Title: The Meddling of the Volturi
Date: November 2017
Fandoms: Pride and Prejudice (1810) / New Moon (2005)
Pairings: Fitzwilliam Darcy/Bella Swan, past Darcy/Elizabeth, Georgiana/Richard, Jane/Bingley
Summary: Elizabeth had proved herself—unworthy—so Darcy cried out the night before his wedding, and the Volturi gave him Isabella Swan.
Warnings: time travel, unrequited love, forced marriage, fluff.
The arm around her was strangely—warm. It was also under the sheets. Bella pressed her face into the pillow and felt herself being pulled into a chest that was emanating warmth. Her eyes fluttered slightly, her alarm hadn’t gone off, and she murmured, “I think I’m dreaming.”
Breath puffed against her ear. “I think you are, as well,” a deep voice agreed. It wasn’t musical. That was strange. “Go back to sleep.”
She drifted off. When she woke up again, her fingers were entwined with large ones over her bare stomach. Her shirt must have ridden up. Bella could feel the heat of this man’s hand against her stomach, so wonderful, so human. She shouldn’t be thinking such thoughts. Edward loved her. She had saved him from Volterra. He had told her he had lied when he said he didn’t love her—it was going to be as it always had been, but—
Her eyes opened. It no longer felt like there was an aching hole in her heart that made her want to scream. Instead it felt like someone had taken a scalpel and tried to perform surgery on her heart, having no medical training, and having only a manual of instructions. Then they had gone and sewn it up again. Bella didn’t even know if she could heal, but she must try. For Edward. No, for herself. She was more important.
There were curtains around a bright window. Squinting her eyes, Bella tried to recognize the room she was in. She pushed the covers off of her and felt the person behind her shift. Their hands still entwined, she carefully made to get off the bed, but then there was a pull against her hand and she fell against a naked chest.
“Oomph.” She was momentarily knocked out of air. Bella felt a nose in her hair and someone taking in a deep breath.
“I didn’t know a woman could smell so delightful,” the deep voice admitted.
No, it definitely wasn’t a woman.
“It’s Garnier Fructis,” she told him as he pulled her closer, both arms pulling her toward his chest. “Um, who are you?”
“Elizabeth?” the man asked, turning her around to look at her. He had straight brown hair that was slightly messy from sleep, a longer face, pale skin, brown eyes, a larger but perfectly shaped nose, and perfectly kissable lips …
Bella shook herself. “You’re not Edward,” she stated in relief. “He’s my Ex, sort of. Is Elizabeth your girlfriend?”
“She’s my bride,” he uttered in shock.
She gaped at him. “You misplaced your bride in this—” she looked around “—strangely bright room? I assure you I’ve been here since before the sun rose when someone distinctly told me that I was dreaming and that I should sleep.”
The man looked at her and ran a hand through her hair. “You thought I was someone else,” he checked.
Feeling like this question was a test, she decided to murmur, “No. I thought I was dreaming. You told me I was dreaming and I believed you,” she informed him, turning from him and falling onto her pillow with a sigh.
He seemed to consider. “You are a maid.”
Bella laughed. “You make it sound like we’re in Bronte novel. Dad would shoot anyone who comes near me, he’s already threatened to.” She thought of Edward and the prom. “What does it matter? Don’t you need to find Elizabeth?” She turned to him and looked at him with big brown eyes. “Surely she’s what’s important.”
Their hands were still connected, warm and personable. She felt a strange humming between them; somehow she knew that he was safe, that she could trust him, that he would never lie.
“I cannot marry Elizabeth,” he stated as he rubbed his face. “I’ve compromised you.”
She blinked and sat up. “No, you haven’t. I’m perfectly fine. I’ll just leave and we won’t tell Charlie,” at his look, she clarified, “Dad.—When we see each other we will smile like old friends.”
“You don’t understand. I found you in my bed and I continued to sleep with you in my arms. My honor is engaged. What is your name?”
She bit her lip. “Look, Edward and I just broke up—six months ago—really—but that’s still recent—isn’t it?”
“I will give you time to mourn your bruised heart,” he promised. “There is time enough to get to know one another. Your name, my lady?”
Looking at him carefully, she admitted, “Isabella Marie Swan. Bella.”
He ran a hand down her face. “Bella. Do not share that name with anyone but perhaps my sister. It is for family.” The man’s voice was strangely intense and she looked down momentarily from his bruising gaze that somehow seemed to see into her soul that Edward, with all his thought reading habits, never could.
There was a knock on the door and before they could do anything, a man in livery entered with a basin of water. Bella stared at him and then at the man beside her in the bed.
At the shock on her face, he squeezed her hand over the covers. Somehow they hadn’t dropped the connection. “Stevens,” he requested. “Please go to Miss Darcy’s maid and get all of the garments for a young lady including undergarments.—I trust, Miss Swan, you do not have a trunk.”
Bella looked at him, mind running. Compromised. Livery. Trunk. There was a nightshirt of all things on the floor. “I don’t think so,” she concluded.
Stevens looked over at them and startled.
The man ignored the response. “Then ask the maid, when she is finished, to come here to prepare Miss Swan for the day. I must write several notes, which must be dispatched before I get dressed.”
“Of course, Mr. Darcy,” Stevens answered, bowing to the man, and Bella looked at the man who appeared to be Mr. Darcy.
“Darcy,” she repeated, “and Elizabeth. She’s your bride. What’s going on?”
He took her hand. “I’m one of the two grooms of today’s wedding. I was to marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourne.”
She stared at him. “You’re Mr. Darcy of Pemberley.” How could she have found herself in one of her favorite novels? “I think I’m dreaming. The Volturi were fantastical enough—this is too much.” Flipping onto her side away from him, she rested on the pillow and closed her eyes. He leaned over her slightly, his breath against her hair. Her left hand was still entwined with his and she had pulled him down with her.
He sighed, but she didn’t pay attention as he finally got up and seemed to start writing several notes. For a moment she felt her heart twinge at the thought that he was gone from her, that she was alone in this bed, staring out the bright window, but then she shook herself. Bella was used to being alone. She had spent six months without Edward, waking up every night screaming as if her heart had been torn out. She could spend a few minutes without Fitzwilliam Darcy.
When there was another knock at the door, she finally got up and didn’t pay attention when Darcy’s eyes trailed over her bare arms in her tank top. She accepted the clothing from Stevens and went behind a privacy screen and attempted to dress herself. After several minutes of struggling with the corset, she felt a presence behind her and turned her head to see Darcy. He had taken up the lacings and was carefully doing them up.
Giving into his careful ministrations, she sighed when he had completed his task and he helped her into a dark green dress, which was a little long.
“Thank you,” she murmured when she was dressed, turning toward him. “I know you don’t have to be kind. I know you probably care for Elizabeth Bennet.” That was an understatement. They were the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet.
“I actively compromised you, Miss Swan,” he reminded her. “I will show you every courtesy I can.” Their brown eyes looked at each other and she waited for him to ask her how she got there into his bed, but he never asked. Instead, he took her hand for the briefest of moments and intertwined their fingers and she held tight as if he were the only thing holding her to this reality. Strangely, it was probably the truth.
“Thank you,” she said again, holding his hand and squeezing it. “I doubt I’ll be the ideal fiancée or bride, but—however long this lasts—” because surely she would wake up “—I’ll do my best.”
He gave her a small smile. “I do not believe there is a rule.”
No, perhaps there wasn’t.
Elizabeth Bennet woke with nervous anticipation. She did not go on her usual morning walk, but instead regarded herself in the looking glass, wondering if she would make a pretty bride.
It was not until she was coming downstairs for a light breakfast, that the rider came up with an urgent post and put it directly into Mr. Bennet’s hand. He read it, his brow furrowing, and then he asked Lizzie to come to his office.
“A previous engagement?” she asked, sitting down with the note. “What previous engagement? Could it be Anne?”
“Anne?” Mr. Bennet asked.
She sighed. “You remember Mr. Collins and his belief that Mr. Darcy was to marry his cousin, Miss Anne DeBourg. Lady Catherine was of the same opinion.”
“I cannot imagine he would allow it to get so far only to turn back to a childhood engagement,” Mr. Bennet whispered, handing his second eldest a handkerchief.
