Thursday’s 300: A MUCH Later Meeting, Part 16

Welcome back to Austen Promises!

I have finished this story. At the moment, it is just under novella-length at 18,000+ words, but it needs heavy edits. Sometimes, that means more words get added, though sometimes not. We shall see. LOL

I have set the release date for this book as July 16, 2020. I’ll share the final post on July 23, 2020. My reason for finishing the posts after the book goes live is so the posts are a bit smaller. The editor I use for the blog smashes all the sentences together when I save the draft, and I have to go back in and reinsert all the paragraph breaks. It’s much easier to do that with a shorter post.

Please be assured that I will finish posting the story! I have never yet left one undone and I don’t plan to begin now.

Once the final post is made, I’ll leave it up for a week, then take down all but the first post. I’ve done the same with all my others, as far as I can remember. 🙂

You’ll find the first post here.

Post two is here.

Post three is here.

Post four is here.

Post five is here.

Post six is here.

Post seven is here.

Post eight is here.

Post nine is here.

Post ten is here.

Post eleven is here.

Post twelve is here.

Post thirteen is here.

Post fourteen is here.

Post fifteen is here.

Did you know that for a monthly pledge of as little as $1 at Patreon, you can have early access to all my blog posts, including my Thursday ones? Patrons also get a free copy of each of my books once it is complete.

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The very next day, Viscount Hucknall visited Longbourn. With him were Neville and Darcy, much to Elizabeth’s delight. She knocked on her father’s book room door, sticking her head around it with a grin when she heard the elderly man’s command to enter.

“I heard there were visitors! You are not keeping them to yourself, are you, Papa?” Elizabeth’s words were directed at her father, but her eyes devoured Darcy, who along with the other gentlemen had risen when she entered.

“I would not think of it, Daughter.” Bennet chuckled. “I was about to send them to you when you knocked.”

“I do not mind visiting here, if you have no objections. I can have tea brought in, if you like?”

Neville was the first to respond. “I should enjoy visiting with the pair of you at the same time. Please allow it, Grandpapa.”

Bennet’s lips twisted into a wry grin. “You have always gotten your way with that look, young man.” He shook his head with a sigh. “Very well. I was enjoying the gentlemen’s company and we were discussing nothing a lady may not hear, so you can feel free to join us, Lizzy.”

“Thank you, Papa.” Elizabeth flashed a quick grin before she stepped back into the hall to speak to the footman stationed there. As she entered again and made her way to her favored seat, she smiled at the men waiting. “I ordered tea and a light repast. Please do not feel obligated to eat; I happen to know my father ignored his breakfast tray today.”

Bennet rolled his eyes, then tried to hide the grin that lifted his lips when the guests began to chuckle.

Darcy looked down at his hands, gripped together in his lap. His lips twitched as he listened to Elizabeth and her father banter together. He looked up at the sound of his name.

“Darcy is a crack shot, Grandpapa. I daresay he hit every bird he aimed at this morning, would you not say so, Frary?”

“I would,” the viscount confirmed with a nod. “His skill is legendary in the family circle.”

Darcy had begun to blush as the younger gentlemen praised him. He caught Elizabeth’s eye and the admiration he saw there as she listened to his exploits made his chest puff out even as it made his face redder. “The pair of you did just as well. I was impressed with both of you.”

“I enjoyed hunting when I was a younger man.” Bennet waved a hand in Neville’s direction. “I taught my grandson all that he knows of sport. His father, good man that he is, does not enjoy such pursuits, so it fell to me to be the teacher.”

“And a good one you were, Grandpapa.”

Just then, the maid knocked on the door. Elizabeth rose to open it, leaving the gentlemen to speak more of their hunting exploits and expertise. She quietly directed the maid to set up the tea service on the table by the window and, once the girl had left, began to prepare the pot. Within a few minutes, she had begun pouring.

Darcy had watched as Elizabeth set about her task, and when it was clear she was ready to begin serving, he quickly rose to join her. “Shall I serve while you pour?”

Elizabeth was struck momentarily by the smile that brightened Darcy’s countenance. She quickly gathered her wits, however, and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. “That would be wonderful. Thank you.” She handed him a cup and saucer. This is for my father. If you wait just a second, I will have a plate of sandwiches for him, as well.”

Darcy nodded, holding the cup of tea while Elizabeth placed a couple small sandwiches on a plate. When she handed it to them, their fingers brushed. Darcy looked deep into her eyes, and the widening of the pupils assured him she felt the same pounding of the heart sensations he did. He longed to lean forward and kiss her, but a loud laugh from Bennet reminded him of their location. He drew back with a sigh, turning and delivering the cup and plate to the elderly gentleman.

Within a few minutes, Darcy and Elizabeth had served everyone their tea, and those who wished to eat had served themselves. Conversation flowed amongst the group in an easy rhythm. Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door and Elizabeth rose to answer it.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am. Mrs. Collins has come for a visit.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth paused, wiping the surprise from her face and replacing it with a smile. “Bring her in. We will require another tea service.”

“Very good, ma’am.” Mrs. Cowher dipped a curtsey before turning to hurry back to the entry hall.

Elizabeth shut the door and moved across the room again. “I apologize for interrupting. Mrs. Collins has come to visit. She should be here shortly.”

Another knock and the door opened again. “Mrs. Collins, ma’am.”

