These Three Remain: A Novel Of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman by Pamela AidanThese Three Remain: A Novel Of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman by Pamela Aidan

These Three Remain: A Novel Of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman

byPamela Aidan

Paperback | January 2, 2007

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This thrilling conclusion to the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy recounts the climactic events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from its enigmatic hero’s point of view.

One of the most beloved romantic heroes in all of literature, Fitzwilliam Darcy remains an enigma even to Jane Austen’s most devoted fans. But with this concluding volume in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, novelist and Austen aficionada Pamela Aidan at last gives readers the man in full.

These Three Remain follows a humbled Darcy on the journey of self-discovery after Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of his marriage proposal, in which he endeavors to grow into the kind of gentleman he’s always dreamed of being. Happily, a chance meeting with Elizabeth during a tour of his estate in Derbyshire offers Darcy a new opportunity to press his suit, but his newfound strengths are put to the test by an old nemesis, George Wickham.

Vividly capturing the colorful historical and political milieu of the Regency era, Aidan writes in a style evocative of her literary progenitor, but with a wit and humor very much her own. While staying faithful to the people and events in Austen’s original, she adds her own fascinating cast of characters, weaving a rich tapestry out of Darcy’s past and present that will beguile his admirers anew.
Title:These Three Remain: A Novel Of Fitzwilliam Darcy, GentlemanFormat:PaperbackDimensions:464 pages, 8 × 5.25 × 1 inPublished:January 2, 2007Publisher:TouchstoneLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0743291379

ISBN - 13:9780743291378

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best P&P spin-off Well-written, detailed and in the spirit of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Date published: 2017-05-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good fun Well written with great Regency detail.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These a Three Remain These three books are the best oh the genre that I have ever read! Absolutely loved the men, even the bad ones! It truly was like looking into their real lives and I was with them every moment. Thank you so very much Mrs Pamela Aidan, can't wait for the next one. Please hurry!
Date published: 2014-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great finish! As the final book in the trilogy, I found this one wrapped up the series nicely. We get back into more commonly known scenes again as in the first book, although there is still plenty of new content. The only disappointment for me was the disappearance of Georgiana's character towards the end of the book. My favourite character in the series though had to be Fletcher, Mr. Darcy's valet. What a cheeky man!
Date published: 2008-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jane Austen Fan Fiction At Its Best This book is part of a series by Pamela Aidan which includes An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire and These Three Remain. This is the best fan fiction I have read so fare based on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. If you are a Jane Austen fan this series is a must read. Pamela Aidan writes from Mr. Darcy's perspective as he journey's from from first meeting Elizabeth, ignorant of his faults, to his realization of being in love and subsequent proposal of marriage to his attempts at improving himself to be worthy of Elizabeth's love and esteem. An engrossing series. I hope to see more from this author!
Date published: 2008-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impossibly Good I can honestly say that Aidan is a pure Genius! She showed Darcy to who he really was according to Jane Austen. This book reaveals everything and anything that you think might have been excluded from the original book. She manages to show in detail Darcy's discovery of Wickham and Lydia including profound diologue and scenes. It is so expertly written that I was surprised that it was not written by Jane Austen herself. There wasn't a page that was dull. There wasn't a part that was uninteresting. P.S. When I was reading this book, I wished and prayed that it was made into a movie because it would be absolutely amazing.
Date published: 2007-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best fan fiction I've read I loved this book. Even if I weren't judging by the standards of fan fiction, I would still state this book was truly very good. I had thought the second book in the series mediocre, but this one redeems the trilogy. I thought she made Mr. Darcy's character not just sympathetic but also believable. Pride and Prejudice, since it is told primarily from Elizabeth's viewpoint, naturally leaves big gaps in the story. How does Mr. Darcy reform his character so quickly and completely? How does Mr. Darcy force Wickham to marry Lydia? This trilogy does an excellent job of attempting to answer these questions. As an aside, I love how she incorporated Shakespeare sonnets into the story line as a parallel to how a lover spurned can redeem himself.
Date published: 2007-01-18

