Mr. Darcy is determined to find a wife he can love and respect. He is fascinated by the lively Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but is determined to forget her due to her low connections. Until an act of jealously puts her life at risk. Faced with the bleak reality of living without her forever, Mr. Darcy must examine what he really wants. With the assistance of Colonel Fitzwilliam, his sister, and Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Darcy works to save Elizabeth’s life. If he is lucky, he will then be able to win her heart.
What was the matter with him?
Darcy scowled as he paced back and forth across the length of the library. He could barely believe his actions of the past few days. To allow his control to slip so badly! And all because of a mere country girl, who was far beneath him. No money, no connections, and that family of hers.
But in spite of these objections, Darcy continued to find Miss Elizabeth Bennet everything that was fascinating and lovely. Not that he had always thought so. No, indeed. When he had first spied her several weeks ago at a dance, he had barely noticed her. His mood had been too dark. He even allowed himself to make a disparaging remark about her to his persistent best friend, Charles Bingley. He had come to Hertfordshire to help Bingley get his new estate in order, not to socialize with the local beauties. Yet, he found his interest in Miss Elizabeth growing with every meeting. Still, he was able to squelch this unseemly fascination with the second of the five Bennet sisters. Or so he had thought. Then, several days ago, the eldest Bennet sister, Miss Jane Bennet, had become ill while visiting Bingley’s sisters. Of course, she had to stay as their guest until she was healthy enough for travel.
Although Darcy thought of Bingley as a brother, he didn’t much care for Bingley’s sisters. Miss Caroline Bingley had travelled to Hertfordshire to act as Mr. Bingley’s hostess, for it was one of the unwritten rules of the gentry that a single man could not entertain guests at his house without a hostess. Darcy would have been fine with Miss Bingley if she would leave him alone. But Miss Bingley had decided she wanted to marry Darcy. For his estate, no doubt. She was constantly batting her eyes and complimenting him. Louisa Hurst, Bingley’s married sister, was slightly better. Still a snob, but less obvious about it. She had dragged her husband to Hertfordshire so she could keep Miss Bingley company.
Darcy chuckled as he remembered the expressions on the faces of Bingley’s sisters when Miss Elizabeth had been shown into the breakfast room the next day. They were appalled to learn she had walked three miles to visit her sister. Three muddy miles, judging by the state of her skirt. Darcy admitted that he had enjoyed the past few days in her presence. She was unlike any woman he had ever known. Her conversation was witty and clever, and her playful manner challenged him. She paid him none of the compliments he was used to receiving from young women desiring his attentions. He had even allowed himself to forget his objections against her. Until her mother and younger sisters paid a visit, that is.
Darcy grimaced as he thought of Mrs. Bennet and her three youngest daughters. Their behavior was thoroughly shocking. It was the first time he could ever recall being in accord with Miss Bingley. She had openly disparaged the family to her brother, trying to point out the disadvantages of the connection. Bingley, however, stood firm in his defense of Miss Bennet, whom he declared an angel. But even Bingley could not defend Mrs. Bennet. He remembered Mrs. Bennet’s taunts as she and her youngest daughters visited Netherfield Park under the guise of checking on “Dear Jane”. She had apparently decided that Darcy was the enemy and aimed poorly veiled barbs his way throughout the visit.
Miss Elizabeth, however, had tried to defend him, her cheeks scarlet with mortification. Darcy came to a stop as he remembered the agonized, apologetic glance she had shot him with her spectacular eyes. Those gorgeous, sparkling hazel eyes with dark lashes made for flirting…
Flirting? Good heavens. What was wrong with him? Darcy strode to the window and stared out, not seeing the breathtaking view as dawn softly crept over the landscape. Instead of the trees and the vast array of flora, his mind was wholly absorbed with a beautiful face, its brows arched provocatively as she teased him.
Today she would be leaving, going home where she belonged. He should be grateful. He could put distance between them. Then he would be able to regain his control and focus on more appropriate things. Even as he told himself he would forget her and move on, he felt a strange ache inside his breast at the thought of never seeing Miss Elizabeth’s beautiful eyes again.
His eyes grew far away as he considered his future. He was a Darcy. His family was one of the oldest and wealthiest in the ton. Even Grayson House, the home of his uncle, the earl, didn’t equal Pemberly. It had been made abundantly clear to him, first by his excellent late parents, and more recently by Lord and Lady Grayson, that he had a duty to marry well. That meant marrying a young lady with the appropriate breeding and standing in society. A wealthy landowner’s daughter at the very least. Better still, the daughter of a peer.
