The Second Mr. Wickham

{Below is a short story I wrote for a Jane Austen Short Story contest. (Yes, I adore Jane Austen like all proper single girls with a thing for British accents.) It’s the only completed piece of fiction I have, and while it’s not altogether amazing, I truly enjoyed writing it. Enjoy!}

It is of no small consequence that this Mr. Wickham’s first name is, contrary to what might be assumed, Geoffrey. Geoffrey himself thought it to be most pertinent, especially considering the fact that he was, to his great misfortune, in possession of a twin brother by the name of George. However, when facing the somber and enraged expressions on the faces of Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy respectively, something as little as his first name seemed inconsequential. Had he been granted the gift of foresight, Geoffrey was convinced he would have cleared up the small misunderstanding the moment he found Mr. Darcy’s hand around his throat and his own back up against the wall. But with Mr. Darcy robbing him of breath and Mr. Gardiner expounding on the notions of honor, innocence, and feminine virtue, there quite simply was not time. And with Miss Lydia Bennett begging Mr. Darcy to release her beloved Wickham as tears streamed down her face and her nightgown slipped precariously from her shoulder, Geoffrey was unmistakably convinced that nothing in the world would have dissuaded his captors from the notion that he was most certainly not his debauched brother George, other than perhaps George himself.

Mr. Gardiner seemed to finally recognize the immodesty of Miss Lydia’s dress and ushered her quickly from the room, her tears disappearing as quickly as her audience. With the closed door giving the captor and captive a new privacy, Mr. Darcy lost no time in issuing Geoffrey a swift blow to his right cheek, before releasing his grip on Geoffrey’s throat, which caused him to slump to the floor in a senseless heap.

“You cannot even begin to imagine the predicament you have caused,” Mr. Darcy began in a steady tone that belied his scowling visage and reddened knuckles. “You have acted dishonorably and brought pain to those you apparently care nothing for. The good name of your father and my father is worse for its connection to you, and were they alive to see what you have become, they would be heartily ashamed.”

As Mr. Darcy paced about the small parlor, Geoffrey tried to find his voice, but was still unable to articulate anything other than a pathetic choking sound which seemed to give Mr. Darcy a rather guilty sense of satisfaction if his arched brow told Geoffrey anything. As he tried to rise from his rather demeaning location on the floor, Mr. Darcy grabbed his upper arm and shoved him into a chair by the fire. Rubbing his bruised cheek, Geoffrey decided this would be the perfect time for his wayward brother to make one of his ill-timed entrances. While Geoffrey glanced longingly at the door, Mr. Darcy turned back to him, his arms crossed over his chest with a menacing look that Geoffrey would have been terrified of had he been ten years younger and truly guilty.

With a disgusted shake of his head, Mr. Darcy asked, “Do you think of no one but yourself? Do you ever consider the consequences of the actions you take and how they could very well destroy other people? The entire Bennett family could be ruined by your selfish choices, but did that thought enter into your thoughts as you dragged Lydia into this den of ill-repute? Of course it did not, because that would require a sense of compassion, which I am most certain that you lack. The only thing that concerned you was your own pleasure. For God’s sake, she’s but a child! Was there no one else you could find to fulfill your needs?”

Geoffrey, though quite aware of the distress his brother had caused for it was the very reason he had come to London, was in agreement with the lack of respect George’s actions revealed, but he was quite through with being mistaken as his idiot of a twin brother. With a breathless voice, he could only whisper, “It was not I.”

Mr. Darcy was rendered immobile by the quiet words and took three steps towards Geoffrey in order to loom over Geoffrey’s now black and blue face. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said,” Geoffrey repeated with stronger words backed more by conviction than volume, “It was not I that committed the crimes you accuse me of.”

“Do you think me a fool? I have the unfortunate pleasure of being as acquainted with you as if you were a brother, and you try to convince me that you are not George Wickham?”

“As I have the misfortune of truly being the brother of George, I would prefer to remain as disentangled from his crimes as possible,” Geoffrey said as he rose and retrieved a small swallow of brandy to calm his burning throat. “I am sure that is something you can understand.”

“I assure you, there is nothing about what you have said that I understand, much less believe. Have you conjured up a twin brother at who’s feet you will now begin to lay the blame of your immoral decisions? Do you wish to escape from what you have done?” Mr. Darcy’s fist clenched with what Geoffrey decided was impatience and a desire to give his left cheek a matching mark.

