During their journey towards Pemberley Kitty could talk of nothing but how wonderful the Nederfeldts and Sutcliffes were, how beautiful Edinburgh was, how exciting it was to be invited to spend September at the Sutcliffe estate in Bedfordshire, how she must go shopping so as not to disgrace herself.
Her father hardly listened to her prattle as his mind was more disagreeably engaged with Margaret Nederfeldt and how bittersweet their last few moments together had been. In his heart he knew that they would probably never see each other again yet when he voiced this opinion she had smiled enigmatically, "you never know what life has in store for us. Who knows but that one day we'll meet at a dance. Will you save me a dance, Thomas? I believe you owe me one."
For a fleeting moment he allowed himself to believe that they would indeed meet again, "if one evening you appear at our local assembly I promise to dance the night away with only you."
"Take care with your promises, Thomas. I might hold you to it."
As their carriage pulled away he couldn't help taking a last look back at her, savoring the memory of her standing there waving her farewell. After his wife's death, time had worked it's miracle with remarkable efficiency. He could almost believe that their marriage of a quarter century had not been so bad and in retrospect it had not been that much different from any of the other marriages in and around Meryton. The only marriage that had ever seemed ideal was the one the Gardiners enjoyed and that was the exception more than the rule. In truth his marriage had not been so bad as it had been so dull. Fanny had lacked any mental acuity that didn't revolve around the latest fashions or how to procure husbands for her five daughters. Living with such a wife had been such a tiresome affair and now at his age to meet with a woman who was so knowledgeable about the world she lived in and had such a keen sense of humor had left him with a sense of desolation knowing how unlikely it was that they would ever meet again.
By the time they reached the outskirts of Pemberley ten days later he was mentally and physically exhausted and wanted nothing more than to retire to a dark room and sleep the month away and wake refreshed with no memory of Margaret Nederfeldt. That thought lasted until they reached the crest of the hill and he got his first sight of Pemberley. As their carriage made it's slow descent into the valley he realized that he was actually holding his breath taking in the beauty that lay before him. It was magnificent and close to sublime in it's raw beauty. In forty years he had seen many grand estates but none that was so happily situated nor a place for which nature had done more, or had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. A bright sun shone down on a large mirrored lake which reflected back myriads of rainbow lights upon the large stone mansion.
"Are you sure this is Pemberley?" Kitty whispered in awe.
"If that's Lizzy running across the lawn towards us, I believe it must be."
Their welcome to Elizabeth's home was warm and joyous. He hadn't seen Elizabeth in nearly eight months and though she wrote regularly assuring him that she was happy, it wasn't until he saw how radiant she was could he be fully content. Glancing past his beloved daughter he saw Darcy standing alone watching his wife with quiet pleasure. Now knowing so much more about the man who had chosen Elizabeth Bennet for his bride, he felt a little like Mr. Collins, full of pride and humility in equal parts.
The weeks at Pemberley flew by like an errant breeze with no two days alike. Wide lawns of green dotted with muslins of white and blue, lemon, lavender and lime beneath a powder blue sky could make an artist's heart ache but even more enchanting was the sight of Elizabeth and Darcy sunning themselves on the broad lawn their heads close together exchanging confidences interspersed with laughter and gentle kisses . The happiness of his favorite daughter brought tears to his old and jaundiced eyes though he would deny it. Then there was Jane who had always been the quiet one, holding her husband's hand as they strolled along the edge of the lake both gaily chattering away. Love had finally given her a voice.
And then there was Charlotte Lucas strolling arm in arm with Peter Postlewaite both looking for all the world like two people in courtship. How had this come about and was he the last to know? The answer came in a moment; probably, since he had never shown any interest in the affairs of his children, let alone his neighbors. Well, he wished Charlotte all the happiness in the world for he had always liked her for her quiet sense.
