.

Elizabeth moaned and arched upwards. Darcy's suggestion that they marry hastily seemed more and more logical to her, as she felt what little control she had over her senses slipping away. One of his hands was down the front of her bodice, cradling her bare breast, the other tangled in her curls beneath her head on the floor. He was grinding his pelvis against her, nudging her legs apart with each upward thrust, as he nibbled at her earlobe, then whispered hotly, "I believe I have much to recommend me, Miss Bennet, besides the grounds at Pemberley, do you agree?"

"Most certainly, sir," she whispered. "Your charms are many."

"Enumerate them for me, Lizzy," he demanded, his hand playing with her nipple.

"Oh, so I am 'Lizzy" now, sir?"

"When I am lying atop you, yes, you will always be 'Lizzy," he said, a gleam in his eyes.

"Then I must count that among your charms, William. Your calling me 'Lizzy' will always bring to mind how delightful it feels when your body is pressed against mine."

"Then I shall remember to call you 'Lizzy' often when we are married. Continue, Lizzy."


"Yes, pray continue. Your skill has always been considerable in listing my faults, Elizabeth, I now demand the same attention be paid to enumerating my attributes."

Darcy spoke with good humor, but Elizabeth sensed a real insecurity behind his words.

She stroked the curls back from his forehead.

"The hardness of your body. The warmth of your lips. The softness in your eyes when you look at me. I do love you so, Fitzwilliam."

The happiness her words produced exceeded any he had ever felt before, and Darcy's heartfelt joy was written clearly on his face.

"I did not..." he began, then paused. "I did not think it possible I would ever hear those words from you, Lizzy," he whispered huskily, overcome with emotion.

Elizabeth, sensing he was unable to continue speaking, opened her lips most invitingly so that Darcy could employ his mouth in a more agreeable activity.

After he had kissed her thoroughly, Darcy rolled off her and onto his back. He pulled her towards him, holding her tightly to him. He was so hard and aroused it was painful. While the physical manifestation of Elizabeth's passion was not so evident, she, too, felt a desperate need for completion.
"I cannot wait any longer for you, Lizzy, or I will go mad," Darcy said.

Elizabeth bit her lip and peered up at him through long lashes.

"Must we wait, Fitzwilliam?"

"I thought..." he began awkwardly. "That is to say, I assumed that would be your wish, Elizabeth."

"We must certainly should wait, William. But I fear that I..."

"Fear that what, Lizzy?" he asked, his eyes evilly sweeping up and down her body.

"I fear that I lack...I lack control," she said finally, looking up at him defiantly.

"I like your lack of control, Lizzy," he said, kissing her softly. "I like it very well indeed."

He slipped his hand under her skirts, lightly stroking her between her legs with one long finger.

"May I come to you tonight then, my beloved Lizzy?"

"Yes. Oh yes, yes, please!"

Chapter 10

It was a very long day for everyone at Pemberley, for different reasons.

Jane and Bingley were nearly inseparable. They sat together at breakfast and luncheon and walked the grounds for hours, but Bingley was still hesitant about speaking to her seriously about his intentions. He was still unsure of her sentiments, as the seeds of doubt originally planted in him by his sister and Darcy were difficult to dispel.

Jane, as all her friends and relations knew, never found it easy to display her feelings. Darcy, in particular, had been misled by her cool, calm demeanour. However, it was now in his own best interests for Jane and Bingley to come to an understanding, as he wanted both Bingley's forgiveness and continued friendship, and the goodwill from Elizabeth's family that would come from such a union. He was painfully aware that the Bennets, indeed all of Hertfordshire, preferred Bingley to himself, and becoming more closely associated with the Bennet family through a marriage between his closest friend and Jane Bennet would improve his reputation immeasurably.

And, of course, his fondest wish was to make Elizabeth happy, and to make her his wife.

Caroline Bingley was eaten up with jealousy at the obvious affection that was growing between Darcy and Elizabeth. Had she been aware of the assignation they had planned for the coming evening, she would have taken pleasure in exposing their illicit union to all! Lizzy, perhaps even more so than Darcy, knew it would behoove them to proceed cautiously when near Caroline Bingley!

Georgiana was growing impatient. She wanted her brother and Elizabeth to marry, and the sooner the better! Her heart was gladdened by her brother's happiness and she was thankful to Elizabeth for the tenderness and compassion she saw etched on her face when she regarded Fitzwilliam. Her brother's wounded heart was healing in the glow of Elizabeth's love.

For Darcy and Elizabeth, the day was interminable. In many ways, this night would be their wedding night, without the benefit of formal vows. Darcy, for all his lustfulness, questioned the advisability of their plans more than did Elizabeth. Elizabeth, once her mind was made up, proceeded with no hesitation; Darcy felt she was under his care, and he did not want her reputation besmirched.

Dinner was at 7. Six young people, all of them with so much to contemplate, dined together. Elizabeth and Darcy ate very little, as they were consumed with thoughts about their planned assignation. They were seated next to each other, and Darcy intentionally touched his knee to hers, and the physical contact, slight though it was, sent a pleasant heat radiating throughout her body. She wanted him, wanted him desperately, and had they been alone in the dining room, she would have taken him by the hand and led him directly upstairs to her bedchamber.

As they sipped coffee, Bingley leaned forward to whisper in Jane's ear and she smiled and nodded. They left the room together, without even bothering to excuse themselves. Lizzy caught Darcy's eye and smiled hopefully as Caroline Bingley seethed!

When they returned just minutes later, Bingley was beaming and Jane was flushed with happiness.

"You must all congratulate me," Bingley exclaimed. "Miss Bennet has consented to be my wife!"

Lizzy immediately flew to them, embracing Jane and congratulating Bingley. Darcy hung back for a moment, still unsure of his reception.

But now that Bingley's happiness was assured, he was in a most forgiving mood.

"Darcy, are you not going to wish us well?"

"Bingley, know I wish you both all the happiness in the world!"

