In 2010, Ulysses Press released The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery. It was the first of my cozy mysteries, and it remains a favorite. Two years ago, I received the rights to all my Ulysses Press titles back from the company. I have slowly been rereleasing them with new covers and to new readers. Today, I will simply tempt you with the opening of the story, and the last line: “Then I suppose we will go down in local lore: Bungay has its Black Shuck; Cornwall, the Well of St Keyne; Somerset, the Witch of Wookey; and Cheshire, the Red Rider of Bramhall Hall. We will be known for the house populated by shadow people—the home of the Phantom of Pemberley.” Enjoy!
“WE SHOULD TURN BACK,” Fitzwilliam Darcy cautioned as they pulled their horses even and walked them side-by-side along the hedgerow. They explored the most removed boundary of the Pemberley estate, near what the locals called the White Peak.
“Must we?” Elizabeth Darcy gave her husband an expectant look. “I so enjoy being alone with you—away from the responsibilities of Pemberley.”
Darcy studied her countenance. Hers was a face he had once described as being one of the handsomest of his acquaintance, but now he considered his previous compliment a slight to the woman. Her auburn hair, her fine sea-green eyes, her pale skin, kissed with a brush of the sun, her delicate features, and her heart-shaped face made her a classic beauty, and Darcy considered himself the luckiest of men. “For a woman who once shunned riding for the pleasure of a long walk, you certainly have taken to the saddle,” he taunted.
“I have never said I preferred riding to walking. Most would think me an excellent walker,” she insisted. “It is just that when I sit atop Pandora’s back and gallop across an open field, I feel such power—as if Pandora and I were one and the same.”
Darcy chuckled. “Do you call how you ride ‘galloping,’ my love?”
“And what would you call it, Fitzwilliam?”
Even after fourteen months of marriage, he could still stir her ire, though she now understood his love for twisting the King’s English and his dry sense of humor. It had not always been so. Elizabeth had told her friend Charlotte Lucas that she could easily forgive Fitzwilliam Darcy his pride if he had not mortified hers. And Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, had once described Darcy as “a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing.” Yet, none of that mattered now that he and Elizabeth were a couple, for a better understanding existed between them.
Darcy’s eyebrow shot up in amusement: He recognized the tone his wife used as one of a “dare.” They had certainly challenged each other often enough during their up and down courtship. Actually, shortly after their official engagement, Elizabeth declared it within her province to find occasions for teasing and quarreling with him as often as may be. She had playfully asked him to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. The scene, so familiar now, played in his mind as if it were yesterday.
“How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning, but what could set you off in the first place?”
It was a time for honesty between them, so he told her, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.” He laced his fingers through hers.
“My beauty you had early withstood.” She teased him by running her hand up his jacket’s sleeve, and Darcy could think of nothing but the natural ease of her touch. “And as for my manners,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes twinkling with mischief, “my behavior to you was at least bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?”
“For the liveliness of your mind, I did,” he said diplomatically. He did not—could not—admit to her his dreams of making love to her. A gentleman never spoke thusly to a lady, even a lady to whom he was betrothed.
“You may as well call it impertinence at once; it was very little less.” In retrospect, Darcy silently agreed. He had often found himself lost in his fantasies of her; so much so he did not always recognize Elizabeth’s disputation as impertinence, but more of flirtation. “The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them. You thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.”
Startled by this revelation, Darcy had to admit Elizabeth was correct. She caught his attention because she was his complete opposite, even while she perfectly complemented his nature. With her, he had become freer. And he had come to think less poorly of the world.
Elizabeth cleared her throat, signaling to Darcy that she awaited his response. “I believe, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,” he said as he winked at her, “I must call it a breakneck ride from hell.”
Elizabeth glared at him for but a split second, and then she burst into laughter. “You know me too well, my husband. Most assuredly, you must take the blame. It was you who taught me to ride to the hounds.”
“Why is it, Mrs. Darcy, all your ill-habits are derived from my influence?”
“It is the way of the world, Fitzwilliam. Because God created Eve from Adam’s rib and breathed life into her form, a woman is a vessel for her husband’s generosity, but also his depravity.”
“Depravity?” He barked out a laugh. “I will show you depravity, Mrs. Darcy.” He reached for her arm, threatening to pull her from Pandora’s back to his lap.