Long walks through the woods, crossing miniature bridges with their sinister signs warning the unwary humans of the trolls lurking beneath their feet gave him another insight to the character of his host. He had a playful side which would appeal to Elizabeth, but it was the astonishing library that showed the true nature of the man. His thirst for knowledge was astonishing. The books bridged two hundred years and were in immaculate order and up to date. Touching the tomes written by men long dead affected him with wonder and he was able to forget the beautiful woman he'd met in Scotland for hours at a time.
Dinners were especially entertaining for there was nothing more delightful than breaking bread with agreeable company. Lady Catherine was proving to be a delightful companion. He enjoyed her acerbic wit especially when she related the misadventures of her clumsy cleric and his hapless flock , "I have it on good authority that they now talk openly of the merits of Satanism at the local pub."
"Must I remind you, Lady Catherine, that Mr. Collins is my son-in-law."
"Accidents will happen, Mr. Bennet. I'm sure you are above reproach."
"You're all kindness, Lady Catherine."
"Thank you. Kindness is one of my virtues and I'm sure I have others."
Kitty and Georgiana were becoming fast friends and chatted and giggled incessantly. What they found so fascinating Mr. Bennet couldn't guess though he frequently heard the names of David Sutcliffe and Jonathon Nederfeldt mentioned so he could make an educated guess.
It was during this last mention of those two young men that Bingley ventured, "Nederfeldt? That name sounds familiar to me."
From Richard, "and how is the beauteous Mrs. Nederfeldt? Still driving men mad with her charms?"
All eyes turned to Mr. Bennet and waited. When he remained silent, Kitty answered for him, "She and father dined together every night and even danced together."
The disapproving glare Mr. Bennet sent to his daughter did not go unnoticed and brought a smile to more than one face.
"I know I've heard that name just recently," Bingley said to no one in particular.
"If you anglicize Nederfeldt," Peter offered, "you could get Netherfield. Maybe that's where you heard it, Bing. Could it be that she is the phantom owner of Netherfield? Heard of but never seen?"
"Maybe. I never read the fine lines. I just sign where my solicitor tells me."
Darcy frowned. "I didn't hear that," he said
"Well," Jane offered gently, "the owner wishes to settle at Netherfield by Christmas so we should know by then."
Mr. Bennet threw a startled look at Bingley and Jane and a suspicious one at Darcy who was flirting with his wife at the other end of the table. "Mr. Darcy, is this true? Does Mrs. Nederfeldt own Netherfield?"
Surprised to be addressed, Darcy dragged his eyes from Elizabeth, "I don't know, Mr. Bennet. Jonathon's letters speak more of his future plans. He and his friend David Sutcliffe are planning to open a law office in Town. I do remember, however, he once mentioned that his father owned an estate in Hertfordshire. It meant nothing to me at the time. But surely if Mrs. Nederfeldt owned Netherfield she would have told you. When I first contacted her regarding your reservations, I sent her your full address."
Mr. Bennet fell back in stunned disbelief, "she referred to our quaint little village as Merry Town. When I corrected her she accused the English of being indelicate for naming our village after Bloody Mary."
Darcy chortled, "you must admit, Mr. Bennet, that not only is she beautiful, she has a wicked sense of the ridiculous."
"I will admit no such thing," was the grumbled return.
His reply raised several brows and furtive looks among the guests and it was an unspoken decision to drop the subject of Mrs. Nederfeldt leaving Mr. Bennet to his quiet ruminations.
And ruminate he did, with varying success, for the next few weeks. Margaret had to be the owner of Netherfield yet why hadn't she said so? Why had she teased him with the possibility of seeing him again but did not divulge this secret? No! She could not be the owner. Too much of a coincidence. That would explain why she didn't say anything. But if she wasn't the owner, then why make a promise to dance with him? He knew he could ask his brother-in-law, Phillips, who would know, but he rejected that idea before it took root. Mr. Phillips was as gossipy as his wife and any inquiry would be sure to spread like wildfire. Besides, he wasn't speaking to the Phillips family.
