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Authors: Abigail Reynolds

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #United States, #Romance, #Regency, #Historical Fiction, #Historical Romance

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World

BOOK: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
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Pemberley Variations 02 Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy; The Last Man in the
World

By Abigail Reynolds

Chapter 1

"In a moment, when we leave
the trees, you will be able to see the house," said Mr. Darcy. "There
it is, across the valley--Pemberley House."

Elizabeth
smiled at him dutifully, then looked out the window of the carriage where he
was pointing. The house was large and handsome, even at this distance, and its
situation on a rising hill above the water was lovely. Of course, she had
expected as much, having heard its praises sung by Miss Bingley as well as
Darcy himself. In other circumstances, she might have been delighted by it.

She
became aware that his eyes were upon her awaiting her response. Obediently she
turned to him and said, "It is lovely, sir. I do not believe I have ever
seen a house more fortunately situated."

His
face warmed with pleasure, and Elizabeth hurriedly looked out the window again,
pretending to examine the nearer aspects of the house as they drove along a
stream which wound its way downhill. There was no denying the beauty of the
park. It would be some consolation to have such fine-looking grounds to wander
through whenever she wished.

The
driver called out to the horses as they pulled up in front of the house. Darcy
stepped out immediately, then turned to offer his hand to Elizabeth.

She
placed her own upon it, accepting his support as she stepped down, then allowed
him to bring her hand to his lips for an intimate caress. There was no point,
after all, in pretending he did not have the right, or that he had not spent
the previous night taking every imaginable liberty with her body. She had no
reason to complain; he had been kind and gentle, but after a second long day of
travel, her spirits were flagging, and she found the pretence of happiness more
difficult to sustain.

He
did not release her hand, and eventually she glanced up at him to fi nd a
slight smile upon his lips. "Welcome to Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy," he
said with evident satisfaction.

To
Elizabeth's relief, the rooms and furnishings of Pemberley House showed more
restraint and true elegance than she had expected. She had tried to imagine
living in an even grander and more ostentatious version of Rosings; at least
her surroundings would be more pleasant than that. It demonstrated more good
taste on Mr. Darcy's part than she would have anticipated. In all fairness, she
had to admit there had been no reason to think he lacked taste beyond the
garishness of his aunt's residence. Nothing about his appearance, from his
frock coats to his horses, was ever lacking.

She
schooled herself to remember how little she knew this man who was her husband.
It was imperative that she learn to grant him the benefit of the doubt if they
were not both to be unhappy.

She
was greeted respectfully by the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. The household
appeared to be excellently managed; she could have no complaints in that
regard. The servants were deferential without being obsequious, and Darcy
appeared genuinely glad to see some of them.

Finally
he asked if she would like to see her rooms. Hoping for the chance to refresh
herself, she agreed, and followed him through a maze of corridors to a large,
well-lit suite.

Darcy
closed the door behind them and took her into his arms. It was something she
had become accustomed to and in general it no longer made her uncomfortable;
but, after the intimacies of the previous night, it felt like an intrusion. She
schooled herself to bear it and accepted his kisses.

If
only she could have a few minutes to herself! She had barely been out of his
company since she walked into church the previous day. It was a long time to
play the role of the contented wife without an intermission.

Finally,
in desperation, she suggested to him that she needed a little rest, and he
reluctantly departed, promising to see her shortly at dinner. As the door
closed, leaving her alone at last, her facade visibly collapsed, her shoulders
slumping in despair. Surely this would become easier with time.

She
lay down on the bed, larger than any she had ever slept in before, to which she
was supposed to welcome her new husband. Tears of loneliness and fatigue
slipped down her face.

How
had her life come to this? If only she had paid more attention to Darcy's puzzling
behaviour when they first met and then later at Rosings, perhaps she might have
prevented it. But that was useless speculation. There was nothing left but to
make the best of it.

It
had begun on one of her solitary rambles through the grounds of Rosings Park.
It was a pleasant day; the sun was shining in a clear sky and Elizabeth enjoyed
the crisp air of the morning with no hint of the disaster to come.