Read from the Book

CHAPTER 1 Her Infinite Variety Heigh-up, there!" James the coachman's voice rang out in its familiar timbre, urging the team pulling Darcy's traveling coach to put to in their harnesses and take them through the tollgate out of London and on to the road to Kent. Darcy relaxed into the green velvet squabs as the coach was pulled smoothly forward under James's expert whip. He flicked a glance at his cousin, who sat opposite him with his nose buried in the Post. The Peninsular War was heating up once more, with General Wellesley, now Earl of Wellington, again laying siege to Badajoz. This third siege of that crucial ciudad had commenced only a week before, and reports of the action were just arriving in London to fill the papers and the populace with new hopes and fears. "Did you see this, Fitz?" Richard turned the paper over and vigorously poked a finger at one of the reports. "Yes, one of the many articles I read while waiting for you to present yourself this morning." Darcy's lips twisted in sarcasm. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had arrived at Erewile House, Darcy's London home, the night before in order for them to get an early start on their yearly spring visit to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But as chance would have it, his friend Dyfed Brougham had "dropped by," and the evening had stretched into the wee hours of the morning. Richard had been correspondingly late in arising, setting their journey back a considerable number of hours. "Lie low, men. A jaw-me-dead is on the horizon..." Richard drew his hand across his brow as if to shield himself from the expected verbal ice shower. "And you would deserve it," Darcy shot back with a snort. "But I would then make plea to your kind and beneficent nature -- " Richard continued. Darcy snorted again but couldn't suppress a smile. " -- and place the blame entirely upon your friend." Darcy laughed outright at that. "My friend? Dy hardly spoke to me once he saw you in the room." "He was attentive; was he not?" "Excessively!" "An amiable gentleman, indeed, and well informed! I had always rated him a care-for-naught and a prime rattle. Never could understand your partiality for him, Fitz. Not your sort." "He was not like that at university. Quite the opposite, in fact." "So you say." Fitzwilliam shrugged his shoulders and settled back into the comfort of the coach's cushions. "And I can almost believe you after last night. Could not understand before why you gave him leave to call on Georgiana while we are on pilgrimage to Rosings; but it was a shrewd decision, I will grant you now." Darcy nodded. "Yes, Brougham's approval will count for much when Georgiana makes her curtsy next year." "Oh, that too, I'll be bound," Richard agreed. Darcy looked questioningly at his cousin, who in response, laid the newspaper down upon his lap. "You have not noticed how easy Georgiana is with Brougham? He makes her smile in a trice, and they can talk for hours, or would if propriety did not dictate otherwise. Aside from ourselves, I have never known Georgiana to be comfortable in male company, especially since -- " Richard suddenly clamped his lips together. A moment of awkward silence passed. "But your friend has managed it, managed it quite well..." His voice trailed off at the frown that had begun to crease Darcy's brow. "Truly, you had not noticed?" "Nothing untoward, Richard! Nothing that would be considered a particular notice of Georgiana on Brougham's part." Darcy bristled, assuring his cousin and himself in the same breath of the utter nonsense of the implications underlying Fitzwilliam's observations. "Nor, on Georgiana's part, an affection beyond that for a friend of the family." "Of course 'nothing untoward,' Fitz! Good Lord!" Fitzwilliam made a strategic withdrawal back behind the Post. Darcy sighed lightly and closed his eyes. The last two months had not been the most agreeable of his life, and his preoccupations could easily have blinded him to what Fitzwilliam was intimating. But surely he was making much out of mere commonplaces! Dy had been kind to Georgiana, yes! More than kind, actually, with his silence on that matter of Georgiana's undue interest in Wilberforce's theological fusillade, which he had surprised her perusing the day of their reacquaintance and which she had, most unfortunately, dropped upon his foot. It was simply a matter of Dy's debt of friendship to himself and the fact of his irrepressible address and nice manners. If his sister had remained immune to Dy's engaging person, Darcy would have more cause for concern. No, his concern had been with his own peace after returning from his ill-fated trip to Oxfordshire in search of "The Woman" who would serve as a proper wife. The events at Norwycke Castle had so disgusted and appalled him that upon his return to London he had forsworn any further ventures into the marriage mart in the foreseeable future. Instead, he had plunged himself into family and business concerns, as well as the more agreeable social obligations of an unattached male of his station. The first of those family concerns had been the highly disagreeable task of apprising his cousin D'Arcy of the behavior of his fiancée, Lady Felicia Lowden, at Norwycke. D'Arcy's face had gone black with rage, but to his credit and Darcy's relief, he had not demanded recompense from his messenger. Rather, he placed the blame where it lay and immediately consulted with his father, Lord Matlock, on how the engagement might be broken. Two weeks later a notice appeared in the Post in which Lady Felicia "regretfully" exercised her prerogative. The gossip was, of course, intolerable, but far better gossip now than the inevitable scandal later. The Darcy and Fitzwilliam families breathed a collective sigh of relief, while the de Bourgh branch contented itself with a long letter expressing satisfaction with the validation of previously unspoken doubts on the suitability of a connection in that quarter held from the beginning. Georgiana, the dear girl, had refrained from pressing him for the details of his time at Lord Sayre's. She had made it her purpose to ensure his comfort at home and, with Brougham's connivance, to reinsert him into his usual social rounds. Within a fortnight of his return, Darcy was squiring her to concerts, recitals, and art exhibitions, while Dy dragged him to Jackson's Parlour, his fencing master's establishment, several assemblies, and a few nights before, a highly illegal prizefight. Between Dy's satirical humor and his unerring nose for the intriguing, and Georgiana's quietly expressed love, Darcy began to feel more himself. Occasional, dark prickings of his conscience did trouble him. The revelation of the true depths of his hatred for George Wickham, who had so nearly ruined his sister and poisoned Elizabeth against him was nearly as shocking to his understanding as was how close he had come to surrendering to Lady Sylvanie Sayre's passionately offered temptations. But as Richard had predicted, much of it seemed now only a bad dream, and he was finding it easier to excuse or ignore those uncomfortable memories. Alas, that did not mean all was well. On the contrary, one of the problems he had hoped to have done with reared its head again almost upon his return to London; for he had not been in Town two days before his friend Charles Bingley ran him to ground. Bingley's joy at his return was so sincere, and his simple, unaffected nature such a wonderful contrast to those with whom Darcy had dealt the previous week, that an invitation to spend an evening dining en famille was accepted with alacrity. But Darcy and Georgiana had barely been relieved of their wraps and coats before Charles's sister Miss Caroline Bingley had swooped upon him to whisper in agonized tones that she could decently avoid a visit from Miss Jane Bennet no longer; and having committed to a visit on Saturday, she urgently requested any advice he might have for her in this distasteful matter. Glancing a moment into her disingenuous eyes, he had replied that he could not imagine her requiring any direction of his and assured her of his confidence in her ability to depress the pretensions of so unsophisticated a young woman as Miss Bennet. Her love for Bingley he might doubt, but of Miss Bennet's understanding he was certain. Treated to an appearance of the imperious Caroline, she would know the acquaintance severed. But the damage had been done. He had spent the rest of the evening in frank discomfort, trying vainly to exorcise the bright and pleasing shade of Elizabeth Bennet that Miss Bingley's plea had conjured from his mind's eye and from among the company in which he had so often observed her. And now Darcy and Fitzwilliam were on their way to Aunt Catherine's. The ritual visit had begun when Darcy was a child in the company of his parents and Richard, whose fractious nature mysteriously underwent an incomplete but notable transformation when he was in Mr. Darcy's company. Then it had been his father and Richard. Now, of course, he and his cousin had stepped into his father's role as adviser to Lady Catherine. It required both of them; and even then, Darcy was not confident that their suggestions were taken as seriously as his father's had been. No, his aunt's welcome had little to do with the maintenance or profitability of Rosings and more, much more, to do with her expectations of him in regard to her daughter, Anne. He very sincerely pitied his cousin Anne and wished her well in health and situation, but he did not so pity her that he was in any way willing to provide her a means of escape through an offer of marriage. Aunt Catherine might smile and hint until Doomsday, but -- "Darcy, what is that bit that you keep stroking at?" "What!" Darcy brought his wandering mind back within the confines of the coach. Fitzwilliam had laid aside the newspaper and now motioned toward his hand. "In your waistcoat pocket. And do not tell me it is nothing! I have noticed you fingering it lo, these several months, and it is driving me to distraction." "This?" Darcy could feel the heat of the flush upon his face as he drew out the embroidery threads, now ragged and fragile from his repeated fondling. Blast Richard! How was he to explain them? "You've taken up sewing?" Fitzwilliam teased upon seeing the coil. Darcy pulled a face at him and tucked them back into his waistcoat. "Come, come, Darcy! It is a lady's token, surely; and you must now tell me the particulars." He rubbed his hands together vigorously. "For Father Inquisitor will not rest until all is confessed. Shall I call for the thumbscrews?" "Rogue!" "Father Inquisitor Rogue to you." Fitzwilliam laughed but would not be dissuaded. Leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, he said, "From the beginning now." Darcy leveled a look at his cousin calculated to freeze the blood in his veins. Inured to the familiar tactic, Richard quickly arranged his features, seeing his look and then raising it by the addition of a crooked eyebrow. "From the beginning," Richard intoned again and in a terrible voice reminiscent of his redoubtable father. "Quickly now, or I shall begin to think it is something serious!" The color in Darcy's face heightened, and for a moment