Elizabeth Bennet was grateful for the expansive lands of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, even if she wasn’t that fond of the lady herself.
Mr. Darcy had declared, “You will not play such games again.”
And so she had played such games. Not hiding for long enough to cause him true concern. Just enough to have him look. Perhaps call out her name.
Darcy came down the path, dismounting at her borrowed blanket, a book of folklore left open atop it. He looked around. Elizabeth hid behind a tall tree, holding her breath and standing as still as she could.
Elizabeth’s infatuation grew. She had pushed him away, but she wanted that kiss. Just as she hid, hoping he would search, she waited, hoping he would try again, press his lips to hers and…
Elizabeth heard him walk up to the tree and stop. It would give the game away if she stepped out into view so close, so she sank further into a cut in the tree’s side. One snap of a twig and the jig would be up, but there was no crack or snap, and she waited.
There was a rustling on the side of the English oak and then, to her surprise, his footsteps receded. A minute later, hoofbeats. As the sound diminished, she stepped out from the tree and walked to her blanket. A red rose caught her attention at the base of the oak and beneath it was a second book.
“Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” she read the book title aloud. Elizabeth smelled the rose — sweet and fresh — how kind. She started reading the introduction. A twig snapped behind her, and she looked up startled.
“Good morning,” Mr. Darcy said, eyes twinkling.
“You came back?” Elizabeth dropped the book, stood, curtsied.
“I will always come back.” Mr. Darcy bowed. “Shall we read?”
Reading, so close and still atop the small blanket seemed somehow more scandalous than a stroll. Which was nonsense, but Elizabeth said, “A walk? If it pleases you.”
“It does.” Mr. Darcy offered his arm.
She took it, and he rested a gloved hand atop hers. As they walked, he brushed his fingers over her forearm. Their hips brushed. His scent, sandalwood, sweat, and something else, washed over her.
Having him so close made her stomach tighten. What would it be like to kiss him? Will he be tender or intense and forceful? She hoped for a little of both.
Elizabeth should have been nervous, walking unchaperoned with a man who had given her not a declaration but only a flower, now flat and dry between the pages of a book. Yet she could not doubt his feelings nor, if she were honest, her own.
“I thought you might like another book I found entertaining.” Mr. Darcy said.
Elizabeth looked at him, noting the slight smile on his lips. He had upended the game with this action, and she felt a blush rising on her cheeks. “Why, thank you Mr. Darcy,” she managed. “I will hope I enjoy it as much as you did. I was not aware that you liked fairy tales.”
He touched her elbow leading her back on to the path. “It is not my first choice for reading, but I was curious after seeing your Undine novel what you found so attractive. Grimm’s book is a bit heartier, more adventurous, and darker than Undine.”
“You read Undine?” Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose.
“As I said.” Darcy bit back a chuckle, feigning a look of complete innocence. “I am glad I came upon you. I look forward to our talks, and would have missed giving you the book.”
“And, the rose,” Elizabeth dared. “It was a lovely thought.”
Mr. Darcy smiled.
“But your horse?” Had he sent his steed on alone? Abandoned horses often returned to their stables. That seemed quite a risk for a mount so fine.
“Tied beside a field, feasting on grasses,” he replied. “His name is Whisper. I do not believe you have been formally introduced.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Informally, for certain, we are acquainted, but formally, not yet.”
“Allow me.” Mr. Darcy led her towards his horse. When he picked up the horse’s tether, it nuzzled him, and he responded with part of an apple retrieved from his coat pocket.
Elizabeth pulled her glove free, and Mr. Darcy’s gaze lingered on her bare hand. She held it out. He took it and he placed apple slice in it for her to feed to Whisper. His fingers lingered a moment on her naked hand, and her breath hitched as if the heat of it scorched her. His touch was gentle and all too brief.
Elizabeth fed the horse, aware of his proximity. It was closer than propriety demanded, and she never wanted it to end.
Elizabeth felt warm in his presence. She longed for him to touch her again, as the world with all of its complications faded with the brush of his fingers
“Shall we return to your tree?”
The spell was broken, and Elizabeth was irritated at its passing.
“Did you want to do something else?” Again, she saw that slight smirk gracing his lips, and his gaze darkened. He wanted her; of this she was sure. And, she wanted him, more and more with each meeting. The game could not dampen the feelings that swelled in her bosom and tightening of her stomach she had felt with no other gentleman.
The words caught in her throat, and she could not breathe.
I wish you would kiss me.
“May I?” Mr. Darcy stepped closer.
Mr. Darcy kissed her, at first chaste and hesitant, then more boldly as her lips softened at his touch. Elizabeth was not prepared for this cascade of feelings. Her body felt afire. She had pushed him away once before, for propriety’s sake, but the dam was broken, and Elizabeth didn’t want to stop. She stood on her tiptoes, hands on his shoulders for balance.
More please, her body begged.
Mr. Darcy released her from the kiss, and she took in a breath. Her heart was racing, and her knees felt weak. “My word,” was all she managed.
He was so much taller than she, and the strength rippling through him took her breath away.
“I can do it again,” Darcy offered, smiling like the cat who ate the canary. “Or, we can walk.”
Elizabeth whispered. “All we do is walk.”
Darcy chuckled, “I thought you enjoyed walking.” There it was again, that oh-so-innocent Darcy, teasing and playful.
Is that smile reserved only for me? “I like to do other things, you know,” she snapped back at him.
“Yes, reading,” Mr. Darcy said, his expression grave.
Elizabeth smacked his shoulder. “And other things.”
Mr. Darcy kissed her again. Her lips, robbing her of breath. He kissed her cheek, her jaw, and neck. Her pulse hammered.
It was too much. Too wonderful. She wanted more, and that frightened her. She stiffened.
“Miss Elizabeth?” His breath tickled her skin.
Elizabeth had vowed to marry for love, but how could she know this was love? Her parents had succumbed to lust, and now they lived separate lives within the same house. Mr. Bennet mocked his wife and Mrs. Bennet pretended his jests proved his affection.
“I will not hurt you,” Mr. Darcy said.
Perhaps she would hurt him. Or they would hurt each other? Elizabeth feared Lydia’s excessive flirting a danger to her virtue, and now, Elizabeth was the wanton.
A gasp. “Eliza!”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet! Oh my Goodness!”
Elizabeth’s guts turned to ice. She jumped from Mr. Darcy’s embrace.
The voice belonged to Mr. William Collins, and Elizabeth was ruined.