Fitzwilliam Darcy ~ Undone
She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, watched the lively expression on the young lady’s face as she conversed with her friend Miss Lucas. He heartily regretted attending this assembly with Charles and Miss Bingley along with their sister Louisa Hurst and her husband. He’d received a letter from his sister Georgiana only that afternoon, begging him to allow her to quit their uncle’s house in London and travel back home to Pemberley. Her heartache pained him, but she did not have a suitable companion and until one could be found, London is where she would stay under the watchful eye of their uncle.
With everything that had happened this past summer, a crowded assembly was the last place he wanted to be but Bingley was determined to become a permanent fixture within the community of Meryton, therefore, to the public assembly they went. Unfortunately, all of his low standards were met almost as soon as they entered the hall.
They hadn’t progressed more than ten feet before he heard whispers of Bingley’s five thousand a year, followed by remarks of his ten thousand, which was ludicrously low. And so, he’d kept to the outer edges of the room, speaking only when directly asked a question and firmly avoiding any and all contact with husband-hunting mothers and their dutiful daughters. If it weren’t for his obligation to Bingley, he’d have left the crowded hall immediately following their first introduction.
After a few sets had been enjoyed by everyone, Bingley included, he’d experienced an inexplicable desire to move to the back of the hall, where chairs were lined up against the wall for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t dance. It was there that Charles prevailed upon him to pair up with his partner’s sister for the next set, to which he’d parried back with a remark that would have had his father turn over in the grave. That is, after his mother had finished spinning.
Against his will, his eyes followed the young woman he’d insulted as she conversed with what seemed like half the village. That she was popular was evident by the genuine smiles afforded her as she came upon each person. Why she had been sitting out any dances went beyond his comprehension unless all the men in Meryton were as much a fool as he.
This petite woman unsettled him and her eyes entranced him. Jade green, they’d blazed into his soul when she’d given him a saucy look after his caustic remark of her not being handsome enough to tempt him. Feet frozen to the floor, he’d practically held his breath when she sauntered by a few minutes later, sporting a secret smile that let him know in no uncertain terms she found humor in the situation. Her whole demeanor caused a stirring he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
He’d learned, from overheard snippets, that she was Elizabeth Bennet, second daughter of five. As she swayed and weaved through the crowd, a familiar heat spread through his body. What was it about her that drew his eye? He began to walk around the edges of the assembly hall again, taking care to avoid Miss Bingley. Not an easy feat when she watched him almost as close as he watched Miss Elizabeth. He stopped a few feet from where she stood with one of her many sisters.
“I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.”
He felt a ghost of a smile cross his lips at her quick wit and sparkling banter. Most young ladies would have been in a state of high dudgeon, but she had raised her voice just enough so he could hear her comment.
Touché, Miss Elizabeth, he thought, risking another smile and glanced in her direction to see if she’d noticed. Their eyes met and she became preternaturally still, her full lips parting slightly. A primal urge to possess clawed its way up from his belly, demanding to be released.
His whole body aflame, he experienced a sensation of floating, as though he were physically leaving his body. In his mind, he cleaved through the crowd and reached for her. With one hand he cupped the base of her neck and pulled her close before curving his other arm around her hip. He lowered his head and teased the edges of her mouth, nibbling that lush, bottom lip, savoring her taste. When she swayed closer, he captured her mouth completely and plunged his tongue deep into the sweet, velvety warmth, needing−
“At last I have caught up with you, Mr. Darcy.”
The strident tone of Miss Caroline Bingley grated in his ear and with a start, he crashed back into rational thought.
“I had not gone far, Miss Bingley.”
She attempted to hook her arm through his, but with a subtle twist and sidestep, he maneuvered his arm out of her reach. That she was more than piqued by his actions became clear when Miss Elizabeth passed by them.
“Miss Eliza, I have not seen you dance yet.”
“Thank you for noticing, Miss Bingley.” Miss Elizabeth’s emerald eyes sparkled with mischief. “Alas, no eligible gentleman has politely petitioned my hand for a set. I suppose you and I, together, shall have to commiserate near the edges of the ballroom.”
Miss Bingley huffed at the implied insult and he had to turn his head to hide a grin. The put down had been so precise and so polite. She cast her gaze about the room and stopped when she reached the area where Bingley escorted Miss Bennet back to her mother’s side.
“If you would please excuse me. My next dance partner awaits near my sister. It seems as though I’ve been rescued from lining the wall, Miss Bingley.” She executed a polite half curtsy in Miss Bingley’s direction before making her way toward Bingley, who led her out onto the dance floor.
Nicely done, Miss Elizabeth. You leave me here to cool my heels knowing Miss Bingley expects me to ask her to dance.