“My name is Geoffrey Wickham. My father was the steward to your father while he lived. George is my twin brother, born a mere thirteen minutes prior to my own birth. Had the order been reversed, it would have been myself that would have remained with my parents at Pemberley rather than George. As it was, my father and mother could not afford to keep two children, thus a choice had to be made. I was sent to my mother’s sister, who had recently lost a child during childbirth. I was raised with my father’s name and better opportunities.” Geoffrey looked to Mr. Darcy, who was unable to decipher the truth of the man’s words, and continued his tale. “I have heard of my brother’s debauched youth. You’re housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, would write my aunt when George remained at Pemberley.”

“Why has no one spoke of this before? Why has your brother never mentioned it?” Mr. Darcy demanded as his shock began to give way to incredulity.

“I cannot guess the purpose behind such secrecy. I was told at the age of nine that I had a twin brother, but was unable to see him due to a lack of opportunity. It was not until my aunt died a few months ago that I found the letters from Mrs. Reynolds and was told of Pemberley. By that time, of course, George was no longer residing there. I was visiting friends in Brighton when I heard of the scandal my brother had caused. In a twist of fate, I found myself in a position to right at least one of my brother’s many wrongs. I entered this rented room not much sooner than yourself to find a disheveled young woman under the mistaken impression that I was George. Before I could correct her, you and your companion interrupted.”

“I should apologize for my rash reaction,” Mr. Darcy said, gesturing towards Geoffrey’s eye, “But I’m not entirely sure I believe you. How could George have a brother he did not know?”

“I know nothing that would truly convince you of my sincerity other than George’s presence, which is unlikely if he knows you have discovered his place of hiding.”

“Why did you never return to Pemberley? My father saw your family well provided for. George received more than most in his station in life. The same should have been done for you.”

“Only my father would be able to answer that question, which we both know would be impossible.”

“He passed on some years ago. You were unable to meet him?”

“I never had the privilege of knowing my parents. Do these questions mean that you have decided to believe my story?”

Mr. Darcy began pacing, a motion Geoffrey tried to follow with his eyes, only to have the subtle ache in his head triple in pain and force, causing him to resume his seat on the chair. Pausing in front of the large window, Mr. Darcy began to speak, almost as if to himself. “Lydia must marry to preserve her reputation. Everyone assumed she eloped to Gretna Green to marry George Wickham. Ensuring that marriage takes place is the only way diminish that scandal that has already begun to taint her sisters.” With that, Mr. Darcy turned back to Geoffrey. “Something must be done.”

Geoffrey nodded in agreement. “My brother must be held accountable. I am quite willing to search the city for him.”

“The girl’s uncle, Mr. Gardiner, could come in this very minute and demand that you marry Lydia.”

Geoffrey rose from the chair, perhaps a bit too quickly given the state of his head, refusing to do any such thing. “I have told you, sir. I am not George! I will not pay for his mistakes. I do not even know him!”

“You and she were caught in a compromising position, Mr. Wickham. The girl’s state of dress and her proximity to yourself during our brief…confrontation would be enough for her family to demand marriage.”

“I did not touch her!” Geoffrey nearly shouted. Seeing the implacable look on Mr. Darcy’s face, he collapsed back into the chair, whispering to any power that could aid him, “I did not touch her.”

“I am prepared to offer you assistance in order to save Lydia from disgrace. A commission will be purchased for you and a generous dowry will provide funds for the future. You may consider your debts in London erased.” Crossing the room to stand in front of Geoffrey, Mr. Darcy paused to consider the man before him through narrowed eyes. Extending his hand to Geoffrey, he asked solemnly, “Are we in agreement?”

Geoffrey could take no more. He was a patient man, a level-headed man, but everyone had limits. In a swift movement, Geoffrey pushed his chair back and stood eye to eye with Mr. Darcy. In a low voice, deceptively calm, Geoffrey made his intentions clear. “I will not marry Miss Bennett. I will not be purchased for any price. I will not take the blame for my brother. I will not be considered guilty for his mistakes. I will, however, do anything in my power to find him for you. I will make him marry Miss Bennett. I will ensure his promise to quit his rakish profligate lifestyle. And then I will endeavor to never cross paths with him.” Extending his own hand towards Mr. Darcy, he added, “Are we in agreement?”

It was a long moment before Mr. Darcy moved. He stood there simply regarding Geoffrey, and Geoffrey realized that Mr. Darcy’s thoughts moved across his eyes like words on a page. When a look of admiration filled the man’s eyes, Geoffrey could finally breathe. The door to the parlor burst open, and the man Geoffrey assumed was Mr. Gardiner speared him with a look of contempt. “Will he be made to marry Lydia, or must drastic measures be taken?”

