Excerpts: In the Arms of Mr. Darcy
Lizzy stood at the top of the grand staircase, dressed in a gorgeous gown of brown chenille, a huge smile lighting her entire being, and Alexander nestled in her arms. The proud smile Darcy could in no way prevent lit his face. The two sisters, escorted by Georgiana, were mounting the stairs toward Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet, on the arm of Dr. Darcy, was captivated in open-mouthed scrutiny of the ceiling and carvings abundant in the enormous two-story entryway, momentarily forgetting both daughter and grandson.
The waiting duo disappeared in a mass of flowing skirts and reaching arms, the chatter and exclamations of marvel rising to the rafters. Lizzy’s merry laughter lifted above the fray until Mrs. Bennet caught sight of her daughter among the general splendor and her shrill outcry drowned all.
“Oh, Lizzy! How adorable he is! Let me hold my grandson! Hello sweet baby, I am your grandmamma. Well done Lizzy, birthing a male as I recommended. The heir to Pemberley to please Mr. Darcy. And such a healthy boy he is, yes indeed. Someday all this will be yours, you lucky little dear.”
Lizzy cringed, glancing into Darcy’s pained visage at the bottom of the stairs. “Papa,” she spoke firmly to her father, cutting through her mother’s proclamations. “Come meet your grandson.”
Mr. Bennet had anticipated this moment with moderate enthusiasm. He was happy for Lizzy and her husband, but he had not expected to be unduly moved by a tiny person with presumably no personality or ability to interact.
What a shock it was to the elderly gentleman when his eyes locked with Alexander’s! The seventeen-day-old infant was awake and alert. Grandfather and grandson connected gazes, and then Alexander stretched out one wobbly hand as he wiggled and released the newborn version of a giggle.
Mr. Bennet was in love, utterly and completely head over heels. His eyes misted and he gruffly cleared his throat while extending the tip of an index finger to stroke the soft fist. “Handsome chap, Lizzy. Quite attentive and serious, like his father, yet with a hint of humor, like you. Fine addition to the family, I daresay.”
Lizzy was beaming, her immeasurable pride in her son now increased by the obvious effect he had on her relatives. She laid her hand on her father’s arm, drawing his gaze to her, and lifting to kiss his cheek. “Come inside the parlor, Papa, and relax with a brandy, then you can hold him.”
Darcy had observed the unfolding drama with widely divergent emotions. Like his wife, his pride in their son was infinite. He truly considered Alexander the most perfect baby in the entire world and was, therefore, not the least bit surprised at the instantaneous affection. The negative was the epiphany, foolishly not deliberated upon prior, that he would quite probably have to physically evict his child from someone’s arms if he wished to hold him! It was not a pleasant idea and the scowl that threatened to overtake his countenance was fought with all the power at his disposal. Plainly put, Darcy was ragingly jealous! An unattractive emotion to be sure, but there it was.
He entered the parlor last, Lizzy already placing Alexander into her father’s arms. Mrs. Bennet had moved away without a backward glance and was strolling about the room, examining with a keen, covetous eye. George was positioned near the three younger ladies, charming unabashedly. Mr. Daniels stood apart by the window in an uncomfortable pose familiar to the anti-social Darcy. He approached the poor man with a smile.
“Mr. Daniels, what is your preference? Brandy or whiskey, or perhaps wine?”
“Do not trouble yourself, sir.”
“It is no trouble at all,” Darcy assured him, motioning to a footman. “I shall have a brandy, as will Mr. Bennet I am certain. A whiskey for Dr. Darcy, and Mr. Daniels…?”
“Whiskey then, with thanks,” he said in a small voice, face flushing.
“Excellent! Tell me, Mr. Daniels, how fares your father and brother?” Steering the conversation to general subjects, drinks easing the tension, Mr. Daniels began to calm. Darcy attended to the dialogue while keeping an eye on Mr. Bennet, who was grinning widely as he held Alexander and talked quietly with his daughter. Lizzy glanced to her husband, radiant in her happiness, and blew him a tiny kiss.
Darcy winked, the feelings of jealousy waning gradually in the warmth of Elizabeth’s face. His musings were abruptly interrupted by Mrs. Bennet, who he had not noted was nearby.
