Author's note: This story is in the process of being completely rewritten. I re-read it and hated a lot of parts so I went back and re-worked the entire story. It no longer switches perspective and I think it is easier to follow. Keep and eye out for updates to this story and eventually a re-working of the sequel, "Oh What Men Dare Do!". I am not British, I have no idea how they speak or live, or how the monarchy and nobility works, so please forgive any inaccuracies. I've done my best to be as accurate as possible. The Shakespeare lines (including the title) are from Sonnet 116, Sonnet 29, a Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet.
The Course of Love: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a wealthy, single man is in the market for a wife." Darcy sighed as he and his friend sat having lunch. "And though they do not know us, their mothers will consider us the rightful property of their daughters. Women, who only want money, will be throwing themselves at us left and right."
"Nonsense." Charles shook his head. "You have such a pessimistic view of things. The women here are just women, like any other place in the world. Don't you ever want to fall in love and get married?"
"I do, however, no one has ever tempted me, and I doubt this town will offer anything spectacular, and it will be harder to find the sincere ones. Here, the women are not already rich. In London, at least, they are only trying to increase their fortunes, not gain a fortune." Darcy said, a melancholy look sweeping over his dark features. "And I have to deal with your sister as well!"
"I told her that you were not interested, were never interested, and will never be interested." Charles smiled. "So you should be free from her grasp. Come on, Darcy. You are no more than an hour away from London, faster if you need it, and a few hours drive to Pemberley. You are not isolated. And we've been invited to a party already."
"A party, Charles?" Darcy looked skeptically at his friend.
"Yes. A new club is opening in the town and we've been invited. There will be lots of very pretty girls to dance with and lots of new people to meet." Charles nodded happily, excusing himself.
Darcy sighed and sat back in his chair. He owned one of the most successful private farms in the country, and was wealthy, titled, and one of Europe's best horse breeders, and what was he doing? Sulking in his friend's new home, dreading a party filled with vapid, shallow women, who had surely heard of the men's wealth by now. Charles's father had made his money by fronting inventions and investing in movies, and because of Charles's own services to the Crown, he was knighted. When old Mr. Bingley died, he left his entire fortune to Charles (one of the Bingley sisters was married to a wealthy man and didn't need anything but the trust fund and the other had a trust fund, but her father did not trust her with more than that). Charles had a house in London, but wanted one in the country, some place he could retreat to, but (in Darcy's mind) this town left much to be desired.
That night, the Bingley/Hurst/Darcy lot headed off to the club. Caroline rode with her sister and brother-in-law, and planned on leaving the "country party" early, so they wouldn't sully their good name. Darcy intended to stay as long as Charles did, if only to escape the clutches of his sister Caroline, who refused to take "no" for an answer (having never heard it before in her life). The club was packed and they knew no one. Charles was by nature, friendly, and was chatting with people as he moved around the floor. Darcy then spotted him talking to a blonde woman, who was dressed modestly compared to everyone else, smiling, and laughing. Next to her was a brunette, dressed in a stunning black top and tight jeans. She was not obviously pretty, unlike her blonde sister, she was tiny, short, her face was too round and her mouth was too big. Then he noticed how it puckered in a cute manner when she laughed, and her eyes caught Darcy's notice (much to his dismay). He immediately quashed these thoughts and studied the girls more objectively. He could only assume, by the way the girls acted, that they were either best friends or sisters. The dark-haired one moved away, presumably to get a drink, and Darcy's eye roamed the room yet again.
"Come on Darcy, live a little, dance!" Charles exclaimed.
"Charles, you know how I hate to, unless I know who I'm dancing with. I know no one other than your sisters, who have left already. Besides, you are dancing with the only pretty girl here."
"She is more beautiful than any woman I have ever known. Her name is Jane Bennet and she's a school teacher." Charles got a little dreamy-eyed, staring at the blonde girl. "But don't be so silly, her sister-Elizabeth-is around here somewhere, and she's quite pretty too."
"Barely. She's acceptable, but not enough to tempt me. Go on back to your girl, you're wasting your time with me." Darcy replied, a little more harshly than he intended. He was honestly getting tired of Charles falling in love every few months. It was always a very pretty girl, sometimes they were society girls, sometimes they worked at coffee shops, and he usually lost interest within a few weeks. Darcy felt someone brush past him and saw the retreating back of the blond woman's sister. Had she heard him say she was not pretty? This party was really going to drive him insane, first Charles refuses to leave and then he insults someone who's only fault was that he was irritated. He really needed to learn to think before speaking-it never ended well. All he wanted to do was go home.