However, Elizabeth anticipated his move, and she kicked her horse’s flank, bolting away, across the open field toward the tree line. She urged her mount faster, as her laughter tinkled in the crisp morning air, drifting back to where Darcy turned his horse to give chase.
He flicked Demon’s reins to send his stallion barreling after his wife. Although Pandora was as excellent a mare as he had ever seen, Elizabeth’s horse stood no chance of beating Demon in an out-and-out race. As he closed in on her, he admired how his wife handled her animal—how she gave Pandora her head, but still knew when to exercise control over the horse. Elizabeth was a natural, as athletic as the animal she rode.
Darcy pressed Demon a bit harder, and the distance between them shortened. As he accepted his success as inevitable, horror struck. From nowhere and from everywhere all at once, sound exploded around him. Pandora bucked and then stood upright, pawing the air. Elizabeth’s scream filled him, as her horse whipped Elizabeth backward. His wife’s leg, the one wrapped around the pummel came loose, but not the one is the stirrup until she kicked free to slide off the animal’s rump, smacking her backside hard against the frozen ground. From the tree line, the screech of an eagle taking flight set Darcy’s hair on end as he raced to her side.
Sliding from his horse’s back, he was on the ground and running to reach her. “Elizabeth,” he pleaded, “tell me you are well.” He brushed her hair from her face as he gently lifted her head in his hands.
She groaned, moving gingerly at first. “I am most properly bruised.” She brushed the dirt from her sleeve. “And I fear my pride is permanently damaged.”
Darcy kissed her forehead, relief filling his chest, as he assisted her to stand. “Are you certain you can make it on your own?” He steadied her first few steps.
Elizabeth walked with care, but with determination Darcy could admire. “Did you see him?” she asked cautiously.
“See who?” Darcy instinctively looked toward the tree line. “I saw no one, Elizabeth; I was concentrating on you.”
“The man … I swear, Fitzwilliam, there was a man … there by the opening between the two trees.” She pointed to a row of pin oaks. “A man wearing a cloak and carrying a hat.”
“Stay here,” Darcy ordered as he walked toward the copse, reaching for the pocket pistol he carried under his jacket.
* * *
Elizabeth watched him move warily to inspect where she had indicated. “Be careful, Fitzwilliam,” she cautioned as he disappeared into the thicket.
Nervously watching for his return, Elizabeth caught Pandora’s reins as her horse nibbled on tufts of wild grass. After securing her horse’s bridle, she led Pandora to where Demon waited. “Easy, boy,” she said softly as she took Demon’s reins, but she never removed her eyes from where Darcy had vanished into the shadows.
After several long moments, he emerged from behind an evergreen tree, and Elizabeth let out an audible sigh of relief. As he approached, Darcy gestured toward where he had searched. “I apologize, Elizabeth. I found nothing—not a footprint or any other kind of track. Nothing unusual.”
“Are you certain, Fitzwilliam?” Still somewhat disoriented, she anxiously looked about her. “It seemed so real.”
“Allow me to escort you home.” He moved to assist her to her mount.
“Might I ride with you, Fitzwilliam? At least, until we reach the main road again. I would feel safer in your arms. Moreover, I do not think my backside cares to meet Pandora’s saddle at this moment.”
Darcy’s smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “You cannot resist me, can you, Mrs. Darcy?”
“It is not within my power, my husband.” Despite her nervousness, she attempted to sound normal so as not to alarm Darcy.
He slid his arms around her and brushed his lips over hers.
Elizabeth’s arms encircled his neck. She lifted her chin to welcome his kiss. “You are indeed irresistible, my love.”
* * *
“I was simply uncomfortable,” Elizabeth told Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s long-time housekeeper. They sat at the kitchen’s butcher-block table; they had spent the past hour going over the coming week’s menus and now shared a cup of tea.
“Ye be seein’ one of the shadow people, mistress,” Mrs. Jennings, the estate cook, remarked, although she had not been part of the initial conversation.
Elizabeth hid her smile behind her teacup; but her voice betrayed her skepticism. “Shadow people, Mrs. Jennings?”
“Yes, mistress.” The woman wiped her floured hands on her apron. “People be seein’ shadow ghosts ’round these parts for years. It be a man. Am I correct, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Yes, I believe whatever I observed was a man, although Mr. Darcy thinks it might have been some sort of animal—maybe even a bear.”
