Eloise & Darcy, Pt. 2

Title: Eloise & Darcy, Part 2
Author: ExcentrykeMuse
Fandom: Bridgerton (TV Series) / Pride and Prejudice
Pairing(s): Eloise Bridgerton/Mr. Darcy, (past) Elizabeth/Darcy, Kate Sharma/Anthony Bridgerton, Daphne Bridgerton/Duke of Hastings, Georgiana Darcy/OMC
Written: January-February 2023
Rating: PG
Word Count: 9.5k
Summary: Eloise Bridgerton is in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.  Will their pasts pull them apart or bring them closer?  And what of Lady Whistledown?

Read Part I

Darcy’s carriage appeared exactly at a quarter past three as had been arranged.  Eloise darted out of the servants’ back entrance and didn’t wait for the footman to open the door for her, instead just hopping into the carriage herself.

Sitting in the well-appointed carriage was Darcy, as handsome and as solemn as ever he was, and Eloise smiled at him. 

“Are you ready for our adventure?”

“I am not certain I would qualify Bloomsbury as an adventure,” he informed her as he tapped the top of the carriage twice with his walking stick.  With a slight shift of the wheels, they began moving.

“It is for me,” Eloise told him excitedly.  “I’ve never been to that part of London.”

Darcy looked at her indulgently.  “I only hope that Lord Bridgerton does not learn of our wanderings,” he imparted.  “I trust the discretion of my man but not necessarily of the Bridgerton servants who saw you leaving.”

Eloise turned her blue eyes on him in apology.  “If it puts your mind at ease, the preparations for dinner had not yet begun.”  She reached over and squeezed his hand.  She made to withdraw, but he carefully kept it within his grasp.  Eloise smiled at him, and his face softened in response.

The rest of the carriage ride to Bloomsbury was easy but quiet, and when they finally arrived, Darcy relinquished her hand and exited the carriage first, before handing Eloise out.  She looked about her, noticing the dinginess of the buildings before seeing the printing shop she had been searching for.  Taking out her pamphlet, she showed Darcy the watermark which matched the sign, and he went up to the door and knocked on it three times with the head of his walking stick.

Eloise stood a little behind him.

They waited for some response, but when there was none, Darcy went along to the side door and similarly knocked on it.

After several long moments, a young man opened the door and peered out.

“Ah,” Darcy began, “we are here seeking Lady Whistledown.”

The young man blinked at him in confusion and said nothing.

Eloise approached and tried to look appealing, and began, “What my escort meant is that I am searching for the lady in the hopes of conversing with her.”

“About the latest gossip?” the young man asked.

“Yes,” Eloise agreed before quickly saying, “No.”  She took a deep breath to settle herself.  “Whistledown is a woman of independent thought and singular means.  I wish to discuss her chosen trade—the status of women in society—”  She bit her lip as she looked at the young man.  “This is her publisher, is it not?”

The young man rolled his eyes.  “You ladies of society are all the same.”  Then he looked at Darcy, “although you brought a fancy man.”

Darcy, if possible, looked slightly offended.

“She’s not here,” he finished.  The young man made to close the door, but Darcy quickly inserted his foot.

The young man looked at him in annoyance.  He released his hold of the door and disappeared into the shop before coming out again, holding a pile of books.  He thrust them at Darcy and then grabbed the door and shut it.

Eloise approached in consternation.  Darcy was examining them.

“John Locke,” Darcy read before turning to the next.  “This one is slightly radical though you may be interested.”  He glanced up at her.  “It seems our young friend has given you a reading list on the rights of man and civilization.”  He held them out to her.

Eloise took them carefully in her hands and tried to smile.  “He did not say anything about Lady Whistledown.”

Darcy leaned forward and pointed out, “He did not deny that this is her publisher.”  Then he straightened.  “Back to the carriage.”  He offered his arm, and Eloise graciously took it with a laugh of joy on her lips.

Sneaking back into the house was slightly more difficult than sneaking out, but Eloise in the end managed it.  That night Anthony and Mama were having dinner at Lady Danbury’s with the Sharmas and their grandparents, the Sheffields, and Eloise had not been invited.

That meant dinner at home.  Benedict was out.  Francesca was in Bath, and Hyacinth and Gregory were being particularly vexatious. 

Anthony came home early, angrier than Eloise remembered seeing him since their father died.

“What is it?” she asked, looking to Mama who had come in with him.

“Not now, dearest,” Mama soothed, indicating that she should leave.

Eloise huffed but went up to her room, knowing that she had books to read and candles by which to read them.

Darcy came the next day when the house was still in uproar.  It seemed like the engagement between Anthony and Edwina might be called off—for reasons unknown.  Eloise thought it might be for the best given what she witnessed in the garden between Anthony and Kate Sharma.—whether or not there had been a bee.

However, no one asked her opinion.—no one except Darcy.

“The house seems particularly dire,” he murmured, Mama not in attendance.  Benedict was on the other side of the room, catching glances at them over the cover of his book.

Eloise glanced at Benedict before turning more fully toward Darcy.  “Anthony and Mama had dinner with the Sharmas last evening—and—” She let her voice fade out.  “I don’t know what happened, but the engagement might be off.”

“How unfortunate,” Darcy murmured, leaning in toward her.

“Is it?” she asked no one in particular, picking at a sofa cushion.  “I’m not entirely certain.”

Darcy looked at her for a long moment before vacating the couch.  He went over and spoke briefly to Benedict, who smiled roguishly over at Eloise before standing up and snapping his book shut.  “Of course, I can grant you a private interview,” he said loudly enough for Eloise to hear.  “I’m sure my brother, the Viscount Bridgerton, will be most pleased with this development.”

Eloise refrained from making a face at her favorite brother and instead ignored him in favor of her cushion, waiting for him to leave.  When the door shut behind him and she was alone with Mr. Darcy once again, she put the cushion to the side and looked up at him, giving him her full attention.

This must be the moment.

A young man never asked to be alone with a woman except for the purpose of proposing.  That’s what Mama said, anyway.  She and Darcy had been alone yesterday in the carriage and per tradition, perhaps he should have asked then—but he was asking now.  She sat up a little straighter although she doubted she would ever look as ladylike as Daphne (although Daphne never even tried).

