Unedited beta version
Upon leaving the drawing room, Elizabeth felt an urgent need to check on her sister. Upon entering Jane’s room, Elizabeth found her sister resting in bed, her cheeks flushed from the remnants of her illness. Despite her fatigue, Jane greeted Elizabeth with a warm smile.
“How are you faring?” Elizabeth inquired, her concern evident in her eyes.
“I am much better, Lizzy,” Jane replied, her voice soft and reassuring. “I shall be well enough to travel in a day or two.”
Elizabeth sighed, her relief palpable. “I shall be glad to be away from Netherfield. The superior sisters wish me miles away,” she confessed. “Only your Mr Bingley is civil and attentive.”
“He is not my Mr Bingley, Lizzy.”
“Oh, I think he is. Or he very soon will be.”
Jane smiles and they chuckle.
Elizabeth descended the grand staircase, the soft rustle of her skirts providing a gentle soundtrack to her journey. As she reached the bottom, a servant approached, bowing respectfully.
“Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley is in the drawing room,” he informed her.
“Thank you,” she replied, her heart quickening at the prospect of seeing Mr. Bingley and perhaps gaining some insight into her sister’s condition.
As she approached the drawing room, the sound of balls striking against one another reached her ears. Curiosity piqued, she peered into an adjoining room and discovered Mr. Darcy, his broad back toward her as he engaged in a solitary game of billiards. The sight of him, tall and commanding in his focused pursuit, sent a shiver down her spine.
He must have sensed her presence, for he suddenly stopped and turned, his eyes meeting hers. Straightening, he offered a bow, his expression amused with a raised eyebrow. Elizabeth, flustered by the unexpected encounter and embarrassed by their encounter the evening before. She flushed deeply and quickly turned away, leaving the room without a word.
Her heart pounding, she made her way into the drawing room, seeking solace in its familiar surroundings. Picking up a book that lay on a nearby table, she settled into a plush chair and tried to focus on the words before her. Yet, her thoughts kept straying to the man in the other room who knew her secret, the enigmatic Mr. Darcy, who had captured her imagination in a most disconcerting manner.
As Elizabeth continued to read, her fingers gripping the edge of her book, she couldn’t help but feel the simmering tension in the room. The Bingleys and Hursts played their card game, their laughter and groans punctuating the air, but she remained acutely aware of Mr. Darcy’s presence. He had entered the room just moments before, his eyes momentarily meeting hers , causing her to flush against her will to control it lest the Bingley sisters notice, before he found a spot by the fireplace.
“Will you join us, Miss Bennet?” Mrs. Hurst asked with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Elizabeth looked up, her eyes soft but resolute. “I thank you, no.”
Mr. Hurst, unaccustomed to being refused, scoffed in disdain. “You prefer reading to cards, do you? Singular.”
“Miss Bennet despises cards,” Miss Bingley interjected, her tone arch and somewhat mocking. “She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
Mrs. Hurst chuckled, the sound grating on Elizabeth’s nerves.
It was then that Mr. Darcy, who had been quietly observing the exchange, chose to intervene. “Surely, Miss Bennet’s penchant for literature is a testament to her intellect and refined tastes,” he began, his voice measured and calm. “And perhaps the book she reads this evening,” he glanced at Elizabeth, a hint of a smile playing on his lips, “offers her a level of excitement that cards could never provide.”
A shiver traveled down Elizabeth’s spine, her cheeks warming as she struggled to maintain her composure. “Indeed, Mr. Darcy, I find that literature offers a wealth of experiences and insights that transcend the boundaries of a simple card game.”
For a moment, their eyes locked, she knew not why she brazenly taunted him, the shared secret igniting a spark between them. The air in the room seemed to grow warmer, and the din of laughter and conversation faded into the background as the connection between them strengthened.
Miss Bingley, sensing the shift in the room, narrowed her eyes, her jealousy evident.
The evening wore on, and the room’s occupants settled into their respective pastimes. Mr. Hurst, having overindulged in spirits, lay sprawled upon a couch, snoring softly. Mr. Darcy, ensconced in a corner, appeared engrossed in his book, while Elizabeth continued to lose herself in her own literary world.
Miss Bingley, in a thinly veiled attempt to appear erudite, paced about the room, feigning interest in her book while stealing glances at Mr. Darcy. Growing impatient with her lack of success in capturing Mr. Darcy’s attention, Miss Bingley closed her book with an audible sigh and sauntered toward him.
Positioning herself nearby, she leaned over his book, her posture deliberately provocative, as she inquired in a saccharine tone, “Mr. Darcy, what are you reading? It must be quite captivating to hold your attention so.”
He looked up, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly as he regarded her with a mixture of annoyance and disinterest. “It is a treatise on agriculture, Miss Bingley. I find it quite informative.”