he felt something akin to sheer panic. Serious? A vision of those enticing curls caught up with ribbon rosettes and the remembered pleasure of her gloved hand in his coalesced in an instant, causing him to all but squirm in his seat. The irony was that he'd not been thinking of Elizabeth as he'd stroked the threads, but Richard's curiosity at them had taken him by surprise, animating thoughts and sensations that, he was near to confessing, had gained within him a life of their own. Good Lord, not now! he reprimanded himself as they washed over him, heedless of his consent. Have some dignity, for pity's sake! He glanced back at his cousin to find him gleefully watching his every shift. "A complete triumph!" Fitzwilliam crowed, falling back into the seat. "I have finally discomposed you into blushing silence! Who is this singular lady?" Richard's all too accurate deduction lured Darcy toward the mortifying waters of Heated Denial, but his premature crow both stung Darcy out of his confusion and provided him with subject for a ruse. "You are far off the mark if you think them a sign of a lady's favor." Darcy infused as much disinterest into his voice as he could command. That much, at least, was true; and its expression steadied him. The exercise of even that modicum of control began to sweep back the beguiling phantoms. "If I blush, it is with embarrassment at the recollection of an indiscretion on the part of a friend whose imprudence necessitated my involvement in a delicate matter -- a rescue or intervention, if you will -- before he committed a grave error of judgment." The expression on Fitzwilliam's face declared he was not to be satisfied with so small a bone. "An error of judgment? But," he insisted, "there was a lady involved, was there not?" "Yes, there was a lady involved." Darcy sighed. Richard would not be dissuaded if he scented a female at the bottom of a coil. He would have to give his cousin more. "My friend very nearly put himself in the position of being required to offer for a young woman of exceedingly unfortunate situation and family." "Oh," Fitzwilliam responded thoughtfully, "that is trouble indeed." He paused and looked out the window as the coach shuddered over a rill in the road, then turned back to Darcy with a gleam in his eye. "But come, old man, was she beautiful?" Darcy looked askance at his cousin. "Beautiful! Richard, can you think of aught else save if she was beautiful?" Fitzwilliam threw him a devilish grin and shrugged his shoulders. "Yes," Darcy said, exasperation evident in his tone, "if you must have it, she was a well-favored creature and sweet tempered, withal; but I swear she does not love him -- leastways not near as much as his prospects." He tugged at his gloves, smoothing each in turn before delivering the coup de grâce. "Be that as it may, it was her family, not to mention a lack of fortune, to which every objection was raised." "A man could suffer the family from a distance, surely, if the lady were otherwise desirable and fortune no impediment." "Perhaps it could be overlooked," Darcy agreed hesitantly, "if it were proved that the lady was devoted to the gentleman. Such is not the case. I assure you, much more proof than was apparent would be required to negate the inconveniences attendant upon forging a connection with such a family as I observed." "You make them sound a horror!" Fitzwilliam laughed. "A family of reduced circumstances with any number of unmarried daughters allowed unbridled freedom to roam the countryside, impertinent as you please." He ticked off the points in a litany with which he had become quite familiar. "A father who will not be troubled to rule his family and a mother who looks on any new pair of breeches in the neighborhood as the property of one or other of her offspring." "And did not you as well as your friend become her quarry?" "I did not suit." Darcy looked down his nose at his cousin. "I can well imagine." Fitzwilliam laughed at his ironic expression and then shook his head. "Your friend must have been besotted. Fallen 'violently in love,' then, was he?" "In a word." Darcy seconded the description but then turned his attention to the passing scenery. Fitzwilliam was all too perceptive. It would not do to have him surmise too much. "But I believe he is now in a fair way to relinquishing that delusion." "With your help, of course?" "Yes," he responded brusquely and looked his inquisitor squarely in the eye. "With my help. I congratulate myself upon achieving it. It would have been a disastrous match. The bride's family would have made him the laughingstock of Polite Society." Fitzwilliam breathed out a sobered sigh. "A laughingstock, eh? I hope your friend appreciates the service you have done him. He owes you his life or, at the least, his sanity. Well done, Fitz," he finished sincerely and reached for the Post. Well done? Was it truly? Darcy frowned, his thoughts and emotions caught in a web of contention. His words to Fitzwilliam had not been hollow. Miss Bennet, he was still prepared to swear, did not suffer that most tender of emotions in regard to Bingley. Had he not observed her closely to discover just that? But neither, it was equally true, did she present the appearance of a fortune huntress. No, he would swear to that as well. Miss Bennet, quite frankly, was an enigma. An enigma that Bingley had pierced and he had not? Bingley had been adamant that she loved him! Darcy crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the coach window at the rolling hillocks and fields just come into their spring green. No, that chain of thought was unprofitable; the last link in the affair had been forged. He clenched his jaw as consternation seized him. That last link had been the one that bound him to Miss Bingley in a distasteful conspiracy of silence against his own friend. How he hated such disguise! How he despised the whispered fears of discovery Caroline Bingley never ceased to pour into his ear until Miss Bennet was safely gone from Town. However he might bow to its necessity or congratulate himself on Bingley's escape from the perils of such a family, the odium of the measures he had employed would remain a blot upon Darcy's conscience. His conscience! Darcy closed his eyes against the cheery March sunlight slanting across the coach's seats. That staid organ of guidance and reproof had been of no comfort to him for quite some time. In his solitary moments, it churned up the dark anger he'd been forced to acknowledge at Norwycke, and it delivered him a sharp pang every time he surprised that expression on Bingley's face. Bingley was still pluck to the bone and ready with a smile, but behind it lay a shadow that Darcy had been confident would fade upon their return to Town and its many diversions. It had not, and Darcy knew his friend to be struggling to regain his former state by that private, reflective look of his, which spoke of the presence in his body of only half a heart. Bingley maintained his social life with determination but only a portion of his former eagerness. No lady's name had been associated with his own, although more than a few had been the recipient's of some small attention. Bingley read more and spoke less, exhibiting the reserve Darcy had formerly accused him of lacking, in the hope, Bingley once told him, of setting himself to rights again. It was likely a lost cause, for how did one regain innocence of heart or forget the sweetness of love? Darcy had been wrong about him. Miss Bennet's heart may not have been touched, but Bingley's truly had, and he would ever carry the wound. What other course had been open to him? None -- and still act the part of a true friend and mentor. But, Darcy's conscience pressed him, was it well done? Then there was Elizabeth. Had he done well with her? His characterization of her family had been unmercifully accurate, save for her and her elder sister. In that, he had done them a discourtesy in his recital to his cousin. Heaven forfend that she should ever hear of his words or that they should ever be associated with her. It was true that the unsuitable circumstances and temper of the Bennet family were impediments for Bingley. It was doubly so for himself. Although lack of fortune was not of paramount concern to Darcy, the insurmountable difficulty lay in the degradation of such a connection and the unending embarrassment the behavior of its members would invariably visit upon him and his family. "...surely, if the lady were otherwise desirable," Richard had opined, blithely multiplying the beneficial effects of distance. Although the lady was more than desirable, the moon was not distance enough to belie the difficulties! Yet did he not continue to rack himself with thoughts of her, dreams of her, and these blasted, entangling strands of silk that corded him up and bound him to her? Darcy's fingers went unerringly to his waistcoat pocket, but a rustle of newspaper gave him pause. Looking up from under his brows, he watched his cousin, waiting for assurance that he was well engrossed in his reading. A disdainful snort and a "Well, I should hope so! Idiot!" proved Richard's attention to be engaged. Darcy slowly drew them out, the threads that had both served and tormented him. "Perhaps...if it were proved that the lady was devoted to the gentleman..." He had said that, traitorously holding out the exception to himself, knowing it impossible. She was in Hertfordshire; he was in Kent, or London, or Derbyshire -- it did not matter where. They would never meet again unless he proposed it, nor should they. More than mere miles were involved. To attempt to engage her affection would be the act of a libertine, for nothing honorable could come of it. She would always be her mother's daughter; he would always be the son of his father -- Darcy of Pemberley. His fingers closed around the threads. Drawing himself up, he turned to the coach window and quickly released the catches, letting the upper pane slide down. It came to rest with a soft thud. The rattle of the harness chains and the sound of the horses' hooves upon the road were suddenly louder, catching Fitzwilliam's attention away from his paper. "Ah, fresh country air!" He grinned at Darcy and then went back to his reading. Darcy looked down into his gloved palm at the dulled, tattered silks. Then, closing his eyes against them, he leaned out the window and let them fall. Caught by a spring breeze, they drifted away, coming to rest by the side of the road. "Who is that man, do you suppose, Darcy?" Fitzwilliam's face was full of amused incredulity. He cocked his head toward the window as the coach came up upon a short lane that led to a modest home. "By the look of him, he must be a clergyman; but a more queer bird I challenge you to find. Look at him!" Darcy roused himself to glance in the recommended direction and was brought up straight with a start of recognition. "He keeps bowing and...Here!" Fitzwilliam was out of his seat and had the window down and was now leaning out of it. "For Heaven's sake, Richard, do not -- " "Greetings, my good man!" Fitzwilliam bellowed out the window as they passed and then sat down with a laugh. "Can that be our aunt's new clergyman, come to replace old Satherthwaite?" "Mr. Collins," Darcy informed his