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Clouds Will Intervene

Chapter 6

The only illumination was the trickle of light from a small gap in the drapes. The rays ran across the room, up the bed and across Darcy's face. His eyes were open and he was staring at the sunlight along the floor. He had not noticed that he was no longer alone. He had been quite worried as Lizzy had not been there when he woke up; she had always been there. As she walked towards him, he heard her and looked up at her slowly. A small, ironic smile appeared on his lips as she said hello with her eyes.

"It was light like this that woke me up the morning of the accident. The day seemed so full of hope. I knew that I would see you and tell you how much I loved you. Nothing ever goes according to plan, does it?"

His smile was brief as he looked away to once again stare out of the window. The light cast an eerie glow over his features and bounced off the healing gash on his brow. His expression was sombre as he thought back to the day he set off to Longbourn in search of the woman he loved.

As he looked towards the sunlight traversing the wooden floorboards of the room, he could feel her looking at him expectantly. He knew he had been hurting her every minute of the day since Georgiana left willingly with his Aunt Catherine three days ago. That very fact chilled him to the bone; he had never meant to hurt her in anyway possible. When he set out from his London townhouse that morning, his mission had been quite the opposite. As she sat in the chair beside the bed and took out her book as she usually did these days, he decided to tell her everything he felt.

"I have never quite felt so helpless before, Elizabeth . I cannot do anything and yet everything is going so tragically wrong. I could never have foretold this all happening; that I would fall on the way here, that Miss Bingley would be so treacherous, that Georgiana would walk away with my aunt. That morning was so full of hope and the sunlight awoke me in such a pleasant manner. I was filled with such a feeling of joy that nothing could possibly have gone wrong. I had slept well for the first night in months because I knew there was a chance of your returning my feelings.

"The day decided to go wrong as soon as I set foot at the bottom of the stairs. Georgiana was there and looking so furiously at me. I knew there was something wrong with what my aunt has told her but thought nothing of it; that was until she attacked me about what I was to embark on. I told her that I was riding up here to see you, that I loved you and held hope that one day you would consent to make me the happiest of men. Of that she was displeased. She hated the fact that I was to marry beneath myself, as Lady Catherine had so delicately put it. That I was going to ruin her chances of making a good match. Georgiana has ceased to believe in love matches after everything Wickham had put her through. Our aunt has also poisoned her mind about marriage, just because she was miserable in hers. My sister expected me to make the right decision and cease in my quest to earn your hand. I would never stop until I found you. I have spent so long trying. The one woman I know I could love and you hated me, or you did once."

Darcy looked towards Lizzy who was staring at him intently, listening closely to what he was telling her, her book having been abandoned as soon as he began his tragic story. He had never before spoken of his feelings to anybody and she was honoured to find he was telling her all this. Thinking that he may have forgiven everything she had caused, she took his hand but he wrenched it away once again. The tears began to well in her eyes but she blinked them away. She hated feeling weak in front of him. He would be alright one day and she would wait for him. Everything had just come as a shock for him all at once. No wonder he was confused.

"I never hated you. Disliked maybe, but never hate." She had to look away; the tears were threatening to spill as she remembered the confession she had made to herself that fateful night.

"Dislike, hate. It all came to the same conclusion, did it now? I am still here with everything I have known falling down about my ears." His voice was soft and gentle. Unnerving in a way to Lizzy; he would not let her in yet he was telling her everything he felt.

"I tried to talk Georgiana round to my way of thinking by telling her that you would be perfect for both of us. You bring so much laughter and joy wherever you are. The night you were at Pemberley, the house seemed more alive than it had in a long time. My mother was the life in that house and then they died together. The day Lady Anne Darcy passed from this earth was the day my father, myself and Pemberley stopped living. I did not live, I existed. I hated Georgiana. She was the very reason my mother had died, taking her life from her every minute during the birth. I sat there in the room all four days after my baby sister was born, watching mother for any sign of improvement. She lay so still, so quiet. I held her hand and stroked her face and begged her to come back but she would not listen. The life had gone from her eyes, the laughter and smiles died on her lips, her skin became ashen and grey. On the fourth day, she took her last faltering breath and left me alone. I walked from the room and sat at the top of the staircase. It hurt too much to cry. It was as if a big hole had been ripped inside me. Something was missing from the second she gave up."

The tears were coursing freely down Lizzy's face as she heard his story. Never had she imagined such pain. She could feel the emotions inside him yet he refused to let them out. He stared blankly at the window all the time. She watched him close his eyes for a few seconds as he swallowed back all the pent-up pain and anger. Taking a deep breath, he prepared to continue his recollections.

"It was weeks before I could look at my sister. My father had taken her in his arms the moment my mother had died and saw his life reflected in her eyes. I was forgotten, left to wallow in my sorrow and self pity. I had no one to turn to anymore. The only person to love me and talk to me was my mother and she was gone. Pemberley had never seemed so empty. My uncle, Lord Matlock, came with my aunt and cousin Richard to the funeral. Lady Sophia, my aunt, was not allowed to attend the burial of her sister-in-law. They had been very close, could almost have been real sisters, in fact. They were closer than my mother and Lady Catherine had ever been. I did not want to go to see my mother. She would never see the sunrise and set each day. She would never see her daughter grow up and teach her all the right things in life. I could not see my mother in a box and remember her in that image forever. The one I had was far worse. Aunt Sophia sat with me in the library all afternoon. Sometimes she cried; most of the time she sat there and looked at me. She told me that my mother was in my eyes looking out at the world. I did not believe her until she told me my eyes had changed. She said they became deeper, as if two souls were watching time pass by. It was that moment when I made up my mind. My mother had never left me. She was always by my side. She led me to you."

Lizzy stared into his deep brown eyes as he finished in a near whisper. So much had passed between them and now, everything was working to keep them apart. It was as if the world was testing their ability to persevere and stay together throughout everything. The bond they shared was incredibly strong. Each could feel it run through them as they looked at each other.

"Georgiana was a different matter altogether. She had all my father's time and energy. He devoted his life into making her happy and just left me to find my own way. I was envious of both Wickham and my sister. He cared far more about them, even though I was the heir apparent. I would try to learn new things to gain his attention but it was all for naught. He barely looked at me. In the end I became more quiet and reserved. I did not care for social events or meeting new people. That was until I could escape to Cambridge , and what an escape it was. By the time I was to depart, my father and I hardly spoke a word and each time we met, he ignored me. It was Lady Sophia and Richard that helped me through the rest of my childhood and school. They told me that my father could see too much of my mother in me and hated to be reminded of her. Yet, he could not get enough of Georgiana.

"So off to Cambridge I went. I was miserable for the first couple of years. All the women I met in the city were after me for my money and devoted many hours to flattering my bank account. I spent very little time with other people. Staying inside and studying or reading was the best option. During the breaks, I went to Matlock to stay with my cousin. We became brothers almost, closer than we had ever been allowed to come before. It was in my second year that I met Bingley.

He saved me from myself by becoming my best friend. He is so different to me. He liked to go out and meet everyone and he dragged me along with him. He was in his first year and was eager to talk to all sorts of new acquaintances. By the time I left Cambridge , we were the very greatest of friends, and I had stopped him from falling for the wrong girl many times. That was why I became suspicious of your sister. How wrong I had been. When he started his third and final year, Richard and I left to tour Europe . We were gone about a year and visited lots of new countries and people. It was a happy time. Nothing ever lasts forever, though."

He looked at her and took her hand in his. He knew what he wanted to do but he could not make that decision. He needed to make sure his sister was happy before he could secure his own contentment. Always putting his sister before everything, she had the most inopportune times to make her preferences known. He was beginning to lose his patience where Georgiana was concerned.

Squeezing Lizzy's hand lightly, he pulled her gently so that she would sit by him on the bed. He needed to be close to her, to let her know silently that everything would work out. As she took the tiny hint and sat up against him, he kissed the back of her hand. She relaxed and lay her head on his shoulder. Kissing her forehead, he continued.

"When we returned from the continent, I learnt my father was very ill. I knew I had to return home, but since my mother had died, Pemberley never felt much like a home. So I went back. So much had changed. The gardens had been left to ruin. My mother had spent so long tending to them. After she passed away I tried to get the gardeners to look after them but after I left, nothing seemed to get done. The house felt even emptier as I stepped inside. There was no one to be seen anywhere. I knew my father had let most of the staff go but I never could have guessed how many.

Georgiana was looking after him and both were unimpressed to see me. In their opinion I was there as a mere formality. Just because I was to inherit Pemberley and all its land on the moment of my father's death. Father was too ill to run the estate anymore and had been for quite a long time. I had a lot of work to do to even get close to restoring it to the way it used to be. I started immediately and unofficially took over. Georgiana was ten and did not know me very well. I was the elder brother she had never wanted to see because her beloved father did not like me. She used to sit in the study while I was working and stare at me long and hard. I never knew why until one day after my father's death, she told me. Having been told that I was much like my mother in personality and soul, she wanted to see what Lady Anne was like.

We got to talking about her and grew very close. I was the one she ran to when everything went wrong. I was so much older and took over role as her father in a way. So there it was. At two and twenty, I was an orphan, had a large estate to run and a ten year old sister to take care of. A massive weight on my shoulders that I have had for such a long time now.

"So, George and I became a lot closer. She was so sad when our father died when it did not really feel any different to me. I had to try and cheer her spirits. I tried everything, took her to London , took her all around the country. There was just one place where she was remotely happy and that was with Lady Catherine. Strange, really, that after all this time, she still prefers to be there. How ironic, almost laughable, how history repeats itself. So I kept taking her to Kent .

Richard was there almost every time. He enjoyed being there to see Georgiana as he was her guardian as well. Something to be happy about, the responsibility was to be shared. This arrangement carried on until I made her go to London to continue her education. She was wonderful at the fortepiano and became very proficient when taught by a London master. I would have given her anything. I'm afraid I fell under the spell of my sister as my father had. Her happiness was everything to me. When the matter with Wickham occurred, she was upset because she thought she had let me down. I had never been angry with her about it. I just wanted to make sure she was safe. She said she wanted to go and see Lady Catherine again like she used to, so she went. I left for Hertfordshire shortly after and that is where I met you. So, that is my life so far.

Now, when I thought it could not have gotten much worse, this happens. My sister has decided she would like to dictate my life and make my decisions so hard. I barely know what to do anymore. Things seemed so much simpler and clearer when I set off that morning."

Lizzy looked up at him and saw the distance in his eyes return. His whole body tensed as she took his hand and held it tightly. He seemed so uncomfortable now, with her lying against him. The present moments had brought him back to his current predicament; one he was willing to forget but could not. She sat up beside him once again. She knew this would be hard for him. She was only making it worse by making her feelings more known to him. Should she stop and hope for the best? Make sure that he did not change his mind by making herself hard to ignore? This was going to be tenuous for both of them.

Darcy was trapped in his own mind at the moment. So many things had happened in the past few days, it was going to take some time for them to become clear once again. As the woman he knew he loved lay against him, his thoughts came flooding back to the moment Georgiana walked out from the room with their Aunt Catherine. He knew full well that his withdrawal from Lizzy would hurt her but he had to take this step back from reality. He needed to see from a distance so that the choice he was making would be the right one. He felt so badly the sense of disappointment he was sure she would be feeling. He knew that she loved him, she had told him so, and this decision would be painful whichever way it was to be made. Letting go of her hand and gently placing it on the bed, he closed his eyes and began to think about everything. He could feel Lizzy rise from the bed. He could tell she was looking at him for a few minutes before she left the room, abandoning him to his own thoughts, a most dangerous place to be.

~ * ~

Some days later saw Lizzy sitting in the morning parlour working on some embroidery she had been meaning to finish for some time now. It had been started the day before Darcy had arrived at Longbourn ill, and now, two weeks on, she intended to have it completed. The warm weather continued well into the autumn season. The leaves on the tress were turning orange and brown and slowly dropping from the branches to form mounds of coloured debris. The days grew shorter and the nights longer as the year progressed; each hour of precious sunlight was delightful.

The embroidery project was merely a sampler Lizzy was making for Jane and Bingley's wedding. She was so happy for Jane. She too wanted that special happiness that can only come from being engaged to the man you love. A few days ago, everything seemed to be heading that way for Lizzy. But that had all changed. When Georgiana had arrived a week ago to see her brother and delivered the ultimatum, Lizzy's future happiness had been called into question.

Each stitch she made in the fine linen that was to be transformed took her further away from her problems. The harder she concentrated, the more she could forget the past days and remember the times when William was sure of his feelings. The thought that he might just leave her for the strength of his familial bonds was weighing heavily on her mind. Each moment was a struggle to recognise the love they felt and the knowledge that he would make the right decision. He would, and whatever he might say she would accept. When he had related his life to her, she was shocked and upset for him. She wanted to take away some of he pain he was feeling. Give him some of the happiness he deserved. Maybe she would never have the chance.

The needle slipped as she was caught in thought. Its sharp point stabbed her finger and she winced slightly as the minute pain invaded her solitary reverie. Then she was rudely awakened to the harsh reality of her situation. If he made the choice of repairing his family and getting Georgiana back on her terms Lizzy knew she would never would be able to love again. It was either Darcy, or nobody. That was what made her sad. Her life would be pointless and over because of Georgiana Darcy. Her heart belonged to the ill man upstairs, whether he chose to accept it or not.

Standing, she laid the embroidery on the side table and walked to the window. The slight breeze rustled the remaining leaves on the trees and blew whirlwinds with the already fallen ones. As she looked towards the end of the road to Longbourn, she noticed a horse and rider rapidly approaching the house. Not recognising who it was, she walked from the room to make ready to welcome the guest.

Hill, the housekeeper, was already on her way to open the great doors to accept the rider. Not thinking it was an express, Lizzy just waited patiently to see who would be riding up the drive so quickly. She wasn't wondering for very long. As soon as the doors had been opened, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was admitted.

As he walked through the door, Lizzy felt a strange sense of foreboding and knew immediately that she had to leave the room. When the Colonel looked at her and smiled weakly, she turned around. She could not bear to look at any member of Darcy's family after all that had happened. How many more would turn their back on him to spite her? This was a constant source of worry.

"Miss Bennet. How lovely it is to see you..."

As he walked towards her she began to back away. Before he could finish his sentence, she was almost at the door. He could not stop her as she opened the door and fled up the stairs. He had not a clue about what had just occurred. He did not have long however to ponder the mystery of Miss Bennet's sudden disappearance. Almost as soon as Elizabeth left, Kitty entered the room to see who the visitor was. From what she had seen from the hermitage, he looked rather dashing astride his horse.

When she entered the room, he was turned away from her. She could see his broad shoulders and of course, what she always liked to see, his regimentals. His uniform looked fancier than any of the others she had seen and automatically she wondered what regiment he was from. He did not even notice she had entered the room and so she coughed a little to gain his attention. As he turned round to face her, their eyes locked. He was very handsome indeed, far nicer than Wickham. He looked far better in his uniform than any other man she had seen. It took her a few seconds to gather her wits and enquire who this wonderful man was.

"Welcome to Longbourn, sir. I'm Kitty Bennet." He walked towards her and kissed her hand.

"Pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet. I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Mr Darcy's cousin. I have come to inquire after his health. I recently received a letter telling me that he was being taken care of by your sister, Miss Elizabeth."

"Yes, he is upstairs. I am surprised Lizzy isn't here to show you where he is herself. She will probably be up there talking to Mr Darcy. Would you like to see your cousin?" He nodded and they walked from the room together.

Kitty's mind was instantly filled with questions about the man following close behind her. He did not look anything like his cousin and nor did they share any mannerisms. Colonel Fitzwilliam was kind and amiable whereas Mr Darcy was boring and miserable, in her opinion anyway. How could the two men be so different and yet so closely related? Perhaps, on closer acquaintance she would find him to be more like his cousin and lose interest in him. But it was the way their eyes locked. It was as if she could see deep into his soul and he into hers. This was almost the love at first sight she had read of in her favourite novels.

Her reverie was short lived as they arrived to the door behind which lay Mr Darcy. He smiled at her as he prepared to see his cousin in a very rare sight; Darcy was almost never ill and if he was, never one to get bed rest. Fight it off was what he always did. From the sound of the missive he received, this was the kind of injury that had to take its time and required an abundance of patience, two things he knew Darcy would hate.

She turned the handle and opened the door for him to enter. To Kitty's surprise, Lizzy was no where to be seen. She did notice however that the patient in the bed was looking increasing more wretched every day. Something had happened between him and her sister. He would have been better off breaking his neck than hurting Lizzy.

Now that Lydia had gone, Kitty was free to admit that Lizzy had always been the one she looked up to. She wanted to be as alive and carefree as her elder sister. If Darcy was hurting her, he would have to survive the wrath of Kitty and Mr Bennet.

As Fitzwilliam walked towards his cousin's bed, she could see that the whole ordeal had really taken its toll. He was virtually unrecognisable. The stress was etched across his face and his eyes had turned stone cold. It wasn't until he had edged closer to the bed that Darcy noticed he was there. So deep in thought he was about everything that had taken place over the past few days. Darcy was very glad to see his cousin again, though. As soon as his gaze rested upon Fitzwilliam, he smiled and some of the original life entered his lifeless eyes.

"Richard, what are you doing here?" He pulled his body into a sitting position, thankful for the strength in his arms. He could not yet move his leg as he was under strict doctor's orders. Any disturbance could put him back weeks and that was something he most seriously did not want.

"How could I not come to see my little cousin when he has fallen off his horse? I think I sat with you the first time you fell off that damned stallion of yours." He grinned at Darcy and took the seat by the side of the bed. Fitzwilliam turned at smiled at Kitty. She returned the favour and left the room, leaving the two cousins to catch up.

"Yes, I believe you did. It was partly your fault, though. You dared me to jump that tree knowing full well that I could not make it." Darcy scowled at the memory but broke into a short laugh. His attempt at mock displeasure failed.

"You were twelve, I thought you should have known better. I did not understand your reasons for trying as I do now. Having said all that, I did not help you to break your leg this time. What happened? Tell me all the gory details."

"I was riding up from London to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet and it began to rain."

"Hold on, here. Tell me that you stopped once the rain began? If not, I shall think you out of your mind. We both know how dangerous that is on road and on path." Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy as if he were about to carry on with his rebuke but Darcy cut him off.

"What can I say? I needed to get here. I do not know what happened. I suppose I just neglected to think. It was foolish of me and I know that now."

"Only a man in love would make such a brash decision. Miss Elizabeth Bennet must be more special than even I found and I think I could also have fallen in love with her." Darcy shot Fitzwilliam a dangerous look, instinctively guarding what was his. "I think I have just hit the proverbial nail on the head, have I not?" Darcy looked towards the window. He had just given Fitzwilliam the answer he required.

"Why do you look so glum, then? She is looking after you and according to her younger sister, she talks to you a great deal. Something has happened and do not try to hide it. When I arrived, Miss Elizabeth was the first person I saw and she ran from the room before I could say hello. Then I walk in here and you looked so grave. Tell me, cousin." Darcy looked back towards Fitzwilliam and took a deep breath.

"You are right, I do love Elizabeth and she has told me she feels the same way. I was delirious for the first couple of days and she told me so much and I could remember it all. Everything seemed to be going so well. Georgiana arrived a few days ago and I thought it was all working out. I would ask Elizabeth to marry me and we would be happy. Then it all collapsed around us.

Lady Catherine arrived the day after Georgiana. She tried to take me away to London and called Elizabeth things I shall never repeat. She said that she would take my sister away from me if I did not give Lizzy up. I told her she could not as we were Georgiana's guardians. She did not have to take her, though." Darcy looked away, anger beginning to show itself.

"What do you mean? Why did she not have to take her?" There was an edge of disappointment and sadness in his voice.

"Just before our aunt arrived, Georgiana told me that she did not want me to be married. That life as it was suited her and thought it should suit me as well. Lady Catherine had poisoned her mind with good matches and neglected to let her know that there was more to marriage than money. I used to think that way myself but when I met Elizabeth , she makes me so happy. She loves me for who I am, not my bank balance or the amount of land I own. Unfortunately, Georgiana's mind was made up on the subject.

That was when Lady Catherine walked in. I said that she did not have to take Georgiana because my little sister went willingly. The hardest decision of my whole life is before me. I either marry Elizabeth and be happy for the rest of life but have no sister or...or..." he could barely bring himself to speak the horrible alternative. "...I could take Georgiana back and walk away from the only woman I shall ever love. Then my sister will marry and leave me and I shall have no one. How am I to decide over the two most important people in my life?"

"I cannot believe she would such a thing. How terrible. How are you to make your decision? I know, I could go and talk to her, bring her to reason. Does she not realise that she responds to us? We can make her come back..."

"No, she will only grow to resent me and that would be just as bad as losing her this way. Nothing can be done. She has made up her mind and has left me to make mine. Whichever way, all three of us will be hurting and I hate it so much. *God damn it!*" He thumped his hands down on the bed beside him and closed his eyes, trying to keep his anger in check.

"It cannot be too late, if I just try to talk to her. Maybe she will come to understand. She cannot expect you to look after her every wish now. She needs to know that at eight and twenty, you are wanting more than just the welfare of your sister. You should have been married years ago, Darcy, do not let her spoil your chances of making such a rare love match. Pray, do not lose hope yet. Please, let me travel to Kent and talk to her." His eyes pleaded with Darcy, this was serious. He did not want to see his cousin or Miss Bennet hurt.

Darcy collected himself and nodded to Fitzwilliam. "One last chance is all she has. If she can be selfish, then I can to. I will not take her back once she has made her final decision and it is not to my liking. She will stay with her aunt, forever. I will not speak to her. Tell her this, tell her I need to be happy. I have devoted my life to her even after she looked at me disdainfully for so many years. I do not forget." He turned to face the window once more, his mind turning the Lizzy. What had made her run from the room? He was worried about her. His behaviour was to be abhorred. He would make everything all right again; he would just wait to see how this one last chance would turn out.

"I shall return as soon as possible. In the meantime, you need to talk to your Elizabeth . She cannot take this any more. Do the right thing, make her happy whatever the decision." Fitzwilliam stood and patted his cousin on the shoulder.

When he had arrived, nothing could have told him the torture Darcy was going through. Society was against him and so was his sister. He left the room without a last look. He knew Darcy was lost in his own thoughts once again and hoped that soon he would see him happy again.

He walked down the steps and past the sitting room in which he espied Kitty Bennet. She looked towards him at that moment and walked in his direction. Fitzwilliam did not know what caused him to move towards her as well. It was as if he was being pulled by an invisible string. They met in the middle of the room and just looked at each other. It was Kitty who first broke the silence.

"Are you to leave so soon?" The disappointment was in her voice and in her eyes. He wanted nothing less than to leave her; a strange thought, seeing as he had barely met her half and hour ago.

"I am afraid I must. I have urgent business that calls me away. I should be back in a couple of days though. I think once I return, I would very much like to get to know you better." His mind reeled at the words that had just poured forth from his mouth. He could not believe he had said it. There was a connection between them that he could sense in that first look into her eyes. Yet, she was so young. What was he to do? At his words she blushed lightly and smiled up at him. That was it. In her eyes she had traces of the life Elizabeth possessed. That zeal for living was in Kitty and that was what he wanted.

"I would like that very much, sir. Please accept my wishes for a safe trip. I must find my sister. Pray, excuse me."

They walked from the room together but she walked by his side to the front door. He looked down at her and smiled. She wanted to be with him just as much as he her. When they stepped outside and his horse was brought round, he kissed her hand gently. He mounted his horse and shot her one parting look before riding off to sort out his errant cousin.

~ * ~

It was two days after Fitzwilliam had left Darcy. Two days of seeing Lizzy appear at the doorway and watch her walk over towards the window; taking up the pose more usual for Darcy to assume. He could see the distance in her fine eyes as she looked out towards the garden. It pained him to see her so. All he wanted to do was reach out and hold her, tell her everything would be fine, that he loved her. He could not though.

The words Fitzwilliam had said played heavily on his mind. 'Make her happy, whatever the decision.' Oh how he longed to. His only wish was her happiness yet his position as Georgiana's guardian held so many responsibilities. She had been forced upon him, stopped him from having the life so many men his age had. Even being teased by Lizzy filled him with a joy he had not experienced since his mother's death. He had to talk to her. Today would be the day.

