Note: Antony, Lord Fitzwilliam, the current Earl Fitzwilliam and Darcy’s cousin, is an original character. If you have read my novels, you will be familiar with this scamp who doesn’t take anything too seriously and who drives his staid cousin crazy.
Arm-in-arm, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy walked the gardens on their first full day at Pemberley. The previous day, they had arrived at the manor house just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. Nearly exhausted from the wedding breakfast and their travels, the two had dined on a light supper before retiring for the night. After making love, they were quickly asleep in each other’s arms.
Since Elizabeth’s first visit to Pemberley in August, the gardens had been completely transformed, with vivid yellows, oranges, and reds replacing the softer pastels of a warmer season. There was also another difference. When Lizzy had first admired the gardens, she did so as Elizabeth Bennet, a woman who was contemplating the very real prospect of spinsterhood, having rejected the marriage proposal of Fitzwilliam Darcy at the Hunsford parsonage. Instead, she had returned—triumphantly—as the Mistress of Pemberley.
As they walked the pebbled paths, Elizabeth’s role as the mistress of such a great estate was very much on her mind. Her husband was attempting to reassure her that she was more than equal to the task of lady of the manor when they heard the sound of a carriage coming down the drive. From the noise it was making, they knew the conveyance was substantial, and Lizzy wondered aloud who their visitor might be.
“Good grief!” Darcy said as he caught site of the carriage with its two matched pairs of white stallions. With that exasperated exclamation, Lizzy knew who their visitor was: William’s cousin, Lord Fitzwilliam, the black sheep of the Fitzwilliam clan, an unrepentant reprobate and willing fodder for London’s scandal sheets.
Through gritted teeth, Darcy declared that he was not ready to return to the house. “And until we are, Antony can amuse himself. It is so easily done.” Pulling Elizabeth by her hand, he turned in a direction away from the manor.
“William, I know you are unhappy with your cousin’s unexpected arrival, but, really, it is our responsibility to make him welcome,” Lizzy said, trying to keep up with her husband.
“But he is not welcome. He has come for one of two reasons: to make sport at my expense because I am newly married or to find relief from his creditors by hiding out in Derbyshire. In the first instance, he shall fail because I am happy to be married. As for the second reason, he knows better than to ask me for money.”
There was a third possibility. His wife, a woman he referred to as the Evil Eleanor, had prevailed—again—in one of their epic rows, and he had to run for his life.
“William, is it not possible that he has come to wish us joy?”
“If that was his purpose, then he should have attended the wedding breakfast. Although I did not invite him, you did!”
In the whole of England, there were few who could get a rise out of Fitzwilliam Darcy, but one of those people was now moving his considerable luggage into a guest bedchamber at Pemberley.
* * *
“You can stay the night, but that is it,” Darcy said by way of greeting his cousin.
“I am very happy to see you, too, my dearest Fitzwilliam,” Antony said, chuckling. After taking Elizabeth’s hand, he pressed it against his lips and allowed them to linger.
“If you were so keen to see us, why did you not go to the wedding breakfast?” Darcy barked. “And please remove your lips from my wife’s hand.”
“The reason I did not attend the wedding was because it is the height of rudeness to outshine the bride,” Antony said in a serious voice. “Or so I was told by my wife on our wedding day.”
In an age of men’s fashion dictated by the immaculate Beau Brummel, Lord Fitzwilliam, wearing an embroidered coat, hose, and high-heeled shoes with jeweled buckles, much preferred the more ornate dress of an older generation. For the earl, “fitting in” was never a desired outcome.
“William, Milord, shall we continue this conversation in a room where there are chairs?” Lizzy asked, leading the men from the foyer to the drawing room.
“Elizabeth, if you don’t mind, I would like to speak to my cousin in private,” Darcy said.
“Well, I mind,” Antony immediately answered. “If you leave, my dear, I shall be subjected to one of William’s sermon, and I get preached to on Sunday.”
“Nonsense!” William answered, his voice nearly a shout. ”The last time you were in a church, it was struck by lightning.” It also happened to be Antony’s wedding day.
“I shall see to the refreshments,” Lizzy said, backing out of the room, leaving the two bulls to lock horns.
“Antony, you cannot stay here. I have no intention of beginning my married life with you causing mischief at every opportunity.”
“William, William, William. I am not moving in. I am merely paying a call to wish you and your delightful bride connubial bliss.”
“I would be more likely to believe you if you didn’t travel with enough baggage to furnish the court at Windsor,” Darcy harrumphed. “And the length of this visit will be…?”
“That depends on you.”
“All right. How much do I need to pay to make you go away?” When Antony told him the amount required to satisfy his most pressing creditors, Darcy agreed to advance him the sum. “When do you leave?”
“Another fifty pounds, and I shall be gone by first light.”
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