Mr. Darcy looked from one man to the other. Shaking Geoffrey’s proffered hand, he declared with a bemused look, “He is not our man.”

***

“You cannot be serious!”

Fitzwilliam Darcy, who had been enjoying a book and brandy before the fire, looked up to see the narrowed eyes of his wife mere inches from his own. “I have been told on many occasions, madam, that I am altogether too serious.”

“Do not try to change the subject, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth demanded as she plucked the book from her husband’s hands and tossed it a bit too close to the fire. Darcy automatically moved to ensure the safety of his book, only to have Elizabeth block his movement with her hands on the arms of his chair. “Now, I am sure that I must have misheard you. Can you please indulge me by repeating what you just said?”

“Are you referring to the discussion on being serious or the earlier one regarding the living at Kympton?”

With an arched brow, Elizabeth responded, “You know very well I meant what you said about Kympton. I cannot believe you are teasing me at this moment. Now is not an appropriate time.”

With a devious smile, Darcy leaned forward slightly to say, “It is always an appropriate time to tease you, my dear. I think you are beginning to take things far too seriously.”

“Of all the impertinent…” Elizabeth mumbled under her breath. Taking a deep breath, she began again. “Fitzwilliam, what do you mean by telling me that you are offering the living at Kympton to Mr. Wickham?”

Darcy moved his hands to cover his wife’s, drawing small circles on the space between her thumb and finger. “Mr. Steventon came to me a fortnight ago describing his intention of retiring from the church. He is of a weak constitution and plans to move into the care of his eldest daughter and her husband as soon as a replacement can be found. I believe that Mr. Wickham would be perfect for such a position.”

“You are aware that you refused him such a living not long ago on the grounds that he was not fit for the church, and that you purchased him a commission that has relocated him and my sister to Newcastle.”

A quick grin lit Darcy’s face, informing Elizabeth that her husband was purposefully misleading her. Darcy tugged on Elizabeth’s hand, pulling off balance and into his lap, as he said, “I do not refer to our brother-in-law, but rather his twin Geoffrey.”

“You cannot mean to give any relation of Mr. Wickham’s any access to Pemberley? After all the trouble he caused you?”

Darcy caught Elizabeth’s face between his hands, forcing her to look into his eyes, which were full of love as he said softly, “I did not ostracize Lydia’s family for her mistakes. Should I punish Geoffrey in a way I was not able to punish you?”

Elizabeth shook her head slowly, understanding how truly close she had come to losing such a brilliant man. “But what of your sister? She would be reminded of her past regrets with his proximity.”

“Perhaps the interaction will help her to move on. Her coming out will be approaching soon, and Georgiana needs to realize that not all men are like Wickham. This is a chance for her to put her past behind her.” As Darcy talked, he pulled the pins from Elizabeth’s hair, watching it tumble around her shoulders in glossy curls, twirling the tresses about his fingers. Elizabeth, unknowingly, had begun to untie the cravat at Darcy’s neck and moved on to the buttons of his shirt.

“I am only concerned for you and your sister. If you have no concerns, I will reserve judgment until I have become acquainted with him,” Elizabeth said as she brushed her fingertips back and forth across Darcy’s collarbone.

“If you are still uneasy after meeting him, I can always offer the living to Mr. Collins,” Darcy responded in a dry tone.

Elizabeth could not hold back the quick laugh that escaped her lips. “Oh that would be a sight. Only I cannot imagine he would even consider leaving the realm of his esteemed patroness.”

“Not even for Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley and Derbyshire?”

“Were you titled,” Elizabeth responded with a gasp as Darcy’s hand moved slowly up her calf after removing her slippers, “Mr. Collins would have more incentive. I cannot even fathom his leaving Lady Catherine when my father dies, even if he is to get Longbourn. I am convinced he will try to retain both residences, in order for him to retain some level of importance among his acquaintances.”

“So may I bring Mr. Geoffrey Wickham to Pemberley?” Darcy asked as he kissed his wife softly on her neck.

Elizabeth redirected his kiss to her waiting lips. With an arch smile and sparkling eyes she replied, “If you must.”

