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Missed the previous chapters? Click the links below to go back and read.
This is the last chapter. Only the epilogue is left to edit. Once that is complete, I will create a new cover and update the files. Then, I’ll start on Promises Kept, which is the “sequel” to this book.
The next day…
Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam stood in the foyer, while the footman retrieved Elizabeth’s pelisse and bonnet in preparation for her shopping trip with Lady Matlock. The goal for today was to outfit Lizzy from head to toe. While they were at it, Lady Matlock was making sure that all of her friends were introduced to the newest family member.
The countess had sent notes around to all her dearest friends that she would be out with her new niece, and during the course of the day they all met at one or another of the many shops that the pair visited. Word quickly spread amongst the members of the ton that the new Mrs. Darcy was out and about, and Elizabeth was introduced to more people than she could ever remember.
Praise for the young lady was passed along from person to person in the sharing of the information. It was almost universally agreed that she was charming and witty, with pleasing manners. Some noticed her reticence, but few made notice of it, and most expected that Fitzwilliam Darcy would choose someone as reticent as he himself was. Of course, none of her new acquaintances knew of the events that led to Lizzy’s reserve, nor did they know her before those incidents had happened. They were not aware of her liveliness; however, she did make a most favorable impression on the majority of those she met, and she received many promises of invitations to soirees of all sorts.
Unfortunately, one of the people who heard the news was the one person in London that Lizzy did not want to see. Lord Regis was visiting his club, enjoying a few drinks with some companions, when he overheard two other members discussing some lady they had been introduced to while visiting the warehouses with their wives. He paid little heed until he heard the name Darcy. He began to pay more attention to their conversation, soon learning the general area where the party might be found. He quickly headed for the exit, determined to have his way.
While Lord Regis was gathering information and heading out the door of his club, Elizabeth and her aunt-in-law had made a final stop at a small bookshop that the Darcy gentlemen favored. The store specialized in older, hard-to-find volumes, though it also carried newer ones. Due to the special nature of the stock it carried, the shop was usually empty except for the proprietor, and today was no exception. The owner came out of the back room to greet the ladies before returning to the task he had been completing. The ladies were to meet the earl, Darcy, and Fitzwilliam here before heading to Matlock House to dine.
Upon entering the store, Lady Matlock and Elizabeth immediately headed to the back, near the poetry, where there was an area set up with chairs and a small table for customers to sit and peruse the merchandise. Before sitting down, they quietly browsed the books, each looking for something she thought her husband might enjoy. Elizabeth found two volumes she thought Fitzwilliam would like. She smiled to herself, thinking how good it made her feel to find something to please him. Making their selections, they sat to read something of them while waiting for the gentlemen to arrive.
Robert, the footman assigned to escort the ladies, stood quietly against the wall, eyes scanning the room. Mr. Darcy had been specific in his instructions, Master Fitzwilliam more so. He was to remain no more than ten feet from Mrs. Darcy at all times, and to intercede should any gentleman approach her.
Soon the ladies heard the ringing of the store’s bell and looked up to see if it was their gentlemen who entered the store. It was a short minute or so later that Elizabeth was standing in dread. Lady Matlock, upon seeing Elizabeth’s face suddenly pale, rose with her. Robert quickly stepped to move between his mistress and the red-faced gentleman, but he was not quick enough. The gentleman had shoved him out of the way and grabbed Mrs. Darcy’s arm almost before he could think.
Upon leaving his club, Lord Regis had quickly made his way to the area along Old Bond Street he had heard mentioned. He knew Elizabeth was in one of these shops, and he also knew, from listening in on a conversation or two, that she and her aunt were unaccompanied by their menfolk.
Lord Regis was quickly able to track the ladies down with a few well-placed questions, and soon entered the bookshop at which they were waiting. He could see Elizabeth almost as soon as he entered, as she sat in the back of the shop, and the sight of her enraged him. He charged down the aisle, smiling to himself in grim satisfaction when he saw her skin pale at the sight of him. He grabbed her arm when he got close enough, shoving the footman out of the way when he tried to move between them.
“Elizabeth, fancy meeting you here,” Lord Regis ground out.
Before Elizabeth could respond, Lady Matlock, who had arisen when the younger woman did, spoke to Regis, “Unhand my niece, sir! Who do you think you are to accost us here?”
Lady Matlock had never met Lord Regis, but knew this could not be anyone else. She reached for Elizabeth’s other arm, determined to assist in any way she could.
