First in the “Marco” Series
Fandom(s): Pride&Prejudice, Lost in Austen
Pairing(s): Darcy/Original Female Character
Secondary Pairing(s): Bingley/Amanda (Lost in Austen)
Summary: Marco was visiting a museum, not that it mattered — until she walked through a door and found herself in Pemberley. Mr. Darcy seems to be more than just a character in her favorite book, a book that she cannot seem to preserve as desperately as she tries. Darcy/OFC
Warnings: time travel, ofc, class distinctions, distortion of everything Austen, character death
She was visiting a museum, not that it mattered. Marco never much cared for them and so, when she saw a closed door without a warning sign or one telling her not to enter, she opened it and walked through, hoping for an escape sort of from the drudgery of the horrible paintings.
Well, she found it.
It had been the biggest mistake of her life.
Or the complete opposite.
The room was pale green, accentuated with white. The lush furnishings reminded her of several centuries ago and a beautiful piano dominated the room. She ran her hand against the sofa, hoping that a guard wouldn’t come out from nowhere, yelling at her not to touch the furniture, and she looked back at the door.
She could easily lose herself in this room for hours.
Opening the door to get back to the modern paintings, she was surprised to see a hallway with wooden floors and large portraits on the wall.
Marco didn’t understand. Best to close the door then.
Facing the room again, she could think of two options, sit and read a book (there were a few lying around), or play the piano; she was a professional, after all, and internationally recognized. She decided to play. It was with Gnossienne no 1 that the door opened again, though softly enough that she didn’t hear it, so lost she was in the music.
The world turned into colors and she left it, flying away on the notes and then, when the final note was played, she bowed her head until she lifted her fingers. The sound of clapping startled her.
She jumped in surprise and immediately stood up. Marco looked over at the man—the very handsome man. “Are we in a period drama?” she asked.
“I beg your pardon, Madam?” he inquired in a British accent.
Right. “It’s just—“ She waved her hand at him. “You’re dressed like a country gentleman from the early—well—is it the 1800s? Have I got it right?—And I,” she looked down at her sixties style dress and her black knee boots, “I look like Diana Rigg from the Avengers.”
“You are peculiarly attired,” he agreed. “It is 1811, as you surmised.”
“1811,” she repeated. “Right. Napoleon.” Marco was suddenly glad she had taken AP history a million years ago. She looked around the room for some sort of inspiration. She saw the hallway behind him. Unfortunately, she had watched far too much Doctor Who and Time Travel movies so she had a sinking feeling she knew what was happening. “Is this your home?”
“Quite,” he answered.
Marco nodded. “Right. Should I leave or would you like me to play?”
“I would gladly hear you play,” he answered, “if you would be so kind as to introduce yourself.”
Her mind went into free fall. Should she use her own name? She’d hate to be called by something else. Right. Bizarre name it was, then. “Marco,” she told him, trying to smile. “Marco Hightower.”
“Marco,” he repeated. “I do not believe I have met a lady with such a singular name.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” she agreed. “My father admired the explorer Marco Polo and did not believe that just because I was a member of the fairer sex I should be kept from bearing his name.” Wow. That had been difficult to say, especially since it wasn’t true. Her mother was Italian and had been given the name of ‘Sister Marco’ when she had become a nun when her parents had first met. Other thoughts. Now. “Might I ask your name and inquire where we are?”
“Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he said, bowing, “and this is Pemberley.”
She’d gone mad. This was not Doctor Who; this was something else entirely.
Without saying anything else, she sat down at the piano and began to play Debussy. Darcy—good lord!—sat down and listened to her play. He did not say a word, just sat with his back straight and with his right hand fisted on his leg so that he leant forward a bit, the better to see her perhaps.
Marco was just glad that she studied piano in New York and that she enjoyed thinking up variations when she was recording cd’s in the studio. She had so many pieces memorized. She moved from one to another, sometimes looking openly at her host, noticing his chiseled jaw, the natural wave in his hair and eyes so blue that she could probably look into them for hours without really seeing anything in them at all, his emotions perfectly veiled within them.
The clock struck a particular hour and Marco noticed that the sun was setting. Darcy stood and held out his hand to her. “It is time to change for dinner.”
“Oh,” she responded. “This is all I have.”
“Then we shall be informal,” he told her. “My sister is in London.”
She nodded and let him guide her to a chair. When he took his previous spot, Marco just looked at him and tried to sit up straighter.
“Did you learn to play in Town?” he asked. “You must have had the benefit of the masters. If not for your sex or your elevated position in society, you could easily be a master yourself.” He spoke so solemnly and yet with an earnestness that somehow surprised Marco.
“No,” she responded. “I’ve never been to London. I have studied the piano since I was a young girl, however.”
“It is apparent in your playing,” he offered. “I thought there were few as accomplished as my sister, but I find that I have been incorrect.”
Marco felt a little uncomfortable. “Perhaps she is still young?” she suggested. She had reread Pride and Prejudice about two years ago and Georgiana had been sixteen in the novel, though she had no way to tell when she had arrived.
“You are most likely correct. She is not yet fifteen.”
Right. He hadn’t met Elizabeth. Why was he being so friendly then (though perhaps a bit solemn)?
Now Marco had to think of something to say. “Do you play?” She hoped that wasn’t stupid. Marco had no idea if men played or not.
“A little,” he admitted.
“Then we can play a duet, if you like,” she offered, “after dinner, before I go—somewhere.” She bit her lip and looked out the window.
Darcy looked at her strangely. “How did you get here, Miss Hightower?”
She looked at him, a little frightened.
“Did you walk through a door? My grandfather’s brother always said his favorite childhood friend had done the same. He had no parents but he was given to a family who lived in the bounds of the park.” His blue eyes shone.
Marco took a deep breath. “I was looking at art in a museum,” she confessed. “I walked through that door.” She pointed toward the one he had come through. “I found myself here and I couldn’t get back so I decided to play your piano.”
“I thought there might be something because of your clothes. We Darcys keep our family stories close and, well, the boyhood friend had peculiar clothing as well and spoke in a different way, such as yourself. He always said he was glad to escape the Blitz, I believe.”
She blinked. “I would imagine. That was a horrible time, but that was sixty years ago, thank God,” she said, looking at her hands. “I suppose most women don’t have red lips now, do they?” she pondered.
“Only women of the night.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m not—“ she promised, but he held up his hand to her, to show she need not say anything. He already understood.
They walked into dinner together, neither saying anything, although they were side by side. Her arm and fingers would occasionally brush him, as would he her, but she tried not to think of it. Sparks flew between them; she couldn’t deny it. He was far too handsome. He was possibly the most attractive man she had ever seen—and he was a hallucination or a very peculiar lucid dream.
When she was placed directly to his right (he was naturally at the head of the table), she began with the soup course, thankful that her mother had been an Anglophile and she actually knew what every fork and spoon was used for. Marco also watched Downton. Mum’s the word.
Darcy mainly spoke of his sister and when he spoke of Mrs. Young, Marco, recognizing the name, warned, “I wouldn’t trust her.”
“Beg pardon?” he asked.
“She’s friends with someone named George Wickham. He’s going to try to elope with your sister for her dowry. Trust me.”
“Is it so ingrained on history?” he asked in surprise.
“Someone writes a novel,” Marco told him carefully. “I’m not in it, which makes me think I disappear somehow, but there’s a novel, and that’s what happens. You find out just before the intended elopement occurs. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But isn’t it better to act as if I’m right just in case?”
Marco looked at him for several long seconds and he nodded.
And so they fell into a comfortable life. It was put about that she was his ward, the daughter of an Archbishop (which made her laugh, as it was true), and he bought her fine clothes and she even had a companion, a Mrs. Woodbury. Although his sister was often in town, the two never met, and Marco primarily played the piano or went horseback riding and read poetry, her only vice by Regency standards.
Soon Marco found this one spot where she could climb up the hill to this gnarly old tree, easily climb onto one of its branches as the tree’s trunk began farther down and the bough was low hanging at the hilltop. She would sit there for hours, reading poetry and contemplating her life.
One late November day Darcy found her there after seeing her horse tied up below.
“Marco!” he greeted. “There’s frost and you’re not dressed for the weather. You should take better care of your health.”
She gave him a sad smile.
“You are unwell,” he murmured in distress. “Tell me, Marco, what is wrong?” He came up to her and after considering, sat beside her. Her back was against the trunk, so he was seated beside her shoes.
“It’s the fourth Thursday in November,” she told him, but his face was blank. “You know I’m not from here.”
He nodded in acknowledgment.
“In my country, today is a holiday. We celebrate the supposed friendship between the American Indians and the Pilgrims who settled in Massachusetts. It’s a time of family.” She sighed and looked away. “Clans gather. We have several generations at the same table on Thanksgiving and we eat turkey. Everyone I know and love is so far away. I am long gone and dead and they’re not even alive.”
Darcy took a moment to consider. “I did not realize you were so unhappy here.”
She turned back to him and reached out her gloved hand, which he hesitatingly took. “That’s not it. I just miss my family. My father’s family. We’re outcasts, really, Mom and I. Dad is dead, but his family only welcome us on the major holidays.” At his look, she gave him a small smile. “It does not signify, Mr. Darcy.—In August I missed my cousin Madison because it was her birthday. I don’t even like Maddy. She’s an annoying thirteen year old with far too many piercings.” At Darcy’s confused look, she added, “Don’t ask. You’ll be much happier.”
“Well,” he said. “I am your family now. We must see Cook immediately to see what we can do about recreating your holiday for you. And then in a week or two we should discuss Christmas so you will be at ease.” He pushed himself off the branch and helped her back to the ground.
“Will we go to London to meet Miss Georgiana?” she asked, “Or will your sister come here for Christmas?”
Darcy paused several moments. “You’ve been here since April, just after Easter.”
“That is correct,” she stated calmly as she took his hand to come to their horses.
He made to lift her into her side saddle, his nose touching hers, they were so very close. His blue eyes looked into her brown ones, and she saw something in them. Before she was placed into the saddle, he put her back on the ground. “Marco,” he murmured, running his hand against her cheek, “why do you haunt me so?”
“Haunt you?” she asked him in confusion.
“I see your image before I fall asleep and reach for you when I awaken. Tell me, Marco, is it in your power to bewitch beyond the door? I cannot account for it.”
She reached up and touched his brow, and then slowly he bent down and kissed her ever so gently. Marco’s eyes closed in happiness and she knew they remained closed for several moments after he moved away.
Her heart pounded, as she tried not to seek more, but it was hopeless. She reached out and pulled herself as she grasped his shoulder and stood up on her toes. Their eyes looked into each other and she kissed him softly, until she was held tightly in his arms. Gaining some strength from being in the arms of a man she wasn’t quite certain she was in love with, but a man she cherished with her very being and one she knew, if history didn’t demand it, she could spend the rest of her life with—she wondered: if, if, if.
Her voice shaking, she admitted: “The book I speak of—it is not me who bewitches you.”
She was uncertain how he took her declaration, but he held her to him fast and buried his face in the crook of her neck. They stood like that before he released her and he near-whispered, “You’re crying.”
“My mother told me when she first knew my father loved her, she cried as well.” She reached out for his hand and grasped it before his hands surrounded her once more to lift her upon her horse, the side saddle still strange to her.
Trying to find something to say, so she wouldn’t have to explain her thoughts to him, she tried, “Do you wish to be alone with your sister for Christmas?” she asked, trying to lighten the subject especially that strange tension between them. “I can stay with Mrs. Woodbury elsewhere. I will not mind. You’ve done so much for me already, Mr. Darcy.”
“Fitzwilliam,” he corrected, his blue eyes looking at her intently. “My name is Fitzwilliam, Marco.”
“Your cousins I have never met are Fitzwilliams, are they not?”
“They are. You may merely call the eldest, ‘Viscount’, and the younger by his military title.” A smile formed on his lips.
