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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Graphic

Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride - Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

Darcy and Mr. Bennet had agreed, much without Elizabeth’s involvement, it best for the couple to marry before returning to Hertfordshire. As Lord Braithwaite’s crimes came to light, the gossip rags flitted between sympathy for the abducted women and arguments that the situation had been exaggerated to spare the women the consequences of their own loose morals. Jane had attempted to shield Elizabeth from the worst of it, but Elizabeth woke earlier and read the papers before the others woke, preferring uncomfortable truth to misty ignorance, no matter how comfortable the latter.

“Can you smile just a little, Lizzy? You are to be wed! And we shall have months together without our mother lamenting that you will never find a gentleman to match our cousin.” Jane smiled, her expression hopeful and vaguely entreating, as if by being cheerful enough, she might pull Elizabeth from the nightmares that woke her, clutching her duvet and swallowing screams as Jane slept on beside her, breaths even and soothing until Elizabeth’s eyes shut and the nightmares returned.

Elizabeth smiled. “I am sorry, Jane. I do not wish to worry you.”

“Do not apologize. All you have suffered; most would have broken.”

“I broke,” Elizabeth whispered.

“No. Never think that.” Jane put an arm around her sister, and Elizabeth leaned into her sister’s embrace.

The air smelled of flowers, manure, and distant fish. Once, Elizabeth might have found the approaching London summer off-putting. Elizabeth preferred the fresh smells of country spring to the increasing pungency of late spring London. Now, the smell hardly warranted her attention. She was clean and in the air, however London’s shroud diluted the sun.

In the thin branches of the tree behind them, a pair of starlings chirped at each other. A cheerful conversation that at one time would have had Elizabeth putting words to it. Or making some jest to make Jane laugh. Now, Elizabeth could not imagine a single story. They were birds, nothing more.

Jane said, “And Mr. Darcy loves you.”

“And I him.” Elizabeth could not doubt her love. It had seen her through the darkness and out of the mist to his arms. But would love be enough? Elizabeth had feared before trapping Mr. Darcy into a marriage he might regret. What if she could not perform her duties as a wife?

Last night, Jane, asleep, had flung her arm over Elizabeth at night, and she had startled awake, the smell of burning flesh in her throat. Lord Braithwaite’s men had drugged her, and their voices whispered in her dreams, their fingers on her arms, back, and hips as they walked her to the ship with promises of future pleasures she doubted were anything of the like.

Why could she not forget? If she could not put this behind her, she could not move forward with Mr. Darcy into a loving marriage.

Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam, would see Lord Braithwaite hanged. And when they did, there would be a trial in the House of Lords, and Elizabeth, as daughter of a baronet, was the only of the abducted women who could make charges against a Lord. She would have to give her testimony, share her shame with so many strangers. Elizabeth could not bear it.

Elizabeth said, “I always wished to marry for love.”

“You are. And so you must be happy.”

Elizabeth forced a smile. Jane was right. Elizabeth had to be a fit wife for the man she loved. She could not share with him her fears. She had burdened him so much already.

With that thought, Elizabeth lifted her chin. The birds still told no stories, but it was of no matter. “Did Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam say when they would return?”

“Before dinner.” Jane cocked her head, her teeth worrying a moment at her lower lip. “I…I should not ask, but Aunt Gardiner said it might be good for you to get out.”

“Where?” Elizabeth was caught between desire and fear. She felt trapped in her aunt and uncle’s home, but even the thought of leaving, stepping into a carriage, being exposed where anyone could take her…the fear made her mouth dry and hands shake. She looked down at them, willing them still.

At the far end of the garden, her niece and nephew played a game with changeable rules, one chasing the other and eliciting different effects depending on whether the recipient was tagged on the shoulder, hand, back, or head. They had a rule about points, which Elizabeth also did not understand, but it calmed her to see them laughing.

Lucy dashed over to Jane and Elizabeth, ducking between the pair of them under the bench, her brother in hot pursuit. “Save me!”

“Lucy!” Jane rarely raised her voice at the two children, who adored her, and Elizabeth knew herself to be at fault for her sister’s temper.

Elizabeth forced another smile and stood. She would not let her lethargy and memories rob her of her family and life. What purpose would Mr. Darcy’s rescue serve if she could not be the woman he had fallen in love with?

“What is this game?” she asked, placing herself between her niece and nephew, who, upon Elizabeth’s standing up, had tried to skirt around Elizabeth’s side towards his sister.