He stepped forward to shake Bingley's hand, and was both shocked and pleased to be enveloped in a most enthusiastic hug! He was indeed fortunate to have such a friend, and contemplated how close he had come to losing his friendship.

"And I only wish you equal felicity, my friend, and as soon as possible," Bingley replied meaningfully.

Caroline offered immediate, if entirely insincere, felicitations to the newly engaged couple. She wisely realized that her brother's mind was made up and that Darcy approved of the match, even though he had opposed it in the past nearly as vehemently as she did. There was no sense in persisting in an obviously hopeless battle.

What worried her far more was the ease and intimacy she sensed between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy. Georgiana Darcy sensed it as well, but she made no secret of her approval.

"I am so happy for both of you, Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley. It seems that romance is in the air tonight, is it not?" she said, casting a sly glance in her brother's direction. Mr. Darcy shook his head at her in disapproval, but the ghost of a smile was playing on his lips.

A blissfully happy couple, an embittered young woman, and a hopeful younger sister retired for the evening. Another couple, for whom the night held the promise of love and longing fulfilled, lingered just a bit longer.

Darcy stared into Elizabeth's eyes, and raised her hand to his lips.

"Are you certain, Lizzy?"

"Quite," she responded simply.

Darcy looked up at the clock above the mantle. "It is 10:30. Sometime after midnight, when all is still, I will come to you. I will understand if even then you change your mind, Elizabeth."

She smiled, lips parted and shook her head. "I shall not change my mind, Fitzwilliam. I have never wanted anything more than I want to be with you tonight. I want to be yours."

"You will be mine, Lizzy. Mine forever, from this night forward. I want all of you. Your body, your mind, your heart. I have always been yours, heart and soul, from the moment I laid eyes upon you."

Reluctantly, he let go of her hand and watched from the foot of the stairs as she went up to her bedchamber. It was all he could do to prevent himself from following close behind her and carrying her off to bed, the thought of even another two hours' wait unbearable.

He sat and poured himself a snifter of brandy, hoping the spirits would fortify his courage. What kind of gentleman was he, to even consider bedding the woman he loved more than life itself before their marriage? He closed his eyes and saw his Lizzy, saw her calm certainty that what they were doing tonight was right and fitting. Being loved and trusted by Elizabeth Bennet was the greatest gift he had ever been given, and the union they would achieve tonight would be a tribute to their love. Yes, they would marry, as soon as possible, but their passion was so strong that there was nothing for it but to consummate it this very night. The usual progression of love, marriage and conjugal union would be in a different order for them than it was for others, but had not their relationship always been unconventional?

She wanted me, he remembered dreamily, even before she knew she loved me. Just thinking of her provocative words aroused him, and he was hard and throbbing and ready for her. Knowing fulfillment was near, he allowed his mind to wander randily, and pictured her lying in her bed this very moment.

Was she thinking of him? Touching herself, perhaps, and imagining they were his hands giving her pleasure? Absent-mindedly, he began to stroke himself lightly over his breeches, and imagined her soft, small hands unbuttoning his breeches and caressing him lovingly.

Oh, Lizzy, he moaned. Another half hour, I cannot wait any longer!

Lizzy, dressed in her nightgown with her hair streaming down her back, lay on her bed. The room was illuminated by a single candle, and she thought of her Darcy, no doubt impatiently sitting downstairs willing the time to pass. When finally he came, a soft knock on the door his only signal, she arose and opened the door.

He stood there, lightly flushed with spirits and carnal arousal, his eyes searing into hers.

"I know I told you earlier that you could change your mind, Lizzy," he said, biting his lower lip. "I retract that statement. Being here, in your room, beholding you thus, there is no turning back. I must have you, Lizzy. I must."

"Lock the door," she said, and when he complied she put her arms around his neck. He lifted her into his arms, and lowered his lips onto hers, kissing her as he carried her to bed.

Her hands were all over him, pulling at his shirt and the buttons on his breeches. She let out a low moan at the sight of his manhood, stiff and proud and pulsating with the need of her. He lifted her gown up and over her head, then ran his fingers through the length of her abundant curls.

"So beautiful," he whispered. "Even beyond my imagination. My God, how I love you, Lizzy."

She lay back on the bed, limbs splayed, heart and body wide open to him. He kissed her lips, her neck, then took her nipple into his mouth, rolling it between his teeth. He wanted to taste all of her, wanted to make her hot and slick and ready for him, so that when he entered her, the pain would be minimized. His tongue teased her, lapped at her navel, then he parted her thighs and began to lick her, flicking his tongue, little teasing strokes followed by long, langorous ones, back to front. He dipped his tongue inside her, while tapping her clitoris lightly with his thumb, then to vary the sensation, tongue and hand changed places as he licked her sensitive spot while entering her, slow in-and-out thrusts, with one long, thick finger.

Elizabeth felt as though she were floating outside her own body as he took her almost to the peak, then down again. From some faraway place she thought she should be doing something for him, something that would give him pleasure such as that he was giving her.

"Please let me, Fitzwilliam, please..."

"What, Lizzy? What shall I let you do?"

"Look at you. Touch you. Taste you."

He obliged her, straddling her, knees on either side of her chest. Her eyes rested on his manhood, thick and long and temptingly close to her mouth. She chose to take him in her hand first, wrapping her fingers around it and stroking him, watching his face for his reaction.

His response was immediate and gratifying. He closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.

"Is that alright, Fitzwilliam? Am I giving you pleasure?"

"Oh God, yes Elizabeth. Yes!"

"Tell me what you want."

"Rub the tip," he whispered.

She did so, moving her thumb in slow, gentle circles, and felt him begin to leak a silky liquid. She wished it were not so dark in the room. She wanted to see it.

"May I taste you, William?"

He was beyond speaking, and only nodded, moving closer to give access to her mouth.

She braced her hands against his backside, and opened her mouth as wide as she could, pulling him towards her. The sensation of her warm lips surrounding him and the steady contractions of her mouth as she began to suckle him made him fear he would spend immediately!

"Slowly, Elizabeth. Ohhh, yes...that's sweet love."