Regis, upon looking around and ascertaining that no one else was in the shop, at least not within hearing or seeing distance, sneered at the woman who challenged him. “Who do you think you are, madam? I have business with this young lady. Do not get in my way; it is none of your concern. Remove yourself or I will take pleasure in removing you.”
By now, Robert had recovered his wits enough to at least decide on his next step. He could see that the gentleman holding Mrs. Darcy’s arm was very angry, and that his grip was causing her pain. Even worse was the abject fear he saw in her eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his master and Lord Matlock pass the window of the shop, and quickly made his way to the door.
When Darcy, his brother, and his son entered and saw the footman rushing towards them, they became alarmed. Robert knew his orders, and was not one to disregard them. Quickly Mr. Darcy inquired of the servant what the matter was.
Upon his footman’s almost breathless statement that a gentleman had accosted Mrs. Darcy, Fitzwilliam went charging down the length of the bookshop followed quickly by his father and uncle. When he saw the fear, pain, and distress in his wife’s tear-filled eyes, he rushed toward the trio. The shop’s owner had come out to greet the newcomers, but seeing the sudden anger in their faces, quickly ducked back into his work room. He did not want to be caught up in the affairs of the Quality, and as he did not believe in gossiping, he did not want to know what was happening in the far reaches of his shop.
For Elizabeth, the mere sight of the peer who had turned her life upside down was upsetting. To have his hands on her person was almost more than she could take, and she responded instinctually, lashing out the only way she could with both arms held as they were. Before she even thought through what she was doing, she stomped her assailant’s foot as hard as she could, then brought her knee upwards. She had discovered quite on accident, during a tickling session that had turned into a bout of wrestling with her new husband, that gentlemen are very sensitive in their most private area. Instinctively, she knew that he would likely let go of her arm if she struck him there. Unfortunately, her angle was wrong, and she only grazed him. This, in turn, made the gentleman angrier, resulting in his stronger grip on her arm as he shook her then slapped her face with his open hand.
Despite the pain and fear coursing through Elizabeth, she was also angry. Who did this gentleman think he was to treat her so? She was more glad than ever that she had turned down his proposals. Once again she realized how terrible her life would have been had she tied herself to him. Certainly it would not be the happy one she now had with Fitzwilliam.
And where was Fitzwilliam? He and his father should have arrived at the bookshop by now. Elizabeth knew she would be safe once they were in the building, but she did not know what to do in the meantime. Suddenly, the point became moot as Lord Regis was ripped away from her.
Unfortunately for Lord Regis, his slap of Mrs. Darcy was seen by young Mr. Darcy, who was all the more enraged at the sight. Peer or no, Regis was about to pay for his abuse of a Darcy wife.
Lord Regis had not registered the sound of the shop’s bell ringing when the gentlemen had entered and so was not prepared to be interrupted. Suddenly, he was pulled backwards and a hand was at his throat, squeezing tightly and choking the breath out of him. Fitzwilliam Darcy stood before him, stiff and angry, nose-to-nose and snarling at him.
“Unhand my wife!” Fitzwilliam growled at the peer, rage turning his normally serious mien into a hard, granite-like mask. In his surprise, Regis let go of Elizabeth, who immediately collapsed into a heap on the floor.
Lord Matlock and Darcy entered the sitting area just behind Fitzwilliam, Matlock heading straight for his wife, and Darcy pulling his son away from Lord Regis.
“Let me handle this, Son. See to Mrs. Darcy; she is unwell.”
At this, Fitzwilliam’s head whipped around, seeing for the first time his wife crumpled on the floor. He let go of the peer and quickly stepped to Elizabeth, bending down to tenderly pull her into his arms. After quietly crooning to her for a few minutes, he helped her to rise, informing his aunt and uncle that he was taking her to the carriage. They nodded their approval, choosing to stay and witness Darcy’s confrontation with the lord.
Lord Matlock had been greatly relieved to find his wife unharmed, after seeing the grip Regis had on Elizabeth. After ascertaining that she had no injuries, and giving his approval to Fitzwilliam to take Elizabeth outside, Matlock gave his total attention to his brother.
Once Fitzwilliam had let Lord Regis go, the peer had stumbled backward, his hands going to his throat as though to protect it from further attack. He coughed and gasped as his lungs filled once again with air. All he could think about at this point was survival; thoughts of his target were all but forgot. Therefore, it was with no little surprise that he was suddenly confronted with a very angry George Darcy.
“Lord Regis,” Darcy sneered, looking down his nose at his opponent. “I would say that it is a pleasure to see you if I did not have such a great disgust for you.”
