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Seven Days
[Completed - Regency/R]

Prologue

Darcy could not believe his luck. The previous afternoon he had realised the true extent of his good fortune when Miss Elizabeth Bennet had paid a visit to Pemberley. She had arrived by invitation to join them for an evening's entertainment along with her aunt and uncle; two very amiable people indeed, much to his delight.

Too say he had been surprised at her being in the county was an understatement. He had been too shocked for words when he espied her wandering about his property, as she had in his dreams. He knew of her love for the outdoors and seeing her enjoying Pemberley gave him much pleasure. She had looked so beautiful gracefully strolling around, taking interest in the various flowers and foliage the extensive gardens offered. Her eyes were as fine and alive as he remembered them, her contented smile as alluring as ever.

Of course, her shock at finding him returned home so early was clearly written in her features. However, in and amongst the emotions he thought he saw forgiveness, and this sent his heart soaring. If he could win her good favour in time, she may come to love him as he did her. It had been last evening that confirmed his hopes and wishes. Merely the way in which she had looked at him was enough to induce joy and today, he would ride out and speak with her.

This morning was slightly different from others, his man had to rush to keep up with the impatient nature of his master. Everything had to be perfect, the colour of his topcoat and waistcoat, the knot of his neckcloth, the style of his boots. He would make an impression today and for once, he would judge her feelings and avoid another mistake.

He hurried from the room as soon as he felt ready and virtually bounded down the staircase and into the breakfast room. He caught himself smiling before he entering the arena where certain man-eating ladies were present, and adjusted his expression to his indifferent mask. The smile he felt inside was enough to mask the hidden distaste engendered by the insufferable Bingley woman and allow him to greet her with a modest amount of civility

As he sat at the head of the table, tactless compliments flew in his direction. She sat as close as propriety allowed, wearing that awful orange silk gown again. Her turban was a slightly more burnt shade of the same colour and sported two very long and imposing peacock feathers. It took all of his patience to listen to her whining with his usual indifference.

The apprehension was overwhelming him; he could barely eat. Content to drink tea, he thought of the excuses he could make to remain far from Miss Bingley. The Gardiners and his Elizabeth would be joining them for dinner that evening. All he would have to do was ensure time with Elizabeth and keep from his friend's sister's gaze. Disguise of any sort was his abhorrence and he told the truth. Almost. He was about the leave the room when Miss Bingley asked his plans for the day.

"I shall be riding into Lambton today as I have some business there." He made to rise from the table, but was halted when he felt a hand on his arm. Looking up from the hand he traced it to its unwelcome owner.

"I do hope you shall not be long, Mr Darcy, I would dearly love to take a walk through the gardens and you, sir, are the best guide for whom a lady could ask."

He almost snatched his arm from her grip as she spoke. He hoped his distaste was not evident, but he almost felt his nose wrinkle -- as if assailed by a disagreeable smell. Her cloying at him was sickening in every sense of the word. Through his eight and twenty years of life he had known some vile women; she was the worst. He knew not how she had any dignity left after blatantly throwing herself at him. While repulsed at her attempts he continued to treat her with the same cold civility with which he treated every fortune hunting woman of the gentry.

"I fear my business shall occupy most of the day. Please accept my apologies, but I must make haste. I trust you shall find some other source of amusement Miss Bingley. After all, Pemberley has so much to offer." He removed her hand from his arm and stood. As he strode past he bent to kiss Georgiana's cheek, whispering as he did so.

"I shall be back in time for our dinner engagement with Miss Bennet, do not worry. I am sorry for leaving you with our mutual enemy, but it must be done." He smiled as she shot him a look conveying her 'thanks'.

His horse was saddled and waiting when he stepped outside. It was the most beautiful day of summer. The sun shone and everything glowed with life and warmth. He knew she would like living here; being able to walk out everyday, seeing with her own eyes the extent of Pemberley's true beauty. His hopes were high that one day she would be mistress of this place where she belonged.

He mounted his horse and kicked it into a gallop, racing to his beloved.

Part One

It was a cold, wet, miserable day in Hertfordshire. The birds had ceased their chorus, the sun ensnared behind thick, dark clouds hanging overhead, the rain fell heavily. No happiness existed in Longbourn as one of its most beloved daughters began her life with an unworthy partner.

They stood at the front of the church, sad and alone. The small congregation sat with heads bowed, a deep grief permeating the air as the ceremony began. Nothing could stop what they were about to witness. Tears of sadness were shed for the young woman, her life had only just begun before it was stripped from her. A mistake was all it had taken, a mistimed show of affection to an all too willing audience had ended what was meant to be a beautiful and long visit upon the Earth.

Apart from the rest, seated at the back, a lone man stared down at his upturned hands. The pain in his heart fuelled the tears that would not stop falling. He had lost her. The joy he had once felt was gone, replaced with loss and hopelessness. Neither money nor stature nor breeding could save her from fate.

"Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."

How he wished he could. He longed to take her far away from this place. To live out their life in happiness on the Continent. He would leave all behind for eternity with the woman for whom his heart beat. It was not to be, he had no "just cause", the ceremony proceeded, and with each word, his heart broke a little more.

Her parents were equally distressed. The scandal caused by her inappropriate actions would surely take time to wane, and before it did the whole family would have partaken of her ruin and disgrace. How were the others to be married when this unfortunate alliance hung like the rain clouds above their heads? The mother thought it highly selfish of her daughter to have allowed this to happen and had told her so at once and many times over.

The father was different. While aware the scandal would cause a stir, this was nothing compared to the remorse he felt. A strikingly unhappy marriage lay ahead, one full of heartache and regret. He would have sooner taken the burden himself than wish this fate on his beloved child.

For the bride, on supposedly the happiest day of her life thus far, tears of sorrow came all too easily. To stand next to a man she loathed and despised as the keeper of her heart watched? Her desolation was complete. Words were forced from her lips, like poison they worked through to her heart. The tightening in her chest, the lump in her throat, her mind, all screamed that all was not well. The words, when they came, were whispers.

The groom looked down with a smug, satisfied grin. To have gained the information he had longed for - when he had been so close to eloping with her stupid sister -- made for a very happy man indeed. Not only was the woman beside him beautiful but he had broken her spirit. She would be an obedient woman and loyal spouse, of that he was certain.

The man at the back of the church worried him somewhat. From his associate at the Lambton Inn, he knew that a certain gentleman had taken a liking to a young lady from Hertfordshire. This intelligence was the basis for his plan, his revenge complete. But to behold the heartbroken countenance on his old adversary almost made him feel guilty. Almost.

The ceremony concluded. They were now man and wife, tied together for eternity, as long as they both shall live. Turning, her arm held tightly by her husband, she beheld the gentleman's sad expression, his eyes betraying his innermost feelings in a way she had never seen before. Her entire body screamed at her to run towards him, to be held in his arms and that he be the one she walked away with that afternoon. It was not to be.

As husband and wife walked toward the awaiting carriage, Darcy followed a short distance behind, his gaze never leaving her. His life had been filled with optimism not three days hence. Hope now seemed gone forever. As the procession halted, Elizabeth turned to the man behind her. Wickham knew they wished to speak with one another, and out of the goodness of his shrivelled heart, he allowed it. Just this once.

Diverting attention from the pair, he released her arm and nudged her in the direction of her gaze. Not requiring a second hint, she walked towards Darcy and quickly pulled him from the party. Her father observed, a knowing look passed across his features as he espied the erstwhile lovers before him. If he could have changed what had occurred, he would.

"Mr. Darcy, you have returned to Hertfordshire at a most unfortunate time, I fear." She looked straight into his eyes, begging him to understand.

"It seems I have. What has happened Elizabeth? Pray, tell me all."

"Do not address me as such, sir, I would remind you that I am married now."

"To hell with that. I love you. I have never stopped, not since almost the first moment I lay eyes on you. You led me to believe that you held feelings for me too, not one week ago. What has happened?"

"You should not say such things when nothing can be done. It is a lost cause, you would be better to move on and forget."

"Elizabeth! Do not ignore our feelings..."

"If all you have come to do is upset my daughter sir, you had best leave." Mr. Bennet could bear the distress on his favourite's face no longer. It caused his heart to ache to be reminded of the life to which she had come so close.

Darcy stepped back, his desperation to hold her in his arms and take her far away from this place was too great. Swallowing hard, he spoke calmly, his eyes full of his love for her.

"I wish you all the best in your future life, Mrs Wickham. If ever you are in need of assistance or friendship, I shall be your servant. Remember this, and all I have said today."

"I am sure my wife shall remember but she will never want either your assistance or your friendship. Of that I am certain. Now, we are to be off, my love. Say your farewells." Taking one last look at the man for whom her heart yearned, she took her father's proffered arm and walked to her family. Wickham remained.

"She is such a lovely girl. I had heard that you favoured her, but alas, it was I she chose. Better luck next time, eh?" Before Wickham could defend himself, Darcy grabbed him around the throat and raised him to his toes.

"If I ever hear of you mistreating your wife, you shall have me to deal with. Understood?" A rushed nod and a look of panic convinced Darcy the message had been paid heed. Letting Wickham drop to the floor, he turned and left Longbourn forever.

Part 2

Six months had passed since that day in Hertfordshire. Six months of seclusion in his London townhouse. Unable to leave, memories of her at Pemberley too fresh. Not once had he left the house, choosing to spend his days comatose from alcohol, curled into the corner of his room. Weeks, months, had come and gone. Only the memory of her kept him alive.