A few days before he and Kitty were to leave he stood on the southern terrace watching an hilarious game of croquet being played on the lawn. The men were partnered with the ladies and things were not going well. The men were treating the game as an exercise in warfare while the ladies thought they were just acting silly, and couldn't understand why missing a ball could wring such a loud groan of anguish from a grown man. When Richard threw his mallet at a tree, Anne threatened to throw her mallet at Richard which made Elizabeth collapse on the lawn with shouts of glee. Jane looked bemused and wanted to know if it was legal to throw their stick at a tree?"
"It's called a mallet, dearest, " Bingley offered with a gentle pat on the back.
Lady Catherine joined Mr. Bennet to watch the spectacle, "what's the score?"
"I have no idea. They seem to making up the rules as they go."
"Has Richard thrown his mallet yet?"
"Yes, and your daughter has threatened to commit mayhem on his person."
"Sounds like the game is almost over."
Yes. And summer is almost gone."
She never took her eyes off the game, "but there is autumn, Mr. Bennet. And autumn can be a very beautiful season."
He searched her words for a deeper meaning. She had proved to be an astute observer of her fellow guests...but she said no more, only continued to watch the game for a few minutes more before returning to the house.
Father and daughter left Pemberley with some regret. It had been a magical time seeing Elizabeth and Jane so happy but Kitty was anxious to visit the Gardiners in Town so she could get some serious shopping done and he was anxious to return to Longbourn to gather any information concerning the owner of Netherfield.
Halcyon days of a bright summer faded all too soon to an early autumn and in late September Sir William Lucas and his Lady made the arduous journey to Pemberley not so much for the wedding of their spinster daughter but to have bragging rights over Mrs. Phillips who was now seriously regreting her immoderate actions following Mrs. Bennet's untimely death. She had given too little thought to the ramifications inherent with the marriages of Elizabeth and Jane to very wealthy men. She had overlooked the fact that she herself had two unmarried daughters still on her hands. This was knowledge that those girls had not yet let her forget and were now threatening to do a Lydia on her unless she procured them an invitation to Pemberley so they might meet other wealthy men. The hapless Mrs. Phillips had been making overtures to Mr. Bennet for several weeks to no avail. He too knew how to hold a grudge.
Two days later Charlotte Lucas gave her hand and heart to Peter Postlewaite. The attendees to the nuptials all agreed that Charlotte was a lovely bride as all brides intrinsically are for she glowed with happiness and was not at all plain to her friends or her groom. That they would be happy was in no doubt for they were ideally matched. The friendship that had begun at an assembly dance a year and a half earlier had deepened into a partnership of trust and reliance on each other. They saw in one another something that was worthy of love and admiration and it was a balm to the souls of each. They might laugh and tease each other for certain faults but their love would remain constant for the rest of their lives and each took comfort in knowing that their loneliness was finally at an end.
In the latter part of November the Bingleys moved into Plumtree, an estate three times the size of Netherfield with a grand old house they had both fallen in love with. Charles was now officially a gentleman farmer. He had been instructed years ago by Darcy that if he ever bought an estate and found a wife who would be his life's companion he could begin his own dynasty and his friend's words had never left him. It had been a great start with Netherfield but he was now prepared to work diligently to keep his promise to his father and make his own dreams a reality. Happily situated half-way between the Darcy and Postelwaite estates, Plumtree would be the seat of many happy reunions in the coming years and he imagined their children growing healthy and wise with the help of family and friends.
Caroline Bingley had left Netherfield Park full of anger, sorrow and humiliation. Not used to soul searching, the novelty of questioning her own motives proved beyond her for the first few months of her exile. She preferred to believe that others were culpable for the way her life had turned to ashes and it took her many months before she was able to begin the healing process. She got little help from her aunt Estelle who had gotten slightly senile and who had to reminded every d morning just who this interloper was. But she proved to be a kind and gracious hostess and hardly ever remarked on the plumes her guest wore at breakfast.