Mrs. Reynolds attempted to downplay Mrs. Jennings’ fear of the unusual, a fear apparently shared by many Derbyshire residents. “I am certain it was a bear, Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Darcy would not minimize your concerns by placating to you.”
“Most assuredly, you are correct, Mrs. Reynolds. Mr. Darcy would never ignore a possible danger to anyone at Pemberley.”
Mrs. Reynolds said the words Elizabeth had heard repeated often. “Mr. Darcy is the best landlord and the best master that ever lived. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better.”
The very man of whom they spoke strolled through the doorway. “There you are, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth offered up a bright smile: Her husband’s masculine appearance always made her heart catch in her throat. Broad shoulders—slim waist—muscular chest and back—well defined legs and buttocks—no extra padding found on the man. And Elizabeth relished the idea he had chosen her. “I apologize, Fitzwilliam; I was unaware you sought me out.”
Darcy’s steel gray eyes caught hers. “I thought we might spend some time in the conservatory; the temperature turns bitter. We are in for a spell of bad weather.”
“Really?” Elizabeth stood to join him. “My first winter in Derbyshire was quite mild. Should I expect lots of snow? We normally received some snow in Hertfordshire, but I was sadly disappointed with Derbyshire last season. I had hoped for sledding and skating.”
“Well, Mrs. Darcy, I do believe you will receive your wish.” He placed her on his arm and led her away from the kitchen and toward the main part of the house.
However, when he turned to the main staircase and their private quarters, Elizabeth leaned into his shoulder. “I thought we were to enjoy the conservatory, Mr. Darcy,” she reminded him.
Darcy tilted his head in her direction to speak privately. “Do you object to a change in our destination, my love?”
“Not even in the least, Fitzwilliam.” A blush betrayed her anticipation.
“I enjoy the flush of color on your cheeks, my sweet one.” He brought her hand to his lips. After all these months together, she now understood the powerful yearning for her that her husband had controlled only with great determination when they were together at Netherfield. If she had known then what she knew now, Elizabeth might have been frightened of Mr. Darcy, instead of thinking he disliked her. Her husband was a very passionate and loving man, something she had never considered knowing in marriage, but knew, instinctively, she could never live without.
Elizabeth tightened her hold on his arm, but she could not express her thoughts aloud. Darcy had that effect on her. Even when she had thought she despised him, in reality, she sought his attention—his regard—his approval. They made the perfect pair. Darcy provided her the freedom to have her own thoughts and opinions, something she treasured; and Elizabeth showed him how insufficient were all his pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. She truly esteemed her husband, looked up to him as a superior. Yet, theirs was a marriage of equals in all the essentials that made people truly happy. He was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, most suited her. “I love you, Fitzwilliam,” she whispered.
“And I love you, Elizabeth.”
* * *
“Did you hear that?” Elizabeth sat up suddenly in the bed.
“Hear what?” Darcy groggily sat up and looked around for something out of place.
Elizabeth clutched the sheet to her. “I do not know. It was a click—as if a latch or a lock was being engaged.”
Darcy pulled on his breeches and began to check the room.
They had locked the door when they entered their shared chambers, and it remained secure so he examined the windows and the folding screens, but found nothing.
Elizabeth’s eyes followed his progress.
Darcy released the door lock. Peering out, he nodded to someone in the passageway and then closed the door again. Sliding the bolt in place, he turned toward the bed. “Murray is changing the candles in the hall sconces. Perhaps that is what you heard.”
“Perhaps,” she mumbled as she relaxed against the pillows. “It just sounded closer—as if it were in the room, not in the hallway.”
Darcy returned to the bed and followed her down. “I believe your fright earlier today with Pandora has colored your thoughts.” He kissed Elizabeth behind her ear and down her neck to the spot where he could easily feel her pulse throbbing under her skin. “Allow me to provide you something else upon which to dwell.”
Her moan signaled her agreement. Lost to his ministrations, neither of them heard the second click echo softly through the room.