Neither Georgiana nor Bingley had been able to rouse him from the depression that was slowly consuming the man they had once known. Bingley had married Jane Bennet, Darcy having rectified his mistake before departing from Pemberley that summer. He could not bear to look at his best friend's wife, the reminder that he was not with the woman he loved too great when she was present.

Georgiana worried. Her brother was dying, of that she was sure. He had ceased to live since his return. He ate little, yet drank copiously. In such a state was he when she found him that she cried immediately. He was wasting away, dark circles around his eyes and permanently drunk. He cared nought, his mind full of a lady he could not have. It would not do, she had to make him see sense.

Three months of her attempts to help with little improvement had seen the departure of his sister. She could do nothing and she would not watch him kill himself. Three days after she had left the most extraordinary event took place. It was late, the sun had long since set, and his staff were locking up for the night. Their master had spent the day in his study, staring blankly at correspondence that built up day by day.

The clock chimed midnight, alerting him to the lateness of the hour. Not one piece of post had he managed to read. His mind drifted in and out of wakefulness. Finally, he surrendered and rose, steadying himself against the edge of his desk. Closing his eyes momentarily, he thought he heard someone knocking on the front door. Frowning, he opened his eyes and walked from the room.

Standing unsteadily at the landing, he watched the footman walk towards the entrance and open the imposing door. Walking down the stairs, he listened carefully for any sign as to who could be calling at such an hour. His presence in London was not widely known, yet someone called at midnight. Intrigue was overcoming his inebriated state and he walked to the door.

Seeing who was there, his breath caught. No sooner had their eyes met than she fell unconscious into the footman's startled arms. Rushing forward, he took her, fear gripping his heart tightly in its fist. Unsure what to do, he rushed to his own chambers, calling to the servants to have a doctor summoned at once.

Gently, he laid her on the bed which dominated from the centre of the room. Brushing away loose hair, he saw the bruised and beaten face of his Elizabeth. Standing, he covered his face, unable to believe the brutality to which she had been subjected. He felt ill, knowing he could have prevented this, taken her away. If only she had come to him one day sooner. But regret was not what she needed now.

Taking control of himself once more, he walked to her and took her hand. Her breathing was deep, her expression calm and relaxed. She knew she was safe, that he was near, looking after her. Slowly, she stirred, her breathing becoming shallow, her eyes fluttering open to behold the man beside her. He smiled, squeezing her hand tighter.

"Fitzwilliam. I made it,"

He nodded, unable to believe that she had remembered his promise of help.

"You are safe now, I promise. But you must rest. The doctor has been requested."

She interrupted.

"No! I do not wish to see a doctor. Now that I have found you all will be well."

"Very well, I shall have to speak to Mrs. Hammond and have her prepare warm water to clean your wounds. Are you sure you do not want a doctor?" She nodded, her eyelids becoming heavy once again.

Kissing the back of her hand, he stood and walked towards the door. All the alcohol had dissipated from his body when he saw her fall through his door. He must make her well and then take her far from Wickham's clutches. The Continent perhaps. Somewhere outside her husband's sphere of influence.

He spoke to Mrs. Hammond in the kitchens as she prepared the water for him. The doctor arrived and was dismissed with many apologies and gold for the inconvenience. The staff were told to remain mum. No one was to know there was a young lady in the house. All tasks complete, he ascended the stairs once again to tend to Elizabeth's injuries. What manner of man would hurt someone so viciously? The question circled his mind. Could he too be capable of such maliciousness? He doubted it, Wickham was certainly no gentleman.

When he re-entered the room, he noticed she was still sleeping soundly, the bedcovers haphazardly pulled over her. His heart swelled with love, anger rising with each glance at the bruises and cuts covering her beautiful face.

Slowly, he washed the blood from her lips and cheeks. He was careful not to wake her, she needed sleep. Once his job was complete, he kicked off his shoes and stripped to his trousers and shirt. Pulling the sheets down, he climbed into bed next to her. Sensing his presence, she snuggled close and lay her head on his chest. Wrapping his arms around her, they both fell into the land of sleep, content in each other's arms.

~ * ~

Watkiss had been Mr. Darcy's manservant since the young master had been a young boy. A loyal servant, he had seen his master at the best and worst of times. The past six months had seen the master worse than ever before. He barely dressed and more often than not had only liquid meals. Watkiss was naturally worried but knew that his master would pull himself round at some point. His job was to ready the master every morning and that it exactly was he would continue to do.

This morning was different. Upon entering the master's chamber, he immediately noticed the second person in the bed. On close inspection, he deduced that it was a woman, young but badly injured. Doubting his master capable of such brutality, he surmised that the young lady must have arrived yesterday evening in need of help.

He left the room, not wanting to be found staring. Knocking lightly, he heard the muffled response of the younger man inside.

"Not this morning, Watkiss. You may have the morning all to yourself. Please give instructions that I am not to be disturbed."

