Book 9 in the Dash of Darcy and Companions Collection is a fun, playful tale called Unravelling Mr. Darcy. The story begins, as you will see below, with Elizabeth giving Darcy a second chance immediately after his proposal — as in before he fled the parsonage. And Darcy is not about to fail in securing her heart this time!
Fitzwilliam Darcy took one final lingering look at the lady who had stolen his heart, then crushed it beneath her dainty slippers. With some effort, he turned and willed himself to leave the parsonage even though his heart cried out for him to stay and plead his case. But what could he say? He had injured her sister in separating her from his friend. The injury was not intentionally done, but it was done nonetheless. And he had done it.
She was also correct in that he had been aloof, but was that not to be expected from one of his position? He had to think of his family when choosing a wife. Did she not realize the great difficulty he would likely face in presenting a lady of little means, with a family seemingly devoid of manners that would recommend them, to the highest circles in the ton?
What she was not correct about was Wickham. But how could he defend himself on that account without placing his sister’s reputation in jeopardy? Why could she not see that Mr. Wickham was too charming to be trusted? She was not unintelligent. She was actually very clever and, yet, also very duped by a charismatic deceiver.
His shoulders sagged under the weight of such tormenting thoughts as he pulled open the door to the sitting room and prepared to leave his heart behind, laying at her feet, with no hope of it ever being restored.
His steps faltered just a bit as he stepped out into the passageway. He closed his eyes and whispered a plea that he not be sent away from her. With a sigh of resignation, he placed his hat on his head. He had hoped there would be an instant answer to his petition, but perchance he was to be punished for having harmed another by suffering the same fate of being separated from the person he loved.
“Wait. Do not go.”
Darcy turned slowly toward the door to the sitting room. Was his mind playing a trick on him? Was it making him hear words that he wished to hear but were not actually spoken? He had already learned that the orb between his ears was not to be trusted in its contemplations of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It had been certain she would welcome his addresses. It had fancied her in love with him, and it had been wrong — horribly, cruelly wrong!
“Do not go,” Elizabeth said once again when he turned her direction. “Please.”
“Are you certain?” Darcy asked as he came to the door of the sitting room.
Elizabeth nodded. “I should not have spoken as I did.” She wrapped an arm around her abdomen and took a tentative seat on a chair. “I was abominably rude and have no excuse to plead, save my indisposition.” She rubbed a small circular pattern on her forehead between her brows as if to still the throbbing that lay behind her fingers.
Darcy took in the prospect of the woman before him. Her cousin had said that she had not come to Rosings due to a headache, and it looked to be a genuine malady and not just a ploy to avoid his aunt or for him to be able to find her alone.
He deposited his hat and gloves on a small table near the window that faced the front garden and crossed the room to sit near her. “You are unwell,” he said, and then he grimaced. Of course, she already knew she was unwell. He did not need to tell her.
She smiled at him and opened her mouth as if to speak but then closed it again before rising quickly, one arm still wrapped tightly around her middle. “Please wait. I shall not be long,” she said and hurried from the room.
For several minutes, Darcy paced the small sitting room, pausing each time he passed the door to listen for footsteps in the hall.
Quite obviously Miss Elizabeth was unwell and had remained at the parsonage because of that reason, and for that reason alone. He shook his head. Such arrogance to think she was possibly providing him an opportunity to make his offer! She had not been expecting his addresses at all. It was a sobering thought.
All of the ladies of his acquaintance who were not married, as well as a few who were, constantly put themselves in his path in an attempt to snare him for one reason or another. But not Miss Elizabeth. She didn’t fawn over him or promote herself to him. She was different — in a most agreeable way.
She was intelligent and lively. He sighed. And beautiful — not in the fashion of the day. He shook his head again. No, in this way she was also different. Her features, to look at them with a critical eye, as he had attempted to do, were not classically beautiful, but her eyes — how they danced and sparkled, capturing her every emotion. Her smile lit her face. She moved with grace, and her figure was exceedingly pleasing — slight but womanly.
He stopped once more near the door to the sitting room to listen for her approach, and hearing footsteps, he hurried to stand near the mantle. It would not do to be found wringing his hands and hovering at the door like some anxious nursemaid.
He did a fine job of playing the part of an unaffected gentleman for a full ten ticks of the clock before he was propelled to her side by the ashen hue of her face.
“You are ill,” he said as he assisted her to her chair. “May I call for someone to come sit with you? Is there anything that you require? I could send for the apothecary if you would like. In fact, I could fetch him for you myself.” The words fell from his lips as rapidly as his grandmother’s did when she was concerned and on the verge of a nervous fit. He clamped his lips closed and sat beside Elizabeth.
“I require nothing but a few moments of quiet,” Elizabeth said, placing a hand on his knee, stopping it from bouncing. “The tapping of your foot,” she explained when he looked at her in surprise.
He grimaced. It was not like him to be so very agitated, but then the lady sitting next to him had been unsettling him from the moment he had met her.
“I should go. You are in need of rest, and I am keeping you from it.”
His voice was as apologetic as his look. If he stayed, he was likely to cause her greater distress than he had already caused.
“Are you certain there is nothing I can get you to ease your discomfort?”
He could use a good swift ride and a large burning drink. His every fiber seemed on edge.
She bit back a smile and that tauntingly impertinent eyebrow raised as she glanced at his hands which were rubbing back and forth on his knees. Immediately, he stilled them and rose.
“Please stay. I assure you my affliction is nothing out of the ordinary.”
“But you are ill. Your head hurts, and I assume your stomach is unsettled,” he protested as he began pacing. “You are in need of care.”
“Mr. Darcy, please sit down.”
Her tone was curt, and he immediately complied with a wary look.
“Your pacing was making me feel quite faint,” she explained. “It is easier at the moment to look at you when you are still.” She sighed.
His brows drew together, creating a worried crease as he looked at her. How could she wish for him to stay and claim that she was not ill? He could plainly see her discomfort. Her skin was not so ashen as it had been, but she was paler than normal, and her eyes did not contain the same liveliness. Would it not be better for her to go to bed and rest? He should insist upon that very thing, and he would insist if he were not so drawn to remain here with her. He had willed himself out of the room once already, and it seemed his heart was not in a state to cooperate a second time.
“I do not wish to be indelicate, sir. I assure you I do know what is right and proper,” she began, her cheeks flushing to a more normal colour and then to a deeper hue. “However, since you have a sister who is in your care, I will assume you are not completely ignorant of the fact that at certain times a lady suffers from a particular indisposition. For some fortunate souls, it is a trifling matter. Unfortunately, I am not among the fortunate. So, as you can see, there is no need for concern.”
Ah! He felt himself relax. This he both understood and knew how to assist.
“What you need,” he said with a smile, “is a small glass of wine and a warming brick.” He kept his tone soft and soothing. “Might I call for them?”
A small smile crept across her lips. “Your help would be most welcome.”
He rose and, leaving the room, found the housekeeper and made his requests. Then, returning to the sitting room, he pulled a small footstool close to her chair for her use, took a small quilt that hung on the end of a chaise, and draped it over her legs.
“My sister, Georgiana, insists that warmth helps,” he explained,” unless it is summer; then warmth merely adds to her misery.”
“You must be a good brother,” Elizabeth said as she tucked the blanket around her waist.
“I wish I could say I am, but I fear I have failed her on more than one occasion.” He walked to the door and stood looking down the passageway.
“Surely you are too hard on yourself.”
“Do you think me incapable of failure?” His voice held a hint of anger. Her words accusing him of not being a gentleman still stung. He should likely not indulge that feeling at present, but the wound was too fresh to ignore. “I should think you would find me more than proficient in it.”
She opened her mouth, and he expected a protest. However, no words fell from her lips before she closed them again. Her brows furrowed and her head tipped as she scrutinized him for a moment. Then with a bewildered look and a slight shake of her head, she again opened her mouth. This time the action was accompanied by words, but they were still not a protest.
“I fear I accused you unjustly,” she said.
Darcy lifted an eyebrow and folded his arms across his chest as he leaned against the door frame, waiting for her to continue.
Her head bowed. “I should have asked you about my concerns rather than racing to unfounded conclusions.”
There was contrition in her tone, and he longed to ease her discomfort just as he did when Georgiana used such a tone. But, he would not. He held his peace and allowed her to continue.
“I am ashamed to say at times such as these, my temper often gets the best of my tongue and together the two can cause much damage.”
He pushed off the door frame and moved into the room as a servant arrived with the wine and warming brick. “Place the brick on the small of your back, if you can, and sip the wine slowly. I would lower the lights to ease the pain in your head, but for propriety’s sake, I dare not. However, if you feel the need to close your eyes, I will understand.”
She shook her head but did as he suggested. “You, sir, are an enigma,” she said, situating the brick as he slipped a pillow behind her upper back. “I truly cannot make out your character. One moment you are lofty in manner, ordering and directing the lives of those around you, and the next, you are solicitous and gracious. You are a contradiction.” She took a small sip of wine and then placed her glass on the table next to her chair.