Title: The Contrived Meeting
Fandom(s): Pride and Prejudice / the Twilight Saga
Pairing(s): Darcy/Bella, Jane/Bingley
Prompt: From “Ann”: “Pride and Prejudice: Bella and another Darcy story.”
Warning(s): No Mary, No Kitty, No Lydia, Nice Caroline Bingley, Manipulative Mrs. Bennet, Is this Time Travel?, Elizabeth will not end up with Darcy
Bella was the first person to fetch Aunt Fanny her smelling salts when she felt her nerves come upon her and the one to stand by her side all night at the Assembly when the Bennets attended. Isabella Swan—after all—was the niece of Mr. Bennet (the only child of a sister) and fully beholden to the Bennet family.
Where the Bennet daughters (Jane and Elizabeth) were blonde with blue eyes—(Mrs. Bennet’s nerves and the adoption of a wayward niece had prevented her from having further children, or so she had confessed to Bella when she was fifteen)—Bella had dark hair and darker eyes. She looked nothing like Uncle Bennet, favoring her father, Charles Swan, Esquire, but he was nothing more than a hazy memory, having been shot by poachers, the family estate having been entailed away from the female line… or so she was informed when she asked many years later.
The night of the Meryton Assembly of 1811 was set, Jane was beautiful, and Aunt Fanny was determined that the party should make the acquaintance of Mr. Bingley, the newest resident in the neighborhood. Bella was only seventeen—much younger than her cousins—and only accompanied her aunt to be of service to her. She would be there to fetch her a glass of punch, or to bring the lady her shawl, or to sit with her to make conversation when both Jane and Elizabeth might be dancing. It was not expected that Bella should dance herself. She was clumsy after all, and Mrs. Bennet would surely refuse for her. Bella knew this.
It was understood.
There was no one she wished to dance with. She didn’t like dances and she was clumsy. She knew the steps, but she would make a fool of herself, she was certain.
When the Netherfield Party arrived she agreed with Jane that they all appeared very elegant. She remained seated when Aunt Fanny stood and led her two daughters forward for introductions—and she watched to see if Mr. Bingley took notice of Jane as Aunt Fanny hoped. Jane blushed. Mr. Bingley (the first of the two gentleman who had entered) smiled. After a few minutes Jane and Mr. Bingley moved off to the dance floor. It was done.
The second of the two gentlemen, though, was not heeding Aunt Fanny or the conversation—and Bella’s breath caught in her throat when her eyes met a gaze as dark as hers and she forced herself to look away. She felt his eyes upon her, and she forced herself to remember the heat of the Arizona sun and the cool rain of Washington—memories she was told were mere fancies when she was reminded of her parents’ death—and forced herself not to look back.
“Well,” Aunt Fanny greeted her as she sat down beside her again, Bella looking up at her aunt. “Jane is dancing very well.”
“I notice,” Bella mused, turning her attention to the line of dancers, “that he cannot take his eyes off her.”
“No,” Aunt Fanny agreed, fluttering her fan. “And they look so well together.” A pause. “Fetch Jane her shawl immediately when it is done so they can idle and have a chance to speak without me hovering by. Come straight back.” Her neck curved elegantly as she turned her head slightly in Bella’s direction, her eyes nonetheless still captivated by the dancers.
“Of course, Aunt Fanny,” Bella agreed, knowing there would be some such plan.
The two fell into silence and at the swell of the orchestra, Bella took Jane’s shawl between her hands and went toward the line where Jane would end in the row, ready to do as Aunt Fanny wished and no more.
She felt a prickle of heat on her neck and turned slightly to see the gentleman looking on, but she acknowledged him only with the briefest of looks—dark, seductive, curious—before the music came to an end and broke their gaze.
Coming up to Jane, she waited for her cousin (who smiled, demure, blue eyes bright) to notice her and accept the shawl, before she knew herself dismissed and picked her way through the dance partners to return to her aunt’s side.
However, Aunt Fanny was speaking to the second gentleman, her fan pressed to her shoulder, and Bella knew her to be occupied. She pressed forward toward Charlotte Lucas who was sitting alone and asked her after the party—“Are they to your taste?”
“Elizabeth does not care for Mr. Darcy,” Miss Lucas admitted, “but I think she is being too hasty.”
Bella glanced toward her aunt and saw that the gentleman had bowed to her and was gone again. “He was the second gentleman?”
“Much richer,” Miss Lucas confessed, “but of fewer words.” She paused then whispered, “They say 10,000 a year—at least!”
Bella blushed at the notion, made her excuses, and walked the outside part of the assembly hall, pausing to fetch her aunt a bowl of punch before rejoining the lady again.
The next Mr. Bingley danced with Charlotte Lucas—while staring at Jane—then Miss King—and then again with Jane again.
The second gentleman danced with Miss Caroline Bingley and then not again, instead preferring to stare intently at Bella even though she spent most of the evening at her aunt’s side. He was not so obvious that anyone might notice—more catching glances—and positioning himself in front of mirrors so that their gazes might meet in the glass, but Bella noticed, and she was only glad that her aunt had yet to realize.
