A/N: Thank you for the reviews!
This morning Darcy felt an overwhelming need to clear his head. Calling for a groom, he asked for his horse to be brought to him. A long ride should do the trick. Maybe he could gain some perspective on how to get along with his wife. Or at the very least forget her never-ending fascination and concern for a man that he absolutely despised.
As he rode, he remembered yesterday's events. Their argument had been a long time coming. In Meryton, Elizabeth had had a friendship with Wickham that he had been envious of. He had heard the gossiping about them. How they had formed an attachment, that they fancied each other. The news of Wickham's engagement to Miss King had filled him with relief. It had also given him the opportunity to propose to her. The fact that Wickham's engagement had recently been called off did concern him. He wondered if Elizabeth knew about it and if she regretted marrying him even more, now that the other man was free.
He cursed himself for letting his jealousy get the best of him during the argument. He should not have goaded her about her interest in the other man. If he had not commented about the militia, they would not have had the fight in front of Georgiana. Darcy sighed. Georgiana. He loved her, but she was far too naïve and trusting. He hoped the incident with Wickham had taught her to be more careful. The last thing he needed was to have money hungry suitors circling around his sister's fortune. Although he knew that was more wishful than realistic, he did intend to help his sister find a man worthy of her, in character, wealth and status.
After the argument with Elizabeth, he had followed his sister to the music room. She had promptly dissolved into tears. She had told him that even though it had been almost a year she still felt foolish. He winced inwardly remembering her apology. There was no reason for her to apologize. She had been fifteen. Wickham had knowingly taken advantage of her youth. He still saw red whenever he thought about what might have happened to his sister.
He remembered that his sister and Elizabeth had gone for a walk yesterday, but Georgiana had come back alone. That evening, Elizabeth had sent a maid saying that she had a headache. He and Georgiana had eaten dinner without her company. His sister confessed that she had revealed her past with Wickham to his wife. He was none too happy about that, worried that Elizabeth might think he put her up to telling her.
All of these things weighed heavily on his mind. Pulling his horse to a stop, he jumped down next to the lake. He took off his outer garments and jumped in to crisp, cool water. It did wonders for his mood. Always had, even when he was a young boy. Half an hour later, he was finished with his swim and was headed back to the stables.
Hearing a rustle, he paused, catching sight of his wife. She looked shocked by his appearance. Admittedly, he did not look proper standing soaking wet in front of her.
"There you are," Elizabeth said. "One of your footmen said you were going for a ride and would be back shortly."
"Yes, I am back from my ride."
Why was she looking at him like that? The surprise had left her face and was replaced by a sad, apologetic expression.
Elizabeth looked down at her fingers, then back up. Her chest heaved with the deep breath that she took. "I have come to apologize."
He found himself nodding in response, flabbergasted by her words.
His wife continued, "Your sister has relayed to me all the facts…the true facts, about her relationship with Wickham. Had I known I would not have made a scene at breakfast. I would not hurt your sister for the world."
"She is very resilient. It is quite all right."
"No. It is not. I am quite," she gasped, "ashamed of my behavior. I am embarrassed by the way I spoke to you yesterday. Mostly, I am mortified that I have caused pain to someone as sweet and kind as your sister."
His heart palpitated at the sight of her in such distress. This was the second time she had cried in his presence. He felt like a terrible husband each time. Stepping closer, he wrapped his arms around her. He was still wet, but she did not seem to mind. In fact, she even leaned her head against his chest. He had longed for the feel of her in his arms since their wedding day. Darcy was unable to control the hand that went to her head and gently stroked her hair.
He would have been content to hold her like this for hours, but eventually she stopped crying and looked up at him. "I am sorry for misjudging you."
Maybe she did not hate him. Maybe there was hope for their marriage after all. His hands slipped from her head to her waist. Bending over, he touched her lips with his own. The kiss was sweet, gentle and did not last nearly long enough to suit him.
His wife pulled away, smoothing her gown. A slight blush had crept to her cheeks. "I must go. I was going to write a letter to my family."
"I must tend to some business with Mr. Reed."
A giggle escaped his wife's lips. "Your appearance will undoubtedly shock poor Mr. Reed. You might wish to change into attire that is not quite so damp."
It was his turn to blush. "Oh, yes, of course."