Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One is Volume 1 of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Pride and Prejudice. Here I am sharing the entirety of Chapter 5, “Homecoming”.
For more information about this novel, visit the novel’s page here: http://sharonlathanauthor.com/…..liam-darcy
Chapter 5 ~ Homecoming
Mrs. Reynolds, housekeeper of Pemberley in Derbyshire, was in a state of jubilant expectancy that she had not experienced since … Well, she could not remember a day she had ever anticipated more! Sometime this afternoon her master, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, would return to Pemberley with his new bride. The entire staff had hoped and waited for the arrival of this day for years, but few of them fully grasped the inexplicable joy in this particular day, this particular union.
Mrs. Reynolds considered herself one of the luckiest servants in all of England. At the age of two-and-thirty she had joined the staff at Pemberley, along with her husband who had been a groom. Pemberley had a reputation throughout the country as an ideal estate. The Darcy family had for generations managed their holdings with honesty and generosity. The former housekeeper had been Mrs. Reynolds’ aunt. When she began to feel old age creeping up on her, the Darcys had authorized her to recommend a replacement.
Mrs. Reynolds had been employed as a still-maid at a manor in Gloucestershire and was content in her service; however the opportunity for advancement, coupled with the sterling name of Pemberley, swayed her to accept the position. Any trepidation she might have felt vanished the moment she met Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. For the past twenty-four years she had served faithfully and with ever increasing happiness.
Over the years she had grown to love the family she tended to. She had watched Master Fitzwilliam mature into a fine young man and Miss Georgiana into a beautiful young woman. She thoroughly enjoyed her duties and was an excellent housekeeper. There had been tremendous hardships and grief along the way. The death of Lady Anne some eleven years ago and of the elder Mr. Darcy six years ago, not to mention the passing of her own husband three years ago, had begotten sorrow in her heart that she realized would never dissipate. Yet the affection she harbored for Pemberley and, more specifically, the two young Darcys could not be more genuine or profound if they had been her own flesh and blood.
It was this love that had made the past several years so emotionally tortuous. Master Fitzwilliam had from his youth been far too serious and intense, too reserved, and too apt to seek solitude. The burdens that had been thrust upon him at the tender age of two-and-twenty, along with his acute sorrow, had nearly overwhelmed him. If possible, he had retreated further into himself, laughed and smiled less, and erected a rigid shell about his heart. He only had a handful of true friends, including his sister whom he loved to distraction, yet even they often found his tendency toward surliness and bitterness difficult to comprehend or tolerate. Mrs. Reynolds had fretted and worried, but there was nothing she could do but pray.
As Mr. Darcy settled into his role as Master of Pemberley, she had noted a loosening of his stern demeanor. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a loyal companion who would tease the Master and encourage him to socialize more. Also, his friendship with Mr. Charles Bingley was providential. Mr. Bingley was the polar opposite of Mr. Darcy and, by all outward appearances, the two should have loathed each other. Luckily their relationship had created its own path and the two young men had formed an abiding bond of mutual affection. Mr. Bingley’s sunny, effervescent nature was a soothing balm to the frequently brooding Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Reynolds began to believe that her dear Mr. Darcy would break out of his self-imposed prison. Her sincerest hope was that he would find a young lady to mend and fill his aching heart.
Then abruptly, that past April, Mr. Darcy had plunged into a dark pit of despondency and depression unlike anything Mrs. Reynolds had previously witnessed. It was not unlike the immense grief to which the former Mr. Darcy had succumbed when his wife had expired. There was no basis for young Mr. Darcy’s anguish, as far as she could ascertain. Eventually he did partially return to the world of the living, but a lingering pain in his blue eyes refused to lift.
Until one glorious day in early September.
Mrs. Reynolds remembered the day vividly, although it had initially dawned virtually identical to all other days. Mr. Darcy was in Town, not expected to return until the next day. Mrs. Reynolds had welcomed visitors to the manor, not a frequent occurrence, but one that happened often enough not to register as significant this time. The visitors, an older couple and their young niece, were polite and gracious.
The niece seemed vaguely uncomfortable and nervous, but Mrs. Reynolds did not dwell on it overly. She executed her duty as tour guide with pleasure, being quite proud of the house and its furnishings. She recalled being a bit startled to discover that the young lady was acquainted with Mr. Darcy as she did not immediately strike Mrs. Reynolds as being in the same class with her master. However, as his personal affairs were for the most part outside her purview, she did not thoroughly ponder the situation.
Toward the end of the tour, the niece became separated from the group. It could not have been more than fifteen minutes before she came bounding around the side of the house to where her aunt and uncle were standing by their carriage, expressing their thanks to Mrs. Reynolds. The lady, Lizzy her aunt called her, was extremely agitated. She insisted on walking back to Lambton, wringing her hands and shifting her feet the entire time she asked to do this. She kept glancing toward the house as if she feared something or someone was going to barge out of the front doors and attack her! It was most unusual. Mrs. Reynolds stood speechless, wishing she knew the root of the young woman’s distress, fearing greatly that something terrible had happened, and wondering if she should inquire. In the end Miss Lizzy left, nigh on running down the road toward the bridge.
Mrs. Reynolds stood in the drive for a few minutes ruminating on the odd behavior of Miss Lizzy. She determined that she would ask the other servants if they had seen the young lady after she had been left behind in the gallery. She needed to guarantee that nothing untoward had occurred. She entered the foyer and ascended the stairs to the main floor, but before she could advance any further than five feet, she was paralyzed with shock when Mr. Darcy, whom she was unaware was even home, fairly flew out of the parlor door. He was frantic but his face was radiant and he wore the broadest grin. He skidded to a stop mere seconds before bowling her over.
“Mrs. Reynolds,” he shouted breathlessly, “send word to the stables to re-saddle Parsifal, immediately!” Without another word he dashed around the corner, heading toward the stairs leading to his chambers.