Darcy was standing at the window, hands behind his back, looking out at the courtyard below.  It seemed to be his default pose.

Taking in a deep breath, she got up and joined him, looking down to see that the Featheringtons were going out somewhere.

Darcy took a deep breath and then turned to her.  “Miss Bridgerton—”

She waited, but he only looked out the window again.  Licking her lips, she ventured, “Mama says we are greatly suited for one another.”

This caused his green gaze to snap back up at her.  “What do you think, Miss Bridgerton?”

Eloise paused.  “I think you’re not an idiot who likes to show off on the dancefloor and bring useless flower arrangements that would only wilt away.”

He smiled slightly at that.  “No, I am not,” he agreed.  “You don’t want to change me,” he murmured, as if this were a great revelation.

She looked at him in confusion.

“You don’t find me somehow wanting in my person,” he clarified, “nor did you chase after me simply to be Mistress of Pemberley.”

“—No,” she stammered, still a little confused.  “I could live in contentment at Aubrey Hall all my life if I so choose.” She thought a moment.  “What is wanting in your person?”

Darcy returned to looking out the window.  “It has been suggested I have a selfish disdain for the feeling of others and think myself above my company.”

At this, Eloise had to contain a laugh.  When he looked up at her, she admitted, “You care only for Mama’s opinion and that is because it affects whether or not you can continue to visit me.  I think you care not for Anthony or Daphne—or any of my other brothers or sisters.”

His lips thinned.

“Not that I mind,” Eloise hastily put in, reaching out and daring to take his hand.  “It’s what makes you ‘Darcy’, just like my skulking around the edges of balls makes me ‘Eloise.’”  She leaned forward, “I like that you think yourself superior to Daphne.  She always makes me feel so wanting in comparison to her person.”

Darcy’s eyes softened as he looked at her and he laced his fingers with hers before bringing her hand up to kiss the back of it.  “My great-uncle, who is of failing years, is the Marquis of Ashmoure.  I am his next of kin in the male line.”

Despite herself, Eloise’s eyes lit up an even brighter blue.  “Truly?” she breathed.

“It is not a fact I make public,” he agreed, “but it is only a matter of time.  Days, perhaps, months.  I would grant a year at most.—It is not a dukedom.”

“I care not,” Eloise told him flatly.

This seemed to startle Darcy, the emotion showing momentarily in his face before settling again.  Then he breathed out.  “Miss Bridgerton—Eloise,” he amended, causing her heart to skip a beat.  “Will you consent to be my wife?”

She nodded hastily, the words getting clogged in her throat.

A bright smile, the like she had never before seen on his face, lit up Darcy’s features and he leaned down to kiss her hand again as tears formed in her eyes.  She kept on nodding her agreement.

Eloise dared to lean forward to touch the side of his curls lightly, tears still in her eyes.  She never thought herself an affected young lady, taken to whims of fancy, but she wanted nothing more than to be Mrs. Darcy.

He looked up at her with his startling green eyes and surged up to catch her lips in a gentle kiss, lips just pressing against lips, and Eloise breathed through her nose in surprise.  Darcy pulled away and leaned down to kiss the top of her head.  “It is decided, then,” he checked.

“Yes,” she choked out, nodding again.  “Yes, my answer is yes.”  Then, quickly—“I don’t want to be married by special license.”

He looked at her questioningly and she quickly wiped her eyes with her free hand.  “There was some—difficulty—with Daphne and the Duke of Hastings and they had to be married within three days by special license.”  She grimaced at him.  “I can only spend a half hour at the modiste with equanimity.  I could not bear to be there for all of tomorrow and the next day.”

Darcy looked at her intensely before leaning down to kiss her forehead, as if he couldn’t help himself, now that he had permission.  “Then we shall have the bans read and marry in a month.  It will give my family time to come from Derbyshire and Kent.”

Her eyes fluttered with the last of her tears and she smiled at him.  “I look forward to meeting the Viscountess of Owestry.”

He gave her a tight smile.  “Georgiana is only recently married two months hence herself.  She is not currently best pleased with me.”

She squeezed his hand and looked up at him with shining blue eyes.  “It is the prerogative of younger sisters to be not best pleased with elder brothers.”

Darcy took a breath as if to respond, but there was a knock on the door.  They turned toward it and Eloise called for the intruder to enter, only to see her Mama peek in through the door.  “I do beg your pardon,” she greeted, taking in their joined hands, “but Anthony has to go out and I thought Mr. Darcy might need to speak with him, however briefly.”

Darcy turned to Eloise and lifted up her hand, kissing the back of it.  “I’ll be but a moment, Eloise,” he promised, his voice low and private.  He left the room, bowing to Mama before leaving through the double doors. 

Mama waited a moment, looking behind her to see him go, before turning to Eloise with an eyebrow raised.

Eloise slumped her shoulders and gave a sheepish smile.  “I’m engaged, Mama,” she informed her, deciding the straightforward approach would be the best.

“Oh, my darling,” Mama effused, coming toward her with arms wide, “I am so pleased for you.”  She wrapped Eloise in a warm hug and held her close for several long moments.  “Are you happy?”

“I daresay I am,” Eloise admitted.  “I did not think when you dropped my hems I would ever find a man who did not annoy or vex me, but Mr. Darcy does prove me incorrect in my original assumption.”

Mama pulled away and looked her, brushing away a stray tear.  “Were you crying for joy?”

Eloise blushed.

Only nodding, Mama led her back to the couch.  “It is quite natural,” she assured.  “When you are as deeply in love as you and Mr. Darcy have proven to be—”

Eloise looked up, startled.

“You cannot fool me, darling,” Mama teased.  “I have seen you two together.  The affection you hold for one another is quite apparent.”  She reached forward to soothe Eloise. 

“He has never spoken—”  Eloise began before turning silent.

Mama just looked at her knowingly.  “Your Mr. Darcy is not effusive like other young men.  He would not look at you so intensely if he did not care for you, nor hold your hand and kiss it like a man besotted if he were not—” she sighed happily, “—a man besotted.  Love can be spoken in actions, not just in words.”

There were footsteps in the hall and the mother and daughter turned to see Anthony and Darcy in the doorway.

“Eloise,” Anthony greeted, coming forward.  “Congratulations.  I hear you wish for the bans to be read and to marry in a month’s time?”

