Surprise! This chapter wasn’t going to be posted until Monday, but the release date for Mr. Darcy’s Enchantment has been moved up. Yes, it’s now coming out November 27! You can already order the paperback or pre-order the Kindle version.
Missed the earlier chapters? Click here for Chapter 1.
Without more ado, here’s Chapter 4!
Richard strolled in and stopped short at the sight of Darcy. “I had not expected to find you here. I thought you would be keeping Miss Bennet company.”
Darcy scowled. “I doubt Miss Bennet wishes for my company, especially after I disrupted her visit by bringing her here. And I might point out you apparently decided not to remain with her as well.”
Richard sat down in the leather armchair and stretched his legs out in front of him. “I was writing a letter to my father. Since it was about Miss Bennet, I thought it better done in privacy.”
Darcy stiffened. “You wrote to your father about her?”
“Of course. He will want to meet her.”
“No need to snap at me, old fellow! Because she has information about Faerie, of course. He may or may not already be aware of the practices of wisewomen, but you know how anxious he is to learn anything about Faerie. She has only been there very briefly, but that is more than anyone else we are aware of. And…”
“And what?” A weight settled on Darcy’s chest.
Richard leaned forward and spoke quietly. “She knows the fay spell for shape-changing. She cannot do it, but she knows the words. My father would sell his soul for that spell.”
“Even though it does not work?”
“Come now, Darcy. Just because an untrained girl cannot make it work does not mean my father cannot. If there is a spell that has defeated him, I do not know of it.” Richard rubbed his hands together.
A bitter taste stung Darcy’s mouth. While Lord Matlock might not sell his soul for the spell, he would certainly sell his son. Richard had made no secret of his admiration for Elizabeth, but her pittance of a dowry had put her out of his reach. That spell alone would be an enormous dowry. “Elizabeth is unlikely to wish to meet your father. She has made it clear she wanted as little as possible to do with the mages, much less the Master of the Collegium.”
“She need not fear him. You know that as well as I do. I will say nothing of it to her for now. If he is not in London, that letter might take a week to reach him. I told him I could not bring her to him, so he would have to come here. Once she meets him, she will understand he would not hurt her.”
It was better not to answer that. Let Richard learn for himself that Elizabeth did not like to be coerced.
“Of course, this means I must remain here until I hear from my father. I know you were eager to leave before any of this happened, so if you wish, you can return to London tomorrow while I manage matters here.”
An hour ago Darcy had been cursing the fate forcing him to stay at Rosings, subject to the agony and the humiliation of being in Elizabeth’s company. But Richard’s plan to manage things might include managing a ring onto Elizabeth’s finger. “I prefer to remain for now. I am Anne’s guardian, and I do not wish to face our aunt’s righteous wrath if she discovers I abandoned my duty.” Did it sound like a good enough reason?
“Good. If you are still here when she recovers, you can be the one to explain why we allowed a wisewoman to treat her and that we discovered her secret. She will take it better from you.”
The butler brought in a calling card and silver tray. Who would be calling at this hour? Darcy read the card and snorted. “Collins. You had best receive him, Richard. I would end up saying something I would regret.” Darcy headed for the door.
“Oh, thank you so very much, my dear cousin!” Richard called after him in a falsetto voice.
A quiet knock at Lady Catherine’s bedroom door made Elizabeth snap shut the lady’s magazine she had been paging through. She had not been reading it, anyway, only using it to disguise her discomfort. She kept hearing Colonel Fitzwilliam telling her that Darcy had known about her magic all along. That one fact turned everything she thought she knew of him on end. He had sought out her company, even offered her marriage, knowing she had magic. It sounded as if his family would even expect him to marry a woman with magic. If only she had known! She would have given anything to find a mage who supported her use of her abilities. She would have been beyond grateful for his attentions, no matter how proud and disdainful he might be. But how could she have guessed that his beliefs were in opposition to the Collegium?
How could she face him now, after the accusations she had made to him when he offered her his hand? She had misjudged him so badly. And now she could not stop thinking about him.
Charlotte rose from her seat by Lady Catherine’s bedside and opened the door. “Mr. Darcy, do come in.”
Heat flooded Elizabeth as she stood and curtsied. Oh, why must she be so embarrassed by his very presence? He had no doubt only come to inquire after his aunt, and most likely he was not even thinking about her. After all, he had shown no interest in her earlier apart from her treatment of Lady Catherine, and had left as soon as that was done. He could hardly have made his wish to avoid her company any clearer.