Miss Bingley pursed her lips, clearly displeased with his response. “How very… practical,” she managed, attempting to maintain her composure. “Perhaps you might share with me the most interesting passages?”
Mr. Darcy’s gaze flicked to Elizabeth, who was deeply absorbed in her book. A subtle smile played on his lips as he replied, “I fear, Miss Bingley, that our tastes in literature differ greatly. You may not find this work as engaging as I do.”
Elizabeth’s breath caught in her throat. Her cheeks burned, and she tried her best to maintain her composure, her eyes remaining fixed on the pages before her. However, her curiosity got the better of her, and she ventured a glance up at Mr. Darcy.
Their eyes met, and she found him gazing at her with a slight smile playing on his lips, the intensity of his gaze sending a shiver down her spine.
Suddenly feeling exposed, Elizabeth’s heart raced as she snapped her book shut and stood, her voice a touch breathless as she announced, “I believe I shall retire for the night.”
Not waiting for a response, she quickly made her way to the door, her exit swift and a touch unsteady.
Mr. Darcy’s gaze followed her every step, his eyes lingering on the empty doorway long after she had disappeared from sight.
Unbeknownst to him, Caroline Bingley frowned as she observed Mr. Darcy’s unwavering attention towards Elizabeth, her jealousy flaring at the undeniable connection between the two.
In the quiet sanctuary of her bedchamber, Elizabeth tossed and turned beneath the covers, her mind far from the realm of sleep. The erotic novel she had been reading now haunted her thoughts, the vivid images it had painted playing out like a private theater in her imagination. She longed to know what happened next in the tale, but the memory of Mr. Darcy’s knowing gaze held her back, the embarrassment of being caught once more too great a risk.
She glanced at the clock on the mantel, the ticking of its hands a maddening reminder of the sleep that eluded her. The house was silent, the occupants long since retired to their own rooms, leaving Elizabeth to wrestle with her own desires.
After a deep, steadying breath, she made a decision. Slipping from beneath the covers, she donned her dressing gown and tiptoed to her door. With a careful ear to the hallway, she listened for any sign of movement, her heart pounding in her chest. When she was certain the coast was clear, she stepped out into the dimly lit corridor, her destination clear: the library.
As she made her way through the shadows, Elizabeth could not help but feel a mix of excitement and trepidation. Her yearning to know what happened next in the novel battled with her fear of being discovered again by Mr. Darcy. And yet, there was a small part of her that wondered, would it truly be so terrible if he caught her once more?
Shaking the thought from her mind, she finally reached the library door, her pulse racing as she pushed it open and stepped inside. The room was bathed in darkness, the only light coming from the moon’s silvery glow filtering through the windows. With practiced ease, she navigated the shelves, her fingers grazing the spines until they found the object of her desire.
Clutching the book to her chest, Elizabeth retreated to a secluded corner, her back pressed against the cold wall as she opened to the page she had last read. And as her eyes danced over the words, she couldn’t help but think of Mr. Darcy and the knowing look he had directed at her earlier that evening. Unbidden, her heart raced with anticipation, and she began to read, allowing the forbidden tale to sweep her away once more.
As Elizabeth read the sensual words on the page, she became fully engrossed in the erotic passage, the vivid imagery stirring a heat within her that she had never experienced before. Unaware of anything but the story unfolding before her, she did not hear the soft creak of the library door opening, nor the quiet footsteps that entered the room.
Mr. Darcy, having been unable to sleep, had decided to seek solace in the library himself. He moved silently through the darkness, his eyes adjusting to the dim light from the moon. It was only when he caught sight of Elizabeth, her back pressed against the wall and her face flushed as she read, that he stopped in his tracks.
For a moment, he merely stood there, watching her, his chest tightening at the sight. He could see the rapid rise and fall of her chest, her breath hitched with each scandalous word she absorbed. It was only when he realized that the book in her hands was the very same erotic novel he had discovered her reading the night before that his heart skipped a beat.
The air between them seemed to crackle, and Mr. Darcy knew he should announce his presence. But the sight of Elizabeth, so captivated and vulnerable in her secret pursuit, held him captive. He could not bring himself to disturb her, nor could he tear his eyes away.
Finally, Elizabeth reached the end of the passage, her pulse racing as the words echoed in her mind. She slowly raised her head, as if sensing the presence of another, and her eyes met Mr. Darcy’s in the shadows.
The shock of being discovered once more brought color flooding to her cheeks, her heart pounding in her chest. But this time, there was something different in Mr. Darcy’s gaze. Gone was the surprise and mild amusement of their first encounter; now his eyes were dark and intense, mirroring the desire that burned within her own soul, inflamed by the passages of the book she had been reading.
Neither of them spoke, their breaths mingling in the charged silence. The weight of their unspoken desires hung heavy in the air, threatening to consume them both as they stood locked in each other’s gaze, the erotic novel still clutched tightly in Elizabeth’s trembling hands.