Mr. Hawdry had a wild distorted face. He angrily shouted: Justice!
Elizabeth was in the courtroom again. Darcy was so pale. Hadn’t she been declared innocent? The noose was around her neck. Hawdry was next to the lever, pulling it. She desperately tried to struggle out, but she was falling, falling, falling. So fast.
Elizabeth woke with a gasping scream.
She panted and grabbed her husband’s arm, pulling it closer against her stomach.
Darcy stirred. “Lizzy…at’s the matter.” He spoke in a thick tired mumble.
The anxiety and adrenaline filled Elizabeth’s stomach. She shivered and pressed herself against her husband’s large warm body. She wanted to just be held by him.
“What is it?” This time his voice was clear and concerned. He pulled her tightly against him, just as she hoped he would.
Elizabeth smiled in love, even though he couldn’t see it in the darkness. “Nothing.”
“You had another nightmare.”
“Which is nothing. Just a figment of the brain.”
“I am sorry. Deeply sorry, I wish—”
She giggled, feeling better as he apologized for her having nightmares. It was a Darcyish thing. “Just kiss me.”
They kissed softly and sweetly, then passionately, then softly again.
Elizabeth felt flutters of desire in her stomach, and she snuggled her head against the inside of Darcy’s chest. She whispered, “Mmmmm, you smell so nice.”
Darcy hummed and pulled her body closer to his.
“The nightmare is fading. I do not think I shall be permanently anxious — but Johnson was right, the prospect of being hanged does concentrate the mind.”
“You never were likely to be convicted. I saw Mr. Holbein — he was the lead juror, the one who spoke the verdict — and he told me that he’d realized you were innocent quite early during the trial, and nothing Hawdry said changed that belief.”
Elizabeth was quiet for a long time.
Darcy pulled his arm around her slender frame and squeezed her against his side. She loved how he squeezed her so tightly.
“Are you certain — I had been so sure…” Elizabeth laughed thinly. “I already told you that, did I not? I feel I have lost my senses and am still wandering in a daze. When the letter was shown… I had forgotten I wrote it, and it was such a surprise…”
Darcy pressed his lips on her hair, then her forehead, then her lips. “Put trust in our British institutions. As Mr. Godfrey said then, there is a vast distance between saying it would be a good thing if someone died and taking the action yourself. The jurors knew that. Once it was clear to them your flight did not indicate guilt but coincidence they knew their duty.”
“Did he say that? I was unable to hear anything.” Elizabeth shivered. “What you told me is a relief. It was a terrible moment for me.”
Darcy was quiet. Elizabeth listened to the sound of his breathing. She could tell that he was still alert.
He said, “It was painful for me as well. That night, after the soldiers arrived.” Darcy shuddered and pulled her close to him. “It shall be a miracle if I do not have nightmares as well.”
Elizabeth kissed his chest. “Enough of this! Happier subjects beckon. Tell me how you fell in love with me.”
She smiled up at him, with a mischievous twist of her lips.
Darcy beamed back at her, his features barely visible, but his happiness evident.
Elizabeth poked his ribs. “Speak; I shall not be satisfied until I have had a good account of the matter.”
“I can hardly remember; it seems as though I have been in love with you forever. My feelings never faded in the slightest since we met.”
She giggled. “You did not always like my appearance — and do not speak nonsense. I hope your feelings faded a little in the four years following my quite rude rejection. If you claim you spent those years desolate and in deep spiritual pain, I shall think less of you.”
Darcy kissed her, sliding his lips over hers for a long sensuous kiss.
Elizabeth poked her tongue against his lips and traced their outline. She pulled back. “Do not distract me! Were you crying each night in your room, and did you keep your windows blackened and write dark poetry like Romeo mourning his refusal by that other girl — the one he was in love with before he saw Juliet.”
“Yes. Precisely that. I also refused to see my friends because they did not understand the depths of my despair. I never wore any color but black.”
Elizabeth giggled and hit him on the ribs again. “Now I want you to be entirely serious — what did you think when you saw me again as a governess?”
“I thought I was the unluckiest man in the world.”
“No! That is a horrible thing to say — I understand why, but you must come up with some better way to describe the moment when we tell the story to our children.”
Darcy grinned broadly and squeezed Elizabeth’s side. He then pulled his hand up along her body, feeling along the sensitive skin of her curves. “Yes, we shall have many children.”
Elizabeth shivered in delight. “And there shall be much sport in their making.”
“I sometimes think Shakespeare is not entirely appropriate reading for young ladies.”
Elizabeth laughed again. “I shall choose what Emma studies! And it shall include the bard. She already adores him. And our future daughters as well. But do answer me better. You were so kind, but it still must have been shocking to see me lowered so far. And that I was so friendly after my previous rudeness.”
“You were only friendly because Emma liked me.”
“That helped. You are very handsome when you show how good you can be with children.”
Darcy grinned. “I know.”
Elizabeth pinched him and giggled as he flinched away and rubbed the spot. “So it was all a plot to seduce the poor innocent governess?”
Darcy pulled her mouth to his for a long deep kiss.
When the kiss ended Elizabeth smiled at him, their faces inches apart. “You used Emma to seduce me?”
“We partnered together. She always was on my side — before the end of that wonderful walk in the woods, the day we skipped rocks, I knew I still desperately loved you and wished to marry you. So I did always still love you. Though I did not write poetry, and I continued to lead an active and pleasant life. But no woman I met made me smile and feel desperate for her presence in the way you could with only a smile.”
Elizabeth kissed him passionately. Then she said, “But now I must have you explain the nature of this appeal I have for you. Detail it. What precisely about me do you like? I shall expect you to display some greater insight than the normal blindness of a lover, as you are a great judge of character.”
“I have said something of why I love you before.” Darcy grinned; Elizabeth pouted.
“Your bravery, your intelligence, your sense of humor, the way you smile and tease. Also your figure. Even if I could resist it alone, it certainly adds to your appeal.”
“Abominable statement — to indicate your love for me is not purely spiritual and high minded.”
“Yes, we both enjoy the…” Darcy grabbed and squeezed Elizabeth’s rear again. She giggled and wriggled in his grasp. “We enjoy the pleasures of the flesh together — your turn. How did you come to love me?”
“There was always…some attraction. You are a fascinating man — even when I completely misunderstood your character—”
“I had been quite abominable and rude then.”
“And now you interrupt me.” Elizabeth poked him again and giggled.
Darcy coughed. “I apologize.”
She giggled. “You are the perfect husband. Even if you do on rare occasions interrupt me. I enjoyed arguing with you. And once I knew your true character. And…and the way you spoke to me. How you understood my lowered status and the scandal, but you did not care. And then you were so kind to Emma — I think by the end of that Sunday morning I too was in love with you as well. I had thought often about you in the years after you proposed.”
Elizabeth kissed him. “That fascinates you. After my visit to Pemberley — and I am very glad to be mistress of such an estate — I knew that there was more to you. Perhaps it was simply seeing how rich you were.”
“I know you better than that. It was the flaming description Mrs. Reynolds gave me. I must give her a grand annuity should she ever choose to retire.”
“Ha! I knew you were paying her to say all of those kind things.”
Elizabeth’s breathing evened out as she snuggled against his chest. Elizabeth loved being held like this. She felt safe, comfortable, and desirable.
Darcy nibbled on her ear and whispered, “About those children.”
Elizabeth giggled. “I am not so tired yet.”