Charlotte stepped into the room, her head poking forward as though to peek to see who had preceded her. “I did not mean to intrude.” Her gaze settled on Darcy and she smiled broadly.

“Not at all. Do come in.” Elizabeth’s lips lifted in a smile that did not reach her eyes. “We will just pull the chair over here from the table. Neville, you will do it for me, will you not?”

Elizabeth’s nephew jumped at his aunt’s words. He had stood, along with all the gentlemen except Mr. Bennet, when Charlotte entered the room. In short order, he had the chair positioned on the far side of his grandfather and the viscount. “How is this, Aunt Lizzy?”

“That will do. Thank you, Neville.” Elizabeth turned to Charlotte. “Mrs. Cowher should be back shortly with a cup for tea. In the meantime, would you like some refreshments?”

Charlotte settled into her seat, her lips compressed. The corners lifted for a brief moment at her hostess’ question. “That would be lovely. Thank you.” She glanced at Darcy, then at the viscount and Mr. Bennet.

“My Lizzy tells me your nephews are back at school already.” Elizabeth’s father leaned back in his chair.

“Yes, they are. My brother and sister should be returning in another day or two, I should imagine.” Charlotte glanced at Elizabeth as she accepted the plate of sandwiches and cakes. She smiled her thanks, then turned her attention back to Longbourn’s master.

“I am sure they will be pleased to return. I was never one for travel, myself.” Bennet sniffed, then leaned forward to poke at the cake Elizabeth had placed in front of him.

“Travel can be trying, I agree. Do you not think so, Mr. Darcy? You must travel quite a bit with homes in both Derbyshire and London.” Charlotte smiled at Darcy.

Darcy looked away from Elizabeth, with whom he had been having a quiet side conversation, to reply. “Travel? Yes, long distances make for a tiring trip, and it seems more so now that I am older. The trains do make it better, thankfully.”

“Yes, they do. My brother enjoys touring the places he goes now, since it is so much easier to get home than it used to be.”

“John was slow to accept travel by rail, was he not?” Elizabeth tilted her head, watching her friend.

“He was. For a long time, he feared it going off the rails, but time has proven his conjectures false and he has now accepted that they are safe, for the most part.” Charlotte chuckled. “The first time he rode one, he came away with an entirely different feeling about it.” Her eyes strayed to Darcy. “He could not get enough of it. Now he looks for trips to take that will allow him to ride in a train car.”

Darcy smiled. “I think many of us do the same.” He turned back to Elizabeth. “Have you travelled much, Miss Bennet?”

“I have, but not often. Mostly to London or to Kitty’s home in Essex. I travelled to Newcastle to visit Lydia a few years ago, but I do not like to leave Papa for more than a day or two, so have not gone again.” As she finished speaking, Elizabeth saw just past Darcy’s shoulder that the housekeeper was again entering. She smiled at him as she rose and murmured to excuse herself.

Darcy watched Elizabeth cross the room, his expression downcast. His attention was soon caught once again by Charlotte.

“Tell us about your estate, Mr. Darcy. I have heard much of its beauty from Neville.”

Though he was always happy to speak of his Derbyshire home, Darcy wished it was Elizabeth he was speaking to. I wonder what Mrs. Collins is about, he thought. Why would she try to draw my attention toward her so often? Is she flirting with me? With an internal sigh, he forced his mind back to the topic at hand. “I am not certain I should be the one to describe it, for I cannot do so without bias. I love my home and find it the most beautiful in all England.”

“I have heard the same. Is it true the house sits in a small valley, with wooded hills rising up behind it?” Charlotte’s gaze was focused on Darcy, even as Elizabeth delivered a cup of tea into her hand.

For the remainder of the visit, the group listened to Charlotte’s unending questions to Darcy and his increasingly reluctant replies. It was a relief a quarter hour later for the viscount to stand and remind the gentlemen of their additional appointments that day.

To Darcy’s frustration, he was unable to speak again to Elizabeth, beyond his farewell bow. He retained his stoic demeanor, climbing into the carriage behind his nephew.

As the equipage pulled away, the viscount turned to his uncle. “I say, that Mrs. Collins paid your particular attention, did she not?”

Darcy rolled his eyes. “She did, indeed.”

Neville chuckled. “I would lay a pound she wants you for her next husband.”

This time, Darcy shook his head but said nothing.

“She certainly appears to have set her cap at you.” Hucknall smirked. “I have had the same experience; I recognize the behavior.” He nudged Darcy’s boot with his foot. “What do you say?”

“What I say is that I am not interested. Not in Mrs. Collins, at any rate.” Darcy sighed. “I do recognize her actions for what they are. It has been many years since I was chased so boldly but I have not forgotten. I simply did not expect it.”

Hucknall looked Darcy up and down. “Your interest lies elsewhere, it seems. I recall our conversation a few days ago at breakfast. I suppose I still may not tell Mother about it?”

Darcy glared at his nephew. “No, you may not. When there is something to tell her, I will do so.”

“Well, I intend to host a ball soon and will ask her to be my hostess, so she will be able to see for herself.” Hucknall examined his fingernails. “I will not have to say a word, for it is all in your looks.”

Darcy grunted and turned toward the window, saying nothing. In the reflection of the glass, he could see his nephew nudge Neville and then the pair of them laughing. He rolled his eyes then fell into contemplation of a pair of fine eyes in a pretty face.

The story continues here.

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