Birthed as a project on Austen Variations, The Darcy Brothers remain one of my favorite books!.
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The Darcy Brothers
Theo Darcy is everything his disapproving elder brother, Fitzwilliam, is not—charming, easy-going, and full of fun. A tragic event as children severed their bond of friendship, but now they are together again. They are still at odds, though, this time over the love of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and the truth about George Wickham. Will Wickham manage to divide the brothers again? And more importantly, which Mr. Darcy will Elizabeth choose? Find out as the two brothers lock horns in this unique Pride & Prejudice variation collectively written by five respected authors. The Darcy Brothers was first conceived as an interactive group writing project and has developed into a full-length novel featuring the charismatic Theo Darcy. A sweet Regency romance for all lovers of Pride and Prejudice.
A woman screamed.
Theseus skittered and jumped. The back of Theo’s head collided with something very hard. The world dimmed, and he slipped from the saddle.
His head throbbed. His ankle…and dear God! His shoulder! Shooting pain centered in his shoulder and shot through his torso. His muscles clamped down against it, driving the agony deeper. He clutched his left arm.
Elizabeth Bennet? What the devil was she doing here?
“I am so sorry, sir. I fear I startled your horse.”
He groaned and rolled to his right. Searing pain tore through his upper body. Were those horrible, high pitched cries coming from his lips? What a lovely way to comport himself in front of a lady.
“Where are you injured?”
“Shoulder.” He pulled his arm tight to his chest and rolled up, hissing through his teeth until he sat straight. How was he to get back to Rosings when he could barely sit up?
She knelt in the dirt beside him. “I fear it may be dislocated. I must remove your coat to see.”
A string of invectives fell from his mouth as she eased the coat down and off. Poor girl, she had probably never heard such language, but she was merciful enough to give no sign of it now.
He glanced at his left shoulder. The unnatural angles of the joint twisted his gut. He had never cast up his accounts before a lady, but today might be the first.
“I can reset the joint. It is not a pleasant thing, but it will relieve the pain and the sooner the thing is done the less likely there will be permanent damage.”
“Do it—quickly,” he muttered through gritted teeth. For all his mishaps and injuries, nothing, absolutely nothing compared to this agony.
“My father has put his shoulder out a number of times. The surgeon showed me what to do.” She scooted behind him.
Would she simply stop talking and do whatever it was—now?
Elizabeth slid her hand into his armpit, hard, strong and excruciating. He groaned and bit his lip until he tasted blood.
“Press your arm to your side.” Thankfully, she guided him. He could not manage the simple movement alone. Another high pitched squawk escaped. How humiliating!
“Right. Now, just a moment here.” She rotated his lower arm away from his body.
He felt more than heard the resounding pop that roiled his stomach. The scream that followed was just a reflex. He hunched over, balanced on his right hand, panting to quell the churning in his belly. When the wave passed and he could breathe normally again, he did so without the searing, blinding misery of a moment before.
“I thought I would never draw a proper breath again. How can I thank you?”
“Do not be so excited just yet. You must rest that shoulder and do very little with it. It should be tied up to support it, but I have nothing—”
“My cravat? Will that do?” He fumbled with the knot.
“Yes, I believe it will.”
He pulled at the knot with his right hand. Normally, he could work it loose in a single fluid motion. Not so today when he had a lovely audience and a shredded dignity to repair. His hand trembled and stubbornly refused to obey his command.
“Ah, sir?” She bit her lower lip.
Had she any idea what an enticing maneuver that was? Had he not already settled that Miss Bennet was for his brother or been in so much pain, he might have done something very, very foolish.
“Are you in need of assistance?” Her cheeks flushed a pleasing rose.
How could a woman be so bloody attractive at a moment like this? “I am afraid so. It seems my valet has done a particularly good job on this knot…”
“My father often has the same trouble after he injures his shoulder.” She reached for his cravat.
Her fingertips brushed his jaw. How lovely and cool they felt. One could easily imagine—but one should not. One definitely should not!
“There, I believe I have the knot out.” She tugged the cravat and it slid easily around his collar.
He closed his eyes. This scene—well some of it at least—was the stuff of heady daydreams. Torture! Pure torture!