About to resume his prowl around the edges of the assembly in order to not give Miss Bingley a fixed target, he paused. The fine hairs on the nape of his neck had risen and he tried not to scowl. Richard had arrived. His cousin’s sixth sense must have been working overtime. Normally Darcy held his emotions in check. However, the culmination of his worry over Georgiana and the unexpected zing of lust over a country miss, his emotions over the last hour had been intense, unguarded and he wasn’t prepared to explain them. At times like this, he regretted the closeness he and his cousin shared.
The entrance to the assembly room opened and The Honorable Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam entered. Well over six feet, he stood almost as tall as Darcy. Raven hair spilled over his shoulders and would have swung about if not tied back in a queue. His regimentals did nothing to hide his broad shoulders and his stride, although athletic, was smooth and graceful.
Richard had arrived in full glamour, evidenced by the chorus of feminine sighs trailing after him as he drew near. Darcy knew it wasn’t to impress him or the Bingley entourage. No, his mischievous cousin had hurried to Meryton because he’d felt Darcy’s awareness of an unknown female. While Miss Bingley reminded him of a sticky burr beneath his saddle, Richard was ten times worse and exceedingly more annoying.
Richard sidled beside him, his alert gaze scanning the crowded room. Many young women, alongside their mothers, tittered happily behind their fans. Darcy heard a few squeals of excitement and knew it came from the two youngest sisters of Miss Elizabeth.
“Colonel. How delighted we are to have you join us.”
Once again, Darcy inwardly cringed at the sound of Miss Bingley’s voice. If he were able, he’d dearly love to banish her to some dark underworld, if only to appease his ears.
“I’m here to speak with Colonel Foster of the _____shire militia.” Richard gave Miss Bingley a polite bow. “When I heard Darcy was also in Meryton, I came a few days early in order to spend some time with my favorite cousin.”
“It’s too bad you didn’t arrive tomorrow and avoid being subjected to this dreadful assembly.” She sniffed in disdain. “I expect a pig to be loosed at any moment and the crowd to go absolutely giddy chasing it.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Richard drawled. “They seem to be a polite bunch and you’re still unharmed.”
Miss Bingley frowned, not quite sure if she’d been insulted. There was no love lost between his cousin and Charles Bingley’s youngest sister. Desperate to climb the social ladder, she tried to curry favor with Richard, if only for the fact his father was an Earl. Anyone with half a brain and one dead eye could see she had lost the battle before it even began.
“Fancy meeting up with you in Hertfordshire of all places, cousin,” Richard boomed out in a jovial voice.
“Bingley asked me to look over an estate he’s leased with an option to buy.”
Miss Elizabeth, enjoying a country reel, skipped by on the arm of Bingley. He steadied his breathing and forced himself to relax.
“I’m surprised you’ve let Georgiana out of your sight. I didn’t think you’d leave London so soon,” Richard commented in a low tone while Miss Bingley’s attention was drawn to her brother.
“Georgiana is perfectly safe with your father.”
A sudden cry, followed by ‘Miss Elizabeth!’, and a soft body collided with Richard. Gallantly, he caught and held her in his arms. Just as quick he released her and asked if she was all right.
“I am. It appears I lost my footing−”
“Miss Elizabeth. I’m so sorry for losing your grip in that last turn.” A flushed Bingley hurried to her side. “I hope you are uninjured.”
“Not to worry, Mr. Bingley.” She laid a comforting hand on his arm and Darcy imagined Charles dying a slow death. “I am unharmed, as you can see. His Majesty’s finest has come to my rescue.”
Bingley turned his attention to Richard.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam. I’m so very glad to see you again.” He extended his hand, which Richard shook. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, may I introduce you to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy’s cousin.”
She executed a polite curtsy to Richard’s equally polite half-bow. With a decidedly impish grin, she asked, “And, who is Darcy?”
Quite befuddled, Bingley’s mouth hung open.
“This is Mr. Darcy,” Miss Bingley interrupted, waving her fan in Darcy’s direction.
“I would not know as Mr. Darcy did not allow your brother to introduce us earlier in the evening.” She dared to look him directly in the eye.
“Darcy didn’t introduce himself? To you?” Richard’s tone of disbelief was very evident.
“Nor my family, Colonel.”
Darcy could see that she struggled not to smile, or even laugh outright. He also noticed she didn’t react to Richard’s glamour. Women all around them, Miss Bingley included, couldn’t keep their eyes off him. Although his cousin cut a fine figure in his uniform, when he turned on the charm, so to speak, he became irresistible. Miss Elizabeth’s non-reaction was deliciously mystifying.
“Then I must immediately rectify that situation so that you don’t think we descended from barbarian hordes,” Richard offered, his tone silky. Seductive. Darcy’s hand fisted by his side. It was evident his cousin also realized Elizabeth remained unmoved by his glamour and sought to remedy the situation. With aplomb and overdone gallantry, Richard introduced Darcy to Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth, may I introduce you to my pompous cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Darcy.”
