Excerpts: The Trouble With Mr. Darcy
The first order of business was to move Alexander from the nursery into the spacious chamber that had been prepared for him while they were gone. Freshly painted and redecorated with varying shades of blue, the chamber was bright and cheery with a large bed that was perfect for parent-son playtime and story reading.
The room faced south with a panoramic view of the River Derwent and pastureland beyond. Sheep roamed freely over the grass, Alexander mesmerized by their sedate activities as observed from the tall windows while he played. It would be a few years before Darcy was told that whenever he and Parsifal went for a run across the meadow Alexander would sit on the window seat, transfixed for as long as he could see them. Mrs. Hanford positioned the rocking horse near the window and Alexander would “ride” the toy horse while watching his father and faithful mount streaking over the tree dotted glade, sheep hastening to move out of the way.
Transitioning from small nursery to larger room was not without problems, however.
He was happy to have wide areas of empty floor to set up his tiny armies and the miniature castle built by Uncle Goj and his papa. The collection of wooden blocks was assigned the northeast corner where they stayed within the allotted area but were never neatly put away. The fanciful replica of Noah’s Ark with ever-increasing pairs of animals was given a table with painted land and water for the appropriate creatures to dwell while waiting for the flood. The chest constructed by his father sat under one window and housed his favorite books, colored drawing chalks and crayons, and stacks of paper. Additional toy chests and shelves lined one wall. For a busy, nearly two-year-old, it was paradise on earth.
Then the nighttime came. Transferring to the big bed, even with his stuffed animal companions to keep him company proved to be a traumatic event. He refused to fall asleep in the bed, so for two weeks straight he stayed with his parents until asleep, before being moved to his room. Unfortunately he would wake later, something that was extremely unusual for him. Mrs. Hanford tried to sleep with him but the bed, although large for a toddler, was not large enough for a grown woman, some dozen animals, and a child who flipped about constantly. Often he cried out when waking suddenly from a disquieting dream, bringing his nanny quickly to console. Other times he simply woke, grabbed Dog, and padded down the short hall seeking solace from his parents. This came with risks, such as the first time he did so when Darcy and Lizzy were taken utterly by surprise and learned a valuable lesson in privacy and security.
On the night in question, they deposited a deeply sleeping Alexander in his own bed and then retired to their chamber for adult entertainment of a most intimate nature. It was nearing midnight and not five minutes after a mutually dizzying culmination with their bodies yet joined and Darcy crushing his wife into the soft mattress. He lifted his head with a groan to bestow an intense post-loving kiss. Pulling away and bending to kiss her glistening shoulder, Darcy noted movement in his peripheral vision. He turned, freezing instantly and barely halting the reflexive expletive that rose to his lips, eyes locking with the wide-eyed gaze of Alexander.
The toddler stood not a foot away in the gap between the bed curtains, serious face unperturbed as he said, “Papa, I scared. Bad dream.”
Lizzy jerked and squelched a scream, turning toward her son, both of them paralyzed where they lay for what seemed like hours. The foremost thought was one of intense embarrassment, although both were sending silent prayers that they had chosen to keep the covers over their bodies as they loved and that the curtains were drawn. However, they had no idea how long he had been standing there, neither noting anything other than their own zeal for the past half hour at least.
Darcy carefully disengaged from his wife, blankets held securely, although there was really nothing either could do about their nakedness. “I am sorry, sweet. Come here, Papa will make it all better.” He opened his arms and Alexander climbed onto the bed, nestling snuggly in the warm circle of his father’s embrace, clutching Dog tightly.
Lizzy had regained her composure, barely, rising to look over Darcy’s body and reaching to comfort her son. “Are you better now, darling?” She smoothed the crazy curls on his brow, his eyes meeting hers in the dimly lit darkness.
“Better,” he replied. “You better, Mama? Bad dream gone bye?”
“I am fine, sweetie. What do you mean?”
“You scream. Ogre get you too?”
