“Jane, I think you should stay home,” Elizabeth looked at her sister with a frown.
Jane looked pale. She had not been eating or sleeping well since January. Mrs. Gardiner told Elizabeth about Jane's heartache, after the horrible Caroline Bingley returned Jane's previous call and more or less declared a break of “friendship” with Jane at Grace Church Street two months earlier. Elizabeth arrived in London three days ago. She would be joining the Lucases to visit Charlotte in Kent in about one week's time. Elizabeth blamed Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters. She was certain they separated Mr. Bingley from Jane, rendering her beloved sister to such a dispirited state.
“I am fine, truly. I look forward to this morning. I think Aunt Magdalene is great and it is all for a good cause. Those poor children! They have to work 14 hours a day in the factories, in such horrible conditions. I hope we will receive good donation for them,” Jane paused to catch her breath. “Although it is beyond me to think of selling candles to housekeepers of grand houses. I will not know what to say and how to persuade them.”
“Leave this up to me,” Elizabeth puffed her chest out and winked at her sister. She truly hoped that the charity work would take Jane's mind from the Bingleys. The sisters helped their Aunt and other ladies at the Foundation for Children Workers make candles for the past two days. Jane seemed to be back to her sweet self, more communicative and less pensive.
Now the two sisters were assigned to sell the candles door-to-door along two streets in Mayfair. They would be accompanied by a maid from Lady Brightmore's household and delivered to the area by Her Ladyship's carriage too. Her Ladyship was one of the patrons of the Foundation and would ensure the safety of all the ladies involved. Elizabeth knew that Aunt Magdalene had given them streets as far away from the Hurst's residence as possible, so there would not be a chance for Jane meeting the Bingley sisters again.
Elizabeth kept up a chatter with Jane, until they arrived at their destination. The first house they visited was at the corner of Berkeley Square, a big lovely three-storey stone building.
“Do you not find this house in harmony with the Park?” Elizabeth whispered to Jane as they waited for the footman to fetch the housekeeper.
“Gee! I am dead bored!” The sound of a man made the sisters turn, as the door to the parlour opened.
“Mr. Bingley!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“Jane!” Elizabeth cried out as her sister fainted and dropped onto the floor. Mr. Bingley bolted to Jane's side in an instant.
“Miss Bennet! Did you hurt yourself?” Mr. Bingley cried out. “Why are you here? Wake up, my angel?”
“Bingley, take Miss Bennet up to the guest room,” Mr. Darcy's commanding voice cut through the chaos. “Howard, fetch the doctor here, at once.”
Elizabeth ran up the stairs, as she followed Mr. Bingley. After he had put Jane down on a bed inside a chamber on the second level, Elizabeth used the wet cloth provided by a maid to wipe the brow of her sister. Jane did not move or wake up. Tears welled in Elizabeth's eyes. “Dear Jane, wake up! Did you hit your head? My dear...”
“Miss Elizabeth, would you like to take a glass of wine, for your present relief? The doctor should be here in any minute. I am sure Miss Bennet will wake...” The soft and calming voice of Mr. Darcy did not smooth Elizabeth at all. The worries she had for her sister in the past months turned into anger. Like wild fire that could not be controlled. She dropped Jane's hand, stood up and marched towards Mr. Darcy, who was standing a few steps from the bed.
“It is all your fault!” She poked her finger at his chest. “You separated Mr. Bingley from Jane after the Netherfield Ball! You made Jane look like a silly woman in the eyes of our neighbours, for getting her hope high for Mr. Bingley. You made Miss Bingley slight Jane when she visited Grosvenor Square in January. You told Miss Bingley to break off her friendship with Jane, by telling Jane Mr. Bingley was courting your sister! How could you be so cruel to such a sweet girl as Jane? You're the most arrogant and conceited man I have ever met...”
“Miss Bennet!” Mr. Darcy wrapped one hand round Elizabeth's fingers, stopping her poking and the other round her waist. “You are distraught and do not know what you are talking about. Bingley, I shall take her to another guest room to rest. You take care of the elder Miss Bennet.”
“I am not leaving Jane!” Elizabeth yelled, as she struggled against Mr. Darcy's strong frame. She could see the maid shrinking to one side of the room. She did not care. She hated Mr. Darcy!
“What did she mean, Darcy? Jane visited Caroline in January?” Bingley's voice faded as Mr. Darcy pulled Elizabeth into the next room and shut the door. He released her but stood by, barring her from leaving.