“Has there been any change?” he asked Charlotte, his face impassive.
Charlotte gestured towards Lady Catherine’s bed. “No improvement, but no worsening either. We have been dabbing her lips with essence of feverfew. Some say it may be helpful in treatment of elfshot.”
“Pray inform me if there is any change. Mrs. Collins, might I have the honor of a private conversation with Miss Elizabeth?”
Oh, no. What could he possibly want to tell her that he could not say in front of Charlotte? Could he possibly wish to return to the subject of his offer of marriage? No, that was impossible. Not after the way she had treated him.
His mouth twisted. “There is nothing to worry about, Miss Elizabeth. I merely wish to share a piece of information with you.” He did not trouble to keep the irony out of his voice. He must have guessed what she was thinking.
Charlotte looked concerned, as well she might. “If Lizzy wishes to speak to you, I have no objection.”
Darcy tilted his head. “Miss Elizabeth, perhaps we could speak in the sitting room with the door open. Mrs. Collins would be able to see us there.” There was no warmth in his voice.
She could hardly refuse, so she walked ahead of him into the sitting room. “Yes, Mr. Darcy?”
He paced across the small space before turning back to her. “You told my cousin that you know the fay shape-changing spell.” He did not sound pleased.
Why was she longing for some sign of softening in his face? He had every reason to dislike her. “I know the words, but I cannot make it work.”
“Miss Elizabeth, those words, whether you can employ them or not, would be worth a great deal to certain people. A very great deal indeed. I would suggest that you do not give them away.”
She moistened her lips with her tongue. “I do not understand what you mean.”
If anything, his expression darkened. “You should not tell them to anyone without extracting something in return. You could get almost anything you like. An estate which is not entailed away to Mr. Collins. A dowry. A guarantee that no mage will ever put a binding spell on you.”
“I see.” Was it possible he was trying to help her?
“But once you tell anyone those words, you give away that power.”
Why was he telling her this? “Am I to assume mages are the ones who would seek the spell? Will they attempt to trick me into giving it to them?”
“I would hope not. My concern was more that you might freely offer the spell, unaware that you could purchase your own safety with it. Your other knowledge about the fay is valuable as well, but that spell particularly so.”
She looked down at her hands for a moment and then deliberately met his eyes. “I thank you for telling me this. Especially since you could have simply asked me for the spell and I would have told you it.”
His throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. “I know what it is like to be threatened with a binding spell. I would not wish it on you or anyone.”
Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “You know that fear?”
“It is nothing now,” he said dismissively. “Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make it appear I had been abusing my abilities, and the punishment for that is binding.”
“Oh. I am sorry you faced that.” She meant it. It would break her heart to see his pride and cleverness brought down by a binding spell. How could anyone think he would do such a thing, or that he would allow himself to be caught? “It is a silly idea.”
Now he looked furious. He must have misunderstood her.
She said quickly, “Oh, your expression! I meant only that if you were to misuse your powers – and I by no means intend to suggest you would – but if you were to do so, you would cover your tracks so carefully that no one would ever dream of connecting it to you. You would never do it in a careless, obvious manner. That is all.”
His anger seemed to vanish, replaced by a slight smile. “Very perceptive, Miss Elizabeth. It is a pity you were not on the Board of Inquiry.”
Hesitantly she smiled back.
“Lizzy!” Mrs. Collins’s voice interrupted the moment of connection. “Her ladyship’s eyes are open again.”
“Excuse me,” Elizabeth murmured as she hurried back into the bedroom.
Lady Catherine’s eyes were indeed wide open and staring straight up again, the pupils dilated. Elizabeth waved a hand in front of her face, but she showed no awareness, just as she had not when the elfshot was in her arm. “I wish I could tell you what that means, but I have no idea,” Elizabeth said.
Lady Catherine’s eyelids slid closed.
“How odd,” said Mrs. Collins.
Darcy said, “Mrs. Collins, I forgot to mention your husband is downstairs with Colonel Fitzwilliam. I imagine he is curious about your presence here. While I greatly appreciate your assistance, I can hardly expect you to stay longer.”
Charlotte glanced at her. “And Lizzy?”
“That is up to her, of course,” he said in a level voice.
“I would think it wise for her to remain here. If something should change in Lady Catherine’s condition, it would be difficult to explain why you would come to the parsonage in the middle of the night to fetch Lizzy.”
