The afternoon sky hung gray and heavy over Pemberley, an ill portent for the afternoon ride to the posting inn and an excellent one for the evening with her husband. After ten days apart, Elizabeth would spend the evening tangled in Mr. Darcy’s arms as the rain pounded the posting inn’s roof.
Not that they would be together as husband and wife; tonight, she would make love to him as a mistress and he the master of her pleasure.
They had hired Mr. Grimes, a new footman, a month ago, after the birth of Elizabeth’s second daughter and when they agreed Philippa, the illegitimate child of Mr. Darcy’s cousin, would live at Pemberley for the foreseeable future. They’d taken on a new carriage and driver as well.
Driver and footman now stood in front of the carriage, their heads close in what appeared to be a serious conversation as Elizabeth approached.
Neither man appeared to notice her. The breeze carried a few words of their conversation, “Are you certain—no danger —?”
Elizabeth glanced at the sky again. The air smelled of rain, but she neither saw lightning nor heard thunder. An autumn storm. Inconvenient, but hardly dangerous, unless a lady rode a horse bareback in nothing but riding clothes and found herself thoroughly drenched.
Elizabeth smiled at the memory. The Darcys and Bingleys, now neighbors, shared dinner at one or the other’s home near every week. It was one of the many joys of Elizabeth’s married life.
Elizabeth said, “It seems an ordinary autumn storm. Are you concerned?”
“No, ma’am.” The driver, Mr. Carlisle, gave a start and stepped away from Mr. Grimes. Both bowed. Mr. Carlisle laughed. It sounded forced. “I’ve a fine rain slicker from my wife, and this hat.” He held out a wide-brimmed peasant hat that looked serviceable.
Mr. Grimes walked to the carriage door and held it open. “Mrs. Darcy,” he said. There was nothing improper in his manner, but Elizabeth disliked his gaze. His sharp gray eyes were as flat as the silver coins laid upon the dead. They narrowed as he caught her gaze.
Perhaps Mr. Grimes disapproved of her cosmetics. She had sprinkled rice powder over her face and rouged her lips and cheeks, painted a line above her lashes at Philippa’s insistence. The effect, Philippa had said, was subtle, but assured Elizabeth she would catch her husband’s attention.
Not that Elizabeth had any business taking advice of this sort from a fifteen-year-old girl, no matter her mother had been an Opera house singer.
If Elizabeth shared her dislike of Mr. Grimes with her husband, Mr. Darcy would send him away, but Elizabeth saw no reason to be cruel. He had done nothing. So she smiled, nodding, and accepted his help into the carriage. Elizabeth’s small trunk was loaded at the rear of the carriage with clothing to see Elizabeth through the night and morning and possibly another night should she and her husband extended their stay.
Mr. Grimes closed the door and took his place at the carriage rear with the trunk as Mr. Carlisle climbed into the driver’s seat, and they were away.
In the carriage, Elizabeth opened a slim volume of ancient eroticism titled Daphnis and Chloe, translated from the Greek, which her husband had given her to read before his departure. The pages were worn, and Elizabeth flipped through them, imagining her husband’s hands on her, his mouth, and his manhood a flowering tree, sweet wine against her skin.
The story set a hot curl of desire in her core, but it did not compare to her anticipation of her husband’s touch.
No, not her husband. Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth flipped through the book as she rode, the words lighting fantasies in her mind as her womanhood grew warm and slick. It was two hours to the nearest posting inn, and the bounce of the carriage sent tingles of pleasure through Elizabeth. Perhaps she and her husband could have their way with each other again on the way home. They need only draw the curtains and hide each other’s moans in deep kisses.
Elizabeth ran her tongue between her lips. Outside, the sky had darkened, so much so she could not see the words of the book. She put the book aside and considered slipping her hands beneath her skirt to feel her desire. But she did not wish to spend herself too soon. She wanted Mr. Darcy’s hand to bring relief and had wicked ideas of how she might, once more, earn his forgiveness; though, after a year and a half of this game, neither put much effort into refining the misdeed for which she required forgiveness.
The carriage slowed. It had been just an hour by her estimation. Elizabeth looked out of the window. No busy market thoroughfare or posting inn greeted her eyes. Instead, it was the road with fields at one end and trees on the other. Whatever was the matter? The carriage rocked as Mr. Grimes jumped down and walked past the carriage door towards the driver.