He was smiling.  Anthony was smiling like a loon and it was quite off putting.  Eloise blinked once and then smiled back at him, hoping she didn’t look quite as ridiculous.  “Indeed, brother.  If there is no objection?”  She glanced over at her mother.

“No objection at all!” Mama replied happily.  “That gives us plenty of time to plan.  Francesca can come up from Bath,” she added thoughtfully.

Eloise nodded and looked at Darcy who had approached, his arms behind back, silent and solemn, gaze as intense as usual.  “You have not met Francesca,” she said.  “It will be nice to have her present, as well as the Viscountess of Owestry.”

“Marvelous!” Anthony agreed, looking over at Darcy and nodding.  “I must go out, but I leave you in capable hands, sister.  I shall see you at dinner.—You will join us, Darcy.”

Darcy did not look at all surprised by the invitation.  “It would be my pleasure,” he agreed.  “If I may bring my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.  I should like him to meet Eloise.”

It was quickly agreed and Anthony left—and the conversation turned to wedding preparations.

“I want to be married from Aubrey Hall,” Eloise put in although she wasn’t particularly attending to her Mama.

The room turned silent and Eloise felt everyone’s eyes on her, even Hyacinth and Gregory’s, who had come in at some point.

She cleared her throat and brushed a hand over her knees as if to straighten her dress.  “Darcy has yet to see it,” she continued, now that she had made a start of it.  “Why must our wedding be in Town just because it is the Season?”  She laughed a little to herself.  “Do we really need Lady Whistledown to comment on the satin or the lace?”

Mama looked a little startled but regained herself with a smile.  “If that is what you wish.  I believe we can accommodate Mr. Darcy’s family—”  She looked at the gentleman.  “Seven, you believe?  How many bedrooms would be required?”

Darcy was perfectly at ease with the suggestion, if a little stoic.  “If Cousin Anne is to have her own, separate from Lady Catherine—”  He paused and Mama nodded, “then five.”

His steady gaze turned to Eloise.

“I believe Eloise will benefit from not having all of society’s attention on her for her day,” he finished.  “She does not like to be the center of the ton’s gossip.”

“No,” Eloise agreed with a small smile, “I do not.”  She turned her attention to her Mama.  “Do say it can be done.”

“Anything can be done,” Mama told her blithely, “and we have a month, which makes it all the more possible.”

Eloise relaxed slightly. 

She was permitted to walk Darcy out to his horse, although such behavior was unusual.  The animal was a large black charger that was well over fourteen hands tall.  It suited Darcy’s own unusual height.  Eloise wasn’t particularly short but neither was she particularly tall, and she knew that her chin barely reached Darcy’s shoulder—and the horse surely overwhelmed her.

“We shall have to get you a mare at Pemberley,” Darcy murmured as Eloise reached up and petted the horse’s neck.  “Well bred with perhaps a bit of spirit to match her mistress.”

Eloise turned to see Darcy’s face had softened as he regarded her.  “We could ride out together,” she suggested.  “You could show me the estate.”

“There’s a particularly lovely spot for picnics,” he agreed as he reached up to ostensibly pet the horse but instead placed his hand over hers.  Eloise turned her blue eyes to his green eyes.  “It’s in a secluded glade in the woods.  I used to play there when I was a boy.—It would be idyllic for such a purpose.”

Smiling to herself, Eloise murmured, “I look forward to it.”

With another lingering look, Darcy squeezed her hand, and she withdrew so he could mount the animal.  She watched as he rode away, waving goodbye before clasping her hands behind her back.  Looking across the square, Eloise saw that the Featheringtons had returned and, glancing back at her lilac-covered home, she skipped over to her friend’s house.

Mama wouldn’t mind her telling Penelope.

“You must promise to tell no one,” she whispered as she sat at a removed table in the Featherington drawing room with Penelope.  Eloise bit her lip and took a sideways look at Lady Featherington and Prudence, who was fanning her bosom.

Penelope looked interested.  “Is it Viscount Bridgerton and Miss Edwina?”

Eloise shook her head.  “Nothing like that.”  She shifted impatiently and leaned forward.  “Mr. Darcy proposed.”

Penelope breathed in, her face shocked.  “You’ve known him less than a month!”

“What’s that, my love?” Lady Featherington asked from the sofa.

Eloise glared at Penelope, who quickly squeaked, “Nothing, Mama!”  She turned back to Eloise.  “Did you say ‘yes’?”

“Of course I said, ‘yes,’” Eloise protested.  She glanced quickly over her shoulder before returning her attention to Penelope.  “I find myself very much contented.”

“Contented?” Penelope countered.  “I could not imagine you agreeing to be merely ‘contented.’”

Eloise, however, did not answer the question.  Instead, she told her friend: “We’re having the bans read down in Hampshire and are marrying at Aubrey Hall in a month’s time.—I don’t want a society wedding.”

“No,” Penelope agreed, only half-minding Eloise, “I don’t suppose you would.”  Then she tried to smile.  “I hope you will be very happy.”

Rolling her eyes, Eloise suggested—“You will come to Derbyshire as my guest, of course.  Darcy dislikes London.  Perhaps you would like to get away for a month or so.”

“Mr. Darcy does not strike me as the type of man to suffer young ladies as guests.  He is the most solemn gentleman I have ever been acquainted with.”

Penelope did have a point.  He was solemn, but it was his discomfort with society at large that made him come off as disagreeable to others.

“His cousin, a Colonel Fitzwilliam, is coming to dinner tonight,” Eloise told her.  “It shall be interesting to have a military man at table.”  She paused, “It is true Mr. Darcy does not like to converse with others and does not care to dance, but he is truly amiable when you take the trouble to know him.”

“I’m not even certain how you were introduced,” Penelope confessed.  “He was just suddenly—there—at Lady Danbury’s ball, and he had somehow engaged you for two dances even though neither of you dance!”

Eloise smiled quietly to herself, remembering it.  “It was serendipitous, was it not?”

The afternoon was taken up with tea with Daphne, who was already engaged that evening and could not attend dinner. 

“He is certainly handsome,” Daphne complimented as Eloise and the Dowager Lady Bridgerton got up to leave.  “Striking, though, is perhaps the more accurate word to describe your Mr. Darcy.”