"Very well sir, but there is a man waiting for you in the breakfast room. He says that he must speak to you quite urgently. "

"I shall be there directly. Thank you Watkiss." Once sure his manservant had departed to deliver his reply, he gently shook Elizabeth to ease her into the waking morning. "I have to leave you for a short while, Elizabeth. There is a man waiting and I have my suspicions as to who it may be."

She was drowsy, her eyes not content to remain open. He chuckled and kissed her forehead affectionately before climbing from the bed and dressing himself as best he could. By the time he was ready, she was wide awake and sitting in the centre of the bed. "It is he, it is not?" He merely nodded, whilst tying his cravat.

"I shall see what he has to say and then I shall tell him what he can do. I will not let you go, not after what he has done to you." He walked toward her once again and kissed her gently on the cheek. She smiled weakly and watched him leave the room.

In the breakfast room, he espied the man he hated with every fibre of his being at the head of his table. A smug smile alit his features as soon as he noticed Darcy entering the room. He did not stand or offer his hand, he got straight to the crux of the matter.

"I believe you have my wife."

"I believe you may have lost her. Perhaps you should be more careful with your property next time." Turning away, he stood at the window overlooking the streets below.

"Do not play the fool with me Darcy, I know she is here. I could smell her as I walked through the door. She should be less predictable, running to you was incredibly obvious of her, I expected better."

"I am sure I do not know what you are on about, but I am quite sure that you are no longer welcome in my house."

"You have seven days. Do what you will with her in this time, take her as your whore, I care little." At this Darcy launched himself across the room and grabbed Wickham by his cravat. "Ha ha! I see I have upset the mighty Darcy."

"Do not speak of her in such a way again, do you hear me?" His voice but a growl.

"I hear, but she is not yours to protect. She is mine. Not overly willing in my little scheme to hurt you, but it worked in the end." Darcy dropped him in disgust before turning away. "Seven days, then you will deliver her to me. I shall send instructions as to the address." Wickham stood and turned to leave. "One more thing, if she does not arrive then I shall have both of you killed. Understood?"

Darcy shot him a look of pure hatred, one that even George Wickham had to admit frightened him. Without waiting for a response, he opened the door and left Darcy to consider all the ways in which he could rescue her from such a man.

Part 3

"Seven days, Elizabeth, he has given us seven days before you are to be delivered back to him." Darcy was sat beside her on the bed, holding his hand firmly in his, unable to look her in the eye.

"We shall run away, leave the country."

"I thought of that, and so has he. He said if you do not arrive at the designated meeting venue in seven days he will have us both killed. I know not how much truth there are in his words but I am not willing to take them as idle threats."

"Is all hope lost now? What can we possibly do?" She made him look towards her, her hand resting on his cheek.

"I do not know. But first we must get you back to full health. Your cuts are healing well..."

"We could go to the police, surely they would help us."

"It is not illegal for a man to beat his wife, although I strongly believe it should be. We have nothing against him. An idle threat is all it was. I doubt they would listen to even me."

"So we are to make the best of our seven days and then I shall return to my loving husband. It that what you would have me do?"

"No! You are making this incredibly hard for me, for both of us. At the moment, there is nothing I can do but look after you. Please allow me to do just that, for now. We have not spoken for such a long time and we are arguing." A trace of a smile appeared on his lips.

"We are not arguing, merely disagreeing. What have you been doing for the past six months? I am sure you have lost weight, have you been ill?"

"In a fashion, I suppose. I have not been myself since I last saw you. I fear I took the news quite badly." Concern spread across her features at the sadness in his eyes. He had changed, ever so slightly.

"Well, that makes two of us. I never told you that day. You spoke words of love to me, yet I did not speak them to you. Look at me. Fitzwilliam, I love you. I have for so many months now. I loved you when we met at Pemberley, it seems such a long time ago." He smiled, his whole expression displaying his immense happiness at hearing her speak the words he had so longed to hear. Then it all fell away. Heartache took over once more.

"Then why did you not wait for me? I told you I would not be long the morning you left Derbyshire. I was sure you loved me and did I not make my feelings known to you?" Tears welled in his eyes but he blinked them away. His hands shook with the emotion.

"He tricked me. The day of his departure to Brighton. Unfortunately, he had been delayed, for what reason I know not. But that day, he tricked me into taking a turn about the garden with him. It was as if he wanted us to be caught, for me to be compromised. He kissed me in full view of the house, forcing himself upon me. Before I knew what was happening, his hands were all over my body, ripping at my dress. I succeeded in pushing him away but it was too late. It was all so calculated, scheming, manipulative. I had no choice, marry him I must, no matter how I despised him.

