[Note: This story follows A Change of Heart.]
“Please, Brother? If I am to spend the whole of tomorrow afternoon sitting with Great-Aunt Margaret, might I not have a bit of new ribbon or lace in my work basket.” Georgiana peered out the window of the carriage as they traveled the streets of London. “It would make the task ever so much more enjoyable.”
Darcy chuckled. “Spending time with Lady Margaret is hardly a thing to be endured.” He noted the small pout that formed instinctively on her lips. It was not an attempt to procure his favour, but rather a small twinge of disappointment which would soon be replaced by a smile and accompanied by a ‘very well.’
“However,” he continued, “if a bit of lace will make both you and she happy, we shall stop and procure the magical bit of froth.”
A smile lit her face. “Oh, thank you, Fitzwilliam! Lady Margaret loves a bit of finery with which to work.” She looked out the window once more. “That store. There.” She pointed to a small establishment just up the street. “They have the best and finest selection.”
Darcy frowned, just a bit. “Are you sure you would not prefer a shop closer to home in a finer neighbourhood?”
She swatted his knee. “Do not be such a dolt, Brother. Ladies of quality frequent this store regularly. It is how I know about it. Many of my friends and their mothers have made mention of it.” She turned pleading eyes upon him. “I have always longed to shop here.”
He shook his head and tapped the roof of the carriage with his walking stick. “Very well. Though your language leaves something to be desired.” He raised a brow and affected a scolding look. “You shall have your wish today, sweet pea.”
Her eyes narrowed at his use of his pet name for her.
As if reading her thoughts, he answered, “I know you are about to be presented to society and that you are indeed no longer a mere child; however, you are now and will always remain my baby sister ─ even when you are as old and hard of hearing and short of sight as Great-Aunt Margaret.”
The carriage had come to a stop and the door was opened. Darcy climbed out and then assisted his sister. “How long shall I have to play the part of the solicitous brother today? You do know these shops are not my favourite establishments.”
She giggled. “I shall endeavour to make our foray amongst the frills and your discomfort as short as possible.”
He carefully watched where her feet were stepping, guiding her safely to the door of the establishment. He stepped through the doorway and took in his surroundings. It was indeed a shop of quality, well-kept and holding an air of dignity. He chuckled to himself. How could a store be dignified? Perhaps it was the fine furnishings and the artfully arranged displays evidencing the obvious care the shopkeeper gave to his establishment which lent to the atmosphere. He turned to speak once more to his sister. “Where shall we begin, sweet…” His words died on his lips as he beheld the lady standing behind Georgiana. “Miss Elizabeth.” He bowed slightly.
Georgiana noted the slight flush to her brother’s face and the smile he bestowed upon the lady named Miss Elizabeth. She looked to the young woman and noted a similar pink tinge to her cheeks. She elbowed her brother in the side and waited for him to notice that there was anyone else within the store. She wanted to giggle at his startled expression as he turned to her. She tilted her head toward Miss Elizabeth and blinked at him waiting for him to remember his duty in introducing her.
His brows drew together slightly as he looked at his sister before recognition dawned in his eyes. “Right,” he muttered with a nod. “Miss Elizabeth, may I present my sister, Miss Darcy. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth.”
Georgiana extended her hand in greeting to the lady. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“As it is likewise a pleasure for me. I have heard somewhat about you.”
“You have?” Georgiana looked in confusion toward her brother. She had not heard of Miss Elizabeth.
“Yes, your brother has spoken of you but not as much as Lady Catherine or Miss Bingley. Rest assured, they only speak of you in terms of highest praise.” She studied the young girl before her. Wickham’s description of Miss Darcy played in her mind. This was not a proud young lady. She was gracious and a bit reserved, if Elizabeth could trust her judgement ─ something which she had recently been made to doubt. She began to wonder just how many lies Mr. Wickham had spoken, and she had believed.
Miss Darcy smiled at Miss Elizabeth and raised an eyebrow in her brother’s direction. “You have met both my aunt and Miss Bingley?”
“Indeed, I have. I am just returning from a stay in Kent. My particular friend is married to my cousin, your aunt’s parson. It is through his position I met your aunt.”
“And Miss Bingley?” Georgiana dared not look at her brother, she was certain he would scowl at her curiosity.
“Mr. Bingley let the estate which neighbours my father’s estate in Hertfordshire.”
“You live near Netherfield?”
“Indeed, I do.” She noted how the young girls brows drew together as she tried to reconcile some bit of information with another. “My aunt and uncle own this store, and a few others. I am visiting them, along with my sister Jane, before we return to Longbourn.”
“Oh.” Her brow remained furrowed for a moment longer before her features relaxed, and she regained her smile. “So you met my brother while he was at Netherfield with Mr. Bingley?”
A teasing light shone in Elizabeth’s eyes, and she gave Darcy an impertinent look. “I met him first at an assembly in Meryton.”
Georgiana’s brows raised in surprise.
“It did not go well,” said Darcy.
“Indeed, it did not,” agreed Elizabeth.
“Mr. Darcy.” Jane had come to stand next to Elizabeth.
“Miss Bennet.” He bowed. “May I present my sister, Miss Darcy. Georgiana, this is Miss Bennet.”