Elizabeth was doing her best not to cry, but she was finding it difficult. Her wedding dress was hanging in her room. It had a little too much lace because of her mother, but it was hers, to be worn as she wed her dearest Darcy, whom she loved despite herself. Now he found he had a previous engagement. It had all fallen apart. If only they had been married a day sooner, this impediment may not have been known…
How was she going to tell Jane? How was she going to tell Mama?
Mr. Bennet put his hand on her shoulder. “Wait here. I’ll break the news to the other ladies.”
Elizabeth looked out of the window. She forced a smile on her face. She must still be happy for Jane because today was the happiest day of her life. If she saw Darcy there, she would not speak to him. She would not ask for answers. Elizabeth would be as indifferent to him as he was to her.
If only she had accepted him at Hunsford. Why had she been blinded by prejudice?
“Breakfast will have begun,” Darcy told her quietly as Bella looked at herself in the mirror.
Bella’s hair was done simply but wisps of her hair fell at the side of her face. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I’ve just never looked like this before.” She stood and he placed a shawl loosely around her arms. He was quite a bit taller than she was, and he opened the door of the bedroom for her and she walked out into a hallway. He offered her his arm, and she took it.
Forcing her eyes to look directly ahead, she lifted her dress so she wouldn’t trip when she went down the stairs, and stilled when she heard chatter behind a door that was about to be opened by two footmen.
“I think this is a bad idea,” she decided suddenly. “I’ve ruined your wedding day.”
“You’re the future Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he informed her. “These are my closest friends. They will afford you every courtesy.”
She bit her lip. Her mind kept flitting to Rosalie, but she kept quiet.
“Darcy!” a red haired man called as soon as they answered. “What is that note you sent me all about? You’ve canceled your own wedding? I expect you to be there today and stand up with me as my best man whatever madness this is.”
A woman with the same red hair was sitting at the table and sipping a cup of tea. “He has merely seen sense, Charles. The Bennet girls are not good enough for those who travel in our circles.”
“I will not hear a word against my Jane,” Charles demanded. “I am to be married in an hour, Caroline.—But what is this, man? Why change your mind now?”
“Yes,” a young girl with blonde hair asked, her eyes strangely sparkling with something other than tears. “Why?”
Not answering the question, Darcy instead stepped away from Bella and asked, “Have I introduced Miss Swan? I was hoping you could extend her hospitality until we can be quietly married either here or in London.”
Caroline’s serene face paused. “Surely the bride has a preference.”
“I don’t,” Bella answered. She had never wanted to get married with her parents getting divorced, but now she had been compromised in early nineteenth century England, so she really didn’t have a choice. “I don’t want to cause a fuss. I dislike parties.”
“The future Mistress of Pemberley dislikes parties?” Caroline laughed. “Darcy, wherever did you find this replacement?”
Without thinking, Bella answered, “Italy.” She had been there less just the day before. Walking into the room, she noticed the trays of the food and the pile of plates and chose an egg and some tea.
Darcy pulled out a chair for her next to the young girl and she smiled at him. “I don’t think I should go to the wedding,” he stated with some finality.
“Nonsense!” Bingley stated. “You must come to support me. Surely you have already informed Miss Elizabeth. It will be awkward, but that cannot be helped.” Bingley looked over at Bella. “I hate to speak ill of the Bennets, but Miss Swan is certainly prettier than Miss Elizabeth.”
Bella nearly choked on her tea. The girl next to her looked at her sympathetically.
“I shall stay with Miss Swan,” she decided. “She is to be my sister.”
“Then I have you to thank for this dress,” Bella stated. Realizing she had to elaborate, she added, “My trunk has yet to arrive.”
Darcy came over to her. “Are you certain you are well, Isabella?” he asked.
“Yes. You might find that I have disappeared while you are gone,” she teased. Taking a long sip of her tea, she let it sink into her soul.
When everyone but the girl was gone, she could hear Bingley demand, “Come man! What are you thinking? Taking a new bride the day you are to wed another? This is peculiar even for you!”
Bella whole heartedly agreed.
Darcy refused to answer any questions about Bella on the ride over to the church. “Who is she?” Bingley demanded. “She says you met her in Italy? You haven’t been in Italy given Bonaparte.”
“There will be a scandal,” Caroline pointed out unhelpfully, “even if Miss Bennet was from a little known estate. What are Miss Swan’s prospects?”
“This is not a day for prospects, Caroline,” he answered coolly. “Bingley is marrying Miss Jane Bennet. It is a truly joyous occasion.”
The coach arrived and Bingley stepped out, handing out Caroline in her resplendent pink silks. Darcy was wearing a dull green coat so he couldn’t be mistaken for a groom, his hat similarly black instead of gray, and his trousers a tan that were perfectly acceptable for the office of groomsman. He felt like a complete idiot.
Of course he saw Mrs. Bennet in the front pew and he bowed to her, only to get icy glares in return. The Bennet sisters were all lined up, all except for Jane and Elizabeth.
This would be a horrible day, watching Elizabeth walk down the aisle as her sister’s bridesmaid and not toward him as his wife.
Then, unbidden, came the vision of another young women, with darker hair and eyes, a shy smile on her face, who appeared before him like an apparition. He felt an overwhelming need to protect her. Elizabeth would cry and hate him and get over him. Isabella seemed almost lost in the customs and niceties of the times although she clearly was a woman of class and distinction. It was almost as if she didn’t belong there, but he would be sure there was a place for her—a place by his side.
Darcy remembered calling out into the night for the woman who would love him, and his prayers had been answered not in the form of his bride that he had so yearned for, but in a girl so much younger, whom he had clung to before the sun had risen on the day that was to be his wedding day. He was going to marry Isabella Swan within the fortnight and he was determined that he was going to be happy.
“Miss Swan?” Miss Darcy asked. Bella had found a novel she had never read and had her feet propped up on a sofa, her head lying back up against the cushions. “How comfortable you look.”
“The cushions are highly uncomfortable,” she told her. “I wish they were softer.” She turned the page.
“I so wish to see Mr. Bingley married.—I do not wish to see Elizabeth, but still it cannot be helped.” There was an oddness to the statement. There was something more than Elizabeth being meant to be her brother’s wife, but Bella couldn’t place her finger on it.
Bella looked at her. “Please, feel free to go. I’m quite happy to read.”
“I promised my brother before he left that I would see to your every comfort.”
Closing the book, Bella sighed. “I can’t go to the wedding. Wasn’t your brother supposed to marry someone named Elizabeth?”
Miss Darcy sat down in a chair near her. “Yes. It is quite disappointing that I will not be gaining a sister today, and I did like Miss Elizabeth—but Fitzwilliam has chosen you in her place.” Bella looked at her, and Miss Darcy pulled her gaze away. What was she hiding?
“He did not choose me,” Bella argued, looking away. “I was compromised. It was an accident and I told him to just let me leave and we could be friends, but he insisted on marriage.” She sighed. “I think your brother is too honorable. He didn’t even question what I was doing in the house. Where are we exactly? Is this Netherfield Hall?” she guessed.
Miss Darcy looked at her with large blue eyes. “Indeed.”
“Indeed,” she sighed. “Then we are in Hertfordshire.” A long way from Italy or Forks. The last thing Bella remembered was falling asleep on the plane from Italy, Edward sitting beside her. This was seriously screwed up. The Volturi must have done something to her. It was the only explanation.
“I do not believe that my brother is capable of compromising anyone,” Miss Darcy stated hesitantly. “Surely you must be mistaken.”
Bella was not mistaken, but she did not answer.
“Who is your father?” Miss Darcy looked at her curiously. “And, come, I wish to go to the wedding.”
“You’re bold,” Bella stated curiously as she got up and put down her book. She hadn’t been expecting that. Miss Darcy was supposed to be a shy creature. However, Bella followed Miss Darcy out of the room and was given a pelisse. “Am I even dressed for a wedding?”
“Perhaps not, but we will be in the back, so as not to be discovered.”
The carriage ride was bumpy and made Bella feel a bit ill, and the church was swarming with guests. It was not difficult to find a seat at the back as everyone was vying for a place near the front and—well—Jane Bennet was a beautiful woman with straw blonde hair and a round face. Elizabeth Bennet was not what she was expecting. She was all angles with sharp cheekbones and pale brown hair with unfortunate bangs. She was wearing a pretty blue dress that looked horrible on her, for some reason, carrying a small bunch of yellow and pink flowers.