"When I saw you that morning, at the church, my heart broke. I could not but think on the happiness I could have had, with you. But it was not to be, and it shall never be. I have thought on you often. I wanted to meet with you but I could find no means of escape. He thought me unconscious after the...the last beating, and I ran as fast as I could manage through darkened streets, my only desire to find you, no matter the consequences."

Gently, he took her into his arms and held her close. Long had he dreamed of holding her, he never wanted to let go. She belonged in his arms, of that he was sure. If only she were truly his, for eternity. She pulled back slightly, looking into his eyes and saw the love she sought. His hand caressed her face, feather light touches, fingertips across her lips. Slowly closing the gap between them, her breath caught as she felt his lips for the first time.

No, he could not let her return. Not whilst there was air left in his body. It was a promise sealed with a kiss.

~ * ~

Days passed, wounds healed as did her spirit. Every night he slept beside her, holding her close. Her head rested above his heart, safe in the knowledge that it beat for her. During waking hours, they hid, taking their meals together, talking, reading, recovering. Her wit started to return, the sparkle in her eyes that had bewitched him shone once more. He did not drink. She removed the need for him to disappear into a veil of alcohol.

Soon she longed for the outdoors, for fresh air to cleanse her lungs. He knew she felt trapped, concealed from the world around her. One morning they arose before the sun and dressed hurriedly. Today the sun would beam on her face again. She would breathe in the heady concoction of a wet morning breeze. Quietly, they crept from the house and almost ran to the park not five minutes walk from the house. Not a body saw their escape into freedom. It was all as he had planned.

Upon reaching the grassy parkland, he released her hand. She wandered forward into the morning mist. The sky was lightening, the sun beginning its ascent, bringing the world into the new day. He watched as she closed her eyes and took deep breaths of the air swirling around them. He could watch forever, entranced by her beauty, captivated by the life she exuded. He walked to her and kissed her ever so gently, returning her to Earth from the heaven she had been visiting.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. Holding her, he lost himself in the sweet sensations their kiss produced. The world disappeared, leaving only these two, entwined in love, floating in the fog in central London. The sun rose, casting a stunning light upon them. Breaking the kiss, he observed the glow her skin had taken on, basked in the yellow haze created by the early morning sun.

He knew what he must do.

Part Four

The couple arrived back at the townhouse just before the streets began to come alive with the onset of dawn. Coats and gloves removed, they walked hand in hand towards the breakfast room, neither caring what the household staff thought. They were happy and fresh-faced from their morning stroll. It was the first time they had strayed beyond the doors of the master's chambers and as such the kitchen staff was shocked to discover their presence in the formal rooms.

Watkiss had knocked, as was his rule each morning, on the master's chamber only to receive silence in response. Daring to open the door slightly, he discovered the usual occupants were not inside. Slightly at a loss as to where they could be, he walked towards the service staircase at the rear of the house. Upon reaching the lower floors, he found the kitchen to be in a mild state of panic.

"What is going on down here?" His voice struggled to be heard over the urgent clattering of pots and pans as the cook readied breakfast.

"The master and his lady friend are to take their meal in the breakfast room, Mr. Watkiss. No warning whatsoever but then again, Mr. Darcy has not been himself of late." The cook responded between shouting orders and readying the vast array of foods before her.

"Make sure you do not keep them waiting too long. It is good to see the young master with an appetite once again. Whoever this young lady is, she is certainly bringing him back." At this the pair shared a knowing smile before he left the room to deliver the missive clutched in his hand.

At long last he had found the couple, closer than propriety dictated, before the fire in the breakfast room. This was the first time Watkiss had been able to inspect the young woman closely. She did not look like a woman of the night, she looked more like a respectable young lady. Her bruises had faded to almost nothing and her eyes shone happily when directed towards her companion. It was then Watkiss noticed the wedding ring upon her finger. Rather than be caught staring, he coughed discreetly so as to alert Darcy of his presence.

"Yes, Watkiss, what is it you require?" A smile graced Darcy's face as he beheld the stunned expression on his manservant's face.

"A missive arrived for you early this morning, sir. I came to find you at once but I have only just succeeded." He immediately held out the now lightly crumpled letter which Darcy took without hesitation.

"Thank you Watkiss. That will be all." At once Watkiss bowed and withdrew from the room.

Darcy turned once again to the eager expression of the woman beside him, her smile fading slightly as she observed the handwriting on the front of the letter. It could hold no good news, of that she was sure. Darcy's hand trembled slightly as he broke the wax seal on the reverse of the paper. His heart beat rapidly as he read the dreaded contents.

"What does it say?"

"It is an address. He writes to request that I pay a visit to discuss the return of his property. It must be at nine this evening."

"Fitzwilliam, you cannot go, it is a trap. I know how he thinks..."

"As do I Elizabeth. Can you not see that I must? It may be I can convince him to part with you."

"You mean pay him, purchase me from him. That is not what he wants; he is plotting to hurt you at every available opportunity. Can you not see this?"