He was so swollen now that her mouth could hardly contain him.

"I want you inside me, William," she pleaded, and he positioned himself between her legs, then took her ankles into his hands to place her legs around his waist.

He began to ease himself into her, first just the head, prodding teasingly so as to thoroughly prepare her. With each subsequent thrust, he entered just a bit more deeply, just another inch. Finally, when she was so wet and aroused that it was she who demanded more, desperately trying to pull him into her, he entered her totally, with one long, hard thrust, pushing past the last physical barrier that prevented the total union of their bodies.

"There, Elizabeth," he said, thrusting in and out, punctuating each thrust with a word or two of ownership. "There. You are mine. Finally. Do you understand me, Lizzy? Only mine."

Elizabeth's orgasm began, and he felt it nearly as strongly as she did, the contractions stimulating him beyond any pleasure he had ever felt before. She was so tight, so wet, grabbing at him, milking him, and he gave himself over to her. He was totally lost, totally hers, he was where he belonged, inside her, he didn't know how he would ever bear to leave her this night.

They climaxed together, perfectly attuned to each other, and they both knew this love of theirs would be forever.

"Don't leave me," she said, turning onto her side, as he pressed up against her back, his manhood rubbing up against her bottom. They drifted in and out of sleep, and more than once during the night he felt himself stiffen, and he would ease back inside her. If she felt him soften, she would press back against him until he once again grew hard. On one occasion they just drifted off to sleep thus connected; on another he thrust in and out of her until they were both spent. Oddly, they took equal amounts of pleasure from both circumstances.

They knew not what the morning would bring nor when they would have an opportunity such as the one they had tonight. So while they knew on one level that the sensible course of action would be to separate, for Darcy to return to his own bed while the other occupants of the house still slept, on another they knew that a more perfect union of man and woman than the one they shared could not exist and to disrupt it would be sacrilege.

So Darcy and Lizzy spent the entirety of the night together. They would awaken much as they had fallen asleep: naked, lying like spoons, he behind her, his manhood nestled between her legs, his mouth at the back of her neck, his arms around her, hands cupping her breasts possessively.

They could not know that the next day would be a difficult one, in many ways.

Chapter 11

Darcy awakened first.

Still pressed up close behind Elizabeth, he whispered hotly into her ear.

"You must allow me," he said, pausing to kiss the back of her neck, "to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Pardon me if I repeat myself, Lizzy."

"It appears my impertinence is rubbing off on you, sir," she responded, delighted at how easily Darcy had learned to tease her.

"Just one more sin for which you will have to answer, madam. When we are married, you will redeem yourself daily."

In an instant, he turned her onto her back and was atop her; in another, inside her. How beautiful she was, he thought, as he began to thrust, ever so slowly. Dawn was breaking, and as he knew not when he would have the opportunity to have her again, he wanted to savour the sweetness of her body for as long as possible.

"No long engagements, Elizabeth. Marry me. Soon," he demanded, as his thrusting increased in speed and urgency.

Her arms around his neck, she lifted her mouth to him to be kissed, then wrapped her legs tightly around his waist.

"William...William...I would marry you today if it were possible. Oh my love, my love, what you do to me!"

"And you to me, Lizzy. I know not how I will bear to leave you this morning. Oh God, Lizzy..." and his voice trailed off as they both experienced such rapture they could no longer think of anything save the sensations that had overtaken their bodies. Elizabeth's head rolled from side as her body stiffened in orgasm, and Darcy cried out as he soon followed.

Darcy stayed atop her, but braced himself on his elbows so he could stare down at her.

Elizabeth reached up to stroke his stubbled cheek.
"I want to memorize your face as it is this morning, William, for I know not when I will see it again."

"You will see it over breakfast, Elizabeth, although you may have to look away so as not to blush in front of the others," he answered, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"No, no...I mean as you look now. I am rather enjoying this picture of you, all disheveled and wild and unshaven, sir."

"Never tell a man you prefer him unshaven, Elizabeth, or he may never shave again!"

Elizabeth grabbed at his hair and pulled his head down to kiss him.

"Perhaps I am learning to like you in your more uncivilised state, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth said, trying to repress her laughter, but not quite succeeding.

Darcy sighed.

"Alas, civilisation beckons, Elizabeth. I am afraid we must dress and try to part without being detected. But I am warning you: When you return to Longbourn I shall accompany you. I intend to speak to your father at the earliest opportunity!"

He dressed quickly, sensing that others would soon be awakening. After one last kiss, he made his way to the door of her bedchamber and paused before leaving, looking at her longingly.

"Lizzy, I live for the day when I may stay in your bed the entire day if we so choose."

"We shall scandalise the household, sir!" Elizabeth exclaimed in mock horror.

"You may count on it, Elizabeth. And if you don't cease looking at me in that impertinent manner, the scandal may begin at this moment," he growled.

"I shall do my best to be proper and demure, Mr. Darcy, at least until the next time I have you in my bed," Elizabeth replied daringly.

Darcy laughed. "I surrender, Elizabeth, I have no answer to surpass yours! I shall look forward to seeing you at breakfast."

His expression turned serious before he left. "I adore you, Lizzy. And I shall, forever."

Elizabeth's eyes filled as she looked at him. "Well, Mr. Darcy, I have no impertinent answer to that. All I can say is that I adore you, too."

Elizabeth forced herself to look away, for she knew that in another moment, she would be on her feet, luring him back to bed, and today, that could not be. But they parted with the same thought: Soon.
Elizabeth lingered in her bath, her body sore in places she never knew it could be! Remembering the night's (and the morning's!) delights, she found her fingers straying between her legs beneath the water, and she unashamedly stimulated herself, eyes closed, thinking of Darcy making love to her, of his whiskered face rubbing against her breasts and the inside of her thighs. She was quite lost in this pleasurable activity when she heard some commotion downstairs, and then the sound of footsteps on the stairs, then outside her chamber.