“Mr. Darcy, Pemberley is magnificent! Surely it must be the finest house in all of Derbyshire? I cannot imagine anything to supplant it. How proud you must be! And to think my little Lizzy is mistress of all this. I would not have thought her capable!”
“I can assure you, madam, that your daughter is eminently capable of handling anything. She is fearless, wise, and extraordinarily accomplished. Far and away the best mistress Pemberley has been blessed with in decades.”
Any further rebuttals were halted by a loud infant squeal from the sofa. Lizzy was laughing at the surprised expression on her father’s face.
“Am I squeezing him too tightly, Lizzy?”
“No, Papa. Alexander is quite demanding when he requires nourishment. A trait inherited from his father, I do believe.” She glanced to Darcy with a grin, her husband crossing to the sofa.
“I would not be too hasty in that assessment, Lizzy, as I recall a young girl who inhaled her food the sooner to return to the play yard or a favored novel.”
* ~ * ~ *
“That is the amazing thing, Georgie. Or at least one of the many amazing things.” She gazed up at him in question, Richard halting and reaching to lightly stroke her cheek. “I know you offered yourself freely to comfort me with no expectation or hesitation. You are truly a remarkable woman, Georgiana Darcy, a wonderful friend, and very dear to me.”
She smiled and laughed, tone teasing. “So you finally admit it? That I am no longer your little mouse?”
“Yes, it is a fact of extreme clarity to me.” His voice was muted and a bit shaky. Their eyes locked, both unable to draw away although the reality of what they knew was coming loomed largely between. Surges of emotion raced over their eyes and countenances, too rapid to interpret fully. Richard inhaled deeply, “Georgiana…”
“Richard, I do not think…”
“Please, dear, let me say it. I know it is all too soon, too fast, too real. But I cannot leave without telling you how I feel. I came here broken, despairing, and certain that my life was over as far as love is concerned. I was not looking for anything except escape. Discovering a birth of new emotions for you was most assuredly not on my agenda, but I cannot contradict their blossoming. I have fought it, analyzed it, dissected it, denied it, but the result is the same. I am falling in love with you, Georgiana, as a man does a woman who is astounding and beautiful and kind and generous and, and… so many perfect traits that it would take me hours if not a lifetime to list them all!”
“Richard, please stop!” She pulled away, taking several steps before halting with her back to him.
Silence fell again, Richard gathering his thoughts before resuming. “I have overwhelmed you, haven’t I? Forgive me, Georgiana, for being too… enthusiastic. I am not asking for any promises, not that I would not welcome such. But I know the circumstances are… strange, to put it mildly. Just… please, tell me there is hope that your feelings for me may someday be reciprocated, even if it is a faint one.”
She turned to him then, face flushed but composed, eyes shining and smile soft. “Richard Fitzwilliam, I have loved you all of my life, you know this. These past weeks have been revealing and surprising. My heart stirs in ways that I do not understand, nor do I think I am quite prepared for.”
“Does that mean you are beginning to have feelings of romantic love for me?”
“I do not know! You arrived sad and forlorn, but nonetheless were still just Cousin Richard. My fun-loving guardian whom I have no memory of ever living without. Then, somewhere in the midst, you were a man. Looking at me as a man does. It is all so confusing!”
“You said your heart stirs. Does it stir in the ways of a woman toward a man she loves?”
She stared at him silently for a long while, face pale and eyes slightly wild. Her voice, when she spoke, was hushed to nearly inaudible levels. “Yes. Perhaps. I think so… Oh, Richard! How can this be, between us?”
“It is not so unusual, Georgiana. We have always been close, with a strong bond. This foundation supports a richer emotion. It has taken some time, but I finally grew up in the area of women and love, and am desirous of a committed relationship. And you, my beautiful, dear Georgiana, have matured and flourished right before my eyes.”
She sighed. “As much as I appreciate your recognition of my maturity, and as much as I pridefully want to avow it, the truth is that I am yet young and somewhat sheltered despite the eye-opening events of the past two years.” She laughed and nodded toward the Master of Pemberley’s bedchamber. “Or perhaps it is because of all that has been thrust upon me so radically that I hesitate now. Romance runs amok hereabouts, and it is difficult not to be influenced by it. But, more importantly, I worry for you, my dear friend.”
