[Note: This story follows Just Three Words.]
Darcy paced the length of the hall between the sitting room and his study. She was coming. There was no hope of sitting still or occupying his mind with any other thought. Lord knows, he had tried! But, since the day she had told him there was hope for him to succeed in winning her heart and hand, he had struggled to think of anything else. He had called on her twice at her relative’s home, once accompanied by his sister and the other time accompanied by Bingley. But today…today she was to come to Darcy House.
Georgiana poked her head out of the sitting room door. “Brother, I have need of you.” She ducked back into the room and waited until her restless brother appeared and took a seat across from her.
“How may I be of assistance?” He shifted back into his chair, feigning a relaxed posture. His manner may have been convincing had it not been for the constant tapping of his finger on his leg.
Georgiana wanted to giggle. To see her brother in such a distracted and anxious state should have been disconcerting since it was the opposite of his regular disposition; however, she had happened upon the end of the exchange he had had with Miss Elizabeth at Mr. Gardiner’s shop. And she had noted his inability to act at ease when they had visited the Misses Bennets. She was certain his lack of composure was due to one thing. Her brother was a besotted fool. “I am to come out in just a few months.”
Darcy furrowed his brow and there was a slight clenching of his jaw. Georgiana knew her come out was not a topic he enjoyed discussing.
“There is no need to scowl, Brother. I am not the silly young girl I was a year ago.” She brushed an imaginary piece of lint from the arm of the chair. She still had trouble looking at him when she referenced the foolish notion she had had that Wickham could love her.
His expression relaxed. “You are not silly; however, you are still young, and I do not relish the thought of giving you away to any man. There are few who could ever be worthy.”
“But, you shall have to part with me eventually, for I do not intend to be a spinster sister living on the charity of my brother.” She smiled at him as he shook his head at her remarks. “Yes, I know, you would not call it charity. You would call it duty or responsibility, which, I will have you know, does not make it any more palatable.”
“I do not think duty and responsibility are distasteful words, Georgiana.”
“Do you not? So exactly why have you then neglected the duty of marriage? The estate needs an heir.”
He groaned. “Perhaps I should amend my statement. I do not find them distasteful when they apply to you.”
“Then perhaps you should consider marriage as a duty of providing a sister for me and eventually nephews and nieces to spoil. I would like a sister ─ the right one, of course, not just any young lady will do. In fact, a sister to stand by my side during my season would be such a comfort.”
“And this is why you have called me from my work? To discuss my need to marry and your need of a sister?”
She laughed. “Called you from your work? Were you testing the walking capabilities of your boots?”
“I may have been trying to come to a solution to a problem, and your interference will just delay the issue being resolved.”
She leaned forward a bit and gave him a look he knew she had learned from the Dowager Countess of Matlock. She was his younger sister, but she had mastered the look so well he found himself feeling very much like the younger sibling. “I do not think I like you spending so much time with Great Aunt Margaret. She is teaching you to be far too direct and slightly impertinent.”
“You love our aunt, and her impertinence has always brought a smile to your face.” She leaned back in her chair once again and spoke softly. “I do need someone to stand by my side when I come out ─ a female someone. Our great aunt insists she will fill the role, but she is not as strong as she once was. I fear she will not be strong enough to endure all the events of the season. There is Lady Matlock, but she will also be promoting our cousin Clarice. Then there is, of course, Miss Bingley. I am sure she would be delighted to assist you with my come out.”
“So you have pulled me from my contemplation of one problem to place on me another?”
She shook her head. “No, I have a solution to both problems.”
“Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet to see you.” Darcy’s butler announced the arrival of their guests.
“Thank you, Fletcher.” Georgiana rose along with her brother to greet the ladies.
“You will tell me your solution later?” Darcy whispered as Jane and Elizabeth entered.
Georgiana smiled at him and shook her head. “The solution, my dear brother, has arrived to take tea with us. Do try to convince her of your worth.” Georgiana turned from him and extended a hand in greeting to Jane and Elizabeth.
Darcy leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly, letting the notes of the song surround him. This visit had gone very well. Georgiana had found many interests and topics of interest to engage in with Miss Bennet, conveniently leaving him to entertain Miss Elizabeth. A task he had found most enjoyable.
“Your aunt did not exaggerate your sister’s skills.” Elizabeth turned from watching Georgiana and Jane at the instrument. “I apologize for the barely adequate playing you had to endure when you are used to such proficiency.”
“Barely adequate? I would not have described it so.”
“You are too generous, sir.”
“With praise?” He shook his head. “No, I am far too thrifty with my praise. It is a fault I own though I had not thought of it as such until recently. Until recently, there is much I had not considered from any vantage point but my own.”
Elizabeth studied her hands. “I fear, I am guilty of the same fault. I have come to recognize a tendency to misunderstand people who are not like me. It is not, however, willfully done which makes the knowledge of the fault sting that much more, for if it was knowingly done, it would not show a lack of understanding.”
For a moment, they sat listening to Georgiana play. The only sound that was heard beyond the swelling and softening of the music was the flick of a page when Jane moved it.