Finally, around last call, Darcy managed to drag his friend back to Netherfield, Charles's new home. As soon as they arrived, Mrs. Hurst and Caroline, who had claimed exhaustion when they left the party but were somehow still wide awake, verbally tore apart their new neighbors.
"The manners of those women. They were practically throwing themselves at every available man." Caroline sighed haughtily, with the air of one who knows all. "The society of this town, for the most part, is severely lacking."
"Those two you were speaking to, the eldest Bennet sisters, are quite all right. However, the younger one-Elizabeth-has a sharp tongue. I heard her talking to her friend, and though witty, her sarcastic comments about things were simply…rude." Mrs. Hurst nodded in agreement with her sister. "Though Jane is very sweet and mild-tempered, perhaps the rest of the family is like this."
"Well, shall we have them for lunch next weekend?" Charles asked, grinning.
"Of course we can have them for lunch." Caroline smiled at her sister. "I'm sure it will be most entertaining."
Darcy was sure by the way Caroline had said "entertaining" she did not believe that the rest of the Bennet family was anything like the oldest sisters. In fact, he believed she took a cruel sort of pleasure in mocking the people below her station. He promised himself that he would be more sociable at lunch, if only to find another friend in this town aside from Charles.
That was not in the cards for Darcy, and he spent his lunch attempting to stifle his growing feelings for the second eldest Bennet girl. This annoyed him and so did the majority of the Bennet family, for Mrs. Bennet was absolutely as ill-mannered as Jane was sweet-tempered, and far too loud and nosy for her own good. The younger two were insipid and too much like their mother. The third did not say a word, other than to wax philosophical about morality (really, more like lecture the entire table); making the oldest two look like ladies of court. Elizabeth and Jane seemed to be the best bred of the family, keeping their manners and attempting to rein their mother in the entire lunch, to no avail. Jane and Charles seemed to be in their own little world, and Elizabeth, with whom he might have had a pleasant conversation, refused to speak to him, so he spent the lunchtime in relative silence.
No sooner had Darcy finally convinced himself that Elizabeth was not worth his notice and her family too ill-bred to marry into, he looked at her eyes. They were uncommonly intelligent, and shone brightly when she was happy. This was becoming a dangerous situation for him, so he did what he had done with life questions since his father had died: he wrote to Richard. His cousin was his confidante in almost everything, though Charles was rapidly becoming just as close. Still, Darcy felt like Richard would give him the soundest advice on the matter.
Stop before you get on my case for not emailing you sooner, it's been crazy getting Internet at Charles's house and you know I hate to email from my phone. Call me old-fashioned, but I want my phone to be a phone. I'm looking for advice, old man, and I need you to tell me straight, don't spare my feelings, though you never do.
I find myself attracted to a woman that...well, I find her objectionable. Not Elizabeth herself, she is a nice, well-mannered girl but her family! The family is horrible; I have never seen a more determined set of gold-diggers in my life. And open about it! Practically announcing it to the world that they intend to marry rich. Well, the youngest I think would be happy just getting pregnant and getting child support.
You know what it would mean to be with me. Every dirty little secret, every unfortunate relative, it all comes out to ridicule in the press. I hate to say this but she really isn't good enough for me. Not her, personally, but you know what I mean.
You have more experience with women than I do. How, exactly, do I get over one?
Will sat back to look at the email. It was honest, it was open, and it was exactly what he would say to Richard face to face. But something was...off. He hovered over the send button but couldn't bring himself to click it. Part of him felt like he needed to defend Elizabeth more to Richard, make him understand that the problem wasn't her, it was her family. At the same time, another part of him thought he hadn't really defended his position against her enough for Rick to get the full idea of how absolutely unsuitable Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Lydia, and Mary were. Mr. Bennet was...passable. Darcy really hadn't made an opinion on the man yet because he was reserved and allowed his wife to run rampant. No, not allowed. His wife he couldn't control, but his daughters he could. Clearly, someone had stepped in and taught Jane and Elizabeth manners, and Darcy was willing to bet it wasn't their mother. Was Mr. Bennet just exhausted, then, after two and couldn't spare any more attention for the other three?
Perhaps Charles could help him. But Charles didn't share his bad opinion of the Bennets; Charles didn't really share his bad opinion of anyone except for maybe Wickham and anti-monarchists. And even then, he considered many of them lacking in understanding, not really bad. How someone so friendly had ever become his best friend was a mystery to Darcy. But still...
Darcy found his friend in the billiard room, practicing. "Charles."
"Darcy! I thought you were going to be buried in that laptop for hours!" Charles smiled. "Fancy a match?"
Darcy grabbed a cue and prepped it. "I am done with business emails, I was considering a more...personal issue."
"Personal? Do tell. You know I like those much more than business." Charles grinned.
