Will took his promise to Elizabeth to heart, and the next week and a half saw a radical change in his attention to William. No longer did he allow the boy to tear around the house, and saved his work until William was napping in the afternoon. At first his son rebelled at these sudden restrictions, but his good nature soon took over and Will marveled at how easy it really was to stick to Elizabeth's schedule. By the time their guests arrived on the Friday evening Will was confident that his son's behavior would not disgrace his efforts.
Brian and Georgiana had arrived late the previous evening, laden with gifts for her young nephew. Elizabeth had frowned slightly upon seeing the collection of packages, but admitted that she couldn't really blame Georgiana for her enthusiasm.
When the Bingley's car appeared in the drive approaching the house Elizabeth impatiently ran out to greet them before the car had come to a halt.
"Oh, Jane! It's so good to see you!" Elizabeth cried as she hugged her sister tightly.
"Where is my darling little nephew?" she asked as she released Jane and peered through the window into the backseat.
From the other side of the vehicle Charles was holding up his son. "Over here, Lizzie!" Elizabeth hurried over to her brother-in-law, but as she reached for Robert his father shook his head. "Not until you give me a proper hello, sister dear."
Elizabeth laughed and kissed Charles on the cheek. "Forgive my impatience, Charles. It's isn't that I'm not as eager to see the two of you as well!" She reached once more for the baby and happily took him in her arms. "Jane, he's grown so much! How much they change in three months."
Charles and Jane gathered the rest of their things and followed Elizabeth to the house. The bags they left in the front hall for the staff to take upstairs, while they made their way to the drawing room to join Will, Georgiana and Brian.
William ran to his Aunt Jane as soon as she appeared in the doorway, wrapping his little arms around her legs as tightly as he could. Jane bent down to pry him off.
"Well, hello there, William! Who's my favourite little boy?" She successfully separated him and lifted the boy up in her arms.
William gave her a chokehold of a hug, catching sight of his mother over Jane's shoulder. The expression on his face changed to one of puzzlement.
"Mummy, what's that?" he asked, pointing to his cousin nestled in Elizabeth's arms.
Jane brought William over closer while Charles crossed the room to greet the others.
"William, this is Aunt Jane's little boy, your cousin Robert." Elizabeth turned the baby to face her son.
William frowned. "But I'm Aunt Jane's little boy." The adults all laughed causing William's frown to deepen. "I'm Aunt Jane's favourite!" he repeated in a petulant tone.
"Oh, Lizzie," Jane turned to her sister with a worried look. "You're going to have your hands full if you intend to have another baby anytime soon." She raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"I'm Mummy's baby!" William's voice became louder and more insistent. He looked at his mother, his eyes beginning to well up.
Elizabeth quickly handed Robert over to Will and took her own son from Jane. William took some comfort from his mother's embrace, but then his eyes traveled to his father. Will held Robert somewhat nervously, never having had the benefit of being exposed to babies often. Even when he had, Will usually declined any invitation to hold what he considered a very fragile object.
"Here, Will." Georgiana offered to rescue her brother. "I'll take him." She laughed softly and shook her head at Will's bewildered expression.
"No, no." he objected. "That's quite all right, Georgie. I just need a little practice... a little time to get used to this."
"No!" came William's shrill cry.
Elizabeth pulled him closer, her hand stroking his head. "Shhh, William. There's nothing to get upset about." She looked over at Jane apologetically. "Let's all sit down. Would you like some tea or a cold drink, Jane? Charles?"
There was an affirmative all around. Georgiana offered to call for the refreshments allowing Elizabeth the opportunity to sit down and tend to her son. William was still eyeing his father as Will was gaining confidence in his possession of Robert.
"Right." Will said with a smile. "This isn't so difficult after all."
Brian laughed. "Just wait. We'll see how you're doing in another hour or so."
Will frowned at him. "Oh, and you're the expert are you?"
"You forget that I have four nieces and nephews, Will. I've had plenty of practice looking after babies!" Brian grinned.
"Well, in that case," Jane said with a look at Georgiana, "I know who'll be first on my list of childminders this weekend!"
William struggled in Elizabeth's arms. She attempted to hold on to him, but he managed to wriggle out of her grip anyway. Once free, the little boy crept slowly across the room to stand in front of Will. His eyes were as wide as saucers as he reached up to pull on the edge of the baby blanket that trailed over his father's arm.
A sharp tug on the blanket drew Will's eyes to the figure of his son. Smiling, he knelt down to show William the baby.
Elizabeth watched with a worried expression. She had been surprised by her son's reaction to seeing her holding Robert. Now she had no idea what William would do when faced with the sight of his father's attention focused on the baby as well.
Robert gurgled happily and waved his little fists in the air. William smiled at first, but then he wanted Will to pick him up and hold him too.
"I can't hold you both, William." Will told him patiently. "You'll have to wait."
Elizabeth tensed in anticipation. William stood quietly for a few moments, then his face creased in a fierce frown. He stamped his foot sharply on the floor.
"Want up, Daddy!" he demanded.
"William, I said--"
"I want up!" William stamped his foot again and pulled on Will's arm.
Will looked to Elizabeth for some assistance. He had never seen his son behave this way before. The expression on his wife's face indicated that she had not either.
Brian suddenly appeared at Will's elbow. "Could I have a turn with the little one now, Will?" He was holding his arms out for Will to pass him the baby.
Will looked at Brian, then back to William. "Certainly. Thanks, Brian." He handed Robert over to the other man and Brian carried the baby back to his place on the sofa next to Georgiana.
William's frown disappeared and he reached up with his little arms. But instead of picking him up, Will took his son by the hand and led him from the room, a curt "Excuse us for a minute" lingering in the air as they passed through the doorway.
"Whew!" Charles let out his breath in a rush.
"I don't know what to say." Elizabeth finally ventured. "William's grown so attached to his father in such a short time, I suppose he's just, well--"
"Jealous is the word, Elizabeth." Brian laughed.
"Yes, definitely jealous." Jane nodded. She pulled her sister aside to speak with her away from the others. "Lizzie, have you done anything to prepare William for the arrival of a baby in the house?"
Elizabeth stared at her sister in amazement. "Jane, I can't believe that you, of all people, would lend any credence to Mama's wild notions!"
Jane laughed. "I was referring to Robert being here for the week, Lizzie!" She laughed again as Elizabeth blushed. "But perhaps Mama was only being a little premature in her conclusion?"
"No," Elizabeth replied in a voice tinged with a hint of disappointment. "I'm not pregnant, Jane, much as I'd like to say otherwise." She looked at her sister's sympathetic expression. "Will and I decided we'd have another baby right away, but I have to admit I'm rather surprised I haven't been able to get pregnant yet. After what happened the first time, I sort of expected it right away."
"You've only been married a few months, Lizzie. You can't have been trying for very long." Jane smiled gently. "Charles and I tried for a year before we were successful."
Elizabeth looked at Jane in surprise. Her sister had never confessed that to her before now. "I'm sorry, Jane. I didn't know."
"There's no need to apologize. It just takes longer with some couples."
Elizabeth smiled once more. "Well Jane, it only took once for me to end up with William! I suppose I was thinking that I could conceive merely by looking at my husband!"
They both laughed, drawing wondering glances from the others.
A moment later the door opened to admit the butler, announcing the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth's mother swept into the room elegantly, bestowing a gingerly-placed kiss on the cheek of her second daughter.
"Why Mrs. Darcy, what an honour to be included in the guest list for this happy occasion." she intoned solemnly. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, perplexed at her mother's behavior. Mrs. Bennet laughed. "Why Lizzie, I've been practicing! I didn't want dear Will's relations to think we are uncivilized merely because we come from a small town and your father's fortune is not so large as your husband's." She looked around the room. "Where are they? I know you must have invited his aunt, Lady de Bourgh. His uncle the earl?"