"Lizzy?" She barely turned towards him. The situation was becoming worse. "Lizzy? Will you not talk to me?" His voice was gentle and slowly she walked towards the bed to take a seat on the edge of the mattress.

"Richard told me that you ran from the room when he arrived. Why?" His voice was so full of concern for her. She smiled weakly at him.

"Oh, it was nothing. Just another member of your family that could have..." She could not finish and so just looked at her hands folded in her lap.

"I would ask what is wrong but I fear I know the answer. This was not how it was meant to be."

"I know. It is just getting so hard for me to be around you when I know which you will choose. I would not ask you give up your sister but you are so distant lately. I wonder what you are thinking and then I look into your eyes which once spoke so much love for me, and they are so cold. I dare not ask for fear of what I might hear." She looked away to conceal the tears threatening to spill over.

Darcy felt sure his heart was breaking. He cupped her cheek with his hand and turned her to him. He hated what he saw deep in her eyes, pain and confusion. He knew from that second on that whatever his sister decided, he would not look at Georgiana again. This is what she had caused and he hated her for it. He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard. He had to tell her now. No more suffering for either of them. Georgiana's little trick had shewed him her real character and it repulsed him. The little girl who hated him because her father did...the boy who had lost all his family in one day and been left alone had had enough.

"I feel so bad. I have been so confused yet the answer has been there all along. I have come to realise, that there is only one thing that I need in my life. And that's you."

She looked deep into his eyes and saw the love she needed. A smile erupted onto her face as she flung her arms about his neck. He put his arms around her middle and crushed her into a fierce hug.

"God, I've missed you, Lizzy. I love you so much. Nothing is going to become between us again. Not Lady Catherine, not Miss Bingley and certainly never Georgiana. I need you so much it hurts. How could I have even contemplated an existence without you?" Sheer relief permeated their bodies as they held each other close.

"Oh William, I have missed you too. I thought I would never get you back." She hugged him tighter and then kissed him full on the mouth.

As soon as their lips made contact, the connection between them ran straight through their bodies. Every nerve was awakened by the sensations. Their kiss became deeper as he ran his tongue over her lips. Her lips parted slightly to let him invade her mouth and this he did. They both knew this was getting out of hand and so reluctantly, he pulled from the kiss. Resting his head against her forehead, they caught their breath.

"Never let anything separate us again. We are going to be together no matter what. Forever." He placed his hands on her arms and pulled her back slightly so that they could look at each other. Taking one of her delicate hands in his, he looked deep into her eyes.

"Elizabeth Bennet, will you marry me?" The joy that permeated her every expression made his heart swell with merriment.

"Yes, oh yes. Nothing could possibly make me happier. Yes!" The full grin appeared on his face as the sound of the most wonderful words he could ever hope to hear. He pulled her close again and kissed her hair.

"I am the happiest of men, Lizzy. We are to be the happiest couple. So much has happened to prevent this and now nothing can anymore." They laughed at everything that had befallen them, very few things seemed to have gone right for them, and now it was almost perfect.

They heard a knock at the door and instantly separated, both still bearing stunning smiles. Colonel Fitzwilliam walked in, a grave expression upon his face. At this, their happiness dropped from their countenances. He walked towards them and attempted a grin, it failed painfully becoming more of a grimace. He took the seat by the bed and rested his head in his hands. Darcy looked at him. Something had gone horribly wrong, he knew it.

"What is it? What can be so bad?" There was the edge of panic in his voice.

"It is Georgiana, she says she will not come home. Either you leave Miss Bennet or she will take what is hers and ruin your name."

"That's preposterous. She would not, she could not. What does she mean, everything that is hers? She will have nothing, I shall make sure of it. I am still her legal guardian whether she likes it or not."

"No, you are not anymore." There was a look of disbelief on Darcy's face as his cousin elaborated. "Lady Catherine, my father and my mother have overridden the guardianship. They have cast you out, taking her inheritance with them. They say that due to your injuries, you are unfit to look after her anymore. Your reputation will be in tatters unless you 'do you duty' as they put it, and leave Elizabeth ." He stood up abruptly and walked to the window, slamming his fist against the lintel. Darcy just sat there and looked stunned.

Resignation settled in the pit of Lizzy's stomach. She felt so ill. All the colour drained from her face. Darcy noticed her looking like she was about to faint and he took her into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder. He kissed her forehead and brushed a stray tear away. Would their nightmare never end? He doubted it. The prospect of a happy end looked very bleak indeed.

Chapter 7

It rained every day. The sun never once made an appearance; the couple were separated by an eternity. He never wrote and she questioned not his decision. Darcy needed distance and Elizabeth longed to have him in her life again. He had left three weeks earlier. When warned not to go, he listened, but obeyed only his own inner voice. He had to go: to think; to be alone; to recuperate and regain the man he had been. The stress finally overpowered him. William broke, something snapped. Elizabeth was walking past his room when it happened; all she could hear were the muffled cries of her beloved.

*3 Weeks Earlier

Elizabeth entered the room and looked at the man in the bed. He lay face down, screaming into the pillows. She ran to him, taking his trembling body in her arms and slowly turning it to her. She had never seen such pain in his eyes. He was trapped, she could see it now: caged by his injuries and all that had befallen him the past several weeks. She brushed the fallen strands of hair off his face and looked at the scar forming on his brow. It was deep and cut right down the side of his eye. Running her finger lightly across it she looked into the well of his deep brown eyes. The feelings reflected in that well were so overpowering that she almost cried. Gently kissing the scar she watched as some of his pain disappeared. Running the back of her hand lightly down his face, she traced the outline of his lips. His tension was slowly diminishing. Words were unnecessary as he took her fully into his arms, pulling her down to lay beside him.

Tracing his fingers down her throat and along her collarbone, he looked deeply into her eyes. The temptation was overwhelming as he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her slowly and tenderly. She wrapped her arms round his neck and his kisses deepened. Whatever was he doing? Logical thought almost vanished the moment Elizabeth returned his kisses with equal force; his greatest desire was to possess her. What logic remained knew it was wrong, he should not disgrace her, he should give her all the respect she was due. But, when he tried to pull away his body refused. Running his hand down her side he realised that she was wearing nothing but her nightdress. He could feel her skin through its thin material. The intense heat against his hand was almost unbearable. He had to stop. Somehow, he knew he must.

Darcy pulled away from the kiss and took a deep breath. Looking into her eyes he saw the flames of her desire still flaring. The light in her eyes was always dancing, but this...in his every dream his beloved Elizabeth looked at him like this. Elizabeth gently moved closer, the room suddenly cold when he pulled the warmth of his body away from hers. Her body pressed against him. He took a sharp intake of breath at the feel of her snuggling against his chest. Everything was lost to her as their eyes met. She smiled up at him. He kissed her again, deeply. This was right, this felt good. Darcy felt the pent up tension leave his body as he ran his tongue across her lips. His hand made its way along her side to the edge of her nightgown. His fingers brushed the bare skin of her shin. Elizabeth 's muscles twitched as the skin of his hand came into contact with hers; the electricity between them was palpable.

His hand moved further along her leg, past her knee and onto her outer thigh; her nightgown also travelling up her body. Their kissing became more passionate; each was aware of what would happen if they did not stop. The ability to speak escaped them with the ability to stop. They wanted only to become one.

His kisses moved from her lips and down her neck. The fingers of his free hand unfastened the tie at the top of her nightgown and slowly slid the gown down her shoulders. His lips followed, leaving a trail of fiery hot kisses along her collar bone. He was completely entranced by the softness of her skin. His other hand was busy tracing faint circles with his finger tips along her thigh, feeling her muscles flex excitedly with the contact. He wanted to lose himself in her, to forget everything that had happened. As Elizabeth kissed his neck and shoulder gently, Darcy knew that she was gifting him with her body to show her undying love and devotion.

Her nightgown slid down further, revealing her chest and he stared in awe of her beauty: her skin so pale and beautiful, not a blemish or flaw in sight. He pulled her gown completely off now, drinking in the sight of perfection lying at his side. She smiled demurely up at him, answering "yes" when his expression asked for permission to touch her. Desire raged in her eyes as he cupped her breast with his hand, his mouth again seeking hers as he kissed her deeply. She realised that he was far too dressed and made him sit. After divesting him of his night shirt, she straddled his lap and kissed him hard. His hands roamed over her back, memorising every part of her body, making a map with his touch. He pulled away and looked deeply into her eyes. Nothing but her love for him stared into his soul. Everything was going to be quite all right; at that moment he knew nothing could ever go wrong again.

He placed his hand on the back of her head and pulled her back slightly. Her neck was fully exposed and he kissed it gently, licking and nipping all the way down over her chest to her breasts. Kissing his way slowly around her swollen bud, he heard her moan quietly. His hand snaked up from her back to take the other breast, lovingly caressing her. He took her nipple into his mouth and ran his tongue across the tip. The sensation was amazing; she had never felt anything so wonderful. She arched against him, running her hands through his unruly hair and pulling him closer. She could feel him growing ever more excited beneath her and ground her hips against him. His mouth let go of her nipple as he moaned uncontrollably, his pleasure in feeling her so close to him almost too much to bear. His eyes were closed as she kissed him; her hands ran up his chest and round his neck.

He encircled her waist with his arms and pulled her as close to him as possible, almost crushing her against his chest. His eyes opened, and the flames of passion Elizabeth saw there erased any lingering traces of doubt. She could feel the tip of his manhood touching her sex and nothing in her life had ever seemed so right. He looked into her eyes and smiled, readjusting his grip so that his arms lay about her hips and whispered into her ear, his hot, ragged, breath only arousing her more.

"This will hurt and I am sorry, no more than few seconds. Look into my eyes, love. You are in control, let me love you." She nodded as he returned to kissing her neck.

He pulled back to look at her, their gazes locked. Slowly, he lowered her onto him, letting the warmth of her inner self surround him. He could feel the resistance of her virginity as she placed her hands firmly on his shoulders and pushed down further. Her pain was evident on her face. He kissed her, allowing her to adjust to the newness before going any further. The exquisite feeling of being so close to her lover overtook Elizabeth 's discomfort. She cupped his cheek in her hand and brushed her thumb over his lips. Gently, they began to move together. Both were already close to the edge, their movements becoming frantic.

She kissed him deeply to quiet their moans as he moved her up and down. Her vision began to blur. No matter how hard she breathed, no oxygen seemed to reach her brain; the feelings building within her blinded her to everything but Darcy. The point of ecstasy was ever closer as he whispered her name. The desperation in his voice pushed her over the precipice. He felt her grasp him tightly as he followed her into oblivion. It took all the effort he could muster not to call out her name as his every cell exploded. He held her close, not ever wanting to let her go.

Their breathing was heavy and erratic as he lay her down on the bed. Her eyes were tightly closed as she took his hand in hers and gripped it tightly. He lay next to her, running his fingers up and down the soft skin of her side. She huddled close to him, her hand still gripping his and resting lightly over his heart. Their breathing was still deep but becoming less ragged. As more oxygen found its way into his brain, a slow realisation hit him; and it hit him hard. One moment, he was lying in the arms of his beloved, the next he had all but jumped from the bed. He would have succeeded but he remembered his broken leg.

"What have I done?" The panic rose in his voice as Lizzy looked up at him from where she lay. Worry passed over her features. Doubts rapidly flooded her mind as she took in the expression on his face. Perhaps he regretted their intimacy because he did not love her. Perhaps he had finally decided to placate his sister and now, because of her folly he would be forced into marriage with the woman who would keep the siblings apart.

These thoughts caused Lizzy to pull the counterpane over her bare body, covering it from him for fear that he would look on her in disgust. Darcy, seeing this shift in body language looked at her. What he saw there caused an immediate softening of his countenance. He knew he must explain.

"Elizabeth, I only meant, how could I have let myself do this to you. You deserve so much more than what I have just done. I selfishly took something precious away from you." She placed a finger against his lips effectively silencing him.

"'Twas perfect. There has been nothing in my life that has felt so right. We are meant to share this closeness and it was meant to be now." She smiled at him and ran her hand down his cheek. He turned his head and kissed her palm gently. Taking her small hand in his larger one, he pulled her to him and kissed her lightly. He had to agree, this was absolutely right. "I did not mean to overreact. I fear my heart knows you yet my mind refuses to believe it. I could never doubt your affections for me."

No further words were spoken. Darcy lay her down once again on the bed, settling himself beside her and looking into her eyes for an eternity. All of his fears were put aside when he saw the love and tenderness reflected in his Elizabeth 's beautiful eyes. Nothing else was of any consequence, and nothing else would be of any consequence ever again. Darcy had made his decision days ago. He could not avoid marrying Lizzy now, even if he wished it. He most assuredly did not wish it. Lizzy had become his world. He committed himself to making her happy.

Kissing her again, he ran his hand gently down her face and neck, along the side of her breast to rest on her hip. Her arms wrapped round his neck as she pulled him closer into the kiss. The passion each felt for each other was far from being satiated. No matter how much his leg hurt, it would be no hindrance to loving the woman of his dreams. As he worshipped her body once more, Darcy knew he must tell her. He would gift her with his soul, make her happy and content. Then break to her gently just what he had decided must be done. At the moment, his mind refused to formulate the words; another struggle was upon him.

~ * ~

"I have to go home. To Pemberley." There, he had said it. In barely more than a whisper he told her. He had wanted to go home so badly, for so long. It was all too much for him to bear. He needed time, and distance, to reign in his thoughts and feelings, to understand. It was all too quick; Darcy knew not where he stood, who he was.

"Oh" was all she said. The look on her face told him she was hurting as he was hurting. Their confinement had been mutual as was their pain. The accident and its aftermath had forged between them a connection. They each knew what the other was thinking. Darcy had never experienced a bond like this with anyone; it was only Elizabeth . Their attachment was so strong it was ripping him apart. Elizabeth looked indescribably unhappy and he felt as much.

"I think I need some time to myself. These past few weeks have been so hard for both of us, I hardly know my own thoughts any longer." Tears welled in her beautiful eyes and began to slide down her precious face. Darcy felt his heart break. He pulled her to him and crushed her in a fierce hug.

"I'm sorry, I just cannot take this anymore, I have to get away."

"I do understand. Really." She pulled back slightly and met his eyes. "How long will you be gone?"

"I know not. All that is certain is that I need time. I miss the hills and the valleys. I miss the outdoors more than anything. Pemberley is wonderful this time of year, you know. When the snow settles on the tips of the peaks everything looks so serene. You will like it I think." Elizabeth 's sobs had stopped, yet she was still shaking. The insult. She had given her body and soul to him and he was running away. She sat up suddenly and stared right into his eyes. Every bit of strain was back; temporary release was not what he needed.

"Yes, you should go. This could become awkward, considering what has just taken place." Her voice was cold with hurt and anger. She looked away, suddenly feeling very ashamed. He tipped her chin up to look at him and kissed her gently.

"You could accompany me. I want to get away, but not from you. Never from you. I think my convalescence will occur more speedily at Pemberley and when I am well, we can be married."

"Yes, our marriage. I am wondering what else will be thrown in our way to prevent that from occurring." She smiled dejectedly and her voice held the bitterness built up over the past weeks. "There, I did it again, my mind refuses to believe that which what my soul knows to be true."

"I rejoice in that part of you which knows my very thoughts and feelings on our love. I shall never leave you, I shall always be here." He placed his hand over her heart and smiled. "Anyway, there will be no more mention of possible impediments. I intend to remain positive about our situation from now on. Now, will you come home with me or not?" He watched her as a myriad of emotions passed over her face, and were reflected in her fine eyes. Rejection settled in the pit of his stomach. Slowly Darcy slid down to lay on his back; trying to find physical comfort whilst attempting not to move his leg; a difficult task indeed.

"Are you well?" Worry flickered across her features when she saw his suddenly forlorn expression.

"I was better. But, you will not travel to Pemberley." Elizabeth heard the resignation and disappointment in his voice.

"I am sorry. I want to come. But, it would be wrong. I would not be allowed once we announced our engagement in any event. I do so want to be with you at Pemberley, but can you not see that it is impossible?" She turned away from him. Yes, she did want to go with him, if only to escape the raptures of her mother over her engagement to a man of consequence.

"Bring one of your sisters. Bring Jane and I will invite Bingley as well. Please think about it." He trailed his finger down her spine. Placing his hands round her ribs he gently pulled her back to lie beside him. Holding her close, he could not help but think that nothing about tonight seemed possible. She lay her head on his chest as he slowly stroked her hair, entwining his fingers in her dark brown tresses.

"I shall think about it if you insist. I would like to visit Pemberley once more before I become mistress of the place. We shall be able to lay together all night when that occurs will we not?" Mischievous smiles spread across their faces at the thought of what intimacies they would be able savour once their marriage came to pass. Their mirth could not last long; tonight remained a problem.

"I fear I shall have to sneak out of here now. I do long for the days when I shall not have to leave your arms." She raised herself on her elbows and looked at him. He smiled warmly and turned on his side to look at her on a level.

"I too wish those times already here. I do not think I shall ever leave your side. I want only to sleep next to you every night and I will be content. I promise, the moment I can walk, you shall become Mrs Darcy and I will never let you go. Georgiana can live with her aunt forever; I choose love, with you. We were meant to be together. Nothing can separate us now. We are bound to each other physically if not yet on paper." Cupping her cheek with his hand, he kissed her lightly and then smiled. The look of adoration on his face spoke of the true depths of his feelings. That love in his look flooded Lizzy; she felt warm and loved -- a feeling she would never tire of.

"I should go William, I do not wish it but I must. I hope you find the peace you need at Pemberley. When you know your mind, write to me and I shall come." She smiled and kissed his forehead before she rose from the bed. She bent down and picking up her discarded nightgown, donned it. As she turned to look at her lover, he grinned up at her, a mixture of sadness and elation reflected in his eyes. "Only be sure to do your thinking quickly and you shall see me soon enough. Remember William, I shall always love you, no matter what. I will think about you constantly, until you are safe and sound in my arms again." With that, she leaned down, kissed him gently and turned to leave.

"I shall think quickly, do not worry about that my love. I will see you tomorrow." With a parting glance at her fiancé, Lizzy left the room happy and content.

~ * ~

Two days later Darcy left for Derbyshire. Doctor Grant was most seriously displeased by his choice. In his professional opinion, Darcy's leg was still very badly injured. Nothing he could do or say could change his patient's mind. The doctor did demand a final inspection of the leg before Darcy left for Pemberley and was not pleased with the results. When he removed the dressing from the injured leg, the bruising had barely subsided. The muscles were inflamed and as he found when he touched the injury, still extremely painful.

Darcy didn't mean to yelp, but the searing pain that coursed through his leg was too much to bear. His whole body tensed as the doctor continued his examination of the broken leg. The expression on Grant's countenance did little to boost arcy's confidence in his recovery, but he consoled himself with the thought that miracles do happen. He had won his Elizabeth had he not?

No matter how damaged his leg, he felt a pressing need to escape the tortures of his own thoughts. The doctor gave him a very stern and long lecture over moving so soon, but Darcy refused to listen. His course was set; to Pemberley he would go to, whether the doctor allowed him or not.

The next day, dressed in short riding breeches and shirtsleeves Darcy was putting his upper body strength to good use. "Walking with crutches is an art form" he teased Lizzy. She helped him become accustomed to them, a task easier said than done in both of their opinions. They spent that day laughing while Doctor Grant scowled at Darcy and admonished him repeatedly on his foolish behaviour. Darcy, on the other hand, was glad to be moving around at last, however briefly. Still drained from his injuries, fatigue came quickly. Jane and Bingley paid him a visit, more pleased by Lizzy and Darcy's obvious understanding than by Darcy's capabilities with the crutches.

Their private farewells were said in his room the next very morning. They held each other, nothing more need be done or said. Regardless of their shared resolve, it was with a heavy heart that Darcy kissed Elizabeth one last time before she helped him to his awaiting carriage. He expressed his gratitude to the Bennets for their kind assistance, and he was away. The days since had become ever more unbearable for Elizabeth . Daily she would wake with hope of a letter from him, to tell her of his safe arrival, or his speedy recovery. Every morning that she walked into the breakfast parlour and saw nothing, a little piece of her died.

The whole household had taken notice of Lizzy and Darcy's increasingly close friendship; yet no one knew or guessed all that had occurred. Mrs Bennet was most upset by the fact he was leaving without securing the heart of one her daughters. Lizzy was a prime recipient of her mother's screeching complaints once he was gone. The words 'How could you have let him get away?' and 'You did not try hard enough' rang through the halls of Longbourn House.

At first Lizzy laughed these comments off. Soon enough, they became an irritant. It was with an enormous sense of sadness that she had waved goodbye to her secret lover and fiancé that morning. After Darcy's departure, the weather became colder than it had been and rain clouds appeared in the once blue sky.

Lizzy felt trapped, physically and mentally. She longed to tell Jane of her engagement but knew that Jane's knowledge of it would preclude her from travelling to Pemberley to see William. The unceasing rain poured down. There were floods in the surrounding villages and the fields were water logged. Lizzy, forced to remain inside the house longed for the exhilaration of a walk to Oakham Mount on an autumn day. Instead, the winter came, leaving her to wallow in her own thoughts. She tried everything from reading to writing down her musings, yet nothing relieved her mind of the constant suffering.

To make matters worse, Kitty was ecstatic. When Colonel Fitzwilliam visited Darcy the second time, he had spoken to Kitty at great length. They had discovered that they had much in common, to the astonishment of both. As it turned out, between Darcy and Kitty, Longbourn saw Fitzwilliam most of each day. When not talking to Darcy, Lizzy sat and watched the couple with increasing amazement. Kitty had changed enormously since Lydia 's elopement. She had grown into a respectable young woman; one capable of attracting the attentions of a certain handsome colonel. As they laughed and talked in the corner of the sitting room, Lizzy saw their happiness permeating from them. Lizzy was hopeful that nothing would intervene in their joy and love; such interference as she and William suffered was to be wished on no one.

The Colonel left a few days before Lizzy and Darcy finally resolved their differences properly. He had to return to town and his regiment. Soon he would be deployed to France and beyond to fight in the peninsular war, a growing concern. Most expected nothing to come of it, but Lizzy knew never to expect an easy fight. Kitty was unable to curb her enthusiasm for her dashing Colonel Fitzwilliam -- she scarcely drew breath between her sentences. There was such a difference in her that even Mr Bennet took more notice of his second youngest. He found, to his surprise, and the happiness of the entire house, that his rule of ten minutes of common sense was easily achieved by the new Kitty.

It pained Lizzy to bear witness to Kitty's happiness, and yet she rejoiced for her sister at the same time. Whereas Lizzy never received word from her beloved, Kitty did, and on a regular basis. There was much for Lizzy to envy in her sister's situation as the colonel sent letters to Kitty almost every day. Elizabeth entered the breakfast room, always in hope of a letter that never came while Kitty's place was always complete with missive. After three full weeks of nothing, every morning was becoming successively harder to face.

~ * ~

Caroline Bingley arrived at her destination. She began to wonder what had started her on this journey. A spur of the moment inspiration prompted her latest plan. Only yesterday, she had been ignorant of the full impact her stupid jealousy had caused and today, she was on her way to set it to rights. Her mind drifted back over the day when at long last, everything she had wrought in the past two weeks really penetrated her conscience.

*The Previous Day*

The room was decorated in rich gilded furnishing and red draperies. The hustle and bustle of the streets outside barely penetrated the thick walls of the impressive Grovesnor street residence. It was early morning and the grey clouds that hung over the city blackened the sky into an intimidating colour. The soft sheet rain coated everything and saturated everyone. It was a day to be glad to be indoors.

Louisa Hurst was sitting in the breakfast parlour of her husband's London townhouse when the letter arrived. As she took it off the silver serving tray she recognized the handwriting, immediately identifying its sender. Her brother Charles Bingley was the only person of her acquaintance who had the ability to make a missive look as if it had been trod on repeatedly, and this without trying. It was strange to receive a letter from her brother so soon after their departure. Curious as to the contents, Mrs. Hurst broke the seal and unfolded the paper. Reading through every word, re-reading every line, taking all the information in, she hardly noticed when her sister entered the room.

Caroline was certain that she had rarely seen a letter receive so much attention from Louisa. In fact, she had never seen anything get so much attention. Caroline was convinced that it must be news of either something terribly awful or terribly exciting. Caroline dreaded the former, as she was well aware that she would probably bear the blame for the whole incident between Darcy and his Aunt. As Caroline walked across to the sideboard, she heard her sister gasp and turned to look at her.