He gave her a polite bow and was about to start a conversation with her when another young buck stepped forward.
“This is our dance, Lizzy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lucas.” She cast her gaze around their small half circle. “Enjoy the rest of the evening.”
She turned and weaved her way back onto the dance floor, smiling at the young man. Darcy focused his attention on Richard because if he watched her walk away, it would be difficult to keep his out of character desire in check.
“May I have a moment of your time, Darcy. I have news from the Earl.”
Darcy acquiesced, knowing this to be a ruse. One of Richard’s favorite. He loved to bandy his father’s title in front of Miss Bingley. They politely excused themselves from the Bingley siblings and moved to the edges of the hall. Once alone, Richard leaned into Darcy.
“Father has discovered where Wickham fled.”
Darcy unintentionally tensed, his fingers coiling into the shape of a fist.
“After all these months I thought he might have sailed to the colonies.”
“What? And give up his long-held desire to ruin you and your family?”
“He has not succeeded in either venture and Georgiana will remain within your parent’s heavily warded home even after we find her a new companion.” Darcy slid a glance toward Richard. “Is that your only reason for risking Miss Bingley’s fawning?”
“I came to warn you Wickham is here.”
“Here? At the assembly!”
“Of course not. He’s buried himself in the _____shire militia as a good lieutenant and they will be arriving in Meryton in a few short weeks.”
“He won’t last long in an environment that requires discipline and little pay,” Darcy scoffed. “I give him three months and he’ll leave for greener pastures.”
“That’s why I’ve come to speak with Colonel Foster. I’ll drop a little information in his ear and let him be aware of what kind of trouble good old George can get into.”
“So, you really did come here to speak with the Colonel?” Darcy felt his shoulders release some tension. His truly did not want Richard to be aware of his deep-seated desire for Miss Elizabeth. He wanted some time to figure out what it was about her that filled him with disquiet.
“Oh no, dear cousin. I hadn’t planned on coming for another week, but I sensed your angst all the way from London. I had to see who got your balls so tight your legendary control slipped.”
“If that’s what you came for, you wasted your time.”
Richard leveled a narrow look at him. Darcy knew his cousin didn’t accept what he said.
“You know we can’t read minds, so stop trying. You’re worse than a determined mole trying to burrow into one of my gardens.” He turned back to watch the dancers.
The couples promenaded up the center of the room toward them and Elizabeth laughed at something her eldest sister said. He already knew the sound of her voice in a crowd. Blood lust rose from the pit of his belly and his body instantly hardened. Without even turning his head, he knew he could find her by scent alone. A mixture of honeysuckle with a hint of... lavender.
“A mole, is that the best you can do?” Richard scoffed. “Your insults have become commonplace. There was a time−”
Richard’s attention whipped to the dance floor, then back to Darcy. Eyes narrowing, he hissed. “You are intrigued by someone here.”
Darcy silently cursed his momentary lack of control and took hold of his cousin’s forearm. “Not another word. You don’t know who is listening.”
“Does she−” Darcy applied pressure to Richard’s arm until the bone snapped.
“I warned you.”
“All right, not another word.” Richard pulled his arm free and passed his hand over the broken bone. Flexing his fingers, he said, “I hate when you do that. It’s a waste of good magic.”
“Be grateful I don’t remove your glamor and let all the young ladies see you as you truly are. A jaded Colonel who wishes for something more.”
“Aye, I do wish for something more,” his cousin said with a prosaic shrug of the shoulders. He resumed scanning the crowd. Darcy knew his intent was to discover which female could possibly be the one who piqued his cousin’s interest. “Am I allowed to at least enjoy a dance or two with these young ladies? It seems gentlemen are few and far between and I know you will not dance with someone not in your own party.”
“Of course. I won’t stand in the way of you having an enjoyable evening.”
Now that his self-control was under regulation, Richard could prance around the room all night if he desired. Nothing and no one would give him pause. His cousin beckoned Charles to come to them and when he arrived asked if he’d introduce him to some of the families. Always eager to please and overjoyed at the prospect of making new friends, Bingley complied right away.
A trickle of foreboding shivered down Darcy’s back.
“Richard,” he called out.
He returned and stood by Darcy while Bingley waited “Yes?”
“Wickham cannot know of this. If she is my soul mate, her very life is in danger and she’s an innocent.”
A world-weary look crossed over Richard’s face. “With Wickham, they almost always are.”
With a slight bow, Richard swiveled and followed Bingley across the assembly hall, leaving Darcy with his tumultuous thoughts.
Brooding. That was the only word to describe Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. Elizabeth snatched quick glances at the tall man who had decided to prop up the wall and peruse the crowd through hooded eyes. She couldn’t be positive but she felt his gaze upon her. With a slight shrug, she passed off this feeling with determined resolve. Most likely he watched to find fault. She knew very well that she wasn’t handsome enough to tempt him.