She stood there with her mouth hanging open, only then aware that Miss Georgiana was standing in the doorway, also displaying a ridiculously bright smile. “Hurry, Mrs. Reynolds! Do as he asks and then come back and I shall tell you what is happening. Oh, it is the most wonderful thing!”
The next month had been fraught with emotions and angst. Miss Georgiana had told her the whole sorry tale. That Mr. Darcy was head over heels in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet was an indisputable fact. What was not so clear was whether Miss Bennet was in love with him. Mrs. Reynolds adored her master and was initially vexed, assuming that any lady who had refused him once was unworthy of him. However, as the truth was revealed, she did understand and eventually recognized that Miss Bennet was precisely what Mr. Darcy so urgently required to heal his wounded heart.
Two months ago she and Miss Georgiana had at long last received the missives they had been longing for. Mr. Darcy’s ecstasy at Miss Elizabeth accepting his hand was uncontainable. Mrs. Reynolds had received hundreds of pieces of correspondence from her master over the years, but none remotely similar to the letters he now wrote. Why, she could remit them to a publisher for a book of romantic musings and poetry! Her heart was overflowing with joy.
Mr. Darcy had been quite specific in his orders regarding the new Mistress. His mother’s chambers had been aired out and thoroughly scrubbed. Old furnishings had been removed. His plan was to allow Mrs. Darcy to redecorate the rooms at her leisure, so for now they needed only to be clean and comfortable. He had purchased several items that had been sent ahead, including a new bathing tub and washbasin, a new mattress, a stationery set for her desk, and an enormous painting of a landscape. All he had hinted was that the scene was special in some way and he wished it to be a surprise for his new bride. The painting was to be hung, he instructed, in her dressing room behind the vanity.
He had entrusted Mrs. Reynolds to acquire any feminine objects that were essential and to stock the bathing room with the finest linens. Numerous odd packages had arrived from Mr. Darcy, trinkets, he told her, that he picked up here and there: various hair accoutrements, perfumes, ribbons, small pieces of jewelry, a musical snuffbox, robes with matching slippers, a set of silk handkerchiefs, several books, and other odds and ends. These she had carefully distributed as he instructed. The last touch was numerous vases of flowers randomly placed about the rooms, the largest a bouquet of white roses and lavender to be placed on the vanity.
He also had detailed directives regarding his own bedchamber and private sitting room. They, too, were to be thoroughly cleaned. New bed linens and coverings of a lighter design than the dark colors he usually preferred were sent. Some of the more masculine furnishings were to be removed and exchanged with new pieces he purchased in Town or with specific objects from elsewhere in the manor. The small table was replaced with a larger one with two overstuffed chairs. The old rug, a remnant from when the rooms were his father’s, was discarded and replaced with a gorgeous Persian carpet of pale blues and golds. The overall effect was subtle; the rooms were already beautifully decorated, but the changes added an airiness that was altogether inviting.
Mrs. Reynolds was not an innocent. She comprehended that her master was of the conviction that his wife would be sharing his quarters much of the time. The former Mrs. Darcy had done so, except for when she was confined or ill, so Mrs. Reynolds was not shocked by this. In fact, it amplified her happiness to know that her master had fallen in love with such a woman.
Mr. Darcy had written to his aunt, Lady Matlock, soliciting her assistance in hiring a lady’s maid for Elizabeth. She had gladly done so, sending three women to Mrs. Reynolds to be interviewed. Mrs. Reynolds had settled on a Frenchwoman of thirty named Marguerite, who was an experienced lady’s maid. Her recommendations were impeccable, and she had agreed to a probationary period pending Mrs. Darcy’s final approval.
The staff had been quite busy over the past weeks ensuring all was in perfect readiness. Mr. Darcy’s last letter had arrived the day of his wedding. He directed Mrs. Reynolds to have a light supper prepared, to ignite the welcome torches on the grounds, to have their chambers warm and well lit, and to assemble the senior household staff for a quick greeting of the new Mistress. The flurry of activity that had descended on the normally placid household was concluded. Mrs. Reynolds strolled, for the umpteenth time, through the house guaranteeing that all was flawless. A sentry was stationed by the main road to alert Mrs. Reynolds the moment the Darcy carriage was spotted.
Nothing for it now but to wait …
* * *
The trip to Pemberley was uneventful. Lizzy was anxious and excited at the same time. I am going home! She kept repeating this to herself so it would truly penetrate her heart and soul.
She valiantly feigned composure and serenity, but the amused curl of Darcy’s mouth told her that he was on to her little charade. For probably the hundredth time, she asked him, “How much further to Pemberley?”
“Maybe two more hours, if the weather holds,” he replied, leaning closer to her so he could see around her out the window. “Those clouds do look ready to burst any moment. Luckily the road through here is an excellent one, so even if it does rain, we should not be waylaid.”
She continued to stare out the carriage window. “It is so beautiful here. Is this Derbyshire?”
“The southernmost regions, yes. I had the driver bypass Derby to avoid the congestion. We are some twenty miles south of Lambton. However, we will divert and enter from the south, rather than the west as you did before. I will let you know when we enter our estate lands. The southerly route passes through approximately five miles of our farms.”
Lizzy lifted her brows in surprise. “I had no idea it was so vast!” His use of the word “our” was not lost on her, but she did not comment.
Darcy smiled at her and stroked her cheek. “Yes, it is quite large. It requires several hours to circle the perimeter. Of course, a generous percentage of the land is wild and inaccessible but for horseback. A significant amount is woods, lakes, and rivers, as well as pastures. Game runs free and birds make their homes with little to disturb them except for the occasional hunt. The farmlands are closer to the manor, thus the tenants are within an easy distance.” He leaned back in the seat and lovingly caressed her back.
Elizabeth continued to stare out the window. She did not speak and Darcy could sense her tension, but he kept silent, waiting patiently until she was prepared to open her mind to him. In time she did, but her voice was so low he had to strain to hear her. “What if they do not like me?”