cousin through gritted teeth. How could he have forgotten that that tedious little man, who on the merit of his collar had claimed such undue familiarity with him at Bingley's ball, would be here. "Collins? You have met him, then?" Fitzwilliam asked in surprise. Darcy nodded. "In Hertfordshire last autumn, when I accompanied Bingley on his ill-fated hunt for a suitable piece of property. Collins is related to one of the families in the neighborhood." "How is he, then? As good at bowing and scraping as old Satherthwaite? Lord, what a sycophant he was! But it still made me cringe to see the way Her Ladyship led him about his own business." "I suspect our aunt would have more of the same in any parson whose living depended upon her, but whether he meets or exceeds Satherthwaite, I cannot say. I can say this." Darcy's mouth twisted in wry humor. "I suspect that Mr. Collins is something of a bantam cock beneath his clerical collar." He paused, enjoying Fitzwilliam's incredulity. "He introduced himself to me at Bingley's ball." "Introduced himself?" Fitzwilliam's astonishment was complete. "Why, the cheeky fellow! Aunt Catherine would not like to hear of that! I suppose when we meet I should expect to be greeted with my Christian name!" Darcy snorted inelegantly in reply but lapsed into silence as memories of that occasion claimed him. The man had first intruded on his notice during his awkward attempt to lead Elizabeth through a country dance. Initially, Collins's ineptitude had seemed humorous, but the lady's mounting humiliation at her partner's want of skill and proper courtesy had nearly moved him to intervene. He had resisted the temptation and then, when Elizabeth's ruffled emotions had calmed, surprised her and the entirety of the room with the offer of his hand for the next set. What had followed had been of equal parts pleasure and pain. Like the threads he had finally put away from him. Like the memories he had not yet succeeded in sending after them. The coach rolled on the short distance to Rosings, the seat of the de Bourgh family and home of their widowed Aunt Catherine. Darcy could see by a sudden display of restless attention to his neckcloth and the disposition of his coat and waistcoat that his cousin had begun marshaling his reserves of good humor and gallantry in final preparation for their reception and stay. Lady Catherine had terrified Richard when they were boys, but as he had matured and discovered the byways that led to female sensibilities, he had put that knowledge to good use with their aunt. For years now he'd turned her up sweet, as sweet as a woman of their aunt's disposition was ever likely to become; but it was an achievement, he always insisted, that required careful, yearly cultivation. They passed the gates and began the sweep through the park. The horses under James's easy rein quickened their pace, scenting that their labors were nearly done. As they rounded a curve that took them near the open grove Sir Lewis de Bourgh's grandfather had cleared, Darcy's thoughts were interrupted by a flash of color, like that of a lady's gown or pelisse. Frowning slightly, he twisted about, trying to satisfy himself with what it might be, but the density of trees and the swiftness of the coach made it impossible. "See something?" Fitzwilliam asked. "Nothing...a servant on her way to the village, I suppose." Darcy shrugged and then added with a teasing smile, "And no, I do not know whether she is beautiful." "Darcy, you know I do not trifle with servant girls!" Fitzwilliam looked at him, affronted. "His Lordship would have nailed my hide to the stable door if I ever had and is perfectly capable of doing so still!" Fitzwilliam shuddered as he elaborated on the lengths to which he believed his parent capable of going in show of his disapprobation of such a pastime. "And Her Ladyship! Mater would hand him the nails!" The more heated his protestations became, the wider Darcy's grin spread until it finally caught Fitzwilliam's attention. Realizing he had been led on, he stopped short and glared at Darcy before he joined in his cousin's amusement. By the time James had brought the coach beneath Rosings's portico, they were once more the sober gentlemen their aunt expected to descend from it. And expected they most certainly were. A retinue of servants lined the stairway to the door, all at exquisite attention, ready to unload the coach and conduct the visitors into Her Ladyship's presence. "And so it begins." Fitzwilliam gave one more tug to his waistcoat and checked the line of his trousers. "If she complains that we are not in breeches, I shall hold you eternally responsible!" he assured Darcy as the coach stopped and the door immediately sprang open. The manservant at the door was the same long-suffering soul who had performed this office for as many years as Darcy could remember. He nodded to the man's "Welcome to Rosings, sir," and started up the stairs after him as soon as Fitzwilliam had descended from the coach. They both knew the way, of course, but Lady Catherine was a fiend when it came to observance of the proper formalities; therefore, both gentlemen followed sedately behind the slow-moving servant until they reached the doors of the Rose Salon. "Darcy...Fitzwilliam. You are arrived at last!" The irritation in their aunt's penetrating voice was unmistakable. Doubtless, she had expected them hours earlier. Darcy gave his cousin a face that clearly communicated who was to take the blame for their lateness. Fitzwilliam sighed; then, both of them advanced into the salon to make their bows to the lady who sat in regal command of all within her purview. "Your Ladyship." Darcy bowed and kissed the hand his aunt extended. Fitzwilliam did likewise a moment later. Lady Catherine sniffed as her eyes roamed up and down her two nephews. "Neither of you dressed properly! Breeches and stockings, sirs, are the correct attire for paying visits. I may lay this laxity at Fitzwilliam's door, I have no doubt." Richard shot a murderous look at his cousin before beginning his campaign. "Your Ladyship, it was D -- " "Come," Lady Catherine interrupted him, "greet your cousin." Both men obediently turned to the pale creature on the settee at a right angle to Lady Catherine's and bowed. Anne de Bourgh's thin frame was completely obscured by the voluminous shawls deemed necessary to protect her health from the slightest inclemency. In most young women, this swaddling should have resulted in a complexion high with color, but Anne's wan face was mute testimony to her continued delicacy. Darcy stepped forward and formally extended his hand. "Cousin," he murmured as Anne removed hers from beneath the shawls and placed it languidly in his. For all her wraps, his cousin's fingers remained cold; and as he raised them to his lips, he wondered anew how she could support her life, caught as it was between ill health and her mother's domineering officiousness. "Cousin," she offered him listlessly in return. He stepped back in Fitzwilliam's favor and observed her as she received his cousin's attention and repeated her single-word greeting. There was no change in her pallid countenance, nor any spark of interest at their arrival in her eyes. Instead, she seemed relieved to have done with the formality, retreating inward as she slipped her hand once more beneath the shawls. "Does not your cousin look in health?" Lady Catherine's question demanded their agreement, and neither of her nephews disappointed her. "We have engaged in a new regimen recommended me by one of the Regent's own doctors; therefore, it cannot but be beneficial. Within a year, I expect, Anne will be entirely able to take her rightful place." She turned a knowing smile upon Darcy. "An eventuality for which we have all waited with anticipation." Only his careful reserve prevented Darcy from giving evidence of the contumacy that unexpectedly gripped him. Lady Catherine alluded, of course, to her expectation of nuptials between his cousin and himself. He flicked a glance at Anne, confirming his opinion that she believed in its "eventuality" no more than he did, and then looked away. It was an old theme, the tune of which he had long since learned to ignore without incurring open antagonism with Her Ladyship. But this time her insinuations had conjured up in him an exceedingly visceral response. Of a certainty, he wished his cousin any increase in vitality and health. Who would not? But no increase in those qualities would make her a fit wife for him. This, too, he had long known. Why, then, this tumbling of his equanimity? You well know why, his conscience intruded, but he pushed it away and concentrated on his next words to his aunt. "All her relations will, indeed, rejoice, Ma'am." Lady Catherine's smile hesitated at his response, but she did not press him, choosing instead to direct them to seat themselves and partake of some refreshment to relieve the depredations of their journey. "You are inexcusably late, Nephews." She returned to her original subject when they had settled back into their chairs with their tea. "I expected you some hours ago and had prepared myself to hear of a serious accident. Since you are both in health, it must have been a problem with a horse or the coach." "No, Ma'am," Darcy volunteered, deciding to spare Fitzwilliam his aunt's inevitable lecture. "We were late setting out." "Late setting out! What could have prevented your leaving, I wonder. Surely that man of yours knows the clock!" "Yes, Ma'am," Darcy replied carefully, "Fletcher is in nowise to blame." Lady Catherine's piercing regard shifted to his cousin. Knowing he was about to be called to account, Fitzwilliam launched a flanking maneuver. "An old friend of Darcy's, the Earl of Westmarch, came by for a visit, Ma'am, and practically settled in for the night. We could not very well chuck him into the street -- " "The Earl of Westmarch?" Her Ladyship turned back to Darcy. "I am astonished that you should keep company with him, Darcy! I knew his father, you know; and what a disappointment his son would be to him if he were still alive. Now there was perfection in a gentleman. Twice I danced with him during my Season, and I do not deceive myself when I say that I would have been Lady Westmarch had not the scandal, which I am certain that woman started apurpose, forced him into marriage prematurely. I have heard only the most shocking things about the son and advise you to cut the connection or at least refuse to receive him at Erewile House when Georgiana is at home. You cannot be too circumspect in the care of young ladies. Their heads may be turned with the least attention by a practiced flirt. Her new governess keeps a close watch on her, I trust?" Lady Catherine's trust was confirmed with a clipped "Yes, Ma'am" as Darcy rose from his seat and stalked to the tea table. His aunt's persistence in her delusion that he would take Anne to wife had sent him into a rebellious mood that was acerbated by the underlying truth that, if it were not Anne, it would be some other female equally equipped to defraud him of true companionship of heart and mind. His aunt's libel of Brougham and directions concerning his private conduct were not without years of precedent, but today they were fuel for the fire