Darcy howled, Lizzy slapping his back and hiding her instantly scarlet face in his shoulder. “It is well, Alexander,” he affirmed with a gasping laugh. “Papa was here to make Mama feel good… very, very good.”
* ~ * ~ *
Darcy fell onto the settee before the unlit fireplace in his and Elizabeth’s bedchamber with a loud sigh. He was waiting, rather impatiently, for his wife to emerge from her dressing room. The vague references to freshening up and getting comfortable, whispered in a sultry drawl, did not induce relaxation, but instead instigated certain bodily reactions of a heightening nature.
Elizabeth dearly enjoyed surprising her husband. Of course explicit visual or tactile inducements were unnecessary, but he knew she would not see it that way. Therefore, his mind was pleasantly wandering. Would she wear the over-sized shirt of his that still drove him insane? Would she appear deliciously naked? Perhaps wearing one of the devilish costumes that her modiste designed? Would her hair be yet pinned up so he could thrill in releasing each lustrous tress? Or down in a cloud of fluid waves shrouding her elfin face and delicate shoulders? Would she splash her alabaster skin with her signature essence of lavender or the special musky jasmine that she wore as a treat just for him?
The musings meandered as he removed his shoes and jacket. Again, it truly did not matter; anything she chose was guaranteed to provoke him into a raging inferno of wanton desire. Merely the thought of her was affecting him and his next sigh was more of a moan as blood rushed in a hot surge through his vessels.
He reached a hand to loosen the suddenly constricting cravat just as the door opened. His breathing hitched and hand halted halfway toward his throat, the brief paralysis broken with a cleansing release of air as his eyes swept over the woman who utterly owned his soul. A brilliant smile illuminated his face as he drank in the vision of Lizzy gliding across the short distance.
Her hair was down, tumbling chocolate curls framing her cheeks and falling to her waist in a lush veil. She had chosen to remain in the creamy tan gown with copper trim that she had worn that day, only without any undergarments thus allowing the sheer muslin to cling to her flesh and offer tantalizing hints of the perfection underneath. The fact that a portion of his brain had been disrobing her from this particular dress all day made her choice to keep it on all the more stimulating.
He extended one arm, palm upward, murmuring gutturally, “Ah, Lizzy. What are you trying to do to me?”
She smiled in return, taking the offered hand and lacing her fingers between his, but moved around the narrow settee until behind him. She leaned down, kissing each fingertip ensnared amid her fingers, only then answering his question with a hot whisper against his right ear. “I think you know precisely what I am trying to do. And that I am succeeding admirably.”
He moaned, dropping his head onto the back of the sofa and gazing into her eyes. “You were succeeding before you entered the room, my lover. Now you are killing me!”
“You can handle the stress, my virile husband.” She moved her hands to his shoulders, kneading through the fabric of his waistcoat.
“That does feel wonderful, but I have to say that my shoulders are not the prime area of my body screaming for your touch.”
Smiling as she lowered her mouth to his, her kiss was every bit as penetrating upside down as it was straight on. Darcy cupped her face in his large, warm palms, preventing her straying away from his lips. Nimbly she unbuttoned the waistcoat and top part of his shirt, fingertips grazing over the hairs and skin revealed in the gap before attending to the knots of his neckcloth.
Lizzy had no proof, and could certainly never ask, but she had come to believe that Darcy’s valet drew some sort of mischievous enjoyment in fabricating new, intricate knots for his master’s cravat. Samuel was just as stoic and professional as on the day Lizzy met him as a new bride, marriage to Marguerite not visibly loosening the strict propriety that encased him, but upon occasion she had seen an odd gleam in his eye when Darcy exited his dressing room. He knew that Lizzy was as apt to undress her husband as he was. Darcy, of course, despite his adherence to proper fashion, was not a dandy and therefore paid scant attention to how his neckcloth was tied. But Lizzy saw the humor in it, delighting in the challenge and added thrill as she deciphered the puzzle, unveiling her spouse’s manly neck to her seeking caress.