As
had happened more than once before, she came across Mr. Darcy while passing
through her favourite glade, and again, he seemed to feel it necessary to
accompany her back to the parsonage. Wishing she were still alone, Elizabeth
had only half-attended to his occasional forays at conversation. At one point
he turned to her for a response, and with the indistinct idea he had been
discussing the house at Rosings, she remarked that the house was so large she
was sure she had not seen half of everything it had to offer.

"That
will change on your future visits, when you will spend more of your time
there," said Mr. Darcy.

His
expectation that she would want to know Rosings better irritated her. She said
archly, "Do not wish such a fate on me, sir! I assure you that should I
visit Kent again, I will be perfectly content to spend my days at the
parsonage."

"Surely
you know this is no teasing matter, Miss Bennet," he said. There was an
edge to his voice that made her look at him sharply.

"Mr.
Darcy, I have no conception of any sort on the subject."

"You
know what my hopes and wishes are," he said in a voice of tight intensity.
"You have seen me struggle against it, but it will not do. None of the
objections--and I know there are many--none have the power to move me any
longer. My feelings will not be suppressed. I have never been so bewitched by
any woman. Your low connections, the degradation which it will bring to my
honoured family name, the opposition I will face from my family have long
prevented me from speaking or even considering a union with someone so far my
inferior."

Elizabeth's
astonishment was beyond expression. Could he possibly be attempting to declare
himself? Mr. Darcy, who was so proud as to look at her only to criticize? She
could not credit it. That he would harbour such insulting thoughts about her
family was not surprising, but what lunacy could bring him to say them aloud?

He
continued, unaware of her silent struggle. "But ardent love will not be
denied. I can no longer imagine a future without you by my side. Your wit, your
charm, your beauty hold me captive. The depth of my tender regard for you can
be demonstrated no better than by the obstacles I have overcome to make this
declaration."

She
could hardly believe she was not dreaming, but she could never have dreamt a
more absurd set of circumstances. She knew she must stop him, and she turned to
him with great determination. "Mr. Darcy," she began, but before she
could say anything further, he had taken her by the arms and pressed his lips
against hers.

She
felt nothing but shock that he would so violate propriety as to take a
husband's prerogative. As soon as she could speak, she cried, "Mr. Darcy!
You must not--"

"No,
Elizabeth, indeed I must," he said in a voice of surprising tenderness.

"You
need not worry. I will not allow anyone in my family to be unkind to you."

"That
is hardly the point, sir," she said, her voice trembling with barely
suppressed anger. "You assume far too much."

"Surely
you do not think your father will deny my suit?" There was a light

of
exhilaration in his eyes. Before Elizabeth realized what was happening, he was
kissing her again. This time she struggled free and backed away from him. She
could not believe it, even of him.

His
countenance expressed concern but no loss of assurance. "My apologies,
dearest Elizabeth. It was not my intention to frighten you."

"Darcy!"
An angry male voice interrupted them. "How dare you?"

Startled,
Elizabeth turned to discover Colonel Fitzwilliam, breathing heavily as if he
had been running. Close behind him were two of Lady Catherine's gamekeepers.

Her
first response was relief at no longer being alone with Mr. Darcy; the second,
horror as she realized Colonel Fitzwilliam must have seen the entire episode.
There could be no hiding her shame; there were too many witnesses.

Darcy
did not even look taken aback. "You misunderstand, Fitzwilliam. Miss
Bennet has just done me the honour of consenting to become my wife."

Was
his pride so great that it did not occur to him she might refuse him?

Elizabeth
opened her mouth to deny his allegation, but before any sound could emerge, she
recognized her danger. If she claimed it was not true, her reputation was
ruined, regardless of whether she had welcomed his advances or not. What was
her other option, though--marriage to a man she heartily disliked? She looked
at him, utterly furious he had put her in this position.

Colonel
Fitzwilliam turned to her. "My congratulations, Miss Bennet," he
said. "I wish you the best of luck with that rogue." He smiled at his
own joke.

No,
she was sure of it--she would prefer ruin to marriage to Mr. Darcy.

