Mr. Darcy took out his pocket watch and flipped it open. He was sitting in the Netherfield drawing room, listening to Miss Bingley's chitchat. He was getting quite tired of her and her opinions about the Bennet girls, especially her berating attitude towards Elizabeth Bennet.
Sighing, he looked down at the round, gold watch that used to belong to his father. It was almost ten o'clock in the evening and already he was tired. He knew that the smartest thing to do was to go to bed and try to get some rest. However, as tired as he was, he knew sleep would not come easily to him. He needed to be alone and get his mind off some pressing matters, but simply lying down would not do the trick. He needed some exercise or a good book. The more tired he got, the better. If he could become as exhausted as possible before he went to bed, then his mind would not be allowed to wander to much. Seeing as it was much too late to for a brisk walk around the grounds of Netherfield, he had better go to the library in search of an engaging book.
Closing his pocket watch and replacing it back to its proper place, he got up and excused himself from the party. Miss Bingley looked a little hurt that he did not want to stay and hear all of her accounts of Miss Elizabeth's faults, but the tired and stern look in his eye prevented her from complaining too loudly. After saying good night to the rest of the party, he made his way to the door, opened it, and walked out. After walking some distance from the drawing room and now being utterly alone, he felt slight pang of disappointment that he did not see Miss Elizabeth tonight. After dinner she had gone back upstairs to take care of her sick sister and had not returned. He had the fleeting idea that maybe he should run upstairs and see if everything was all right. No, he chided himself, just go to the library and find a book that will get her out of your mind.
He turned down another hallway that would lead to the library. It felt too early in the evening to be tired, but the day and drained him both physically and emotionally. He knew the exact cause for his ailment and hated to admit it. He was in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He knew it to be true from the night before.
Last night they had some sort of battle of wits that only ended in a playful banter and announcing to the room each others faults. Even though talking to her in such a playful way was quite exciting, he was rather glad when ended. His affection for her was growing and he was afraid of paying too much attention to her.
He had two reasons for not wanting to show her any form of attention. The first was that the more attention he showed to Miss Elizabeth, the more attention Miss. Bingley showed to him. He did not want Miss Bingley's attention and he knew that the less he talked to Elizabeth, the more likely Miss Bingley would not try to divert his focus to herself. The second reason was he could not give Miss Elizabeth a false sense of hope. He was the most eligible bachelor in England and from previous experiences, if he showed any lady a pin drop of attention, she would start picking out her wedding dress the very next day. Regardless how he felt about Elizabeth, he could not marry her. She was too far below him and he had a duty to fulfill to his family by marrying somebody with more standing. He had to admit to himself that she was very captivating and lively, and if she had only had some money to her name, then he would not have any problem sweeping her off her feet and making her mistress of Pemberley.
He turned down another corridor that would lead directly to the library. He was not suppose to be thinking about her and reminded himself harshly on his foolishness. He even tried to avoid her all day if he could help it, but it was taking more work that he thought to keep himself busy. The hardest part was keeping his mind from wandering. Whenever it did, it would eventually end up with her, her beautiful form, her witty comments, and those blasted fine eyes. He must put a stop to this or he was going to end up proposing to her and making a fool of himself. He could not let that happen.
He found the library's big double doors soon enough. One was opened slightly and he could see light coming from within the room. He was slightly relieved to see that because it meant that he would not have to stumble around to light a lamp. As he pushed the door the rest of the way open he could feel a bust of cold air hitting against his face. He forgot how drafty this room was with its windows that practically reach all the way up to the high ceiling. The windows were great for letting light it, but because they were quite old, they also tended to let in a draft. As a matter of fact, if it was not for the roaring fire that blazed in the fire place, this room would be more like an ice box.
As he slipped through the door and turned to close it, he was startled to find the library was not empty. Standing before him was the first and the last person he wanted to see. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was standing near the opposite wall with a book in her hands. It took a while for Darcy to recover from shock and pleasure at seeing her here.
"Miss Bennet," he said with a bow.
"Mr. Darcy," she replied with a small curtsy. Her dark eyes looking into his own.
"I did not expect to see you here. I thought that you would be attending to your sister."
"Jane is sleeping right now and I just came in search of a book before I, myself retire." She sat down as she said this, and Darcy could not help but notice how lovely her voice was.
