Beginning, Section II
Chapter 9: Awakened Realizations
Posted on 2011-04-25
The night air hung heavy in the small room George Wickham shared with his wife, Lydia. It was in the glow of the moonlight which shone on Wickham whose eyes flared open from a sudden, startling realization. It was so obvious that he did not know why he had not known it before, but then he was a sinful proliferate by nature and any real emotional tenderness could easily be mistaken as a momentary weakness.
Wickham glanced at his sleeping wife Lydia. He needed to remember that important fact as he often mistook that information as insubstantial. Yet, it was substantial that he had a wife. However, that unsettling information was not what brought him fully awake---no it was a certain redhead which brought him to awareness; A beautiful redhead with green eyes.
What unsettled him about waking up with her in his thoughts, which was not altogether unusual, was the nature of his feelings. He had spent many nights swimming in drink and cleverly plucked bits-o-muslin who had specific characteristics he was looking for. He was comfortable in those sinful pursuits as it was expected of him. He was not expected to be anything but wicked and perhaps that's why he had become the way he was, as it was significantly easier than trying to convince people to the contrary. Why try to be good when they all expected you to be wicked?
Yet, these many months after he had left his ghastly misdeeds---even if some were misconceived misdeeds--- behind with Lady Grace MacKenna he came to the startling conclusion that with all the depravity he had taken part in, it all came down to one fiery redhead. The one woman who, when he finally realized the truth, he was prevented from having because he was a cad, sod and a long list of other things. It was a sad realization now to him as he stared at Lydia, his wife, as the moon glowed in the dark room; the realization that he could no longer run from.
With wide eyes he sat up in bed, careful not to disturb his wife and he stared at the wall ahead. He was passionately in love with Lady Grace MacKenna.
He loved Lady Grace MacKenna!
For the remainder of the night until his wife awoke with the morning sun he would continue to stare wide eyed at the wall with only moonbeams for mute comfort. It was bitter comfort, indeed.
Richard smiled as he entered the breakfast room at Pemberley as he noted his Cousin and wife were deep in what appeared to be an intimate conversation---Elizabeth blushed when she noted his presence---but he pretended not to notice. It was nice to see his cousin happy. Richard felt refreshed in a way he had not felt in months; he seated himself at the table and took a sip of coffee. He had acquired a taste for it during the war as it was often easier to procure than tea.
Richard was pleased when the footman produced a letter for him, elegantly perched on a silver tray, and was delighted to see the letter was from Matlock House. He snatched the letter from the tray---in childlike exuberance---and tore it open. He recognized the handwriting as that of his mother before he began to read. He had not read its contents for long before he came upon a line which sent him in a haste to depart the room to read the rest of the contents in private. He barely registered the stab of pain which shot through his hip as it hit the edge of the table, nor the clatter of the coffee cup and subsequent disbursement of the liquid onto the table, as he hurried from the prying eyes of his cousin.
Richard shut himself into Darcy's study and made straight for the brandy, throwing back a glass, before he fitfully sat down in a nearby chair.
It seems we are to have a visitor staying with us Richard. Lady Grace MacKenna has met with an injury and for the remainder of her recovery she will be staying at Matlock House.
Those few lines from his mother had taken the breath from him. He kept returning to those lines as millions of thoughts ran through his head. Lady Grace was in his home and she was injured. What had happened? How had she been hurt? He glared at the letter from his mother as if by sheer will it would reveal the answers to his questions.
He stopped short as this thought again crossed his mind. The thought of Lady Grace in Matlock House brought on a warm flush of satisfaction as his mind suddenly pictured her within its walls. He could imagine how her green eyes would sparkle and perhaps she would let her flaming hair fall free as she laughed in the halls. Like a blade flashing unexpectedly in the night the knowledge that she was injured brought him crashing back down to reality and crushed his initial pleasure of knowing her residing in Matlock House.
God he was such a cad, he thought, as he ran his hands through his light brown locks in frustration. To think of a lady in such a fashion----and while she was injured. He walked over to the decanter and poured another brandy. He was pathetic, realizing that he was drinking in the early morning. The sun had barely come up some hours ago and he was drinking.
It was so sudden that he hadn't had time to prepare himself for the onslaught of memories which assaulted him. He fell into the mantel and gripped it for support as he fought the urge to scream. Sweat trickled down his face and he gritted his teeth. He needed to breathe or he was liable to pass out.
He continued in this manner until he could move himself to a chair. He collapsed into it, exhausted and frightened at the state he was in. Thankfully no one had been present to witness his bit of theatrics. He hated these "episodes" as he came to call them. His brain felt like a muddy bog which had all this debris floating around in it, bumping into itself and setting off a chain reaction which could not be stopped. There was a sharp edge to his episodes which transcended into his life and the question was when would he finally snap? It was not a question as to if he would fracture, but when?
He resisted the urge to pour another glass of brandy. It was if a part of him recognized the ineffectiveness of alcohol, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't
try later to numb his consciousness with its sinful nature. It was after a moment's reflection he slowly, with calculated movements approached the desk in Darcy's study. He sat and took out some sheets of writing paper, opened the lid on the ink pot and poised the quill pen just above the paper. He paused as thoughts rippled through his mind and making a final choice, he immersed the tip of the pen into the ink well before touching it to the paper and letting the words flow onto the page. When he finished he stared at the words before him, then taking a fingertip he traced over a word or phrase near the top of the page.
He sighed deeply and with military precision he carefully folded the pages together. He smoothed the pages with something akin to affection and then stood. He held the letter as if unsure how to proceed, then coming to a decision, he delicately placed the folded pages in his breast pocket------over his heart.
The sound of the door opening and subsequently closing, momentarily distracted Richard from his reverie. It was Darcy, who was eying him carefully. Following the direction of Darcy's gaze he saw he had inadvertently placed his hand over his heart. He slowly released it from its upright position and tried to smooth out some imaginary wrinkles on his breeches. Darcy's staring was making him damned uncomfortable.
"Darcy, must you continue to stare at me like that? You make me feel as though I have done something to warrant punishment."
"Is all well, Richard?" asked Darcy.
He and Darcy had no secrets from each other, at least not ones they could keep for long, so there was no use in keeping the truth from his cousin now. He had an annoying habit of finding out information others did not want him too through the art of pure observation. He wished he'd been blessed with such unassuming knowledge which observation provided. "Lady Grace is presently staying at Matlock House for a spell. It seems an accident of sorts has befallen her."
Darcy raised an eyebrow. "I hope she is to recover. What sort of--ah--accident was it?
Richard sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. "I do not know. My mother did not supply specifics."
Darcy approached him and sniffed the air suddenly. "Richard, have you been drinking?"
He grinned sheepishly at his cousin. "One or two, perhaps. I had forgotten the hour."
Leaning a hip on the side of the desk Darcy grew solemn. "You are not well."
Richard opened his mouth to protest but was halted by Darcy's hand. He snapped his mouth shut and let Darcy continue.
"You are not well. I can see it-----I have grown up with you Richard. I know you! You need to get control of yourself," Darcy paused and waved his hand in the direction of the decanter, "and drink will not save you from what ails you. If you want to drink then so be it, but you will not be fit to be in anyone's company, especially Lady Grace."
Richard felt himself grow cold at Darcy's mention of Lady Grace. It was a low blow and Darcy knew it. Scowling he glared at Darcy. How dare he bring her into this! "Lady Grace has nothing to do with this."
"She does if you plan on drinking yourself into a stupor to hide what truly ails you. Ladies do not deserve to be dragged into the underbelly of male drunkenness and debauchery."
Richard had already begun to move towards the door. Darcy did not know what he spoke of. Lady Grace was hurt and subsequently he would go home and see to her. She may have sent him away before, but she was not going to have any victory on that front----no----he would return to her despite her initial protests. It could do no harm to be in his family's home while she was present. They would be properly chaperoned. He was also not an overindulgent drunk.
"Richard…..Richard where do you intend to go?"
Richard paused, his hand on the doorknob. Without looking at his cousin he uttered but one word before exiting the room. "Home."
Chapter 10: Something Like Home
Posted on 2011-05-12
Lady Matlock quietly observed the silent reserve of the outdoors having just returned from checking in on Lady Grace who was making a marked recovery. The girl was remarkably strong willed for one who had just suffered injury. Her daughter Lady Emily now sat with Lady Grace. She had left them in a rather spirited discussion of the merits of sense and sensibility.
Smiling at the apparent friendship that appeared to be forming between Emily and Lady Grace, she turned and took up some needle point when she was interrupted by her Abigail. The young ladies maid looked extremely nervous causing her to frown.
"Abigail what is it?"
"I beggin' yer pardon Ma'am, but this was found amongst Lady Grace's clothes----and well----I tried to get it before any of 'te others saw it, but….." The girl paused and held out a scrap of fabric.
Lady Matlock stared at Abigail and then at the fabric. It was not until she rose and determined that it was in fact a handkerchief which was in her hand.
Lady Matlock took the handkerchief, puzzled as to what was so disconcerting about it, then she noticed the embroidered initials on the corner and froze.
"Thank you Abigail for bringing this to my attention." The girl nodded and then dropped a curtsy and left the room.
Lady Matlock stood for sometime in the same spot as she occasionally glanced at the handkerchief she held. What had Richard been thinking? As if Lady Grace's reputation wasn't delicate enough, didn't he realize what this would do to her if it was ever discovered that he had given Lady Grace a token of affection such as this. Did he have feelings for her? As his mother she felt that she should be apprised of these sorts of things. She was going to have a long discussion with Richard when he returned home. This would not do!
Lady Grace found that she was beginning to enjoy her time at Matlock House even more with each passing day. She especially enjoyed her time with Lady Emily who was everything that was good and kind and she found that she could not help but instantly fall in love with her. On closer observation she noted much of Lady Emily's mother in her disposition which only sought to predispose Grace's initial opinion of Lady Emily. Despite the delight she received from Lady Emily's friendship she was eager to leave the bed she was confined to so it was with elucidation that some days after her initial arrival that she was well enough to leave her room and go to the lower level.
Grace wanted to return to her initial pursuits before her accident, as she had come to refer to it, and so she found herself in the largest library she had ever encountered. The library of Matlock House was nothing to her father's. The library was floor to ceiling with books and she let out a gasp of delight and brought her hand to her heart as if in reverence to the collection. There were so many books there that there must be something which could help her know and understand Colonel Fitzwilliam's condition.
Grace felt her smile slip from her face as painful memories of their last encounter began to surface, but this would not do. She pushed them aside and strode toward the bookshelves with purpose and was startled when she heard a chuckle from across the room. She whirled around, barely missed hitting her hand on the bookshelf and came face to face with a gentleman who looked very much like Colonel Fitzwilliam, except his eyes were black, whereas the Colonel's were a warm, rich mahogany.
The gentleman's deep timber wafted across the room. "I see you are pleased with the library. My father will be most pleased to hear it."
Grace smiled awkwardly. "I am afraid we have not been properly introduced, Sir."
"Oh, dear do forgive me. I am Lord Fitzwilliam. The eldest," he said with a formal bow.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's brother! She could see the resemblance now. She dropped a curtsey. "Lady Grace. My apologies for having disturbed you; if you will excuse me I will leave you to your business."
She felt her cheeks go hot in embarrassment as she turned to leave and was surprised when Lord Fitzwilliam halted her. "Lady Grace perhaps I can be of assistance in locating a book for you."
"I was looking for a medical text of sorts."
