by Mary Simonsen
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Darcy waited patiently while Avery, Elizabeth’s lady’s maid, finished dressing his wife’s hair. Because tonight was the night of the Pemberley ball, extra care must be taken, and so there were pearl pins and rosettes woven into Elizabeth’s beautiful dark brown tresses, and her gown, the color of claret, had been made months before by Madame Delaine, London’s finest courtier. After being properly thanked for her efforts by her mistress and receiving a nod of approval from her master, Avery was dismissed, but even before the door had closed, Darcy was beside his bride.
“Elizabeth, I do not think that it would be possible for you to look more beautiful than you do right now.”
“William, aren’t you exaggerating?” Lizzy asked, looking down at her chemise and stays. “You should reserve such comments for when I am dressed.”
“I like you better when you are not dressed,” and he traced the outline of her neck with his lips. “And why must you wear those stays? They are unnecessary as you have a superlative figure, and you know how it frustrates me to struggle with your laces.”
“My stays serve to slow you down, which are the only things that do,” she said with a chuckle.
“They only delay the inevitable,” and Elizabeth could see his passion growing, and fearing that his ardor would not be suppressed, she was relieved when she heard a knock on the door. It was Avery.
“Ma’am, Mr. Jackson asked me to tell you that Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam are here.”
Elizabeth looked at her husband. That could not be right. The two combatants had not been in the same room since the birth of their second daughter ten years earlier.
“Do you mean Lord Fitzwilliam and Colonel Fitzwilliam are here?” Darcy asked, a nervousness creeping into his voice.
“No, sir. It is Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam,” and Avery was again dismissed.
“If this is Antony’s idea of a joke, bringing one of his paramours and presenting her as his wife, I shall have his hide,” an angry Darcy said.
“Darling, if the lady was an impersonator, Jackson would have sent word, so you need to go find out what is going on.”
With a disregard for decorum, Darcy came down the steps, taking them two at a time, and at the bottom of the stairs stood his butler with a dour expression that did nothing to reassure his master.
“Lord Fitzwilliam and Colonel Fitzwilliam are in the library, sir, and Lady Fitzwilliam is talking to your sister in the drawing room.”
As soon as the door to the library closed behind Darcy, he lit into His Lordship. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I come by invitation—apparently from your wife.”
“You haven’t been to Pemberley in five years, and you decide to put in an appearance now—on the night when Elizabeth is giving her first ball?” Darcy said, in his first blast. “And am I supposed to believe that you and Eleanor have reconciled. The last time you paid a call on your wife, she set the dogs on you.”
In Darcy’s mind, there could only be one reason for a supposed reconciliation: Eleanor had agreed to pay off Antony’s debt, and when questioned, His Lordship revealed that that was in fact the case.
“Why would Eleanor do that?” a skeptical Darcy asked.
“I was being pressed by my tailor,” Lord Fitzwilliam said, eliciting a chuckle from his brother. “May I have a glass port?”
“Very well, I shall tell you,” Antony said, pretending to pout. “Does the name Edward Rigby ring a bell? Probably not, as you are not known to associate with importers of fabric. Rigby was Eleanor’s love interest for the past two years, but, apparently, he has given her the boot. He must not like being with someone who bites the heads off chickens and drowns kittens. As a result, she has been rather depressed and came running to me.”
Darcy looked to the colonel for confirmation, and Richard nodded. “You are man and wife again?” Darcy asked.
“Darcy, don’t be revolting—of course not. I merely serve as her escort. I take her wherever she wishes to go in her carriage, and once there, I go right out the back door where my carriage awaits. Does that satisfy?”
“I am warning you,” an irate Darcy said, “I will not tolerate any shouting or thrown glassware from either of you. If you do, I shall not hesitate to throw you out. And another thing. I know your reputation with married women, but Pemberley will not serve as a place of recruitment.”
“Agreed. May I have the port now?”
* * *
Although Darcy trusted Lord Fitzwilliam only as far as he could throw him, the guests were beginning to arrive, and so he went into the foyer where he found his beautiful wife welcoming the earliest arrivals and motioned to Colonel Fitzwilliam to join him in the receiving line.