* * *
Seventeen-year-old Lydia Bennet Wickham traveled by public conveyance to her sister Elizabeth’s Derbyshire home. It was her first journey to Pemberley, which even her husband reported to be one of the finest estates in all of England. She would rather this visit included her husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, but as Elizabeth’s husband, Mr. Darcy, refused to accept Wickham in his home, such was not possible. The men had held a long-standing disagreement, of which Lydia generally made no acknowledgment. In Lydia’s estimation, Mr. Darcy should do as the Good Book said and forgive. However, men were stubborn creatures who neither forgave nor forgot, and, much to her dismay, Mr. Darcy and her husband continued their feuding.
Lydia found the whole situation disheartening. Even Elizabeth had taken offense at her congratulatory letter, although Lydia did not understand why. She had spoken the truth, and she had lowered herself to ask for Elizabeth’s assistance, something she had once sworn she would never do. All she had asked of her sister and new brother-in-marriage had been a place at court for Wickham and three to four hundred pounds a year so she and Wickham might make ends meet. She had even told her older sister not to mention it to Mr. Darcy if Elizabeth thought it might upset him.
As far as Lydia had determined, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy appeared to think her dearest Wickham held out some hope Darcy might be prevailed on to make Wickham’s fortune; and, in Lydia’s mind, she could not see a reason the Darcys should not assist them. It all made perfect sense. Darcy had the means to assist Wickham, without damaging his own wealth. Moreover, was that not what family did for each other? If it were she and Wickham who held the wealth, they would certainly be generous to others. She hoped on this visit to soften Mr. Darcy’s feelings about her husband. Lydia recognized her strength: She could charm any man. Naturally, she despised wasting her talents on such a prideful and conceited man as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, but she would prevail on him in order to aid her husband. Mayhap then, their marriage might be saved. Wickham would stop thinking her such a poor choice if, somehow, she could sway the great Fitzwilliam Darcy.
As she bounced along the country road in a public coach, Lydia attempted to appear assured of her self-worth. She knew not many young women—married or not—traveled alone. However, Wickham had insisted. He had bought her the ticket to visit Elizabeth because he had been ordered to Bath for the upcoming month; therefore, this was Lydia’s perfect opportunity to plead their case. Her husband had seen her to Nottingham before they parted. Now, she traveled unaccompanied.
“What is a fine young lady such as yourself doing traveling alone?” A man in his thirties, who smelled of stale cigars and boiled turnips, leered at Lydia. He glanced quickly at the matronly woman riding beside her. The woman’s eyes remained closed, and she breathed deeply.
Lydia recognized the man’s intentions, and although she would never consider such an alliance, she welcomed the conversation. Sitting quietly for long periods was not part of her nature. Most acquaintances thought her chatty—boisterous even. Her husband often ordered her silence, claiming she chirped on like a magpie. “I am visiting my sister, who is near Lambton.”
“I know Lambton well, miss. Your sister is well placed, I assume.” He noted Lydia’s stylish traveling frock, one of three new pieces she had insisted she required for this journey, despite her husband’s declaration they could not afford the additional expense.
“Very well placed.” Lydia puffed up with his notice. “Do you know Pemberley?”
The man’s initial tone changed immediately. “Pemberley? Everyone for miles around knows Pemberley,” he asserted. “Might your sister be associated with such a great estate?”
His words brought satisfaction to Lydia; she thoroughly enjoyed the idea of people admiring her, even if by association. In that manner, she and Mr. Wickham were very much alike. Sometimes she dreamed of what it might be to have her own home—her own estate. And sometimes she regretted having not set her sights on Mr. Darcy herself, although Lydia supposed the man preferred Elizabeth because her older sister devoured books—just as did their father. Lydia preferred fashion to Faust and society to Shakespeare. In all considerations, Elizabeth definitely better suited the man. If Mr. Darcy treated everyone as he did her Wickham, she would disdain his company in a heartbeat. “My sister is Mrs. Darcy; she is the mistress of Pemberley.”
“The mistress of Pemberley?” The man let out a low whistle. “I am duly impressed.”
“Mrs. Darcy is one of my older sisters,” Lydia babbled, “but my eldest is Mrs. Bingley of Hertfordshire. Charles Bingley counts Mr. Darcy as his most loyal acquaintance. My husband, Lieutenant George Wickham, grew to adulthood on Pemberley. We three sisters remain connected, even though we find ourselves scattered about England. My dear Wickham serves his country: We reside in Newcastle.”