Left alone with no one with a modicum of sense to impress with well-known names and all the fancy balls she had attended in Town Caroline was left to stroll the gardens visiting and re-visiting the wasted years. She had first seen Fitzwilliam Darcy at the theater where his exceptionally tall, fine figure had drawn her attention along with every other female in the audience. The whispers describing his wealth and his estate in Derbyshire were interesting but meant little more to her. She was a tradesman's daughter and he had a place in the highest level of society. Then one day her brother brought this paragon home and introduced him as a good friend and life would never be the same. Knowing him had opened all the doors to society and she began to think very well of herself. And why not? One of the most desirable men in England danced and dined with her and invited her to his fabled estate for divine summers in his company.
She had been warned time and again not to look too high but how could she not with all that wealth and beauty before her. She had closed her eyes to the truth. All the money she had spent so recklessly on the latest fashions...all her sharpened wit had all been for naught for it wasn't her station in life that kept him from offering for her, it was the woman herself. It was a terrible blow to her ego. It wasn't that he didn't love her. It was worse. He didn't even like her. Her shame was complete with this realization and she wanted to hide from the world that had witnessed her fall from grace.
But life must go on and she soon learned that she still had a value in society as long as it wasn't London Society. Here in Shropshire she was looked upon with awe for her aristocratic carriage and her veneer of quiet repose for there were still remnants of her pride remaining and she would not allow this new world to see the broken woman lying beneath the mask. With her low spirits she had no difficulty in keeping up these pretensions and hardly knowing that her life was in the midst of this drastic change began to take a semblance of comfort with this new persona.
Eventually she awoke one morning with a new awareness and spent the rest of the day reflecting on the irony of her situation. She had arrived feeling the shame of her personal failure and terrified of her future and now it seemed that for several weeks she had been living her future. Shropshire society had accepted her as what she pretended to be; a gentlewoman above reproach who never had an unkind word to say and easily forgave the foibles of others. She supposed that if she continued her deceits the false would someday blend with the real and one day she might get to know the real Caroline Bingley.
There is little to say about the Hursts. They were never fortunate to have children so raised dogs instead and lived happily ever after.
Margaret Nederfeldt took up residence at Netherfield two weeks before Christmas. By then Mr. Bennet knew who owned the estate and he couldn't decide whether he was excited or uneasy but finally settled on both. It had been five months since he had seen her and his mind kept running around in circles wondering why she hadn't told him that she would be his neighbor. He had finally concluded that she didn't want to excite his expectations. They were, after all, just acquaintances who had enjoyed each other''s company for a month. With that thought in mind, the day before she arrived he went to London where he stayed at the Darcy townhouse for a full week before returning to Longbourn. The following morning he rode to Netherfield at a leisurely pace. He would show a pleased delight in meeting her again but nothing more. He would not have her thinking that he had been pining for her for the past five months.
When he was admitted to the drawing room she stood and greeted him with a gentle smile, "and so we meet again, Thomas."
"So it would seem, Margaret."
Margaret settled very nicely into Hertfordshire society for she dearly loved to entertain and did so with great frequency entertaining her fellow citizens with feasts that tread that fine line between excellence and ostentation. Her neighbors were always delighted to receive one of her invitations and neither by nudge nor wink did any guest let on that they knew that Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Nederfeldt were more than good friends.
In the early stages of their romance they showed great discretion never ceding good taste for wanton behavior. Their deportment was above reproach which meant separate carriages to Town followed by a single carriage along country roads seeking out quaint country inns where they wined and dined and blew the candles out with great frequency and unbridled joy.
Eventually and with great humor they came to accept that their secret was no longer a secret. Nevertheless, Margaret and Thomas continued to escape Meryton regularly for several years enjoying the excitement of renewed youth and passion. Only once had he brought up the subject of marriage which she refused citing the complications that English law would impose on her. She was a woman of great wealth and her heir was her son, Jonathon. She would not jeopardize his inheritance by ceding her independence to a husband. He could not quarrel with this decision and the matter was dropped never to rise again. Neither could have guessed as the stood facing each other on that first day at Netherfield that fate had stepped in to chart a new course that would remain steady and true and that it would endure for the rest of their lives. Though they would never marry, their love affair lasted until his death a quarter of a century later.