He pulled himself into his saddle and then took her hand and kissed her. “I do not wish to ruin your reputation. We cannot be so unguarded in our affections—everything must be proper.”
“I trust you,” she whispered. “You know I am torn between the present and what I know the world will believe soon enough.”
“The door,” he agreed. “Perhaps it is our love story that will cause many to read this book, Marco.”
“Perhaps,” she agreed, trying to convince herself.
They had chicken that night with carrots, pees, and cranberries. Someone had found a small pumpkin and it was set on the table. Marco laughed happily, and taught Darcy the “thankful game.”
“Like this,” she advised. “I am thankful for the clothes on my back, a roof over my head, a piano to play on, and the best of company.” She clinked her glass with his and took a sip. “Your turn.”
“I say what I am thankful for,” he clarified. Darcy looked at her for several long moments. “I am thankful for temperamental doors.”
Marco was struck dumb and she stared at him, their gazes holding long past Darcy taking a sip of his wine.
That is when the dreams started. She would be running through the halls, aware that she was being chased in a game. Laughter rang out, both hers and someone else’s—his voice much deeper and dearer to her—until she opened a door and ran into the Gugenheim. She woke up shouting, sweating through her nightgown. The first time, a maid immediately entered and brought her wine, calling for Mr. Darcy, who looked her over in concern. Mrs. Woodbury would follow soon after.
“It was a dream,” she promised. “I went back. I was just afraid of going back.” She could not look into his beautiful blue eyes, but when she glanced at him just before he got up from his seat beside her, she saw the same fear echoing in his gaze.
London was cold. “People walk and ride horses through the park,” she checked with Darcy, “even though it’s December and they do it just to be seen. That’s ridiculous.”
“There’s a great deal of speculation about you,” he told her. “It’s said your father was an Archbishop and you have a large marriage portion.”
“Both of my parents were in religious service,” she agreed, “but I have no money. I don’t have a pound. Where would they get such peculiar ideas?”
Darcy smiled slightly. “I am aware, Marco. You told me yourself about your father many months past. I put that about myself to give you a lofty position in society. Where was his seat? The rest I find amusing.”
“I don’t believe you,” she joked, ignoring the first half. “Dowries are far too serious a matter. Also, you never find anything amusing and you never smile.”
She was standing at a window, looking over her shoulder at him, and he walked up to her so they were both visible to those coming and going on the street. “You hardly know what I find amusing. Perhaps I merely find that I can now show that I am amused in your presence.”
Marco looked at him. “Fitzwilliam, sometimes you do amaze me.” She turned back to the street. “I think that man is coming to the door.”
“You need not worry,” he told her. “You’re not yet out.” He dragged her backward and placed a loving kiss on her forehead before leaving the room. “And your nightmares from Pemberley have not followed you here, may the Lord be forever merciful.”
Marco was in a quandary. Just the night before, she had dreamed of what it would be like to be held by such a man. He was not the figure of Pride and Prejudice. Darcy was warm, welcoming, and loving—at least toward her, a girl from some other place or time.
When she was alone, she began to muse to herself. “It must have been Georgiana and Wickham,” she murmured. “His false pride was his shield.” She glanced back out on the street and saw that occasionally a lady or a gentleman would pause to look at her before continuing on their journey.
“How old do you think I am?” Marco asked in shock, looking at Darcy purposefully when his associate had gone.
“I would not presume.” He was smiling again. “However, you have not mastered all the dances needed in polite society. If you wish to debut after that, then something might be arranged.”
A servant summoned Darcy to his office. Again. She sighed. Would they not have a moment’s peace in London?
As he was about to leave for Berkshire for a few days, Marco touched his hand. “How old are you? Six and Twenty? Seven?”
“You are correct, Madam.” He bowed and left her.
The nightmares came again with his absence, but she no longer cried out. She kept a small bottle of wine in her room now to calm her nerves, wishing beyond hope that Darcy would just come back. She knew that eventually he would marry Elizabeth Bennet and she would probably marry elsewhere or disappear back to the twenty-first century. Things were as they should be, but now she hated Jane Austen for having written that novel. It wrote a future that she was bound to uphold and would only cause her suffering and unhappiness.
In London they were trapped. There could be no stolen moments in the park alone when they went out riding. Mrs. Woodbury was always about, fulfilling her proper duty. The only touch between them was when she walked on his arm or he kissed her hand. Sometimes she thought that Thanksgiving was a dream. Then she would catch Darcy’s eyes and see the same longing there that she felt.
Late May was a joyous occasion. Darcy had decided to send for his sister, though why in May and not earlier at Easter was a mystery to Marco. There was never a reason for her absence, even during holidays when she was sent to the Matlocks and Marco and Darcy were cloistered away. Now there was no reason for her appearance in their lives.
Georgiana had the same dark brown waves as her brother, the similar piercing blue eyes, though her cheekbones were less angular, as was her chin. Marco couldn’t really say that she was pretty, but then again, she was only about fifteen, so she might grow into it.
As soon as she heard that Marco played, they were at the piano playing duets. They were laughing happily and Darcy would smile at the sight of the two of them, one head dark and the other dark turned red.
On their third evening, Georgiana turned in early and she gave Marco a pointed look. After a quarter hour, Marco followed. Georgiana’s hair was down and she pushed Marco into a seat and took down her hair before she began to brush it. “It’s so short,” Georgiana marveled (it went down five inches past Marco’s shoulders). “And the color!”
“I was ill many years ago,” Marco lied. “They cut it because of the fever.”
“Of course,” Georgiana said. “Now, tell me, why does my brother keep you to himself and shun all other company?”
Marco sighed. She looked over her shoulder. “That has been happening, hasn’t it? I was afraid of that. I have no explanation. You would be better to ask Fitzwilliam.”
She laughed. “And he bids you call him ‘Fitzwilliam’, and he calls you ‘Marco’! Pray, Miss Hightower, what is your name?”
“Marco. My father idolized Marco Polo.” A lie. Again.
“How unpatriotic of him.” She had certainly never heard that comment. Her father had always been intensely patriotic as far as she could tell, except in the fact that he fell in love with a decidedly un-American woman.
She decided not to comment. When Georgiana finished her hair, Marco excused herself and moved to her own chambers which were this pleasing shade of blue that was neither light nor dark. The bed was comfortable with four posters and many quilts on it. Her maid helped her change and she put on a shawl as she looked out the window as she began to braid her own hair. For whatever reason, it was the done thing.
There was a knock on her door.
Marco rolled her eyes. “Miss Darcy, I am quite settled for bed—“
It was not Georgiana. It was her brother.
“I was going to offer you a brandy in the library. However, if you wish to go to bed, then we can forget it.”
“Fitzwilliam, we both know you do not wish to compromise me. I do not even want to imagine the rumors.”
“One moment before you sleep.” He rushed away and two minutes later he returned with a glass of brandy. “To our good health.”
Marco laughed. “To our good health, Fitzwilliam.”
He paused for several long moments. “I have a wish,” he began. “May I steal it away from you?”
“Beg pardon?” but then he was leaning forward, holding her cheek, and was moving toward her and whispering his lips against hers. It had been far too long since the last stolen moment at Pemberley and she was nearly lost.
“I love you,” he told her, “more than I can bear.”
“A woman is made to bear anything,” she said, remembering what her companion had told her of women of this time. “Perhaps men share a little of that capacity as well.” She thought the idea amusing, but he did not.
“Do not tease me,” he begged.
She looked at him sadly. “I do not tease.”
“What do you know?” he asked bitterly. “Marco, why will you not let me court you properly? All you give me are stolen kisses. It is not unheard of for gentlemen to marry their wards. There is a bit of fuss for perhaps a month, but it is often seen as a political alliance.”
“Political alliance?” she scoffed. “What political alliance? There is no dowry apart from playing the pianoforte and my fair face, or so you have told me. I am not the daughter of some Archbishop, not here, or do you believe your lies?”
“Of course I don’t,” he answered harshly. “I remember a door that led you directly to me. If that is not a sign from God’s Providence, I know not what is.”
She closed her eyes. Darcy knew she was terribly religious. He had chosen his weapon well.
“We don’t know that it was the work of God,” she argued.
“It was not the work of the devil. Do you suggest spirits or elves?” he whispered back.
Tears were now in her eyes. “I don’t know, Fitzwilliam. How am I supposed to know? It was so strange. I cannot account for it—for any of it. Not for my presence. Not for your great-uncle’s friend. Nothing at all.”
She slid down the frame of the door so there was still propriety between them and he sat against the wall so that he could turn and look toward her. Marco took a sip of brandy and relished in the burn down her throat.
“Tell me what you think should happen,” he told her.
“Wickham should convince Georgiana to elope with him—but I fixed that. You become enamored in Hertfordshire with Elizabeth Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter with no wealth, connections in trade, but you find that she has ‘fine eyes.’ You fall in love with her and make her an offer, which she refuses. She believes Wickham’s lies and knows that you separated her sister Jane from Bingley. You do everything in your power to become a better man and when you see her again at Pemberley, she begins to fall in love with you—“
“Enough,” he commanded, holding up his hand. “She believed Wickham?”
“Unfortunately.” She took another sip of her brandy. “Apparently he has a charming way with women when it comes to words.”
He scoffed. “And she has ‘fine eyes’ as you say.”
“Supposedly. They probably are a bit teasing and mischievous knowing her character in the book, and the Colin Firth miniseries and—.”
“I don’t think I like the sound of her at all. What is her coloring?”
“The novel never said. It’s assumed Georgiana is fair in coloring, but clearly that is wrong.” She shrugged and took another sip of her brandy.
He looked at her glass. “Would you like more?” he asked solicitously. “I might share a glass with you.”
“I should refuse, however—“
He took the glass, and kissed her bare hand. A few minutes later he returned with two glasses. “Your eyes are not fine,” he began, making her feel small until he continued: “They are bewitching. They hold knowledge I will never know. I adore it when you play. Your accomplishments make me feel of little consequence, but when you look at me, I know that you are playing for me, to make me happy, to allow me to transcend with you into the sky and far beyond it. When I read poetry to you, you smile that shy and wonderful smile, which makes me want to kiss you although Mrs. Woodbury always seems to be present. When we ride together, your cheeks are red with our cheery excursion as if you were leading me on a merry chase, begging me to catch up with you and to encircle you in my arms. I am bewitched. Why would I forget all of that for a country miss?”
Marco had no answer for that, so they continued to drink their brandy in silence until she passed him her glass and returned to her room.
It wasn’t until late July that Darcy first began to make love to her. She didn’t notice at first. They would take a blanket and read out of doors, drinking lemonade. Sometimes he would make daisy chains and lay them on her head as if it were a crown.
He would special order books of poetry for her, and then leave them on her breakfast or lunch plate, with simple notes. He would take her all over Derbyshire with her companion and show her the most beautiful views, holding her hand as they climbed hills and rock faces, never letting her go.
The one time they were in London, he would take her in an open carriage around Hyde Park with her companion. She was always in the latest fashions, and he would introduce her as his ward, always never quite answering the question about when she would be out in society.
“Do you think me eighteen?” she asked Darcy one day. “I’ve heard twenty-two, but not eighteen. Granted, five years ago I was taken for sixteen.”
“You jest,” he responded, picking up her hand and kissing her knuckles.
The dreams were worse. When she woke up sweating, she would find out that she had called for Darcy, and he would often appear five minutes later with a candle, a maid present, and another servant coming with two glasses of brandy. She never told him of the dreams anymore, just that she had a nightmare and it was ridiculous as she wasn’t a child, but he just sat with her and either read her poetry or they would speak of the latest gossip in the papers given the fact that he knew most of the characters and could give an opinion on the matter.
Marco knew that she had fallen irrevocably in love with Darcy—and her fears showed just that, but she tried to keep it trapped in her own heart. She wondered if her parents had suffered such a state. It was horrible. Marco could die from such inevitable heartbreak.
The only one of Darcy’s friends she met was Mr. Bingley. She had been in the hall when he had called.