Feeling awkward that he was just standing there staring at her, he quickly walked over to the bookshelf and started to find a book. He heard a loud bang that made him jump and turn around. A draft had apparently swept the room, making the door close all the way. Unconscious of his actions he glanced at Elizabeth who was sitting peacefully in her chair and did not seemed disturbed by the closing door. Not knowing what book he had picked up, he strode over to the farthest chair from her and sat down. He fully intended to read as much as he could before looking at her again, but he had only gotten a few words into the novel when he glanced up at her again.
What he saw could only be described as a picture of perfection. Her form was exquisite, and while her face and body looked calm, her dark eyes were alive to as she read the page with attention. He knew he could look at her all night if time permitted. Fearing that she would discover his intense stare, he returned to his book only to find a few sentences later that his eyes would wander to the more agreeable site.
He heard the ticking of the clock and a bell that signaled the half hour. Had it really only been a half hour? He wondered. It seemed so much shorter than that, like time was speeding up. He actually felt much more awake now that he had before. Elizabeth Bennet, what have you done to me?
At that minute he saw a movement at the corner of his eye. Stealing a quick glance at Elizabeth's direction he noticed that she was getting up leave. As she passed him to get to the door he noticed that a faint scent of fresh air and wild flowers drifted towards him, bringing some memory to him, but he could not quite place it. As she moved about the room he made sure that his eyes stayed on the first page of his book, since he had not gotten any further during the half hour.
After a short time, he heard a short gasp of irritation. Turning around he saw a frustrated Miss Bennet and a closed door. Hiding his amusement at seeing her exasperated he asked, "Is everything alright, Miss Bennet?"
Turning around to him, a delicate blush spread to her face that made her cheeks look like two small roses. "Yes, everything is fine," her voice quavered from what sounded more like frustration than actual embarrassment. He saw her as she again reached for the doorknob with a firm grasp and pulled at the door with all her might. She did not look at him, but was able to say with much more control over her voice, "The door appears to be stuck, sir."
"I see, may I be of some service?" The question was responded to by a small, stiff nod of the head.
A small smile crossed his face for a few minutes. Was this a chance to help the very independent Elizabeth Bennet who could walk three miles in mud just to see her sick sister? Yes it is.
Putting the book down on the table next to his chair, he strode over to the door. He knew it was silly to take such pride in such a simple task as helping the lady open a door, but he knew that it was very improbable that he would get another chance to help Elizabeth with anything. Now standing in front of the door, he tried turning the knob. It did not move. Once again the tried to turn the knob, but this time with greater force. The knob held fast to its position like a stubborn mule.
"The door must be locked," his voice came out gruffer than he had intended.
On the other side of the door he could hear footsteps. Balling up his hands into a fist he pounded on the door. "Hello there!"
A high pitched squeal followed by a female voice flowed into the room, "Yes, sir? Is everything all right?"
"It seems that the library door has locked itself and we are trapped, please fetch the key if you will."
A immediate "yes, sir" followed by the sound of quick footsteps left the two prisoners in silence. Feeling awkward just standing around with nothing to do, and not wanting to look at Elizabeth for fear of giving her too much attention, he walked over to the large windows. Snow was starting to fall and white powder was building up on the ledge. He knew that Elizabeth had moved somewhere in the room by the rustling of her dress. After a few minutes that seemed to stretch on for hours, two sets of footsteps echoed from the hall into the room.
"Mr. Darcy, Miss Elizabeth, are you two alright?" Mr. Bingley's voice came bounding through the room.
Elizabeth was the first to reply, "Yes, we are quite alright, the door is just locked." She was sitting in her chair with the book on her lap. Quite beautiful, Darcy thought before he had a chance to control himself.
"Not to worry, Miss Elizabeth, I will have you out of there in no time."
An irrational, but small pang of jealousy crept through Darcy's body. He would not be the one to help Elizabeth Bennet tonight.
The doorknob rattled under the pressure that Bingley applied. All seemed to be going well till a low snap and a shrill voice made Darcy shudder inward.
"Oh Charles, what are we to do now?" Miss Bingley's voice could be heard from the library. Even though Darcy would not see her, he knew that her eyes would have a mixture of horror and jealousy that it was Miss Bennet who was locked in the room with him and not herself.