Richard and Anne settled in their Townhouse and he took up his duties as a General in His Majesty's Army. Before his marriage to Anne the thought of sitting at a desk all day was too onerous to contemplate but as spring followed winter he soon found that leading a settled life had advantages especially when he could always drop into his townhouse unexpectedly. He thought they might name their first child Elevenses though his beloved thought too many questions might arise with such an unusual name.
Naturally, Anne had to share this tidbit with Elizabeth who choked on her morning coffee as she read this outlandish idea which in turn, alarmed Darcy who was sure his beloved wife was having a fit. His reaction sent Elizabeth into further gales of laughter and she was unable to keep him from taking Anne's letter and reading it.
"I don't know which cousin I should speak to," he pronounced. "They're incorrigible. And don't get any ideas, Elizabeth. There will be no Darcy called Daybreak or Teatime at Pemberley."
Richard's brother Edmund and his wife Juliet shared no such levity concerning their future offspring. Though Pemberley had worked it's magic on their troubled marriage it could only do so much. They came to accept their choices and now had only to learn how to live with it. He had enriched the family with his wife's money and she had gained a title which would raise her status in society. Never again would Juliet mention divorce and Edmund promised never to take a mistress. He stopped drinking excessively except for an occasional lapse and she eschewed liquor altogether until her mid-wife gave her several nips of brandy during the birth of her third child. She found that brandy could sooth all kinds of pain and from then on was never without a flask of that fiery panacea.
Elizabeth was in awe of how all their lives had changed in less than two years. "Husband," she remarked one day, "God has been very good to us."
"Don't forget the part that your first boyfriend had in our happiness."
"If you are referring to Mr. Collins, my love, I must protest."
"Think on it Lizzy. If your cousin hadn't waddled into Longbourn in search of a bride which eventually brought you to Rosing's Park we might never had met."
"You forget that Charles had already leased Netherfield and was half in love with Jane by the time we met. And have you forgotten that Charles and Peter were good friends from school so it was natural for Charles to invite Peter to Netherfield. Or that Charlotte was such a good friend of the family so it was natural for her to visit us when Charles and Peter called upon us. And not to be overlooked was your kindness to Jonathon which led to your friendship with his mother which led you to send father to Edinburgh where he fell in love with Margaret."
"Good grief!" Darcy sighed, "as usual your thinking is much too convoluted for me."
"We can further discuss it during our elevenses. In our room perhaps?"
"We can have our biscuits and coffee in our room if you wish, but there will be no Darcy named Elevenses at Pemberley."
The heir to Pemberley entered the world the following summer and was named William Colin Darcy followed moments later by Willa Coleen Darcy to their parent's shock and delight for twins were not known in their families. They supposed this phenomenon was a result of so many morning and afternoon snacks in the privacy of their rooms.
In the next five years family and friends populated England with another seven children making their gatherings noisy affairs and their sires bragging rights for the beauty and cleverness of their offspring. Kitty married David Sutcliffe and would one day become the mistress of the Sutcliffe estate and though that event was far in the future his parents were generous enough to purchase a townhouse for the newly-weds where they settled down. During the final two weeks of Kitty's first confinement, Georgiana stayed with her to lend her support. There she met Jonathon Nederfeldt for the first time. It was not love at first sight but he intrigued her with his quiet ways so reminiscent of her brother. Their courtship lasted for the better part of two years before Darcy gave his permission for their marriage at last convinced that it was a true love match and he would make his sister happy.