“I know my heart, Georgiana,” he stated firmly.
“Are you so sure of that, Richard? Completely? You have been wounded so profoundly by Lady Fotherby. How can your heart honestly be ready to move on so swiftly?”
“I am resilient.”
She blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“Just something Darcy said,” he shrugged, smiling weakly.
“Resilient you may be, but you are not fickle. I see the haunting in your eyes at unguarded times. I note how your jaw clenches when the London newspapers are delivered. I know your reluctance to leave Pemberley is partly due to the memories that will assault you in Town and the fear you have of meeting her. I know your heart is not free of her.”
“I will not deny any of this, Georgie. My sentiments toward Lady Fotherby were real, and I am not completely past it. But do you not see?” He suddenly crossed the gap between them, taking her hands in his strong ones. “I am not an inconstant man! Love ambushed me to be sure, but I plunged in full force, no faltering. I am not afraid to admit the truth when it is thrust in front of me. I am a man of action, a soldier undaunted by any challenge or situation. And I see it through to the end with total commitment. But in the case of Lady Fotherby, it was not meant to be apparently. Now, it is as if history has repeated itself with you! I am equally startled by the unexpected evolution of my love for you, but I am not afraid or unsure!”
“But I am,” she whispered.
* ~ * ~ *
Traversing the remaining rock hollows accessible meant crossing the running rivulet numerous times, but the water was shallow. The deeper caves descended gradually as they bored into the earth and were smaller. They were filled with stalactites in all sizes, some enormous and reaching completely to the ground to form natural pillars. Most were intact but many were broken or dislocated from their original placement on the ceiling. There were other oddities such as a huge pile of sand carried in and deposited by the river, the marine exuviae embedded into the strata of the limestone walls, and the three arches so perfectly carved into one rock wall that they appeared hand hewn.
But the crescendo was the spontaneous chorus that broke out. Disembodied voices burst forth from the unseen upper heights of the chasm, lifted in a song that reverberated against the walls. It was beautiful and creepy, pleasurable and astonishing. The mystery was quickly solved once the voices faded, a group of singers descending down a makeshift stairway to stand visible on a sort of chancel where they accepted applause and praise.
Returning to the surface was a relief, even though the enterprise had been thrilling. Both Lizzy and Darcy blinked in the sun that seemed far brighter than it had an hour previously and sucked in huge lungfuls of air.
Lizzy’s mien was the common one of impish enthusiasm that Darcy knew meant she had thoroughly enjoyed herself. He had as well, his expression controlled but the wide smile and shimmering eyes revealed his delight in the escapade. Still, Lizzy’s first words upon crossing the arched portal echoed his sentiments, “I do not believe I have ever been so happy to see the sun.”
They paused on the threshold, gazing back into the abyss. Mrs. Hanford saw them and rose with a still sleeping Alexander in her arms, walking to join them.
Darcy nodded. “I know what you mean. I love adventure, but cave exploration is definitely not on my list of possible hobbies. That takes a special breed of man. But now I have a greater appreciation for the rapidly increasing number of men who are embracing the activity.”
“Think how amazing it must be to happen upon a subterranean wonder, knowing that you are the first human eyes to ever behold it. That would be quite exhilarating.”
Darcy laughed softly, nudging her hand with his. “You are too busy as a wife and mother to dash off and discover caves, my dear.”
She laughed, turning to take Alexander into her arms. “Have no fear. I am abundantly content to care for my husband and son. That is plenty of adventure for me.” She kissed the infant’s forehead, curly locks tickling her nose, and looked up at her husband with a teasing grin. She opened her mouth to speak, most likely planning a humorous jibe, but the words were never uttered.
A loud cracking sound pierced the air, echoing through the ravine.