Lord Fitzwilliam's brow rose in surprise. "Medical texts? Lady Grace that is not really proper reading for a lady."
Grace felt herself bristle. She was getting particularly tired of being told what she could and could not do by society as a lady. "I do not think you need to concern yourself with what is or is not proper in my choice of reading material, Lord Fitzwilliam."
Lord Fitzwilliam nodded his head in acquiesce and tried to hide a smile which was threatening to erupt. "You are quite right. My sister and I were going to take a turn outdoors as the weather is tolerable despite the recent snowfall. Would you be so agreeable as to join us?"
Grace was torn between ire and a desire to be outdoors, besides he had the good sense to apologize. The fresh air could not hurt and so she answered an affirmative and departed to dress in something more suitable for walking in the frigid outdoor temperatures.
Grace found she fell into a routine of sorts with Lord Fitzwilliam and Lady Emily. The exercise appeared to be conducive to her recovery. When Lord Fitzwilliam was not with them she found herself working with Lady Emily on improving her ability on the piano and as it turned out Lady Emily's piano playing did improve under the tutelage of Grace, much to the relief of the ears of members of the household. However, Grace realized she too benefited from her friendship with Lady Emily as her needlepoint was much better for it.
When Grace was not with Lady Emily she was usually found within the extensive library. Lord Fitzwilliam had been correct when he said his father would be pleased to know Grace enjoyed his library. Lord Matlock could sometimes be found in the library with Grace instructing her on the finer points of literature or sometimes he sat quietly and saw to his correspondence or account books as Grace riffled through the medical books on hand. Lord Matlock refrained from making any remark on her choice of reading material for which she was grateful.
It was on one such day where Lord Matlock quietly performed his business and Grace looked through medical books that she realized for the first time that she had seen naught of her mother and father. Lady Matlock had informed her when she had been well enough that they had apparently been for a brief visit on her initial arrival. Grace did not miss them and a part of her felt guilty, as if she should feel something, but she found she had not the desire nor the care to go looking for emotions she knew would never come.
Grace took this moment to look at Lord Matlock who was currently grumbling over an account book. She tried not to laugh as it seemed he did not particularly care for accounting. As she thought back to the moments shared with Lord Matlock she realized that he was as a father should be. He should be kind and caring, yet firm with his children when need be. Her father was the exact opposite. He was cold, domineering and always unyielding. It would be difficult to leave this place she thought as tears came to her eyes.
Lord Matlock took that moment to look up from his daunting task and his face creased into a frown as he looked at her. Grace smiled and went back to the book in her lap hoping that Lord Matlock would not ever be aware of the true cause of her tears. Colonel Fitzwilliam was very lucky to have a father and a mother like Lord and Lady Matlock. If only she had been so lucky.
"Grace, as you are recovered enough, perhaps you would like a tour of Matlock House."
Grace was shaken from her concentration by the calm voice of Lady Matlock. She smiled and nodded. She was careful to return the book she had been reading to its proper place on the bookshelf. As she departed with Lady Matlock she gave a brief smile to Lord Matlock.
Grace was delighted by the cool, unassuming elegance that made up Matlock House. It was an old house which was steeped in history as was evident by the descriptions Lady Matlock gave about various sections of the home or objects. The affection shown to her by Lady Matlock was not lost and again a strange feeling rose in her chest, but she did not have time to ponder her feelings as they came upon the portrait gallery.
Lady Matlock had strayed away as Grace took in the portraits which hung on the wall. Grace missed her smile of approval. As soon as she harnessed her awe Grace went over to Lady Matlock who was standing by a glass case of miniatures.
"There!" said Lady Matlock said pointing to a particular miniature "is a portrait of Richard. Is it not a good likeness?"
Grace felt her breath slow. Yes, it was a very good likeness. The painter had captured his eyes well. Seeing the great rendering of Colonel Fitzwilliam's eyes brought her to the first time she had witnessed their strength and warmth and that haunted look. She smiled awkwardly at Lady Matlock, hoping she hid her emotions well. "Yes, it is a good likeness."
Lady Matlock removed the miniature from its encasement and placed it in her hands. "Take a closer look my dear."
Like a moth to a flame Grace did take a closer look. She could not help it and missed the gleam in Lady Matlock's eyes as she observed her tender regard for her son. He really was a handsome man. The miniature had been painted sometime during Colonel Fitzwilliam's military career as he was in his regimentals. She had been correct in believing he looked well in them. Suddenly catching sight of Lady Matlock's gaze she thrust the miniature back into her hands in embarrassment and strode over to one of the windows to gaze out.
Her face burned hot. She had lost sight of all propriety and in front of his mother. What must she think of her and her impropriety? It was true that Colonel Fitzwilliam captivated her. She had come to realize that with Colonel Fitzwilliam it was something different than her interactions with Wickham. While she was unsure what that met she knew was that he was the tranquil to her tempest and she had felt it from the first moment and it had terrified her.
That evening found Grace back in the portrait gallery, quietly contemplating the miniature of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Alone and in the silent gallery she could observe his portrait without fear or reproof. The strength he possessed was defined by the cut of his jaw and the determination in his eyes. His lips were turned into an impish smile denoting that perhaps the Colonel was not always as serious as she had supposed him to initially be. Perhaps, the lack of humor came forth from his experiences in war, but even that she did not know for sure. For all she knew of the Colonel he was still a mystery to her.
She sighed and turned to look at the many generations which hung in the hall. To be in the presence of such aristocracy was intimidating. She felt almost as if their eyes were watching her in judgment, hoping to see some unimportant flaw just to cast doubt in the gentleness and respectability of her character.
This was the stock of which the Colonel was from and she wondered if she had any place in his world which seemed so different from her own.
She knew too that she would eventually have to return to the house of her Father and what could she expect but a husband plucked for her, who would come and sprint her away. Then her mother and father could return to a 'respectable' life. With each day she grew stronger she was that much closer to returning to a home which no longer held a place with her.
She could now identify that strange feeling she had with Lady Matlock. It was the feeling that a daughter had when she knew her Mother held such affection for her. It was the feeling she had when she observed Lord and Lady Matlock with their children and if she was honest she was a bit envious of what the good Lord had seen to bestow upon the Colonel. She had been dealt a dastardly hand, but it was as it was and not ought to change. She had observed what a home should be and even if she was not to be blessed with a loving husband she was determined that should she ever have any children of her own that they would know at least their mother loved and cared for them.
Grace went and took one last longing look at the miniature of Colonel Fitzwilliam before she returned to her chamber and fell into a fitful sleep.
The morning was cold as Colonel Fitzwilliam saddled Thor. He had acquiesced to stay the remainder of yesterday at Pemberly before departing for Matlock House. He desired nothing more than to be home and to establish the true welfare of Lady Grace. He was looking forward to the solitary ride back to Matlock House and so it was with great agitation, upon rounding the side of the house which opened onto the drive, that he beheld the great Darcy coach and Darcy himself astride his own stallion.
Darcy touched his hat in greeting upon his approach. "Darcy what the devil do you think you're doing?"
"Why Elizabeth, Georgiana and I are going with you to Matlock. I suspect that is quite obvious."
"Did it occur to you Darcy that perhaps I would prefer to go alone?"
"It did, but you are like a brother to me and considering your current afflictions I feel it prudent that I should accompany you."
Richard eyed his cousin. He detested it when he was right, but even he could not argue with his need for Darcy's steady presence. "I suppose there is not arguing with you. Although, no offense to the ladies, but this will slow my arrival to Matlock and I had hoped to be there before nightfall."
Darcy placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Richard, I do believe my Aunt would have stated if Lady Grace's health was truly serious."
He snorted in protest. "I return home to see my mother. She is beside herself without me." It was with those words that Richard urged Thor forward and the sounds of Darcy's humorous rebuff drifted on the wind.
Chapter 11 ~ Uncertainty
Posted on 2011-07-17
The sun shone brightly over the tranquil estate of Matlock House. Lord Fitzwilliam was regaling Grace with stories of Colonel Fitzwilliam's childhood, which resulted in tinkling laughter at the antics that seemed to follow Lord Fitzwilliam and his brother. He was just imparting a particularly amusing account of Colonel Fitzwilliam and himself which involved pirates and a broom when the man himself appeared on a crest in the drive.
Lord Fitzwilliam waved at his brother, but paused at the intent look on his brother's face; following the direction of his gaze he noted it was focused on the Lady currently on his arm and if her pallor was any indication she was far from composed.
Lady Grace quickly removed her hand from the crook of Lord Fitzwilliam's arm, feeling as if she had been caught doing something badly done. The move was not unnoticed by Colonel Fitzwilliam who bore a frown on his face and was off his horse before Darcy could stop him and with marked steps approached his brother and Lady Grace.
The sight of Lady Grace standing and apparently walking did much good for Colonel Fitzwilliam's initial feelings; however that did not prevent him from scrutinizing her to assess that she was well. It also did not stop his thoughts from straying to the image in his head of her hand upon his brother's arm.
"Lady Grace, You are much recovered it would appear." He shifted uncomfortably as if finding his behavior suddenly very strange.
Grace nodded. "I am well, Colonel," she said softly.
Richard cleared his throat. "Yes, it would seem you are." It came out a little harsher than he intended as was evident by her stumbled response.
"Lord Fitzwilliam….that is your brother and I were just taking a……" Grace halted her speech as she looked at him.
His eyes held hers as much to his shock he let out low growl at the mention of her with another man and while he knew he should not be jealous of his brother Vincent, he found he could not help himself. He saw her eyes widen slightly at the unexpected noise emanating from him.
"Richard," said his brother, his voice cutting through his jealous filled emotions. "Lady Grace and I were just discussing some of our finer moments as children. She was particularly amused by our pirate drama."
He blinked as he looked at Vincent. Then he looked back at Lady Grace. The color in her cheeks had heightened as if embarrassed, which didn't make sense at all. Was there something more going on between his brother and Lady Grace because the idea unsettled him greatly and he had to suppress the growl that threatened to erupt again. Her soft voice broke through his thoughts.
"I asked your brother if he might be able to tell any amusing stories about you. I…I'm sorry, but I….Oh, I have made such a mess of things. Excuse me perhaps I should return to the house." Her color had heightened even more.
As she turned to leave Richard stepped forward and placed a hand on her elbow halting her; then he placed her hand in the crook of his arm and felt instantly more at ease. He saw her look of surprise and a small smile which he found satisfied him greatly.
"I made an exceptional pirate. I was quite fearsome……," he began as he escorted Lady Grace back to the house with Thor trailing quietly behind them. He didn't even notice he had failed to acknowledge his brother or introduce the Darcy's to her.
Lord Fitzwilliam was left to tend to the Darcy party by insuring that they were escorted to the house and properly settled.
All of Matlock Houses downstairs inhabitants had been sent into an uproar over the unexpected arrival of not only Colonel Fitzwilliam, but the Darcy's as well. The housekeeper was bustling around like a hen tending to her chicks, giving orders as to what was to be done without delay. Servants of various levels were dispatched every which way, while above stairs there appeared to be more tranquility.
Lady Matlock gave a start as the door to her parlor opened and in walked her youngest, Richard, with Lady Grace on his arm. She perceived Lady Grace's heightened color which gave her a picture of health yet to be seen since she had arrived at Matlock House.
Ever an observant mother she did note the tender care Richard seem to take with Lady Grace. He saw her comfortably seated with a cup of tea and a warm shawl wrapped around her shoulders before he'd even acknowledged her, his own mother.