She noted how the man attempted to disguise his amusement at the situation’s irony, but there was a glint of laughter in his eye. “I know of George Wickham,” he mused. “Even in Cheshire, your husband has female admirers.” He chuckled. “It will break many hearts when I spread the story of your marriage, Mrs. Wickham. Are you newly wed?”
“Lord, no. In fact, I was the first of my sisters to marry, although I am the youngest of five. Mr. Wickham and I have been married nearly two years.”
“Two years?” The man appeared amused again. He said, “I suppose it is too late then to offer my best wishes?” His eyebrows waggled teasingly. Lydia was confused as to his reaction.
She swatted at his chest with her fan. “I am an old married woman, sir.”
As she hoped, the man provided her a compliment. “You may be married, ma’am, but you most certainly are not old nor are you the picture of matronliness.” He nodded in the direction of the sleeping woman and then winked at Lydia.
She loved flirting, even with someone who would not interest her otherwise. Wickham despised how easily men hung on her every word. She giggled, suddenly aware of the privacy of their conversation. She turned her attention to the coach’s window. “I certainly do not enjoy traveling in winter. The roads in the North were abhorrent—so many ruts and holes. Passengers could barely keep their seats. Thankfully, my husband kept me safe, but a lady who traveled with us to Lincolnshire tumbled most unceremoniously to the floor.”
The man’s eyes followed hers. “The farmers at home would probably say we are in for some bad weather. See how the line of dark clouds hug the horizon.” He pointed off to a distance. “I simply hope we make it to Cheshire before the storm hits. I prefer not being upon the road when winter blasts us with her best.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “We will stay in Matlock this evening. You should be in Lambton by mid-afternoon tomorrow.”
“I will be pleased to be away from this coach,” Lydia murmured as she settled into the well-worn cushions.
As the man drifted off to sleep, he managed to say, “You will experience the best money can purchase at Pemberley. You shall enjoy your stay, I am certain.” As she sat alone in the silence of the coach, Lydia consoled herself with the man’s words. If Mr. Darcy was as wealthy as all said, surely he could spare a bit for her and Wickham. Then, her husband would view her with respect instead of disdain.
* * *
“Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said. She had found her husband in his study. “Georgiana and I plan to call on some of the cottagers today.” She stood before his desk, looking down at the stack of ledgers piled five high. “I thought you might care to join us, but I see you are excessively busy.”
“I am afraid this business cannot be postponed.” He gestured to the many letters lying open before him.
Elizabeth moved to stand behind him. She snaked her arms over the chair back and around Darcy’s neck. She kissed his ear and then his cheek. “You will miss me, Mr. Darcy?” she inquired, her breath warm against his neck as she continued to kiss along his chin line. As she hoped he would act, Darcy reached up to catch her arm. In one smooth motion, he shoved his chair back, making room for her on his lap, and pulled Elizabeth to him. She rested on his legs before sliding her arms around his neck. “I love you, my husband.” She laid her head against his shoulder.
Darcy used his finger to tilt her chin upward so he might kiss her lips. “So nice,” he murmured. He deepened the kiss, and Elizabeth gloried in their closeness. “I could drown in your love,” he whispered near her ear.
“You are so not what the world expects.” Elizabeth ran her fingers through his hair.
Darcy chuckled, “I am exactly what the world expects: I serve this estate well and my sister well. Such is my role in life.”
Elizabeth envied his confidence and the deep respect he inspired in the community.
“And me well.” Elizabeth moaned as his lips found the point where her neck met her shoulder.
Darcy pulled her closer. “That is what is unexpected—how much I love you—how I can give myself over to you so completely.”
“You possess no regrets about aligning yourself with a woman without family, connections, or fortunes?” It was a question she asked often, although his answer remained the same each time.
“It amazes me you can continue to doubt my loyalty—my love. Elizabeth, you possess me body and soul. Do you not know how thoroughly I require you in my life?”
“I know,” she admitted, feeling foolish for asking the question again. “It is just that I desire to hear your professions with regularity. I realize it is foolish of me, but it is my weakness, I fear.”
“Then I will resolve to speak the words more often, my love.” He kissed her tenderly.
Elizabeth scrambled from his lap when she heard the servants outside the door. “I must leave.” She straightened the seams of her day dress. “I am certain Georgiana waits for me by now. We will return in a few hours.”