And Mr. Darcy was striking, especially in comparison with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.  The Colonel was nearly as tall, though fell short by several inches, with dark hair that lacked Darcy’s curl, and dull, muddy eyes.  He wore his military coat and Gregory straightened when he first saw him.

“This must be the indominable Miss Bridgerton,” the Colonel greeted, taking Eloise’s hand and bowing over it.  “I never thought I’d see the day when Darcy would be conquered—but I am glad that day is today, having seen you in the flesh.”

If Eloise had been her elder sister, she would have blushed, but instead she just looked at the Colonel, entirely bemused. 

“You are not married yourself, I believe, Colonel,” she checked, offering him a seat across from herself on the sofas in the drawing room. 

Benedict and Anthony had drawn Darcy—reluctant though he seemed—into conversation on the other side of the room, and Mama had left to see to a detail about dinner.  Hyacinth and Gregory were helping themselves to cakes.

“I have not had that blessing in my life,” the Colonel agreed congenially.  “Though—I’m not sure if you’re aware of the connection—my brother is the Viscount of Owestry and the former Miss Georgiana Darcy is my good sister.”  He said this wryly.

“I too suffer from older brothers,” she confessed with a smile, “three, in fact.”

“I see two have captured Darcy.”

“Yes,” she agreed, looking over.  “We must lead a military campaign in approximately ten minutes to rescue him.”

The Colonel looked at her, entirely surprised.  “I see you know Darcy’s preferences well.”

This, in turn, surprised Eloise.  “You do not think I know my own fiancé?”  She openly scoffed at him.  “I would not have agreed to an engagement if that were the case.”

The Colonel openly regarded her.  It was a similar gaze to Darcy’s, just as probing, though not as deep, not as dark, not as admiring.  “I see my cousin has chosen well.  I must confess when Darcy first told me of you, I was skeptical.”

“You did not trust his judgment?”

“No,” Colonel Fitzwilliam answered honestly.

It was her turn to regard him.  “That is a strong pronouncement when I have seen no evidence to support it.”  She took him in openly with a critical eye.

Considering, the Colonel qualified, “I only meant that I did not trust his judgment when it came to his own heart.”

She blinked and considered.  “Did you know Miss Bennet?” she asked carefully.

It was his turn to be shocked.  “I did.  She is a vivacious woman, but certainly not the equal to the Matlocks or the Darcy’s.  I would have prevented that slip of judgment if I had been aware it was in the making.—I’m surprised you know of it.”

“You do not read Lady Whistledown?” Eloise asked.

“She did not mention the lady by name,” Colonel Fitzwilliam countered.

“No,” Eloise began carefully, “but I am intelligent woman who can draw a picture when given limited information.”

The Colonel looked at her again, amusement in his gaze.  “I see that you are dangerous.  I approve,” he paused.  “Miss Bennet was dangerous though for different reasons.”

Eloise asked—“Is she dangerous to me?”

“No,” he told her firmly.  “When she made her character known, she became inconsequential.”

Considering, Eloise thought of Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham, but did not wish to break a confidence.  Instead, she nodded once graciously. 

Colonel Fitzwilliam was still regarding her.  “Darcy and I need to speak to you about Georgiana, but tonight is not the occasion.”

“The Viscountess?” Eloise questioned.  “I understand she was married two or three months ago—to your brother,” she added.

The Colonel nodded, leaning back.  “Owestry was a widower twenty years Georgiana’s senior with a three-year-old daughter who needed a mother.  My brother also needs an heir.  Georgiana needed a husband.  It was beneficial for all involved.”

“I look forward to meeting the Viscount and Viscountess,” Eloise demurred, looking over at Darcy, “as well as the Matlocks and, of course, the De Bourgs.”

At this, Colonel Fitzwilliam openly laughed, drawing the attention of Darcy, Anthony, and Benedict.  The Colonel’s attention, however, was entirely on Eloise.  “Lady Catherine did everything in her power to entice Darcy into a union with our cousin, Anne De Bourg.  She wished for Rosings Park and Pemberley to be united.  Neither Darcy nor Anne were of a mind with her.”  He chuckled to himself.  “A Viscount’s daughter of youth and health is far more preferable.”  His eyes wandered to Gregory and Hyacinth.  “Just how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

Eloise knew what he was asking.  He wanted to know just how potentially fertile she was, by judging her against her mother.  She looked over at him knowingly.  “There are four brothers and four sisters,” she told him.  “I am the fourth child and the second daughter.  My brothers Anthony, the Viscount Bridgerton, and Benedict are speaking with Darcy.  Over there are the youngest, Gregory and Hyacinth.  My brother Colin is traveling in Greece.  My sister, the Duchess of Hastings, had a prior engagement but will most certainly be at the wedding, and Francesca is in Bath.”

Leaning forward, Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, “And may I inquire the Christian name of my future cousin?”

She smirked at him.  “Ask Darcy.”  She fluidly got to her feet, curtseyed to him, and walked over to the three gentlemen, sliding her arm into the crook of Darcy’s elbow.

He looked down at her, verdant gaze solemn and piercing, and she only smiled.  “Your cousin and I are having a debate, and I’m afraid you must break the tie.”  She turned to her brothers.  “I’m afraid I must claim my fiancé.”

Benedict sighed in an overdramatic fashion.  “You are always claiming Darcy,” he complained.  “You’ll be sitting next to him at dinner.”

“How fortunate for me,” she quipped back at her favorite brother. 

Before he could respond, however, the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton came in and announced dinner, and they all filed out to the dining room.  Eloise was indeed sitting next to Darcy, who was placed to Mama at the end of the table, Anthony at the head at the opposite end. 

“Dull as dirt,” Anthony complained when their guests had left after coffee.  “Perfect for you, sister, but dull as dirt.”

Eloise huffed.  “I’m not inviting you to Pemberley for Christmas,” she told him firmly. 

“But you will be inviting me, sister,” Benedict hummed as he came over and tweaked her ear.  “I shall want to get away from Anthony if he manages to become engaged for a second time this season.”

Anthony swatted at him, but to no avail.

The engagement was announced in The Times, the bans were read down in Hampshire, and Lady Whistledown had an opinion on the matter.