On the morning of her eighth anniversary Elizabeth spent a delicious two hours strolling the thoroughfare leisurely shopping for last minute items enjoying the bright autumn day. In the morning they would begin their trip back to Pemberley to begin preparations for the Christmas season. She'd picked up several boxes of the specially wrapped chocolate and raspberry truffles that were her husband's favorite, brought two silk scarves and a new pair of fine leather gloves. When she left the book shop with a dozen assorted books to bring back to Pemberley her shopping list was complete. Still she was loathe to return to her townhouse just yet. It was too beautiful a day to spend indoors.
Years earlier she had come upon a tiny shop off the main thoroughfare in a little cul-de-sac. At the time they had sold little trinkets of gold, silver and painted enamels that made novel gifts for her family and friends. Unfortunately they went out of business the following year, replaced by a nondescript haberdashery which in turn was followed by a florist that sold day-old blooms. After that Elizabeth gave up on finding anything of value not on the main street.
On a whim she decided to visit the tiny shop just to see how it had fared...or even if it still stood. She gave directions for her driver to follow her as she wandered further along the street before turning into the cul-de-sac. To her surprise the shop was still there but she hardly recognized it. It was no longer the nondescript little shop of her memory but had expanded into a respectable store with a glass front advertising it's wares of lady's lingerie. Elizabeth was slightly shocked at the boldness of displaying such intimate apparel in it's front window but it piqued her curiosity. She was no stranger to such apparel; for years she had been purchasing such items on every trip she made to Paris. Darcy certainly never needed an incentive to whet his appetite for her; there were times she thought their desire for each other was positively indecent though a great deal of fun. With a mental shrug she entered the shop hoping she might find something unique.
The shop was obviously doing well for itself as there were at least two dozen patrons milling about examining the garments displayed on a line of mannequins. Others were talking to fevered saleswoman who were rushing about trying to attend to several customers at once. Elizabeth headed straight for a black headless mannequin dressed in the flimsiest garment she had ever seen. Held up with the thinest straps it barely reached mid-thigh and had no pantaloons. The cloth had been woven of lavender and gold threads as delicate as a spider's web and just as translucent. Holding the fabric in her hands she imagined fairies in their gossamer wings working on the delicate fabric just to please her and she knew instantly that she had to have it no matter the cost.
While she waited for a sales woman's attention she glanced around the shop hoping not to see anyone she knew for gossip was the common coin of the Ton and she preferred not to be seen purchasing such an erotic pleasure...not that she cared that much. After all, it wasn't for her...it was for Darcy. The thought brought a smile to her face just as her eyes lighted on a vaguely familiar middled aged woman of coarse features who seemed out of place in a boutique selling such dainty garments. She was seated at a desk on a raised dais watching the proceedings below with a sharp eye...obviously the owner...but Elizabeth could not put a name to her face and she was disconcerted when those sharp eyes lit on her. Embarrassed to be caught staring, she offered an apologetic smile and turned back to the counter and sampled some of the exotic scents displayed there, finally choosing a miniature vial of heavy musk which did not suit her but would serve her purpose. To further her amusement she also selected a wide gold bangle. By the time she placed her order and saw it being put in a colorful box she had grown anxious to be on her way. Tea time was approaching and Darcy would be waiting for her.
She picked up the box hardly glancing at it's gaudy pink and turned from the counter only to see the woman who looked so familiar, regarding her from no more than ten feet away. Surprised, Elizabeth nodded politely and turned away. She had not taken more than a few steps before her mind caught up with her eyes and she looked closely at the box reading the name of the shop boldly printed in bright pink colors. She almost dropped the box in surprise as she swung around and once more stared at the woman who returned her gaze with a wry smile. Recognition came slowly as her memories pushed away nearly a decade of time. Elizabeth could hardly remember the last time she had given anything but a passing thought to Lydia. She had never given any credence to the possibility that Lydia had run off with George Wickham that second time. It had never made any sense that such a man would come creeping around in the dead of night to abscond with a girl who had absolutely nothing to give him which she had not already bestowed on him during their sojourn in London. If she followed that reasoning, then where had Lydia been and why so silent for all those years?