“Hide and Go Plague,” the boy, Hugh, explained. “We made it up. Lucy tagged me, so I have the Plague, and if I touch you, you’ve got it too.”

“Gruesome,” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “What happens when everyone has it?”

“We start over with different rules. Play with us?”

“Lizzy is still recovering,” Jane cut in.

“I will play.”

“You will!” Jane’s smile widened and the tension about her neck and eyes eased. That alone made Elizabeth’s agreement to play worth it. 

They restarted the game, meeting at the fountain as the two children ran through a dizzying series of rules.

“So, I am an angel?” Elizabeth asked. “Or the monster?” With her shorn hair and horrid memories, Elizabeth felt far more the monster than the angel, but Jane said, “I shall be the monster. Lizzy makes a right lovely angel, does she not?”

Lucy nodded and Hugh shrugged. “‘Suppose,” he said. “Jane, count to twenty. We will hide. When Jane gets one of us, Lizzy, you bless the plague out before we can infect the other one. Do you understand?”

Lizzy smiled. “I think so.”

They dashed around, chasing each other, and the London air seemed in that time lighter. The small garden, at first limiting, again held possibilities. Elizabeth’s lungs filled, her legs pumping as she ran for Lucy who had been infected and was making haste to grab her brother.

Back to the door, her ears filled with the delighted shrieks and laughter of her family, Elizabeth did not recognize Mr. Darcy’s entrance until she whirled around and dashed right into his chest.

Startled, her breath caught.

“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy said, placing his hands on her shoulders to steady her.

Elizabeth’s heart pounded and the blood rushed from her face, leaving her caught between flight and collapse. She was a captive again.

“Elizabeth!” Darcy released her, and Elizabeth stepped back. She blinked. No. She would not run away from her love. She clasped her hands together, rubbing her right thumb over the joint of her left.

“Well—” Elizabeth took a breath. “I am well.” As terrible as it was to fear him, worse would be to tell him she was afraid.

Col. Fitzwilliam stood behind Mr. Darcy, his expression grim. “Darcy, the Gardiners await us in the parlor.”

Elizabeth forced a smile. “Let us join you. Was your uncle very upset?” About Darcy marrying a nobody, a ruined woman, and asking a special license to do it? Elizabeth suspected the gentleman, the Earl of Matlock, was furious. And he had more power to cause her and her family harm than even Lady Catherine.

Why had Elizabeth agreed to the special license? She loved Mr. Darcy with all of her soul and will, but was that enough? And if it was not, what harm would she do to shackle Mr. Darcy to a woman who flinched when he touched her intimately?

“Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy said, “Are you well?”

“Quite.” Elizabeth forced a smile. They were back to formality again. He, Mr. Darcy, she Miss Elizabeth. She hated the distance between them and how it was all her fault.

Jane knelt before the children. “We must speak with your parents. Do you mind if we play again another time?”

“It is about the bad man, the one who hurt Aunt Elizabeth?” Lucy asked, pulling at a tendril of hair that had escaped its braid.

“We will make certain he hurts no one again,” Mr. Darcy declared.

Elizabeth valued his confidence even as she mourned the fact her niece and nephew knew of Lord Braithwaite. They must have overheard their parents or someone else in the house speaking of him.

Jane nodded. “Yes, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam are determined. They will see things turn out right.”

“Good,” the boy, Hugh, said. “And if that Braithwaite comes ‘round here, I’ll stick him with the fire poker. Gut him like a fish!”

“It will not come to that,” Mr. Darcy said. “Though the ladies of the household appreciate your protection. It is a gentleman’s duty to protect the ladies of his house.”

Hugh nodded, and though Elizabeth should have found the entire conversation ridiculous, it touched her. She nodded to her nephew. “Thank you.”

Elizabeth and Jane followed Mr. Darcy and the colonel to the parlor. The Gardiners and Mr. Bennet were there. Thankfully, Mrs. Bennet was still out.

On the main table sat a tray of cold meats, seasonal fruit and tea.

Though not hungry, Elizabeth made herself a plate. She took a strawberry, under ripe and tart, and chewed it slowly.

“Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner remarked, “I heard laughter through the window. The children pulled the pair of you into one of their games?”

Elizabeth nodded and her smile came naturally, thinking of the moment of fun she had had with her niece and nephew. “The rules are…complex.”

