By the time Darcy had come upon the open doorway of the drawing room, Elizabeth and Georgiana had spent a pleasant three quarters hour together. They spoke of family, of music, and of Darcy. An outside observer might have thought them sisters forever; a natural respect existed between the two. Their laughter drifted from the room, and Darcy found himself reluctant to enter the space and interfere with their kinship.
“Georgiana, may I ask the favor of a response?” Elizabeth said tentatively.
“Something has dwelled heavy on my mind for some time. When I first met your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, he already knew so much about me. When I asked his source, he said you had told him; yet, we had never met.”
“That is simple, Elizabeth. My brother had often spoken of you.”
“Really?” She said in true surprise. “What could he have said? Something devious, I am certain.”
Georgiana confessed, “Fitzwilliam had never mentioned a woman in his letters prior to meeting you. My brother related many of your conversations at Netherfield. I could not believe anyone spoke so to him. It piqued my interest. When I thought he was most distracted, I would ask about you.”
Uncomfortable for having asked her question, Elizabeth attempted to turn the compliments. “My manners were abhorrent. Fitzwilliam’s stories must have portrayed me as less than civilized.”
Darcy nearly laughed aloud, but he stifled it because he wanted to hear more.
“Oh, no, Elizabeth. Fitzwilliam always said wonderful things about you. I wanted to have your acquaintance, and I had hoped we could be friends.” Elizabeth automatically reached for Georgiana’s hand. The girl would require a gentle hand to build her confidence. “I was upset Mr. Bingley had quit Netherfield. I had wished to travel to Hertfordshire to take your acquaintance; Fitzwilliam said he wished that for me also.” Elizabeth blushed to think how well her dear husband had loved her.
“There is something…something more I believe of which we should speak.” Elizabeth hesitated, and Darcy wondered what could be so odious that the “brave” woman of his dreams would shun. Finally, she said, “Georgiana, now that we are sisters, may we revisit our conversation from the previous day?”
The girl’s composure slipped, and she mumbled, “What do you mean, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth sucked in a steadying breath before saying, “With Mr. Wickham, did you believe yourself to feel regard, affection, or love?” Darcy’s back stiffened. What in the world was Elizabeth doing? He did not know whether to interrupt or trust her. Reluctantly, Darcy chose the latter.
“I am not certain I understand. I felt all three, of course.” The turn of this conversation made Darcy uncomfortable, but he had committed himself to Elizabeth’s sensibilities.
“I am not an expert on love, Georgiana, but you are mistaken. If you had held Mr. Wickham in regard, you would have felt foolish at your loss, but the romance would have soon dissipated. If you had felt affection for the man, you would again be foolish, but time would have resolved your loss. If I am correct, you felt one of these emotions rather than love. Is that not true?”
Unwillingly, Georgiana confessed, “I see one of these definitions fitting my situation, but then what is love?”
“Real love, Georgiana, changes your life; your own needs no longer exist. If rejected, you never forget the person; as Fitzwilliam did, you retreat into yourself–you attempt to find solace some place else, but it cannot be. You might even choose another with whom to spend your life, but there is no love for it died and was replaced with regard or affection. I could not think of loving anyone but your brother; can you say the same of Mr. Wickham?”
“I cannot, Elizabeth. I feel nothing for the man. I only feel my own shame.”
“Then may we move forward? You are not the person you were at fifteen. The Darcys must learn self-chastisement is a hard master. Your brother has attended to that lesson; can you not also?”
“Elizabeth, you explained things so logically and so simply. I am pleased to share my life with you. Mayhap if we had been prior confidants, your counsel would have served me well. I acted the role of a fool.”
“Georgiana, we all assume the comic role at one time or another. Your brother and I are perfect examples, but we will share a special bond. I may not always have the answers, but we will find our way together, and I will never turn from you.”
Darcy could not believe how easily the two spoke of intimate details; at last, Georgiana finally had a female to whom to turn for advice. He started to step into the room, but held for just a moment when Elizabeth stammered one final question.
“Do you…do you believe Lady Catherine will ever forgive your brother for not choosing Anne? Family is so important to me; I despise being the cause of a family rift.”
