What was he doing, right now? Sleeping? Changing his clothes? Bathing?
Any of those possibilities involved some degree of nakedness and were a bit too intimate for her to imagine without worsening her jitters. The speculation did lead her to ponder the location of his bedchamber relative to the one assigned to her. Rapidly analyzing the townhouse layout in her head, she concluded his suite might be almost directly below.
Dashing to the rear, alcove window, she jerked the curtains aside. It turned out her calculations were only partially accurate. Indeed, the master suite was below her, but farther to the right than she ﬁgured. In fact, if not for the light shining outward through what she assumed was a glass door, the low-walled stone patio would not have been visible at all in the darkness. Sighing rather pathetically, Lizzy leaned her forehead against the glass. The cold was soothing to her skin. She closed her eyes and ever so slowly forced the coiled energy to ease out of her muscles. Relaxation took hold, and the prospect of falling asleep for the hour that remained until she needed to dress for dinner ﬁnally felt possible. Opening her eyes, she released a second sigh before lifting her head from the glass and starting to turn away.
Just then, the light down below ﬂickered, and a tall shadow waved over the stones. Instantly she was alert, eyes wide and face pressed into the cold glass.
Please, let it be him!
Seconds later, William walked out the door. The distance, shadows, and thick vines twining over a trellis obstructed her view, but she noted a tumbler in his right hand, and that he wore only his shirt and trousers.
This time her sigh was closer to a whine of longing.
Grasping onto the window latch, a crazed vision of throwing the window wide and shouting his name, as if a whimsical Juliet to his Romeo, whipped through her mind. Next came the insane notion of scaling the wall, climbing down the conveniently located trellis, and dropping half-dressed onto his patio. Covering her mouth to stay the giggles threatening to burst forth at such ridiculousness, Lizzy removed her hand from the latch as rationality slowly reasserted.
No. It is much preferable to enjoy this small gift of an intimate peek at the man I love. For some minutes, she unashamedly watched from her cozy vantage point.
William stood in the middle of the patio with one hand on his hip, gazing into the sky as he sipped from the tumbler. Twice he glanced in the direction of her window, and each time her hand was halfway to the latch before she stayed the unconscious movement. The light inside his chambers illuminated him, whereas she was hidden in the window alcove behind thick curtains shielding the lone candle she had left by the bed. Knowing that he was thinking of her was enough for now.
* ~ * ~ *
A smiling Darcy crossed the threshold, ascended the stairs, and headed directly to the booth next to a south-facing window.
“You are late,” Colonel Fitzwilliam noted.
“I will scoot,” Richard drawled, “but I am terribly comfortable stretched out, so you will have to suffer the boots. I wiped the muck off and a little dust will not kill you.”
“If it does, I vow to haunt you.” Darcy slid into the bench across the table from the colonel, then motioned to a passing waiter. Once his order was placed, he bobbed his chin Richard’s direction. “No uniform today. Did they finally discover your limitations and toss you out of the army?”
“I am incognito. Actually, I am a notorious spy blending in with the common folk for an ultra-secret mission for the Crown. Quite heroic and dangerous. Are you impressed?”
“Exorbitantly. I always suspected York’s a hideout knee-deep in traitors of the King.”
“The world is a strange place, Darcy.”
“Is this drivel practice for captivating women? Or is your ‘news’ that you are fully delusional?”
“Neither, although the women angle has potential. Thanks, Cousin!”
* ~ * ~ *
At that exact moment, the bell tower clock struck the eleventh hour, the clangs initially drowning out the sound of music growing louder. The enormous black doors of solid oak and metal marking the main entrance to the palace, which they had so recently passed by to access the Colour Court, were thrown open. The sounds of instruments and marching feet echoed down the tunnel, reaching the excited spectators long before they could see anything.
“The new guard musters in Friary Court, located to the south, on the other side of that building.” Darcy pointed to the three-story high, red brick wing to the right of where they stood. “They march up the alley, past Marlborough House, around the corner, and along Pall Mall before entering through the main gate. They are, as you can now see, led by a contingency of the Coldstream Guards Regimental Band.”
Indeed, all the spectators could now see the leader of the parade. Lizzy’s breath caught as others released gasps and exclamations of awed enthusiasm for his august presence, as well as the personages immediately behind him.
The drum major wore a stunning uniform of scarlet and gold, his chapeau decorated with a profusion of feathers. Behind, in timed-step, were four musicians of African heritage, two with tambourines and two with cymbals. Exotic faces with skin and eyes black as night, they wore magniﬁcent Turkish costumes of white and silver with billowing muslin trousers, vests in scarlet velvet adorned with fringe and tassels, and white muslin turbans festooned with red plumes and jewels.
The quality of their performance was equally as impressive as their appearance. While not a musical aﬁcionado, Lizzy had seen enough minstrels and orchestras in her life to recognize something special was happening before her awestruck eyes. The ability to play an instrument with skill was an essential factor that lifted one artist above another. However, transcendent mastery meant instrumental excellence in conjunction with an exceptional ﬂair for performance. The Coldstream band was irrefutably in this category.
The tambourine players, for example, did not merely hit their hands onto the ﬂat surface, but also rolled their ﬁngers over the parchment and ﬂicked the bells in varied tempos, all while whirling the instrument around and even tossing it into the air. Similarly, the cymbals of silver—polished bright as mirrors to catch the sunbeams and add glittering sparkles with each strike—were ﬂourished side to side and above the musicians’ heads. The quartet capered rather than marched, and their agility with ﬁngers, arms, and legs was timed to the music.
“I have read of the Janissary percussionists,” Lizzy whispered. “Introduced by the Duke of York some two decades ago, yes?”