How could she stay the night in the same house with him? But she had no excuse for refusing. “Very well; I will remain here.”
“Will Mr. Collins object?” Darcy asked Charlotte.
Mrs. Collins shook her head. “I will tell him Lady Catherine, in a brief moment of consciousness, expressed a preference for Lizzy to tend to her. He will accept that. I will stay here with her tonight, if that is not inconvenient.”
Darcy bowed. “Thank you. We would be happy to have both of you. I think it would be safe now to allow the maids to assist you. We have explained to them that Lady Catherine hit her head and has not yet regained consciousness. The surgeon should be here shortly, and we will ask him to use the same story.”
“Very well. I suppose I must speak to my husband before he annoys Colonel Fitzwilliam past his endurance,” said Mrs. Collins. “Would you accompany me, Mr. Darcy?”
He inclined his head. “I will be happy to.”
Elizabeth let out a breath she had not known she was holding. Suddenly she did not want him to leave, not until she had managed to thank him properly. By all rights, he should be bitterly angry at her after the acrimonious manner of her refusal, but somehow he had overcome that in an attempt to help her avoid her greatest fear. Surely that required some sort of acknowledgment, and if she did not say something now, she would never find the courage to do so.
But he was already following Charlotte out the door.
She had to stop him. “Mr. Darcy, may I ask you a question?”
He turned immediately. “Of course, Miss Elizabeth.” Was there some gentleness in his tone?
She bit her lip. A question. She needed to ask a question that showed he had earned some of her trust. “My cat, Pepper. Did you notice anything unusual about her?”
He shook his head. “Not apart from her name and her eyes.”
“She is fay, or at least part fay. Is that something other mages might notice?” She watched him anxiously.
He stiffened, his eyes wide, and paused before answering. “It is not something I have ever considered. Richard is very sensitive to magic, and he did not seem to notice anything, so I would suspect no one else would. But I will give the matter further thought.”
“Thank you. I would prefer it if no one recognized her true nature. She is very important to me.” Would he understand that this was her apology for distrusting him?
“I will certainly do anything in my power to distract anyone’s attention from Pepper.”
She smiled in relief. He had understood. “I thank you.”
He hesitated. “I hope I will have the opportunity to meet Pepper again now that I know this.”
With a playful look, she said, “That will be up to Pepper. Like any other cat, she makes her own decisions.”
Darcy looked up from his book as Elizabeth entered the library. His heart lurched at the sight, even as the pressure of the elements receded.
She stopped short as soon as she saw him. “Pardon me. I did not mean to disturb you. I was looking for a book to read.” She stood poised like a doe preparing to flee the hunter.
How could her presence disturb him when he could hardly focus on his book for thoughts of her? He had not spoken to her alone at all yesterday, only a brief conversation in front of the servants about Lady Catherine’s health. Otherwise she had stayed in Lady Catherine’s bedroom all day. Since there had been no change in his aunt’s status, he could only assume she had been hiding from him, a bitter disappointment after the amicability of the end of their discussion of Pepper. “Pray come in and take your pick. I imagine it must be dull watching Lady Catherine sleep.”
She seemed to relax a bit. “I do not mind. It is a novel experience to be in her presence for so long without earning a reprimand of some sort. Fortunately Charlotte and her maid take over when she awakens.”
“Rosings does seem unusually quiet without her.” Clearly he still made her nervous. Perhaps he could remind her of their moment of agreement. “I have been hoping to ask you more about Pepper. I cannot recall ever noticing anything unusual about her apart from her eyes and her willingness to travel with you. She seemed like any other cat.”
“I am glad to hear it.”
He decided to push his advantage. “If she is part fay, what is the other part? A normal cat?”
“I do not know. I have assumed she is not fully fay since everyone can see her, not just children, but she is not an ordinary cat. She can disappear when she wishes. Even I cannot see her if she does not want to be seen.” Elizabeth crossed to the window and opened one pane.
“Some fresh air?” It was a chilly day for it.
“Not exactly.” She studied the view briefly.
Astonished, Darcy said, “Is that a white raven? I have never seen one before, much less a tame one.”
“Look closer.” There was laughter in Elizabeth’s voice as she carried the bird towards him. “Pepper dear, do you remember Mr. Darcy? I have been telling him about you.”
Surely she could not believe this bird was her cat!
The white raven stretched its wings, showing a wider wingspan than Darcy had expected. With a soft caw, it took to the air, circled the library once, and landed on Darcy’s shoulder.
