Hello, AuAus! We’re getting down to the wire here, folks, but we’re not quite there. I know I said there was one chapter left of Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley, but I’ve been tinkering and tweaking and, well, I ended up scrapping and tossing and re-writing. So there is one final chapter to go after this one, which I’ll try to post this Saturday (December 15th), assuming the calendar slot stays open – so far, so good. I hope everyone can live with that because this story is turning out to be far longer than I intended it to be back when I started it in October!
If you missed the previous chapters, or just feel like reading them again, they’re listed below. I can’t thank you enough for putting up with me for so long, and that includes my fellow Austen Authors. You’re a remarkably patient and giving bunch and I love you. I’ll see you all on Saturday. Until then, happy reading!
“Leave it alone, Georgiana. I will not discuss such things with you.”
Darcy’s tone was harsh as he led his horse out of the stable and into the yard, where he wasted no time climbing into the saddle and quick-shortening the reins. He had no patience for questions, particularly from his sister, who’d boldly broached a subject she should know nothing about: namely, Elizabeth Bennet. Clearly, he would have to have a discussion with Richard later about loyalty.
Georgiana rushed forward, blocking his path and startling his horse. The stallion tossed its head and squealed as it side-stepped toward the gravel drive and tugged against the reins, attempting to rear.
“Georgiana,” he snapped, struggling to keep the skittish animal under control. Most of Pemberley’s horses didn’t appreciate having vampires in their midst. There were a half dozen or so who, for the most part, tolerated Georgiana’s and Richard’s presence—and a few who even acquiesced to being ridden—but this particular horse wasn’t one of those. He was fast, though, and high spirited—exactly what Darcy needed this morning.
“I’m sorry, Fitzwilliam, but I’m worried about you. Everyone is worried about you.” She clasped her hands together and gazed up at him with dark, serious eyes—eyes that used to be blue, like their mother’s.
Darcy regarded her for a long moment, his irritation slowly ebbing. “I know,” he muttered, turning his head aside and squinting toward the eastern fields, where he planned to spend the next hour tearing across the countryside on horseback, exercising his demons. “It wasn’t my intention to make you worry. Pray forgive me.”
“You know I will do whatever you ask of me,” she assured him in a quiet voice. “Anything at all…”
“Georgiana…” he warned.
“Please, Brother. I would never judge you. No one will, so please, will you not tell me what I may do for you so that you’ll be happy again?”
“Nothing,” he said tightly, his temper flaring once more. He knew full well that she was one of the few who could help him, but her assistance in that quarter was absolutely out of the question. Not only did he not want such a thing to weigh upon her conscience, but Darcy’s responsibilities to the people of Pemberley and his sense of familial duty rested far too heavily upon his shoulders to simply allow his personal desires to take precedence over his accountability.
Not to mention the more he thought about actually exploring such an option, the more anxious and agitated he became. The more anxious and agitated he became, the more inclined he was to reject that option altogether. It wasn’t immortality he wanted in any case, but Elizabeth.
Darcy clenched his jaw. In only a few short months Richard appeared to have embraced his accidental vampirism with a startling ease and acceptance. In fact, his good-natured disposition and sense of humour were so reminiscent of Elizabeth’s attitude that Darcy could no longer bear to be in his company for any length of time; the throb of longing in his breast was too painful. His cousin’s animation and ability to tease made him literally ache to be with the raven-haired beauty who’d stolen his heart; but she’d refused him and had fled to London. He hadn’t seen her since.
Like Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana seemed to have found her stride as well. She could finally be trusted to wander through the house and grounds unaccompanied, though she often preferred a companion. More often than not it was Richard, who always went out of his way to bring a smile to her face or make her laugh, usually at Darcy’s expense.
The fact of the matter was that Darcy’s cousin and sister appeared to be thriving as vampires. But what if Darcy didn’t thrive? What if he finally took a leap of faith and became like Elizabeth, only to discover—after the fact—that he was nothing like her at all? What if he turned into a blood-thirsty monster and retained absolutely no shred of his staunch self-control? What if he ended up slaying every human being he came into contact with? Would Elizabeth be angry with him? Would she be disgusted and disappointed? Would she tell him she wanted nothing to do with him ever again and order him away? Darcy didn’t think he could survive a second rejection—or the possibility of harming anyone in such a beastly manner—especially after having made such a permanent, life-altering commitment. The consequences were not only terrifying, but everlasting.
How on earth would he live with himself?
Darcy ran his hand over his mouth and shut his eyes, expelling a ragged breath. His sister stood several meters away, a respectful distance so as not to further unsettle his horse. Georgiana’s care and concern for him were genuine, as was her almost desperate desire to see him happy. At sixteen years old she’d endured enough pain and regret to last a lifetime—and last a lifetime it would, and more. With Darcy and Richard to care for her, however—and maybe, someday, with Elizabeth as her friend—perhaps she wouldn’t see her past as regretful. Perhaps her future would be bright, joyful, and brimming with promise.
The corners of Darcy’s mouth lifted slightly as he envisioned his sister with Elizabeth. As usual, the sensation of satisfaction he felt from indulging such a fantasy was fleeting, leaving him with a profound emptiness and deep sense of loss. Darcy opened his eyes and shifted his gaze to Georgiana, who regarded him with furrowed brows as he swallowed thickly and cleared his throat. “I’ll be fine, Georgiana. I may not be at the moment, but I will be at some point. Now, be merciful and allow me the sanctity of my morning ride before Richard decides to join me. His incessant chatter always grates on my poor horses’ nerves.”
Georgiana pursed her lips. “Very well, Fitzwilliam. I will let you go, but only to spare your horse a headache.” This earned a genuine smile from her brother, which quickly faded when she added, “I am not so easily dissuaded, you know. We will discuss this.”
Darcy shook his head with a scowl.
“If she truly makes you happy,” she continued defiantly, “if you love her, Brother, then you must know I’d want to meet her—especially if she’s like me.”
It was too much; far too much. Furious with his meddling cousin for poisoning his sister’s mind with faerie tales that could never come to fruition, Darcy snapped the reins and dug his heels into his horse’s sides. He barely heard Georgiana’s cry, imploring him to be careful.
Darcy snorted contemptuously. At the moment he certainly didn’t feel like being careful. So, indulging an urge to be as spiteful and obstinate as his sister was willful, the master of Pemberley determined to be as reckless as possible.
Leaning low upon his mount, he flew over the countryside at a punishing pace. The adrenaline pumping through his body combined with the high rate of speed he was travelling made him feel invincible—as though nothing and no one in the entire world could stop him. A fallen tree lay in his path, but his horse cleared it as though it were nothing. A hedge; a fence; a mound of earth; a boulder; a rock wall—all were cleared with no effort. It felt good. Exhilarating. Freeing. Until his horse became spooked.
Looking back, Darcy wasn’t sure if it was the flash of colour near the tree line that distracted him, or something else entirely. It didn’t matter. That one moment’s diversion was enough to make him falter. His horse sensed it—perhaps even saw it as well; but it simply didn’t matter. The feisty stallion reared and, even though Darcy was an exceptional horseman, he wasn’t able to regain control. Before Pemberley’s master could even blink, he was thrown twenty feet, where he landed hard upon the frozen ground.