“That is a word for it,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“I found it lovely,” Jane said. “It was good to see my sister enjoy herself.”

The relief and pain in Jane’s voice at Elizabeth’s suffering was obvious to Elizabeth, though others might be mistaken by Jane’s polite tone and serene features.

Across the table, seated next to Mr. Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam tapped his index finger against the side of his teacup in time with his feet, crossed at the ankles in front of him.

The colonel, Elizabeth had learned, preferred action to words. He likely found this small-talk tedious, though he was gentleman enough to maintain his manners. Best cut to the chase. Elizabeth asked, “You bring news? Have they found Lord Braithwaite?”

Mr. Darcy shook his head. “Lord Braithwaite is gone to ground for now, though he will not stay hidden for long. It will be an admission of guilt if he refuses a summons to appear before the House of Lords in this matter.”

If Lord Braithwaite refused to appear before the House of Lords, then Elizabeth would not have to relive her shame in giving her testimony. Was it so terrible she wished he would just vanish? Except, if he fled to India or the Continent with his ill-gotten gains, nothing would stop him from restarting his trade in young women like herself.

Elizabeth tried again to imagine herself telling her story to the House of Lords. Her mouth went dry and her skin cold. She shivered. She could not even tell her fiancé of her fears. How could she tell a group of strangers of her ruin?  

Maybe Lord Braithwaite would fall in a ditch and die. It was sinful to pray for a man’s death, but considering Lord Braithwaite’s actions, Elizabeth hoped God would understand.

“Are you and my sister to marry here, in Town?” Jane asked.

“For her reputation, it is best we marry as soon as possible,” Mr. Darcy said. “But I wish to have a more formal celebration in Hertfordshire when this is settled.”

Settled. Would it ever be settled?

“We should have the special license in hand the day after tomorrow, when I return.”

“Where are you going?” Elizabeth hated how weak her voice sounded. She swallowed.

“We have to speak with our aunt,” Col. Fitzwilliam said. “If she can give us more information about Lord Braithwaite, we can use that to find him. Or to gather evidence against him. And the cabin you told us of, if we can find this Willow, Bart, and her son, it will make things much easier.”

“Perhaps I can help?”

“It would be best if you not confront Lady Catherine,” Mr. Darcy said.

Reluctantly, Elizabeth had to agree to the logic of this. “So, I will not see you tomorrow?”

“I do not intend to stay the night, but I will need to visit my uncle for the license. And then we will marry. That will put an end to all the talk.”

Elizabeth nodded. She had hoped her marriage would be more than a means to quell gossip, but things were so different now than when she had made her girlish dreams. At least she and Mr. Darcy loved each other. That was all that mattered.

Though their lives were to be joined in two days’ time, Elizabeth feared Mr. Darcy was slipping away. Or maybe her own fears put him at a distance.

I will do better when we are wed, Elizabeth vowed.

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Mr. Darcy's Ruined Bride Cover

Compromised. Married. Whole?

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

Find out in Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride, Book 2 of 4 of the Power of Darcy’s Love series. Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride is a sweet, suspenseful romance of 30,000 words where love truly does conquer all.

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Across from Darcy in the carriage, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam sat, legs extended, left foot tapping at the air. “Why did you tell Miss Bennet’s parents you would be married by special license? We cannot pull one from thin air.”

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Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride – Chapter 2

Elizabeth and Jane sat together in the garden, ostensibly watching their niece and nephew. Mrs. Bennet, thankfully, was out with Mrs. Gardiner looking to choose flowers for the wedding ceremony as the promise of a special license had Mrs. Bennet in fits of ecstasy.

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While Darcy had often found Rosings Park tedious, with his aunt’s incessant and ridiculous attempts to force himself and Anne into matrimony, it had not before felt sinister. Which of the servants had known Elizabeth’s fate? Which had suffered it? And what other secrets did his aunt hide?

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New Release – Mr. Darcy’s Ruined Bride

After Mr. Darcy rescues Elizabeth, to spare her reputation, they marry in haste and make plans to return to Longbourn. But when new evidence comes to light, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s bridal tour is diverted as she, her new husband, and Col. Fitzwilliam hunt down Elizabeth’s captors. Worse, Elizabeth’s memories haunt her, threatening to drive Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy apart even as they long to consummate their vows. Will love and a foundling child give Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy the courage to save their marriage from enemies within and without?

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