Mr Darcy’s Proposal
A Pride & Prejudice Variation
Martine Jane Roberts
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No part of this book, cover, image or content may be reproduced in any form, or by electronic, mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews,- without permission in writing from the publisher, Martine Jane Roberts
All the characters and events described in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover designed by Jessicaecovers.
To Peggy, who I love more than words can say.
The rider dug his heels into the horse’s flanks, urging him to increase his pace. Moving as one they flew over the uneven terrain.
Unaccustomed to his master riding him with such fierce determination, Odin sporadically bucked his back legs in protest as they raced over the emerald landscape. Finally, as they approached a tall, but shallow hedge, the stallion, foaming at the bit with the exertion of the pace, decided enough was enough. As his rider leaned forward in preparation for the jump, Odin dug his hooves into the ground and promptly stopped.
Darcy, who had resolved to ride until his black mood was exhausted, found himself momentarily airborne, before landing unceremoniously in a heap on the other side of the fence.
Relieved to be rid of his ill-tempered burden, Odin trotted over to a patch of green, winter pasture and lowered his head to sample the long blades, unconcerned with the fate of his rider.
Winded by the fall, Darcy lay on the ground and tried to catch his breath. He could not blame his faithful steed for throwing him. He had ridden Odin hard for almost an hour as he tried to banish a particular image from his mind, and from his memory. The image of George Wickham touching Elizabeth.
As his breathing became easier, the events of the last week played out in his mind.
Darcy had decided it would be prudent for him to also quit Netherfield, leaving only two days after the ball and one day after Mr Bingley. Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her fine eyes were a pleasant distraction, but he could not think of her as a suitable candidate for his affections. As for Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, it had been easy to persuade them of the necessity to return to Town; he had only to mention the words Charles, Jane Bennet and matrimony in one breath and they too had insisted on following their brother.
Having arrived at Mr Bingley’s London residence, it took the three of them very little time to persuade Charles that Jane Bennet did not love him. Indeed, they pointed out; Miss Bennet had bestowed her serene smile on all who had engaged with her. It had not been reserved for Charles in particular; Caroline delighted in pointing out.
Crestfallen, Charles had to agree with her, Jane’s demeanour had not quickened when in his presence.
However, that was not the only reason Darcy had wanted to leave the shire. Miss Elizabeth Bennet had begun to have an alarming effect on him, discomposing his emotions, and intruding upon his ability to think rationally. He had even begun to look forward to their encounters, however brief or cutting they might be. Therefore, it made sense for him to extract himself from her influence before he made a fool of himself. She was, after all, too far removed from his level in society to be a serious contender as his wife.
Now home, and away from Elizabeth’s charms, Darcy was sure he would soon forget her.
However, he had underestimated the effect the fairer sex could have on a red blooded man in his prime.
Having stayed to dine with Charles and his sisters’, Darcy returned home late that evening. Convinced he could put Elizabeth from his mind, and return to his usual pursuit, he settled down in his favourite armchair with a book and a small brandy.
Thirty minutes later, he was frustrated to find that he had not read a single page, a single paragraph or even a single sentence. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was the only subject on his mind.
He tried to reason with himself. Elizabeth had nothing to recommend her to a man such as he. No connections, no fortune, her inferior birth and her ridiculous family…, and yet…, she seemed to have found a way under his skin and into his heart.
Darcy closed the book and slammed it down on the side table. He rose and paced the floor as he tried to convince himself of her unsuitability. He knew an alliance with her was unthinkable! His family would never accept her, society would never accept her… but… as he thought of never seeing her again, a physical pain made its presence felt in the centre of his chest.
Finally, Darcy realised it was time he stopped deluding himself. He could no longer deny the depth of his feeling for Elizabeth Bennet.
He loved her, ardently.
Angry at his own lack of willpower, Darcy pulled open the library door and bellowed for his butler.
Startled to be summoned in such a manner, Miller hurried to see what was amiss with his master.
“Miller,” Darcy barked, “inform Fletcher to repack my trunks, we are returning to Hertfordshire.”
“And the duration of your stay, sir,” Miller asked in his most professional voice.
“Indefinitely,” Darcy replied, only to hastily change it to “Undetermined.”
A true professional, Miller merely said, “Yes sir.” And then hurried off to do his bidding, while Darcy sat at his desk, dashed off two brief notes.
The first was to his sister, and the other to Mr Bingley, asking his permission to stay at Netherfield Park again, although he gave no explanation as to why he was returning to Hertfordshire so soon after leaving.