Elizabeth's shoulders slouched and she looked briefly up at the ceiling. "Mama, it's only family, my family, plus Georgiana and Brian."
"Will's aunts and uncle will not be here." Elizabeth stated firmly.
Her mother looked quite vexed at this piece of news, but she rallied quickly. "Well, where is my grandson then? And your darling husband?"
As if on cue, the door opened and Will led a smiling William through.
"There you are!" cried Mrs. Bennet, rushing over to the boy and scooping him up into her arms. William made a face and struggled to free himself, but his grandmother didn't notice. Planting a kiss on the boy's cheek, she put him down and turned to her son-in-law. As familiar as she claimed to be with him, she was still not quite at ease addressing him one to one. "How delightful to see you again, dear Will! Tell me, how are you finding family life? Lizzie never rings me, nor does she write. But then she always has been rather close-mouthed about her personal life. But I don't need to tell you that!"
Oh, this is going to be a long weekend! thought Elizabeth.
"On the whole I find it highly satisfying, Mrs. Bennet." Will glanced in Elizabeth's direction with a hint of a smile.
"Mrs. Bennet! There's no need to be so formal." the older woman scolded. "Just call me Mama, like my other children do."
Will wasn't sure how to reply to that, especially considering the snickering coming from Georgiana's direction. "Yes.... well.... would you care to sit down?" He turned to Elizabeth and said "Emmy called while I was out of the room with William. She's in Derby visiting a friend and asked if she could pop by to say happy birthday to William."
"That's wonderful!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "When will she be here?"
"I invited her to come for tea tomorrow, and to bring her friend."
"Oh, Lizzie! I nearly forgot." Mrs. Bennet cried. "You'll never guess who I received a postcard from last week!" She had no intention of waiting for a reply, and continued after a short pause. "Lydia!"
Elizabeth saw Will's head come up sharply, and she stared at her mother in shock. "Lydia? Wh - where is she?" There were only three people in this room who knew the real story behind Lydia's disappearance.
"They were on holiday in Jamaica." Mrs. Bennet replied waving a hand in the air. "Apparently she and George - you remember George Wickham, Lizzie - have done quite well for themselves since they left us."
Done well for themselves, indeed! thought Elizabeth. And with Will's money!
"Yes, well - ." Mr. Bennet interrupted.
"I always knew he'd do well." his wife continued, blithely unaware of the effect of her news on her son-in-law. "And it's so comforting to know that our Lydia is so well looked-after, too!"
"And where is it they call home these days?" Will attempted to make his voice sound casual, but his narrowed eyes were intently trained on Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh, she didn't say. It was only a postcard after all! But she promised to write me a long letter when she's back home." She peered at Elizabeth's face, which had quite suddenly lost all colour. "Lizzie, are you alright? You don't look very well." Mrs. Bennet turned to Will. "You haven't been allowing her to overwork herself, have you Will? I know Lizzie can be very stubborn, but you must put your foot down. That's not good at all in her condition."
"I will remind you for the last time, Mrs. Bennet," Will said impatiently, "that Elizabeth is not expecting a child at the moment, but should circumstances change you will be among the first to know, I'm sure."
Mrs. Bennet appeared a little taken aback at his sharp tone, but recovered quickly. "Thank you, Will. I know that you will keep us informed in that instance." She glared in her daughter's direction for a moment, then continued on in her previous topic, expounding on the virtues of George Wickham at length, but neither Will nor Elizabeth heard any of it. They were each lost in their own memories of that summer, and what George and Lydia's actions had cost them.
When dinner was announced shortly thereafter, Elizabeth led their guests to the dining room, rallying a smile and managing to put her sister to the back of her mind. Will and Georgiana were rather subdued through the meal.
After dinner, when everyone returned to the drawing room, Georgiana had regained her composure, although her brother remained sullen and withdrawn, only venturing replies to direct questions. His mind was swirling with the thought that now that Lydia had reestablished contact with her family, George Wickham must inevitably rear his ugly head again.
When the household had at last retired for the night, footsteps could be heard pacing the long hallways of Pemberley well into the early morning hours, and Elizabeth lay awake, wondering when her husband would be coming to bed.
To Elizabeth's immense relief her mother made no more mention of Lydia, nor of George Wickham, for the rest of the weekend. Will had reverted back to his normal self by the next morning, and their son's birthday was a happy celebration.
William was delighted with all of his gifts, and when Emmy arrived later in the day he was so excited to see her that he nearly knocked over the tea cart in his haste to reach her.
Emmy brought Terry with her, the young man she'd met in Tahiti. Georgiana thought him to be a very nice chap, and told Emmy so at her first opportunity. Terry and Brian were soon deep in conversation about university life. Although Brian had recently finished his courses and received his degree, Terry had only completed his second year at Oxford with plenty of work still ahead of him. The four of them made plans to meet the following day for a walking tour of the peaks.
By Sunday evening, after their sons had been put to bed and their husbands sent away to amuse themselves, Elizabeth and Jane were content to enjoy each other's company in the upstairs sitting room.
"How did you manage a week's holidays from work, Lizzie? You haven't been there very long."
Elizabeth poured two glasses of wine and passed one to her sister. "Actually, I brought a number of projects home to work on. If I manage two or three hours a day I can keep up with my workload and not be concerned about falling behind once I return."
"And are you enjoying the job?" Jane asked as she sipped at the wine.
"Yes, I am, very much." Elizabeth looked closer at her sister. "Is everything alright with you and Charles? You seem a trifle..... preoccupied."
Jane sighed. "It's Mama. You know how she can be. She's at Netherfield almost every day, all day. I don't know how much more I can take, Lizzie. It's not so bad for Charles, since he's at work for most of the time, but I'm beginning to dread every morning, knowing she's going to be knocking at the door shortly after breakfast."
Elizabeth put her glass forcefully down on the table. "I can't believe even Mama would be so insensitive, especially with you! Has Papa done nothing to keep her at home?"
Jane shook her head. "Charles suggested that we should start looking for a home to purchase. He already has an hour-long train ride to work from Meryton, he thought we could see what was available an hour away in the other direction."
Elizabeth grinned at her brother-in-law's cunning. "Two hours away from Mama should curb her impulse to interfere!" A sudden thought occurred to her. "That could place you remarkably close to Pemberley, Jane! Have you begun inquiries yet?"
"I believe that was what Charles had in mind for this week, actually." Jane replied. "He was hoping that Will might have some idea of what might be available."
Elizabeth leaned back and sighed happily. "Drink up, Jane. We're celebrating! I can't wait until I have my dearest sister living nearby. I have missed you so much!"
It was a very promising and pleasant week for all. The two couples, sons in tow, viewed several properties with mixed reactions. It was obvious that what suited the Bingleys was not necessarily suitable for the Darcys. However, since it was the Bingleys in search of a new home, the field was considerably narrowed to three properties. By the end of the week, Charles and Jane had discussed their options and arranged to return in two weeks for another viewing. Coincidentally, this would bring them to Pemberley in time to accompany the family to Manchester to see Elizabeth presented with her degree. The convocation ceremonies were set for the second Saturday in June.
On Friday evening Jane inquired as to whether Georgiana was to visit on the weekend.
"Not this weekend," Will replied. "She and Brian have his family picnic tomorrow. It's apparently an annual event, not to be missed."
"Why did Georgiana remain in Manchester after the school year was finished? I should think she'd prefer to be at home." Charles wondered.