She regretfully ceased her unladylike activities and left the bath, wrapping herself in a robe, and was shocked when the door to her chamber flew open, revealing Jane, with Miss Bingley close behind her.

"Oh Lizzy, Lizzy," Jane cried. You must dress, quickly! We have had some dreadful news from home, it is Lydia, she has..."

Jane could not continue, and burst into tears.

"Your sister has run away from Brighton with Mr. Wickham, Miss Bennet," Miss Bingley said, with no small amount of triumph in her tone of voice.

Her eyes swept the room, taking in the sight of Elizabeth's nightdress lying inside out on the floor, the rumpled sheets and, finally, Mr. Darcy's cravat thrown carelessly over the bedpost! She said nothing, but Elizabeth saw her meaningful glance.

"Miss Bingley, will you please leave me alone with my sister? I fear these are matters that must be discussed in private."

"Certainly, Miss Bennet. Shall I tell Mr. Darcy that you will be needing the carriage?"

"Thank you, no, Miss Bingley. I shall speak to Mr. Darcy myself."

After Miss Bingley departed, Jane and Lizzy embraced.

"Oh, Lizzy," said Jane. "How shall we bear such disgrace?"

"It is not only our family that will be disgraced, Jane. I am certain that Miss Bingley is triumphing over our misfortune, and will speak of it to her brother and to Mr. Darcy."

"Mr. Darcy? How will he be disgraced by this, Lizzy?"

"We are engaged, or I should say, we would have been after he speaks to our father. But now...I don't see how we can ever marry, Jane."

"But Lizzy, surely, Lydia and Wickham will marry! Father and Uncle Gardiner are on their way to London searching for them even as we speak."

"You think far better of Wickham than I do, Jane. He is a scoundrel of the worst sort."

Elizabeth dressed as they spoke, wondering just how far Miss Bingley would go to discredit her. Jane, in her innocence, did not notice the evidence of the night of passion Elizabeth had spent with Mr. Darcy, but Miss Bingley did notice and was surely suspicious.

When they arrived downstairs, the first sight that greeted Elizabeth was Mr. Darcy, his face pale with anger as Miss Bingley spoke to him.

Our marriage can never be, she thought sadly. All his worst fears of my family have been proven true.

Chapter 12

Elizabeth would soon be ashamed of even thinking Mr. Darcy would no longer consider their marriage feasible. His reaction upon seeing her was swift and heartwarming.

He took both her hands in his as Miss Bingley seethed.

"Elizabeth, I must go away to London, immediately, to join your father and uncle in searching for your sister. Much as I abhor the idea of your sister being permanently joined to that man, I am afraid there is nothing else for it!"

"You take too much upon yourself, Mr. Darcy," said Miss Bingley with a sneer.

Darcy turned slowly to look at her.

"No, I do not. Miss Bennet and I are engaged to be married. Lydia Bennet is to be my sister, and as such, she is subject to my protection!"

Georgiana swiftly crossed the room to place her hand on her brother's arm. She raised her chin and looked defiantly at Caroline Bingley.

"And she will be my sister as well!"

Caroline laughed derisively.

"And Wickham will be your brother! How lovely for all of you!"

Georgiana paled and looked at Darcy, who shook his head at her almost imperceptibly.

She gathered all her courage before continuing.

"If having George Wickham as my brother is the price I must pay for the joy Miss Bennet has given my brother and myself, then it is a price I will gladly pay."

Caroline could hardly contain herself.

"Oh yes, Miss Bennet has brought much joy to your brother, much in the same manner that Lydia Bennet has brought it to Wickham. Are you missing your cravat, Mr. Darcy?"

Darcy, not knowing her meaning, did not respond.

But his valet, standing quietly in the corner, coughed.

"If you are indeed missing a cravat, Sir, I believe I may be of assistance. One of your cravats was apparently folded within the bedclothes when the laundering was taken inside by one of the housemaids. She noticed it while making up the beds and put it over the bedpost, intending to give it to me later. She apparently neglected to do so, and when she realized her omission, everyone had already retired for the evening."

After finishing this remarkable unsolicited speech, the longest Darcy had ever heard him utter, he looked impassively at Miss Bingley.

Darcy and Elizabeth simultaneously realized the implications of Caroline's comment and the valet's response.

"Thank you, Lewis," Darcy said meaningfully.

Lewis merely nodded. He knew better than any other how Miss Bennet's absence had agonized Darcy and how her loving presence had revived him. And while he may not have approved of Darcy's tryst with Miss Bennet the preceding night, he emphatically approved of Miss Bennet!

"I am ashamed of you, Caroline," Mr. Bingley said sorrowfully. "I will not allow you to insult my fiancee and her family any longer. If you cannot be civil, perhaps you should remove yourself from our presence."

Without another word, Caroline left the room.

Bingley smiled at Darcy and Elizabeth.

"I am overjoyed that the two of you have found your way to each other."

Elizabeth's joy was tainted, however, by Lydia's predicament. She looked earnestly at Darcy.

"Sir, I...if you no longer feel that you can be connected..."

Darcy looked shocked.

"What on earth are you saying, Elizabeth?"

"That in light of the disgrace facing my family, you need not feel obligated to..."

"Obligated? Do you think it is obligation that binds me to you?"

Darcy, normally the most private of men, seemed to have forgotten there were others in the room.

Elizabeth began to weep, and Darcy immediately enfolded her in his arms.

"I could kill Wickham at this moment. He has hurt so many people that I love. But listen to me, Elizabeth. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could dissuade me from marrying you. Do you understand?"

She nodded, her head buried in his chest.

"Good. I don't want to hear another word about it, Elizabeth. If you are to be my wife, it is time you learned to not only love and honour, but obey."

She pulled away to look at him and was relieved to see the barely suppressed merriment in his eyes.

Georgiana, Jane and Bingley couldn't help but laugh with Darcy. Jane thought to herself that Elizabeth may have finally met her match in Darcy, and that it would be interesting to watch!

"Shall I come with you to London, Darcy?" Bingley asked.