Lord Regis may have been a peer, but George Darcy was a very powerful man, despite his lack of a title. Regis had never had much respect for the gentleman himself; in fact, he considered him an uptight, overly moralistic fellow. Darcy never participated in the typical diversions available to one of his class, something that Regis himself did quite frequently. However, Darcy was also known and honored for his honesty and discernment. He was highly regarded amongst the ton and the nobility and had the power to ruin anyone he chose, especially with the support of the House of Matlock. Regis therefore looked warily at his adversary, but chose to speak fearlessly.
“What do you want, Darcy? You and your son have interfered enough in my business. That girl belongs to me. Me. I want what is mine.”
Darcy laughed derisively. “It is far too late for that, sir. She is a Darcy now, and under the protection of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families. The marriage between my daughter and son cannot be undone. You know this. Any plans you might have had for her would have had to be completed covertly; you would not have only ruined her reputation had anyone seen you accost her here, you would have ruined your own. If it had not been so hurtful to my son’s wife, I would have happily let you ruin yourself right here, in public. However, it was hurtful to her. You are aware, are you not, that my son was enraged to find you touching his wife? And you are also aware, I am sure, that had I not stopped him, you would likely be either dead or called out and facing him on the field of honor?”
Regis’ hand went back to his throat. Indeed, he was aware of both facts. He swallowed again as Darcy continued.
“I have had you investigated, Regis. I am aware of the full extent of your gambling debts. I am also aware of the beatings you give people when you are angry, either at your preferred pugilists’ establishment, at your favorite brothels, even at your own home to your servants and family members. You, sir, are a savage and a ruffian, and not worthy to bear the title of gentleman. I lay before you a choice: you may persist in your persecution of my daughter and her family, and I will destroy you; or, you may desist and remove yourself from our vicinity and spare your family and yourself the humiliation of the scandal that would surely follow were I to spread the word of your activities.”
Lord Regis knew that Darcy was not a man to make idle threats. The ache in his throat and neck were enough to remind him that he should think twice before angering him or his son.
In truth, Regis was a bully. His mother had coddled him as a child, always giving in to his whims and temper tantrums and never making the effort to train her beloved son in the proper way to behave. As he had grown older, she had grown more and more afraid of him. It was too late to change him, however, and so she continued the pattern she had started so many years ago, giving him anything he wanted.
Prior to meeting Elizabeth, Regis had never been rejected. He had been shocked when she turned down his proposal, and had reacted as he always had, assured such actions would get him what he wanted. When her father banished him from the property, he had gone behind the man’s back, colluding with Mrs. Bennet to compromise Elizabeth as soon as she was well. He had waited in Hertfordshire for weeks for Elizabeth to come back out in society. He had been determined to have her.
His anger when he discovered her removal from Longbourn had been terrible. He had rushed back to London, determined to find her and make her his. He did not love Elizabeth; he wanted to possess her. And he always got what he wanted. This desire is what led to his entrance into her uncle’s house in the middle of the night, and it was what led him to this bookstore today.
But like all bullies, Lord Regis was thwarted when someone stronger than he stood up to him as Darcy had just done. He may be a peer, but Regis still had to live by society’s rules, and much of his behavior in private would not stand up to the light of day. He could not afford a scandal to damage his reputation and that of his family. He had siblings that still needed to be married off, and the power that he was garnering in the House of Lords would wane if any hint of his misdeeds with women or his gambling debts were to reach his peers in Parliament. And, while his mother and siblings would do what he told them, he did not wish to deal with the aggravation of their whining.
“Indeed, Darcy,” he sneered in an attempt to retain some small portion of his dignity. “I will accede to your demands. Your son may have the intemperate, beggarly little chit. She is no longer worthy of my notice, having given herself over to such a priggish family. You and the little baggage will hear no more from me, nor will her family.”
“See to it that none of us do, Regis. For I am sincere in what I said. I will ruin you and your family if I see you anywhere near. Leave, and know that I will have you followed and will know if you leave town or stay.”
Lord Regis bowed shallowly to Darcy, turned on his heel, and strode out of the shop. As he passed the Darcy carriage, distinguishable by the crest on the door, he paused for a second, then immediately resumed his march up the street. He hailed a hackney to take him home, where he informed his family and servants of their imminent departure before he walked up the stairs to his rooms and proceeded to drink the first of several bottles of brandy.