Darcy was watching the bride walk down the aisle and Bella couldn’t tell if his eyes moved to the woman he should have been marrying. A sense of shame washed over her. Bella had darker hair, thicker lips, and definitely wasn’t as bone thin. Or as tall. What must she look like to Darcy?
She missed the entire ceremony because before she knew it, the bride and groom were leaving, smiles on their faces, and was there rice in her hands? She threw it as everyone else was doing and was wondering why she was wearing a white pelisse at a wedding. Bella hadn’t thought about it before. White was for brides, or at least it was back in her time.
“The wedding breakfast,” Miss Darcy whispered happily in her ear when the new Mr. and Mrs. Bingley sat in their carriage, its top down, with people swarming around it.
“Oh no,” she stated. “Surely that will be—” Bella didn’t have the words for it.
Of course, she was overridden and found herself at a house she assumed was Longbourne. It was beautifully decorated and she saw two wedding cakes in the corner and her stomach sank again. Miss Darcy pulled her to a secluded corner, and Bella really hoped that Mr. Darcy wouldn’t see them.
It only took him half an hour. He was clearly avoiding the bridesmaid who must be Elizabeth when his eyes caught hers and he whispered something to Bingley before making his way over.
“It was my idea,” Miss Darcy immediately said. “Miss Swan was reading a Mrs. Radcliffe novel. Wasn’t it just lovely, though, Fitzwilliam?”
“Georgiana, I can understand that you would want to support Bingley given how long the two of you have known each other, but to subject Isabella to what would have been my wedding is thoughtless. Have you no sense of feeling? Miss Swan is clearly uncomfortable.”
“No, I—” Bella tried to protest, but she was uncomfortable. “Perhaps I should take the carriage back to Netherfield.”
Darcy closed his eyes. “You will soon be known in the village of Meryton. You need a preliminary wardrobe before we go to London for our wedding. You should stay with Georgiana and attempt to enjoy yourself. Try to avoid the Bennets.”
That, however, was impossible. Georgiana was an acquaintance of both Jane Bingley and Elizabeth Bennet.
Bella was introduced as simply, “Miss Swan, a friend of the Darcy family.”
“How long have you known Mr. and Miss Darcy?” Mrs. Bingley asked.
“A little while,” she answered. “I’m staying at Netherfield Hall for the next few days before traveling to London,” Bella replied. “You truly are a beautiful bride, Mrs. Bingley.” Attempting a smile, she at least hoped it was sincere.
Elizabeth Bennet was hanging back. “Miss Darcy—” she began, but Bella cut her off, not wanting her new friend to have to answer any awkward questions.
“How far is Netherfield from Meryton, Mrs. Bingley?”
“A mile or two,” she promised. “The roads are a little ill used but you will not find anything amiss.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, looking over at Miss Darcy, who was now blatantly looking at a man who closely resembled Mr. Darcy who was in regimentals. “I imagine I’m not to spend all of my time in the house.”
She was glad when she finally left. Caroline Bingley had arranged a bedchamber for her and her sleeping shorts and tank had been placed in there. Bella threw herself on the bed and cried her heart out. Not going down to dinner, she was thankful when someone was kind enough to send up a tray of cold ham and soup. There was also a small decanter of wine. Bella had never had wine before and she accidentally got drunk.
Bella was dancing to music in her head and fell over on the bed and was laughing, which turned into more crying, when there was a knock on her door. “Come in,” she called. “Join the party!”
Darcy hesitantly opened the door.
“Have you ever had wine?” she asked, her words slurring. “It’s absolutely lovely.”
“You’ve never had wine, Isabella?”
She shook her head. “Not even my father’s beer,” she added and he looked concerned. “I think I like wine.”
“Well, then, Bella,” he stated. “We’ll have some more at our wedding. A little less than half a decanter.” He picked it up and looked at it. “I was going to inquire as to your health.”
She came up to him and poked his chest. “My health. I met your bride and I hated it. I look nothing like her. You can’t even pretend she’s me—I’m her—I’m confused.” Her voice turned sad and she felt like she was going to cry again.
Darcy lifted up her chin and asked, quietly, “Do I look like this Edward you have referenced?”
Bella shook her head. “No, thank God,” she stated forcefully. “He left me in the woods where I nearly froze to death of exposure. Nights are cold in Washington. I have these nightmares, Fitzwilliam, wandering in the cold.” She shook herself. “Can I call you ‘Fitz’? I know your sister doesn’t, at least not around me, but isn’t your cousin ‘Fitzwilliam’?”
“Fitz?” he asked her, perhaps a little in shock.
“Yes,” she agreed. “A fond name. You’ve been so nice. You haven’t even yelled at me for drinking too much. Why did you give me so much wine?”
“It was for the whole evening, not just an hour, Bella,” he sighed, coming over to her. He took her face in his hands and stroked it gently. “I’m glad you don’t look like Elizabeth, Isabella. You’re so much more beautiful than she is.”
“Then why were you going to marry her? I know why Edward wanted me—but why–?”
“She didn’t want my money, my status. Elizabeth didn’t try to gain my attention, at least not in the usual way. You don’t want my attention either, Bella. You just want kindness and respect. I never thought I’d find another woman like that. I will miss Elizabeth, for a little while, I think. I do love her, but you are a rare jewel, Isabella Marie Swan.” He leaned in toward her but she pulled away.
“I’ve never really been kissed,” she admitted. “Edward always said it was dangerous if he kissed me.”
He smiled at her sadly. “I don’t see why. A gentleman should be able to control himself. You’re to be my wife. I just want to kiss you.”
“Don’t break my heart,” she begged as she closed her eyes, lifting up her head. “I won’t tease you like she did.”
He paused. “How did you know that?”
Her drunken mind swerved a bit. “I met her. She teases everyone, I imagine.” Bella hoped her quick thinking helped.
Darcy, at least, seemed to buy it. “Perhaps it might have vexed me after a time.” He ran his thumbs over her cheeks and leaned forward and carefully kissed her—as carefully as Edward. But then she moved her lips to kiss him again and he kissed her back. Her hands came up to grasp his wrists and she tilted her head. His tongue sought the seam of her lips and she opened after a moment and, her head was spinning, but she moved against him. A shiver ran down her spine as their tongues massaged each other, but then, carefully, he pulled away.
She smiled at him only to see him smiling back when her eyes fluttered open.
Somehow she knew there was a story about Elizabeth—something that hadn’t made it into the novel—about why Darcy did not seem to mourn the loss of her so much. Something had happened. She didn’t know what, couldn’t know what. Perhaps she never would. However, there had been a rift between the great love story that she couldn’t comprehend, and Darcy seemed to be happy to move on with his life. It confused her, but if she was going to be here, even if just for a little while, she would prefer a fiancé who wanted her, not a vampire who tossed her aside when it suited him, even if it was “for her own good.”
“There, I’m alone with you in your bedchamber, and I’ve managed to compromise you again, Miss Swan.” He breathed out through his nose, still holding her face in his hands.
“I—I think I need to sit down. The room is a little hazy.” She smiled at him, and he carefully sat her down in a chair by the fire, taking the one near her.
“Would you like Georgiana’s maid to send you a nightdress or do you prefer to wear what you did last night?” he asked her with a grin, perhaps fond of the remembrance.
She blushed at the memory of their hands entwined on her bare stomach. “I’m fine with what I have,” she told him as she laid her head back. “You should get back to your sister and the Bingleys.”
“My fiancée needs my attention,” he stated calmly, taking her hand and kissing it. “How old are you, Bella? Whose permission must I ask before I seek a special license tomorrow?”
“I—Charlie—Dad,” she amended, “is in America. I don’t think I have any relatives in England.”
He looked surprised. “You mentioned Italy earlier today.”
“That’s the last thing I remember. I was returning from Italy, fell asleep, and woke up in your bed.” She shrugged. “I’m convinced I hit my head and I’m imagining all of this.”
“I assure you I am not an apparition,” he told her quietly, his thumb stroking the back of her hand.
“I assure you, you are. You should be mourning the loss of Miss Elizabeth Bennet more.”