***

Miss Catherine Bennett, known to her family as Kitty though she despised the nickname from the moment she was able to divine an opinion of it, found herself anticipating church for the first time since the reverend at Meryton spent an entire month of Sundays reciting the book of Numbers for some sort of purpose that she was never able to determine. How the lists of whatever the author Numbers chose to record were of importance to salvation was beyond her comprehension. She was sure that Mary had a ridiculously long and equally boring explanation for the book’s inclusion in the Bible, but Catherine did not concern herself with it. She made lists frequently and could not fathom anyone in the future caring about them in the least, particularly in a religious setting.

Elizabeth’s call from the stairs for Catherine to hurry up broke her out of her reverie and hurried her out of her room and through the hall, where she found her sister and her brother-in-law awaiting her in the foyer. As she descended the stairs, she reminded herself, as she often did in the presence of Mr. Darcy, to act in a way that was precisely the opposite of her sister Lydia. Catherine loved Pemberley and would do nothing to endanger her chance to remain here. Especially since her removal would mean losing any chance with Mr. Geoffrey Wickham.

Catherine had fallen in love with him from the first moment she met him at the small dinner party her sister had hosted some months ago. He had become so very animated in his discussion of poetry that his delightful green eyes had lit up as if they were brightly colored emeralds. She had been unable to turn her gaze and decided herself to be in love at the very moment. In a letter to Lydia, she revealed the desires of her heart, only to have her younger sister mock her youthful fantasy, claiming Geoffrey could only be a poor imitation of her beloved George. Catherine had burned the letter, filled with disgust that she was acting no better than her nearly ruined sister. The next few times she had occasion to interact with the young clergyman, she practiced reserve and modesty. She was not Lydia. She would not succumb to the impulse of the moment.

And yet, with each meeting, each conversation, each shared glance, Catherine came to respect Mr. Wickham for himself and value his friendship. When she returned to Longbourn, she awaited letters from Elizabeth with hopes that they would hold a story of the man she tried to forget. But she could not forget him, and for three months waited for the time when she would be called back to Pemberley to help Elizabeth during her confinement. Catherine had been at Pemberley for a fortnight before she was able to welcome her nephew Alexander James Darcy into the world. Despite being surrounded by family, love, and happiness, she could think only of her Mr. Wickham. On this Sunday, the family was going to church to witness the christening of Alexander, as long as Catherine did not delay them any further.

Mr. Darcy helped Elizabeth and Catherine into the carriage before taking his customary seat beside his wife, assuring himself that Elizabeth and his son were comfortable. As Catherine watched the family before her, she longed for what her sister had found. Both Elizabeth and Jane had found men who loved them beyond anything in the world. Even the staid and proper Mr. Darcy was known to steal touches and kisses from his wife when he believed no one was looking. Elizabeth caught Catherine’s eye as Mr. Darcy was distracted by Alexander and gave her younger sister a knowing smile and a wink. Elizabeth knew of Catherine’s feelings towards Mr. Wickham and admired her sister for saying nothing, but could see it the way that Catherine had looked at Mr. Wickham before she left for Longbourn. Time, Elizabeth hoped, would make Catherine secure in her feelings and give Mr. Wickham the chance to value Catherine as a mature young woman. If she was not mistaken, a proposal was in the near future.

***

Geoffrey could not conceive how he had managed to trudge through the service without seeming to be a lovesick fool, not that he would be able to discredit the notion. When his thoughts turned to Miss Bennett, he was most definitely lovesick and quite probably a fool. As he stood next to her in the church, naming her godmother to the Darcy’s unnaturally quiet son, the only thought in his mind was his strong to desire to give her children of her own; a part of him and her joined together in a new life. It was his dearest wish to stand up next to her, before their family and friends and promise to honor and cherish her ’til death parted them.

Alas, it was not to be. Geoffrey had nothing to offer the young, vivacious woman who was sister-in-law to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, with connections beyond his station in life. Nor did he want to encourage anymore connection between the Darcy’s and his battered family name. His brother had done more than enough to ruin the Wickham name, and he did not want to dishonor the Darcy’s or the Bennett’s by forcing them to take on yet another degree of connection to his ungrateful brother. If his seduction of Lydia was not enough, George seemed hell bent on blackening the remainder of his besmirched reputation. He accrued debts in every town he resided, bedded as many women as would have him, and fathered more illegitimate children than legitimate ones with no sense of remorse, knowing his brothers-in-law would do what they could to protect Lydia. Geoffrey had once received a pleading letter from his sister-in-law begging for money that George would not grant her in order to commission a more fashionable wardrobe. He had shredded the letter to pieces.

