Thursday’s 300: A MUCH Later Meeting, Part 18

Welcome back to Austen Promises!

This book is currently on preorder. Click here to preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, and Apple Books.

I have set the release date for this book as July 16, 2020. That’s next Thursday. I’ll share the final post the following week, on July 23, 2020.  Posting at Darcy and Lizzy will have commenced at this point.

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.

Today you get Chapter 9, which is long. Next week, you will get the epilogue, which is very short. 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.

Post sixteen is here.

Post seventeen is here.

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Chapter 9

The day of the ball finally arrived. Georgiana had no opportunity to speak to Charlotte beforehand, but promised her brother she would say something when the lady went through the receiving line.

Darcy found he could not settle and was constantly pacing the floor or staring out a window, in part because of his sister interceding for him, and in part because he wanted this night to be perfect. He planned to propose to Elizabeth during the course of the evening and wished for nothing to distract from the beauty of the setting. He was almost relieved when he joined Georgiana to form the receiving line, despite his horror at being on display. He stood as still as possible, the fingers of one hand incessantly twisting the signet ring on the other. The arrival of the first guests distracted him slightly, but with every lull, the anxiety surged again.

Finally, she was there. Darcy looked away from the guest to whom he was speaking to see Elizabeth entering on the arm of her nephew. His heart stopped at the picture she made. She wore a gown of the deepest blue, split in the front, edged with lace, and displaying a bright white petticoat underneath. The lace-trimmed sleeves encircled her upper arms, leaving her shoulders bare. Darcy wished for nothing more than to run to her, wrap her in his arms, and make her his own. Only through the greatest exertion of his will was he able to refrain.

Within a few minutes, Elizabeth had made it down the receiving line. Darcy swallowed as she stood before him. He reached for her hand, and that feeling of coming home rushed over him, just as it did every time he touched her. He bowed, bringing her fingers to his lips to bestow a tender kiss on them. “Good evening, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks turned pink as her lips lifted in a teasing smile. “Good evening, Mr. Darcy. I eagerly await our dances.”

Darcy squeezed the fingers he had yet to release. “I do, as well.” The sound of his sister’s throat clearing shook him out of his dazed condition. He let go, feeling bereft, and bowed again.

“I will be waiting.” Elizabeth curtseyed a second time and drifted away, her gaze lingering on Darcy’s tall form.

At the other end of the line, Georgiana had witnessed the interaction between Darcy and Elizabeth. She nodded to herself, turning her attention back to her son and the next set of guests. She lost count of the number of people she spoke to, but heard the musicians tuning up and knew the last of the guests would soon be walking through the door. Where is Mrs. Collins? I surely did not miss her! Suddenly, there Charlotte was, entering the house behind her brother and sister-in-law.

When her turn came to greet the viscount and his family, Charlotte curtseyed. “Good evening, Lord Hucknall, Lady Ashfield, Lord Ashfield.”

The gentlemen greeted Charlotte, then Georgiana spoke. “Good evening, Mrs. Collins. I am so happy you could attend. I have invited a couple single gentlemen who are friends of my husband’s. They have lost their wives and are making their first forays into society after their mourning. I would take it as a personal favor if you agreed to dance with them.”

“Oh!” Charlotte’s eyes widened and she shot a glance down the line toward Darcy before giving her attention back to Georgiana. “I would be happy to.”

“Excellent! I will be sure to seek you out later, to introduce them to you.” Georgiana smiled warmly. She looked toward the ballroom. “Oh, there is Miss Bennet! Have you seen her gown?” When Charlotte declared she had, Georgiana continued. “Is it not absolutely stunning? I have not seen a gown quite that beautiful. I told her when she arrived that I must have a pattern for it to give my modiste. I should like to make the earl look at me the way my brother looked at Miss Bennet.” She leaned in toward Charlotte. “You must work to keep gentlemen interested even after the wedding, as I am certain you can attest.” She leaned back again and sighed. “Darcy could hardly take his eyes off her when they spoke. I confess; the family has great hopes of a match being made there. Miss Bennet is such an elegant lady, and she fits in so well with us.” Suddenly, the music transitioned from unorganized squawking to a smooth melody. “Oh! I am to open the dancing with my son. Please, do excuse me. As soon as I can, I will find you!” With that, Georgiana took Hucknall’s hand and pulled him away.