“No,” he answered. “I cried out to God last night for the woman who would love me best, knowing in my heart that I was not speaking of Elizabeth, and he gave me you. I do not know by what sorcery this was accomplished.”
“Why cry out on the night before your wedding?” she asked, lulling her head toward him.
“I spoke with my cousin Richard Fitzwilliam yesterday, and he gave me doubts,” he admitted. “I know I should not have doubted, but it perhaps is not uncommon the night before one’s life changes forever, Isabella Swan.—Is your father a gentleman?”
Bella paused. “I live out West. We don’t have gentlemen. My father is the sheriff. He keeps the law. It’s one of the highest positions in our society. I say one, but I mean that it is the—” she searched for the word ”—it is the pinnacle of our society.” She was doing everything to remember the old westerns she had watched with Jake as a kid. “He stands between the law and highwaymen, outlaws, Indians. He’s the last resort, the only resort. Does that make sense?” It was difficult for her to speak like an Austen novel, especially with her head so clouded, but she was determined to make Darcy comfortable. “I’m sorry.”
“We’ll say he’s a gentleman,” Darcy decided. “With over a thousand acres of land in the West. I am sorry we must lie. What shall we call it?”
“Um… I live in Forks, Washington.”
“The Swan Estate,” he decided for her. “He specializes in sheep. Everyone respects sheep.”
She laughed at that. Bella couldn’t help herself. It descended into giggles and then petered out into a smile. “Well, I do keep house for him. The man would exist off of fish and pizza if it weren’t for me.”
“Pizza?” he inquired.
Bella frowned. “It’s American,” she finally said. “I’ll make it for you sometime … not that you don’t have … cooks.” She turned her head back and sighed. “Well. I wonder if I can get a maid to undo this corset.”
Darcy leaned forward. “If you would allow me to compromise you again, Bella.”
Her eyes were now closed. “Fitz, you shouldn’t even be in the room. You shouldn’t have kissed me. Oh, God, tonight’s your wedding night.”
“Next week is my wedding night,” he told her, “and I’m allowing you time to heal, Bella. There is nothing wrong with intimacy and companionship, especially as we have already established the former.”
She got shakily to her feet and held up her hands and he quickly divested her of her dress, which he placed over a chair. Then he undid her corset until she was left in her shift. All of his movements were precise and exact, and she turned to him when he was finished. “Is there a hangover cure that someone can send up in the morning?” she asked.
“Certainly,” he agreed, kissing her forehead. “I will leave you to your dreams, but will take the wine.”
“Very well, Fitz,” she agreed, falling onto the bed in her shift before he was even out the door.
She woke up not two hours later and found the candles still lit and was surprised it wasn’t a dream. However, unlike last time, she was all alone, and she had a pounding headache. The next time she woke up it was to a maid shaking her arm. Much to Bella’s confusion, she was given an egg cocktail, which did not make her headache go away and was helped back into a corset and a peach dress with sleeves.
It was still dark outside.
Bella was shown down to the breakfast room where Darcy was eating ham and eggs.
“Fitz?” she asked. “The sun hasn’t risen.”
“I’m to London and I wanted to see you,” he told her. “You are, after all, my reason for going. How is your head?”
“I’m glad the candles aren’t brighter,” she admitted, coming and sitting across from him. “Are you—riding?”
“Yes. I want to be there by noon to make the application.”
“Of course,” she demurred. “Then what happens?”
“Well,” he answered, slicing his egg, “today you’ll go with Georgiana to the dressmaker and order a few gowns and a simple wedding dress. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No,” she answered, “of course not.” She had never imagined a large wedding, a white princess gown. Nothing like that. No, Bella had never imagined being married at all, especially at the age of eighteen. “Then we go to London?”
“I will return here as soon as I have the license and then I will escort you to Darcy House,” he told her. “I hope that is acceptable.”
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be,” she answered. “Can you get another so soon after getting the first?” A servant, who seemed to realize she was wilting from the early hour of the morning, had given her exactly what she had gotten herself the morning before, and she thanked him. A cup of tea was also brought to her.
“How did you…?”
“I think Miss Darcy mentioned,” she lied hesitantly. “Someone did. It’s a bit of a blur, actually.” Bella gave him a smile. “We’re really doing this.”
She took in a deep breath. “I don’t believe your sister likes me very much.” Miss Darcy perhaps didn’t despise her—but she was an interloper.
When he made to disagree, she held up her hand.
“She’s kind, it’s just, I’m certain she was looking forward to having another sister by today. I fear I’ve gotten in the way of not only your and Elizabeth’s happiness, but now Miss Darcy’s as well.”
“Georgiana knows nothing is permanent in marriage until the vows are exchanged,” he stated a little sternly, surprising Bella even though she knew he probably referred to Ramsgate. “Miss Bennet was also, as my aunt and cousin Richard told me, unsuitable.”
“And a sheep rancher’s daughter from America is?” She looked at him skeptically. “I cannot play your piano or sing, I cannot cover tables, all I do is read and daydream and cook—and you don’t need me to cook. I can clean, but—”
“Life is different here than the American west,” he told her gently as he placed a strong hand over hers. “You’re squinting your eyes. How is your headache?”
“That egg mixture didn’t help.”
“Ham, then,” he suggested, “and some tea.”
“Coffee,” she decided. “I heard some kids talk about coffee working.”
The coffee was procured for her, nice and black, the way Charlie drank it, and she ate slowly. She kept on sneaking glances at Darcy who was looking at her quite openly. “Your hair is quite dark,” he decided.
She laughed. “My father laughed that I was half Indian.” At the look on Darcy’s face, she added, “I’m not. We just lived near a tribe and Charlie—Dad—and Billy Black—um, the chief, wanted me to—marry” (date) “his son. I’m far too pale to be a Native American—Indian.” Bella felt like she had tossed that one away with her explanation.
However, she was startled when Darcy placed his silverware decidedly on his plate. “Your father wished to marry you off to the local Indian chief’s son?”
“Marriage is a harsh word,” she began. “Everyone was gunning for it—wanted it,” she clarified. Bella sighed. She had liked Jake. He had ended up being her best friend, he just couldn’t give up the idea of the two of them being together.
Darcy, however, was speaking. “We are definitely marrying at the earliest possible convenience. If your father is so without decency that he would sell his daughter to natives—”
“Fitz—” she began to argue, but he was calm, cool, collected, and certainly angry.
“A young lady of worth deserves more. No young lady of British stock should have her blood mixed—”
“Fitz—” she warned again.
“Bella, what your father attempted was unconscionable. I do not how you can be so resigned to it. Perhaps it is an abuse of such long standing that you have accepted it as what your future holds, but no longer. You’ve come home to England and you shall remain here, away from such influences for the rest of your days.” He looked up and a smile spread across his face. “Fitzwilliam! You got my note.”
“Yes,” a man in regimentals stated from the breakfast parlor’s door. He came in to show a face not unlike Darcy’s, except harder and perhaps less attractive. It was the same man Miss Darcy had noted the day before at the wedding breakfast. “I see you did not get married yesterday.”
“I did not,” he agreed. “May I present Miss Isabella Swan?”
Bella nodded to him from her place, regretting moving her head at all a moment later.
Darcy turned to Bella. “Are you too indisposed to go buy a few gowns, Bella? I thought you and Georgiana might like to order one for the wedding.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened.
“I am always too indisposed to go shopping,” she admitted. “No, I’ll just drink more coffee and an egg thing and hope for the best. The worst that can happen is I prove incompetent, which I’m afraid is already the case.”
The Colonel took a seat a few down from Bella. “Is Miss Swan to be a bride?”
“She will be Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy within the fortnight,” Darcy told his cousin outright. “You were correct about Miss Elizabeth—”
“And how did you and Miss Swan meet given the fact that it’s been rather sudden?” His cunning eyes seemed to pierce her, trying to read her, but she merely took another sip of her coffee, hoping for the best.
“Italy,” Bella stated firmly, taking a long sip of coffee.
Darcy looked at her. “I have not been to Italy for years, Miss Swan.”
“I was there two days ago,” she responded. “You can understand my confusion at being in Hertfordshire.” Bella looked away from the cousins and was surprised when Colonel Fitzwilliam poured her a small glass of wine.
“I understand you are suffering the effects of too much wine, Miss Swan. This is an old army remedy. Drink it slowly.”