"Whatever is it that you are reading Louisa? I do hope it is nothing too scandalous." The forced smile plastered on her face spoke of her true feelings.

"It is from Charles, something terrible has happened. I think you should read this." After handing the letter from their brother to Caroline, Louisa prepared herself for the inevitably bad reaction.

Caroline sat down at the dinner table and unfolded the letter once again. The first worrying thing was the letter's length. A full four pages must mean that something very serious had happened. For Charles to expend the effort of concentrating long enough to write four full pages, Caroline was nervous of its contents. The first few paragraphs contained the usual pleasantries of which Charles normally wrote: how Jane was faring, the weather, enquiries after all of their health. Then the tone changed dramatically.

"Something quite tragic has occurred, Louisa. When Caroline wrote to Lady Catherine, she unleashed a wild torrent of trouble. I shall explain from the beginning. As you know, Miss Darcy arrived to see her brother. They spoke, and everything was working out perfectly to Darcy's satisfaction. Darcy was happy until Lady Catherine arrived. According to Darcy and Miss Elizabeth, Miss Darcy had been trying to convince Darcy to leave Miss Elizabeth as she was happy with their life together and did not look favourably on the impending changes. In the middle of this, Darcy's aunt arrived and attacked Miss Elizabeth , in her own home, for mercy's sake. Then, she found her way to Darcy's room due to Miss Darcy coming out of it in search of her aunt. When Lady Catherine espied Darcy, she attempted to have him removed from Longbourn to London for his recovery.

"Unfortunately, this occurrence coincided with Miss Darcy's wish to keep her brother to herself. When Darcy refused to remove to London , Miss Darcy joined the fray and delivered an ultimatum to her brother: either Darcy return to London with them and leave Miss Bennet, or he shall never see his sister again. This well suited Lady Catherine who whole-heartedly endorsed Miss Darcy's scheme. Darcy refused, believing that his sister would rescind her demand. He was wrong. Lady Catherine and Miss Darcy left that very day.

"That is not the worst of it, I fear. Shortly after Lady Catherine and Miss Darcy departed, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy's cousin, arrived. He lodged with me at Netherfield during his stay and I found him quite agreeable. While visiting Darcy one day, he was apprised of the situation and sped forth to Kent to try and talk sense into Miss Darcy. He was not allowed to see her for very long but she made it clear she would not return. As he was set to depart, his parents arrived and along with his Aunt, they expressed their displeasure at Darcy's 'unfortunate' alliance. I cannot agree with calling it such due to my betrothal to Miss Bennet, but that is what Darcy's family said.

"More demands were laid at his feet, this time at a higher cost to Darcy himself. If he insisted on continuing his liaison with Miss Elizabeth, they would ruin Darcy's name. They have already wrested Miss Darcy's guardianship out of his control and claimed her inheritance. This entire debacle is simply getting out of hand, and of course, Darcy can do nothing until he is well again. He is distraught, of course. I hope you give your sister a hard time. She deserves it after inflicting such pain upon the very man she claimed to love. I must go and see how he is doing. He is not himself Louisa, a completely different person since this whole torrid affair began. I hope that in time, our friend will find the happiness he deserves and that Caroline finds the conscience to never interfere again.

Yours etc

Charles"

"Oh my God, what have I done?" Tears streaked through the rouge on her cheeks as it had for countless previous days. Her feelings of guilt had pervaded her thoughts ever since she had confessed her interference to Darcy, and now the fruits of her labours were devastating.

"You have made him very unhappy sister. I hope you are pleased with yourself. It is certain that you shall never be invited to Pemberley again. In fact, you shall be lucky if Charles will let you near Netherfield again. What are you going to do now? It is a little late for an apology, is it not?" Louisa walked over to the window and looked down at the grimy streets below.

"I must go Louisa, I have to help."

"Go where? Do not even think about travelling to Hertfordshire. Should Mr. Darcy leap from his sickbed to strangle you and his sister, your fates would be pleasant compared to his. I do not like your method of helping Caroline. I have watched you plot, connive and meddle for years, but this latest scheme has outshone all of your past tomfoolery. You should have just given him up." Louisa was poised to leave the room when she heard her sister's quiet voice; Caroline it seemed, was properly humbled.

"I meant Kent . I need to see Georgiana." Caroline stood in the centre of the room; her head slumped in self recrimination. Her very feathers seem to droop and bow forgiveness before God.

"Lady Catherine will never allow you near her. Take my advice and let Mr. Darcy and his cousin sort it out. You have done more than enough already." With that, Louisa left Caroline to think.

"I can help him, he needs happiness and I shall help him attain it. Kent Is not that far, is it?" Her answer was silence; she was alone save her own scheming thoughts.

~ * ~

"Lizzy? May we talk?" Jane's head appeared around the door. Her long hair was dangling to one side in the tight braid she wore for bed. This was their usual time for conversation, the two often spent most of the night talking. If anything was a bother to either of them, they would ponder it together whilst the rest of Longbourn slept. Today would be no different, it was apparent that something was preying on Lizzy's mind and Jane felt the need to force her confidence.

"Of course Jane. You know I always save this time for our conversations." Lizzy smiled but it failed to reach her eyes. There was definitely something wrong and Jane had a fair idea what that something was. As she settled herself on the bed with Lizzy, Jane took up her sister's hand and began to talk.

"He has not written, has he?" There it was, the root of Lizzy's despair, out in the open.

"He has no obligation to write, I just thought he might by now. It has been near enough three weeks and still nothing from him. I admit to being slightly worried." She turned away, unable to meet Jane's eyes.

"Are you worried that he might have changed his mind?"

"What do you mean?" This gently uttered remark captured Lizzy's full attention as it brought out all of her fears and doubts; Jane understood her so easily.

"You fear that perhaps he has changed his mind and has gone to recover his sister. You know it is not true, yet you doubt your heart. I thought you knew him better than that Lizzy."

"I do Jane. I know he would never leave me. He is so constant in his affection that I will have no reason to doubt him. After everything all that has happened to us so far, my mind refuses to believe what my heart is telling it. I just thought he might have contacted me before now. I have been so worried about him. Shortly before he left, I came upon him at night, and he was crying Jane. He was so upset by this whole affair that he actually broke down and cried. I just wish to be with him." She looked at her sister and placed her hand over their joined ones. "I shall be all right Jane, believe me. This will pass soon enough." The smile did reach her eyes this time. Jane was relieved by this small transition in her sister.

"I had noticed that you and Mr Darcy seemed even closer before his departure. I had not thought it possible for two unmarried people to be so intimate without touching." The wicked glint in Jane's eye forewarned of an upcoming barrage of questions.

Lizzy looked about the room, anywhere but at Jane -- eye contact would have given all away. She had to marshal her thoughts before she could even begin to answer her sister's unspoken inquiry. How could she even begin to tell her sister of what happened in the last few days of Darcy's stay at Longbourn? After focusing very hard on the water jug and bowl on the dresser, her thoughts arranged themselves.

"Jane, I have something to tell you, but you must promise to tell not a soul, not a single soul." Jane nodded with wide eyes, and Lizzy carried on. "Mr Darcy and I are engaged Jane. He asked me before Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived for the second time and I accepted. I was so happy, he chose me above his own sister. I thought I might have lost him again when his cousin told us of his family's decision to take Lady Catherine and Miss Darcy's part in the dispute. Everyone is against him and yet he still wants me. What have I done to deserve something so special Jane? He loves me." Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at her sister. Jane's normally placid countenance was over writ by a confused expression.

"You are engaged? Why has it not been announced? Why has he left for Pemberley? Lizzy, tell me everything you have not yet already." Her demanding tone was very un-Jane like, her expression more worried and concerned than happy.

"I did not wish to announce it because I wish to go to Pemberley to see him. He needed time to think and heal from within as well as without. So much has happened to him these past weeks. Can we be surprised if he is confused? He told me of his life and Jane, it has been such a sad one. He effectively lost his family all at once when his mother died and his father and sister shunned him, and now he has lost what he had left. He needs to be happy Jane, he deserves to be happy. Please, do not deny us that. If you tell anyone of our engagement, I shall go to Pemberley anyway. Too much has already come between us and I can see from your expression that you want to interfere, too. Please, I beg of you, be happy for us silently and let me see my fiancé at his home one last time before we wed." This was a great deal for Jane to take in; she released Lizzy's hand and walked to the window to look out at the night sky.

"I can promise nothing Elizabeth . You know that society dictates the rules in which we live and yet you go against all of them. To see him at Pemberley would be dangerous especially if news of your engagement were to get abroad. I shall not be the one to tell your secrets, but please, be careful dear sister. For both your sakes, do not be foolish."

Jane turned to look at her sister with a forlorn expression etched onto her pretty features. She so hoped that Lizzy would find love and happiness but nothing seemed to be going right for the couple. The last thing she wanted was for Lizzy to become part of a scandal that would forever ruin the lives of both. She hated seeing her sister upset in any way, these few weeks had taken their toll on Lizzy; it was written in her eyes. Jane walked over and took her younger sibling into her arms. For once it was Lizzy that required comforting.

"I shall be careful Jane. I just need to ensure that he is well. He says that you and Mr Bingley will be invited. We could all travel up together. It would be a break from our dear mama. Please say you shall consider it." The pleading look in Lizzy's eyes proved too much for Jane to resist.

"If he does write and ask for us all, then we will all go. Do not worry. I should leave you, it is getting late." She kissed Lizzy on the forehead and rose from the bed. Walking towards the door, she cast a parting look at Lizzy.

"Thank you Jane."

~ * ~

As she was shown into the grand sitting room at Rosings Park , Caroline Bingley attempted to formulate her words in her mind. What could she tell the girl that had seemingly ruined every chance of Mr. Darcy's happiness? This question begged to be answered as Miss Darcy soon entered the room, a weak smile playing on her lips. She suggested that Miss Bingley take a seat before settling herself across the room. The bell was rung and tea was ordered. After refreshments had been served, Georgiana decided to start the conversation.

"Miss Bingley, this is a surprise." Georgiana's voice was small and barely audible. Caroline strained to hear the tiny words.

"How are you, dear Georgiana? I understand you left Hertfordshire in quite a rush. Your brother is worried about you." Miss Bingley had little patience for idle pleasantries and so went directly to her point. At the mention of Darcy, Georgiana looked straight at Caroline.

"Is he? I know not why;" Her voice strengthened as she reined the guilt stricken feelings back.

"Of course he is. You ran from his sick room saying you would not see him again. Do you not realise how upset he has become?" Her ire began to rise when she thought of the dejection she had caused.

"I said that I would see him again once he has reconsidered his choice of wife. She is very nice, I grant you, but so beneath him." It was a shock to hear Miss Darcy put so many words together and even stranger still to hear the anger surge from the younger girl's lips.

"It is true that Miss Elizabeth's station could be considered lower than your brother's, but he loves her. Did you not observe the way they look at each other whilst you were visiting? Of course he will choose his only chance of happiness if you wish to remain spoilt." Caroline rose from her seat as did Miss Darcy.

"Do not talk to me in that tone. Do you know who I am?"

"Yes I do, and do you know what you have wrought? His entire family is against him now. Nobody but your cousin will stand by his side. You are too selfish for words, young lady. He will forsake everything to get his own way. You will have ruined your life and his just for spite." Caroline spat the last few words out, her anger having escalated to great heights. Georgiana would pay for what she had done. The look of defiance on Miss Darcy's countenance was replaced by a look of shock.

"What? The entire family? What has happened? I only said I would not see him again."

"Your aunts have wrested control of your fortune and your guardianship from him. Your family are orchestrating his ruin. The plan you instigated has succeeded, his name shall not be mentioned without malice in London . He shall be no one and it is all thanks to you, and your spoilt behaviour. How can you defend yourself?"

Georgiana sat down again, too weak to stand. What had happened she knew not. She had planned none of this, expected none of this and yet everything seemed to come back to her and her childish ultimatum. Why ever had Caroline Bingley come to sort this out? Why had she refused to listen when cousin Fitzwilliam had attempted to see her? Everything Miss Bingley accused her of weighed in her mind and the conclusion she reached smote her so hard she would have reeled backward had she not been seated.

"Why are you here? What has this to do with you?" Her voice was small again, reflecting her uncertainty.

"It was I who sent for your aunt in the first place. Had I not written that letter, none of this would have happened. I am to blame and I accept my own responsibility. Now I want you to see what you have wrought as well."

"I did not ask for any of those things. I never wished to turn his family against William. I could never wish that upon him. Is he very unhappy?" Tears welled in Miss Darcy's eyes. Caroline walked over and put her arm around the young girl.

"Yes, he is, I am afraid to say, as is Miss Elizabeth. I had thought from last summer that you liked her."

"I do. Really, I do. She is so alive and caring. I have been too long with my aunt I fear." The tears spilled down her face as Miss Bingley held her close. "I never meant for it to get this bad. I do not know what I was doing. I am so stupid."

"It is all right, everything will be resolved, do not worry. You know how stubborn your brother is. I fear you shall have to go see him before he will talk to you again. He will not back down, so I am afraid it falls on you to do so. Please think about this dear Georgiana, do not ruin the life you shared with your brother because of your aunt's vitriol."

Georgiana pulled back to look at Caroline. Never would she have thought that one day she would be being comforted by the orange feather-wearing termagant. But Georgiana knew that Miss Bingley was right, she must talk to William. He would be very angry and it would require a long time for the rift she caused to fully heal. She was resolved, she could do this. The question remained: how to get to Hertfordshire without being missed by Lady Catherine? As if reading her mind, Caroline had the answer.

"I have written to Colonel Fitzwilliam in London and he is to collect us when you are ready. We shall have to be careful and leave in the dead of night. You are certain you want to do this? Once you have left here, there can be no turning back. You have to be certain you want your happiness and that you will let your brother have his."

Georgiana nodded and smiled. Seeing her brother again would be nice. She had missed him these last three weeks. Her aunts and her cousin Anne had become increasingly tiresome. Yes, she was positive. Elizabeth would be a wonderful sister; the time spent with Aunt Catherine and Cousin Anne merely underlined this blatantly obvious fact. They would leave Rosings Park in a few days. For both Georgiana and Caroline, life began to look more promising.

~ * ~

Lizzy stirred in her sleep. Feeling the chill of the cold morning, she pulled the sheets closer around her. The sound of footsteps running along the landing invaded her resting mind and brought her into the land of day. The curtains cast their usual grey light about the room; it was raining again. Her unending sense of loss sank deep into the pit of her stomach as she realised it would be another day with no escape. With every morning it became increasingly harder to open her eyes. Once the most beautiful part of the day, morning was now the least anticipated.

Most days Elizabeth wished to huddle in bed all day, wallowing in her self pity and longing. The feel of William holding her was still fresh in her mind. The recollected sensation of his lips on her skin, the sense of completeness when he entered her, the overwhelming joy when he said he would rather be in love; those memories brought a smile to her face. These reminisces alone could inspire her to rise every day. Today was no different.

She rose from the bed and walked to the window. Pulling the curtains back, she saw the sun just beginning to appear from behind a black cloud. She smiled at the thought of her beloved William pining for her also. The peeping sun filled her with a confidence she had not felt in a seemingly long time. Elizabeth rushed to bathe and dress, nothing seemed fast enough. Slowing herself as she reached the steps, she took a deep calming breath and descended them gently. Mrs Hill rushed past her to get to Mrs Bennet who could be heard shrieking from the floor above. The whole house was livelier than it had ever been. Something had definitely happened.

As Lizzy wandered into the breakfast parlour, her father looked up and smiled at her. The glint in his eye suggested that knowledge to which she was not yet privy. Smiling back, she poured herself tea from the side table and sat down next to Mr. Bennet. When Jane arrived, beaming at Lizzy from the door, suspicion filled her heart. Lizzy glanced at her father again and he produced a note from his waistcoat pocket and presented it to her.

"I hope this will cheer you up dearest." He stood and kissed her forehead before leaving the room.

Lizzy stared at the missive in her hand and lightly traced the writing with her index finger. There, in her hand was what she had needed for so long. She dare not open it. Apprehension overtook her as she stared long and hard at the letter before her. Slowly she

turned it over and broke the seal. Unfolding the single sheet of paper, it took her a few minutes to recognise the words that filled her heart with joy.

"I miss you. Will you come to Pemberley now? Bring Jane, I have written to Bingley. Please, I need you.

Forever yours

FD"

Nothing more need be said. Looking up she saw Jane nod once and smile. They were to go to Pemberley. All that remained was to ask her father. Her face erupted into a smile, one that required a great deal of time to erase.

Chapter 8

As she moved across the room gathering clothes and items to take with her, a happy feeling permeated the air. Nothing could take her down from the high she had put herself on. She was so happy. Lizzy Bennet was about to travel to Derbyshire to see her beloved William and nothing in this world would prevent her from going. The minute she received his letter asking her to come she was filled with such joy that not a moment was to be wasted. What could be more important than preparing for the long journey?

As she walked about the room collecting things from various drawers and cabinets, some items caught her attention. On her dressing table was her collection of keepsakes. She had been such a little hoarder when she was small. Everything she could find of interest she would take home to show her papa and then place it somewhere safe. Small pebbles and rocks now adorned almost every surface. Her mother could not believe how much rubbish could fill the room and would attempt to rid the room of these small treasures. Every time that occurred, Lizzy would run back down the stairs and retrieve them from Mrs Hill. They would have to now be forfeited.

Next to the washing jug and bowl set lay a small rag doll. It had been given to her by her uncle Gardiner. Some years before, when he had been establishing the warehouses in London , he had travelled to Asia . This was long before he met his wonderful wife. He had brought Lizzy a doll back and she had loved it more than anything. Now it lay looking lifeless with shining eyes in front of the mirror. Lizzy walked over and gently picked it up. The stitching was fraying and the paint work that was her face faded. Her fingers played with the hem of the doll's dress as she recalled the day she had been presented with it. Now it would have to remain here. The Mistress of Pemberley does not have small children's toys in her chambers. This sentimentality had to stop if she ever wanted to leave Longbourn to live with her beloved.

From the doorway Jane had sensed her plight. She stood and watched her sister's expression turn from excitement to melancholy in a matter of seconds. This was only a short journey yet the looming prospect of that inevitable trip forever seemed to be getting closer. There was only one way to get Elizabeth Bennet to pack and that was to help her. When she took a step into the room, Lizzy looked round and smiled at Jane. There, the excitement was back for the time being. Laying the doll down on the bed, Lizzy walked over and took Jane's hand.

"I fear this could be harder that I expected."

"You shall be leaving Longbourn for good soon and you can see it happening already, is that it?"

"How well you know me Jane. Yes, I can see myself leaving all this behind. I shall be glad to get away from some aspects of our lives however." As if to demonstrate her point, screeching could be heard from beyond the door.

Mrs Bennet was rushing about the place trying to rally the girls to hurry up. The coach to take them to Derbyshire would be arriving in a few moments and as all good mothers do, she wanted her two eldest to be ready for that occurrence. Mr Bingley was to travel with them during the long two-day coach ride. Thus, Lizzy would be chaperone to Jane and everything would be proper. Yet both sisters were nervous about making this trip.

Lizzy was anxious about seeing her fiancée again after so long with no contact. Three weeks without once hearing from him and then a summons to leave for Pemberley was almost too much to bear for her fragile emotions. She had missed him more than words could ever say. All she wanted to do was see him again and make sure he would be well. Their marriage would take place shortly after his leg was fully recovered. Oh how she longed for this day as then she would never have to leave his embrace again.

Jane was nervous for a very different reason. The extra time with her beloved Bingley would be most welcome she had to admit. She had not spent such a length of time in his company since she was ill at Netherfield; and then she was too unwell to enjoy it at the time. Now she could see him all the day long. She could greet him in the morning and bade him well at night. There would be wonderful times in each others company. Yet the object of her consternation was her sister.

It was true that she had noticed a subtle difference in Lizzy that only she could pick up on. Something had definitely happened between her sister and Mr Darcy during the last few days of his stay. All she could hope for that Lizzy and her Mr Darcy would take care, for proprieties sake. The thought of Lydia 's scandal was still too fresh in everyone's mind.

"Come on Lizzy, we must make haste if we are to leave soon. I would not wish to keep Mr Darcy waiting if I were you."

"No, I should not wish that either. I have waited for what seems like an eternity for that missive and I do not want to delay our departure due to melancholy. What would William think of his soon-to-be wife? Sniffling over something so insignificant!" She laughed a little and Jane joined in.

"I think he would smile and make sure you were happy with your decision. He cares about you a great deal; I see it when he looks at you."

"I know William cares a great deal for me, every time I get caught in his gaze, I feel so loved. He is truly the best man I know and I love him so very dearly. I am so glad you are to come with me Jane. I feel I shall never leave his side once I see him again. These past three weeks have been the worst ones of all."

The despondency she had felt in the past days was now mixed with anticipation of the reunion. If she were not careful, she feared she may burst; the torrent of emotions was too great to bear. She could only hope that on sighting her fiancé, she would at least remain respectable and not break down as she thought she might.

The sisters managed to finish the packing in no time at all. Their trunks were taken downstairs as the girls went to talk with their family one last time for four weeks. It was not a long trip; it felt incredibly short to Elizabeth . A lifetime with Darcy was barely long enough.

This trip was all very vexing for Mrs Bennet. With Jane's wedding to Mr Bingley to plan, an extended excursion such as this was unforgivable. Yet she comforted herself in the knowledge that another of her daughter's hand may be secured by the very wealthy Mr Darcy. Jane would at least have time with Mr Bingley and Lizzy could come back having received an offer from Darcy. The more Mrs Bennet pondered this predicament, the more perfect it became and she delighted in telling her husband so repeatedly.

"I could not have planned this any better Mr Bennet. Just think, Jane can become better acquainted with her fiancé and Lizzy could well become engaged to Mr Darcy. For surely, his injuries must have healed by now. I think he only remained here as long as he did to stay with Lizzy. I do hope that shall be the case."

"You are forgetting my dear; Mr Darcy was still very unwell when he left here. Lizzy may just have been a pleasant diversion."

"Oh you do talk nonsense Mr Bennet. I think it most likely that Mr Darcy is mad in love with Lizzy. Did you not see the way he looked at her as he departed? I do hope that Lizzy will not be as strong willed with this gentleman as she was with Mr Collins." Her voice took on the all too familiar disappointment over that particular match. The thought of Charlotte Lucas becoming the mistress of Longbourn still brought on the spasms in her sides and flutterings in her chest.

"On the contrary Madame, I can assure you, Lizzy would be on her best behaviour when in the company of such a man. Would you not my dear?" He looked fondly at his second eldest and winked. She smiled radiantly in return.

She was indeed his favourite daughter and he only wished for her happiness. Since Darcy's leaving, the depression he had seen in her spirits had caused him such pain. The life and sparkle in her eyes seemed to dwindle and disappear with each day of hearing nothing. Mrs Bennet's hopes for a marriage between the two were matched by his own wishes. Seeing the pair together, hearing her laughing and watching her smile so beautifully towards her Mr Darcy caused his heart to soar. He wished her nothing but joy.

This visit was not how he would have wished it however. If, and it was most likely, Darcy's injuries had not healed as well as they might, he knew that this could be the last time he saw Lizzy living at Longbourn. He knew all too well that Lizzy would stay at Pemberley and be married quietly in Derbyshire if Darcy asked her to. He had reservations about letting her go with only her sister and soon-to-be brother in law as company. But the expression of gloom and sadness that Lizzy had worn over the past few weeks overruled any apprehension he may have had.

He had known who the letter was from the moment he had received it, the sealing wax stamped with the very definite initial of that very important person. Jane saw it in her fathers hand and knew the message contained within. She divulged some of her information about what it contained and asked him if he would allow them to go to Pemberley. The expression of joy on Lizzy's face gave reassurance to himself and to Jane. How could he have refused his two favourite daughters anything?

So there they all were, standing in the courtyard and driveway to Longbourn. Mr Bingley had just arrived mere moments before and the loading had begun. The smile on Elizabeth 's face was radiant, covering up the nervous feelings coursing through her body. She ached to see Darcy again. The longing that had been created in her was overwhelming. She found herself thinking about her fiancé with very wanton thoughts. The feeling of being that close to the person she loved more than life was certainly an experience. One she wanted oft repeated. She needed to see him, talk to him, and know he was suffering the deprivation of her touch as much as she was his. It was getting too much for her to abide. At this second, she no longer feared breaking down in front of him at sight but rather more amorous thoughts invaded her mind.