Georgiana’s eyes fell on the trim Jane held in her hands. Then she looked to her brother whose eyes still remained fixed on Miss Elizabeth. “Miss Bennet, you have just the thing for which I am looking. That trim with a bit of lace is just what I need for my blue muslin. Would you mind showing me where you found it?”
Jane hesitate for a moment.
“It shall shorten my brother’s torment if you do. He is not fond of shopping in general and for lace in particular.”
Jane smiled. “I imagine shopping for lace is not any gentleman’s favourite pastime.” She motioned toward the back of the store. “My uncle’s newly arrived stock is back here.”
Darcy watched as his sister followed Jane. “She wished for some trim to add to her work basket when she goes to visit our great-aunt tomorrow.” He was not sure why he felt a need to explain his presence to Elizabeth. “She had heard of this establishment and had never been here before, so I indulged her.”
“An indulgent brother?” Elizabeth teased.
“Perhaps too indulgent.” He sighed. “It was, after all, nearly her ruin.” He shook his head.
“But she was not ruined, and she seems to be lovely, not at all spoilt as some who are overly indulged.”
“True. She is not as some I have seen.”
“Like my sisters,” Elizabeth muttered. She held up a hand to forestall any gentlemanly protest he might attempt. “It is true. They are indulged and spoiled.” She motioned toward a room to the side. “There is a waiting room here, Mr. Darcy. Many men find it to be more comfortable to sit here than to follow their ladies about the shop.”
“You will join me as I wait, Miss Elizabeth?”
“I will.” She took a seat and waited for him to take the chair next to her.
“Did you have a pleasant trip?” He asked as he arranged himself in his chair. “You would have arrived yesterday?”
“The trip was indeed pleasant. Not a drop of rain to be seen anywhere along the journey and between Mariah’s constant chatter about Rosings and a book of poetry, I was well entertained for the entirety of the journey.”
“And Miss Mariah, does she also stay with your aunt and uncle?”
“No, her father came to collect her this morning. I imagine she is still in the carriage telling him her tales of her visit, while he nods and says ‘good, good.'” She laughed lightly. “He is a well-meaning gentleman. Very pleasant. Always looking to help a friend, but sometimes given to gossip when there seems to be an exciting bit of good news to share.”
“Yes.” Darcy gave her a rueful smile. “I had noticed. And a bit of a match maker as well?”
“That he is.” Again she laughed.
“And you will be staying in town for an extended time? Or is your sojourn of a short duration?”
“A fortnight, though my aunt has asked me to extend my stay.”
“And will you?” He held his breath as he waited for her response.
“I have been considering it.” She averted her eyes and her cheeks grew rosy. “There may be diversions in town to entice me to stay. But, Jane has been away from home for so long, I must consider her wishes as well.”
“My friend may call on her.” His voice was soft. “Would she welcome such a diversion?”
Elizabeth smiled. “I believe she would, no matter how much she attempts to protest that she is no longer be affected by him.”
“I am sorry.”
“Have you forgotten the part I played in her sadness?” He settled more deeply in his chair, but did not wait for her to respond. “I have made Bingley aware of your sister’s presence in town and confessed my stupidity. He left my house in quite a state. ” He straightened his sleeves. “This may be the only time you see me unscathed during your visit to town. I am to meet him tonight at our club for bit of a joust.”
She blinked rapidly. “And you are going to allow him to expend his anger upon your person?”
“I shall not have to allow it. He is, as my aunt would say, quite the proficient with sword and fist.” He shrugged at her look of shock. “When you are trying to cross social boundaries, there is ample opportunity to practice defending yourself and any friend who might find himself at odds with his peers.”
“He defended you?” She was incredulous. “I should think, with your advantage in height and standing, it would be the reverse.”
“Things are not always as they seem, Miss Elizabeth.”
She stared at him for a moment, her brows drawn together. Would she ever have the full measure of the man in front of her. He knew first-hand the difficulties which might arise should she agree to marry him. There were those, perhaps even in his own family, who would react vehemently to any union which would bring direct ties to trade. Yet, he had chosen…her.
She shook her head and cursed her abominable pride which had kept her from seeing him for who he was, a man who in disposition and talents would best suit her. But it was more than that. How often after he had left Netherfield had she replayed their exchanges in her mind. Oh, she had told herself it was to find fault, to prove her assessments were correct. When she found her heart longing to sit with him and discuss various topics, she had assured herself it was to prove her superiority. How nonsensical she had been. Things most definitely were not as they first seemed. Even in her blindness, her heart had called out for him.
“Attempting to sketch my character again?” There was a look of amusement on his face.
She shook her head. “I have given up all hope of succeeding. You shall ever remain an enigma to me.”
“Then why the scrutiny?”
She bit her lower lip unsure if she should ask. “You love me?”
He nodded. “Most ardently.”
He shrugged. “You may as well ask how does one continue to draw breath. For just as surely as the Almighty places life in my body, he has placed a love for you in my heart which shall never be removed even after my last breath is drawn.” He took both her hands in his. “Please, Elizabeth, tell me I might, in time, have some hope of success.”
Joy suffused her features, and she lifted his hands to place a small kiss on each of them. Then, with an impertinent grin and a raised eyebrow, she said just three words which made his heart soar. “Perhaps you might.”