Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride & Prejudice Variation

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Alone with Mr. Darcy

A

Pride & Prejudice

Variation

 

Abigail Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Soup Press

 

Alone with Mr. Darcy: A Pride
& Prejudice Variation

 

Copyright © 2015 by Abigail
Reynolds


Cover by Jane Dixon-Smith

All rights reserved, including
the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any format
whatsoever. For information, address [email protected]

 

www.pemberleyvariations.com

www.austenvariations.com

 

To

 

Snowdrop

 

For
fearlessly throwing herself into the story and displaying an amazing will to
live beyond all odds.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

He remembered that old oak, the one with
the split trunk. It had been in full leaf, a giant filling the sky, when he
first rode to Meryton with Bingley. Now its bare branches reached out over the
hedgerow as if to snare an unwary traveler. But Darcy was anything but unwary.

He knew the dangers of the road he
followed. It led to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of the fine eyes, the woman who had
almost made him forget who he was and what he needed to do. No longer. He had
conquered that weakness and put it behind him. This journey to Meryton was for
one purpose and one purpose only, and it did not involve seeing her.

Most of his acquaintances in Meryton had
already faded in his mind. He could barely recall their faces, but that tiny
wisp of hair which escaped Elizabeth’s hairpins and danced over the nape of her
neck –
that
he remembered in excruciating detail. He could
practically smell her lavender scent and see the reflected candlelight on the
engraved silver pendant she had worn to the Netherfield ball, drawing his eyes
downwards and into temptation. And the music of her laugh, the flash in her
fine eyes when she was amused, that pale blue dress she wore when Caroline
Bingley invited her to take a turn around the room. The sunlight had shown
through it when she passed in front of the window, and that image was seared on
his soul. But now he was past all that. Should she happen to cross his path
today, he would feel nothing. He was once more in control of himself, the
master of Pemberley and of his fate.

The icy wind whistled past his ears and
down his neck as a few lazy snowflakes danced in the air. With his free hand,
he tightened his muffler and turned up the collar of his many-caped greatcoat.
His thick leather gloves were fur-lined, but even so, his fingers were
beginning to lose feeling as he held the reins. It would have been wiser to
take a carriage in this weather, where he could have a warm brick at his feet
and another for his hands, but he had wanted the freedom to come and go quickly
when he reached Meryton. It was only a few miles now. His numb fingers did not
matter. The sooner this was done, the happier he would be.

He squinted up at the grey sky. It had
been clear when he left London, but now clouds covered every inch of it, not
that he minded. The clouds matched his mood better than sunny skies. But now
the snow was coming faster and the wind was picking up.

A serious snowstorm could trap him in
Meryton overnight, and that was unacceptable. People would recognize him and
ask questions. Perhaps he should turn back and find an inn on the turnpike. But
he had not brought his valet or clothes for another day, and if he waited out
the snow in an inn, he would have to go to Longbourn looking disheveled. 
Bad enough he could not hide the traces of his long, cold ride. Not that he had
any need to impress anyone at Longbourn – far from it. He had no
intention of giving anyone any expectations. None at all.

Most likely it was just a flurry and would
improve soon.

A gust of wind sent snowflakes driving
into his face. Mercury tossed his head and whinnied, most likely unhappy about
the snow blowing in his eyes. He had probably never seen snow before. Darcy
leaned forward and patted the side of his head, but the horse’s ears remained
flattened. Perhaps it had been a mistake to take the young stallion rather than
one of his better trained horses.

But now the snow was coming down harder,
making it difficult to see any distance down the road. Devil take it, he would
have to go back. But when he pulled on Mercury’s reins, instead of turning, the
horse reared up wildly. Suddenly there was nothing but air beneath Darcy.

***

Elizabeth Bennet pushed her icy fingers
deeper into her woolen gloves, wishing Lydia had not once again claimed the fur
muff. Of course Lydia would just laugh and say it was her own fault for walking
the long way home from the church. Lydia would never understand the need to get
away from everyone, and today she would have run mad without some time to
herself.