"She's taking some of the courses offered over the summer term, to get ahead in her studies." Elizabeth smiled. "I think she was also wanting to give us a bit of time to adjust to our new living arrangements."
"How thoughtful of her!" commented Jane, catching her sister's eye.
"Yes, very thoughtful." Elizabeth grinned.
Charles laughed and turned to his friend. "Will, I do believe your wife may be glad to see the back of us tomorrow, so that she may have you all to herself again!"
"Oh now, be fair!" Elizabeth objected. "I've really enjoyed this week. I wish you two would hurry up and make a decision about which house to buy! I want to be seeing you more often."
"Believe me, Lizzie," Jane said. "The sooner we decide, the sooner we'll move, and the happier I'll be, too!"
"It looks like the weather is going to cooperate this year." Brian called out to the kitchen. "Sunny and warm through the whole weekend."
Georgiana peeked around the doorway. "Wonderful!" She disappeared again, a few minutes later calling out, "Do you think I've make enough sandwiches, Brian?"
"Oh, good Lord, yes!" he said, entering the kitchen. "I told you we don't have to bring anything at all. My mum makes everything for our family." He put his arms around Georgiana and pulled her close.
"I know what you said, but I just don't feel right bringing nothing." She giggled as Brian kissed the tip of her nose.
"I'm going to take that basket down to the car before you add any more to it!" he said, and picked it up, starting for the door.
"Oh, don't forget my luggage, too."
Brian looked at the bag resting against the door. "I don't think I could miss it, sweetie."
"I'll just do the washing up quickly, then meet you at the car."
Brian nodded and slipped out the door. Georgiana joined him out front ten minutes later. Sliding into the passenger seat of the Rover she smiled at Brian.
"Don't tell me you're nervous about meeting the rest of the Osborne clan?" he asked.
"A little." Georgiana admitted. "You did say there would be a lot of them."
Brian laughed and placed his hand on her knee. "And every one of them is going to love you!" Then he started the car and they were on their way.
She had traveled this route many times over the last few months, Manchester to Chelmsford, but for some reason Georgiana found this trip different. Perhaps it was the warm spring weather, the sunshine, or the fresh air blowing in the open windows. Whatever the cause, she found herself daydreaming as she gazed out the window at the surrounding countryside. Suddenly she leaned forward excitedly.
"Oh, Brian!" Georgiana exclaimed. "Would you look at that view! May we stop for a minute?"
Brian smiled and pulled the car over to the side of the road. Georgiana leapt out as soon as the car halted, to run over to the stone wall and lean over it.
"Oh, it's magnificent!" she breathed. "Why didn't I ever notice it before? We've taken this route every time we've visited your parents."
Brian approached to stand next to her, one arm wrapped around her waist. "The last time we came through here it was foggy, and the hills were barely visible."
"Just look at the flowers over there!" Georgiana pointed excitedly to a hill on the left. It rose steeply from a stream at its base, where tiny white flowers dotted the banks. A shower of blooms swept up the slope in hues of pink, lavender and white. "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
Brian looked in the direction she indicated, then back to the young woman at his side. "Yes, I have." he said quietly and drew her closer.
Georgiana looked him in the eye and blushed. Brian turned her around to face him.
"You don't believe me?" he asked with a smile. He didn't wait for a reply but, setting his hands firmly on either side of her waist, he lifted her up to set her atop the stone wall.
"Brian!" Georgiana cried in mild alarm as she looked behind each side of her, eyeing the receding landscape with trepidation. "Don't let go of me. I don't want to fall!"
"I would never let you go." Brian assured her.
Their eyes met, and Georgiana sighed.
"Georgie." Brian said after a period of silence. "Will you marry me?"
Georgiana's eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She scarcely believed her own ears. "What did you say?"
A broad smile spread across Brian's face. "I love you, Georgiana Darcy. Will you marry me?"
Georgiana flung her arms around Brian's neck and allowed herself to be pulled into his embrace. "Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes!!" she cried happily.
Brian spun her about in a circle, their laughter encompassing them. As he slowed their movement, and Georgiana's feet once more touched the earth, Brian carefully placed her on the grass.
"I have something that goes with that question." he softly said as he reached into a pocket. Georgiana bit her lip as she watched him draw forth a small golden circlet and take her hand in his. "I was going to wait until after the picnic today, but when I saw your beautiful face light up as you looked out at the flowers over there..... Georgiana, my ears didn't deceive me? Did you really say yes?"
Georgiana laughed, a delightful musical sound in the open air of the countryside. "I did! And more than once!" Her face turned serious for a moment. "I love you so much, Brian." She raised herself up on her toes to plant a kiss on his mouth.
Brian held on to her tightly to continue the kiss. When they broke apart, Georgiana extended her hand to admire the ring on her finger. The diamond solitaire glittered in the sunlight sending a reflected rainbow arcing around them. Brian admired the sparkle in her eye. He brushed a few stray hairs back from her face and kissed her cheek.
"Perhaps we should be on our way, now. My mum's expecting us before one."
Georgiana nodded and, taking his arm, they walked back to the car.
The remaining two hours of their drive seemed to fly by for Georgiana. She kept looking at her hand, at her ring, to remind herself that this was real. I'm really engaged! Her gaze often traveled to Brian's face, admiring his profile. Their conversation was light and pleasant.
"Georgie," Brian said as they neared the park where the picnic was being held. "Shall we see how long it takes before someone notices, rather than announce our engagement right away?" There was a mischievous sparkle in his eye.
Georgiana nodded her agreement, and they left the car in the carpark to join his family under the trees at the far side of the expanse of lawn. She was astonished to see the number of people already gathered together. Both of Brian's parents came from large families, and the resulting crowd of aunts, uncles and cousins could fill a small stadium! Well, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, she thought, smiling to herself.
Brian's mother came forward to greet them warmly, placing glasses of a cool beverage in their hands. Georgiana took a sip of hers to discover a pleasantly sweet, if potently alcoholic, drink. She resolved to take her time finishing it.
"You'd best take the lass 'round to meet your aunts first, Brian." his mother was saying. "Otherwise we'll not be hearing the end of it all day!" She patted his cheek as she shooed them on their way.
Georgiana followed shyly behind Brian as he led her through the throng, introducing her to various women he addressed as Aunt Lucy, Aunt Peggy, Aunt Shirley, Aunt June, Aunt Kathy and Aunt Bett. She dreaded having to remember which of his uncles belonged with which aunt!
Everyone greeted her warmly, praising Brian on his fine choice and Georgiana on her patience and forbearance with him. His male cousins were envious, the ladies teasing. Georgiana took comfort in the support of Brian's elder sisters, Rose and Allison, who took pity on her and fended off the more suggestive commentary.
They managed to keep their secret until after dinner when Brian thought it time to make an announcement before some of his family departed. Georgiana agreed, her smile dazzling him with its brilliance. An opportunity presented itself most appropriately when one of his uncles called for the traditional family toast.
"Who's turn is it to say the toast?" an uncle called out.
There was an excited chatter as the group of people mulled that over. Brian spoke up over the noise.
"I'll do it." He stood at the end of the table and raised his glass. When he had everyone's attention he cleared his throat before beginning. "The Osbornes. We've gathered together, a family bound by blood and kinship, cemented with love and respect. I raise this glass and ask you to raise yours to the memory of our departed loved ones, to the loved ones surrounding us here, and to the loved one who will soon become a member of this family." Brian let his gaze rest on Georgiana at this last part.