“Get out of my sight and let me leave! I have to take care of Jane.” Elizabeth's eyes flashed angrily as she uttered the words through gritted teeth. Her breathing was hard due to the struggle and her hands clenched to her side.
Darcy stared at Elizabeth silently.
She was so beautiful! Her fine eyes lit with ambers. Her porcelain white cheek blushed bright red, reminding him of her three mile walk from Longbourn to Netherfield to take care of her sister. He felt in love with her then. Her caring, loyal and energetic persona was what he had been searching for in the past six years for the right Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth Bennet would be a loving and fearless wife, who would protect and defense the Darcys. Despite the total impropriety of her other family members, Darcy made up his mind.
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Would you do me the honour of agreeing to be my wife?”
Her mouth gaped open and her eyes rounded. Darcy smiled at her reaction.
“Are you out of your senses? Is that a kind of joke you practise on country ladies?”
“I know I should have waited until we re-acquaint ourselves,” his smile turned into grin. “After all, you have not heard from me for almost four months but I am certain you have been hoping for this...”
“Hoping!” Elizabeth's voice raised another notch. Her hands waved widely as she spoke. “I withdraw my comment. You are in fact the most arrogant and conceited man in the whole world! Hoping? Why would I hope for your address? Your sickening joke of a proposal? Do you not hear what I have said? I hate you! You, the one who did not find me handsome enough to tempt you to dance. You, who look down at my neighbours and do not speak to anyone. You, the one who separated Jane from Mr. Bingley. You, who made her fainted on the sight of Mr. Bingley. You, who want to keep Mr. Bingley for your own proud sister.”
“Calm down, my dearest Elizabeth,” Darcy stepped forward and tried to grab her moving hands. “I know you are worried about Miss Bennet. But I find you the most handsome woman of my acquaintance now. I do not feel at ease to talk to strangers. You must teach me to do better in future. And I did not separate her from Bingley for my sister. I saw no preference by her to Bingley. I did not want Bingley to have a loveless match. You heard what your mother had said at the Netherfield Ball. She wanted Miss Bennet to marry Bingley so she could throw your sisters to the path of rich men. I was sure your sister would yield to your mother's demand.”
Elizabeth stood back a step from him. She panted as she thought about his words. “But you helped Miss Bingley hide Jane's visit from Mr. Bingley!”
“It was deceitful of me then. Now that Bingley knows about it and from what I observed Miss Bennet's expression when she saw Bingley, I know I am wrong about her affection. I shall do my best to make amends and promote their felicitation.”
“That is most generous of you!” Elizabeth sneered at his attempt to placate her. “It seems to go against your nature. You who disregard the fate of your childhood friend and withhold the living Mr. Wickham is entitled to.”
Darcy's face throbbed. “You have an eager interest in that man!”
“Who would not? His misfortune is your infliction.”
“His misfortune indeed!”
“How could you make light of it? You reduce him to his present poverty. Where is your loyalty and constancy?”
“My loyalty and constancy are with you!” Darcy marched towards Elizabeth and wrapped his hand around her waist. “I who decide to disregard the censure of my family and the world to ask you to marry me. And what do I get? For you to sneer at my proposal and defend that blackguard who gave up the living for three thousand pounds and then came back to prey on my young sister. I must have been blinded by your lustfulness, to think you an intelligent woman. Yes, it must be your eyes, your alluring figure, your impertinent mouth which beckon me, to forget my senses, my wit and my...”
His face was inches from hers. He could see the colour of her eyes turned a different shade as he uttered each word. Her pert breasts rose and fell, grazing his taunt torso. The muscle in her tiny waist trembled under his strong hands. Her lush thighs pressed against his, sending blood boiled in his body. He lowered his mouth and captured her lips.
It was sweet. Elizabeth tasted of chocolate and sugar.
It was arousing. She stuck her tongue to push him away, not knowing that she ignited passion with such a gesture. Her hands bore down at his chest, not knowing that they felt like caresses. Her body squirmed against his, not knowing that her movement made his skin on fire.
Elizabeth's hands no longer pushed against his chest. Rather, she smoothed them over to stroke his back, pulling his shirt tail from the confine of his trousers. Her lips opened wider and her tongue teased at his, inviting him to dance with her, in a tune similar to the ancient mating ritual. Her pert nipples brushed against his chest. He did not know when the buttons of his waistcoat gotten loose but he could feel her tips grazing against his shirt.
His arousal sprung to life.