“Oh, hello,” he greeted. “You must be the mysterious Miss Hightower.”
The stranger had dark blond hair and an affable smile, and she looked between him and the footman who was carrying his card to wherever Darcy was. She halted him and picked up the card before setting it down again.
“Mr. Bingley,” she greeted. “I’m afraid you’re early for the November Festival I celebrate.”
Somehow knowing an introduction was afoot, Darcy appeared. “Yes, Miss Hightower speaks of Thanksgiving, which is the fourth Thursday of November. It’s a beautiful and religious meal, that her family celebrated. If we are at your new estate at the appointed time, Miss Hightower must speak to your cook as I promised Miss Hightower that we would never miss it.”
She knew that Darcy would tell her in good time. He was gone for three days to see a property Bingley had chosen and, when he returned, he had brought her wildflowers from Hertfordshire. “Will you like to go to a country estate? It shan’t be as grand as Pemberley but Bingley and his sister will be there, and it shall be new and perhaps you can move about in society—limited and country society, but it would be good practice.”
Marco cocked an eyebrow at him. “I am to be released from my gilded cage?”
Immediately, she knew that she had hurt him.
“Fitzwilliam,” she said, coming up to him and touching his arm, “I am only teasing. I should like it very much if you are there to guide and help me. You know I get confused. When I first met you, I said the wrong things to the servants and didn’t know how to act. The only thing I could do correctly was play the pianoforte. I couldn’t even speak in a correct manner. You had to teach me when I wasn’t quoting books I had read.” She sighed and pressed her hand in his as they both knew this was the only form of affection they were allowed as guardian and ward—despite past behavior.
He looked at her longingly and kissed her hand. “I’ll always be there every step of the way. I will dance with you if the occasion arises. You already know how to conduct yourself in church. As my ward, people will understand if you stay close to me or only speak to me or to our party. All will be well.”
Georgiana had gone to Bath and both Marco and Darcy were at Darcy House in London. Marco had curled up with a book of poetry by Byron (Darcy thought he had hidden it, but he hadn’t placed it high enough out of her reach) when she heard people come in who obviously hadn’t seen her tucked away in the window.
“Darcy, this is madness,” a voice was saying. “You will not attend balls or dinners. Georgiana needs a sister. Your ward, this Miss Hightower, is not yet out, and she may also need a sister. For the past year and a half you have seen Georgiana but once. I’ve seen the letters she’s sent to Richard. All you will say is that you’ve found a lady you may well wish to marry and yet you’ve never given any of us a name and she doesn’t seem to be out in society from what anyone can tell, for if she were, you would likely be there, too, Darcy. Have you even asked her? Courted her?”
“Andrew, just because you are a viscount does not mean you can lord over me. You are still just my cousin.”
“Cousin, then,” Andrew said. “Who is she? Richard says you’re sick with love. He says every time he calls you’ve gone riding and when you’re not riding, you’re sulking when he takes you to his club. He also says you always seem to buy the latest poetry. You hate poetry!”
This was the time, Marco thought, to make herself known. The bit about poetry almost gave her away as she had to stifle a laugh. Those books had been for her.
“It’s my ward—“ Darcy said, just as Marco stood up.
“Right,” she said at Darcy’s shocked expression. “I thought I should make myself known given how the conversation seemed to be a private family matter, although I understand poetry is a female’s concern.”
Andrew, who was just as tall as Darcy though nowhere near as handsome, stared at her openly. Darcy’s eyes were shifted downward and to the side.
She stood for a minute before curtseying—it took her two days to learn when she had first arrived—and wending her way toward the door. “Fitzwilliam,” she said just as she opened it, “I found the Byron. Do I have to put it back or may I keep it for a day or two?”
“I would keep it,” this Andrew laughed. “Shall we see you for dinner?”
“I expect not.” That was the way when visitors were afoot. Her eyes shifted to Darcy whose back was rigid. She turned back to the viscount. “It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of your voice, Viscount.” Then she left.
However, she had hardly made it to the music room when Darcy caught up with her and gently touched her arm so that she turned toward him.
“You were not supposed to hear that,” he apologized. “I know you are not ready for such a question, although I would gladly ask it now, as I would have been a twelfth-month ago.”
She tried to smile, but tears began to well in her eyes. “I know. You were speaking to your cousin. Not to me. Thank you for the Byron.” Her voice was quiet. This was—not how it was supposed to go. According to Jane Austen. She must have misheard. Did she really want to have misheard? This was a terrible mess that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to clean up.
“You don’t hate me?” Darcy asked in surprise.
“Hate you?” she repeated. “For what?”
“Wanting you,” he answered. “You walked through a door and became my ward. You know little of the world apart from me. I know nothing of you before you stepped into the music room. Good Lord, I keep us cloistered. You were right. This is a gilded cage.”
“I could have left,” she told him, seeing the viscount behind him. “Your cousin is wanting you.”
He gave her a small smile, which seemed to be reserved for her and, most likely, Georgiana.
“Andrew,” he commanded, and his cousin disappeared. With trepidation and great gentleness, he reached out and touched her cheek. “What if you’re a dream?” he asked no one in particular. “I couldn’t lose you.”
“You won’t lose me,” she promised, “except to a door. What of that boy? Did he disappear?”
Darcy shook his head, his hair falling into his eyes. “He became our steward. Wickham is his descendant.”
“How ironic,” she comforted him. “We are to Netherfield,” Marco murmured, her voice betraying her sadness. “Of course. That’s where the novel begins. That’s where you meet your future wife.”
His eyebrows furrowed. “I want you to be my wife, if you’ll have me. Hasn’t every look I’ve given you these last months, this last year, told you that truth? What of the night we shared brandy at your doorway?—And your nightmares. Don’t they show the fear you have of losing me, which is the same fear I have regarding you? I thought, perhaps, you loved me, too.”
Despite what had earlier been said in the library, Marco looked at him in confusion. “Fitzwilliam—I—beg pardon? Is it truly love and not—other concerns?”
He looked affronted. “You are a lady. I treat you as such. I keep you with me because you’re an ideal and yet so perfectly human,” he murmured. “I do not care about your lack of connections, your lack of dowry, I want us to live as we are, but to truly be the other half of one another.”
And she wanted to stay with him, too. She didn’t want to return. She didn’t want to be sent to the masters like Georgiana. She wanted her hand in his as they climbed the peaks. She wanted him to bring her Christmas brandy as they sat together by a fire, not caring for propriety. “One condition,” she said although her soul cried out to her to be quiet. She did not look at him, even though he had grasped her hands. “We go to Netherfield together and we go to the first Assembly. You must look at a lady there, truly look, and give me an opinion. You must do this for me so I’m not afraid of you changing your mind. I couldn’t bear being married to a man who preferred another.”
“What if I call with Bingley upon her family and form an opinion then? Then I can have a special license marry us here in London before we return for whatever this Assembly is.”
Marco looked into his eyes and nodded. “Until then, our engagement is private. You must see the lady first.”
“Because of your novel.” He sounded annoyed, but he was attempting to cover it.
She bent her head in acknowledgement. “I know it doesn’t make sense—but I don’t want to change something truly important. Can you understand that, Fitzwilliam? What if someone came back and interfered by accident with Napoleon and somehow made it worse? This doesn’t compare but—“
“I understand.” He gathered her to him and kissed her head. “I remember that when you came here, your hair was down. It shone in two colors. It was brown on top and then somehow became ginger.”
Marco laughed. Her hair refused to be re-dyed brown after she had dyed it red, and had been in the umber style. Now she tried and usually convinced people that her hair was natural. “Well,” she said, “your culture dictates that it must be put up on my head.”
“Not when we are married,” he murmured. “I will get the license tomorrow and we travel to Netherfield on Wednesday.”
When they arrived, Marco discovered one thing: Miss Bingley was worse in the flesh than on paper. “You seem far too old to have a guardian,” she suggested that night at dinner. “Good lord, my dear Miss Hightower, what is your age?”
Fortunately, Marco did not cough. “Younger than you, I daresay.” Lie. One hundred percent. Darcy, from what she had read, was about twenty-eight and she was slightly older. Marco had no idea if he had any idea despite her hints.
“Really?” she questioned. “And how old do you suppose me to be?” She was smiling at her garishly, and it made Marco want to scratch her eyes out. Miss Bingley’s blonde hair also made her features soft and unflattering.
“Twenty-seven? Thirty?” she guessed. “It’s so hard to tell. Your hair just ruins your complexion.”
Mr. Bingley laughed into his napkin, trying to make it sound like a cough.
His sister tried to smile, but it simply didn’t work.
Marco shared a look with Darcy, before they looked away from one another.
If Marco was good at one thing, it was having the servants on her side. As soon as Mr. Bennet called, a maid was dispatched toward her, another to Mr. Darcy, and they met in front of Bingley’s study, Mr. Darcy staring at her balefully. He picked up her hand and kissed it reverently and sighed as he opened the door to meet the gentleman inside.
“Darcy!” Bingley said, “What are you doing here?”
“Merely making the acquaintance of what I believe is a neighbor.” His voice was low and bored, but it was a start.
The door shut closed behind him and Marco, having done her duty, left.
Two days later, she sat by the window, pretending to read, as the gentlemen set out to return the visit. They were returned not an hour later and Marco immediately went to the conservatory.
“She was not there,” Darcy immediately stated when he met Marco among the fruit trees by previous arrangement.
Marco looked at him. “Pardon?”
“It appears,” he said, sitting, “that she and a Miss Price of Hammersmith have changed places so Miss Elizabeth could write a book. Miss Price has no idea how long her friend will be away. You will be happy to note that Miss Price was dressed almost as strangely as you were when we first met.”
She stared at him.
“You will be intrigued to note that Mr. Bingley is quite enamored with Miss Price.”
“He’s supposed to be enamored with Jane Bennet!”
“Perhaps Miss Price is another visitor like yourself and, perhaps, another gentleman is meant to fall in love with her instead of one of the characters of the book you so admire, not that I give Miss Price half the credence and sophistication as I did you the afternoon we met.”
She bit her lip, trying not to smile. “Perhaps.”
“Now will you give me the honor of your hand?” he asked as she sat beside him.
“Do you have reservations, Miss Hightower?” His voice was solemn and he met her gaze, showing he had no fear. Marco found it so odd that he addressed her so formally. She actually hated it. She never wanted it to come out of his mouth again.
“I—my name is ‘Marco’,” she began. “I’m afraid that you will marry me and fall in love with another woman,” she admitted, tears forming in her eyes.
“Elizabeth Bennet,” he murmured as he took her hand between his own. “You know I adore you. Every action I have taken—every word I have spoken—“
“I’m also as old as I accused Caroline Bingley of being.” She had looked away by now.
“You are seven and twenty?” he was certainly surprised.
“Older,” she murmured. “When you became my guardian, I accepted it as it was necessary for the times in which I found myself. I had no father, no brother, no husband. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to be friendless and homeless. You know I appeared with just a dress that would be scandalous at the very least.”
He shifted. “Well, if we marry and you are the age that you say you are, we must hasten and produce an heir as quickly as possible,” he told her. “There is none for me but you,” he told her honestly.
Her eyes watered. “Then there is none for me but you, as well, Fitzwilliam. I tried not to love you more than a brother—but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I?” The tears fell from her face.
“Because you walked through the door,” he told her, “as you were meant to. You walked into my music room and you played for me, even though you didn’t, at first, know that you performing for me.” Darcy kissed her hand again. “I am to London. I will send an express for when you are to join me.”
He leaned forward and moved to kiss her forehead, but she angled her face upward so that their lips would meet. Clearly surprised, he was frozen for a moment, but she placed more pressure against the chaste kiss before pulling away.
“A silly tradition among very few of us who are truly religious back where I come from,” she explained. “It’s the engagement kiss, which settles the promise.”
He lifted a hand to trace a curl hat fell just in front of her ear. “I find I do not dislike the custom.”