My intrepid readers, Whistledown wrote not two days after the engagement was announced, it appears that Mr. Darcy of Pemberley could be conquered after all.  Not one month after he stepped foot in London with the intention of finding a lady to grace the halls of Pemberley, he proposed and was accepted by none other than Miss Eloise Bridgerton.  Although Miss Bridgerton does not gain a title unlike her sister Daphne when she entered the marriage state, she does gain an estate worthy of a Baron and in laws that even Queen Charlotte would not call too shabby!  But will Miss Bridgerton make it down the aisle?  Not a fortnight ago, Viscount Bridgerton proposed marriage—and then broke off his engagement to—Miss Edwina Sharma, this Season’s Diamond.  Is Miss Eloise Bridgerton doomed to follow in her eldest brother’s footsteps or will she actually say ‘I do’?

Eloise huffed and threw down the gossip sheet.  “I am going through with it,” she declared to the room.

“Of course, you are,” her mother agreed.  “I doubt Mr. Darcy would allow you to do anything else at this point.  He is rather determined to make you his bride.”

It was, certainly, the truth.  Within a day of the engagement, Darcy had sent three expresses—one to the Earl and Countess of Matlock, his mother’s brother and his wife; another to his sister and her husband, the Viscount and Viscountess of Owestry; and a third to Lady Catherine De Bourg and her daughter.

There had been a flurry of activity and he had received swift responses.

Already, Aubrey Hall was being aired out and prepared for all of their guests.

Francesca had been contacted in Bath and was coming to London in three weeks’ time, to then travel with the family to Hampshire.

And that very morning Eloise had an appointment at the Modiste.

“Five nightgowns,” Lady Bridgerton told Genevieve Delacroix.  “Yes, and make two of them long-sleeved.  Derbyshire can be quite cold.”

Eloise sighed from her perch on top the pedestal.  She looked at her reflection and was struck by how different she looked from her sister Daphne.  Her sister had more of a fair coloring, not completely that of an English rose, but certainly more golden than Eloise.  Eloise was certainly taller, but she always slouched.  Daphne—Daphne.  Daphne was like a beautiful doll, a perfect miniature.  Eloise in comparison seemed almost plain.

“You will look most beautiful on your wedding day,” Madame Delacroix complimented her, perhaps sensing her unease.  “What would you like for your gown, Mademoiselle?

Eloise breathed out and took in her reflection.  “No lace,” she murmured.  “Something simple.  I don’t want—”  She bit her lip.  “I don’t want a veil.”

Mama, fortunately, had wandered off to look at fabrics.

“No veil?” Madame Delacroix asked, slightly scandalized.  She glanced over her shoulder at the Dowager Viscountess before asking, “What would you like?”

Eloise pondered a moment and then murmured, “a hat?”

Madame Delacroix looked thoughtful.  “I think I know what I can do for you.”

Smiling, Eloise looked again at her reflection and submitted herself to more measurings and conversations of fabrics and styles.

Anthony came home a week later from a morning ride with a smile on his face.  Everyone was at the breakfast table, Eloise submitting to more talk of weddings and fashion, when he came in and announced, “I am engaged to be married.”

Mama stopped speaking about the length of hems and immediately looked at her eldest son.  “To whom?” she asked in bewilderment.  “Surely not to Miss Edwina—”

“No,” he answered, coming around and grabbing a biscuit.  “Not to Miss Edwina.”  He looked uncomfortable for a long moment.  “To her sister.”

Eloise rolled her eyes and slumped back in her chair.  “How could you?” she asked, the obvious question on everyone’s mind.  “You were engaged not three weeks hence to Miss Edwina Sharma, her younger sister.”

Anthony opened his mouth to speak, but Mama interrupted him.  “This is excellent news.”

Eloise looked over at her in astonishment.  Surely it would be a scandal, and Whistledown would surely write about it.  One sister and then the other?  If Edwina was not suitable (and no one had ever explained that to Eloise) than how was Kate?

Everyone was talking at once and Eloise stood up and declared, “I must go out,” not that anyone minded her.

She patted a napkin across her lips and called her maid, making her way directly to the Hastings townhouse.

Daphne, fortunately, was still at breakfast with the Duke.

“I need a chaperone,” she said by way of greeting.

“Hello to you, too, Eloise,” the Duke commented, not looking up from his morning paper.

Eloise ignored him.  “Daphne,” she prodded.

Slathering a piece of toast with what appeared to be raspberry jam, Daphne asked in a horribly reasonable tone, “Why can’t Mama chaperone you?”

Eloise sighed and dropped into a chair a footman placed at the breakfast table for her.  “Mama is busy with Anthony’s announcement that he has proposed marriage to Kate Sharma.”

Daphne looked over at her, shocked.  “Did she accept?”

The sisters shared a look.  Daphne put down her toast and then took a sip of her tea, clearly thinking.  She glanced over at her husband who was regarding the two sisters.  “This is most peculiar, though perhaps not a complete surprise,” Daphne admitted.

“No,” Eloise agreed, “considering their behavior, but it is nonetheless scandalous.”  And when did she start worrying about scandalous behavior?  Eloise who smoked a cigarette at night and read books on women’s rights.  Then the answer came to her: ever since she had something—or someone—to lose.

Lowering her eyes in thought, Daphne agreed, “Yes, it is.”  Then, after another sip of tea, she asked, “It is Darcy, then, you wish to see?”

“I wish for him to hear it from me and not Whistledown,” Eloise confessed before accepting a cup of tea from a servant.  “She always seems to know everything about our family almost within minutes of it happening.”

“It is odd,” the Duke agreed, turning a page.  “I’ll call for the carriage.”  He made a signal and a footman bowed and left the room.

Eloise was instantly relieved and then immediately again concerned.  She knew nothing would change the engagement between herself and Darcy—they were too much in harmony to allow the workings of the outside world to disrupt them—but she did not like this engagement and she knew Darcy would not like it either.

Daphne was soon ready in her pelisse with her pink parasol, and the two sisters rode to Darcy House, which was well appointed.  Eloise had never been inside and couldn’t help but peek into open doorways as they were led to the drawing room, being told that Mr. Darcy would be with them momentarily.

“How lovely,” Daphne commented as she took in the champagne-colored furniture and the piano forte in the center of the room.  “What a pity you don’t play.”

“The Viscountess of Owestry is accomplished,” Eloise muttered as she looked out the window.  “The room undoubtedly is arranged with her in mind.”

