The tension was thick on the air for the following days, but Darcy stubbornly proceeded with the christening plans. Lizzy’s emotions grew wildly unstable and dozens of trivial disagreements and major rows broke out between them, when she talked to him at all.
Darcy was in a constant state of turmoil. Vexation battled with disquiet. That Lizzy was irrational in most matters was obvious, but he seemed unable to calm her or appeal to the analytic intellect he knew she possessed.
When Lizzy was not riled over some perceived slight she was crying. More than once Darcy walked into the room to discover her curled in a ball weeping. These moments, fleeting as they lasted, were the few times she permitted him to embrace her.
And therein lay another point of contention.
As the weeks turned into months, they had yet to resume their intimate relations. Far more important than the purely physical annoyance of sexual deprivation, Darcy was deeply concerned by Lizzy’s total disinterest in any form of contact. They shared the bed in his mother’s old chambers—Lizzy still refusing to return to their bedchamber and the contention over that subject ongoing—but she spurned all affection. Naturally, he had expected nothing more than cuddling for the first weeks, truthfully too fatigued and anxious even to think about the matter, but as time marched on and the danger passed, he began to dwell on the topic quite a bit!
Yet, as his desire escalated, hers waned into nothingness.
She drew away from his kisses, no matter how gentle or light. Any caress was met with stiffening or evasion. She slept curled on her side of the bed, clothed in the concealing nightgowns of a maiden, and extended no overtures. More than once he was awoken from a sleeping state by a sharp jab from an elbow or forceful shove as a result of dreamily straying toward her body.
Darcy’s confusion grew, as did his anger. He tried to understand her reluctance, but it was impossible to comprehend, especially since she refused to talk about it. When he cautiously advanced the subject, she flared, accusing him of only thinking of his needs and ignoring what she and the children wanted. Obviously this was ludicrous, but Darcy was wounded and guilt-ridden nonetheless.
The combination of her vacillating moodiness and bodily detachment caused an ever-widening breach to separate them. Darcy watched it happening but was powerless to halt it. Lizzy did not seem to care.
Michael’s christening took place on the Sunday before Darcy’s thirty-second birthday. The ceremony was a minor affair compared to Alexander’s. Most of their family was not present, so it was mainly a few friends from Derbyshire and those relatives who lived close by. Michael cried through the entire procedure, but Reverend Bertram managed with aplomb, even while hastening the obligatory rituals. There were some private comments regarding Mrs. Darcy’s unusual somberness, but the couple presented a united front that no one suspected was false.
George’s perceptions pierced through the fa?ade, noting the tension underneath. Medical matters had kept him away from Pemberley a large portion of the time, the christening bringing him back to the Manor for a handful of days. Yet casual inquires to his nephew yielded nothing, Darcy rigidly uncomfortable discussing his marriage with anyone. It disturbed George, but even his discerning eye could not penetrate the mask or deduce the troubles as severe.
The days following the christening were oddly calm around Pemberley. The persnickety infant settled into a standard routine, his health robust and growth steady. George was again consumed with medical needs in the surrounding communities and was rarely home. The cold of winter settled in, further isolating the traumatized couple.
Darcy’s birthday came and went with minimal fanfare, the birthday dinner and “party” arranged by Mrs. Reynolds. Well aware of his wife’s distraction and disinterest, he was thus shocked that she spared him enough thought to provide a gift of several books he desired and a stunning pair of abalone and silver cuff links.
“Elizabeth,” he breathed, truly moved, “these are wonderful. I love them! Thank you.”
He kissed her cheek, Lizzy leaning into his lips and blushing prettily. His heartfelt thanks seemed to penetrate the icy cloud surrounding her heart, eliciting a tender smile and brief caress to his hand that nearly caused him to burst into tears.
The combination of christening and birthday celebrations helped ease the tension between them, bringing a measure of peace. Only Darcy was fully aware of how strained their relationship remained and his pride would not allow him to seek help. Rather, he determined to deal with their troubles with his typical forthrightness, and her hesitant touch on his birthday gave flight to his hope. She remained distant but smiled at him several times over the ensuing week as they planned for Alexander’s second birthday. She met his pained eyes with a glimmer of her old brilliance, spoke without the sharp edge that had become so familiar, and laughed at a dry comment he made about one of their notoriously irritating tenants.