“Do not go far, my love. The winter weather looms; we are in for a bad spell.”
“Listen to you, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth teased as she headed toward the door. “You sound like one of the old hags who claim they can tell the weather from their rheumatism.”
Darcy cleared his throat, stopping her exit. “Elizabeth, I have lived my whole life in Derbyshire. I understand the harshness of the winters. Trust me, my dear.”
She stopped in her tracks. “If you are serious, Fitzwilliam, I will follow your lead,” she assured him, before turning pensive. “Do you suppose Lydia will arrive before this weather changes?” She now expressed the same concern as he.
Darcy stood and came to where she waited. “A rider brought me some papers from Liverpool today, and he said the weather turned bad quickly. If he is correct, the storm is at least a day out, but it is likely to be here by early in the day tomorrow. Mrs. Wickham’s coach will be driving into the storm. Your sister may have some uncomfortable hours, but I am relatively certain she will arrive safely.”
“You will go with me to Lambton—I mean to escort Lydia to Pemberley?” Elizabeth inquired.
“I will not leave you to your own devices.” Darcy kissed her fingers. “Have a good visit with the tenants.”
“Mrs. Hudson requires someone to repair her window,” Elizabeth reminded him as she prepared to leave.
Darcy followed her to the door. “I will see to it immediately.”
* * *
Elizabeth and Georgiana took Darcy’s small coach for their visits. Often, they made their rounds on horseback or in an open curricle, but Georgiana still suffered from a head cold, and Elizabeth would take no chances with Miss Darcy’s health in the bitter weather. “We have only two more baskets,” Elizabeth said. She accepted Murray’s hand as she climbed into the coach. He closed the steps, setting them inside. “Thank you, Murray. Tell Mr. Stalling we will see the Baines and the Taylors.”
“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.”
Mr. Stalling turned the carriage toward the hedgerow leading to the main drive. “We will keep our visits short,” Elizabeth told Darcy’s sister. “I can tell you are not at your best today.”
“My head feels so full. Perhaps I should remain in the carriage. Both the Baines and the Taylors have a houseful of children. It would not be the Christian thing to share my illness.” Georgiana sniffed and reached for her handkerchief.
“I think only of you, Georgiana,” Elizabeth assured. She glanced out the coach’s window, noting the sun was well-hidden behind the clouds. “Such might be best. I shall make the call; you shall stay in the carriage and keep your feet on the warming brick. Then I will see you home. I am certain Mrs. Reynolds has a special poultice to make you feel better.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Georgiana sniffed again.
Elizabeth adjusted the blanket across Georgiana’s lap. “Fitzwilliam will be distressed to know you feel poorly.”
“He does worry about me.” Georgiana Darcy leaned back into the thick squabs of the carriage, adjusting the blanket tighter about her.
Elizabeth recalled the first time she had seen the girl, who had been little more than sixteen at the time. Darcy had brought his sister to the inn in Lambton to take Elizabeth’s acquaintance after discovering Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle visiting Pemberley on holiday. It had been the beginning of their life together.
Although Elizabeth was four years Georgiana’s senior, Darcy’s sister was taller and on a larger scale. She was less handsome than her brother, but there was sense and good humor in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Everyone who knew Georgiana Darcy esteemed her for her compassion and her goodness. Elizabeth treasured having Georgiana in the household. Having left a houseful of sisters in Hertfordshire, she appreciated having female companionship.
“Your brother has spent his adult life caring for you.”
Georgiana closed her eyes, a noticeable shiver shook her body, and Elizabeth knew real concern. “I will be happy to claim my bed.”
Elizabeth gently touched the girl’s forehead with the back of her hand. “You are not warm—no fever.”
“I simply ache all over, and my head is so tight with pressure,” Georgiana rasped.
Before Elizabeth could express further concern, the carriage came to a bone-jolting halt. “I will be only a few minutes.” Elizabeth opened the door. Murray assisted her to the ground before handing Elizabeth one of the two remaining baskets he carried.
“Murray, I want to see Miss Darcy to the house as quickly as possible. Would you mind delivering the basket you carry to the Taylors? Provide them our regards and explain the situation. I will call on Mrs. Baine.”
“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” The footman headed toward the Taylors’ cottage, less than a quarter mile down the main drive.