“It does not matter if they do not like you. You are my wife and the Mistress of Pemberley. They are your servants and tenants.” She jerked her head toward him at his blunt words, a ready retort on her lips. He smiled and stopped the flip rejoinder he knew she was about to make by pressing his fingers to her lips. That is what I want to see from you, my brave, feisty Lizzy, he thought. “However, I do not believe, even for one second, that they will not adore you. Nor do I have the slightest qualm or apprehension that you will be the most excellent Mistress that Pemberley has seen in decades, no offence intended toward my dear mother or grandmother.”
She peered intently into his eyes, as if searching for any untruth or doubt in his assertions, but there was none. The deep love he felt for her was unmistakably visible, as it always was. Yet, as she examined his eyes, she was again struck forcibly by the unparalleled esteem he held for her. His love for her, although all consuming, unwavering, and unconditional, was not blind or foolish. He knew her faults, her flaws, her weaknesses. He also knew her quality, her personality, her strengths, and her character. His trust in her was in spite of and due to these incontrovertible facts, not out of besotted passion or bedazzlement.
She sighed and relaxed against his chest, burying her face into his shoulder. “You must think me a silly child!”
He smiled into her hair. “You are not silly and, as proven several times over the past two days, you are unquestionably not a child!” They both laughed. “I do think you are worrying too much about all this, Elizabeth. No demands will be placed on you until you wish to assume them. Good heavens, it took me a year to feel secure as Master of Pemberley, and I grew up there! You will have all the time you need. Mrs. Reynolds already likes you and she will assist you in any way you require.”
“I do not apprehend how she could have such a fair opinion of me since I acted so outlandishly peculiar. Getting separated, spying on Georgiana, stammering like an imbecile, rushing off across the fields. I would imagine she is horrified that you would deign to be in the same room with me, let alone marry me!” She smiled up at him and he could not resist kissing her.
“Well, therein lies the answer to your question, my heart. Mrs. Reynolds has known me since I was four. Few people understand me as well as she does. For all that she is technically a servant, she has in many ways been a second mother to me. She has observed me through all my years of pain and grief. She knows my character and judgment. She trusts my choices and wishes nothing more than to see me happy. So, if you bring me that happiness, and you emphatically do, and if I trust you, then she does as well. It is that simple.” He kissed her again, deeply.
Huskily he continued, “You must learn to have the same faith in my assertions regarding your qualifications as she does.” He paused to kiss her some more. “Of course,” he teased, “it is all a moot point as I intend to keep you locked in my bedchamber for several weeks, at least so I may have unfettered and undisturbed access to you!”
Lizzy grinned. “If you mean to frighten me by that threat, Mr. Darcy, you have failed miserably. Frankly, I can think of no place on earth I would rather be than in your bedchamber, provided you are there as well, naturally.” She accompanied her words with sensitively placed caresses and kisses, causing Darcy to groan and close his eyes in mute surrender.
It was some time before he sought to find his voice or even that he was able to. Finally, breathlessly, he begged, “Desist, woman! You win! I shall exact my revenge for this torture, however, so be warned.” He moved away from her to compose himself, refusing to acknowledge the expression of amusement and triumph on her face.
Time passed in comfortable companionship. Lizzy was riveted to the passing scenery, all of it lushly green moorland and rolling hills. The River Derwent was a constant companion as the main road wove alongside it, crossing frequently over stone bridges. They traveled through Matlock, but Rivallain, the estate of Lord and Lady Matlock, was not visible. Darcy pointed out the places of interest as they glided by, but they did not halt. Both were too anxious to be home.
As they veered onto a secondary avenue and crossed over a stone bridge spanning the river, Darcy proclaimed, “We are well into Pemberley lands, Elizabeth. Look.”
The view was magnificent. The sun was low in the western sky, blanketing the spectacular landscape with soft shadows. To the west and east flowed seemingly endless fields of orchards and perfectly manicured farmland. Small, sturdy stone cottages were scattered randomly. Large numbers of sheep were noted as well as the horses that Pemberley was famous for. They saw a sizeable lake that was fed by numerous small streams from the hills and bordered on its eastern shore by a forest of cedar and pine that appeared to stretch to the horizon.
On her tour with the Gardiners, Lizzy had approached Derbyshire and Pemberley from the northwest, having taken a circuitous route. These were areas she had not seen with any clarity, her return to Hertfordshire being filled with too much dismay to inspect the passing landscape.
She scooted closer to him, resting a hand on his thigh, and he suspiciously watched her. “Do not fear, sir,” she giggled. “I promise to behave… . for now. How soon to the house?”
“Only a couple of miles now. We will be arriving at twilight. I ordered the torches to be lit.” He placed his arm around her shoulders and snuggled her near to his side. He kissed her forehead and then nestled his face into her hair. “My Lizzy!” he breathed, “I cannot express my joy, my elation, to be bringing you home with me. Do you have any idea how deeply I love you?”
Her only reply was a bone-crunching hug. They held each other thus as the carriage proceeded down the tree-lined drive to the gravelly expanse before the entrance portico, not separating until the carriage slowed to a halt.
“How do I look?” she asked him.
“Stunning,” he answered truthfully. He kissed her lips tenderly and touched her cheek with his fingertips. “We are home.”
* * *
Lamps were lit in abundance, giving the house a bright and cheery glow of welcome. Scattered around the grounds were tall torches, lending increased illumination in the gathering darkness of evening. Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Keith, the steward, waited atop the entryway steps under the wide canopy, both smiling warmly. Darcy led Elizabeth forward.
“Mrs. Reynolds, you remember Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Now it is my boundless honor and joy to introduce you to her again as my wife, Mrs. Darcy.”
Mrs. Reynolds curtseyed. Her face was beaming and, in an act of spontaneous pleasure, she took Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “Welcome to Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy. On behalf of the entire staff, I wish to express our delight in meeting you. Please rest assured that we will all endeavor to make you comfortable in every possible way. We are at your disposal.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. Your kind words ease my heart.”
Darcy introduced Mr. Keith. “Mrs. Darcy, welcome. I echo Mrs. Reynolds’ greeting and assurances,” Mr. Keith said. “It is a tremendous honor to welcome you to the Pemberley household and family.”