It was a few hours after Darcy had left that Marco found Mr. Bingley playing pool. “Good day,” she said, curtseying. “I have heard tell of the Bennets and a certain Miss Price. Miss Price intrigues me. Would you be so kind as to call on them tomorrow and introduce me? I know you shouldn’t show preferential treatment so soon, but I would consider it a kindness.—and, if I may be so bold, I heard there is a certain lady who has caught your eye. If you catch Mrs. Bennet’s attention, then I might be able to ascertain, as only a woman may, how your favor is received.”
“Madam,” he said, bowing, “I would do anything for the ward of Darcy. He is my dearest friend.” There was a glint in his eye which belied that he did not dislike her plan.
“Thank you,” she responded. “Fix the time and Mrs. Woodbury and I shall be ready.”
When they arrived the next afternoon, Miss Price was wearing country styles, but had her hair cut in the modern early twenty-first century fashion and it fell to her shoulders. Bingley, as he had promised, kept Mrs. Bennet occupied while Marco cornered Miss Price. Mrs. Woodbury was somewhere.
“I have a question,” she murmured to the young lady. “Over a year and a half ago, I walked from the Gugenheim through a door into a music room at a country estate here in England.”
Miss Price’s eyes widened. “Elizabeth Bennet came through a door in this attic, that leads nowhere, into my bathroom. She got trapped there and I’m here.”
“So Elizabeth can’t come back,” she checked.
“I—“ She took a deep breath. “She won’t.”
“Can’t,” she stated firmly.
“Neither can I.” She sighed. “I’m currently the ward of Mr. Darcy. I walked into his music room. He enjoys my playing on the pianoforte, but then again I was top of my class at Julliard before becoming a world renowned concert pianist.”
“Wait,” Miss Price said. “Who are you?”
“Wait. THE MARCO?” she nearly shouted. “I have all of your cd’s. You’re like Yo-Yo Ma but better! And you’re here. With me. In Regency England. No wonder Darcy kept you. You’re bloody brilliant!”
Everyone was now staring at them.
“Sorry,” Miss Price said. “She’s a fantastic piano player. I heard her once in London.”
Charles Bingley was now looking at them openly when, before he was only stealing looks—though Marco was certain Mrs. Bennet at least had noticed.
“It seems we’re really changing this novel,” Marco murmured. “Darcy’s in London preparing the townhouse for my presence for after we are married. I only agreed to marry him after he met Elizabeth and gave me his honest opinion of her—but she’s not here. Really, there’s no way of stopping that man when he’s been in love with you for over a year. And now Bingley is fascinated by you. Who is Collins going to marry if Elizabeth doesn’t turn him down?”
They both looked at each other in fear before looking at sweet looking Jane.
“No,” Miss Price said. “It can’t be.” She turned back to Marco. “I’m Amanda Price, by the way. We time travellers better keep together.”
Marco openly laughed.
The express came and Marco immediately left in the carriage with Mrs. Woodbury, her trunk never having been unpacked. She had left a silk dress meant for her wedding at Darcy House. With little fanfare she was married, Darcy in a beautiful maroon coat, and they spent their wedding night in London.
She walked into the Master bedroom, Darcy directly behind her. Looking about, she saw that it was spacious, but firmly masculine. “I thought,” she began, turning toward him to find Darcy directly behind her, “that there were rooms for the lady of the house.”
“Would you prefer them? I did not have them redone. I prefer you here—with me.” His voice was firm and yet hesitant between his admissions. She found it endearing.
She nodded and turned to look firmly around the room. “Well, we must fix a few things even if we are only here for a few nights.” Looking around for her trunk, she found only a dress or two gone. She picked out a few books of poetry, and a small marble miniature of a lion. She placed her books beside the unused bedside table and the lion upon the hearth. “There,” she murmured. “I live here, now.” She took off her bonnet and threw it in a chair, smiling. “Now a lady definitely lives here.” Marco turned to see him smile.
“Well, then, Mrs. Darcy.”
“Well, then,” she agreed. “I hope you don’t intend to call me that in private.”
“Until Christmas,” he bargained.
“Very well,” she agreed. “On St. Stephen’s Day, it ends.”
He bowed to her, before he walked behind her and drew off her pelisse. Marco’s breath hitched when she was in nothing but her silk gown, which soon he had undone all the buttons down the back.
“You seem to know a great deal of women’s clothes,” she noticed, as he took to the laces of her corset.
“They are far simpler than a cravat,” he told her with an easiness of voice. The corset was soon tossed over another chair. “Would you prefer, Mrs. Darcy, to go to bed in your shift and stockings, or in nothing at all?”
She gulped. She’d never done this before. It just wasn’t done among Catholics. To be truthful, it was done, but not if you truly were a good Catholic girl, although her father was a former priest and her mother a former nun. Good Lord, Darcy didn’t even know she was Catholic, but she just went to the Anglican Church to keep up appearances. “I—well—I think I’d rather take off my stockings. Wouldn’t you like to take off your stockings?” He turned her around and kissed her achingly before he picked up bridal style and set her on the bed. Looking up at her with his gorgeous blue eyes, he rolled down her stockings and, hesitantly, she took off her small clothes and hid them under her pillow.
Darcy smirked at her before undoing his waistcoat and cravat quickly before joining her in bed.
“Mrs. Woodbury never told me,” she whispered. “I didn’t tell her we were getting married and Mom never did because, well,—and I was never one of those girls who liked to go off with boys and I never understood what they said.” She looked away from him and his beautiful face.
“Hush,” he told her, turning her face back to him. “Let me just kiss you first and then I’ll tell you what we are doing just before it happens.” And he kissed her long and slow until she felt drugged and at ease, and the world melted away.
The day they were to go back to Netherfield, she woke up late, her head against her husband’s chest, his hand stroking her hair. “Good morning, Fitzwilliam,” she said sleepily.
“Breakfast was brought up, per my instructions. Your maid must ready you if we are to depart on time and to get to Netherfield for afternoon tea. I believe that Assembly of yours is tonight, Mrs. Darcy.”
She immediately sat up in bed. “She has to be there,” she said. “If she’s not, Collins will propose to Jane, and she’ll accept—and—“
“Mrs. Darcy,” he said, sitting up, his gorgeous torso wonderfully unclothed, and he kissed her softly. “We can worry about that in the carriage.”
Nodding, she rushed behind the screen and Darcy called her maid, before going behind his own privacy screen.
They breakfasted together, her hair done elegantly in curls, drinking tea and eating cheese and fruit.
“I’ve written to Georgiana, along with my uncle, Lord Matlock, and my aunt, Lady Catherine. I expect them to be pleased with the virtues of the match.”
“Lord,” she muttered. “Whatever am I to do? How much is my marriage portion?”
“Thirty five thousand pounds, Mrs. Darcy.” He did so love calling her by that name, as if it were a personal victory.
Marco stared at him. “Where did you get that money from?”
“Everyone thinks I have ten thousand pounds a year. My estate is worth more. I put it aside for—times that are not as prosperous. I thought it a proper sum as I did not wish to put all of my money into your dowry. I still have fifteen thousand in reserve—or so one would suppose.”
She quickly put her cup down on the saucer. “You are a dark horse.”
It wasn’t until the carriage ride back to Hertfordshire that she brought up the Assembly. “Will you be so kind as to suggest a solution to a moral conundrum?”
“If you wish it, Mrs. Darcy,” he answered, his eyes perusing her lovingly. “I have always admired you in blue.”
She smiled at him. “According to the novel, Mr. Bingley immediately fancies Jane, to the point of almost proposing. He is convinced by you and Miss Bingley that she does not truly care for him and she is unsuitable, and you carry him off to London. Now he seems to be enamored with Miss Price. She is like me. She went through a door and, well, hasn’t learned everything yet. Should I interfere especially since she is trying to put the novel back on track or should I—?“
“Miss Price came through that door for a reason. Where did she come out?”
“With the Bennets.”
“Well, she did so just before Mr. Bingley arrived in the neighborhood, did she not, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Yes,” Marco answered carefully. “The night before he called the first time, I believe.”
“She was meant to. Let Bingley alone. Convince her to let him and Miss Bennet be as well. I heard of your visit in a letter from Bingley himself. Miss Price seems to trust you—convince her to let matters run their own course, even if she is a participant.”
He smiled at her again and moved to take the seat beside her so that he could hold her hand. “Would that the world could be as happy as I am.”
“Would that the world were not so strange,” she answered before he kissed her, gently pulling at the strings of her bonnet before he tossed it at the end of their coach.
Miss Bingley was, naturally, enraged when the couple arrived, married and quite happy. Darcy would hear nothing about separate rooms, only about an extra privacy screen. Less than half an hour after they had arrived, Miss Bingley declared a headache and refused to even think of going out with them to the assembly.
“Caroline—well—“ Bingley tried to explain but Marco smiled at him.
“We shall be sure to have our wedding cake made here,” she declared, pretending to misunderstand the problem. “Perhaps then she will be in better spirits.”
Bingley looked at her as if to speak, and Darcy, she saw, barely contained his laughter.
When they went up to change, he grabbed her from behind and swung her around, much to the surprise of their servants. “Wedding cake, Mrs. Darcy?” he laughed.
“I had to come up with some reason for her to be upset. I hate it when I don’t get a piece of the wedding cake. It seemed plausible enough.”
She went behind the screen and allowed herself to be changed into a lighter blue gown, which she had chosen because of Darcy’s preferences. Coming out to the vanity where she sat down to have her hair done up with feathers, he reached over and drew a line down her neck to the top of her sleeve.
“Do you think the color looks well on me?” she asked impishly.
“Perhaps a little too much.” His eyes sparkled back at her.
“Well, your coat seems to match. Why don’t we blame its influence and try for pink next time? Would you not like that best, Fitzwilliam?”
“I’ll like it if no man asks to dance with you tonight.”
“With you by my side, I doubt that they would dare to do such a thing, Mr. Darcy,” she lightly teased.
He kissed the top of her hair before he left the room. She giggled with her maid Marie, whom she had had for over a year, before she sat perfectly still and allowed her to do her wonders—as only a French maid, supposedly, could do.
Without Miss Bingley and from what she could remember, they were not fashionably late, but reasonably on time. Bingley, as tenant of Netherfield, led them, while the two of them followed. It was strange walking on Darcy’s arm. She had done it countless times before, but then it had been as his ward, not as his wife. The shining gold band on both of their left hands proclaimed them as such. She was holding her gloves in one hand, feeling the strange pleasure it was to show to the world that she belonged to another. Marco wondered if her parents had first felt this wonderment upon their marriage.
Before she was introduced to the neighborhood, they were introduced to the most distinguished family in the area—the Bennets at Longbourne. “Miss Price,” Bingley greeted. “How well you look.” She didn’t look well at all in her simple gown of white and green, but Marco thought that was rather the point.
“Miss Hightower looks far lovelier,” she exclaimed, “as does Miss Bennet.”
Bingley blushed when he turned to her and did not even look at Jane Bennet. “It is apparent that you have not heard the good news. Miss Hightower has resigned the name for that of Darcy. Although she has not been married above a few days, I have dragged the Darcys forth to celebrate their union.”
About to speak up, Marco was surprised when Darcy did. “Indeed. I intend to keep my bride by my side all night, unless she must whisper amongst friends, and dancing is the first order of business.”
“And now, Miss Price, say you will join us in celebration.” Bingley looked at her with clear anticipation.
Amanda looked horrified. “I—I cannot dance,” she admitted.
Marco took a step away from her husband and toward her new friend. Taking her hand, she murmured, “I couldn’t as well. Just try to look at me and, well, Bingley would never be insulted by anything and will do everything in his power to make certain you enjoy yourself.”
She nodded and quickly grabbed a punch. Bingley, thinking it was to toast their health, commandeered three more, and they all toasted to new beginnings before joining the row.