"What else can I do? At least this may give us a chance; he was not always so heartless." He was losing her, so little time left together was causing him to panic. Never before in his life had he felt so out of control.

"I shall worry every second you are gone. You must promise me to be careful."

"I shall be coming back to you tonight. Of that you can be certain." His only hope was that he would be arriving with breath still within his lungs.

~ * ~

The address he had been given directed him to an area of London so squalid he worried for health before he had even alight the carriage. The street was covered in the filth of the poor, drunken men lay slumped in the gutters, children ran through mud and dirt, scrabbling over something on the ground. Never before had he been in such a place, not even Wickham stooped this low as a rule. But this was where he had chosen.

Knocking on the door, he alerted the occupants to his arrival and was quickly admitted into the small, shabby dwelling. Small candles illuminated the dank room. Sparse furnishings were scattered about: a table, a pair of chairs; no more than firewood. He could not help but turn his nose at the place, especially when Wickham stepped from behind a door across the room.

"Darcy! Glad to see you found the place without much trouble. In fact, I believe you are early. I do so admire your punctuality."

"Enough pleasantries, Wickham, what is you want?"

"Straight down to business it is, then. Will you take a seat or remain standing?" Darcy answered by not moving, standing was better than risking life and limb on the decaying chairs present in the room. "Well then, I wish to speak of your return of my property. You have had five days with my beautiful wife; I hope you have used her well." Darcy flinched but managed to keep his anger in check, he was determined not to spoil his chances by overreacting to comments designed to provoke.

"She is such an obliging young woman. I would not be surprised had she not thrown herself into your bed straight away, she complained but little when first I took her. But then you have her heart -- it may have taken a little longer."

"You will cease speaking of your wife in such terms. I repeat, what is it you want?"

"Very well, I shall be sailing to America in two days time. My wife will be accompanying me on this voyage. You are to deliver her to me at the docks at six thirty in the morning. Do not try anything to stop me; she will be travelling with me."

"Name your price, Wickham. You have no need of her; do not take her from her family just to spite me." Wickham chuckled, will he never learn?!

"How does my lovely wife feel about you attempting to buy her from me? I should imagine she is most seriously displeased. Tell me, what is it you think I want? It is not money. It is not anything physical that you can offer. Since our childhood, I have hated you, despised you, envied you. Now I have something you want more than life itself, how far are you truly willing to go to get her?"

"To the ends of the Earth, as you well know. You need not hurt her for your revenge, surely."

"Oh, but I do. No, your money cannot purchase her. Only your life could come close to being sufficient payment, and I doubt you would be willing to give me that." Darcy took a deep breath, the blood rushing through his ears deafening him in the silence of the room.

"I will fight you for her, a duel if you will."

"Now that is the Darcy I once knew, not the coward you were earlier. A duel you say. Now there is a novel idea. I accept your challenge and shall arrange all for six two days hence. You shall have half an hour to kill me or I shall take your precious Elizabeth away from you forever. Do we have a deal?" Darcy swallowed hard before nodding. "Excellent, now, I have some friends who have wanted to meet you for a while now."

Darcy did not need to turn around to know that several men had entered the room behind him. Looking straight at Wickham, he saw the smug smile start to disappear. If he survived the night, he swore he would kill him at their next meeting. Wickham knew it. Regaining his natural confidence, Wickham smiled and bid a hasty retreat from the room, leaving Darcy to the select company.

~ * ~

Elizabeth could take the waiting no longer. It was after midnight and still he had yet to return. The sense of foreboding that had encompassed her since the arrival of the letter that morning increased in intensity. She had almost begged him not to leave her. The fear of his not returning had seeped into her very soul causing a panic the likes of which she had never known. She kept repeating prayers to keep him safe and return him without harm but now her faith waned.

At her lowest, she heard someone entering the house. Running from his chamber down the stairs to the front door she beheld a horrific site. The footmen carried their master to lie on the marble floor of the vestibule, his body broken and bruised.

"Fitzwilliam!" Running towards his prone form, she heard the footmen telling the other members of staff what had transpired mere moments before.

"A black coach came around the corner, it slowed outside the house but never stopped. Suddenly the doors opened and they threw him out. I could not make out who it was or where they were from." The footman's voice trembled as he relived the horrifying scene. Watkiss arrived and ran straight for his master.

"Fetch a doctor. Quickly." Watkiss's orders were cut short as Darcy himself belayed the request.

"No doctor, just Elizabeth." She gently took his hand, kissing his knuckles as the servants gathered to observe the pair on the floor. "You are to sail for America in two days time." A faint whisper as his eyes closed to the world around him.

Part Five

The air was still and cool, hanging close around them as they lay huddled together in the centre of the bed. His arm held her close as she slept. His eyes stared unseeing into the darkness. Today was the day their fate was to be decided. The past two days had been for healing, mentally and physically. She had tended his wounds gently, wiping away the blood and dirt. They began to heal slowly, the bruises beginning to fade.

