Alrighty! We’re up to Chapter 3! If you haven’t read Chapter 1 or Chapter 2, click on the links to catch up 🙂 Meanwhile, the preorder is up on Amazon, so go on over and make sure your copy is on your Kindle first thing on June 15. Still editing and proofreading so any mistakes are mine!
Let’s get to Chapter 3!
After the last of the guests departed, Richard motioned in the direction of the study. “I believe we were to have a glass of brandy.”
“This truly is not necessary.” How could he muster the fortitude, not to mention the equanimity, to confide in Richard? Georgiana had set her trap, and he could not very well chew off an arm or a leg to free himself. “I am not Georgiana, who needs to speak of every happening and every emotion she possesses.”
“Richard!” His cousin winced, and Darcy pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. The reaction to Aunt Catherine’s tone was the same now as it was when Richard was a boy. “Do you not have your own home? I am sure Darcy wishes to retire after such a long and trying day.”
“We were to have a brandy, Aunt.” Richard’s shoulders were rigid. He had always required at least a half-hour complete to relax in their aunt’s presence. “I am certain my cousin does not object to a bit of gentlemanly conversation before he retires.”
His aunt jabbed at Richard with her walking stick. “If the conversation is with you, I am certain it is far from ‘gentlemanly.’”Darcy coughed in a failed attempt to restrain his mirth. “Besides, I have estate matters to discuss with Darcy that cannot be delayed. I depart at first light, and I have no intention of rising at some ungodly hour so you can conduct your ‘gentlemanly conversation’ tonight. You live close enough to come again on the morrow if Fitzwilliam desires your company.”
Richard stepped beside Darcy, leaning close to his shoulder. “I shall not forget Georgiana’s concern. You will tell me.”
Darcy stared straight ahead and said nothing. His aunt had granted him a much-needed reprieve, and he would make the most of the opportunity she was affording him. The moment the door closed, his aunt drew herself up and resituated her walking stick. “I overheard his conversation with Georgiana. If in your place, I would not be pleased with her interference into my affairs. As far as I am concerned, you are entitled to keep your own counsel. She had no right, regardless of her good intentions.”
“I appreciate your aid, Aunt.”
“Yes, well, I recognise grief when I see it.” She held up a hand and shook her head. “I do not require an explanation unless you wish to tell me. After Anne’s death, Lady Fitzwilliam tried to force me to speak of my feelings when what I desired most was solitude. You have helped with Rosings and brought Georgiana to visit while allowing me to grieve as I needed. I wished to afford you the same opportunity.” She walked towards his study. “Now pour me a glass of sherry.”
He offered his aunt his arm and helped her to the sofa. When he handed her the glass of wine, she huffed. “With Georgiana gone and you not entertaining, no one else will be drinking the sherry. Do not be stingy.”
He bit his lip and topped off the glass before pouring himself a sizeable brandy. A fire had already been lit and the room was warm in preparation for the remainder of his day. His servants knew his current habits well. They had also lit the two candles near his desk, which he would extinguish once his aunt retired.
“Your sister made an excellent match. You should be proud.”
“He sat in one of the chairs near the fire and nodded. “I am. She has become a poised and intelligent young lady. I cannot be anything but proud.”
“She seems blissful, and he is obviously taken with her. I believe they shall do well together.” His aunt held the delicate crystal glass just below her chin while she stared into the fire. “I once hoped for a match such as that your sister has made. I was never so fortunate.” She had never before spoken of her marriage. Georgiana’s wedding must have brought those memories to the fore.
“Were you dissatisfied with Sir Lewis?”
After a laborious inhale, she sighed. “Your mother never told you of my marriage.” It was more a statement than a question.
“How do you mean?”
Her hand holding the sherry lowered to rest on her leg. “As much as I had hoped for a successful first Season, I was greatly disappointed. I could blame it on the quality of the ladies who debuted that Season, but I am certain the same could be said of every Season. I smiled and attempted to impress the gentlemen, but the few who called were more interested in my fortune than me.”
He rested his elbow on the arm of the chair. “How did you come to wed de Bourgh?”
After my fourth Season, my father died. My brother had been a spoiled, selfish prig for as long as I could remember, and I was unwilling to entrust my future to him. I had met Sir Lewis during my first Season. He was just returning to society after losing his wife, who had died during childbirth. We developed a friendship over the years. After my father passed, he called upon me and offered his hand. He was ill. He knew he did not have a great deal of time remaining and had not found a lady he desired to marry. He said he preferred our conversations on politics and literature to the remarks of other ladies on the weather and the latest fashions.” She took a sip of her sherry. “He hoped for an heir, and I needed to escape. He did not love me any more than I loved him, but we were dear friends. In the end, we both benefited. Unlike his previous children, Anne survived her first year, and I cared for him until he succumbed.”
He furrowed his brow and let the crackling of the fire in the grate soothe him. “I do not remember much of him, but I do remember he was quite fond of Anne.”
A slight smile graced her face. “Rosings was not entailed, so he was well-pleased with a girl. She was, as the bard would say, the ‘apple of his eye.’”
“Have you ever thought of marrying again?”
She straightened with a jerk. “Why should I do that?”