Amanda could not dance. However, after a few minutes, Marco did not seem to notice. She was struck by Darcy’s handsomeness and how she wished she were not wearing gloves so that she could touch his skin. At the end of the first set, when they were clapping, he led her to a seat and offered her some punch. She did not realize that Amanda was set next to her.
“So,” Amanda asked her. “Is he good in bed?”
Marco tried to hold in her laughter. “I’m very religious,” she responded. “Darcy finds it quite refreshing to see one so pious, though he wishes I don’t wish to go to church every day in Lent nor forgo all meat.”
“That seems a bit harsh,” Amanda agreed. “I don’t even go to Church for Christmas.”
Surprised, Marco turned to her. “Not even then? You’re not a CandE?”
“Christmas And Easter?”
Amanda looked at her strangely. “No. I went to church last Sunday though. It was expected.”
Marco gave her a pointed look.
Silence descended between them. There seemed to be quite a long line for punch.
“I,” Amanda whispered, “have exactly one fag.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“What?” Amanda whispered. “Never?”
“Okay, maybe when I’m drinking and someone’s passing it around but that’s happened I think four times in my life and if my father knew he’d cut off my allowance and he’s a crotchety old man—then again, he was dead by then, unfortunately.”
“Oh, sorry. And your father’s not here,” Amanda argued as she got up and grabbed her hand.
Once they were outside where it was rather cold, Amanda stood on her toes, and lit the cigarette out of a lamp. She took in a deep breath and exhaled. “Congratulations, Mrs. Darcy. We’re ruining the greatest love story ever told and you won’t even tell me what he’s like in the sack.”
Marco grabbed the cigarette and took in a dreg of smoke. “There’s no alcohol,” she complained. “I need to feel like the room is a bit off kilter if I’m going to smoke.—I didn’t mess up anything. I arrived before anything was meant to happen.” Marco passed over the cigarette.
“The elopement never happened, did it?”
At this moment, Darcy and Bingley walked out with two glasses of punch each. Darcy looked at Amanda. “You’ve read this fictitious novel, I see. Mrs. Darcy.” He passed her a cup and she took a sip gratefully before accepting back her cigarette. “Much better, Amanda. You can’t have one without the other.”
“I can’t believe I only have one on me at all. What was I thinking going about London without a pack?”
Bingley was staring at her.
Amanda and Marco looked at each other. “You’re curious,” she said after a moment, looking at Bingley who was, as always, staring at her. “Aren’t you?”
“You’re breathing fire, Miss Price.”
“We could pretend it’s pot—“ Marco colored when she realized it was 1813, not 2012. “Except you’re unmarried. Never mind.”
Everyone was now staring at her.
“I thought you said you were religious—“ Amanda stated carefully.
“I walked into this party once, on a dare,” she explained. “I saw a few things before people realized they didn’t want the music geek hanging with them.” She took the cigarette. “It’s getting low. This is my last hit. You can have the rest.”
“Mighty kind,” Amanda replied with a bit of humor, softening it with a smile.
Darcy was still looking at Marco. “It’s a cigarette. A cigar made for women.” She heard a scuffle behind her and—Wow. Amanda was kissing Bingley. Darcy gently took her arm and led her back inside. “I had no idea that was going to happen,” she told him. “Honestly, none. Usually that amount of alcohol does not have that much affect on, well, anyone. Then again we’re used to different types of behavior.”
He looked down at her. “Madam?”
“I’m from a highly traditional family. It made it difficult for me to date anyone because they expected me to—“ She paused and looked down at her cup, finishing it. “You barely took such liberties with me before we were married even in your position as my guardian—and then it was only because we were in love with each other or very nearly so. Other parts of society, if you are at a party, and fancied someone, you sometimes get to know each other in the way they currently are. Two people might even go off and find—a bedroom.” She gave him a small smile. “The world is a very changed place, Mr. Darcy.”
“You know people who have—“
“Mr. Darcy,” she stated kindly, “I’ve been grabbed and pushed up against walls. I usually wear shoes that have tall heels so that I can use them as weapons. Also, red lipstick is one of the better excuses for keeping someone as far away from your face as possible.”
“I have been thankful almost from the moment I first saw you sitting at my sister’s pianoforte that you had walked through that doorway. Now I have yet another reason to thank God in my prayers.”
She took his hand in hers and squeezed it.
“They’re coming back in,” he murmured. “I think we better pretend we haven’t noticed and dance, though I do like standing so closely to you as I am now.”
“Poor Miss Bingley. I fear she is never to have that pleasure.”
When she and Amanda were thrown together again, Amanda wanting to rest her feet in shoes that weren’t hers and Marco was sitting down for another cup of punch, Amanda asked the question, “So how is he?”
“Why’d you kiss Bingley? Don’t think I haven’t noticed you’ve danced with him twice and only once with all those other gentlemen. I’ve heard you’ve ten thousand pounds!”
“I don’t know who started that rumor!” she defended. “It didn’t come from me.”
“Well, it came from somewhere. Congratulations though, until you need to have it materialize. We don’t want to be Moll Flanders on her beloved third husband! Or was it fourth?” At Amanda’s blank look, she just tossed her hand in resignation. “And I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?—“ She took in a breath. “He hasn’t at all?” She moved in closely and stared into Marco’s eyes. “Are you saying that Mr. Gorgeous over there—“
“I have nothing to compare him to,” she stated quite openly. “I told you, I’m very religious. I don’t know how you want me to answer the question.”
“Oh my God,” she said, just as Darcy was coming up behind her. “You were an actual virgin. How old are you?”
“Since I am aware of your origins, Miss Price, I will not take offence on either my behalf or my wife’s. Why everyone asks her age is a mystery as her youth is clear in her complexion. Mrs. Darcy.” He gave her a glass of punch and surrendered his to Amanda.
“Oh,” she said. “Thank you, Mr. Darcy.” Amanda turned back to Marco. “For purely intellectual purposes, you must know other rather religious people like yourself. Who is the oldest who kept themselves from—associating—“
Marco looked at her and tried not to laugh. “My father was sixty-three when he broke his vow of chastity and married my mother.” She left out the bit about being a Catholic Archbishop and her mother had been a twenty-five year old nun.
“Sixty-three,” Amanda repeated after nearly choking on her drink.
“Yes,” she responded. “I am the product of a ‘June to December’ romance.”
She put her punch down and looked into her husband’s eyes, allowing him to lead her back onto the floor for another set. When the carriage finally came, they were delayed because Bingley wanted to help Miss Price into her coat and hand Amanda her own bonnet. They smiled at each other and then Marco was handed into their coach, Darcy beside her. She wasn’t even aware she was asleep until she woke up to her husband’s hands carefully undressing her.
“My hair,” she realized, as she sat up in her shift, blinking herself awake.
Darcy had thrown off his coat but was still wearing his waistcoat and cravat. “It was all in order, my darling. I was hoping I could just let you sleep.” He came to sit behind her and pull out the pieces carefully along with various pins and ribbons.
“You weren’t going to wake me to—“
“I thought Miss Price would have put you off the notion,” he answered honestly.
She took several moments to answer. “It’s nice to speak openly about it. We used to rank guys on a level of ten. If I see Amanda within the next few days, I’ll probably do it with her.—However, my parents’ marriage was under a great deal of scrutiny. It was seen as—unusual and therefore subject to gossip. I can’t tell Amanda because she’ll find it sensational. I don’t know how you will find it. Horrible, I expect.”
“It was not simply political, then?” he suggested as he took her hair things and put them on her vanity, returning with her brush.
She laughed. “Hardly. No. My parents had to break religious vows to be together.”
The brush ran smoothly through her hair and his fingers played with it until, after a moment, it stopped. “Were they Papists?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“I believe I understand.” He set the brush aside and she could hear rustling behind her, when she looked, Darcy was down to his shirt and britches. “Your father left the priesthood for your mother.”
Her voice hitched: “My mother left the cloisters for him, as well.”
His light blue eyes looked into her dark brown ones and then his hand carefully caressed her throat, his fingers gently marking a line downward, the tops of the fingers angling her head to look up at him. “Was her name ‘Sister Mark’?” He leaned down so that he was almost touching her.
“She was Italian. She was Sister Marco.—I did not mean to lie to you. Never that, but how was I supposed to tell the truth? Could I tell an Englishman that my parents were Papists? That my father was an American Archbishop and my mother an Italian nun who forsook sacred vows to marry one another? Dad became an Episcopal (Anglican) bishop afterword, they were glad to have him, but mother took me to Mass every Saturday evening.”
And then, with the confession finally spoken, she was lost. She reached up and kissed her husband, until Marco had brought him around until he was under her, and then soon they were pulling off any piece of fabric they could find. It was smooth, yet quick, yet they were one. When they joined she held herself above him and they just stared into each other’s eyes, the secrets of her past that must never travel past the two of them, moving them closer and closer together.
Marco didn’t bother to find her shift when she lay in his arms later that night. Part of her prayed that a child had come out of this: when she was most bare and needed her husband the most, a child would come, his answer, his understanding.
Just when she thought him asleep, he murmured, “Do you hate it? The churches here?”
Her breath caught and, without looking up, she answered, “I am used to them. I attended both Episcopal and Catholic churches once a week when I was a child.”
“But you prefer to be a Papist.”
“I know you would not wish it,” she answered. “I am contented. I would not put my children in a quandary between a religion and society.”
His fingers picked up and brushed through her hair. “Then we shall remain Anglican. Thank you, Marco, for telling me. What was your mother’s Christian name?”
She smiled, even though she couldn’t, at first, speak. “Oria. Dad loved calling her Oria although she had traditional Italian coloring.” Looking up at him, she smiled. “I may have dad’s pale skin, but I have her dark Italian hair and eyes.”
“I can see,” he murmured, stroking her chin and leaning down to kiss her. “You know we have to pretend you’re completely English.”
“We both know I have been pretending since I walked through that door. I came up with the only plausible story I could think of for my name. I’ve thanked God for my paler American skin. Mom was beautiful and darker and I would have had no way to explain it away.”
Of course, Miss Bingley did not come down for several days. “Visitors,” Marco decided. “We’ll get her out of this ill humor with visitors. I am so fond of Miss Price and with her we can invite the eldest Bennet girl. We shouldn’t be seen to be slighting the eldest daughter of the house. Tea, do you think?” She looked over at Bingley and Darcy.
Darcy, who had been writing to his sister, looked up, his eyes flashing.
“Excellent notion,” Bingley immediately said. “The Militia is quartered here, and Colonel Forester invited us to dine tomorrow night. You can invite your guests tomorrow for tea with supper to follow. If Caroline is still unwell, you shall not be left friendless.”
“Excellent. I shall write up the invitation and send up a note to Miss Bingley,” she decided heartily.
When Darcy resigned his place, he murmured, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Mrs. Darcy.”
“If it all goes to plan, you’ll meet Wickham on the road or some other nonsense. Then again, he has done nothing to personally injure you, but it will certainly be amusing.”
The invitation was dispatched, Miss Bingley was informed, and it looked like rain. Everything was perfect. Jane Bennet even fell ill and both Amanda and Marco cared for her.
“I’m not remotely the mothering type,” Marco confessed. “I usually just go and find inhalers for my mom.”
Amanda looked at her in confusion.
She still did not seem to understand, but let it go.
They had been tied to the bed, lunchtime about a half hour away, when a note was delivered to Amanda. “Good Lord,” she swore. “Bingley wonders if I would like a walk in the garden as the air must be close in here.”
“Do you want to walk with Bingley?”
Amanda closed up the letter and didn’t answer.
“Go,” Marco decided. “I’ll see you at lunch. He cares nothing for Jane Bennet. I’m afraid you are the woman he has set his sights upon.”
Marco just looked at Jane. She truly was a beauty with her long dark hair and pretty green eyes. She looked nothing like her portrayals. Sometimes Marco found it funny how much the people here in the Pride and Prejudice universe looked nothing like their film counterparts.