It was only after Elizabeth (“Lizzy” to her friends and family, but always “Elizabeth” to Bella) stood up with Mr. Bingley that she came up with a smile on her face and said, “Isabella, I need you.”
Bella stood, curious, and followed her cousin over to Mr. Bingley and his sister, surprised to be introduced to them. Bella was always an afterthought to Elizabeth, a kindness for Jane. To be singled out was rather peculiar. Still, she could feel Mr. Darcy’s eyes on the back of her neck, and she felt the hair rise there pleasantly at the attention.
“Here is the wonder,” Elizabeth began as Bella curtsied. “I cannot do a thing without her, and I do not think she is quite yet out. Isabella, my little cousin. This is Mr. Bingley and his sister.”
Bella blushed and then began, “I’m not certain what it is that I’ve done.”
“My lace,” Elizabeth explained, motioning to her gown for her evening. “Miss Bingley complimented me earlier this evening, and yet the compliment is not mine to have.”
Blinking twice, Bella looked between the three and tried to think of something to say. It was true that she had done the lace up on Elizabeth’s gown… along with the ribbon… and the hem. She did most of the mending in the Bennet household. Finally, she admitted, “Anything for you, Elizabeth.”
It was then that Miss Bingley spoke, “But your own gown for the evening is so plain, Miss Bennet.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth interjected. “Isabella is the daughter of my father’s sister. She is Isabella Swan.”
Miss Bingley, who was wearing orange silks and looked strangely elegant in them, began again. “Miss Swan, of course. You should have taken time to do your own gown, though if you are not out, as Miss Eliza says, then perhaps that is the reason? Pray,” and now she linked arms with Bella and led her away from her cousin, “may I inquire from one woman to another, what is your age?”
Bella swallowed, willing herself not to blush, and admitted, “I am seventeen. I know some young women are out at that age—”
“But there is no shame in it,” Miss Bingley agreed. “Still, your beauty outshines your simple dress, Miss Swan.” (This compliment caused Bella to blush scarlet as she wasn’t beautiful, compared with Elizabeth and certainly not with Jane.). “I wish to introduce you to a friend.”
They walked through the crowd of dancers and Bella looked at her curiously until she glanced ahead of them to realize they were walking toward the second gentleman—Mr. Darcy. When Bella hesitated in her step, Miss Bingley leaned in and admitted—
“He asked me so nicely to arrange it for him.”
Bella’s breath stuttered and she looked toward the gentleman, his dark gaze hot on hers, and she found that she could not look away. “Who is he?” she asked her companion, never tearing her eyes away from the man, and not quite trusting Charlotte Lucas’s account.
“I’ll tell you,” Miss Bingley promised as they took their last few steps and she released her arm. “Miss Isabella Swan, may I introduce our guest at Netherfield and one of my brother’s oldest friends, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire?”
His gaze was dark and warm on hers, and he reached for her hand, which she gave him, thankful that she didn’t have to balance into a curtsey at that exact moment. As he dropped a kiss on her gloved hand, he murmured, “Have you ever been to Derbyshire, madam?”
“No,” she admitted. “Why?”
He paused, considering, and then admitted, “You look the exact copy of Lady Anne Darcy—my mother. It is astounding. I could put you beside her portrait, and there would be no difference, I am certain.”
She blinked, then blinked again, but otherwise held his gaze.
Her fingers remained firmly held in his grasp.
“I hope,” she murmured, “my countenance brings back happy memories, then, Mr. Darcy.”
“Memories,” he admitted, “and a hope that happiness might once again return to Pemberley.” His dark gaze held firmly to hers and then he added, “I hope your—relations will allow me to call upon you.”
It was now that Caroline Bingley spoke. “Mr. Bennet of Longbourne. His wife is present this evening.”
Mr. Darcy seemed to consider and then he suggested, “Perhaps Bingley and I might call tomorrow, if that meets your approval, Miss Swan?”
Carefully, Bella pressed her lips together, thinking, and then in a quiet voice said, “The ladies will not be at home tomorrow, as is the custom after an Assembly or Ball. I am certain Uncle Bennet will be at his leisure to receive guests.”
He smiled at her—the barest hint of the smile, but one that lit up his dark eyes—and he squeezed her hand gently before releasing it. “Then I shall make a point of calling tomorrow.”
Bella’s breath caught in her throat at the warm look in his gaze, and her heart stuttered for the barest of moments. Who was this man exactly? Could he really want her because he saw her across an assembly room? Could it be as simple because she reminded him fondly of his mother?
“My aunt shall be wanting me,” she apologized after their gaze held for several more long moments.
He nodded, their eyes never breaking from each other. “I apologize. I did not mean to keep you from your relations.”
One last look between them, and then Caroline Bingley was taking her arm and leading her away, but Bella knew that he would call, and that Uncle Bennet would allow him to see her because it was not his way to refuse anything he deemed unimportant, and then he would call upon her—and for the first time she would have something, someone, all her own—that couldn’t be wrong, could it?