No, he had nothing to offer Miss Bennett other than a diminished name and a small parish. The lovely Miss Catherine Bennett deserved far more than he was able to give.

As he was bidding good day to his parishioners as they filed out of the church, Geoffrey found himself face to face with the ever-present subject of his musings. Miss Bennett held Alexander in her arms, a delighted smile gracing her glowing face. Her gray eyes were full joy, and Geoffrey longed to be the reason for that happiness.

“I hope that you have been enjoying your stay at Pemberley, Miss Bennett.”

“I always enjoy being at Pemberley, Mr. Wickham. As of late, the company has become quite dear to me.”

“Young and lively nephews often inspire such sentiment. The Darcy’s are quite blessed to have such a son and heir.”

“I believe that he is loved more as a son than an heir,” Miss Bennett admitted. Leaning in conspiratorially, she added, “Mr. Darcy dotes on him exceedingly, though he would never admit it.”

The thought of the distinguished Mr. Darcy carrying his son around while seeing to estate business caused a quiet chuckle from Geoffrey. “Indeed he would not, Miss Bennett. Think of his reputation.”

Miss Bennett answered Geoffrey’s smile with one of her own. It warmed him to his very soul. Before she was able to respond, Mrs. Darcy interrupted by plucking her son from his aunt’s grasp. “Please tell me you were able to gain a favorable response to our invitation, Kitty.”

The glow seemed to dim slightly in Miss Bennett’s face, though the smile remained. “I had not the chance, Elizabeth.”

“Then allow me to do so.” Turning to Geoffrey, Mrs. Darcy began to say, “We would be delighted if you would-”

“Has Mr. Wickham agreed to join us for dinner this evening at Pemberley?” Mr. Darcy asked as he joined the rather exasperated circle.

“Constant interruptions have apparently hindered the invitation, but I assure you that I would be honored to dine with you tonight. The company should prove to be entertaining,” Geoffrey replied, forgoing any further opportunities for a missed evening with his Miss Bennett.

Mr. Darcy began to usher his wife towards their waiting carriage while saying, “An entertaining evening at Pemberley will not be as welcome as a relaxing one, but we shall endeavor to please you. Until tonight, Mr. Wickham.”

Miss Bennett began to walk towards the carriage with a seeming reluctance, as Geoffrey kept pace at her side. He offered her his hand to help her into the carriage, her small one feeling cold against his own palm. Hesitant to release her from such a treasured intimacy, Geoffrey said in something above a whisper, “I await the chance to enjoy your company this evening. I have missed dining at Pemberley since you went away.”

Miss Bennett’s eyes widened and she stammered through her response, “I- that is we- that is to say, you will always be most welcome at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy thinks highly of you, and your friendship could never be replaced.”

With that, Geoffrey lifted her into her place opposite the Darcy’s, inwardly cringing with the realization that Miss Bennett loved him not.

***

Catherine was at a loss to describe the reason for Mr. Wickham’s withdrawal from herself. In the past, they had welcomed the opportunities to converse on the subjects of poetry, novels, music, and the outdoors. In truth, they would converse about essentially anything with great passion and shared opinions. But as she sat beside him now in the cavernous dining room, she wanted to cry. He would not look at her, would not speak beyond civil pleasantries, would not smile or laugh with her. What could have taken place between this morning at this moment she could not comprehend, and she despised herself for being unable to divine the reason for his change in behavior and not having the courage to ask him of it.

When the women left the men to their brandy and cigars, Elizabeth linked her arm through Catherine’s and the tears glistening in her eyes threatened to fall at the kind gesture. “Dearest Kitty, whatever is the matter? Have you and Mr. Wickham quarreled?”

With a clear avenue for the release of her feelings, Catherine extricated herself from Elizabeth’s grasp and felt the dam holding back her feelings break. “My name is Catherine! Not Kitty, Catherine. I despise that name, chosen by Lydia because she was unable to pronounce it properly. For years, I have lived under Lydia’s shadow, and she has ruined everything for me. I shall never have a husband because of her selfish choices. Am I to be punished for her childish impulses? I have done nothing to deserve it!” with this, Catherine collapsed against the settee, her tears staining her sleeve and the cushions. “I am not her,” she whispered.