Why, oh why had she agreed to visit
Charlotte in Kent? The last thing she wished to do was to travel all that
distance for the supposed pleasure of sharing a house with Mr. Collins and all
of his ridiculous platitudes and flatteries. How could Charlotte have agreed to
marry that foolish man? What had happened to her good sense? Elizabeth would
rather be a poor spinster than marry a man she could not respect.

It had been impossible to refuse the
invitation, though. If only Charlotte had not asked her at the church door with
everyone around them! She might have been able to find an excuse to avoid the
visit then. But now she was committed, because everyone knew she was going to
Kent in March. Oh, joy – she would no doubt have the
great
pleasure of meeting the famous Lady Catherine de Bourgh as well. It was not
going to be a happy journey. 

The snow was coming down in earnest now,
swirling around her and painting the world in shades of white. How could she
resist sticking out her tongue to catch a flake on it, even if she
was
half-frozen? She had always been the best of her sisters at this game, and
chasing snowflakes was far more pleasant than thinking of the visit to
Charlotte and her horrible husband. Her cold fingers were forgotten as she
danced on the path, pausing here and there to examine the intricate shapes of
the snowflakes as they landed on her gloves. Each was so different from the
next! If only she had a way to preserve those fanciful forms. But they melted
into nothing in a matter of seconds.

***

A burning knife was digging a hole in
Darcy’s skull. Why? All he wanted was to sleep. The cold had finally gone away.
If only the knife would do the same!

“Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy!” A female voice
called his name urgently.

He wanted to ignore it, but it stirred
some memory. He forced his eyes open to discover the visage of Elizabeth Bennet
only inches from his face. “You,” he said distinctly, “are not supposed to be
here.”


I
am not supposed to be here?” Her
voice rose sharply on the words. “You are the one who… oh, never mind. Are you
well enough to walk?”

“Walk? Why would I want to walk?”

She closed her eyes as if hunting inside
herself for patience. “Because it is snowing and you are injured.”

“I am not injured. I am merely resting.”

This time her lips twitched. “I see. You
have chosen to rest by the side of the road in the middle of a snowstorm with a
gash in your head. An interesting choice, Mr. Darcy. Personally, I would
recommend a warm bed next time.”

How tempting those lips were! “A warm bed
sounds very good to me, although hardly for resting.”

Elizabeth turned her face away, but he
thought she was laughing. “Come, sir. I must take you to shelter. I fear you
are confused from your injury.”

He frowned. Had her normal intelligence
deserted her? “I already told you I am not injured.”

With a sigh, she pulled off her glove and
touched her fingers to the burning knife, sending it ever deeper into his
skull. He winced as she held up a bloody handkerchief in front of him. “Sir,
you are bleeding. That is generally a characteristic of injuries.”

Was she laughing at him? He tried to raise
himself to a sitting position, since it was not polite to lie down in front of
a lady, but the knife twisted painfully and he had to bite down on his lip to
keep from crying out. So he
was
injured after all. That explained a
great deal. “Ah, yes, I suppose it is.”

An icy gust of wind blew past. Elizabeth
grabbed her bonnet, holding it to her head. “Mr. Darcy, the storm is worsening.
We cannot remain here.”

“Where are we?”

“On the Hatfield Road. Were you travelling
alone?”

“I believe…” He shook his head slightly,
sending red-hot pain shot through his skull. He could not recollect how he had
come to be there. He certainly was not about to admit
that
to Miss
Elizabeth Bennet.

“Never mind. Do you think you can stand?”

The snow was coming down now at a slant,
tiny ice crystals stinging his cheeks. Gritting his teeth against the
inevitable discomfort, he lurched to his feet, his muscles stiff. He dusted off
the covering of snow which had collected on his greatcoat. “I must have been
unconscious for a few minutes.”

“More than a few, I fear, from the amount
of snow on you. You must be half-frozen. You might wish to press my
handkerchief over your wound so it does not start bleeding again.” She stood
with her hand half extended as if prepared to catch him.

He did not need her help, even if the
ground beneath him was moving noticeably. “I am well enough. Is there shelter
nearby?”

