Guess what! Snowbound at Hartfield will be available on Amazon On Saturday 1/28! (Click the cover to go to Amazon to preorder.)You can keep reading new chapters each week, OR you can get the whole story for your kindle! Nook, Kobo and Apple versions will be available as well.
What happens when Emma meets Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice? Courtships of course!
Find other chapters HERE.
Over the next two days, Miss Elliot kept to her room, claiming a return of her fever, giving him the unmitigated pleasure of her father’s unfiltered company at each meal and in the drawing room besides.
Was it ungentlemanly to question her absence, now that they had agreed to a courtship that had to be conducted in a very short time? Sadly it was the sort of trick too many women of his acquaintance would readily play with a man.
Apparently, though, Liza wondered as well. She had made a point of sitting with the invalid and reading to her to keep her spirits up. Over luncheon, Liza casually offered her observation that Mrs. Knightley’s invitation to stay had been a very good thing. Taking to the road, even in the improved weather, would certainly have turned Miss Elliot’s cold into something quite dangerous.
It was a maddening tease, though, to have the intent to pursue a courtship in the little time allotted them only to be stayed by the very reason for the opportunity.
Patience had never been his chosen virtue, though, and that would not change now.
Distraction, he needed some distraction.
There was only one thing to do: apply himself to the estate records supplied by the solicitor. Darcy had been lecturing him on the need to attend to them, so he might as well satisfy his task master.
Dear God, he was truly desperate.
He sat down and stared at the stack of books on the desk. No one could fault Markham’s thoroughness. He was more fastidious than Darcy—a fact it would be delightful to point out at the correct moment.
Fitzwilliam leaned back and stretched, trying not to hit the wall behind him. Knightley had been thoughtful, replacing the small writing desk in his room with a more substantial working desk. It did though make for a bit of a trial, squeezing his too-long frame into the limited space between walls and furnishings.
Hopefully the study at Listingbrook would be a bit more spacious.
What was he going to do with an estate? It was not as if Father had bothered to teach him anything about land management. Now Darcy—and Knightley following Darcy’s example—seemed to be trying to pour a lifetime of knowledge and experience into him so fast he gasped for air like a drowning man.
Cold water, closing in, covering over him.
He sprang from his seat and paced the room, gulping lungsful of air as he went. More … more … he needed to breathe.
He threw open the window. A gust of cold air buffeted his face, burning his lungs. But it was air!
He clutched the window frame, lightheaded, and sagged to his knees.
Forehead against the frigid windowsill, he braced his palms on the floor. There was no water here, plenty of air to breathe.
Must breathe slowly.
He held his breath and counted to five, released the breath over another five counts and breathed in for five more. Again. Once more.
The spots slowly cleared from his vision.
He shut the window and sat, leaning against the wall.
It had been a long time since that memory had intruded.
He raked his hair out of his face.
Did Miss Elliot have any idea of what she might be getting herself into with him?
Certainly not. What lady would expect … this?
She would have to know. Somehow he would have to tell her. She would probably do the sensible thing and run. She seemed a very sensible woman.
But to fail to tell her would be to entrap her with the same sort of games that he despised.
No, he would not stoop to those means to get a wife. Even if it meant he would be alone.
He trudged back to the desk.
An hour later, he stood and stretched, joints popping, the familiar tearing sensation across his scars reminded him—no this was not the time for those memories.
What was it about today? It had been months since he had had one this bad.
Activity, he must have activity.
Darcy crossed paths with him in the hall way. “Excellent, I was just in search of you.”
“That sounds ominous.” Fitzwilliam cocked his head and crossed his arms over his chest.
He was doing that far more now that he was married than he had ever done before.
It was a little unsettling.
“Now the weather has turned, it would be a good time to see the solicitor in Highbury. It is time to see Listingbrook in the flesh. That is what we came for, after all.” A hint of a smile curved Darcy’s lips.
That was as close to teasing as he ever came. Right now, that was probably a good thing.
“Capital suggestion. Shall we then?” He gestured Darcy on ahead of him. Solicitors were usually rather dreadful to meet with, dull, detail-oriented, and without any identifiable sense of humor. Still, it was a useful errand that he might as well get over with.
He mounted his horse and settled into the saddle. He should not dread the solicitor and the ensuing visit to his estate so much. The books revealed a modest, but profitable establishment that had been run well, not some sort of disaster for him to turn around. At least Darcy would tell him so. But it also meant that any credit for success would go to his predecessor and blame for failure would fall securely in his lap.
How cynical he had become. When had that happened?
A sharp breeze cut across the back of his neck. He turned up the collar of his coat and hunched a little against the cold.
The wind was very like that on the French plain…
The skin on the back of his neck twitched. Was that the smell of gunpowder?
No, that could not be possible.
He cast about over his shoulder. He and Darcy were alone on the road.
The horse tossed his head. What did it sense? Fitzwilliam’s pulse quickened to double time, a low roar in his ears. Cold air burned his lungs and he dragged in deeper, faster breaths.