Daphne hummed.

They didn’t have long to wait before Darcy arrived, bowing formally to them.  “Duchess, Eloise,” he greeted.  “I am pleased though surprised by your visit.”

Daphne smiled at him kindly.  “I am here merely as chaperone, Mr. Darcy.  Eloise wished to speak to you.—May I play your piano forte?”

Darcy indicated it with his hand.  “The instrument is yours, Duchess.”

Smiling still, Daphne took off her gloves and approached the instrument.  She sat down and began to play Chopin, giving Eloise her opportunity for privacy.

Darcy immediately approached her at the window and took her hand, intertwining their fingers.  “What is wrong, my love?” he asked, startling her.

“I—” she began, her breath catching.  She tilted up her head and looked up into his green eyes and felt instantly at ease.  “I wanted you to hear it from me and not read it in Whistledown tomorrow or the next day.  Anthony—” she sighed.  “He’s engaged to Kate Sharma.”

He blinked, his lips thinning.  “I never took the Viscount for being reckless.”

“No,” she agreed.  “It’s scandalous.  Queen Charlotte countenanced the previous match with Edwina—and now this.  What will people say?”

“They will certainly be unkind,” Darcy agreed.  “After they are married and she establishes herself as Viscountess, it will be forgotten.”  He hesitated.  She looked up at him imploringly.  The sunlight through the window caught in his dark brown curls.  “This will ruin Miss Edwina Sharma for certain.”

The fell silent and the soft sound of music filled the room.

Darcy’s hand was warm in hers and she leaned slightly closer to him, hidden as she was behind him in the window.

“We go to Aubrey Hall this Friday,” Eloise murmured, caught as she was in the moment.

“And I shall be not long behind you,” Darcy agreed, reaching up and placing a stray slip of hair behind her ear.  “Then we shall be gone to Derbyshire for the rest of the Season.”

“Unless,” Eloise grimaced, “Anthony gets a special license and requires my presence at his wedding.”

Darcy nodded.  “He may be in haste to show his sincerity.—If he has compromised Miss Sharma—”

Eloise shivered at the idea.  “My brother is a gentleman.”

“Of course,” Darcy amended quickly.  “They are merely unrestrained together in public.”

That was certainly true.  They were often arguing and teasing and laughing and throwing each other into the mud.  It was a wonder that a passionate embrace had not occurred before this, given what Eloise had witnessed at Aubrey Hall earlier that season.

Eloise bit her lip and breathed out through her nose.  “I wish it were not thus,” she confessed.  “I wish—” she hesitated.  Darcy gazed down at her with his intense green eyes and she slumped her shoulders as she leaned against the window frame.  “I wish we could go down to Aubrey Hall today and be married on the morrow—and,” she rolled her eyes, “forget about all the other Bridgertons.”

“We will be married soon,” Darcy promised her.  “I still need to tell you about Georgiana.”  His eyes flitted to Daphne at the piano forte and then back to Eloise.

“On the morrow,” Eloise suggested.  “I will tell Mama I wish to promenade with you and discuss last minute plans for our trip to Derbyshire.  She will not deny me.”

“My Eloise,” Darcy murmured as be picked up their joint hands and kissed the back of hers.  “I long for the day when I may call you Mrs. Darcy.”

Eloise gave him a lopsided smile.  “Eloise Calanthe Darcy.  It sounds well.”  She looked up into his eyes and lost herself in his verdant gaze until Daphne’s playing ended and her sister elegantly cleared her throat.

The couple turned to her.  Daphne gave them a kind smile.  “Mama will be missing you, Eloise.  I trust all is well?”

“All is well,” Eloise assured her, reluctant to leave Darcy.

Daphne patiently waited until Darcy kissed her hand once again, and Eloise was forced to return to her sister’s side and leave out the door and into the hall.  When the two sisters were back in the carriage, Daphne looked at her knowingly. 

“Mr. Darcy may be silent, but he is certainly passionate.”

Eloise glared at her.  “I did not make comments on the Duke’s character when you were engaged.”

“No,” Daphne agreed apologetically.  “You did not.—I did not mean to judge.  I merely meant that perhaps you are well-suited, more so than I originally thought.”

Not responding, Eloise looked out the window.

When they returned together to Bridgerton House, Daphne wishing to give Anthony her congratulations, they found that there was a plan afoot for the Bridgerton ladies to visit Kate Sharma to show their support for the impending wedding—that would take place five days hence by special license.  It was thought if their carriage was seen in front of Lady Danbury’s townhouse, then the Bridgertons’ support would be inferred.  Eloise did not like the plan.

“I have wedding preparations,” she argued when Mama announced it was time to go.

Mama would have none of it.  “You have no preparations, darling.  You have finished them all despite your avoidance of them.”  She looked up, clearly amused.  “How was Mr. Darcy this morning?”

“He was well,” Eloise sighed, looking to her sister Daphne for assistance. 

Tea with Kate Sharma, in a word, was awkward.  She was all loveliness, but she was cutting when anyone made suggestions regarding the wedding, including her hostess, Lady Danbury, and she seemed to dislike drinking tea itself.

She spent half the visit whispering with her mother instead of playing the hostess.

Miss Edwina Sharma was nowhere to be seen.  Lady Mary said she had a headache and was therefore indisposed.

That night was a concert, and Darcy came early to sit beside Eloise and held her hand throughout the entire performance.

The next morning, however, Darcy was late to promenade.

Eloise found herself once again standing at the drawing room window, looking out and waiting for him.  “He will come,” Mama promised from her seat where she was at her needlepoint.  “Perhaps a detail of his relatives’ arrival has kept him longer than he expected.”

“It is not like Darcy to be late,” Eloise murmured worriedly, her hand pulling back the curtain so she could better look at the street below.

“Come away, my darling,” Mama murmured.

Eloise bit her lip.  “It is only—”  Then she paused and squinted.  At the end of the street, she saw Darcy’s tall form atop his charger, black hat atop his head, but he wasn’t wearing his usual blue or deep green coat.  Instead, he was dressed in black breeches and a black coat.  Squinting, she pressed herself closer to the glass.

Mama looked up when she was silent for several long moments.  “What is it, Eloise?”

“Darcy—” Eloise began, and then paused.  “I think he’s in mourning.”