There was a second of silence before everyone cheered and dutifully raised their glasses. Rose and Allison approached to congratulate the couple, and hugged Georgiana warmly, assuring her from their hearts that she would be a most welcome addition to their family circle. There was much back-slapping from Brian's uncles and cousins, while his aunts and the other ladies warmly embraced Georgiana. Finally Brian's parents could address them quietly, and assured the young couple of their pleasure in the announcement.
"You've made an excellent discovery in this young woman, Brian." Harry Osborne said. He put an arm around each of their shoulders, drawing them closer. "Welcome to our family, Georgiana."
"I am so happy for you both," his wife said as she joined in the embrace. "If you need any help at all with the wedding plans, Georgiana, feel free to call on me. It can be a monumental task with no mother to help you. And with a family the size of ours, there will be lots of planning to do!"
"Thank you," Georgiana replied sincerely. "I'm sure I'll be accepting your offer."
"That's right." Brian laughed. "It's not as if your brother and his wife would be able to offer us any advice from their own experience!"
His parents looked at them curiously.
"They eloped." Georgiana explained. "Ran off to Tahiti and were married there."
"Oh, now that sounds very romantic!" Brian's mother exclaimed, then wagged a finger at them. "But don't you two be getting any ideas!"
"Have no fear, Mum." Brian looked warmly at his fiancée. "Nothing could dissuade me from the prospect of seeing Georgie in her white dress coming down the church aisle."
Georgiana blushed. "Much as I love my brother, I must admit that I was extremely annoyed with him for denying us the excitement of a big wedding. And it would have been a lavish affair, if Elizabeth's mother had any say in it!"
"Have you told your brother of your engagement, yet?" Harry inquired.
Brian shook his head. "I only just asked her on the trip here this morning."
"When we get home you can give him a call then, if you like." Jenny smiled at Georgiana.
"Thanks, but I think we'd be better off to stop by Pemberley on the way home tomorrow. I'd rather tell him personally."
"Pemberley?" Brian's mother looked thoughtful. "I've heard that name before."
Brian and Georgiana looked at each other. There were a few things that they hadn't told his family, one of which was Georgiana's wealthy status.
"That's Georgie's home." Brian said.
"Oh," said his mother. "That must be where I've heard it, then."
Just then Brian's little nieces called out for their grandmother, and she excused herself to see to them. His father congratulated them once more and joined the men playing cards at the table.
"I suppose we'd better tell them everything soon." Georgiana sighed. She had found anonymity quite comfortable, and a nice change from the travails of her old social circle. "At least then your mother won't need to worry about trimming the guest list to an affordable number. Will has always said that with my wedding he would spare no expense."
"I'm not sure that he had expected it quite so soon, though." Brian took her hand and led her across the grass away from the others. "Despite the fact that Will and I have been getting along rather well, I think he's going to be more than a little concerned at our announcement."
"I agree. That's why I want to tell him in person. And Elizabeth will be there, too. She seems to be able to keep him on level ground." Georgiana sighed again and leaned her head against Brian's chest. "Tonight we let your parents know what they're in for, and tomorrow we tell Will and Elizabeth."
Brian tilted her face up towards his. "Don't look so grim, Georgie." He kissed her gently, then admired the smile that lit her face. "I'm still willing to elope with you if necessary."
Georgiana laughed. Brian kissed her again.
"I love you, Brian."
"I love you, Georgiana."
Their lips met again. Georgiana slipped her arms up and around Brian's neck and pulled him closer, while his arms wound around her waist, lifting her off of the ground.
"Hey, you two!" called a voice, interrupting their enjoyment. "You'll have plenty of time for that later. The cakes are laid out!"
Will sought out Mrs. Reynolds early Sunday morning and found her in her office off the main kitchen.
"Mr. Darcy!" She looked up in surprise at his appearance in the doorway.
"Ruth, I have a favour I would ask of you."
Her eyebrows rose at his use of her first name. "And what might that be?"
Will shuffled his feet. "Would you make arrangements for someone to watch William this afternoon? It's looks to be a splendid day, and I'd like to spend some time with my wife. Alone, for a change."
Mrs. Reynolds smiled. The house had been rather busy for the last week, allowing no time for the privacy on which the young couple seemed to thrive. "That shouldn't present a problem. There are at least a half dozen of the maids who would love to look after him. What time will you be needing this service?"
"About 12:30. After William's had his lunch. Elizabeth and I will not be having lunch." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Thank you, Ruth. I have to see Mrs. Dodson now about the rest of the arrangements." He quickly left her office in search of the cook.
After having seen to all of his plans Will retreated to his study to catch up on some paperwork that he had been neglecting during their guests' stay. This kept him occupied until it was time to check on Mrs. Dodson's progress, shortly before noon.
Will slipped out of his study, creeping past the music room where Elizabeth and William were plunking on the keys of the piano. A few minutes in the kitchen were all he required to satisfy himself that everything was as he requested. He swiftly made his way back upstairs to see that Elizabeth was just seating William at the dining table for his lunch. One of the younger maids entered the room.
Elizabeth looked up. "Yes, Genette?"
The young woman looked to Will.
"Elizabeth, Genette will be tending to our son for a few hours." He extended his hand. "If you'll come with me, my dear, we have an appointment."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and looked at him curiously. She took his hand and nodded to Genette as they left the room.
Will led her through the front doors out into the warm spring day. As they stood at the top of the steps Elizabeth's gaze was drawn downward.
"What is this?" Elizabeth stared at the baskets assembled at the foot of the front steps. "Will?"
Coming up behind her, Will slipped one hand around her waist and nuzzled the nape of her neck. "We're going on a picnic, my dear," he mumbled between kisses.
"Oh!" Elizabeth said, her senses all a-tingle at his touch. "Mmm," she began, when her breath caught in her throat. She allowed herself the enjoyment of Will's caresses for a few moments before stepping forward and away from him. She reached down to peer inside one of the baskets, but Will caught her hand and spun her around to face him.
"Ah, ah, ah!" He shook a finger at her. "No, peeking, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth grinned and placed her fingers on his lips. "I'll be right back. Don't go away." She ran up the steps into the house. In less than fifteen minutes she returned to find Will sitting on the top step, waiting. "Ready."
He smiled and got to his feet. When he saw his wife he gave a low whistle. She had changed her casual Sunday lay-about clothes for a white silk blouse and a bright yellow floral printed skirt which swirled about her ankles. Will nodded, and they each took up a basket and set out across the lawn.
They walked for a good half-hour, over hills, through woods and meadows. Elizabeth breathed in the fresh smells of the earth and delighted in the sounds of the birds as they gave voice to their own contentment. Once, when she thought Will wasn't looking, she lifted the lid on the basket she carried to look inside. A blanket was the only thing visible, and she closed the lid in disappointment. A low chuckle from Will's direction confirmed that he had witnessed her actions. She made a face at him and continued walking.
After another few minutes they emerged from a wooded pathway into a small clearing. She followed her husband across the grass until he stopped and put down his basket. Relieving her of the other basket Will turned to her with an inquiring look.
"Do you remember our last picnic on this spot?"
Elizabeth looked at him in disbelief. "Do I remember? How could I ever forget!"
Will brushed her cheek with his fingers. "Perhaps you'd care to repeat it....."
Elizabeth grinned mischievously, her eyes sparkling. "Why, I would indeed! As I recall, you chased me across the grass to the brook on the other side of the hill." She laughed and ran off in the direction she had been pointing. Will set off after her.
By the time he reached the top of the slope Elizabeth had stationed herself in the brook, waiting for him. Her hands were already in the water, ready to fling the cold liquid at her husband. This time, however, he had his own plan in mind.