Everyone froze, reflexively gazing upward to where the noise originated. A chunk of rock protruding from the face of limestone near the edge of the towering cliff was suddenly and inexplicably breaking away. The clap of severing stone mixed with the high-pitched scrape of rock upon rock and the crunch of crumbling gravel. Time seemed to stop as they stared transfixed at the five-foot boulder directly above their heads that, with a final reverberating boom, disengaged. It started sliding down the flat face, the motion painfully slow in the paralyzed time, but gained speed quickly. The rock’s weight and rain of dirt, plants, and gravel caused it to twist in the air, toppling over as the jagged projectile plummeted down the three hundred foot escarpment.
Voices lifted in shouts and screams. People scattered in all directions. Lizzy stood open-mouthed, immobile in stupefied terror, staring at the calamity heading straight for her. Darcy, thankfully, reacted with brisk efficiency. At the second plangent crack, he pivoted, grabbing his wife and child in a crushing embrace, lifting bodily until Lizzy’s feet were off the ground, and lunged up the trail away from where the avalanche was destined to land. He whipped his head toward Mrs. Hanford, who also stood rooted to the spot, yelling in a snapping command, “Mrs. Hanford! Move!”
She jolted, but his penetrating order did the trick, she too twirling about. Watson grasped onto her upper arm, hauling hard as they all dashed to safety. Yet, everything was happening so fast. The debris of tiny rocks and dirt showered their shoulders seconds before the rock crashed into the hard-packed ground, sundering down the middle with shards splintering from the edges and flying through the air.
Darcy’s wide strides carried them ten feet from the place of impact, almost precisely where they had been standing moments before.
* ~ * ~ *
When she returned Darcy had doffed his jackets and cravat and was bent over the desk they shared in their smaller Darcy House bedchamber. He was rereading Anne’s letter when she approached and slipped her arms around his waist from behind, leaning onto his back and squeezing. He straightened and turned, drawing her gently into his embrace. She draped her arms over his shoulders, twining her fingers into his hair and pulling his head down to meet her upturned lips.
“What were you saying about needing a few kisses to restore your harmony?” She whispered against his lips.
“Hmmm. I believe I said they would suffice if we had no time for more.”
Her chuckle was stifled by a passionately seeking mouth. The kisses, or rather one continuous kiss, began tenderly but rapidly smoldered and flamed. Darcy held her firmly against his chest, one hand between her shoulder blades and the other flattened upon her derriere and pressing hard into his pelvis. Heat flared between them, readily felt through the thin layers of clothing.
Yet, despite the ever-present desire to make love to his wife and the instantaneous emergence of his physical response to her passionate touch, Darcy restrained himself. His teasing references to engaging in rushed lovemaking were not untrue or unwelcome, but he comprehended that preparing for a social event took time. He appreciated how carefully Elizabeth fussed over her appearance for these engagements and knew without a doubt that she would stun him with her beauty and perfection. Therefore, he stifled the groan lodged in his throat and pulled away from her lips to commence a languid exploration of her neck with gentle kisses. He moved his hand to the small of her back and slackened the pressure holding her body tightly against his.
“I was thinking,” Lizzy whispered huskily, biting his earlobe sharply, “I bathed this morning so do not really need to do so again, and I am sure Marguerite has my garments prepared, and you can remove my day dress as well as she, so… Oh!”
Darcy had uttered not a word. Instead he precipitously lifted her into his arms, moving quickly to the bed. Just that quickly, his solicitude disappeared!
Lizzy laughed breathlessly. “You had to carry me the ten steps to the bed? We couldn’t walk?”
“Far speedier this way. Time is of the essence, Mrs. Darcy.” He grinned, but was quite serious. He straddled her thighs, hastily discarding his shirt and tossing it onto the floor, and then bent over her supine body with a hand next to each shoulder and arms straight, his body not touching hers. He drew close, his mouth inches from hers. “What is your pleasure, my lover? Shall I kiss and lick your flesh, your writhing and pleading driving me insane with desire until I cannot resist and bury myself deeply here as you lay? Or do you wish to be in control, sending me to places unimaginable with your skillful touch?” As he spoke in a soft whisper he moved his lips along her jaw and face, warm breath stroking her sensitive skin with each word interspersed with feathery kisses.
She was already running her hands over his torso, squeezing and pressing as she arched her back in an effort to contact his body. “I have no preference, Fitzwilliam. Just hurry!”