December 15, 1811
Elizabeth rose and glided to her husband’s side. The soft rustle of her skirts and the scratch of his pen filled the otherwise quiet room. She stood behind him and waited. He would look up soon enough. If she disturbed him, he would spoil the wet ink and insist on beginning again. Unlike Mr. Bingley, he could not abide sloppy letters.
Darcy signed with a flourish and set his pen aside. A quick dusting of sand and he turned to her.
“Oh, my dear.” She cradled his face between her palms.
He pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her, lips curving up in the dimpled smile she coveted. “Did I ever tell you how brilliant you were to suggest we share an office?”
“Perhaps, once or twice.” His dimples still set her heart aflutter. Hopefully, they always would.
He kissed her, lingering in the sweetness of their embrace. Was it wrong to be disappointed when he stopped and leaned his cheek on top of her head?
“You work too hard.”
“You tell me often enough. Before you ask, yes, I am interviewing secretaries. One or two of the candidates may prove worthy. But,” he tapped the tip of her nose with his finger, “the work I am doing now is not something even the best secretary could assist with.”
“Mrs. Reynolds brought another large stack of letters. A number appear to be social correspondence. May I help—”
“Yes.” He pressed her into his chest, scooped up a stack of letters, lumpy with wax seals, and dropped them in her lap.
“That took considerable deliberation.” She snickered and picked up the topmost missives. “Are you sure all of these are for me?”
“No, but it matters little. I can think of no business I would keep from your sight.”
She pulled back and met his gaze, eyebrow lifted. “So there is no correspondence you might wish to hide—”
Darcy threw his head back and laughed.
How she loved that sound, rich with warmth and tenderness. Perhaps in the next year she might present him with a child, a son he could teach to laugh the same way. Babyish giggles echoing his laughter tickled the back of her mind. The corners of her lips crept upwards.
He kissed her hair. “Dear woman, I already arranged your Christmastide gifts. I have not forgotten.”
She tapped his chest. “You are very smug, Mr. Darcy. If you only knew how Papa—”
“I am certain your father owes you a great deal. I hope his marital harmony does not suffer because Kitty alone remains at Longbourn to remind him of what he might have overlooked.”
“Oh, poor Kitty! Her letters have been so melancholy since Lydia—”
Darcy gripped her hands. “My dearest, I wish I could have been there as I was for Georgiana.”
“Even you cannot protect us all.” She touched her forehead to his. “It is done and there is no remedy. We all thought she had learned from…her previous experiences. Even Mr. Bradley and Mr. Pierce agreed that she would be unlikely to repeat her ill-advised attempts to get a husband. I suppose the weight of three sisters married overcame her better judgment. At least Lt. Harper is a gentleman’s son.”
“He is a second son, and his father has almost nothing to give him.”
“I know.” She pressed her face into his shoulder. “Still, it is not your responsibility. Papa must bear his share of accountability for the ghastly affair.”
“Even so, Kitty should not.” Darcy blew out a ragged breath. “Meryton society has judged her harshly despite her having no role in Lydia’s elopement.”
Elizabeth studied him. The dear man was considering something, weighing out all its possibilities and permutations. He would not be hurried through these deliberations, so she cuddled close. If nothing else, this was a pleasant way to learn patience.
“Georgiana and her new companion will journey to Pemberley for Twelfth Night. I expect this time alone in London has improved her and she will be ready for more diverse company. What say you we invite Kitty to visit as well? Derbyshire is unaware of Lydia and her indiscretions. I expect Kitty might be able to make some new friends and enjoy the society Lambton and Pemberley can offer.”
“You are also concerned Georgiana might be lonely when she returns?”
“I am. Miss Lackley has a suitor now, leaving little time for Georgiana. Let us not forget, you have impressed upon me the value of sisterly companionship.”
“Are you prepared to manage the energy of two young ladies amidst all the entertaining we must do this season?” She stroked his cheek.
“They might be helpful to you and Mrs. Reynolds—”
“You think you shall be spared their energies!” She covered her mouth. Unladylike guffaws escaped despite the effort. “Do you believe all our preparations will exhaust them? I must disabuse you of the notion immediately. While they might, at times, make themselves useful in modest ways, the dinners and parties will send them into fits of raptures only to be resolved by trips to the modiste, and linen drapers, and—”
“So they will require new dresses.” He shrugged. “That insures your mother will approve the invitation.”
“You will be fortunate if my mother does not decide to come to chaperone Kitty herself.”
His eyes bulged.
She pulled his face close and kissed him. “I should not tease you. Given Kitty’s letters, I do not think Mama is in any spirits to travel.”
He met her gaze and looked straight through to her heart. He always understood.
“Are you disappointed?” His fingers grazed her cheek.
“No…well, perhaps a little. She does host excellent parties—”
“I am sure yours will be equally delightful.”
“At least we will enjoy plenty of pleasing company. Mary and Mr. Pierce and Mr. Bradley will be here at least as often as they are at the parsonage.” Elizabeth glanced out the window overlooking the path to the parsonage.
“Your sister and Pierce have been good for Bradley. I do not ever remember him so content, or comfortable. Though he rarely allowed me to call the apothecary to tend his ailments, he seems quite happy to allow Mary’s ministrations. I cannot believe how much your sister has blossomed caring for Kympton parish.”
“I am as proud of her as you must be of your cousin Richard.”
Darcy brushed a stray curl off her forehead. “I despaired that he would ever establish himself outside the army. Jane’s influence has settled him like none other.”
“It would appear we Bennet girls work a world of good wherever we go.” She kissed his cheek.
“Yes, you do. I suppose Pemberley will have more good than it is able to bear with all your sisters gathered for Christmastide. I nearly forgot. Bingley’s letter arrived yesterday. He accepted our invitation as well.”
Elizabeth sat up and folded her hands tightly in her lap. “What a lovely thing for our sisters—”
He rolled his eyes and pinched his temples. “You look and sound precisely like your mother.”
She laughed into his shoulder.
“You teasing woman!”
“Of course, it is the best tonic for your disposition. Now, release me from this delightful position so I may…we may both resume our less frivolous pursuits. I have an entire Christmastide for our friends and family to plan.” She kissed him and rose.
He handed her the stack of letters. “Thank you.”
She took them and returned to her desk. Mr. Bingley would be here for the holidays. Was Darcy aware of the tendre’ between his friend and her sister? She peeked at him. If he was, he gave no sign. Besides, he abhorred matchmaking.
Kitty would be happy to renew her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley, assuming that he had not found another young woman to admire. For all her sweetness, Kitty’s jealous streak could make the house party uncomfortable at best.
Then again, the possibility for awkwardness existed in any house party. Best not dwell on it. Hopefully, Kitty and Georgiana would get on well together. When Elizabeth had left Georgiana in London, she was still struggling with Lady Matlock’s improvements. Perhaps her new companion, Mrs. Hartwell, would enjoy better success.
She trimmed a sheet of foolscap with her penknife, smoothed it in front of her and dipped her pen. Dear Papa…