Slowly advancing on her, Will eyed Elizabeth carefully, noting when she tensed her arms to launch her attack. Before the water left her hands he dashed to one side and then sprang forward. Into the brook he splashed, leaning over to cup his own hands and send the water flying at Elizabeth. Caught by surprise, she was unable to avoid a soaking and laughingly screeched at the shock of cold water.
They continued to splash about, drenching each other, until Elizabeth scrambled out onto the grass. A few feet away she collapsed onto the slope, clutching her middle as she laughed. Will followed suit, laying on the ground next to her.
"Oh, Will!" Elizabeth gasped. "Just look at me!"
He did, and liked what he saw. His wife's blouse clung to her body, accentuating every curve. Best of all, the wet fabric was very transparent.
"Hmmm." Will's eyes met hers and his lips turned upwards in a playful smile. "Perhaps you should remove your blouse. I'm sure it will dry much faster if you laid it out in the sun!"
Elizabeth's eyes opened wide and she stared at her husband. Then a smile spread across her face. She touched a finger to his chest and began to slowly zig-zag it downward. "'Tis a shame that your clothes are equally soaked through. I suppose you'll just have to let them dry in the sun as well."
Will grabbed her hand, stopping its descent, and raised it to his lips. He softly kissed her fingertips. All playfulness left his expression as he turned a serious gaze on Elizabeth's face. She looked at him, puzzled by the sudden change.
Seeing her once more in this setting brought back a thousand memories for Will, the most vivid one being the first time he had brought her here. Elizabeth had been so beautiful that day, making his heart soar when she had accepted his invitation for a picnic. Her playful nature had propelled them into an unexpected, though most welcome, romantic encounter. Will had been astonished when she quite brazenly seduced him following their brief battle in the brook. He had thought that the kiss he'd impulsively given her might have been premature, but Elizabeth had apparently had more than that in mind. The afternoon had been beyond anything in his dreams. He had made love to Elizabeth, gently, softly, surrendering his very soul to her keeping. Nothing had been spared. She was everything to him. If it had been in his power, Will would have never left the peacefulness of the little clearing, keeping Elizabeth with him forever.
Unfortunately it was not to be. George Wickham's interference had cost him dearly. An intense well of hatred pushed up from his core at the thought of that man's name. Will had gone from the height of joy to the lowest depths of despair in a matter of weeks. Thinking Elizabeth lost to him for good, his nights were filled with painful longing, and an indescribable unwillingness to face another day alone. He had tried to put on a brave face, for the sake of his sister, but witnessing her lively enthusiasm for her friends and the social round was too much for him to bear. His loneliness had turned to bitterness, wondering what he had done to deserve such a wretched existence. Will had withdrawn to the questionable solace and privacy of Pemberley, avoiding contact with everyone as much as he was able. Any communication with Charles Bingley was out of the question, a constant reminder of his proximity to the woman that Will could never have.
These recollections paraded through his memory in a matter of seconds, but Will once again felt full force the anguish that had tormented him for those long black months after he had finally convinced himself that his dream was hopeless, and Elizabeth beyond his reach. His heart had been torn away, ripped from his body, and what had remained wasn't even worth burying.
Elizabeth could see his emotions flicker across his face in succession. She uttered a startled gasp when she saw a tear slowly make its way down Will's cheek. With her fingers she wiped it away, meeting his sorrowful gaze.
"Will." she whispered. "What is it? Tell me, please."
Will closed his eyes for a moment. He drew in a laboured breath and let it out slowly. Opening his eyes once again he looked steadily at his wife. "Do you have any idea how much I love you, Elizabeth?" Her eyes pleaded with him to continue. "Can you even begin to comprehend how much you mean to me? I wake in the morning, every morning, terrified that I've imagined all of this. Until I see you, and feel the warmth of your body next to mine, I hardly dare to believe."
"Oh, Will. Even after all these months together you're still hurting." Elizabeth's own eyes were filled with tears. "How can I assure you that I'll never leave you, that I love you beyond words?"
Will raised a hand to brush her hair from her brow. He observed her for a moment, drinking in the sight of her laying before him. Then he leaned down and gently kissed her lips. Elizabeth responded just as lovingly, murmuring his name between kisses. Her arms drew him closer, their bodies pressed tightly against one another.
In the warmth of the sun and the soft clover of the little clearing, the trickling noises of the water racing over the stones in the shallow brook mingled with the gentle sounds of their loving.
Elizabeth gazed dreamily up at the sky. Laying on her back on the soft blanket, she watched the clouds scud lazily across the bright blue expanse. She could hear Will beside her, as he packed away the remains of their meal into one of the baskets. What a meal it had been! Elizabeth imagined that her husband must have exhausted the pantry's stock of the exotic; caviar, smoked salmon, pates and biscuits of every variety and an astonishing array of fruits. Elizabeth laughed to herself when she recalled Will's expression when she had asked him to peel her a grape!
Stretching her arms over her head, Elizabeth reached out to stroke her husband's leg as he crouched down next to the baskets. She drowsily reflected that the wine that Will had selected had been very good indeed, and she was glad he'd thought to bring more than one bottle.
"Is there something I can do for you?" Will asked with a suggestive lift of an eyebrow.
"Oh, you've already done it," Elizabeth replied in a sultry tone. "But I would not be at all disappointed were you to do it again." She crooked her finger and beckoned him closer.
Will leaned toward her, his lips gently touching hers. Then he pulled back to shake his head in amusement. "No, no Elizabeth! If you start that again, we'll never get home. Have you looked at the time? We've been gone for hours."
"Stop that, Elizabeth! You know I can't resist you when you do that."
She persisted, adding to her arsenal by wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down to her. She whispered softly into his ear, her warm breath on his flesh causing him to close his eyes and growl her name.
"You are merciless!" Will groaned.
"And insatiable." he repeated.
"But you love me in spite of it."
"But I love you....... because of it." Will grinned at her.
Elizabeth slapped his shoulder. "I suppose you're probably right, though."
"We should be going home." She looked at him deadpan. "It will be dark before we make it back, I'm sure."
Will gave her a wary glance. "It won't be dark for another two hours at least. What have you got in mind, apart from what has already been mentioned?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Elizabeth batted her eyes in an affectation of innocence, which her husband quite rightly disbelieved.
Will shook his head and got to his feet. He leaned down to smack Elizabeth's behind. "Up woman! Let's be off."
Elizabeth grumbled, but arose anyway. Picking up the blanket from the grass, she folded it and tucked it into a basket. Slinging the basket over her arm, Elizabeth turned to Will.
"Shall I lead the way then?"
Will laughed. "Will we actually make it home?"
Elizabeth raised one delicate eyebrow imperiously. "Is that a derogatory comment on my ability to navigate in the wilderness? Or perhaps," she continued, tracing her finger down his chest, "you believe me to be thinking of leading you astray?"
Will laughed again as he grabbed her hand. "Come along, my dear. I knew I shouldn't have brought so much wine. You're probably going to fall asleep as soon as we get home!"
Elizabeth's own laughter echoed through the trees as they made their way back to Pemberley.
"Where did you say they went, Mrs. Reynolds?" Georgiana looked out of the window at the gathering twilight.
"Oh, don't worry yourself, Miss." the housekeeper clucked. "I wasn't expecting to see them before dark, anyway."
There was the sound of voices and laughter in the hallway, and Georgiana turned her head toward the door. Brian and Mrs. Reynolds also watched as the voices drew nearer. Suddenly the door was flung open and Elizabeth stumbled in, giggling, closely followed by Will, who reached out and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her back against his body.
"No escape for you, Elizabeth!" Will said and lowered his mouth to hers.
"You tease!" Elizabeth retorted, rising on her tiptoes to meet him.
"Ahem!" Georgiana smiled as her brother jerked his head up in surprise. "Is that the proper way to be entering a room?"