She rushed from the window and out the door, despite her mother’s protestations for her to be still, and hurried down the stairs and out the front door.  When Darcy approached, she saw that he was indeed dressed all in black with a mourning band around his right arm.  She took hold of his horse’s reins, and looked up in alarm.  “What has happened?”

Darcy looked down at her with a solemn face—but it held no hint of sadness in it.

He swung off his horse and took the reins from Eloise before reaching up and touching her cheek with his free hand.  “It is my great uncle, the late Lord Ashmoure.  He succumbed to a chill yesterday and died.”

Eloise stared at him, her mind blank.  Darcy’s eyes were piercing, the green of them searching her gaze as he told her the reality he had promised her before they are engaged.  “Are you—?” she asked, unable to voice her question.

“I am the Marquis of Ashmoure,” he confirmed.  “A week hence you shall be Lady Ashmoure.”

Searching her mind, Eloise found she felt numb.  She knew this would happen.  She knew she would be a Marchioness, but it had seemed so distant, a sweet promise for the future and never for today.

“Speak to me, Eloise,” Darcy murmured as he leaned closer.

Not realizing she had been silent, Eloise startled.  “May I still call you ‘Darcy,’ or must I now call you ‘Ashmoure’?”

His face softened and he smiled.  “Darcy is well,” he promised.

The Bridgerton household was startled by the news, as no one but Eloise was aware of Darcy’s expectations, but everyone took it in stride, Benedict going so far as shaking Darcy’s hand vigorously before remembering himself and offering his condolences on his great uncle’s death.

Promenade was delayed but half an hour.  The couple, especially given Darcy’s recent bereavement and accession to rank and title, were given a wide berth.

Eloise’s small hand was tucked into Darcy’s arm as they followed several paces behind Mama.  Anthony had gone in search of the Sharmas, who were also set to promenade that morning with Lady Danbury.  Eloise idly wondered if Edwina Sharma was still indisposed with a headache.

“You will remember Wickham,” Darcy opened, startling Eloise.  She looked up at him to see him gazing back at her, and she nodded.  “Wickham, after he gambled away his living, sought to marry a fortune.  As I told you, no woman of good breeding would have him.”  He looked ahead and nodded to Lord and Lady Wentworth who looked curiously at his mourning wear.  “When my sister was sixteen years old, I placed her in the care of a Mrs. Young, in whose character I was most deceived.  They went to Bath for Georgiana’s education, and whither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design.  He managed to reacquaint himself with Georgiana and form a romance.  He convinced my sister that she was in love with him and convinced her—” he paused and Eloise looked up at him.  “He convinced her,” Darcy continued, “to elope with him.”

“But it did not happen,” Eloise murmured.

“No,” Darcy confirmed.  “Two or three days before the intended elopement, I went to Bath to surprise Georgiana.  Thinking of me more as a father than as a brother, she confessed the whole plan to me.  I removed Georgiana back to Derbyshire, and when I made it clear to Wickham that he would not get a penny of her thirty thousand pounds if he attempted to pursue her—he left without a word.”

Eloise nodded.

“That was two years ago.  He then entered the Militia, became engaged to a Miss King, as I told you, and after that engagement failed, he eloped with a Miss Lydia Bennet though she had barely a penny to her name.  I facilitated that marriage last month to save the Bennet family reputation because I felt an obligation.  It was I who had not made Wickham’s character known in Hertfordshire due to my pride and it was my need to uphold Georgiana’s reputation that kept me silent.”

“How did Lady Owestry come to be married?”

Darcy reached over and placed his hand over Eloise’s.  “Georgiana never forgave me for Wickham.  She never forgot him and professed herself in love with him even up to the moment that I walked her down the aisle.  I became afraid that with her independent means that she would go to him.  She had attempted it last Easter when I was in Kent, in fact—and I would not let such a rake and dissolute man ruin my sister.  I arranged the marriage with my cousin, Lord Owestry, because Georgiana needed a husband who would keep her safe from Wickham, and Owestry needed a mother to his daughter and a woman to bear his heirs.—My hope is that Georgiana’s respect for Owestry and her natural love for little Sophie would turn into contentment.”

“Do you know if she’s found such contentment?” Eloise murmured.

“I do not,” Darcy confessed.  “The last time I saw her was her wedding, and she has not answered any of my letters since.  Our nuptials could prove—”  He seemed lost for words, which was unlike him.

“Does she know Wickham has married?” Eloise asked.

“I sent her a clipping from The Times.  I received no response.”  He looked down at her.  “Now you know all our sordid history with Wickham.—I hope never to see or hear of the man again.”

She nodded.  “We need never speak of him again,” she promised.  “Shall I change the subject?  Mama wants me to wear my lavender to Anthony’s wedding, but I thought the blue, not that I have that strong of an opinion on gowns.”

“Undoubtedly the blue,” Darcy teased her.  “I shall be glad to escort you if I am privileged enough to receive an invitation.”

Eloise smiled coyly up at him.  “I will make certain of it,” she promised.

The late Lord Ashmoure’s death was announced the next day’s Times, along with Darcy’s accession to the title.  “A duke and a marquis,” Mama commented over breakfast in amazement.  “We must be doing something right.”

Lady Whistledown of course was not silent.

Dearest Readers, who is the luckiest young lady of the season, the erstwhile Miss Kate Sharma who stole her sister’s fiancé, the Viscount Bridgerton, or the Viscount’s sister who thought she was marrying a simple country gentleman, but instead has landed a Marquis?

Eloise, for the first time, threw the gossip sheet away from her, unable to read anymore. 

The Bridgerton departure to Aubrey Hall was delayed two days due to Anthony’s wedding to Kate Sharma by special license.  Eloise sat in the second row with Darcy by her side, watching impassively as her eldest brother took his vows.  No one but family (and Lady Danbury) was present.—Edwina Sharma was still indisposed.

“They look happy,” Daphne commented over champagne at the small reception.

Eloise was staring into her glass, wondering if the bubbles had the answer to all of life’s little questions.  “They’re disgustingly happy,” she agreed.

Indeed, the bride and groom couldn’t stop smiling at each other and they had even snuck away for fifteen minutes half an hour earlier and come back flushed.  Lady Mary, the bride’s mother, looked like she couldn’t decide if she should be pleased or dismayed over the day’s events. 