of Darcy's discontent. Perhaps it was wise that this year's visit be cut short. "That is well, then," Lady Catherine called to him. "Although, if you had engaged the woman I advised, you would be sure to have nothing to worry about on that score!" His back still turned, Darcy gritted his teeth, set his cup down on the table, and reached for the teapot. "You may apply to Lady Metcalf on my eye for the proper governess. She declares Miss Pope 'a treasure,' which, I have not a doubt, she is. Steady and regular instruction is what young ladies require or there will be trouble, mark my words. I have only recently become acquainted with just such a situation and expect to hear of calamity any day. Five daughters and never a governess!" Everything around Darcy seemed to still as his aunt's words echoed in his brain. Five daughters! His hand trembled slightly as he gripped the teapot's handle and poured another cup, causing the steaming brew to splash over the rim and into the saucer. Was it possible that Collins had apprised Her Ladyship of events in Hertfordshire? "No governess, Ma'am? Extraordinary!" Fitzwilliam commented, as if such things were his daily concern. Darcy knew it to be a ploy, designed to keep their aunt's attention from once more focusing upon himself; but this time he was as desirous for more of the particulars as his aunt was to reveal them. "Indeed!" replied Lady Catherine, nodding at Fitzwilliam approvingly, "and so I said. But, Nephew, that does not constitute the height of this family's folly. No, indeed!" Her Ladyship vigorously tapped her silver-handled walking stick on the floor. "Not only have they not had the benefit of a governess's discipline but they are all out before the elder ones are married! From the oldest to the youngest, who is a mere fifteen years of age! I have never heard of such foolishness, and so I informed Mrs. Collins's friend." Darcy's cup rattled on its saucer so badly he was forced to stay it with his other hand. Mrs. Collins's friend? There had been no Mrs. Collins when he had taken his leave of Netherfield. Who was she, and who was her friend that Her Ladyship would hold forth upon Collins's relations? He took a deep, steadying breath and turned back to his relatives. "Mrs. Collins?" Fitzwilliam queried. Darcy almost blessed him aloud. "A modest, steady young woman my new rector recently took to wife, having met her during a visit I encouraged him to make to an estranged relative on his father's side. 'Come back with a wife, Mr. Collins,' I told him, 'and you come back with all you will need for a useful life.' I cannot say how often he has thanked me for that advice. She is exactly what I would have chosen for him. Not above herself, quiet, but with agreeable manners, as is her father, Sir William Lucas, who was lately here to visit them. I am informed that you have already made their acquaintance, Darcy." Lucas! Darcy searched his memory for a name. Charlotte...Miss Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's close friend and confidante! How many times had he observed them tête-à-tête? Miss Lucas had married Collins? That could only mean...! His fingers crept to the pocket of his waistcoat, but they found nothing. Where? Of course, he had left them upon the road! Looking up, he caught Richard regarding him curiously, his brow crooked at the disposition of his hand. Self-consciously, he smoothed down the waistcoat and essayed a response. "Yes, Ma'am. Last November in Hertfordshire. I...I had accompanied a friend who was in search of property in that neighborhood. In the course of that search, I met Sir William and his family." Was fate to bring back into his life the reality of which those threads had been merely the shadow? He strained to know, to be certain who this friend could be, and yet, if it was Elizabeth, what should be his course? "I am informed that you have also met Mrs. Collins's friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It is quite annoying, Darcy, that I shall not have the pleasure of making a first introduction." Elizabeth! It was Elizabeth! Darcy's heart began to pound, and his hands went cold as ice. How should he meet her? As indifferent acquaintances? As familiar antagonists? Had she completed her sketch of his character, or had she refrained as he had asked? And Wickham! With what other falsehoods had he plied her after Darcy had abandoned the field? "Darcy?" Lady Catherine's voice brought him back to the present. "I was saying, I am much put out that I will not have the pleasure of making a first introduction, for Miss Bennet assured me that you were well acquainted. I find that she is rather close to impertinent on occasion, which might lead her to overstating the situation. Is this true that you are acquainted?" "Quite true, Ma'am. The society in Hertfordshire was small, and we were thrown in each other's way rather often," he confessed. "Is that so?" Richard pursed his lips, a wicked gleam lighting his eye. "Then perhaps we should pay Mr. and Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Collins's friend a visit tomorrow. What do you say, Darcy?" A shiver of alarm passed through Darcy. Tomorrow? He gathered himself to discourage the project when a thought struck him. Would it not be better to have their first meeting away from the eyes of Lady Catherine? Although he would need to exercise caution where Richard was concerned, it was the perfect opportunity to test his own composure and discover how Elizabeth meant to go on. "An excellent notion, Cousin," Darcy answered him. "I could not, in good conscience, deny you the felicity of becoming the object of Mr. Collins's admiration a moment longer than tomorrow." Darcy gave the bell pull a quick, impatient tug. Finally permitted to excuse himself to prepare for dinner, he had almost fled his aunt's and cousins' company for the sanctuary of his bedchamber. Fletcher had not been there ready for him, a singular circumstance in and of itself and, at this juncture, a disconcerting one as well. Where was he? If he was dallying with...Darcy strode back across the great high-ceilinged bedchamber, his back stiff in agitated aggrievement with his valet's absence, but then stopped short. No, that could not be! Fletcher was now a man betrothed. Knowing his valet as he did, Darcy discounted his first, ungenerous impulse. Fletcher held his simple sense of honor too close to trifle with his beloved's affection and trust. Perhaps a few more minutes of solitude would not be amiss if he was leaping to such unwarranted conclusions. Darcy strolled slowly to one of the great windows and stared out onto the green, rolling grounds that were Rosings Park. He must come to terms with himself and stop this ridiculous beating of his heart.! It had taken all his power of will to keep the thought from himself as his aunt pontificated on the Bennet family, the new rector's wife, and all her latest projects in the village. But now, away from the scrutiny of his relations, the realization burst upon him like a flood. She was here! She had been in the very salon he had just left, and more than once, from the length of his aunt's discourse. She resided in the house at the end of the lane, just beyond the gate where Collins had stood greeting their arrival. She walked the lanes and paths of Rosings. That flash of color in the grove! Might it have been...? The rush of blood through his body made the fine lawn of his shirt feel like rough linsey-woolsey and the collar tight and irritating. He turned to a mirror and hooked the fingers of both hands into the knot at his throat, pulling it apart in increasing frustration until it finally fell to the carpet at his feet. It was only then that he dared to look at his reflection, praying that he didn't look like...He groaned and turned away. Yes, he did...the veriest mooncalf! To what had he pledged himself only just that morning? Had he not released those embroidery silks to the spring winds in solemn resolve to put from him all thought and desire of her? There was no possibility of avoiding the disturbing reality of those threads now, nor a voice whispered insistently, did he want to do so. Rather, he must needs master this irrational impulse that urged him to tear down to the parsonage immediately and insist on the privilege of drinking in all her remembered loveliness. He briefly imagined such a scene as he loosed the first two buttons of his shirt, but the memory of Elizabeth's challenging eye overarched by that expressively raised brow stayed his flight into fancy. No, such fashionable, violent adoration she neither expected nor craved. She would want the truth from him, as he, when the heat that now consumed him cooled, would want from her. And the truth was, nothing had changed. All the impediments remained, and he still would be guilty of trifling with her should he in any way indicate the tumult of his emotions and thus raise her expectations. Darcy closed his eyes as he sat down heavily on the edge of his chamber's imposing bedstead, its grandeur as richly apparent as its lack of human comfort. He had never slept well at Rosings. Elizabeth. The conflictions of the previous autumn were returned now tenfold with her reentry into his life. The torments of his imaginings of her would be nothing compared with her actual presence. He shifted uncomfortably and unbuttoned his coat as he considered his dilemma. Were his desires merely manifestations of selfish willfulness, a lack of self-control? Or was it his duty and his beliefs, the code of conduct in which he had been raised, being shown inadequate? In four months he had not discovered the answer, but above the confusion, he did know this: beginning with the visit to the parsonage tomorrow and for the length of this reacquaintance, he must be careful -- very, very careful. The sound of hurried footsteps from the other side of the dressing room door brought Darcy up off the bed with a jerk. Fletcher! Quickly, he composed his features and turned to face the door as it swung smartly open. "Your pardon, sir!" The valet bowed from the doorway. Darcy could see that he was panting slightly from his run. But from where? "Fletcher!" Darcy's voice was more stern than he intended, but there was no other means of concealing his true state. "Where have you been while I have cooled my heels awaiting your attention? I would not have thought that you would find anything of overpowering interest at Rosings to cause such negligence!" "That is true, Mr. Darcy. Nothing precisely at Rosings, sir, nothing at all. Precisely." Fletcher paused only a heartbeat before continuing. "May I help you with your coat, sir? Shall I have water for the bath sent up? It is ready and waiting." He pulled the kitchen bellrope then advanced upon his master. In a trice, Darcy's coat was down his arms and flung uncharacteristically upon the bed. "There. Your waistcoat now, sir?" "Fletcher, where were you...precisely?" Darcy's brow lowered at the valet's busyness. "Just now, sir?" Darcy nodded. "Why, in the kitchen, sir, testing the water that it -- " "Before that." Darcy cut him off. Fletcher's mouth shut with a snap, and a curious look washed over his features. Then, lowering his eyes, he confessed. "I was at the parsonage, sir. But it was on your