P&P200: A Most Important Dinner at Darcy House
**This P&P200 vignette is the second of several I have planned for the weeks leading up to the double wedding event on Nov. 16. Darcy Surprises Elizabeth was the first on 10/29. They are inspired by the Darcy Saga, they may even contain small portions of “flashback” moments I wrote within my sequel; however, all are altered a tad to present a differing POV and contain additional information I never wrote before. So they are all new material to be enjoyed as part of the awesome Austen Authors P&P200 extravaganza! Thanks for reading, Sharon Lathan
Darcy walked slowly through the parlor, crossed the entrance foyer, and entered the dining room. Pausing near his chair at one end of the long table, he swept his scrutinizing gaze over the place settings, candelabras, flowers, chairs, and every other item in the room, just as he had done in the previous chambers. Hosting dinner parties was, without a doubt, his least favorite duty. When the occasion called for it, he rose to the challenge, and in keeping with his character, ensured perfection and protocol down to the tiniest detail. Over time he had hosted gatherings with aristocracy and persons of eminence, managed capably despite his discomfort, and invariably his guests were satisfied.
Considering this, Darcy knew it was illogical to fret over menus and ambience for the small group of people expected tonight. Yet never, in all of his years, had a dinner at Darcy House held greater significance than this one.
“Is all to your specifications and satisfaction, Mr. Darcy?”
“Excellent, Mr. Travers, as always.” He read the label on the wine bottle the butler held for his inspection. “Two bottles should suffice, but have two more within easy access.”
They were still discussing the list of spirits for the evening when Georgiana glided into the room. She waited until Mr. Travers left, greeting her brother with a kiss and a query.
“How many glasses of that chardonnay am I allowed to have?”
Darcy pursed his lips and frowned sternly. “Perhaps I will allow a half.”
“A half! A drank a full glass when dining with Uncle and Aunt last week! I am seventeen, William–”
“I am aware, Georgiana. I was there celebrating your birthday, if you recall. Why this sudden need to imbibe? Could it be you are nervous, my dear?” He tweaked the tip of her nose.
Georgiana blushed, but tilted her head and smiled. “Who was it stalking the rooms since noon, rearranging flowers and straightening pillows? And am I correct that you buffed your nails?” She lifted his hand, twisting until the light shimmered off each shiny fingernail.
Darcy jerked his hand away. “You may have one glass of wine, perhaps two,” he growled. “Little imp.” Then he chuckled and hugged her tight before grasping her upper arms and stepping backward. “You are a vision, Georgiana. So grown up, especially in this gown and with your hair arranged elaborately. You resemble Mother more every day,” he finished in a soft whisper.
“Thank you, Fitzwilliam.”
“It is the truth. And as for tonight, you have naught to be nervous about. Mr. Bennet, Miss Bennet, and the Gardiners are honest, pleasant people, and Elizabeth is very fond of you.”
“And she loves you, so you,” she poked one finger into his chest, “have nothing to be nervous about either!”
The doorbell interrupted further sibling banter. Swiftly they positioned themselves in the foyer, Darcy’s tug on his jacket and Georgiana’s pat to her hair their last fidgety gestures. Mr. Travers opened the door, two footmen at the ready to take coats and hats, while the Master of Pemberley and Darcy House welcomed his guests and introduced them to his sister. As soon as Darcy was able to draw Elizabeth off to the side, clasp her hand, bestow an earnest kiss to her knuckles, and gaze into the warm, brown depths of her eyes, his nervousness evaporated.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he greeted, pitching his resonant voice even lower for her ears only. “It is my supreme joy to welcome you to Darcy House. Tonight you are my honored guest, and my happiness is immense. Yet greater still shall be my euphoria when you are here as Mrs. Darcy.”
He straightened before she could utter a word, slipped her arm under his and pressed firmly on the dainty hand resting on his forearm, and lifted his voice to gain the attention of the others. “Dinner will be served at precisely seven o’clock, which allots me, and Miss Darcy, adequate time to conduct a short tour of the main rooms and terrace. Fresh air is frequently desired after a bountiful meal, and before, so perhaps the terrace and gardens are the best place to begin.”
“I don’t suppose you have a trout pond here in London?”
“I am afraid not, Mr. Gardiner.” Darcy laughed. “There is a large fountain, but it has never occurred to me to utilize it as a home for fish. Somehow I doubt more than four or five trout would deem it a sufficiently ample habitat.”
The fountain he spoke of sat in the exact center of the yard, water bubbling and splashing in a musical cadence. Freshly cut grass covered a generous portion of the area, stretching into the shadows beyond reach of the glass-domed torches nearer the house. Two gaslight lamps illuminated the stone patio and revealed the cushioned chairs, small round tables, and potted shrubs and vines spaced evenly along the wall. A few of the varied bushes and trees planted amid the flowering garden could be seen, but if the shapes vaguely discernible were any indication, the rear enclosure was enormous and generously vegetated.
“Mr. Darcy, this is impressive! I never realized any of the houses in Town came with yards this large.”
“Not all do, Mrs. Gardiner. My great-great grandfather was a friend of Sir Grosvenor, and married his cousin, in fact. This townhouse was one of the first built, purchased before it was completed and designed specifically. One of the requests was a substantial garden area. There are more torches that can be lit if further investigation is wanted, although I would suggest waiting until the natural light of day for the optimum effect. I do assure that strolling the lawn in the moonlight is safe, as it is level and daily examined for hazards.”
Lizzy moved away from Darcy’s side to join Jane and Georgiana at the fountain. She felt her betrothed’s eyes following her, even as he carried on animated conversation with her father and uncle. Mr. Bennet asked a number of botanical questions, Darcy answering with superb knowledge of the subject. Mr. Gardiner was most curious as to which tradesman supplied the plants and furnishings.