She smiled warmly at her son's greeting. "Why, Richard, dearest, I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me."
"Yes, Richard," said Vincent from the doorway, the Darcy's just behind him. "We were beginning to think you'd forgotten about us."
"Perhaps the Colonel is just fatigued and he forgot himself in an effort to see himself rested" suggested Grace quietly from behind Richard.
The others in the room looked at her and she shifted uncomfortably. Lady Matlock smiled approvingly at her attempt to divert their teasing away from Richard, however it would not sway them from teasing him later as the family was want to do in situations like these.
Lady Matlock risked a glance at her ever stiff nephew Darcy, whose nature with strangers was anything but comfortable, and he appeared to be torn between amusement and bewilderment. Her niece, Georgiana bore a curious expression on her face and Elizabeth displayed a small smile as her eyes darted between the pair in mirth.
Taking pity on Richard who was growing more uncomfortable by the moment she bid the others to take their seats, noting that Richard chose a seat quite near Lady Grace. Tea was served and conversation turned to their journey and other mundane topics which continued till dinner was announced.
Lady Matlock proudly took her husband's arm as he arrived to escort her to dinner. She nudged him to look in the direction of their son and Lady Grace. He let out a warm chuckle as he noted the pair.
"He is much as I was when I tried to court you" he whispered in her ear.
Lady Matlock blushed. "But I think you were perhaps a bit more elegant in your approach my dear. I don't remember you being so particularly obvious in your attentions."
"Quite the contrary, my dear, my attentions were very marked. I distinctly remember chasing off all of those young bucks which seemed to surround you at every ball. I think I even challenged one to a duel."
Lady Matlock's soft laughter drew the eyes of the rest of the family as they took their place at the table. "It does not matter dearest for they never stood a chance in the presence of your charms."
Lord Matlock placed an affectionate kiss on her hand before signaling the start of the first course.
Lady Grace felt a sense of discontent as she took a seat for dinner with the Fitzwilliam and Darcy families. Colonel Fitzwilliam paid particular attention to her and made his presence at dinner permanent as he took his seat next to her. She was unsure what to make of him or the perception of his family. She tried to ignore the heat of the gentleman seated beside her and pay attention to the conversation taking place, but the rough voice of the Colonel halted her attempts.
"Have I done something to warrant your silence towards me, Lady Grace?" His warm breath tickled her ear causing her to shiver.
She kept her eyes downcast, refusing to meet his eyes. "No, you have done nothing to displease me Colonel Fitzwilliam." She spoke so softly he had to lean in to hear her, further discomforting her.
"Then why will you not look at me?"
"I did not think you would be pleased to see me" she whispered back. "After our last meeting I had suspected you would never want to see me again."
He chuckled softly. "Lady Grace, you do not suppose it that easy to be rid of me?"
She dared to look at him this time and she almost wished she hadn't. His eyes were the deep mahogany she remembered and coupled with his rough voice he was wrecking havoc on her senses. However, she found she could not look away.
"I have come to a decision about you Lady Grace." He smiled sending her emotions into roaring heat. "I am not so easily turned away. If you think one of your dispassionate speeches are enough to dissuade me from ever speaking to you again then I am afraid you are sadly mistaken."
"Oh!" she breathed. It was all she could think to say as his determined stare made her blush even more. Shaking her head slightly she turned back to her plate and stared at it for the remainder of the meal. All further attempts by Colonel Fitzwilliam to engage her in conversation were unsuccessful.
Despite being back in the bosom of his family Colonel Fitzwilliam was finding it difficult to keep hidden his inner torments. Yet he did in what he hoped was a valiant effort at concealment and while he may have been successful in fooling most of those around him, his efforts to conceal his problems were more concentrated that before, he failed to fool one member of the household.
Grace looked up and frowned. "Colonel Fitzwilliam you look as if you have not slept at all. Are you well?"
He smiled at her wearily as he sat in a chair directly across from her. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back. "Am I that obvious?"
"Only to one who has observed your peculiar habits as of late, besides one only has to look at your face to see you have not slept well in days."
He opened his eyes and looked at her in surprise. His voice inquired roughly, "Have you observed much of me lately?"
Grace paused as she placed her book on a table. She seemed to purse her lips in concentration before answering. "I….I believe I am observant enough to know changes in someone."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sat up. "I have tried to hide my---quirks---if you will, so as not to worry my family." He stopped here and glanced at the book she had set aside, his brow quirked in surprise as he took in the subject matter and he rose to take a closer look.
Grace stiffened as he came closer. She watched in alarm as he picked up the book and then proceeded to leaf through the pages. She stood in a panic and snatched the book from his hands and hurried to place it back on the shelf. She kept her back to him as she tried to stay her breathing, not daring to look at him. She bit her lip to prevent the tears welling in her eyes from falling. He wasn't supposed to know her pursuit of medical knowledge.
She felt his presence behind her and his steady breathing was the only indication to her that he was not across the room as he had been. He cleared his throat before speaking. "I was not aware that you were interested in medicine."
She took a deep breath and willed herself to speak. "I have never taken an interest in the subject." She paused. "Until you," she whispered.
There was silence as her words penetrated Colonel Fitzwilliam's mind. His presence seemed to close her in a warm cocoon.
She felt the warmth of his hand on her shoulder. It was a hesitant touch just like his next words. "Look at me-----please look at me."
Grace felt the pleading of his words and felt she could not deny him. She slowly turned and as she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes she stubbornly kept her head down. "I don't want you to see me cry." Colonel Fitzwilliam would not let it be so.
His hand softly took her chin and raised it up so his eyes could stare firmly into hers. Grace felt herself tremble under his simple touch that she closed her eyes and as she felt his thumbs brush her tears she felt as if her legs would give out under her. What was this man doing to her?
"Please do not hide your eyes from me." She willed her eyes open and as he spoke his eyes held hers. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I find your choice of reading material refreshing. It shows a keen intellect which I cannot help but appreciate. What were you hoping to find within those pages?"
Her breathing quickened as the kindling of a flame sparked within his eyes. "Something to help you."
The flames ignited and he groaned. The deep timbre of his voice was strangled and it did nothing to calm her senses. "You intrigue me----Grace."
Her breath hitched as he breathed her name. All this emotion from one simple touch of his hands and his gaze holding her hostage, it was too much. She felt heat suffuse her body as she reflected his compliment of her intelligence. Looking in to the burning mahogany of his gaze she could feel the strength within her returning.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam." She grabbed his forearms for support as she felt her legs almost give way. If at all possible his gaze burned brighter as she touched him. "I…….I am…."
It was the sound of the door opening that sent them flying apart.
Lord Fitzwilliam entered, halted and glanced back and forth between to two. He took in Lady Grace's flushed countenance and his brother's inability to look him in the eye. It was Lord Fitzwilliam who recovered first. "Richard, might I have a word with you?"
"Lord Fitzwilliam," interjected Lady Grace. "I do not believe that will be necessary."
"On the contrary." He replied, looking at his brother. "I find it quite necessary."
Grace glanced between the brothers, uncomfortable with the stiffness in the air. Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to face her. He took her hand in his as he spoke. "It is well. Vincent just wants to discuss business."
Grace scowled. "Colonel Fitzwilliam I do not believe…"
He cut off her fierce whisper with a lingering kiss on her hand as he bowed. "Vincent just wants to talk."He said again as he dropped her hand and departed the room.
Once alone, Grace let out a sigh of frustration. She knew they were not going to discuss business, but the scene Lord Fitzwilliam had just walked in on. She had sensed Lord Fitzwilliam's growing attachment to her despite having done everything to discourage it. Nothing good was going to come of their discussion and she was caught in the middle of it.
Richard walked alongside Vincent until they had reached their shaded destination, a small crop of trees just to the north of Matlock House, where he leaned against a large oak and waited for his brother to speak. To say he had been surprised by Vincent's behavior would have been an understatement and as he tried to cool the fire in his blood from his encounter with Lady Grace, he was curious as to what Vincent would say.
He did not have to wait long.
"Richard! What are you thinking? Lady Grace is a respectable woman. She is not a loose skirt like you are accustomed to in the Army."
Richard felt himself bristle at the insinuation. "Vincent, I suggest you don't continue further with your thoughts."
Vincent glared at him. "You're a second son. What do you have to offer her?"
Richard started. "I have a small estate worth 5,000 a year. It is modest, but she would have a home. Are you in love with her?"
Vincent chuckled. "In love with her? Come now, Richard. Don't be foolish. Of course I'm not in love with her, but that doesn't mean I can't make her in offer."
He felt his heart constrict. "That does not mean she would accept."
"She would be a fool to turn me down. Don't be a deceived Richard. You are a second son. You're a working man and best of all; you drink because you are muddled in the head. You're not fit for a woman like her."
He felt himself lunge at his brother. The thought of Vincent anywhere near his Grace made him mad with furry. He put his fist into Vincent's nose, sending blood everywhere. As Vincent stumbled Richard felt a remorseful satisfaction overtake him. He flexed his bleeding hand as he stared at his brother on the ground holding his nose. He hadn't even tried to retaliate.
"Look at you Richard! You're a mess."
"Don't you even think about making an offer for Grace." He pointed his finger. "Don't you dare."
Richard whirled around and stalked back to the house, leaving his brother to stand up and brush himself off, missing the grim look of satisfaction on Vincent's face.
Chapter 12 ~ Breaking Points
Posted on 2011-10-30
Despite Richard heart telling him otherwise, his mind had other ideas and the next few days saw to test his emotions. The seed had been planted by his brother and now it continued to sprout. Lady Grace and his brother seemed awfully friendly and he did not like it at all. In fact, it displeased him greatly and he found his jealous temperament ever present in his actions those preceding days.
In his withdrawal he failed to notice that when he was not aware he too was being watched. The worried countenance of Lady Grace kept close watch at his increasing disinterest in what occurred around him. He concentrated so much on what he believed to be true that he missed the looks passed between Vincent and Darcy and the rest of his family.
Darcy had attempted speaking to him, but he would not listen. His nightmares of the war had become exceedingly more frequent now that he felt the reality of what was occurring around him. Perhaps, it was that these memories were comfortable as he often found himself in the dark recesses of his mind that he was familiar with. The emotions he felt for her were an unknown to him; the likes of which he never felt before. He was losing control fast and he knew at any moment he would crash.
So, on that cold morning, his once bright mood, turned thunderous and utterly forlorn as he spied his brother and Lady Grace in what he assumed to be a proposal. His heart constricted as he observed them unseen from a crack in the doorway. The last few days came crashing down on him as Vincent's words came back to him.
Since the accident Lady Grace strived to not be overtly distressed, but to present herself with a backbone. It was a delicate process, but she was seeing progress. What she had sought so hard to deter had occurred that morning. Lord Fitzwilliam had asked for her hand. Despite having expected it she had been speechless and so it was with dismay she realized it had been witnessed by Colonel Fitzwilliam. She had called to him, but he had already ascended the stairs.
She was so furious with Lord Fitzwilliam she could only glare at him before she quitted the room and disappeared outdoors until she could compose herself. Once she had sufficiently composed herself she rejoined the family and tried to maintain an aura of demur calm, despite her turmoil inside. She conversed with the Fitzwilliam's and Darcy families with relative ease. However, as darkness descended she feigned a headache as an excuse to ascend upstairs.
She did not know where she would find the Colonel, but she was persistent in her search. The distant sound of breaking glass was what alerted her to his
whereabouts. She straightened her spine, despite her trepidation, as she quietly walked towards the closed door.