Bingley had received a short missive from his friend that morning. It was only a small favour he asked of his friend (Ha, small indeed thought Bingley). Lysanda was still in the stable at Longbourn and all Darcy asked was that he be brought up with the party. He trusted no one with his precious horses and the fact that he wished Bingley to ride the steed brought a smile to Bingley's face. He would of course be glad to ride Lysanda some of the way back. The prospect of spending a coach ride to Derbyshire with two of the most agreeable ladies in the country won over for the majority of the ride.

The horse would be well taken care of being ridden by a postillion surely and with that he could converse with his angel and her sister. They were all set to go within a few minutes of his arrival. He had of course rushed to Jane and shared a few private words with his fiancé. On his way to his angel, he had seen Elizabeth . She had looked so happy yet perturbed at the same time. He put it down to nerves at seeing Darcy once more. He knew he would be nervous as well, his best friend had changed since the fall, he knew not what to expect from the long anticipated meeting.

The rest of the Bennet clan were standing outside on the cold December's day. The wintry sun cast down on them as they bade their farewells and left for the long trip to Pemberley. Mr Bennet was most upset to see his two eldest depart but also happy for Elizabeth . He wished most sincerely that she would find the happiness she deserved. Mrs Bennet was ecstatic if not slightly put out and Kitty and Mary just stood idly by.

Jane, Elizabeth and Mr Bingley boarded the carriage bearing the Bingley livery and left Longbourn. Both Jane and her sister waved farewell until their family home was no longer in sight and settled down for the long journey. Bingley was sitting across from the sisters as propriety dictated when travelling with ladies. Lizzy had brought a book to read and Jane had brought some embroidery she was hoping to complete.

Bingley was one for staring out onto the countryside. Lizzy had imagined he would be. It was a mystery how Bingley had become such close friends with Darcy. They were so different from each other. Darcy would sit and read on a journey, not one for missing out on an opportunity to expand his mind. In fact, he would most probably not have ridden in the carriage with the ladies but most likely travelled astride Lysanda. Lizzy so hoped he would be able to ride once more, he did make a very impressive figure when in his leather riding boots-

'Stop it Elizabeth , thoughts like that are not allowed.' She admonished herself, smiling all the while.

It was Bingley that was the first to break the silence only twenty minutes into the journey. He was as concerned for his friend as were the other occupants of the carriage.

"I wonder how Darcy is. I had not heard of him before he requested our company. Normally he is a very regular correspondent."

"Do not worry Charles; Mr Darcy will be quite alright. You shall see him tomorrow and all will be well."

Jane's voice was serene and calming. Even though she addressed her fiancé, Elizabeth was in her thoughts as well. Ever since they had begun their journey, her sister seemed somewhat distant. She could tell the book had been unread.

"I know he shall be well again, it is just, I have never seen him so vulnerable as when he was ill. He has always been there, so strong. It was he that looked after me, not the other way round."

"He shall be fine Mr Bingley, if he has changed then so be it. He is still your best friend and you his. Please, I beg you, leave it at this."

Lizzy was staring out of the window, unable to look at the other occupants. Mr Bingley's worries had been too close to her own. Nothing more was said as the carriage ambled along the road.

~ * ~

Georgiana was moving around her room quickly and purposefully. Her mind was so occupied with her task and recriminations that she never noticed the visitor entering her chambers. There was so little time and so much to do. Not a moment could be wasted if she were to succeed in her plan. It was this blindness to the real world that made her walk straight into Caroline Bingley.

"Miss Bingley, I am s...sorry."

The two ladies dropped curtsies yet Georgiana never once looked up from her feet. Her mind was elsewhere Caroline could tell, and she knew exactly where.

"It is quite alright. I am here to ask if you are nearly ready. We must depart tonight. Everything is arranged. Colonel Fitzwilliam will be waiting for us at midnight near the parsonage."

"Yes, I t...think I am ready. I am quite filled with nerves."

Her voice was so quiet and unsure. In her mind, Georgiana could not see her brother forgiving her at all. Images of him refusing to see her and being cast out of her home sprung to mind. If she had indeed lost her brothers love, what would she do? To spend the rest of her time until her coming out with her Aunt seemed terrifying. Since she has found out about Lady Catherine's interference to the full extent she had barely spoken ten words to her. Her family had taken her side and turned their back on Fitzwilliam. He was alone in the world and it was all her fault.

"What have you to be nervous about? Your brother will welcome you back with open arms. I am quite sure he is quite desolate without you." Caroline's voice tried to be reassuring but how could it be when her own mind was so filled with doubt.

"I fear it may be too late to repair the rift I have caused between us. It has always been there but now it has grown. I never loved my brother until our father died and he was the only person I had left. After all my father and I put him through, I am so lucky we have remained civil for this length of time."

Georgiana walked to the window imitating her dear brother's usual stance. She was crying lightly as the guilt she had suppressed for so long flowed to the surface. Caroline walked up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Georgiana didn't know why she was telling all this to a relative stranger. No matter how long she had been acquainted with Miss Bingley, they barely knew each other. Both women were sadly misunderstood.

"Mr Darcy has only ever spoken highly of you. Even before your father departed from this world he had only ever loved you. Please do not give up hope dear Georgiana, your brother will take you back and you shall be happy."

"He loved me?" Caroline nodded and looked at the younger woman's reflection in the window.

"Of course he did. Why should he not?" Caroline turned Georgiana to face her.

"It was too horrible. I never thought of it until my father died, then it struck me. I forgot that he lost his mother whereas I never knew her. I was so heartless yet never knew it. Poor Fitzwilliam." She drew a shuddering breath as she tried to prevent the tears from falling.

"He forgave you Georgiana, he will forgive you again."

"How can you be sure? If he does not I will have lost everyone I care about. He is my only true family. Richard will take sides with my brother and I shall be alone-"

"Yes, but Mr Darcy is already by himself. He will understand my dear, do not worry."

"I hope you are right Miss Bingley-"

"Please, call me Caroline. We have both made very silly mistakes in our lives. Please, I ask you to think of this no more else we shall be very late. You would not wish to leave Colonel Fitzwilliam waiting tonight, would you?"

For the first time in Georgiana's memory, Caroline Bingley smiled sincerely. She smiled back in return; thankful of the new friendship she had formed with this woman. She nodded at Caroline and began to pack her belongings. Tonight they would leave Rosings secretly and make their way to Derbyshire.

Col. Fitzwilliam had let them know of Darcy's location and would take them there. The three conspirators had arranged this without Lady Catherine ever knowing. That was no mean feat as Lady Catherine was meant to know all. Soon, Georgiana would beg her forgiveness from her brother one more time.

~ * ~

No more was spoken of his worries for Darcy as the carriage made its way to Pemberley. Bingley knew better than to risk his life and disagree with Jane's sister. If one was unhappy about something, it automatically followed that the sister would be as well. In fact, so unnerved was he that the following day he rode Lysanda the rest of the way. Two Bennet sisters were more than he could handle easily.

Nothing out of the ordinary occurred en route. They travelled as far as they could in one day, spending the night at an inn half way between Longbourn and Derbyshire and rose early the next morning to conclude the journey. They were expected to arrive at Pemberley mid afternoon on the second day, and, much to the relief of all, they did.

The carriage took the same road that Elizabeth travelled in summer. In the missive to Bingley, Darcy had requested that they drive up using the lower road. This was of course due to the fact that Elizabeth had enjoyed the prospect from this angle once before. Indeed, even in the throws of winter, the grounds surrounding Pemberley were just as beautiful. Elizabeth smiled as she recounted the journey she had taken previously with her aunt and uncle. The trees were bare and the ground covered in a white haze, residue from the morning's frost. To her it looked magical.

The carriage wound its way up to the house at a steady rate. The expression Jane bore was wonderful. Lizzy had to remember that Jane had never seen Pemberley, the look of surprise and awe was reminiscent of that Elizabeth had worn when first setting her eyes on the beauty around her.

"Is it not beautiful Jane? I shall never forget the first time I glimpsed the house and neither will you I am sure."

"You were quite right when you told me of this place. It truly is perfect. Just think Lizzy, you shall live here. I should not imagine anything more fitting for my intrepid Lizzy than miles of woodland to explore." Jane smiled and continued to look from the window, Lizzy knew that just around the next bend, there was a prospect that would reduce Jane to very few words indeed.

Bingley rode alongside the carriage unaware of the nature of his surroundings, he had travelled up this road so many times before that it felt more like coming home that just a visit. He could see the women in the coach gazing at the area, the expression on both a joy to behold as they stared in amazement. He felt proud of the grounds for Darcy. It should be he not Bingley that showed the grounds off for the first time to the ladies.

As expected, round the next turn was the house. It suddenly appeared from behind a group of trees. Both Lizzy and Jane drew deep breaths at the sight. Lizzy smiled and looked fondly upon the place that would soon be her home. Knowing that the man she loved was within the stone walls made her anxious. True, three weeks was not an awfully long period of time from one's fiancé but it had felt like much more.

Jane was indeed rendered speechless as she took in the most wonderful vision before her. All the rumours of Mr Darcy owning a great house in Derbyshire were certainly true. Where Elizabeth felt comfortable at nearing the place, Jane was nervous. Suddenly intimidated by the prospect and she turned to look through the other window. Elizabeth noticed this yet could not say anything. They had arrived and, to Elizabeth 's joy, were greeted by a grinning Darcy.

He was standing there waiting for them; his long great-coat blowing slightly in the breeze. To Bingley and Jane he looked extremely well; it was Elizabeth that noticed his thinner and paler appearance. She would have to question him about that later. After spending weeks nursing him back to health, she had taken a keen interest in keeping him in that condition.

Bingley jumped off Lysanda and walked towards his friend. They shook hands and exchanged some brief words before Darcy looked up and caught Elizabeth 's eye. He walked towards the carriage and helped her down the step to the ground. She could tell it was painful for him; he barely placed any of his weight on his right leg. They moved to the side to let Bingley hand Jane down. They could not stop looking at each other, so many unspoken words passed between them in those few seconds.

"Miss Elizabeth, welcome to Pemberley again." He gently kissed the back of her hand then taking it in his; he turned to Bingley and Jane. It was Jane's awestruck expression that made him laugh slightly.

"I apologise for laughing but I last saw that expression on Bingley when he first arrived here. Welcome to Pemberley Miss Bennet." He bowed low as she curtsied before him.

A cold breeze ran through indicating that a warm house beckoned them in. He was about to lead the way when he espied Lysanda. Elizabeth followed as he walked over to where the horse stood, held steady by one of the many grooms. Running his hand down the horse's head he whispered some words of welcome. It was when he turned round that he noticed Elizabeth keeping her distance from the beast, her expression apprehensive. It dawned on him; she was afraid of horses.

"Pray tell me Madame, how a young lady like you can be so scared of this very docile animal?"

He smiled and reached for her hand, his other hand holding the horse's snaffle. Wary yet trusting, she took his hand and walked towards him.

"He shall not hurt you, I promise. Just stroke him; he has a ticklish nose though so be warned." To hear Darcy laughed filled her with confidence as she gently ran her hand down Lysanda's neck.

"I have always been wary of horses. I think it has become accentuated some recently by having a good friend of mine almost being killed whilst riding."

"I can assure you Madame that your good friend is going to be well and riding again. And in turn you may ride if you do him the honour of letting him teach you."

"I would like that, very much so sir."

She smiled up at him. Patting the horse's neck one last time, Darcy indicated for him to be taken to the stables. Looking at Elizabeth , he gestured towards the house.

"Shall we Miss Bennet?"

"Certainly Mr Darcy." Taking his arm, they walked to the house.

Bingley and Jane had been watching the scene play before them. Jane in wonder at how Mr Darcy had finally gotten her sister to touch a horse, Bingley in slight irritation as it was indeed, very cold to ride horseback.

As they entered the house, a mixture of servants hurried forward to divest the party of their outside coats and gloves. The speed and efficiency with which it was done astounded the sisters; if they blinked Jane was sure they would have missed it.

To Bingley, watching his good friend limp around obviously quite painfully was terrible. To see him look well once again was a blessing after seeing him almost die. Yet the Darcy confidence he had always aspired to was missing. His whole posture had changed, no longer was he the straight backed, confident walking, mean looking man he had once been. The way he leaned slightly to one side, taking the weight off his quite badly injured leg caused him to look very different. Bingley hoped it was not for an extended duration.

Darcy showed his guests into one of the many sitting rooms Pemberley had. It was his favourite room aside from his study of course. His mother had chosen the décor and he was loathe to change it. Anything that resembled his mother's taste was preserved at all costs.

The four sat down together as the tea was brought in. Maids scurried about the room as Darcy asked how their journey had been. They had spent the night at Huntingdon and set off at first light as was the usual way to get to Derbyshire from London . Of course, starting from Hertfordshire cut out part of the journey making is slightly shorter. They were all glad that the weather had held long enough to arrive.

It was in the air; snow was coming and as usual, would fall in droves leaving them trapped in their own world. It was Darcy that mentioned this fact. Having lived in the harsh winter conditions of the North all his life, he knew that it was indeed sheer luck that got them here in time. Now Jane looked truly worried, she had never been snowed in before and the thought of being cut off weighed greatly on her mind. It was this look that again caused Darcy to laugh, this time he was joined by Bingley and Lizzy.

"I take it you do not get much snow in Hertfordshire. Never mind, once you have spent a winter here, you shall never want to see it again. Or you could go the opposite way and end up like me, I miss the snow when I am in London ." He looked at Elizabeth . "I am sure that you shall enjoy it Miss Elizabeth. You seem to enjoy the outside as indeed do I." She smiled at him and glanced over to Jane and Bingley.

"I say Darce, without you, Meryton had been quite dull. No mention of Mr Darcy and his ten thousand a year."

Darcy almost spat out his tea so close to laughing was he. In fact, as soon as he had swallowed he did laugh. Quite heartily in fact. To Lizzy this was normal behaviour when in the company of close friends. To Jane, to say she was shocked would be an understatement.

"I cannot comment on Meryton society but at Longbourn I do believe I heard your name mentioned no less that one hundred times a day." Lizzy joked with Darcy, seeing him laugh was such a good thing.

"Indeed. I am shocked indeed. To have made such an impression on such a confined and unvarying society I must have committed some terrible act."

The words spoken during the first month of their acquaintance seemed humorous now. The humility Elizabeth had gone through to dissuade her mother of making a spectacle of herself seemed so long ago. So much had occurred during the past year. It was these thoughts that plagued all four suddenly. The conversation slowed down as they became entrenched in their memories.

Bingley was the one who broke the silence. Seeing the way Darcy looked at Elizabeth alerted him to the fact that the two needed to talk. Looking at Jane, he could see how uncomfortable she was. Lizzy may be able to adapt to Darcy's real personality but to Jane it was unnerving. He had an idea that would solve both problems.

"Jane, would you like to see some of the house. I am sure Darcy would not mind my showing you around. Would you Darce?" He looked hopefully towards his friend.

"Why of course not. You should know your way well enough by now Bingley, you have virtually lived here since I met you."

"Jane?"

Bingley stood and offered Jane his hand? She was unsure. On one hand she would like to leave the room, on the other she did not want to leave Lizzy on her own. After a few moments, she chose the former as a priority. Taking his proffered hand, she stood and faced Bingley. Darcy stood as well as Jane and Bingley walked arm in arm from the room leaving him with Lizzy.

As soon as the door closed, Lizzy stood and rushed across to Darcy. Her arms were about his neck and his about her waist clinging to each other in a fierce embrace. Her feet barely touched the ground as he murmured words of love in her ear.

"I have missed you so much Liz."

"And I you."

They knew not how long they stood like that; just holding each other. He stroked her back gently, burying his face in her neck, breathing in her scent, reassuring himself that she was in fact here in his arms. She did the same; it was all like a dream. Her nights had been tortured with scenes of their reunion only to wake up with a false hope. No, he was real.

Finally they separated, only as far as to look at each other though. He took her hands in his and rested his forehead against hers. How she wanted to cry, the pressure and worry of the past weeks had steadily grown and now...now she just wanted to break down in his arms. She needed to be strong however. They both needed to stay intact, just for now.

He kissed her forehead gently and pulled away. She noticed that his hair had grown, obscuring the scar that dominated the skin by his right eye and forehead. The illness of weeks back had taken its toll on William making his face thinner. Black circles still surrounded his beautiful eyes; she could tell he had barely slept these past days. Looking at him carefully, she could see his eyes had almost become as alive as they once had been yet there was still something missing. The questioning would begin.

"Well, you certainly look much better than when I first saw you after your accident."

"Ha, you obviously think I look worse than when you last saw me then. Yes, no wonder. Mrs Reynolds has been saying so everyday since I arrived home."

"Why is it no wonder?"

"My health has taken a severe hammering this past two months. I arrived back here and I became ill once again. Nothing so serious that time. Do not worry Elizabeth , you are here now and all will be well."

"What do you mean not to worry? How could I not? I take my part time job as nurse to Fitzwilliam Darcy very seriously I shall have you know." Her attempt to lighten the almost foreboding atmosphere worked as he smiled and looked away.

"And your leg sir? I can see that is improved-"

"Not by a great deal I fear but I shall not talk about that now. I would like to spend some time with my fiancé, not my keeper."

"I know but..."

"No buts. Come with me, I have something for you."

He smiled and took her hand. Leading her from the room, they slowly made their way to what appeared to be his study. As he opened the door, she could tell that this was where he spent most of his days. Books were littered around on small tables next to well worn leather chairs. The desk that dominated the room was covered with paperwork and newspapers. It was strange to see this side of him. On the outward appearance he seemed so orderly yet when working, he was highly disorganised. It made her laugh to see him so chaotic.

"What is it that amuses you so?" He turned to face her.

"You sir. I was under the impression that you were so tidy and yet..." She gestured towards the desk and laughed once again.

"I see, well you were wrong. There are still some aspects of me that you do not know it seems. We shall have to remedy that I think." He leaned towards her and kissed her lips so softly.

Standing up straight once again, he made his way to the large oak desk and collected something from one of the drawers. Walking back to where she still stood, by the window, he halted right in front of her. The place where his lips met hers still had the most pleasant tingle and he was only too happy to oblige once more.

Tipping her chin up to face him with his fingertips, he kissed her again. It was slower this time, taking the time to reacquaint himself with her lips. Her hands rested on his chest as his arms wound their way around her back. In no time the kiss had deepened and her hands snaked up about his neck pulling him closer to her. His tongue caressed every corner of her mouth; she kissed him back with an urgency built up over three weeks of separation.

Finally they broke apart, breathless. Resting his head against hers once more, he reached up and stroked her cheek with his hand. Looking deep into her eyes, he told her he loved her. Slowly they becalmed themselves so as to speak. He had to think what he was doing before such a wonderful diversion had been initiated.

"Ah yes, I do believe I was going to give you something."

He took her left hand in his and pulled a ring out of his waistcoat pocket. Slowly, he slid it onto her finger.

"This was my mothers, and hers before. This signifies that you are mine and mine alone. And that in turn I belong to you. There, we are now officially engaged."

Elizabeth was awe-struck. Never had she seen such a beautiful engagement ring. Small diamonds lay around the most dazzling sapphire set together. The delicate gold band encircled her finger and encased the stones. She did not know what to say, he held her hand still and stroked her knuckles with his thumb.

"Am I to understand that the lady approves?"

All she could do was nod, slowly, she looked up at him. He was so handsome, even with the signs of illness still fading. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. How had she come to love this man so much when at the start of the year she did not want to ever see him again? Even more of a question was what had she done to deserve such a wonderful man? It was too much. Her tears slipped down her cheeks as she smiled at him. He carefully wiped her tears away with the back of his finger.

"It is so beautiful William. Thank-you."

Without warning, she embraced him tightly. Responding to her he held her tightly against him. Kissing the top of her head gently, Darcy whispered small endearments to her. Neither ever wanting to let go of the other.

~ * ~

Dinner that night was a very informal affair. Both couples were seated next to each other. Darcy took his usual place at the head of the table with Lizzy to his right. Bingley sat to his left and Jane sat with her fiancé. It amused Bingley to see his best friend have the same love-struck expression he himself usually bore. More astounding was that it was reflected in Lizzy's countenance. It was true; they were very much in love with each other.

It was Jane that first noticed the ring on her sister's finger. In fact it was when Darcy took his fiancé's hand that she saw it glittering in the candlelight. A smile spread over her serene features as she caught Lizzy's eye. Both sisters smiled and before long Darcy joined in. Bingley was left out not knowing what all this strange smiling was about. Darcy put him out of his misery.

"Come now Bingley, can you not guess what has occasioned this bout of merriment?" Bingley shook his head in wonder; Darcy really did have to point it out to him.

"Elizabeth and I are to be married."

As this information slowly worked its way into Bingley's mind, Jane stood and embraced her sister and of course, Mr Darcy. Suddenly his brain processed this new information and he too rose and shook hands with Darcy, kissing his soon to be sister's hand. As they all sat down once more, a playful banter commenced and continued over the course of the meal.

"So Darce, we are to be brothers after all. I thought all hopes of that were extinguished after about five minutes of observing you with Caroline." He laughed as did Darcy.

"Yes, I shall have the unlucky fortune to be related to you. How shall I bear it all?"

Jane had of course never seen Darcy act this way. His whole personality had changed, for the better naturally. He was at ease with his surroundings, laughing and joking with his guests. Lizzy was right, he was a most amiable gentleman after all. He kept a possessive hold of her sister's hand between courses and even then it was replaced by some other form of contact during each dish. His eyes were alive when they beheld Elizabeth . There was definitely an aura of happiness about them, Jane only wished that she and Charles too looked so radiant together.

Soon, dinner was over and all four retired to the music room. To Darcy this was a most pleasant place to be. It held some bitter memories when he thought of his sister spending her days in here. Thoughts like that were rapidly pushed aside when he saw his beautiful Elizabeth smiling so tenderly in his direction. It was almost as if she had never left since summer. She still looked at him with such an expression of love, still laughed as she did on that night. She was home, back where she had always belonged.

The informal nature of the evening carried on with all four members of the group throwing social proprieties to the wind. Bingley sat next to his beloved Jane and Lizzy sat next to her Darcy. Both couples were lost in each others conversations as the evening progressed. Jane and Bingley were eagerly discussing their lives together; enjoying the time spent planning all the things they hoped to do during their marriage to each other.

Lizzy and Darcy's thoughts were on quite different lines. Both were so happy to see each other once again, the temptation to just hold each other was overwhelming. The brief physical contact they had shared that afternoon was not enough. He so wished to taste her lips once again. To her amazement, he told her so as well.

"I have missed you most deeply my love." She laughed a little and looked into his eyes.

"I know I keep saying so but it is true. I am glad you are home Elizabeth ."

He took her hand in his and caressed her knuckles with his thumb. Looking at the ring that now adorned her finger; he smiled at the thought that she would soon be his.

"Home? How I wish it to be so-" He looked back up to her face.

"Yes, you are home. You have always belonged here can you not tell? Ever since I laid eyes on you, in my mind you have been here with me. I have been surrounded by endless seas of grey since I left. You bring Pemberley to life with your presence; it has not been so since...since my mother died." He could not bear to meet her eyes as he said the last words.

She quickly looked about the room, checking that her sister was not looking. Lizzy placed her other hand on her beloved's cheek and turned him to look at her. Running her thumbs over his lips, she spoke the words she had long felt.

"I belong where you are. My life is nothing without you William; I have known that since summer. I am at home here, I shall never leave you." He winced at her last words but smiled.

"How I wish I could kiss you. I am afraid you have awoken the fire in me Elizabeth. All I can think of is holding you against me; the taste of your lips; the feel of your skin. You are my undoing and God, I love you for it."

Turning slightly, he kissed the palm of her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. The connection between them was palpable as he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingertips. Neither noticed the other couple watching them, not knowing what to say to prevent what was happening. They didn't need to.

The feelings running through Elizabeth at the intensity of his eyes made her realise that they were in danger once again. She took his hand in hers and broke eye contact. With a subtle cough from the other side of the room, they broke the contact.

"Jane, I have not had the pleasure of hearing you sing. Would you-"

"I am afraid I cannot Charles, Lizzy has the most superior singing voice, perhaps she would oblige." Jane's voice was quiet yet demanding. Lizzy would sing no matter what.