Mrs. Reynolds turned to her master and curtseyed. “Mr. Darcy, welcome home. All has been prepared as you instructed. The senior staff is waiting inside, and dinner will be served whenever you wish.”
They entered the enormous foyer. The room, with its marble flooring and painted ceilings, brought back fond memories for Elizabeth. Her visit here had brought William back into her life. The beauty and elegance of these rooms had finally coalesced her tumultuous thoughts of him into recognition of the amazing man he was. She stole a glance at him as he walked so proudly by her side, a dazzling smile on his lips. Suddenly it felt so very right to be here, to be with him, that all her doubts and fears vanished as a vapor on the wind.
Elizabeth’s eyes fell on the people standing in a row before her. She experienced a moment of embarrassment to have so many stares directed her way, but the looks were universally ones of welcome and friendliness. Darcy took the lead in introducing her to each member of the staff present. The head cook, Mrs. Langton, was a commanding woman, tall and stout. One glance at her features and manner, and Elizabeth could well imagine the formidable competence of her kitchen management. The butler, Mr. Taylor, a man of some sixty years, was bent slightly but robust nonetheless. Mr. Darcy’s valet, Samuel, was a handsome man of approximately forty. Mrs. Reynolds explained that the remainder of the staff, both inside and outside, would be introduced to her on the morrow.
Lastly she was introduced to Marguerite. Elizabeth almost gasped in surprise. Marguerite was an exquisite creature, quite small in stature and build, with blonde hair pulled severely back into a knot and the face of an angel. Her voice was rich and deep for a woman, accented with a trace of her native French. She greeted Elizabeth properly but with warmth. “Mrs. Darcy, welcome. It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to serve you. I understand that my position here is dependent on my ability to please you and serve you competently. To that end, I beg you to express your needs and wishes to me and to hastily inform me of any errors I may make.”
“Thank you, Marguerite.” Elizabeth was quite moved by the greetings she had received. She addressed the group all together: “Thank you to all of you for your sincere welcome. I have been somewhat nervous regarding my reception, as Mr. Darcy could confirm, but your graciousness and concern for my well-being has comforted me. Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.”
Mr. Darcy took over, dismissing the staff to their duties. He directed Mrs. Reynolds to have dinner prepared for two hours hence. “I will be giving Mrs. Darcy a tour of our apartments, Mrs. Reynolds. Please see that we are not disturbed. Marguerite, Mrs. Darcy will ring for you when she is ready to dress for dinner. Samuel, I will call for you as well.” Curtseys and bows all around, and then Darcy offered his arm to Elizabeth.
They ascended the grand marble staircase, taking a turn to the left and then to the right, heading to a part of the house Elizabeth had not seen during her tour in September. She could not absorb it all! Every wall held a picture, tapestry, or wall covering of incredible beauty. Exquisite furnishings lined the corridors and plush carpet runners of detailed woven designs softly cushioned their feet. Statues large and small occupied wall niches or sat on ornately carved tables. Most of the doors they passed were closed, and hallways branched off to unknown destinations with additional latched doors and staircases. Perfectly spaced oil lamps provided illumination.
“This wing of the second floor is primarily private apartments,” Darcy explained. He stopped and pointed down the passageway. “Georgiana’s chambers are down there and to the left are guests’ quarters. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Bingley have rooms set aside for their use. I suppose we shall need to reassign Bingley’s chambers as the current ones are inappropriate for Jane as well. You have seen some of the public rooms on the southern wing, but we will tour them thoroughly tomorrow. Our chambers are up this staircase, on the third floor.”
“William, I am lost already! I sincerely hope you plan on staying close by my side or I may wander off some forgotten corridor and never be seen again. I could well become the ghost bride who haunts Pemberley for all eternity.” She laughed.
“Never fear, my dear. I intend to keep you quite near, not only so you will not get lost but for other purely selfish motives,” he said cheekily. “In truth, Pemberley is not as difficult to navigate as some manors I have been in. Rosings, for instance, is far older, and I have always imagined the original architects taking perverse delight in designing a maze of halls and rooms with the singular intention of confusing the inhabitants. Also, Pemberley is well lit, day and night. I refuse to bump into walls, so I insist on lit lamps in the main rooms and passages. All the rooms and hallways have windows that admit sunlight during the day.”
They had reached the third-floor landing and Darcy paused. He gestured to the right-hand passages. “Those rooms are unoccupied and have been since I moved into my father’s chambers years ago. Occasionally we have needed to open them for guests, but I prefer guests to stay on the second floor. Someday our children will reside in those rooms.” He said the last sentence softly and looked at Elizabeth with tenderness.
She smiled back but could not resist teasing just a bit, “And how many rooms are we to generate occupants for, sir? A girl likes to grasp what she is in for in life!”
“Well, let me think,” Darcy thoughtfully mused, “there are at least a dozen empty chambers down that wing and I believe three on this wing, not to mention the others on the western side of the manor, so …” he paused and in mock seriousness began counting on his fingers, pretending to be unable to add it all before he gave up. “It is quite a few, my dear, so I suppose we ought to get busy with the unpleasant task of creating said occupants.” He sighed deeply and theatrically, an expression of mournful sadness on his face, “A gentleman must be diligent in his duties.”
Elizabeth laughed and took his hand, propelling him forward. “You are incorrigible! Lead the way before I attempt it and get us hopelessly waylaid.”
Darcy complied, leading her to a set of double doors to the left. He stopped before opening them and took her face in his hands. “Elizabeth, I have dreamed of showing you these rooms, of having you here as my wife for so long now. I am overwhelmed! Pinch me or something so I know I am not dreaming.”
“I shall do better,” she said. She wound her arms behind his neck, twining fingers into his hair, and brought his face to hers. She kissed him with wild abandon, pouring her love into the task. He encircled her waist with his arms, drawing her to him so that she was pressed against every plane of his body. She could feel his ardor, his desire and arousal, and she experienced it, too. He buried his face in her neck and inhaled deeply of her lavender fragrance.