"Georgiana!" Will sputtered. "What on earth are you doing here?" His face blushed a deep red, and it didn't help that Elizabeth snuggled closer to him rather than stepping away.
"Well that's a friendly greeting." Georgiana frowned at Will as Mrs. Reynolds quickly slipped from the room.
"Sorry." Will pried Elizabeth's arms from around his waist and led her over to the sofa. He nodded at Brian, who looked back at him with a wide grin. "Sorry, Georgiana. I wasn't expecting you. I thought you were going straight back to Manchester."
"Obviously." she said drily.
Will looked closely at his sister, suddenly concerned. "Is something wrong?"
Georgiana quickly smiled. "No, no!" she said hurriedly. This was exactly what she didn't want to happen. Oh, why didn't I just tell him when they first came in? He was in such a good mood and now I've spoilt it.
Brian moved to her side. "Will, there's something we need to tell you."
Will glanced from one to the other, alarm bells ringing in his head. "What is it?" he managed to say.
"We're getting married!" Georgiana blurted out, unable to keep it in any longer.
Will felt his blood pressure settle back to normal. "Oh, that's all. That's all?" He looked at his sister intently.
"Will!" Elizabeth said sharply. "At least say congratulations! Where is your brain?" Elizabeth hugged Georgiana to her. "Congratulations, Georgiana! I am so happy for you. And you too, Brian! You two will be very good together."
Will extended his hand to Brian. "Yes, congratulations, Brian. You two just caught me by surprise, that's all. Please excuse my momentary lapse. I wasn't expecting this." He turned to Georgiana. Looking at her smiling face, Will suddenly wondered where his little sister had gone, the one he'd spent most of his adult life looking after. The little girl he'd read to, that he'd comforted after her nightmares, that he'd watched blossom from a gangly adolescent to a lovely young woman. Where had the time gone?
Will reached out and took his sister's hand. Pulling her close, he hugged her tightly. When he felt he could speak, he did so quietly against her ear. "Georgie, I'm very pleased for you. I know that our parents would have been very proud of you. Brian is a good man, and if you're sure this is what you want, then I know you'll be very happy." He paused a moment. "I'm going to miss you."
Georgiana squeezed her eyes shut. "I'll miss you too, Will."
They wordlessly continued to hold on to each other, until Elizabeth piped up.
"Shouldn't we have some champagne to celebrate?"
"Oh, yes! What a good idea!" Georgiana broke away to wipe her eyes, not trusting herself to meet her brother's gaze yet.
Will called for the champagne, and for Mrs. Reynolds to bring it.
"Georgiana, come here." Elizabeth motioned her sister-in-law over to the sofa. "Let me see your ring." She took Georgiana's hand in hers. "Ooh, that is lovely! It must have come dearly, Brian!"
"Well, I had a little extra money laid aside." Brian glanced sidelong at Will. "Some recent luck at the billiard table."
The ladies laughed. Will grinned wryly.
"I'm glad to see you put it to good use, anyway."
"So, when do we meet your parents, Brian?" Elizabeth asked.
"They're going to be coming up to Manchester for the convocation ceremony in a couple of weeks. Perhaps that would be a good time to get together?" Brian looked to Will for his reaction.
"Why don't you suggest that they come up on the Friday and stay here? You and Georgiana as well? Charles and Jane will be here, and we can travel up to Manchester together. Elizabeth will be receiving her degree that day, too." Will paused, looking at his sister. "We can make plans for a party to announce your engagement then, too."
"Excellent idea, Will. I'll ring them tomorrow." Brian took Georgiana's hand and squeezed it.
"A party, Will?" Georgiana looked at him plaintively.
"Yes, of course." Will knew that his sister disliked being front and centre as much as he did, but he persisted. "You are a Darcy, and we will do this properly. We'll need to begin drawing up a guest list as soon as possible."
"Perhaps the one from your party, you know, the one where we announced your marriage, will do!" Georgiana challenged. "If you could get away without the all the fuss of a formal announcement, and even of a formal wedding, I don't see why I have to put up with the pomp and circumstance."
"That's precisely why we will be having the 'pomp and circumstance' as you so eloquently put it." Will grinned. "We still have plenty of family that will expect it. One Darcy depriving them was enough, and Elizabeth and I had far more valid reasons than your reluctance to be put in the spotlight. My younger sister will be married in style as befits her station."
The door opened and Mrs. Reynolds appeared, followed by a footman bearing a tray. He set the tray down on the table beside the sofa and left the room. Mrs. Reynolds looked enquiringly at Will.
"Mrs. Reynolds. It appears that we are to have another wedding soon." He swept his arm out to indicate Georgiana and Brian.
A huge smile lit up the housekeeper's face. She took Georgiana into her arms and held her close.
"Your mother would be so happy, and your father so proud of you!" She turned to Brian. "Mr. Osborne, you are a lucky man. Congratulations, both of you!"
"You'll join us in a glass of champagne, won't you Mrs. Reynolds?" Elizabeth asked.
"Thank you, yes. But a small glass, please."
"And you," Will said, looking at his wife, "will have only one glass." The others looked at him in astonishment. Will's eyes darted from one person to another. "We had several bottles of wine this afternoon."
Elizabeth laughed. "What he means to say is that I had most of it, and don't need any more! And I must admit that he's right!"
They all laughed, and Will poured the champagne.
Elizabeth looked at her image reflected in the mirror. A pair of dull eyes in a pale face gazed back at her. She had hardly slept the night before, tossing and turning while her mind played over the events of the last three years of her life. She knew that these recollections had been triggered by her anticipation of the convocation ceremony to be held this afternoon, but she hadn't expected such a reaction from herself; a tumble of emotions and memories, insomnia and a collection of butterflies in her stomach that made her feel wretchedly ill.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Will's anxious face appeared behind her shoulder in the mirror. "I could get you something to help calm your nerves."
Nerves! Elizabeth laughed, bringing a little light back into her eyes. "Oh, I hope this isn't a foreshadowing of my future as a clone of my mother!" She placed her hand over the one Will had rested on her shoulder. "I'll be fine. Just give me a few minutes to make myself presentable."
Will nodded and kissed the top of her head. He left her to finish getting ready. Downstairs, he joined his sister and Brian, Brian's parents and the Bingleys in the dining room.
"Elizabeth will be down in a few minutes." he said. "She's running a little behind. She's a bit anxious about today, I think."
"Well now, that's understandable." Brian's mother said. "This is a big moment for her. She's certainly worked hard to gain her degree. It should be exciting for her to have you and your son in the audience to witness it."
Will smiled. "Believe me, I couldn't be more proud of her achievement."
"And we are equally proud of our Brian!" she beamed at her son.
A few minutes later Elizabeth joined them, bringing William with her.
"Good morning, everyone. William professed a need for another helping of Mrs. Dodson's french toast." she explained to the other diners.
Will gave his son a stern look. "I hope that this time more of it ends up in your belly than on the floor." His son's antics at the breakfast table had left a lot to be desired in the last few weeks. "Seat him here, beside me, Elizabeth." He pulled an empty chair up to the end of the table beside his.
William gave his mother a worried glance as she directed him to the chair beside Will. She stifled a smile at the thought of how Will's permissiveness had changed practically overnight to an iron fist. William now regarded his father with a healthy respect for the authority that he wielded. That did not, however, stop him from being a child, and a mischievous one at that, sorely testing Will's limits.
Elizabeth settled William into his chair and tucked a serviette under his chin. Will had already placed a piece of the desired toast on the boy's plate and was cutting it into pieces. Elizabeth sat down at the other end of the table and picked up her teacup. "I'm glad to see that you didn't wait for me before having your breakfasts. I'm sorry to be late."