Seeing her sister lost in her fiancé was dangerous and could not be allowed to happen. Too much scandal had already taken place and no matter what Lizzy had said to the contrary, Jane did not trust them. Bingley had also seen them interact together. The shy glances they shared and secret conversation was going against the rules of propriety that dictated their lives. He only hoped Darcy would be careful.

"I have heard Miss Elizabeth sing and I must admit it was quite lovely. Perhaps then you would be willing to play for us?" He looked at Elizabeth who had still not looked up to Darcy. Releasing his hand, she stood and addressed Bingley and Jane.

"If it would please you, then you shall hear me play but I shall not sing. Well, possibly with the right persuasion." She smiled and moved over to the pianoforte.

Taking a seat, she commenced playing a piece of music she had known all her life. At request, it was the first piece she had ever learnt to play. All through her twenty years, it had given her great comfort to listen to the soothing notes. As she played the beautiful instrument before her, her thoughts strayed to that day months ago where she had played to the man before her. He was confident and strong then, now he looked almost broken.

Raising her eyes to look about the room for a few seconds, she saw Darcy wince as he moved his leg slightly. He was beginning to look weary, his eyes closed as he ran a hand through his hair. Laying his head back against the chair, he opened his eyes and looked at her. As she looked down at the keyboard again, she could feel his gaze upon her.

Jane and Bingley were talking again. The pressure of having to watch Lizzy and Darcy off now that they were on opposite sides of the room. Bingley knew he had to have a word with his friend and soon. The looks they shared were very intimate, and as an observer, Bingley wanted what was best for his soon-to-be sister-in-law. He decided that when the ladies retired for the night, he would take the opportunity to talk with his best friend.

Lizzy finished the piece and against the hopes of Bingley and Jane, took her place by Darcy once again. The two groups did not separate the conversation however. Jane and Bingley persuaded the two others to join in and a discussion on poetry started. Normally, Darcy would have jumped at the chance to offer his opinions on the new poet laureate, Robert Southey, yet he remained singularly preoccupied.

"What do you think Darce? I should imagine you have some words on the subject."

Bingley's over-enthusiastic attempt to lure his friend into conversation failed miserably. Darcy merely looked at him shrugged. To be truthful, it was as if he was hardly there. In body yes but his mind seemed to be elsewhere.

"Surely Mr Darcy, you have some thoughts. As I recall poetry is an interest of yours."

"Indeed it is Madame, indeed it is. As yet I have to form an opinion of the new poet to the king. My thoughts have been elsewhere recently." He spoke so quietly; his expression wistful and withdrawn.

Soon, with no participation from their host, the conversation dwindled. They could see that Darcy was indeed tiring, his eyes betraying him. With that in mind, Lizzy and Jane decided to retire for the night. Before they left, the discussed briefly plans for the next day. As promised, Darcy would show them the grounds to their full extent. Elizabeth was visibly excited by that fact; the grounds surrounding Pemberley had interested her before she had even set eyes on the house. Darcy smiled at her youthful enthusiasm, suddenly; he began to feel the years of pressure building up. It had seemed so long ago that he felt so excited about anything. Being with Lizzy was starting to make him realise he felt more nine and fifty rather than nine and twenty.

The ladies rose and bid their fiancés goodnight. Bingley stood up and kissed Jane on the hand; Darcy leaned forward and took Lizzy's hand in his. Looking up at her he kissed her hand, squeezing it gently. Letting her hand go, she smiled down at him, reluctant to leave his company so soon.

Jane took her arm and gently pulled her from the room. They walked up the stairs in silence to their rooms stopping outside Jane's room. She pulled her sister in, words needed to be said. As soon as the doors closed behind them, Jane turned to Lizzy and began her tirade.

"I hope you are being careful Elizabeth , I saw the look you shared. I know you nursed him while he was ill and that some degree of *intimacy* would be reached but please, promise me you shall not do anything more that look. You are engaged, you should not be under the same roof as him let alone conversing in such close quarters." Her voice was soft as she warned her sister.

"You too are in the same predicament Jane; do not lecture me on how to behave with Mr Darcy. I know what to do and what not to do. Please, I beg you, leave us be. I shall not *disgrace* our family for that is what truly worries you."

Elizabeth was angry. Being forced to quit the company of her lover so soon; for being lectured about propriety; for the lack of trust her sister had in her (though she knew it to be justified).

"Lizzy..."

"Do not say anything more Jane, I know your thoughts and I do not wish to hear them. Goodnight."

She walked from the room and straight to her own chambers. Her fists clenched tightly by her sides as she attempted to control her anger. Lizzy knew she had to talk to him, see what was wrong with him before. William had seemed so distant after...after what exactly? What had happened that had scared her so much? The intimacy they had already shared was nothing to the intensity of his look. He could see straight into her soul. His unflinching gaze took her unawares; she was lost to him. At that second she would have given him anything, her lack of control frightened her and she liked it. Marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy had the promise of being so wonderful.

~ * ~

"Darcy, I was wondering whether we could talk."

Bingley was nervous, never had he had to talk to his friend about conduct, in fact, he had never once questioned Darcy before in all their years of friendship. Darcy had always been a man of good principles. Never once had he stepped beyond the bounds dictated by society, well, none that Bingley knew about. To have to warn him to keep a respectable distance from Elizabeth now seemed wrong. He would not have done were it not for the fact that his beloved Jane had requested him to do so. For crying out loud, Darcy and Lizzy were more intimate in their address than if they were wed. This would not do, not at all.

"Of course we may, I am surprised you had to ask permission. You never have before."

The normally pleasant 'Darcy' countenance was back in place, smiling at Bingley, waiting to see where this conversation would lead. The worried stance of Bingley told Darcy that it was matter of delicacy, one that probably involved his conduct with Elizabeth . Bingley took a deep breath and stood before the fire, looking directly at Darcy.

"I have noticed your relationship with Miss Elizabeth has become quite... erm... close recently." He was already at a loss for words, a good start indeed.

"Yes, Elizabeth and I are good friends, even better now that we are engaged. What about it?"

Darcy sat back in the chair and made himself more comfortable. Watching Bingley squirm would be quite amusing was it not for the very uncomfortable topic of conversation.

"Well, I was worried about...about you two becoming...how can I put it...closer, no that's not it..."

"You wonder that my fiancée and I may become more intimate perhaps? Do you doubt my intentions to Miss Bennet?" The smile had gone, replaced with a cold look of distaste.

"It's not doubt Darcy; I saw the way you looked at her. I know that look man. Do not deny that at that moment your intentions were not quite as honourable as you make them out to be." Bingley was becoming angry for no reason, perhaps it was the expression on Darcy's face.

Darcy would have stood up were it not for the throbbing ache in his injured leg. So outraged was he to have been watched and then his every look interpreted as a dishonourable act. This talk of honour and the lack thereof was making him feel like Wickham. He would not have it.

"May I ask to where these comments tend? Do you mean to warn me off Elizabeth ? I have not seen her for these three weeks gone and I am not allowed to show her any particular regard. You have had Jane by your side yet when I needed someone I find my whole family has deserted me and I have no Elizabeth.

"What do you expect me to do, sit as far away from her as possible, no contact permitted? Should I not look at her just in case I cause a scandal with my own eyes? What would you have me do? I love her for crying out loud, if I am not to be with Lizzy then you should give up Jane. Can you honestly say that you would be happy with no contact from your 'angel'? You have your pleasure, I beg you, do not deny me mine."

Darcy was annoyed. To be rebuked for just holding her hand; touching her face; looking into the eyes of his beloved Elizabeth . This was not to be bourn.

"Darce, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"To what? Interfere? There has already been enough of that from Jane and yourself. I invited you here so that you could spend some time with your fiancé and I could spend some time with mine."

"I allowed you time this afternoon,"

"And for that I am grateful. Had you not done I fear I should have dragged Elizabeth away from the room."

He was calming slightly, resting his elbow on the chair arm, he covered his eyes with his hand. This would not do, to argue with his best friend when they had only just arrived was not done. Bingley beat him to an apology.

"I am sorry. Perhaps had I been in your place, I would have been the same. It's just that I worry for Jane. Her family has already been through enough scandal. I think you had better stick to the rules until you do make her Mrs Darcy." Bingley smiled yet Darcy still looked troubled.

"I have already thrown propriety away. I did that so long ago when in Kent visiting my aunt. I gave her a letter. Seems such a minor offence does it not? Yet once you have let go of one rule, the rest shortly follow. I shall try my friend, do not worry. I shall take good care of my Bennet sister and you shall take good care of yours."

"Thank-you. We have all been through enough I fear. I think I shall retire now anyway. It has been a long day. Goodnight Darce."

"Yes, goodnight."

Bingley left the room leaving Darcy to himself.

~ * ~

"William?"

Darcy was sat alone next to the large open fireplace in the music room. He held a crystal wine glass loosely, his fingertips barely grasping the rim. The dying embers of the fire cast an orange glow around the room. The lights had long been extinguished; he was in a world of his own. She moved closer to him and saw the flickering flames dance in his deep brown eyes. His cravat and topcoat had been removed and thrown onto the chaise-longue nearby. His waistcoat unbuttoned and neck exposed; he never noticed her approach him.

She looked into his face from across the room; the scar on his face seemed deeper and fiercer in the dim light of the room. He looked somewhat rugged and to her, very attractive. Moving around the various pieces of furniture in her way, Lizzy rested her hands on his shoulders. Standing behind the chair her betrothed was slouching in, she could tell he was not surprised by her presence. Taking the glass from his hand, she placed it on the nearest table. She had barely set the vessel down before he grabbed her arm and pulled her down onto him. His eyes never left the fire as she sat on his lap; he took her hand in hers and held it tightly, drawing strength from her touch.

"I was wondering where you were, I had not heard you walk past. It is getting quite late."

He didn't seem to notice her talking, so lost in his own thoughts was he. It was true, she had waited for an unknown time to hear his foot steps beyond the door. The worry she had felt for him earlier pervaded her every sense, she had to know what was wrong.

The light cast from the fireplace seemed to ease the harsh paleness of his face. He looked more his usual self yet the distance in his eyes disturbed her. How could she not have noticed the pain and suffering in his eyes before now? He had not told her everything; it seemed he had told her very little. The smile he wore earlier in the day when he addressed her was missing something and now she knew what. It was as if the happiness he once had was lost. She had to know why. It was with no little tenderness that she stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers, and set out to find the truth.

"Will? What is the matter?" The concern was evident in her voice, yet it was filled with a love that made his heart ache once more.

She gently turned his face to look at her. He seemed reluctant but turned to her all the same. She could see tears forming in his eyes as he took a deep breath to calm himself. This would take a long time, he was so upset. How had it happened? He had left her arms three weeks ago so happy and full of hope yet now he was reduced to a shadow of his former self in no time at all.

"It is nothing of consequence. It has just been so hard, being here by myself. No you to cheer me up. I fear I have been left to my own thoughts a little too much, tis all. I beg you; do not worry for me Elizabeth . I shall be back to normal soon enough. I promise." He took a shuddering breath and stared back into the fire once more.

"I do not believe you sir. Please, tell me. I worry for you Fitzwilliam, you're eyes betray you my love and I want to help. Please let me in." Her voice begged him to tell her, the lack of trust he placed in her wounded her. She would not let him know that however.

"It is constantly raining in my head and I don't know what to do. Nothing was meant to be like this. I should be married to you now and we should be happy. If only the sun would come out for us."

"The clouds will go soon enough. I am here now..."

"But you shall leave me once again in four short weeks you shall be gone..."

"But not forever. We shall be wed and then I shall never leave your side. We will brave the weather together. I love you so much and you love me. What more do we need but each other?" He turned away from the fire and gazed deeply into her eyes.

"You are right Elizabeth , you are always right."

"You find a fault there sir, it was you who showed me how wrong I could be. I thought you were the worst person I ever had made the acquaintance of. I tried to stay away from you, you scared me sir. I told myself that I hated you when all I really wanted was for you to like me.

"At Hunsford, when you first-"

"-Made a mess of things?"

"Professed your love was what I was aiming for but yes, you accomplished that as well. I was happy and saddened. It was at Pemberley that I realised how much you meant to me."

"You changed me so much Liz. If I made you realise how wrong you could be, then you showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. What do I not owe you?"

"Every time you tell me you love me, it is repayment enough sir. I shall forever be thankful of this second chance we have." His eyes had a semblance of normality as she spoke the words he needed to hear. There was clearly more he was not telling her however.

"There is something else making you sad and I cannot bear to see it. If you will not tell me then I shall have to be content, but I beg you, let me know."

"You know me so well my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. I can keep no secrets from you. It is so hard to say, I have only just won you, I hate this feeling of weakness. I fear as if I am to lose you again and that would kill me. I cannot live without you near. These past weeks have been pure torture." He hid his face in her neck, breathing in her scent, drawing comfort from the feel of her next to him. She kissed the top of his head and held him close.

"I wish I had asked you to come earlier, I was unsure as to how you would respond. You seemed to be hesitant when I asked you the first time. I should know by now that the second time works better."

He laughed lightly before raising her head to look at her. His face was serious once again as he formulated the words in his mind. After a few minutes, he was ready to tell her everything.

"I needed you, I needed you so badly. I was so scared that my fears would come true that I put it off." He lay his head on her shoulder once again, this was not easy.

"What? What is it?" Panic crept into her voice, whatever it was disturbed him deeply.

"My leg. It was Mrs Reynolds that called the physician eventually and so he came. He said that I had broken the main bone in my shin; he told me what it was called yet I cannot remember." He took hold of her face in his hand and looked deep into her eyes. "Lizzy, this is it; it will get no better." He released her face and turned back towards the almost dead fire.

"Will, is it certain?" He shrugged gently and placed his hand over his eyes.

"But sorrow, that is couch'd in seeming gladness, Is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness."

Lizzy could recognise the words he whispered as she too had been reading them not four weeks previous. Strange how appropriate they seemed at the moment.

She pulled his hand away and took it in hers, squeezing it gently in her own smaller hand. He was angry, not with her or himself, just with the cruel twist of fate god had dealt them. She reached out to touch his face, her fingertips gently running across the scar on his forehead. It was deep but had the promise of fading slightly in time. A curl of his unruly hair fell across it and she moved it away. He looked so tired, nothing like the man she had first met. That Darcy was dead and gone. This was the man she had fallen in love with, yet even now, he looked so far away; replaced with a despondent, broken Darcy.

"I had hoped it would heal almost fully. I would never have expected it to be perfect but now...now I can barely walk."

"It may improve; doctors do not know everything my love. He may be mistaken. Please do not give up hope." Her voice was hopeful, his resigned.

"It is hard, so very hard not to. I hate this, I feel so useless. I ran this estate faithfully. I rode out to oversee the land everyday of my adult life. It is my life Elizabeth , and now I can hardly stand let alone mount a horse and summon enough strength for the day. I think my hope has well and truly expired, along with all I have ever known."

His voice was so bitter, hearing him speak those words almost made her flee from his sight. Instead, she too rose to his anger, he needed to rid himself of self-pity and start to live again.

"Do not speak like that."

"And why not? Surely you can see my predicament. I am nothing if I cannot be myself." His voice began to rise, she met his challenge.

"Look at me," He refused her request. She had had enough of being gentle. She forcibly turned him to face her. The tears she had seen earlier were now rolling down his face. Her heart softened as she saw her lover suffering so terribly. "You are yourself William, or you will be. I know it seems hard, but we shall make it, together. Just say the word and I shall never leave you're side, ever again."

He took a deep breath as she wiped away his tears with her thumb. He was so vulnerable, so young for so much to have happened. She cupped his cheek with her hand and kissed him gently on the lips. It was so soft and loving. He smiled at her and embraced her properly. She was right, they would be alright now. He had her with him, forever.

The clock in the corner of the room began to chime. They realised it was late, yet when only one chime sounded, they were quite surprised. She stood up from him and looked into his eyes; she still had hold of his hand.

"I think it is way past your bedtime Mr Darcy." Smiling down on him whilst she spoke, he smiled back at her.

"Is it indeed Miss Bennet? I think you may be correct in that assumption." Still grasping her hand tightly, he pushed himself to his feet and swayed unsteadily. He winced as he shifted his weight onto his left leg.

"William?" Concern was back in her voice and etched into her beautiful features.

"I am well my love. Just a little unused to walking with a leg like this." He smiled reassuringly.

"Perhaps I should escort you to your chambers then Mr Darcy."

"Perhaps that would be best. What would I do without you?"

He collected his coat and started to walk towards the door. It was slow and labouring but she helped him. He took hold of her arm, leaning some of his weight on her. She gave him the strength he needed. They carefully and quietly made their way to the grand staircase, taking each step one at a time. Each footfall hurt but he was happy, Elizabeth was by his side.

As they reached the top of the stairs, his hold in her arm tightened slightly, she gripped his hand back. They walked along the hallway until they came to his chambers. Once there, he took the weight off his right leg and slumped heavily against the door. He smiled at her while catching his breath. He hated that it took this much effort to traverse such a small distance. This was not how it was meant to be.

It was at that moment however that he realised the state of her dress. Stood before him wearing her nightgown and robe, her dark brown hair cascading down her back and shoulders, presented a very alluring sight. He looked down into her questioning eyes and stroked her cheek with his fingertips. Leaning down to her, he took her face in his hands and looked deep into her soul.

Her breathing began to quicken as his lips gently touched hers. So much love passed between them in that one second, it was hard to breathe with the passion building inside. He broke away and looked at her, his brown eyes dark and fiery. This was the look she had been dreaming of since his departure. Now she was before him, her feelings and desires matching his.

She put her hands on his chest and gripped his shirt, pulling him down to kiss her once more. His tongue ran over her lips, she parted them in response. The kiss deepened rapidly, both getting lost in the other. Her hands ran up over his chest and round his neck. She needed to be closer to him, to feel him against her. He matched her need and pulled her tightly to him. His lips crushed hers in a fierce, white hot embrace.

Without stopping, he reached behind to the door and opened it quickly. He broke the kiss only long enough to enter the room and close the door firmly behind them.

He pushed her back against door and clamped her firmly against him. Throwing the coat onto the floor, he divested himself of his waistcoat and shirt. Their kiss resumed, her hands ran over the bare expanse of his chest. She could feel him cup her breasts with his. The urgency of his caresses made her realise he had indeed missed her as much as she had him. His lips moved away from hers and he kissed fire hot kisses down her neck. Her skin felt to be burning with the contact.

Her hands snaked up to his head, losing her fingers in his hair as she pulled him closer. Her neck arched allowing him more contact. His hands began to unfasten her robe and nightgown. In one swift motion, both fell to the floor leaving her bared to him. He stepped back and looked at her. The candlelight cast a warm glow over her. He was awestruck at her beauty. She loved the way he stared at her, the passion and desire flaming in the depths of his eyes. He was in the full grip of need, he must have her.

He needed to know if she felt the same, she answered his unasked question with one simple thing. She held out her hand begging him back into her arms. He took it and was welcomed into her embrace. The feel of her skin touching his sent sparks flying through his body. His want was too great; he couldn't get close enough to her. He was intoxicated with the feel of her against him. His hands ran all over her body, her skin so soft. His touch seared her skin, she would never get enough. Her hands moved down his chest to the waist of his breeches, her finger dipping inside and touching the flesh hidden from her. This was enough.

Breaking away, he grabbed her hand and limped over to the bed dragging her with him. At the edge he pulled her too him and pushed her back onto the bed. He trapped her beneath him as he lay atop her. His lips kissing their way down her neck and chest as she moaned against his own. Her tongue traced circles on his shoulder; she could feel the muscles twitching lightly beneath the skin. His tongue flicked lightly over a nipple and she squirmed beneath him. The sensations caused by something so simple coursed through her. Her back arched to him as he took her into his mouth. His hand continued to caress her other breast as she writhed against him. Her breathing became erratic, she needed him so badly.

He answered her and kissed her on the lips again. There was no gentleness anymore, just a desire so strong it eclipsed any other thoughts. Standing once more he rid himself of the rest of his clothing and stood before her. She admired his perfect form casting her eyes all over him, lingering wantonly at his obvious arousal.

"Will, I need you." Her voice was husky as she begged him.

She held her arms open to him, an invitation he readily accepted. He lowered his body between her legs and lay there in her embrace; her legs wrapped around his waist. He stared deeply into her passion clouded eyes. Kissing her deeply once more, he slid into her slowly. The feeling of completeness encompassed them. They lay still, just enjoying the sensation of being so close. Deep kisses and frantic yet loving caresses were shared.

Slowly, he began to move in and out of her. Making love to her, his Elizabeth . She felt so good, surrounding him completely and he moved deeper inside. How he had longed for this moment and now she was before him. Her eyes closed, her back arched against him, moans escaping her beautiful lips. This was how it was meant to be, all problems that had ever existed disappeared into oblivion in that instant. His pace increased and she matched him, raising her hips to his every thrust.

She could feel every nerve in her body tingle as he moved against her. From her toes to her fingertips she could feel him, every cell was alive. Rational thought escaped her as her mind closed. Her whole body felt tense, she was no longer in control and she liked it. His hot lips on her neck, the feel of his sweat covered body pressed so tightly against her own, his hand resting on her hip as he ground into her. She was on fire, a fire that burned only for him.

His groans were becoming louder as they lost total control, moving frantically against each other. She opened her eyes and looked into his. He was close; she could feel him grow larger inside her as she stared into the blackness of his eyes. She dug her fingernails into his back as she arched against him. The tension inside of her snapped as she let go and fell into the blissful oblivion.

He watched her fall over the precipice as his own orgasm wracked through his body. He called her name over and over again as he shot deep inside her. His mind went blank and there was nothing. His arms gave way and he fell atop her. They both trembled with the power of their release. He couldn't bring himself to move, they were so close; they were one.

Gradually their breathing began to calm, neither opened their eyes however. Her arms encircled her lover gently and held him tight. He was still shaking; his love for her overwhelmed him so totally. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked into hers, such a look of love stared back at him. He smiled at her and kissed her gently. Carefully moving off her, he pulled her to him and they lay on their side together. He knew at that moment he could not bear to part with her for one minute. Never again.

"Lizzy, please never leave me. I do not want to spend another moment away from you." His voice was quiet as it pleaded with her.

"I shall not leave; I am here now in your arms. This is where I belong, my love, with you."

She smiled at him and closed her eyes, snuggling deep into his arms. With that promise, they fell asleep together.

Chapter 9

The darkness of night surrounded the pair as they walked along the path. The gravel crunched quietly beneath their feet; the only noise to break the silence. There was neither call of the owl nor the shriek of bats as they made their way to the agreed meeting place. The new moon made visibility almost impossible yet was most advantageous to assist their escape.

No one knew of the plan save Georgiana, Caroline Bingley and of course, Colonel Fitzwilliam. They agreed to convene near the parsonage and hoped that Mr Collins did not take midnight walks about the park. As he was in close collaboration with Lady Catherine, to meet him would be disastrous. When he learned of the abominable behaviour of his cousin to his most noble patroness, he was abjectly apologetic to her Ladyship and adamantly refused to allow his wife to correspond with Elizabeth any longer.

Colonel Fitzwilliam was waiting by the carriage that would whisk the women to Derbyshire. Frequent letters from Miss Kitty Bennet had alerted him to his cousin's departure to his family home in the North. He was of course thankful for this information; the inevitable delay caused by a fruitless stop in Hertfordshire would have indeed been costly.

To say he had been shocked when Miss Bingley offered her help in reuniting the Darcy siblings was an understatement. It was his understanding that she was the very person who caused the trouble. After Miss Bingley summoned Darcy's aunt to pay him a visit, everything had gone strangely wrong. Despite the inauspicious nature of her initial involvement, Fitzwilliam could discern that she was truly repentant and so he trusted her to convey their carefully wrought plans to Georgiana.

No doubt his aunt would be furious when she learnt of their deception, yet in his mind, Fitzwilliam was convinced that the end result would prove it to be well worth the trouble. Darcy had been miserable before Fitzwilliam left him and, from Miss Bingley he knew Georgiana had been equally unhappy to be separated from her brother. He understood of course that making their escape was the easy part and that persuading the very stubborn Darcy to talk to his sister once again would be the Herculean task. He could only hope that all would work out for the best.