Charlotte flashed a half-hearted smile at her hostess as the other woman left her behind. Darcy had already fled the area, and she could see him stride toward Elizabeth. She sighed. Wandering into the ballroom, she took her customary place with the matrons. Once she had greeted the other ladies, she lost herself in thoughts of Darcy and her plans that rapidly seemed to be coming to naught. Georgiana’s words echoed in her mind. Darcy could hardly take his eyes off her when they spoke. I confess; the family has great hopes of a match being made there. Miss Bennet is such an elegant lady, and she fits in so well with us. “Well, Lizzy Bennet,” Charlotte murmured, “we shall see about that. One gentleman is much like the rest. I was able to draw Collins to my side; Darcy cannot be all that difficult. Until the vows are spoken, he is available.”

Charlotte sat out the first two sets, watching as Darcy danced with Elizabeth and then his sister. She rose and edged through the crush of people to the side of the room where punch was set out on a long table. She accepted a cup from a footman, smiling her thanks, and meandered that side of the room, slowly making her way toward the countess and Darcy. She stopped near the spot where they were dancing, in the hopes of receiving a request for a set.

The music stopped and the dancers applauded, smiling at each other and laughing. Charlotte watched as Darcy said something to his sister, holding his arm out toward Georgiana. Suddenly, Charlotte became aware of Elizabeth standing beside her.

“Hello, Charlotte. I was looking for you.” Elizabeth smiled. “There are so many people, I was not certain I would find you.” She laughed.

Charlotte smiled, a strained lift of the corners of her lips. “It is crowded.” She glanced around. “The viscount must have invited half of London, as well as the four and twenty families in the area.”

“I suspect you are right.”

Darcy and Georgiana had reached them, and the eyes of both ladies were riveted upon Darcy’s handsome mien.

“You dance divinely together.” Charlotte’s smile this time appeared more sincere. “You are both so graceful.”

“Thank you.” Georgiana’s lips twitched, as though she was fighting a grin. “I forced my brother to practice with me last night. My husband, as well.” She looked around. “Oh, there he is! I promised him this set.”

A tall, blond gentleman with regal bearing stepped to Georgiana’s side. “There you are, my dear.” He took hold of her hand and tucked it between his elbow and his side. “Darcy, if you are finished with my wife for now, I should like to borrow her. I would rather not waste all that practice last night.” Lord Ashfield winked at his brother-in-law.

Darcy laughed. “Oh, yes, she is yours the rest of the evening, if you really want her.”

Georgiana glared at her brother. “I am not so certain I like how that sounds.”

Ashfield patted his wife’s hand. “All is well, dear. I am enamored enough of you that it will not matter if your brother wants you.”

Georgiana sniffed and her frown at her brother changed to an adoring look into her husband’s eyes. “I am so happy about that, too.”

Darcy groaned. “Off with you both before we are all sickened by the sweetness.”

Elizabeth and Charlotte both giggled as the couple took Darcy’s words to heart and wandered away.

Darcy looked at the ladies before him. He noticed Elizabeth tilting her head at her friend with a raised eyebrow and knew it was a hint to him to ask her to dance. As much as he both disliked the exercise in general and wished to avoid Charlotte in particular, he found he could deny Elizabeth nothing.

“Would you honor me with your hand for the next set, Mrs. Collins?”

Charlotte smiled widely. “Of course I would! Thank you for asking.”

The musicians began to play once more and Charlotte turned to Elizabeth, shoving her cup at her. “Please, do take this for me. Thank you so much.” She turned and latched onto Darcy’s arm.

