Victoria Darcy sat beneath her favorite oak tree, next to the lake on her father's property of Pemberly. She was doing the very thing that anyone who knew her would predict of her. Reading…and avoiding most of her siblings. Her favorite sibling, her older brother Bennet, named in honor of their mother's family, was just back from university and anxiously awaiting the arrival of his school chum, Lord Alexander Bancroft. He, along with all of her extended family were convening at Pemberly for the celebration of Victoria's birth.
Thinking of Lord Alexander brought to mind that he had truly become a part of the family. Of course if he had been her brother she wouldn't blush every time that she thought of him. A trait that her sisters took immense joy in teasing Victoria about. He was five years older than her, the same age as Bennet. Bennet and Victoria were the eldest of the Darcy children but there was a larger gap in age between Victoria and her younger siblings which was possibly how she came to be as close to the two men as she had.
Her ponderings had taken Victoria far away from where she was and it caused her a moment of confusion when a large shadow fell across the pages of her book. Looking up all she could see was the shape of a man riding a horse. The shape was big enough that she knew it was not her brother and she highly doubted her father would have used a horse to fetch her home. It only took him saying, "Ah, I thought I might find you out here, Tory," for her to identify him.
Tory smiled up at the figure now standing next to her. "Alex! I'm so glad you made it."
Alex wrapped his horse's ties around a low hanging branch before sitting down next to Tory. "In the six years that I have known your brother I have never missed either of your birthday celebrations," He took a large breath before continuing, "and I have had the pleasure of watching you grow from a merry child into a lovely woman." Tory blushed and Alex laughed. "Although, I do not know a single person who blushes as much as you."
Tory shook her head, laughing through her embarrassment. "Only around you."
Still smiling he said, "That, I think is a subject we should most definitely explore in depth later. There was, however, one question I wished to ask you before I made your family aware of my arrival."
"And what is it that you wish to ask me?" Alex always looked for her out here before announcing himself to her family.
"Exactly how old are you turning today?"
"You know very well that I am not turning any age today as my birthday isn't until tomorrow."
She seemed to have the uncanny ability to make him laugh at most anything she said. "You are quite right. How old are you turning tomorrow then?"
"I will be exactly eighteen years old tomorrow afternoon."
He cupped her chin in his hand, an unexpected gesture. "Exactly as I thought. You have grown into a lovely woman indeed." His voice was barely a whisper.
The wind blew strands of hair into her face and Alex took his hand from her chin to tuck the loose strands behind her ear. "I think, perhaps, we should venture to your home before it gets too late."
His behavior confused Tory, but if she stayed out much longer her grandmother would worry and if her grandmother was worried no one would be able to relax until she was satisfied. "Alright, but do you feel you have prepared yourself to meet every last member of my family?"
Standing, he helped her to her feet before replying, "I believe I can manage." Alex took the book Tory had been reading and placed it in his saddlebag before untying his horse and starting to walk towards the house. "What are you reading now?"
The blush rose once again into her cheeks. "My mother's diary…from around the time she met Father. There's also a few of Father's letters to Mother in there."
"You often read your mother's private things?"
Tory playfully hit Alex's chest, "You know me better than that! She gave them to me, so I believe I have permission to read them."
The doors were shut and she was not going to open them just yet.
"I have met your family before. Your brother and I are the best of friends if I'm not mistaken."
Tory rolled her eyes, "I know that. I'm not yet prepared to re-enter my home with you. I will be teased unmercifully."
"And why would that be?" His lips twitched with a suspiciously knowing smile.
"For no reason other than I am a young lady of a marriageable age and you are a bachelor and we are good friends."
The large door swung open and two identical faces looked at the older pair outside. "Tory, keeping Alex all to yourself again? As if he wouldn't notice?"
"Sarah, Grace, leave your sister alone. She is doing nothing wrong. Go find your brother and let him know Lord Bancroft is here."
The girls, artfully taken in hand, walked up the stairs towards Bennet's rooms.
"Aunt Jane is an absolute angel," Tory told Alex, both still standing outside the house. "Of course, she had plenty of practice. The girls take after Aunty Lydia and Aunt Kitty more than anyone."
"It seems as if it has been forever since I've seen them. How old are they now?" He led the way inside and closed the door.
"Sarah and Grace are twelve now and Thomas is 7."