“For love,” he said in a soft voice.
“Nephew, Anne inherited Rosings when she came of age, and you inherited it with her death. I am indebted to you for allowing me to remain in my home.”
“I have no need to force you to the Dower house—”
She shook her head. “I enjoy not being under the rule of a man. I have no desire to humble myself when I take great pleasure in presiding over my home.”
He could not help but smile. “Is that why you choose parsons who bow and scrape—”
His aunt scoffed and pointed a bony, knotted finger in his direction. “Impertinent boy. Never forget that I know of your exploits, young man.”
“I have never had exploits.” He relaxed back into his chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. Who could have known his aunt would be so altered after Anne’s death? She had become rather likeable as opposed to the domineering woman who had once insisted he wed her daughter. “You are confusing me with Richard.” His humour faltered, and he trained his eyes on the flickering shadow of the flame on the carpet. “How is your new companion?”
“Frightened of her own shadow, not that I blame her.” His aunt sighed and shrugged. “She is tolerable company and has become accustomed to the household servants. They are considerate of her, even though they do not understand why she is so timid.”
“Does she still have nightmares?” His eyes met his aunt’s. “You made mention of them some time ago.”
“They are not as frequent.” She stood and filled her glass. “Truly, she is much improved. She takes walks in the gardens near the house, accompanied by a maid and a footman when I do not wish for exercise. The pianoforte lessons you provided were appreciated—she often shuts herself away in the music room to play while I have callers. Since my eyesight has begun to decline, she reads to me. I purchased the latest Radcliffe from Hatchard’s yesterday as a gift for when I return. I also purchased some fabric for new gowns. The bonnets and trimmings you sent for Christmastide were well-received. She passed a great deal of time decorating her new hats. She even smiled.”
“Then I am pleased.” He watched the fire until his aunt sat in her chair once more.
“Did you ever find the blackguard who did this to her?”
He nodded, still staring into the fire. “I did.”
She lifted her generous eyebrows. “Well? Tell me he cannot harm another young lady, and I shall be satisfied.”
He stood and propped his arm on the mantel while he poked the fire. “He is gone. He cannot harm another young lady.”
“Are you certain he cannot return?”
“He is working as a labourer at a port in the East Indies. The company is aware of his past and has told the captains he is not to be given passage to any destination to prevent him from making a circuitous route back to England. Even should he somehow acquire the funds, he cannot return.”
His aunt took a long draw from her sherry and gave a low laugh that sent a chill up his spine. “I am not sorry. He deserves every bit of unhappiness, for it will never equal her suffering. Your father spoilt that young good-for-nothing. I am proud of you for correcting his mistake.”
“He never appreciated what he had. He always wanted more.” His voice was soft, but his aunt’s shake of her head demonstrated that she had heard him.
“No, and I daresay Richard would heartily approve if he knew. Do not dare feel guilt for his fate, Fitzwilliam,” she said in a firm tone. “He coveted your position and wealth and was willing to hurt others for a piece of it. Harming servants and those he could not use for profit was for nothing more than entertainment, and when he ceased to find sport in it, he abandoned them. In the case of that poor girl, she would have rotted in the back alleys of Saffron Hill if not for you. No, he deserved far worse, but I would not have you responsible for his death. This is a much better solution.”
He indulged in a sizeable sip of his brandy and closed his eyes as he swallowed. His aunt’s company was in no way objectionable, but how he longed for solitude. The house had been a hive of activity since breakfast. He needed quiet.
“You appear tired, Nephew,” said Aunt Catherine.
“I am weary. I am thankful I was spared speaking to Richard this evening, but behaving as though I am a social creature to those at the wedding and breakfast was a chore.”
She set her glass on the side table. “You did well. You are a good brother.”
He blinked a few times and smiled. “Georgiana has said as much. I am glad she is contented, but I am going to miss her.”
“It would be strange if you did not.” When she began to stand, Darcy made to rise with her, but she stayed him. “No, I require no fuss. I shall see myself to my chambers.” She patted his shoulder, situated her walking stick, and took a step. “Do not hide yourself away. I expect you at Rosings before too long.” She opened the door, peering back once more before leaving. “Good night, Fitzwilliam.”
He tipped his glass in her direction. “Good night.” As soon as he was alone, he swallowed the last of his brandy and poured himself a second helping. Once he had the full glass in hand, he stepped before the window and stared without seeing across Park Lane and into the dark shadows of Hyde Park.
Tomorrow, the knocker would be removed from the door. Now that Georgiana was wed, he had no reason to accept callers. When he met with Mrs. Northcott and Watson in the morning, he would also ensure Richard was kept at bay for the time being. They could post footmen at the entrances to the servants’ passages. Richard had hoped to journey with Darcy to Pemberley in a month or so, but perhaps he could conclude his business and away to Pemberley before Richard was ready to depart. In the perfect plan, Georgiana’s request would be long forgotten by the time they were in company once again.
He sighed and rested his head against the cool glass. He should retire. The sitting room attached to his bedchamber boasted of a supply of brandy. He took a sip, relishing the bite, and made his way to the stairs. The sooner he found sleep, the sooner he could dream of a happier life—a life with Elizabeth by his side.
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