Darcy cleared his throat. He bowed his head to Elizabeth. “Until later, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth lifted her wide stare from the cup she suddenly found herself holding to Darcy and her friend. “Until later.” She lifted the corners of her lips briefly. When the gentleman she had fallen in love with and her friend turned toward the dance floor, she mentally shook herself, searching for a footman to take the cup.

Charlotte clasped her hands together, her heart racing. This is my chance, she thought. I have a single opportunity to get what I want. Do not mess this up, Charlotte Collins! When she heard the dance called out, she grinned. The steps of a jig were lively, and it was often difficult to keep up.

The first few minutes went well. Charlotte and Darcy held hands and hopped down the line as the dance required. It was when they had to swing each other around that disaster – or in this case Charlotte – struck.

Just as Darcy let go of Charlotte’s hands, she appeared to stumble. She grabbed his sleeve with one hand as she fell to the floor, ripping it nearly off at the shoulder. A cry burst from her throat as she landed awkwardly on the opposite arm.

Darcy tripped over Charlotte’s skirts and legs, and to onlookers it seemed as though he would fall right on top of her. However, his frequent participation in the art of fencing had kept him nimble, and he was able to keep himself upright. The dancers on either side of the unfortunate couple stopped, their progress impeded by the accident.

Darcy’s inelegant careening came to a stop a foot or so the other side of his dance partner. He turned immediately and offered her his hand. “Are you well, Mrs. Collins? May I help you rise?”

Charlotte frowned, cradling her injured limb with her good hand. How did he not fall? “Yes, please.” She accepted his hand, but instead of using her legs to assist Darcy in helping her to stand, she forced him to lift her with all his strength. This resulted in another stumble. Though he nearly went down, he pulled back and managed to raise her to her feet.

Charlotte huffed as she again brought her rapidly swelling arm to her chest. She could hear the couples nearby talking about the incident and speculating that she had tried to compromise Darcy. She began to blush.

Are you well? Perhaps we should sit out the remainder of the set so you can rest and recover?” Darcy peered into Charlotte’s face, seeing the pain in her expression.

“Yes, I would like that. Thank you.” Charlotte spoke through gritted teeth.

A few short minutes later, Darcy had led Charlotte to the side of the room and seated her in a chair. Elizabeth rushed to them.

“Oh, Charlotte, I saw you fall! Are you well? Can I get you anything? Some punch, or maybe something stronger?” Elizabeth picked up her friend’s hand and chafed it.

“I am well, yes. I would imagine I will have a nice bruise in the morning.” Charlotte attempted to smile, but her disappointment, anger and pain made it appear more as a grimace.

“You are holding your arm; did you fall on it?” Elizabeth frowned as she noticed the wince her friend made.

Charlotte looked up as her brother suddenly loomed at her side.

“Are you well, Sister?” At Charlotte’s nod, John Lucas’ hands landed on his hips. “What was that all about? Do you hear what people are saying? I have never been more embarrassed in my life, not even when Father nattered on about his knighthood.” He turned to Darcy. “I am sorry, sir, that your coat was damaged. I will pay for repairs, or for a new coat, whichever you think is best.”

Darcy looked at one arm and then the other. “I had not been aware that it ripped until just now.” He lifted the material up to his shoulder. “Do not be concerned. It appears to be a simple repair; the garment is not ruined. My valet will have it right as rain in no time, I am certain.” He looked up. “I am more concerned with Mrs. Collins’ health, but she assures us she is well.”

Lucas nodded once, then turned to examine his sister from head to toe, focusing his gaze on the arm she cradled. “It does look as though you have injured yourself. I believe the apothecary is in attendance.” He looked around, found a footman, gestured the servant to come closer, and then instructed him to find the local medical expert.

Charlotte rolled her eyes. She clamped her lips shut.

“Unless you require my assistance, I will go up and change my coat.” Darcy looked from sister to brother and when he received their assurances that he was not needed, he offered his elbow to Elizabeth and led her away. “You will wait for me to return?”

“I will.” Elizabeth looked up at him from the corner of her eye. “After all, the next set is the supper set and that is promised to you. I would hate to miss it.”