Lizzy did not listen to the words as much as the tone. Rarely had she heard Mr. Darcy speak in such a relaxed manner and with casual humor. She had grown familiar with this side of his personality emerging when they were alone or with close friends, just as she had long ago recognized his silence when surrounded by presses of people. Initially, to her shame, she had misjudged his reticence, attributing it to unseemly pride and disdain for others. Later, she came to accept her error, comprehending the bashfulness and disquietude felt in unfamiliar situations or crowds, his struggle to hide and overcome only making it worse. Many times in these past weeks since he proposed, she witnessed his discomfort during dinners with her own family and the incessant social demands from Hertfordshire friends.
The relief to watch him laugh, joke, and talk with ease was massive. All through dinner, from his place of command at the end of the table, Lizzy sat to his right and delighted in his open demeanor. Conversation flowed freely, Darcy often remaining silent or leaning to whisper brief comments with Lizzy, but he was aware of everything, and added to the discourse as appropriate. With each passing minute her amazement increased.
At Pemberley she had caught glimpses of this Mr. Darcy, but never would she have imagined him capable of being the gregarious, witty, vibrant man sitting beside her tonight! It wasn’t until they rose from the table, her hand on his arm, that she was able to hold him back as the others followed Georgiana into the parlor.
“William,” he corrected, smiling. “You have successfully separated us from the group, leaving us somewhat alone, and thus you, my love, are obliged to address me by my Christian name.”
“William,” she repeated softly, caressing the name and momentarily flustered at the wave of emotion that crossed his face when she did. “I wanted to thank you for a fabulous evening, in case I did not have another opportunity. And, I also wanted to comment, and hope I do not offend or distress you, on how pleasurable it is to see you so relaxed and obviously enjoying yourself. I admit it is… startling.”
“We still have much to learn of each other, Elizabeth. But know this, never have I felt such giddiness and lightness of spirit. I am content as I have no recollection of ever being, even in my youth.” He traced his fingertips down her cheek, pausing under her chin. “The reason is you, Elizabeth. Only you.”
He bent closer, and for a breathless moment Lizzy was certain he planned to kiss her. Then he straightened, removed his fingers, and escorted her from the room without another word.
Miss Darcy served as hostess to the women in the parlor while Mr. Darcy led the gentlemen to the billiard room. It was the standard protocol, of course, but clearly one he would have preferred to forego. Much sooner that typical, the men rejoined the ladies, conversation resuming as they sipped tea and nibbled on cakes. A blushing Georgiana was induced to entertain on the pianoforte, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner lending their voices.
During this musical interlude, Lizzy was surprised to observe Darcy stealthily exit the room. Not quite sure why, she slipped out the door to follow. He stood on the terrace, staring into the sky. Hesitating, unsure whether she should disturb him, she latched onto the moment to silently admire his manly physique elegantly displayed by fine clothing and the stateliness of his pose.
“William?” She finally murmured, unable to resist.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered, turning toward her. “I was dreaming about you and here you are, as if conjured.”
She laughed softly, taking several steps closer to him. “Not quite that magical, I am afraid. I saw you leave the parlor and wanted to make sure you were well. And,” she shrugged, “I wished to share a moment alone with you.”
He closed the gap between them, again touched her cheek with his fingertips, speaking in a husky timbre. “Then it is magic, for I wished the same and here you are.”
Then he bent, cupped her face, and tenderly brushed his lips over hers. Perhaps it was the moonlight weaving magic. Or perhaps it was simply that chaste kisses and regulated touches were no longer satisfying. In the span of a dozen heartbeats of sweet intimacy, mutual desire flared and took over. Sensation ruled, and it was blissful.
With a gravely groan, Darcy insistently parted her lips, exploring rapturously and hungrily. There was nothing tender about this kiss. It was consuming and heated. Deliriously pleasurable as nothing in her existence had ever been. Fire spread throughout her body, head to toes. Greedily she circled his waist under the open jacket, hands seeking as she pressed into his hard chest. When he ran one hand down her back, grasped onto her buttocks, and crushed her harshly against his lower body, she should have been shocked, yet the only sensation was a wild urgency for more.
Five minutes of blinding ecstasy passed before they were jerked to reality by Mr. Bennet’s voice calling his daughter’s name. Darcy released her abruptly, recoiled, and melted into the shadows by the wall. She saw guilt and shame replace the passion in his eyes, but had no time to decipher the meaning. Surprising herself, she answered her father in a semi-normal tone, and rejoined the party.
Darcy returned fifteen minutes later. He was composed, met Lizzy’s eyes and flashed a wan smile, and if not quite as animated as before, did carry on as the perfect host.
All too soon it was time to depart, sleep necessary for the busy day of shopping ahead. Taking Lizzy’s cloak from the footman, Darcy draped it over her shoulders and fastened each button, taking his time with the procedure and focusing intently, as if the task an extremely difficult one. For several seconds he said nothing, Lizzy waiting for him to break the disagreeable awkwardness that had sprung up between them, since she had no clue what to say.
“Miss Elizabeth, I am–” He pressed his lips together, then shook his head slightly. Lifting his eyes to finally meet hers, he rushed on, “I pray you sleep well and that your expedition tomorrow is fruitful. As it pleases you and accommodates your schedule, I will be awaiting your return for a thorough tour of Darcy House.”
“That will be the high point of my day, William.” She stressed the familiar address, stared directly into his eyes, and lifted his fingers to her lips for a gentle kiss. “Until tomorrow.”
**Return tomorrow for more P&P200 from your’s truly!