When she was claimed for lunch, she was glad to see Darcy again. Miss Bingley finally joined them, her marks cutting toward Miss Price. When it came to her lack of dowry, Darcy was the one to shut her up. “Haven’t you heard? It’s a substantial sum. It is nowhere near my wife’s or my sister’s, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. You would have certainly heard of it if you had gone to the Assembly last week.”
Miss Bingley colored and looked away, and Amanda and Marco shared a look.
When asked to perform later, Marco immediately sat down at the piano. “Do you know any pop songs?” she asked Amanda. “I know how to accompany many of them.”
“Oh,” she stated. “Wouldn’t they be—“
“Go with the flow,” Marco murmured. “If they understand, they won’t do anything.”
Marco laughed and began playing.
Well, Miss Bingley was stunned and Darcy was staring directly at Marco as if to blame her. Bingley was enchanted. More than enchanted. When Darcy pulled Marco aside, he murmured, “What is that song about?”
“Having an affair with a married man. Very popular back home. We both knew it.”
“Well, this married man takes his vows very seriously. Perhaps we shall retire, Mrs. Darcy.”
“Perhaps we shall.”
It wasn’t until the following day that Darcy seriously disliked Miss Price. “What is her purpose?” he asked as he sat in a chair that faced hers while Marco was sitting at the vanity. “I know she arrived as you did, but she has some bizarre connection to the Bennets.”
“It’s Elizabeth,” she sighed. “The one who was meant to be married—“ She let her voice trail off. “They switched places, perhaps to leave room for me. Now she’s terribly confused because of Bingley’s attentions.—Where did that rumor come from about her marriage portion?”
Darcy looked at her. “From me.”
Her eyes widened. “Why?”
“She’s your friend and I didn’t want a Jane Bennet situation.” He shrugged. “I may dislike the woman given her—erratic—behavior, but she is your friend. I know how isolating it must feel when you cannot talk to anyone about what you know, where you’re from. I kept you isolated with me even more because I loved you at first sight and I did not know how to properly understand or process my emotions.”
“Neither does Amanda, I think,” she admitted.
If Marco wasn’t mistaken, Amanda was going to soon receive a marriage proposal from Bingley. Amanda was of the same mind and the idea terrified her.
Then the impossible happened. Miss Bingley decided to sulk again and so Marco was the lady of the house and was told there was a young lady to see her. She went into the morning room, where she found her husband at the writing desk, looking at the stranger in curiosity, and Mrs. Woodbury reading in a corner (she was awaiting a new position).
It took a moment, but Marco noticed it. Her hem was six inches deep in mud. “Miss Elizabeth,” she guessed and the girl looked at her. “I understood from Miss Amanda Price that you were in Hammersmith, and that you were to stay there for quite some time from now. It is quite a shock to see you.”
Darcy looked up at her and back at Elizabeth. She wasn’t technically pretty. She had auburn hair and freckles and the same green eyes as her sister Jane.
“I returned,” she began, “to speak to my father about living permanently in Hammersmith, and learned of Jane’s sickness.”
“I see. I’ve actually been to Hammersmith. I had a friend who lived right on the Acton line and I took the tube quite often. But, of course, Miss Price is in the garden and I was sitting with Miss Bennet, an office I gladly resign to you, her sister. I’m certain she will receive much comfort from your presence.”
When they were alone in the corridor, Elizabeth looked at her for a moment and then took a deep breath, “I understand I speak to Mrs. Darcy.”
“You do,” she said, her words simple; Marco had no idea what to say in this situation. “I must say that your pixie cut flatters your face, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Why is not Mr. Bingley worrying about my sister and instead walking the gardens with Miss Price? Why are you married to my husband?” Her voice was calm, curious. There was no accusation.
They came to the door and stood outside of it. “A great many things have changed. We are not the first to have arrived here, Miss Elizabeth. I doubt you are not the first to arrive in the future. Perhaps if you return, you might make a study of it.” She curtseyed. “A servant will call you for luncheon.”
When she returned to the morning room, it was to find Darcy waiting with a decanter of brandy, two glasses, and Mrs. Woodbury gone. “The nerve of the girl!” she stated as she embraced him, angry tears running down her face. “She called you her husband.”
“Well,” Darcy said carefully as he held her to him. “She is clearly mistaken. I also find her unattractive, including her eyes even if, as you once told me, they were ‘brightened by the exercise’.”
Lunch was interesting. Bingley was speaking animatedly to everyone until Darcy got fed up and started talking about what changes Marco wanted to make to Pemberley.
“Why would I want to make changes?” she asked.
“It is your home now, Mrs. Darcy,” he told her.
She looked at him incredulously. “You forget, Mr. Darcy, I was your ward before I was your wife. I’ve been living at Pemberley for a considerable amount of time.”
“There must be changes you want made to your particular rooms.”
Amanda fortunately intervened. “She is newly married, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps it’s a little overwhelming especially as she’s not at Pemberley, so it’s difficult to envision change. Also, if this is the first time you brought it up, perhaps Marco requires more time to think on it. I need to take a day or two just to decide to change a picture on a wall.”
“Marco,” Elizabeth repeated. “Not the Papist spawn, surely. You’re the pianist, am I correct?”
“I would be careful how you label my wife,” Darcy told her sternly. “I would not take it kindly if you slander a good woman’s name. She married into the family of an earl and is the daughter of an Anglican Archbishop.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow in disbelief but returned to her cold pork.
Fortunately, the evil witch was there only for a night and she and Jane returned home and, well, that’s how Marco met Lt. Wickham.
“I hate her,” Marco confessed that night to her husband as she brushed out her hair. “I can’t believe Jane Austen ever thought you could marry such a hag.”
“Then let me prove my devotion to you,” he murmured, taking the brush from her hand. “We still need to conceive that heir.”
When Marco went to call on the Bennets with her husband and an overeager Bingley three days later, they met Mr. Collins. Well, he was blond of hair, over excitable, and strangely attractive. She looked at Amanda in confusion.
“It would not be horrible being married to such a man, would it? He’s not Jennifer Ehle’s Mr. Collins by any stretch of the imagination.” Marco looked over to her friend.
“He is a bit—well—cute. He talks about Lady Catherine a bit much, but, still.—He’s thinking of marrying Jane, of course.”
“Well, that was foreseeable, unfortunately.” Marco looked behind her. “I thought Wickham would be handsomer.”
“Didn’t we all?” Amanda murmured. “Elizabeth likes the look of him.” She shrugged. “Both Darcy and Bingley are far more attractive. Shouldn’t there be some sort of hotness contest?”
Marco had to hide a laugh. “Well, my husband manages to win this round.”
“He’s so kind and well—not brooding,” Amanda murmured. “Why?”
“He’s been like that since we met,” Marco confided in shock. “I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. I couldn’t comment on his character as we thought it wouldn’t be to how it actually is. He doesn’t care for unknown company, but that is the extent of the similarities.”
It was then that Wickham came up and bowed to her. “The beautiful Mrs. Darcy.”
“Lt. Wickham, I understand. How’s trying to marry a fortune?”
He sighed heavily. “I’m in the search for love, Mrs. Darcy.”
“How noble. If only all of us had such luxury, but fortunately I did. My fortune gave me freedom.”
“Freedom enough to marry your guardian,” he mentioned. “Yes, I see the freedom in that.”
Marco looked at him coldly. “I hope you jest, Lieutenant. A pleasure.” She went in search of someone else to speak to.
And Jane became engaged to Mr. Collins and it was truly horrifying to see them together at the Netherfield Ball. His over exuberance in dancing made Marco blush. When Darcy asked her about it, she whispered, “It’s so strange. He’s not a bad looking man and his dancing is so—jubilant. He’s supposed to be repellant with no dancing skills at all!”
“Your novel is a strange one,” he told her, before allowing Bingley to claim his dance with her.
Throughout the evening, she watched Elizabeth Bennet, who danced with many men and who often glanced at Mr. Darcy, who was pointedly ignoring her. He paid polite attention to Miss Bingley and Amanda, and was always happy to be in his wife’s company.
At one point, Elizabeth actually accosted Marco. “Shouldn’t your husband be asking me to dance?”
“He rarely dances outside of his own party,” Marco quoted back to her. “Surely you know this, Miss Elizabeth, and you forget—“ (Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose) “—we’ve been married but two fortnights.”
Amanda, of course, came round the next afternoon to speak to Marco about the ball and what the heck was going on in the novel as Jane and Collins had set a wedding date. “He might not be too horrible as husbands go,” Marco suggested. “At least he has a school boy sort of charm.” The door opened. “Speaking of.”
The two looked at Bingley who was standing there, looking like there was something he wanted to do or say, but just couldn’t vocalize it. He looked at Marco for help.
“I’ve misplaced that book of poetry,” she began, looking at Bingley for approval, which she got when his face relaxed; she then turned to Amanda, “which I promised to show you. I’ll go look for it. It might take a few minutes so if I’m not back immediately, feel free to play chopsticks?” There was really only the piano in the room and Amanda didn’t know how to play the instrument at all.
It seemed that was all Bingley needed. He proposed. Of course, Amanda didn’t know what to say.
Darcy showed up in their room where Marco had a book of poetry on her vanity and she was organizing a set of ribbons that had already been in perfect order. “You’ve broken your friend, Miss Price,” he told her. “Apparently, she cannot answer a simple offer of marriage without your help.”
“It’s the Jane Conundrum,” she told him. “You remember how I felt about Elizabeth. I now hate the very sight of her.”
As she passed, Darcy grabbed her by the waist and kissed her softly. “Do not think that I have not forgotten our mission.”
“Will this mission continue after you have your heir, Mr. Darcy?” She quirked her head just slightly to the side.
“It depends on the health of my lady,” he answered honestly. “However, I fully intend for her never to leave my chambers.”
They smiled at each other and then Marco ran to her friend. She had completely forgotten the book of verse.
“What’s the problem?” she asked.
“Jane.” Amanda was pacing, back and forth. “And Elizabeth won’t let me wear her clothes any more.”
“Never mind that, that can be fixed. Jane is engaged to Mr. Collins.”
“Do you like Mr. Bingley?”
“Yes,” she moaned.
“Do you love him?”
“I—“ She looked so confused. “It’s been three weeks.”
Marco took a deep breath. “Okay. You’re a Bennet sister or cousin named Amanda. Blushing, bumbling, wonderfully adorable, rich Mr. Bingley enters your life, dances with you, takes you on walks, worships the ground you walk on, and then proposes. What are your thoughts—?”
“Definite yes. But it’s been three weeks.”
“Why don’t you ask him for a longer engagement? Ask to be married closer to Easter so that you may get to know him better and I can lend you money for some clothes.”
“Can I do that?” Amanda asked, bewildered.
“The engagement or the clothes?”
Amanda laughed slightly hysterically. “I know I can borrow a little money. I meant the engagement. What about my dowry?”
“I’ll talk to Fitzwilliam. It’s his fault. He needs to find a solution.”
And so they became engaged. Needless to say, Elizabeth Bennet was not happy in the least. Amanda was kicked out of the Bennet house (supposedly by Mrs. Bennet) with only the clothes she arrived in, which included a copy of Pride and Prejudice. None of Marco’s clothes fit her friend, so they instantly went to the dressmaker’s to get a few dresses and a bonnet, and then they laughed themselves silly, reading their favorite passages back and forth to one another until the gentlemen found them.
Amanda looked at the gentlemen and whispered. “Pond scene?”
“Don’t you dare! He’s my husband!”
“I could have my fiancé dip into a pond for me.” They both burst out laughing.
Darcy was the first to notice the book. “Ah, this is the offending piece of literature you ladies seem to have read. If I were a betting man, I would guess that Miss Elizabeth Bennet has read it as well.”
“She has,” Amanda responded. “I was taken to task for—letting it all go to bedlam during her absence. However, I would point out that Mrs. Darcy had been your ward for a year and a half before you came to Netherfield. I had no control over that.”