Once in front of it she paused as her breathing quickened, unsure what she would find behind the door. She knocked quietly and held her breath. There was the sound of footsteps and the sound of a muffled curse before the occupant yelled that they should go away.
Steeling herself and ignoring her mental protests she turned the knob and entered the half darkened room. His back was to her as she took in the disarray of the room. A shattered mirror was probably the breaking sound she had heard down the hall. Sucking in a breath she stepped farther into the room. It wasn't until she spoke that Colonel Fitzwilliam turned around and acknowledged her presence.
She stared at his eyes, which were emotionless and then glanced down at the half empty bottle of brandy he held. Frowning in concern she asked, "what have you done?'
"Done?" he spat. "Am I to extend you congratulations then?"
She flinched. "If you would just allow me to explain you would see that you are mistaken."
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood frozen for a moment before he slowly approached her and as he forced her to take steps back she refused to back be intimidated. She found herself pressed against a wall as Colonel Fitzwilliam should in front of her, while not one part of his body touched her, his position did not allow for her movement, yet the sparks between them were undeniable in that moment.
He was very, very drunk……and angry.
"Why don't you save your smiles for my brother." Her eyes welled with unshed tears as he stepped away from her and began to pace. "You know not what afflicts me and you care not. I see now that my brother was the one you sought to raise your reputation."
"That is not true, Colonel." It was whispered in such a way that he almost did not hear her.
The fury was radiating off him now, yet he did not move toward her again, as if a part of him knew that getting closer to her would not be wise. He another drink from the bottle.
"I have seen many….horrors" he swallowed hard. "I'm a broke man. You tricked me. There is a word form women like you. Tell me…" He staggered. "Did some man really break your heart or did you willing give him your favors?"
Grace gasped at the unbridled antagonism. "How could you say such horrid words to me. You think I wanted to ruin my own reputation…..I did nothing to deserve this. Is your opinion of me so low that you think I would stoop to trickery?"
The life that suddenly sparked in Grace gave Colonel Fitzwilliam pause, but it was too late, for drunk or not, she held no mercy at that moment and she slapped him hard. His face burned and his head flew back, but she did not care.
"How dare you Colonel Fitzwilliam! I know I have not always been kind to you, but I would have never thrown something back into your face. I hope your bed keeps you warm at night, because you will end up alone. Cold and alone with nobody to care for you. I….I….Oh, sod it all!"
She turned around in fury and slammed the door behind her. Tears burned her cheeks as she walked briskly her chamber and once there was not of her own mind. The nerve of the man to get foxed and then to insinuate those horrible things. He confounded her so and she was unsure how to proceed, but she was quite determined that when morning dawned she would write her father and ask that he send a carriage to fetch her. She could not stay here and as dreadful as the thought of returning home was it was preferable to being in the same house as the Colonel.
She sobbed herself to sleep.
A letter having already been dispatched to her father, Grace had one last thing to accomplish before leaving Matlock House. The clanking of dishes and silverware below indicated the family was at breakfast. She quietly descended the stairs and made her way to the kitchen. The servants were taken by surprise when she requested a tray be made up. As soon as the breakfast tray was ready she carried it up stairs.
The sound of her skirts moving back and forth and the quiet tinker of the dishes on the tray were the only sounds in the otherwise empty hallway as she walked deeper into the house toward the room where Colonel Fitzwilliam slept.
It was not long before she was in front of Colonel Fitzwilliam's door. His words had been said in an intoxicated state and while she believed it not an excuse for his actions and that he still had to atone for them, she also felt the loss of leaving this house and more importantly him, most acutely.
Taking a deep breath, she carefully balanced the tray so she could turn the knob and push the door open with her foot. When she entered the light of day brought into harsh focus the true state of the room. The empty brandy bottle lay discarded at the foot of the bed and drawing her eyes to the sleeping figure she had to fight back tears. Even in sleep he looked afflicted.
She carefully set the tray on the bedside table, resisting the temptation to smooth his hair from his forehead and before she had time to ponder further she turned to exit the room, leaving behind her scent of lavender and rosemary, the only indication to Colonel Fitzwilliam moments later as he awoke and saw the breakfast tray, that she had ever been there.
Posted on 2011-12-04
The scent of lavender and rosemary hung in the air alerting Richard that she had been here even if she was not there now. His head was pounding and his mouth was dry. As he studied the tray on his bedside table the memories of last evening came sauntering back to taunt him. Glancing around the room he realized how ironic this was. The room was a mess and so was he. Irony was a harsh reality when it presented itself.
The creak of the door brought his gaze to his visitor. It was Darcy. He tried not to groan as the irony became even louder. Darcy glanced around the room and then at him.
"If you don't mind me saying so Richard," here he paused. "You are an ass!"
Well was that not just spot on. He felt like an ass, but it hurt even more to hear it out loud. Rubbing the remainder of the sleep from his eyes he sighed. "You are quite right Darcy. I am an ass!"
"I'm glad we agree on something." He went to the other side of the room, grabbed a chair and brought it back, sat down and studied him with a grave air. "Not that you deserved it one bit, but in case you were wondering Lady Grace brought you that tray."
Richard swallowed. She was a good woman. "Did she?"
Darcy nodded. "I observe more than you suppose. I saw the lady in tears last evening." His eyes suddenly bore into his and he felt like a disobedient child at Darcy's next words. "Badly done Richard!"
Richard was about to interject but Darcy kept going. "Imagine my surprise at seeing her deliver breakfast to your room, despite the apparent fact that you reduced her to tears. She's either a very forgiving woman or it was her odd way of saying farewell."
Richard started. "Farewell? What are you talking about?" He was halfway out of bed and ready to fling the door open when Darcy's next words halted him.
"She's gone Richard. She left this morning and returned to her father's house. Aunt Amelia practically begged her to stay and I must say I have never seen her so insistent on having a house guest remain here longer. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen Aunt Amelia beg in all my days. Lady Grace was firm in her conviction however."
Richard suddenly felt deflated, as if the air had left his sails, he sank down into the bed. "I said awful words to her Darcy. She will never forgive me for some of the words I uttered."
Darcy placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. "Elizabeth once forgave me for the awful words I said to her some time ago."
Richard shook his head and shrugged off Darcy's hand. He rose and began to pace as he was want to do when he needed to collect his thoughts. "I accused her of having designs on Vincent in order to restore her reputation. Even worse I accused her of offering her virtue willingly to that unknown scoundrel who ruined her reputation in the first place."
Darcy flinched and hissed at the final proclamation. "Bloody hell Richard---you're worse than an ass."
"So you see Darcy no woman, however good, is that forgiving." Richard shook his head in disbelief as he came to realize just what he was doing to himself and those around him by letting his dark thoughts take over. He glanced at the empty brandy bottle and realized that it was not going to solve his problems.
Leaving Matlock House had been more difficult that she had supposed. She found she had grown attached to them in a way she had not thought possible. Lady Matlock had been especially insistent that she remain and Grace almost found herself persuaded, but she could not trespass on their kindness any longer. Lord Matlock heartily objected as well, but she was not to be persuaded from her course.
Lady Emily had promised to write as well as visit when possible as she considered Grace almost a sister in the short time they had been acquainted. Mrs. Darcy and Miss Darcy where not that well known to her, but they said their farewell's none the less.
It was Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy whose forlorn looks which gave her concern for the Colonel, but she was not sure if it was concern for his health or for his life.
Grace had just entered the house she had been absent from for some time, to the smiling face of her father and mother. She stopped abruptly in the doorway and looked suspiciously at them. They looked entirely too happy and even she was wise enough to know that her presence was not want to elicit such a response, no matter how much she wished otherwise.
"Ah, so this is your daughter." It was a bumbling voice which came from the open door closer to the sitting room. The stranger was draped in silks of black and yellow and looked very much like a bee. He lifted a quizzing glass to his eye as he waddled closer to her. The man sniffed. "Her hair is perhaps too red, but that could be fixed I suppose."
Grace scowled. Who was this man and what was wrong with her hair? She happened to like its shade. The stranger was old and fat which could only mean that this bumbling fool was her father's choice for her future husband. Oh, how she wished Quinn was here for he would surly gain much amusement from the man. She looked at her parents and their almost delightful faces and suddenly wished she'd stayed at Matlock House.
Grace let out a yelp of surprise as the stranger took a lock of her hair in his hands. She slapped his hands and glared. "How dare you touch me!"
"Now, now, Grace." said her father as he came rushing forward, trying to give an air of care, which she saw right through. "We do not wish to be rude to Lord Bumble."
She leveled a stare at her father. It would serve him right if she chased Lord Bumble off as it was quite insulting that he should think that is what she deserved. "Then he should keep his hands off me. I won't stand for it."
Lady MacKenna let out a gasp and her father's jaw almost dropped. Then he narrowed his eyes and grabbed her arm roughly. In a hissing whisper he told her in no uncertain terms that she was to behave as a lady by keeping her thoughts to herself. It would not do for Lord Bumble to think she had a mind of her own.
Grace never got to retort as Lord Bumble let out a tsk. "She is a bit spirited for my tastes Lord MacKenna, but I have wild horses with stronger spirits which I have tamed." He raised the quizzing glass back up to his face and stared at her critically.
Grace didn't like the sound of that. This was the man whom her father thought to marry her to. She wrenched her arm out of her father's grasp and ignoring the protests of her parents she ascended the stairs and once in her room she jammed a chair under the door. Yes, she wished she had remained at Matlock House.
The next month was debatable as to its enjoyment. Grace's newfound strength was a source of constant torment to her parents as despite Lord MacKeltar's attempts to squelch her spirit in the face of Lord Bumble he was not as successful as he liked. Grace for her part spent much of her time disappearing from the house in order to avoid Lord Bumble, but she felt freer now that she had discovered her strength and while
she was not quite sure what had triggered it she suspected it had to do with her time at Matlock House.
Thinking of Matlock House could not but bring up the memories of the night before her departure. She had not heard from Colonel Fitzwilliam since that evening and she would have been caught in a falsehood if she had said that a part of her was a bit wounded by what she perceived as the Colonel's pride and inability to atone for his actions. The letters she received from Lady Emily were vague in their information about him.
All she was able to ascertain is that he was much more sober than when she had left him, but he still spent sleepless nights.
However, she would not be the one to further breach propriety by seeking an audience with him, no, she was much decided that it was Colonel Fitzwilliam who would need to make the first move. After her debacle with Wickham she was no longer foolish enough to place her faith in a man's character and while she reflected that Colonel Fitzwilliam had not behaved in as unfitting a way Wickham had, she could also not dismiss the failings of either man. Perhaps she had hoped that what she did see of him would prove to be different, but her disappointments had proven to be ever true.
A letter had been dispatched upon her return to her brother Quinn who was still at Portsmouth. His ship was not set to sail for at least another two months and so as she felt the weight of the situation around her she had sought to lean on her brother, for while she felt her strength of spirit returning, that did not mean she did not still require the supportive arm of another. It was as if Colonel Fitzwilliam had awoken something within her long since buried after Wickham's departure. A part of Grace was pleased to see a return of her former self, but fending off the advances of Lord Bumble and her parent's harshness began to take a toll on her so it was with almost great relief one morning as she crested a hill that she met her brother riding on horseback.
Quinn was home.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was supported by his own torment. Grace's departure and the actions behind it did much to prevent his desire to drink his thoughts away. That was not to say that his flashbacks to the war didn't come and go as they pleased, but he was not using alcohol as a way to numb them. Instead he was involved in an inner torment of the heart over his affairs with Lady Grace.