In the beginning and for months after, Elizabeth had imagined so many scenarios of how they might meet and what they would say to each other but now that the moment was here she found she had nothing to say to this sister who had caused such chaos in her family and had broken her mother's heart. That she would revert to her father's pet name and call this establishment "Tammy's Place" was like pouring salt into the wound and she was not inclined to forgive Lydia.
Shortly after her marriage Georgiana had casually mentioned how her brother and cousin Richard had left Rosing's Park for London the day after Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. Almost as an afterthought, Georgiana added that she had given her brother the Gardiner address in Gracechurch street in case they found Lydia.
It had taken Elizabeth quite a while to pull all the pieces together and form at least one possibility. She remembered how Anne had once described her husband as a master of disguise. It had been said in jest but Elizabeth with Georgie's information had often wondered if Richard had been the ruffian who had taken Lydia away from that seedy hotel and brought her to the Gardiner home. And if so, how had he disposed of Wickham? That villain had so many connections to Pemberley and Lambton as well as the army yet in all those years he had never made an appearance nor had his name ever once surfaced. Now standing so close to this woman all Elizabeth really wanted to know was where George Wickham was? And that was a question that would never be asked either of Lydia nor her husband for fear of an answer.
She opened the door, then once more turned for a last look at her sister remembering the undisciplined child of her youth. Lydia was no longer the young maiden of Elizabeth's memory. Time and the life she had been living had taken it's toll. She had not aged gracefully. Her waist had thickened and her lips had thinned into a tight line. Her eyes no longer held the promise of good humor and a lively disposition. She had grown old before her time and the essence of the young girl who had fled in the night seeking her lover was nowhere to be seen. Elizabeth was staring at a stranger. And stranger she would remain. Families were bound by the histories they shared and it had been a lifetime since her youngest sister had vanished in the night never giving a thought to the destruction she left in her wake.
Perhaps if she could have seen a glimmer of sorrow or a plea for understanding in Lydia's eyes their meeting might have turned out differently but there was only a silent appraisal with no expectation or anticipation. Not a word was exchanged as both women waited for the other to speak. Finally, and with no regret, Elizabeth stepped out of the shop and only with one last moment of hesitation, she boarded her carriage and ordered her driver to take her home.
That night Elizabeth took a large gulp of wine trying to compose herself but failed miserably for she simply could not contain her amusement at the spectacle she was about present. She slipped the bangle onto her upper arm, then smoothed on a liberal dose of musk on every spot she thought she had pulse hoping she wouldn't asphyxiate her unsuspecting husband. Slipping on her new purchase she viewed herself in the mirror and smothered a laugh. There was only one thing left to do. She bent over and threw her hair over her face running her fingers through the tangled curls before applying her brush in long strokes. At last satisfied she tossed her hair back and once more stared at her reflection. Daringly she raised her arms and was almost undone. She looked like a savage.
Taking several deep breaths she willed her body to quieten then blew the candle out and took another quick sip of wine before slipping into his room closing the door gently behind her and stood silent waiting for him to sense her presence.
He was sitting in his easy chair idly staring at the fire, two glasses of rich brandy on the table beside him. The room was shadowed in intimacy as she watched him smile in his sweet repose, wondering not for the first time just what was passing through his mind. It was just such a smile that she would see sometimes when she lifted her eyes from a book or caught him staring at her from across a ballroom. In the stillness she waited patiently filling her eyes with his beauty feeling the love she felt for him wash over her, still with that intensity which had the power to make her knees grow weak. Finally she broke her silence, "what makes you smile so?"
He looked up in surprise barely making her out in the near darkness "come into the light, my love." She stepped forward into a lighter shadow allowing him to see her more clearly. For a moment he seemed to be transfixed. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened in shock and disbelief followed quickly with utter merriment . She raised her arms high and began to undulate slowly towards him humming a nameless tune watching his eyes travel down her body and stop briefly at the triangle of curls between her thighs before slowly allowing his eyes to travel down to her bare feet then up again to her face. "Are you succubus," he managed.