She looked up at him. “Are you serious? Charlie would never—he—” She put her head in her hands. “Fitz,” Bella begged.
“Your father would not be adverse to military expertise, I am certain,” Darcy told her carefully. “I understand I was wrong to give you wine last night. I was unaware that you had never tasted it before. Allow my cousin to help you.” He looked up at Colonel Fitzwilliam. “This will work?”
“I imagine so,” he offered. “She’s shying away from all light and she looks deathly pale and ill. If we are to have Miss Swan representing the Houses of Darcy and Fitzwilliam, she must pull through.—Perhaps she should go later in the day. After luncheon perhaps.”
“Perhaps,” Darcy agreed, a frown on his otherwise handsome face. “Bella, are you feeling better?”
She had taken several sips of her wine. “Yes,” Bella admitted hesitantly. “Thank you, Colonel.”
“Not at all, Miss Swan. Now, will someone please tell me how one engagement was dissolved and another formed within the span of a day?”
“Within the span of an hour,” Darcy corrected, looking at Bella earnestly.
Bella looked at him in shock, taking another sip of her drink. “What are you telling him, Fitz? That somehow I was abducted in the middle of the night by forces unknown?”
“It is the truth, is it not?” he inquired, touching her hand despite the breadth of the table between them. “I did the only honorable thing. Once I had compromised her, I called off my wedding. Miss Swan is from a reputable and wealthy family in the colonies, although her father sought a questionable marriage alliance with the local natives—”
“Fitzwilliam,” Bella begged.
—The Colonel’s head turned at such an accusation. His eyes darkened but he said nothing.
“I compromised Miss Swan, for which she has selflessly not blamed me and has even offered to overlook, but I will do my duty. She also seems to care little about wealth and standing, strangely enough, just that I’m not the son of the local Indian tribe.”
Bella finished her wine and felt so much better. “I really don’t wish for that to be made public,” she decided. “I think there are negative connotations over here that I’m not quite grasping because my head hurts too much.”
“There are certainly negative connotations,” Colonel Fitzwilliam agreed. “Is your father a gentleman?”
“Yes,” she answered, remembering the story. “I grew up on the Swan Estate. We are sheep farmers out West.”
“And you went to Italy.”
“A friend was in trouble,” she answered after a long pause. “I honestly don’t know what happened between boarding my—ship—and ending up in Hertfordshire. I fear someone must have—” She shrugged.
“Laudanum,” Darcy stated. “It’s the only explanation. I do not know why Miss Swan and I were targets, but I can only be grateful. Miss Swan has taught me what true sweetness of temper is and the honor of an equal, though perhaps unorthodox, alliance can bring.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked between them. “I am glad you have seen sense, Cousin, although an abduction took you to realize this. We must indeed dress Miss Swan to her station. She was abducted without her trunk? I would imagine fashion on the frontier would not be up to our standards, anyway. Choices will be limited, but we will buy enough to get her to London and the modistes there.”
Darcy blotted his lips. “I must go to London. Will you see me off, Bella?”
“Of course,” she answered, standing and taking his arm.
When they stood outside, she looked down and saw the bracelet Jacob had given her with a wolf on it. She bit her lip and took it off. “This was a gift—never mind where—” she quickly added, “but perhaps you should have it for now.”
He took it and examined it. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“It was a birthday gift,” she told him. “When I turned eighteen. It’s handcarved. It’s meant for protection. It’s served me well, Fitz. I give it to you for your protection.” Indicating his wrist, she secured it in place. “It’s not exactly—1811?”
“1810,” he answered carefully.
“Yes,” she glossed over it. “You can take it off for when you move about the world, but—I’ve read about women giving handkerchiefs, and I don’t have anything like that. I just have this bracelet.”
“Thank you, Bella,” he whispered. “I will treasure it.—It’s been a day, but I know I’m already falling in love with you.”
She looked up at him in confusion. “That can’t be possible.”
“Can’t it?” he questioned. “Farewell, Isabella.”
His dark eyes looked into hers and then he walked down the steps, his hat on his head. Bella watched as he got on his horse, standing for several more moments on the steps. The sun rose on the horizon and it wasn’t until the wind began to pick up that she moved inside and back to the dining room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was waiting at the window. “You love my cousin,” he stated.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered as she took her seat and picked up her coffee. “I barely know him.”
“Exchanging tokens,” he suggested with no hint of emotion. “It’s the sign of deep attachment.”
Bella paused. “He’s all I have in the world. Of course I’m greatly attached to him.—He’s made me feel as if I have great worth. I’ve never felt that way before.”
“A young lady from a prominent estate? Then again, your father tried to sell you into marriage to those who are racially inferior.”
“Don’t,” she demanded, looking at him. “Please. It was terribly complicated.”
“I’m certain, Madam,” he answered.
“I didn’t want anyone to know. I realize you’re Mr. Darcy’s cousin, but I would still appreciate it if no one—even Miss Darcy—ever learns of it.”
“Then not even Miss Darcy shall hear of it,” he promised her. He gave her a small smile. “I’m to return to the Continent soon. I’m afraid of what my absence will do to Miss Darcy. I don’t believe Miss Bennet quite understood my relationship with Miss Darcy. I believe that Darcy wishes to think her a child—”
“But she is not a child,” Bella guessed. “Are you saying you have an attachment to your cousin and she may have one to you?”
“I have an attachment,” he agreed. “I tell you this as the future Mrs. Darcy. You have my confidence as the sister of my ward.”
“Of course,” Bella stated, wishing she didn’t have to have this conversation. “Don’t you think Miss Darcy is a bit young? She’s about sixteen?”
“If you forgive me for stating a fact, but aren’t you just eighteen?”
“True,” she replied. “However, a great deal can happen in a year or so. How does Miss Darcy feel?”
He paused. “I am her confidante. She writes to Darcy regularly but when she is truly distressed, I am the one she confides in. When she does not understand her brother or his actions, she comes to me. Darcy believes she is fond of Miss Elizabeth Bennet; the opposite is the case. She supported the match because it made Darcy happy. However, she did not like Miss Bennet. Miss Darcy believes Miss Bennet took far too many liberties with not only Darcy, but herself, and Miss Darcy never gave Miss Bennet such leave with her person.”
Bella turned this over in her mind. “I understand. As her confidante, you think she has an attachment of some kind to you and will need a friend. How do you know she will prefer me to Miss Bennet?”
“I will determine that when we go shopping today,” he promised. “She’s already chosen one of her newer gowns for you that she knew would compliment your coloring. That speaks well for you.”
She looked down at the peach color gown. “Indeed. I did not know it looked well on me. I was used to dark colors back home.”
“Tell Miss Darcy. She will guide you. My cousin owns few dark colors herself due to her fair coloring.—You are looking better, Miss Swan. Had you truly never tasted wine before?”
“Never,” she shared. “I only had—I don’t know how many glasses, not many, but that was quite enough.” Bella blushed. “Darcy promised we could have a more moderate amount on our wedding day since I’m so fond of it.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam regarded her. “Half a glass tomorrow,” he suggested. “We’ll work up your tolerance to it.”
There was a stirring behind them and Miss Bingley walked into the room. “Miss Swan,” she greeted, without looking at her, “you are up quite early. Where is Mr. Darcy? Surely he must be here to amuse you.”
“He left for London,” she responded. “Miss Darcy and I are to go shopping with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Have you two been introduced?” Bella glanced over at the Colonel who looked bored.
Miss Bingley immediately simpered. “Colonel.”
“Miss Bingley,” he answered without a smile. “I hope your brother is happy with his choice of bride.”
“Undoubtedly,” she smiled. “I don’t expect to see them down here this morning. We are only waiting for Miss Darcy. Are you pleased with your cousin’s new choice of wife?” Her voice was sly and impertinent.
His eyes turned dark. “You forget yourself, Miss Bingley. This is a private Darcy and Fitzwilliam matter. I thank you not to try to find favor by asking such questions.” The Colonel turned to Bella. “We’ll have you married in blue silks, I think, Miss Swan.”
“Blue?” she laughed, finally coming into herself. “I thought all brides wore white!”
“You are only thinking of Mrs. Bingley,” he promised her. “It was quite shocking. A bride not in cream or yellow—but, no, a dark blue for you since you favor dark colors.”