“Yes, one need only hear her play the pianoforte and get locked in a gaze with her to know that she would be the optimal companion for one’s future life.—And, now, as propriety dictates, since we are all to be in Town this winter, will you be our guest, Miss Price, during the first part of your engagement? I am certain that Mrs. Darcy will be pleased to have you.” He looked at Marco, and she saw that he was wary to have Amanda come and stay with them, but was bowing to the friendship between the two girls from the future.
The Bennet wedding was—well—Reverend Collins was in fine form. He was penitent during the ceremony, kissed his wife simply, and led her down the aisle where people waited to throw rice at them for good fortune. Jane wore a simple but pretty dress and she put on a smile, but Marco knew she was not even content. She prayed that Jane Bennet would find such an emotion in time. At least her family was safe, Marco consoled herself.
She clung to Darcy’s arm harder as they watched the carriage carry the couple away to the wedding breakfast.
“What is it, my love?” he asked as he escorted them to their carriage.
“Thank you,” was all she could say.
He looked at her and waited for her to speak. Marco felt as if she would cry, but she took his hand. “For waiting for me. For not giving me away as you might have.”
Immediately she was in Darcy’s arms as he was wiping away her tears before they could fall. “I would never have been able to see you unhappy,” he told her truly. “I knew enough of my own heart that very afternoon we met to know that, Marco.”
At one point, Marco noticed that both Elizabeth and Amanda were missing. “Trouble,” she murmured to Darcy. She moved to Bingley and asked, “Have you seen Miss Price?”
“She said something about the cake, I believe,” he answered, “but that was above ten minutes ago.” He looked bewildered.
“Thank you. I’ll just go find her.” Marco smiled at Bingley to put his fears to rest.
There were two ways out of the room, and she chose the dodgiest. She didn’t realize she was being observed or followed discretely by Wickham.
Elizabeth Bennet had Amanda pinned to the wall. “Look at Jane!” she berated. “Look at what you’ve done to her.—You stole Bingley away.”
“She stole no one,” Marco stated as she came to the scene. “You deserted your sisters and offered Amanda your place—you should have known that something was going to change. She did not invite Bingley’s affections, just as I did not invite Darcy’s.”
Elizabeth turned to her, her green eyes shining. “I can forgive you Mr. Darcy. I don’t know how I could ever love a man as arrogant as he—and you were his ward. Men must do as men must—“
“You are speaking to a lady,” a new voice added and the three women looked over to see Wickham. “I believe you are Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
As if caught in headlights, Elizabeth barely nodded.
“Well, Miss Bennet, you will back away from Miss Price, and you will allow both ladies to return to the celebrations of your sister’s wedding. If you cannot partake I suggest you go upstairs instead of harassing the guests.—May I escort you back, Miss Price, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Yes,” Amanda immediately accepted.
When Marco was placed down beside Darcy, she gave Wickham a smile and a slight nod of the head before he left.
At Darcy’s questioning look, she murmured, “Elizabeth had Amanda cornered, blaming her for this marriage. It was only Mr. Wickham’s presence that made her see sense, even if it is only for an hour or so.—Oh, she finds you arrogant, just so you know.”
“I do not care for her or her opinions,” he stated calmly, showing how little she meant to him. “I care for how she mistreats my wife. I will have a word with Mr. Bennet as we are to stay here another week or fortnight.”
“Perhaps that is wise. You could mention Miss Price as she is a member of our household.”
“She is in need of such service,” he commented, “and it cannot come from Bingley.” He kissed the back of her hand. “Now, I once heard a lady speak of the importance of a wedding cake.”
Marco tried to hide her laughter but could not.
Darcy waited a few days before setting out to see Mr. Bennet. He came back in a foul mood. It wasn’t until dinner when he pronounced the verdict. “I think it might be safer for the ladies in our party if they were not exposed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Bennet refuses to speak to his daughter, so I do not believe we should entertain their society.”
“What happened?” Bingley questioned. His eyes immediately went to Amanda. Of course, Caroline was still in her room.
“She’s delusional,” Marco explained. “She believes that you should have married Mrs. Collins and that she should have married my husband. She accosted Amanda during the wedding breakfast and when I arrived, she was quite—fluent in her disapproval. We both owe Mr. Wickham a great service in extricating us from the situation.”
Ignoring the last bit, Darcy suggested, “Perhaps we should quit Netherfield sooner than we had planned. I can take the ladies back to Darcy House and you can follow after you take your leave. Hopefully Miss Bingley will once again become excited by the many diversions of London.”
“No,” Marco quickly said, reaching toward Amanda and taking her hand. “You’ve done nothing wrong. It was Elizabeth who wished to go to Hammersmith. It was Elizabeth who invited you here. Just because events did not take the course she would have wished, it is not your fault. I would have married Mr. Darcy whether he met Elizabeth Bennet or not.”
Fortunately, Darcy did not refute that. Marco even wondered if it were true. Could she have given up her love for Darcy to another woman—especially that unworthy creature? Could her fears have been overcome even if, at the moment, he thought her ‘not handsome’ or even had the inclination to think that she merely had ‘fine eyes’ and nothing more?
“And there she is. Half of her plan is gone,” Marco concluded. “She even had the nerve to call me a Papist. I don’t even know who is head of the Catholic Church is at present—and I don’t want to know,” she stated firmly.
It took less than an evening to pack. When the Darcys and Amanda left, the servants were placing sheets over the furniture. Bingley’s horse was being saddled so he could go about his business. When Amanda saw him, coming out to make his first round of farewells, she rushed up to him, leaving Marco with her husband.
“You love me. That I am quite aware,” she joked as she looked at Darcy. “Am I the only woman you’ve ever loved? I won’t be offended if I’m not.”
“You are the first woman I have ever desired to marry.” Darcy took a step closer to her so she had to look up at him.
“I suppose that shall have to do. I,” she murmured as she straightened his coat, “have turned down three marriage proposals before you. The third I thought was a prank since I knew the man preferred the company of other men, but he was serious, as it turns out.”
“He told you?” Darcy asked in horror.
“Oh yes,” she admitted. “It is socially acceptable in the West to be gay or a lesbian. I broke it off when he told me we could each have our ‘boy toys’ on the side, and I—alas!—believe in fidelity.”
Neither had noticed Amanda come up. “You’ll break him,” Amanda told Marco. “Really, Marco, you’ll break him. He just won’t get it. Two hundred years.”
The carriage drove up and Darcy handed them both up before seating himself next to his wife.
“Miss Bennet seems to have done well for herself despite her protestations regarding how we wish to live our lives,” Darcy mentioned. “Her father will not even chastise her.”
Amanda gasped. “There’s no one left for her to marry.”
“There is Rosings—“ Marco suggested hesitantly. Darcy’s face immediately turned toward her.
“Not Cousin Richard,” he demanded.
“He finds her charming,” Amanda apologized.
“She has not a fortune.”
“Neither does Amanda,” Marco pointed out.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Darcy said. “I have no use for your entire fortune. I have given Miss Price a portion of yours to save face so Miss Bingley can say nothing too dreadful about our guest. I’m still uncertain how I managed to send her off in a separate carriage earlier today. However, Bingley must also be seen to be marrying a gentlewoman of good birth.”
“Where am I from?” Amanda asked, a little frightened.
“A little known estate called Lavingsdale in Hertfordshire. Your nephew inherited it.”
“I understand,” Amanda said, though clearly she didn’t. “What’s his name?”
“Stephen Price,” he answered. “Your brother, also Stephen, is dead though his wife is not. I named her Jane just to be amusing.” Darcy turned to look at Marco lovingly.
And so Mrs. Woodbury came back to Darcy House. The Masters returned to teach Amanda the basics of dancing and drawing, of which she was surprisingly talented. “I was always good at etch-i-sketch,” she confided in Marco, and she even made a small sketch of Netherfield for Bingley, though it was given to him some weeks after Christmas.
When it was time for the final preparations to the marriage, Darcy had a duty to his aunt.
“I neglected Lady Catherine and Rosings last year,” he admitted. “I was so terrified of losing you to some other country beyond a door I could not control or bear the scolding of my aunt if she learnt of how deeply I felt for you. However, Colonel Fitzwilliam and I should go. If you must, I will not deny Miss Price her friend at this time before her wedding.”
“Nonsense,” she disagreed. “We will be back a full fortnight before the wedding. Anything that needs deciding sooner can be done through the post. I—I would not leave you to Mrs. Collins and the person, I believe, who will be her guest.”
Darcy rested a hand on her flat stomach. “I admit I do worry.”
“You know what Sir Reginald said,” she teased. “I am well enough to go into Kent and out again a month later, and I may stand up in church for Amanda before going to Derbyshire, where I will stay, happy and contented with you.” She kissed him softy. “We must speak about names, Fitzwilliam. Or is it a habit in your family to meet the child first?” She threw a perfectly folded nightdress at him and he caught her before she could leave the room, kissing her gently.
“Oh, you are a wondrous thing.”
Rosings was beautiful if not ostentatious. Lady Catherine was overbearing, but glad to meet her. “If it could not be my Anne,” she stated, “then I am glad that it was an Archbishop’s daughter. The higher ranking clergy are quite refined men, if a little fond of their theology, and produce excellent children. She looks quite ripe for breeding, Darcy.”
“Lady Catherine,” she stated before her husband could say anything. “I thank you for our kind welcome. I have been wishing to see Rosings for quite some time and it is as beautiful, though I am sure you have heard, as the most exquisite of gilded roses.”
Fortunately, she took the insult as a compliment. Darcy had to hold back a laugh though. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had arrived just three hours before them, actually coughed before catching her eye and winking.
“So are you,” he asked her as he turned pages at the pianoforte, “the mysterious ward my brother caught a glimpse of reading Byron at Darcy House?”
“You are incredibly well-informed. I am that same creature.”
“He reported that you were very elegant, a bit impish, and very clearly in love with our cousin Darcy, as he was with you.”
“Well, for the first two, I cannot speak, but as to the latter, I believe our marriage answers for that fact.” She looked at him and smiled. “And yourself, Colonel? Has any lady caught your fancy?”
“I live the life of a soldier. Until Napoleon is in his grave, I fear there will be nothing but fighting and only the idea of such a life for me.”
“I am sorry then,” she responded.
They passed into silence.
“The vicar has a new wife,” he told her.
“Mrs. Collins? Pretty thing with dark hair and green eyes? I met her in Hertfordshire and I attended their wedding. She was the eldest of the Misses Bennet.”
“Well, another Bennet has come to call. She calls herself ‘Miss Bennet,’ of course.”
“Let me guess. Ginger hair. Green eyes?”
“The very same!”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the second sister, is the only one to have green eyes apart from Mrs. Collins. The rest have brown. Sadly, I have come to know that fact. I’m not very fond of the Bennets, especially Miss Elizabeth. I’ll refer you to your cousin for an explanation.”
Of course, they had to go pay their respects. Darcy insisted on an open carriage, much to his cousin’s bewilderment, but Marco knew it was because she was three months with child.
“How comfortable you have made your home,” Marco complimented Jane Collins. She was sitting with her and both Misses Elizabeth and Mary Bennet. The men were off with Mr. Collins in the garden. “Do you like Kent?”
“We sometime have a wave of sea air, which is certainly perplexing considering how inland we are,” she mentioned, setting down her tea. “However, it is a beautiful country. I’ve started my own particular rose garden in the back of the house. Reverend Collins prefers his garden in the front, but I like to see the flowers through this window, or I imagine I would.”
“Of course,” Marco responded. “I would imagine that window would look charming with flowers around it. I’ve never had much luck with flowers myself. I always had a small pine every December, but that usually died. I am quite hopeless, Mrs. Collins. I envy you your talent.”
It was Elizabeth’s turn to speak. “You? Envy my sister? I thought you would envy nothing in the world!”