She held him tightly, allowing him the time he needed to regain control and steady his breathing. Softly she whispered, “I love you, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Now, beloved, are you convinced of my reality?” He nodded, kissed her lips briefly, and regretfully released her.
Turning back to the doors, he said, “Remember, my love, these rooms were my mother’s and she decorated them when she came to Pemberley as a new bride. Therefore, the fashion is more than thirty years old and totally outdated. You will be able to refurbish the chambers however you desire.” He opened the door to his wife’s modest sitting room and held her hand as they entered.
The room was generous but cozy. His mother had had an observable predilection for green and peach. Lizzy did not dislike the motif, his mother obviously having had exceptional taste, but she knew instantly it was not her preference. However, this was a vague thought as her eyes were drawn to the large windows, the general dimensions of the room, and the fine fireplace. She could easily imagine being very comfortable relaxing here.
Darcy was studying her closely. “I have arranged for a decorator to come from London next week, dearest. He will assist you with finding a style more pleasing to you.”
“Truly, William, you worry too much. The room is beautiful. I will grant that some modification would be welcome. I tend to prefer darker colors, earthy tones, you could say. Nonetheless, I would not want to embark on a spending frenzy simply because the colors are not to my liking!”
Darcy laughed, “Now it is you who are worrying too much. The expense is not an issue. I assure you the estate can afford renovating a couple of rooms.” Lizzy furrowed her brow. She wondered, briefly, if she would ever become accustomed to money not being a concern.
He led her to her bedchamber. It was arrayed in the same colors and fashion as the sitting room. The bed was ample but not overly huge, and several chairs sat on a beautiful Oriental rug that carpeted the floor. Three other doors were visible. Darcy pointed to one. “That leads to my private sitting room, through which is my bedchamber.”
“Where does that door lead?” she asked, pointing to a door recessed in a curtained alcove.
“The nursery,” Darcy responded. “It has been unused since Georgiana was born and is empty. Beyond it is another chamber for a nurse.” He had come behind her and slipped his arms around her waist, kissing her below her ear.
“Are you planning on practicing the filling of those uninhabited chambers this moment, Mr. Darcy?” she said archly.
“It is a bedchamber, my dear, although not the bedchamber I have fantasized seeing you in.” He playfully nibbled on her earlobe.
She turned in his arms, smiling wickedly. “Fantasies, is it? Why, Mr. Darcy, how decadent of you! I am shocked to the core!”
He held tighter, “You minx! You have revealed your dreams to me, so do not play innocent.” He kissed her heartily but she wiggled out of his arms, giggling.
“We may never complete this tour, sir, if you constantly interrupt.” With an impish smile she flounced to the third unexplored door. He followed, smiling foolishly.
This door led to her dressing area. This room, with adjacent bathing area, was larger than the bedchamber. Rows upon rows of drawers, numerous racks to hang gowns, and shelves for shoes lined one entire wall length. Her meager belongings took up no space at all. An enormous floor-length mirror stood at one end. The vanity was magnificent with a dark-blue velvet cushioned bench, dozens of small drawers, and a mirror edged in gold. On the top was a large bouquet of white roses in a crystal vase surrounded by perfume bottles and a musical box. Through the arch, an enormous bathing tub and an elegant stand with a porcelain washbasin and pitcher were visible.
However, Elizabeth noticed none of this initially, because her eyes were immediately captured by the painting on the wall above the vanity. She gasped and her trembling hand touched her mouth as tears filled her eyes. She was speechless.
“William … how … where … I do not understand …”
He was beside her, one arm around her waist, an expression of incomparable exhilaration on his face. “Do you like it, my darling? I discovered it in a gallery in London, quite by accident. It instantly reminded me of Hertfordshire and the meadow near Longbourn where we met on the day you accepted me.” His voice throbbed with emotion.
It was a landscape that uncannily resembled her childhood home. The field of knee-high green grasses almost appeared to wave in the sun-kissed air. A small stream cut crookedly through the middle, a narrow stone bridge spanning one edge. In the distance stood a house of beige bricks obscured by the faint wisps of English mist hugging the ground. The work was exquisite, but even if it had been of poor quality, she would have been tremendously moved.
Lizzy could instantly understand why the painting had struck her husband. It was not the moor near Longbourn where they encountered each other that fateful day in late September, drawn to each other as if by magic, but stunningly similar. She could almost see their figures in the haze, finally speaking openly of the love they shared.
Elizabeth’s thoughts and emotions were in riot. She wanted to cry, to laugh, to hold her husband tenderly, to passionately make love to him right there. He surprised her continually in his ability to show his adoration for her, his devotion. For an agonizing second she experienced an acute stab of unworthiness. What had she done in life to deserve such an extraordinary man? The answer was nothing … his love was a gift and she would spend her life dedicated to the task of loving him in return with equal fervor.
With tears coursing down her cheeks, she turned to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him as close as possible, her face pressed against his chest. She could not think of the proper words to express herself, so she merely held him. For a very long while they stood thus, embracing in love without thoughts of passion, content to hear the other breathing, the warmth of their bodies seeping into each other. Unaware of who moved first, Darcy kissed her tears away with the utmost tenderness while they were still locked together in sweet harmony. Softly murmured endearments proceeded from both their mouths in a welter of need to articulate the consuming love they both felt.
Eventually their eyes met, hers shimmering with tears and his the pure blue of a cloudless summer sky. He smiled a smile that lit his face and caused Elizabeth’s knees to weaken. “So, you approve of the painting?” he whispered in his melodious voice.
Elizabeth laughed and bent her head to his chest momentarily before looking back at him, mirth dancing in her eyes. “Yes, my love, I ‘approve’ of the painting.” She giggled and hugged him again. “Thank you! It is . . .… unbelievable. I am at a loss for words. You will never cease to amaze me, William. With each passing day I realize how blessed I am to have you as mine and how I shall enjoy being your wife.”