He had slept for most of the first day, his body weak from repairing the damage inflicted by Wickham. She read to him, held him close when his eyes drifted closed once again, repaid the kindnesses he had given her. He must be strong if he was to win her, they both knew this. It was their only hope. Now the time was almost upon them, only two hours then it would all be over.

He leaned to kiss her forehead gently, her eyelids fluttering as the small caress brought her from deep slumber. He was loathe to wake her fully, her expression so peaceful and serene when all her worries were removed for those few short hours. They would return in full force once her eyes opened to the world around her. It was what he must do.

"Elizabeth, it is time." At once her eyes opened, the trembling voice of the man beside her awakening all her thoughts and fears. "We must rise and face our demons."

Abruptly, she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly. The moment would not end, she would not allow it to be morning. He sensed her anguish as he held her close. The tears falling down her face seeped into his nightshirt, he could not bear to see her cry.

"There now, Elizabeth. You must not weep. There is hope, my love, remember that. We shall be together, I promise." In death if not life. The words echoed around his mind, he would have her eventually.

Slowly, they rose and dressed, their encounter with Wickham could not be delayed. The sun was nowhere to be seen hidden as it was behind the horizon. Venturing into the cold atmosphere of early morning, they boarded the carriage that was to take them to the docks. Not long remained until the appointed hour of the duel. It was to take place beside the dock. Should he win, Wickham would want to escape with his prize immediately.

The sky brightened as they neared the location, the sun beginning to arise from its cloudy bed. The streets were quiet as they traversed the thoroughfares, passing different suburbs; some affluent, others not. As they travelled, the occupants of the carriage held tight to each other. Never had Darcy felt so afraid; cold sweat beaded on the back of his neck, his heart raced, his palms damp. He knew they were close, large warehouses replacing the tall houses indicated their proximity. Before long, the carriage stopped and the door flung open. It was Wickham who did the honours.

"Good, I see you have brought the prize. I hope you were careful with her, I do dislike tainted goods." The object of his comments reared towards him before slapping him firmly across the face. "You should really keep her spirit in check, it can become quite out of hand." Before she knew what was happening, he had grabbed her wrist and dragged her from the coach. Stumbling, she fell to her knees. Darcy reacted.

Jumping from the coach, he landed a resounding fist on Wickham's jaw, stunning him into dropping Elizabeth. Stumbling back, barely had Wickham regained his balance before yet another punch hit him, then another. He was soon on the floor, Darcy utilising his advantage to deliver blow after blow. Wickham could feel his vision clouding, an all too familiar metallic taste in his mouth. Then it stopped. As soon as Darcy's rage had appeared, it subsided.

"Do you yield? Or shall I proceed to kill you?" The fire in Darcy's eyes scared not only Wickham, but the woman beside him.

"I thought you played by the rules of honour, Darcy. Not this common brawling that you seem to have adopted." The black spots in his vision were diminishing allowing him to regain his wits. "But to answer your question, I am not ready to relinquish my wife to you."

Without warning, Wickham stood and pushed the other man firmly in the chest causing him to lose balance. It did not take Wickham long to return the favour and take full advantage of the situation. Pushing Darcy back against the wall, he delivered a heavy strike, knocking the air from Darcy's lungs. He fell to the ground, his arms holding already broken ribs. Wickham laughed, turning his back on his fallen adversary.

Elizabeth had not seen the other men arriving, the first indication she was no longer alone was her arms being grabbed, her mouth covered by a large hand. She saw Darcy rise from the ground, his teeth clenched as waves of pain coursed over him. Dropping his great coat, he ran towards Wickham's retreating form. Poised to grab him by the shirt, a shot rang out through the still air.

She watched in silent horror as the bullet hit Darcy firmly in the back. He stumbled to his knees. Wickham turned as he heard the gun fire but was not prepared for the sight that greeted him. With his last ounce of strength, Darcy pulled the pistol from beneath his shirt and fired. Powder burnt his hand as he watched the man before him buckle and fall. His eyelids felt heavy, the darkness drawing in once again. He heard the scuffle that ensued once Wickham lay dead on the cold, cobbled street but paid it little attention.

Elizabeth rushed toward him as soon as she was free, he was falling quickly, blood spreading across the brilliant white of his shirt. She caught him before he hit the stone, his eyes dull, his body trembling. She held his hand tight, rested his head on her lap. She was losing him.

"Fitzwilliam, please, wake up my love. You have beaten him, we can be happy now." He smiled faintly, stroking the back of her hand with his fingers.

"It is done, you are free my Elizabeth."