* ~ * ~ *
He sighed, closing his eyes briefly and offering a silent prayer. “Come, Elizabeth, take my hand.”
She did, listlessly rising and walking to his side. She stood by the bed complacently as he removed her robe, strong hands stroking over the silky skin of her arms. He cupped her face, lifting it to meet his eyes. “Please, beloved, tell me what is troubling you? I am so worried for you.” His soft voice, brimming with concerned agony, brought tears to her eyes.
“I do not know,” she whispered. “I am so tired… all the time tired.”
“I keep encouraging you to rest, do I not? You must not push yourself so, my heart. Relinquish the chores to Mrs. Hanford and others. Let us help you! Please, Elizabeth, heed my advice.”
In an instant her eyes were angry. “Oh yes! Mr. Darcy who knows what is best for everyone! Must you control the entire world, William? Tell everyone what to do?”
Darcy paled, stepping back a pace in utter shock. But Lizzy followed, her face enraged, finger stabbing him in the breastbone. “I do not need you to tell me how to be a mother! I am a good mother, an excellent mother! My babies need me, not a servant! Stop… just stop… ordering me…”
Her voice was shrill and body shaking as her eyes welled with angry tears. It was her wildest outburst yet and Darcy had never felt so cold.
“Elizabeth Darcy, listen to me.” He spoke in his authoritative voice, normally more than adequate to quell any adversary. “You are irrational and raving. Calm yourself and let me help you. Try to be reasonable!”
But his words were cut short by a stunning slap to his left cheek. He gasped, recoiling as his hand rose to cover the sting. It was not so much the pain, although his wife did have a strong arm, but the mind-numbing astonishment of what she had done.
Lizzy instantaneously crumbled in remorse. Hands covered her mouth as an anguished moan escaped. “Oh God! William, please forgive…”
“I shall be in my study if the children have need of me,” he icily intoned, eyes dead as he pivoted and left the room, slamming the door behind.
Lizzy stood paralyzed for a long time, eventually releasing a wail of sheer animal intensity, her heart breaking asunder as the world spun and swirled. She whirled about, frantic for anything to relieve the twisted emotions ripping through her mind. Lunging toward the balcony, she only thought of escape and punishment for the sufferings caused by her words and deeds.
She halted abruptly at the railing, wheezing and crying. She grabbed onto the freezing stone in a white knuckled grip, staring at the cobbled stones of the walkway far below. Oblivion from the pain called, but some small kernel of sanity beckoned. Perhaps it was the frigid cold restoring a hint of clarity. Perhaps it was a guardian angel stopping her steps. Whatever the case, she fell to her knees, sobbing until there were no tears remaining, only then finding the strength to stumble to the lonely, cold bed.
* ~ * ~ *
Everyone but the oblivious Mrs. Bennet felt the undercurrents, but few knew the entire tale of Wickham. In fact, only Darcy, Richard, George, and Lizzy knew all of the history from childhood on to the present. Georgiana knew of her own travails with the scoundrel, but only hints of his past interactions with her brother. Lord and Lady Matlock knew of Georgiana’s narrow escape, of Wickham’s wild ways during University, his squandering James Darcy’s honest inheritance, and the attempt to swindle Darcy later, but nothing of his youthful mischief or the seduction and subsequent forced-marriage to Lydia Bennet.
Mr. Bennet knew the entire tale of Wickham’s seduction of Lydia and Darcy’s rescuing of her in London, but only vague fragments of Darcy’s past connection to him. Darcy had never shared his information regarding Lydia’s marriage and life in Newcastle with his father-in-law, seeing no profit in worrying him further. Kitty knew some of it, but from Georgiana’s point of view and via whispered conversations between her parents, the bulk of which she had passed on to Randall.