Darcy hadn’t been completely honest with Bella. He had an early morning appointment with Mr. Bennet before he was to head to Town. He had spoken to him briefly at the wedding breakfast, much to the man’s distaste, and it was agreed.
Although the sun had barely risen, Darcy saw a bonnet and a blue pelisse on a trail to the right of his black stallion as he traveled to Longbourne. Elizabeth was having one of her early morning walks. Strangely, the sight did not bring a smile of fondness to his face. Not even a frown of discontentment. He merely made note of it and spurred his horse faster.
He was shown into the study and had only a minute to wait. Darcy stood at the window and looked out at the rising sun.
The door opened. “I only allow you such extraordinary measures, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet stated harshly as he came in, “because I want to know what on earth possessed you to cancel yours and Elizabeth’s wedding yesterday.”
“I am afraid I am to London,” Darcy apologized. “I wished to gain an account as to how much you spent on the wedding so I might reimburse you.” He offered no other explanation.
“Is this all I am to expect?”
Darcy paused. “I’m afraid so.”
Mr. Bennet pointed a finger at him. “I told Elizabeth you were a stern, unpleasant sort of fellow, but she wouldn’t listen. I don’t care what you did for Lydia, you’ve practically ruined Elizabeth.”
“That was not my intention,” Darcy apologized sincerely. “There is nothing I can do or say—so I will not even attempt to. If you would be so good as to send an account to my address in Derbyshire.” He got out a card and tried to pass it to Mr. Bennet. When he would not take it, Darcy placed it on the desk.
That’s when he saw it. There was a jewelry box that he recognized. He picked it up and opened it up to reveal a blue sapphire, which he had given to Elizabeth in acknowledgement of their engagement. It was one of the smaller Darcy stones, but it had belonged to his mother. “I thank you,” he murmured, placing the ring in his pocket. “If there is nothing else.”
“Why save Lydia’s reputation to ruin Elizabeth’s?” Mr. Bennet asked desperately.
Darcy sighed. “I had the best of intentions,” he promised, “however, my honor became engaged elsewhere.”
“The morning of your wedding? Who is she?”
Swallowing, Darcy moved around Mr. Bennet. “If you’ll excuse me.”
He hoped he would never have to return to that house again.
Bella was surprised how easily she fell in with Georgiana and the Colonel. She had picked up the novel again and was reading, the Colonel at the piano with his ward. Miss Bingley had wandered off somewhere.
“Miss Swan,” Georgiana called, “please join us!”
“Three of us?” Bella asked, setting her finger in the page. “You think we can all sit down?”
“We’ll make Richard stand,” she promised.
Sighing, Bella put down her book and stood, moving toward the piano. However, as she was crossing the room, Jane Bingley entered the room.
“Hello,” she greeted. “Are you—yes—you’re the friend of Miss Darcy. We spoke but briefly yesterday.”
“Yes,” Bella answered, a little confused what to do. “Congratulations again on your marriage, Mrs. Bingley.” She looked over at Georgiana who glanced up at the Colonel.
“Have you not met Miss Swan?” the Colonel asked, standing and coming over to Georgiana. “She will soon be a member of our greater family. I’m looking very much forward to her wedding, as I have been informed I am standing up as witness.”
Bella wasn’t in the least bit surprised at that. Georgiana would probably be the other witness. Bella had no family alive or friends to speak of.
“Felicitations,” Mrs. Bingley congratulated. “Who is your fiancé?”
Not wanting to answer that question, she bit her lip. “I believe you are acquainted,” she prevaricated. “However,” she tried desperately to sound like a Jane Austen novel more than usual, “this is your house. You must have some use for the room and perhaps we can assist as your guests? Miss Darcy? Do you know Mistress Bingley?”
Georgiana stood. “I am afraid we are just lately acquainted. She is more acquainted with my brother.” She looked over at Bella apologetically and with a little hope in her eyes.
Bella glanced at Colonel Fitzwilliam and he was looking between her and Georgiana. The message was clear. This was a point where she should establish their relationship. “Mrs. Bingley,” she began, stepping forward. “As the Colonel said, I am to be married. I have never been one for plans and I don’t have a mother. What would you suggest I focus on? The dress perhaps? Yours was so lovely. Was it made here in Meryton?”
Jane Bingley smiled at her. “Indeed. Do you favor the usual yellow or will you choose another color?”
Looking over at Georgiana, Bella answered hesitantly, “This is more of a gold,” she reflected, glancing down at her own dress. “I’m afraid anything paler would not—favor my complexion. You are so fair like Miss Darcy, paler colors such as yellow look good on you. Perhaps white is the only color that would be remotely similar that will—” She glanced out of the window and the beautiful gardens. “Do you think men care?”
Behind her it was clear that Colonel Fitzwilliam was trying to cover a laugh.
Mrs. Bingley was clearly surprised. “I would hope so,” she answered, pushing out the wrinkles of her dress. The poor woman was uncomfortable. “Then again, I don’t believe Bingley noticed until I asked.”
This startled Bella. She glanced at Georgiana, whose eyes were downturned, and then she looked at Colonel Fitzwilliam who was still hiding a smile behind his hand. “That must have been,” Bella began hesitantly, “because you looked so happy yesterday. Your smile drew the gaze along with your eyes. They were so happy. I was quite transfixed and I was not even acquainted with either you or the groom.”
A light hand pressed against hers and Bella looked over at Georgiana. “I think Mrs. Bingley looked beautiful in white.”
“White?” Bella checked. “Well, you are my guide, Miss Darcy. It is so different in Forks.”
“Forks, Miss Swan?” Jane Bingley looked honestly confused.
Bella nodded. “I’m from the colonies. Forks is the town where the Swan Estate is placed, my father’s property.” That was a mouthful. “I always believed it a peculiar name.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam decided to finally insert himself into the conversation. “I thought blue silks, ladies.”
“Did you, Richard?” Georgiana asked. “Forgive me, Mrs. Bingley, my cousin and second guardian, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. My brother put Miss Swan in your care while he’s away, didn’t he?” She grinned at him.
“He trusts me with you, does he not?” was the only answer she was given. “—Mrs. Bingley, I hope you took no offense that I attended your wedding as I was originally planning on being in attendance before the alterations. I did not impose long on your parents at the wedding breakfast, of course, but you were a lovely bride.”
She blushed, but then she looked between the three of them. “What happened? A rider came and Papa took Elizabeth aside and then just told us that through no fault of Elizabeth’s, it would be a single wedding and we should expect no more talk of a Darcy-Bennet wedding.”
Bella genuinely felt uncomfortable and she and Georgiana looked at each other.
It was fortunately the Colonel who spoke. “I perhaps should refer you to your husband, Mrs. Bingley.”
Unwavering from her cause, her cheeks tinted pink, but she continued. “He said that Mr. Darcy is to marry another—I thought perhaps his cousin or a great London lady—but why so close to the wedding?”
“I should refer you to your husband, Mrs. Bingley,” Colonel Fitzwilliam repeated more sternly. “Do you know when lunch is served? I’m taking the ladies of the Darcy-Fitzwilliam party shopping afterward, if Miss Swan is no longer feeling indisposed.”
“Oh, Miss Swan,” Georgiana murmured, “are you unwell?”
“No, Miss Darcy,” she responded quietly. “I’m afraid since I came to England I’ve had trouble sleeping, but I am feeling more rested than I did when I first woke.”
“Richard said you were recently in Italy and before that the Colonies?” Georgiana looked up at him with thinly veiled adoration.
She smiled. “Indeed.”
Jane Bingley folded her hands and smiled at them.
Lunch was shortly called after that.
“Miss Bingley,” Bella quietly stated as the carriage rolled away from Netherfield, “was quite enthusiastic in her conversation.”
Georgiana started laughing. “She was like that with Fitzwilliam before he was engaged to—oh, forgive me, Miss Swan.”
“Don’t you think you should call me ‘Isabella’?” Bella asked, trying to smile. “And I know your brother was engaged to Elizabeth Bennet. I tried to convince him to go through with that wedding. You don’t have to hide it from me.”