He could hear the pair making their way toward him; the low rustle of their gowns in the breeze, the sound of soft footfalls on the gravel and grass, the chatter of his dear cousin's teeth. Indeed, it was a very wintry night for this kind of escapade. The frost was already forming on the grass making it crunch lightly with every shift in weight. His breath condensed before him and he exhaled a small sigh. The sooner they are on their way the better he thought. The carriage would provide but little warmth but at least they would be out of the wind.

At last he could see them. Georgiana had been bundled up in Miss Bingley's very thick coat, the poor girl wouldn't be ill when she saw her brother once more would she? He waved them on, an indication of the need to hurry as the hour was drawing late. He had been waiting over half an hour for them; it was now almost one in the morning. His patience worn thin, he quickly assisted them into the coach before he began his rebuke.

"You are extremely late; I am glad that you are not men in my regiment. Where on Earth would we be against Napoleon if you were?"

To the amazement of its occupants, the carriage began to move. They expected that Fitzwilliam would drive them to Pemberley; he obviously had an accomplice. Observing their surprise, Fitzwilliam answered their unvoiced question.

"Your driver is an army friend. He agreed to be of assistance to you during the journey." His plan carved in stone, Fitzwilliam gave lip service to their opinions "I hope you do not mind my asking his help in the matter."

Both shook their heads in the negative. Georgiana, still very cold from the long walk through the grounds of Rosings was shocked to hear irritated words from her cousin. She shrunk back into the seat of the carriage as he spoke to Miss Bingley. It was Miss Bingley who noticed the younger woman's withdrawal into the shadows.

"Why Georgiana, whatever is the matter?" Miss Bingley turned to look at the young girl huddled in the corner of the spacious carriage.

"Nothing, I thank you." Regardless of the bravely spoken words, Richard knew what was wrong. In all her years Georgiana had scarcely heard a harsh word directed to her.

"I am merely annoyed at your tardiness, Cousin, nothing more. I am sure you wish to make haste and meet your brother as much as I wish you to." He smiled and took her hand in his. She seemed more settled after hearing his words and so eased forward slightly to rejoin the conversation.

"I would like to see Fitzwilliam again. However, I admit to feeling some apprehension." Her voice was ever so soft and quiet. Fitzwilliam hoped that the companion his young cousin would find in Miss Bennet would draw Georgiana out of her shyness.

"Of course you do, dear Georgiana. I am quite sure everything will work out for the best. I am sure he is equally desolate without you..."

~ * ~

The first rays of winter sun filtered lazily through the windows leaving droplets of light scattered across the floorboards. The small sound of birds singing in the dawn drifted along the breeze that was carried into the room through a minute opening in the windows. It brought an edge to the air in the chambers, slicing through the warmth, pervading the room with an icy chill. Candles all long burnt out lay about the room, haphazardly placed on small tables as they had been moved to suit the requirements of the occupants. It was these occupants that opened the window in the early hours of the morning, it was they who pulled back the drapes to let the early morning sun enter, and it was they who lay sleeping wrapped in each other's arms.

She awoke first, the rays of light prying her from blissful sleep into the ever more delightful land of day. To awaken in her lover's embrace was perfect; he lay along side her, holding her close to the warmth that was his body. His soft breathing caressed her cheek as he slept contentedly.

It was not the first time she had seen him sleep. During his recovery at Longbourn she had frequently watched him while he slept. His youthful appearance when relaxed by slumber was a sight to behold. No worries of the estate or family or indeed, his health, plagued his slumbering mind. It was difficult to comprehend that he took over the running of Pemberley and all its holdings when he was the age that she was now. She knew full well that the responsibility he shouldered would have buried her. In this knowledge, her respect for him grew.

A curl of hair had fallen over his forehead creating an even more boyish image. He, always seemed so immaculate in public, had been seen by her at his worst: when desperation filled his voice and fear dominated his eyes. The scene of his near death replayed in her mind and each time the same stabbing panic filled her soul. She knew that had he succumbed to the fever, she would have died by his side. Instead, he had survived only to be beset with more worries, this time of his family.

Of course, she had already known his aunt's feelings on the match. Indeed, Lady Catherine had voiced her concerns quite vociferously to no avail. It was the rest of his family that concerned her. The Fitzwilliams had stood by him when his mother died, taken him in when his father neglected him. When he stated fully his happiness, why would they tread on that contentment? Why had Georgiana turned her back on her beloved brother once more? He mentioned his sister but rarely, not surprising to Elizabeth, or indeed to the other guests at Pemberley. It was this silence that caused Elizabeth's concern.

The past three weeks had been taxing for Darcy. The dark lines surrounding his eyes suggested a lack of sleep. His gaunt face and body demonstrated his lack of appetite and ill health. The lifelessness reflected in his eyes when he was awake showed how that his injuries had affected more than simply his body. Her observations caused her to be that much more worried for him; she might have panicked had it not been for his 'demonstration' of health the previous night.

William had quite adequately shown her the success of his convalescence. Sleep had not occupied them for much of the night. Their passion precluded the indulgence in such a ridiculous habit. They had demonstrated their love to each other in the oldest way known to man many times before fatigue finally caught them.

He paced frequently. She woke at some point in the night to see him pacing, naked, deep in thought. As she peered at him surreptitiously, she could plainly discern his look of distress. A troubled fiancé did not please Elizabeth. When he noticed her perusal, he smiled and walked over to her, took her hand and kissed her deeply and passionately. Despite the beauty of their joining, the stress she had seen on his face haunted her. She would need to draw him out, to discuss his worries; perhaps she could help. She determined that attempting to ease his worries would be her goal during the morning activities.

The most serene of expressions graced his countenance as she swept the fallen lock of hair from his face. Tracing her finger along his scar had quickly become her way of conveying her love to him. To comfort him she would lightly trace the mark with her fingertips. It did indeed suit him, a fine mark for a fine man she thought to herself, for indeed he was the very best of men.

It was hard to believe that she lay here with his arms holding her to him protectively. Only the day before had she lain in the bed of an inn, alone and in a strange place with only her memories of him. It was also astonishing how quickly Pemberley had become home, although she was sure that it was the proximity to William that made her feel so. These thoughts made her consider but one thing -- she most certainly did not wish to go back to Longbourn without him.

He began to stir, his breathing becoming shallower. He stretched his legs out fully, the muscles becoming taut as he pulled his shoulders back to stretch his arms. It was interesting to see the stoic Mr Darcy first thing in the morning; his hair even more of an unruly mess, the stubble on his chin, his bleary brown eyes opening and trying to focus in the harsh light of daybreak. A man who could suffer such indignities of appearance and look as good as he did to Lizzy first thing in the morning must be truly handsome.

He blinked a few times, attempting to clear his eyes after waking up. As soon as he saw her properly he smiled; a most wonderful sight she thought. His dimples were in full effect as he looked at the woman beside him.

The counterpane just covered her breasts, her small hands resting lightly on his chest. Her long brown hair fanned out across the pillow, her eyes fully awake and dancing with merriment as her gaze fell upon him, her smile so beautiful and alive. Yes this will do every morning.

"Good morning Mr Darcy,"

"Good morning Miss Bennet," His voice was faint and sleepy, his is a very lazy attitude to mornings she surmised.

She leaned closer to him and gently kissed his lips. He subconsciously pulled her closer to him, deepening the kiss but a little before breaking apart. She could sense that he was now full awake. He does not need much encouragement to enter the day after all, does he? she thought. His hand ran down her side and back up again coming to rest lightly on her back. He brought his lips to hers once again; revelling in the sensations that coursed through his body at such a simple gesture.

"You are not a dream then? I really do have the most beautiful woman of my acquaintance in my arms." He mumbled against her lips before brushing a kiss across them once more. She smiled demurely as she basked in his loving attention.

"I cannot vouch for my being the most beautiful woman but I am most certainly in your embrace; a most pleasant place to be."

He smiled again and kissed her forehead, then her nose and chin finally placing a long lingering kiss on her mouth. He looked into her eyes, the happiness he felt at having her in his arms written on his face and just held her close. He felt an incredible sense of rightness, the like of which he had never experienced; letting her go again would indeed be difficult. After everything they had been through; he doubted he would ever let her leave at all.

"You have your wish Miss Bennet, you said you longed for the day when we would wake up together and I think today it has been achieved."

"Yes, indeed it has, and I am so happy. I do fear that I shall have to escape your embrace soon. To be discovered as we are would be..."

"Discovery would appear unfortunate perhaps. However, I would then be able to marry you as soon as possible as it would be required." He grinned at the thought but the grin was quickly banished when he saw her response.

"I do not think that would be preferable, do you?" He shook his head and made a mental note not to mention that method of hurrying their marriage along again, even in jest.

"William, too much scandal has besieged my family and I would be grieved should it ruin your reputation as well."

"I would not worry about that any longer. I can relieve your mind on that score. My reputation is already in tatters as a result of Lady Catherine's implementation of her plan. It is of little consequence as I care very little for what London society thinks of me. I would as soon marry you tomorrow and have more rumours added to the extensive list than have another month without you." While his words were touching, Lizzy felt that the knowledge of his aunt's scheme plagued her mind somewhat.

"Just what are these rumours?" She pulled back slightly and looked at him full on.

"They are nothing more than malicious lies such as most rumours are." His intentions of shielding her were abandoned when he perceived the stubborn expression on her face. He knew he must concede and confess, lest he would have no chance to express his love in the way he knew best before she would be forced to leave his room.

"Very well, I shall tell you. Realise that they are not real and cannot damage our lives in any way, promise?" With her nod of agreement he related the caustic lies to her.

"She has said that I have installed you as my mistress to live with me at Pemberley and that I have sent Georgiana away so as to protect her from you. Needless to say I shall not be travelling to London in the foreseeable future."

Her face registered the shock caused by this announcement. Yet one more worry for him when he should be concentrating on nothing but improving his health. Furthermore, the more she learnt about the whole sordid affair, the more concerned she became for him. The rumours did not bother her as her family had little enough reputation remaining thanks to Lydia. But his name, to be muddied so because of her, it was insupportable!

"I am sorry William; this should never have been allowed to happen. You must of course break off our betrothal."

Quickly he cradled her face in his hands and forced her to look in his eyes.

"Never, never say that again. We shall speak no more on this subject, ever. Our lives are our own and I shall not, will not have some lunatic relations of mine spoil those lives with vituperative lies. With all that I have endured to win you, I will not let you go. Do you hear me?"

The force behind his words might have frightened her had the expression in his eyes not mirrored his own fear of losing her. She nodded slightly in acceptance of these quixotic demands. He calmed slightly and stroked her cheeks softly while continuing to gaze deeply into her eyes. To hear her voice any regret at all about their love made his heart ache.

He kissed her yet it was not the same. Something had changed in him and the feelings this kiss engendered took her breath away. She was lost in the emotion of the moment, his mouth caressed hers so powerfully, with such painful sweetness, and the kiss was so loving and needy. She was absorbed by the sensation of him.

Her arms wound around his neck while her hands danced through his hair. His hands still held her close, not ever wanting her to leave the shelter of his arms. With her there he could protect her from whatever trials and tribulations the world dealt them. He intended for her never to hear the vitriol that his aunt spewed and he could not recall how they landed upon that topic. All that was important now was to show her how much they needed each other so that she would never think of regrets again.

When breathless, they parted, it enabled him to trail kisses along the column of her neck. Everywhere that his lips made contact with her skin tingling sensations coursed through her. His hands roamed over her body, taking every detail in through his touch. Her skin was on fire as he kissed his way further down her body.

He loved to touch her, to place his hands and lips everywhere on her body. He worshipped her the way she deserved, taking time to explore her form in every way he could. Their lovemaking the previous evening had been heated, fuelled by lust -- an overwhelming desire to be connected once again.

It had surprised him to find her awake in the middle of the night. He was unable to sleep, a usual occurrence now, rest eluded him since his accident and the resulting turmoil. To see her watching him pace slowly about the room talking quietly to himself had startled him. He had walked over to her as quickly as he could lest she think him quite deranged.

He kissed her deeply, exploring her mouth thoroughly with his tongue; revelled in the way her lips crushed his with desire equal to his. He traced the contours of her neck with his kisses, felt her hands wind through his hair as he suckled on her breasts. He reacquainted himself with her body, watched her responses to his actions, felt her breath catch when he touched her sex. He marvelled at her perfection: the softness of her skin; her taste; her smell. He could not get enough of her, the more he touched; the more he needed. He was astounded at how little his life had meant to him when she was not with him. She took his breath away.

Now, as the cool morning light flooded the room with its icy whiteness touching every corner, he lost himself in her again. Pleasured her, made her call his name. She craved his touch and he wanted the contact. They sealed their fate together, their lives intertwined, made the promise to be with each other until the day they died. This was forever, a love made strong by every obstacle that had tried to tear them apart. They rejoiced in this connection as they discovered each other as if it were the first time. Not even the clouds could intervene this time.

~ * ~

"Could you ever have foreseen this?" Darcy looked at Elizabeth curiously as he pondered when and how this love had taken root.

"I cannot begin to comprehend what you are talking about. I doubt I shall be able to comprehend anything at all in fact, ever again."

The faraway quality her voice had taken on spoke volumes to him. Lizzy lay on the bed. The sheets were drawn up over her breasts; her arm lay across her eyes, sheltering them from the harsh light of the morning. He lay next to her; the sheet at his waist baring his chest. Their breathing was still heavy from their love-making. He doubted he would ever grow weary of their passion, or indeed if he would ever desire her less than he did in that moment. In fact, if they simply stood near each other, if no one else was in the room, he was compelled to touch her, to kiss her, anything to maintain the physical contact both craved.

He rolled onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow. Looking down upon her, he took the hand that covered her eyes and removed it from her face. Placing it by her side, he tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear and cupped her cheek with his hand. Stroking her face with his thumb, he kissed her lightly.

"Do you not find it strange that this time last year, you hated me."

"I never hated you, a healthy dislike perhaps, whereas you were in love with me all along."

"I confess that I did not know it at the time. You were constantly in my mind; I could not escape your fine eyes gazing at me, sparkling as they did when you mercilessly teased me." She laughed slightly at his words, true enough; she had taken great satisfaction in making him squirm.

"When did you fall in love with me? I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?"

"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun. I admired your liveliness of mind, your fine wit, and your sense of honour and of family well before I could say you invaded my every waking and sleeping thought. I had not a night's sleep after I met you I fear." He smiled and winked at her, she had enough conscience to look slightly guilty before gracing him with her dazzling smile.

"I apologise for unintentionally causing you sleepless nights. Hopefully that situation will be remedied when we finally wed."

"I hope so. You will never be leaving my side when you become Mrs. Darcy, so I need not dream about you - I shall have you in my arms all night long."

"Perfect. We shall then be able to debate and tease all morning long whereas now, I fear I have to leave your embrace no matter how much it pains me to do so."

"It is still early, no one will be about yet; you are quite safe Elizabeth." She liked the way her name sounded when he spoke it; the husky sound of the 'z' stirred some highly unusual sensations when spoken in the context of her name.

"I suppose I must trust you since you are the master of the house. But then you always get what you want do you not?"

She relaxed again into his welcoming embrace, his arm draped lazily across her waist while he remained propped up on one elbow. She did the same and looked him straight in the eye. Her free hand traced the shape of his chest lightly, causing him to laugh slightly; it seemed as if the master of Pemberley was ticklish. She increased the pace of the small movement of her fingertips and moved lower to his sides until he really started to laugh. He rolled onto his back to escape her torturous fingers, yet she moved with him.

"Lizzy, no!" He managed to choke out between laughs.

He writhed about trying to stop her attack yet all he could do was laugh. Only two people in this world knew he was very ticklish, Georgiana and now the woman who had crawled on top of him to gain better access to his most sensitive ribs. He tried to grab her hands but she was too fast for him; until he had decided he had enough for one day.

In one movement he flipped her onto her back and pinned her beneath him. The shock on her face made him laugh anew. His sides ached from laughing so hard, but he could do nothing but groan and wince whilst his amusement started to abate. He smiled broadly at Lizzy underneath him; she knew the time of reckoning was upon her. She prepared herself for his rebuttal, so was surprised when he kissed her roughly.

When his lips crushed hers in a white-hot kiss, every nerve in her body sprung to life. She could feel the power of his mouth on hers all through her body, to her very fingertips. The feel of his tongue invading her mouth, touching every corner, tasting her, overwhelmed her completely. All she could do was cling to him helplessly, letting the pleasing sensations take over her mind and soul. However, as quickly as the kiss began it stopped.

He pulled away from her, taking deep gulps of air to push oxygen through to his brain. He looked at her, his eyes almost animalistic and feral. The most lustful thoughts conquered her mind in response; his untamed expression awakened a most ardent desire in her. She needed to feel him touch her, love her, to hear him call her name when he climaxed inside her. No, she could not have foreseen this, ever.

The way their love had developed amazed her. At one time she would not have been able to live near him, now, she could not imagine being without him. Everything that had once seemed not natural was now so right and perfect. Their lovemaking, which, had she dared to contemplate it, she would have expected to be shy and tentative, brought them together as one with nary a second thought.

He watched her carefully as she lay beneath him. Her eyes were filled with a desire equalling his in intensity, her lips were parted and her cheeks flushed. Her hair fanned out across the bed sheets in disarray, her hands were pinned by him above her head. She was so unabashed, unafraid of being seen in the light of day. She was perfect in every way and she was his, for eternity.

Sadly, he realized that they would have to save this passion for later. He released her hands and stroked her face. It was nearing time for her to leave, nearing the time where they would have to pretend none of this had happened, where they would be separated to maintain proper decorum; until that evening anyway. He kissed her gently once again and moved to lie beside her.

"You should be going." He kissed the back of her hand as he spoke, his lips speaking the words against her skin.

"Yes, I suppose I must." She paused and sat up to look at him properly. "I shall see you shortly though." He smiled and nodded.

She arose from the bed and after a brief search, located her night gown and robe. She hurriedly donned the garments and straightened her hair slightly, all to the amusement of the man reclining lazily in the bed. Just as she was about to leave, he called her back. Walking over to him once more, she kissed Darcy one final time. Just as she turned the handle on the door, he called out to her.

"When did you fall in love with me then?" He was still curious. She turned to him and gave him an arch smile.

"Why, I think I must date it back to seeing your beautiful house in Derbyshire, Mr Darcy." She only just managed to escape the room before a pillow was launched in her direction.

~ * ~

Bingley was sitting at the breakfast table long before anybody else. He always arrived early when at Pemberley. Darcy was first down every morning, in his place at the head of the table, reading his correspondence and sorting it according to which needed urgent attention. Then, when he noticed Bingley joining him, he would put his work aside and the pair would have a discussion on virtually any topic they could think of whilst eating. Time to talk without Bingley's sisters was rare and each opportunity was relished.

This morning was different. For one, his evil sisters did not accompany Bingley. A second the Miss Bennets were now also staying at Pemberley and third, neither man was engaged to be married last time. The third option did not seem to make much difference to Bingley's habits; indeed, his morning routine had not been affected, adversely or otherwise, by his betrothal to Miss Jane. Darcy's, on the other hand, certainly had.

His talk with Darcy last night had eased his mind somewhat, yet that niggling doubt in Bingley's reserve battled against his reason. It was not that he didn't trust Darcy, it was more the fact that love does strange things to one's mind, things that Bingley had seen in his friend most apparently. It was the way they sat close the previous evening, the passionate look in his eye when talking in whispers to Miss Elizabeth. Bingley could almost see Darcy's resolve fall away into the darkness.

Charles Bingley was renowned for falling in and out of love quickly, without thought. This had not been the case when he met his angel. From the first moments of their acquaintance, Charles had felt an indescribable longing for the beautiful woman in question. Due to this fact, it was getting harder to obey his darling Jane and tell Darcy to keep his hands of Elizabeth until the wedding. When you are entertaining such thoughts yourself, the word hypocrite springs to mind, a word that he most certainly did not want attached to his name.

Jane was beautiful, an angel. Her smile, her eyes, her lovely golden hair; she was a picture of perfection in his eyes. He had of course rejoiced at the prospect of spending some time alone with her. Darcy had thought of this and to Bingley, it seemed a serious act of kindness. Unlike Darcy however, he did not want to take advantage of her generosity as his friend did with Elizabeth. For that was what he assumed was happening.

The idea of mutual enjoyment in the act of sexual congress was not commonly accepted in their circle. Bingley knew the act was for procreation, and just that. Not matter how enjoyable it may in fact seem to a gentleman, the thought of Jane engaging in this matter of breeding was an interesting one indeed. As naïve as he was, Bingley had seen pictures in books that his father had kept. He was quite certain that he had also seen some of his father's titles in Darcy's library, but that was beside the point.

As he thought of these...these...whatever they were with Jane, he became both more disgusted and more enthralled by them. Jane was such a lady and these were commonly held to be such despicable ideas. He could only hope that Darcy was not seriously entertaining such thoughts about Elizabeth. Lord knows what the consequence might be.

He looked up from the table where his gaze had been fixed during his thoughts to see Jane standing there in the doorway. Her blue eyes stared questioningly at him; her expression worried, concerned for the fact that when she had knocked on her sister's door this morning, there was no reply. All thoughts he had been entertaining before her entrance were now pushed aside as he walked to her.

Taking her hand, he led her to a seat at the breakfast table and helped her sit down. Taking the seat by her side, he took her hand in his once again and enquired of her problem. She simply looked at him, her worst fears expressed in her eyes. How could she tell Charles that she suspected her sister and his best friend had spent the night together?

"What is it Jane? What could be the matter?"

"I am worried for Elizabeth. I do not trust either of them any longer." She shuddered as the thought of more ruined reputations crept into her mind.

"Why ever not? Darcy is a man of his word and he most assuredly gave me that last night before I retired."

"You said yourself that he is changed, that you no longer know who he is. How can you trust him?" He took her hands in his and tried to speak with as much conviction as possible; the doubts he had in his mind could not be allowed to show through.

"Because he is my friend Jane. He is honourable. He dislikes disguise of any kind and he never lies or exaggerates, he is trustworthy."

I hope you are right. It is just that...that when I knocked on Lizzy's door this morning, there was no answer."

"Perhaps she was asleep, we have been travelling quite some..."

"No, she awakens with the daylight, Charles, she always has. Lizzy is a creature of habit and I know her. Something is amiss." She looked away from him, she disliked this behaviour in herself, yet she what she hated most were the actions of Elizabeth that had prompted this.

Bingley knew he had to assure Jane that nothing had happened else she would make sure that the party departed for Longbourn as soon as possible. That was an occurrence he most certainly did not wish for. Even if Jane was a stickler for the rules, he wanted to spend these weeks very much alone with her.

Mrs. Bennet had become quite a force to be reckoned with. Now that the engagement between himself and the eldest Miss Bennet was public, her mother's raptures on the forthcoming marriage were tedious and not a little trying. He was therefore not surprised that Lizzy and Darcy had kept their understanding secret for these past three weeks.

He did not mean to be controlling of his friend, especially in said friend's own home, but if he was to remain at Pemberley with the two Bennet sisters, he needed to at least try and prove to Jane that everything was in order. Only on the second day of his visit and attempting to keep his fiancée's mind at ease was proving quite the task. If only Darcy would try and behave respectably.

"They are grown adults my angel, they will quite look after themselves I am sure." Her eyes flashed with anger at his obvious lack of concern.

"Yes, but she is unmarried. I do not mean to be pedantic, but I respect what my mother has told me too much to discount it."

It was a wonder to Bingley that Jane possessed such strict rules of conduct if she had learnt it from her mother. Mrs. Bennet's conduct in public certainly did not match the expectations espoused by his beloved Jane.

"All will be well my love, you shall see. I shall find time this morning to ask Darcy once again about his intentions, and in turn, you shall question Elizabeth on her whereabouts this morning. There, will not that be sufficient?" She looked at him and smiled before nodding slightly.

"There then. Do not be upset now, we are here to enjoy ourselves also. I intend to start doing so immediately." He smiled as he usually did, a large boyish grin stretched across his face.

Their reverie was interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the hallway however. They both turned to look at the doorway, knowing their investigations were about to begin.

When Darcy descended the stairs and entered the breakfast room, he was met by curious stares directed at him by Jane and Charles. They were seated very closely together Perhaps I should call them out for disobeying societal laws now he thought with a hint of annoyance. He could hear the unasked questions playing through their minds. The fact that Elizabeth was not to be seen at such a late hour was bound to raise some speculation.