Back at the shop, the Matlocks congratulated Darcy on his handling of the peer before the three of them paid for the ladies’ purchases and boarded the Darcy carriage for the trip home. Inside the equipage, they found Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth on the same seat, tightly entwined, with Fitzwilliam’s cheek resting on her head. Elizabeth made to move to the other side, but her husband refused to let her go, raising his head and giving his family a look that defied them to remark on the situation. None thought it wise to do so, silently filling the other seat before Darcy banged on the roof to let the coachman know to proceed.
Fitzwilliam had managed to calm Lizzy after her confrontation, though he himself was still angry. He was relieved to hear from his father the details of the conversation that took place in the shop between his father and Regis. Elizabeth was also greatly comforted with the knowledge that her tormentor was leaving town and had promised to leave her and her family alone. She felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. As exhausted as she was from fear and tears, she managed a glowing smile that took her husband’s breath away.
The coachman drove the group first to Matlock House to drop off the earl and countess, before heading back to Darcy House. Upon disembarking the carriage, Darcy spoke to Robert, thanking him for his quick thinking. Even though he had been unable to prevent Lord Regis from accosting Elizabeth, Robert had gotten to the gentlemen quickly enough that they were able to stop the man. Thankfully, there had been no other customers in the shop, and after being passed a gold sovereign, the proprietor had agreed he had seen nothing. There should be no gossip from the event that Regis himself did not generate, and Darcy knew how to handle that, should it happen.
Fitzwilliam disembarked after his father, turning to hand Elizabeth down. He immediately escorted her into the house and up the stairs, calling for bathwater to be sent to their dressing room. The couple had enjoyed their little suite of rooms so much that they had decided to make it their permanent chambers. Her abigail and his valet had worked out a system by which both had the time they needed to attend to their duties, so all were pleased with the outcome. Once at Pemberley, the couple would have separate dressing rooms, of course, but here in town it was far more intimate.
Upon reaching their rooms, Fitzwilliam began helping his wife remove her clothes and don her dressing gown to await her bath. After pulling her long-sleeved dress down, he saw the deep bruising left by Lord Regis on Elizabeth’s delicate arm, and his rage returned. He clamped his lips together tightly so that none of the anger would get out and affect Lizzy. She had been through enough. However, he vowed to speak to his father further.
Once Elizabeth was in her dressing gown, Fitzwilliam also undressed and donned his. He intended to help her in her bath, so once the tub had been filled, he dismissed the servants. He settled first into the tub, then guided Lizzy to sit in front of him. He ran the soapy cloth over her body, being especially careful with her arm. He then quickly washed himself and rinsed them both before leaning back against the side of the tub and holding his wife close against himself.
Elizabeth enjoyed her husband’s attentions, knowing that it was his way of expressing his care for her. As she lay in his arms in the warm water, she recalled the surge of emotion she had felt when he pulled her from the floor in the bookshop earlier in the day. She had not been sure in the moment what she felt and under the circumstances, she was not able to analyse it overmuch. Now that they were home and quiet and relaxing, she pulled that memory out and began to examine the feelings that had engulfed her in that moment. As she thought, she came to a startling revelation. I am in love with him.
“When did this happen?” she asked herself. She began to think back over the last fortnight or so—their week of courting, the terribly frightening night she fled to Darcy House, the wedding the next morning and the week of honeymooning. She began to realize that the fear and anxiety she had felt in regards to Lord Regis had clouded her every thought and action, disguising her true feelings towards Fitzwilliam.
In truth, she realized, she had been in love with her husband for quite a while. She was not at all positive she could say exactly when it had happened, but happen it had, and the feeling was wonderful. He really was the best gentleman she had ever known; in fact, he was perfect for her. He met every qualification she desired in a spouse: he respected her, treated her with affection and care, and was eager to discuss everything imaginable with her. Yes, she most definitely loved him!
She smiled at the thought and savored it for a few minutes before recalling her promise to her Aunt Maddie to tell Fitzwilliam as soon as she was sure of her heart.
“Mmmmm,” he replied, nuzzling her hair. “Yes, my love?”
“Fitzwilliam … I love you.”
Her husband suddenly became very still, his heart pounding in his chest so hard she could feel it as she lay against him. “Say that again,” he demanded in a whisper.
She adjusted her position so she could look over her shoulder into his face. “I love you. Very much.”
“Oh my love,” he breathed. “You do not know how I have longed to hear you say that. I love you, as well, my darling Lizzy.” Both hearts soared with the knowledge that theirs would indeed be a marriage filled with love. Fitzwilliam leaned forward and kissed his beautiful wife. Soon all thoughts left their minds, their focus being only on each other and the increased pleasure that a union with one you loved and who loved you could bring.
To be continued …