“Isabella,” she stated happily. “I must be ‘Georgiana.’—And, it is only, it is all so peculiar. I know what you said yesterday in that unguarded moment, and I don’t believe you. I know Fitzwilliam must care for you greatly—”
“Not even my own mother notices I’m there,” she told Georgiana carefully, “except that I ensure that—the household runs smoothly and there is food and money for food and other such nonsense. I don’t believe Charlie—Dad—cares for me except that I run the household.” This was difficult, to put it in early nineteenth century terms.
“I’m certain that is not true,” Georgiana told her, grabbing her hands. “I’m certain that gentlemen took notice of you. You’re kind, Isabella, and beautiful—and from the little I know of you, selfless—”
Bella gave her a wry smile.
“We shall play a duet tonight,” Georgiana decided, “before you leave, Richard.”
“Oh, no,” Bella deferred.
“I can’t play—” Bella murmured.
Georgiana looked at her in shock.
“It is very difficult to transport large pieces of furniture over the Rocky Mountains. It’s impossible to carry a piano over. We have to make everything ourselves.” She looked between the cousins. “We had to carry everything in wagons.”
“Why would you do that?” Georgiana asked in absolute confusion.
Bella leaned forward and whispered, “Exploration.”
She couldn’t sleep so she went out in the dress she had worn the day before and a pelisse. There was no one in the stable, so she saddled up a horse, not caring that her thighs would get raw or that she would be wearing slippers. Bella wanted to feel the wind in her hair. She missed riding in her monster of a red pick up truck.
It was so freeing to have her hair flying behind her and not pinned up for once. Bella almost laughed, but the sound of angry voices caused her to pause. She slowed her horse and paused behind several trees. She looked between the branches and saw Elizabeth Bennet and a man she had seen at the Wedding Breakfast. He was quite handsome. If she admitted it to herself, he was handsomer than Darcy.
It was, she would soon learn, George Wickham.
Elizabeth had only had one short note from Jane. There was a young woman, a friend of Georgiana Darcy, staying at Netherfield Hall. She was to be married, possibly to Colonel Fitzwilliam. It told her nothing. Darcy was in London, possibly never to return, and her reputation was in shambles.
Once again, her mind turned back to that evening at Rosings when she had been alone with Colonel Fitzwilliam in the dining room. She had been angry about Darcy, about how he had ruined Jane’s happiness and Wickham’s prospects, and so she had lashed out at him. Darcy had wanted to marry her and thought she was beneath him … but she knew the Colonel felt something for her. So, she put a hand on his upper arm and tilted her head up so that he could lean down and kiss her—compromise her. Then she would be the daughter of an Earl.
It was a moment of madness. She hadn’t slept in nearly two days, but when Colonel Fitzwilliam had told her to “move away,” she had whispered, “Don’t you want me?”
The Colonel must have told Darcy about that madness at Rosings and he couldn’t forgive her. His prior attachment was a fabrication.
Elizabeth turned and unfortunately saw Wickham, who had come with Lydia for the wedding.
She gave him a small smile. “Are you out for a walk, Mr. Wickham?”
“I wished to speak to you,” he confided, leaning down. “It is only, I did not wish for Lydia to overhear and misinterpret.”
Looking down at her hands and trying not to grind her teeth, Elizabeth grit out, “How kind.”
“It’s Darcy,” Wickham told her. “There’s talk in the village. There’s a young woman buying a wedding dress—”
“Colonel Fitzwilliam’s bride, yes,” Elizabeth agreed.
“Darcy’s bride,” Wickham corrected. “He’s gone to London for a special license. Miss Swan, I believe that is her name, is a wealthy young lady from a thriving estate in the colonies. According to one of the servants I spoke to from Netherfield, her father even tried to sell her to the son of an Indian chief, and she fled to Italy with her fortune—it’s uncertain exactly what happened afterward. No one’s certain how she came to Netherfield. In all the confusion of the wedding, a room was at first not even prepared for her.”
Elizabeth breathed in deeply. “A colonist?”
“Indeed.” He moved toward her, his hand touching her arm, and she looked down, but then the sound of a horse moving through the trees alerted them that they were not alone.
There was the sound of someone shushing a horse, and Wickham demanded that the rider show himself.
After a moment a girl, a few years younger than Elizabeth, wearing a pale green dress and dark blue pelisse in the latest cut, her stockings and slippers showing, and her dark hair wild, came out of the trees. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I was riding.”
“Astride?” Wickham demanded.
“It’s all we do in America,” she snapped back. “The colonies.” Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she regarded them. “Are you having a pleasant walk?”
Elizabeth stared at this wild young woman who was replacing her. She was as wild as an Indian herself. What was Darcy thinking?
“Indeed, Madam,” she answered. “I hope you are liking Hertfordshire.” Her voice was teasing with a bit of an edge.
Bella just looked at her for several moments. “So far,” she agreed. “I’m sorry, but I should be getting back. Could you point me in the correct direction of Netherfield?”
Elizabeth was never so glad to see anyone go.
Darcy hadn’t cared that he was arriving at nearly eleven at night. He could have waited a day, but that meant a day without Bella. He could not account for her slipping into his bed the night before his wedding because he knew she was not the one who had placed herself there.
When Richard had told him how Elizabeth tried to seduce him, he had begged God for a woman who would really love him and he had felt her curl up in his arms. The door had not opened, his arm had not lifted or moved. She was simply present.
The house was deserted, but there was a light in the library. He opened the door carefully and saw Bella in a dark green silk dress, a blusher around her neck, and her hair falling out from its pins.
“What do I find near the witching hour?” he asked as he came in.
Bella looked up and smiled. “You missed Georgiana. She went to bed quite awhile ago after playing for us all. I just thought I’d read some Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare,” he murmured. “Which play, my love?”
She started at the pet name. “Fitz?” Her dark brown eyes were so expressive in their confusion, and she was leaning against the back of a couch.
“I have the license,” he told her. “St. Anne’s will marry us the day after tomorrow if your dress is ready—” He came up to her and she looked up at him with those big doe eyes. Darcy reached out and touched her cheek. “I have something for you.”
Her eyebrow arching, she sat up and put down her book. Darcy came around and took a small jewelry box. “I tried to think what would suit you. Jewels are de rigeur and I will not have anyone say that Mrs. Darcy does not have the best.”
“Fitz—” she murmured. “Are you?”
He opened up the box and showed her a large pink jewel. “I had a dream of you walking through the lilac field at Pemberley,” he admitted. “You were happy and content and this jewel was on your finger.”
“What is it?” she asked, leaning toward him and touching the edges of it.
“A very rare diamond,” he admitted, taking it out and holding it against her skin. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. It was part of her dowry.”
Tears welled up in Bella’s eyes. “I never thought I’d like a ring. I don’t like gifts or such things. However, this is beautiful.” She reached up and gently kissed him, just lips against lips, but he moved forward and kissed her again. Bella moaned and she opened up her mouth to him and didn’t protest when he moved toward her, her ring heavy on her finger as he slipped it on her. Her hand went up to his cheek, a little bit of a five o’clock shadow on it, and he sighed into her mouth.
When he finally pulled away, she murmured, “Hello.”
“Good evening, Miss Swan.”
“I thought I was ‘Bella.’”
He did not move away from her, instead he shifted so that she was leaning against his shoulder.
“I like your cousin,” she admitted. “He will be at our wedding?”
“With Georgiana,” he agreed. “I hope this is acceptable.—Our marriage will be announced in The Times tomorrow morning.”
“Elizabeth Bennet already knows about me,” she admitted. “I came across her and Wickham when I was riding.—I know I don’t have a riding habit and I don’t know how to ride side saddle. I was a little wild.” She sighed and rolled her eyes even though he could not see. “Perhaps you’ll have to teach me when we go to Pemberley.”
He ran a hand across the top of her hair. “I will not change you,” he promised. “You are a child of the wild west. You must conform to society, but only to a certain extent. I would marry you if you were a society lady, but I am glad you are not. I never wanted to marry into society.”
“How peculiar,” she admitted, running a hand down his jacket, her ring apparent on her hand. “Have you written to your family, Fitz? What do they say?”
“Lady Catherine believes that I have seen sense by not marrying a woman whose sister made an ‘unfortunate alliance,’” he laughed, “Wickham. I know you don’t understand.”
“No,” she agreed. “Perhaps not.” Of course, this was a lie, but he did not know. He would perhaps never know how intimately she knew certain details of his life—of Elizabeth’s life. “But what of me?”