If Elizabeth was more proper, she would have waited in the carriage for Mr. Grimes to return and tell her what was wrong. But after another minute, her curiosity burned, and Elizabeth opened the carriage door and stepped out.
Elizabeth looked to her left and to her right. They had pulled over at the side of the road, which ahead took a sharp turn. A drop of rain touched Elizabeth’s cheeks. She pulled her bonnet down over her forehead.
The carriage had moved smoothly enough. Was something wrong with the horses? When Elizabeth was twelve, she and her sister Jane had visited the Gardiners and one of the carriage axles had broken. Then, the carriage had lurched awfully before stopping. Nothing of the sort had happened here. Elizabeth walked to the front of the carriage.
Mr. Carlisle was not in the driver’s seat. From the opposite side, Elizabeth heard them speaking.
“Do you think we can move it?”
Elizabeth climbed up onto the empty driver’s seat to see to what the two men were referring. Both men had their back to the carriage, looking out at a small path, barely wide enough for a carriage, leading from the main road. A tree had fallen across it.
Elizabeth looked towards the main road again. It was clear. There was no reason for them to stop here and no reason to take the alternative route. “Why are you looking there?” Elizabeth asked.
Both men whipped around.
“Mrs. Darcy!” Mr. Carlisle grabbed at the top of his rain hat, pulling it askew on his head. “You should go back to the carriage.”
“Why have we stopped?”
Mr. Carlisle gave her a weak smile. “There’s no reason for concern. Please, return to the carriage.”
“I should like to know why we have stopped and what business we have with that road,” Elizabeth said, pointing. Though calling it a road was an exaggeration.
“Get back in the carriage!” Mr. Grimes ordered.
Elizabeth’s heart pounded. These men were servants. They had no business speaking to her in such a manner. Mr. Carlisle at least had the grace to look nervous. Mr. Grimes’ face flushed, and his eyes narrowed as he pulled something from behind his back. The glint of steel.
“Grab her!” Mr. Grimes shouted.
Elizabeth took the reins as Mr. Carlisle circled the front of the carriage and Mr. Grimes, younger and in much better health, closed the three steps and began to climb up, grabbing at her. Elizabeth whipped the reins as she had seen other drivers do.
“Mrs. Darcy. Do not do anything rash!” Mr. Carlisle leaped out of the way as the horses began to move.
On the seat, Elizabeth shifted away from Mr. Grimes, kicking out as she continued whipping the reins. Mr. Grimes pulled himself up just as one of Elizabeth’s feet, covered not by a dainty slipper but a sensible, heavy walking boot, connected with Mr. Grimes’ chin.
Elizabeth kicked again. Between her struggles and the carriage’s rattling, the footman lost his hold.
“Go!” Elizabeth cried, waving the reins again. The horses were trotting now, and Elizabeth’s stomach lurched as the carriage careened towards the bend ahead on the road. She tried pulling the reins to direct the horses, but they were racing, and Elizabeth did not know what to do.
Desperate, she yanked on the right rein, or maybe the left, to get the horses to turn. They did, and the carriage rattled, wheels screaming, as they turned. Elizabeth’s teeth slammed together as carriage lurched, barely avoiding a large tree before returning to the road.
Behind her, both men shouted, but their voices faded as the horses ran blindly ahead, and Elizabeth struggled to hang on. At least they were on the road again. Rain tapped Elizabeth’s face. She held onto the reins to steady herself as they approached a second turn. This was not as sharp is the first, and Elizabeth guided her horses left.
But the animals, already panicked, mouths frothing and sides shining with sweat, startled and veered too far, no longer skirting but now careening between two trees. The carriage slammed into one, and the impact threw Elizabeth from the driver’s seat. She flew, hit the ground and slid. Pain stabbed through her left shoulder.
The horses kept on, dragging the broken carriage away.
Terrified, Elizabeth looked down the road from where she had come. She had gotten away, but not far enough. Mr. Carlisle and Mr. Grimes would follow, and if she stayed here, they would catch her. Shoulder throbbing, Elizabeth lifted her skirts with her opposite hand and ran into the woods.