Today is my scheduled day on the Austen Authors blog rotation, but since I’m working with a time constraint here (there are, after all, only so many weekends left until Halloween), I’m skipping my regular post so I can share the next installment of my supernatural Pride and Prejudice novella Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley. Somehow, I doubt most of you will hold it against me.
I hope you’ll enjoy it, and thank you for reading.
The autumn wind blew in fitful gusts, rattling branches and sweeping fallen leaves into chaotic frenzy as nighttime settled over Hertfordshire. Inside Lucas Lodge several roaring fires blazed brightly in the drawing room hearths, welcome beacons for those who’d braved the sharp chill in order to make merry with their neighbours.
“I trust you are enjoying your stay in Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy.”
Though many of Sir William’s guests were vying for her attention, she was speaking to him, and Darcy was delighted. “I thank you, yes. Though I’ve been here but a few weeks, Miss Bennet, I’ve found much to admire in Hertfordshire.”
“I’m gratified to hear it, sir, for I’ve often observed that those used to the bustling excitement and endless attractions of Town have a tendency to declare our humble society confined and unvarying. Your lack of expeditiousness is refreshing.”
Elizabeth’s impertinence was far more welcome to Darcy than the insipid words usually uttered by the women of the ton. As always, she looked completely and unwittingly lovely. The rich chocolate colour of her gown, but a few shades lighter than her hair, presented a stunning contrast to her snow-white skin. Darcy’s eyes lingered appreciatively on each exquisite inch exposed to him. The elegant column of her neck, unadorned except for a delicate garnet cross, he found especially enticing. It would have pleased him infinitely more, however, to see her without any decoration. Her natural beauty was enough. She needed no further embellishment.
The sound of a mournful air inexpertly coerced from a pianoforte jolted Darcy from his admiration. Chagrinned, he forced his eyes upward until they met Elizabeth’s and cleared his throat.
“While that is undoubtedly the case with some,” he replied, “you seem to have forgotten, madam, my estate is settled far to the north, and thereby surrounded by a similar ease and solitude. Though I confess to missing the theatre and museums to some degree whenever I am absent from Town, I am afraid I cannot repine much beyond that. In fact, it has long been my observation that variety and freshness are as abundant in rural neighbourhoods as they are in London, if one takes the trouble to notice.”
She appeared amused by his response, and arched her brow in challenge. “Shall I take that to mean you are not eager to be gone, Mr. Darcy? Our humble shire and its eccentric occupants have yet to frighten you off? I find that interesting, indeed,” she said, raising her wine glass to her lips and taking a slow sip.
“I daresay we are all of us eccentric in our own way, Miss Bennet. I am, however, exceedingly flattered to hear that you find me interesting.”
“Oh,” she replied, “but I have not declared you interesting, sir, only your stubbornness.”
“You believe I am stubborn?” he cried, though his grin belied his affronted tone. “I suppose on certain subjects I am, but that I ought to be scared away by your neighbours, you must own, is a ridiculous notion. I have rarely met with pleasanter people.”
“Perhaps, I have misspoken,” she said archly. “Perhaps it is not the neighbours of whom you ought to be wary, Mr. Darcy.”
Darcy’s smile slipped as he realised the irony of her implication, and felt a pang of guilt. Though this woman had most definitely taken him by surprise, and his instant, powerful attraction to her had caused him some degree of alarm initially, he had never felt afraid of her. Discomposed by her, entranced by her, enamoured and aroused by her, yes; but certainly never afraid.
If Darcy feared anything, it was losing Elizabeth’s friendship because of Georgiana’s unfathomable situation, but he told himself that was presently neither here nor there. For Elizabeth to learn of their troubles Darcy would have to inform her himself and, though he knew enough of her character to know he could rely on Elizabeth’s discretion on many matters, he had no desire to speak so openly of something so painful to him; at least not when their acquaintance was still relatively new.
He could, however, speak honestly of other things, and said sincerely, “Miss Bennet, I have found your society, by far, the most satisfying of all your Hertfordshire neighbours, and I am extraordinarily grateful for your kindness in bestowing it. Surely, you cannot mean to imply that I ought to be fearful of you?”
Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “You do not find me fearsome, sir?”
A small smile lifted the corners of Darcy’s mouth as he shook his head. “I would not call you particularly fearsome, no.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips in mock indignation, but her eyes, dancing with mirth, belied her pleasure. “Tell me. Is there nothing you find even remotely intimidating about me, sir? Nothing at all?”
He dipped his chin and shook his head with a rueful chuckle, slowly swirling the contents of his wine glass. Intimidating, indeed, he thought as he brought the glass to his lips.
As satisfying as he found her playful banter, in his heart Darcy longed to have a more serious conversation with Elizabeth, one where he could look into her eyes and confess his ever-increasing attachment to her, and perhaps, if he felt particularly bold, the ardent nature of his admiration. Now that, he owned, was a terrifying prospect!
While Elizabeth’s eagerness to seek him out and tease him on multiple occasions had managed to convince him she would most likely welcome his suit, he reminded himself that this was Elizabeth Bennet before him and not some calculable lady of the ton. She was nothing if not unpredictable.
He’d learned very early on in their acquaintance that neither his reputed fortune, his house in Town, nor Miss Bingley’s exultant praise of Pemberley had managed to impress her, which left Darcy in unfamiliar territory. The realization that he had nothing more to recommend him but his charm was hardly a welcome one. Not only had the reticent master of Pemberley felt uncomfortable exerting himself in order to attract the interest of the opposite sex, but his reputation had never required it of him. That is, not until he’d met a certain Hertfordshire beauty.
Drawing a fortifying breath, Darcy cleared his throat and, with what he hoped was an engaging smile, gestured toward a window seat in the far corner of the room that was, for the moment, blessedly unoccupied. There, they would have more privacy. “Would you do me the honour of indulging me for a moment, Miss Bennet?”
Before she could give him her answer they were suddenly joined by her father, whose grim countenance caused an almost identical expression to appear on his daughter’s. Despite his disappointment and annoyance at being interrupted, Darcy forced a civil smile to his face and said, “Good evening to you, Mr. Bennet.”
Susan Adriani is the author of The Truth About Mr. Darcy