None of the women noticed that the gentlemen had entered. “I’m certain each of God’s creatures has something to envy,” Darcy stated coldly. “I envy that Mr. Collins may dance with his bride when I cannot dance with mine as she is with child. Mrs. Darcy envies the talent regarding flora natura. I heard you play once, Miss Bennet. It was hardly even charming. Surely perhaps you, Miss Elizabeth, might envy my wife’s talent at the pianoforte.—Forgive me. I do not wish Mrs. Darcy to become fatigued.”
At that cue, she put down her teacup, stood, and curtseyed to the ladies before leaving. When they were all seated, Marco looked at Darcy. “Fitzwilliam, you told the vicar I was with child before you told your own aunt.”
“I told her when you were changing your dress after we arrived. I said you were overly tired and did not wish to be treated differently, at least initially, because you were with child. Lord Marley had a wife who insisted on horseback riding to the last. It’s hardly an abnormal request.”
“Well, the fact that we are not walking certainly makes more sense,” the Colonel said. “Why was there such a cruel streak to Miss Bennet’s language?”
“She lost a game of ensnaring a husband and can’t stand anyone who is recently married to eligible gentlemen. If you were to walk down the aisle with a young lady of twenty thousand pounds, Miss Bennet would be sure to be mean to her and possibly try to stake some claim to you.”
“Oh,” the Colonel said. “One of those.”
That afternoon she was at the pianoforte with only Lady Catherine in the room. “Would you like to hear a song?” she asked her aunt. “It’s one that’s sung among the upper echelons of the clergy, but has never been played or taught to anyone below an Archdeacon,” she lied. “I doubt your vicar will ever hear it. He’s too excitable.”
“It is religious?”
“In a very different way,” she responded. “I only offer it to you now, Aunt, because I think you may understand. I haven’t even played it for my husband.”
“Then I cannot hear it,” she decided. “If it were merely a formality between women then, of course, I would listen.”
“Fitzwilliam,” she offered, seeing him in the doorway and smiling, “doesn’t like to think me unhappy given the sudden death of my entire family. I cry when I sing this song. I sing it when he is out.”
Lady Catherine turned her head slightly toward the door. “Then you certainly shall not play it. We both know that I am aware of your delicate health. I would not have you overexert yourself.”
Marco laughed. “Very well and on those grounds alone I shall not play ‘Hallelujah’.” She paused. “Anne can’t breathe when she eats certain foods, am I correct?”
“Did either of my nephews tell you?”
“No,” she offered. “It’s a rare illness. One I have seen before. Peanuts?”
Lady Catherine nodded.
“Don’t give her any peanuts or tree nuts, give her hot lemon water for breakfast, and I would recommend that she eat an orange for breakfast. That might help it get better.” She smiled. “I’d actually forbid nuts from your kitchen entirely.”
“Yes, Ma’am, all. Your daughter’s health is at risk. I cannot promise a complete cure, but my remedies may show some improvement over time. After all, what could they hurt? They also cost nothing.” Marco looked up at her husband and she smiled. “You get handsomer every time I see you. And to think, we are in the same positions we were in when we first laid eyes on each other.”
“I had already sat down upon a couch.”
“True,” she answered. “You did give me quite a fright as I had supposed myself to be alone.”
“You are speaking nonsense,” Lady Catherine decreed. “My nephew was your guardian.”
“My carriage arrived later at Pemberley. She had the run of the house for a full three hours before I arrived.” He smiled at her and she smiled back. “Naturally, she found the pianoforte.”
She had not been there a week when Marco woke up, her legs coated in warm liquid, and she screamed, knowing exactly what was happening. Darcy immediately wakened. He pulled back the sheets as soon as he saw his wife’s bloodied hands and saw all the blood coating her nightdress and legs.
Without even thinking he grabbed a shirt and started shouting for the servants, demanding to know where the local doctor could be found.
It was the longest forty minutes of Marco’s life. “Please,” she begged Lady Catherine, “Please save my baby.”
Someone had called for Mr. Collins, and he sat on the other side of her bedside and began reading the Psalms to her in a hushed tone, taking no heed to her crying and her conversation with Lady Catherine, simply bringing the spiritual support he could give.
When the doctor came, everyone but Darcy left the room. Warm cloths were called for, and the most agonizing moments were spent as she answered questions.
“Have the contractions that woke you stopped, Mrs. Darcy?” the doctor asked.
“No. But they have slowed.”
“Good. Very good.” He pulled out some herbs and had her chew them. The three of them were alone in the room for two hours, waiting for the contractions to stop, the baby finally safe, and then the maids were called in to clean the room. “She cannot move,” the doctor told Darcy, “from this bed. This will be an extremely risky pregnancy. She must remain in this room until your child is born.”
“I cannot bring her to Pemberley?” Darcy asked in horror.
“It would be a risk to the baby’s life. I’ve listened to your wife’s heart. It is not as strong as I would like.”
“What if I gave her laudanum? We could be there in less than a week.”
“Then you go tomorrow, sir, and the child’s life hangs in the balance.”
Darcy nodded, allowing someone else to show out the doctor after he left enough laudanum for the journey.
During this time, Marco barely understood what was happening. She was aware of being carefully dressed and being placed in a carriage, but it wasn’t until she woke up in a strange room she had never seen before that she knew something had happened.
“My baby!” she cried, and a maid looked up.
“You are well,” she said thankfully. “Your baby is well and you are now at Pemberley. Let me have the master of he house sent for.”
And then Darcy was there, leaning by her bed and holding her hand, kissing her knuckles softly. “I was so afeared I would lose you,” he murmured as he leaned forward to kiss her gently. “There. I’ve gone against Doctor Trey’s orders. I may simply hold your hand and must not disturb you with my presence when you sleep.”
“I thought there might be a reason why this room was pale yellow,” she told him. “These were your mother’s rooms?”
“They were—and, I know, I don’t believe you care for yellow based off of your choice of gowns alone.”
“I do not,” she contended. “But I thought you would have me with you always—so this is only temporary—and if the doctors are cruel I shall simply remove to my old bedchamber and have these redone in rose and blue, perhaps. How say you, Fitzwilliam?”
“I would agree with you except for the fact that I would hope the doctors are not so cruel. Georgiana is coming up within the fortnight, you will be happy to learn, and there is much amiss when it comes to her hand.”
Marco made to sit up on the pillows, but Darcy moved forward and begged her not to move, so she settled.
“It turns out Andrew—“
“The viscount, your cousin,” Marco clarified.
“The very one,” Darcy agreed, “has fallen in love with her. I’ve had her at the Matlocks’ so often that it seems the irrevocable has happened.”
She looked at Darcy and then toward the window, but was unable to see anything beyond the curtain except for sunlight. Biting her lip, she said, “Georgiana is sixteen.”
“Women may marry at such an age?” she checked.
“You are correct.”
“How does she feel? Surely that is the first question we must ask. It matters not whether she would be a viscountess, a future countess, if Andrew is fully in love her—we must seek her opinion. I know Georgiana little, but as her sister I would wish her to love him as nearly as much as I love you.” She stroked the side of Darcy’s face and she looked into his beautiful blue eyes.
“Not as much?” he teased.
“Now,” she argued. “That’s impossible. I’m lying nearly flat on my back because of the great love I bear for you and our unborn child. It’s quite uncomfortable.”
He smile at her sweetly before he plumped up her pillows and helped her sit up just a little. “I daresay you should have some tea,” he said, calling a maid.
Georgiana was barely at Pemberley for five minutes when she was rushing into the Mistress’s Chambers. Marco held up her finger to her lips as Darcy had fallen asleep, sitting next to her, his arms on the mattress, cradling his head. Marco set aside her book of poetry and smiled at her sister.
Coming up and kissing her quietly, Georgiana smiled at Marco. The two sisters took dinner together, Georgiana banishing her brother as he had not invited her to the quiet and fast wedding. “Do you have a name?”
“Your brother is being kind,” she stated. “The child is to be named for my mother: Aurelia for a girl, Aurelius for a boy.”
“Well,” Georgiana stated, “Fitzwilliam was named for Mother while I for Father.”
“You see,” Marco laughed a little. “A family tradition. However, my father was named ‘James.’ I would not wish to name a daughter after him. Jamesina, perhaps? I like it not.”
Georgiana laughed. “It brings me joy to see you—to be with you and Fitzwilliam. Especially with—“
“The viscount?” Marco questioned. When Georgiana blushed, Marco nodded. “I thought as much. I wasn’t going to bring it up tonight or even during this first week. I thought you should spend time with your brother. I’m afraid I’ve rather stolen him for the past two years and,” she took her sister’s hand, “I apologize for that, Georgiana.”
“He loved you,” she said simply. “I asked Mrs. Reynolds about you when I was up here when you were down in London at one point. She showed me the dress you were wearing when you arrived. You turned up for dinner without arriving in a carriage or even walking. We Darcys keep our stories close. You were given to my brother. I understand what happened. You have a love so great that not even the words of the Bard could do it justice.”
Tears formed in Marco’s eyes but she brushed them away. “No, Georgiana, I am well. What do you feel for Andrew?”
“I like to walk with him.”
“Is that it?”
“He speaks to me quietly,” she told Marco, smiling. “Andrew speaks to me as if I were precious and more than just a young lady or a cousin. I like it.”
“And that is all?”
“That is all?”
“Then we must allow for more time,” Marco told her, reaching out and tweaking Georgiana’s nose. “Perhaps I should be mischievous and invite him to keep you company. You are cousins, after all.”
Georgiana, very inelegantly, squealed and hid herself behind her hands. Marco laughed at her and had Darcy write out the invitation. Half the time she was awake she spent with her husband, the other half with Georgiana. Sometimes the four of them would eat in her room, like gypsies or pirates. Andrew was very solicitous to her health and if Georgiana were sewing in Marco’s room, he would read to the two of them. The merry band would sometimes read Shakespeare together, having four voices for four parts. It was idyllic.
“There’s a carriage,” Georgiana said as she looked out Marco’s window. “We didn’t invite anyone and it does not appear to be anyone we know.”
“I will be well on my own,” Marco promised. “You are acting lady of Pemberley House.”
Georgiana colored but hurried off. She was gone for only twenty minutes before she came back up. “Fitzwilliam is dealing with them. You appear to be acquaintances with the young lady, a Miss Bennet. Brother says she should not be permitted onto the grounds given her unladylike behavior toward the Darcy family and given your ill health. Andrew is with him.”
“That woman plagues me,” Marco murmured. “Why doesn’t she go back to Hammersmith?” She looked at the top of her canopy bed. “I need her away from me and mine.”
“Fitzwilliam will see to it,” Georgiana promised. “And think, soon you will have the first child of the next generation and all will be well. Did not Mrs. Bingley write recently?”
“Yes,” Marco whispered, drifting off into a disturbed sleep.
She was sitting at the pianoforte and playing, looking up to see Darcy gazing back at her. Smiling at him, her fingers whispered across the keys as her fingers played ‘Hallelujah’. Without realizing it, she was humming along and then she was singing with the chorus, her light voice circling around the notes she played on the piano.
“There,” she said. “A secret, Fitzwilliam. What would Lady Catherine say given my delicate condition? Perhaps she would be happy that the next Darcy is well in our care until his birth?”
“I beg your pardon, Madam?” he said in confusion. “I walked through my own home and find you here—dressed in he most peculiar fashion—playing my sister’s pianoforte. I supposed you had gotten lost on a tour, but to address me so informally and to suggest such a falsehood?”
The sun went behind clouds and there was a clap of thunder and Marco started. She looked back toward her husband to see a pregnant Lizzy Bennet.
“Go home,” she stated, the room warping around her. “You’re not wanted here.”
And the door rushed toward her and with an incredible push, she found that she was no longer in her own Music Room, but somewhere very different.
Looking around her in horror, Marco tried to find the door she went through, but saw nothing. There was no one. The first place she went was to Barnes&Noble to find Pride and Prejudice—but it didn’t exist. Instead, there was a book called The Pianoforte. She sat in her late regency gown, in a chair, reading until the end when Marcella died of a chill shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Aurelia.
She had died.
She had died.
And Marco was no more.