Grabbing her bouncy buttocks, he pressed her forward and rubbed against her. The contact was like a lightning bolt, striking their bodies, splitting their lips apart. They moaned out loud.
The lightning must have hit his head, for he lost his senses to the outside world and could only concentrate on the pleasure her glorious body was giving him.
Picking her up, he put her on the bed.
She was the picture of a wild siren. Her hair pins were loosen. Her mane of chocolate curls threatened to spread on the pure white pillow. Her face and neck were bright red, her eyes half opened. She licked her lips as her hands continued to explore his back.
When he pulled down the sleeves of her dress and exposed her enticing nipples to his eyes, he forgot the world indeed.
It was four long month of abstaining himself, from feasting his eyes on Elizabeth's body. Four long months of dreaming of her. Four long months of comparing her to every woman he met in London.
He licked one of the nipples while his hand played with the other one, all the time keeping his eyes on her face. She gasped. Her eyes popped open. Her fingers dug into his back. “Mr. Darcy...” her murmur was so captivating and teasing. It urged him on. He sucked her nipple like a hungry baby and squeezed the other one hard. She jerked her body against his, making his blood boil. He continued worshipping her for minutes, until he stopped for air.
“Mr. Darcy...” she mumbled again.
“Yes, Elizabeth.” He panted.
“Mr. Wickham is...”
“I am sorry to have believed him.”
“I do not want to talk about him.”
“Are you truly in love with me?” Elizabeth said the words in such a low whisper that he had to strain his ears to hear them.
“Utterly and completely.”
“But I'm not suitable for you. I do not have connection or fortune.”
“I only need your love.”
Mr. Darcy's words touched Elizabeth's heart. There was such longing embedded in the declaration. She wanted to protect him, to give him love and to satiate his needs. She smoothed her hands over the curls that had fallen over his forehead. She liked this wild Mr. Darcy. A Mr. Darcy who was full of passion, who was madly in love with her, who would not care about gossip and locked her up in a room in the middle of the day to kiss her senseless. She loved this complex man who was quiet and brooding on the outside but romantic and burning in the inside. He was like no man she had known before. Could she forgive his officious interference and his arrogance against her neighbours?
“Forgive me, Elizabeth,” as if sensing her thoughts, he pleaded his case. “I shall try my best to be more amiable to your friends and strangers. Will you marry me, my dearest and loveliest Elizabeth?”
After a second of thought, she nodded her head. He lowered his head to seal their future with a long passionate kiss.
By the time Darcy and Elizabeth emerged from the guest chamber, appearing neat and normal, the doctor had woken up Jane. A bowl of broth was ordered for the patient who shared it with Mr. Bingley, her betrothal. Darcy confessed to Bingley and all was forgiven.
When Jane and Elizabeth returned to Cheapside shortly after noon time, their beaux rode to Longbourn to seek their father's consent.
“Did you sell any of the candles?” Mrs. Gardiner asked when the three of them settled in the parlour. She eyed her nieces with curiosity. They appeared to glow. The charity work must be good for them. “You have been gone for a long time.”
“We did, Aunt!” Elizabeth replied with a mirth. She could hardly contain her happiness.
“To how many houses?”
“Just one...” Jane added in a low voice. She smiled shyly.
“Yes," Elizabeth arched her eyebrow and added, "Mr. Bingley bought all the four-hour candles. He said he will light them when his sisters come for dinner and visit his lovely sweet wife and him. Then they will not stay too long.”
“Mr. Bingley!” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed, as she took in Jane's blush. “But I did not assign you to Grosvenor Square. How did he come to be in Berkeley Square and proposed to you, Jane?”
“Charles was visiting Mr. Darcy,” Jane's eyes twinkled as she exacted her revenge on her impertinent younger sister. “Mr. Darcy bought all the eight-hour candles. He said he will need them to admire the fine eyes of his lovely wife, all night long.”
Mrs. Gardiner gasped as she stared at Elizabeth. Elizabeth remembered how Mr. Darcy had admired her eyes and body in the guest chamber for nearly quarter of an hour. Or was that half an hour? Her nipples peaked and warmth flooded her apex just as Elizabeth thought about Mr. Darcy's lips and hands.
“Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Gardiner said.
Elizabeth nodded. Mrs. Gardiner eyed Elizabeth fluster and squirm on the seat. Before she asked for detail about her niece's change of heart about Mr. Darcy, she had decided that she would need to be a stricter chaperone on the pair from this day on.