Darcy grimaced in distaste. Matchmaking mamas had been thrusting their daughters in his path since his father had died five years before. He shook his head. It was obvious the connection to wealth was more important to many than the happiness of the marriage itself. Most people in high society considered marriage as little more than a business merger. As long as the parties involved were discreet, infidelity was accepted as the norm. A view shared by many in his own family.
His lips twisted as he thought of his aunt and uncle’s attitude towards marriage. The connection was what mattered. As was avoiding scandal at all costs. He remembered well the times he had seen his aunt give a young girl the cut direct for some rumored misdeed. Whether or not the misdeed were true, the girl was considered ruined and to be avoided. Darcy had not paid too much attention until several months ago when his own dear sister had found herself embroiled in a scandalous plot. Disgust roiled in his gut at the thought that his relatives would have tried to force him to marry her off to a cad or send her away, just to avoid any taint to their family name. Fortunately, society remained ignorant of her fall.
He shuddered. No, a marriage based on the whims of society was not what he wanted, either for himself or for his sister Georgiana.
Frustrated, Darcy ran a hand through his hair. If he were going to marry, he would abide by the laws of Christian marriage. He would not marry someone he couldn’t hold in affection or respect. Mrs. Bennet again came to mind. No. Although he held the second Bennet daughter in the highest esteem, her family was too much of a black mark against her. Which meant he needed to forget Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her fine eyes.
“Jane, are you ready yet? The carriage is waiting!”
Elizabeth watched impatiently as her sister took her time preparing for their journey home. Elizabeth was eager to escape the snide comments of Miss Bingley and her sister. She was also anxious to be away from Mr. Darcy’s intense stare. Even imagining the way he watched her, she shivered, although she did not understand why. He made her uneasy, and Elizabeth disliked feeling uncertain.
“Jane,” she implored.
Jane Bennett glanced at her sibling with a gentle smile. Everything about Jane was gentle. Her voice, her manner, even her famous beauty. Where Elizabeth ran, Jane floated. Elizabeth laughed while Jane smiled serenely. Yet the two sisters adored each other. Until now, no one had ever held so much of Jane’s sweet heart as her sister. But now she knew Charles Bingley.
“I am coming Lizzy,” she sighed. “I am a little reluctant to go home. I will have to tell Mama that I am still not engaged.”
Elizabeth looked at her sister.
“At least Mama had the sense to try and throw you at a man you actually like this time,” she teased. “Imagine if Mr. Bingley were a horrible bore, or an ogre. Actually, though, if he were that bad, I think Mama would send me his way instead of yours.”
It was true, and they both knew it. Although Mrs. Bennet loved all her girls in an abstract sort of way, she despaired of ever finding a man willing to marry her most headstrong daughter. What man wanted a woman who could argue and debate as well or better than he?
Jane blushed. The two smiled, then suddenly burst into laughter. They were still laughing as they descended to meet with the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy.
Darcy and Bingley looked up involuntarily as the sisters made their way towards them. Both men unconsciously sighed at the sight of girls. Mr. Bingley with delight written across his face as his angel approached, Mr. Darcy with regret as he realized with cold certainty that he would not be able to forget the woman who had plagued him since he arrived. Indeed, Miss Elizabeth would always be his idea of perfection, no matter how far away he went.
His feelings were muddled when he followed her out to the carriage. He was so disturbed by the path his thoughts were traveling that he barely took note of Miss Bingley. That young lady had pulled out all the stops to try and attract his attention.
She walked as near him as she dared, deliberately moving as elegantly as possible. She batted her light blue eyes coquettishly at him, moving her hands to draw his gaze to her perfectly coiffed red hair and brand new morning dress. Her conversation was everything the ton considered proper, yet it was all in vain. Mr. Darcy paid her no heed. Indeed, he may as well have been walking alone. Not once did he even spare her a glance. Oh, but that chit Miss Eliza Bennet, at her he stared. It was disgraceful!
In a sudden fit of pique, Miss Bingley brought the sharp point of her closed parasol down upon the unsuspecting horse. The beast startled in fear and pain, rearing dangerously. Shouts came from the groomsmen as they tried to restrain the large animal. The second horse shied away from its yoke mate, pulling the carriage forward, causing it to wobble and tilt.
A woman screamed. Silence.
“Miss Elizabeth!” No one recognized that hoarse, emotion-filled cry. They turned to see Mr. Darcy, kneeling on the ground, uncaring of his fine clothes. His pale face stared in anguish at the still form of Miss Elizabeth.
Dana R. Lynn grew up near Chicago, but now lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, three children, and enough animals to fill a small petting zoo. She is an avid reader, and enjoys a wide variety of genres and authors, although her favorite will always be Jane Austen. She loves writing inspirational stories, both contemporary and regency.