She knotted the cravat into a sling and adjusted it behind his neck, no hint of discomfiture upon her face. Never had he left a woman so unaffected, yet she was calm and steady in crisis, knowledgeable and quick to act. Just like his brother. How ironic, a woman as quick to rescue Darcy’s family as Fitzwilliam himself, yet she had little interest in a man who could truly appreciate her nature.
“Is that comfortable?” she asked.
“Yes, as much as is possible under the circumstances. That is a most useful skill you have developed.”
“My father has deemed it so as well, although, all things considered, I would prefer not to be called upon to use it. Please forgive me for startling your horse.”
“I should have been paying better attention.”
“You seemed distracted when you left tea. Can you stand?” She pushed to her feet.
“I do not know. The ankle hurts, though not like my shoulder.”
“I wish that were a more reliable gauge of your injury.”
He stretched his leg tentatively. The dull ache intensified, but not into the severe sharpness that heralded a serious injury.
“That looks hopeful.” She cocked her head and lifted her eyebrow in an expression so like his brother that Theo laughed.
“Are you well, sir?”
“I am, forgive me. Your expression, it reminded me of Darcy.”
“Indeed. How singular.” She offered her shoulder to help him stand.
On his feet, he tottered a bit, the world somewhat wobbly around him. Thankfully, it soon settled into a dull ache and exhaustion.
“If you think you can get in the saddle, I can lead—”
“You, lead Theseus?”
“You can ride him on your own?”
“Ah, no, I doubt it.”
“Then what alternative is there? If I leave to get help, the moment I am out of your sight, you will be on his back trying to ride and doing further injury to yourself and quite possibly your horse.” Elizabeth planted her hands on her hips and seemed to grow several hand spans taller, just as his mother had when she scolded.
He snickered; it just would not be silenced.
“Laughing at me again—”
“You look and sound like my mother.”
“First your brother, now your mother. Shall I take on the likeness of every member of your family?”
“I see nothing of Aunt Catherine in you.”
“That is a great relief.”
Oh God, it hurt to laugh, but he could not stop. He leaned against Theseus’ shoulder, peals of laughter shaking his body.
“We must get you back to—the parsonage is closer, but Rosings is more—”
“Stuffy and prone to lecture.” He snickered.
“I was going to say comfortable.”
Another spasm of laughter gripped him, groans hidden amidst the guffaws.
“If you will oblige me and try to mount, your horse and I shall get you to the parsonage.”
Mounting his horse after the celebration the night he was admitted to the Inn of Courts was far easier to accomplish than getting in the saddle today. Four attempts! What kind of clod took four attempts to get on a horse? He gripped the saddle with his right hand and panted heavily. He had run from Pemberley to Lambton and back with less effort.
“Are you ready?” She took Theseus’ reins.
“Are you certain you can manage—”
She patted the horse’s cheek. “Quite sure. Just because I like to walk does not preclude a comfort with horses.” She encouraged Theseus into a walk. “When one must share the horses between farm and carriage, and with four sisters besides, walking is often the most agreeable option.”
Each of the horse’s gentle steps pounded his body like a full on gallop. How far was it to the parsonage? “I cannot imagine a household of five sisters. Are they all very much like you?”
“Are you and your brother very much alike? You laugh quite freely while your brother, I should think, never so indulges.”
“There are those that consider him rather somber.”
“I should be surprised to hear there are those who do not.”
A laugh welled up, but he squelched it, his balance on Theseus precarious. He would not fall from his horse twice in one day. “You might be surprised. He has his unguarded moments in which he can be quite easy—with his friend, Bingley, or our cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“Indeed? I would not call those unguarded moments easy.”
What had William done? “I take it you witnessed such a moment?”
She shook her head. “I should not have spoken so. Please—”
“No, I must and you must indulge me, if only out of deference for my weakened condition.”
“It is really of no matter. I do not wish to discuss something so improper—”
“If you remember it this long, then it is of consequence. My brother is apt to give offense wherever he goes. He is not mean-spirited by any imagination, but he has shocking little sense for how he appears to others. It is his greatest flaw, in an otherwise impeccable character.”
“Indeed, I thought it was that once his good opinion was lost, it was lost forever.”