“Well, that is a relief! I was beginning to wonder,” he teased, kissing her nose. He snatched her hand and led her toward a door she had not noted previously. He stopped and assumed a melodramatic tone, “The tour commences, Mrs. Darcy! Now to my favorite room in all of Pemberley, or at least hereafter it shall be. The chamber which shall be subjected to the greatest of joys, pleasures untold, passion of the highest order, ecstasy unparalleled!” and with a flourish he opened the door to his bedchamber.
Elizabeth continued to laugh at her husband’s silliness as she crossed the threshold. Immediately she was enveloped by a profound sensation of peace and contentment. In one swift glance she knew this room was perfect, it was home. The walls were covered with rich mahogany paneling and cream wallpaper printed with a twining design of autumn leaves. The ceiling was also cream colored with intricately scrolled beams of polished mahogany.
The massive four-poster bed was carved mahogany with curtains of burgundy and gold velvet and a coverlet of cream with burgundy edging. A gigantic fireplace with a roaring fire gave the room a comforting glow. The Turkish rug was an incredible design in blues and gold. Two large windows, each with gauzy curtains lining thick ones of damask, flanked a set of French-style doors that opened onto a balcony facing south with an incredible view of the fountain-accented lake and extensive lawn. Across the room, beyond the bed, three more large windows faced east. The chamber itself was generous in size but sparingly furnished, creating a sublime atmosphere of openness.
Elizabeth walked about the room touching and admiring. Many of her husband’s personal touches were evident: a forgotten book on the bed stand, a miniature of Georgiana, a decanter of brandy and several glasses with F.D. engraved on them, a pair of slippers next to the bed, and a small pillow with Parsifal’s likeness embroidered on it. She had not previously contemplated what William’s tastes might be. Having not seen any of the private rooms on her previous visits, nor when visiting Darcy House in London, she had had no way to make a judgment. Yet, looking about this room, she knew it was absolutely him. More amazing, it was absolutely her! The rich colors, the lack of pretension, and the hominess were precisely as she would desire.
Darcy was watching her intently and nervously. “I had some furnishings removed and purchased the rug and coverlet to replace what I had before, they being quite old. These have been my rooms for many years, my love, so I am afraid they have been indelibly stamped with my personality. However, it is important to me that you find this suite to your liking. Any suggestions you have are welcome.”
He moved to where she was standing and took her hands, staring intently into her eyes. “Elizabeth, I am aware that we have not discussed this and I do not wish to embarrass you.” He swallowed and then continued with a slight blush on his cheeks. “Convention would dictate that these remain my chambers and you have your own. I would never presume to force my wishes upon you nor request you submit to any action that is unfavorable to you. However, I have been alone for far too long and have no appetite for solitude. My fervent hope has been that you would choose to share my chambers with me at all times. However, I will understand if this is not … Elizabeth, why are you laughing? This is serious!”
“I am sorry, my dear, but … Fitzwilliam Darcy, for all your wisdom, maturity, and authority, you can be such a baby sometimes!” She could not stop laughing. “Any time we allowed convention to dictate our relationship, we ended up miserable. It was not proper for me ever to tour Pemberley, all things considered, or you to rush after me as you did. Rules of society would not have had you dash to Lambton to invite total strangers to dine at your house. And it most assuredly was neither proper nor conventional for us to become betrothed while unescorted and without a prior courtship! I would say that flouting convention has served us quite well, and I do not intend to deviate in this matter!”
She placed her hands around his face and pulled him toward her until their foreheads were touching. “After all we have suffered to be together, after the love we have shared these past two days, did you honestly suppose for one second that, day or night, I would want to be anywhere but right next to you?” she inquired tenderly.
His only reply was to kiss her, deeply and ardently. He pulled back slightly. “I love you, Elizabeth.”
“And I love you, William.” Kiss.
“You can make any changes you wish.” Kiss.
“Thank you, but I love everything exactly as it is.” Kiss.
“You will stay with me each night?” Kiss.
“Forever, and all day, too, until you are sick of me.” Kiss.
“That will never happen!” Kiss.
“I can be annoying at times.” Kiss.
“Do you truly think me a baby?” Kiss.
“Only occasionally, beloved, and in the most endearing way. Now hush and kiss me!”
Darcy complied with abundant enthusiasm. Elizabeth unbuttoned Darcy’s waistcoat, ran her hands up his chest, and then moved her fingers to his cravat and began working the knots. With immeasurable strength of will, he stayed her hands. With a heavy sigh and a groan, he took a step back and in a trembling voice whispered, “I must be insane!” He ran a hand over his face. “It is time to prepare for dinner, beloved. God knows it is the last thing I wish to do right now, but we should.” He stated sarcastically, “I am attempting to employ some of that maturity and wisdom you alluded to.”
She chuckled shakily and fought against an excruciating urge to overpower his “wisdom and maturity,” positive he would capitulate. She managed to behave, though, and they parted reluctantly to their respective dressing rooms.
It took a bit of time for her to figure out how to ring for Marguerite. While she waited, she further inspected the room, opening the many drawers on the vanity and discovering numerous items that had not previously belonged to her. Among the treasures were tiny notes written in Darcy’s hand with phrases such as: “Because I love you” or “They sparkled like your eyes” or “It matches your green gown” or “I adore you in red.”
A box next to the vase of flowers had a card with “To my wife, my matchless pearl” written on it. She hesitated, but curiosity overcame her so she opened it. Inside rested a spectacular strand of pearls. Elizabeth collapsed onto the bench, too overcome with all that had happened since she arrived at Pemberley to think clearly. Marguerite entered moments later to encounter her mistress motionless and staring off into space.
“Madame, are you well?”
“What? Oh, yes. Forgive me, Marguerite; I am simply feeling a bit overwhelmed.”
“I understand, Mistress. If I may suggest a bath? I know that always brightens my spirits.”