Darcy grinned. “True.” He stopped their forward progress when he reached the staircase. He looked up, longing to be able to ask Elizabeth to accompany him to his chambers while he repaired his appearance. He swallowed that desire down and instead, took her hands in his. “I will return in just a few minutes. Do not move.”

Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled up at Darcy. “I will be here, as long as you hurry.”

Darcy kissed her hands, then stepped back. “Stay.”

“Run!” Elizabeth waved her hand at the steps.

With a grin, Darcy did as his beloved bid him. Five minutes later, he returned wearing a different coat. “We are in luck. My valet had inadvertently packed two of my best suits. No one will be the wiser that this is not the coat I began the evening with.”

“Unless they watched your dance with Charlotte.” Elizabeth smirked.

Darcy rolled his eyes. “Right.” He paused, tilting his head and listening to the applause and the music, which immediately started up again for the second dance of the set. “Shall we take a stroll?” He could feel the ring in his pocket as it rubbed against his watch. His plan had been to wait for supper to propose, but Charlotte’s fall and this sudden opportunity to get Elizabeth alone had opened up the possibility of fulfilling his desire now.

“I would like that.” Elizabeth took the arm he proffered and allowed him to lead her down the hall. “Where are we going?”

“I thought we might get some fresh air on the balcony.” “I like that. It would not be a ball if I did not visit the outdoors in my gown for a few minutes.” Elizabeth grinned at Darcy’s chuckle.

“You often visit dark balconies in a ballgown, then?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “The moon is almost always full when balls are held and the weather is often very fine. I prefer the out of doors above just about anything, so yes, I do often visit dark balconies in a ballgown. Always alone, though.”

Darcy led Elizabeth through a back entrance to the ballroom and across to the outside doors. He said nothing about her last statement, but the possessive inner man that had taken root as he had fallen in love jumped in glee, because it meant she had probably never been kissed before.

The couple stepped outside to find the wide space empty. Darcy drew Elizabeth to the side, where some large plants in pots had been placed and would provide privacy, in case other couples decided to make use of the space before Darcy was finished. He turned, facing Elizabeth, taking her hands, and looking down into her upturned face.

“I have never met anyone like you before.” Darcy’s soft words floated on the air between him and Elizabeth. “You are kind and warm, and something else, something I cannot identify.” He stared into her eyes and took a deep breath. “I have fallen in love with you, and I am fairly certain you return my sentiments. I feel as though I have come home when I am in your presence and I cannot begin to imagine leaving here without you.

“I know that you are your father’s caretaker, and I am willing to do whatever you wish as far as he is concerned.” Darcy paused again. “What I am trying to say is, I want to make you mine, forever. I never wish to be parted again. Will you marry me?”

Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears. She blinked, and one rolled out of each eye and down her cheeks as a bright smile lit her face. “Thank you for your offer. I happily accept. I love you, too.”

“Elizabeth.” Darcy wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his embrace. “I love you so very much.” His lips found hers, drawing them both into a swirling morass of feeling. Noise spilling from the ballroom when another couple stepped outside called them both back to the present and their position. They separated just a bit, looking at each other and smiling.

“Thank you, my love,” Darcy whispered. “You have made me the happiest of men.”

Elizabeth caressed Darcy’s cheek. “It is only fair, for you have made me the happiest of women.”

Darcy leaned his head into Elizabeth’s touch, but when voices began to intrude on their solitude, he pulled away. Grabbing her hand, he encouraged her to go in. “They will be serving supper soon. We must share our news with our families.” He paused at the door, kissing Elizabeth’s fingers before opening the portal and pulling her through.

The story continues here.

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4 thoughts on “Thursday’s 300: A MUCH Later Meeting, Part 18

  1. I am glad that Charlotte was unsuccessful, but by her own admission, she does not plan to give up until he is married. Are we to be treated to a last ditch effort on her part?

  2. OMG! I feel so…so eager to read the next bit of this story! It has been such a gem to read! Love it! Love it Loved it!

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