"No, I think it best you remain behind with the ladies, Bingley. I am hopeful my business can be completed within a week. The sooner all this is resolved, the sooner we will all find our happiness."

"I assumed that I, at least, would accompany you, Sir," Elizabeth said.

"Absolutely not, Elizabeth. I want all of you as far from Wickham as possible."

"But if he and Lydia are married..." Elizabeth began.

"Yes, I fully realize that after their marriage, we may be in their company. But he will not earn the right to be near anyone I love until he has done at least one honourable thing, in marrying your sister. And on that point, I will not be swayed, Miss Bennet!"

Elizabeth wisely realized she could not press the matter and nodded. She leaned closer to him and whispered, "I capitulate, Sir."

Darcy realized her meaning and could not help but be aroused at the memory of her "capitulation" the previous night. He evilly allowed his eyes to briefly sweep down the length of her body, and his heated glance was seen only by her.

"I must go now, Elizabeth. But I will be back soon."

"I am counting on it, Mr. Darcy."

He readied himself to leave, and Elizabeth followed him into the hall. When Darcy was quite sure they were not visible to the other occupants of the house, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, passionately and thoroughly. Elizabeth, crushed so tightly against him that she could clearly feel the outline of his hard arousal, forced her tongue between his lips. When he finally broke the kiss, she looked up at him questioningly.

"Are we any better than Wickham and Lydia?"

Darcy could not fault her for asking such a question, but he did his best to answer her convincingly.

"Yes, Elizabeth, we most assuredly are. I adore you, and you have promised yourself to me. What we have together has been hard won, and if you ever left me, I would be lost. I could marry no other, because in my heart, you are my wife before man and before God."

"You humble me, Fitzwilliam."

They kissed again, lingeringly, as they both knew it would be some days before they would meet again.

"Good-bye, Elizabeth. Keep me close to your heart." He lowered his voice. "And keep my cravat under your pillow."

Elizabeth smiled.

"You may count on it, Sir. Thank you, on behalf of all my family, and God bless you."

Chapter 13

Elizabeth slept fitfully that night, her cheek resting upon Darcy's cravat, which she had placed atop her pillow. His scent still lingered in its fabric, and she tried to imagine the man himself was in her bed, as he had been the previous night. Having spent just one night with him lying beside her, she knew she would not know complete happiness until he lay beside her every night, his arms encircling her.

She wondered how she had ever thought so ill of him. How quickly he had risen to her defense, and her heart swelled as she thought of him venturing to London in search of her sister and a man he detested. She knew how distasteful he must find the task of wandering through the bowels of the city where someone of Wickham's ilk would conceal himself, and she knew he did it for her, simply because he loved her.

When Elizabeth awakened in the morning, she reached out to stroke the pillow, remembering how his dear face had looked. How fervently she wished for his presence, if for no other reason than she wanted to assure him of her love.

She decided that she would make every effort this day to be kind to Caroline Bingley, if only to make matters more pleasant for Jane and Charles. Breakfast was awkward, Miss Bingley more silent than usual, and Elizabeth's attempts to include her in the conversation were met with indifference. Charles realized that Elizabeth's efforts were on his behalf, and he was grateful for them. But even his jovial manner was not enough to coax Caroline out of her displeasure over Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement.

Elizabeth passed much of the ensuing days outdoors, taking long walks either alone or with Jane and Georgiana around the park in Pemberley. This paradise would soon be her home. She was impressed with its beauty, but she was even more impressed with the beauty of its owner's heart, his love more important to her than any stately home or worldly possessions she would acquire.

By the end of the fifth day without his presence, she was pining for him. It was nearly 10 p.m. and she was almost ready to retire for the evening, when she heard the sound of a carriage outside. With no thought of propriety, she ran to the door, and when she saw Darcy emerging from the carriage, she hurried into his arms. He held her tightly, his lips buried in her hair. He put his arm about her shoulder and said, "Come inside, love, I have much to tell you."

Elizabeth settled herself next to him on the divan and reached up to lovingly stroke his stubbled cheek. He looked so weary, so serious.

"Oh, Lizzy," he said sadly, tears in his eyes. "They are married, there was nothing else to be done."

"Thank you, William," she said softly. "I know this is all your doing."

"No, no. Don't thank me! It was with a heavy heart that I watched them wed, Elizabeth...he is such a man! Lydia is but a little girl, no older than my own sister, and her youthful indiscretions have cost her dearly. To spend the rest of her life joined to might have been my own sister, had circumstances been different. I take no joy in this Lizzy. No joy whatsoever."

He looked so distraught that Elizabeth took pity on him. She put her arms around him and drew him closer. He let out a deep sigh and rested his head on her shoulder, kissing her neck and whispering her name.

"Oh, how I wish we were married, William! It seems so cruel to have to be separated tonight."

"I've spoken to your father, Lizzy. He required some convincing, you may have to assure him I am not such an ogre after all!"

"That should be easy, dearest," Elizabeth said. "All he need see is how I look at you to know how much I love you."

"Lizzy," he said seriously. "I've acquired a special license. We can be married in as little as two weeks, if you are agreeable. I...I do not want to wait, Lizzy. I have lived far too long without you."

"Oh, yes, yes, I am agreeable, Sir," she replied. "I would marry you today, were it possible. Even two weeks seems an eternity."

"I am overjoyed to hear it, Lizzy. I did not know how much pomp and ceremony you would require in a wedding, or how much time it would take to arrange. Two weeks' preparation will be sufficient?"

She smiled.

"More than sufficient, William. A dress, a church, a curate and the people who love us to witness. I require nothing else!"

Darcy was both touched and gratified that his intended bride expressed her desires so simply, and that her love for him was more important than any material concerns. He was a man who had often been revered for his wealth and possessions and here, at last, was a woman who wanted him for what he was, not what he owned.

"And a bed, Elizabeth," he whispered hoarsely. "We will require a bed, and a locked door, and several days alone."

He kissed her, his lips soft and warm against hers, and what started as a gentle, loving touch soon became something more urgent and demanding. His impassioned moans aroused all Elizabeth's senses, and she pressed her body hard against his.