One night he decided to take the initiative, much as she had done after Alexander’s birth. He reasoned that whatever residual worries were clouding her mind, their love was ultimately too profound to be extinguished and their passion for each other too powerful to be harnessed indefinitely.
As always, he found her rocking in the chair located next to the cradle. One hand rested on the wooden rail causing the cradle to sway with each rock of the chair, her face a study in serene happiness. Darcy observed her unawares for a moment, his breath catching at the transcendent beauty of the scene.
Oh God, how I love her!
The ache was tangible, felt all through his body, and his heart swelled to agonizing levels with the hunger to hold her. Several deep breaths were necessary to calm the raging seas within.
He approached unhurriedly, desperately needing this night to go well, and afraid, as he had not been since long before their wedding, that one misstep could cause it all to dash into a million pieces. She turned her face to his, smiling sweetly and lifting a hand. He swallowed to muffle the moan as he knelt before her knees, hands resting on her thighs. For long minutes they simply stared. Darcy held perfectly still while Lizzy lightly played with the tips of his ruffled hair.
It was unbearable. The yearning pounded through him. His skin was electrified, each inhale a gasp of longing. How long since he had felt her lips? It was impossible to delay, but he refused to frighten her. Rising slowly, eyes locked with hers and noting the flickers of ardor seen therein, he leaned closer but did not touch.
“Come, my heart, let me take you to bed.”
Lizzy nodded dazedly, lost in his darkened orbs, feeling the feeble tendrils of desire rising. It was all so befuddling. Her love for him infinite, the attraction acute, but the typical surge of passionate flame a dim memory. The tingles were there, buried deeply in every cell of her body and crying to burst forth, but like the prisoner begging for freedom, the escape was denied by some internal force beyond her control. She hardly knew what was happening as he lifted her into his strong arms. His heart beat vigorously against her chest with his heat emanating in droves into her chilled skin. He brushed her lips once, a soft moan escaping his mouth, but she did not experience the jolt of pleasure that she recognized he did and knew she should.
It was wrong, she knew this, and panic rose inside her breast.
He sat her onto the edge of their vast bed, Lizzy only then realizing they were not in her bedchamber. The panic flared anew. “William, I do not want to be so far…”
“Shhh…” He caressed a thumb over her lips, placating and holding her gaze. “Mrs. Hanford knows where we are and will ring. All will be well, beloved. This is where we belong. In our room. You will be more comfortable here, and God knows I will, as that bed is about three inches too short for me.” He chuckled softly, smiling. “Let me pour some wine.”
Lizzy watched him walk to the small table by the fire. It was easy to appraise his figure in the clinging material of his belted robe, especially as he bent over to pour the wine, and Lizzy was not so unnerved not to appreciate the view. Time had not diminished the superb manliness of his physique, Darcy as trim, muscular, and potent as on the day they married. Again the faint flutters erupted inside, but without their previous capacity to turn her entire body into a quivering pool of desire.
Tears of frustration and irritation welled in her eyes. She blinked and glanced away from the disarming sight of her handsome spouse to the chamber she had not set foot in for months. Darcy had muted the lights, candles strategically located about the room to lend a comforting blush of romantic ambience. The fire burned sedately, the crackles and pops adding beautifully to the intimate tone. The drapes were drawn except for the balcony curtains which allowed the moon’s glow diffusing over the rippling surface of the trout lake to radiate through the glass. The warm burgundy and rich mahogany of the furnishings had an inviting burnish. The relaxing creams and autumn colors that she so adored soothed the tumult in her soul. All the homey touches that were so uniquely hers and his were evident upon every wall and corner. She loved this room, truly loved it, and the wealth of joys experienced here buffeted through her mind and brought a sincere smile to her face.
It was this smile Darcy beheld as he returned to her side, his relief and happiness manifest in mien and voice. “Here, beloved. Your favorite French merlot.”
They sipped in silence. Lizzy was nervous but content to gaze around the room, while Darcy’s eyes were engrossed by her face. He waited, the craving to touch her searing, until she turned to look at him. He was bewildered by the traces of fear he saw there, but encouraged by the cheeriness and soft smile.