“Correct,” Darcy whispered into her ear. “For the guard change ceremony there are only a few, usually just two, so we are fortunate today. Someday, perhaps next spring when in Town for the season, we shall observe the Horse Guards’ Parade, Trooping the Colour, or another performance with the household guards. Then you will witness the full complement of musicians. It is a sight to behold.” Lizzy could not fathom it and for the present just wanted to relish the extraordinary experience fast unfolding in the courtyard.
* ~ * ~ *
Riﬂing once again through the stack of papers until he found the one he wanted, Darcy then turned back toward her. “I do pray, Miss Elizabeth, we can supply the information for Mrs. Reynolds without fretful expressions of inconveniencing the Pemberley staff?”
Noting his smile and glittering eyes, Lizzy lifted her chin and crossed her arms. “That depends, Mr. Darcy. Is this a ploy to uncover personal details you are too polite to ask or I refuse to divulge?”
“Not this time. My housekeeper acted on her own, I promise, and you can write directly to her with your responses—those you wish to divulge, that is.”
He handed the folded paper to her, maintaining his hold and bending closer. “Besides, if I really want to know your foot measurements,” he whispered, the reference to a tease from Kitty regarding Lizzy’s not-so-tiny feet that had embarrassed her profoundly, “I would simply ask your mother.” Brieﬂy glancing down at the slippered toes she rapidly tucked behind the hem of her dress, he added, “I am sure Mrs. Bennet has a wealth of fascinating minutiae about her spirited child and would not hesitate to enlighten me. Luckily for you, my love, I prefer the adventure of self-discovery.” And with that, he winked.
She was so surprised at the atypical gesture that she missed responding to the soft kiss he delivered to the tip of her nose and nearly dropped Mrs. Reynolds’s letter when he let go of it. “My,” she stammered, “you are quite the imp today.”
“Being diverted pleasantly from dull paperwork and columns of mathematics is a sureﬁre way to improve my temper.”
“Here I thought you lived for paperwork and excelled at mathematics. Shocking.”
“I am brilliant at mathematics,” he declared pompously, “but that does not mean I enjoy them. Frankly, they give me a headache. At any rate, passing the time with you is far superior to anything else. That unquestionably clariﬁed,”—he extended his hand—“I must reluctantly return you to my sister. Suffering her verbal irritation for stealing away her guest will also give me a headache.”
Lizzy took his hand, standing as she asked, “You will walk with us for a while? Or must you return to your ledger?”
“A stroll about the garden sounds utterly delightful, and it gives me an opportunity to remain in your company. I am far too selﬁsh to give Georgiana all the joy, especially since I shan’t see you again until late tomorrow.”
He linked her arm with his and steered them toward the library door. “Thank you again, Elizabeth, for understanding why I cannot dine with you tonight.”
“Well, it is unfathomable that you have friends beyond me and those in Hertfordshire. Who would have thought?”
Darcy smiled at her tease. “Once we are married you will socialize with more of my friends and acquaintances than you will probably want to. Even then, anguishing through an evening with a couple dozen men smoking smelly cigars and talking of nothing but horses will never intrude upon your pleasanter agenda.” “
Thank the Maker! I would either fall asleep from boredom or faint from the fumes. No, you have your fun at the Jockey Club, William. Besides, in light of my big reveal to Lord and Lady Matlock, a night of rest and quiet may prove beneﬁcial. I am joking!” she laughed when he lifted his brows. “A lady needs her beauty sleep, to be sure. Nevertheless, whether I sleep deeply or ﬁtfully, I promise to be presentable by tomorrow evening. If it takes me all day to erase the horrid sight of droopy eyes, tangled hair, and pillow creases on my face, it shall be done.”
Darcy had paused by the door and was staring at her with an odd expression as he slowly shook his head. “Horrid? I must disagree. The vision of you upon waking in the morning is one I constantly dream of and long to see with my own eyes, pillow creases included. I can think of nothing more beautiful.”
* ~ * ~ *
“Ha!” Lizzy exclaimed from deep inside the wardrobe. “When have you ever torn or stained a dress?”
“I have… a few times… I am sure of it…” Jane stammered to a halt, rosiness highlighting her cheeks as three pairs of dubious eyes swiveled her way. “Well, if you didn’t run across dirt fields and help feed the barn animals, your clothes might stay cleaner and in better repair, Lizzy.”
Content that her wedding gown was safely stowed, Lizzy backed away from the wardrobe. “Guilty as charged,” she sang. “I suspect the Pemberley gardeners and groomsmen would frown at their mistress treading into their designated areas, so shall necessarily forego digging in the dirt or helping care for the rabbits. If they even have rabbits!”
“Who cares what the outdoor staff think, Lizzy. Mr. Darcy enjoys your outside activities, that is for sure. He stares at you with an intense expression when your cheeks are flushed from the brisk air. And if tendrils of hair have escaped your bonnet, well, he becomes especially animated!”
“Kitty! My word!”
“Well, he does, Mama. I’m not an idiot. I know what he is thinking. So does Mary.”
Mary pressed her lips primly together and continued to fold Jane’s shawls into precision squares, but her cheeks pinked and eyes faintly twinkled. Lizzy had again busied herself inside the wardrobe, hiding her dreamy smile and trembling hands. If any of them knew just how animated and intense Mr. Darcy truly was…
“Men are always thinking about… that.” Mrs. Bennet stumbled on the last word and fluttered her hand nervously in the air. “This is part of the problem with the male gender, if you ask me.”
“Doesn’t seem like a problem to me,” Kitty objected.
* ~ * ~ *
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