Darcy stared at the bird. He had never seen a live bird at such close range. How tiny the feathers on its face were! It tilted its head as if studying him. Was one of its eyes yellow? With a sudden move, it caught a lock of his hair in its beak and tugged it. Hard. Darcy winced.
“Be kind, Pepper. Mr. Darcy wants to help us stay safe.”
This was altogether too strange for Darcy’s comfort. “Are you telling me your cat changes shape?”
Elizabeth smirked. “Actually, I thought I was showing you.”
The bird pecked at his nose. Quite distinctly it said, “Mrrow.”
“Good God!” cried Darcy. Birds were not supposed to meow!
“Pepper, do take pity on the poor man. He has never conceived of a creature as astonishing as you.”
The white raven hopped onto Darcy’s leg and began to preen itself. Somehow it blurred around the edges, and suddenly became the familiar white cat. Pepper licked her paw and rubbed it across her face as if this were a perfectly normal occasion.
In a strangled voice, Darcy managed to say, “I grant you this is not an ordinary cat.”
“No, she is quite extraordinary,” said Elizabeth with some pride. “And vain of her beauty. She likes to be scratched under her ears.”
Darcy followed her instructions, though it took more courage than he cared to admit. “Does she turn into other animals?”
“Not that I know of, but she seems to understand what I say, at least when she chooses to. She often ignores me as well. She knows when I want her. It was not mere chance that she flew to this window. But most of the time she is like any other cat, except that she happens to turn into a bird.”
Pepper began to purr.
He tried to gather his scattered wits. “Is she a phouka, then? In the old stories, cat and raven are two of the shapes phoukas can take, but I thought all phoukas were dark.”
“I have no idea what she is, and she is not telling. I only know she is a very beautiful kitty, aren’t you, Pepper?” She leaned down to pat the cat’s head.
How was he to think clearly with her body right in front of his face, her scent of lavender tickling his nose? “I do not think other mages would suspect her. I cannot imagine anyone thinking to test your cat with iron.”
The cat narrowed her eyes at him, as if to suggest anyone who did so would regret it.
To his regret, Elizabeth straightened. “I hope not.”
Think. He needed to think of something to say that was not related to the neckline of her dress. “I suppose this explains how she could come to Kent with you.”
“As far as I know, she flew. The basket she was supposed to be in held a loaf of bread.”
The cat stood and arched her back in a stretch. She reached one paw up to touch Darcy below his left ear. Without warning she dug in a claw and scratched him.
“Ouch! What was that for?” Darcy demanded, as if the cat might answer him. And he had liked the creature!
Elizabeth held up her hand. “Wait. Do not move.”
Now the dratted cat put both front paws on his shoulder. Did she expect him to let her scratch him again? But Elizabeth had told him not to move.
Instead of a sharp claw, a raspy tongue rubbed over the scratched spot. How very strange! As he held still, he felt a tiny prickle of power. “She is using magic!” he said accusingly. “What is she doing?”
“The fay call it marking. It tells other fay that she trusts you. Pepper marked me when she first came to live with me.” Elizabeth turned her head and pushed aside her ringlets to reveal a tiny scar beneath her left ear.
The sight of her exposed neck made him dizzy. “It makes no sense.”
“No, but do the fay ever make sense? They seem to delight in being illogical. I do not claim to understand Pepper. I do not even know why she chooses to live with me rather than in Faerie.”
Pepper seemed satisfied with her work and curled up again on Darcy’s lap, but he no longer found it relaxing. He did not like unpredictability and things he could not understand. At least the scratch no longer hurt. Darcy reached up to touch the spot where she had clawed him. The flesh was not even tender, and he could feel no more than a tiny ridge. “Could it be healed already?” he asked Elizabeth.
She peered at the spot beneath his ear, torturing him again with the sight of her chest. “It appears to be. I am sorry she hurt you. She does like you. It is rare for her to sit on anyone’s lap but my own.”
Richard strode into the room. “Here you are. That cat is going to leave fur all over you, Darcy.”
That was the least of Darcy’s worries about Pepper.
“Miss Bennet, the sun is finally out, and I wondered if you would care to go for a stroll in the gardens,” said Richard.
Darcy glared at him, but before Elizabeth could even respond, a familiar hearty voice came from the entrance hall. “Never mind. I’ll show myself in.”
Elizabeth quickly rose to her feet. What man would dare to march into Rosings uninvited? Neither Darcy nor the colonel appeared particularly surprised, though.