"You are making me feel positively old. I remember when he was just a babe."
"Perhaps it is because you are old that you feel this way and not because you remember the littlest Darcy when he was barely able to walk."
The man looked positively hurt. "You really think me old?"
"I do not think you old. I was only teasing," she whispered.
"I know," he leaned in close, "and I adore teasing you back. It certainly makes my day more interesting."
"Bancroft!" was shouted from the top of the stairs. "A gentleman does not stand so close to the sister of his friend."
The young lord turned to be greeted by the sight of the oldest Darcy accompanied by, Charles and Patrick, two of the Bingley cousins. "Who ever made the claim that I was a gentleman? Besides your Aunt Jane was here the entire time and I'm sure she would have put me in my place if I had done anything untoward."
At the bottom of the stairs Bennet hugged his friend tightly and gave him an infectious smile that was inherited from his mother. "Now that you are here my friend the party can truly begin."
"I cannot possibly be the last one to arrive. The celebration doesn't start until tomorrow."
"You sir, are always the last one to arrive." Tory informed him. "Now, if the four of you don't mind I must find mother and let her know I have returned and that Alex has arrived." Charles and Patrick followed her out, apparently thinking she needed an escort inside the house.
Bennet made sure the threesome was out of earshot before asking his friend, "Have you told her of your intentions yet?"
"No. I tried to, earlier, Ben, under the tree…"
"She did you in with her feminine whiles, did she?"
"No, I thought it wise to stop things before they got too…heated."
"Ah, quite right," Ben put his arm around Alex's shoulders. "I wouldn't be too worried, Alex. She adores you."
"That does not worry me. It is the talk I must have with your father and then the talk I must have with mine if she accepts."
"Mother, I'm back and I returned your book to its proper place," Tory said, entering the parlor minus her two cousins. "Alex has also arrived, Mama."
Grandmother Bennet, who had been reclining in a chair, perked up, "Alex? Who is this Alex?"
"Lord Alexander Bancroft, Earl of Yves, Grandmother. He is Bennet's friend from school."
"Oh yes, the Marquis of Dunford's eldest son. He is a very wealthy man and his son stands to inherit quite the fortune. I have heard that he is nearly as wealthy as the King himself. The young Earl would certainly make a fine match for one of my granddaughters."
"Oh, really, mother. He is practically a member of the family." Lizzie Darcy commented to her own mother.
"In any case, money holds no interest for me. It would not be a deciding factor in my marriage."
"I've taught you well, Tory. However, I think that you should go up to your rooms and wash and change for supper. It would seem that Alex's arrival is well timed as always." Lizzie said sarcastically.
"I'll be quick as a wink mother," Tory promised hurrying up the stairs to her rooms.
Tory quickly washed and changed with the help of her maids. After dismissing them, she sat on the side of her bed, withdrawing the miniature portrait of Alex that he had given her for her last birthday. He had given it to her without anyone noticing and she had kept it hidden in the drawer of her nightstand for fear of someone finding it. It was a highly personal gift for one person to give another, but Tory had been trying not to put too much hope in the gesture for, as her mother had said, Alex was part of the family.
Glancing at the mantle clock Tory realized she had spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at Alex's picture and would be late for supper if she didn't rush down immediately. When she passed the library doors a surprised squeak made its way out of her when a hand reached out and pulled her in.
"I need to talk to you."
He placed a finger on her lips, silencing her, "Shh. I need to say this before we are interrupted or I lose my courage again and if you speak I won't be able to say what I need to say. I tried to tell you at the lake earlier. You're my best friend's sister. That should have automatically made you off limits to me…and it did. You were twelve and I, I was not. But over the last six years we've become great friends, something I would never have thought possible. For the last two years, no matter how hard I tried not to, I found it quite impossible not to love you. I want to marry you. I know that our class differences might make it difficult, but I don't care. My father will probably yell and complain, but he's an old fool, don't let him bother you. I spent hours looking for the perfect present for you and now I find myself hoping you'll give me an equally perfect gift at this moment." Alex finished, taking his finger away.
Tory's eyes were wide and her face pale, but she some how managed to ask, "And just what present could I give you that would be as perfect as the one you just gave me?"
"Say yes. Be my wife. Love me."