"Oh, have mercy on me, Lizzy," Darcy cried, finding it more and more difficult to restrain his passion. "Damn convention, damn propriety, I don't know how I will be able to sleep without you."

Elizabeth eyes, wide and trusting, looked into his.

"This is your home, William, it is for you to decide what is best. I am at your disposal."

"Bless you for that, my dearest. But I cannot again risk exposing you to censure, we both know there are suspicions about us already. Tomorrow, Lizzy, we will walk outside together, dare I hope we can walk to some remote part of the estate alone?"

"I am an excellent walker, Sir," Elizabeth said teasingly. "I assure you I will keep up with your pace."

"Oh, I am counting on that, Lizzy. Let me escort you upstairs now, I have kept you up late enough."

He followed close behind her on the stairs, his hand on her shoulder. He whispered, "When we are married, I will carry you to bed, Lizzy."

"Do you not think I will accompany you willingly, Sir?" Elizabeth asked with a flirtatious smile. "In fact, I dare say I would accompany you willingly this very night."

"What a temptation you are, Miss Lizzy. Tomorrow I will be only too happy to test your willingness!"

With these seductive words, Darcy delivered Elizabeth to her bedchamber.

"Will you kiss me good night, Fitzwilliam?"

Darcy was only too willing to grant her request, and Elizabeth fell asleep with the memory of his lips upon hers.

Chapter 14

The next morning dawned full of promise, and Lizzy hurried through her toilette, anxious to see Darcy again. He, apparently, was even more eager than she, because when she arrived downstairs, he was already at table waiting for her. Except for the servants, they were alone.

"If we eat breakfast quickly, Lizzy," he whispered conspiratorially, "we need not waste time conversing with anyone else. I need you, most urgently!"

Elizabeth giggled as Darcy wolfed down his muffins and tea.

"Surely, Sir, a strapping gentleman like yourself requires more than that in the way of nourishment!"

Darcy put his face close to hers, his eyes burning.

"My most pressing hunger, Madam, will be better satisfied beyond the view of others. Quickly now, before Jane and Bingley come down."
He extended his hand to her and pulled her most unceremoniously to her feet.

"You may take something to eat with you if you like."

"That is most generous of you, William," she said with a smile.

Her cloak was hanging on a rack in the hallway and Darcy hastily threw it over her shoulders and hurried her out the door.

Luckily it was a sunny, mild morning, perfect for an extended walk outdoors. And walk they did, far into the park, until they were a good distance from the house. Darcy wasted no time in pulling Elizabeth into his arms, holding her tightly against his body, and depositing a lingering kiss on her mouth.

"I can barely catch my breath, William!" Elizabeth exclaimed.

"Good. Good. I want to take your breath away, Lizzy," he responded, bringing his mouth down upon hers once again. He removed her cloak and spread it out underneath a nearby shade tree and said "Do not worry yourself about being chilled, Lizzy, I will keep you warm in a very pleasing manner."

"Whatever can you mean, Sir?"

He put his mouth close to her ear and bit her earlobe lightly before whispering, "From the inside out, love."

He pulled back to look at her face, a mischievious grin on his lips.

"Ah, finally, madam, I have you at a loss for words. And you blush so prettily, Lizzy, but you do not fool me with your maidenly blushes. I know what a wanton you truly are, and how I adore you for it!"

"This is highly improper," Lizzy said, trying mightily to keep a serious countenance, but ultimately she failed, dissolving in giggles.

"Yes, most improper," Darcy mumbled, laying her down upon the cloak, then lowering himself atop her. "You must remember to inform me when the impropriety of it all is too much for you, Lizzy."

"Now?" he asked, kissing her hungrily, his body pressed hard against hers.

", not yet. You may continue."

"And now," grinding his hardness into her pelvis.

"Oh not stop. There is nothing improper about that, Sir, nothing at all."

"I am so very glad you see things my way, Lizzy," he whispered, raising himself up to unbutton his breeches and lifting her skirts up to her waist.

"How can I not, when faced with such delightful persuasiveness,"she said seductively, her eyes alighting on the physical manifestation of Darcy's persuasiveness!

Placing his hands under her knees, he parted her legs and pulled her towards him, entering her with a slow thrust.

"Oh, Lizzy, how warm and inviting you are! I will never get enough of you."

"Nor I of you, William. I missed you so while you were away, I dreamed of us joined together as we are now."

"Did you, my love? Oh Lizzy, it makes me wild to know you want me as I want you, tell me, love, tell me how you feel!"

"Like heaven on earth, William, that is how this feels to me, with you inside me, your body fusing with mine. Oh my God William, I cannot bear the pleasure, it is too much," she responded feverishly, her body arching up against his. He felt the hot shudder of her climax beginning, and he thrust more quickly and forcefully so as to take his own pleasure simultaneously with hers.

"I love you Lizzy," he said softly, kissing her face, her chin, her neck. He rolled off her, lying back against the tree and pulling her into his arms, cradling her head against his chest.

"In two weeks, we will be husband and wife, and Pemberley will be your home. Perhaps we shall take a walk such as we did today each morning. I believe I will take you under each and every tree on the grounds, Lizzy!"

"And if it rains, Sir?"

"Hmm...I will spread your cloak on the floor in front of the fire in the drawing room and take you there. Or bend you over an armchair and take you whilst standing behind you. Or sweep you up and carry you up the stairs to bed. Any other saucy questions, Miss Bennet?"

"Yes! Did you speak to my father when you were in London?"

"I most certainly did, and while he expressed some surprise at our engagement, he has given his consent to our marriage. Had he objected, I am afraid I would have been obliged to inform him that your virtue had been compromised and..."

Lizzy lightly slapped his backside in mock indignation, and he caught her hand with his.

"Now, now, Lizzy, there will be none of that! I can easily overpower you, you know!"

She protested, and he proceeded to demonstrate that he could overpower her very easily indeed. Her protests were feeble, however, and gave way to expressions of rapture when her conqueror took his reward in a manner that was most pleasing to them both.