"Bingley," Darcy yelled, "what has happened?" He tried to keep the alarm from rising to his voice as he walked over to the door.
"Nothing...er...well I do suppose something has happened. The door is rather old you know, and...er...well the lock has probably seen better days."
"What has happened?" Darcy repeated.
"Well, the key went into the lock nicely, but it would not turn, so I turned it harder and the key broke with part of it in still in the knob."
"Charles," Miss Bingley could not contain herself any longer, "we must get them out of there! They cannot live in our library forever!"
"Yes, Caroline, I know. I will send a manservant over the Maryton and get a locksmith over here as soon as possible. I'm really sorry for the inconvenience, Darcy, Miss Bennet, but I'm sure we will be able to get you out of there as soon as possible." With that, the footsteps could be heard fading away down the hall along with Miss Bingley's complaints and demands that her brother do something more immediate that waiting for the locksmith to come.
Darcy did not know what to do. He looked over at the clock on the fireplace mantle. 10:45. By the time a servant was sent to Maryton, woke the locksmith, and brought him back here to open the lock, an hour was likely to have passed already. He knew that he could not just stay in this room with Elizabeth, she was far too attractive for his liking and her own good. He knew that the only possible solution to keep him from looking her way was to find a decent book that diverted his attention. The book that he was currently trying to get through was not going to do the trick. The only possible thing to do now was to find another book.
Grabbing the novel where he left it on the table, he walked over to the many bookshelves to replace the old and to find a new, and much more diverting, book. As he did so, he noticed that Elizabeth had resumed her reading. He also could not help but notice that while her face still showed the peaceful liveliness that seemed to follow her everywhere, her body was stiffer than before.
His search took him past the dimming fireplace and to the books directly behind her chair. His eyes stayed focused on the books this time. He was determined not to show her any more attention than was necessary. With his resolve set firm, he picked what looked like the most enticing novel. Concentrating so hard on not looking at her, he sat in the nearest open chair. It wasn't until he had opened the book and forced his way through the first three pages that he noticed his mistake. He had chosen the chair that not only faced Miss Bennet but also was the closest one to her. This proved to be worse than he previous chair, for now he was forced to look at his book due to the fact that any movement from him would surely be detected by her.
It now seemed that all the fates were against him. Regardless of inability to read while in her presence, he found that the lamps were low on oil and could no longer provide adequate light to read by. Also, by sitting so close to Elizabeth, the scent of wild flowers was much more prevalent. Pemberley, Darcy reflected as he sniffed the air, That's what the smell reminds me of, Pemberley in the Springtime. The flicker of light from the fire that kept the room at a comfortable temperature was starting to dim and burning itself out. From the corner of his eye, he could see Elizabeth's stiff figure start to quiver.
He looked up at her. Her cheeks were starting to turn pink from the cold and there appeared to be goose bumps up and down her delicate white arms. There was really no telling how long they were to be here, and from a few glances to the window, the snow was starting to fall heavier and faster, making the draft in the room less bearable. Getting up, he took of his coat and extended it towards her.
"Here, Miss Bennet, I have a feeling we might be here a while."
"Oh...I...mm...Thank you Mr. Darcy." With a short nod of the head he walked over to the fireplace to stand by the dying flames. He stood there a quarter past the chiming bells that signaled the eleventh hour, when there was a knocking on the door and Bingley's uncomfortable voice traveled into the room.
"Mr. Darcy, Miss Bennet, I seem to have some bad news." They both looked at the door in surprise. What could have possibly happened? "The snowstorm is picking up and it is highly unlikely that anyone, especially the locksmith, will be able to travel on the roads tonight. I'm not sure of what else I can do to get you two out."
"Is it absolutely certain that you cannot fetch the locksmith?" Darcy asked.
"Very certain. The man that I sent out in the storm just came back declaring that he could go no farther. It seems that our best option might be to wait it out and then go to town when things are cleared up."
Darcy did not want to admit that Bingley was right. There was no other way to open the door and the storm outside was raging. However, he was not at all comfortable with staying in the same room with Elizabeth all night. She was beautiful and alluring and he was trying his best to resist her charms, but he didn't know how long he was going to be able to do that. Not that he was afraid of doing anything inappropriate, but he knew that he had to do something or else he might profess his love for her. Trying to occupy his mind with other thoughts was obviously not working. Maybe if he could draw her into another conversation...they were after all going to be in the same room with each other for God knows how long, and talking was much pleasanter than sitting silent in a dark.