A stout older gentleman with long sideburns strode into the room, his gloves in one hand. “There you are, my boy. And Darcy, too, I see.”
Pepper jumped off Darcy’s lap and ran behind Elizabeth’s skirts.
Darcy bowed. “Welcome to Rosings, sir.”
The man tossed his dusty gloves on a side table, apparently oblivious to the fact that a servant would have to clean it as a result. “Catherine has got herself in a spot of trouble, I understand. How is she?”
“Improving slowly,” said the colonel. “She awakens briefly but speaks only nonsense. Sometimes she throws things.”
The older man guffawed. “Sounds like typical Catherine to me! I thought I had best check in on her myself. And is this the young lady who provided such signal assistance when my dear sister was taken ill?”
Pepper hissed softly.
“Yes, it is,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Miss Bennet, might I have the honor of presenting my father, Lord Matlock?”
The Earl of Matlock, the Master of the Collegium of Mages. And someone had told him about her. Elizabeth caught her breath, her shoulders stiff. Somehow she managed to curtsy and murmur, “It is an honor, my lord.”
He advanced until he was standing directly in front of her. “Well, well, well. You have certainly managed to impress my son. He mentioned you in his letter. It seems we all owe you a great debt of gratitude.”
She could feel goosebumps rising on her arms. “Lady Catherine has been very gracious to me. I was happy to assist her in my own small way.”
Why was he looking at her so expectantly? Surely he did not expect her to offer him her hand. She would never take such a liberty with a peer of the realm! But he had raised his own hand, so she had no choice but to offer hers. What odd manners he had!
His hand closed around her fingers. The tingle of magic prickled her skin. The flavor of it was different from Darcy’s or the colonel’s, or even her father’s, but it was still familiar. It was like –
“You!” she cried involuntarily, pulling her hand away and wiping it fiercely on her skirt. She jumped behind a chair. It would not offer her any protection from a mage, but it was all she had. Her heart pounded with terror.
“Miss Bennet, I assure you that I intend you no harm,” said the earl. “I am looking forward to knowing you better.”
The colonel said, “It is true. He will not hurt you.”
Elizabeth stared at the colonel in disbelieving horror. “I trusted you. I trusted both of you. I could have let your aunt die instead of taking the risk of exposing myself. I believed you when you claimed not to support using binding spells on women, but that was not true, was it? Neither of you could perform a binding spell, so you sent for someone who could. And I trusted you!”
Darcy looked stricken, as well he might. Had he thought she would never learn the truth? And she had told him Pepper’s secret as well. What a fool she had been! And now she would pay the price.
Colonel Fitzwilliam came up beside her. “I did not deceive you. I assure you my father can be trusted. I only told him about you because I knew he would want to hear your story.”
Lord Matlock wore an air of saintly patience. “This is all a misunderstanding. I give you my word as a gentleman that I will not perform a binding spell on you. I never do them. I find them unnecessary. My own daughter has magic, and she is unbound.”
Elizabeth felt trapped. “But you put one on your niece! I recognize your touch. Tell me, was Miss de Bourgh once able to speak in complete sentences? Did she always become lost halfway through a thought? Did she know how to have an everyday conversation before you made her into half a person?”
The colonel was shaking his head. “Anne is not under a binding spell. That is the way she has always been.”
Darcy said slowly, “Miss Bennet was correct about Lady Catherine’s powers. If she says Anne is under a binding spell, I have to wonder if that may be true as well. I do not know who might have performed it –”
The earl held up a hand to silence him. “You are correct, Miss Bennet. I congratulate you on your powers of observation. The binding spell on my niece is of my making, but it was because of an extraordinarily dangerous situation, quite unlike your own, and there was no other choice short of imprisonment. I did it with the utmost reluctance.”
“It is always with the utmost reluctance, is it not? I would rather die than be bound.” Desperate, Elizabeth glanced from side to side. Escape was impossible, but she had to try. She darted around them, but before she could reach the door, an invisible net halted her in her tracks. She struggled against it with all her strength, but it made no difference.
Darcy cried, “Let her go, I implore you! This is not the way –”
A blur of white fur flew across the room. Lord Matlock gave a roar of pain. “Get this thing off me!”
The invisible bindings holding her slipped away. Elizabeth fled.
Uh-oh! Just when things were going so well, too. 🙂 Next chapter will be on Monday, just before the release.
What do you think of mixing Pride & Prejudice with fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts