The last bit of sunlight was fading from the sky by the time Elizabeth and her husband Mr. Darcy boarded the carriage for his home. A good half an hour back, he’d ceased speaking at all, and his dark mood had begun to infect the rest of the party. Lydia and Mr. Wickham lingered over wine and brandy, clearly not eager to call a halt to the festivities, but Mrs. Gardiner asked if the Darcys would like their carriage called, and Elizabeth was relieved to answer in the affirmative. Her husband Mr. Darcy was clearly miserable at dinner. Perhaps, in his haste to finalize their wedding, he had not considered it would include the insupportable fact of dining in the house of a tradesman who had not even one real footman on his staff.
Her husband Mr. Darcy’s carriage came with four from his townhouse.
She had seen one of her husband Mr. Darcy’s carriages in Meryton, of course, and at Pemberley, too. But she’d never been inside. It was quite fine—as fine, even as the one Lady Catherine had sent for the Collinses upon occasion in Hunsford.
Her husband Mr. Darcy helped her into the carriage, then settled himself across from her in the same stony silence that marked the end of their dinner. The door shut.
“Are you quite warm?” asked her husband Mr. Darcy.
She stroked the end of the shawl covering her shoulders. “Yes, thank you.”
He nodded and looked out the window. Her husband. In their carriage.
No, it did not matter how many times she thought the words. It would not register in her mind as fact.
“It occurs to me,” she said now, attempting a smile, “that I do not know in which part of London I now live.”
He turned back to her, and she was relieved to see that he, too, smiled. “We live in Mayfair, on Grosvenor Square. I hope you like that.”
“I’m sure I shall grow used to it.”
“We do not have to be there long. We can return to Pemberley. I had thought…” he trailed off. “I admit, I have not had much of a chance to give it any real thought. But I had thought you might wish to stay in London for a while. You would be closer to your family, should you wish to have them visit.”
“Thank you,” she replied, though she was not able to say more. She could hardly ask the Bennets to come to her husband, Mr. Darcy’s, townhouse before she’d even seen it. “I suppose you shall have to write your sister. You will give her quite a shock.”
“Not as much as you may imagine. And I have written her. I did it this afternoon.” He glanced at his hands. “I asked her to come back to London as well. I thought, with the household…” Again, he trailed off.
Of course. She would now be the head of the household, displacing the role Miss Darcy must have trained for. “I very much wish to see your sister.” She, too, studied her hands. “When I said shock, I was not speaking of our marriage…though I’m sure that will come as a surprise to all our acquaintance.”
“They will adjust,” he said, his tone clipped.
“We shall all adjust, sir.”
His eyes snapped to her. Her husband’s eyes. “Of what do you speak?”
Elizabeth flinched. “I just wanted to make certain that Miss Darcy is…quite prepared for all the news which accompanies our sudden wedding.” Including the news that Mr. Wickham got married as well.
His expression softened. “Yes. I did not include that in my note to Georgiana. There will be time to speak to her of it when she arrives.”
Georgiana. Elizabeth supposed she, too, would soon call her that.
“I would not want the information to catch her by surprise,” said Elizabeth. “Especially given that much of your reason for arranging things as you have was to make sure our wedding is widely talked of.”
“Much of my—” he frowned, and looked away again, and did not say anything else for the rest of the ride.
Elizabeth paled and clutched her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. She had said something wrong.
Her husband Mr. Darcy’s house in Mayfair was very grand indeed, and the servants were all lined up to meet their new mistress, despite the late hour. She was introduced to the butler and the housekeeper, Mrs. Samson, who promised to start the search for a suitable lady’s maid first thing in the morning, while assuring her that all Elizabeth’s things had been taken from the Gardiners’ house earlier and were unpacked in her room according to Mrs. Samson’s exacting instructions.
“I instructed Mrs. Samson to put you in my mother’s old room,” said her husband Mr. Darcy, his voice low.
“Of course,” she replied. “Thank you.”
“If you’d like, Mrs. Darcy, I can show you there now.”
Mrs. Darcy. Mrs. Darcy.
“Thank you, I am rather tired.” She looked at Mr. Darcy, but he was already speaking to his valet. Whose name she had already forgotten.
She felt short of breath as they climbed the stairs and she saw the art on the wall, the scope of the house itself. It was a miniature Pemberley in taste and furnishings, more finely fitted out than even she had anticipated. Tomorrow she would have to ask Mrs. Samson to show her around. Or maybe her husband Mr. Darcy would want to do it.
Mrs. Samson kept speaking as they climbed the stairs. She was clearly trying to discover, in as polite a way as possible, where the rest of Elizabeth’s belongings were. Would her father be sending down her things from Hertfordshire? Was a trousseau forthcoming from Mrs. Darcy’s dressmaker in the country, or should she prepare for a shipment from the Cheapside shops?
