Mary examines her options…and herself.
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Her cheek burned where he had touched her. She pressed her palm to her face, but even the cool touch did nothing to alleviate the sensation.
Insolent, arrogant, disagreeable man. ! How dare he touch her like that, uninvited?
Family he might be, but truly this was too much. It would be entirely proper, even justified for her to demand her things be packed and she leave. Perhaps that might even teach him something about propriety and restraint. She was not the kind of woman he was accustomed to, if he thought that was appropriate treatment.
Was this the beginning of what Charlotte feared might happen? No, that was too much to believe, even of him. He had not been suggestive or demanding in any way. Only tender and considerate.
But Charlotte would argue that is what he would want her to believe, in order to lure her into … something.
Granted, he did not fear Darcy, but neither was he so callous that he would intentionally do something to hurt his closest friend and cousin. No, this was not about seductions, just the lack of appropriate boundaries.
But those were important. Perhaps she should indeed go.
But where would she go? After Fitzwilliam’s show of dominance, she could not return to the parsonage, at least not so soon. And even if she did, Collins’s temper would be worse, if anything, not better.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the echoes of Collins’ voice and the sharp smack of the back of his hand across her cheek seared through her. She blinked back the burning in her eyes. No, this was not the time to rehearse those memories. Foolish girl.
Why should she be so fragile now? He was not the first man to treat her thus … and he might not be the last, but his hand had been unexpected. She had been guarded at home, but fool that she was, she had dropped her defenses here. Without time to prepare herself, steel herself against the outburst, it affected her as Father never had.
Must put that out of her mind now. She needed a few moments to gather herself for the next trial.
Lady Catherine proved tired and a bit whiny, like a child in need of a nap. It required only a little encouragement to take to her rooms for a rest. It seemed almost too easy.
Mary returned to her chambers, asking not to be disturbed until dinner. Would anyone honor the request though? It seemed likely; who was left that had not already visited her?
She paced the perimeter of her room and the adjacent dressing room. The rooms were pretty, in a garish sort of way, larger and better appointed than any she had ever enjoyed before. Would it really be such a trial to stay here now?
No. But that was not the point. Not at all. She pumped her fists at her side. How dare Fitzwilliam take away all her choices? What right had he to make decisions for her? Imperious, pretentious, domineering popinjay. He did not deserve to win this hand.
She fell into a small chair near the dressing room window—a rather lumpy affair with a particularly hard bump right in the center of her back. If only she could escape Rosings as Lizzy had.
But how could she?
Lizzy had not managed her escape alone. Far from it. Long Tom and Ames, Parkes, the Gardiners, Darcy; they all took up for her and came—quite literally—to her rescue. True enough, she had earned their regard with everything that she had done for them; that was her doing. But without their help, she would have been victim to Lady Catherine’s machinations.
Lizzy was fortunate.
A chill spread from the top of Mary’s head all the way to her toes.
There was no one to rescue her.
No one. If she were to run from Rosings this moment, no one would notice until they needed something from her.
No, that was not fair. Michaels would notice. No doubt, he would.
But what would he do?
When Lizzy went missing, Darcy turned into a desperate madman, nothing would get in the way of his search for her. He had to be all but tied down not to go out sick, in the rain to continue his search. He was a force of nature who would stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to find and protect the woman he adored.
Such intensity was not Michaels’ way. A precise, well-ordered man, he would do things with planning and control. To be sure, he would search for her in his own way. He was far too loyal to allow her to disappear easily.
She wrapped her arms around her waist. But how long would he continue to look? How persistent would he be if she proved difficult to trace?
Enough! Enough! He did not deserve such doubt!
She pushed herself to her feet, nearly knocking over the chair. Blast and botheration! It struggled within her grasp her as she fought to steady it.
What point was there in driving herself to misery with such thoughts? Comparing Michaels to Darcy was as ridiculous as comparing herself to Lizzy. It was foolish.
But how could she not compare herself to the one person who had what she most wanted …
She clutched her temples and groaned. Of course, she would have to admit that now, too. One more ugly truth. Yes, Lizzy had what she wanted, but what was that precisely?
To be loved passionately? To be recognized as strong and competent? To be respected? To have the power of choice? What was it really that she was looking for?
And did she have any right to hope for it when she was so plain and ordinary and had little hope of being otherwise? No one had ever told her differently. Heroines were all beautiful, gay and sparkling. Like Lizzy and Lydia.
And now she had a headache. A thundering, skull-shattering, knee-weakening headache, a battle of Napoleonic proportions playing out in the confines of her skull.
She staggered to her bed and threw herself headlong upon it. What perfect justice to be meted out for her uncharitable thoughts.
So, what do YOU think Mary really wants? Tell me in the comments.
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