Even
had she liked him, his cruelty to Mr. Wickham would have convinced her against
him, and she still suspected he had a hand in Jane's cruel disappointment.

Dearest
Jane--what would this do to her when word of Elizabeth's shame got out? It
would be the ruin of her as well, and of their other sisters; what little
marital chance they had would not survive Elizabeth's disgrace. Jane and Mary,
Lydia and Kitty--they would be forced to grow old together, spinsters surviving
on the charity of the Gardiners and the Philipses.

Although
she would not marry Mr. Darcy to save herself, neither could she condemn her
sisters. Tasting the ashes of lost hopes, she said faintly, "Thank you,
Colonel."

She
could not even look at Darcy. He was standing closer to her than she liked, and
she could hear the happiness in his voice as he accepted his cousin's
congratulations. "But let us not tell Lady Catherine until I have Mr.
Bennet's consent," he said. "I will ride to Hertfordshire tomorrow;
and, if all goes well, I will return the following day."

Elizabeth
could not even begin to imagine what her father's response might be. Oh, how
had she found herself in this miserable situation? Her sole consolation was
that Colonel Fitzwilliam was disinclined to let her return to the parsonage
with only Darcy for company after what he had
witnessed
earlier. She did not think she could bear it if Darcy touched her again that
day.

She
managed somehow to make replies when she was spoken to, but she barely knew
what she was saying; her mind was awash with dismay.

Surely
there must be some escape from this! Perhaps if she spoke to Colonel
Fitzwilliam, she could convince him to tell no one. But no, that would not
help--there were still the gamekeepers, and she had no hope of keeping them
silent.

They
reached the parsonage at last. She did not invite them in. Darcy bowed over her
hand, and when she met his eyes she found them full of a bright fire she had
never seen in him before. It unnerved her, but she forced her lips into a
smile.

She
went into the house, barely pausing to greet Charlotte in a civil manner before
she fled to her room. Charlotte was not deceived, and made haste to follow her.

"What
is troubling you, Lizzy?" Charlotte asked as they reached the sanctuary of
Elizabeth's room.

Under
ordinary circumstances, Elizabeth preferred to keep her difficulties private,
but it was pointless now. Charlotte would know what had happened soon enough;
indeed, everyone would know.

"I
am engaged to Mr. Darcy," she said in a lifeless voice.

"Eliza,
my dear!" cried Charlotte. She was not completely surprised, as she had
often thought Mr. Darcy interested in Elizabeth. Her friend, though, looked so
unhappy that Charlotte checked her impulse to congratulate her on making a
brilliant marriage, and said only, "It is a very prudent match for
you."

"It
is not for me at all! He caught me quite by surprise with his proposal, and I
should have refused him in no uncertain terms; but, before I could, he kissed
me without so much as a by-your-leave, and we were observed,"

Elizabeth
said angrily. "He is the last man in the world I wish to marry."

"Oh,
Lizzy. I am sorry you are unhappy for it. I know how much you dislike him, but
is it not possible that, with greater knowledge of him, your opinion might
improve?"

"What
is there to learn of him? I know what he has done to Mr. Wickham, I have heard
him speak most degradingly of my family, and he has conceit enough to assume I
would marry him! If it were not for the disgrace would bring my sisters, I
would never, never have agreed."

"It
will be an advantage for your sisters as well. Only think--you may be in a
position to bring Mr. Bingley and our dear Jane back together."

"Something
which is only necessary because my future husband likely had a hand in
separating them!" Elizabeth paused to think; it would be some consolation
to her if her sacrifice could lead to Jane's happiness.

Charlotte
observed the change in her friend's face. "Marriage is a matter of
compromise, Eliza. I know you believe I have compromised more than I should. I
do not think Mr. Darcy is totally without redeeming features, even apart from
the practicalities. By all reports he is a good brother and guardian to his
sister, and Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley, both amiable gentleman, have
called him friend for years. He is well educated and sensible, which I know is
of importance to you. He has his faults, but I cannot believe he is all
bad." She left hanging between them the spectre of Mr. Collins; knowing
how Lizzy felt about him, perhaps the comparison might give her some ease.

BOOK: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World
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