When the rest of the Fitzwilliam and Darcy families learned of his actions toward Lady Grace one evening it was met with indignation and no small amount of anger. His mother actually cried and his father sat shaking his head as he comforted her. The worst condemnation came perhaps from Georgiana who innocently asked, 'But, Cousin Richard, why would you say that if you loved her? It wasn't very nice at all.'
Colonel Fitzwilliam had been at a loss for words and foisting blame on alcohol didn't seem the wisest course.
One morning as he stood staring out the window, his mother sat on the sofa behind him, he had had much time to ponder all that had occurred.
"Richard, I was wondering if I might speak to you about a matter of some importance."
He did not turn to face her, but remained silent.
His mother spoke to him again and this time he acknowledged her attempt. "What is it, mother?"
"Something interesting came with Lady Grace when she arrived here. Do you know what that was?"
His raised brow was reflected in the glass giving his mother a perfect view of his reactions. "Do be so kind as to reveal you secret."
Lady Matlock smiled. "It was a handkerchief, my dear." She watched.
Richard chuckled. "A handkerchief? What is some scrap of fabric to me?"
Lady Matlock paused dramatically before laying the enormity of the secret at his feet. "That scrap of fabric, as you put it, bore your initials Richard. Now, what say you?"
His shock was evident by his reflection, but he refused to display any further outward emotion. Instead he attempted to slightly divert the conversation and as he watched Vincent and Lady Grace he asked his mother a question of his own. "Has Vincent been in Lady Grace's company often?"
"They do seem to get on well, but then she and Emily have become fast friends as well. Why do you ask?"
In a ragged breath he replied, "I said some terrible things to Lady Grace?"
"Perhaps, Lady Grace's feelings where engaged elsewhere even before your brother came along." suggested his mother knowingly.
He hated it when she was right. He gave his mother a kiss on her check and squeezed her hand reassuringly before he quit the room.
As if a man possessed, with each day that she was gone he wrote Grace letters. He had accumulated quite a collection. The first letter he had written her had been that day at Pemberley and he had placed it over his heart where it remained. He knew he should apologize to her, but whether it was his pride or embarrassment for his actions he could not say. It was if with each letter that he wrote the he felt as if in a small way he was speaking to her, but that did not prevent his self torment and perhaps he felt this was a deserved punishment. It was one evening as he sat in his self imposed punishment, in the room where that dreadful event occurred that he composed the letter that would forever remain in his heart.
Posted on 2011-12-18
Quinn had come home. It was with extreme joy that Grace met her brother upon his return. It did not take long for Quinn to inquire about the nature of affairs at home. Grace told him of Lord Bumble who was obnoxious and buzzed around like a bee. He was completely unsatisfied with her appearance and seemed to imply there was much in her to be changed. The look on Quinn's face suggested he was not convinced of the intelligence of Lord Bumble at all. He thought her perfect just the way she was which caused her to blush in gratitude.
Further revelation of the nature of the incident with Colonel Fitzwilliam caused an incensed look to take over Quinn's face. It took some moments for Grace to calm her brother down and while Quinn did not vocalize it he was well aware of the wounds inflicted towards his sister by Colonel Fitzwilliam. One had only to look into her eyes to know the pain she suffered. It was with extreme conviction that Quinn sought out Colonel Fitzwilliam the next day. After having observed Lord Bumble, Quinn was most assured that he was not a man fit to marry Grace.
It was with these suppositions that Quinn went to Matlock Manor. The eyes of the whole family were on him as he made the customary bow. He bestowed his greetings on the Lord and Lady of the house before narrowing in on Colonel Fitzwilliam. While he portrayed a politeness, the undercut of his words made it clear that he was not really present for a social call.
Colonel Fitzwilliam led them to the library where both sat for some minutes sipping the complimentary brandy. It was during this time that Quinn seemed to size up the man who wounded his sister and despite everything he decided that if anyone were to please his sister it was the man sitting before him. As this thought cemented itself he decided that he, as her brother, would do all that was required to make it occur.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am Captain Quinn MacKenna. Grace's brother." He said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded uncomfortably, suspecting what this meeting really entailed. "I suspected as much."
"Then you must know why I am here." This was stated matter-of-factly.
"To call me out?'
Quinn chuckled. "No, but lawd knows you deserve it. I came to knock some sense into your blockhead."
"Captain, I deserve every amount of censure for how I treated your sister. I have tortured myself over my actions every day."
Quinn grinned. This may be easier than he thought. "Then damn it, go apologize to her. Bloody hell, if you saw that buffoon my Father is parading around as Grace's future husband."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was up and out of the chair, spilling his brandy in the process. "What?!"
If possible Quinn's grin got even wider. "Lord Bumble is my father's chosen husband for Grace. I don't like him at all. He's wants to change her hair," he said dismissively.
Colonel Fitzwilliam frowned in confusion. "What is wrong with her hair?"
Quinn leaned back into the chair to better observe Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was enjoying this. He was a cat with a mouse on a string. "He says that respectable ladies do not have red hair. It makes her look like a heathen."
Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to go to the window, muttering "I like her hair."
Quinn sat for a moment sipping the rest of his brandy. He brushed some dirt off his boot and stood. "I do have one other question, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Why the Army? Why not a respectable profession like the Navy?"
The Colonel turned to glare at him. The grin plastered on Quinn's face did nothing to help matters. "If you were not her brother I'd brawl you for your insolence."
Quinn shrugged. "It was just a question, but as to the important matter on hand does that mean Lord Bumble is free to marry Grace. He will be pleased I'm sure."
Colonel Fitzwilliam's eyes narrowed. Quinn continued to grin. "You are an obnoxious excuse for a gentleman. I have a letter for Lady Grace. Perhaps, you would be so kind as to convey it to her."
"That goes against all forms of propriety Colonel." There was a dangerous edge to Quinn's voice suddenly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's jaw tightened. "I realize that, but she would never take my calling on her. Besides I have a plan. So, would you be so kind as to take my letter to her."
Quinn grumbled at the breach of propriety, but took the letter from the Colonel when he returned from fetching it from upstairs. He took the massive and said he would give it to Grace as soon as he had returned. He took his leave of the Colonel who looked relieved. Quinn would have liked the Colonel more if he hadn't been in the army.
As Quinn was taking his leave he caught sight woman whom he had not yet been introduced to. Her hair was a shade of coffee brunette and she had hazel eyes. She smiled briefly at him before disappearing upstairs. His eyes followed her figure until she had disappeared; with a sigh he turned and left Matlock House to return to Grace with the massive from Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Grace was secluded in the library, attempting a few moments peace from Lord Bumble, really, when Quinn returned. She hardly glanced up, well attuned to his grand entrances and grand speeches, while the grand entrance came, the grand speech did not. Frowning she closed the book she had been reading and looked up at her brother.
"Quinn whatever is the matter?"
He seemed to be breathing hard as if he had run from the stables. "I have just come from speaking to Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Grace flew out of her chair. "You did not….Quinn you did not challenge him did you?"
Quinn smiled wickedly. "Of course I did. What kind of brother would I be if I did not?"
Grace closed her eyes, suddenly feeling nauseous. "Quinn, please I beg of you do not kill him."
Quinn flicked something off his sleeve dismissively as he regarded his sister. "That depends entirely on the contents of this letter."
Grace opened her eyes to look at him. "Letter?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Quinn as he withdrew the massive form his pocket. "This highly inappropriate letter, from Colonel Fitzwilliam, to my unmarried sister."
Grace felt her breath catch in her throat as she struggled to contain the trepidation that overcame her. She had to sit down. In an instant Quinn came to sit beside her in alarm.
She reached a hand out to reassure him. "I am well Quinn. I am just overcome. May I please have some privacy as I read the contents of his letter?"
She smiled at Quinn who was not completely reassured, but he thrust the massive into her hands. She clutched it tightly as if at any moment it would disintegrate.
"I will be just outside the door" Quinn murmured as he stood up and then left the room.
Grace stared at the letter for some moments. The scrawl of his handwriting on front addressing her, she traced her fingers over it as she mastered the courage to break the seal. Taking a deep breath she broke the seal and smoothed open the pages of the letter and began to read.
Please excuse any breach of propriety that my letter should cause, but I can no longer remain silent as to my feelings. Please allow me this one moment to tell you what I have long wished to convey to you.
I have behaved in a dishonorable fashion towards you. Please allow me to extend to you my humblest apologizes for my ungentlemanly like conduct. I have tormented myself in remembrance of the words I uttered to you---even now I shutter--- and even if you never forgive me, know that I shall never forgive myself for the distress and pain I inflicted and it will remain with me for the rest of my days. You who have been everything that is beautiful and kind. You did not deserve such ill treatment.
With these lines I will content myself with composing them here, but I hope to someday be able to whisper them to you.
O, my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve's like a melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.
As fair as thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
I will love thess till, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run:
And fare thee well, my only luve!
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it ware ten thousand mile.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam
As she finished the letter she was overcome with such emotion that a sob burst forth as she clutched to letter to her chest. She had believed that she had known the Colonel after that horrible evening, but in truth she had not known him at all. His words, his apology were all to credit with the change in her mind as to who he really was. She had allowed her anger at his drunken words to cloud her judgment, reading the lines in his letter again, her emotions overcame her.
The door burst open, her cries having alerted Quinn, who looked suddenly enraged. "What did that cad say to you? I'll meet him at dawn with
It took some moments for her to control her emotions and each time she thought she had fresh tears began to spill forth. Finally giving up she choked out a response. "Quinn that will not be necessary."
"He made you cry Grace. Or course it is necessary."
She smiled at her brother causing him to pause. "His words caused me to cry, but I assure you they are tears of happiness."
Quinn suddenly smiled. "He has asked for your hand then?"
Grace shook her head. "He has asked to court me properly."
"He should have asked for your hand."
Grace laughed as the disappointed look on his face. "Oh, Quinn you do not need to be disgruntled. Colonel Fitzwilliam wounded me, but I have reason to believe he has plans to correct his actions."
Quinn regarded her as if assessing the truth of her words. He sniffed in disdain. "He is Army so I am naturally predisposed to dislike him. But if
I have to choose between him and Lord Bumble as a brother-in-law I would much prefer the army man."
Grace threw her arms around him as she stifled yet another laugh. From Quinn that was an almost glowing endorsement. Her gratitude was muffled into his shoulder, but she knew he had heard it when he squeezed her tightly back.
"You know I have always believed you deserved much happiness and I will be civil to Colonel Fitzwilliam if it makes you happy."
Grace pulled away and slapped his arm playfully. She put her hands on her hips and glared at him mockingly. "He only said he was going to court me."
Quinn snorted. "Please spare me Grace. The man is disgustingly in love with you. I only wonder at how long it will take him to ask for your hand."
Grace blushed and shifted nervously, tucking an errant stand of hair behind her ear. "He only offered to court me, Quinn. He did not make an offer."
"I think he is determined to make himself worthy of you. I do so wonder how he will receive Lord Bumble though. Hmmmm, that could be interesting." A mischievous smile graced his face.
Grace rolled her eyes. Quinn was forever looking to be entertained. He was not very good at being serious. Grace did not have time to further contemplate Colonel Fitzwilliam's words to her until late in the evening, just before she was preparing for bed. She reread the letter again, the soft glow of the candlelight dancing about the room, and she was once again struck by how passionate the words on the page were, especially with the poem he had transcribed to her. The thought of him one day saying those words out loud caused a shiver to go through her.