“I am asking you to keep an eye on your brother,” Darcy said as he took the hand of the nearly deaf Countess of Roxbury.
“I shall do my best, but I have come with a purpose as well,” the colonel answered.
“And what would that be?” Darcy said, bowing to the equally deaf Lord Roxbury.
“I have resigned my commission, and it is my intention to find a wife.”
“Here? Tonight? Are you mad?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy, are you speaking to me?” Lady Wilston asked.
Elizabeth quickly covered up for her husband’s comment. “Lady Wilston, Mr. Darcy was saying how glad he is that you were able to come tonight,” and then she whispered in her husband’s ear: “Perhaps, you should wait for a more propitious time to continue your conversation.”
After welcoming their guests, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy went into an anteroom off the ballroom where they found Lord Fitzwilliam sitting on a sofa between Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Kenner, the vicar’s wife, and both gulped. Lizzy quickly crossed the room for fear that the His Lordship would say something shocking.
“Ah, Elizabeth, I was just telling these beautiful ladies of my preference in fruit. I do not care for an apple when it has just been plucked from the tree. It is much more delicious when it has sat in the sun for a while and been handled a time or two. Do you agree?”
Lizzy blanched, but when her Aunt Gardiner winked at her, and Mrs. Kenner actually giggled, she decided that she had best leave His Lordship where he was, lest he say something to someone who did not appreciate his double entendres.
It was at that moment that the musicians played the first chord, indicating that the dancing was to begin, and Elizabeth, who felt as if she were living the life of a princess, joined her prince and led the first dance. The second was claimed by the colonel who explained the reason for resigning his commission.
“With the wars in the Peninsula, I thought I would be in the thick of it. Instead, I sit in Kent and keep my powder dry, and I know that you are asking, ‘but what will Richard live on?’ A good question, and one I intend to answer tonight. I shall tell you Elizabeth that the first woman who I set eyes on who is single or a widow and has £20,000 to her name, I shall ask to be my wife.”
“I do believe you are serious,” a shocked Elizabeth responded. “But there are few who will meet your criteria.”
“I was hoping that the Lady Morton would be coming.”
“She is still in mourning. You will have to wait another three months before she is available.”
“Her sister, Miss Nelson?”
Elizabeth looked at him with a jaundiced eye. “A somewhat tamer version of your sister-in-law? I think not.”
By the time the next set had concluded, Richard was still in search of a marriage partner, and Lizzy was in search of her sister and wondered where Jane and Charles were. “Of all nights to be late,” Lizzy said under her breath.
At supper, Darcy found a few minutes to speak to his wife. “Despite the presence of Lord Fitzwilliam, I think everyone is having a good time, except us.”
“You are wrong. I am having a wonderful time, but…,” and she then acquainted her husband with Richard’s purpose in attending the ball.
“He will find the pickings meager,” Darcy said. “Possibly Lady Ashtonbury will serve?” and both started to laugh at the thought of the handsome Richard Fitzwilliam marrying a lady who was older than his mother.
By the time the dancing had resumed, Elizabeth was worried. Although Jane and Charles were not the most punctual of people, she had never known her sister to be so late, and she feared that their carriage had broken down somewhere on the 15-mile stretch of road between their two houses. Darcy and the colonel were reassuring Elizabeth that there was no need to worry when Jackson informed them that Mrs. Bingley had arrived, and the three immediately went to the foyer to find Jane standing all alone.
“Jane, where is Charles?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, he is coming,” a clearly irritated Jane answered, “and here is the reason why we are late,” and Caroline Bingley swept into the foyer on the arm of her brother, and Richard’s eyes took in the scene.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth at the colonel, and both looked at Richard. “Oh no! Please no! Not Caroline!”
Mary Simonsen is the author of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, published by Sourcebooks, and Anne Elliot, A New Beginning, a parody of Persuasion, which she has self-published.
The Fitzwilliam Brothers at the Pemberley Ball
Darcy post created for Pemberley Ball by Mary Simonsen
© 2010. All rights reserved.
by Mary Simonsen
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by Mary Simonsen
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