“Meryton is almost three miles from here,
though there is a tavern perhaps half that distance where you can warm yourself
at the fire.”

Two miles. He tried taking one step, then
another. His vision blurred in and out of focus. Through the haze of pain he
said, “I fear that may be beyond my strength. Might I request you to seek aid
for me while I remain here?” Having to ask for assistance was always bitter.
Having to beg it from Elizabeth Bennet was even worse.

Elizabeth glanced at the sky, though she
could not have seen anything through the heavy snowfall, then to the spot where
he had lain, already half filled in. “I dare not leave you alone for so long in
this weather. There is a laborer’s cottage nearby. I will take you there, then
seek assistance.” She bit her lip. “The accommodations will not be what you are
accustomed to, but it will be warm and dry.”

“I have been in poor cottages before. I
can ask no more than warm and dry.” Warm and dry sounded like heaven at the
moment.

***

Had she passed by the cottage already? It
could have been hidden by the driving snow, and she might not have seen
anything even a mere thirty paces away. This was taking far longer than she
remembered. It had seemed only a few minutes from the time she had passed the
cottage on her ramble until she discovered Mr. Darcy lying by the side of the
road, but now it seemed they had been trudging through the snow for far longer
than that. Mr. Darcy claimed it was no trouble at all to keep walking, which
would have been more credible if he did not sway whenever the wind gusted. 

They must have missed it somehow. What
should she do now? Should she suggest turning back? This direction would just
lead them deeper into the countryside. Their chances of being found were better
on the road… if they could
find
the road. They might end up walking in
circles. If only she could stop shivering and think!

Her boot struck a hidden impediment, and
pain shot through her foot. Apparently her toes were not as numb from cold as
she had believed. Crouching down, she dusted off the spot her boot had hit. Her
fingers found the shape before her eyes could. A paving stone - the cottage
must be nearby! She laid her hand on Mr. Darcy’s arm and peered around them
carefully. Then she saw it, just off to their left, its shape a faint shadow in
the snowy world.  Had she not hit her foot, they would have walked
straight past it. 

“There it is!” She hurried toward the door
and rapped loudly. No response. She knocked again. There was no light coming
from the windows. Surely the owners could not be away in weather like this.
What if it were uninhabited? She had no means to build a fire.

This was no time for niceties. She was
freezing and Mr. Darcy was injured. Lifting the latch, she pushed the door
open. 

The room inside was dark apart from weak
light filtering in through a small window, but it was blessedly free from the
wind which had torn at her outside. At least it was free of the
force
of
the wind; the
sound
of it rattled the walls. It boasted only a few
pieces of rude furniture on a dirt floor strewn with straw. Elizabeth crossed
straight to the hearth and used the small broom beside it to brush away the
ashes banking the fire. Thank heaven – there were live coals underneath!
The tenants must only be away for the day. She blew on the coals as she had
seen the maids do, but was rewarded only with a rising cloud of soot and ash.
She coughed, waving her hand in front of her to scatter the ash.

Mr. Darcy knelt beside her, his
long-fingered hands setting one piece of kindling after another over the coals,
then leaned forward and blew gently. This time small flames appeared, and with
excruciating slowness the kindling took fire.

Elizabeth rocked back on her heels and
watched as he set two pieces of wood across the kindling. Stripping off her
gloves, she held her hands out toward the struggling fire. Even that slight
heat felt like heaven. She would stay only long enough to warm her fingers
fully. If she allowed herself to become too comfortable, she would not be able
to force herself back out into the cold. She wanted to cry at the thought of
putting her wet gloves back on.

Fortunately Mr. Darcy seemed improved, or
at least less confused. As he scrutinized the growing flames as if his
attention would cause them to burn higher, she attempted to catch a glimpse of
his wound. Apparently it was no longer bleeding freely, and she could not make
it out under his dark hair, slick from the melting snow. She suspected hers
would look no better, but even if her bonnet had failed to keep it dry, at
least it was covered. But it was hardly worth worrying about. Even Mr. Darcy,
usually so careful of his appearance, looked disheveled.  

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