behalf, Mr. Darcy." "On my behalf! At the parsonage?" Darcy sputtered in surprise and no little alarm. "Yes, sir." Fletcher took a deep breath. "I heard that a lady you met and had much discourse with while we were in Hertfordshire was a guest there. Not content to hold with an idle rumor, I went to assure myself that it was, indeed, the same lady." He then raised his eyes and informed Darcy triumphantly. "I am happy to apprise you, sir, that it is the very same female, Miss Elizabeth Bennet." Darcy regarded him darkly. " 'If this were play'd upon a stage -- ' " "You would 'condemn it as an improbable fiction.' " Fletcher finished for him. "I assure you, sir, I was at the parsonage on just that errand -- to determine if the lady was indeed Miss Elizabeth Bennet or no." "Humph," Darcy responded, longing to know more, but to ask was impossible. "The lady is in good health, sir," Fletcher murmured as he pulled Darcy's waistcoat from his shoulders. "How do you know?" He couldn't stop himself from asking the question. Fletcher bent to the task of dislodging Darcy's shirt buttons from the close-stitched holes. "The lady was just returned from one of her rambles when I arrived, and she looked very well. Mrs. Collins's housekeeper says she has never seen a young lady as often out and about the groves and pathways of Rosings Park as is Miss Elizabeth." The shirt joined the coat and waistcoat on the bed. The sound of water splashing into the bath in the dressing room distracted them both for a moment. "Unless the weather prevents her," Fletcher continued quietly, "it is her daily habit and delight." "And you believed so strongly that I should know this that you went down to the parsonage yourself to ascertain the matter?" Darcy asked skeptically. "Why should I wish to know in what manner Miss Elizabeth cares to spend her time?" "So that, at all costs, you may avoid her, sir!" Fletcher replied adamantly. Darcy pursed his lips and looked narrowly at his valet, weighing their seven-, almost eight-year relationship, and the faithful part Fletcher had played in the terrible events at Norwycke Castle, against what they both knew to be his "improbable fiction." Fletcher must have had his reasons. Given his exceptional service, Darcy would press him no further, and he acknowledged to himself, he would probably have ample time to regret his generous motion later. Besides, the man had provided him with just the information he required. The walking path from Rosings to the lane that passed by the parsonage of Hunsford was refulgent with the bold trumpets of spring and the softer colors of their more retiring bedfellows, but Darcy spared their beauty no more than an occasional glance as he followed behind his cousin and Mr. Collins. The good reverend had presented himself in Rosings's hall at the earliest possible hour that could not be considered an imposition and had immediately pled that Rosings's guests do him the honor of meeting his new wife. "We also may boast the felicity of guests." He preened under the Colonel's fascinated regard. "My wife's sister and a cousin on my father's side, whom Mr. Darcy has already had the pleasure of meeting, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Hertfordshire." "My nephews are already aware of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Collins." Her Ladyship had cut in sharply as Fitzwilliam was accepting the invitation. "I informed them of her visit yesterday, almost upon their arrival, and of my disappointment in not having the joy of a first introduction. Now you deny me the joy of Fitzwilliam's introduction as well!" Mr. Collins had flinched visibly at her words and apologized profusely for his error. But the invitation had already been extended, and here they now were on the flower-bordered path to Hunsford. Insensible to the lavish beauty freely bestowed by Providence, Darcy concentrated on catching the words of the one-sided conversation that drifted over the shoulders of the men before him. Fitzwilliam's keen sense of the ridiculous had recognized a fountainhead in Mr. Collins, and he was unabashedly monopolizing the man's conversation in their stroll to the parsonage in hopes that more of the same would gush forth. For this, Darcy was more than grateful. The emotions and apprehensions battling in his mind and disturbing the balance of his bodily humors rendered him in no fit frame to entertain Collins's absurdities; yet it was from the parson's studied speech that bits concerning Elizabeth might be gleaned in preparation for this, their first meeting since the ball at Netherfield. Darcy strained to hear what Collins was saying without giving the appearance of attention, but the odd tricks of the wind carried the man's words off willy-nilly into the grove, or his sentences so convoluted themselves that any sense of them was lost. Giving up in a frustration exacerbated by the undisciplined tangent his emotions had taken, Darcy applied himself instead to shoring up the eroded edges of his composure. Although rather earlier than he had planned, they were to meet. Well, what matter the time? Morning or afternoon, soon or late? Had he not committed himself to a course of action when he released those embroidery threads to the winds? Those convictions, hard-won but held as firmly as his honor, would not be abandoned merely because the reality would soon stand before him! However, he was not a fool. The power his imagination had led him to allow her would be as nothing to the delight her actual person would bestow. His hand, he sternly reminded himself, was irrevocably withheld from her -- there was no danger there -- but his present discomposure was proof that his heart remained in danger. To that end, he must show her no favor, no attention, regardless of her temptations. Remember who you are! His father's oft-repeated admonition sprang to the fore. His back stiffened. There was Pemberley, Georgiana, family to consider. Think on those! he commanded himself. Resolute, he set his jaw. They were now at the lane and, shortly, at the door. His face suffused with amusement, Fitzwilliam stepped back to join Darcy as their host rang the doorbell. "Ah, finally I am to meet la Bennet of the straitened society of Hertfordshire, whose previous introduction to you our aunt so laments!" Fitzwilliam murmured into his ear with a laugh. His satirical words caused the muscles of Darcy's stomach to bunch and twist. He looked at his cousin sharply. Did Richard suspect something? There was no time to consider the question, for Fitzwilliam was already halfway up the stairs to the parsonage's main floor, following close upon the heels of his latest amusement. Ahead of him, Darcy heard the door to the sitting room open and then the scraping of chairs and soft footsteps from within as its occupants rose to greet the newcomers. Fitzwilliam's broad shoulders disappeared into the room first; and before he could think, Darcy was face-to-face with Collins, who was already making his introduction to his wife. "Mrs. Collins." The rector addressed his helpmeet with formality. "Mr. Darcy, whom you will remember from his visit to Netherfield last autumn. My wife, sir, Mrs. Collins." "Mrs. Collins, ma'am," Darcy replied. As he bowed to her curtsy, the fresh scent of new lavender drifted over him, tickling his nostrils. Elizabeth! He forced his eyes not to wander from his hostess, though a host of emotions within immediately set up a clamor against such reserve, urging him to seek her out against all his fine resolve. "Mr. Darcy, welcome," Mrs. Collins answered warmly. "How fortunate that you visit Rosings when Hunsford also entertains guests who are known to you; for my sister, Miss Lucas, and my dear friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, are also with us." A young woman whose features Darcy vaguely recalled from the Netherfield ball bobbed him a curtsy, which he solemnly acknowledged; and then he was before her. In that moment, Darcy knew himself undone and all his fine resolve as substantial as smoke before the warm and luminous vision caught in the bright rays of the morning sun. Elizabeth! His heart exalted against all his precautions. Before he could bid it stay, her glorious eyes, deep pooled and fraught with intelligence, flashed up to him from under their fringed veil, meeting his -- holding his -- in such a bold manner that his breath caught in his chest, the questions contained in them rooting him to the very floor. The treacherous organ inside his chest bounded painfully against his ribs as those intriguing, maddening eyes changed in their expression; and alight now with a mysterious, womanly intuition, they narrowed upon him in curious study. For what did she search? More unnerving still, what had she already discovered? Did she so easily discern all those secret places within him that he'd dutifully, painfully locked and barred? Helpless to look away, he could only await her conclusion. An eternity passed; the very air between them become charged and still. Then, her brow arched in that provoking manner that had so captivated him from the beginning. Her chin tilted up, and a sparkle of amusement illuminated her knowing gaze. The provocation of those enticing features caused the tightness in his chest to threaten to explode into a groan. Lord, how he had missed the challenge, the fascination, the uncertainty of her! How many times had he imagined her thus? All his defenses against her turned to ash as, like the rarest of wines, her effect upon him sped throughout his body, engaging every sense and nerve. It recalled him to the intoxication he had known those months ago in her presence and had carried within him, however he berated himself, ever since. Part of my soul...Adam's words, his own words, spoken that long ago night broke over him; and his soul, comprehending what his reason could not, rushed to claim, to embrace that other half of itself with a joyful recognition that made him light-headed and tempted him to commit unforgivable liberties. He wanted to smile, he wanted to laugh, he wanted to take her hand in his and draw it up to his lips. He wanted the soft, sweet dreams of her that had tormented him, waking and sleeping, at last to find resolution. With dizzying speed his dreams gathered power until, for a terrifying moment, Darcy feared he had lost all command of himself. Clearly, he saw himself advance upon her and, without hesitation, sweep her into an unrestrained embrace of body and soul. But -- please God! -- he had not moved, had he? He struggled to regain a cognizance of his own limbs, but even now, her lavender scent teased him as his lips sought the soft warmth of her brow and he reveled in the intimate beating of her heart against his. Elizabeth curtsied. Dimly perceived as it was, it still called forth his answering bow, and the performance caused a wave of relief to wash over him. His limbs had not betrayed him; he'd done nothing untoward! "Miss Elizabeth Bennet," he murmured tightly. His lips pressed firmly together, Darcy held his breath as he rose in order to catch her first syllables to him, but there were none to receive. Her curtsy was all that was proper. He felt her eyes flick over him, but he received no further greeting before she turned to acknowledge his