Elizabeth glanced quickly at Georgiana to assure herself the girl would be well while alone in the coach. Then she strode toward the small, white-washed cottage. Before she reached the door, it swung open, and a burly-looking man greeted her.
“Mrs. Darcy, let me be helpin’ ye with that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Baine.” Elizabeth entered the house and glanced around quickly to inspect how well the Baines maintained their home. Darcy did well by his tenants, but he expected the cottagers to keep the property in good repair and not to destroy what he provided them.
“Ye be alone, Mistress?” Mrs. Baine looked to the threshold.
Elizabeth gestured toward the coach. “Miss Darcy feels poorly. We both thought it best not to bring an illness into your house. In fact, I only have a few minutes. I wish to see Mr. Darcy’s sister in the comfort of her own bed.”
“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.” Mr. Baine set the basket on the table.
“There is flour, sugar, some potatoes, ham, and turnips in the basket.”
“We be thankin’ ye, ma’am,” Mrs. Baine said and lifted the cloth to peer at the things the Great House had sent to them.
“Naturally, there are sweets for the children.” Elizabeth touched a tow-headed boy of four. “You may dole them out when you deem appropriate.”
Mr. Baine picked up a blonde girl of two. “The little ones be our greatest gift.”
The Baines had six children, and Elizabeth chuckled at the irony of the statement. “Then you are indeed blessed, Mr. Baine. Mr. Darcy says the weather will turn dangerous, so be certain everyone is inside. Perhaps you should bring in some extra wood for the fire.”
“We be thinkin’ the same, Mistress.” Baine stroked the child’s head as it rested on his shoulder. “We be well, ma’am.”
“You must surely know if you require anything, just send someone to Pemberley. Mr. Darcy will assist you if he is able.”
“We be knowin’ it, ma’am.” Mrs. Baine joined them as they stood by the door.
Elizabeth glanced toward the carriage. She worried for Georgiana. “I really must see Miss Darcy home. Please pardon me; we will visit longer the next time.”
“You see to the master’s sister,” Mrs. Baine said as she reached for the door handle. “We be puttin’ Miss Darcy in our prayers.”
“My sister will appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
* * *
Georgiana Darcy pulled the blanket closer. She hoped Elizabeth would not be long. She really just wanted to be in her own bed where she might sleep for a few hours—mayhap even have Mrs. Jennings heat up some chicken broth.
Reluctantly, she sat forward to determine whether Elizabeth had exited the cottage, but saw no one. Georgiana scooted the warming brick closer; it had quickly lost its heat in the chilly air. She reached out and slid the curtain aside to look for Elizabeth again. Then she saw him, and a different kind of shiver ran down her spine. He just stood there in the tree line. A blond-haired man, wrapped in a black cloak and wearing a floppy-brimmed hat, leaned against a tree. Georgiana felt her heart skip a beat, and her breathing became labored.
The sound of Elizabeth’s approach drew the girl’s attention for a fraction of a second, and when her eyes returned to the trees, the man was no longer there.
“Did you see him?” she pleaded as Mr. Stalling assisted Elizabeth into the coach.
“See who?” Elizabeth turned expectantly. “Was someone there?” She searched where Georgiana stared, but all they saw was a bareheaded Murray walking toward them, slapping his coat to keep himself warm.
Elizabeth sat beside Georgiana and slid her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Might we escort Miss Darcy home, Mr. Stalling?”
“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.”
The driver stored the coach’s step inside before motioning Murray to climb aboard the back of the coach.
As the carriage circled to return to the house, both women stared out the opposite window, looking for something neither of them hoped to see again.
“He is not there,” Georgiana whispered.
“No one is there, Georgiana.” Elizabeth allowed the curtain to fall in place. “Would you tell me what you saw?”
“A man—all in black—wearing an unusual hat—like those in the books from America.” Georgiana’s eyes widened. “Do you believe me?”
Elizabeth tightened her hold on the girl. “Your brother thought what I saw yesterday was a bear, but what you just described is exactly what I saw in my mind’s eye. Except I could not make out the man’s face.”
“Neither could I,” Georgiana whispered, although they were alone in the moving carriage. “What does it mean, Elizabeth?” The girl grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, holding on for dear life.
Elizabeth did not answer; she simply pulled the blanket over both of them. “We will tell Fitzwilliam. He will know what to do.”