She dared look at him again. Why did such an odious man have to be so incredibly handsome? If he hadn’t insulted her, she’d have spent the evening wondering if he’d ask her to dance. It would have been a delightful pastime, what with most young men away to war. Lately, the lists of agreeable partners were slim to none.
Charlotte broke into her musings. “Where are you, Lizzy?”
“What did you say?” She turned her attention to her closest friend and confidant – next to Jane, of course.
“You’ve got that far-away look in your eyes again. I’ve caught you a few times tonight. Would it have anything to do with tall, dark, and handsome in the corner?”
Lizzy couldn’t help herself, heat rushed up to her neck. She took a sip of her warm lemonade. “No, it would not. I am compiling my reading list.”
Charlotte laughed softly. “You’re not a good liar. He hasn’t been able to look away from you, either. You have an admirer.”
“He wouldn’t be interested in me, I’m only tolerable. Remember?”
Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “I believe he’s reassessed his first impression. He looks at you like he hasn’t eaten in years and you’re his next meal.”
“I believe you are in need of spectacles.”
“Mark my words. He’ll dance with you before the night is through.”
During their conversation, Miss Bingley and her sister had approached Mr. Darcy who conversed with them, ignoring all others around them. Irrationally, Lizzy felt anger bubble up at the proprietary attitude Miss Bingley adopted toward Mr. Darcy. Given the little touches with her fan and the way she leaned into him it was obvious, she wished to be alone with him. To talk with him exclusively and do... other things with him. Elizabeth’s fingers curled into fists and she relished the idea of tearing that ridiculous turban off Miss Bingley’s head.
At that very moment, Mr. Darcy looked directly at her. The banked heat in his eyes left her in no doubt of his desire before a cool mask of civility slid into place. Disconcerted by his unswerving gaze, she blinked.
He knows. How could he know?
Heat suffused her body; her breath became trapped in her throat escaping in small gasps and gulps. He’d claimed her and she’d known it. That one molten look spoke ownership. Heart racing, Lizzy turned and rushed to the lady's retiring room. She had to get these foolish thoughts under control. Upon entering the room, she approached one of the basins with scented rose water and splashed some on her heated cheeks. Bracing a hand on either side of the bowl, she leaned her weight on the table, letting her head hang. She raised her head and stared into the mirror.
“Take a hold of yourself, Elizabeth Rose Bennet. You’ve let Charlotte’s silly ideas take root and you’re behaving in a manner like Lydia in the presence of an officer.” She reprimanded reflection. “He’s just a man.” Groaning, she closed her eyes. Oh, but not just any man.
The door opened and Charlotte entered the room.
“Lizzy? Are you well?”
Her eyes flew open and she quickly dipped her fingers into the bowl of water before lightly dabbing her cheeks.
“The heat of the room became a bit much. I came to cool down and freshen up.”
“You rushed off so quickly, I thought you may have taken ill.”
“Dear Charlotte, you are such a considerate friend.” Lizzy smiled and smoothed down the front of her skirt. “Shall we return to the dance? You’ve distracted me long enough.”
“I distracted you? That’s the pot calling the kettle black.” Charlotte quipped and followed Lizzy whose attention immediately cut to the far side of the hall.
Mr. Darcy no longer stood there and a cursory glance about the room showed him trapped in a conversation with Sir William Lucas. As for the rest of the Netherfield party, Mr. Bingley was standing up with Jane for the second time and his sisters pouted along the edges of the dance floor. No one seemed inclined to ask the haughty ladies to dance, not even the gregarious Colonel who was paired up with Mary of all people.
With Mr. Darcy on the far side of the room, she used the time to assess him and his cousin. Taciturn and silent were the chief qualities of the man from Derbyshire, and his cousin seemed to exude a confidence that remained a mystery. Pleasant looking enough, she didn’t fully understand why so many ladies practically swooned whenever they looked upon him. It had to be the uniform. Even Mary’s cheeks were flushed with pleasure.
She shook her head mentally. There she went again. Seeing or not seeing things others didn’t. She had to admit though, the presence of Colonel Fitzwilliam did set her body at ease. Even though his grip had been quite familiar when he stopped her from falling headlong into the crowd, she’d felt a sense of safety. It was both unnerving and unexpected.
On the other hand, Mr. Darcy shook her temperament to the core. With only a look, she’d been reduced to a puddle of nerves. She hadn’t felt someone’s thoughts like that in years, and even then, never this focused or precise. At this rate, she’d be in stiff competition with Lydia for being the silliest girl in all of England. He hadn’t even laid a hand on her, yet she’d know his touch even in the dark. And that scared her to the very marrow of her bones.