Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley: Part Six
For anyone who may not be aware, during the last several weeks I’ve been posting a very short supernatural novella called Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley.
In the event that darkness falls upon CT due to Hurricane Sandy this week, who’s presently barreling our way with a vengeance, I’m trying to get most of my remaining editing done this weekend. Hopefully we’ll manage to keep our electricity, but it’s not sounding terribly promising up here right now and I’m starting to panic. (I have a lot of editing, lol!)
I live in a very small rural town and the power companies are already dropping generators on the sides of the roads for their line crews in case they’re needed. It looks like they’re planning for the worst. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Last year at this time CT suffered state-wide devastation from a similar storm. Some people were without power for two weeks. I was one of the lucky ones: mine was restored after 8 days!
Without further ado, here’s Part Six. I’m sorry for the lengthiness – it’s much longer than the others, though I tried to chop it down. If all goes well, you’ll be reading the next installment on Wednesday, October 31st, and the last two next weekend.
It was nearly dawn when Darcy’s eyelids fluttered open, his body no longer ravaged by fever, but soothed by slender fingers and a soft form. Every touch was gentle and radiated warmth, despite the icy temperature of the flesh that caressed him. Darcy drew a shuddering breath and prayed the woman pressed to his chest was indeed real and not a figment of his imagination. He encircled her in his arms, holding her as he’d so often desired, but never believed to be possible.
“Mr. Darcy?” she whispered, lifting her head from his shoulder.
He sighed with relief as he wound his hand into her hair, cradling the back of her head and easing her closer until their foreheads nearly touched. “Elizabeth,” he rasped, his voice hoarse after days without use. “Thank God.”
“Yes, thank God,” she muttered, her breath ambrosial against his lips. “Thank God you are better, dear sir.”
Jennings appeared at the foot of his bed. “You had us worried, sir. Did he not, Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth nodded, expelling a tremulous breath before slowly withdrawing from Darcy’s embrace.
Already, Darcy missed her touch more than he could say. He was on the verge of commanding her to return when the impropriety of their situation suddenly hit him with the force of a runaway carriage. He gaped at her in shock as she lifted the counterpane and slipped from his bed, her eyes trained on the floor as she smoothed the creases in her dressing gown. It was exactly the same gown he’d envisioned her wearing in his dream.
His inhalation was swift and sharp, and brought on a coughing fit that wracked his body.
Ever efficient, Jennings procured a glass of water and assisted Darcy to drink as Elizabeth hovered at his bedside, her expression one of deepest concern as his coughing slowly abated. He dropped his head back onto the pillows and closed his eyes, emphatically certain the strange dream he’d had was no more a figment of his subconscious than what he was a party to at that very moment.
Last night Elizabeth Bennet had indeed come to his bedchamber—at the behest of his valet—and lain with him in his bed. At one point Jennings had argued with her and accused her of being something unthinkable; he’d accused her of being like Georgiana.
Impossible,” Darcy said on a breath. There was no possible way his most trustworthy servant would have uttered such a thing to anyone for any reason, even one so dear to Darcy as Elizabeth.
Even though it was true.
His heart pounded as he studied her beloved face—her dark eyes, her snow-white skin, her pale lips. All the signs were there, staring steadily back at him, leaving him in no doubt of the truth. He wondered why he’d never seen it before. Impulsively, he reached out and took her hand in his. It was freezing. Colder than ice.
As cold as death.
Her eyes grew wide and terrified as she attempted to snatch her hand away, but Darcy refused to release her so easily.
“Jennings,” he muttered darkly, his eyes fixed upon the woman before him as he struggled to regain his composure. “I shall deal with you later. Right now I desire a private audience with Miss Bennet.”
* * *
“Your hands, madam,” Darcy said as he looked pointedly into her eyes, “are freezing. You must warm yourself by the fire before you catch your death.”
Her hands trembled as she shook her head, laughing bitterly. “I believe we both know a fire will do little to warm me, sir. As for death, it can no longer claim me so easily, although succumbing is not wholly impossible. I feel deeply for your dear sister, though. To become what I am, and at so young an age, cannot be a happy thing.”
“Indeed,” he muttered, tugging her onto the bed to sit at his side. The fact that Elizabeth was a vampire inspired no fear or abhorrence in him, only outrage for the atrocities he imagined were inflicted upon her before she was bitten. Though she’d turned on Jennings the night before, in his heart Darcy believed she cared deeply enough for him that the idea of harming him would never even enter her mind. After all, she’d nursed him throughout the night at great personal risk to herself and her family. He knew no one so generous, or so good, save perhaps for his sister. She was still his Elizabeth in every way that mattered. She could never be anything else.
“May I inquire as to how it happened?” she asked, her voice subdued and serious.
Darcy tightened his grip on her hand. It was a story he’d much rather forget, but, for Elizabeth, he’d do anything, even relive the most painful day of his life.
“She was taken from school,” he began lowly, “to Ramsgate, where an establishment was procured for her. Her companion, a Mrs. Young, in whose character we were grievously deceived, resided there with her. Rather than act as chaperone to Georgiana, she neglected her and permitted her liberties, such as walking to the seaside without so much as a maid to accompany her. One day Georgiana was approached by a man. She was then but fifteen.”
Darcy shut his eyes. “I believe his main object was her dowry of £30,000, and that in order to obtain it he intended to seduce her into eloping with him; but I joined them unexpectedly, before he’d been able to succeed with his seduction.
“I’d spoilt his carefully laid plans, and his anger and resentment was such that he intended to punish me by killing her. By the grace of God, his bite was not fatal and any injuries she’d sustained were healed during her transformation.”
Darcy’s laugh was hollow as he scrubbed one hand over his face. “I need not tell you the life Georgiana lives now is not the life she knew before. She was spared from true death, only to be condemned to another fate no less grievous.”
Elizabeth laid her hand upon his. “Is the one who bit her still alive?”
“No. My cousin, with whom I share guardianship of Georgiana, helped me hunt him. The villain is no more, though my sweet sister must always suffer his curse.”
Elizabeth looked as though she was on the verge of tears. “I am sorry for you both,” she whispered.
With great tenderness Darcy brought her hands to his lips. “And what of you, Miss Bennet?” he murmured.
“I’m afraid the story of my immortality isn’t half as sinister as your poor sister’s. As a matter of fact, it’s rather insignificant in comparison.”
“Nothing about you is insignificant, but if speaking of it distresses you, then you need not tell me.”
“You flatter me, Mr. Darcy,” she said softly, the barest hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “As you know, my father’s estate is entailed, requiring him to sire a son to succeed him and to ensure my mother and any unmarried children may remain at Longbourn after my father’s death. Since he and my mother failed to produce a male heir, Longbourn will pass to a distant cousin.
“Though we are comfortable, we aren’t rich. My sisters and I have no dowries to speak of, so my father, in his desperation to provide for us, took measures to ensure he will remain master of Longbourn, always.”
Darcy could hardly credit what he was hearing. “You cannot mean…” he whispered, horror-struck at the lengths to which Mr. Bennet would go in order to keep his legacy.
“My father shall live forever,” she said, turning aside her head. “And as his favourite, I am to be his companion.”