Darcy shifted in his seat as his sister stumbled upon a passage and after pausing restarted that section playing this time without the error. “As long as the pupil does not keep hitting the same incorrect note, improvement can be made, and the results can be quite beautiful and stirring.” Darcy steepled his fingers and rested his chin upon them as he thought.
“Indeed,” said Elizabeth softly.
“Do you return to Hertfordshire soon?” He glanced at her before he returned his attention to his sister. His heart pinched at the thought of Elizabeth being so far from him when in his mind and heart her place was where it was now, at his side.
“We do. In two days time.” She often felt a pang of regret at having to leave her aunt and uncle. Their home was so warm and welcoming ─ and despite the young children, it was calm. She had, however, missed her daily walks. Town was not conducive to such activities. Yet, now, her heart did not even yearn for fresh air and space as it normally did. It longed to be here, with him. “I do not wish to leave.” Her voice was just above a whisper.
Darcy turned toward her. “I beg your pardon.”
Her cheeks grew rosy, but she raised her voice and repeated, “I do not wish to leave.”
He nodded. “Town can be diverting. Georgiana sometimes wishes to remain here rather than return to Derbyshire.”
“I did not mean town.” She clasped her hands tightly in her lap and let her gaze rest on them except for a quick look at him. Seeing his brows drawn together in question, she continued, “I do not wish to leave…” She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly before continuing. “…you. I do not wish to leave you.” She glanced at him again to gauge his reaction. There was still a question in his eyes. Heart beat rapidly, and she tried once again to steady it with a deep breath. “I will miss you. I did miss you. When Mr. Bingley left the neighbourhood and you followed, I thought I was merely despondent because Jane was, but that despondency lifted when I saw you at Rosings and returned to a greater extent when you left. I find I cannot think of returning home without feeling sadness in my very soul. I believe, Mr. Darcy, you have engaged my heart .” She dared not look at him now.
“Do you love me?” His voice was gentle and soft as he reached across to where she sat next to him and covered her hands with one of his.
She nodded. “I believe, I do.”
“But you are unsure?” His thumb rubbed soothingly against the back of one of her hands. The rapid beating of her heart slowed and a comforting, protective warmth enveloped her.
She shrugged and peeking up at him, smiled a small apologetic smile. “I have never been in love before.”
“It is a singular feeling, to be sure.” He sat quietly for a moment before continuing. His thumb still caressed her hand. “It is a novel feeling for me as well.” He smiled at her look of surprise.
“You have never been in love before?”
He shook his head. “Infatuated, perhaps. Interested, most definitely. But never have I given my heart to another…until you. And I was quite long in coming to the realization myself.”
Her head tilted to the side and her brows drew together as a smile played at her pursed lips. She found the revelation that he had never loved another to be pleasing, but to know that this man, who seemed so confident and sure of himself, had struggled with realizing his love amazed her. “What caused you to realize it was love?”
He smiled at her curiosity. “I could tell you everything I think you wish to hear and nothing that is true,” he teased.
“But you will not.” She raised an eyebrow in response and the smile that had moments before been only playing at her mouth, spread across it. “I have discovered that about your character, sir. You are not given to prevarication.”
He shook his head and grimaced. “I was not honest with Bingley.”
She pulled one of her hands free from his grip and ran her finger lightly over the gash near his eye. “Does it hurt?”
“Only slightly.” He caught her hand and placed a kiss in it. “It is no more than I deserve.” He released her hand, and she tucked it under the hand which still held her other one. “I think I was about to answer a question for you,” he said with a smile.
“I fear it is not a very noble answer.” He chuckled softly. “I saw you smiling at my cousin, and I wished to run him through.”
He shrugged. “It was jealousy, plain and simple.” He watched her close her eyes and scowl. “What are you doing?” he asked.
It was a moment before she opened her eyes and replied, “Confirming that I love you.”
“And that caused you to scowl?”
There was a playful glint in her eye. “It did, for I imagined another sitting here, next to you, and my thoughts toward her were far from charitable. In fact, I may need to borrow your sword.”
Georgiana stopped playing when she heard her brother laugh. She and Jane turned just in time to see Darcy rise and pull Elizabeth from her seat and into his embrace. Faces flushed and softly giggling, Georgiana and Jane turned back toward the instrument but remained still so that they could hear what might be said.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy began but was forestalled by a finger pressing against his lips.
Elizabeth shook her head and, though a smile graced her lips, tears clung perilously close to spilling from her eyes. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He smiled at her repetition of his words. “You have succeeded, sir.” Her lip quivered and a tear slid down her cheek causing him to draw her more tightly to him. “If you are still willing to have me, despite my foolishness and connections which will surely cause you trouble, I am yours for I find that I love you now as I always shall ─ with my whole heart.”
He sighed and clasped her tightly to his chest. It was a sound of relief and peace that told her that he would gladly accept her. Then, releasing her slightly, he smiled down at her as he whispered, “my Elizabeth,” before sealing their understanding with a kiss.