“Fitz?” Darcy brought his horse alongside Fitzwilliam’s.
Fitzwilliam jumped and the horse shied. Thankfully instinct was all that was required to bring the creature under control again.
“Are you well?” Darcy’s forehead furrowed in deep knots.
Fitzwilliam shook his head. “I am fine, just a bit distracted.” He urged the horse to walk on.
Hopefully that would be enough to discourage Darcy. Conversation was the last thing he needed.
They passed quaint cottages, several pleasant farmhouses, and a small pond. A very charming, very comfortable, very English, countryside.
Highbury rose just ahead. How many other English towns looked just like it? Meryton certainly did. Large enough for some commercial interests, some semblance of social life—assemblies, plays, the odd concert or lecture, but nothing to the appeals of London.
Or the expense.
“Will you be happy here? Country life can be rather routine and even a bit dull.”
Fitzwilliam looked over his shoulder and stared at Darcy. “Does it really matter? It seems that I now have a home here.”
“That is not a foregone conclusion. Though Listingbrook is yours, you do not have to live there. You could lease the house and hire a steward to manage the property for you. You could live elsewhere, off the income from the estate and not be confined to such limited society. You could take a house in London—”
“I am surprised to hear you say that. You spend little enough time in town.”
“You should consider all your options and make the best choice for you, and possibly the family you might have.”
Fitzwilliam stopped his horse and faced Darcy. “You would advise me opposite of your own choices? I find that rather extraordinary. You seem entirely content to spend most of your time at Pemberley.”
“I do not recall you being content to keep to Matlock or even Matlock House in London when you had the opportunity.”
Fitzwilliam grunted and flashed a tight smile. “So you assumed I had a taste for the wonders of high society?”
Darcy’s eyebrow rose in something resembling genuine surprise—not a common expression for Darcy. “Your brothers, Andrew especially, certainly do.”
“So, naturally I do as well?” he huffed and looked aside. “I wonder if you know me at all. Perhaps you do not recall, the company at Matlock is not, and has never been, quite so pleasing as the company at Pemberley. Even Rosings Park is an improvement to Matlock.”
Darcy’s jaw dropped. “I never realized—”
“I suppose it is an easy thing to take for granted when one’s own home is peaceful and comfortable. But when it is not, most other places and situations are preferable to staying at home.”
Darcy dragged his hand down his face. “Elizabeth understands these things so much better than I.”
That was not saying a great deal. Most people did.
“I do not imagine that Pemberley today is much like Matlock.”
“It is true what they say about the mistress of a house. Pemberley is not the place you remember under my father, she has made it what it once was under my mother’s hand, a home. I confess, I did not understand just how much the management of a home would mean to her—or any woman.” Darcy’s eyebrows rose.
“What are you so carefully not saying? Just come out with it. I am tired of waiting for you to make your point.”
“After we have toured the estate and seen the house, it might be advisable to bring Miss Elliot to visit the property, to see over what she might be mistress of.”
“And if she does not run away screaming in fright, I should consider that an excellent sign that I should make an offer for her?”
Darcy guffawed and urged his horse into motion once again. After he had pulled far enough ahead that conversation would not be possible, Fitzwilliam followed suit.
Leave it to Darcy to drive home the looming issue that he most did not want to confront.
He never should have suggested a courtship with Miss Elliot, prior to having seen the house. Yes, the books all suggested the estate was in good order and the inventories, even in Miss Elliot’s estimates, implied a house that was of suitable size for their needs.
But their needs were not the only consideration. Even with the need to retrench, there was no doubt that Miss Elliot was accustomed to a certain style of life. Had not her father said at dinner the previous night, ‘A baronet must be seen to live in a style befitting his rank’?
It seemed to have taken all Darcy’s self-control not to contradict Sir Walter. He had said nothing at all for a full hour at least. Bennet had good fun with it though, baiting the baronet into further and further absurdities, until Knightley interjected himself into the conversation to steer it into safer waters.
Probably a good thing that Miss Elliot had not been present for that show. She would have been mortified at the way Sir Walter droned on and on about the necessity of fashionable drapery in any room that received guests.
Once away from her father, what would she expect fashionable draperies? No doubt they would have to entertain and take their place among Highbury’s society. Their home would have to reflect their rank and connections. Was Listingbrook up to the challenge?
If the house was not suitable or the situation entirely disagreeable to her, it might be best to acknowledge it soon and walk away with no hard feelings on either side. There were real limits as to what he could provide her and no telling what she required.
Bloody hell, he did not even know if he would want to live there himself. Maybe Darcy’s notion of taking a townhouse in London was not such a bad one after all.
Of course it was a good idea, it came from Darcy.
Did he have any idea how maddening it was when he was so often right? That would be something worth asking Liza about. No doubt she had devised a means of dealing with that most annoying trait.
Pleasing as that notion was, it must wait for another time. They had arrived at the solicitor’s office and there was a great deal to be accomplished.