Then Darcy rang for a footman and instructed him to deliver them without delay.
Only then, and with his emotions still in turmoil, did Darcy retire to his bed. Self-loathing at his lack of determination and suppressed excitement fought to win the upper hand, but as he slipped into unconsciousness, the latter prevailed.
A gentle grin played on Darcy’s lips as he dreamt of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, smiling…laughing…teasing.
On the journey back to Netherfield, the carriage had passed through the town of Meryton. With skill, the driver navigated through the busy streets, and Darcy looked out of the window, scanning the inhabitant’s faces for the one he hoped to see.
Then, as if in answer to his silent prayer, there was Elizabeth. She was standing outside the bookstore talking to an officer in a red coat. With their faces in profile, Darcy did not recognise him at first.
Then Elizabeth must have disclosed something amusing, for the officer threw back his head and laughed raucously.
Next, as if in slow motion, Darcy watched as the man reached out and stroked Elizabeth’s arm in a familiar way. At that moment, his identity became clear. It was none other than George Wickham!
Elizabeth, who was enjoying an extended morning walk, watched in disbelief as a man appeared from nowhere and landed at her feet.
Startled, she retreated a few steps, then instinct took over, and she rushed to his aid.
“Are you injured, sir?” Elizabeth asked as she knelt by his side.
Only when the man turned towards her, with a familiar scowl on his face, did Elizabeth recognised him.
“Why, Mr Darcy?” Elizabeth exclaimed with surprise, “We understood you had left Hertfordshire and returned to the Town?”
His mood, already black from suffering an undignified parting from his horse, darkened as he realised his demise had been witnessed.
The fact that it was Miss Elizabeth Bennet who had been party to the shambolic event, only deepened his anger and embarrassment.
Brushing off Elizabeth’s attempt to assist him, Darcy replied gruffly,
“Thank you, but I am in no need of assistance.”
Although Elizabeth had no brothers, she understood the concept of male pride and would have forgiven Mr Darcy for his rudeness, had he not been bleeding from a graze on his brow.
Ignoring his black scowl, Elizabeth withdrew a handkerchief from her reticule and as she reached out to dab at the wound said,
“No,” he barked, “I have already stated that I am in no need of assistance, madam. I must ask you to desist.”
Humiliated, Darcy rolled over onto his stomach and tried to stand, however, he could only manage to struggle to his knees. Silently cursing, Darcy wished Elizabeth would leave him to his humiliation and allow him to recover in private.
Managing to regain his breath, he quickly realised the exertion of moving had rewarded him with a thumping in his head and a spell of dizziness. Momentarily defeated, he knew he needed to rest for a while longer before attempting to stand again.
His harsh words did not deter Elizabeth.
On several occasions when visiting her father’s tenants, she had tended to the scraped knees of their children. Neither the child’s verbal protests nor the sight of their bloodied knees or nose had swayed her from her task.
So, sitting back on her heels, Elizabeth watched as Mr Darcy tried again to scramble to his feet, only to fall back onto his hands and knees.
Now, with only one foot resting on the ground, it quickly became apparent that the gentleman was unable to stand under his own volition.
As Darcy paused in this half sitting, half kneeling position, Elizabeth said,
“Sir, while I hate to contradict you, it is obvious to me that you most definitely are in need of assistance. Now, if you could stop being so stubborn for one minute, and take my arm, I am sure we could have you back in the saddle….” Elizabeth’s sentence was left unfinished.
“So far, I have been tolerant of your interference, Madam, but no more. You will kindly desist in your attempts to nurse me and remove yourself from this property.”
When Elizabeth made no move to leave, Darcy added,
“Trespassing is an offence, you know?”
If Elizabeth was shocked or stung by the severity of his address, she did not show it. Instead, she carefully folded the handkerchief and returned it to her purse.
Standing, she brushed the dried leaves from her dress and then paused to look at the dishevelled man kneeling before her. Had she not already experienced several encounters with the proud and unpleasant, Mr Darcy, Elizabeth might have taken offence at his curt words, his brisk tone or even his dark scowl, but she now deemed them to be part of his character, even when one was trying to be helpful towards him.
“Very well, sir, I will leave you to your fate, but not because you order me from this property, but because I choose to leave. Besides, Netherfield Park ended with this boundary fence. You are now on Longbourn property.”
Elizabeth waited until she had her back to Darcy before letting a broad smile graced her lips.
Mr Darcy’s Proposal goes on general sale on 27th July 2017.
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