“My aunt is stubborn, but she has neglected the fact that Fitzwilliam is the head of the Darcy family. Those over whom Lady Catherine holds sway will soon be forgotten.” Georgiana continued, “If Fitzwilliam had married Anne, our aunt could stay at Rosings because Fitzwilliam is wealthy enough not to require Anne’s fortune.”
“I feel as if I have destroyed your family, Georgiana.”
“That is nonsense, Elizabeth. My brother loves you.”
Darcy could bear no more; he stepped into the room. “My sister is correct, Madam, you have bewitched me.” He stopped only a few steps within the doorway. Both ladies jumped to their feet as if having been caught misbehaving; Darcy and Elizabeth locked eyes. She blushed deeply.
“You, Sir,” she began haltingly, “should…should not be eavesdropping.”
His eyes flashed with humor. “How else may I know when the two women I cherish most are conspiring against me?”
Elizabeth raised her chin as if to challenge him, but her bottom lip quivered indicating her words about women always conspiring against men had nothing to do with what she was really thinking.
“You do not intend on rejecting me again do you, Elizabeth? I am afraid my heart could not withstand the pain another time,” he taunted her.
Tears filled her eyes as she said, “My loving you has hurt you; I do not want you to ever regret marrying me.”
“Elizabeth, I will not give you up again,” he said adamantly. “No matter how often I am asked to make the decision, I would choose you. Despite all rumors of my stoic character, I would carry you off to make you my wife over all the world’s objections.”
She knew he teased, but she rushed into his arms, burying her tears into his chest. Soothing her head, Darcy said, “Shush, Elizabeth, we will have no more tears over Lady Catherine’s disapproval. Do you not think I have suffered enough at your hand?” As he said this, he brought her palm to his lips and kissed it gently. “Georgiana,” he briefly diverted his eyes to his sister, “why do you not retrieve the gift you brought from London for Elizabeth?” Georgiana curtsied and quickly departed.
Elizabeth raised her chin. “These hands, Sir,” she said at last, “will never give you pain again.” As she spoke, she stroked his chin line and moved in closer.
He rested his hands on her waistline, pulling Elizabeth even nearer. Darcy’s gaze encompassed her features and settled upon her lips. The familiar lavender wafted over him. “Madam, in a few moments, I may forget I am a gentleman, and you are a gentleman’s daughter.”
Elizabeth’s giggle became a purr, silently revealing her undying love. “Ungentlemanly like behavior,” she teased, “will have to wait until later, but I would not object to a kiss to seal our promise to each other.”
His breath was ragged with anticipation; Darcy kissed her long and hard. “You see, my Dear, our love will go down in history,” he whispered.
“Will it now?” she whispered back, her lips only inches from his.
“Great loves are always remembered. We will be Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth.”
“Ooh, that is way too long. It does not roll easily off the tongue–Darcy and Elizabeth has more lilt to it.” She nibbled on his lower lip.
“So, it is agreed; our love will be of what makes great legend.” He turned his head burying it in her hair. “We will be as Romeo and Juliet or Othello and Desdemona.”
She rose on tiptoes for another brief kiss. “I hope we do not have to die for our love. May we not be more in the manner of Petruchio and Katherine or Benedick and Beatrice?”
Darcy laughed softly. Even in the middle of an embrace, she would challenge him. Life with Elizabeth Bennet would be anything but boring. “So, the lady prefers comedy to tragedy?” He kissed her lightly, brushing his lips over hers.
“Our relationship has been a comedy of errors at times.” She returned his kiss, as her fingers caressed the hair along the back of his neck. Her nearness captured Darcy; he bowed his head to hers once more and kissed her warmly.
Not wishing to disturb them, Georgiana watched this scene from the doorway. This is the type of love I want. It should be obvious to the world when a woman is in love; it should not be hidden. Thank God my brother kept me from making such an odious mistake. How could I have been deceived into thinking what Mr. Wickham offered was love? What Fitzwilliam has with Elizabeth is real love. She cleared her voice to announce her presence; the lovers ceased the kiss, but they did not jump apart as one might expect upon being found in such an intimate embrace. They parted naturally, not ashamed of the affection they had shared.