"Well, I'm certainly not my brother incubus."
His grin broadened, "no, you certainly are not your brother. So tell me Miss Succubus, why are you here? Not to tempt me, I hope. I'm a married man and there are rules I look upon as inviolate."
"I am not of this world. Rules mean nothing to me."
"And why have you left your world?"
"The men there have no organs of pleasure."
He threw his head back choking with laughter. "So how do you create little succubuses?"
"Twit! It's Succubi, and do be serious or I'll send you to my world."
"You would remove my organ of pleasure?"
She stared pointedly at his breeches which had already tightened considerably, "I might have been too hasty," she allowed
"If you need to castrate someone, you might consider a visit to your boyfriend, Mr. Collins. With four daughters he's on the brink of a nervous breakdown and could use the vacation."
"Leave my boyfriend out of this, I beg you." Elizabeth regarded him with a look she hoped would pass for a wanton leer but by the growing twinkle in his eyes she feared she had missed the mark completely. She reached for the glass of brandy and took a large drink before straddling him. She pressed his head back and lowered her mouth to him, insinuating a curled tongue into his mouth allowing the fiery liquid to trickle into his mouth while she began to unbutton his breeches.
"Now what are you doing?"
"Releasing you from your bondage."
Her soft hand on his bare and sensitive flesh sent an electric jolt through him and he groaned, "be gentle with me."
"Relax. This won't hurt a bit." She never took her eyes off him as she slipped him into her taking him deep inside before she began to withdraw in an enticing move that brought them both waves of pleasure. She continued the gentle rhythm, kissing his closed lids and taking his mouth in hers until she sensed his quickening breath and felt his body begin to constrict. She stopped, "oh no you don't" she warned. "This dress cost you three acres of prime land, and I expect to get my money's worth."
He threw his head back laughing and writhing for control, calling out her name until she took mercy on him and once more brought him to the edge before slipping one thin strap off her shoulder to reveal one breast which she offered to him. He reacted greedily causing their movements to become spasmodic and convulsive sending them both into that dark abyss where nothing is felt but pure rapture.
Much later when their breathing returned to normal Darcy held his wife in a tight embrace, his hands moving over the soft contours of her body, "you've brought me such joy, Lizzie," he murmured, nuzzling her neck.
"It's been quite a journey."
"You should write a book."
She laughed softly at the absurdity of such a suggestion, "what kind of book?"
"A love story, of course."
Where would I begin?"
"When you first met the hero."
"My story began months before I met my hero. First I had to awaken on a cold November morning wondering where my hero was."
"Then you met your hero."
"No, Sweetheart. Mr. Collins didn't show up for another month."
Elizabeth leaned back in her husbands arms, regarding him with a sweet smile, "I loved you all my life. I just didn't know your name or that you would turn out to be so pretty."
"So you finally met your hero. And he was tall, dark and handsome, just what every hero should be."
"Yes, William, I finally met my hero. And he took me away to his kingdom and we begot little Will and Willa."
"Ah, the best part of the story."
"Enough of this. We have a long journey ahead of us in the morning."
"But this is the best part of the story."
She snuggled against him, "take me to bed, sweetheart."
He obeyed and gently lifted her in his arms before laying her down in their bed and carefully tucking her in. He stood looking down at this remarkable woman remembering his first sight of her. She had been so very beautiful in her lilac gown, laughing at the players on the stage, never guessing that the curtain had begun to rise on their own drama. All the sets were in place, all the actors assembled. Fools, villains and buffoons made their entrances performing their parts with expertise while the amateur lovers performed so poorly. What a play it had been with such high drama and low comedy walking hand in hand with joy and despair.
"Come to bed, my love," she murmured.
He shed his clothing and climbed into bed allowing her to snuggle close to him and kiss him goodnight before she could sleep. He held her gently, making them both comfortable, before giving her his last kiss of the day. Then he blew the candle out.