He reached to cup her cheek, voice husky as he whispered, “I love you so profoundly, Elizabeth. I have missed you more than I can articulate. I need you. I want you, my precious lover, fiercely and eternally. Lord, please tell me you feel the same! I cannot live if you do not love me as deeply!”
Lizzy’s throat constricted, the conflicting emotions swirling and terrifying. His face was awash with passion and the agony of doubt, and it pierced her heart.
“I do love you, Fitzwilliam. Please have no doubt of that.”
He groaned loudly, capturing her lips in a heated kiss. Wine glasses were set aside, by some miracle not spilling. Robes were discarded. Darcy was gentle but determined. Hunger and thirst tore through every fiber of his body. The need to love her, to reestablish their sacred bond, to reawaken the immutable passion they shared, and to join with her body and soul was driving him onward feverishly.
Lizzy responded intermittently; the fervor swelling and dampening in a chaotic jumble that left her panting with desire one second and freezing in terror the next. Nothing made sense, her nerves assaulted by the blissful sensations resulting from his masterful touch and the internal icy paralysis that blotted out the pleasure.
Darcy, ever attuned to his wife’s cues, detected the sporadic retreats. But the frequent moans, writhes, clutching hands, arches, and gasps spurred him on. His desire spiraled higher as he employed every trick in his vast erotic arsenal to please, titillate, arouse, and satisfy. The ache built beyond the point of rational thought or lucid control. If he noticed her intimate zones not as welcoming, those soft places touched only and forever by him not as warm and moist as typical in response to his attentions, it registered dimly. Only as he joined with her, as her cry of pain and stiffened limbs jerked through his inflamed mind, only then did he recognize his mistake.
But it was too late. A line had been crossed and his passion was too great to be denied. He tried, God knows he tried, but her pain was inevitable as he took his pleasure.
He collapsed onto her. His physical satisfaction momentarily overruling the screaming awareness that he had hurt her. Lifting finally, the self-recrimination threatened to buckle him yet again as he noted the tears leaking from her tightly closed eyes.
“Oh my God, Elizabeth! I… Please, look at me! I am so sorry! Beloved, I love you! I did not mean to…”
“Please stop, William! It is not your fault. Believe me! It is me, all me. I just… cannot feel… nothing is normal anymore!” And her sobs burst forth as a damn. She clutched him, shaking violently as she wept.
Darcy rolled to his back, embracing her tightly as she cried, baffled and deeply disturbed. She slept finally, clinging to him, and no other words were exchanged. He lay awake for long hours afterwards, his own tears silently shed, thinking furiously and questioning without any answers forthcoming.
The two weeks that followed were terrible beyond the initial weeks fretting over Michael. The baby flourished under the diligent ministrations of devoted parents, loving nannies, and spellbound brother. He was temperamental, as they were coming to expect was his natural disposition, but also jolly and extremely healthy. Any cause for sincere anxiety as to his wellbeing was nonexistent.
Yet Lizzy refused to concede.
Darcy watched his wife immerse herself in the children and the Manor to a greater degree than prior. From sunrise to well after sunset she was constantly on the move. Suddenly, Alexander’s birthday and Christmas became vitally important to prepare for, although she never mentioned their anniversary. Darcy was wounded and the gulf widened as her preoccupation prevented her from sparing him any time.
The fragile claim on her health wavered further as she gradually lost the weight she had regained. She was clearly exhausted: pale and tremulous. Her emotions continued to fluctuate crazily, outbursts of tears and ire randomly occurring with no apparent cause, but primarily she seemed to sink into a daze of gloom.
Nothing Darcy said or did reached through to her, although he persisted in trying. Any overtures for affection were spurned, vigorously. Attempts to discuss their anniversary were ignored. It was as if he were invisible.
Alexander’s second birthday was celebrated with an elaborate party. Dozens of Derbyshire friends partook of the fun, their children the honored guests as playmates to Alexander. Lizzy was a buzzing bee in her desire to provide for her guests and her son. At times, her behavior crossed into frenetic with shrill laughter and addled sentences. Every last person noted her altered appearance and fragility with concern.