Elizabeth’s shock was quickly replaced with an overwhelming sympathy for the sister who had often been pushed aside. Kneeling beside her, Elizabeth ran a soothing hand across Catherine’s shoulders, taking her sister’s chin in her free hand, forcing Catherine to look at your sister. Softly, Elizabeth admitted, “You are indeed not Lydia. You have never been given the opportunity to prove it so; not by our father, mother, or even myself or my husband. It has been unfair, but unconsciously done. It shall be rectified immediately.” As she pushed the escaped curls from Catherine’s face Elizabeth continued, “But what can you mean by saying that you shall never have a husband? I cannot have been mistaken in the show of affection between yourself and Mr. Wickham.”

Catherine closed her eyes against a new stream of tears. “He has not said anything of that nature to me. And this evening, we spoke not once at dinner, though opportunity was great and the chance to renew our acquaintance was welcome.” Shaking her head against the threat of sobs, Catherine trembled with heartbreak. “He would not look at me. I am sure that he wishes to avoid connection with one such as myself, who is in possession of a sister with a tarnished reputation. He cannot want me.”

“Have you ever considered that Mr. Wickham feels precisely the same way, dearest?”

“What can you mean?”

“Mr. Wickham has the misfortune of being connected to the man who ruined your sister’s reputation. It was his brother who caused the harm to our family and even to your name. It is not unlikely that he holds himself to be responsible and wishes to avoid giving you unnecessary connection to his brother.”

A noise behind them caused both women to turn, finding two men framed by the large doorway. Mr. Darcy entered quickly, pulling his wife to her feet, speaking low to Elizabeth in a voice that Catherine was unable to discern. Trying to hide her mortification from the man she loved, Catherine turned her head away from Mr. Wickham and attempted to dry her cheeks with the back of her hand. A warm palm cupped her cheek, and Mr. Wickham’s thumbs grazed the space below her eyes to erase the stains her tears had caused. When Catherine finally had the strength to open her eyes, she found green eyes nearly glowing before her as she realized that they were both quite alone.

“Your sister was right,” Mr. Wickham said as he offered her his handkerchief. “You deserve better than a connection that ties you closer to George.”

“I am already related to him through my sister’s marriage. You cannot prevent what has already occurred.”

“But you would see me daily. My very face a reminder of the chances my brother’s actions robbed you of. I look just like him, Catherine. You would be unable to escape his memory.”

Catherine’s heart soared at his use of her name, her true name, as he talked of the possibility of marriage. Geoffrey continued, “I cannot even expect that you share such feelings with me. I, who have nothing to offer you beyond myself and a small parish. You have given me reason to expect a return of my feelings, and I have no right to voice my own.”

“You are mistaken if you believe I do not possess strong feelings for you. How can you doubt them when my love must be always in my eyes?”

Geoffrey felt a sense of peace he had never experienced wash over him with her soft words. “You gave me no reason to hope. There was no encouragement-”

“I did not want to be like Lydia, throwing herself into the arms of men with dramatic flair. I wanted to be as my sisters Jane and Elizabeth were.” Boldly, Catherine covered his hand, which had not left her cheek with her own. “I wanted to be a woman who deserved you.”

“You deserve better, my love. So much better, but I do not believe myself capable of giving you up.”

Geoffrey brought Catherine’s hand to his mouth, pressing a tender kiss on her palm as he brought them both to their feet. New tears collected in her eyes, but these, he understood, were tears of joy. He wanted to give her everything; any assurances he was capable of to convince her that he belonged to her, was a part of her. “In the months since we have parted, you alone occupy my thoughts. Your face alone I saw in my dreams. I found myself wishing that you could be seated on a pew every Sunday; that each meeting with Mr. Darcy would provide me with any news of your upcoming arrival. I have waited for you in every possible manner, as if life should not go on without you. Because Catherine,” he said with a loving smile as he dropped to one knee, “My life has no meaning if you are not here to share it with me. Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”

Catherine was speechless as Geoffrey brought her hand to his lips in a kiss before presenting her with a betrothal ring, a simple gold band with an unadorned pearl shining in the light. Falling to her knees, Catherine brought her lips to his in a kiss that neither anticipated nor rebuffed. When they finally parted, Geoffrey had a crooked grin on his face that caused Catherine to blush at her impulsive behavior.

“Shall I take that as a yes, my love?” Geoffrey asked. Touching his forehead to her own, he asked in a low voice, “Please say yes, Catherine. I need to hear it from your lips.”

With her hands caressing the nape of his neck, Catherine replied in a breathless voice, “Yes, Geoffrey, I would be honored to be your wife.”

After a brief kiss, both whispered at precisely the same moment, “I love you.”

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