"Think nothing of it, Elizabeth," replied Georgiana. "There's plenty of time before we need to leave."
Elizabeth looked over the selection of eggs, sausages and bacon, then opted for plain toast. Her stomach was still reeling with anxiety for the day ahead.
"I must tell you once again," Brian's mother was saying, "how amazed we were when we arrived last night. I certainly did not expect such a grand estate to be Georgiana's home! Those two kept quite a bit to themselves over the last few months." She turned to Will. "You have such a exquisite home, Will."
Elizabeth smiled at her husband's proud expression at Mrs. Osborne's praise, but then a sudden movement at Will's elbow brought a quick cry of warning, too late. William had pulled his plate to the edge of the table and it fell out of sight. From the expression now on Will's face, Elizabeth surmised that he was now in possession of their son's breakfast.
There were a few suppressed giggles around the table. Will sat silently for a moment, eyes closed, seemingly praying for patience or at least deliverance from the pranks of his son. Then he reached down and retrieved the plate from his lap, placing it on the table once more. It was empty.
Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from laughing as, piece by piece, her husband returned William's breakfast to its proper place.
"If you'll excuse me," he said, rising from his chair. "William, go sit with your mother."
Their son needed no urging, and scrambled down to race around the table to Elizabeth. His father left the dining room to effect a change of clothes. No sooner was he out of the room than it erupted in laughter.
"Oh, the poor man!" Brian's mother laughed. "I've been in his place many times!"
"I could pay money to see that look on his face again!" added Charles, who looked about to fall off of his chair he was laughing so hard.
Elizabeth shook her head, wondering what William could possibly do at breakfast tomorrow to top this one.
By the time Will returned, in fresh clothing, it was time to load themselves into the cars and take to the road. Jane and Charles were to travel with Will and Elizabeth. Robert was staying at Pemberley, tended by a slew of volunteers from the staff. William nestled himself in the back seat between his mother and his aunt.
"Mummy, can I have a snack?" he asked in a tiny voice.
"Not bloody likely!" came Will's voice from the front seat. "You shall wait until we get to our destination before you have anything else, young man. I well remember what happened the last time you ate in this car," he finished with a grumble.
Charles grinned at his friend. "I thought it was Lizzie who didn't feel well this morning. You sound awfully grumpy, Will."
Will stared at Charles wordlessly for a full minute. "You'll get yours, Charles. Someday, you'll get yours and I'll be right there to see it."
Charles chuckled as they drove off toward Manchester.
Elizabeth clutched the piece of paper in her hand as she scanned the throng of people for her husband's face. She could hardly believe the ceremony was over already. It had gone by in a flash. All of that anxiety, all of the nervous energy, and now she could go home again. When she had been up on the stage, she'd looked out over the audience, not really expecting to be able to find Will in the crowd, but to her surprise she was able to spot him. William had been standing on Will's lap so that he could see better, and Elizabeth could see her husband pointing in her direction. Then her son had waved a tiny hand at her, excitedly bouncing up and down on Will. Her heart had taken a leap, tears threatened to spill and her throat tightened up at the sight. She could hardly see the floor beneath her feet as she made her way across the stage to her place beside the others.
All of her years in Manchester she had never dreamed that she would be on that stage seeing Will in the audience.
Elizabeth's head turned sharply in the direction of the voice. She laughed and waved at Jane. She could see her sister turn away, then walk toward her followed by Will, Charles and her parents. Will was carrying their son, concerned that he might become lost in the crowd.
"You looked so beautiful up there." Will whispered in her ear when they joined her side.
"Lizzie, I'm so proud of you!" Her father gave her a kiss on the cheek and a big hug.
Jane said nothing, but her smile spoke volumes. She pulled Elizabeth to her tightly and whispered her congratulations. "I knew you could do it."
Even Mrs. Bennet was complimentary in her congratulations. There were no hidden barbs in her words. "I'm proud of you too, Lizzie. It wasn't easy for you, but you did it!"
"Thank you, Mama."
Will took his wife's hand and addressed the others. "Is everyone joining us this afternoon? I booked a table at---"
"The best restaurant in town, I'll wager!" Mrs. Bennet interrupted.
Will was beyond taking offense today. "But of course. Nothing but the best for my beautiful, industrious wife!" He glanced at William, who had transferred himself into Elizabeth's arms. "William, do you think you could behave yourself, at least until we get home?"
Jane laughed. "Don't worry, Will. I'll look after him this afternoon. You and Lizzie can have a few hours off!"
"Nonsense!" cried Mr. Bennet. "I claim priority. William can sit next to me." He winked at his grandson, who giggled in reply.
"Then let's be off." Will said cheerfully.
"What about Georgiana and Brian?" Elizabeth asked.
"She knows where we're going." Will explained. "They're going to meet us there."
Everyone followed Will and Elizabeth to the car, where Will gave her father directions to the restaurant. Then they all climbed in and were on their way, laughing and singing.
"How did you manage to do that?" Georgiana stared at her sister-in-law in surprise. "Will was adamant about this party idea!"
"Don't look at me! I didn't get him to change his mind." Elizabeth whispered back. "You can thank your Aunt Catherine for that favour."
Georgiana raised her eyebrows, waiting for her to go on.
"She rang the other night to give him an earful about his own marriage. I'll spare you those details. Then she went on about having to take you under her wing to make sure you didn't fall into the same trap, seeing as how your brother had lost all of his common sense." Elizabeth chuckled. "I think he was worried about what Brian's family would think of your relatives if they had to be in the same room with Catherine de Bourgh!"
Georgiana giggled. "Aunt Catherine will not be pleased at all with my choice. Brian's family is definitely not on her list of suitable matches for the Darcy fortune!"
"As long as you are satisfied with your choice, Georgiana," Elizabeth said quietly. "I don't think you could have done any better."
"Thank you. What about Will? He told me he's pleased about our engagement, but is he really?" Georgiana looked at her companion apprehensively. "I expected him to make some sort of objection."
"Your brother's only concern is in you and Brian being so young. Of course, I reminded him that I was Brian's age when he first proposed to me."
Georgiana looked at her in surprise. "What's this? Will proposed to you before?"
"Oh!" Elizabeth raised a hand to cover her mouth. "Oh, Georgiana, I shouldn't have said that. Pretend you didn't hear."
"How can I possibly pretend I didn't hear it?" Georgiana grinned and leaned closer. "You have to tell me all about it now, Elizabeth!"
"Shhh!" Elizabeth glanced over at her husband to see if he'd overheard. Georgiana was staring at her intently, waiting. Elizabeth sighed. "Oh, alright. I'll tell you. But later! Not here."
Georgiana nodded in agreement and left her to join Brian and his parents. Elizabeth wandered over to Jane and Charles.
"Well Lizzie, it's been a very pleasant day all 'round." Jane told her. "Charles and I are going to view two of those properties again tomorrow before we head home. We've already decided to make an offer before the end of the week. We just need to make up our minds between the two."
"That's marvellous, Jane!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Which two?"
"The one just this side of Sheffield, and the other is closer to Derby."
"I remember them." Elizabeth cast a cautious eye in their mother's direction. "Does Mama know yet?"
Jane followed her gaze. "No. I dread telling her. I may wait until we're packed and the removal men are at the door before I let her know!"
"I think that's a very good idea!" Elizabeth laughed.
"I think it's time we took our son home to bed." Will whispered suddenly in his wife's ear. He gestured to the boy who was snuggled in his grandfather's arms, eyes struggling to stay open.
"Oh, my. Is it that late already?" Will nodded. "I suppose we should say our goodbyes to Mama and Papa, then."