The entire household must be in utter shock. That none of them displayed so much as a raised eyebrow at the country miss who’d arrived on their doorstep was a testament to their good breeding. Mrs. Samson was not quite so friendly to her as Mrs. Reynolds had been in Derbyshire, but, then again, Mrs. Reynolds was merely greeting a visitor. Mrs. Samson had the duty of abruptly welcoming a new mistress.
Her room was beautiful. She had worried, at first, that she might be displacing Georgiana, but this room, though freshly refinished, lacked any kind of personal touch that might have indicated it belonged to the young Miss Darcy. This room may have been the late Lady Anne’s, but it had clearly been made over in recent years.
Her bed was high and wide, with giant posters on all four corners, and long white curtains that could be drawn completely closed. A thick, blue rug was laid across the polished floor, and silk-covered chairs and delicately painted tables were arranged prettily before the fireplace. There were wardrobes large and small and a dainty dressing table with a large mirror. Landscapes hung upon the wall in ornate frames, and the curtains were drawn over what must be a set of grand windows.
Elizabeth had thought she might have a few days to adjust to the reality of being Mrs. Darcy before she was thrust into Pemberley. But it took only a few moments in this house to realize that it was nothing less than a piece of Pemberley in London. Everything she had admired of its master’s taste there was echoed here. The room had not been designed for her, but may as well have been for the delight it inspired in her breast.
Her things were right where Mrs. Samson had informed her they would be, and Elizabeth withdrew a packet of paper and sat at the lovely inlaid writing desk to begin a letter to her sister.
My dearest Jane,
By now, you have heard of my great news, and I know in your goodness you will be overcome with happiness for me. I am overcome as well, though with what, it remains to be seen. I offer my most sincere apology for Mama’s vapors. I know they must not have been easy to bear. You alone know this marriage is not wholly a surprise, but even you must have not have expected such a short transformation of my wishes and name. Our sister’s plight has overshadowed much of what I might otherwise have written to you, first during my travels in Derbyshire and now when I am in London. Had I leave to share with you my innermost thoughts upon first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley, I may have spared you whatever shock you are experiencing now. When we meet again I shall be able to explain everything, but for now, I can only say that you must believe me to hold all the proper feelings of a woman who has found herself in a situation such as mine.
There was a knock on the door. “Come in.”
“Ma’am?” Mrs. Samson entered. “Do you wish to retire? I shall help you undress.”
Retire? Elizabeth hid her wry smile as she set aside the unfinished letter to Jane. She wondered, for a moment, if Mr. Darcy himself had sent his housekeeper to make the suggestion. It would fit what she knew of his habit of arranging everything just so. A great man like Darcy had never been denied anything he wanted. She’d attempted it once, and now look at her—Mrs. Darcy, awaiting his orders in her London townhouse.
Do you intend, Miss Bennet, to displease me?
His voice echoed in her head.
If Mrs. Samson thought the simple muslin nightgown that Elizabeth had packed for her journey through Derbyshire left something to be desired for a wedding night, she said nothing, as she helped Elizabeth out of her clothes and removed the pins from her hair. The woman was too discreet, too genteel. Elizabeth regretted that it was her best option, too, but she had to admit that upon packing it, all those weeks ago at Longbourn, she had not thought of its potential use. At least her dressing gown was silk and embroidered with lovely flowers in Jane’s most delicate hand.
“Will you braid it?” she asked Mrs. Samson, as her hair tumbled about her shoulders.
Mrs. Samson gave her an odd look. “Do you not want it down?”
Taken aback, Elizabeth blinked. “Do I?”
The older woman smiled. “I think you may, ma’am. You look most fetching by firelight.”
The housekeeper put away Elizabeth’s clothes and made as if to depart. “Will you require anything else of me this evening, Mrs. Darcy?”
“No, thank you.”
The woman curtseyed and left. Elizabeth sank back to her seat, feeling restive and chilly and hot all at once. Any hope of finishing her letter to Jane was lost. She could not be witty and jocular with her sister tonight. Her famous impertinence had fled.
There was another knock. Perhaps Mrs. Samson had thought of something after all. “Come in.”
But the hall door did not open. Instead, a panel against the wall did, and Elizabeth realized that there was another door, an inner one that led to a dressing room, and likely to another bedroom—his bedroom—beyond.
For standing on the threshold was her husband, Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth rose abruptly, jostling everything on the desk.
He, too, wore a dressing gown, in a shade of deep burgundy that glowed in the candlelight like a garnet. He crossed the room in a few strong strides and stood before her. She wasn’t sure where to look. Not his face—she couldn’t bring herself to watch the way he studied her, the way his eyes traveled the length of her thin silk gown. She clutched the edges together, which was foolish, but there it was. Perhaps she was, in the end, a foolish, foolish girl, who had married a man she barely knew, could hardly trust.
She lifted her chin and found herself at eye level with her husband’s throat. A fine throat it was, too, nicely framed by the open collar of his nightshirt. The hollow at the base of it trembled, and then she saw him swallow and speak. “I did not mean to startle you.”