"I am truly sorry," Bingley said a second time, the first time Darcy had been too absorbed in his thoughts to notice.
"It is quiet alright," Elizabeth's voice was congenial but her face had no trace of amusement. "I am sure that once the storm blows over that a locksmith will be able to be fetch at once."
"Yes, I will have man ready to ride to Meryton as soon as the weather becomes bearable."
"Thank you, sir."
Bingley's footsteps faded away. The room being now much to dark to read by, Elizabeth moved to the fire and stood a short distance away from Darcy. Now is my chance, he thought, but for the life of him, he didn't know what to say.
"Miss Bennet..." he started, not knowing what was going to come out of his mouth. She turned towards him, a small twinkle of amusement in her eyes. "I hope that you sister is recovering from her illness."
"Yes, she is recovering nicely. I'm sure that she will be able to travel back to Longbourn in a few days."
"It must be fortunate that your sister has such a strong constitution to recover so fast."
"Why, Mr. Darcy, you make it sound like my sister has some sort of great malady! I assure you, no matter what my mother says, Jane is not on her death bed."
"I assure you, madam, that I never thought so. But you did look so worried your first days here that for some time Bingley was wondered if your sister would recover."
"The apprehension I had had nothing to do with Jane, but imposing myself on the Bingley's for far too long."
"Did Mr. Bingley give you that impression?"
"No, no. Not at all! He has been a most gracious host! While Jane's 'malady' is not serious, I did not know how long it would take her to recover. I did not want to become tiresome guest."
He turned toward her, and looked at her face in the dancing firelight. "Maybe to some you might become tiresome, but I'm sure that at least two here who do not find you so."
"And who might they be?" She turned to him, her eyebrows arched.
"Well, Mr. Bingley who can feel no ill towards anybody, and m...Miss Bennet." He had almost said 'myself'. A chill ran down his spine. That was too close, I can't let that happen again.
"Oh, I see" She turned to look at the fire after her final reply left them both in awkward silence.
Some time past before the fire started to really burn down. They were both still staring into the fire. Without the fire to keep them warm, the draft began to feel more like a chill breeze that left them both shivering.
Elizabeth's lips were turning a light shade of blue and her shivering looked more like convulsions. When the clock struck midnight, Darcy knew that if they continued how they were till morning, they would both be dead by the time the locksmith arrived.
"Miss Bennet, unless we do something to keep ourselves warm, I am sure that we will not survive till the morning."
"What do you propose we do sir?" Her breath came out in small wisps. She looked desperate to try anything to get warm again.
Looking at his hands, he could not believe he was going to ask this of her. He cleared his throat to push down the uncomfortable lump that lodged itself.
"If you would allow me to put my arms around you, then our combined body heat should keep us warm." The color was rising to his cheeks by the idea of being so close to her. He did not even dare to look at her face. When she didn't respond right away he tried to excuse the idea. "I know it is improper, I'm sorry I asked of such a thing from you. I don't know what I was thinking."
"No, Mr. Darcy. I'm sorry I did not respond. I was just surprised. While the idea is improper, I would have thought that you would die before giving into impropriety."
"Well, seeing as we will be forced to spend the night alone, which is already improper, I would like to leave this room alive in the morning so that I may regain my reputation."
She chuckled under her breath. "Yes, when you put it that way, it would be better to live than to die in disgrace. You may put your arms around me."
They had both been standing for quite some time and thought that it would be better if the couch was moved closer to the fire so they both could sit down. Once the task was done, Darcy sat down and waited for Elizabeth to come to him. He did not want to seem over eager for her to be in his arms. It wasn't long, though, before the cold drove her to sit next to him and it was not long before he had his arms around her slim figure.
Regardless of her shivering he could feel that her body was quite tense. He tried his best to make her comfortable, but the situation seemed to awkward for them both to have anything done, so they just sat in the silence.
Soon, Elizabeth's small convulsions turned into slight shivers. The warmth he felt from her body made his arms less stiff, and in his more relaxed condition, her body started to lean into his. This made him relax even more, for her body was not only very warm but soft and pleasing. She became so comfortable that she took the liberty to tuck her feet by her side and place her head onto his shoulder. Darcy was able to compliment the gesture by leaning his head onto hers with unquestionable ease.