As she laid her head on the pillow she clutched the pages to her and thought that she had not felt this alive in a long time. It was to the Colonel's credit that he was able to inspire such emotion within her. With a happy sigh she escaped to the realm of dreams.
A fortnight would pass until it Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lady Grace would meet again. It was with increasing impatience that Colonel Fitzwilliam awaited their meeting, as it would determine the outcome of his letter to Lady Grace., however, the torment was no less his due for being utterly insensitive toward Lady Grace.
It was the unknown response to his letter which dictated to him a nervous temperament. Immediately after Captain MacKenna's departure he sought out his brother Vincent who was in the billiard room with Darcy. He greeted them both with what he hoped was a calm disposition.
"Vincent, How is your nose?" Richard asked while nodding in the direction of his brothers wound.
Darcy made a move to leave, presuming that this was perhaps a private matter, but Richard halted him. "Please, Darcy, stay."
Darcy nodded and leaned on his billiard stick to await his next move.
"My nose is well. It is just bruised." Vincent shrugged.
Richard sighed as he began to pace as he was want to do when collecting his thoughts. "I owe you and apology Vincent. I shouldn't have punched you."
Vincent murmured an affirmative.
Richard stopped and stifled a grin. "Can I perhaps inquire about one thing? You never had any intention of asking for Lady Grace's hand did you? You provoked me on purpose."
Vincent leaned on the billiards table as he regarded his brother. "I admit that I found her very attractive" he said slowly.
Richard grunted in protest.
"However," continued Vincent, "I knew from the moment you arrived back home that she was smitten with you and that I never stood a chance. I would have been a fool to try and compete with you. So, yes I provoked you on purpose because you were acting like a buffoon."
"Actually, he was an ass" chimed in Darcy. "Referring to him as a buffoon is too kind."
Richard glared at Darcy who grinned back. "Darcy, you are not helping" hissed Richard.
"The point is, Richard, that she compliments you. Without her you are only a shell of yourself and I had to do something to provoke you into sensible action."
"And Captain MacKenna's presence?"
"Merely coincidence, but remind me to thank him later for helping me complete the coup de grace in pushing you into action."
Richard was indebted to his brother and even Darcy for their help, but all was not finished yet. He had yet to know the outcome of his letter which was perhaps the hardest part. He hated waiting. He was a man of action, but this was one of those times that all he could do was wait.
"Shall we indulge ourselves in a game of cards?" suggested Darcy.
It was a splendid idea which occupied them until dinner.
It had been a fortnight since Grace had received Colonel Fitzwilliam's letter. Quinn had promised to escort her to Matlock House this morning. Grace spent extra care with her toilette that morning, taking care to make sure the maid arranged her hair just so and her sprig muslin was without a wrinkle. She choose a green spencer to compliment her features to best advantage. As she carefully put on her gloves and then picked up her pelisse, she thought of what she would say to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Her tongue was tied and she was not even in his presence yet.
"Calm yourself," whispered Quinn as he placed her hand in the crook of his elbow.
Grace smiled nervously. "I cannot help myself. I have never had to do something like this before."
"You look exquisite. Where is your courage?"
Grace smiled as they departed. "It seems to have fled."
"It would seem so," remarked Quinn. He was amused, she could tell.
"Ah, you are going for a walk. I shall join you." It was the voice of Lord Bumble behind them dressed in his customary yellow and black. Grace cringed and her hold on Quinn's arm tightened in silent pleading.
Lord Bumble made a move to take Grace's free arm, but Quinn deflected him by pulling Grace to the other side of him. "Lord Bumble I am perfectly capable of escorting my sister without you."
Lord Bumble was insulted, as he should be. He raised his quizzing glass to his face and regarded Quinn. "Captain MacKenna I only want to escort Lady Grace so I may instruct her on the proper etiquette of a Ladies walk."
"I thank you for your concern, Lord Bumble, but as the ladies brother I can honestly say that your instruction will not be necessary. If you will excuse us."
Grace and Quinn began their walk again as Lord Bumble huffed behind them. "I still think I will accompany you on your walk."
Grace rolled her eyes and looked at her brother. They resigned themselves to Lord Bumble's presence, however unwelcome it was. By the time the small party had reached Matlock House Lord Bumble was huffing and puffing in a most unbecoming manner. Grace could not help but think unkindly about the man's girth and how unattractive he was.
They were admitted to the parlor to await the members of the household. Once they were received by Lord and Lady Matlock the introductions where made. The Fitzwilliam and Darcy families were not quite sure what to think of Lord Bumble who made a point to stand near Grace.
Grace cringed at Lord Bumble's actions and she longed for a glimpse of Colonel Fitzwilliam. She was eager to tell him in person what she thought of his letter. Grace found herself desperately trying to move as far away from Lord Bumble as possible. She was crushed into the side of the sofa when the parlor door opened to admit Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Grace immediately stood from the sofa. "Colonel Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed. "How delightful it is to see you again." She smiled nervously as
Lord Bumble stood as well and took a spot next to her.
Quinn had been unsuccessful in moving Lord Bumble's attentions from his sister as it seemed he was determined to have her, although given his disdain for her hair and manners he was at a loss as to what Lord Bumble was truly motivated by.
Colonel Fitzwilliam eyes alighted on her as soon as he entered. She blushed as his eyes softened to burning embers, but as they focused on Lord Bumble they hardened to flints. Grace made the awkward introductions and she tried in earnest to convey to Colonel Fitzwilliam that she was here for him alone.
It was unnecessary and Colonel Fitzwilliam came towards her. He made a customary bow to Lord Bumble and then completely disregarded his presence and placed her hand in the crook of his arm. "Lady Grace perhaps you would be more comfortable on the sofa over here."
Grace breathed a sigh of relief as she took in the sofa which Colonel Fitzwilliam led her too. It would only seat two. He made sure she was comfortably settled before he took a seat beside her and she could not help but smile gratefully at him for deflecting Lord Bumble. Lord Bumble had no choice but to take a seat in the seat just vacated by Grace, much to his displeasure.
The conversation resumed around them. Grace felt her stomach flutter as Colonel Fitzwilliam's rough voice inquired after her health. She responded that she was well and then a comfortable silence overtook them. A heat radiated between them which seemed to engulf the whole room. There was no denying that she was attracted to this man.
He leaned forward and whispered. "I find myself much enchanted by your red hair."
Grace froze unsure of what to say. She found herself blushing. If this was his way of making amends then he certainly knew how to make amends properly. Had there even been a sliver of doubt before, she was convinced that his apology was genuine. She was looking forward to his paying court to her, although how much wooing was really necessary was questionable as she was already much on her way to falling in love with him.
Grace touched her hair nervously and murmured a demure thank you. His smile in return caused a blush to creep further down her neck.
"I would very much like to speak to you." He paused to glance around the room to see if they were being observed. "In private," he emphasized.
If possible her blush went even further. The gleam in his eyes seemed to indicate that he was pleased at her reaction. Colonel Fitzwilliam made their excuses and Lord Bumble looked none too pleased with the turn of events. It was all Quinn could do to distract him from his efforts to try and follow them. Thankfully Quinn was successful in his diversionary tactics.
Grace and Colonel Fitzwilliam took to the gardens, which were beginning to bloom, so that they could discuss the looming presence of a certain letter. Grace took a seat as she watched Colonel Fitzwilliam pace. She was beginning to realize that he paced as a way to gather his thoughts and smiled at him encouragingly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam took a seat beside her and took her hands in his. Warmth suffused her and she blushed. "My letter---my apologizes-----I cannot begin to express."
Grace silenced him with a finger on his lips. "Colonel Fitzwilliam all is forgiven. Although I must request that you don't ever drink in such excess again."
A sheepish smile suffused Colonel Fitzwilliam's face. "I do not deserve such forgiveness, but I will endeavor to be worthy of it. I am a broken man, Grace. I do not have much to offer you."
Unshed tears sparkled in Grace's eyes. "You offer me everything that is important in this life, Richard."
The moment she said his name his eyes began to glow brighter. His face inched closer to hers and then his lips hovered just above hers. "I promised to court you properly Grace. Why must you be so difficult?"
She smiled as he said her name. "This is not a time to point out my shortcomings Richard."
He shook his head in amusement. "I'm going to kiss you now."
Grace found herself nodding as her eyes closed. The moment his lips touched hers she knew that she was spoiled for any other man. He was the only one who could evoke such passion in her and it was with determination that she would have no one but him. She had just leaned closer to him, placing her arms around his strong shoulders when he pulled away. She squealed in protest causing him emit a husky chuckle.
"Grace, I intend to court you properly, which means no more kisses until after we are wed."
Her mouth dropped in shock and she snapped in close. "I…I….Richard that was very unkind of you." She crossed her arms and pretended to pout.
"Would you rather I ravish you for the whole neighborhood to see?" he asked with a raised brow.
She giggled at his sense of humor. He was determined to court her properly and she found that she liked that much more than being ravished for the whole neighborhood to see. "I look forward to you courting me properly."
"Good!" He took her hand in his and kissed it. Then he rose and pulling her to her feet he placed her hand in the crook of his arm. "I look forward to courting you. I should have done so a long time ago."
As a continued promise of his affection Colonel Fitzwilliam returned the handkerchief that she had kept on her person until her accident. Pleasure showed on Grace's face as he handed it to her and it only pleased Colonel Fitzwilliam more. She had thought she had lost it, but it was only misplaced it would seem. She brought it to her nose, smelling the cloves, a scent particular to him only and she tucked it away with a smile. He placed her hand in the crook of his arm, where it belonged, and took her on a tour or the splendid rose gardens his mother was so proud of.
It was agreed upon then that his lips would not touch hers until they were wed and it is difficult to say who found it more difficult, but Colonel Fitzwilliam was true to his word. Grace to her credit was pleased to be courted properly and when they parted it was with anticipation of their next meeting. Grace tried to calm his fears as to the possibility of his having more episodes, but it was with the promise that she would not be far from his side which allowed him to relax slightly. Together the they made each other stronger, indicating that years of happiness would be sure to follow in their marriage of equals.
Posted on 2013-02-03
Grace could not have been happier as she returned home. Quinn was hard pressed to contain his quips about Colonel Fitzwilliam being an army man and in truth Grace knew he did so just to annoy her. The amused smile on his face gave him away, but she was not at all upset. She just rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Lord Bumble was still disgruntled about Colonel Fitzwilliam's apparent usurping of his territory as he believed Lady Grace to be. Lord Bumble had made a point of being consistently near Grace on the walk back to MacKenna Manor and he always sought to apprise her of what was befitting a lady. It was improper of her to be so near a man of Colonel Fitzwilliam's status and she really must take a care to make sure her figure was not shown to such advantage. No, it really was most disengaging to see her take such care with her appearance. Lord Bumble made a point to exhibit all her faults so that she may learn from her transgressions. Quinn and Grace really paid him no heed.
Lord MacKenna was angry with his daughter for her slight on Lord Bumble. Quinn did his best to defend her, but it was not till Colonel Fitzwilliam's visit that Lord MacKenna was made to accept things as they were, if not begrudgingly. Colonel Fitzwilliam was received by Lord MacKenna in his study and it was an awkward affair.
Lord MacKenna was impressed by Colonel Fitzwilliam, but he was a loss as to why he was standing here in his library. "Colonel Fitzwilliam. It is a pleasure as always."
Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed. "You cannot be at a complete loss as to why I am here. I wish to discuss Lady Grace."