She smiled and shook her head. "Alexander Bancroft I have loved you since the day you fell into our pond that summer you spent with us four years ago. Yes, I will marry you and be your wife." He kissed her then. On the cheek, much as he had many times before, but this time was different. This time it held the promise of much more.
"I shall go talk to your father immediately."
"You shall talk to my father after supper. If we don't hurry we will be late and Sarah and Grace would tease me unmercifully, especially if we arrive together."
He smiled indulgently, "There is nothing for them to tease you about now."
"Yes, but they don't know that."
"Besides," he continued, "Ben is right outside to serve as escort and chaperonage."
Almost as if he'd heard his name, Ben popped his head in. "If you two take any longer we shall miss dinner completely."
"Than let's be on our way. After all, we wouldn't want you to faint from hunger," Tory teased. Ben's appetite was a thing of great amusement to those who knew him.
Coming fully into the room, Ben took his sister's arm before asking, "Am I to offer my congratulations?"
"Yes. I have only to convince our fathers and we shall be free and clear to wed," Alex told him.
"You will wait until after supper to talk with my father," Tory reiterated.
"I have promised to wait. Don't worry that I'll break my word. Besides, I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for throwing off Ben's feeding schedule."
"Ha ha. Very humorous. If you don't hold your tongue I may let certain secrets slip," Ben threatened, stopping at the doors to the dining room.
The doors opened and as soon as they entered the trio was questioned. "Where have the three of you been?"
Alex said nothing, just took his seat; Tory gave an expected blush, and Ben offered the excuse, "Tory found something in the library that she felt necessary to show me."
"Oh, what was it?" Mr. Bennet questioned.
Tory really had found something, but she hadn't told Ben about it, "An old letter, stuffed into the pages of a book that probably hasn't been read since it was bought." This sparked a discussion that lasted the entirety of supper. Alex and Tory participated in the conversation, but didn't hardly talk to one another, or look at each other, or acknowledge each other.
When the meal ended the women left to care for the children and put them to bed, while the men went to the parlor to smoke cigars and drink brandy. Before they dispersed Alex turned to Darcy, "May I have a word with you Mr. Darcy?"
"Of course, come to my study with me. We shall join the rest of you gentlemen in a few moments."
Tory watched nervously as Alex left with her father.
"What can I do for you Alexander?" Darcy sat in the chair behind his desk, watching Alex pace.
"I would like to ask you for something of great import." Darcy stared at him silently. "I wish to ask for your permission to marry your daughter."
"Any particular one? I have three." Darcy commented dryly, knowing full well which daughter the young lord referred to.
"Tory, of course!" Alex exclaimed, so nervous he had missed the sarcasm.
"Of course. I assume you've already spoken to Victoria and she's accepted you."
"How will your father feel about this?"
"He won't like it because she's not titled, but if I can't talk to him I've every confidence Tory will be able to win him over."
"And your mother?"
"She'll love Tory. It's impossible not to love her."
"Tory was not raised to be a nobleman's wife."
"I mean no disrespect sir, but neither was Mrs. Darcy raised to be a rich man's wife."
Darcy cleared his throat, "Quite right. Please rejoin the men and I'll send for Victoria."
Alex bowed and walked out of the study. After the door closed, a touch on his shoulder started him.
"What did he say?"
"He wants to speak with you," turning to Tory, he placed both hands on her shoulders. "Don't worry, everything will be fine."
"I'm not worried."
Alex laughed softly, kissing her forehead, "Yes, you are. Now go in there. I have to rejoin the men." He turned her toward the door and walked away down the hall.
"You wanted to see me Papa?"
"Standing outside the door listening were you?"
"I was not listening."
"What did Alexander have to say?"
"He told me not to worry."
"And so you shouldn't. As much as it pains me to part with you, I know you would not have accepted him if you did not truly want this."
Tory hugged him around the neck, burying her face in his shoulder, "Oh, thank you, Papa!"
Darcy laughed, "Don't thank me. Now, if you think you can keep your excitement in check I think I shall announce your engagement after your birthday supper."
Tory looked up at him, worried, "But what about Alex's father?"
"I will talk to Alexander tomorrow and we shall work something out…his father may not even object at all you know."
"Perhaps." Tory started to back towards the door, "I should be getting back to Mother now."
Darcy smiled, "Yes. And Tory? Try not to act too excited."