cousin. Such propriety, Darcy knew, he should bless; for it allowed him to recover himself. Instead, he experienced a moment of swift, keen-edged regret. What would it have been like to see joy of his arrival in those wonderful eyes? He looked quickly away. Conjecture was a fruitless exercise. He was here to fulfill the claims of politeness, he reminded himself, nothing more. "Mrs. Collins, ma'am." Fitzwilliam easily took the lead. "I can see you have been much at work in the short time of your marriage and residence. Hunsford never shone so under Rev. Satherthwaite's rule, I assure you! Do you not agree, Darcy?" He cocked his head at his cousin, silently urging him to pick up the conversation. Darcy stared back at him in confusion. "I do not believe I was ever..." Richard's quick frown stopped him. "That is to say, I concur with Fitzwilliam, ma'am." He turned to his hostess. "The house is much improved since Lady Catherine's last rector resided here. The garden, particularly," he added on inspiration. Elizabeth's lips twitched at his compliment. What had he said that should arouse her to laughter, or was it scorn? He remembered their drawing room duels too well not to recognize her reaction as one or the other. Apparently, the ground was more uncertain than even he had supposed. Giving up on his cousin, Fitzwilliam essayed again. "Hertfordshire is wonderful country, Miss Bennet. I am eager to know how you compare it with Kent." Finally, Elizabeth smiled. "Comparisons are a difficult business, Colonel Fitzwilliam. How shall they be compared? In geography, in great estates, in magnificent views, picturesque villages? Or perhaps it is the hunting you wish compared?" Ah, there was the Elizabeth Darcy looked for, her eyes sparkling in mischief. But that they did so for his cousin he found intolerable! "In any way that suits you, Miss Elizabeth," Fitzwilliam answered, "for I am convinced your opinion on any of those subjects is worth the hearing." He paused and then grinned. "Excepting, if you will pardon me, the hunting. I can apply to Darcy for all of that, you know." "Do you 'apply' to him then too?" Her brow rose slightly. There it was again! That almost imperceptible lift of her shoulder, the fleeting purse of her lips. "But you are, of course, correct. I can compare hunting only by hearsay; whereas Mr. Darcy may do so with some authority. Of that, he has more share than most gentlemen." More than my share? Darcy's frustration increased. "But that is merely due to appearances, Miss Elizabeth." Fitzwilliam's forehead had crinkled a bit at her words, but he was smiling gamely. "The taller a gentleman, the more authority he is accorded, whether he truly has it or no. Have you not found that to be true? And the Darcys" -- he smirked down into her laughing eyes as he led her to a window -- "are a tall race." "Would you care to sit down?" Mrs. Collins's invitation recalled Darcy to his manners. He pulled his eyes away from Elizabeth and focused upon the calm, collected aspect of his hostess. But even as he nodded his acceptance, his eyes wandered back to Elizabeth. The light from the window was caressing her hair in a wonderful manner, bringing out warm, lustrous hues and highlighting those delicate tendrils at her neck that had escaped her combs. He swallowed hard, trying vainly to calm the skip and surge of his blood as he observed her and his cousin conversing so easily together. "I thank you for your compliment of the gardens, sir." Mrs. Collins's low, clear voice brought him back to the business of choosing a seat. There were several arranged companionably about a low table upon which rested a china vase filled to bursting with narcissi and spring ferns. Although he did not discount his hostess's accomplishments, Darcy suspected it to be Elizabeth's handiwork. Surely she had gathered them that morning, likely on her return from a solitary ramble about the near edges of the park. What might she create if given the freedom of Pemberley's gardens? Something inside him smiled at the thought, and he moved to take the chair that put him in the best position to continue his observation. The Collinses sat with him, looking at him expectantly. In a quandary as to what to say, he cast about for something other than the mundane but was spared the task by Mr. Collins, who was inspired to believe that he suffered an anxiety to know every plant, extant or potential, that lay in the beds surrounding the parsonage. Darcy settled in for the duration, but laughter from across the room brought his head up from the rector's interminable discourse to see Fitzwilliam grinning hugely as he leaned down to catch some further words from Elizabeth's lips. Richard was enchanted, of that there was no doubt. The unfeigned pleasure on his face clearly indicated that he was intrigued and delighted by his companion. How could he not be? Darcy's gaze traveled esuriently from the curls crowning her head to the pale green slippers that peeped from beneath the sway of her frock. Confound it! If ever he was to bring himself to order, he must adopt a more temperate approach. Narrowing his regard to that of an indifferent acquaintance, he began again. She was handsome, no doubt, but no one would put her down as a great beauty. Although the sunlight did marvelous things with her hair, chestnut curls and velvety brown eyes were not in fashion. Her gown was of no great design nor was the fabric costly, but the gauzy translucence of the simple sprigged muslin did befit her so that, upon consideration, he would not have traded it for the world. Well, perhaps for silk, but only the lightest -- Great Heavens, what was he thinking! He tore his eyes away in alarm at the direction his unruly thoughts had so easily taken. Another line was desperately needed. He turned back to the Collinses. Was the man still nattering on about the blasted flower beds? When it could conceivably be argued that Collins had paused for breath, Darcy hastened to intervene. "How do you find Hunsford, Mrs. Collins? I recall some complaint from its previous occupant that the chimneys do not draw sufficiently. As Her Ladyship's adviser, I may make arrangements with Rosings's workmen directly on that score or any other lack you may have found." He measured his next words carefully. "Her Ladyship need not be troubled with the particulars. It would be my pleasure to see to the matter." There, if he must be the object of Collins's annoying flattery, at least let it be for some actual good he had done. Collins's response to his offer was all he feared, but the look of relief in his wife's eyes was enough to confirm his suspicions that his aunt's cheese-paring ways in regard to her dependents had occasioned some discomfort in the parsonage. If Elizabeth were to visit her friend often, such could not continue. Darcy assured his host again that it was his pleasure and then fell silent. at Rosings. Would she come often? Would she be always here when he made his yearly visit? He stole another glance at her. She was looking up into Fitzwilliam's face, considering whatever nonsense he was spouting to her with a pretended seriousness that failed to suppress the mirth tugging at her lips. Her cheeks were flush with pleasure as Richard valiantly attempted to keep pace with her wit, but Darcy guessed that her tally was the higher in their contest. Would she always be here? What an idiotic question! She would marry, soon or late. Darcy shifted uncomfortably, the thought so agitating he could barely sit still. He twisted his father's ruby signet ring unmercifully. It was inevitable! Soon or late, some fellow, favored of Heaven and with no obligations to anything save his future happiness, would whisk her to the altar and know in truth what Darcy could only dream of knowing. The laughter Elizabeth had struggled to contain behind those invitingly pursed lips burst forth in sweet cascades of delight, and Darcy's heart faltered at the sound. That was the Elizabeth of the Meryton assembly, with the enigmatic smile and whispered laughter, the Elizabeth of the Netherfield ball, with her impudent curls and wistful gaze, the Elizabeth of Pemberley and Erewile House, whose imagined eyes spoke to him as he wandered the halls not quite alone. With growing irritation he watched Fitzwilliam bend to whisper something near her ear; and before Darcy could look away, she tilted her head, glancing over at him. Their eyes met, and he could no more pull away from their fascination than he could will his heart to stop beating. The answers to a thousand questions lay in the depths of those enchanting orbs, and he ached to ask them all. But even as the first one formed on his lips, her aspect sobered, the laughter fading to a curiously speculative regard of him before turning back to her companion. What was she thinking? Why had she looked at him thus? Oh, this was intolerable! A faint voice as from a great distance protested that Fitzwilliam's behavior should be nothing to him, that his heart was in great danger should he engage with her, and that he had sworn only a half hour before to show her no attention or favor. Without thought and certainly beyond reason, he rose from the chair and in only a few swift strides was upon them. Both Elizabeth and his cousin looked at him with a surprise that was no less than his own at finding himself, in truth, across the room. Speak! his heart prompted. "Your family, Miss Elizabeth, I trust they are well?" The question tripped more smoothly off his tongue than he had dared to hope, but Richard still appeared to wonder at his sudden intrusion. Little did Darcy care what his cousin thought of his manners, for at last her eyes were fully upon him. Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety. The Bard's consummate description of Egypt's legendary queen was Elizabeth to perfection. The pleasure of her was incalculable. "I left them all in health, sir, and have since received assurances that they remain so. You are very kind to inquire." Her words were measured, polite, but her gaze withdrew from him almost before the end of her reply. Was that to be all? But, no! They flashed up at him again, exciting his anticipation. "My eldest sister has been in town these three months, Mr. Darcy. Have you never happened to see her there?" A more unlooked-for dart she could not have loosed at him! How could he have forgotten? No, he had not seen her sister, but he had known of her, conspired against her. His conscience played havoc with him as she waited for his reply, her eyes strangely unreadable. Richard, too, looked at him curiously. He was a fool, a thousand times a fool, to have succumbed! "No, Miss Elizabeth." He bowed in apology. "I regret to say that I was never so fortunate to meet your sister in London." She seemed to accept his word, but Darcy's conscience smote him so that he could not continue comfortably at her side. Without another word, he withdrew to the window and stared out into Mrs. Collins's garden. Let them think he was caught up in admiration of the blasted weeds! Anything other than the truth that he had nearly shown himself a fool in the teeth of his own convictions. Curse his weakness! It will not, shall not happen again, he vowed to himself. Copyright © 2005 by Wytherngate Press