Several hours had passed since they left the house, and they regretfully rearranged their clothing and tidied themselves so that they could prepare to return. It was fortunate that they did so, because the sound of hooves was heard and they were surprised to see Col. Fitzwilliam arriving on horseback.

"Darcy...and Miss Bennet!" he said, evidently surprised at finding them inexplicably sitting under a tree before noon. "What brings you here?"

"I am having breakfast with my fiancee, Fitzwilliam."

"Your fiancee!" the Colonel exclaimed. "I must congratulate you, Darcy," he said, no small amount of jealousy creeping into his tone, which Darcy noted with some satisfaction. Darcy had long suspected the Colonel of having a tendresse for Miss Bennet, and had been dismayed at Lizzy's preference for his easier manner. He put his arm around Elizabeth possessively.

"Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I am the most fortunate of men."

"So, Aunt Catherine was right!" the Colonel said.

Darcy looked puzzled.

"She has long suspected your preference for Miss Bennet, Darcy. In fact, I had to give her a piece of my mind just yesterday when she made a remark about her suspicions regarding your impending engagement. I will not repeat it, as it was a ridiculous insult to both you and Miss Bennet."

Elizabeth smiled. "Come now, Col. Fitzwilliam, I dearly love to laugh at anything ridiculous, and nothing Lady Catherine might say could truly offend me."

The Colonel grimaced. "Oh, just her usual self-importance, Miss Bennet! She spoke of what she called your objectionable relations and asked 'Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?'"

The Colonel was surprised at the exchange of sly glances between his cousin and his fiancee and at their hearty laughter, and didn't hear Darcy's whispered remark to Miss Bennet, "Aunt Catherine should only know what transpired beneath the shades of Pemberley just this morning!"

Chapter 15

It was a most fortunate circumstance that Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding took place just three weeks after their impromptu picnic at Pemberley.

It was a glorious late summer day, the sky a brilliant, cloudless blue. Breaking with tradition, they decided to be wed at the church at Pemberley. Many of those in attendance conjectured that Darcy's pride did not allow him to condescend to be married anywhere else. They would have been scandalized to know his true reason: he wanted to be as close to the marital bed as possible when the festivities had ended! Since their private picnic at Pemberley, he and Elizabeth had had no opportunity for physical intimacy save a few stolen kisses and caresses. These threeweeks had been a whirlwind of wedding preparations, and there had been time for little else.

All Mr. Bennet's doubts as to the couple's loving each other dissipated when he saw the expression on Darcy's face when he saw his bride. Darcy clearly adored his daughter. His lips were trembling, his eyes gleaming with tears of joy.

"Thank you, Sir," he whispered huskily when Mr. Bennet took Elizabeth's hand and placed it in his. "I promise you..." he said, his voice trailing off as his emotions overwhelmed him.

"I know, son," Mr. Bennet replied kindly.

No one who heard their vows spoken could remain unmoved by the mutual love radiating from the happy couple. The wedding reception was held in the grand dining hall at Pemberley, but Elizabeth ate very little. For one thing, Darcy refused to let go of her hand throughout most of the meal, and when Elizabeth protested that she was unable to eat, he reassured her that he would have a tray sent up to their bedroom so he could feed her himself!

"Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed, pretending to be offended. "What will everyone think?"

"That I want to be alone in my bedchamber, with my wife. In fact, Lizzy, we will have one dance, and then upstairs we will go!"

"Sir, we could not possibly..." she said, as he pulled her to her feet.

"Oh, so it's 'Sir' now, is it? And may I remind you, Mrs. Darcy, that you promised to 'obey' me but a few hours ago! Are you reneging on your marriage vows already?"

"You are incorrigible!" she replied, as he swept her into his arms for a dance.

He bent down to whisper hotly into her ear.

"I've spent all my life, Elizabeth, modeling my behaviour for society's approval. It did nothing for my happiness. The evening you magically reappeared in my life, I decided that the only person's good opinion I would concern myself with was yours."

He pulled back to stare into her eyes.

"Your good opinion and your love, Elizabeth. They have been hard won, but more worth the earning than anything else in my life," he said seriously. "And if I appear too impatient to have you to myself, I apologize."

"Do not apologize, Fitzwilliam, for I find having you to myself is what I long for as well."

"And have me you shall, my love. Many times before this night is through, I dare say," he replied wickedly.

Darcy had been overly optimistic in his approximation of the time at which they might desert their guests for the welcoming confines of their bedchamber. Their families and friends were taking such pleasure in the wedding party revelries, that it was nightfall before all had departed and the newly wed couple had the house to themselves. Their lack of solitude throughout the day had not, however, prevented Darcy from cornering his beautiful bride in the deserted corridor outside the dining hall, pressing up against her, his body's need for her painfully evident to both of them. Lizzy slid her hand between his legs, brazenly groping and stroking him, prompting Darcy to lightly bite the soft flesh of her exposed chest, just above the bodice of her wedding dress.

"Stop it, Lizzy," he threatened, "or I shall put you over my shoulder and carry you up to bed this instant, wedding guests be damned!"

"If that is your wish, Sir, as an obedient wife I will comply, although I would prefer..." and she cast her eyes down modestly.

"What would you prefer, Mrs. Darcy?"

"To wait until later, Fitzwilliam, when we are alone and at leisure. When I may look upon your body lingeringly, touch and taste every inch of you, with no thought as to guests waiting for us to return."

"Oh, teasing woman! How you tempt me! Very well, Lizzy, tonight. But I warn you...I will not wait one moment longer than is necessary!"

Darcy was true to his word. As soon as their last guest departed, he lifted Lizzy into his arms and headed for the stairs. Her startled maid called after them, "Mrs. Darcy, I will be up directly to attend to you." Darcy looked back at her over his shoulder and growled, "That won't be necessary, you may retire for the evening, Sarah," and quietly, to Elizabeth, he said, "The only hands that will touch you tonight will be mine, Elizabeth."