Lord MacKenna nodded for him to continue. "I am here to inform you that I plan to court Lady Grace with the intention of procuring her hand in marriage."
Colonel Fitzwilliam saw Lord MacKenna stiffen in shock. However, he would not be deterred. He was quite determined to have Lady Grace as his own. Lord knew he did not deserve her, but then on further reflection neither did any man. To further cement matters every other woman he found paled in comparison to the enchantment that was Lady Grace. It was true she had ensnared him quite by accident, but then it was also true that he was spoiled for any other women who would try to engage his affections."
You cannot be serious" cried Lord MacKenna throwing his hands in the air. "She is ruined. A soiled reputation."
Colonel Fitzwilliam bristled. He fixed a stare on Lord MacKenna making him cringe. "She is far beyond ruin. I am quite determined to have your daughter's hand and would be thoroughly insulted if you denied it to me."
Colonel Fitzwilliam felt it better to cater to Lord Mackenna's pride in his family standing and he was correct in his assessment, for while Lord MacKenna failed to understand why Colonel Fitzwilliam was interested in his daughter it was far from his power to deny an influential war hero. While shocked, Lord MacKenna realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam was a man not to be dissuaded and that there would be a marriage after all, even if he believed that it was more than his daughter deserved.
The MacKenna's were invited to the Matlock's later in the week for dinner. It was an interesting affair as Lord and Lady Mackenna were met by Lord and Lady Matlock with some reservations. These were the same people who caused Lady Grace such pain and it had been her time with them that resulted in much affection for the young woman as if she were one of their own. Dinner went off without any problem and pleasantries were exchanged like honey between the two heads of house.
Quinn seemed determined to make himself known to her friend Lady Emily. She had never seen her brother actually try so hard to converse with a woman before. Glancing at Colonel Fitzwilliam she noted the frown fixed on his face as he observed his sister and her brother. This did not bode well at all. What had Quinn said to Colonel Fitzwilliam when he had visited? He was probably an obnoxious brat as he was want to be just for the mere fact that it annoyed others.
There were tense moments with Colonel Fitzwilliam's older brother Vincent as well; it seemed that he was sporting a rather broken nose and he refused to say how he had acquired it. Although, given the shared looks between the brothers Grace suspected something had occurred but who punched who and why was a mystery that was not to be revealed. In fact Colonel Fitzwilliam did everything to distract her from asking about it. She smiled serenely and allowed herself to be lead away from the topic for the time being.
Lord Bumble it seemed had not been informed of the turn in events in regards to his standing with Grace. He stared disapprovingly at her interactions with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Grace well understood that Colonel Fitzwilliam had made it perfectly clear that he would not be dissuaded. He had told her the whole of his conversation with her father and she had to admit that a small part of her thrilled at the strength and command that he had exhibited. Her mouth went dry just thinking about it.
The conversation going on around them was halted suddenly by a noise from outside. Her immediate concern was for the man beside her whose knuckles were white from gripping that chair. Grace saw Colonel Fitzwilliam pale as the noise had triggered something in his mind. It was not long before he was stumbling through his apologizes as he begged to be excused from the table before he disappeared.
She waited some time before she excused herself, which was difficult as ever as every nerve ending stood on end in concern for Colonel Fitzwilliam. She stopped by the library to pick up a book before ascending the stairs. She walked down the hall to the room where she knew he was likely to be, remembering where she had found him the last time she had been present in Matlock Manor. She quietly slipped through the door and shut it behind her. As she suspected he sat on the floor with his back to the wall, the moon casting shadows about the room. It was eerily silent with only his ragged breathing to break the air.
Colonel Fitzwilliam glanced at her as she entered and a pained look crossed his face. "You should not be here." He ground out. "It is not safe for you."
She boldly stepped further into the room and the moonlight bathed her in an ethereal glow causing her fiery red locks to look like burning flames. "I believe that is for me to determine."
Colonel Fitzwilliam stared at her with conflicting emotions. "I am broken."
Grace quietly walked to him and set her back against the wall and slid down to join him on the floor. "You're not broken Richard. You just have
a few dents in your armor."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled half-heartedly. "If you value your reputation you should leave now."
Grace disregarded his comment with a question instead. "You had another episode?"
He frowned, but nodded. "How did you know?" His voice was horse and gravely as he spoke.
Grace turned her body to face him. "You have that haunted look in your eye which you always have when you remember the war," she said softly.
His hooded eyes stared softly back at her. He ran a nervous hand through his hair as he struggled to control himself. "I cannot make the images stop, Grace."
"I know." She replied simply.
"Are you not afraid after last time?'
Grace shook her head. "You are not well, but I am not afraid."
His eye took a hard edge as if remembering something. "I could hurt you on accident."
"No!" she said. "You will not."
"How can you be sure?"
"You were upset that last time and because of that you will not allow it to occur again."
"You are very confident," he surmised.
"I trust you."
Her words had much effect on him. His large hand engulfed hers as if to reassure himself and her that he drew strength from her trust in him. She squeezed back and smiled softly towards him.
"You once told me that if I were to stand by you that you would draw my strength. I beg you to do so now for I cannot not bear to see you in such torment."
They sat for some time in the silence if semi darkness, he holding her hand and she his, before he spoke again. "You will catch a cold on the floor."
Grace smiled softly at his concern for her health. "So will you."
"Touché." He smiled wolfishly as if she brought him great amusement.
"Your memories have fatigued you. Perhaps, if I read to you it will distract you."
"I do not know if reading to me will dull my memories."
"Well you will not ever know if we do not at least attempt it." She opened the novel in her lap, smoothing out the pages as she did so.
Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed and smiled at her. "Who am I to argue with such a determined lady? What shall you be reading to me this fine evening?"
He looked at her skeptically. "Is this one of those 'women's novels'?"
Grace grinned at him. "I suppose, but you can inform me of your opinion of the book after we have completed it. I do not know what constitutes 'women's novels' as you put it."
He grunted in response. Grace just smiled as she began to read.
At the conclusion of the first chapter Colonel Fitzwilliam could not help but say "Well I have been distracted by my torments for that of another."
Grace regarded him silently. Perhaps her choice in literature had been a poor one, but she was familiar it, having read the volume on many occasions. As she had found no medical knowledge to aide him with his condition she thought perhaps a book where there was suffering that is overcome would be better therapy for him than that of the merciful poking and prodding of a doctor or physician.
"It ends well, I promise you. I thought perhaps it would be a sort of therapy for you."
"So you propose to read to me every night in the hopes that it will cure me?"
She shook her head. "No, I do not think there truly is a cure for you after all that you have seen. I just think that perhaps there is a better way for you to live with it. That is all."
"My father mentioned to me that during your stay here that you were quite interested in his medical books. Were you looking for an answer to my illness, even then?"
Grace blushed in embarrassment. "I didn't think anyone paid any notice. At least I hoped not." She gripped the book in her hand. "You must think I am very strange. A lady does not read medical books. She reads Shakespeare or Anne Radcliffe, but not books made for a gentleman."
A rumbling escaped from Colonel Fitzwilliam's chest. "I do not think I would like you half as much as I do now if you were not strange. You constantly surprise me and I find that I adore any surprise you have given me so far."
She blushed and relaxed her grip on the book. He liked her strangeness.
"Would you read to me another chapter? I think I might like your therapy. It is worth a try anyways."
Grace smiled warmly at him before she began to read. She was just finishing chapter five when a small snoring sound alerted her to the fact that Colonel Fitzwilliam had fallen asleep. It was only natural given the exhaustion he must feel from his many sleepless nights. She would have to get him to the bed and after some deliberation she shook him slightly.
"You cannot spend all night on the floor or you will catch cold. We must move you to the bed."
A mumble was the only answer she received as she struggled to stand him up. Yet she managed to help him up. His arm was slung around her shoulders and she was thankful that the distance to the bed was a short one. He walked wearily and half asleep to the bed with her help. He laid himself down. In his half asleep state he lethargically mumbled to her. "I will strive to be worthy of you, Grace." He had grabbed both of her hands and brought them to his lips.
"I know" she murmured softly, but he had already closed his eyes. The change in his breathing alerted her that he fell asleep again quickly as if comforted by her presence. His grip on her hands went lax and she removed them slowly.
Grace pulled up a chair and with a complete disregard for propriety, for at this point it was long past, she sat and watched him sleep for some time. Her handsome, tormented soldier was a sight to behold. Did he not know that he had already proven his worth to her? To be sure he had some problems he needed to address, but his letter alone had proven all that she needed to be proven to her. He admitted to his faults even though it pained him. He looked peaceful in his sleep and was loathe to leave him, but she had been absent from the party downstairs for too long.
She stood and picked up the book, before departing the room she took one last look at her war wearied soldier before she quietly left the room. As she descended the stairs she heard the soft sound of voices indicating that the family had retired from the dinner table. She approached the library to return the book before returning to the rest of the party. She had just placed it back on the shelf when the clearing of a throat alerted her to another presence in the room.
It was Colonel Fitzwilliam's cousin, Mr. Darcy.
She smiled at him and curtsied. "Good evening Mr. Darcy."
"I do hope you were not reading alone just to get away from the rest of us, Lady Grace."
Grace gave a reserved smile. She shook her head. "No, I assure you I was not."
"Then I must inquire as to how my cousin Richard fares?"
"That depends. If you are asking if he has recovered from his episode then for the moment yes. He is resting now."
Mr. Darcy nodded. "I am pleased he met you."
Grace looked at Mr. Darcy in surprise. He was always so reserved that she was never quite sure what he was actually thinking. He indicated she should take a seat and she did as this was posed to be a long discussion.
"Richard has changed much from the war."
Grace regarded Mr. Darcy before replying. "I am well aware of what ails him Mr. Darcy."
"What of your heart then, Lady Grace?" It was cautiously uttered and Grace suspected it was a test. You could expect nothing less from the man who was like another brother to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"I'll admit that Mr. Wickham was probably not the wisest person to give my heart too initially, but I have seen, after knowing your cousin, that he never really had it at all. Colonel Fitzwilliam has always held my heart in the truest sense of the word."
"Mr. Wickham?" cried Mr. Darcy.
Grace nodded. "Yes, the scoundrel who slandered my name in the first place."
The sympathetic look on Mr. Darcy's face did not do much to ease her trepidation at revealing the information. Grace nervously smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt before looking again at Mr. Darcy. He was gravely silent before he spoke again.
"Have you told him?"
Grace shook her head. "No. There has been no opportunity." Mr. Darcy frowned. "I will tell him" she murmured softly. She toyed with the edge of her handkerchief as an awkward silence fell between them.
"Mrs. Darcy is a wonderful woman. How did you meet?"
"I insulted her."
"Oh!" Grace raised an eyebrow and wasn't quite sure what to make of the reply. In fact she was not even sure he was being serious or not when the lady in question, Mrs. Darcy, entered the library. Upon inquiring of her husband what they had been speaking of Mrs. Darcy took a seat next to him and turned her laughing eyes upon Grace.
"He did insult me when we first met. I disliked him for it exceedingly." She gave her husband a smile.
"Yes, then I made a disastrous proposal where I insulted her again." He chuckled as if the memory was amusing to think of now that it was over.
"Then he wrote me a beautiful letter and it opened my eyes to the wonderful man before me. He proposed a second time and I accepted." Mrs. Darcy patted her husband's hand affectionately.
Grace gave a bemused smile before replying. "Well some things seem to run in the family."
Mrs. Darcy became inquisitive and her eyes sparkled. "Oh, has Richard managed to insult you?"