A half hour later, Elizabeth was dressed and feeling her old self again. She was well aware of why her husband had a penchant for her and pearls, so she decided to wear the gown she had worn at the Netherfield Ball and she requested Marguerite adorn her hair with a pearl-encrusted comb she found in the vanity and, naturally, she wore the necklace. As a final touch she nestled a sprig of lavender and a single white rose between her breasts.
Darcy was awaiting her in his sitting room, which she had not yet viewed. Her eyes were only for her husband, however. Why was it that she still found herself dazzled by how handsome he was? She supposed it was because of her initial reaction to him, that his attractiveness had been marred by a ridiculing, forbidding countenance and a disagreeable nature. What a fool I was! she thought, not for the first time.
The fiery expression crossing his visage left no doubt of his opinion of her ensemble. His provocative eyes ranged leisurely down her body and her heart instantly began beating erratically. He walked to her slowly, a sensual smile on his lips. He stopped before her and delicately touched her skin just below the necklace.
“These were my mother’s,” he said, eyes on the pearls and the neck they graced. “I knew they would be beautiful on you.” His fingers moved lightly across her collar and along her shoulder, and then grazed the edge of her gown until reaching the flowers. He met her eyes with one brief, smoldering gaze, and then lowered his face to the flowers. He inhaled their scent, warm breath tickling her skin, and then placed two soft kisses onto the tender flesh on either side of the corsage.
If his sturdy arm had not encircled her waist, Elizabeth was certain she would have fallen. “William,” she whispered, almost pleading, arms already around his neck, fingers in his hair.
He was studying her face with its half-opened eyes and parted lips. “You are so beautiful, my Lizzy. I love you so!” The following kiss was encompassing and demanding.
They were lost and they both knew it. Passion had overtaken them and dinner was completely forgotten. Luckily, or unluckily, Darcy’s valet chose that precise moment to knock on the door announcing that dinner was served. Even so, it seemed forever before they came to their senses. Darcy cleared his throat huskily before calling out that they would be right down.
He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on hers, moving his hands to her waist regretfully and with a struggle. “I require a moment,” he stated flatly.
Lizzy glanced to the front of his breeches and smiled. Her arousal was indisputably intense but without the visible physical ramifications.
Dinner was served in the smaller of the two dining rooms that Pemberley had. (Elizabeth would discover this fact later.) It was the same room she had dined in with her aunt and uncle. They were both quite hungry, luncheon having been a basket shared in the carriage hours ago.
They were mounting the stairs to return to their room when Mr. Keith appeared. “Mr. Darcy,” he bowed. “My apologies, Sir and Madame. Mr. Darcy, there is a matter of some urgency. Forgive me for interrupting but I fear it cannot wait.”
“Of course, Mr. Keith. Allow me to escort Mrs. Darcy to her rooms, and I shall meet you in my study momentarily.”
They proceeded up the stairs. “Do you think it serious, William?” Elizabeth asked.
“I hope not. However, Mr. Keith is not an alarmist and would not disturb me today of all days if it was not important. Do not fret, my love; I will return as soon as possible. If this matter demands my attention for any length of time, I will send word.” He kissed her at her door. “Wait for me,” he whispered, and then he was gone.
He was gone for more than an hour. He had sent word that he was needed at the stables and was unsure how long it would be. Elizabeth freshened up, donned another nightgown, and used her time to wander around the suite. She meandered about his dressing room, stunned at the quantity of clothing he possessed. His familiar scent permeated the air. The personal items on his dresser were arranged in perfect order, all of them dear to her because they were his. She impulsively grabbed one of his robes and put it on, wrapping herself in his scent and oddly comforted knowing that the soft fabric had touched his body.
She sat before the fire, reading for some time, but began to feel sleepy, so she went outside onto the balcony. The view was stupendous, even at night. The torches were still blazing, casting reflections over the water. She wished William were with her, yet her joy was such that she could not feel too depressed. It was a cold night, but Lizzy was warm in his robe. She sat down on the padded bench and contented herself with waiting.
Darcy returned in such a state of haste that he only paused long enough to allow Samuel to remove his boots, stockings, jacket, and waistcoat. He washed his face and hands quickly, splashed on a drop of cologne, and then rushed into their bedchamber, untucking his shirt as he went. Elizabeth was not there, but he saw the open balcony door.
“You are back!” she said happily. “Is everything all right?”
He bent down and kissed her lips. “Yes, it is now,” he replied. “One of my best broodmares was having a difficult birth. The foal survived, one of Parsifal’s many offspring, as a matter of fact. The mare, however, had to be put down. I hate having to do it, but on occasion it cannot be avoided.” He sighed sadly.
“I am sorry, William. I know how much your horses mean to you.”
“Thank you, my love. It is disturbing, but one of the unfortunate occurrences when one breeds horses, or any animal for that matter.” He shook his head. “Anyway, it’s done now. Why are you out here, Elizabeth? It’s quite cold.”
“Enjoying the view while I waited for you.” For a time they remained silent, both enjoying the breathtaking scenery. Elizabeth unconsciously began caressing his leg.
He looked down at her. “You are still wearing the pearls,” he noticed.
She smiled winsomely. “I like them. I thought you might enjoy seeing me wear them … and only them.”
He smiled one of his devastating smiles, glanced away briefly, and then sat beside her with long legs stretched on the opposite side from hers. He clasped her cool hands within his warm palms, and said, with his voice low and husky, “How are you faring this evening, my dearest?”
“Excellent, especially now that you are back with me.” She smiled, fingers interlacing with his and caressing tenderly. “It is so beautiful here, William. I feel at home already.”
“You are home, Mrs. Darcy. Forever Pemberley shall be where you belong.”
“I love hearing you call me ‘Mrs. Darcy.’ You say it with such tenderness and happiness.”
He laughed softly, his eyes sparkling. Reaching to feather strokes over one soft cheek, he whispered, “I am happy. Happier than I have ever been, and it is all due to your presence in my life, Mrs. Darcy.” He shook his head slightly. “I shall never tire of calling you such.” He leaned forward, kissing her nose lightly. “Always, eternally, my Mrs. Darcy.”
