Throughout the month of October I’m posting a (very) short novella I’ve been writing in the spirit of our spookiest holiday. Though a few of our favorite P&P characters have become vampires, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, so this is not a horror story. At the moment there are only six chapters, the last of which should appear on October 31st. (But I reserve the right to indulge my whimsy by adding one or two more. )
I’d planned to share this installment on Sunday, but decided to post it a day earlier instead, hoping you’ll enjoy it. Happy weekend, and happy reading, AuAus!
PS: For those of you who may have missed the first two installments, here are the links:
Mr. Bennet observed no pleasantries beyond a curt inclination of his head in Darcy’s general direction before addressing Elizabeth. “I daresay you have entertained Mr. Darcy long enough, my dear. It is time to let Sir William’s other guests have an opportunity to enjoy his company.”
Though Mr. Bennet’s volume was discreet enough that his neighbours would not overhear him, Darcy had no such difficulty, and couldn’t decide whether he was more appalled by Elizabeth’s father’s assumption that he’d desire a reprieve from her society, or by the man’s complete disregard for her sensibilities by actually giving voice to such an insinuation.
Darcy assured Mr. Bennet that nothing could be further from the truth. “As a matter of fact,” he said, directing his attention to Elizabeth, “I’m unable to recall ever passing an evening so agreeably. Will you not take mercy upon me, Miss Bennet, and indulge me a while longer? I am loath to part with you so soon.”
“You see, Papa,” she said reassuringly, “all is well. There is nothing to fear.”
But their words did little to assuage him. “Be that as it may,” he replied, looking pointedly at his daughter, “I believe it is in everyone’s best interest that Mr. Darcy rejoins his friends now. He has neglected them this evening, and I have little doubt they’re regretting the loss of his society. I have it on good authority that Miss Bingley, in particular, wishes to see him safely returned to his party. According to Jane, she is an intimate friend of Mr. Darcy’s sister, who I understand is but sixteen years old.”
Elizabeth turned aside her head. Darcy’s keen eyes did not miss the heavy rise and fall of her breast, the hard set of her jaw, or the way her fingers curled into fists as she perceived the rest of her family on the opposite side of the drawing room, seemingly oblivious to the exchange taking place between father and daughter.
Her middle sister Mary was at the pianoforte, fumbling her way through another depressing dirge while the two youngest conversed energetically with several officers. Their mother, who was forever encouraging their forwardness, attended them with an indulgent smile. Bingley was with them, and Jane, predictably, stood at his side. To Darcy’s surprise, however, Jane’s eyes were not demurely downcast as Bingley prattled on about whatever topic struck his calf-eyed fancy at the moment, but fixed intently upon Elizabeth with an expression of utmost distress.
Slowly, Elizabeth unfurled her fingers and raised one hand to her neck, where she tapped the tip of her index finger impatiently upon the garnet cross nestled at the hollow of her throat. Jane’s brows furrowed, as did Darcy’s, and Elizabeth swallowed thickly before grasping the necklace tightly in her fist. The expression she wore as she turned and addressed her father was defiant.
“While I will always understand your concern and Jane’s, and can even appreciate your interference, I assure you, sir, both have been entirely unnecessary this evening. There is no danger to be found here. Mr. Darcy is perfectly safe.”
Before either man could so much as blink, she had turned; a whirling dervish of dark silk, pale skin, and raven locks as she strode across the room and out of the door.
In that moment, Darcy wanted nothing more than to turn on his heels and follow her; to soothe and console her, and to contradict her preposterous presumption, for he knew perfectly well that, so long as he remained in her vicinity, she was far from safe with him.
But she was not the only one in harm’s way, for Darcy had known for some time that he was in very great danger himself: danger of falling completely and irrevocably in love with her; but propriety—and a drawing room full of people, including Elizabeth’s father—stayed him.
Propriety. Damn propriety! he wanted to scream. So far it had afforded him nothing but vexation, discontent, and misfortune. His acute frustration and anger—at Mr. Bennet; at his own intolerable situation and his utter uselessness to Elizabeth—peaked. If anyone deserved to be reprimanded for impropriety, it was certainly not Elizabeth.
She’d conducted herself with decorum during every encounter they’d ever shared, and Darcy respected and esteemed her highly; but the thoughts and desires Elizabeth unwittingly inspired in him were another matter entirely. Although he’d never voiced or acted upon them—nor would he ever, he knew, unless she willingly gave her consent—he could not deny that his powerful inclinations toward her were…ungentlemanly, to say the least.
Throughout the course of his lifetime Darcy had felt passionately about many things, but that passion was always tempered by an equally strong desire to remain in staunch control of his emotions; to think, and speak, and act in a rational manner at all times and in every circumstance. As a child, self-control was something he’d taken great pains to master; something repeatedly insisted upon and ingrained in him by his parents. Self-control was something the master of Pemberley had prided himself on and possessed in abundance—prior to setting foot in Hertfordshire, that is.
Seemingly without ceremony, Elizabeth Bennet had captured his notice, claimed his heart, and caused his inherently passionate nature to flare hotter than a bonfire. With each passing day, whether Darcy had the pleasure of her company or not, she’d managed to make his careful self-control wane to a disturbing degree. Some might even call it perilously close to non-existent. At times it was all he could do to keep his head on his shoulders and his ardency for her in check.
The unwelcome sound of Mr. Bennet clearing his throat returned him to the present. While Darcy could hardly fault any father for being vigilant with his children, he felt Mr. Bennet’s circumspection was, in this instance, severely misplaced. He had mortified, demeaned, and injured one of his few truly respectable daughters when his efforts would have been far better employed endeavouring to prevent his youngest two—and occasionally his wife—from flirting so shamelessly with the officers.
With a dark countenance he turned toward Mr. Bennet. Though determined to remain respectful for Elizabeth’s sake, as well as his own, Darcy found it difficult to speak without the authoritative tone he often used as Pemberley’s master.
“Mr. Bennet, with all due respect,” he began, but was instantly silenced by the menacing look on the elder man’s face.
“You, Mr. Darcy, have been playing a very dangerous game,” he hissed, “one that you are shockingly ill-equipped to win. I strongly urge you to keep to your own kind, sir, and give my second daughter a wide berth. She is my favorite and, though it pains me exceedingly to deny her anything that affords her even the slightest measure of happiness, I will endeavour to protect her at all costs and in any manner I see fit. However honourable your intentions toward her are, take heed when I assure you that any romantic designs you have on Elizabeth will bring retribution of the acutest kind.”
Susan Adriani is the author of The Truth About Mr. Darcy