Great heavens! “He said that?”
She tipped her head.
“And he speculated upon your flaws as well?”
“I am apt to willfully misunderstand people.” She touched her chest and arranged her face to look far too much like William.
Was she trying to make him laugh and disgrace himself again? “He is socially inept in a society that needs the lubrication of pretty words and insincere speeches.”
“They are helpful in their place, I suppose.”
“But as inaccessible to my brother as it is a lame man to run. Try as he might, his best efforts are halting and limping.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him, tongue in cheek. She was considering his words, mulling them carefully, but her eyes were unconvinced, even guarded. Blasted, foolish man! William must have gone beyond his normal bounds of awkwardness. “I take it then, he said something rather awful to you.”
“Not to me.”
“But in your hearing.”
When? William went with Bingley just after Ramsgate. That would surely account for a foul mood and unguarded speech. He could have muttered any number of un-pleasantries in a fit of pique. Apparently William did not exhaust his supply on Theo.
“Was it your appearance he maligned or your character?”
“I have not had the pleasure of hearing him opine on my character.”
It would probably be easier to repair the situation had it been that. A woman’s vanity was fragile and difficult to repair. “Was he complimentary to anyone?”
“No. I believe he found our entire company equally disagreeable.”
“Would it make a difference if I told you he came to Meryton following a…a…grievous situation in our family. A disaster had been narrowly averted, but he was deeply taxed by the entire affair.”
“So you say he was of no mind for company at the time?”
“Not at all.” He pressed his temple, head pounding in time to Theseus steps.
“Then he should not have come.”
“Probably not, but Bingley insisted he needed Darcy’s help with the property and, with Bingley’s gregarious nature, I am sure he thought new company the best remedy for melancholy.”
“I take it you agree, company is an excellent remedy?”
He grimaced. This woman was far too perceptive.
“You were amongst those who faced your brother’s disapproval?”
“Yes…but it was not undeserved.” His cheeks flushed.
“You have lost his good opinion?”
Gah! How had she turned the conversation?
“And you wish it restored.”
“Yes,” he mumbled. Why did he answer such an inquiry?
“Why does it matter to you?”
“My brother is…a good man, whom I respect. He has been a rock to our family in difficult days. I…owe him a great deal…and admire him.” A sizable lump in his throat silenced him, thankfully. Where had that speech come from?
“His good opinion is worth the earning?” she asked in that same maddeningly innocent tone.
He grunted something affirmative sounding. No wonder William was on his way to Bedlam over her.
“Perhaps you should tell him that. If he is the man you believe him to be, I think he would be honored to hear it.” Elizabeth glanced back at him and blinked as if she had merely commented upon the weather.
Vexing woman! She knew full well the weight of what she suggested. He had never said anything of the like to William—they never shared such things. It was not done.
Could she be right?
He pinched the bridge of his nose. What an entirely disruptive, discomposing woman, this Elizabeth Bennet. She had just managed to blithely cut to the heart of the matter and insert herself into the middle of an affair no one else dared venture into. Even if she did not know it, she understood William and Theo like only one other—their mother—had.
She must marry William, it had to be. So great a need required a great sacrifice. He licked his lips. “I will tell him—”
She looked at him, eyes wide, a lovely smile blossoming.
“On one condition.”
“That the sun move backward in the sky or the seas part before your command?”
He laughed and immediately regretted it. “No, nothing quite so dramatic. I will tell him, if you will give him another chance.”
“Excuse me? Another chance?” Her wide eyes and dropped jaw were a picture to treasure.
How nice to finally regain the upper hand! “Forgive him his trespass on your feelings and allow him a fresh start. Give him an opportunity to show you a better side of himself.”
“Why? What you propose seems hardly a fair trade, a very small favor that hardly balances—”
“Let us just say, I do not like knowing you are out there in the world and thinking ill of him.”
She chuckled and shook her head. “You are an unusual man, Mr. Theophilus Darcy. But, in the interest of restoring your filial harmony, I will make every effort to do as you ask.”
If his head—and every other part of his body—did not ache so badly, he would have urged Theseus into a joyous gallop.
But do you really think it will be that easy?
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