He bid them good morning and made his way to the head of the table. He managed to stretch his injured leg out beneath the table, an irritating ache already settling in. Taking his letters from the table, he quickly flicked through them to see if there were any interesting ones. As usual, nothing of any import stood out so he threw them casually back onto the table. Jane and Charles's collective gaze had never left him.

He was about to inquire of their problem when Elizabeth arrived.

~ * ~

It was strange to see a letter in her place when she entered the breakfast room that morning. She had been at Pemberley only since the afternoon before but there, before her lay a piece of paper with her name on it.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet Longbourn, Hertfordshire Pemberley, Derbyshire

To see Pemberley written beneath her name made her smile. Soon it was to be Mrs F Darcy, Pemberley, Derbyshire. The thought of her marriage to the illustrious Fitzwilliam Darcy was a pleasurable idea indeed, one she was fond of thinking of quite often. Lord, I am beginning to sound like Kitty and her romance novels! She would exclaim in her head.

She could recognise the handwriting of the missive as that of her Aunt Gardiner. This made her question it immediately but those answers would have to be sought later on. At the moment, breakfast with her betrothed, Jane and her Mr Bingley was at hand.

Darcy was sat at the head of the table, looking at her questioningly as he watched the myriad of emotions pass over her face. He watched her take the letter from before her and place it to one side. He knew she would read it later and hoped it was nothing too serious. To have her cut their visit short would have been insufferable.

She smiled in his direction and then at Jane. Lizzy was of course sat next to Darcy, and Bingley and Jane were sat opposite. Darcy had arrived before her, and obviously prior to Jane also. It was Bingley that stared at Darcy accusingly as if to ask of the night before. Darcy merely ignored him and continued to look at Lizzy or the table.

She knew how he felt, raising her eyes to anyone but her lover would have told Jane everything she needed to know to have her straight back to Longbourn. This would not do at all. Someone had to break this impenetrable silence that hung between the four. To her surprise, it was Darcy that spoke first.

"I hope you slept well Miss Bennet." He looked at Jane and smiled, she responded to his question in the affirmative saying how lovely her room was and how quiet the night was at Pemberley.

"Yes, I told her how silent it was here and she did not believe me you know Darce. How was your night then?"

Darcy looked almost taken aback by the question. It was Bingley's tone of voice that unnerved him, the promise of further enquiries would be made if he did not answer this right. He looked straight into his friend's eyes and responded as indifferently as he could.

"Very well thank-you Bingley. But then it is my home so a good night's sleep is always inevitable I suppose."

"Yes, quite. And you Miss Elizabeth? I know you have been to Pemberley before but is not the quietness of the night very soothing?"

"I can say yes to that enquiry Mr Bingley. The nights here are quite enjoyable."

With that reply she smiled a smile just for the man she had just spent the 'enjoyable' night with. Neither Jane nor Bingley knew what to make of the private look the couple next to them shared. Jane decided that the silent intensity of the look between them was enough, she broke the silence.

"So Mr Darcy, what are your plans for today?" Her voice bore the usual serene tone expected from Jane yet today there was something more commanding, a hidden threat beneath her calm exterior. Darcy and Lizzy were somewhat taken aback.

"I had thought a walk about the gardens before the snow sets in. I can see the sun is shining and only a thin frost has covered the land so why not make the most of this lull in the weather. Of course, they are not as beautiful as in summer but the winter foliage is still exquisite."

"Yes, I quite agree Darcy; your head gardener certainly outdoes himself every year."

"I shall pass on your compliments to Mr Rhymes." He looked towards Elizabeth and was met by a worried expression. He answered her unspoken question. "I should think a walk will do my leg a lot of good do you not think Miss Elizabeth?"

"Indeed it should Mr Darcy but do you not have any estate business to attend to? I would love to see the winter gardens and of course, you are an excellent guide as I discovered during my summer visit but I would hate to take you away from anything important."

"I have not yet resumed that responsibility as yet. My steward and estate manager have been doing quite well during my absence, I see no need to take it on just yet. So you see, I am at your disposal for the remainder of your visit." He smiled at the three people seated around him. It was Elizabeth that noticed it did not reach his eyes.

"Well then, it is decided."

Charles looked towards Jane, the topic of their earlier conversation having now been resolved by the morning's activities. Both could have a word with their sister/friend and make sure nothing was going on. Lizzy and Darcy were just happy to be in each others company, plus the fact that Lizzy wanted to get to the root of her beloved's problem, a walk made a very pleasing diversion indeed.

The four talked about the weather, Pemberley's history, the latest books, anything to take their minds off whatever was plaguing them. Once they had eaten (Elizabeth taking note of how well her fiancé ate, not a great deal in relation to energy expended during the night in her opinion), they removed from the dining room to make ready for the walk outdoors.

Even though the sun was shining brightly, the air was cold and uninviting. Warm coats and gloves were fetched from various rooms and pulled on so as to prepare the two couples and out they went, into the harsh Northern winter air.

~ * ~

The ground glistened in shimmering colours as the sun cast down cold rays of light onto the bed of frost and snow. Icicles hung from the branches and boughs of the trees as the freezing air froze the drips suspended there in motion. The blue sky shimmered chillingly overhead, a white tint reflected on everything surrounding them. The air condensed in clouds as they spoke, each lungful of cold air permeating each person resulting in small shivers and nervous laughter.

Winters in the North Country were renowned for being harsh and unrelenting in their assault on one's person. The sun could shine as brightly as in summer, the sky be perfectly blue and harmonious, the birds could sing pleasantly; yet the obvious lack of leaves on the now stick thin tress proved that everything was not as summer.

Having been lead into the outdoors in no small amount of thick coats and gloves, the cold air pervaded every sense in the body. It coursed through to your lungs and froze you from the inside, tips of the fingers would turn blue with the chilling atmosphere, noses and tips of ears would burn red as the body tried to counteract the cold sensations surrounding it. Yet, as a northerner himself, Darcy noticed none of these things.

To be used to such a changing and varying climate as the ones in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire was an extreme advantage in such a situation. He was at his most happy when listening to the frost crunch beneath his feet or to see the fresh virginal snow before him. The cold did not settle in him so quickly; to freeze him would take hours. Yet the other members of the group did not fare so well.

Bingley was cold, no, that was an understatement. He was freezing. Yes, he had been brought up in the North, yes he had been subjected to such winters but recently, he had spent them in London where the cold did not suffuse the soul so readily. He had indeed become soft and joined the ranks of suffering Southerners. He was joined in his uncomfortable chilling ness by his fiancée Jane and to a lesser degree, her sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had always enjoyed playing in the snow as a girl, in fact, as a young woman as well much to her mother's dismay. Yet Hertfordshire never seemed so cold and uninviting. True enough, it was indeed very beautiful to witness the snow tipped hills surrounding the area, and to see the brilliant white of the fields as the small settling of snow reflected the light skywards, causing it to glow ethereally.

Her fiancé was by her side, her hand in the crook of his arm. While the walked, she could feel him placing some weight on her arm, not as much as the previous evening though. He was assisted by a walking cane yet still he partly relied on her. She subconsciously snuggled closer to Darcy, clutching him arm tighter, sharing his warmth and offering him support. He just laughed and looked down at her, resisting the temptation to kiss her beautiful lips.

"I say Darcy, is it not awfully cold for such a venture? I should imagine that a tour of Pemberley would suit your guests more." Darcy turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow.

"You would wish to spend this glorious day inside? I think that days such as this remaining this year could be counted on one hand and yet you would like to miss it? I am amazed." Lizzy smiled at Mr Bingley's expression, he was unsure of what to say and his dilemma reflected on his confused features.

"I merely meant to imply that the ladies may be cold, it is frightfully ruthless today."

With that he looked down at Jane, even in the cold she stared about her in wonderment. He then turned to Elizabeth who was also in awe of the beauty of Pemberley. Even in the baron light of the sun, everything seemed so alive and shimmered in the light. Shadows were cast from the spindly trees onto the ground, Robins flew about the place, landing and singing their chorus. No, the ladies did not wish to go in. Both the gentlemen saw this, one happy and elated at this revelation, the other slightly miffed.

"If you would like too return to the house, I am sure I can escort Miss Jane and Miss Elizabeth about the grounds." He added a small smile to his arch expression; he had learnt his new found skill at teasing from Elizabeth, the lady found the whole scenario quite amusing it must be added here.

"No, I am quite prepared to brave the cold. But as soon as..."

"Please tell us a little about the house Mr Darcy." It was Jane that asked the question whilst staring up in wonder at the structure before her.

"Certainly," They continued walking along the path running around the house. "It is in fact a Tudor house built by my family. It did not stay Tudor for long I fear, my great-great-great grandfather commissioned a Venetian architect to transform it into this, the Italian design you see today. It was a lot smaller before the façade was added and I shall show you the original Elizabethan rooms when I take you around the house. They do stand out I must admit but are amongst the most beautiful rooms in the house.

"The deer park that was created with the house is also still full of life and that leads to one of the main Pemberley traditions."

"Ah yes, the annual hunt. Am I still right in saying that you do not take part Darcy?" Bingley laughed at his friend's expression.

"You do not take part? May I ask why?" Elizabeth turned to look at him; an unreadable expression took over his face, one she had not seen in a long time.

"I do not take part, but my reasons are my own. I do not wish to discuss them presently."

He looked away towards the hills, his countenance troubled. Just one more thing for Elizabeth to help him with she suspected. Bingley attempted to bring the group back to the once jovial atmosphere, he did know what he had said but it had affected Darcy in a most peculiar way. Whatever it was, he knew he had to speak with Darcy about a most delicate topic. He knew also that Jane was wishing to speak with Lizzy for the same reason.

He looked down at Jane as if to tell her he was going to split the pair in front of them up. She understood and nodded her agreement to the plan as yet to unknown to her. He kissed her hand silently then let her arm go. Walking the few paces further to catch up with the other couple, he began to walk alongside Darcy before he spoke to Elizabeth.

"Miss Elizabeth, I do believe your sister in desirous to have a word with you."

Lizzy looked at Mr Bingley and then back at Jane before nodding. She let go of Darcy's arm, he barely noticed so lost in his thoughts was he, and walked towards her sister. When she had left the immediate vicinity, Bingley began his conversation with Darcy. He began tentatively at first not knowing how his friend would react to the topic.

"You seem very quiet Darcy. I hope I said nothing to offend you." Darcy looked up and shook his head.

"Just bad memories I'm afraid. Nothing you could have known about. Well? What is it you want to talk about Bingley?" If he was taken aback by Darcy's astuteness, he did not show it.

"It is about last night."

At this Darcy exhaled heavily and looked away. Neither spoke for a few minutes as they continued walking. Bingley watched his friend walk, no longer the strong walker he had once struggled to keep up with when they first met. Darcy had always been his idol, if there was anyone he wanted to be like it was Fitzwilliam Darcy. Not in his current condition was it desired however. A simple accident led to so much going wrong in this man's life. Bingley would not have wished that upon anybody.

"I do not mean to pry but I have reason to be concerned for Miss Elizabeth."

Darcy's jaw was set in grim lines, his eyes darkening with anger and annoyance, his free hand clenching and unclenching quite menacingly. If Bingley did not know his friend as he did, he may have been quite afraid. Yet he stood his ground and pressed ahead, whatever the consequence.

"I do not mean to doubt you but it is yourself that has placed these doubts in my head. Now tell me truthfully whether these doubts ring an element of truth and are justified. I hope for your ladies sake that they are not."

"How dare you ask me such a question?! Do you think me a common rogue? Do you take me as a scoundrel of the street? Do you not think I care so deeply about Miss Elizabeth that I would never hurt her? What do you think of me?"

Darcy's voice held just a hint of anger yet most was filled with such a sense of disappointment. He knew himself that he could not be trusted about Elizabeth, that he was in fact a danger to her reputation for he cared very little about his own anymore. It was the fact that his best friend also harboured these niggling thoughts that once they have been implanted, will take root and grow out of proportion until you address them head on. It was this that upset Darcy. He had not denied fornicating yet he had not admitted as much either. He would skirt about the enquiry as long as possible.

"I do not know what to think Darcy. Your behaviour since your accident has baffled me somewhat that I no longer know who you are. I knew once that you would have behaved like an honest gentleman around Miss Bennet and yet now, now you are different. Your actions towards the lady have me worried. I do not wish to ask this of you but..."

"Do not ask me that. I do not want a lecture on conduct from you, I do not need one. I have managed this far in the world by myself with no help from you I shall be damned before I accept it now. I am growing tired of this excessive questioning and warning. You have been here less than a day and yet you continue to invade my privacy and that of Miss Bennet's. I tell you now, desist in this foolish enquiry and enjoy the rest of your time here with Miss Jane. Do not attempt to live my life for me."

Darcy turned to Bingley and looked him full in the eye. The rage at being so spoken to writ in his features, indeed, Bingley did not wish to carry on. But he must.

"I just don't understand why you would do such a thing, to risk damaging her reputation so soon before your marriage. It must be only three months of waiting for you to..." Darcy stopped suddenly and turned to face the man beside him.

"DO NOT! I beg you stop now. You think three months is nothing but you cannot understand. It is because you do not yet know how short life really is! Once you have been through what we have, you may think differently and I would wish such a fate on no one. You are happy, stay that way, do not let the world get to you as it has to me, never let it change you. You cannot begin to comprehend our actions, do not try. Just leave us be."

As the last words slipped from Darcy's mouth, Elizabeth appeared at his side. Her expression was distressed, her eyes flaring with an anger matching his own. It was obvious from the way she took his hand and gripped it tightly that had received a similar warning from her sister. He quickly looked at Jane and saw her standing in open-mouthed fury, staring at her sister with a barely contained rage. To see Jane with such a look in her eye was strange, her angelic countenance was so longer so serene.

"I suggest you go and talk to my Sister Mr Bingley, I fear I have grown quite weary of her conversation." He nodded and went immediately to Jane's side.

"I take it you fared as well as I did with your conversation. Maybe we should return to the house, I think I have walked enough today."

He tipped her chin up to look at him with his fingertips. She avoided his gaze, an action which caused him a great amount of pain. If what her sister had said to her made their relationship change, he vowed the Bingley's would not be welcome at Pemberley again.

Bingley and Jane had already begun walking back to the house, their backs turned on the couple still standing there. When Darcy noticed this, he leaned down and placed a small kiss on her lips. When she still did not look at him, he kissed her again. Running his tongue along her lower lip this time, she started to kiss him back. Pulling back slightly, she did indeed look at him, an ironic smile playing on her lips.

"So there is a way to make you notice me. What did she say?"

"Nothing of consequence. She was enquiring as to my whereabouts this morning when she knocked on the door to my chambers. I told her I went for a walk; needless to say she did not believe me fully."

"If I had known your sister and Bingley would be such a nuisance, I would have had you kidnapped and brought to me alone. What did you say then?" He kissed her forehead gently before wrapping his arms about her waist, pulling her shivering body to his warm one.

"I told her that my life was my own and that we are both adults knowing exactly what we are doing. She wanted me to stay away from you until we are married; I could not agree to those terms. I told her that life was too short for separation. I could not bear for that to happen. That was when I walked to you. I only hope I am making the right decision."

"What did I hear you once say, propriety be damned. I shall have you as my wife soon enough. If you want to refrain from certain aspects of our relationship until that occurrence, I shall understand. Just do it for yourself and not other people. Do not let anything else intervene; the clouds have done enough do you not think?"

"I shall have to think for a while. So many things are happening; I just wish to make sure that we are doing the right thing as to those certain aspects."

"We shall return to the house then. I am sure you would wish to think in a slightly warmer atmosphere." She nodded and he kissed her one last time.

Taking her hand in his once again, they made their way back to the house. Nothing was said as they were both occupied by their thoughts, not a word exchanged until they entered the house and were greeted by Mrs Reynolds.

The housekeeper had not seen Miss Elizabeth Bennet the previous day due to her duties and so welcomed her as if she was a family relations returned home. It was a surprise to Elizabeth to then see her turn to Darcy and rebuke him.

"Master William, I am ashamed of you for staying outside in that cold so long. You are still recovering; your leg will most certainly not improve if you continue on this stubborn streak."

He stared at the floor, accepting the scolding but not without a hint of embarrassment. If Elizabeth had not been caught in her own thoughts, she might have laughed at the situation, but she could not. Her mind being in the state of turmoil it was, she just let herself be lead to the sitting room where Jane and Mr Bingley were taking warm refreshment. Once she was seated, Darcy stood before her.

"I am afraid I shall have to forego the pleasure of your company for a short while. My steward has just arrived and wishes to consult me on a matter of some importance."

"It is quite alright Mr Darcy; I shall be content until your return." He bowed low and kissed her hand, his eyes never leaving hers.

"Miss Bennet, Bingley." He nodded his apologies and limped from the room.

No more was said until Jane decided she would like to rest for a while in her room. Bingley escorted her away and neither looked or said anything to Elizabeth. Suddenly, she felt strangely out of place, alone, alienated from all she had known. Swallowing the tears that threatened to spill over at such a revelation, she made her way to her room. Private solitude would help her think better.

Once inside, she locked the door behind her. She did not want to see anybody, especially if all they were going to do was tell her not to be stupid. To stop being foolish and to be like a young woman should be, for they are not allowed to be happy. No, she and Darcy were not allowed to be happy. Everything possible seemed to stand in their way of being together and now it was her mind. Her inability to make a choice, one she was certain she had already made, now stood between them.

Standing by the window, she pressed her forehead against the cold glass, its low temperature sending prickling sensations through her skin, shooting down her spine. She could feel the touch of his lips on hers, his body lying beside her, his hands caressing her skin; the way he made her feel so loved and needed. Would she give up those feelings just to ease her sister's suspicious conscience? She did not want to, nothing felt as right as when they were together. That she loved her sister was not in question, it was just how far she would be pushed before it began to become insignificant. Her life was with Darcy, not Jane Bennet.

Suddenly she remembered the letter she had received that morning. So much seemed to have happened since breakfast, she had quite misjudged the passage of time. Walking over to the small table on which lay her book, she picked up the volume and opened it to where the letter was kept. Placing the book down once more, she slowly unfolded the letter. Walking to the high backed chair by the window, she began to read its contents. After the first few lines, she was not sure she wanted to read anymore.

My Dear Elizabeth

I hope this letter finds you well and not, I pray, too delicate in sensibilities for I do not wish to startle you by telling you what I fear I must. As much as your uncle and I would like to keep you from ever hearing these things, I am afraid we must. I hope I have not unduly frightened you already, but I must beg of you to prepare yourself. What I have to tell you will not be pleasant.

As you know, with your uncle dealing in trade, he is in the fortunate (and sometimes most unfortunate) position of hearing things. As you well know Elizabeth, we are not ones to gossip but this particular matter seemed to have grabbed our attentions. I am afraid is focuses it's malicious intent upon Mr Darcy and yourself.

Of what had been going on between you two, I am certain these hearings are not the truth. I must let you know that I respect Mr Darcy and love you too much to ever have paid too much certainty to these. But London is quite filled with such accounts, to a worrisome degree I might add.

It has been said that Mr Darcy had an accident near Longbourn where he was going to tell you of his engagement to his cousin. But you helped him recover and then changed his mind using methods that are entirely inappropriate to write of. It is then said that he took you to Pemberley to become his mistress and that he has not any intention on you becoming Mrs Darcy. Also, it is suggested that he needed to take you with him as you are to have his child. There is more. It was told of that Mr Darcy paid your father for you, that you are his even when he is married.

These rumours are all about London, everyone is talking about you and Mr Darcy. I have tried to protect you from this but added rumours about your family already existing, the Bennet name is no longer a good one as neither is Darcy. I hate to pain you so but I needed to make this known before either yourself or Mr Darcy found out first hand by travelling into London.

I know not how long these lies can be kept to London society before they spread to your parent's ears but I fear it will not be long. I am also in the dark as to your relationship with Mr Darcy. From what I have heard you dislike him greatly but after our visit in the summer, I can admit to your uncle and I having hopes for a reunion between you taking place. It was clear in your expressions that you were falling in love with him and that he was already quite taken with you. Then when we saw him in Town whilst dealing with Mrs Wickham, it was very clear he was very much in love with you.

Please do enlighten your uncle and I to the true facts. We hope that none of the above is true but I fear for Mr Darcy. His reputation is nothing anymore; he will be accused of this when in town and worse. I ask you to tell him anything of what we have said; he will need to know before anything else can go wrong. Just be careful my dear, these can do damage but only if you do not think about your actions.

I hope to see you soon, I shall be planning a journey to Longbourn for Christmas this next week and so I shall see you then. Take-care my dear.

Yours truly,

Madeleine Gardiner

To say Lizzy was in shock was not the truth. The rumours that Darcy had spoken of that morning were nothing like these her aunt had described. The violent attack Lady Catherine had waged against Darcy and Elizabeth was beyond belief. To be able to hurt her own nephew so badly and in such a way was insufferable.

The fact that Elizabeth's family was also subjected to such a torment made her heart ache. Just more attack to keep them apart; another problem to be sorted out before they could be together. Elizabeth was unsure about showing the letter to her beloved. The last time Lady Catherine had intervened, he had barely spoken for a week, a heart-breaking time for Elizabeth and a painful time for him.

She must speak with him about this however. These falsehoods were too rampant amongst people who mattered to be ignored. It made her wonder how much he knew about all this and if he had indeed kept any from her. His desire to protect her from these lies was touching yet irksome. To know he had deliberately neglected to tell her everything showed her a decided lack of trust, her need to know everything concerning him was great, it was the only way she could help him should he need it.

She made up her mind. Refolding the letter and gripping it tightly in her hand, she almost ran from the room. Luckily no one was in the corridor to witness her most unladylike behaviour; she would not have cared anyway. Once she had reached the main foyer, she took a moment to recall the location of his study for she had been there but once, and that was the previous day. Walking down the corridor straight ahead she espied the door to his study and walked towards it.

She knocked lightly on the large, solid oak door to his study. She hoped that the business with his steward was completed as what she had to tell him was weighing heavily on her mind. She heard his voice call for admittance into the room and very gingerly, she turned the handle on the door.

When she had entered the room yesterday it had felt different. The strong wood panelling around the room darkened it, creating a very masculine feel she thought. It was not a happy room as she might have expected. Her father's study at Longbourn always made her feel welcome; a very homely sort of room. Darcy's on the other hand was straight down to business. She could tell he spent an awful lot if time in this room, his world was scattered about the desk, behind which he sat, looking at her.

He appeared happy to see her, once his gaze rested on her form; he smiled a cheerful, genuine smile. She tried to smile back but the news she had just received too upsetting to make any attempt at cheerfulness possible. He saw this and looked at her curiously; he seemed to be able to see straight into her soul.

"What is the matter my love? You seem distressed." He stood and slowly walked towards her, the ache that had been developing in his leg since breakfast was now shooting sharp pains up his body with every step he took.

"You should be resting; the walk this morning can not have done your leg much good, not in this weather. Please, sit down William." He looked at her again, with worry this time. She had yet to look him straight on. He hoped it had nothing to do with the walk; the conversations that had both been given were irritating but nothing more surely?

He partially consented to her wish and leaned against the edge of his desk. She took the seat before him and handed him the letter from her aunt. He tried to ascertain what the contents were from her expression and concluded it was not good. Unfolding the missive, he looked at her once more then began to read. Elizabeth watched him closely, his face taking on many different emotions, the most frequent being disgust.

To read these slanderous words against his beloved Elizabeth and the fact it was his Aunt that had set them in motion sickened him. He looked up and took a deep breath before reading it once more, his brow becoming more furrowed with each repetition of the lie. Finally, he threw the letter down onto his desk and hid his face in his hands, attempting to calm the anger he felt building inside of him. Losing his temper in front of Lizzy would solve nothing.

Taking another calming breath he stood and walked to the window, the pain in his leg almost forgotten thanks to the adrenaline rushing through him. He stood looking from the window, studying the snowy tips of the trees and hills before him.

From his reflection, she could tell he was deep in thought, the way he stood almost perfectly upright, his hands hung loosely by his side. She knew not what they were to do in this situation. Surely, if her aunt had heard enough of these rumours, then the whole of the Ton must be saturated with lies and falsehoods. They were far from his family yet they were still plagued by their pure hatred for his fiancée.