"No, please, you must not speak like that. We shall get a doctor and all will be well. You promised that everything would turn out as we dreamed. "

"Not all things work out as planned. Think on this as our marriage Elizabeth, the only week where we had each other. I am content knowing that for seven days we were together. Please let that be enough, my love. Do not be sad, be strong and think back to these days when I was your husband." A wave of pain wracked his body as the numbness shock provided wore away. His eyes closed, his hand squeezing hers for all his might.

Suddenly, his hand dropped as he fell deep into unconsciousness. The tears ran freely down her face as she watched life drain from his face. Hugging him close, she felt him take the last trembling breaths of life as the sun rose.

Part 6

Waves lapped gently against the shore as the sun shone brightly, reflecting the water before her. The sky was the clearest blue, the sea deep azure, the sand golden and fine. It was sight she had become accustomed to in the years since the shooting on the dock. Seven of them had passed, each better than the last and all of them certainly less life-changing.

She looked down at the paper before her, lines of writing to her dear sister all meaningless. Not one word truly described her feelings, it had been so since that day. She locked herself away, allowing only her closest companion to see her heart. Now it was time to change. Enough time had passed for her to become herself once again. Wounds healed, her mind recovered, she started the letter over.

"Dearest Jane,

I must admit to having not been completely honest with you over the past several years. It is true that I escaped the shores of England to retreat, to recover. My marriage to Wickham was never happy, as I am sure you well know. My heart belonged to one man and one alone. It shall be until the day I cease to take in the air. You knew his heart beat for me also; you saw it when you called upon him in London. Could he not bear to look upon you after my wedding?

It was to him I ran in my darkest hour, he was the beacon that shone when all hope was gone. He helped me heal from the physical injuries inflicted by my husband, he loved me purely for who I was and I loved him. I do not know how much of that fateful day has been relayed to you, it is a day that I have tried to forget or at least think upon with a disinterested mind. It is only now that I am able to think about the events without tears falling and my heart clenching tightly in my chest.

Wickham and my love fought for me. Barbaric I know, but it was our only chance. One wanted me as revenge, a prize, the other so that he could care for me forever. I watched as they battled, helpless, my arms pinned behind me by one of Wickham's henchmen. I saw the gun, I saw where it was aimed but I could not scream or shout. Blind panic filled my mind as I saw the bullet strike its target deep in the centre of Fitzwilliam's back. I cannot recall the events of the next few minutes, only that somehow I came to be beside him as he collapsed and fell unconscious.

The minutes seemed interminable as we waited for a doctor. I recall neither his appearance nor his name only that he acted straight away to remove the bullet and stem the blood. How long it took, I know not. The sun was well risen and a large crown of bystanders observed from a distance. We returned to the townhouse where we remained concealed for many weeks.

The rest I am sure I have already told you, I hope you can understand why we had to remove ourselves to this remote area of the Continent. The scandal was intense, our lives constantly under scrutiny in all social circles. His killing my 'husband' was attributed to the wrong reasons and as such it was impossible to begin the healing process. As soon we were able, we moved to begin our life once again in the Mediterranean sun.

I must stop writing now as young William has returned home. He has grown so much since Christmas, I suspect that he shall inherit his father's height and stature; at least I hope he will. At the age of five and a half, he is certainly growing faster than other boys his age.

I shall write again soon but now you know the truth of what happened on that day. Please reply quickly, I do so long for you to visit. Of course you should bring the children, I know William would love to meet his cousins. Take care, dear Jane.

Your,

Lizzy.

The letter sealed, she turned to face her husband. He had grown more handsome, if it were possible, through the years spent under the warm sun. He smiled as she walked to him, her figure announcing the time was nigh for Master William to gain a younger sibling. Sitting beside him, she laid her head upon his shoulder as he wrapped his arms about her waist.

"You have finished your letter to Jane I see. Have you petitioned them for a visit once again?" He felt a nod against his shoulder and chuckled, maybe soon they would venture to this part of the world.

"I have finally spoken to her of that day. It is only recently that I have been able to consider the events without panic rising." He held her close, kissing the top of her head.

It had taken Darcy many months to recover fully. The bullet had grazed his spine before finally resting between his heart and lungs. Muscles were ripped and torn but none of his injuries were fatal; by a miracle he was alive. Two weeks had he been unconscious and four more until he was able to walk, albeit unsteadily. They retreated to Italy seven months afterward, shortly after their marriage, when they were expecting their first child. New life dispelled the clouds that hung over them, it was a new beginning.

"Come, my love, do not think upon that day with a heavy heart any longer. It is over and we have one another, plus we have our beautiful William and soon we shall have our baby girl."

"Why are you so convinced that it shall be a girl?" He chuckled once again.

"I just know. Now let us return inside and play with our son, I know he has something special to show you."

"Indeed. Them I must discover our son and persuade him to let me see this special something."

Together they stood and walked toward their house. Seven years after their seven days and life was finally perfect.

The End


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