Grace was hesitant in her response. "I suppose you could say that."
Mrs. Darcy chuckled. "Then you are perfect for him. Only a woman who is his equal could cause him to act so. It is something that happens to the men in this family. Don't ask me to explain it."
Grace smiled at the pair and was completely charmed by what appeared in all respects to be a love match. It was a joining of like minds and that was admirable considering Mr. Darcy's place in society. She stood and remarked it was time for her to return to the others, made her curtsies and departed.
Wickham was becoming impatient. It was bad enough that he was in love with a woman he could not have, but to be stuck with a wife like Lydia Bennett made him want to repent his sins. He was not a man of religion, but his current situation made him seriously reconsider his past insults. This had to be his punishment for his awful transgressions. For every skirt he chased and every hem he lifted, for every charming turn of phrase he mastered to turn their heads he was paying for. It was the only explanation for his road to perdition or was he already there?
He had angered a higher ranking officer for he knew not what, but he ended up being subjected to a severe flogging that morning. He had borne it well but now, in the degenerate home he shared with Lydia he was allowed to wince in pain. The welts had risen to an extremely nasty shade of reddened swelling. He stood shirtless in front of the window, looking down at the street full of those passing by, the filthy shoot on the buildings of Newcastle adding to his gloom.
He cringed as the shrill voice of Lydia grated up the stairs alerting him to her return. Slowly so as not to further injure himself he carefully slipped on a shirt just as the door opened to admit Lydia. If possible the sound of her voice was further amplified by the lack of a barrier. The only thing remotely interesting about her was her ample bosom. Aye, he was a cad and knew it, but he had spent too much time perfecting his behavior to change it now. He just hoped he could bear to look at Lydia ten years from now.
As soon as she opened her mouth to speak to him his patience was hanging by a thread. Wickham found himself gritting his teeth in agitation and he lasted twenty minutes, a record for him, before he made an excuse to leave the house. In his rush to leave he missed the disappointed look on Lydia's face as he did so.
A decision was forming in Wickham's mind as he wandered through Newcastle. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he disregarded his customary routine of drunkenness and a night with a redhead of the demimonde. He determined that he was going to seek out the Irish beauty that had captured his heart and as he was already very much a cad it could not hurt to continue on his path. He was a selfish and egotistical enough to believe that even after the amount of time that had passed she would be delighted to see him.
It was with those delusions that he returned back home to his bed, Lydia by that time was softly snoring and he felt determination take hold given the start of his journey which would begin at daybreak. A rakish smile set on his face as he slept with grand delusions in his head.
Posted on 2016-01-17
"You never asked me who broke my heart."
He furrowed his brow. "It is of no consequence. I am not interested in names."
Grace started at this, although it had not been his intention to portray an air of indifference. He smiled at her indicating she should go one. She was hesitant.
"But it is important. At least Mr. Darcy believes so."
His thoughts went into overdrive as he tried to piece together what interest Darcy could possibly have in the man who had slandered Grace. He said as much.
"Darcy? What interest could Darcy have in the man who caused your reputation to be questioned?"
She had his attention now. He was intrigued.
"Mr. Darcy says that the man, whose unfortunate attentions caused such scandal, is well known to you."
He froze. He felt his lungs constrict. "I beg your pardon?"
"His name was George Wickham and...."
The pieces fell together. She got no further as he let forth a string of curses.
"I'll kill him!"
Grace was alarmed. She had never seen him so angry. He shrugged off her hand on his arm meant to still him.
"If he even shows up on the same street as you I am challenging him to a duel. The son of a..."
He paused to look at her. She was so beautiful and to think that cad, that dog had once had his hands on her made him sake with fury. As long as he still had life in his body he'd do everything to ensure that Wickham didn't get near her again.
He stalked toward her. Her eyes widened in surprise as he pulled her into his arms, but she relaxed into his embrace. He placed a kiss on her forehead as he sought to control the emotions coursing through him. The insecure part of him did wonder if that scoundrel still held a piece of her heart as he knew that he could accept nothing less than her whole heart. Besides, he really did not want to be second to Wickham.
She suddenly squirmed in his embrace and he was forced to let her go. He suddenly felt very empty without her in his arms, but she had been determined to extract herself.
"I really want to tell you everything." She spoke hesitantly.
Yes, but did he really want to hear everything.
Richard found it suddenly difficult to swallow. Yet, he found himself nodding yes as he looked into her eyes. This was not easy for her but then he could not imagine telling one man of another man who had been in her life was not exactly a comfortable experience. He might regret hearing the details.
She muttered what he presumed was a Gaelic curse word before launching into her narrative.
She told him everything.
She told him about their meeting in the ballrooms, her discovery of his illicit behavior and her sudden downfall. He had been right as he hadn't liked the narrative at all. However, it had everything to do with Wickham's actions and behavior and nothing to do with her. No, everything was quite clear.
Wickham had hurt Grace and now he must die.
Perhaps, that was a bit extreme, but for all involved he hoped Wickham never showed up again, but then that would be too lucky.
He placed his palm on her cheek and a sense of satisfaction coursed through him as he saw her eyes flutter closed and her lips part slightly. He had a strong urge to kiss those lips, but true to his promise he instead placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
"Thank you for telling me."
She opened her eyes. "You are not angry with me?"
He shook his head. "I am angry with Wickham."
She was silent as she thought for a moment. "I would understand if you wished to never see me again."
"What?" It had come out harsher than he had intended, but she had taken him by surprise. Were they back to this again?
She drew back at the tone of his voice.
Damn it, he hadn't meant to frighten her.
"I just meant that it seems Wickham is well known to your family and that you might change your mind about me. I mean I have a tarnished reputation because of him and that would not be good for you. You are so respectable and your ancestors must be rolling in their graves. I have a questionable character in the eyes of society and I'm Irish."
"You're talking nonsense."
"You're cross with me." She let out another string of Gaelic and while he wasn't quite sure what she said he gathered it had to do with him.
"I am not cross with you. I am annoyed with you."
"You're cross with me. The vein in your forehead is bulging like it always does when you are cross with me."
He took a deep breath. Bloody hell she was a stubborn woman. It could not be helped.
He voice rose. "I am not cross with you."
"Yes you are." She picked up her skirts and hurried in the direction of the house.
He turned and stalked after her, reminded of the first time she had run from him; she had refused his coat and he had gone after her just as he was now. The sun bounced off her flaming hair and he was reminded of a spirited horse he had once had. He doubted his Irish beauty could be tamed and honestly he didn't think he wanted to try.
In spite of himself he grinned. The women had always come to him, but it seemed if he was determined to have this one, and determined to have her he was, then he would have to chase her.
He stopped short as he saw his Aunt, Lady Catherine, had arrived. He was sprinting into action however when he saw her lunge toward Lady Grace. Lady Grace did not need his assistance however as she barricaded herself into the library, but that could not drown out Lady Catherine's shrill cries of furry.
He was breathing hard as he finally made it to the entrance. He looked imploringly at Darcy for an explanation.
Darcy grinned. "It seems your lady has some fire in her. Aunt Catherine demanded to who she was as she came storming into the house. Lady Grace made some comment about her obnoxious feather hat and then proceeded to spew some colorful words in a language I am not familiar with."
Richard paused. "She insulted Aunt Catherine."
Darcy crossed his arms and his mouth twitched in amusement. "I do believe that is why she is trying to gain entrance into the library."
Richard watched his Aunt in wary amusement for some moments, watching the plume on her head bob up and down in protest. His father had dragged his Aunt away from the door, but she was a lot stronger than she looked. The old bird may be old, but she was a tough old bird.
While is Aunt was occupied in yelling obscenities about headstrong Irish girls Richard quietly maneuvered himself to the library door. He knocked softly.
"Grace please open the door."
The sound of what could only be a chair scrapping along the floor and the jiggle of the door knob was heard before the door opened just a fraction. Grace's green eyes and flaming red hair met his vision.
"I may have insulted one of your family members on accident." She remained where she was and didn't open the door any further.
"I know." He said with quiet amusement. "That is my Aunt Catherine. She insults everybody and everybody insults her by their mere presence. Don't let her ruffle you."
Grace looked at him skeptically. "I wasn't exactly kind to her. She was very angry."
Richard raised a brow. "You're worried about that now?"
The laughter rumbled inside of him and spilled out like a bubbling brook. He shook his head as he tried to control himself. Never mind that Grace had begun to look offended.
"Well I have never..." She made a move to slam the door in his face but he was quicker. In between laughter he forced her further into the library so he could enter and then closed the door behind them.
Grace was chewing her lip nervously and her hands were twisted in front of her. "Colonel Fitzwilliam I do not see how insulting your aunt is funny. She hates me."
She threw her hands in the air and began to pace. If he didn't know any better he would say he'd been rubbing off on her.
"Grace, Aunt Catherine hates most people on sight. Although it probably didn't help that you insulted her."
Grace stopped pacing and put her hand on her hips in exasperation.
"Well if you hadn't been cross with me in the first place and she hadn't looked so ridiculous with that blasted feather none of this would have happened." She paused and glared at him like a lion zeroing in on its prey."This is your entire fault!"
His eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Grace," he growled "now you're just being ridiculous."
Her eyes flashed as if to challenge him and he loved it.
"Don't patronize me."
His arms fell to his side as he slowly walked towards her causing her to back up until her back was against the book case. He put one arm on each side of effectively pinning her in place. "Why don't you admit the real problem. You're afraid."
He saw her swallow as she contemplated a response. He didn't know why he hadn't seen it before, but it was clear to him now. She was afraid of what she felt for him. It was the only explanation because if he didn't know any better he thought she was deliberately trying to push him away. Bloody women just didn't listen when he said he had no intention of going anywhere.
"I'm not afraid" she finally countered.
He grinned. "Yes, you are. Admit it you're falling in love with me and that scares you. That's why you're trying to push me away."
She was shaking her head no, but he saw the contradiction in her eyes. She trembled and he could feel the emotions radiate of her.
"Then why tell me about Wickham? If you don't love me then why is there a need for my good opinion?"
She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but nothing came out. She couldn't deny the truth behind his words.
"Do you deny your feelings for me?"
She struggled to control her ragged breathing and he wasn't doing much better. Being so close to her and not being able to touch her was torture. His eyes drifted down to her lips and he was transfixed as she spoke."I am very confused." She said this with some difficulty.
"I know I said I wouldn't kiss you again until after the wedding," he murmured.He heard her sharp intake of breath as he leaned in closer.
"But, let me clear up any confusion. If I kiss you and you still want to deny your feelings then you are free to marry Lord Bumble."
This was very wrong and he knew it, but unlike Wickham, he had every intention of marring the fiery beauty in front of him.
She just needed to be reminded of her feelings he told himself as he closed the distance. He pulled Grace toward him enjoying the feel of his large hand on the small of her back, and with the passion of a starved man he proceeded to kiss her properly.
She didn't object or protest.
She kissed him back with some hesitation before she gave herself over to him. He smiled in satisfaction. She was passionate and he could not fathom that she would ever be anything but with him. She loved him. He could feel it in her touch.
"What the devil is going on in here?"
Richard tore himself away from Grace as he spun around and shielded her protectively behind him. His eyes met the whole Fitzwilliam and Darcy families. His father, brother and cousin Darcy had their arms crossed. Lady Catherine's mouth was pursed in displeasure like a fish.
It was his mother that scared him though.
She looked calm. Too calm.
This was not good!To Be Continued . . .