Lizzy exhaled a gentle laugh, closing her eyes and basking in the feel of his breath and warmth so near her face. Every sense was assaulted, tingling and alive as he bestowed tiny kisses on every feature, interspersing them with breathy endearments.
He paused and their eyes met. Her lips were parted and her breathing uneven, awaiting the pressure of his mouth upon hers. Surely she would die if he did not kiss her soon! He stroked her chin with his thumb, adoring the perfection of her face.
“Mrs. Darcy,” he whispered, so soft as to be almost inaudible, as with deliberate patience he slowly approached her mouth, kissing her with a nearly imperceptible touch. He lingered, lips feathering hers, taunting her with languid restraint. She pressed into him but he retreated slightly, maintaining a gentle pressure and movement on her mouth. She moaned and he smiled against her lips, delighting in the ability to inflame her. She wrapped her hands around his neck, pulling him to her while at the same time arching toward his chest.
Darcy committed all his energy to the pleasurable task of kissing his wife. He could feel the cold of the winter air seeping into him, but his lips were on fire. Her taste and moisture and warmth spread from his mouth to his heart and his soul. He teased her, evading her insistence, as he played with her sweet lips. He captured her upper lip and then her lower, tenderly sucking with his lips and then nipping slightly with his teeth. After a time he ever so lightly ran the tip of his tongue over her lower lip.
Lizzy’s hands had stilled in his hair, all her focus on the racing torrents of delight his mouth inspired. She had always adored his kisses and the sensations they stimulated, but this was altogether different. She moaned and sighed, heart beating erratically, yet she was paralyzed with the need to consign total attention to what he was doing to her. She was dizzy.
For what seemed like hours, he toyed with her, vacillating between faint maneuvers and enthusiastic provocations. His right hand continually stroked her jaw and cheek while his left tangled in her glistening hair, firmly clasping her head and neck to him. He probed every plane of her mouth … teeth, palate, inner lips, and cheeks … exploring leisurely and thoroughly. In a sudden burst of possessive passion, he groaned boomingly from deep in his chest and crushed her body to his chest, intensifying the kiss beyond description.
Eventually he pulled away, meeting her eyes with a burning stare. “Mrs. Darcy,” he croaked hoarsely, “my love, my wife. I so adore you!” He stood, bringing her with him, and then swept her into his arms. She buried her face into his neck, kissing softly.
Instead of laying her onto the bed as she expected, he stood her on her feet next to it. “Stay here,” he commanded. He crossed back to the door, latching it securely and pulling the curtains. Then he stoked the fire, adding another log to dispel the cold. Turning back to her, he walked slowly, stripping his shirt and tossing it randomly aside. “If Samuel knew how often my clothes have fallen to the floor in the past days, he would likely resign his post,” Darcy joked as he reached her.
Lizzy barely registered his words, so caught was she by the sight of him. She required no prior comparison to know with certainty that her husband’s figure was beyond gorgeous. His chest was broad with straight shoulders and defined muscles. Dark, thick hair lightly blanketed his upper torso, gathering densely over his sternum before trailing in a finger-width path down the solid planes of his abdomen to his groin. The bulging muscles of his arms and legs further aroused her. He was so brawny, so virile, and so utterly male. It intoxicated her. Like a magnet her hands moved to caress his milky skin, eyes windows to her devotion and craving.
Darcy was still, observing her with escalating ardency and satisfaction. He was not an egotistical man by nature. His frame was what it was, and he never gave significance to it. As long as his clothing fit well and he was lean and healthy, he was content. He certainly had been told he was handsome on many occasions, yet had assumed it was more a response to his wealth and station. No woman had ever seen his unclothed flesh, so he truly had not known what to anticipate. In these past two days of loving his wife and monitoring her reactions, he had recognized that her entrancement with his body was as profound as his was with hers. The surge of pride he felt was as much for his own ego as for his wish to please her.
Lizzy looked into his intense blue eyes and smiled shyly, a faint blush spreading over her cheeks as she continued her tactile investigation of his chest. “You endlessly chronicle how beautiful you find me,” she said quietly. “I have been too bashful to verbalize the same.” She paused as she stepped closer, holding his eyes with hers. “You are … stunning, Fitzwilliam. Hard and yet tender. Graceful and powerful. So invigorating, breathtakingly handsome and desirable to me. I love your heart and your soul, and will for all eternity, no matter what your appearance. However, I cannot deny the awesome effect your physical being has on my senses.” She finished her earnest speech by wrapping her arms about his waist, hands pressing into his back as she squeezed herself against him, hungrily seeking his mouth.
“My Lizzy,” he breathed as he kissed her. He held her tightly to him, caressing her back through her gown. His hands roamed all over her, removing his robe from her shoulders first, then slowly peeling the gauzy gown up and over her head as he stroked her satiny flesh. She shivered with delight, fire and ice piercing each nerve ending he touched.
He picked her up then, carrying her to their bed. “Elizabeth, my darling wife,” he whispered as he kissed the sensitive flesh behind her ear, “You are utterly miraculous, enthralling, bewitching, and so incredibly sensuous. You drive me wild with desire!”
His magic hands were everywhere at once, propelling her to a frenzied state of aching hunger. She pivoted to face him, flinging one leg over his hip and locking her foot behind his knee. He understood what she needed and was more than willing to comply. Leisurely, then with increasing ardor, they loved, attaining sweet glory in the embrace of the other.
“I love you; I love you,” his voice rasped as he inhaled roughly. “My sweet Lord, how I love you, Elizabeth!” He kissed her face, smoothing tangled hair from her eyes, before he moved to the side. Arms embracing, he nestled her to his heaving chest. “I do not know how I survived all these years without you,” he whispered.
“Nor I,” she answered sleepily, exhaustion and satiation overtaking her. Darcy smiled, releasing her only to cover them both and draw the bed curtains. Cuddling her closely, listening to her regular breathing, Darcy quickly fell into an undisturbed and revitalizing slumber.
* ~ * ~ *
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