Yet somehow she managed to hold herself together until it was over. Visibly shaking, she bid her last good-bye to Harriet Vernor, sagging against the door as soon as it was closed. Darcy reached for her, but she snapped at him and pushed him away. He watched helplessly as she climbed the stairs.
“Dearest, you need to come to bed.” Darcy pleaded that night, entering the nursery where Lizzy sat beside the cradle.
“I want to make sure he is asleep,” she countered, eyes centered on the slumbering Michael.
“He is asleep. As is Alexander. I read with him until he fell asleep. I barely managed to read one sentence without him interrupting to talk about his party. His enthusiasm is as intense as yesterday and he will likely be up at the crack of dawn to play with all his new toys. Poor Miss Lisa.” He chuckled, vainly attempting to lighten the mood. “Maybe it is just as well I have no business plans tomorrow so I can devote some time to manning the castle with the new set of tin Spartans and Mongols. He would not rest until he testing the catapults for himself.” He laughed again, sincerely this time as the thrill of this birthday with his son displaced the melancholy. “I confess I am as anxious as Alexander. Sharing the joys of presents with a child is superior to anything I can imagine. Goodness knows he has enough gifts to keep us occupied for hours!”
He paused, realizing that Lizzy was not listening. She stared at Michael, no expression on her face, eyes dulled and drooping. Darcy’s insides clenched painful, as they always did when he encountered her obvious affliction and decline, but lately he had noticed other emotions rising: anger, frustration, impatience, and, most frightening of all, a horrid sense of detachment and grief, as if something precious had died.
He sighed, closing his eyes briefly and offering a silent prayer. “Come, Elizabeth, take my hand.”
She did, listlessly rising and walking to his side. She stood by the bed complacently as he removed her robe, strong hands stroking over the silky skin of her arms. He cupped her face, lifting it to meet his eyes. “Please, beloved, tell me what is troubling you? I am so worried for you.” His soft voice, brimming with concerned agony, brought tears to her eyes.
“I do not know,” she whispered. “I am so tired… all the time tired.”
“I keep encouraging you to rest, do I not? You must not push yourself so, my heart. Relinquish the chores to Mrs. Hanford and others. Let us help you! Please, Elizabeth, heed my advice.”
In an instant her eyes were angry. “Oh yes! Mr. Darcy who knows what is best for everyone! Must you control the entire world, William? Tell everyone what to do?”
Darcy paled, stepping back a pace in utter shock. But Lizzy followed, her face enraged, finger stabbing him in the breastbone. “I do not need you to tell me how to be a mother! I am a
Her voice was shrill and body shaking as her eyes welled with angry tears. It was her wildest outburst yet and Darcy had never felt so cold.
“Elizabeth Darcy, listen to me.” He spoke in his authoritative voice, normally more than adequate to quell any adversary. “You are irrational and raving. Calm yourself and let me help you. Try to be reasonable!”
But his words were cut short by a stunning slap to his left cheek. He gasped, recoiling as his hand rose to cover the sting. It was not so much the pain, although his wife did have a strong arm, but the mind-numbing astonishment of what she had done.
Lizzy instantaneously crumbled in remorse. Hands covered her mouth as an anguished moan escaped. “Oh God! William, please forgive…”
“I shall be in my study if the children have need of me,” he icily intoned, eyes dead as he pivoted and left the room, slamming the door behind.
Lizzy stood paralyzed for a long time, eventually releasing a wail of sheer animal intensity, her heart breaking asunder as the world spun and swirled. She whirled about, frantic for anything to relieve the twisted emotions ripping through her mind. Lunging toward the balcony, she only thought of escape and punishment for the sufferings caused by her words and deeds.
She halted abruptly at the railing, wheezing and crying. She grabbed onto the freezing stone in a white knuckled grip, staring at the cobbled stones of the walkway far below. Oblivion from the pain called, but some small kernel of sanity beckoned. Perhaps it was the frigid cold restoring a hint of clarity. Perhaps it was a guardian angel stopping her steps. Whatever the case, she fell to her knees, sobbing until there were no tears remaining, only then finding the strength to stumble to the lonely, cold bed.