“I am not startled,” she said, and her voice was more even than she’d expected. “I had not thought you would come to me so quickly.”
“Quickly…” There was an odd sort of rumble in his voice, almost like a laugh. “Perhaps I am not a great judge of time. Many years have passed for me since this morning.”
She lifted her chin to see his face. She could well believe it—after all, had he not pushed past the entire engagement and courtship process to thrust upon the world a wife that no one, from his servants to London society to the bride herself, was prepared for?
“Mr. Darcy—” and then she hesitated. For she could not call him that. Not here, in their dressing gowns, standing inches away from each other in the firelight. “I—I am not certain of how I should address you, now.”
His hand grazed her shoulder, his fingers grasped a lock of her hair. “It’s so much longer than I’d imagined.”
Elizabeth’s face heated, but she would not be distracted. “Are you called Fitzwilliam?”
He paused in his examination of her hair and looked at her, amused. “Fitzwilliam? No. Never.”
“Fitz, then.” Oh, it sounded ridiculous.
He laughed outright at that. “My friends often call me Darcy. Bingley does.”
Bingley. They had still not spoken of Bingley, of Jane, of the marriage trap that Mr. Darcy had rescued his friend from, only to fall headlong into it himself.
And perhaps her husband knew he trod upon dangerous ground, for he spoke again. “My parents called me Will. My sister does too, in her letters.”
“Not in person?”
“She avoids addressing me directly whenever possible. Have you not noticed?”
Elizabeth had noticed the girl was very shy. “Will,” she said softly, trying the name out on her tongue. It suited him. No man in her life had ever displayed a stronger one. He made the world what he wanted it to be. Georgiana would not be ruined, Lydia would be safely married off, and he would have the bride he wanted. But at the same time, there was something almost gentle about the syllable. Lilting, as opposed to the sharp corners of Darcy. A softness, a kindness, hidden within the imperious front of Fitzwilliam.
Will. Darcy. Her husband was both.
“And what do I call you?” he responded, and his hand was back in her hair, and Elizabeth realized the wisdom of leaving it down. Darcy was clearly mesmerized. He stroked the length of her neck, tangling his fingers in her curls, and she found herself leaning into his touch. “For you cannot be Miss Bennet any longer.”
“No,” she whispered, and her eyes fluttered closed at the sensations he was awakening beneath her skin. Had she ever been aware there was so much sensation in her neck? “I cannot be that.”
“I have heard others call you Eliza.”
Her mouth twisted into a frown. “Miss Bingley calls me that. I have never liked it.”
“Nor I,” he said. His voice too, had dropped to a low, intimate whisper. “It indicated an intimacy with you that she did not deserve. It vexed me every time she said it, though I would not admit so at the time.” Elizabeth listed forward, and the front of her robe brushed his. His free hand shot out to steady her at her waist, his fingers curving in against the soft flesh there with no corset or other undergarments to protect her from his touch.
He felt her harsh intake of breath and squeezed.
“I have heard your family call you Lizzy.” And now there was no mistaking it, as the soft sibilance of her name buzzed across his lips and into her ear. She opened her eyes to find him closer than ever before, his lips nearly brushing her temple. But he didn’t touch her except for his hands. One holding her at her waist—practically holding her up, as her knees trembled inside her nightgown. The other in her hair, cradling her head with his fingers caressing the sensitive spot at the nape of her neck.
“They do,” she said, though she feared she sounded inane. Why ever were they standing here discussing their Christian names? Did he not know what he was doing to her? “But I find that it does not sound right in this instance. It is a child’s name. Not a name for Mrs. Darcy.”
“Mrs. Darcy…” It sounded profane when he said it, idolatrous. More like a moan than a name. His fingers stilled for a moment, then pulled her closer. “Now that is an appellation I could grow accustomed to.”
Oh, so could she, if he always pronounced it in such tones. His hand on her waist had begun to drift, his fingers splayed wide across the base of her back as he pressed her against him. Thin layers of muslin and silk and brocade separated them now. No—not even that, for their dressing gowns had somehow fallen open, leaving nothing but a whisper of her muslin and his equally fine nightshirt. Her husband was all hard planes to her softness. She could scarcely breathe.
“No.” He released her. “I suppose it will have to be Elizabeth.”
Her heart pounded so hard, she didn’t know how it did not break through the walls of her chest.
“You do not know how I have wanted to call you that,” he confessed to her, and cupped her face tenderly in his large hands. “Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.”
She was driven wild, and yet she knew from his words that Darcy was wilder still. This great man, with all his pride and power and position, who had risked it all to be right here, with her. Now.
The storm inside her stilled, as if she stood in the eye of a hurricane, where all was madness around. She met his gaze, and the storm raged. “Do you intend to kiss me?”
He lowered his mouth and punctuated each word with the softest brush of his lips, against each temple, and finally, maddeningly, against her lips. “Many, many times.”
To Chapter Fourteen…