“You will be just as happy on your wedding day,” Daphne promised, reaching out for Eloise.  “Lord Ashmoure cannot keep his eyes off of you.”

Eloise let her eyes roam the room until she found Darcy, standing alone by a window.  Instead of looking out of it as was his wont, he was staring straight at her, his gaze dark and intense.  Used to the attention, Eloise did not blush, but gave him a small smile before turning back to her sister, “What of it?”

“He’s besotted,” Daphne told her.

“What if he is?  We’re to be married.”  Eloise shrugged.  She knew Darcy cared for her—it was obvious in the way he stared at her and the way he included her in his family’s personal matters.  However, she did not wish to discuss it with Daphne.  It was personal.  It was private.  It had nothing to do with anyone other than her and Darcy.

Daphne just gave her a knowing look.  “I am just happy, sister, that you have found a love-match, as I have.”

Eloise rolled her eyes and looked back down into her champagne.  This whole farce of a marriage was giving her stomach cramps—Eloise was only happy that she and her mama were going down to Aubrey Hall on the morrow.  The happy couple would remain in London, alone in Bridgerton House, for a few days before joining them for Eloise and Darcy’s wedding.

That night was the Featherington Ball.  The new Viscount and Viscountess Bridgerton would not be in attendance, but Eloise was obliged to attend.  In truth, she was glad to see Penelope one last time before she would quit for Derbyshire as the Marchioness of Ashmoure.

“Dance, Eloise,” her mother begged as Eloise stood by the side of the dance floor, Darcy having gone to fetch some lemonade.  “There shall not be occasion at your wedding.”

“I do not care to dance,” Eloise argued back.  “Darcy does not care to make a spectacle of himself either.”

“You are to be married,” Mama tried, “surely you should dance once before your wedding.”

Eloise sighed dramatically and stomped off in search of Penelope, who was also by the side of the dancefloor, though on the other side of the hall.  “Did you not know?” Penelope asked, undoubtedly trying to distract her, “that the child looks just like its his…?”

Her words faded out and Eloise realized with horror that not only was Penelope gossiping with her, but Penelope sounded assured and rehearsed, as if what she was saying had already been written down.  Eloise caught Darcy’s eyes from across the room and tilted her head toward the door, before making some excuse to her friend.

“I need you to stand watch,” she told Darcy as she climbed the stairs, the servants too busy with the ball.

“What are you doing?” Darcy asked, clearly perplexed.  “This is the Featherington’s private residence.”

Penelope—” Eloise stressed before closing her eyes in pain.  “She gave herself away.”

“Gave herself away how?” Darcy inquired, coming up the first few steps of the stairs.

“She’s Lady Whistledown.”

Darcy’s lips thinned in anger.

Just that morning, Lady Whistledown had printed a congratulations to the new Lord and Lady Bridgerton before wondering if Lieutenant Wickham and his bride would be present at the second Bridgerton wedding that week given, after all, his close family resemblance to Lord Ashmoure and his sister and the fact that the wedding was strictly family only and Mr. Wickham may be family after all.

“I need proof,” Eloise continued, “while she’s distracted with the ball.”

Darcy nodded solemnly and indicated that she should continue up the stairs.  She left Darcy at the top of them as look out before peeking into the individual rooms.  It wasn’t hard to find Penelope’s.  She recognized the quills Penelope had just purchased the week before.  The quills.  Penelope was always running through her quills.

Eloise bit her lip angrily and quickly started opening up dressers and drawers.  When she found nothing, she searched the chest at the end of the bed, before searching under the bed and then under the mattress.  After fifteen minutes, of moving carpets and tapping on floorboards, she found a false bottom.  In a secret compartment Eloise found a cash of hundreds of coins and the original drafts of Whistledown’s columns—in Penelope’s hand.

There was the sound of a foot in the hall, and Eloise looked up, articles in hand.  Darcy’s face appeared in his door, and he warned, “Miss Penelope is on her way.”

“Hide yourself,” Eloise ordered, running up to himself and stuffing the evidence in his hand, before returning to the center of the room. 

He looked at her impenetrably before leaving her standing there in the bedchamber, ready to face the woman she thought was her closest friend.

“El,” Penelope asked, looking around the destruction of the room, “what have you done?”

“I should have known.  You always know everything that happens with our family before anyone else, but how could you be so vile as to publish those rumors about Darcy?”

“I don’t,” Penelope began, licking her lips, “know what you’re talking—”

“Save it,” Eloise interrupted, “I’ve found your notes, the drafts of your columns.”  She laughed.  “Are you that jealous?”

Penelope turned an unflattering shade of red. 

“You’re jealous?” Eloise demanded.  “That’s why you—He’s to be my husband and all you ever do is drag him through the mud—and all because I want him?”

“You’re going to leave me to my third season,” Penelope tried to explain, but Eloise wouldn’t hear it.  “I had to stop it—you just wouldn’t listen.”

“You’re incredible,” Eloise seethed, reminding herself not to cry.  “I trusted you.  I was going to invite you to Pemberley for Christmas.  Introduce you to Darcy’s friends—”  Shaking her head, she crossed her hands over herself.  “That’s all done now.”

She looked away, over at the desk that had all its drawers torn out.  Silence fell between the two friends until Eloise felt its oppressive weight on her shoulders, and just had to leave.

Penelope tried to stop her, but she stormed out, down the stairs, and back into the ballroom, only taking a moment to compose herself.  Darcy was just inside the door, regarding the dancing, but he turned to her as she entered.

“She didn’t deny it,” she murmured as he took her gloved hand in his. “Where’s Benedict?  I want to go home.”

Darcy nodded.  “I will fetch him for you.”  He paused, “Would you like me to go to Queen Charlotte in the morning?  You said she is most devoted in her pursuit of Whistledown.”

Eloise turned her blue eyes to him.  “Do you think that’s best?  You are the one who is injured.”

“Leave it to me,” he promised, leaning down to kiss her hand, which was all they were allowed in public.

Darcy quickly fetched Benedict, and Eloise claimed a headache.

On the way home in the carriage, she wondered if she had done right—but then the memory of Penelope’s jealous eyes and her hatred as she spoke of Darcy returned to her, and she only cried.

To Be Continued…

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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