The entire party quit the restaurant together. In the carpark they said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, while Jane and Charles settled themselves into the back seat of Will's car. William joined his aunt and uncle when Will and Elizabeth got in. The drive back to Pemberley was quiet and pleasant. Brian and Georgiana, with Mr. and Mrs. Osborne, followed behind in Georgiana's Rover.
After William was settled into bed, Elizabeth joined the others downstairs for a quiet cup of tea.
Georgiana waited until Elizabeth had returned before beginning a discussion of the upcoming wedding. "Brian and I would like you to know that we have picked a date for our wedding."
"Oh? When?" Brian's mother asked.
"We are hoping for June 26th next year."
"We had better get on it right away then." Jenny Osborne said smartly. "That's a lot of planning and arrangements to make in a year."
Will glanced at his sister. "What do you want me to do to help?"
Georgiana looked at Elizabeth. They each smiled and looked at Will, then spoke in unison.
"Write the cheques."
Elizabeth joyfully flung her bag into the front seat of her car and climbed in behind the wheel. She still had a forty minute drive home, but oh so much to think about on the way!
For a while there, she had begun to despair of ever being able to give Will this news.
I can't wait to see his face!
As she turned onto the A-road leading toward Pemberley, the warm July breeze blowing in the open windows, Elizabeth mulled over her doctor's words. She smiled. Oh, yes! Our picnic! That was when it happened!
Elizabeth rubbed a hand over her lower abdomen and patted it gently. "Your father will be so excited when I tell him! Oh, but how should I do that? That bears some thinking about. I could tell him right away. Perhaps I should wait until we're tucked up nice and comfy in the library tonight?"
In her mind she played out scene after scene, each a different setting, a different approach to convey the happy information. Elizabeth imagined her husband's reaction much the same in every version; sweeping her up into his strong arms and laughing delightedly!
The smile never left her face the entire trip. When she finally shut off the engine, safely at home once more, Elizabeth skipped her way to the front door and into the house.
It was quiet.
Elizabeth bit her lower lip, trying to think of where her husband and son might be at this hour. One of the maids appeared in the hallway and Elizabeth enquired of her as to the whereabouts of Will and William.
"The young Master is in his room , Ma'am." the young girl replied. "I believe Mr. Darcy is in his study."
Elizabeth thanked her and made her way to the study. She quietly opened the door and peered inside. Will was at his desk, the computer on, surrounded by papers. He was resting his head on one hand and mumbling to himself. Elizabeth smiled at the sight.
He turned around in his chair. "Hello, Elizabeth." he said wearily.
The smile left her face for the moment. "What's the matter?"
Will sighed. "Our son." He shook his head. "No, not William actually. I did it again. Left him in here for a few minutes when Mr. Braithwaite asked to speak with me."
"What did he do?"
Will motioned to the papers spread out before him. "I never realized that crayons came in so many colours."
Elizabeth looked at him worriedly. "Are they important papers?"
"Oh, no." Will replied in a sarcastic tone. "Just a few contracts and other legal documents. Nothing important at all!"
"Is that why William is in his room?"
Will nodded. "I thought it safer for all concerned. I needed the extra time to sort out this mess." He turned back to the desk. "I'll need to make a trip to London to have new copies drawn up of some of these."
Elizabeth approached his chair and stood behind him. Will leaned his head back against her, looking up into her face.
"I'm just thankful there's only one of him, my dear." he said. "I can't imagine how I'd cope with another."
Elizabeth's face fell. Will sat up and turned his chair around to face her.
"I'm sorry." Putting his arms around her waist, he pulled her onto his lap. "I didn't really mean that." Will knew she was disappointed with their lack of success after she had agreed, upon his urging, to try for another child immediately.
"I certainly hope not," Elizabeth said quietly as she placed her head on his shoulder.. "Considering...."
Will closed his eyes and pulled her closer. Suddenly her words struck him. He pushed her away slightly so that he could see her face. "Considering what?" He felt his heart beat faster, anticipating her reply.
Elizabeth's eyes sparkled as she smiled at him. "Considering that there will be more, at least one anyway, in another seven months."
Will was speechless. His eyes shone, his heart raced wildly and he was breathing quickly. Yet, surprisingly, he couldn't seem to form any words. He gathered Elizabeth up in his arms and stood. Smiling, then laughing, he spun her about the room until she pleaded with him to stop.
"You're making me dizzy!" she laughed.
Will immediately stopped and stood in the middle of the room, holding his wife close to his chest. He gazed into her shining eyes. "Seven months. That makes it February, then."
"February 23rd, actually."
"Our anniversary!" Will said, delighted. "We couldn't have planned it better!" He kissed her softly on her lips, then rested his forehead against hers. "Elizabeth, I've never been happier. I have you, William and now another little life to welcome into our family. Do I tell you often enough how much I love you?"
Elizabeth smiled back at him. "You tell me often, but I'll never tire of hearing it!" She tilted her face up to bring her mouth to his and gave a contented moan as their lips met.
Drinking in the sweet taste of her kiss, Will held on to her tightly, oblivious to everything but his own state of happiness.
It was thus that Mrs. Reynolds found them several minutes later. She smiled to herself at the sight of the two young people, so clearly in love with each other. It seems I worried for nought. The young Missus truly loves him, not just his money, she thought. I am so very pleased for them both, but my dear Fitzwilliam in particular. It warms my heart to see him so happy at last.
Seeing that there was no sign of them requiring anything of her within the next little while, Mrs. Reynolds quietly withdrew, closing the study door behind her.
As she was crossing the hall one of the young footmen rounded a corner, on his way to the study.
"Andrew?" Mrs. Reynolds called. The young man turned and looked at her inquiringly. The housekeeper shook her head. "If it's not important, don't be disturbing Mr. Darcy now."
The young man looked puzzled for a moment. "He asked me to come see him when I was done stocktakin' in the wine cellar."
"Well, I'm sure it will keep." Mrs. Reynolds replied. "I don't think he and Mrs. Darcy want to be disturbed at the moment."
Andrew's eyes slid to the closed door, then back to the housekeeper. "I see." he said, a knowing smile on his face.
Mrs. Reynolds drew herself up taller. There was nothing she despised more than gossip amongst the staff. The Darcys certainly gave them more than enough to talk about. She'd lost count of the number of times that one of the staff had walked into a room only to discover that it wasn't empty. Occasionally that person was able to leave without being noticed, but not often. Mr. Darcy had asked her to remind her people to knock first, and he stressed that it be loudly, before entering any room in this house, at any time during the day. That had helped, of course, but it did nothing to reduce the chatter amongst the younger ones.
"You can keep those thoughts to yourself, Andrew. Go on about your business."
Andrew nodded solemnly and retreated down the hall. Mrs. Reynolds sighed, knowing that yet another evening would be spent reminding them to hold their tongues and show some respect for their employer. Once again she turned and made her way back downstairs.
In the study, Elizabeth was finally able to persuade her husband to put her down.
"Will," she said, as he placed her gently on the chair by the window. "Could we keep this news to ourselves, at least for a little while?"
He looked at her in surprise. "Why?" She thought he seemed a little disappointed at her request. "I know Georgiana will be excited to hear it."
"I'm sure she will be. But my mother will be even more excited by the news, and I would like to have a little time for just the two of us to enjoy it, without all the well-wishers descending upon us."
Will smiled and nodded in understanding. "So be it, then." He sat down on the arm of her chair and put an arm around her shoulders. "It will be our little secret for a bit." He kissed the top of her head as Elizabeth leaned against him. "But not for too long. I want to shout it from the rooftops!"