When the irritating Mr. Collins proposes marriage, Elizabeth Bennet is prepared to refuse him, but then she learns that her father is ill. If Mr. Bennet dies, Collins will inherit Longbourn and her family will have nowhere to go. Elizabeth accepts the proposal, telling herself she can be content as long as her family is secure. If only she weren’t dreading the approaching wedding day…
Ever since leaving Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy has been trying to forget his inconvenient attraction to Elizabeth. News of her betrothal forces him to realize how devastating it would be to lose her. He arrives at Longbourn intending to prevent the marriage, but discovers Elizabeth’s real opinion about his character. Then Darcy recognizes his true dilemma…
How can he rescue her when she doesn’t want him to?
Elizabeth blinked rapidly. “You were coming to visit Longbourn?”
Why did she sound so incredulous? “Well…yes. I am not well acquainted with many of the other families in the neighborhood.”
A ghost of her pert smile appeared on her lips. “I would not think you inclined to socialize at all. Did you not find country society confined and unvarying?”
Oh, Good Lord! Had he said that? His anxiety in Elizabeth’s presence had undoubtedly caused him to say many foolish things the previous autumn. If only he could go back in time and slap himself!
“It is true that one might not find as great a variety of people here as in the city, but I find myself growing weary of the society in London as well.” Perhaps such a statement might mitigate any lingering bad feelings he had engendered.
“I would imagine so.” The smile was gone, in favor of a more contemplative look. Darcy wished he might provoke the expression again.
“May I accompany you to Longbourn?” he asked.
Elizabeth’s voice was all politeness, but she did not smile. “Of course. Everyone will be very surprised to see you!”
And hopefully pleased, Darcy thought. However, Elizabeth’s welcome was not as warm as he might have hoped. Perhaps she felt distressed to see him when she was now betrothed to another. Darcy took his horse’s reins, and the beast followed them as they walked down the lane.
Despite his unease, Darcy noticed how the exercise brought out the color in Elizabeth’s complexion. Her cheeks were a delicate rosy hue, and her eyes were shining brightly in the afternoon sunshine. If only he could reach out and touch her cheek! Would her skin be as soft as he imagined? If only he could stroke one of those delicate curls.
He could easily imagine the silky texture under his fingertips.
Darcy averted his eyes and attempted to turn his thoughts to safer subjects. However, neither his body nor his mind seemed inclined to obey his better judgment. He might as well surrender to his desires and imagine taking her to bed. His whole body responded to that thought; Darcy suppressed a groan.
Elizabeth looked at him oddly. Had he made a noise? Good God! Not yet five minutes in her company and already I am making a fool of myself! Say something! “Ah…you are looking particularly well today, Miss Elizabeth,” he said. “Quite lovely.”
She gave him a blank stare. Did she not expect compliments from him? Then her lips twisted in an ironic smile. “I thought you found me tolerable, but not pretty enough to tempt you.”
What? “I beg your pardon?”
Elizabeth’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead. “At the Meryton Assembly, it was the reason you gave for declining to dance with me when Mr. Bingley suggested it.”
“Who told you I said that?” he demanded.
“No one. I overheard you.” The tone of her voice was cool, but she had to be angry.
Good Lord! Darcy rubbed his jaw. All he remembered from that evening was irritation at Bingley for dragging them to the provincial hell and annoyance that Bingley’s sister would not cease importuning him. Being in a foul mood, he might have said something cutting, but he did not recall voicing an opinion about Elizabeth. Now he wished he could go back in time and shoot himself. It would save a lot of trouble.
“I-I must apologize. I was in a particularly ill humor that evening, or I would not have said something so patently false. I beg you to accept my apology.” Sweat dampened his collar and the front of his shirt. He tugged at his cravat where it seemed to be choking him.
Elizabeth turned her head to regard him, eyebrows raised in surprise. Had she believed him incapable of apologizing? But her eyes turned back to the road before he could decipher her expression. “Of course. It is of no matter.” Her voice was still frustratingly indifferent. Darcy would have preferred her to yell at him.
Damnation! Does she believe I am lying now and only seek to flatter her vanity? It would be a bitter irony, indeed, that the most beautiful woman of his acquaintance would think he only tolerated her.
Silence had prevailed for a minute or more; Darcy needed to say something. “I do find you quite lovely.”
Elizabeth’s gaze turned on him, one eyebrow raised. Blast! She does not understand me at all. “Believe me, I do not indulge in idle flattery.” Oh, he was making a hash of this! She would believe him incapable of conducting a simple conversation with a woman.
And she would be quite correct.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she is a freelance writer/editor who teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.
She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, two children who are learning how much fun Austen’s characters can be, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.