“She believes your father a traitor to the crown,” he smiled, “but that you have showed good sense by returning to your home country. It is not an ideal match”—he kissed her—“but preferable.”
“I, preferable, to a gentleman’s daughter?” she laughed and leaned away from him. “I believe Lady Catherine has lost her mind.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed. “Lord Matlock believes I have taken leave of my senses, to cancel one engagement and to marry a girl with no standing in England at all within a week.”
“Indeed, Mr. Darcy,” she agreed, “how could you be so thoughtless?”
“I believed I was thoughtful,” he countered, bringing her hand up to her lips and kissing her ring. “You truly are a beautiful sight, Miss Swan.”
“I’m quite plain,” she argued. “No one ever thought anything of me except when I am new and something different.”
“Well, you are new and certainly different now,” he agreed. “A young lady who doesn’t like parties and would not, I believe I had it from a letter from Georgiana, buy back Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s wedding dress no matter how Mrs. Andrews tried to persuade her.”
Bella looked at him pointedly. “Colonel Fitzwilliam suggested blue, and Georgiana was quite in agreement.”
His fingers lightly played across her jaw. “Blue then,” he agreed. “I look forward to seeing my bride.” Darcy leaned forward and opened his lips and kissed her gently. “You must go before I do something I regret.”
“Regret it, then,” she suggested.
“Bella,” he warned, kissing her teasingly. “Go.”
She drew back and looked at him for a long moment before she took up her book and left the room. He watched her go and wondered how he could want a girl so much he hardly knew.
Darcy House was beautiful and more than Bella ever could have dreamed. She climbed the stairs in and awe and flitted about the rooms, greeting the servants she found, and tried to learn their names.
“This is your room for the night,” Georgiana showed her a large room with green furnishings that was nicer than anything she had seen in Netherfield. “Of course you’ll be moving after the wedding.”
Wedding, of course. Bella was still nervous about that. Darcy had promised that he wouldn’t—that he would give her time—but she would still be moving into their shared rooms.
“Is Colonel Fitzwilliam staying the night or does he go elsewhere in London?”
“He has lodgings.”
A footman came in with her trunk and a plain maid with russet hair came in and began to unpack Bella’s trunk.
“I believe she is a wedding present to you,” Georgiana guessed. “From France?”
“Oui, Mademoiselle,” the girl responded.
“A French maid,” Georgiana cooed. “Fitzwilliam must truly care for you.”
Bella demurred and sat down at her vanity, briefly looking at herself, at the curls that formed around her face, and her big brown eyes. “I’m so different than Elizabeth Bennet.”
“You’re an improvement on her, if I may be so bold, but we are to be sisters,” Georgiana promised, coming beside her. “I must confess, I did not care for her. I cared for Fitzwilliam’s happiness, but not for the lady herself. I always preferred her sister Jane.”
“The Colonel mentioned something,” Bella confessed. “Will you not tell me the reason?”
Georgiana paused and waited until the French maid curtseyed and left. “I—she was dishonest. I saw the way she looked at Cousin Richard. I know that look. It’s—how I look at him.” She blushed. “It’s how he looks at me. I am not ignorant just because I am seventeen.—It’s how Fitzwilliam now looks at you.”
“Are you saying that Elizabeth Bennet—” She paused, not certain how to say it in early nineteenth century in England “—preferred the Colonel to your brother?” Bella looked at her reflection in shock. “Did your brother know?”
Shaking her head, tears welled up in Georgiana’s eyes. “He enjoyed that she took liberties with him, that she treated him like a man instead of a pillar of the community. I didn’t want to take that away from him. However, she treated Richard like that as well, though to a lesser extent. She treated me like that. I hated it. I knew it would come to the point where I would hate her. It is a failing of mine, I know, but I have become resentful. I hope you will try to notice if I fall prey to this emotion, and help me overcome it.”
Bella opened her mouth in shock, but then closed it. Hesitantly, she reached out and touched Georgiana’s cheek, as her mom had when she was a small child. “I am your sister. I will do my best, Georgiana. If you will help me in society. I do not understand it.”
“Of course, Isabella,” she promised, clasping her hand on her cheek. “You’re so good for Fitzwilliam. He’s relaxed. He smiles when he thinks no one is looking. He gave you mother’s ring.”
“I thought it belonged to your great-grandmother,” she murmured, looking down at it.
“Father gave it to mother,” Georgiana informed her. “It was Mother’s engagement ring.”
Bella lifted her hand and watched the ring catch the light. “I wonder why he never said.—Who can ever understand men?”
“Who indeed?” Georgiana agreed. “You must rest before dinner.”
“Rest,” Bella sighed. “I swear you ladies rest more than you do anything else. Send in that maid so she can unlace me. I don’t see the purpose of corsets.”
Georgiana looked scandalized but the French maid came in and Bella learned her name was Marguerite.
Bella wore blue silks embroidered with pink flowers to the wedding. She was surprised to see when she turned to walk out of the church Lord Marcus sitting in the pews. Her eyes locked with his and she paused.
“Lord Marcus,” she greeted. “Why are you…?”
“You know Lord Marcus, Bella?” Darcy asked in obvious bewilderment.
“You know Lord Marcus?” she parroted.
Marcus stood in his robes. “I trust our debt of honor has been fulfilled, Mr. Darcy. We found you a bride—one more suitable than the one you had chosen for yourself.”
Bella blinked at him. “I knew it,” she whispered. “I knew the Volturi took me out of Italy.”
“Indeed, Isabella Swan. Edward Cullen had to pay for his crimes. Taking away the human he loved seemed like adequate punishment—I have ensured that he will not attempt suicide again. Madam, I wish you joy.” He swept out of the church, and Bella just stared after him. Turning to her husband, she was lost for words.
Darcy reached up and touched her cheek. “I will explain all,” he promised, “and I pray that you, too, will trust me with your secrets.”
She nodded dumbly and they made their way to the wedding celebrations.
“It was 1806,” he told her as he stood in his britches and shirt in his bedchamber. Bella was in a nightdress that Georgiana had insisted she purchase. “I found a girl who had sharp incisors and, well, she wasn’t human. Her skin sparkled in the light. Her name was Jane.”
“Jane,” she murmured. “She’s rather sadistic.”
Darcy looked at her. “I kept her hidden. I fed her pig’s blood, but soon that wasn’t enough, so I found her wraiths for her to feed from until she was well enough. Her skin had been burnt almost black. I don’t know how. When she left, she told me she owed me a debt of honor. A few years later Lord Marcus arrived and stated the Volturi owed the debt. It’s how I know him.”
Bella ran a hand over her forehead and breathed out.
“They must have answered my prayers when I begged the night for you. I don’t know how. I have learned not to question them. I don’t even know what they are.”
Debating what to say, she finally whispered, “They’re vampires. I was born in 1988—” At his confused look, Bella continued “—how is this anymore unreal then you wishing a bride into your bed? Edward is a vampire I was dating. When his brother—coven mate—almost killed me, he left me in the woods, telling me he never loved me, and I almost froze to death. The next six months were the worst in my life. I began to recover myself with the help of Jake, the Indian chief’s son, and I went cliff diving one day. His sister Alice saw me and Edward believed I had committed suicide so he begged the Volturi, who are the rulers of the vampire world, to kill him. When they refused, he was going to commit a crime that would ensure his death. I went to Italy to stop him. We were returning to America when I fell asleep and woke up in your arms. Lord Marcus is one of the three Volturi brothers.—I can’t believe they arranged this!”
Darcy came up to her and knelt down in front of her so he was level with her eyes. “We’re happy, Bella. I know I am so happy to have you as my wife. I know you are fond of me.”
She reached out and carded her hand through his hair. “You’re so open with me. I don’t understand.”
“I love you,” he told her honestly. “If I can’t be myself with you, unguarded, then I am doing both of us a disservice.”
“Perhaps,” she agreed.
“I pray one day you will love me,” he murmured as he leant into her touch. “Come to bed, Bella. Just let me hold you like our first morning together.”
She smirked at him. “I may let you kiss me.”
Darcy smirked. “Well, Mrs. Darcy.” He swept her off of the chair she was sitting on and she giggled. “To bed!”