"Elizabeth Bennet." Darcy sighed as Charles broke.
"Ah, the lovely Lizzie! I hope to always be friends with her, she has a biting sense of humor." Charles nodded. "You like her."
How quickly Darcy forgot how easily Charles could read him. No sense denying it. "Yes. But I really don't want a relationship right now, and she's really too young for me. And if we started dating, the poor girl would be exposed to the paparazzi...I'm just not prepared to do that to someone still in University." It wasn't exactly the truth, but it wasn't a lie either.
Charles wasn't exactly convinced, but he didn't press. "Then don't date her. How is this a personal issue?"
Darcy sighed. "I have no experience trying to be friends with a woman I am attracted to. I have no idea how to handle myself, to try to be friendly but distant enough not to raise any hopes."
"Let me know when you figure it out. I have a habit of accidentally raising hopes. Why I got the nastiest text the other day when Beatrice Blevins found out from Louisa that I was dating someone. Lord knows what it will be like when the press finds out. You might try Fitzwilliam. I swear I see him with more women that I ever thought possible, and when he meets with them after they've ended, they all still think he is the nicest man and are very friendly." Charles shrugged. "I don't know, try to push her out of your thoughts and then you can just...be yourself."
It was settled. Once the game was over, Darcy clicked "send" on his email to Rick and decided to try Charles's advice in the meantime. An opportunity presented itself quickly when they met at a dinner party two days later. Despite his efforts, Elizabeth remained firmly in his thoughts. Again he tried when they were all invited to a charity event for the local children's hospital, and again when they passed each other on the road, but the harder he tried, the stronger his feelings for her became, much to his dismay.
Darcy decided he would give in, once, and cure himself of the ridiculous attraction. Charles provided the perfect opportunity later that night. Caroline, Louisa and Hurst had all vanished, leaving the two friends to discuss Charles's estate and his plans for it.
"What do you think about a masked ball?" Charles asked as they sat around the living room, he was thoroughly enjoying his first month of country estate ownership and was eager to show off his improvements. "We can hold it here. We've got such a grand space; we should put it to good use. Everyone has welcomed me to the neighborhood so nicely; it seems like a great way to repay their hospitality. A New Years costume ball!"
"It's your house, Charles, though you know I hate dancing." Darcy replied, but was secretly excited. He'd avoid her as much as possible and then indulge during the ball. And that would be the end of things.
"Good, it's settled. And you must wear a costume, or you're not coming. And fair warning, Caroline knows you always wear a tuxedo to get out of the whole costume thing, and is most likely going as a bond girl." Charles smiled at his friend's obvious discomfort. "Maybe if you came with a date, Caroline would lay off?"
Darcy gave his friend a look of incredulity. "I think it's time for bed, my friend, you're starting to spout nonsense."
"Lizzie, Caroline Bingley invited me over for lunch. She is such a nice woman, so very intelligent and fashionable." Jane smiled, looking at the text on her phone and quickly responding. "But what will I wear?"
"I don't know how we see people so differently." Lizzie shook her head. "Caroline Bingley is a pretentious snob. If you ask me, she and Darcy deserve each other."
"Now really, Lizzie. Caroline is very kind, and Darcy is just shy and probably just had a headache that night. I wish you could hear yourself sometimes when you have a headache and do not wish to be bothered. You'd probably behave a lot worse than he has. You should forgive him." Jane pointed out.
"I am sorry. I forget all the world is good in your eyes. And what about Mr. Bingley?" Lizzie teased.
"He is the sweetest, most handsome man I have ever met." Jane practically giggled. "I think...but it is too much to hope for more than just casual dating right now. Why would a man who could have any London deb take notice of me?"
"Because you are the sweetest, most handsome woman he has ever met." Her sister teased. "Or beautiful. But I guess you really could use 'handsome'. They all mean the same thing."
"You only say that because you are my sister." Jane rolled her eyes. "Should I tell Mama?"
"That you are dining at the estimable Sir Bingley's house? No. Not until you are walking out the door. You know how she gets." Lizzie shook her head. "Will the man in question be joining you?"
"Oh I doubt it, Lizzie. I think Caroline is just trying to find some girlfriends her age in the area."
"Jane, you couldn't tell that woman's age if you tried. She's practically plastic. Well, be sure to leave early. I've got to get up extra early to do my run tomorrow because a storm is supposed to blow through in the late afternoon. They say we could get several inches of snow and it could be blizzard-like conditions."
"Really? I'll be sure to check the weather early tomorrow. My car will not go very far in snow." Jane looked concerned. "I wonder if Caroline knows and might want to reschedule?"
"It isn't supposed to hit until later, so just eat and get out early because of the weather." Lizzie shrugged.