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1 Her Infinite Variety

CHAPTER 2 Too Dear for My Possessing

CHAPTER 3 As a Dream Doth Flatter

CHAPTER 4 A Hell of Time

CHAPTER 5 Though Thou Art Forsworn

CHAPTER 6 Under Transgression Bowed

CHAPTER 7 An Unperfect Actor

CHAPTER 8 What Silent Love Hath Writ

CHAPTER 9 The Marriage of True Minds

CHAPTER 10 Full Circle

CHAPTER 11 The Course of True Love

CHAPTER 12 Love's Fine Wit

Bookclub Guide

Reading Group Guide These Three Remain by Pamela Aidan Summary These Three Remain, the thrilling conclusion of Pamela Aidan's Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, takes readers through the climactic final events of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. His proposal of marriage to Elizabeth Bennet thoroughly rejected, Darcy must come to terms with her evaluation of his character and a future without her. These Three Remain recounts Darcy's painful journey of self-discovery in his quest to become the gentleman he always hoped he would be, and the kind of man of whom Elizabeth Bennet would approve. A chance meeting with her during a tour of his estate in Derbyshire offers Darcy an opportunity to prove his changing character to Elizabeth, but the activities of his nemesis, George Wickham, interfere once more in a way that may ruin everyone's hopes for happiness -- unless Darcy succeeds in putting his newfound strengths to the test. Set vividly against the colorful historical and political background of the time of the Regency, Aidan revisits the events of Pride and Prejudice, remaining faithful to Jane Austen's beloved characters while introducing her own fascinating cast as she weaves a rich tapestry from Darcy's past and present. Discussion Points What first led you to suspect that Lord Brougham's feelings for Georgiana Darcy went beyond protectiveness on behalf of her brother? Dyfed Brougham becomes a more developed and complicated character in this novel than he was in the previous two. How do you feel about the spy plot twist? What kind of foil does Dyfed serve for Darcy? Compare and contrast the formality and tradition-drenched ambience of Rosings to the atmosphere at the Collins' Hunsford home and the scenes that unfold there. Lady Catherine seems symbolic of a bygone era as far as "decorum" goes. Do you think the clash between her value system and what she sees as the "lack of propriety" in Darcy's generation is similar to the recurring "generation gap" that still persists in our culture today? Is it merely a moment of drunkenness or something else that pushes Darcy to confess his torment to Brougham? Why do you think, of all his acquaintances, it is Brougham to whom he finally opens his heart? In this novel, Darcy continues to carefully shield and guide his younger sister, Georgiana. Why is it so difficult for Darcy to see Georgiana as the incredible young woman, by Lord Brougham's account, she has already become? What finally opens his eyes? What did you suspect were Lady Sylvanie's motives for visiting Georgiana? Were you surprised when Dyfed appeared, incognito, to whisk Darcy away? Why or why not? Darcy often finds himself interpreting "messages" from Elizabeth, both verbal and physical. Do you think he misreads her during their walks alone together at Rosings? Discuss the ways in which duty and desire are at war with each other in this novel. Darcy holds himself responsible for Lydia's entanglement with Wickham because pride caused him to remain silent about Wickham's character to those in Meryton. Do you agree that he is responsible for what happens? Though it takes liberties, there are carefully designed moments of intersection between These Three Remain and Austen's Pride and Prejudice -- more importantly, Aidan's novel gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at certain events, such as Darcy's intervention regarding Lydia Bennet and Wickham. How do these connections contribute or detract from your reading experience? With a wider cast of characters than Austen's novel, These Three Remain serves to tie up far more loose ends. When all is finally revealed, do you believe that everyone has received his or her "just desserts?" Now that you have seen the world through Darcy's eyes, is Elizabeth's estimation of his character accurate? What does each of the titles in the trilogy reveal about the Darcy within it? Since the trilogy is now complete, what would you like to see Pamela Aidan tackle next? Enhance Your Book Club Experience The renowned poet, Lord Byron, is mentioned in the novel as a somewhat scandalous introduction to the drawing rooms of high society. Shakespeare and Milton are quoted often in the novel as well. For your next meeting, bring a poem or sonnet you feel one of Pamela Aidan's characters would enjoy and discuss the reasons behind your selection. Or if you really want a challenge, write an original piece in the voice of Mr. Darcy or the other characters! As one of the world's most celebrated writers, Shakespeare's plays are performed with regularity throughout the United States. Find a local performance of Much Ado About Nothing, or rent Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film rendition, to watch a couple who spar with as much wit as Elizabeth and Darcy. You can even make a night of it with members of your Book Club!