The remainder, no matter what tidbits they may have gleaned over the years, instantly sensed the tension as well as cringing at the abrasive manner of Lydia. Where Mrs. Bennet was tolerated by the more refined members of Darcy’s family, as long as contact was minimal, Lydia’s crass words chafed. Darcy had anticipated this, even if he was not prepared for the contact to occur when the entire wedding party was amassed in his temporary home with him as host. Nonetheless, his impeccable breeding and need to establish firm ground with Wickham overcame his chagrin. “Mrs. Wickham.” He bowed, stepping into the fray urbanely. “Welcome to Netherfield. Indeed you are in time for dinner. Setting for two additional diners is not in any way troublesome. Please, make yourself comfortable as you surely must be wearied from your journey.”
He gestured to the sofa, briefly meeting Lizzy’s eyes in silent communication. His wife nodded, grasping Lydia’s elbow and steering toward the middle of the room, the Bennet clan following.
Richard and Dr. Darcy sidled over as Darcy turned to face George Wickham. Randall remained behind, curiously observing the changing expressions while his own internal alarms yet rang.
“Wickham,” Darcy stated flatly, eyes flinty and piercing his old playmate. “You are welcome to Netherfield as well. Miss Bennet’s happiness is of the utmost concern. For her sake you are accepted, but you will be watched, have no fear of that.”
Wickham inclined his head, cocky smile fixed in place. “No need for threats, Darcy. I come in peace, and only at my wife’s urging, I assure you. Hertfordshire holds no happy memories for me, nor do you frankly. Colonel Fitzwilliam, I understand congratulations are in order?”
Richard nodded curtly, not replying.
Wickham nodded as well, feigned sadness touching his eyes. “I see. And you must be Major General Artois? I will assume you know of my unfortunate history with His Majesty’s Army, so I will not pretend that being surrounded by officers is all that appealing to me.”
“I suppose in that regard we are on equal footing, Mr. Wickham, as I do not find being in the company of insubordinates all that appealing either. But for the sake of my fiancée I will manage to overcome my repulsion.”
Wickham inclined his head politely, smile in place. “Understood. Congratulations to you as well, Major General. Miss Bennet has matured nicely, I daresay, from the girl I last saw. But it is oddly comforting to know not all has changed, such as her preference for military men. I am certain Mrs. Bennet is delighted at her daughter’s… resourcefulness and has welcomed you into the fold with lavish praise.”
His eyes turned from the stiffened Randall to Darcy. “More congratulations are in order, I see. Mrs. Darcy appears every inch a Mistress of Pemberley, to the point of speedily presenting you with not one, but two male children! Amazing development and how proud you must be. Your heir is a handsome lad, without any doubt your son. This must be a comfort to you.”
“Is this your idea of coming in peace, Wickham?” Darcy growled.
Wickham shrugged, spreading his hands. “Just getting the insults out of the way, Darcy. Then we can have it done with and move on to the happy event. Should I complete your expectations by remarking on how lovely a woman Georgiana has become?”
Richard took a step closer, his face ruddy with anger. “Be careful, Wickham. You are not among friends here.”
“Oh, how well I know, Colonel. But I do not think either of you want to start a brawl here in the parlor. Mustn’t upset the delicate females. That would be highly improper. Frankly, I am outnumbered, so am counting on the famous Darcy restraint to persevere. If Darcy truly wanted to harm me he has had plenty of opportunities to do so before this one.”
“Fitzwilliam.” Lizzy fortuitously interrupted the escalating scene, touching his sleeve. “Dinner has been announced.”
She sternly held his gaze, finally hearing a deep inhale as his face resumed its typical controlled seriousness. “Of course. Thank you, Elizabeth.” He offered his arm, Lizzy taking it with relief, both turning their backs on Wickham as Darcy’s elegant voice rang out in formal announcement. Richard and Randall left to claim their partners, none noting the smug expression that crossed Wickham’s face before it settled into its usual arrogant lift as he escorted a babbling Lydia into the dining room.