Standing, she slowly made her way over to where he stood. Placing a hand on his shoulder reassuringly, she could feel the tension in his body, his muscles taut and strained. She could tell from his breathing that he was trying to calm himself; his hands were clenched into fists by his side, his jaw set. She feared that if his aunt was before him he would brook no hesitation is striking her.

Gradually, he becalmed. He took strength from her touch, a reassurance that she would remain by his side; so different from this morning when she had harboured doubts about their match. He would never hear her speak that way again; he needed her by his side more than he needed the family that had betrayed him. His shoulders sagged slightly and he hung his head and closed his eyes. Her hand moved from his back to his hand, squeezing it gently.

She knew exactly what he needed, she made the sun shine and the grey skies disappear from his once gloomy life. Everyday was a storm before he met her, never changing lines of grey and white. Nothing was missed from that old way of living for she lived life in colour. Rich deep colours that made everything look alive, vibrant. He looked at the world through new eyes and it was all thanks to her. He would never let her go, ruined reputation or not. No, what mattered now was her.

He turned to look at her, gazing into her eyes. He was always astounded by the amount of pure, uninhibited love he always found there. Once looked upon with cold disdainful eyes, his mind sometimes still expected to see the hatred he witnessed at Hunsford. If he ever saw that again in her fine eyes, he feared his heart would stop beating in his chest and that once again, he would die.

Cupping her face with his hand, he took a shuddering breath and laid his forehead against hers. He closed his eyes and gripped her hand tighter, he knew not what to do but love her. Her fingertips stroked his cheek lovingly.

"I did not know they had become so bad."

His voice was tired, tired of the constant disruption to their life. Nothing had gone right; every available obstacle seemed to have been cast in their direction.

"They are slanderous lies that can hurt your reputation..." He opened her eyes and looked deep into her soul.

"No, but they can hurt your family. My reputation is beyond my care, I would throw this all away to be with you. I am trapped in my own social sphere and all my life it has dictated my every move. If this is my way to freedom, then my aunt has given me the greatest gift she ever could. It is you I worry about"

"William, I..."

She could see the near desperation in his eyes, something she had never noticed before. He placed both his hands on either side if her face and made her look into his eyes deeper.

"Do you understand? It is you that must worry. My family is dead, I can be released from all of this but I care for you my love. If your family is tainted by this then I must deal with this for you."

"I do not know what we can do, but Will, what about your sister?"

"Do not mention her, she means nothing to me. She has shown me how little she holds me in her esteem and shunned me. I will not be associated with someone who I spent so many years of my life keeping content only for her to deny me any. She is not my sister."

The intensity of his words matched the look in his eyes.

"What must we do? What can be done?"

"I must marry you and soon, very soon. You have to invite your family here including your aunt and uncle. We can me married shortly after they arrive and that will nullify the lies."

"But there are those concerning your sister's banishment..."

"I shall tell the truth about her. She disobeyed her guardians; she ran out on me, I did not force her anywhere and if she comes within ten miles of you..." He was seething; she knew now what had been bothering him. He disliked his sister so much.

"Please William, calm down. This cannot be good for you, remember you are still recovering."

She covered his hands with her and gently took hold of them, gripping them tightly in her own. Their eyes never parted the anger in his dissipating. His fury was quickly replaced with a deep need to hold her, to take her in his arms and make sure she would never leave him, to mark her as his for all eternity.

He pulled her to him roughly and covered her lips with his. Kissing her deeply, his tongue invading her mouth, an insatiable need began to take over his mind. He could feel her arms wrap tightly about his neck, pulling him closer. It would have surprised him to find she needed him to make her his as much as he did. They were lost in each other.

His hands roamed over her body possessively, desperately needing to feel her everywhere. One hand held the back of her head as he moved his lips from her mouth and kissed his way down her neck, losing himself in the scent of her skin. He felt her take in a sharp breath as his mouth trailed down her neck and across her chest. He was lost to her and she to him. Nothing else mattered, everything else paled into insignificance. "May I come to you tonight?"

His voice was rough, thick with passion. She just nodded before she crushed her lips in another passionate kiss. So lost in the sensations of each others hands on their bodies, neither heard the door creak open, or see the person enter uninvited. It was only when the sharp tone of his voice penetrated their muffled senses that they were alerted to his presence.

"DARCY!" It was Charles Bingley.

Chapter 10

The sun shone brightly as Darcy made his way down the long, narrow corridor. He knew exactly where he was going to, he did not have to look in front of him to know that he was being led to her. The road to his winning her affections had been a rocky one and at last she was in sight. Nothing could stop him now as he walked down the grove of trees towards his Elizabeth .

He could see her; almost touch her as he neared the place where she lay. Her face was turned towards him, a beautiful look of love and tenderness welcomed him as he approached the clearing. Her arms reached out for him as he got closer, her eyes alive, calling for him. He was but a few short steps away when the walls closed and took her from him.

Rain came down in sheets as the heavens opened and stopped him from reaching his beloved. He was falling towards the ground, unable to move, his head throbbing. The rain was so heavy it felt as though it was pinning him to the floor. No way could he escape the torture that was about to commence.

As he lay prone on the floor, the sound of thunder drowning the sound of his beloved's screams, his aunt and sister appeared in front of him. Cackling at each other and shaking their heads at the pitiful appearance of their relative. He tried to close his eyes as they dragged Elizabeth in front of him, she started to laugh too.

"Look at him, look at what he has become. Small and insignificant, he has been reduced to this because of you. Once a man of such power and wealth, he now lies broken and useless before your very eyes. Surely you do not want this excuse of a man for the rest of your life?" Georgiana spoke the words causing Elizabeth to laugh and turn her back on him.

The laughing stopped suddenly as Elizabeth turned to look at him; her loving expression returned, her countenance tender and sad. She was being held back by the two people that had kept them apart. She reached out to him and took his hand. Helping him to his feet, she shrugged off Lady Catherine and Georgiana. Looking up into his eyes, she spoke the words he never wanted to hear.

"I don't want you anymore. You are nothing to me. I did love you, but not anymore. You have disappointed me more than I could ever say. You have given up and now you want me to stay? I am sorry William, this is goodbye."

"NO! LIZZY, PLEASE!" His words were lost as the rain kept pounding. He could feel someone touch his shoulder as he screamed her name into the darkness.

"WILL!" The touch on his arm became harder as he rushed back into reality. He sat straight upright as she spoke his name again. Sweat drenched his body and his breathing was hard. The hand that had woken him was still on this shoulder reassuringly. Elizabeth looked at him with concern written in her features.

"William?" She whispered his name to try and pull him out of the dream he had been living so wildly.

As he calmed slightly, she pulled him back against her chest. He laid his head on her shoulder as she took his hands in hers, her arms wrapped around his shaking body. Slowly, his breathing returned to normal, his whole body began to relax into her arms. She kissed the top of his head waiting for him to pull himself round. Taking a deep breath, he finally began to talk.

"I thought they would go away once you were here. I suppose I was wrong. You, dearest Lizzy, are the one that comforts me instead of me lying awake, not daring to close my eyes less I live through that ridicule again."

"I will always be here for you. These are just dreams and will go away with the passage of time. Would it help if you explained them to me?"

"Nothing of consequence happens; it is mainly the fear of losing you again. The dream starts with me walking towards a clearing in a forest. You call my name and I walk towards your voice trough a grove. But as soon as I get close, you are taken from me. Every time I try and get near, you laugh in my face and run away. You tell me that you do not want me anymore, that I have given up on life"

"Oh William, you know that I would never say that to you. We have been through so much these past few months that now I have got you, I shall never let you go. Tis true, we have changed. Neither of use are the person we used to be when we first met. But we have adapted to each other. We are forever different and I love you all the more for overcoming all the obstacles that have been put in our way."

Darcy took a deep breath as she whispered the words he so much needed to hear. His life had never been so complicated before. Things were meant to be simple. He was meant to have ridden to Longbourn and asked Elizabeth to marry him. Nothing else should have happened. He would have been married now if not for the accident. This was a delay he was not happy about, a delay that should never have taken place.

In a moment, his mind was clear about what he wanted to do. He was rapidly making plans to get his and Elizabeth 's life back to where they should have been. All it needed was some simple orchestrating. The interruption they received the previous evening meant that everything *had* to be rushed along.

" Elizabeth , what would you say to us being wed as soon as possible?" He moved to face her full on, an excited glint in his eye.

"Well, I do not know..."

"You are not having second thoughts are you? You are sure that you want to be with me?"

"Of course I am. It is just, all the scandal that has plagued us, would this not just add wood to the fire? Could this make it worse or better...?"

"I told you that it would not bother me, I care little for what they say but if you are indeed worried about this then you should travel back to Hertfordshire with Jane and Bingley post haste. I only want everything to get back to where it should be. We would have been married now, living here together or in London . Can you not see that everything has put our life to one side? I only want to claim some time back. For you to be my wife in writing. Physically you already are."

He leaned forward to kiss her but she pulled away. Her face bore an expression of confusion and worry. She stood from the bed and donned her gown.

"I need some time to think. I have to worry about my family and how they have already suffered this year. You are still not well either. I do not know William."

With that she left the room, leaving him to his own, personal anguish. He was so sure that she would agree with him, would be excited about marriage and finally removing the overprotective Jane and Bingley. He obviously did not know his fiancé that well.

~*~

Breakfast that morning was a solemn affair. Elizabeth did not move from her chambers. Bingley and Jane wore decidedly affronted and concerned expressions. Darcy was silent and withdrawn. Barely a word was spoken between them.

Jane was the first to leave the table; her concern for her sister overriding her anger at her host. As she neared Elizabeth 's room, she could sense the unhappiness radiating from the house. Something had changed, it was never overly happy but a contentment had consumed the building. Now it was gone. What had been said last night?

As she knocked on the door, she began to feel nervous for how she would find her sister. From what Charles had told her about observing them in an intimate embrace, the pair were very happy last night. Perhaps the threat to remove Lizzy back to Longbourn had soured the proceedings. Charles had never once been known to raise his voice to Jane or his sisters (however tempting it may have been). But yesterday, in Mr. Darcy's study, he had expressed his views on his friend and future sister-in-law's behaviour quite vociferously.

Jane only hoped that Lizzy and Mr. Darcy had not had an argument that may have damaged their chances forever. She did want her sister to marry him but until they did, well, their behaviour should be more appropriate for an engaged couple.

That being said, when Charles had described the kiss, Jane had felt something she had never felt before. After much reflection, she decided it must be jealousy. Plain and simple envy at the fact she longed to be kissed like that. Deeply and passionately. All she and Charles had done was briefly brushed lips and then this was accidental. He was aiming for her cheek. A badly timed turning of the head had resulted in many an hour of profuse apologies and embarrassment. Lizzy had experienced raw passion and Jane worried that it may also have been displayed in something more than a kiss.

The scandal that she knew to be rife in London was being further fuelled by the couple in question. It was quite obvious that Lizzy has spent more than one night in Mr. Darcy's chambers but to what extent the ruin was could not be ascertained. Was it just sleeping or something far worse? The discussion that took place in the garden yesterday revealed very little and provided more questions than answers. She did however trust that her sister would make the correct decision about her pre-nuptial arrangements.

Jane knocked on the entrance to Lizzy's room. She could hear her sister quickly scurrying across the room. The door was flung open and a tearful Lizzy was standing in its place. Her expression went from excitement to worry in a split second. Jane was obviously not the person she was hoping to see.

"Lizzy, you are not yet dressed. What has kept you to bed till this time of the day?" Jane entered the room and closed the door behind her.

"Oh nothing. I am not feeling too well. We must have stayed too long out in the cold yesterday."

"Lizzy, why do you insist on trying to lie to me? There is nothing wrong with you physically and you know that. Why do you not talk to me like you once did? I know what Charles saw last night, he told me everything."

They both walked over to the bed and sat in the middle of it, legs crossed. They always had their most private discussions sat like this on the bed. It was like this that Lizzy had originally told Jane about her affections for Darcy changing. Their intimacy as sisters had stopped the day Darcy was brought almost dead to Longbourn.

"I had expected that he would tell you what he saw. It would only be right for him to do so as your betrothed. No, I am not ill as you quite rightly point out Jane. It was wrong of me to try to persuade you otherwise. I am sorry. My life seems overly complicated now, nothing seems to be going the way it was meant to be. We should be married now and living happily with our husbands. But that is not to be for some time I fear.

"The reason I am still here Jane is that Mr. Darcy suggested to me this morning that we be married as soon as possible."

"Lizzy, surely that is good news. He is obviously feeling well enough to go through with the ceremony which means that your Mr. Darcy is well on the way to recovery. How come there is so much sadness in your eyes?"

"I am happy that he is well enough to even suggest marriage. Physically he is as well as he could hope for, but mentally. I fear for him Jane. He has such dreams as to make him scream and shout. Do not ask how I know of this for you will dislike the answer. I do not think he is well enough in this way for making our vows together."

"Maybe it is because of these problems that he wants to make you his as soon as possible. He may fear losing you and he needs this commitment to ensure that you will never leave him. Have you not considered this?"

"Yes, but is that really a reason that should endear me to marry him quickly. Perhaps I am not ready for it. And there is also the uproar it will cause in London . How much do you know of what is being said in Town?"

"I know enough. They think that Mr. Darcy has taken you for his mistress do they not?" Jane looked down at the bed.

It was true that the lies floating around about the pair were damaging to all parties concerned. Jane herself was worried about what they would say regards her and Charles getting married. Her sister had put all their family into disrepute, possible even more so that Lydia had the previous autumn. But at least this was for love; lust played only a minor role.

"Surely though Lizzy, his marrying you would serve to prove these rumours false and make them think that you are in love. He need not marry for money and so a good match financially was never a certainty. Mr. Darcy loves you; everyone can see it in his eyes when he speaks of you. Do not let the vicious tales being spread by people like his aunt divert you from the course of true happiness.

"I am of course concerned about your sharing a bed with him. You must desist from this immediately whether you be married this week or in a year's time. This is not helping your cause as a lady. You will be seen as a woman of the night. Do you understand me?"

Elizabeth laughed and her sweet, gentle and angelic sister using terms like that. Trust Jane to bring her to her senses and tell her what she needed to hear. The decision was hers to make and she had better make it soon. Rumours abound and could damage more than herself. It was true that maybe Darcy did need the safety net that marriage would provide. His recovery was slow and long, his pride and self-worth almost non-existent. Elizabeth knew what she had to do to secure not only her happiness, but that of Darcy and the rest of her family.

~*~

After Jane had left the breakfast table, Darcy and Bingley has decided to swap a few words so innocuous as to disguise the feelings produced the previous evening. Both men were embarrassed from the encounter and neither in a particularly good mood. It was Bingley that begun the discourse that was to lead on to far more interesting activities.

"I say Darcy, when are you going to get back up on to a horse? You are surely well enough to at least try. Perhaps you could choose this time to also teach Lizzy. As the lady of the house, she should also ride." Bingley tried to smile but did not make eye contact with the glowering Darcy.

"I think not somehow. The ground is too hard to instruct a lady in the arts of riding. If she should fall she may be hurt and I think too many people have been injured in that way recently, do you not think?"

Bingley understood what his friend was saying but could not be so easily swayed on the topic. He tried again.

"Do not tell me you are worried for your own safety Darcy. I think it is more than just the right time for you to get back in the saddle. I dare say that you have not been off a horse for as long as this in your entire life. Come now, let us get Lysanda saddled and ready for a walk..."

"I said no Bingley! Do not try and persuade me on this matter. I have made my feelings known and that should be the end to the conversation."

~20 minutes later~

"This was a very silly idea indeed Bingley. I am not ready for this, I cannot do..."

"Yes you can. This is exactly what you need to make a full recovery. It will also take your mind off whatever it is burdening your thoughts. This is the greatest escape we have in Derbyshire from politics and scandal. You will be thanking me by the end of the day. I guarantee that."

They were stood in the courtyard of the house. The two horses had been saddled and stood waiting. Darcy and Bingley, both swathed in layers of clothes to keep out the winter chill, stood looking at them. Both had struggled into their riding boots, one of the gentlemen struggling more than the other. And there they stood, waiting for the leap of faith required for the next step to recovery.

Darcy gestured for the grooms attending the horses to depart from the courtyard. If he was going to attempt this he preferred to do it in as much privacy as could be afforded. Bingley took this as a good sign that his friend was almost ready for the challenge.

"There is the mounting block if you..."

"I do NOT need a mounting block Bingley! I have got one good leg; remember that before you address me like a cripple again!"

Bingley smiled, the competitive edge in Darcy was getting stronger by the second. It would not be long before Darcy was racing about the acres of Pemberley with not a care in the world.

Darcy walked towards Lysanda and carefully stroked the animal's neck. He spoke words of warning to the horse and apologised for how long he feared it might take for him to reach the summit of a very tall horse.

"I fear I may have to start breeding shorter horses Bingley. Hold the reins."

Bingley did as he was told as Darcy looked at his destination. Preparing himself, he put his left foot into the stirrup and grasped the pommel of the saddle with both hands. He hauled himself up with all his strength but could not quite make it high enough to swing across his other leg. Momentarily defeated, he stood back on the ground.

He stood there for what seemed like an eternity summoning the strength needed to compensate for a very weak leg. Finally, he tried again. Grasping the pommel, he gritted his teeth and managed to pull himself up. Swinging his right leg across the other side, he smiled at Bingley and patted the horse's neck.

"I was beginning to think you would not make it Darcy. Are you alright? You look flustered."

"I am indeed alright Bingley. I am atop the horse am I not? An amazing feat in itself I am inclined to think."

"And what of your leg?"

"Yes, my leg. I can honestly say that I have experienced more pain than just then but not much more. I shall be fine, do not worry. Mount your own horse and let us ride to the hunting tower."

Bingley did as was requested. He mounted his horse with an agility that Darcy himself had once possessed. When they were both ready, Darcy led the way out of the courtyard and on towards the medieval hunting tower. Little did they know that the whole event was being observed.

~*~

Jane was sat on Lizzy's bed reading the book her sister had borrowed from Darcy's library. Lizzy was in the dressing room being attended to by her maid. It had been decided that she get dressed and tell Mr. Darcy that she had been thinking of what he had spoken to her of this morning. Besides which, she was starting to feel a little hungry due to missing breakfast.

When she was almost ready, she heard a shriek from her sister and then a hurried calling of her name. Lizzy ran to the window Jane was leaning against and looked out. There, in the courtyard below, was Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy with two horses.

"He cannot be serious, surely?" asked Jane.

"Well, he should be well enough to try it by now. Maybe this is also what he needs to recover fully. I do hope that he is careful, another fall may injure him more severely this time."

The sisters just stood looking out of the window at their fiancées discussing something. They both gasped when Mr. Darcy's first attempt at mounting the horse failed and then almost cheered when at last he succeeded. Jane couldn't help admiring Bingley's physique when mounting the horse and Lizzy could not take her eyes off the proud specimen Darcy looked when atop his mount.

They watched as the two men rode out of the courtyard and then rushed the window at the opposite side of the room to observe where they were going.

"The hunting tower by the looks of it" Lizzy answered the unspoken question. "Shall we go outside and watch them?"

Jane did not answer, she merely ran to her room to get her overcoat, bonnet and gloves whilst Lizzy put hers on. Both of them rushed down the stairs to the entrance vestibule and ran outside into the bracing, cold air. They were both excited by what they had seen and were keen to observe how Darcy progressed on the ride to the tower.

They started to walk in that direction along the carriageway and then off onto the hard frozen grass that lay between them and their destination. In the distance, the two men were visible and could be seen to be making steady progress across the grass. Both ladies gasped with what they saw next.

~*~

"This is too slow. I want to ride again, not go slower than I could walk without a horse. I shall race you to the tower and back again. What do you say Bingley?" A smile that Bingley had not seen in a long time graced his friend's face. How could he resist the offer when it gave Darcy a pleasure he had been too long without.

"If you are sure Darcy, do not tire yourself on your first ride. And do be..."

Darcy had spurred his horse on before Bingley had completed the sentence. Not one to hold back when the gloves were down, he too raced on to catch up. Darcy had an almost impossible lead on Bingley and was already a much more competent rider. This did not put the other man off his game though. Both men laughed as they neared the tower and prepared to come about for the return leg.

As Darcy began to slow in order to face towards the house, his horse lost its footing and came tumbling over, throwing its rider.

~*~

As soon as Lizzy caught sight of what had happened, she ran as fast as she could the remainder of the way. She could not believe how foolish they had been to even attempt such a thing when William had only just got back on a horse. She realised that she was praying all the way towards him that he would be alright, that he would not be injured.

As she neared the spot where he had fallen, she saw Bingley was crouched over him, both horses standing next to the fallen rider. When she first heard it, she could not believe it. Both men were laughing. Bingley fell to the floor next to his friend their mirth was so great.

She could not appreciate their amusement however, her worry had been so complete that all she could do was kneel next to Darcy and cry. He stopped laughing straight away and took Lizzy into his arms.

"All is well, I am fine. Look, not a mark on me. Do not cry Lizzy..."

"You selfish, arrogant... How could you? You must have known how I would worry about you."

Both men just looked at her, both seeing the error in what they had just done. Jane walked up to them. She had stopped running when she had seen that there was no cause for alarm but she too was not amused by the behaviour of the two men. Walking up, she took Bingley by the arm and walked him away from the couple sitting on the cold floor.

"Lizzy, I am sorry. I am perfectly well; it was not much of a fall. I admit that I should have been more careful as it is my first ride for such a long time but I was enjoying it. I have missed the feeling and thrill of racing across the open countryside. Too long have I been trapped in the confines of a house that is so bleak with regrets about that day.

"You must understand, I cannot go on living like one day something else might happen as a result of my actions. I have to start getting back to normal and fast. For too long now have I been dwelling under a veil of inactivity. If I am to marry you soon then I want to be closer to my original self. Please say you understand this."

He tipped her head up with his fingertips, looking deep into her eyes. He could see her slowly accepting what he had said and a smile began to play on her lips.

"You talk about marriage being not so long away. I have thought about what you said this morning. You are right of course. I do want to marry you and soon. I cannot abide this waiting anymore. To be your wife is what I want more than anything right now and I see no more reason to delay. We should write to my parents immediately and ask permission at once."

"You are sure about this? I do not want you to make any decision hastily." He began to feel excited about the prospect of a marriage occurring soon. Since he had first proposed to her in Hunsford he had scarcely allowed himself to believe that it would happen at all.

Lizzy just nodded at him. It took all his reserve not to kiss her right there and then in front of Jane and Bingley. The elation he felt at knowing that now there was virtually nothing standing in their way was immense. At once he stood and helped his future wife up from the floor. Finally they were back on track.

Together, the party walked back to the house. The horses were given over to the grooms at the stable entrance and good cheer was spread throughout the group at the prospect of an imminent wedding. The walls of Pemberley were far from polluted, for the first time in a long time, they were filled with joy.

~*~

The next day, the house felt to be more alive as laughter and music filtered through the rooms. Lizzy and Jane were displaying their musical talents to their fiancées and the gentlemen were enjoying the display exceedingly. Bingley had of course heard Lizzy sing but he had not once heard Jane. Of course, he thought her truly magnificent and so did the rest of the room. Jane being quite naturally modest blushed and remained the pianist for the remainder.

As he sat and listened, Darcy felt a deep contentment he had not felt for quite some time. One thing still tugged at his thoughts however. What to do regards Georgiana? He had tried to forget about her departing words and to reconcile his mind to a life without his sister. This had not proved effective and the painful memories of her defiance stung painfully.

He had vowed he would not chase after her, if there was to be any reunion then it would have to be her that initiated it. He was forever uncertain that she would make this decision and as such he could feel his resolve on the matter starting to weaken.

In part he blamed himself for allowing her to grow up impressionable to the lies his aunt spread about. She should have trusted him more like a sister should trust an older brother. But no, she had defied him and left him when he needed her the most. How could he remove the damaging statements implanted by Lady Catherine de Bourgh?

So lost in his thoughts was he that he failed to notice that the music had ceased and the other there occupants of the room staring out of the window. It was Elizabeth that noticed his distraction and grabbed his attention by touching the back of his hand. The look in her eyes suggested that more bad weather was on the way.

Walking toward the window he espied a small, two horse carriage. He could see the driver and was relieved to see his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam emerge. The two other occupants could cause him nothing other than anguish.

"Georgiana had returned."

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