By the time the clock could strike the half hour, he could hear the deep breaths of sleep overtake her. Finally realizing how tired he actually was, he looked down at her figure and then at the couch. Making some quick calculations that factored in both comfort and warmth, he made his decision. Placing her as gently as he could on the couch so not to wake her, he slid his own body next to hers. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer to him, letting her head rest on his chest. A small moan escaped from her throat, and his body stiffened, hoping that he did not wake her. When she did not stir any further, he forced his body to soften next to her form and drift off to sleep.
The chiming of the clock was the sound that made Darcy's eyelids pop open. The room had turned a shade of blue due to the rising sun. The snow must have stopped sometime in the night and the sky was beginning to clear.
He looked down at the beautiful woman before him. She had not moved much during the night. Her hands were placed on his chest and she was breathing on them to keep them warm. Taking one of her white hands in his, he brought it up to his lips and felt her cold skin. He returned her hand to its original resting place, but kept his hand on top of hers to keep it warm.
"Elizabeth," his whispered breath made one of her curls of hair dance. "Elizabeth," he repeated. She did not move. "Elizabeth," still nothing. She was still asleep and he had no wish to wake her yet. Instead he moved his head and placed one delicate kiss on her forehead. He moved his head back and took an intake of sharp breath. Her eyes were open, there was no doubt that she felt that kiss.
Instead of saying anything, she just looked up at him with serenity in her eyes. She did not pull away from him, but rather drew herself closer to him. He bent down so that their lips touched and then gave her a soft, passionate kiss.
When she did not pull away, he could only give her another, and then another. Soon he was losing track of all their kisses and her fingers had moved from his chest up to his hair. They only stopped when the clock chimed the hour. The bells seemed to bring her back to her senses, as she was the first one to pull away. His arms tightened around her waist. He did not want to let her go or for this blissful moment to end. He placed his forehead onto her's so that their noses touched.
"Elizabeth..." his voice came out in a whisper and he did nothing to hide its passion.
"Elizabeth...I must be allowed to tell you...I lo--"
A loud bang on the door followed by Bingley's voice made Darcy aware of himself and he sat up. "Mr. Darcy, Miss Bennet, the locksmith has finally been fetched. We should have you out of there in no time!"
When neither Darcy or Elizabeth responded, a concerned voice of Miss Bingley entered the room. "Are you two still alive in there?"
Elizabeth was the first to find her voice. "Yes, we are alive. Thank you so much for being able to get one so quickly and early." She sat up and moved herself away from him.
After a short time she said to him, "Perhaps, Mr. Darcy, we should move the couch back to its place." She did not look at him.
"Yes, we should." After they had moved the couch bake to its original home, Darcy was too much engrossed in his own thoughts to notice anything else about him. He had never been so annoyed yet at the same time thankful for Bingley. If he had not knocked on the door when he did, then I would have...I would have confessed my love for her! A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of confessing his feelings towards Elizabeth. If he had, he would have had to explain that he could not possibly marry her because she was too far beneath his station. Bingley's interruption had saved him from creating a mess. However, he still wanted to hold Elizabeth in his arms one last time and give her another passionate kiss.
Elizabeth had noticed his shiver, took off his coat. "Here, Mr. Darcy. Thank you for lending your coat to me, but I am no long cold."
"I'm glad that it was able to keep you so warm, Miss Bennet." His voice was more cold that he wanted it to sound.
They both stood and watched as the library door opened letting in a wizened, old locksmith, an anxious looking Mr. Bingley, and a very alarmed Miss Bingley. After hearing Bingley's rounds of apologies, Elizabeth excused herself to go check on her sister.
Mr. Darcy stayed and listened to Miss Bingley's remarks on how unfortunate it was that he should have to spend so long in the same room with Eliza Bennet. He did not give her the satisfaction of agreeing with her, and with the excuse of not sleeping at all that night, left for his chambers.
When he was within the safety of his own rooms, he rang for his valet, sat down and poured himself some gin. Downing the shot, he knew that even if he removed himself from Hertfordshire, he would not be able to forget Elizabeth Bennet.