The bridal bedchamber had been sumptuously decorated under the guidance of Mrs. Reynolds. The room glowed, moonlight streaming through the windowpanes. As directed by Darcy, a warm bath had been drawn for his bride. No one had dared question his orders that no further assistance would be required by Mrs. Darcy this evening, although when Mrs. Reynolds was not present, the young housemaids had whispered among themselves about what Mr. Darcy could be up to, ordering a bath for Mrs. Darcy with no lady's maid to attend to her!

Whatever they imagined, it could not have been as erotic as what Darcy had in mind for his lady. Yes, he had "known" her already, but not in the way he intended to tonight.

"Come, Mrs. Darcy," he said. "It is time for your bath."

Hands on her shoulders, he turned her around so that he might unfasten her bridal dress from behind. As each open button revealed another inch of soft bare skin, he covered the area of flesh thus exposed, with slow, hot kisses.

When the last button was opened, he slid the dress down off her shoulders so that it puddled at her feet. He unlaced her stays, removed her chemise and knelt behind her, his lips brushing the soft expanse of her buttocks.

Elizabeth was moaning, lost to herself and to everything around her. Darcy stood and wrapped his arms around her, cupping her breasts in his hands. She felt her body go limp, weak with desire, his strong arms supporting her.

Then, one arm around her, the other under her knees, he carried her to the bath. He bathed her with motions that were like caresses, his hands massaging and stimulating her. He pulled the pins from her hair so that her curls tumbled to her shoulders, and he poured warm water over her head so that he might lather and rinse her hair.

When he was satisfied with his handiwork, he took her nipples between his lips, sucking first on the right, then the left, and when Elizabeth was frantic with desire, he lay her on their bed, which had been covered with a thick towel. With another towel, he began to dry her, first her body, then her hair.

He stood in front of her then, the front of his trousers bulging to the point of bursting. He quickly shed his clothing, then pulled his wife to the edge of the bed, spread her legs and knelt on the floor so that he could taste her. Her sweet, womanly flesh was still warm and moist from her bath, and he licked and kissed her, murmuring her name.

"My God, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth said. "Please, I cannot wait any longer to have you inside me."

He was atop her in an instant, sliding quickly inside her. "Lizzy, my love, my heart, my life. We will never have to wait again."

So much pent-up longing and two weeks' deprivation made for a coupling that was volcanic but somewhat brief. When both of them were well spent, they nestled under the comforter, warm and satisfied.

"Such lovely silk nightdresses, still in my valise," Elizabeth said almost wistfully.

"Leave them there," Darcy replied brusquely. "You are mine, Lizzy, and this is how I want you, naked as God made you. It seems you females wear entirely too much clothing, anyway. You may wear your silken nightdresses if ever you sleep alone. And since you will never sleep alone again if I have any say in the matter, in your valise they will stay. The Master of Pemberley has spoken!"

He was quite pleased with himself!

Lizzy smiled in the dark, her hand reaching down to stroke him and decided the time had come to render him speechless. She worked her way down under the covers until her head rested on his navel. She kissed him there, then moved lower and asked somewhat shyly, "May I, Fitzwilliam?"

"Oh, most certainly, Mrs. Darcy!"

He let out an impassioned moan as she took him full into her mouth, licking and sucking him awkwardly at first, using his reactions as an indication of how to proceed. She discovered that his considerable length and girth prevented taking all of him, so she used her hands to stimulate that part of him that her mouth simply would not accommodate.

The exquisite sensation of his wife's warm lips surrounding his manhood and the forbidden nature of the act itself was so affecting that Darcy feared he would spill into her mouth. Head thrown back, eyes closed, his face contorted in ecstasy, he entwined his fingers in her hair, gently guiding her head up and down, unable to speak, but communicating his desire and gratification with his touch. When he knew his climax was near, he gently nudged her off him, turned her onto her back and entered her, thrusting slowly so that her arousal might keep pace with his. To facilitate matters, he reached down between her legs to massage her most sensitive spot with his thumb. Soon her nails were digging into his backside and she cried out as she climaxed, just moments before he erupted inside her.

He pulled the covers up around them, and settled her in his arms to sleep.

"Lizzy," he whispered. "Just a few short months ago, my life had no meaning. I had everything a man could want, except the one thing I needed to make me whole. Telling you 'I love you' seems woefully inadequate. You complete me, Lizzy. You changed me, my love, into a man who was worthy of you."

"I love you so, William. And no, I didn't begin to love you because you had changed, but because you allowed me to see the man you always were. The man I will love forever, the man who will be the father of my children."

"Children?" Darcy said sleepily, holding her tighter. "I do not know if I am ready to share you just yet," he teased.

Elizabeth smiled to herself as they drifted into sleep together.


On their first wedding anniversary, the Darcy's, each carrying a basket, walked into the park at Pemberley, to the very spot where they had picknicked together three weeks before their wedding. They set the baskets under the same tree where they had enthusiastically made love that warm summer afternoon, and Darcy spread a blanket in the grass, hopeful that they might have a repetition of that delightful experience. He was well on the way to success in his endeavours when a sound, soft at first, then more insistent, began to emanate from the larger of the two wicker baskets sitting under the tree. With a measure of skill born of three months' experience, he reached over with one hand to gently rock the basket until he had lulled his son back to sleep.

"A temporary respite at best, Fitzwilliam!" Elizabeth exclaimed, hastily pulling her husband atop her so that they might proceed expeditiously. "Little William is due to be fed."

Darcy grinned wickedly. "Perhaps he senses that he was conceived on this very spot, and merely wants to join our picnic!"

Baby William, being a considerate sort of little fellow, obligingly waited until his Mama and Papa were well satiated, both with loving and a hasty lunch of bread, wine and cheese, before he awakened. He suckled contentedly at his mother's breast as she reclined against his papa's chest under the tree where his life had begun. As the years passed, two brothers and one sister joined them in their annual picnics, but they had been conceived in more conventional places.

Two in their parents' bed, and one on the desk in papa's library.

But that is the subject of another story!